To Dr. Gaster’s pleasure, the Readers were surprisingly cooperative as they were photographed and collared. It was normally not a pleasant process – the skeleton brothers went from cage to cage, pulling out the pairs or trios of Readers and setting them on table they had dragged into the small room. The table was set up like a miniature photo shoot – a white backdrop held up by a plastic frame, a white sheet taped over the floor, and an expensive camera bolted perfectly in place before it. There was a handful of padded cubes in a variety of colors for Readers who may need to sit or lean, and Papyrus had added a few paper umbrellas (the kind Grillby put in his fancy Hawaiian drinks) in various colors to brighten up some of the pictures.
Normally, the Readers fought at this stage – most of the strong-willed ones would struggle or bite during the process, or try to run when they were set down on the little stage to be photographed. More than once, the skeletal trio had to use their gravity magic to keep the Readers in place and posing. Today, they all behaved, lying limp in Sans and Papyrus’ hands and staying in place when they were set down. Papyrus quickly undressed and collared each one, snapping a thin silver collar about their necks that was inscribed with their lab number. He also cast a quick green healing spell over each, checking for any lingering damage from the branding. Sans then photographed them, not bothering to coax a smile out of them – it was a fruitless endeavor that they’d tried before but did nothing but waste time. Instead, he placed the ones with weak-knees on cubes so they could sit comfortably, or gave the shyer ones the umbrellas so they could partially hide their blushing faces. As soon as the photos were taken, they were returned to their cage alongside clean clothing – black sleeveless shirts or dresses and long black pants, meant to stifle their personality and help the tattoos stand out.
Gaster noted (with no small amount of amusement) that the more defiant or outspoken Readers were glancing at the cage in the middle of the wall, and the young creature sitting by the door, scarred throat on display for all to see thanks to their sweater being shredded around the neck. Said Reader was glaring at him every few minutes, before looking away with a scowl. The scientist tapped his chin thoughtfully, examining the docile Readers with newfound interest. Apparently, irreversibly punishing one of them scared the others into obedience. He would have to remember that for the next shipment.
Papyrus didn’t bother with the middle cage until last. He pulled out the three inside, realizing he couldn’t take them one-at-a-time since the two male Readers refused to release the third. He cupped them carefully in his hand and quickly deposited them on the table, where the last three collars were waiting. Gaster watched the two males try to defend the third by keeping themselves between them and his youngest son. Honestly, it was laughable.
The tall skeleton did his work without complaint – he wiped the dirt from the Readers faces, removed their clothing and placed the appropriately marked collars around their necks. A quick brush of healing magic had any lingering sore spots from the tattooing soothed, and the three were handed over to Sans.
It didn’t take long for the first two – the Adventure type and the Jumper type – to be photographed. The first stood and glared at the camera, body stiff and pose screaming defiance. The second glanced at one of the cubes alongside the space until Sans moved it towards him. The Jumper climbed on top of it and stood proudly, like he’d conquered Mt. Ebott himself.
Then the final Reader came to stand in the middle of the stage, one hand hovering over their neck, trying to hide the scarring. After a moment of standing awkwardly with their hand up, Sans grabbed a bright-green umbrella and popped it open, then carefully slipped it into the Readers hands. They immediately grasped it, shifting so it was leaning against their shoulder, the green paper fanning out behind their head. A small prod from Sans had them standing facing the side, so their picture would be in profile. One quick click of a button later and they were done.
It took several hours, but by mid-afternoon each of the ninety-three Readers had been photographed and returned to their cage. Sans had his laptop up and running, connected to the camera and downloading the images. He stole a stool from the nearest lab and set it beside the photoshoot table, using it as a desk.
“Good job, boys,” Gaster purred as Papyrus set the last Reader into the middle cage, his thumb absently brushing over their hair like he had earlier that morning. “This is the best shipment yet.” He looked immensely pleased as his youngest son shut the door to the last cage. “Sans, I want the pictures ready to be uploaded exactly at midnight.”
Sans nodded, his fingers moving lazily over the keyboard as he began to name the pictures and shift them into folders. “Sure thing, pops,” he ignored the scowl Gaster sent his way, “I’ll have ‘em up at midnight so the bidding can start. I’m sure we’ll be out of inventory in no time.”
