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Bitty Reader Adventures

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What is a Reader?

A “Reader” is a magical being known for its small size and ability to ‘read,’ or decipher the emotions of a Monster companion.

 

Where do Readers come from?

Readers are ‘born’ when a mixture of Human and Monster magic combine with emotional magic, creating a SOUL which then draws energy from the world around them to create a solid form. Because Human magic must be present, Readers have only been found on Mt. Ebott, where the magic the Barrier stood for the last 1,000 years has irradiated the land. The breaking of the Barrier flooded the mountain with Monster magic, which had been contained.

The first Reader was not discovered until exactly one year after the Alpha Clan broke the Barrier. On that day, the Swap Clan broke through their own Barrier. Despite existing in a separate universe (which will be covered further down), there was still enough residual Monster magic to flood the Alpha Mt. Ebott and create the first Reader. Over the following months more Readers were discovered, and laws were established to protect them.

Scientists are still unsure of the exact amount of the different types of magic to create a Reader. They tend to appear in places where Monster magic is used frequently, such as the Royal Guard Training Grounds near the Royal Palace. A special unit of the Royal Guard was even created with the sole purpose of finding and rescuing Readers.

 

What do Readers look like?

Readers vary in appearance, just like Monsters and Humans. They can be short (as small as 2.5”) or tall (the biggest on record was 10” in height!), and while many look human, others have animal or mythological aspects to their appearance.

 

Do Readers have SOULs?

Readers do, indeed, have SOULs, though they are very different from both Human and Monster SOULs. Since Reader’s are composed of magic from both species, their SOULs vary in size and shape. The amount of each magic determines the shape of the Reader’s SOUL. If a Reader has mostly Human magic, their SOUL will be mostly right-side up and show plenty of color. If a Reader’s SOUL is mostly Monster magic, their SOUL will be mostly upside-down and be almost all white. If a Reader is close to having half of each type of magic, their SOUL will be half upside-down and half right-side up, and will have both color and colorless sections.

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This type of divide can create very odd-looking SOULs that can almost appear broken to the untrained eye. There has been more than one report of panicked caretakers bringing their Reader in for help upon seeing their Reader’s SOUL, believing them to be injured. It is important for new caretakers to know that their Reader’s SOUL will be very different from their own.

The composition of the Reader's SOUL also determines what happens upon their death. A Reader who has more human magic will leave their body behind, while a Reader who has more monster magic will turn to dust. 

 

Do Reader’s SOUL colors have meanings?

Yes! Since a Reader’s SOUL color comes from the Human magic they absorbed upon creation, their SOUL color closely resembles personality traits, the same as Human SOUL colors. Unlike most Human SOULs, however, Readers can have multiple colors in their SOULs at the same time, due to having a larger emotional capacity.

The colors and their corresponding emotion or personality trait are listed below.

Red - Determination

Orange - Bravery

Yellow - Justice

Green - Kindness

Blue - Integrity

Indigo - Curiosity

Violet - Perseverance

Aqua - Patience

Pink - Love/Affection

Brown - Adventurous/Foolish

Black - Hatred/Violence

Gray - Remorse/Sorrow

White - Balanced/Hidden Soul

Gold - Generous/Caring

Silver - Courageous

The tint or hue of the color in their SOUL, as well as on their sweater, relates to how strong that trait is in the Reader. For example, a Reader with a very light green or pale green sweater would be kind, but also very timid. In contrast a Reader with a dark green or forest green sweater would be one to go out of their way to help another, no matter who (or what) they are.

Like any Human or Monster, a Reader’s SOUL color can change over time, depending on health and well being, time of year, and/or situations and events they face. Any Reader with a SOUL that appears to be ‘flickering’ or rapidly shifting in color should be taken to a doctor immediately; it is a sign of ‘Falling Down,’ especially in older Readers.

 

Why do Readers in the shelter wear color-coded sweaters?

The sweaters Readers wear when in the shelter are given to them when they first arrive. The sweaters are made and donated by Monsters all over Mt. Ebott and are imbued with a special spell which ‘reads’ the Reader’s SOUL when they are first worn. The Reader’s SOUL dyes the sweater over the course of an hour or so, and the sweater will remain that color for the rest of its existence. The sweaters are used to identify the stand-out traits in each Reader in order to pair them with the appropriate Monster caretaker.

 

Why do Readers need a Monster Caretaker?

Readers and Monsters have a symbiotic relationship. Monsters provide emotional stability that Readers require in order to keep their SOULs balanced. Because their SOULs are a mix of Human and Monster magic, Readers grow physically unstable over time. Without a stable source of magic to feed their SOUL, a Reader with a heavily split SOUL (more than 30%/70% of either Monster/Human or Human/Monster, in general) will die within a few weeks of being created because their SOUL cannot handle being that differentiated on it’s own. Thanks to the genius of the Royal Scientists, The Hart Shelter is equipped with Magical diffusers that are used to help Readers stay in good health until they are adopted.

Readers and Monsters alike benefit from being together on an emotional level as well. When paired well, Readers and Monsters can easily forge a bond that is familial in nature, and often times a Reader will live as long as their Monster does. With their ability to read the emotions of a Monster they have bonded with, even emotions not being openly displayed, Readers can provide stability and serve as a type of therapy companion to Monsters afflicted with depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and other mental disorders.

Aren’t Readers just pets?

NO.

Readers are sapient, and are protected by the same laws as the Monsters on Mt. Ebott. They have the acceptance of the royalty of all the Clans currently living on the mountain and there are laws in place to protect them. Harming Readers, denying them their rights, or otherwise causing them distress is punishable under the law and carries hefty fines and jail time.

If you have any questions about the laws specifically, consult your Clans charter.

 

What kind of Reader is best for me?

This pamphlet isn’t a mind reader! If you’d like to adopt a Reader or volunteer at the shelter, please come visit Miss Hart’s Shelter on South Street, two doors down from Alpha Grillby’s Bar and Grill. We look forward to meeting you!

Sincerely,

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Rivet Hart

Proprietor of The Hart Shelter

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Howdy!

Welcome to Mt. Ebott!

We understand you may be a bit confused, as you literally just climbed out from under a rock and are now seeing double/triple/quadruple/multiply ad infinitum, but this pamphlet should clear up any questions you have about this mountain and the community we’ve built here!

 

Where am I?

Congratulations! If you are reading this, your human (or king/queen/ruler/overlord/etc.) has broken the Barrier and helped you escape to the Surface. You are currently standing on Mt. Ebott in what is known as the Alpha Universe. Why is it known as the Alpha Universe? We’ll get to that in a second!

For now take a deep breath and take a look around. Enjoy the trees, the grass, the sky, and the feel of the breeze on your skin. Once you are calm, please continue reading this pamphlet. It has a lot of important information in it!

 

What is the Alpha Universe?

Twenty years ago, the monsters living beneath this Mt. Ebott broke the barrier with the help of a human child named Frisk (who is now the Alpha Clan ambassador to the Humans). We built a city upon this mountain and live in peace, away from the humans, who granted us the land as a ‘protective reserve.’

One year to the day that we escaped, a new group of Monsters emerged from the tunnel that led to the Underground, claiming that they had been living beneath the mountain for the past thousand years. Several of the monsters resembled important figures in our own community, include the King and Queen, ambassador Frisk, and many others. With the help of the Royal Scientists we came to understand that these new monsters were from an ‘alternate reality.’ Something in the magic of the Barrier connected our realities, and when they emerged they somehow passed through a type of rip in space-time to arrive on our Mt. Ebott.

Every year since, to the day, a new alternate universe has broken through their Barrier and arrived here on Mt. Ebott. They have all brought along their own rulers, guards, businesses, and scientists. Thanks to the pooling of our resources, the Royal Scientists have created gates that lead back to their original universes that are free to be used by their respective Clans.

 

What is a Clan?

Clan is a word we use to identify which universe we are from. The Alpha Clan refers to those who were with the original group to break the Barrier and establish a city on Mt. Ebott. Those of the Swap Clan came through the year after, and have personalities and positions that are ‘swapped’ with their Alpha Clan counterparts. There are many different clans, all of which are diverse in many ways. The back page of this pamphlet has a list of the Clans as well as their symbols, so that you may learn more about them. Please read it closely, as not all Clans get along due to personality clashes. If you have any questions, please seek out your leader or guard captain and let them know.

 

Are there Humans on Mt. Ebott?

No. Humans did, at first, stay on the mountain as ambassadors from their own countries but over time several attacks led them to leave for their own safety. After the last ambassador left we closed the mountain to Humans until such a time as they could show themselves to be trustworthy. Thanks to the brilliance of the Royal Scientists Gaster, Wing Dings, W.D. Gaster, Wings, and Dings, a forcefield has been set up around the mountains base that prevents any humans from coming up. Due to the large amount of land granted to us, there is plenty of room to roam, explore, and create a home here without the threat of running into a human.

There are a few humans allowed upon the mountain aside from the Ambassador Frisk and their counterparts, but it is advised that if you see any human you are not familiar with you call the Royal Guard. The humans are used to it, and will not be angry at being checked for an ID. It is better to be safe than sorry, after all.

 

What laws are there on Mt. Ebott?

The laws on the mountain are simple: be kind. There is no violence permitted, and no call for theft or vandalism. Other laws, such as drinking age, curfews, etc. for your Clan will be discussed with your leaders and announced at a later time.

Remember: when given the choice, choose kind.

 

What do I do now?

Relax! Enjoy the sunshine/starlight and let us handle everything for the next few days. We will meet with your Clan leaders, establish an exit strategy for your Underground, and begin moving you to the newest neighborhood as soon as possible. Thanks to the resources each clan is able to provide, there is more than enough housing, food, and jobs for everybody. If you have children still in stripes, please make sure you enquire about the nearest school and enroll them. Please note that Gold is the standard currency on the mountain. If your clan uses something else, hold tight and a conversion method will be setup within a day or two.

If you need anything at all please ask a palace guard, and they will be happy to help you. If you would prefer to stay Underground until you are able to acclimate to the surface, there is a hotel you may stay at, free of charge, in the Alpha Underground Hotland, as well as several trained therapists who can help you adjust to this new, exciting world.

We are glad you are joining us!

King Asgore (Alpha Clan)

 

Please get to know these symbols. Your own Clan will create one to represent you and your Underground within the next few weeks. There are plenty more Clans on Mount Ebott. Please see the Librarby for a full list if you are interested!

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Chapter Text

 

                It had been an amazing morning at Rivethart’s Itty Bitty Reader Shelter (a subsidiary of Crybaby’s Bitty Bones Inc.). Several little Readers had found forever homes with kind, trustworthy monsters. Alpha Clan Mettaton had swept in and cleaned out the clothing section of the store, as well as buying several new furniture sets and a few larger bags of the more expensive Muffet-Brand treats. The splurge had set Rivet’s sale goals for the next month, and she was planning on buy pizza that night for her and her little Readers to celebrate.

                None of the Readers had started squabbling – in fact, they were all getting along better than ever! It was play time, which meant all two-dozen of them were in the Pen. The Pen was a large area blocked off in the front corner of the store by a two-foot high wall; small enough for most monsters to step over, but tall enough that the Readers (who tended to range in height from 3 ½ inches to 6 or 7 inches) couldn’t climb out and get into trouble. There was no shouting, squabbling over toys, or play-fighting going on today – even the Biters (well, they were ‘Aggressive’ on the poster, but Rivet had enough scars on her fingers to call them whatever she wanted) were behaving.

                And, as anybody familiar with Murphy’s Law knows, when everything goes this well, something bad is lurking just around the corner.

                In this case, the bad came in the form of two skeletons in sharp suits wielding weapons – the short one had a tommy gun hanging casually from his hand, pointed at the ground, while the tall one had a bone-shaped club resting over one shoulder. They cut quite a dashing figure, radiating a 20’s mobster movie charm. The deer monster would have swooned, if she didn’t find them irritating as hell.

                “Sans. Papyrus.” Rivet greeted the two as she turned from the Pen and caught sight of them. Her voice was soft and low, quiet enough that the Readers couldn’t hear her. “If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times, no weapons in the store.”

                Papyrus’ fingers twitched around the hilt of his bone club, but Sans merely smiled and wiggled the tommy gun at the floor, one eye drooping in a lazy wink. “C’mon, toots, you know me ‘n’ Paps would never hurt you or your little buddies.”

                “Don’t. Care.” Rivet pointed to a sign posted by the door. It was vinyl, and with the sun shining they could see the printed side through the back. There was a gun, a sword, and a magical spear gathered together in a red circle with a line through it. “No weapons in the store. No exceptions.”

                “Yeesh, kid, you’re gonna ruin our look.” Sans deep Boston accent slurred a bit as he pulled out his phone and popped the gun into the magical inventory. Papyrus simply dismissed his bone, which dissolved into magic and settled back into his frame.

                “Thank you.” The deer huffed, hands on her hips. “Now, what can I do for you gentlemen?”

                “Gentlemen?” Sans popped a brow, smirking. “Last time you called us brutes.”

                Rivet returned the smirk. “Gentlemen, brutes, same thing.” She shrugged. “Now, is there a reason you’re bothering me? It must be important, if you came in waving weapons to intimidate me.”

                “We weren’t trying to intimidate you,” Papyrus corrected, a hand on his chest to convey his sincerity. “It is simply a habit from when we are on the job.”

                “Ah. And you’re on the job right now…?” Rivet crossed her arms and cocked one hip, waiting.

                “Yeah, we are.” Sans tilted his fedora back with his thumb, having to look up a bit to meet her eyes. “We need to talk to you ‘bout something serious.”

                Rivet searched his eye sockets for a moment, then glanced at his brother. Papyrus stood on his right, slightly behind him, an impressive show of strength and an attentive backer. Well, normally attentive backer. As Rivet watched, he glanced at the large pen on the floor in the corner of the room. It was playtime, and all the Readers were romping around. Some Adventurous ones had decided to scale a model castle using paperclips and string, while a handful of Curious and Intellectuals tag-teamed a monster-sized game of chess. Impressive, seeing how the pieces were almost as tall as themselves. The space was a play area for the readers, as well as a space that allowed potential adopters to play and interact with them.

                “Papyrus,” Rivet ignored the shorter skeleton, “Could you do me a favor?”

                The tall skeleton frowned, and the monster wanted to smack herself – asking for a favor from a Mobtale was always a bad idea. Ah well, too late now.

                “Yes?” The skeleton asked carefully.

                “Will you please watch over the Readers while I speak with your brother?” She tilted her head towards the Pen.

                Papyrus hesitated, glancing at his little brother, who sighed heavily. “Go on, Papyrus. I’m more than happy to explain the problem to our friend myself.” The taller skeleton looked like he wanted to squeal in excitement. He quickly schooled his face into something softer and hurried over to the pen. He stepped over the half-wall and sat, only to immediately be swarmed by enthusiastic Readers.

                “How is your inventory doing, kid?” Sans glanced around the large main room, taking in the soft blue walls and colorful posters.

                “If I’ve told you once I’ve told you a thousand times,” Rivet huffed, “They’re not my inventory. They’re my friends.”

                “Mm.” Sans expression softened a bit. “Right. So, have you gotten any new friends lately?”

                “A few.” Rivet crossed her arms, looking him up and down. “Why, are you looking to adopt? Fill that empty place that used to be your SOUL?”

                The skeleton glowered, but didn’t lash out. It was a common fight between the two, one that played out every time he visited. “Nah,” he tapped his chest, “My SOUL’s as empty as ever. I was wondering, though – you get any new friends that are, eh, special?”

                “Every Reader is special and unique in their own way.” Rivet jabbed at one of the posters on a nearby wall, which displayed the saying in bright, neon letters.

                “Not that kind of special.” Sans pinched at the slight ridge above his nose cavity, eyes closing as he heaved a heavy sigh. “I mean Readers with weird marks or hair or things that make them stand out more than usual.”

                Rivet froze, feeling her stomach drop to be replaced with an organ made of dread and malaise. “Sans, why are you asking me this?” She asked, slowly.

                The skeleton shoved his hands in his pocket and rocked back on his heels, keeping his eyes on the deer’s rapidly paling face. Even the blue-gray fur on her cheeks was beginning to turn white.

                “No reason,” Sans answered, turning away from her. “Just keep an eye out, kid. You got my number – call me if you see anything strange.” He strode away with heavy, sure steps, stopping by the pen.

                Papyrus was in heaven. There were at least a dozen different Readers sprawled over his lanky body. Some Adventurous ones had climbed all the way to his shoulders and skull, while the others made themselves comfortable by sprawling over his limbs or snuggling in his lap. The tall skeleton was stone still, fearing any movement would harm the little Readers, though a please hum slipped between his teeth as one of the Readers began petting his cheek.

                “C’mon, Paps, we gotta go.” Sans seemed a little reluctant to disturb his brother, and Papyrus seemed equally reluctant to leave. He began to carefully scoop off the Readers and set them down, saying goodbye to each and every one. Rivet moved over and helped him, shooing the little Readers away to their activities. The Curious restarted their chess game, the Intellectuals (she called them Smarties, but never to their face) went to the well-stocked bookshelves, while the others dispersed to the toys to amuse themselves. Finally, Papyrus was Reader-free and able to step over the short wall that kept the pen separate from the rest of the store.

“You’re welcome to visit them any time, Papyrus.” Rivet told him, grinning at the spark that lit up his thin eyes. He tipped his hat to Rivet, then left through the door Sans was holding open.

“Sans,” Rivet grabbed the skeletons suit sleeve, tugging him to a stop. Sans tensed but didn’t lash out, though his fingers twitched and the deer was sure if he had a gun in hand she’d be dust, or at least very sore. “If you were to find any ‘special’ Readers in need of a home, there will always be room here. No matter how many need to come.”

The gangster met her eyes, and for a moment they just stared at each other. Finally, he slowly nodded. “I’ll let you know if I find any new friends for you.”

She nodded back and held the door open for him, watching as he and his brother climbed into a sleek red convertible and took off. It seemed like, no matter the clan, each Papyrus owned at least one convertible. Huh.

 


 

                You were tired, but couldn’t sleep. The cage was small and cold, a flat metal base and roof wrapped around with chicken wire. The cages were stacked one on top of the other, all against one large wooden wall. Each cage had three or four Readers in it, all huddled together for warmth and comfort and, to some extent, safety.

                You’d been stuck in a cage with two larger male Readers, one an Adventurous and the other a Jumper. As soon as you’d been thrown into the small space (you were part of a new ‘shipment’ and had arrived only a few days ago) they had pulled you to the back of the cage, farthest from the wire door, and sandwiched you safely between them.

                “Don’t talk when they’re around,” Adventure had warned quietly, nodding towards one of the large monsters standing by the doorway to the small room. “They don’t like it.”

                “And don’t look at them.” Jumper had his arm around your shoulder, holding you tight against his side. “Just be still and quiet. The less attention you draw, the better.”

                Adventure had tugged at your purple sweater curiously, then grinned and rested his chin on your head. “Heh, you’re a Justice, huh? It’s rough here, but don’t worry – we’ll all be okay.”

                That had been two days ago. Over those days, Readers had been taken from their cages and out of the room. Most of the time they were returned, bearing bandages or odd haircuts. Many times their faces were red and puffy from crying, and other times they were unconscious when they were brought back. A few were never brought back at all.

                You asked where they were taken, but neither of your cage mates would tell you. The readers in the neighboring cages wouldn’t tell you either – it was a taboo subject. Instead, the Creative in the cage to your left told stories to keep you all entertained, and you all ate the little ‘nutrition bars’ the monsters provided you. At night you tried to sleep, despite the cold and anxiety eating at you. During the day you snuggled between your cage mates and dozed, comforted by their soft voices. It was after one of those sleepless nights that your cage door was open.

                A monster – scaly, red, with an unpleasant snout full of sharp teeth – unlocked the little wire door and thrust his large, clawed hand in. The sound of talons scraping across metal jolted you all the way awake just before the monster’s fingers pushed you to the side. The tree-trunk thick digits wrapped around Jumper, who was unnaturally quiet and still, and yanked him harshly from the cage.

                “Jump!” You tried to scramble upright, but Adventure had his arms around you, pinning you against him as the cage was relocked. “No, let him go! Bring him back!”

                “SILENCE!” The dragon monster slammed his fist against the front of your cage, rattling the entire wall of enclosures. You shrunk back against Adventure, who turned a bit, shielding you from him. He ran a hand through your hair, hugging you tightly.

                “What’s gonna happen to Jump?” You asked clinging to Adventures dirty orange sweater.

                “He’ll be fine,” Adventure soothed, shifting so the both of you were pressed into the corner of the cage. In the next cage, Curious and his mates moved to rub at your shoulder through the chicken wire. “Jump is strong, he’ll be fine.” The two of you stayed in the corner for the rest of the day, worrying about your friend as the hours ticked by.

 


 

                An exhausted Jump was returned just as the sun began to set. His face was blotchy and red, though as soon as the dragon monster had thrown him back in he’d wiped at his face and put on a cheery smile.

                “Hey guys,” he croaked, voice rough and stressed, as though he’d been screaming for hours. “Miss me?”

                “Jump!” You threw yourself at him, wrapping your arms around his neck and holding him tight. He had to stoop a bit, being much taller than you. “I was so scared you wouldn’t come back!”

                “And leave you with only Ad’s bad jokes? Never, Justy! You’re my best friend!” He ruffled your hair, and only then did you realize that the sleeves of his bright blue jumper had been torn off. Each arm was wrapped in bandages, which were dotted with blood.

                You immediately let him go and took a step back, aghast. “Jump, what happened? What did they do to you?”

                “It’s nothing, Justy. I’m fine.”

                “Bullshit.” Ad snorted, pulling the active Reader into a tight hug. “C’mon, come sit down.” You followed them both to your regular corner, and found yourself squished between them like normal. “How do you feel?”

                Jump tugged at one of the bandages, wincing as it shifted against his skin. “It hurts, but it’s not bad. You know it’ll heal up in no time. They’ll give me some of that weird monster food tomorrow and I’ll be fine.”

                “What’d they do to you?” You asked softly, catching his hand in your own and holding onto it tightly. The bandages went all the way up to his shoulders and beneath parts of his sweater.

                “It’s nothing, kid. Just branding.” He yanked his arm free and draped it around your shoulder instead.

                “Branding?”

                “Don’t worry about it.” He tugged you over so your head was resting against his chest. “C’mon, neither of us have gotten much sleep lately. Maybe tonight we can snooze through Ad’s snoring.”

                “Hey, I don’t snore!”

                You giggled and tucked your head beneath his chin as the slightly-insulted Ad leaned against you both, rounding out the cuddle pile. The three of you managed to sleep through the night for once, despite the worry and pain all three of you felt.

 


 

                You were the last to wake that morning. Your little corner of the cage was cold – Ad and Jump were standing by the door, picking at the nutrition bars the monsters had dropped off during the night. One of them was wrapped in a bright green package, which Jump was scarfing down.

                “Morning,” you greeted sleepily, shambling over to them. Ad handed you one of the tasteless bars, and you obligingly nibbled on it, not all that hungry. “How do you feel, Jump?”

                “Much better,” Jump said as he finished off the bar. As soon as it was gone, he began unwrapping the bandages around his arms. You watched, stunned, as the bloody fabric fell away.

                The skin was healed, but marks had been left. Dark lines of ink covered his arms in complex, intricate patterns. A few spots of blood clung to the curves, but they flecked off as he flexed and rolled his arms.

                “W-what did they do t-to you?” You asked, cautiously running a hand over his arm. Ad was examining the other one closely, tracing the lines with his finger.

                “Tattoos.” Jump explained, pulling his arms away and tugging at the frayed shoulders of his jumper, where he’d once had sleeves.

                “Why?”

                Ad sighed, running a hand down his face. “It makes us more ‘desirable’ as pets,” he huffed. “It makes us ‘unique’ and ‘exotic.’ They do it so they can sell us for more.”

                “Sell?” You felt a sick pit open in your stomach. “But – but I thought King Asgore outlawed the selling of Readers – we’re sentient! Just as smart as them! We’re only allowed to be adopted, no sold.”

                “Tell that to them,” Jump hissed, motioning to the monsters who had just entered. “They don’t care – they just want gold.”

                Ad and Jump both sighed, finishing their food and dropping the wrappers in the little box the monsters delivered the food in. “I’m going back to sleep,” Jump huffed, returning to his corner. He shouldered past you, and you couldn’t help but stare after him, a little hurt.

                “Don’t take it personally,” Ad assured you, hugging you tightly. “He’ll feel better later, once he’s use to them.” One last squeeze and he wandered over to the other corner, slumping down with a tired sigh. Neither of them were fast enough to grab you when the cage door was yanked open and you were grabbed.

                “Justice!”

                “Justy!”

                You squeaked as you were squeezed. The monster who had grabbed you – the same red dragon from the day before – relatched the cage door and strode from the room. He held his hand at his chest, though not close enough so you were touching. In fact, he even seemed a bit sick at the idea of touching you with his bare scales.

                Outside of the room with the cages was a long hallway with bright lights and ugly, artsy prints on the wall. Beside the door you’d been brought through was the words ‘Storage Center.’ Other doors were labeled as ‘Storage Room #’ or ‘Office #.’ The dragon carried you past all of these to a door with a small window in it at the end of the hall.

                Inside the room was several tall tables – almost as chin height for a standard-height monster. Each one had a small padded gurney on it with tiny, Reader-sized restraints. There were needles and inks all over the room, as well as dyes, scissors, knives, and other tools you’d never seen before. At one of the tables was a tall monster dressed in a black labcoat over a white turtleneck.

                “I’ve got number J-24 for you, sir.” The dragon moved to the table nearest the man and dropped you roughly on top of the tiny padded gurney.

                The monster turned to smile at the dragon. His heads and hands were bone – a skeleton monster of some kind. There were lines along his face – one arching up from his right eye, the other dropping from his left eye to the corner of his mouth. A pair of slim, rectangular glasses were attached to his face (somehow – he had no ears?).

                “Ah, thank you, Burner.” His hands moved quickly, and before you could move from the gurney he had you strapped down, the leather restraints holding you tight against the plush surface. Your arms were attached to armrests that could be moved up, down, out, and in.

                “Sure thing, Dr. Gaster. This the only one you need today?”

                “Yes, thank you.” The skeleton waved him off, turning all his attention to you. His fingers – long, thin, dainty – easily tore off the sleeves of your sweater, exposing your arms. He picked up what looked like a tiny gun with a needle instead of a muzzle. A small bottle of purple ink was attached to it. “Alright then, J-24. Let’s get started, shall we?”