“Good. Come, Papyrus. We need to plan for the next shipment.” Gaster swept out of the room, black lab coat flaring dramatically behind him. Papyrus gave his brother an unreadable look before following.
As soon as they were gone Sans lit up a new cigarette and threw his legs up on the rolling table, shifting the laptop to sit on his legs as he worked. He knew the Readers were smart and observant, but it had still surprised him how well they had behaved after he had mentioned freeing them tonight. It had made the process much, much easier. For a while there was silence – the Readers weren’t sure if they wanted to speak with the skeleton around.
After several minutes of the worried quiet, Sans tilted his head back and stared at the ceiling. “You know,” he began in his deep voice, making them all jump, “If I were a Reader, I would probably take a nap. There’s no telling how exhausting the bidding will be tonight. Nothing exciting is happening until midnight, anyway, so there’s no harm in catching some sleep.”
There was silence from the cages, before an odd, hoarse sound came from the third row. Sans glanced over and saw the Reader with the damaged vocal chords grinning largely, making the odd sound. After a moment of worry, he realized it was laughter. The tiny being made the noise a few more times, softer, and dragged their cage mates to the corner in the back. They forced the two to sit down, before making themselves comfy between them.
The other Readers were quick to follow suit. Within the hour, all the Readers were either relaxing or asleep in the backs of their cages, draped over each other and cuddling closely. Sans glanced over periodically as he set up the photos, smiling at the sight, before turning his thoughts to the nights escapades.
As much as you were beginning to dislike monsters, there was something about Sans cheesy over-acting while hinting for you all to get some sleep that tickled your funny bone just right. Despite the damage to your vocal chords, you could still laugh, and you did. Even as Ad and Jump looked at you like you were crazy you let out the hoarse giggle, pulling them to your normal corner and settling down to rest. The room quickly became calm and still, the only movement coming when the skeleton glanced over at you all, an odd spark of affection in his eye sockets.
When you woke it was dark, Sans was gone, and Ad had somehow ended up with his head in your lap and was drooling on your new pants. You pushed him off – gently – and wished (not for the first time) that the room had a clock. Preferably a glow-in-the-dark kind so you could figure out how close to midnight it was.
You didn’t have to wait long to figure it out – the door opened slowly and quietly a few minutes after you woke up, revealing a tall, bulky figure backlit by the hallway. For a moment you were certain it was Dr. Gaster, back to perform another terrible experiment on you – maybe cut off your hands this time, so you couldn’t flip him off?
A gangly elbow flipped the light switch by the door, and the figure was revealed to be the tall, willowy Papyrus from before, balancing a stack of wooden crates in his arms. He was huffing and talking softly to himself as he crossed the room and set the crates down on the floor beneath the windows.
“Lazy bones,” he was grumbling when he finally got them carefully stacked. “I always fall for it – ‘Oh Papyrus, you’re so much stronger than I am! You can take all the crates yourself!’ – Every. Single. Time.” The tall skeleton plopped down on a crate, huffing again.
You moved to stand beside the bars, clutching the chicken wire in your fists as you watched him. The movement was enough to catch the skeletons attention, and he glanced at you. Sitting on the crates put him at eye level, making it much easier for him to scrutinize you.
“Nyeh, sorry Reader, I didn’t mean to wake you.” He apologized, his entire disposition seeming softer and sincerer then all the times you’d seen him before. “How is your throat?”
You shrugged, reaching up to run a hand over the scar. Papyrus’ magic had softened it somewhat, turning it from an angry half-healed mark to a thick pink line that was gentle at the edges and didn’t stand out as much. You tried to make a sound, but could only croak like a froggit.
“Ah, do not strain yourself, Reader! You may be able to speak in the future, but only if your throat is given the chance to heal.” After hesitating a moment, he stood and unlatched the door to your cage. “Would you like to come sit with me until Sans arrives? It is only eleven-forty-five.”
You nodded, and his lithe fingers looped around you and picked you up in a loose fist. You rested your arms on top of his thumb as he shut the cage door and returned to the crates, sitting with one long leg crossed over the other. Once settled, he set you on his knee, releasing you but keeping one hand behind you, just in case you slipped. Both of you were quiet for a moment, simply settling and appreciate the calm in this screwed-up situation.