Chapter Text

            You were lucky to have found the take-out box when you had. The thin Styrofoam was waterproof, which meant it was also snow proof. It was the perfect size for a burger or sandwich, but any leftover food was long gone. That left you a perfectly-sized shelter from the falling, fluffy snow.

            The lip bent beneath your slight weight as you climbed in. There was a bit of melted cheese stuck to one side, and the entire thing smelled like grease and salt. It wasn’t exactly pleasant, but a bad smell was a small price to pay for shelter from the snow. You tucked yourself into the corner farthest from the opening, ignoring the way your stomach ached for attention.

            Life on the streets was not as easy as you’d thought it would be. Yes, it was preferable to your life before, but being on the run was proving to have its own difficulties. Food was scarce, shelter from the elements was spotty, and the threat of being found was a constant weight on your mind.

            Still, you thought as you ran your fingers over the deep cut along the back of your right arm, it’s better than before. The gash had scabbed over, but the skin around it was red and puffy, and there was a slight green tint to parts of the scab. It was bad, you knew, but short of walking up to a monster and asking for aid there was nothing you could do.

            A fierce wind whipped through the alley you’d taken shelter in, shaking your box and bringing with it the sound of heavy footsteps crunching through the snow. You tucked yourself deeper into the corner of your box, hoping that whoever it was, they weren’t looking for food. As the steps grew closer, you began to make out some mumbling.

            “Can’t believe the fuck threw out my smokes.” The voice was deep and rough, like a garbage disposal gargling rocks. “Fuckin’ asshole, who the hell does he think he is?” There was a clatter as the lid of the trash can beside your hiding spot was yanked off and tossed to the ground. A rustling of plastic bags and cardboard nearly drowned out the monsters angry muttering as he rooted through the trash.

            “Dammit! Fuckin’ Grillby – bet he just burned them up. I’m gonna extinguish that fucker…” The lid was slammed back down on the can. The snow crunched as the monster – a male, judging from the voice – stomped his foot several times, hissing more threats under his breath. You huddled deeper into the box, wrapping your arms around yourself and hoping that he wasn’t going to knock over the trash can. You couldn’t help but think that death by squishing would be a painful way to go.

            “ARGH!” You weren’t exactly sure what happened – one minute you were in the corner of the box, staring blankly at the sticky glob of cheese as you listened to him rant. Then suddenly you were airborne, the white box flopping open as it was kicked by what appeared to be a black and yellow sneaker. You screeched in surprise, entire body jolted by the impact that sent the box flying. Instinctively, you pulled your knees up to your chest, hiding your face.

            The impact was just as painful as you thought it would be. You rolled and slid along the snow, wincing as the ice rubbed against your arms. A cry slipped past your lips, though it was drowned out by a rather loud, “What the FUCK?” From behind you. Slowly – painfully – you rolled over to look up at the monster that had kicked the box.

            He wasn’t the biggest monster you’d seen, but he was wide, dressed in a black jacket with a fluffy hood and basketball shorts. His skull was smooth and white, made of bone, with holes for his eyes and nose, and a mouth of sharp, shark-like teeth, one of which was gold. In his eye sockets were little white pips, which were focused solely on you.

            Had you not been in pain and terrified, you would have groaned. This edgy-looking skeleton was obviously part of the Underfell Clan. They were more violent, angry, and dangerous than the other clans. Your last owner had been an Underfell, with unfortunately sharp claws and a short temper. Plenty of Readers happily lived with Underfell monsters, but you hadn’t been as lucky as them.

            “A reader?” The skeleton had slowly approached while you looked him up and down. You didn’t – couldn’t – move as he drew to a stop only a few feet away and crouched down to get a better look at you. “I didn’t know there were feral readers,” the monster muttered to himself, shifting so he was leaning on one hand and holding the other out to poke at you.

            You snapped your teeth at the approaching finger, doing your best to scoot back in the snow to put some distance. The skeleton stopped, raising a brow as you growled, shoulders hunched up around your ears. “Heh. Feisty, aren’t you?” He kept his hand hovering between you, his gaze curious but not angry. “Careful kiddo, don’t want to go biting off more than you can chew.” He chuckled at the pun, not seeming put out that you didn’t even smile.

            “So, what’s a little reader like you doing out in this kind of weather? Where’s your owner?” His gaze flickered around the alley, as though hoping to see a random monster hop out with a Reader carrier and a worried expression. You wanted to snort at the thought – it had been a week and the bastard hadn’t found you yet. You doubted he was even looking for you.

            “No owner, then?” The skeleton had re-focused on you. “What, were you ditched?” He tried to poke you again, but you shuffled aside, leaning hard to the right and glaring at him. “Or are you a little runaway?” He squinted and rocked forward on his toes, getting a better look at you. “You’re pretty banged up, kid. Rough time on the streets?” To your surprise, he actually sounded a bit worried.

            He tilted forward and rested his knees on the snow, watching with an amused little smirk as you dragged yourself backwards. You were so focused on glaring at his face that you missed the fact that his hands were free now. In one quick move, he had clapped them around you, scooping you up in a warm, boney hammock. He lifted you up to his face, sharp teeth gleaming as he grinned.

            “Heh, sorry kid. You looked a little bonely on the ground there.” His breath smelled like mustard and relish, and you wrinkled your nose as it engulfed you. The hands around you were rough but gentle, cradling you from the wind and snow. “Let’s get you outta the cold.” He stood, and you felt the swooping feeling of your stomach getting left below. “I’ve never done this with a Reader before, so, uh, close your eyes and hold on tight.”

            You obeyed, squeezing your eyes shut and curling in on yourself. For better or worse you’d been caught by a large skeleton with pointy teeth and an odd sense of humor. Whatever happened next was out of your hands.

            A weird feeling made your stomach stick to the back of your spine, and your brain felt like it was made of chewing gum. Despite having your eyes shut tight, your vision wavered, stars bursting behind closed lids. The hands that held you were steady throughout it all, and despite not knowing what exactly to expect, they made you feel a bit safer.

            “Hey buddy, you still alive?” The skeleton wiggled his hands a bit. “You can, uh, open your eyes now.”

            You slowly opened one eye, and when nothing attacked you or blew up, you opened the other. The skeleton was looking down at you with a bit of worry, droplets of sweat sliding down his skull. You slowly sat up and rubbed at your face, trying to shake the sticky feeling from your mind.

            “Heh, sorry. Teleportin’ is always rough the first few times.”

            You zoned out halfway through his explanation, distracted by the fact that you were now inside, where it was warm and safe. The two of you were in a brightly-lit kitchen with orange-white tiles and a sink that was much, much too tall to be of any real use to anybody as short as the skeleton. While you were looking around, said short skeleton set you down on a small breakfast table shoved in the corner of the kitchen.

            “Yeesh, kid, you’re filthy. How long you been living in the trash?” He crouched beside the table, bringing his eyes to your level and looking at you closely. When you didn’t answer, he did his best to soften his sharp smile. “C’mon, kid, you can talk to me.” He tapped his sharp fingers (claws? Talons?) against the tabletop patiently.

            That was a pleasant surprise – your last owner had been very strict with a ‘pets are to be seen, not heard’ policy. You rolled your tongue around your mouth, then licked your lips and spoke.

            “A-a-about a w-week.” Perhaps ‘spoke’ was too generous a description – it sounded more like a froggit croaking than anything else. You swallowed hard, preparing to repeat yourself, but the skeleton beat you to it.

            “A week? Hell, kiddo, you got guts!” He chuckled. “How did something as tiny as you survive a week in this neighborhood?” He seemed suitably impressed. “Explains why you’re so banged up though. So, you got a name, kiddo?”

            You shrugged, averting your eyes. “Master never gave me one.”

            “’Master’? Heh, kinky.”

            You blushed bright red, bristling a bit. “Not like that!” You croaked.

            He chuckled, but stopped when you looked away, embarrassed. “Aw, c’mon kid, I’m just teasing.”

            Still pouting, you glared at him from the corner of your eye. “So what’s your name then?”

            “I’m Sans. Sans the Skeleton.’ He tipped you a wink. “Good to meet ya, Tiny.”

            “Nice to meet you too.” You responded, absently scratching at the cut on your arm.

            The skeleton wrinkled his oddly-pliable bone brow as he looked you up and down. “Ugh, you need a bath.” You frowned, but he cut you off before you could protest. “Boss won’t let you stay if he thinks you’re dirty.” He stood and moved to one of the counters, bending over to root through the cabinet beneath.

            “W-who’s ‘Boss’?” You asked, scooting to the edge of the table to watch as he pulled out a small plastic cereal bowl with Mettaton’s face on it (the Alpha Clan one, not the Fell Clan one).

            “My bro.” Sans flicked his hand and levitated the bowl up to the sink. A few more twitched turned on the water. “He won’t want you to stay, like, at all, but if you’re at least presentable then I might be able to convince him ta’ let me keep ya.” The floating bowl dipped beneath the water, which had run warm while Sans spoke. As soon as there was a decent amount, he snapped his phalanges and teleported the bowl straight onto the table. He turned off the tap and returned to the table, washcloth and soap in hand.

            “Alright Tiny, in the tub.” He dipped the washcloth in the bowl, then rubbed the wet corner over the bar of soap, lathering it up.

            “What? No!” You crossed your arms over your chest and glared at him.

            Sans snorted, setting down the washcloth and giving you a dangerous smile. “That wasn’t a request, kiddo.” He reached towards you, only to stop when you smacked one of his fingers. It hurt you more than him, but you didn’t show it, distracted at the moment.

            “I’m perfectly capable of washing myself!” You declared angrily.

            “No, yer not.” Sans snorted, leaning on the table. “You’re hurt, tired, probably runnin’ a fever, and you’re been tremblin’ since I grabbed ya. Yer very fucking far from being okay enough to be left alone.” His comment surprised you – trembling? You glanced down at your hands, and saw tremors gently run through your limbs. You’d been so distracted by the monster that you hadn’t even noticed. Now that you had, however, your legs began to feel weak beneath you.

            Sans sighed and ran a hand down his face. “Look, Tiny, you got spunk. I c’n appreciate that. But I’m not gonna let ya drown just ‘cause you’re shy. I don’t give a rat’s ass about how yer skinny Reader body looks. Now get in the tub or I’ll force ya in!”

            You hesitated, which he apparently took as defiance. He growled (it was much scarier when he did it), and his left eye lit up with an angry red glow. A snap of his fingers and your ragged, dirty clothes were on the table in a heap beside you. You squeaked and tried to cover yourself, earning an eye roll from the annoyed monster.

            “You don’t have anything I’m interested in, kid.” He scooped you up and dropped you in the water. It was a bit too warm, but the blissful feeling of being completely warm for the first time in a week overrode any pain you felt.

            The water was almost three inches deep, coming part of the way up your chest. As soon as you’d surfaced and got your feet beneath you, Sans shoved the washcloth in your face and began scrubbing the dirt off your skin.

            Is was a very odd feeling, being washed by the large monster. The washcloth was soft and Sans hands were warm and gentle. Your old master had never done this – you’d been a toy to show off, a trained pet to impress others. He’d never taken the time of make sure you were happy or even simply content. The monster had certainly never taken the time to bathe you himself, or tend to your wounds (most of which he, himself, inflicted).

            Neither of you spoke as Sans scrubbed away the dirt. You were too flustered, while the monster was focused on not irritating the scabs and bruises that littered your body. Your old master’s treatment, combined with a week dodging around back alleys, had really done a number on you. The warm water quickly grew a murky gray as your skin returned to its normal color. By the time Sans finished, the warmth of the bath water and his gentle touch had turned you in a limp noodle.

            “Yeesh, kid,” Sans lifted you out of the water and draped a dry dish towel around you, “What’d you do, steal all the dirt in the king’s garden?” You pulled the towel tight around your shoulders and peered over the edge of his hand. The water was too murky to see through, and plenty of dirt clumps and strands of grass and twigs floated along the top.

            The monster set you on the table before dumping out the water in the too-tall sink. He plucked your clothes off the table before you could wiggle back into them.

            “Heh, wow. These have seen better days, huh?” He grabbed the wet washcloth and balled it all together. “I’m gonna throw these in the washer.” He paused, raising a brow thoughtfully. “Huh. I coulda just thrown you in the washer too, I guess.” He grinned widely and winked at you. “Ah well, there’s always next time!” He teleported out of the room. A moment later the rusty pipes beneath the house began to creak, and a wash chugged to life in a nearby room.

            Sans popped back into the kitchen just as the front door banged open, bouncing violently off the wall. The short monster went rigid, sweat beading along his brow, as the new monster crossed the next room with steady, sure, heavy steps.

            He was almost twice as tall as Sans, and ten times as intimidating. He was all hard lines and sharp edges, red and black armor standing out starkly against white bones. His boots clicked sharply against the tile as he strode across the kitchen to stand a few feet away from his brother. His eyes, which lacked the small white-pip pupils, slid over to glance at you. His gaze was sharp and cold, very unlike his brothers.

            “Sans, what is this?” His voice was higher than Sans, and a bit smoother, though there was a nasally undertone.

            Sans shoved his hands into his jacket pockets, is gaze anywhere but his brother. “’s a Reader, Boss. Found them outside o’ Grillby’s.”

            “I see. And what is it doing in our house?” Boss asked, a thick tone of false politeness overlaying his words.

            “I couldn’t just leave ‘em, br – Boss! Boss. They were gonna freeze out there.” He shuffled one sneaker against the tiles, focusing his gaze on the floor.

            “And that is your business…how?” When Sans didn’t answer, Boss ran a hand over his face, sighing heavily. “Honestly, Sans, you can’t be so weak! How do we know it’s not a spy for our enemies, or if it has some kind of disease? You could have let our death into our home simply because it gave you a sad look!”

            You were rather insulted, down below the terror ripping through your body like an electric current. You pulled the dish towel tighter around your shoulders and shuffled back a few steps, closer to the center of the table and farther from the edge. The tall skeleton noticed your movement and snapped his head to the side. His glare pinned you in place, and you hunched your shoulders up around your ears, trying to look as small and innocent as possible.

            Boss sighed again, as though he had been tasked with a great burden. “Sans,” his voice was flat and unkind, “I will forgive you this once.” He flicked his wrist, summoning a large bone – femur, maybe? – that he clutched in one fist like a club. “I will take care of it, but you must never bring another thing into this house again.”

            “Boss, what are ya-“

            Sans was cut off when Boss swung the bone at the table. You barely managed to roll out of the way. The femur slammed down onto the table, creating a large crack and sending splinters into the air.

            “Stand still and it will be painless,” the tall skeleton hissed as he lifted his club, watching with disgust as you scrambled backwards. Your legs tangled in the washcloth and you fell back, head bouncing off the table with a painful (but tiny) thud. You threw your hands up over your head and cringed, waiting for the blow.

            Instead of hearing a crack as the bone shattered your fragile body, you heard an ear-ringing crash from the other side of the room. The feeling of a looming danger had disappeared, which gave you the courage to open your eyes. Boss was gone, and Sans had moved to stand right beside you. You sat up slowly, looking around, and found where the skeleton had gone.

            He had been thrown into the too-tall sink. The door to the cabinet beneath it was splintered, and an avalanche of bones had buried him. If it weren’t for his armor, you wouldn’t have been able to tell where the skeleton ended and the bones began. A pure-black puppy dog leapt out of the cabinet, barking angrily before grabbing one of the larger bones and running from the room.

            Boss was not down for long. The pile of bones heaved and clattered across the tiles as he stood, a furious look on his face. Sans shifted so he stood between you and his seething brother, hands and left eye flickering with dark red magic. The taller skeleton had his own magic flaring, a brighter orange-red than his brother that crackled and arced like lightning. It was much more energetic and dangerous than the darker magic that rolled off his brother in thick, twisting waves.

            The larger skeleton shifted his grip on the femur and slid one leg back, before launching himself across the kitchen at his brother. Your breath hitched – if Boss hit Sans, they would both end up crashing into the table and squish you.

            Instead of panicking or moving out of the way, Sans simply raised a hand. Boss’s SOUL, which had leapt out when he moved to attack, went from a pure white to a dark blue. He was stopped mid-air, hanging in front of his brother, looking surprised and a bit confused.

            “Heh.” A casual twitch of his fingers – not even a full movement, just a lazy little wiggle – and the skeleton went through the wall into the next room, leaving a Boss-shaped hole in his wake. Your jaw dropped, nearly hitting the table, and scrambled to your feet.

            “H-how did you d-do that?”

            Sans snorted, his magic slowly dispersing as he shoved his hands back in his pockets. When he looked back at you, his eyes had returned to white pips. “Magic.”

            You stared at him, trying to figure out if it was okay to start laughing hysterically at the comment after almost being killed. “Really?” You finally deadpanned, matching his smirk.

            “Really,” he winked, pulling one hand from his pocket and using it to scoop you off the table. He lifted you to his shoulder, settling you between the super-fluffy furry collar and the neck of his red turtle-neck sweater. It was surprisingly comfy, and his shoulders were flatter than you’d thought they’d be, the dip of his clavicle creating a nice little spot to sit. “Glad I found ya, Tiny. You’re gonna be a good little pet.” He shuffled to the doorway to the living room and stood there, leaning against the doorjamb.

            Boss was lying on the carpet, surrounded by drywall and wood splinters. His magic had disappeared, and he groaned as he slowly sat up. He held one hand with his claws, wincing in pain as he felt a new divot in his skull.

            “Ya know bro, if you wanted to redecorate, ya coulda just asked.”         

            Boss froze, eyes snapping to Sans, narrowing dangerously. “What did you just call me?” He demanded, climbing to his feet.

            “Bro. Ya know, it’s short for brother. What, would you rather I call you ‘little bro?’” Sans glared at his brother, though his eyes sparked with amusement beneath his wrinkled brows.

            “I am the GREAT and TERRIBLE PAPYRUS!” The taller skeleton bellowed, posing dramatically. His cape flapped, despite there being no breeze in the room. “You do not address me as bro!”

            “Yeah, I do.” Sans looked bored, though you could see sweat beading along the back of his neck from where you were sitting. He pushed himself off the wall and moved to stand in front of his brother, who switched between glaring at you and Sans in turn. The now-named Papyrus was fuming but seemed unsure of what to say next. 

            “Look, bro,” Sans tone was casual, though there was an undercurrent of annoyance and anger to it. “I didn’t do a good enough job raisin’ ya, I get it. I fucked up. I shoulda protected you better when we were growin’ up.” His gaze flickered to the scars along Papyrus’ eye. “More importantly, I shoulda stopped ya when ya started listening to Undyne instead of me.”

            “Undyne has done more for me-“

            “Shut up.” Magic flared, licking along Sans skull. You winced and leaned away from the sudden heat. The skeleton glanced at you from the corner of his flaming eye, and immediately quelled the fire. “I get that you hate me, bro, but that doesn’t give you the right to try and kill them.” He gestured to you. Papyrus’ eyes snapped to you, a ring of orange surrounding one. You huddled down, trying to hide behind the fluffy collar. Spunky or not, you were intimidated by the glare. A snarl from Sans pulled the larger skeletons gaze away, and the magic disappeared as he refocused.

            “Sans-“

            The portly skeleton spoke over him. “I’m done licking your boot heels, Papyrus. This is my house as much as yours. They,” he motioned to you again, “are mine. Deal with it.” He barred his shark teeth at his brother.

            Papyrus was frowning, teeth a deep line in his jaw. He crossed his arms, lines above his nose wrinkling as he stared down at his brother in thought. After several moments of the two glaring at each other, Papyrus snorted.

            “It took you long enough to grow a backbone,” he smirked widely. “Now get out of the way, I need to make dinner.” He shouldered past Sans, who was speechless. You rocked a bit as the taller skeleton passed, but your grip on Sans fluffy jacket kept you from falling.

            When he didn’t say anything or move, you tilted back so you could look up at him. “Does this mean I can stay?” You prodded.

            The short skeleton finally moved, shuffling across the room to fall back onto the ugly green couch in front of the TV. You bounced at the force, nearly falling off his shoulder. His hand came up at the last moment and stopped you from tumbling off.

            “Yeah, Tiny. Welcome home.”

Chapter Text

                You were returned to the cage with bandages wrapped around your hands, arms, and the upper part of your face. Burner – you could tell from his scales – threw you onto a familiar surface and slammed the door shut.

                “Justy!”

                A pair of familiar arms dragged you to the corner of the cage and huddled you close. One hand ran through your hair, another rubbed your back. They were muttering to you, but through the pain that was consuming your head you couldn’t understand them. You fell asleep sandwiched between them, grateful for the reprieve from your aching skin.

                You woke to Jumper pressing a nutrition bar against your lips, speaking softly. “C’mon, you gotta eat it – you’ll feel better.” Your skin felt better already, less achy, but the pain around your eyes hadn’t abated. A pained groan slipped past your lips, but you obligingly took a bite. The food tasted better than the normal bland bars – like strawberries and vanilla and a hint of fresh air. It tingled across your tongue and down your throat, filling your stomach with warmth that spread out to the rest of your body in soft waves. The pain abated, replaced by warm tingling.

                “There we go. Let’s get these off.” Ad was there now, slowly unwrapping the bandages around your eyes. You blinked as the dim light of the overhead fluorescents blinded you for a moment. “Oh god…”

                “How did he do that?”

                “I don’t know. Can you see okay, kid?”

                You yanked your head away from Ad, who was staring intently into your eyes. “What? What’s wrong? What did he do?” You looked between the two, stomach twisting in worry.

                “He tattooed your face.” Jumper ran a thumb beneath your eye, staring at the purple lines. “How the hell did he do that?”

                You reached up and touched at the new slightly-raised lines around your eyes. Dots starts from the small corners near your nose and followed it along the bottom, slowly growing larger before devolving into lines that curved and twisted together to create flourishes along the outsides of your eyes.

                “I don’t remember him touching my face,” You muttered, dropping your bandaged hands. Ad began to unwrap them, revealing careful lines along the backs of your hands, forming neat flower-shaped mandalas with vines that crawled up your arms in twists and braids.

                It was lovely. It was beautiful. It was elegant and clean and obviously professional. You would have loved it.

                But you hadn’t wanted it.

                You didn’t want tattoos. You didn’t want to be permanently branded. Not as an exotic ‘pet’ for the highest bidder. As you looked at the clean, purple lines, you felt your heart sink, and you found yourself hating them.

                “He must have knocked you out,” Jump sighed, squeezing your hand. “I’m sorry we couldn’t protect you, Justy.”

                You snorted. “It’s not your job to protect me,” you pointed out, running a hand down his tattooed arm.

                “We’re bigger than you, shorty!” Ad rested his arm on your head and smirked. “That means we’re supposed to take care of you!”

                You wrinkled your nose. “Does not,” you muttered, though you were pleased by the sentiment. In the next cage, the Creative story-teller had moved to see if you were alright, sporting their own tattoos and marks. They began to speak, weaving together a familiar story with twists to keep all the Readers listening entertained.

                Halfway through the day, Burner returned and took several more Readers, including Ad. You and Jump tried to intervene, but the oldest Reader shot you a stern look and made both of you back off. When he returned later that night, he had black tribal-style tattoos on his muscular arms, the sleeves of his jumper missing like the rest of you.

                That evening, just before the monsters came and turned out the lights to simulate ‘night time,’ the tall skeleton from before strode into the room, hands folded neatly behind his back, black lab coat flaring behind him dramatically. He paced along the wall of cages, looking at you all with his white pip eyes, a pleased smile curling his lips.

                Two other skeleton monsters came in behind him. Both were thin. One was a bit shorter than the doctor, and wore a leather jacket with a fur collar over bare bones The other one was a complete bean pole, towering over the other two and slim as a whip. He wore a neat black jacket over a white turtleneck. Both of them had the same markings on their face as the doctor.

                “I am very pleased,” said doctor purred as he stopped in front of the cages a few rows down. He bent down, looking through the bars at the cowering Readers inside. “All of them have been marked. Good job, boys.”

                Neither skeleton looked particularly happy at being praised, but they nodded all the same, and the taller one smiled a bit wider, if uncertainly. Dr. Gaster didn’t seem to notice.

                “We’ll be able to begin the bidding in two days. Make sure all the pictures are taken tomorrow – I want to get them up on the Overnet as quickly as possible.” Gaster turned and paced from the room, a little bit of pep in his step.

                As soon as he was gone, the other two seemed to deflate a bit. The shorter one’s shoulders slumped and he pulled a pack of cigarettes from his pockets and stuck one between his teeth. The taller one scoffed and snatched it away.

                “No smoking around the Reade – the merchandise,” he snapped, breaking the cigarette in two. The smaller huffed but popped the box back in his pocket.

                “Don’t do that, Paps.” The shorter one muttered, his voice soft but easily heard in the silent room. Every Reader had moved to the back of their cages, clinging to their cage mates, knowing that it might be their last night together. “Don’t get attached.”

                “I’m not attached!” The tall one – Paps – blustered, crossing his arms and looking away. “I am simply keeping you from harming the m-merchandise. Nothing more. You shouldn’t smoke those anyway, Sans. You’re going to get cancer.”

                “Oh yes, my lungs are in danger. Just look at them there.” The short one – Sans – pulled back part of his jacket and gestured to the empty space behind his ribs. Paps huffed and stuttered for a moment before throwing his arms up.

                “Fine. Do what you want. Do not expect me to donate magic when you end up in the hospital on your death bed.” He turned and stomped out of the room, leaving you and the others alone with the shorter skeleton.

                Sans pulled out another cigarette and lit with a flick of his finger before pulling a deep drag. He blew the smoke towards the ceiling, away from the cages. After another puff, he glanced at the wall of prisons from the corner of his sockets. The white pips darted about, taking inventory of each cage, until they landed on you.

                You didn’t look away as he stared into your cage, taking in the sight of you squished between the two larger Readers. His eyes were surprisingly emotional for being mere white specks in black pits. He looked – sad? No, not sad. Defeated.

                What right did he have to look defeated? He wasn’t the one locked up in a cage, about to be sold to who-knows-what in order to be a pet! He hadn’t had his identity stripped from him in the form of intricate brands that had been painfully applied against his will. He had no reason to look anything other than content with life!

                Something – not a flame, but a spark – grew in your belly, and you glared at the skeleton, lips pulling up in a sneer. This wasn’t a zoo – it was a place of mourning. Mourning for those who hadn’t returned from the room with the window in the door. Mourning for the friends and companions you’d all made who would be scattered across the world by tomorrow night. Mourning for the chance of a life you’d never had, because you weren’t a person or even a pet – you were merchandise.

                “What are you looking at?” You demanded loudly, shrugging off your friend’s hands and moving to stand by the cage door, glaring fiercely at the skeleton monster from behind the chicken wire. Ad and Jump hissed at you to stop and come sit back down, but you weren’t listening. You were far beyond listening.