“I’m sorry.” You glanced up at the skeleton, who was looking down at you with heavy, shadowed eyes. He looked tired in the dim lighting of the room. When your eyebrows bunched together in confusion, he sighed and looked away. “I’m sorry I wasn’t able to protect you from Gaster. Sans and I have done our best to keep the Readers forced to come through here safe.” He tapped the fingers of his hand not cupped about you on his other knee, eyes a bit distant as they swept over the cages. “We have not always succeeded, but we do our best.” He repeated.
You weren’t really sure why he was telling you this – he hadn’t really spoken to you, other than when he’d healed you that morning. Still, everything from his posture to his tone rung with sincerity. Cautiously, you patted the clothed bone beneath you.
He gave you a weak smile and continued to speak, his voice soft enough that none of the other readers awoke. “Our father is powerful, in magic and strength, and very clever. My brother and I stood up to him once…” He reached up and ran a hand down his face, a rueful, twisted grin on his face. “Heh, these cracks aren’t hereditary.”
You made a little noise as you gasped, heart twisting painfully at the thought. The idea of Gaster maiming his own sons didn’t surprise you as much as it should have, and that made you feel even sicker than when you’d realized you’d be rendered mute. There was nothing you could say to comfort him, so you turned to the hand behind you and hugged his fingers tightly.
“Heh, thanks,” he huffed a soft laugh and curled his fingers around you in a facsimile of a hug, his thumb stroking along your back.
Sans appeared not long afterwards, and by appeared, you mean appeared. One moment he wasn’t in the room, the next he was standing before you and Papyrus, unlit cigarette clenched between his teeth, eyes lazily hooded as he looked down at his brother.
“Hey bro, you ready? The ‘bidding’ is about to start.”
Papyrus, who still had his fingers around you, carefully tightened his grip and leaned forward to set you down on the ground beside the crates, out of the way. “Yes, brother, I am ready.” He stood and brushed off his suit.
Sans cast you a curious look, but didn’t mention you being out of your cage – he just nodded to you. “Stay out from under our feet, kid,” he instructed seriously. “We don’t want you getting hurt. Again.”
You nodded and shuffled backward, standing in the corner where the cages met the back wall, far out of the way. Papyrus carefully unstacked the four crates, opening the top of each one. They looked to be lined with something – blankets, maybe, or old clothing. Once all the crates were open, Sans turned and clapped his hands – loudly – as he faced the cages.
There was a jolt as ninety-two Readers woke as one, startled by the noise. “Alright,” Sans began, catching their attention, “we’re busting you out.” A ripple of whispers and exclamations left the cages, and he raised a hand, quickly silencing them. There was a wide smirk on his face, and knowing what you did about his father now, you couldn’t help but mirror it.
“We’re gonna have to move quickly and quietly. Papyrus and I are going to hide you in these crates. We have a…friend coming to grab you all and take you to the local Reader shelter. It’s gonna be dark and you might get jostled a bit, but I can tell you now, it’s a hell of a lot better than whatever the bidders have planned for you.”
Not a single Reader spoke up against the plan, and with a twitch of his fingers all of the cage doors sprung open. They all crowded to the openings, and the two skeletons began lifting them from the cages one or two at a time and setting them in the crates. The Readers were as quiet as possible, though some of them made uncomfortable noises as they were picked up. Within a few minutes all the Readers had been settled in the blankets. The lids were slid back into place, latching with metal clasps at the side.
Before you could step out of your corner and remind Papyrus that you were there, the ground rocked beneath your feet, accompanied by the loudest sound you’d ever heard. You fell to the ground, clutching your hands over your ears as the skeletons swore angrily.
“Right on fuckin’ time,” Sans grunted, and with a flick of bright yellow magic he had the crates stacked neatly on top of each other. “I told ‘em not to bring Undyne – she always has to blow something up! Damn fish…” He moved, and then quite suddenly wasn’t there anymore. You shouldn’t have been so surprised, in retrospect – magic was a tricky and powerful thing; why wouldn’t a monster be able to teleport?
Papyrus rushed after him, banging through the door and yelling something to someone he almost ran over. The door swung shut, clicking closed when it hit the doorframe and muffling the sound of another explosion. Once the floor stopped shaking, you moved to stand beside the crates. There was some hushed whispering within them, but nothing you could make out. Before you could puzzle out a way to climb into one of the sealed crates, there was an odd shimmering in the center of the room and two familiar-but-not-familiar skeletons appeared.
“I hate your shortcuts, brother,” the taller of the two groaned, rubbing at the bridge of his nose.
“Well, they cut the time it would take to get here in half,” the shorter one joked, looking about the room as he fingered his tommy gun. Both skeletons were dressed in neat pinstriped suits, though the shorter had taken off his suit coat and thrown it over one shoulder. They had fedoras – one with a blue band, the other with a red. Though the two were smiling, there was a heavy air of danger about them.
“Ugh, enough of your stupid puns, Sans.” So the short skeleton was named Sans as well? “G said everything would be packed and ready to go. Do you think that’s it?” The tall skeleton pointed at the crates. Without really thinking about it, you shuffled to the line of cages and squeezed behind them, out of sight and away from the wood boxes. You weren’t sure about these two yet.
The short one unlocked the top crate and took a quick peek inside. “Yep, it’s the goods. Let’s get them outta here.” This Sans had a deep, heavily-accented voice that made him sound rough and tough. He helped his brother pick up the crates – meaning he lifted the crates into his brother’s arms using magic, while his brother actually did the muscle work and held them.
“You got ‘em, Paps?”
“Yes. I am not a weakling like yourself, Sans.” The taller one – another Papyrus, this was going to get confusing, you could tell – shifted the boxes.
“Good,” Sans tossed his brother a wink, then swung his gun up to rest against one shoulder. “Then I’m gonna go have a word with the good doctor while you get them to safety.” He vanished from the room, while Papyrus used his magic to open the door and exit that way. After a moment’s hesitation you followed him, berating yourself for not speaking up sooner. You ran to the far side of the room and slipped through the still-open door, only to instantly be met with a rolling wave of heat and the sound of crackling and popping wood.
Half the hallway was on fire – to the right of the door, flames licked at medical carts and discarded folders that had been left in a hurry. To the left the hall was mostly clear, and with no Papyrus(s) or Sans(s) in sight it wasn’t a hard decision to make. You dashed away from the flames, trying to remember what you had seen along this hall a few days before. Office, storage, office, cafeteria (Pizza Friday – two slices per stomach!), office…there were no doors leading outside before you reached the end, where the foreboding gates to the lab took up your vision.
You wanted to stop and turn around – just seeing those looming double doors made dread curl your gut and set the tattoos on your arms and face itching. With half-hearted hope you turned to see if the fire had miraculously vanished. It hadn’t. In fact, it was even closer than before. You swore and reluctantly pressed forward, scrambling beneath the inch or so of space beneath the swinging doors and into the calm, sterile lab.
Or at least, it was supposed to be a calm, sterile lab. At that exact moment, however, it was loud and messy, making for a very messy battlefield. There was no fire, but there was the sharply-dressed Sans from earlier, his fedora gone but gun still in hand. Across from him stood Dr. Gaster, the expression on his face calm though his sockets flickered with yellow and purple flames. As you watched, Sans barely dodged an explosion of bone projectiles from the ground. He jumped far higher than you could ever hope to and landed on one of the work tables, firing his submachine gun all the while. The bullets were made of his magic- bright blue and volatile, veering slightly to hit their intended target. Gaster took a few to one shoulder, but seamlessly dodged the rest.
You ran to the wall beside the door and crouched there behind an overturned office chair, watching the two dodge about the room with wide eyes. Both were obviously incredible powerful and practiced, each getting in their own licks but taking them too. Sans was able to teleport to the side or all the way across the room to dodge Gaster’s strikes, but the doctor was unnaturally fast and already had projectiles heading toward his new location half the time. One of those times Sans banged hard against a tray table, upsetting it and sending medical implements scattering across the floor.
A familiar one slid to a stop at your feet – it was long and silver, the size of a pencil for a monster, and came up to your shoulder when it was stood with one end on the ground. You picked it up curiously, noting that it was hollow and whatever metal it was made out of – titanium, maybe? – was incredibly light. It was like holding a thick spear without the point. You clutched it to yourself as Sans regained his balance and struck out at Gaster not with his bullets, but with a fist surrounded by a thick layer of his magic. The doctor went flying back, nearly landing on top of you. He hit the ground – hard – right in front of the doors.