                You were furious.

                “Don’t you dare look at us like you pity us! You helped do this!” You waved your arms, encompassing all the cages in the motion. “This is your fault!”

                “Really?” The monster moved closer so he was right in front of you, bending slightly so he could meet your eyes.

                “YES!” Your arms were shaking at your sides. “You hurt us! You did this,” you motioned to the tattoos on your arms and face, “to us! Against our will! Without our consent!” You could hear the other Readers shuffling about, trying to see and hear what was going on.

                “No, I believe my father did your work,” the skeleton took another drag, his eyes appraising your arms and face. “He’s always had a flare for the dramatic.” He reached up and tapped the bone beneath his own eye.

                “That doesn’t matter!” You hissed, hands curling into fists. “You’re a monster!”

                “Well, yes, that is rather obvious.” He smirked and leaned back, looking far too amused as the insult fell flat.

                The spark in your stomach began twisting into a flame, fueled by anger and annoyance and a need to wipe the smirk off this pompous asshole’s face. You took a deep breath and proceeded to yell the most vile, harmful, angry, despicable insults and swear words you could think of. For several moments the room was silent except for your ranting and the occasional gasps from the more sheltered Readers. It was your last statement that really shocked everybody, however.

                “If I could, I would dust all three of you.”

By the time you were finished, you had your wish – the skeleton was no longer smiling. In fact, he looked as furious as you felt. In one quick move he yanked open the cage door, shaking the entire wall and sending you (and several other Readers) falling on your ass. His thin white fingers snatched you up in a tight fist.

                “Mouthy, aren’t ya?” He asked, punctuating the words with a squeeze. “I think some time alone would help curb that tongue of yours.” He knelt down to the bottom row of cages, which were all empty. “A night alone should teach you to shut your trap.” He yanked open one of the cage doors (bending it ever so slightly) and carelessly tossed you in. “You’ll be the first one up for auction,” he swung the door shut and stood to his full height, his face now out of your sight. “Get some sleep – don’t wanna look bad in the pictures.” The cigarette dropped to the concrete floor and was ground out beneath his heel. He left, turning out the lights as he went. The only light now came through the dirty, dusty rectangular windows along the top of the far wall – just enough to see by.

                As soon as he was gone the cages burst into soft muttering, the Readers comforting each other and discussing what had just happened. You could hear Jump and Ad yelling at you, asking if you were alright. Shoulder and hip aching from landing on your side, you slowly got up and shuffled to the front of the cage.

                “I’m okay,” you called up to them, slumping beside the door and resting your head against the chicken wire. They yelled back a few things, but you were too tired to really listen. You shut your eyes and listened to the muttering of the Readers above you, partially wishing that you’d kept your mouth shut and were sandwiched between your two friends.

                The rest of you was rather proud at the expression of fury you’d managed to get out of the skeleton. So, with a half-hearted smirk on your face, you fell asleep in your cage for the last time.


                “That was quite the display, little one.”

                You weren’t in a cage when you woke. You tried to lift your head and look around, but something pressed against your forehead, keeping you still. When you attempted to lift your arms and feel what it was, you found them restrained as well – same for your waist and legs. The lights overhead blinded you, and you twisted your neck and squinted, trying to get some relief. A large, oval shape leaned overhead and blocked out the lights.

                “Ah, ah, ah, no moving now. I don’t want to mess this up.” He lifted a syringe into your line of sight. It was full of a clear liquid, and the needle topping it was incredibly tiny. Once he was sure your eyes had widened in panic, he moved the syringe away and slid the needle into your arm. You tried to jerk away in pain, but a finger on your shoulder kept you still.

                Within a minute your body relaxed into the padding on the gurney, despite your wishes. You told your body to move, fight, struggle to get up, but it simply laid there, arms heavy and legs limp. The only thing you could move was your eyes, which immediately found Gaster as he leaned over you again.

                “There now, isn’t that better?” He asked, voice a sick mimicry of a coo. “I don’t want you moving about during this surgery – it would be very easy to behead you if you moved too much.” He leaned back, and you heard metal rattle as one of the trays you’d seen during your branding was moved. “Now, this is going to sting.” He had a thin, silver rod the size of a pencil clutched in his fingers. As he leaned forward, squinting at you through his glasses, purple magic flared at the end of the rod, forming a small, glowing scalpel.

“It’s a good thing you’re cute,” the monster mused, tapping a finger against the scalpel. “It will make up for the lack of communication.”

You were unable to scream as he brought the blade to your throat.


                Ad and Jump woke to find you sitting by the cage door, eyes staring far past the chicken wire, entire posture slumped and defeated. They were immediately at your side, pulling you into a tight group hug and chattering about how sorry they were, how stupid it was to yell at the skeleton, how glad they were you were safe. It wasn’t until they had safely ensconced you between them in the far corner that they realized you hadn’t said anything.

                “Justy? Are you okay?” Jump ran a hand through your hair.

                You very, very slowly lifted your head to look at him, not surprised when he gasped and slapped a hand over his mouth. His other hand reached up and brushed at the ripped collar of your sweater, moving the fabric out of the way. On your other side, Ad leaned over to see what was so shocking, only to go unnaturally still as he took in what he was seeing.

                Across the middle of your neck was a thick, ugly red scar, left behind by the crackling magic that formed Dr. Gaster’s scalpel. His half-hearted healing spell had left you with an ugly reminder of just what he’d done.

                “Oh dear god,” Ad shifted so he was kneeling in front of you. “Can you talk at all?” He asked, voice cracking at the end. He looked close to tears.

                You shook your head – you’d tried earlier, when Gaster had carelessly tossed you back into the cage, finished with his task and leaving with a catchy tune on his lips. When you tried to speak, a feeling akin to swallowing glass ripped down your throat, and you’d spit up blood more than once in the past few hours.

                “He took your voice. Oh god. He took your voice.” Jump was shaking, and he pulled you into a full hug, petting your hair and tucking your head beneath his chin.

                You clung to him, fingers shaking as they tangled in the ripped wool of his sweater. The monster hadn’t just taken your voice – he’d stolen it. Stolen the only weapon you had against the monsters. They were too large and strong to beat physically, so you’d used your quick mind and silver tongue to talk circles around them. Even trapped here, in this dark place, you’d managed to make others smile at your under-the-breath quips. Gaster had taken that.

                He’d made you worthless, no more than a pretty thing to be observed and admired before being shoved aside.

                You clung to Ad and Jump until early morning sunlight began to shine through the dusty windows. Neither of them moved until the door opened, revealing the same skeleton as last night.

                The shorter skeleton already had a cigarette in his teeth, and sighed past it as he slammed the door behind him. The noise rattled the cages and woke the other Readers, who looked about in confusion as their dreams were disrupted. The monster came to stand before the cages, looking bored but prepared to deliver instructions for ‘picture day.’

                “YOU!” Your right side became much cooler as Ad lunged at the front of the cage. “You bastard!

                The skeleton raised a brow but didn’t say anything, simply pulling out his cigarette and glancing behind Ad. His other brow met the first in height when he saw you’d been returned to the cage. He still didn’t say anything.

                “You did it, didn’t you? Couldn’t handle being yelled at by your merchandise so you had your daddy punish them, huh?” Ad threw his arm wide, motioning to you as he spoke.

                Lifting one hand in supplication, the skeleton – his brother had called him Sans, right? – opened his mouth to speak but Ad wasn’t done yet.

                “You are nothing but a coward!” He hollered, shaking the chicken wire in his fists. “You can’t even handle a few words from a trapped, defenseless creature one hundredth your size! You’ll pay for this, I swear, even if I have to do it myself!”

                Sans waited a moment, making sure Ad was finished yelling before he spoke. “Just what, exactly, do you think I did?” He asked, confusion beneath his aloof features.

                “Seriously?” Ad let out a loud, fake laugh. When Sans scowled and crossed his arms, he sobered. “He cut their vocal chords. They’ll never speak again.”

                The monster’s head reared back in surprise, and his arms dropped to his side. The cigarette dropped from his dropped jaw. “What?” The eavesdropping Readers made similar sounds of shock.

                “Don’t act like you didn’t know!” Ad demanded, though he didn’t sound as angry and sure as before. “Why – why else would he do it?”

                Sans didn’t answer. He turned on his heel and left the room, nearly breaking the door before remembering to unlock it. An unsteady silence filled the room. Ad sat back down at your side, tugging you against him and pressing his forehead against your own. You silently hugged him, both of you trying to comfort the other.

                The door slammed back open, followed by a loud voice.

                “Sans! Don’t do that – you’re going to break the door!”

                Sans entered, followed by the tall skeleton named Papyrus. Sans made a beeline for the cages and opened the door to yours. He squinted through the door at the three of you, a frown thick on his teeth.

                “Come here,” he gestured to you. Jump and Ad gave him a look promising bit fingers if he tried to grab you. He huffed but didn’t shove his hand in. “Papyrus is an excellent healer. He may be able to reverse some of the damage.” When none of you moved, the skeleton groaned. “Look, I didn’t want this to happen. I don’t know how Gaster heard what you said, but I never wanted you to be hurt. I’m not that much of a bastard.”

                Neither of the boys on either side of you moved, and you had to fight to get out of their arms. Ignoring their hissing just like you had last night, you walked slowly to the opening. Sans eyes caught the scar around your neck and winced. He didn’t reach out to touch you – instead, he moved to the side, and the taller skeleton took his place.

                Papyrus’ thin face was a bit harder to read – his sockets didn’t have pupils like Sans did, though he had more prominent brows, but they didn’t’ move much. He had to bend down to see you, his ridiculous height making it awkward. His odd eyes studied your neck closely, and he lifted a hand of long, elegant fingers to the doorway.

                “May I?” He asked, voice deep and surprisingly concerned. You nodded, but still winced when he tugged down the neck of your sweater between his forefinger and thumb to examine the scar. A green glow lit up the tips of the phalanges, and you felt magic brush across your throat. You nearly winced, but Papyrus brought up his other hand and cupped it behind you, holding you in place. His magic – warm and comforting, unlike the sharp, cold sting of the scalpel – sunk into your skin, soothing the last of the pain around the scar and the lingering soreness of your throat.

                “This is bad, Sans.” The skeleton kept his hand behind you, holding you in place, but dropped your sweater and turned away to look at his brother. “I was able to reverse some of the damage, but I don’t know if they’ll ever be able to speak again.”

                Sans clenched and unclenched his fists at his side, one eye sparking yellow. Papyrus waited patiently for his brother to calm down, absently running the thumb of the hand cupping you over your head. The motion was oddly soothing, and you made no move to escape his grasp for the moment.

                “Call the Big Boss,” Sans finally snapped, running a hand over his skull and pulling out a new cigarette. Ignoring the unhappy look from his brother, he lit it and took a deep drag. “We can’t wait any longer. We’re getting them out,” he waved at the cages, cigarette in his fingers trailing smoke, “tonight.”

Chapter Text

                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.

“What?”

“WHAT?”

“Ahem.”

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.

“Hey M.”

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.

                “Injuries?”

                “None – at least, none that we know of.”

                “Illnesses?”

                “Same.”

                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.”

Chapter Text

                You didn’t think you’d ever been this happy, not even in the shelter with your friends. As nice as it was to be with other Readers, after a month of life with the skelebros, you never wanted to leave them.

                The brothers lived in a nice two-story cabin that was decorated year-round with Christmas lights and a large pirate-flag on the roof. You were given free run of the house, as long as the brothers knew where you were. Blue had, with extra enthusiasm, had bought a box of rainbow popsicle sticks and a roll of twine from So Sorry’s Art Emporium and used them to create ladders, which he attached to everything you may ever need to climb. That included the kitchen table, couch, coffee table, bookshelves, TV cabinet, kitchen counters, and every piece of furniture in the brother’s bedrooms. You still had to ask for help to get upstairs and downstairs, but they were happy to give you a lift.

                In fact, they were happy to hold you at any time – Blue was especially enthusiastic about picking you up and carrying you around, either in his hands or settled in his bandana (which was like riding a hammock – you’d fallen asleep there more than once). The only time he didn’t hold you was when he was cooking – he refused you have you anywhere near the stove when it was lit.

                Papy was a much calmer individual. He enjoyed your company, but didn’t go out of his way to pick you up and carry you around if you didn’t ask. Most of your time together was spent lounging on the couch, you sitting on his chest or hanging over his shoulder as you watched gameshows or movies.

                Not everything had been smooth sailing, though. Blue’s hyperactive and loud personality had caught you off guard a few times, and left you feeling smothered and curled up beneath the couch, panicking. Papy would distract Blue until you calmed down enough to come out. The third time this happened, the older brother printed out a few pamphlets and made Blue sit down and read them.

                As soon as he’d finished reading ‘Panic Attacks & You: How to Breathe’ and ‘How to Be a Calm Friend’ he’d rushed out of the house and vanished for several hours. You’d panicked, thinking he was looking for a way to get rid of a ‘broken’ pet, while Papy merely groaned and muttered something about their bank account.

                When the sun began to set the little skeleton returned, arms loaded down with bags from a variety of local stores. Papy and you asked where he’d been, but surprisingly Blue ignored you in favor of rushing from room to room. From your spot on the couch, you watched as he ran up the stairs, into both bedrooms, and after a bit of banging rushed back down to hit the kitchen. It wasn’t until he crouched beside the TV in the living room that you got to see what was in the bags he was dragging around.

                He set down a large, fluffy pillow in the corner where the wall met the staircase. Next came a fluffy blanket that was tucked around the pillow. To top it off was a blue bird beanie baby with a large, colorful tail, which was settled right in the middle of the pillow.

                “There!” He stood up with a clap of his hands and glanced over at you and Papy. Both of you were watching him curiously, clueless about what he was doing. “Now you have safe spaces in every room!”

                You tilted your head to the side, glancing down at the pillow, then back up at him. “What?”

                “What’d you mean, bro?” Papy asked lazily, though he sounded just as confused as you.

                “Oh, well, that pamphlet you had me read gave me an idea!” Blue was wiggling a bit in place, something he did when he was very excited. “It mentioned making sure your friends feel safe, so I made them a space to feel safe in every room!” He pointed to the pillow, other hand on his hip in a proud stance. He shifted his eyes to you. “If you feel like you need a break, you can go to your ‘safe space’ and we won’t bother you!”

                You were, once again, stunned by this little show of kindness. In the week you’d been there, Blue had been doing his best to temper his boisterous attitude in order to make you feel safe and comfortable. You’d thanked him profusely, tears in your eyes (which had made him panic and think he’d hurt your feelings).

                Now, a month later, you had broken in each of your little safe spots and named each of the stuffed animals in all four. You’d also gotten into a habit that Papy had affectionately nicknamed as ‘baby ducking.’ When you needed a break you would go sit or lay down in your spot for a bit. Many times, however, despite wanting to be left alone, if the skelebros left the room you’d trail after them and move to the next safe space in the same room. Not long after that they both began calling you ‘Duckling’ or ‘Ducky.’

                At night you slept with one or the other, depending on who was holding you when you fell asleep. Blue would wrap you up in a soft blanket and set you on the pillow beside his head, where he could keep an eye on you. Papy, who slept like the dead, would set you on his chest and pull the blankets over both of you. He never twitched when he slept – as soon as he was out, he was out.

                As time passed, you relaxed more and more around them. You used your little safe spaces less and less, though you sometimes dragged your favorite beanie baby around. It was a peacock, soft and squishy and just light enough for you to carry around when you wanted. Blue always squeaked in delight when he saw you carrying it about, and he promised that as soon as he and Papy had time they were going to take you to the nearby zoo and show you real peacocks.

                Life fell into a routine – Blue would make breakfast for you and Papy in the morning before rushing off to his job as a Royal Guard at the Capital building. He worked alongside his friend Alphys as a guard for Queen Toriel of the Swap Clan. Some days Papy had work as well – he worked a few different jobs, but never elaborated on what they were when you asked. He always made sure you had plenty to entertain yourself before he left – the TV remote was always left on the couch, and the plethora of books and toys Blue was spoiling you with were kept in a box beside your living room safe space.

                If Papy didn’t have work you could often hang out with him, relaxing on the couch or riding on his shoulder as he took slow meanders around the neighborhood. He was a very lazy skeleton at heart, but you were more than happy to spend time being lazy with him. When Blue returned in the evening he would make dinner, or Papy would beat him to it and order out (he was partial to Thai food, though he ordered Mexican just as often to appease his brother). The rest of the evening was spent talking, watching Napstabot, or playing board and card games. Then, bed time and a peaceful sleep with one of your monsters.

                It was a good, predictable life.

 


 

                “Ducky!” Blue was flipping pancakes at the stove, humming his favorite Napstabot song, when he suddenly spun around to face the table. Papy barely managed to catch the forgotten pancake with a bit of orange magic – he guided it to the plate beside the stove. You giggled at the sight, while the over-energized Blue ignored it and bounced over to the table. “I just had the most BRILLIANT idea!”

                “Oh?” You nibbled on the small bite of pancake Blue had already given you. “What is it?” In the past month you’d gotten much better at speaking to the monsters. Well, at least to your monsters.

                “YOU,” he pointed at your dramatically with his spatula, “should come to work with me today!”

                You choked on a bite of fluffy cake, and only Papy tapping on your back kept you from keeling over with a blue face. “Wha…?” You asked, wiping your mouth with the back of your hand.

                “Papyrus has to work all day today, and so do I.” Blue explained, turning back to the stove and staring at the pancake that had, somehow, gone from the pan to the plate. He shrugged after a moment and grabbed the plate, plopping himself down at the table and smothering it in syrup (despite Papy insisting he didn’t need that much sugar).

                “Blue,” the older brother sighed a bit, taking a sip of honey, “I’m not sure that’s the best idea. You know how nervous they get around lots of people.”

                Normally it irked you a little bit, being spoken about like you weren’t there, but you knew Papy only had the best of intentions.

                “But Papy, I’ll be there the whole time!” Blue insisted around a mouthful of sugar and dough, before looking at you. “You can ride in my bandana all day, and meet Alphys and Undyne, and say hi to Queen Toriel! It’ll be fun!”

                You hesitated, not daring to take another bite of your pancake. “Um,” you glanced up at him, and could see stars bursting in his eyes. “I don’t – I don’t want to ruin your day,” you admitted, giving him a strained smile. “There uh, won’t be a couch to hide under, will there?” You joked.

                Blue’s smile faltered. “Well, no,” he admitted, tapping his fingers together, before re-brightening. “What if you just came for the morning! If you want to leave, I can bring you home during lunch!” He leaned forward and wiggled a bit, the look in his eyes nothing short of pleading.

                “That sounds okay,” you admitted, finishing your piece of pancake. Papy shot you a concerned look but didn’t say anything.

                “Great!” Blue bolted down the rest of his food and grabbed the plates from the table, bustling off to the sink to wash them. “We’ll leave as soon as I get the dishes done! Oh, but you might want to wear one of your new outfits – I like that green one we got yesterday!”

                Papy plucked you off the table and took you upstairs with him, to Blue’s room. All your clothes were neatly stored in a box up there, where they couldn’t get lost or torn by accident. The tall skeleton set you beside it and sat on his brothers bed as you began rummaging around for a clean pair of jeans and the soft green sweater Blue had picked out for you the day before. It was the color of spring grass and new leaves and baby buds in a flower garden – you loved it. Normally you went barefoot around the house – Blue kept it clean enough that there was no risk of stepping on anything. Today, however, you decided to tug on the soft brown boots you hadn’t had any cause to wear yet.

                “Are you sure about this?” Papy was looking at his brother’s action figures beside the bed, giving you your privacy as you changed. “I know you want to make my bro happy, but you don’t need to push yourself to do something you’re uncomfortable with.” He glanced back when you shut the top of the repurposed jewelry box. “We’re not going to get rid of you, Ducky, no matter how many times you hide under the couch with the dust bunnies.” He winked at you, though his smile was a bit sad. “Dust bunnies need love just like everybody else.”

                You gave him your brightest smile. “I’ll be okay, Papy. I trust Blue, just like I trust you. He’ll take good care of me, and if I get overwhelmed then I’m sure he’ll bring me home.”

                The tall skeleton sighed and plucked you off the floor, settling you in the dip of his clavicle where you could hold onto his hoodie and still sit comfortably. You held on as he tromped lazily down the stairs. Blue was standing by the door, tying his bandana into place and slipping it beneath his pauldrons. He had silver armor overlaying a thick blue shirt and pants. His head popped up when he heard his brother and he beamed at both of you.

                “You look fantastic!” He reached out when his brother leaned down and plucked you off his shoulder, holding you up to his face. “Are you ready for your first day as a junior Royal Guard?”

                You swallowed nervously, but nodded. “Yeah!” You put as much cheer into your voice as you could.

                “Great!” Without warning, he disappeared, leaving his nervous brother to sigh and prepare for his own job.

 


 

                You were not a fan of teleporting. It was an odd quirk of Blue’s magic that let him step through what he called ‘the void’ in order to travel to new places instantly. The first few times you had gotten violently sick, puking all over Blue, much to your mortification and Blue’s distress. Now, after having a few dozen times, it was easier on your stomach but it still made you feel a bit weak for a few minutes.

                Blue had teleported you to the front steps of the Capital Building. It was a huge building made of white marble, with a set of sweeping stairs leading up to an entrance way held up by huge, decorative columns. The double doors were laced in gold filigree, beneath the carefully carved words, “MANY CLANS, ONE HOME.”

                Blue settled you in his bandana before posing, hands on his hips, legs akimbo, a huge smile on his face. “Welcome, Ducky, to the Capital Building! This is where all the kings and queens work together to make Ebott the best city in the world!” he let out his odd little laugh – ‘Mweh heh heh!’ and pointed at the door. There were a few other monster entering – it was incredibly early, and it didn’t seem like any of the rulers were there yet.

                With an easy gait, Blue mounted the steps and hurried through the grand front doors into an equally grand foyer. It was round, several stories tall, with balconies along the upper stories, so monsters could peer over the wall and see down to the main floor. There were pots full of golden flowers everywhere, and in the center was a large fountain with a statue of two goat-like monsters in the middle.

                Your skeleton ride quickly crossed the foyer and hopped into an elevator, taking it up to a high floor. None of the other early comers – all of whom wore armor resembling Blue’s in a variety of colors and styles – seemed to notice you. A loud ‘ding’ announced your arrival at the right floor, and Blue happily strode into a wide hallway, one side of which was all windows, the other of which consisted of doors, between which were beautiful pots of the same golden flowers and comfortable couches and armless settees.

                Blue stopped before a set of double-doors halfway down the hall and unlocked them with a twitch of his magic. They swung open at a gentle push and you couldn’t help but gasp at the sight of the room you entered. It was large and round, with soft, purple walls and various paintings depicting exotic landscapes you’d never seen before. A large portion of the wall to the left was lined with bookshelves, each of which was shocked full of tomes. There were several couches and settees similar to the ones in the hall surrounding a coffee table. On the other side of the room was a neat table with four chairs and a nice tea pot. There were a few more decorations and seats about the room, all leading up to a huge, cherry-wood desk with an intimidating and royal looking chair behind it.

                In said chair was a goat monster, similar to the one that had been in the fountain sculpture downstairs. She was very pretty, with soft white fur and small horns above large, floppy ears. As Blue bounced into the room she glanced up, a tired smile crossing her mouth. He came to stop right in front of the desk and saluted.

                In the folds of his bandana you shrunk down a bit, pulling up the fabric to cover your face, only your eyes peeking out. The goat monster was huge, taller than Papy even!

                “Ah, good morning Sans.” She greeted, setting down the faux quill she had been using to write in favor of picking up a mug of coffee.

                “Good morning, your majesty!” Blue chirped happily, bouncing on his heels a bit.

                “Please, Sans, we’ve known each other for years. Call me Tori.” The queen sipped her coffee with a pleased hum.

                Blue blushed and dropped his eyes, avoiding looking at her. He paused when his eye lights landed on you, and immediately brightened. “Oh! Queen Toriel, I brought a friend today!”

                “Really, now?” The goat monster stood up and rounded the desk, having spotted you trying to meld and be one with the bandana. “Well, hello there little one.” She stopped in front of Blue and crouched down a bit, trying to make herself less intimidating. It didn’t work, but you appreciated the effort anyway.

                When you didn’t say anything, the skeleton frowned and poked at you. “It’s okay, Duckling,” Blue cooed, rubbing a phalange against your head.

                “You named them ‘Duckling’?” Toriel asked, sounding torn between amused and annoyed.

                “It’s a nickname,” Blue defended. “Papy came up with it…”

                The queen let out a rather un-regal snort and stood back up, backing away a few steps before leaning on the desk. “Well, it is obvious they love you very much, Blue.” She gave him a rather proud look, like a happy parent at a science fair where their kid got the blue ribbon. “Why don’t you both join me for lunch?”

                “Are you sure, your majesty? Don’t you and the other royalty normally eat lunch together?” Blue asked anxiously.

                Toriel laughed. “Oh, they won’t miss me for one day!” She laughed, waving a paw in front of her. “You and Duckling are more than welcome to join me.”

                Blue nodded. “Okay! That sounds lovely.”

                The queen nodded and went back to her seat, returning to her paperwork. “Now, I believe Captain Alphys will be here i-“

                Whatever time frame Toriel was about to guess was interrupted by the double doors slamming open. A short, yellow lizard who was completely ripped and wearing armor similar to Blue burst in. “There you are, nerd!” Her voice boomed throughout the entire room, rattling the pictures on the walls. “C’mon, Blue, it’s time for patrol!”

                “Uh, Alphys…” Blue glanced down at you again. As soon as the doors had slammed open you’d buried yourself in the soft fabric of his bandana and were refusing to look up. “Can you um, tone it down a bit? Please?”

                “Tone it DOWN? WHY?” Alphys stomped her foot, and he could barely hear your frightened squeak at the sound. His boney hands came up and cradled you, making you feel more secure.

                “Alphys, hush!” Blue snapped with a bit more heat in his voice.

                “Captain,” Toriel’s low growl interrupted Alphys before she could begin booming once more, “Lower your voice. There is a guest present who is sensitive to loud noises. It would behoove you to speak softly.”

                The yellow lizard paused, eyes darting to Blue’s hands. “What kind of guest?” She demanded.

                “Uh, this is my Reader. I told you about them, remember?” Blue used his thumb to brush the blue fabric off your head. You poked your head out a bit, only showing your eyes, but quickly ducked back down when she glared at you.

                “You brought your pet?” Alphys demanded, hands on her hips as she glared at her comrade.

                “They’re not my pet, they’re my friend!” Blue defended you, sounding angrier than he had before.