“Heh, games over, old man.” Sans twitched his fingers and an odd blue glow enveloped the doctor. Whatever it was kept him from rising, pinning him to the tiles. “We’ve been having a hell of a time finding you, y’know. Now that we have, though, the Big Boss is gonna want a word.” He winked. “It’s a good thing too, otherwise I would pry your smug jaw off your face right now.”
While Sans blustered about his victory and how much trouble Gaster was in, the doctor glared at him. Well, not at him – past him. Something began to pull together from the air, as though sucking the very oxygen particles and condensing them into a new element. They began to form a very large goat-like skull – for a moment you were confused; why was Sans doing this? Then a ball of purple energy began to grow in the skulls eyes, and you felt a horrifying realization settle over your shoulders: Sans wasn’t doing it, Gaster was. Gaster was about to kill Sans.
The scalpel in your hands didn’t appear sharp or dangerous – the tool was created by magic, and Readers had very little of that. You had just enough, however, to form a blade as you charged at the smug form pinned to the ground. It was a deep, royal purple, long and thin, with a crescent-moon edge that sparked with energy. The tall skeletons eyes flickered to you as you dashed towards him, neither of you having any idea what you were doing.
The blade felt right in your hands, the magic crackling the same color as your soul and, oddly enough, your tattoos. Gaster’s face was the closest target and you made a mad dash towards him with an angry shout, distracting him from his summoned weapon, which quickly disintegrated. Sans yelled something that you didn’t hear – the only noise was the rushing in your ears and the pounding of your heart. You gave a wild leap, acting completely on instinct and bloodlust, and brought the blade down on Gaster’s exposed neck.
Something cracked – a small bone beneath his jaw, not his spine, but enough to cause him pain. He roared at the sensation, fighting the gravity magic to try and grab you, black goo pouring from the wound. Smaller, calloused hands beat him to it. You were snatched roughly off the ground and away from the flailing monster, and the scalpel was pulled from your shaking hands.
“Damn, kid, careful with that!” Suit-Sans whistled, laughter in every line of his face. He glanced at the choking, flailing, furious monster on the floor and grinned even wider than before. “You must be the feisty reader G mentioned earlier.” He tucked the scalpel into his pants pocket, then looked you over. “You’ve got Gaster-goo on your face.” He licked his thumb and wiped it off, much to your chagrin, before depositing you in the breast pocket of his suit. You were just tall enough that you could stand in the fabric, your hands hanging over the lip to keep you upright. “Heh, the suit fits you, kid.” Sans patted his pocket, making sure you were steady, then you both vanished from the room.
Teleporting was very odd – for the longest half-a-second of your life you were speeding through a darkness that was made of absolute nothing and everything at once. Then there was fresh air assaulting your lungs as you coughed, feeling like you’d been squeezed through a straw then shot out like a spitball. You coughed and sucked in the cool night air, enjoying the crisp smells of late winter that it brought with it.
“Sans, why is your pocket coughing? Have you been smoking again?” The neatly suited Papyrus was in front of you, the crates stacked neatly on the ground beside him. He was frowning, rubbing at his chin. “You know it is not good for you, and apparently it’s bad for your suit as well!”
A large, fuzzy hand landed on Papyrus’s shoulder, stopping his rant before it could really get going. Behind the hand was a giant of a monster, covered with fur and an expensive Italian suit. There were frighteningly sharp horns curling from his head above oddly-adorable floppy ears. Despite his fearsome appearance, his dark eyes were kind and curious as he looked at you and Sans.
“Papyrus,” his voice was deep and rumbling, like a thunderstorm over a calm ocean, “I believe your brother has found a hitch hiker.”
“Oh. Is that like a tick?”
You made an insulted huff, which finally pulled his sight to you. “Oh! You found another Reader.”
“Yeah, bro. Toughest little thing I’ve ever seen.” Sans rubbed your head with a forefinger, which you tried to bat away. A fourth monster poked her head into the fray. She was pretty, with dark blue scales and bright red hair pulled back in a violent ponytail. She wore a neat white suit (with some not-so-neat stains barely covered by the collars or folds. You weren’t sure you wanted to know what they were).