                Behind him, Toriel heaved a sigh and stood, crossing her arms. “Alphys, stop this. Blue’s Reader is more than welcome to spend the day working with Sans. I am certain they will find it interesting and educational.” Her eyes narrowed at you. “I don’t want to hear anything about you frightening them, or being rude to them, understand?”

                Alphys saluted her stiffly, though she wasn’t smiling. “Fine,” the lizard huffed. “C’mon Blue, we need to start rounds.” She turned and marched out of the room.

                “Thanks, your majesty!” Blue made sure you were tucked in place and, after a quick pat on the head, he followed the steaming Alphys.

 


 

                The morning was, despite the snafu with Alphys, very interesting and fun. Sans and Alphys worked with other royal guard members from the various Clans. To your surprise, there were several skeletons that resembled Blue and Papy in the guard as well. You met a tall, handsome Papyrus from Alpha Clan who resembled your Blue more than your Papyrus. He exclaimed over how cute you were and mentioned wanting to get his own Reader. Blue ended up setting distracted and they spent twenty minutes talking about the shelter and adopting.

                When Alphys dragged him away, he accidently bumped into the scariest monster you’d ever seen – a tall, Papyrus-esque skeleton with a scar over his eyes, dressed in sharp black and red armor that made him look all pointy. You squeaked and covered your eyes, ignoring the huff of amusement from tall, dark, and scary.

                “Hey, Dark!” Blue had greeted him cheerfully. The tall skeleton had snarled and left without saying a word. Blue had whispered that he was always like that before leaving to make his rounds of the large courtyard in the center of the building.

                There were plenty of other guards you bumped into. Blue introduced you to each of them, the pride in his voice making you blush each time. Alphys, when she was around, would snort and spent the whole morning ignoring you. Between Alphys, Blue, and all of Blue’s friends and coworkers it was a very busy (and social) morning. By lunch time, you were exhausted, barely able to keep your eyes open. Blue left Alphys to have lunch with her girlfriend, and as soon as he reached the Queens floor he rushed to her office.

                Toriel already had food spread out on the table with the tea pot – soup, sandwiches, tea, hot cocoa, and little cakes decorated with sugar flowers. Blue gasped and exclaimed over the food as he joined the regal monster at the table. He carefully untangled you from the bandana and set you beside his plate, noting how you drooped a bit.

                “You okay, duckling?” He asked, running a finger down your back. You turned to smile up at him, but your stomach flip-flopped when you saw Toriel giving you an anxious look. Tears began to gather at the corner of your eyes, even though you weren’t in pain or afraid. Everything that had happened this morning – meeting all the nice monsters (and some not-so-nice) and being in such a big place when you were so tiny and meeting royalty of all things – it was just too much. You covered your face with your hands, squirming uncomfortably as both monsters looked down at you.

                “Oh dear.” To your surprise, it wasn’t boney hands that swept you up – the fingers were furry, with thicker, matted fur along the palm. You hadn’t let anyone other than Blue or Papy hold you since you’d been adopted, but you didn’t feel scared or upset when the Queen picked you up. “The poor thing must be feeling overwhelmed.” A fluffy thumb ran over your head, smoothing your hair back in place. “Eat up, Sans. I’ve got them for now.”

                You were pressed against the soft, purple velvet of the queen’s dress as she cradled you close, like Blue did when you needed a hug. You instinctively leaned against the warm dress, dropping one hand from your face to tangle in the soft fabric. Toriel shifted so you were cradled in one hand, and with the other she calmly began to eat. As though you hadn’t just interrupted her meal and made a fool of yourself.

                Blue and Toriel chatted about the current state of affairs, the state of the Royal Gardens, and the state of Alphys and Undyne’s relationship. When you finally dropped your other hand and looked around, you found a piece of the cake and one of the sugar flowers resting beside you. Well, it wasn’t the healthiest lunch, but you weren’t going to argue.

                The two monsters continued to talk as you ate the cake, never addressing you directly though their eyes flickered to you every other minute or so. By the time you finished your hands were sticky from the sweet, and they had cleaned their plates and were sipping tea.

                “Duckling?” Toriel made a small noise of amusement, but Blue ignored her in favor of holding his hands out for you. “C’mon, let’s get you home.”

                You happily climbed into his hounds, but frowned at the suggestion. “You don’t have you,” you muttered, though a nap in your quiet zone with your peacock sounded really good right now. “I don’t want to ruin your day.”

                “Awww!” Blue pressed you against his cheek in a hug, then pressed his teeth to your forehead. “You couldn’t never ruin my day, Ducky! I love you too much!” You blushed bright red but smiled anyway.

                Toriel leaned across the table with a soft, affectionate smile. “Go home and rest, dear. Sans, you may have the rest of the day off.”

                Blue looked like he wanted to argue, but changed his mind when you tangled your fingers in his bandana and hid your face in it.

                “Alphys and I can handle anything that comes up,” the queen reassured him. “Your little friend needs you. So go home and take good care of them.” She made a little shooing motion with her hands.

                Blue stood, still looking uncertain at abandoning his post for the afternoon, but at the same time not wanting to leave you alone at home. “Yes, your maje – uh, Tori.” She smiled and bid you both goodbye. Sans held you close and vanished from the castle.

 


 

                One fluffy blanket and peacock beanie baby later, you were burrito-wrapped against Blue’s chest and watching Napstabot quiz a contestant about the history of the Underground. All the stress and guilt you’d felt for ruining Blue’s day, after being completely overwhelmed by meeting too many big (and sometimes scary) monsters, melted away as you melted away.

                Blue kept humming as you fell asleep, rubbing your back with his thumb. He wasn’t a fan of missing work, but for you, his dear little Reader, he was happy to make an exception.

Chapter Text

 

                This Papyrus character seemed very sweet, but you weren’t sure if he was completely sane. He’d been talking to Miss Hart for the past half-hour, flailing his arms about as his voice boomed about the shelter. It was a large building, but not big enough to soften his words. The deer monster hushed him several times, but his volume would eventually climb back up. The quiet and shy readers had hidden themselves away in one of the doll houses in the far corner of the playpen, while the energetic and curious ones watched the skeleton excitedly. The rest of you were playing, enjoying your time before dinner and bed.

                “ARE YOU SURE?” The skeleton boomed as he was led over to the pen, looking a bit nervous. Miss Hart rolled her eyes behind his back and pushed him forward.

                “Just talk to them,” she insisted, “get to know some of them. I’m certain you can find the perfect Reader for your brother. I’ll go fill out the paperwork.”

                The tall skeleton tapped his gloved hands together and, still looking nervous, knelt beside the two-foot-high wall that separated the playpen from the rest of the store. He looked really, really uncomfortable at being so close to you all. He wasn’t the first nervous monster you all had seen, and he certainly wouldn’t be the last. All the Readers that hadn’t been chased off by his boisterous attitude immediately gravitated towards him, like pins pulled by a magnet.

                “Uh, hello there, little ones!” He greeted upon realizing he had an audience. He was hilariously tall, and even kneeling down he towered over the wall. Several of them called out ‘hello’ or ‘hi’, while the rest simply waved. “I, the GREAT PAPYRUS,” his bellowing nearly blew several of the smaller Readers off their feet, “am looking for a companion for my brother!” He twitched his fingers a bit, and had he lips you were certain he would be chewing on them. When nothing more was said, a few of you shared amused expressions. Nervous, anxious monsters were always so cute when trying to speak with Readers the first time.

                “What’s your brother like?” A curious Reader piped up, urging him on with a soft smile.

                Papyrus immediately brightened up. “Oh! My brother is the best!” Literal stars appeared in his eye sockets and he hunched over to get closer to you all, arms draping over the wall so they nearly touched the floor. “His name is Sans. He’s older than me by a few years, but I’m taller,” he bragged with little-brother-pride. “He works with the Royal Scientist, Dr. W. D. Gaster, who’s also our dad.”

                The curious and intellectual Readers ‘ooh-ed’ and moved forward, eager to hear more. A few of the active ones wandered off, not interested in being with a cerebral monster over an energetic one. You stayed towards the back, listening as Papyrus went on and on about the experiments his father and brother had told him about.

                “So is science stuff all your brother does?” One of the creative readers asked.

                “Oh, no!” Papyrus laughed. “He’s a lazybones – dad says he barely does his job at work. He likes to nap a lot, or just lay around and read.” The rest of the adventurous and active types of Readers left the group, going back to scaling the plastic model of Mt. Ebott (complete with a cave system with hideaways and a fake little waterfall-esque twisty slide down one side). Papyrus didn’t seem surprised when they left – Miss Hart must have warned him about the whole ‘thinning the herd’ effect his description would have.

                “He does like jokes, though! All day long he makes puns.” The ridges above the skeletons nose cavity wrinkled. “It drives me nuts, but it makes him happy.” His voice dropped a bit at the end, and you caught a glimpse of something sad deep in his sockets.

                You stepped past the handful of Readers left and frowned up at him. “Are you okay, Mr. Papyrus?” You asked, reaching up and patting one of the boney hands hanging over the edge of the wall.

                “I am alright,” he rushed to assure you and the others, who had followed your lead and gathered closer, all having to crane your heads back to look up at him. Jeeze, he really was ridiculously tall. His smile looked a bit more strained than before. “It is simply that lately Sans has not been as happy as before.” He hung his head a bit. “I have not been able to cheer him up, and my father doesn’t have any ideas on what could be wrong. I think that he may be lonely…”

                “Awwww,” you patted his fingers again, getting his attention, “Don’t skull-k, Mr. Papyrus. You’re obviously doing a skele-TON to help your brother. I’m sure one of us can help him feel less bonely!

                Several of your fellow Readers groaned at the puns, and you shot them a guilty grin. A few of them, seeing what being around a punny skeleton all day might be like, wandered back to play with the toys. You didn’t really notice them, though – your focus was on Papyrus.

                The skeleton was staring at you with even bigger stars in his eyes than before. His jaw had dropped, and before you realized what was happening you’d been scooped up in a pair of boney hands covered in thick, red gloves. He lifted you to his beaming face.

                “You’re PERFECT! You tell the same stup – uh, the same jokes as Sans!” He gushed excitedly as he stood. You had to grab onto one of his thumbs to keep from falling on your face. He spun around and rushed to the far side of the room, where Miss Hart was sitting at her big desk, filling out paperwork. She glanced up at he came to a halt in front of her, an amused smile on her lips.

                “Did you meet someone you think your brother will like?”

                “YES!” Papyrus boomed, holding you out in front of him. The deer monster blinked, then huffed in laughter.

                “You told him jokes, didn’t you?” She accused, poking you in the stomach with the end of her pen. You couldn’t help but giggle and wrap your arms around yourself, trusting the skeleton wouldn’t let you fall from his fingers.

                “Have a hart, ma’am! Don’t tickle me!” You squealed when the pen gentle jabbed your side again.

                The deer rolled her eyes but was smiling widely. She pulled out a page from the stack she had been filling out. It was an adoption form – gilded edges and everything, very official looking with curly writing and her signature in the bottom corner. “I just need you to sign this here,” she pointed to a blank space beside her own, “and a few other things.”

                Papyrus carefully set you down on the desk and accepted the ballpoint pen she handed him. The skeleton signed his name in a flourish on the adoption certificate, and you noted that his handwriting looked oddly like a font you’d seen in a book about a desert place called Egypt. Weird. He quickly read through the accompanying paperwork – all outlining the laws involving owning a Reader, care instructions, proper feeding instructions (READER, YOU CAN EAT PASTA! I CANNOT WAIT TO MAKE YOU MY SPECIAL FRIENDSHIP SPAGHETTI!), using magic around Readers, and such. Miss Hart, meanwhile, pulled a small white bag from the bottom drawer of her desk and set it beside you with a bright smile.  

                “What’s that?” Papyrus asked curiously as he handed her pen back, along with the papers.

                “It’s just a little care package for new owners,” Rivet held the plastic bag open for him to peek in. There was a pamphlet about Reader health, along with some Reader-sized toiletries, a few simple changes of clothes, some snacks, and a few books and toys.

                Papyrus beamed and accepted it from her. “Thank you so much, ma’am!” He tugged out his phone and the bag disappeared in his storage space. “I’ll make sure Sans reads every word of the paper, I promise!”

                “I know you will, sweetie.” Rivet stood and shook his hand across the desk, before poking you in the side again. “You’ve found a good little friend, sir. I’ve never had such a funny little Companion Reader before.”

                Papyrus paused half-way in picking you up. “Companion Reader?” You leaned against his fingers, which prompted him to lift you to chest-height.

                “Yes,” Rivet pointed at a poster on the wall. One of the pictures was of a reader in a soft gray sweater, the same color as your own, beneath the words ‘COMPANION READER.’ “Companion Readers are wonderful, caring friends to any monster they meet. A lot of therapists and doctors in the area have Companion Readers – they’re very good at calming children and comforting monsters. As long as your brother can handle this ones terrible jokes, he’ll never feel lonely again.”

                “They’re not terrible!” You crossed your arms and pouted. “I think I’m very humerus.”

                Both monsters groaned loudly. “They will get along fine,” Papyrus assured her as he carefully lifted you to sit on his shoulder, where his pauldrons met his scarf. You had to grab onto his scarf to keep from sliding off, but his height meant you could see everything. It was incredible. “Now little Reader, let us be off!” With a dramatic twirl, Papyrus scampered out of the shelter, and you were barely able to toss a wave to Rivet on the way out.

 


 

                “I don’t know the best way to do this.” Papyrus had given you a whirl-wind tour of the house, which was a nice two-story cabin, before depositing you on the kitchen counter as he began to cobble together a spaghetti dinner for his brother and father.

                “Well, what does your brother like? Besides jokes?” You prodded, watching as he began beating tomatoes into submission. It was an interesting technique. You’d never really seen cooking before, but you were fairly sure Papyrus was doing it in a very unique way.

                “Ketchup. Japes. Jokes. Pranks. My spaghetti. He doesn’t like sweets much but he’ll eat them when they’re in reach…” The tall skeleton gasped and stopped mid-punch. “That’s it! I’ll bake a cake, and you can pop out of it and surprise him!”

                You grinned, then glanced at the clock on the oven. It read 4:45. “Um, didn’t you say they’d be home around five?” You pointed at it, and his face fell.

                “Oh, right, there’s no time to bake a cake.” He pouted a bit as he scraped the tomato remnants into a pan along with several spices and a few other vegetables he’d already beaten to death. The noodles went in the pot, the pan when on the back burner, and dinner would be ready in fifteen minutes, he told you.

                “What else can we do?” You asked. He leaned against the counter, arms folded over his anime-themed t-shirt (he’d changed before cooking, not wanting to get his Battle Body dirty). You mimicked him, leaning back against a jar of olives he’d left out and crossing your arms.

                The skeleton sighed and tried to think about what else he could use to surprise his brother. You mimicked his pout and posture, drawing a smirk from him when he caught what you were doing. You smirked back.

                Not even a moment later he slammed his fist into the counter a few inches away, making you jump. “I’ve got it!” He had started to vibrate in excitement. “You can jump outta the spaghetti!

                “Uh…” You blinked uncertainly. “Wouldn’t that, uh, be hot? And, like, get me and the food dirty?”

                “Not if I use my magic!” Papyrus was rocking from side to side now, one hand on his chin as he planned it out. “It would only be for a minute – they always come straight to the table when they get home!” His face was a bit flushed now, cheekbones orange in excitement.

                The clock over the oven beeped and Papyrus became a whirlwind of activity, draining the pasta, stirring the sauce, and dishing it all up into serving bowls. Then, he quickly set the table – three spots, three plates, two glasses of water and one bottle of ketchup, forks, napkins, everything needed for a nice spaghetti dinner. Just as he set down the last fork, the front door unlocked and swung open.

                “Oh!” Papyrus grabbed you off the counter and swept you over to the table. An orange glow surrounded you – it tickled a bit, and you squirmed against his palm. “Don’t worry, my magic will protect you! As soon as he starts to serve, I’ll help you pop up and we can both yell surprise!” He was trying to whisper, his voice softer than normal but still a bit loud. He pushed around the spaghetti, and you were glad he had put the sauce in a different bowl, or this would be a very messy prank.

                He tucked you among the noodles, and you did your best to ignore how much it felt like worms. A moment later he covered you, and everything was shaded in an odd yellowish light.

                “Hey Paps! It smells good, did you make your special Friday-night spaghetti?” A tired, cheerful voice asked.

                “Hello, brother! Hello, father! No, I made my special friendship spaghetti!”

                “Ah, friendship spaghetti? But son, I thought we were already friends?” A second voice asked, humor underlying fake hurt.

                There was a slight stutter before Papyrus managed to answer. “Ah-ah-a well, yes, of course we are friends! But it is always good to reaffirm it! With spaghetti!”

                The two new voices laughed, and you heard the chairs around the table scrape as they were pulled back. There was some creaking and groaning as the chairs were occupied, followed by the fluffing of napkins.

                “You look hungry, Sans. Why don’t you get yours first?” Papyrus urged, and you did your best not to wiggle a bit in anticipation. Dancing spaghetti would ruin the prank.

                “Uh, thanks Paps.” Sans answered. The magic around you tensed slightly as one of the chairs scraped against the floor. You drew your knees against your chest and took a deep breath. Your stomach lurched as the magic made you pop out of the spaghetti like a cork, suspending you a foot above it and only a few inches from the face of a startled skeleton.

                “SURPRISE!” You and Papyrus yelled at the same time, his voice easily drowning out your own. The shorter, rounder skeleton jerked back with a cry of surprise. The chair legs caught his own, and with a yelp he crashed to the ground.

                “Sans!” Papyrus’ magic disappeared as he rushed around the table to check on his brother. You dropped back towards the spaghetti and were only saved from a painful noodle-y bath by an odd-feeling hand catching you.

                A third skeleton – tall, thin, wearing a nice turtleneck – had saved you from the Italian meal. His face was smooth and white like his sons, but there was a crack moving upwards from his right eye and trailing down from his left eye to the corner of his mouth. You glanced down at his hand and realized why it felt odd – there was a hole right in the middle of it!

                “Apologies,” the skeleton said, his deep voice rolling over you like a cloud. “My sons can overreact when startled.” He set you on the table beside his plate, making sure you were steady before placing both hands beneath his chin and his elbows on the table, leaning forward slightly so he could see you better.

                “It’s alright, sir.” You reassured him, glancing at the other side of the table. Papyrus was bent over his brother, babbling worriedly at a million miles an hour.

                “So, would I be correct in assuming that Papyrus has brought you home to be a pet for Sans?” He asked, eyes flickering between his sons and you.

                You nodded, not a fan of the term ‘pet’ but lots of monsters used it without meaning anything by it. “Yeah, he mentioned his brother has been sad lately.” There was a thunk as said brother smacked his head against the edge of the table as he tried to get up. Papyrus whined in surprise and knelt back down to assist his brother.

                “Indeed,” Gaster’s eyes crinkled at the edge (somehow – bone wasn’t supposed to move that way, was it?) as he watched his sons interact. “Sans suffers from depression,” he confided in you, “and often has negative mood swings.” He was very clinical in the way he spoke, though there was a warmth in his voice that showed the affection he had for his sons. “Papyrus spoke of finding a way to cheer him up, but I did not expect him to bring a Reader home.”

                You frowned suddenly, struck with a rather daunting thought. “Um, that’s okay, right?” Biting your bottom lip, you glanced up at him nervously. He was their father, right? Sans and Papyrus seemed to be adults, but this was probably their dads house. That meant he had final say on if you stayed, right?

                “Yes, child, that is perfectly fine,” he was quick to reassure you, noting your nervous expression. “There is always room in this house for one more.” He cast you a quick wink, then glanced over as his sons finally managed to find their feet. You shot him a quick smile then ran across the table, dodging past the serving bowls and cups, to stand beside Sans plate.

                The skeleton was shorter than Papyrus by a good bit, and had a wide, squat face with large eyes and a bright smile that, at the moment, looked a bit dazed. His eyes met yours and he simply stared for a moment, giving you an unsure smile. “Uh, hi.”

                “Hello!” You chirped, waving happily and flashing him your biggest grin.

                “Hi.” He repeated, before turning to glance up at his brother. “You…?”

                “I got them for you!” Papyrus was bouncing in place, looking delighted with himself before sobering.

                “Right. Can I talk to you for a sec?” He grabbed his brothers arm and, with surprising strength for his height, dragged him out of the kitchen.

                Behind them, your heart sunk into your stomach, and you sat down hard on the side of his plate. This was not a…complication you had thought of. Being bought as a gift was risky, but none of the Readers you’d known that had been gifted had ever been returned. Rivet would never allow them to be adopted in the first place if that was a risk.

                Muffled voices (a truly shocking feat, from what you had seen from Papyrus so far) hissed from the far side of the living room, too soft for you to make out any words. Oh god, what if Sans didn’t want you? He didn’t seem happy about this at all – what if he took you back? Had you done something wrong? Was popping out of the spaghetti too mean? Had you offended him some way?

                By the time the two brothers returned, both were much calmer than before. Papyrus seemed a bit chastised, but gave you a bright smile before taking his seat and serving himself some spaghetti. Sans righted his chair and plopped down in it, then slumped down, resting his chin on his arms so he was at eye-level with you.

                “Sorry, kiddo,” he gave you a large grin, “You gave me a bit of a fright – really rattled my bones.”

                “I’m sorry,” relief swept through you, making you feel a bit giddy, and you returned his smile. “Papyrus just wanted to get you a little gift, to help you feel less bonely.”

                He snorted, the air ruffling your clothing and hair. His breath smelled like ketchup and French fries. Behind you, Papyrus groaned (muffled by his mouthful of spaghetti) but Gaster let out a soft laugh.

                “Good one, kiddo,” he laughed, the bones in his jaw and around his eyes relaxing. “I’m Sans. Sans the skeleton. But I think you already knew that.” He held his hand out, offering a finger for you to shake. You accepted it, shaking it firmly as best you could.

                “I’m pleased to meet you, Sans.” You peeped happily.

                “Likewise.” He sat up straighter and dished himself some spaghetti, noting that the other two had already started eating. You sat at the edge of his plate as he smothered it in tomato sauce, watching him. “So, I’ve never really, uh, met a Reader before. Do you like pasta?”

                You smiled as he cut up a few pieces of noodle into small bites and pushed them towards you, so they rested within reach of you. “I like pasta,” you confirmed. “Especially special friendship spaghetti, cooked by the Great Papyrus!” You picked up one of the warm noodles and dipped it in a bit of sauce before munching on it.

                “Nyeh heh! I am glad you like it, Reader!” Papyrus had already cleaned his plate and was giving himself a half-serving for seconds.

                “It is very good, Papyrus.” Gaster complimented his son, also nearly finished. You watched curiously as they ate, noting that despite not having lips they were all able to slurp the noodles and flick sauce over their cheeks and nose.

                “Thank you, father!” Papyrus began on his second helping. “So what did you do in the lab today?”

                “Ah, we have found a fascinating connection between SOUL energy and plant growth…”

                You listened as Gaster and Sans described an experiment they had run that day, altering the DNA of an echo flower so it worked more like a recording machine, able to remember and echo many messages instead of just one. Most of it was completely lost on you, but as they spoke Sans brightened, lost in the technical mumbo-jumbo he and his father were spitting back and forth across the table. Papyrus looked just as confused but happy non-the-less as he had a third helping of pasta.

                After the four of you had eaten your fill, Gaster gathered up the dishes, insisting he would wash them since Papyrus cooked. The tall skeleton rushed off to the living room, yelling something about a Mettaton marathon. Sans dragged himself away from the table and glanced down at you.

                “Get enough to eat, pipsqueak?” He asked, voice light and teasing. You nodded and stood, brushing parmesan cheese off your lap. He stood in front of you, hands shoved in the pockets of his hoodie for a moment, looking unsure for a moment. When you realized why he seemed nervous, you raised your arms up towards him.

                “Uh, heh, I’m not really, uh – I don’t want to hurt you.” He rubbed the back of his head, and you grinned.

                “You won’t hurt me,” you insisted, smiling at his hesitance. “It’s okay, I promise. Us Readers are really durable!”

                He still twitched for a moment before biting the bullet and reaching out with both hands. One hand was set behind you, palm up, and you easily sat down, legs dangling over the edge of his boney pinky. Slowly – oh so slowly, ridiculously so, but you didn’t tell him that – he lifted you off the table, bringing you straight up against his chest to minimize the chances of you taking a dive.

                “What do you wanna do?” Sans asked, still standing awkwardly in the kitchen, as though afraid to move. You shrugged, leaning against his ribs, tugging at the squishy layer of his jacket curiously.

                “Whatever you want!” You kicked your legs a bit. Sans huffed a soft laugh.

                “Don’t suppose you’re ready for bed, huh?”

                “I could sleep,” you reassured him. “Getting adopted is really tiring.”

                He let out a bark of laugh and carefully left the kitchen, walking slowly. This babying was, at the same time, incredibly annoying and delightfully sweet. “I bet it is,” he shuffled across the living room, where Papyrus was sitting on the edge of the couch, watching the large TV with big, sparkling sockets.

                “SANS! READER!” He boomed, bouncing a bit in his seat, “Do you wish to join me?” He motioned to the TV.

                “Nah, bro. Me ‘n’ the pipsqueak are gonna go bond.” Sans winked at him before starting up the stairs.

                “Good!” Papyrus waved you both off with a thumbs up before going back to drooling over the robot.

                There were three bedrooms upstairs, and one small bathroom (no toilet, just a shower and sink). Sans went to the middle door along the hall and threw it open dramatically.

                “Welcome, pipsqueak, to scenic my room!”

                His room was – well, it was a bedroom, most likely. There were socks and trash spread across the floor, some of them twirling in a self-sustaining tornado. A lamp with a flashlight taped to the bulb was set on a dresser that had seen better days. Opposite the dresser was a mattress on the floor, no bedframe in sight.

                “Sorry about the mess,” Sans sounded a bit embarrassed as he kicked some trash into the tornado before shuffling over to the bed. With his free hand he spread some blue-tinted magic over the bed, smoothing out the sheets that had been balled up and messily tucking them into place. “I wasn’t expecting company.”

                You scratched at the back of your head and shot him a small grin. “Sorry,” you felt compelled to apologize. “I know you didn’t ask for a Reader, but Papyrus really did just want to help you.”

                “No need to say sorry, pipsqueak.” He sat on the bed carefully to keep you from bouncing, before laying back so his head plopped down on the pillow. You ended up laying on his sternum after a bit of maneuvering, stretching out on your stomach and resting your head on your arms so you could look up at him. He shifted the pillow a bit and put his hands behind his head so he was able to peer down at you. A lazy grin stretched across his teeth and you returned it. “Hey, I just realized, I didn’t ask your name.”

                That startled a laugh out of you. “I don’t have one. Most Readers don’t. Sometimes when Miss Hart gives one of us a nickname it sticks, but I never got one.”

                “Huh,” Sans raised one boney brow. “Well, what do you want to be called?”

                You shrugged, having never really thought of naming yourself before. “I dunno. You can call me whatever you want.”

                Sans’ eyes drooped a bit, looking heavy and tired as he thought. “Hmm. I may need a few days to think of a good name for you.” He winked.

                “A few days? You’re a real lazybones aren’t you?” You teased gently, remembering what Papyrus had said about his big brother’s awful sense of humor.

                A surprised laugh boomed through his chest, shaking his sternum and, by extension, you. You fisted your hands in his sweatshirt to keep from rolling off his chest.

                “I do like to laze around. In fact, sleep comes so naturally to me, I could do it with my eyes closed.” He shut his eyes as he said it, his smile stretching as you giggled.

                “Heh, don’t you ever get tired of sleeping?” You prodded.

                “Nah, sleeping all day is my dream job.”

                “Hey, what do you call a parent who sings their kids to sleep?”

                “What?”

                “A kid napper!”

                “Hah! What do you call a cat sleeping in a sunbeam?”

                “What?”

                “A light sleeper!”

                You could almost hear Papyrus groaning as you and Sans exchanged jokes. Despite him seeming hesitant to keep you as a companion earlier, you and him managed to keep the line of jokes going for nearly half-an-hour before he began to snore, hands falling to his sides. He didn’t roll over at least, and soon after his breathing slowed to gentle rolls of his sternum and ribs. The odd rocking sensation was relaxing, and it didn’t take very long for you to join him in dreamland.

 


 

                Sans woke to an odd little weight on his chest that wasn’t supposed to be there. His jaw cracked as he yawned and blinked the sleep from his sockets. Just before he sat up to stretch, the weight on his chest moved. He froze and glanced down, eyes widening slightly as he remembered the previous night.

                The reader on his chest, clad in a too-big silver sweater and jeans, was curled into a cute little ball, fast asleep, one hand fisted in his jacket, the other tucked under their head. They were breathing in time with him, inhaling whenever his ribs raised, and exhaling whenever they dipped. It was a very odd, yet comforting feeling.

                He still couldn’t believe Papyrus had gone out and gotten him a Reader. Hadn’t he ever heard that giving pets as gifts was one of the worst ideas ever? There were entire articles on it! True, those mostly revolved around puppies at Christmas and bunnies at Easter, but aside from sentience Readers were the same thing!

                Then again, that sentience was what made them such wonderful pets and companions. They weren’t simple animals with a need for food, shelter, affection – they were complex beings with advanced thought patterns and an understanding of metacognition and a strong sense of self. He’d met a few around the lab when they accompanied their monsters for the day (they would never test on a Reader – Alpha Asgore would have all their heads on a silver platter if anybody even thought of that, if Alpha Toriel didn’t dust them all first), but he’d never had a true one-on-one conversation or held one himself before. He was too lazy to do that.

                So he’d been understandably (though perhaps a bit excessively) annoyed when Papyrus had sprung the little thing on him. Honestly, popping out of spaghetti – the jape just screamed Papyrus. While having their whispered tête-à-tête in the living room, he’d demanded to know just what his little brother had been thinking.

                “You’re getting sad again, Sans,” Papyrus had whispered, torn between guilt and annoyance. “I can see it – your smile has gone all fake again, like when we were Underground! Nothing father or I have tried has helped cheer you up. We love you, Sans.” He’d rested his big, gloved hands on the smaller skeletons shoulders, “We want you to be happy. I truly think having a Reader will help.”

                When Sans still didn’t look convinced, Papyrus whipped out his smartphone. “Wait, look here. I did research, see!” He showed Sans the screen; it was loaded to a mental health website, specifically on an article connecting higher levels of serotonin to owning pets. “And the Reader I found for you, they’re what’s called a Companion type!” He flipped to another tab, showing a gray sweater with a list of traits beside it.

                “Please, Sans,” Papyrus pocketed his phone again, “I have a good feeling in my SOUL. It’s been there ever since I had this idea. I really think this will work.”

                Sans had sighed beneath the weight of his brother’s words and agreed to get to know the Reader. Obviously his brother had good taste – they’d kept up with him joke-for-joke, pun-for-pun, before he’d fallen asleep in the middle of a punchline. Apparently they were also just as much of a lazy-bones as he was – a glance at the clock on his dressed showed it was nearly noon. They’d slept for almost eighteen hours. Thank god it was Saturday, and he didn’t have to go into work.

                Sans laid his head back and began running a finger over the Readers head, not wanting to wake them, but at the same time needing a good dose of ketchup to get his day started.

 


 

                You woke to a finger running over your head, coaxing you from your rest. You lazily lifted your head and smiled up at the round-faced skeleton you’d fallen asleep on.

                “Mornin’, pipsqueak,” he greeted with a large smile on his face. You yawned and sat up, stretching your arms over your head.

                “Mornin’, bighead.” You returned, then realized what you’d said. “Er, I mean, uh-“

                The skeleton snorted in laughter, cutting off your apology. He cupped a hand around you as you sat up, allowing you to fall back slightly and sit comfortably in his palm as he got off his bed. “You’ve got me there, pipsqueak. C’mon, let’s grab some lunch”

                “What about breakfast?” You asked. He shifted so you were seated on his shoulder, comfortably relaxed where his clavicle dipped.

                “We slept through it.” He explained, leaving the messy room and making sure the door shut behind him. The other two doors were open – his father and brother were already up and about, apparently.

                You held onto his jacket as he meandered down the stairs and through the living room, heading for the kitchen. “So, what do you want to do today?” He asked.

                It seemed his lazy attitude was contagious – you just shrugged and leaned against his puffy hood, which was bunched up around his shoulders a bit, creating a perfect resting spot.

                “Heh,” Sans chuckled and went straight to the fridge, pulling out a bottle of ketchup, which he promptly uncapped and drank. You wrinkled up your nose and stuck your tongue out at the sight. “What, not a fan of the sauce?”

                “Nah,” you quipped, “I don’t have the stomach for it.” He chuckled, the vibes reverberating through his chest and shaking you a bit where you sat.

                “True, it is a unique taste.” A luminescent blue tongue licked over his teeth, catching the stray drops of ketchup on his bones. “Jokes aside, what do you want to eat?”

                You pointed to the white bag sitting on the counter, where Papyrus had placed it when you arrived last night. “There’s some snacks for me in there,” you explained.

                Sans took the bag over to the table and poured it out. The pamphlet on Proper Reader Care flopped out first, followed by all the treats the shelter owner had packed for you. The skeleton whistled and set you down on the table. “Heh, and here I was worried you’d only brought the clothes on your back.”

You dug through the stack of supplies, pulling out the few bags of treats the shelter owner had packed. There was a bag of Muffet’s cookies, a box of flavored chips from Grillby’s, and a variety of monster candy and snacks. You popped open the chips and munched on them as Sans continued sipping his ketchup.

“So what do you normally do on Saturday?” You asked around a bite of the BBQ flavored snack.

Sans shrugged. “Sleep,” he admitted, “or hang out with Paps or Alphys.” He had finished about half of the bottle now, and got up to put it back in the fridge.

“Exciting stuff,” you commented as he came back.

“Yep,” he agreed, retaking his seat and slumping back, hands on his stomach, as he looked at you with lidded eyes. “We appear to be two very exciting people.”

                “No bones about it.” You agreed, feeling a bit proud as he snorted with laughter.

                “Heh, good one pipsqueak. So, lazy day in?”

                You licked salt off your fingers as you agreed. “Lazy day in.”

                Several hours later Papyrus arrived home and lambasted you both for being lazy, as well as marathoning his TIVO’d episodes of the hilarious dating show ‘Would You Smooch A Ghost?’ without him. He was all bark and no bite, though, and by the end he simply sighed and stomped off to the kitchen to make lasagna.

                Sans seemed happy enough with the lambasting, and when he went into the kitchen to help Papyrus with something (leaving you on the couch cheering for the cute bunny and reptile couple in Royal Guard armor), you could hear him speaking softly and affectionately to his brother. Just as the applause for the kissing royal guard couple tapered off, you heard the older brother quietly thanking his brother for finding you.

                A proud smile crossed your lips, and you hummed happily as Sans returned and plopped you back on his stomach to watch the next episode.

 


 

                You and Sans bonded over bad puns and a shared love of hamburgers. He took you with him to work a few times, when he and Gaster weren’t dealing with chemicals or running experiments. You sat on his desk as he filled out paperwork, sometimes distracting him with spontaneous tic-tac-toe games, other times just reading some science books from his shelves. It was a bit daunting, having to stand on the pages to read, and flipping the pages was a bit of a hassle, but his astronomy and joke books kept you both entertained for hours on end.

                On days you couldn’t go to the Royal Labs you hung out with Papyrus, discussing Italian cuisine and watching Mettaton marathons. When Papyrus had work you enjoyed exploring the house, challenging yourself by climbing to the top of the couch or playing in the kitchen. At least until you accidently shut yourself in the fridge and Papyrus came home to a Reader-scicle. A quick warm bath and a lecture later, and you were banned from the kitchen when they weren’t home. Sans thought it was hilarious, of course – he made ice and snow puns for several days afterwards.

                Gaster stole you sometimes, whisking you away to his office on the first floor, just to chat while Sans napped. He tried to teach you to play chess – it was a bit difficult since the pieces were the same height as you, but once you got the hang of it, you…still couldn’t beat him.

                Most of the time, though, you were with Sans, riding on his shoulder or in his hood, sleeping on his chest, or exchanging puns and jokes (much to the annoyance of those around you). While he was often tired and did sleep a lot, you never noticed him being overtly sad or obviously upset.

                That’s why the nightmare was such a surprise. One moment you were asleep on his chest, dreaming about accompanying Papyrus to an Italy made entirely out of pasta and bread sticks, the next you were jarred awake by hitting the mattress. It had happened a few times – Sans slept like a brick, rarely moving, but you had rolled off his ribs a few times during the night. It wasn’t painful, just sudden. This, though – this felt more like you’d been pushed or thrown off his chest.

                The big-boned skeleton was thrashing in the sheets, his legs tangled, arms flailing, a blue glow curling up from his left eye. You scrambled away from the tossing and turning body, nearly losing your head when his elbow came too close. Luckily, you were able to reach the pillow with all limbs intact. Thanks to your time climbing around the couch and kitchen (when supervised), you easily scrambled up the cotton pillowcase and crawled across the plush surface to Sans head.

                You were on his left side, and the magic leeching through his socket sent an odd chill over your skin. For a moment you hesitated, not entirely sure what to do, but a pained whine from between the skeletons clenched teeth spurred you on. Inching forward, you moved to sit right beside his head and, with trembling fingers, began to gently stroke his cheek bone.

                Sans jolted at the sudden (if small) contact, but luckily he didn’t lash out. You continued to pet his cheek, running your hand in a line before switching to rubbing circles along the arch of the bone. Absently you began to hum, the same soft tune Papyrus sometimes did in the kitchen when he was cooking. You didn’t know what the song was, or even if you were loud enough for Sans to hear you, but miraculously the skeleton began to calm down.

                You kept petting and humming for what felt like hours, though surely was only twenty or thirty minutes. You had to switch arms halfway through, the muscles in the one having gone sore from the repetitive motion. Just as your other arm was about to give out, the flickering magic of Sans left eye (which had been dying down steadily for the past half-hour) went out, and he lazily opened his sockets to reveal his pupils. They shifted to you, and very slowly he turned his head so you were both eye-to-eye.

                “Pipsqueak?” He asked sleepily, reaching up to rub at his now magicless eye tiredly. “What’re you doing up here? Heh, get bonely down on my hoodie?”

                You ran your hand along the bone just above his nose cavity, as though petting a dog with a big muzzle. “You had a nightmare,” you explained.

                “Yeah, I uh, get those sometimes.” You swore you could see tears beading the bottom of his sockets, but he blinked them away before you could be sure. “I don’t normally wake up before they end, though…” His teeth lifted in a smile. “Guess I have you ‘n’ your pretty humming to thank for that.” His hand slid over to brush a finger over your bedhead. “Sorry for wakin’ ya up, kid.”

                “It’s okay, Sans.” You reassured him, standing to lean forward and press a kiss between his eyes. A blue blush crossed his cheeks as he carefully rolled over, so he was on his side, facing you.

                His eyes were still heavy with sleep. “Think you can sleep a few more hours?” He asked, even as the lids began to fall.

                “Yeah,” you flopped down onto the pillow beside his head, giving him the same half-lidded stare he was giving you. His hand came up to lay over you, warm bones better than any blanket.

                “Night, Pipsqueak.” Sans shut his eyes all the way and within moments, he was breathing deeply, fast asleep.

                “Night Sans,” you whispered back, grinning and hugging his pointer finger like a teddy bear, hoping the touch would keep any lingering nightmares away. It must have worked – the rest of the night passed peacefully.               

Chapter Text

Chapter Text

                “I believe I have a mouse,” Grillby confided casually across the bar as he polished a glass. It was already sparkling clean, but Sans had long ago learned that the bartender liked to have something to do with his hands when speaking. He hated being idle.

                “A mouse, eh?” Sans sipped his ketchup slowly, free hand tapping the bar top. From his plate of fries came a similar ‘hmmm’ sound as his Reader mimicked his pose, stroking their chin. Ever since Papyrus had brought the skeleton a Reader as a present, it was rare for them to be apart. Grillby had gotten used to seeing them just as much as seeing Sans.

                “Yes,” Grillby set the sparkling-clean glass on the shelf below the bar, before leaning on it, hands folded on the polished top. “I have noted food disappearing from the kitchen and storeroom. There have been noises in the walls, and more than once I have seen something moving along the baseboards in the dark.” His fanged mouth was twisted down, a tight white line across his face. “I am not sure the best way to proceed. What do you use at the lab?”

                “It depends,” Sans set down his bottle and leaned against the bar, deep in thought. It was nearly closing time, and the bar was empty save for them. As soon as his arms were down, his Reader scrambled up the soft fabric of his hoodie and plopped down on his shoulder. He gave a lazy snort and handed them one of his fries. “Have you run experiments on these mice looking at the effect of magic on non-magic based souls that ended up giving them three-inch long fangs and daddy issues?”

                His Reader choked on their fry, while Grillby felt his jaw drop. “Just what kind of experiments are you guys running?” The Reader demanded, giving him an incredulous look.

                Sans shrugged and winked at them. “Top secret, sorry. The mice were okay, if that’s any consolation, Pipsqueak.”

                “A bit…” Pipsqueak muttered as they bit into their fry.

                “Anyway,” Grillby crackled, “I believe these are simply some house mice who had found their way into my walls.”

                “I would just trap ‘em then. Once they’ve found a place to nest, they’re not gonna leave.”

                “I was hoping to avoid harming them,” Grillby admitted.

                Sans patted his shoulder. “Aw, you’re such a softy, Grillbz! But they’re just mice. If you don’t kill ‘em, they’ll find their way back and just start eating all your food again.”

                The flame huffed but nodded. “Yes, I suppose you are correct.”

                “I think we have some extra traps at the office – I’ll bring ‘em by tomorrow.”

                “Thank you, Sans. I will see you both tomorrow night, then.”

                The skeleton tipped his bartender a wink and stood to leave, patting his Pipsqueak on the head when they leaned against his cheek to keep their balance.

                “See ya tomorrow!” The Reader waved as they left, mimicking Sans casual toss of the hand. Grillby rolled his eyes at the two and began to scrub his bar down, hoping to discourage the mice from trying to get into his kitchen once again.

 


 

                You just wanted a snack – a nibble, that’s all. You’d given up on scrounging up three full meals a day a while ago – a month, maybe two or three? How long had you been living in the walls of this bar, anyway? You ran a hand along your shirt with a grimace – you could feel every rib, and where had once been a rather poke-able belly was now a hollow stretch of skin.

                BUT! That didn’t matter. You didn’t need lots of food to survive – just a table scrap every two or three days was enough. Sure, it was a bit hard to find that much with the fastidious bartender and his cleaning habits, but you made due. It’s not like you had a choice, anyway – despite it being nearly April, it was still cold and windy out. No place for a little Reader like yourself. Besides, the walls of the bar were insulated and kept away the chill of the air, and thanks to a past family of mice that had lived there, you were able to sneak in through holes chewed in the baseboards.

                You were certain that’s the only reason the bartender – Grillby, you’d heard him be called – hadn’t found you yet. You were easily able to slip from one room to another without being seen, as long as it was on the ground floor. You were intimately familiar with the bar, the kitchen, the store room, and his office. His apartment on the second floor was a complete mystery – you’d never managed to get up the stairs, and honestly you didn’t want to. It felt invasive enough to be living in his walls without his knowledge or permission – the least you could do was grant him his privacy.

                Some part of you wanted to jump in front of him and wave your arms and holler a hello. You constantly squashed that part, sternly reminding yourself that what you had was enough. You’d asked for too much, and that was how you ended up alone and hungry in the first place. You were terrified of making the same mistake again.

                The bar was quiet and dark – it was far past closing. You prowled along the tables and chairs, searching for any table scraps left by the customers. There was normally something left by the guard dogs that visited every evening to play cards. The floor beneath their table was scrubbed clean, though – in fact, the entire restaurant was oddly clean. You paced behind the bar and found…nada. Zip. Nothing. You wrinkled your nose at the dust-free floor and climbed into the wall through a hole behind the shelf of liquors and wines on the shelf behind the bar.

                A quick walk to the storeroom showed the same level of cleanliness – not a speck of dust or crumb of food was left on the floor or lower shelves. Chewing on your thumbnail, you left the storeroom and headed for the kitchen.

                The hole to the kitchen was hidden behind the fridge, near the stairs that led to Grillby’s second-story flat. You had to climb out on your stomach, squeezing under the thick power cords from the fridge. Even this tiny space was squeaky-clean, void of dust and dirt. You climbed to your feet, dusted yourself off out of habit, and stepped out into the kitchen.

                The kitchen was dark, Grillby having already gone to bed. In retrospect, you should have realized something was off, or at least looked around before stepping out into the open.

                As soon as you’d moved out from the fridge, there was a loud, metallic snap, followed by a second, squishier snap. The sound echoed damningly in your ears, as an odd numbness began crawling up your left leg. A sharp, hot pain began to lance up the limb, shuddering through both bone and muscle. You tossed your head back, smacking it hard against the floor. Wait – when had you fallen to the floor? You’d been standing, hadn’t you?

                A strange keening sound reached your ears. It was very annoying – you wanted to yell at whatever mosquito was making it to shut the hell up, but the pain had burnt away all the numbness in your leg, and your mind was otherwise occupied. It wasn’t until you stopped to gasp for breath that you realized it was you making the pathetic noise.

                You bit your lip, hard, to stifle the sound. You couldn’t afford to be that loud – not with the bartender right overhead. Whimpering between your teeth, you forced yourself to sit up and see just what, exactly, had happened to your leg. The answer almost surprised a hysterical giggle out of you.

                A mousetrap. An old-school, wood-and-wire mousetrap. You had stepped right into it, left leg catching the trigger and sending the bar snapping down on your shin. Blood bubbled up around the bar, which had bit deeply into the skin and bone. You tried to wiggle your toes, and were relieved when they moved.

                Okay, you could figure this out. You were a smart, resourceful Reader. Mary had always said so, and Mary was never wrong. You leaned forward and hooked your fingers under the wire bar. The metal was cold against your skin as you tried to lift it off your leg. It shifted a bit, but all you succeeded in doing was sending another sharp shock of pain up your spine. Cursing your wimpy muscles, you slammed your hand against it in frustration, which only made more blood slide down your leg to pool against the wood base.

                You were 100% caught. No, 100% trapped. Obviously, Grillby had figured out you were nicking food from his storeroom and bar floor. You didn’t think he would try to hurt you, though – after all, it was just a little bit, and it was only every few days! You weren’t stealing full-course meals or anything. It was honestly disconcerting – you’d never thought Grillby would be one to act violently, even if he did double as the bouncer for his bar. Obviously, someone messing with his food made him angry enough to resort to more…final methods.

With a pained huff you fell onto your back, head bouncing off the wood once again. You yelped in pain, but quickly stifled yourself again as the urge to begin crying grew in your chest.

                “Sans, if I have told you once I have told you a thousand times, my ketchup stores are off limits!” The light at the top of the stairs flicked on. Wait, no – that was just Grillby, standing on the top stair, wearing pajama bottoms that were patterned with hot dogs. He was rubbing at his eyes as he descended the stairs, seeming annoyed at being woken. You had to clap a hand over your mouth to keep from whimpering as the bartender came to stand on the last step, a towering inferno to your small form.

                The elemental opened his eyes and looked around, then blinked when he didn’t see any short, punny skeletons in the kitchen. He scratched the back of his head in confusion, then glanced down in thought. You met his eyes, hand still over your mouth to keep from making any unnecessary noise.

                It was interesting, watching the flame figure out what exactly he was seeing. He tilted his head ever-so-slightly, the thin, jagged line that was his mouth opening a bit as his brain caught up with his eyes. The flames on his head flickered sporadically, rising higher in shock as his eyes widened.

                “Oh my Stars.” He leapt off the last step and fell to his knees beside you, looking surprisingly upset at having caught you. Your pain-addled brain found that a bit odd – wasn’t that his goal in setting out a trap? You’d think he would be happier. The flame looked far from it, though – his eyes were wide (easily seen since he’d left his glasses upstairs), brows sloped in distress. His hands hovered over you as he examined the trap, fingers curling and uncurling as he thought.

                “Hold still,” he finally said, grasping the side of the mousetrap that didn’t have you in a death grip (hah!) with one hand. Curling the fingers of his other hand under the wire, he slowly lifted it. A new wave of pain rushed down your leg and you couldn’t help but yelp in pain as the nerves that had been suppressed began firing all at once. The fire elemental swore before – actually swore, you’d never heard him say any curse words while skulking around the bar – and pulled the trap away from you. He turned away from you as the wood base caught fire in his fingers, and he tossed it into the large sink a few feet away.

                While he was tossing it away, you nope’d out of there. Luckily the trap had been right by the fridge, and despite the pain you dragged yourself behind the appliance, suddenly happy for the squeaky-clean space. You knew, somewhere, that it was stupid to move away from help, but at the moment the fear and pain was in charge, and millennia of evolution was telling you to get to a small, safe space to recover.

                The dark space was illuminated as Grillby smooshed his face against the wall in order to peer at you. You bumped against the thick power cord and gave it a dismayed look – there was no way you could climb under or over it with your leg. The bartender leaned back, though you could still see his knee through the crack. There was some shuffling of fabric, then electronic beeping.

                Grillby’s soft voice seeped into the space, but you weren’t able to make out what he was saying. Instead, you focused on your leg. Ugh, you wished you’d been wearing jeans when you’d left. They would have given you a lot more protection than the shorts. You grimaced and shifted to lean over the cut – well, gash – and break. There was a smear of blood following you from where you’d been trapped to where you were now, the only mess in the pristine kitchen.

                “Hey.”

                You jolted back against the power cord and stared at the gap leading to the kitchen. Grillby was gone, replaced by a tired-looking Reader wearing shorts and a white t-shirt with a skull and crossbones drawn on it in Sharpie. Looming behind them was a skeleton monster you’d seen several times at the bar, sitting on his knees and squishing his face against the wall to peer in with one eye socket. How were the bones of his face squishing like that? It didn’t make any logical sense…

                Somewhere in the room, Grillby flicked on the overhead light, which was enough to illuminate you hiding place and you. The Reader gasped when they caught sight of your leg, and behind them the skeleton winced and made a sympathetic noise.

                “You got this, Pipsqueak?” The monster asked.

                “Yeah, go check on Grillby. He looks like he’s about to combust.” The Reader gave him a bright smile and waved him off before focusing on you once more. The skeleton got to his feet and you listened as he spoke softly to Grillby on the far side of the room. They turned back to you and flashed a strained smile. “Hey. I’m Pip.” They slid into the gap and crouched in front of you, wincing when they saw how screwed up your leg was.

                You managed to give them a pained grimace in return; you didn’t want to open your mouth for fear of making that odd keening noise again.

                The Reader glanced back at the entrance of the gap, where a small bag was waiting. “I know you’re probably not up to moving, but I can’t help you back here. Can you come sit by my bag?” They held a hand out for you. When you hesitated, their smile softened and became more genuine and less stressed. “I know Grillby and Sans are a little scary at first, but they’re both huge sweethearts, I promise.”

                You weren’t really sure about that – Grillby had set out a trap to kill you, after all. But the pain in your leg was clouding your rational thought, and blood was beginning to pool beneath your leg, soaking into your shorts and making your skin sticky. You grasped the strangers hand, wincing as you smeared their skin with your blood. They didn’t seem to mind, however – they simply hauled you upright and immediately wrapped your arm around their neck.

                “Here, put all your weight on me.” They instructed as they helped you limp out of the gap. True to their word, they helped you sit down against the wall right beside the bag, still next to the fridge. Sans and Grillby were standing by the door to the bar on the other side of the room. The two monsters glanced at you, but Sans quickly distracted Grillby with a bad joke, pulling the attention off you.

                Pip sat on their knees in front of you and pulled out a smashed piece of monster candy. “Eat this,” they shoved it into your hands, “it’ll help you heal faster, I promise.”

                You recognized the colorful splinter of sugar – it was pink, which meant strawberry flavor. Without hesitation you popped it into your mouth. Your tongue immediately began to tingle as it melted and dispersed healing magic through your body. There was an unsettling, sharp ‘crunch’ noise as your tibia and fibula snapped into place, accompanied by a weird, unpleasant grinding feeling that brought goosebumps up along your arms. The gash stopped bleeding, though the skin didn’t knit together.

                Pip was prepared; they’d pulled a plastic box with a red cross drawn on it from their bag. You recognized it – they were emergency med kits sold at the Shelter and some corner stores that carried Reader goods. They popped it open and quickly pulled out some foil squares.

                “This is probably going to hurt,” they warned as they unwrapped an alcohol swab, “but it’ll keep it from getting infected.”

                You grimaced but didn’t say anything, merely leaning back and bracing yourself. Pip gave you an encouraging smile and began wiping the blood off your leg. They cleaned the area around the gash before daring to gently run the cloth over it.

                You nearly bit through your lip at the sharp, stinging pain. You whined through your clenched teeth, and Pip flashed you an empathetic glance. “Almost done,” they promised as they wiped the rest of the blood away from the gash. If you’d eaten in the past few days, you would have been sick – you could see the white of your newly-healed bone between the slash of muscle and skin.