Her lips pulled back in a seer, revealing a mouth full or shark teeth. “Hah! How can anything that tiny be tough?”
Sans tilted his head down a bit, so his smirk was all that was seen past the tilted edge of his fedora. “Heh. They cut Gaster’s throat.”
The goat monster rubbed at his ears, having been in the middle of Papyrus and the fish monster’s yells. The two immediately silenced themselves as the goat monster looked down at Sans and, by extension, you. “Explain. Now.”
“Sure thing, Big Boss,” Sans tilted his head back and gave him a lazy wink. He quickly detailed how he and Papyrus had gotten in and found the crates before they split up. He’d found Gaster in the lab and they had proceeded to beat each other half-to-death. Then, in great dramatic (and somewhat exaggerated) detail, he explained how you’d swooped in and saved him from being Gaster-Blaster-ed. Your cheeks grew brighter and brighter until you had to sink down in the pocket to hide your cheeks, leaving only your eyes and the top of your head visible. By the time Sans had finished, the fish woman was nearly rolling on the ground in laughter, while Papyrus thanked you several times over for saving his brother.
“Thank you for your assistance, child.” Big Boss thanked you, catching your eyes and giving you a kind smile. He straightened, folding his hands behind his back and slipping on the mantle of a serious man. “Come, we have goods to deliver.” He turned, and you finally got a chance to look around.
The five of you were in a large parking lot outside a run-down warehouse, half of which was currently on fire. Big Boss led the way across the parking lot to a large black SUV. Papyrus and the fish woman picked up the crates and placed them carefully in the trunk of the car before climbing into the back. The entire way the tall skeleton whispered to the crates, assuring them they were almost safe. It was cute.
Big Boss climbed into the backseat, the other two sitting on either side of him. Sans watched them carefully as they settled in before making a move to cross the lot himself.
Sans turned, to find…Sans. Well, the taller Sans with the yellow magic. The Sans you were riding on didn’t seem surprised at seeing him. “Hey G.”
G-Sans was smoking (of course), and had a small, metal box in his hands. He held it out to M-Sans (you wondered where the letter-based nicknames came from), who took it with a look of confusion. “Evidence,” G-Sans muttered, grabbing his cigarette and tapping the ash off.
You hung over the edge of the pocket and watched curiously as M-Sans flipped up the metal clasps and opened the lid. Then you wished you’d been put in a crate with the other Readers as you promptly leaned farther over the edge of the pocket and vomited everything you’d been given to eat in the past twenty-four hours.
Seven neatly-placed bodies were in the box, dressed in white shifts, each unnaturally still and stiff. Their skin was littered with puncture wounds and slim, precise cuts – one was missing an entire arm, another their foot, and a third their leg. Sans slammed down the top of the box before you could see anything else, latching it quickly before making it disappear with a flick of his wrist.
“You could have warned me,” he snapped at G-Sans, who had finally noticed you (now that you’d very visibly puked all over M-Sans nice, probably-expensive Italian loafers).
“Didn’t take you for the squeamish type.” G-Sans shrugged, popping the cigarette back in his teeth. “Give that box to the Alpha Asgore and hell itself won’t hide Gaster from him.” He paused, an uneasy look in his eyes as he glanced to the side. “And M, make sure they’re put to a proper rest, okay?”
M-Sans nodded, then turned his attention to you. “You good kid?” He poked your forehead gently, and you nodded weakly. Your stomach was still aching from the mere memory of what the box contained.
“Justy,” G-Sans caught you off guard by calling you your nickname – you didn’t think he was listening when the Readers spoke amongst themselves. You glanced up, meeting his eyes. The skeleton was grinning like a jack-o-lantern. “You caught Gaster right in the hyoid. Shattered it and damaged the magical organs behind it. He may never be able to speak again.”
Despite the horrible things you’d seen, despite the taste of bile and acid in your mouth, despite the fact that your life was a complete, hopeless mess at the moment and your future a complete mystery, you couldn’t help but dissolve into laughter at the news, joined by G-Sans deep chuckles and M-Sans awkward mutter of ‘what’s so funny?’
Somehow, someway – justice had been served.