                “Ugh,” Pip looked away from the injury, busying themselves with finding sterilized gauze and bandaging. “Yeesh, how are you being so quiet? I’d be screaming my head off by now.” They asked, a tint of humor in their voice as they laid the gauze carefully over the cut and began to wrap the bandage around your leg, pulling it tightly to make sure it wouldn’t come undone.

                “There, all better!” They patted your leg gently, making sure not to touch the cut directly. “Well, mostly better. You won’t lose your leg, I’m pretty sure!” They joked. You gave them a weak smile, then glanced over their shoulder at the two monsters. Sans had looked back over while his Reader attended to you. You quickly looked away, hunching your shoulders around your ears. The skeleton grabbed the bartender and pulled him from the kitchen, into the bar proper.

                Pip moved to sit beside you, leaning against the wall as they used another alcohol wipe to clean your blood off their hands. “Grillby was really scared when he called Sans,” they confided, balling up the swab and tossing it at the med kit. “He thought there was a mouse in his bar, sneaking food. None of us every thought there would be a Reader wandering around.”

                “A…mouse?” You asked, licking blood from your lip.

                “Yeah,” Pip laughed, “a mouse. That’s why he set out mouse traps. He didn’t mean to hurt you – he’s really upset.” They glanced at the sink, where the unseen mouse trap was still smoldering and giving off light gray smoke, which was curling towards the ceiling. When you didn’t respond, they kept going. “So, what are you doing sneaking around Grillby’s, anyway?” Their tone wasn’t accusatory, just curious.

                You shrugged uncomfortably, but when you looked down you saw the neat bandaging around your leg, and figured you at least owed them an explanation in return. “I was hungry,” you admitted, leaving out that you had gotten hungry three months ago. When she gave you a concerned look, you hurried to defend yourself. “I didn’t steal anything, I promise! I just took whatever fell on the floor!”

                “You what?” Pip gasped, “Oh my goodness, you poor thing!” They threw their arms around you and hugged you tightly. “How long have you been hiding out here?”

                You winced, wishing they hadn’t asked but still feeling like you owed them an answer. “Uh…since New Year’s?”

                “New Yea – that was three months ago!” Pip let go of you, then pressed their hands against your stomach and ribs, easily feeling them through your thin shirt. “Oh my stars. SANS!”

                The skeleton monster immediately poked his head through the doorway, Grillby hovering worriedly behind him. “Yeah, Pipsqueak?”

                Pip leapt up and pointed at you. “They haven’t eaten in three months!”

                “Wait,” you hurried to correct, “I’ve eaten since then! I’d be dead if I hadn’t!”

                Sans pushed the door all the way open and strode in, Grillby behind him. The bartender was frowning and flickering in distress and worry. “What do you mean?” He asked in a soft, prompting voice.

                “They’ve been here for three months!” Pip revealed, pointing to you dramatically. “And have been eating off the floor!”

                You flushed brightly and struggled to your own feet, leaning against the wall to stay upright. Your leg gave an unpleasant twinge but held, the broken bones a mere echo of an ache now. “I didn’t steal anything, I promise!” You rushed to reassure the bartender. “I just took a little bit when people dropped it, just what they weren’t going to eat anyway!”

                Both the monsters and Pipsqueak were staring at you now, expressions flickering between horror and disbelief. You hunched your shoulders and looked away, squirming uncomfortably beneath their gazes.

                Bare feet crossed the room. You glanced up and watched as Grillby approached you and Pip. The other Reader smiled, but you shuffled back a step, so your back was safely pressed against the wall. At the last moment he stepped to the right and opened the fridge, the door swinging back and blocking him from sight. You could hear something – most likely ketchup bottles and the like – being clanked against each other as he rummaged around. After only a moment he moved to one of the counters, his body and the fridge blocking you from seeing what he was doing.

                Pip gave you a reassuring smile, though they looked a bit confused as well. They glanced at Sans, who shrugged at them with a grin, a motion they returned. The three of you weren’t confused for long, however. In only a few minutes, Grillby turned back from the counter, holding something in his hands. He moved back to the fridge but, instead of ignoring you, he knelt behind Pip. He didn’t speak, simply rested his hand between the two of you, palm up. Resting on the warm, flickering skin were two sandwiches, complete with cheese, tomatoes, and turkey.

                “Oh, midnight snack time!” Pip had no trouble moving closer and grabbing one of the sandwiches from the bartender’s hand. It was much larger than a proper sandwich would be – more like a flattened, layered pizza in their hands. Grillby must have cut the bread and fillings as small as he could handle without squishing it all. The Reader immediately took a big bite and melted, making a happy ‘mmmmmm!’ noise as she chewed. “It’s even grilled! Heh, well of course, it’s a Grillby’d cheese sandwich!”

                The flame rolled his eyes, though there was a pleased smile tugging at the edge of his line-like mouth. He moved his gaze from Pip to you, and the smile fell a bit. You were still standing against the wall, a good monster-sized foot away, shoulders hunched as you stared at the food on his hand. “Take it,” he insisted in a soft voice, shifting his hand a bit closer, “you need a proper meal.”

                You wanted to hesitate and refuse, but the smell of melted cheese and warm turkey hit your nose and you slowly, almost reluctantly, picked the sandwich up. It was a bit awkward to hold, but thanks to the bread being toasted it didn’t slump about the middle like an actual pizza-sized-pizza would have. You hesitated a moment, before bringing up to your mouth and taking a small bite.

                Instantaneously, your taste buds and stomach rejoiced at having warm food for the first time in months. You scarfed down a good half of the sandwich before a deep, rolling chuckle made you stop mid-bite. Your eyes flickered up and, to your surprise, met with the skeleton monsters. He’d come to sit down beside his Reader, leaning against the fridge as he watched you both eat. Pip was showing much more decorum, sitting on his knee and taking small, measured bites. Self-consciously you pulled the food away from your mouth, trying to fight down the blush clinging to your cheeks.

                “Don’t eat too fast there, kid,” he winked, “You’ll end up with a monster of a stomach ache.” On his knee, Pip choked on her sandwich and smacked his knee.

                “That was awful.”

                “Yep.” Sans leaned back and shut his eyes, hands buried in the pockets of his hoodie, looking mighty pleased with himself for the bad pun.

                “That truly was bad, Sans.” Grillby had returned – you’d barely notice him leave after you took the food – and he sat beside the skeleton, across from you, gracefully crossing his legs. He handed Sans a sandwich identical to the one in your hands. The skeleton opened one eye a smidge and accepted it with a grunted ‘thanks.’

                “So, you got a name, kid?” Sans asked through a mouthful of grilled cheese and turkey sandwich.

                You hesitated, taking another bite of your own food to avoid answering right away. It was silly – you should have been able to answer right away, ‘off the bat’ as Mary would say. Not that Mary was saying anything anymore…

                NOPE. Nope. Not going there. You swallowed your bite hard and slid down the wall to sit against it, knees drawn to your chest as you set the sandwich down beside you. Sans and Grillby’s expressions turned concerned, but Pip just nodded at you with an understanding look in their eyes.

                “Kid?”

                “…Lamb.”

                “…No, I think it’s turkey.”

                The dead-pan delivery surprised a snort of laughter out of you. “No,” you corrected, “my name is Lamb.”

                “Lamb,” Grillby cut off whatever joke Sans looked ready to make, “I do not wish to upset you, but where is your Monster?”

                You didn’t meet any of their eyes, and he made a soft ‘huff’ noise of understanding. Pip slid off their monster’s knee and moved to sit beside you. They didn’t say anything, just leaned against you as you stared at your knees.

                “Sans,” Grillby spoke softly, “could I perhaps borrow some of your supplies?”

                “I dunno,” Sans’ voice was teasing, “how much of my tab will it cover?”

                “Sans…”

                “Hey, just kidding, Grillbz! I’ll be right back.” There was an odd, soft popping noise, and the kitchen suddenly felt much emptier. You glanced up, and saw only empty space where Sans had been. Your eyes darted to the door leading to the bar, which was completely still.

                “Where…?”

                “He does that,” Pip reassured you, “So, uh, how did you get the name ‘Lamb’?”

                To their surprise, you snorted. “My monster was named Mary; she was an ewe. She – she liked jokes. You know the nursery rhyme, ‘Mary had a little Lamb?’”

                “Oh!” Pip easily caught on, and grinned against your shoulder. “So you were her little Lamb!”

                “Heh, yeah.”

                Grillby chuckled as well, his voice soft and pleasant to listen to.

                There was another pop, different than the first – this time air was pushed out of a spot all at once, followed by a skeleton that took up said space. He had a cardboard box in his hands, which had the ‘HEINZ’ logo printed on the side. He handed it to Grillby, who took it with a nod.

                “Thank you, Sans,” the flame glanced through whatever was in the box with a pleased expression. “I’d say this is almost enough to pay off your tab.”

                The skeleton grinned cheekily, before glancing down at you two. “Alright, Pipsqueak, I think Grillby has a spark of an idea on what to do. I’m betting we could get about ten more hours of sleep before we gotta get up for work.”

                Pip nodded and stood. You quickly followed, your leg giving only the barest of painful throbs as you put weight on it. The other Reader went straight over to the skeleton, who crouched down and scooped them up to sit on his clavicle. To your surprise, he didn’t straighten right up – he reached out and ruffled your hair with a finger. “Nice to meet you, Mouse. I’ll see ya tonight.” With that, he vanished, leaving you hair in a whirlwind of tangles.

                Grillby sat the box in front of him, drawing your attention. You met his eyes, which were squinting through a pair of square-framed glasses now, and immediately looked down at your feet. You were embarrassed to have even thought the kind bartender would deliberately try to harm you – it was obvious, thinking back now, that the mouse trap was set for just that – a mouse.

                “Lamb,” the bartender was leaning forward a bit now, but you still had to tilt your head back a bit to see his face, “Am I correct in assuming that your owner has…fallen?” He spoke the word with soft reverence, and you gave him a single nod. “And I suppose you have nowhere else you can go?” You shook your head, reaching up to run a hand through your tangled locks (and finding the remnants of the web – darn it, no wonder that spider had been so mad! You must look like a cotton-candy cone from hell…).

                Grillby was frowning now, and he looked at you through half-lidded, sad eyes. “You are more than welcome to stay here, for as long as you wish,” he offered. You didn’t nod or shake your head – you just stared at him, jaw dropped.

                “W-what?”

                “You are in need of a home,” the bartender explained, “and I am more than happy to provide it. I have ample room and food to accommodate a small guest.” You mouthed the word guest at him, and his lips twitched up in a genuinely amused smile. “No one should be forced to scrounge for food when living in a restaurant.” He pointed out, and moved to rest a hand, palm up, in front of you.

                He was so genuine, so honest, in his speech, that you barely hesitated to step onto his palm. You sat, carefully, a bit surprised that his warm, flickering skin didn’t burn you. It felt like sitting on a warm, scratchy blanket. Grillby tucked the box Sans had brought under one arm before carefully standing. His fingers curled up, and you automatically leaned against them. They were longer and thicker than Mary’s had been, and the way they curled slightly over you as you sat back gave you a sense of protection and safety much different from the ewes.

                Grillby flipped out the kitchen light (though being right in his hand, you couldn’t really see a difference when he did so) and mounted the stairs. You couldn’t help but feel a bit excited – you hadn’t been upstairs, after all, and the idea of seeing something new was a bit exciting.

                The stairs led to another doorway, which opened into a small living room. A kitchenette was to the left, while to the right was a door that led to what appeared to be a bedroom. It was simply decorated with warm colors mixing in blankets and pillows over white furniture. You noted several large bookshelves against one wall, full of culinary books and television shows.

                Grillby took a right to the bedroom, which was decked out in the same warm colors. A large bed took up the middle of the room, on either side of which were dark wood nightstands. He set the box down on one of these, and thanks to your height in his hand, you caught a glance inside. There were a few pieces of clothing, some Reader-sized books and a Rubik cube, and a small med-kit like the one Pip had used to help your leg, as well as a clear bag full of more monster candy shards.

                Grillby set his hand down on one of the fluffy pillows at the top of the bed, and you obligingly slid to the plush surface. You flopped down on it with a soft sight – it was much nicer than the nest of napkins you had hidden by the hole that led into the kitchen. The flame raised a brow at the pleased noise you made, but didn’t comment on it. Instead, he rounded the bed and laid on the other side, tucking himself under the blankets to dim most of his light. The room was immediately much darker, and you rolled over to watch him as he settled in.

                The elementals flames had dimmed as he made himself comfortable, until he was less like a bonfire and more like a nightlight. He had set his glasses down, leaving nothing to obstruct your gaze of his soft white eyes, which were already heavy with sleep. “Are you alright there, Lamb?”

                You winced at the name – it sounded weird and foreign, coming from him. The flame noticed and sat up a bit, his fire sparking up a bit. “Are you alright?” He asked worriedly.

                “Yeah,” you quickly reassured him, “I - it’s stupid.”

                “I’m certain it’s not,” he insisted, leaning a bit closer so he could see you better, waiting for you to tell him what was wrong.

                “It’s just…hearing that name now feels…weird. Mary gave it to me, but she’s – she’s never gonna be able to – she’s…” To your horror, the corners of your eyes began to ache as tears gathered, and you dashed them away with a quick move of your fist.

                A warm hand surrounded you on all sides. Grillby didn’t try to pick you up or pull you close – he just rested his fingers around your back, like a heavy, heated blanket. He rested his head back on the pillow and waited patiently for you to continue.

                “I’m never gonna hear Mary say my name again!” You finally choked out, tears dribbling down your cheeks. Grillby rubbed his thumb against your shoulder in soft circles, watching as you wiped at your eyes. “Why – why did she have to fall?” You demanded of the bartender, which was a bit of a lost cause, seeing how you doubted he’d ever met her before. She preferred cooking at home to eating out. “She never hurt anybody,” you continued, “She – she was the nicest monster in the world! She always gave cookies to everybody in the neighborhood, and babysat for the bunnies next door, and she was the first one to offer help whenever someone needed it!”

                “Why – why did she leave me?” You looked up at Grillby, to find his eyes sloped in sorrow and his smile gone.

                “It sounds like she was a lovely monster,” the bartender kept rubbing at your shoulder, his voice a soft, rumbling sauna that made your very SOUL feel comforted. “But everyone has their time, and there’s nothing we can do when it comes. I’m sure your Mary knew that. She must have told you about what happens when a monster grows old.” You sniffled a bit and nodded. Grillby’s thumb had moved to rubbing at the back of your shoulders and neck, which was calming your thumping heart.

                “I’m certain she misses you as well, Mouse.” He put a bit of pressure against your back, coaxing you into laying down on the soft pillow. His hand shifted to lay on top of you, a warm weight that evaporated the tear tracks on your cheeks.

                “Mouse?” You asked, happy for the distraction. In the three months you’d been scrounging for food and making yourself a home in the walls, you hadn’t had time to think about Mary. You still weren’t ready too – it was still too painful, the sight of her dissolving to dust clearly imprinted on your mind.

                Grillby’s flames had calmed once more as he settled back down amongst the blankets. “Is that alright?” He asked. “It is what Sans called you when he left.”

                After a moment’s thought, you nodded. “Yeah, I – I have been acting like a mouse,” you gave him a small smile. “It fits.”

                The flame returned the smile with his own equally-small one. “Goodnight, Mouse,” he bid, flames dimming once again.

                “Goodnight, Grillby.” You returned, shutting your eyes and sinking into the pillows. As odd as it was, you found yourself incredibly grateful that you’d stepped into that mousetrap tonight. Despite the pain in your leg, and the surge of fear that had accompanied the start of the entire debacle, you felt safer and happier than you had in months.

Chapter Text

          Sans was a high-level member of the Kings Mob. He was a smart, tricky, ruthless bastard when he needed to be, a right-hand man for his boss, more than capable of making certain monsters and humans ‘disappear’ when it was needed. He was also a punny guy, more than capable of making a room laugh with a witty joke or two. There was absolutely no reason why that sound should have escaped him, but it did.

            “Sans,” Papyrus was giving his brother a shocked look, eyes wide, “Did you just…giggle?”

            “No,” Sans growled, regaining his composure, “I did not.” He straightened his tie and glared at the monster slumped over the desk in front of them. The deer – normally peppy and happy and more than pleased to greet him with an insult and that annoying, affectionate smirk – was fast asleep, drooling over a set of what looked like important papers currently cradling her head. Her personal Reader was leaning against her arm, snoring just as loudly.

            Sans reached out and flicked the dear on the forehead. She jerked awake, nearly catching his eye socket with one of her antlers. Her arms followed, falling into stereotypical karate poses, as she looked about in a panic. On the desk her Reader fell over, groaning at the rude awakening.

            “Wha – Sans? What the hell?” Rivet ran a hand through her hair, straightening it.  “What are you doing here? We’re closed.”

            “Is that how you greet your favorite skeleton?” Sans winked at her, rocking back on his heels, a smirk on his wide teeth.

            The deer huffed. “Of course not, thank you for reminding me.” She made a very clear show of turning towards Papyrus, who was standing behind his brother, holding a box and looking torn between amusement and annoyance at the routine banter. “Hello Papyrus, it is lovely to see you. How have you been?”

            “Aw kid, that wounds me, right in the SOUL.” Sans patted his chest.

            The Reader on the desk sighed and stood, brushing himself off. “Honestly, you two are a headache and a half.” He muttered, stretching.

            “Oh, sorry Briar. Guess neither of us made it to bed, huh?” Rivet gave a Reader a quick pat on the head as she stood. “So, really, what are you guys doing here? It can’t be good.”

            Papyrus sighed and nudged Sans to the side so he could set the box down on the table. It was a good sized box – about the size of the ones you got when you ordered a dozen donuts. There was a soft green glow of magic surrounding it, though as Papyrus set it down the spell began to dissipate.

            Nervously, Rivet leaned forward and flipped up the lid. The inside of the box was padded with a soft towel, on which rested six Readers, all fast asleep. Their clothing was in rags, and there were signs of healing bruises and cuts on their limbs and faces. They were all curled together, seeking warmth and comfort from each other.

            “Where…?”

            “We intercepted a few thugs making a delivery to the Gaster gang. Thought we’d take care of the package for ‘em.” Sans growled.

            Rivet glanced up at the two, shocked. “Really? So soon? It’s only been a few weeks!”

            “Apparently being rendered mute hasn’t slowed him down,” Papyrus muttered, fingers twitching as though wishing he had his bone club in hand and Gaster before him. The deer nodded as she leaned over the box, taking inventory of the state of the six.

            “I’ll have to contact Maryweather – I hope she can come tonight, there’s no telling how much work these little guys need…”

            “There’s no need for that, Rivet! Sans and I took them to the doctor already – they have been healed and sedated.” Papyrus quickly reassured her.

            “Sedated?” The deer pulled back and looked at the tall skeleton in worry.

            Sans sighed and stepped forward, holding out what looked like a handkerchief. It had once been white, but was not spotted with deep browns. As you watched, he carefully unwrapped it, leaving something curled in the palm of his hands. Rivet leaned forward, only to cry out in horror at what she saw.

            A Reader was curled up in the bloody fabric, clinging to it like it was a lifeline (explaining why Sans had kept it wrapped around them). They were dressed in a white shift, the kind the vet used when checking over patients. It was like a hospital gown, only it closed all the way around. From what the deer could see, the Reader was tiny and thin as a stick. There were deep bruises on their arms and legs, and despite showing signs of healing they were still very visible. What made Rivet’s heart skip a beat, however, was their heart-shaped face; the left side was completely scarred, as though the skin had been burned away and forced to grow back through a harsh, lazy healing spell. The skin was winkled and stained a deep red and purple, though it was lighter around the eye, as though the organ had been spared the attack.

            “Oh my god,” Rivet hissed between her teeth, tears soaking the fur beneath her eyes. She took a step back and leaned against the desk, pressing her fists to the paper-strewn top to stay upright. Pink eyes shut tightly, and she bit back a sob. “Oh my god.”

            The brothers gave her a moment to collect herself, only to be stunned when her head snapped back and she gave Sans a hard look. Her eyes had gone from sorrowful to hard, and as they gaped the curly antlers on her head began to stretch. New branches grew and twisted from the bone, as sharp as any True Knife, surrounded by the pink glow of her magic. She looked ready to go hoof to toe with whatever had harmed the Readers, and by the gleam in her eye the skelebros were certain that she would win.

            “Tell me you hurt them,” the deer snarled, flat teeth barred in a fearsome sneer, more akin to a wolf than a hart. Her ears were flattened against the back of her skull, and her nails were gouging rows through the papers on her desk, into the wood itself. “Tell me they’re dust Sans because if they’re not…”

            The older skeleton relaxed, gently placing the scarred Reader in the towel-lined box with the others. They didn’t stir. Once his hands were free he leaned forward and set his hands on top of the deer’s, pulling her nails from the wood. “Rivet,” his white-pip eyes met her own, “stop. You’re scaring Briar.”

            “No she’s not!” The Reader protested, crossing his arms over his chest and pouting. “I’ve seen her way more pissed off than this.”

            “Language!” Rivet snapped, even as she leaned back and shook out her hands. The wild magic around her began to settle, and slowly her antlers began shrinking back to their normal size. Her ears were still pinned back in worry and anger, however, and the rage was still flickering in her eyes.

            Sans, once sure he wasn’t going to lose an eye-socket if she turned her head wrong, rounded the table and patted her shoulder. “Don’t worry,” he lowered his voice, so Papyrus couldn’t hear, “they’re gone.”

            “Good.” Rivet fixed the papers into a stack (wincing at the rips and tears in them) and focused on the new Readers. “So, they’ve all been checked out? Healed up, vaccinated, bathed?”

            Papyrus took over now. “Yes,” he reassured her, pushing the box a bit further onto the table, safely away from the edge. “All seven of them.” With a bit of a flourish to his wrist, he produced a folder from his jacket and held it out to her. “All the paperwork from the doctor.”

            “Thank you.” She set the folder on the desk, intending on looking at it when she didn’t feel like strangling a bunch of thugs. “Did they say how long the sedative would last?”

            “At least until morning,” Sans supplied, returning to stand beside his brother. “It’s only…two in the morning. You could still get a few hours’ sleep.”

            The deer snorted. “Yeah, right, after this bombshell you dropped, I’ll drift right off to sleep, pleasant dreams and all.” She picked up the box and held it to her chest, then leaned down and allowed Briar to grab one of her antlers and pull himself up to sit between them on her head. “Thank you, boys.”

            “Of course, Miss Hart!” Papyrus chirped quite happily, ruining his mobster persona quite a bit. Sans simply nodded, tilting his fedora. Rivet returned the nod, then turned and retreated to the back room, leaving the two to see themselves out.

            The back room of the shelter was quite a bit smaller than the front. There was a bed, a small kitchenette, and a dresser to one side. The bed had no frame – it was a mattress on the floor. Beside it were a plethora of blankets, pillows, and toys for the Readers. A miniature door beside the actual door allowed any of her Readers to come get her during the night if the need arose. The shy and timid Readers were also allowed back here whenever they needed some peace and quiet.

The other side of the room was taken up by shelves of supplies, as well as a long table with three glass aquariums set on the top. They were each padded with soft cloth and a pillow to rest on. They were what Rivet called the ‘time-out-boxes.’ When she received extremely volatile Readers – those who bit, scratched, screamed, who attacked other Readers or tried to harm themselves using what was available in the playpen or display cases – they were held back here, where they and the others would be safe. The deer had contacts with psychologists and therapists all over the city, and when she was faced with angry or depressed Readers she had them make ‘house calls’ and come speak to the tiny patients. Sometimes that was all that was needed – other times, they needed special kinds of monster food, the same kind depressed monsters ate to feel better. It was similar to the odd human antidepressants.

Rivet set the box with the lid open on the pile of blankets beside the bed, put Briar down beside the box, then flopped face-first onto her bed with an exhausted whine.

“Are you okay?” Briar scrambled up the side of the bed and onto the pillow. The deer sighed and rolled onto her side so she could speak.

“Yeah,” she muttered, “just tired.” She nuzzled at him with her cold noise, getting a giggle out of the small being before rolling onto her back. “Goodnight, Briar.”

“Night,” he returned, moving to curl up in the crook of her neck, cloaked in her hair. “Love you, mum.”

“Love you too, sweetheart.”

 


 

            There were six Readers in the box.

            Rivet counted again.

            Six.

            Six sleepy Readers just waking up, looking a bit worried as they realized a rather panicked monster was leaning over the box, re-counting them. Thankfully Briar was sitting on the edge of the box, smiling and speaking softly to them, reassuring them that they had come to a safe place.

            “Where’s the one that was hurt?” Rivet asked aloud, sitting back on her heels and looking about the room. There was nothing out of place, and all the shelves and the dresser back here were high enough that she could easily see beneath them.

            “Maybe they went to the main room?” Briar suggested, pointing to the small door set in the wall beside the large one.

            The deer’s ears flicked in agitation. “Okay. Okay. Stay here and keep an eye on them, I’ll be right back with clean clothes and breakfast, promise,” she rushed to reassure the confused (and bemused) six. Once Briar had given her a thumbs up, she rushed out of the room and into the main part of the shelter.

            Several of her Readers were sitting on the wall that separated the playpen from the rest of the store. At night she set an odd little ladder contraption over the wall, almost like a stepladder but with rungs on both sides, which allowed them to get out of the pen. Often times the early risers would sit on top of the wall until she got up and made them breakfast.

            Today, they immediately shouted for her, waving their arms. The deer rushed over and practically slid on her knees to kneel in front of them, ears still twitching.
            “Have you seen a new Reader?” She demanded before they could speak. “They were wearing a white hospital gown, and had marks on their face.”

            “Yeah!” An adventurous Reader waved his arm to get her attention. Once he had it, he pointed to the scale-model Mt. Ebott in the back of the pen. It had been a gift from a pair of monsters who had found their Readers through her shelter. It stood at around three feet, made of poured plastic and hand painted. There were hand and footholds for climbing, and on one side was a slide that twisted all about, painted like a waterfall. The miniature mountain was riddled with a cave system, and Rivet had lost more than one Reader inside it before. The entire thing could be pulled apart, but it was easier to simply send an adventurer familiar with the caves to find them and lead them out. Luckily, the caves were lit with little magic glowing stones from Waterfall, which were embedded in the walls.

            “They’re hiding in the mountain?” Rivet asked the Readers, who all nodded like bobble heads. “Did they say anything?”