The black SUV pulled up in front of Rivethart’s Itty Bitty Reader Shelter to find the lights on and several other cars in the parking lot. Sans and Asgore approached the door first, Papyrus and Undyne grabbing the crates behind them. The little reader Sans had found had been placed in one of the crates, where they’d promptly been tackled by two other male Readers who refused to let go of them. As soon as he opened the door to the shelter, Sans found himself faced with an irate deer monster and at least half-a-dozen other monsters from several different clans.
“Uh,” he said intelligently when he realized the deer monster was legitimately angry. “Hey, deer, good to see ya again.” He tilted his fedora back with his thumb and gave her a winning smile. “I got a few new friends for you.”
Rivet crossed her arms and raised a brow at him, unimpressed. “Where are they?” She demanded icily, even as Undyne and Papyrus came up the walk. Asgore quickly dragged the smaller skeleton out of the way, allowing Rivet to direct the crates to the playpen. The two-dozen Readers the skeleton brothers had seen that morning were there, sitting around in little clusters, looking oddly unnerved.
“How many?” The deer stepped into the pen as the crates were set gently on the extra-plush carpet (which kept the more active Readers from getting hurt when they fell or tumbled).
“Ninety-three.” Sans answered, not mentioning the seven in the box he’d stored in the space pocket attached to his phone. The deer didn’t seem surprised – she merely hummed.
“None – at least, none that we know of.”
The deer ran a hand through her hair, avoiding her curled antlers, and put her hands on her hips as she looked down at her own little Readers. “Alright guys, remember what we talked about? I want you to help make them all feel welcome.”
It wasn’t until the two-dozen readers got up and began shuffling around the playpen that Sans and Papyrus noticed it had changed – the doll houses, climbing toys, and miniature furniture had been shoved to the far side of the pen, making room for a veritable sea of comfy pillows and blankets. A large tray was laid out with different foods – most of them special treats from the various Muffet’s and Grillby’s in the area.
“Come help me get the crates open,” Rivet beckoned to Sans and Papyrus, already popping open the first one. There was a collective gasp as the Readers saw a new face for the first time in ages. The other three crates were quickly opened, leaving four padded boxes with curious Reader heads poking out. The store Readers were quiet but smiling – they waved, and some of the new Readers timidly waved back. With careful, slow movements, Rivet began lifting them out and setting them on the plush floor, not too close to the other readers, but not too far away either.
It only took a few of the braver ones venturing towards the food (real food, not the bland, gritty nutrition bars they’d been fed) and exclaiming over it to prompt the others to move. By the time Papyrus (who had unpacked the fourth crate, since there were only three of them currently in the Pen) had finished, all the tiny creatures were gathered around the tray of food, standing in clusters while devouring the sweet and savory treats. The store Readers happily passed around cookies and cups of water (handily enchanted to refill when they were empty, eliminating a huge mess and headache for the monsters), chatting pleasantly with their new friends. None of them mentioned the tattoos or injuries some of the new Readers had sustained – Rivet had been very firm in talking to them about that.
The volunteers – who Sans recognized as a few vets who specialized in Readers from all around the city – began setting up an assembly-line style bathing area. At the end of it, to his shock, Alpha Clan Queen Toriel was unpacking a plastic box full of white sweaters. Big Boss was standing beside her, and they were talking softly – it was interesting how, no matter the clan, Toriel and Asgore never got along 100%.
As soon as the new Readers were calm and settled, Rivet announced it was bath time, and that each of them were going to be checked over by a special healer so they could make sure everybody was in perfect health. When most of the new Readers showed hesitance, several of her own volunteered to go first. Sans and Papyrus (who really should have just dropped off the crates and then left, how had she roped them into staying here?) helped move the Readers to the bathing table. As soon as they were clean, they pulled on their black pants from the warehouse and were given a white sweater.
More than once Sans stopped to watch as the sweaters worked their magic. They were special – knitted by monsters all over the city who could imbue them with a specific spell. The spell took some of the magic from the wearers SOUL and used it to dye the fabric. Many times the Readers ended up with a single color, having one overwhelming defining trait, while others would get stripes or tie-dye, depending on how their SOUL was balanced. Watching the white sweaters burst with color as they were pulled on was always amazing to watch.
An hour later, all the new little ones were bathed, dressed, and fed. Rivet declared it a sleepover night and tucked in all 117 Readers as the vets and volunteers packed up to leave. The new comers clung to her Readers, or to the myriad of stuffed animals she had laid out, settling in for a peaceful, comfortable, and safe sleep for the first time in weeks.
All but one of them remained in place as the exhausted deer climbed out of the pen.
You watched as the deer monster – Miss Hart, the others had called her – stepped over the wall and approached the Mob Clan members who had helped you all escape. She was speaking softly to Big Boss – Asgore, you think he was called – and waving her arms about in agitation. The fish woman (Papyrus called her Undyne) was leaning on a spear and laughing, up until Miss Hart grabbed the spear, making her topple over on her face. Undyne jumped up and began to yell, only to be shushed by the rest of them.
Your eyes fixed on Sans. He was standing a bit away from the others, looking at one of the posters that advertised the different kinds of Readers. They were defined by sweater color, and you looked down at yours with a worried frown. The soft, white wool had turned into a deep, royal purple, as you knew it would. Around the collar, bottom, and sleeves was something new, however – intricate designs in silver and black that resembled the tattoos on your arms and face. Missus Toriel, who had been helping everybody get their new sweaters on, had complimented you on it, but hadn’t explained what the markings meant. You hadn’t been able to ask either; your voice still needed time to heal.
Sans glanced over, as though sensing your eyes on him. He caught your gaze and stared back, eyes half-lidded and tired. Well, it was about four in the morning now. Who wouldn’t be tired? The skeleton ambled over to the pen and sat down outside of it, resting his arms on the two-foot-high wall, and his chin on top of his arms. You had chosen to lay down close to the wall, a bit away from the others. Despite the pet Readers being told about the whole tattooing/branding thing, some of them had still stared at your face – heck, some of the ones who’d escaped with you had stared! Only a handful of you had tattooing on your faces, and as far as you could tell you were the only one with a bright-red scar on your neck.
“So, kid.” A white phalange poked you in the forehead, and you stopped reminiscing to look up at him. “Interstin’ sweater you got there. I know the dark purple stands for justice. What do the other colors stand for?” You shrugged, unable to convey it even if you know. His grin widened a bit, and he pointed at the silver and black stitches on the hems. “Well, fr’m what the Queen told me, silver means courage – it shows up when you do something, like, stupidly brave. Say, charging a full-grown monster with a scalpel.” You blushed and stuck your tongue out at him. “Now the black – tha’s the interestin’ one. You see, only a handful of Readers have ever gotten black in their sweaters before.” He tugged at the fabric, rubbing it between finger and thumb, until you snatched your arm back and scowled at him. You moved your hand in a circular motion, telling him to get on with it. “Y’see, black stands for vengeance. You got revenge on the person who hurt you – Gaster won’t be able to speak again, and if he can, he’ll sound like a garbage disposal when doin’ it.” The grin on your face was most certainly not self-satisfied or smug in any way.
“Now, you’re obviously a very complicated person,” his voice became more businesslike, “with complex needs and thoughts, though it seems those thoughts revolve around helping and protecting the little guy. And as much as I hate to admit it, it gets a little lonely, bein’ a lone protector o’ the night and all that.” You raised a brow at his description – it didn’t take a genius to put together that this version of Sans and Papyrus worked for a mob of some kind. His flowery language couldn’t disguise the sharp 20’s fashion style and total disregard for private property. “So I was thinkin’, you ‘n’ me partner up.” He leaned farther over the wall so he could see you better.
“You get to help protect monsters and Readers, and I get a partner who doesn’t scream at the sound of a pun. Sound good?” He held one finger out in front of you, and it took you a moment to realize he wanted you to shake on it. It was a tempting offer, and honestly, you liked Sans – he was smart, funny, and strong. And, well – as much as you hated to admit it, justice did feel better with a bit of revenge on the side. Besides, the skeleton sounded sincere when he mentioned he was lonely. Really, what harm could it do? Anything was better than the lab at this point.
You grabbed his finger, shaking it up and down as best you could.
“So, is that a yes?”
You glanced up at him and swallowed hard, throat still sore and aching, but able to handle this one task.
With a brilliant grin you said, “Yes.”