            “No,” this time a helper spoke up, looking a bit uncomfortable. They were leaning against a climber, who had his hand wrapped around hers, keeping her steady on top of the wall. Rivet mentally cooed at the cuteness of her little Readers, before refocusing on the task at hand. “They didn’t say anything, but they looked really scared for some reason.”

            “They’re hiding in the bottom cave,” the climber pointed at the mountain, and the tiny cave that dug into the bottom of the mountain, extending halfway through, well out of the deer’s reach.

            “Did they look like they were hurt?” Rivet kept her eyes riveted on the mountain, fingers tapping anxiously against the wall.

            “No,” the helper reassured her. “They just looked scared and sad. They were crying.”

            “No blood?”

            “No blood,” they all reassured her.

            The deer sighed and rested her head on the wall, well away from the little fellas so she didn’t’ knock any of them over. “Thank god…”

            “Do you want one of us go talk to them?”

            The deer almost cried at the voice. One of her favorite Readers (not that she would EVER say that out loud) had joined the rest on the wall. She was wearing a bright pink sweater and smiling, bright and bushy tailed despite it being early (and lacking a tail).

            “Sweets, I am so happy to see you.” Rivet reached out and ruffled the compassionate Readers hair. “Can you keep an eye on the new Reader for me, please? Just peek in, maybe say hi, ask if they’re hungry, but don’t crowd them.”

            “I can do that!” Sweets chirped happily, immediately climbing back down the ladder she had just reached the top of. The deer sat back on her tail and rubbed at her face.

            “Okay, morning meeting time. Can you early birds go wake the others, please?” Rivet motioned to the pillows lining the wall, which were currently being smooshed beneath the weight of fifty or so snoozing Readers. While many had been adopted since the ninety-three had been dropped off by the Mob Clan, there were still plenty left waiting for their monster to come. (Huh, come to think of it, where had Sans little Reader been this morning? Usually she rode around in his breast pocket, dressed in her owns sharp little suit.) The early bird Readers nodded and slid down the ladder – one of them jumped off and gave the poor monster a heart attack. The deer gripped her ears and leaned forward, resting her head on her knees.

            Ugh. It was going to be a long, long day.

 


 

            You’d never seen a toy quite like this before – the mountain was plastic and huge, with caves that you could hide in. You hadn’t hesitated to climb into the tunnel at the bottom of the mountain, thankful it was lit by stones embedded in the walls. The tunnel went around a curve before opening into a large room with plenty of space for several Readers to stretch out and move. There was a blanket shoved in one corner, and a teddy bear twice as big as yourself slumped over on the floor.

            In no time you’d pulled the blanket behind the teddy bear, creating a barrier you could crouch behind, safe from…from…what were you running from again?

            You’d woken up to find the pain in your limbs lessened, and the bruises looking several days old instead of brand new. The ache on your face, where the acid had hit, was gone, leaving only rough skin and a slight tug at the outer corner of your left eye in its place.

            With a shaking hand you felt the side of your face, fingers tracing the raised ridges and scars of hastily healed skin. Despite the healing magic you’d been soaked in, your muscles still protested the movement. Your chest began to ache as you moved to feel the scarring that followed down the side of your neck and along your shoulder, which was hidden beneath the dress the vet had given you. It didn’t hurt to touch, but the very thought of being disfigured in such a way, permanently, beyond what magic could fix, brought tears to your eyes.

            You dropped your hand (the back of which had some light scarring as well, where the acid had splashed and landed in droplets that sizzled and cooked your skin, melting the flesh down to the carpals) and simply laid against the teddy bear, squished between it and the wall, the fluffy blankets drawn about you like a cape that could keep all the worlds troubles at bay. The tears dripped down your cheeks, the salt not bothering the now-closed wounds, simply slipping through the ridges to stain the padded ground beneath you.

            “Um, hello?”

            You tucked yourself tighter into the blanket and grabbed the teddy bears arm, pulling it over you, trying to hide despite knowing it was hopeless. At least half a dozen Readers had seen you dash across the wall and run in here in a blind panic – it didn’t surprise you at all that one would come to ‘checkup’ on you. You didn’t say anything, didn’t move, just laid there barely breathing and wishing they would leave you alone to wither away in peace.

            “Hey.” A pretty Reader in a bright pink sweater poked her head over the bear, looking down at you in concern. “Sorry to bother you, but Miss Rivet wanted to know if you were okay.”

            “M’fine,” you muttered, pressing your face against the bear, the fuzz tickling your nose.

            To your surprise, the Reader didn’t badger you with more questions. “Okay. I’m going to leave you alone, then. If you need anything, just yell for Sweets. I’ll be hanging around outside.” She began to leave, but her steps hesitated. “Um, I know you probably won’t believe me, but nobody here is gonna hurt you. Miss Rivet is one of the kindest monsters you’ll ever meet, and all the other Readers are super nice.” When you didn’t say anything, she patted the bears head. “Anyway, Miss Rivet said that this cave is yours now, for as long as you need it. Nobody will bother you here.” Seeing that you weren’t going to answer, she shrugged and wandered out of the cave, humming.

            You stared blankly into the bears chest, fingers tangling in the fake fur. Instead of being pulled from your safe space and forced to interact with the others and face the monsters, you’d been left alone, given the space that made you feel comforted and hidden.

            In only one night, you’d found paradise.

 


 

            In the week you’d been at the shelter, Sweets was the only one who visited you. A few other Readers popped their heads in – helpful and comforting ones, as well as the occasional playing Reader who forgot the cave was currently occupied. When you didn’t speak to them, or when you flinched away from the louder and pushier ones, they left with apologetic smiles and farewells.

            Sweets brought you breakfast, lunch, and dinner – simple meals and treats Rivet had made. She also brought some books, and a few different toys (some puzzles, a set of dolls, and some colored pencils). After a couple days you stopped flinching away from her, and she dragged in a few extra pillows and blankets and made herself a reading nest beside your teddy-bear nest. She never commented on your scars, asked where you’d gotten them, or forced you into awkward conversations. She said hello, plopped down, and read for hours on end, simply keeping you company.

            A week after you’d arrived at the shelter, the compassionate Reader rushed into the cave, bearing breakfast as well as a bundle of white fabric. “Morning!” Sweets greeted, panting as though she’d run all the way from the back room. “I brought you something! Here, try it on!” She shoved the bundle of fabrics into your arm.

            You shook it out, and found yourself holding a white sweater, made of warm yarn and sparkling with magic. It was familiar – you’d had one of these, after you first appeared. You’d been taken to a royal guard, who had given you an identical sweater. It had turned the loveliest shade of light blue when you pulled it on the first time. The curious guard had glanced at a website and found that light blue was congruent with a relaxed, happy SOUL that took everything in stride and never let anything under their skin. You’d refused to take the beautiful sweater off until the monsters who had stolen you had torn it to shreds, destroying it for good.

            Without a thought for modesty, you tugged off the t-shirt Sweets had brought you the first day you’d arrived and pulled the sweater on. The magic tingled as it washed across your skin and read your SOUL. You held your arms out in front of you, waiting eagerly for the beautiful blue color to dye the yarn.

            The magic prickled, and a soft hue began to soak into the fabric. Sweets leaned forward, munching on a slice of toast as she observed the yarn turn into a soft, pale green.

            “Oh, you’re a timid!” Sweets swallowed her bite of toast and beamed at you. When you didn’t return the smile, she reached out and touched your shoulder, expression concerned. It only grew more-so when you flinched away from her, violently so.

            “No…” Your hands shook as you stared at the pale hue. “No…no, I’m not! I’m not! I’m…I’m a relaxed…I’m not a timid…I’m not…” Tears gathered along the edge of your eyes, and you folded your fingers into fists and pressed them against your temples. “I can’t be a timid, I can’t be, I can’t, I’m not…” A sob slipped through your lips, and Sweets wrapped a worried arm around your shoulder, kneeling beside you. When had you fallen to your knees?

            “They couldn’t have,” you had to stop and gasp for breath, the tears falling freely now, “they didn’t break me!”

 


 

            For two weeks you didn’t speak. You barely slept. You ate even less. Sweets was an almost constant presence now, sleeping in the cave, near enough to be there and wake you when you began to thrash in another nightmare. She kept your mint-green sweater safely folded beside her blankets, despite your saying you didn’t want it. Miss Rivet had given you new clothes – a t-shirt and comfortable sweatpants – and you refused to even touch the sweater now. Because it was too big. Because it was too itchy. Because it was the wrong color. Because it was right.

            Because you were timid now.

            Sweets never said anything, though you flinched whenever she was too close, too loud, to swift and sudden in her movements. You would leave the cave at night, when everyone was asleep, and always after Miss Rivet had gone to the backroom and shut the door. The few times you’d seen the monster, you’d dashed back to the comfort of the cave and lay beside your teddy bear, barely able to breath and shaking from head to toe.

            You weren’t just timid, you were terrified.

            Miss Rivet had asked the other six Readers you had arrived with about what had happened to them, alongside a royal guard who took their statements so they could hopefully stop the monsters who had done this. They had been able to speak of it, to an extent. When the guard asked to interview you, you’d refused to breath, crouched in your cave while Sweets acted as a messenger. Even the faint thrum of the guardsman’s voice outside of the toy mountain had set your teeth on edge.

            Sweets was the one who mentioned the foster program to you. She’d reached out to hand you a napkin, and you’d flinched violently and upended your bowl of soup all over your lap. The loving Reader had looked like she’d wanted to cry, patting your shoulder and reassuring you before dashing out of the cave to get you some clean clothes from the overflowing box the Readers were free to pull from in the Playpen.

            When she returned, she had clean clothes in her hands (they were a bit big and baggy on you, but then again, everything was – Rivet had remarked that you were one of the tiniest Readers she’d ever seen), as well as a handful of papers. She’d given both to you, pressing you to read them. As soon as you were in clean clothes and the soup had all been wiped up with the soiled ones, you leaned against your teddy and read.

            The foster program was a ‘temporary housing program’ for Readers who were ‘not interested in being adopted, but who wanted to live outside the shelter.’ You flipped through the sheets, and beneath a ‘recommended for’ byline, timid was listed as a preferred Reader type for the program, alongside quiet, shy, nervous, and skittish.

            “Just think about it,” Sweets took the papers from your hands when you finished and tucked them beside your sweater. “Now, I found a new book I want to read to you! Rivet got me a copy – it’s called ‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.’ Apparently it’s really popular with the humans.” She settled down right beside you, opening the thick book on her lap. “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four, Privet Drive were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much…”

           


 

            It was midnight, and you were restless. Everyone was asleep – even Sweets was snoring like a squeaky motorboat in her nest. You silently climbed over your teddy bear and crept towards the entrance of the cave. You hadn’t left your little hidey hole in nearly two weeks, and decided to take a walk until you felt tired again.

            The Playpen was quiet – all the other Readers were tucked into pillows and blankets against the far wall, sleeping soundly. You wandered about the base of the plastic mountain and even thought about scaling it, but shook the idea off – there was no quick escape if you got pinned somewhere along the climbing trail or rock walls. The slide did look fun, but you’d sacrifice fun for safety in a heartbeat.

            You walked along the two-foot high wall that surrounded the Playpen, fingers tracing the smooth white surface. There were splashes of color where your fellow Readers had taped up pictures they’d made, and you stopped to admire a few. You passed the ladder that you had climbed that first morning a few weeks ago, blind panic fueling your speed. After a moment’s thought, you climbed to the top and sat on the wall, like you’d seen other Readers doing. The top of the wall was flat and a few feet wide, forming a comfortably-sized ledge to sit on.

            So you sat and looked around the large shelter and thought about nothing, because nothing was safe to think about. You chewed on your thumbnail and swung your feet, heels tapping a gentle rhythm against the wall. It was peaceful and quiet and easy to distract yourself with awe at the way the moonlight flooded through the large windows, or the sound of night birds winging by and calling softly.

            Around midnight a loud ‘POP’ nearly had you overbalancing and falling from the wall. You grabbed onto the side of the ladder and stared in shock at the tall monster that had quite literally appeared from nowhere in the middle of the store.

            He was very, very tall. Rivet wasn’t exactly a giant among monsters, being a more average height, but this being would tower over her by at least two feet. He – and it was a he, you knew – was clad in a white turtle-neck and black slacks, leaving only his white hands and face visible. All were made of bone, and a pair of cracks bled from his eyes, giving him a haunting appearance.

            An alarm of some kind was going off – it was loud and rattling and shaking you. No, wait – it was you. You were screaming, louder than you ever had before, because it was him it was him it was the monster who had done this who had hurt you who had gotten angry and splashed you with sulfuric acid and who had laughed and laughed and laughed as you screamed and he wasn’t laughing now but you were still screaming as he turned to look at you and you scrambled away but you were on a wall and as the monstrous monster met your gaze and opened his mouth you fell backwards, off the wall, still screaming.

Chapter Text

                Yellow yellow yellow everywhere yellow encasing you yellow holding you yellow saving you from a painful landing. This was wrong wrong wrong. His magic was purple – purple like sunsets and grapes and violets. This was sunshine yellow and banana yellow and happy yellow. Yellow holding you up and lifting you back to the top of the wall, slowly, carefully.

                Dr. Not-Gaster had rushed over to the wall and as you were gently set down where you had been sitting before, he knelt down, one knee bent so he could rest his forearm on it. He wasn’t wearing a turtle-neck like you’d thought – instead he had on a leather jacket and nothing beneath, revealing his ribs. His face was much softer than Dr. Gaster’s, and the scars from his eyes were smoother and neater, as though they’d been made with medical precision.

                The second his yellow magic dissipated, you were gone. You’d been sitting right beside the ladder, and before the new monster could blink you were scrambling down the rungs, nearly face planting in the carpet when you tripped over your own feet at the bottom. Readers that had been awoken by your screaming sat up on their pillows, rubbing their eyes and watching confusedly as you practically dove into your cave, nearly crashing straight into Sweets. She twisted out of your way as you scrambled into the cave, into the dim room that had become your safe haven over the last few weeks.

                He had found you he had found you he had found you his magic was a different color who gave a damn he had found you and now he would do what he had promised he you throw you in a vat of sulfuric acid and watch and laugh and laugh and laugh as your body was eaten away by the bitter solution and the last thing you would ever hear aside from the sound of skin sluffing off bone and muscles deteriorating would be his horrible hideous laugh…

                “STOP!”

                God no you couldn’t stop you couldn’t you had to keep at it you had to keep the thoughts at bay you were safe in the mountain weren’t you safe safe safe here away from him away from all the monsters away from the ones who wanted to hurt you and not every monster wants to hurt you but that didn’t matter because one had and he had hurt you so so badly and it was all you could do not to start screaming again as you dug your fingers into the sides of your head and tore your nails through the skin because pain pain pain could make it go away.

                “HELP! HELP! I CAN’T STOP THEM! HELP!”

                There was red on your fingers and copper in your mouth and nothing was blue everything was green that awful pale shade of green because he had broken you broken you beyond repair and red was better than green red was brave red was determined red was special red wasn’t weak and scared and timid red was blood red was flowing why was red flowing why was there copper in your mouth why was Sweets crying?

                Hands – not Sweets, much larger than Sweets – grabbed your wrists and dragged your fingers away from your skull, blood flecking across a dark orange sweater as you trembled. A large Reader was kneeling before you, he had you in his grip, holding your arms away from yourself so you couldn’t thrash about and hurt yourself again. Sweet little Sweets in her pink sweater stood at his shoulder, sobbing softly, her hands slick with red that dripped onto her clothing, staining it darker and darker and darker.

                Dark, darker yet darker…

                Soon little Reader you’ll be nothing but a scientific oddity…I will find what makes you tick…you will not survive, but such sacrifices must be made for science…vivisection is such a fine art, but one I enjoy…

                The hands shifted to catch you as you pitched forward, the world turning dark yet darker yet darker yet darker still…

 


 

                You woke alone, dressed in new clothes, with neatly trimmed nails and freshly washed hair. The world about you was shiny and distorted, and it didn’t take long to realize you’d been placed in a cage made of glass. The smallish box was padded with a soft blanket that had been folded several times, and in one corner, propped up, was the teddy bear from beneath the mountain. Without truly registering your surroundings or caring to recollect the past you crawled over to it, crowding yourself into the space between the bear and the corner. Lying in the middle felt far too exposed, far too dangerous.

                Once you were safely ensconced between cool glass and warm fur, you took stock of yourself. The long-sleeved shirt and sweatpants you’d become accustomed to wearing were gone. In their place were swishy sports shorts and a tank-top. You grimaced at the choice of top – it exposed your left arm, and the twisting scars that ran from your neck to just above the elbow. Your shoes were gone as well – not even slippers or flip-flops shod your feet. You lifted a hand to examine your fingers – all your nails had been trimmed down to where they met the skin. It was a bit painful, but not horribly so. Hesitantly, a half-formed memory returned, and you reached up to touch your head.

                Beneath your hair and on your forehead and cheeks were lines of nearly-healed scratches, only faint scabs and the lingering tenderness of new skin remaining. That’s right, you’d had a panic attack – a terrible one, from what you could remember. Set off by Dr. Gaster.

                Wait, no. Not Dr. Gaster.

                Dr. Gaster had purple magic – in fact, he took pride in the deep indigo hue of it. The monster had been using yellow magic, and his eye (he only had one, a glowing orb in a deep socket, the other dark as pitch) had been the same acidic-sunshine shade. It hadn’t been the doctor, then – just someone who looked like him.

                A groan interrupted your jumbled recollection, and you dragged your gaze to the far side of the room. Dr. Not-Gaster was sitting on the mattress, long legs stretched out in front of him, holding what looked like an icepack against his forehead. His eyes were shut, and there was a slight grimace on his mouth. Unlike the other skeletons you’d seen, his mouth wasn’t simply a line of teeth – he actually had some form of lips. It was odd. And not what you should be focusing on right now.

                Above the mattress was a clock – it looked to be about two in the morning now. You’d only been out for a few hours. Still, you shouldn’t have passed out in the first place. Honestly, hyperventilating like that was stupid. You couldn’t lose focus – lose consciousness – around monsters. There was no telling what they’d do to you…

                The door to the back room swung open, revealing a rather harried looking deer monster. She shot Dr. Not-Gaster a glare as the door quietly shut behind her, and moved to stand in front of him. Hands on hips, legs akimbo, she glowered down at him with a fierce expression.

                “Y’know,” Dr. Not-Gaster began with a slow drawl as he removed the icepack from his head, revealing a rather impressive bruise around a divot over one eyebrow, “most women wait until after a few drinks to take me to bed.”

                “I’m not most women,” Rivet growled, fingers curling into fists. “The only reason I haven’t called the royal guard on your ass is because you claimed to know the Mob Clan Sans, and you’re helping him with the Reader trade. Give me some proof, or I’m calling Undyne.”

                “…which Undyne?”

                “Fell.”

                The skeleton monster seemed to pale the tiniest bit, his eye light dimming. “Ah.” He sat up straighter and reached beneath his jacket, fingers making an odd rattling noise as they brushed against exposed ribs. From the depths of the fluffy-collared leather jacket, he pulled a thick manila folder. The deer took it from his hands and let it fall open in her arms, flicking through pages and pages of documents and photographs. She only made it through a few of the pictures before having to slam the folder shut, thrusting it back at him. She looked disturbed and sick, ears lying flat against her skull.

                “Alright,” she whispered after swallowing hard, then louder, “Alright. So why come here in the middle of the night and terrorize my Readers?” The steely glint returned to her eyes, muzzle twisting into a displeased snarl.

                Dr. Not-Gaster pushed himself up, leaning against the wall and replacing the icepack to keep the knot on his head from swelling. “Look, I didn’t mean to make any trouble. I was just gonna leave the papers on your desk with a note for Mobsy and then vanish, promise. But they,” he pointed to your isolation tank, “freaked out when they saw me.” Both of them glanced over, and you quickly shut your eyes and pretended to be asleep. It worked, and they went back to talking. “Look, I may be a heartless bastard, but I wasn’t just gonna let them go all Humpty-Dumpty off the wall.”

                Rivet sighed and crossed her arms, looking away from him. “Thank you for saving them,” she huffed, ears flicking back up.

                A smirk crossed the skeletons face. “Of course, my pleasure. But aren’t you forgetting something?” He motioned to his head, but was a bit confused when all she did was gape at him.

                “Wait, are you expecting an apology? No! I was totally within my rights when I tackled you! Some stranger broke into my shelter and appeared to be threatening my Readers. Who wouldn’t jump on the threat? You’re lucky I didn’t send you through the front window!” She ran a hand down the front of her face. “Look, just – just scram, okay? I’ll give that folder to Mob Sans when I see him next. Right now, I have some calls to make.” She made a shooing motion.

                Dr. Not-Gaster held out the folder, and she took it with hesitant fingers. He didn’t say anything, didn’t bid her goodbye or such – he just vanished with a flash of acidic-yellow magic. Rivet threw the folder onto her mattress while muttering something about those ‘damn teleporters,’ before she left the room once again. In your cage, you hugged the teddy bear and wondered who she was calling. You were 99.9% sure it was about you – what else could have the deer waking people up in the middle of the night with a phone call? You pulled yourself into the teddy bears lap and pulled its long lazy arms around you, trying to regain the feeling of safety you’d had in your mountain cave.

                Despite the hours left in the night you didn’t sleep, unable to recapture the warmth and comfort you’d had in your cave.

 


 

                “Are you sure you can do this?” Rivet leaned forward, arms folded on the desk, looking more serious than the Underswap Clan skelebros had ever seen her before.

                “We would not have come if we were not up to the challenge!” Blue piped up, wiggling in his seat, eyes sparkling, though not nearly as much as he normally would have. In his bandana, Ducky nodded along with him.

                “I want to help!” The kind Reader squeaked. They had once been a timid and nervous little thing, but living with the skelebros had helped them come out of their shell, and their sweater had darkened every time she wore it. Now it was a lovely Kelly green, the color of a kind Reader with a big heart. They were still a bit twitchy around new monsters, but they no longer ran and cowered beneath whatever available bit of furniture there was. Instead, they ran and cowered behind their skeletons until they felt safe enough to introduce themselves.

                Rivet gave the smaller two of the trio a soft smile, then shifted her gaze to Orange. The unoriginal nickname had taken the place of Papy, much to his (loving) annoyance. At the moment, he had a look of deep thought on his face. The scarred Readers folder was open on his crossed leg, and his eyes trailed over the lines of text detailing their injuries, habits, behaviors, and past. The tips of his fingers scraped against a picture of a freshly-rescued Reader on a small cushion, the tattered skin from what appeared to be a chemical burn of some kind still red and looking like raw ground beef along the side of their face, shoulder, and arm. The vet had taken the photos when they first arrived, before healing them up.

                “Are you sure that we’re the best fit for this, Rivet?” He finally asked, rolling an unlit cigarette in his teeth. Normally the deer would have made him throw it out when she first saw it, but considering the heavy material they were discussing she left it, as long as it stayed unlit. “I mean, we were able to help Ducky be a bit more social, sure, but this – this is a whole other level.”

                “I’m certain,” the deer gave him a serious look. “They don’t need constant affection and attention – they just need a safe, quiet space to call their own.”

                Orange’s eyes flickered to Blue, then back to hers. “Quiet?”

                “Not that quiet,” Rivet grinned, “They just need a safe space where they can be alone while they readjust to the world.”

                “We have lots of safe spaces!” Blue piped up, rocketing to his feet. Ducky automatically gripped the fabric of the bandana, used to his sudden movements and easily counteracting them by swaying their own weight about. “Ducky likes them, right, Ducky?”

                The Reader nodded. “Mmhmm! They’re really nice, Miss Rivet! He gave me pillows and blankets and a toy peacock and a toy monkey and a toy sheep!”

                “Goodness, it sounds like they’ve been taking great care of you!” The deer couldn’t help but beam at the little Reader, her certainty that the skelebros were right for the job cementing. “I’m happy you found a good home, Ducky.”

                Both skelebros blushed a bit, and Blue reached up to pat his passengers head. Ducky wrapped her arms around his thumb and hugged him tightly, both of them looking happy just to be together. Orange watched them, obvious affection in his gaze.

                “Papyrus,” Rivet reached out and shut the folder, covering up the image of the injured Reader, “If you feel you can’t do this, that’s fine. I understand. It’s a big responsibility, and I don’t have any right to ask this of you.” She squeezed his hand. “You are two of the kindest, sweetest, most understanding monsters I’ve ever known – including all the other Papyrus’ and Sans’ out there.” More blushing.     

                Blue leaned towards his brother and patted his knee. “We can do it, Paps! I know we can!” His eyes grew large and puppy-dog-ish. “If we can help this Reader, then we should, right?” He put his hands on his hips and his bandana fluttered a bit, though there was no wind to be felt.

                After a long, lazy moment, Orange leaned back in his chair, hands in his hoodie pocket, and nodded to his little bro. “When you’re right you’re right, bro.” His gaze slid to Rivet. “One Reader to go, please.”

                The deer sighed in relief. “Oh thank you. Just – remember what we talked about, okay? They’re going to be extremely skittish and scared for the first few weeks – maybe months, even. There’s a chance they may never warm up to you like Ducky did,” she flashed the Reader a soft smile, “but then there’s the chance – the slim chance – that you could find yourselves another family member.”

                “Any chance is worth pursing, no matter how small!” Blue chirped, leaning forward. “What must we do now, Miss Rivet?”

                The deer slid a thick pack of papers across the desk. “Well first, the easy part: paperwork.”

 


 

                You weren’t quite asleep but weren’t quite awake when Rivet entered the back room that morning. You’d faded in and out since seven that morning, while the deer dashed about making calls and handling adoptions and problems with the other Readers. It was now nearly eleven, and she came in looking tired but relieved, carrying an odd plastic box in her arms. It was the size of a breadbox, though more square, with a handle on top and a plastic door with holes in it on one side. It didn’t take a genius to figure out what it was – a pet carrier, albeit from what you could see of the inside, a very nice one.

                Not surprisingly, the shelter owner made a beeline for you. She smiled softly when you sat up, though you didn’t move away from the looming, comforting presence of the teddy bear.

                “Good morning,” her voice was soft as she leaned over the top of the cage. “How are you feeling? Does your head hurt at all?” You looked away, not answering, but she hummed happily as if you had. “Okay, well, let me or the skelebros know if your head begins to hurt, okay?” She set the carrier down on the table beside you, and you could see all the way inside now. It was padded with what looked like fluffy fabric, and there were some pillows and toys inside. “Now, I have some good news!”

                You tilted your head back, not sure if the two of you had the same idea of ‘good news.’

                “Sweets told you about the foster program, right?” The deer seemed excited. “Well, I’ve found a pair of lovely monsters who want to help you by taking you in. They already have their own Reader, a lovely little Kindness one named Ducky. They were a timid at first too, y’know.”

                You looked up at that – at first? What did she mean, at first? You’d never heard of a timid changing color before! Well, you had changed colors, so you supposed it was more than possible that other Readers had changed theirs as well. But it was possible to change back after you became a timid? You hugged yourself and, in mind’s eye, imagined the lovely light blue of your ‘chill’ Reader sweater.

                “I know you’re scared,” Rivet fiddled with something at the top of the cage, and the front wall swung down, leaving nothing between you and the monster. Said monsters voice was sad and a bit strained, as though it pained them to say these things aloud. “I can’t tell you how sorry I am that you were hurt so badly, and that nobody was there to protect you. If you never feel comfortable around monsters again, nobody will blame you. But Sans and Papyrus are good and kind and safe, and I think that you’ll like living with them. They’re not adopting you, they’re fostering you. You’ll live at their house, but if at any time you ever want to come back here, you just have to say the word. But at their home you’ll have peace and quiet, and be able to wander without worrying about strange skeletons popping up out of nowhere.” A slight scowl crossed her face, and she quickly schooled it to neutrality. “So, what do you say? Do you want to give it a try?”

                You looked away from her, eyes trained on the teddy’s large paws. Honestly you weren’t thrilled to be handed off to another monster caretaker, but you didn’t have much of a choice. And maybe – just maybe – the kind Reader could tell you how to go back to being chill instead of timid, relaxed instead of scared out of your mind. You glanced up at the deer, not directly in the face but slightly to the left, and nodded. She deflated in relief.

                “Oh good, I’m glad you want to try,” she shifted the carrier and swung the door open, so it was sitting on the table facing the cage through the folded-down wall. “Blue and Orange are already here. Are you ready to go?”

                You shrugged and pulled yourself out of the teddy bears lap. You paused, lingering long enough to give one of the big paws a squeeze, before moving slowly (cautiously can’t be too careful never know what they’re up to she’s a monster can’t trust monsters) to the carrier. The blanket inside was just as soft as it looked, and your feet sank into the fluffy shag as you moved to sit in the far corner, away from the door. The box shifted, then Rivet was peeking in with big doe eyes. Once she saw you’d moved all the way to the back, her head disappeared, shortly replaced by a hand clutching the teddy bear. She set it down by the door, then swung the carrier door shut.

                She’d given you the teddy bear.

                For some reason that, more than the clothes, the medicine, the kindness, the privacy, the food, hit you right in the SOUL. While the carrier swung a bit as Rivet moved to the front room, you crawled to the bear and curled up against its side, feelings of fondness for the deer conflicting with the fear of all monsters that lingered there. There were more voices from outside the carrier now – a high pitched one and a low, thrumming one, accompanied by the chatter of a fellow Reader. You shoved your head against the bear and tried to forget about the chaos going on outside as you were handed over to new owners. You focused on your breathing, on the swinging of the floor beneath you, on the softness of the bears fur – everything but the confusion and affection you felt, the mantra monsters are dangerous running through your mind.

 


 

                A short (and loud) car ride later, and the two skeleton monsters you could barely see through the front of the carrier climbed out of the car, the tall, orange-clad one hauling your carrier. They had said ‘hello’ to you in the shelter, but hadn’t pushed introductions and had accepted your silence as normal. The short blue one drove you all home, the radio blaring someone called ‘Napstabot,’ which was oddly catchy techno music accompanied by short segments of talk show bits and ads. Blue (he had to be Blue, just as the other one had to be Orange) had sung along with each and every song, the Reader sitting in the cup holder between the two seats belting the lyrics out as well. The music had kept any awkward conversations or questions silent, but now the radio was shut off and the four of you were approaching a nice two-story cabin made of light wood and strung with Christmas lights (despite it being May).

                Beyond the front door was a nice, neat house with comfortable furniture and tasteful decorations. Orange made a beeline for the far corner of the room, where a pillow and blanket were set in the corner where the stairs met the wall. He carefully set down the carrier and, after shifting the other stuff, pushed it into the corner. His slim fingers pulled away the front of the carrier, which snapped easily out of the hinges and left a wide mouth for him to peer in. He had a slim, tired-looking face, though there was a genuine smile on his teeth.

                “Hey Ducky, c’mere!” He sat back on his heels and called towards the far side of the room. Not a moment later the Kelly-green Reader rushed up, cheeks flushed and a smile on their lips. Orange nodded to the open carrier, and they nodded back.

                “Got it, Orange!” They chirped happily. He gave their hair a tussle, then stood and left the room. The Reader moved to stand in the mouth of the carrier and flashed you a bright smile. “Hi! I’m Ducky.” They waited a moment, meeting your eyes over the belly of the teddy bear, and when you didn’t give your own (non-existent) name, they plowed ahead. “I live here with Blue and Orange – they’re my monsters. They’re really, really nice, and all three of us are happy to have you here.”

                You remained silent, though deep in your mind you wondered why everybody was trying to convince you monsters were nice. Monsters weren’t nice. They were monstrous. Even if they seemed nice, eventually they’d get mad or bored or tired, and would turn that frustration on you.

                “We won’t bother you at all, if you don’t want,” Ducky continued. “You can stay in here or wander about if you want, but neither Blue or Orange will approach you or talk to you if you don’t want it. I will, though!” They brightened slightly. “Nobody should be all alone when trying to adjust to a new place, y’know? So I’ll help you get used to the place and make sure you eat and have everything you need, as long as you’re okay with that. I won’t bother you when you’re in here, though. Well, not after this time,” they rested a hand on the side of the carrier. “This is your safe space. I have some, too – the pillows in all the rooms, the ones with the blankets and toys, are mine. If you feel uncomfortable you can go sit in the corner and none of us will bother you until you come out.” Still no response from you.

                “Well, lunch should be ready soon. I’ll bring you some, okay?” You didn’t nod or move at all, so they nodded to themselves and left, heading towards what you assumed (from the sound of clashing pots and pans) was the kitchen. You settled against Mr. Teddy once more and stared at the leg of the couch you could see through the door of the carrier, mind a whirl. The last twelve hours had been a bit much – you’d been frightened by a strange monster, freaked out, hurt yourself (though you didn’t remember doing so), passed out, eavesdropped on Rivet and the strange monster (who sounded bad for scaring you – why?), and then been fostered to a pair of skeleton bros with good taste in music and dumb taste in nicknames and a Reader who had changed from a Timid to a Kind, somehow.

                You focused on that last fact – that’s why you’d agreed to this, instead of begging to just be returned to the magic-infused forest around the mountains, or simply euthanized out of compassion or pity. If they could change their sweater, then you could, too. After all, it couldn’t be that hard – you just had to stop being afraid of monsters, right? And the skelebros seemed kind enough – they would make a good starting point.

                Standing on shaky legs, you crawled over Teddy the Bear and out of the carrier, just in time to see Blue and Orange emerge from the kitchen, standing at incredible height, holding plates and neither looking pleased. You felt your stomach shrivel into itself – why did they look unhappy? Had they spotted you standing outside of your cag – carrier? Were they not expecting you to come out? Only a moment later you wanted to smack yourself – of course they were upset you were out of your carrier! Obviously the only reason they’d agreed to foster you was because they expected you to stay and hide in your blue plastic home for as long as they had you. You were an easy job – an easy ticket into other’s good graces.

                Speaking of good graces, you couldn’t fall out of theirs. Phantom pains of acid splashing and burning and eating and sizzling against your skin made you jerk, left arm snapping close to your chest. You scrambled back into your carrier, intent on staying out of their way.

                Outside of the plastic, Blue and Orange continued to bicker about whether honey was an acceptable taco ingredient, oblivious to the little Reader who had read far too much into their playful-fighting expressions.

Chapter Text

If you're on a phone or tablet, it may be easier to see these on the tumblr site (link below). AO3 doesn't resize them - at least not in my phone.

I hope this helps!

Chapter Text

                For the first two weeks of your stay, you slept. Emotional breakdowns were exhausting for monsters and humans alike, but for a Reader like you, a creature created by emotional magic, they were absolutely draining. You stayed curled up next to your teddy bear and slept for a couple of days at a time. Unbeknownst to you, the first day you slept through all three meals, Orange had called Rivet with worry in his tone, only to be reassured. The deer apologized for not warning them, but quickly reassured them that it was normal for Readers to sleep in order to recover from emotional trauma. She said that it may last for a few days to a few weeks, but not to worry unless it went on for a month or more. So they left you, letting you sleep, waking only to eat a bit of whatever meal Ducky had left for you before rolling over and returning to dreamless darkness.

                At the start of your third week, you woke and felt refreshed – felt awake. Ducky was ecstatic to see you up; they’d come by to drop off lunch, saw your open eyes, and immediately gushed about how worried they’d been and how they were glad you were okay. They almost hugged you, but dropped their arms when you violently flinched back.

                “Sorry! Sorry.” Ducky took a step back, putting more space between you. You appreciated it – the Kind Reader was taller than you by at least two heads; you came midway up their chest. Sometime when you’d been out, they’d dragged the teddy bear (and you) to the back of the carrier, so you could sleep away from the door. There were also new books, toys, and a few sets of clothing that hadn’t been there before neatly stacked against one wall. “I was just so scared you wouldn’t wake up!” They tugged at the sleeves of her sweater (not that sweater – this one was green too, but it had a yellow duck motif sewn to the front).

                You looked away, chewing on your nails (which had grown back as you slept). “I’m sorry,” you felt unaccountably guilty for making them worry. God, if you’d made them worry, then what about your hosts? What if the skeleton brothers had been worried too – what if they were angry because you’d been asleep for so long? You were here out of pity – out of a sense of duty Rivet had pushed on them. They wanted a low-maintenance pet, a quiet little nobody that was silent and non-existent, not some mentally screwed up mess of a being. How long had you been asleep? It had to have been at least a few days if Ducky was this worried. Oh god, what if it had been a week? Maybe more? A month? Had you made them worry for that long? Honestly, it was surprising they hadn’t thrown you back to Rivet, or simply outright killed you.

                “Killed you?” Ducky had gone pale, and you realized that at least half of your rambling had been aloud. You cringed in on yourself, hunching down by your bear where you couldn’t feel their disappointment, and tearing at your thumb nail, drawing blood as you ripped off the crescent.

                “Sorry,” you muttered past the keratin cracking between your teeth, “Sorry.” It never worked with Dr. Gaster, but maybe it would work here? Maybe if you apologized enough they wouldn’t punish you for scaring them?

                “No, no, it’s okay!” Ducky quickly reassured you, moving a hand to touch your shoulder but stopping when you backed away with a low whine in your throat, pressing yourself against Teddy the Bear. “Ah, right, um, here!” They grabbed the plate they’d brought, piled high with bits of burger and some slices of French fry. “Lunch. Um, eat up. I’ll be back in a bit.” The kind Reader set it down in front of you, then darted out of the carrier.

                As soon as they were gone you fell against the stuffed bear, burying your face in the fluff. What was wrong with you? Of course these monsters wouldn’t kill you! Dammit, you knew that! You knew you were safe! You knew they were kind! You knew you were being irrational! But despite knowing all that, you’d still gone and accused them of planning to kill you simply for being a bother.

                Your very SOUL ached at the thought, and you clutched at it through the fabric of your tank top, wishing that it didn’t hurt so much. You wished you were Chill again. When you were Chill, nothing bothered you like this. Nothing hurt this badly. Nothing lingered this long in your thoughts. Before, you’d been able to shrug things off – you’d been able to let everything roll off your back, like water on oil. Now everything snatched at you, dug hooks into your SOUL and held on tight, ripping it apart. You were over-analyzing, second-guessing, thinking the worst of everybody and everything. It wasn’t…it wasn’t you. At least, it hadn’t been.

                But now – now, you were Timid. And everything hurt.

 


 

                “I’m scared,” Ducky admitted, voice trembling as they spoke. Orange pushed his plate out of the way and crossed his arms on the table, slumping so his chin was resting on them, at eye-level with the small Reader. He reached out and rubbed a thumb over their head, eyes sloped in sympathy and understanding.

                “So am I,” he admitted, no levity or joke in his voice.

                Beside him, Blue shifted uncomfortably, before pushing his plate away and setting his chin right on the table. He didn’t have to slump like Orange – he wasn’t tall enough for that. “I’m worried too,” he said in a small voice. The Magnificent Sans would never admit he was scared, but worry was a whole different ballgame.

                “So what do we do?” Ducky moved from beneath Orange’s thumb, fixing their hair but keeping the concerned expression on their face. “They looked so scared, and the things they said…” They had to stop and take a deep breath, palming tears from their cheeks. “I used to be scared of monsters, but that was just ‘cause you were all so…so big and loud. I never thought you would hurt me! Not on purpose, at least. But – but they think you’re gonna hurt them, just ‘cause they were sick!”

                Orange wrapped his hand around the Reader and pulled them close, pressing his teeth to their forehead. “Shhhhh,” he gently hushed, breath smelling like cigarette smoke and honey. “Shhhhh. It’s gonna be okay, Ducky. We’ll figure this all out.”

                “We have to help them.” Ducky draped her arms around his orange-clad limb, pressing her face into his hoodie. “Nobody should be so scared all the time! It isn’t fair – they already had such a bad time with whoever hurt them, and now they can’t feel safe!”

                Blue scooted his chair closer, so he was hip-to-hip with Orange and able to wrap his own hand about the Reader. “It’ll be alright, Ducky! We can do anything we put our mind to, as long as we work hard!” He pressed his own skelekiss to their head. “I know – we’ll talk to Dr. Illic!”

                Ducky sniffled and pulled away from Orange’s arm. “Who’s Dr. Illic?”

                “Dr. Illic is a special kind of mind doctor!” Blue chirped happily. “Orange used to go see him a lot.”

                “He’s a therapist,” Orange clarified when his Reader gave him a confused look. “He may be able to give us some insight on how to help, uh, them.” He wrinkled his brow. “We need to figure out a name for them.”

                This perked Blue right up. “Oh oh oh! How about another bird name! Like you, Ducky! You can have matching names!”

                “They are pretty flighty,” Orange grinned at his pun, while Ducky snorted and Blue groaned.

                “Brother,” he griped, “that was terrible.”

                Orange beamed. “Yep. So you have any ideas?”

                “What about Sparrow?” Ducky suggested, drawing their attention. “You said sparrows are the birds that live in the shed roof, right? The ones who laid eggs a few weeks ago?”

                “That’s a fantastic name!” Blue clapped his hands in excitement. “Sparrow is perfect!”

                Ducky blushed happily, and Orange gave their side a gentle nudge. “Why don’t you go check on Sparrow, see if they ate?” He asked, trying out the name. “I’ll call up Dr. Illic and see if he wants to come over for dinner tonight.”

                “Oh, I’ll make my special taco salad!” Blue jumped up from the table, mood renewed. “I’ll have to run to the store. C’mon, Orange, let’s go!”

                The lazy skeleton leaned back, pushing his hands into his hoodie pockets. “Why do ya need me, bro?”
                “To carry the basket,” Blue said, as if it were the most obvious thing ever, “And, well, Sparrow might be more comfortable if we were gone for a while, right?”

                Orange pushed himself off the chair, nodding. “Makes sense to me. Lead the way, bro.”

                Ducky slid down a string Blue had tied to the table that reached all the way to the ground. As the skelebros made a loud show of leaving, they hurried across the carpet and peeked into the carrier.

                You were lying against your teddy bear, the plate of food untouched at your back. Ducky rapped their knuckles against the side of the carrier several times, watching as you jumped like a startled mouse, flipping around to face the entrance. Your eyes were wide and scared as they fixed on Ducky, who drew back a bit, though they kept a smile on their face.

                “Hi,” Ducky waved her fingers. “Blue and Orange headed out for a while. They’ll be back in a few hours, but until then we have the house to ourselves. Do you wanna watch a movie or something? Blue has, like, every cartoon movie ever made!”

                The offer surprised you – they wanted to hang out with you? Even though you’d worried them for so long? As much as you hated to admit it, you were a bit tired of the blue carrier walls. The chance to see outside of them, even if it was just the living room, was enticing. And as long as you were able to reach your carrier before the brothers noticed you were out of it when you returned home, then nothing could go wrong, right?

                They won’t be mad you’re out. They might be. You’ll be fine. They’re NICE, remember? I still don’t have permission to be outside my cag – my carrier. You don’t NEED permission. This isn’t like the lab. You’re safe here. I know. I know. I’m safe. I know. No you don’t. No I don’t. But I have to try. If I don’t try I won’t achieve anything. But if I try I might…they might…

                Try. Try and see. It’s better than being trapped in here for the rest of our lives.

                You nodded to Ducky, silencing the voice in your head.

                “Great! C’mon, Sparrow, let’s go pick a movie!”

                You paused half-way off the ground. “…Sparrow?”

                “Oh, uh,” Ducky flashed you a bashful smile. “The bros wanted to give you a name, and we thought Sparrow was nice, and its bird-themed, like mine!” Their face quickly morphed into horror. “Oh no, do you already have a name? We should have asked! That was so rude of us – I’m so sorry!”

                “No, no,” you rushed to reassure them, “I don’t have a name. I – I like Sparrow.”

                Ducky stopped wringing their hands, blinking, then gave you a bright smile once again. “Oh, good, I’m glad! Let’s go pick out a movie!” They hurried out and you followed, stopping at the opening of your carrier to glance around. True to her words, there weren’t any skeletons lurking in the living room. Just a large couch, a coffee table with a sprinkle-covered rock, and an enormous TV sitting in an entertainment system.

                The other Reader had gone straight to the couch and was scrambling up a popsicle-stick ladder that had been sewn into the front of the arm. You followed them to the bottom, but paused. If you climbed up there, you’d be sitting on the cushions, and while it looked very comfy, if the skelebros came home and surprised you, it would take a lot longer to get to your safe space.

                Ducky reached the top and poked their head over the edge, looking back down at you. “Are you coming up?” They called curiously. You glanced away, rubbing at your arm and not saying anything. “Oh, well, just hang on a sec! I gotta get the remote.” They disappeared, but you could still hear them running around, the couch cushions jingling beneath them. There was a grunt, then a black remote tipped over the edge, clattering to the carpet several yards away. You jumped at the sudden rush of movement, but clamped down on your surprised cry. “There!” Ducky stood on the edge of the cushion and dusted off their hands. A few quick bounces on the squishy cushions, and they moved back to the ladder and slid down it.

                You followed the kind Reader as they dragged the remote beneath the coffee table. “We can watch the movie from here!” They chirped, stepping on the ‘power’ button. “Oh, actually I have an idea! Wait here!” You watched, feeling exhausted just seeing them run about so much. They dashed to the kitchen and returned a moment later, dragging a mass of fluff behind them. When they reached you they fluffed it out in front of you. “One for you,” they pointed at the sheep-shaped beanie baby, which had a fluffy body and cotton-made limbs. Ducky dashed off to the pillow nestled beside your carrier. They seized a brightly-colored bird plushy and dragged it back. “And one for me!” They moved the remote a bit, pressing a series of buttons that brought up something called ‘Netflix.’ “So do you have a favorite Disney movie?” A quick shake of your head had them nodding.

                “Okay,” they stepped on a few more buttons, scanning through the choices. “How about The Lion King?” When you shrugged, they gave a more decisive nod and stomped on the ‘play’ button. “Right, we’re gonna start your Disney Education right.” They plopped down on top of their bird, eyes fixed on the screen. After a moment of poking the sheep-shaped pillow, you copied them, carefully making yourself comfortable. On the screen a sun rose, and the best hour and a half of your life (so far) began.

 


 

                Orange very, very slowly opened the front door of his home. He and Blue had learned within the first few days of having a Reader to open doors carefully. They’d woken Ducky from a nap more than once, and after Blue sent them flying half-way across the living room when he burst in with a bit too much energy, they’d gotten into the habit of checking before opening a door all the way.

                The credits to The Lion King were rolling, accompanied by his Readers happy chatter. “A major domo? I dunno what that means. Maybe it’s like, the general? He acted like a general, didn’t he? I dunno. I just like Zazu.”

                “I like him too,” a soft voice admitted, and Papyrus threw an arm out to stop Blue from bowling him over. “He was funny. But I liked Timon and Pumbaa more.”

                “Oh, yeah, right? They’re the best!” Ducky enthused. “In fact Disney made a movie called ‘Lion King 1 ½’ a few years ago. It’s like a gag movie – it shows what Timon and Pumbaa were doing through this movie.” He could see them now – Ducky was jumping about the remote beneath the coffee table. Beside them, Sparrow was sprawled out on the sheep plush Blue had bought a few months ago, watching the other Reader gesticulate and joyfully re-enact some of the songs and scenes from the half-sequel. “Orange love that movie! He says it’s too ‘tongue-in-cheek’ to be a real Disney movie. I bet we can all watch it together tonight!”

                Sparrow stiffened, and cast Ducky a rather alarmed look. The other Reader paused. “Oh, uh, right. Well, we could sit here, under the coffee table, and they can sit on the couch. Or – or we could turn your carrier around! So you can see the TV.” The timid didn’t say anything, and the Kindness slumped ever-so-slightly. “We can do it another time, when the brothers are out. That’ll work too.”

                Orange, sensing their bonding time winding down, gently knocked on the door. Ducky turned to give him a big smile. Behind them, Sparrow scrambled off the sheep and bolted to their carrier, barely sparing the two a glance. The skinny skeleton sighed but pushed the door all the way open, letting Blue in.

                “We’re home,” Blue announced unnecessarily, rushing to the kitchen, arms loaded with bags. Ducky glanced behind them and frowned when they saw their fellow Reader had already run off.

                “Welcome home,” they called anyway, hurrying up to Orange and holding their arms up. The lazy skeleton obligingly swept the Reader up, hugging them close, then setting them on his shoulder, resting them in the dip of his clavicle.

                “Thanks, shorty,” Orange followed his brother into the kitchen and put his lone bag on the table. “So, you turning Sparrow into a Disneyphile like Blue?”

                The Kind Reader nodded proudly. “Yep! Slowly, one film at a time.” They clung to his hoodie as he shifted through the bags, looking for his honey. “Is that doctor coming for dinner?”

                “Yep,” he found his liquid gold and popped the top off before throwing back a swallow. “Dr. Illic will be here tonight, and hopefully we’ll get some idea of what to do to help Sparrow.”

                Ducky rubbed their cheek against his, noting the sad tone in his voice. “Don’t worry, Papyrus,” they used his real name, catching his attention, “We’ll help them. Sparrow isn’t beyond help – they just need some time and love. And that’s what you monsters are made of, right? Love and compassion and kindness?”

                “And hope,” Orange muttered, setting down his honey in favor of hugging Ducky against his face.

                “Then we’ll hope,” Ducky kissed his cheek bone. “We’ll hope and someday, Sparrow will hope with us.”

Chapter Text

                He was bleeding – that was the first thing you noticed. Shortly after that you noted that he was a skeleton and, in fact, didn’t have blood, so the first thing you noticed should have been impossible. The third thing you noticed was that he still hadn’t noticed you, so you were able to continue sitting beneath the bush, noticing things about him.

                The skeleton was large and wide, wearing a heavy black jacket over a red shirt, basketball shorts, and sneakers. He’d been here at least as long as you had – you’d woken up to find him slumped against the tree, eyes unfocused beneath an oozing crack above one socket. There was a lit cigarette burning to ash between the phalanges of one hand, while the other held up his head.

                You stayed beneath the bush, shifting your head so you could get a clear look at him, slowly and carefully pushing a leaf out of the way. He didn’t notice you, buried too deep in his own thoughts to see a tiny shift like that from the corner of his eyes. From his sockets? Whatever.

                The marks on your back twinged as you moved, and a hiss escaped your lips. You immediately froze, eyes darting to the skeleton. His gaze had become a bit clearer, pupils darting around the clearing. He was looking high, however – not low enough to see you. When he twisted his head to look away from you, you let the leaf fall back into place, blocking you from sight. Once sure he couldn’t see you, you dropped your head to the dirt, grimacing at the pain that lanced along your neck and spine.

                “If anyone’s out here looking for a dustin’,” the monster growled in a deep, gruff voice that sounded like ground glass and felt like pinpricks all along your skin, “yer in the right place.” The dirt was scuffed as he stood – you could barely see his shoes from beneath the leaf. Slowly, you wiggled a bit to the side, pressing your chin to the ground so you could peer up at him. He had his back to the tree and, as you watched, he pulled a long drag on his cigarette before raising his free hand and snapping his phalanges.

                A skull the size of the skeletons own, but with much more animalistic features, emerged from what looked like a rip in space. It had an elongated muzzle and sharp fangs, one of which was gold to match his owner. Much like a dog, it began to sniff about, bright-red eyes darting about before settling on his master. He made a soft, affectionate growl and nudged at the skeleton happily.

                “Yeah, ya mutt, cut it out.” The skeleton reached up and patted the skull on the head. “Sniff around. See if you can find what’s making the noise.”

                The skull yipped in acknowledgement and immediately began sniffing around the trees, weaving between the tree trunks and brambles, shoving his nose wherever it would fit in order to catch a scent. Beneath the bush, you felt your stomach curdle. As quietly as possible, you began to scoot back, digging your toes into the dirt and pulling yourself further beneath the leafy cover.

                Sniffling and snuffling loudly, the skull grew closer to your bush, seemingly having caught a whiff of something interesting. You held your breath, drawing your shoulders up around your ears and wiggled back as far as you could, wishing the branches weren’t so low and thick. You’d be able to get a lot farther a lot faster if the stupid bush weren’t almost smothering you even as you laid on your stomach. It was a seemingly safe place to rest, but made for a lousy escape route.

                 A large white snout pushed through the leaves, snorting happily. You squeaked (a very brave squeak, in your opinion) and threw your hands over your head, pressing your face into the dirt and getting a mouthful of it for your trouble. The skull made a keening noise, followed by an excited bark.

                “Huh, you find somethin’ down there, boy? Not one’a the docs cameras, is it?” The skeleton sounded a bit affectionate as he addressed his pet, even as the ground trembled beneath his steps the closer he got. You whined deep in your throat and wondered if it would be possible to simply melt into the ground beneath you. Maybe if you thought hard enough, you could change your physical state and evaporate like steam? You were made of magic, right? You could do this!

                As the dirt jumped with the skeletons weight as he knelt by the bush, you cursed your non-working magic and whined again. Shifting your arm, you glanced up, opening only one eye just in time to see the leaves be pushed apart by a pair of giant boney hands. Between the hands, a dangerous, flaring red pupil searched the space. It took only half a second for it to land on you.

                “Wha’ the hell…?” The skeletons gaze widened, red flickering out to be replaced by a pair of white pips. You hid your face again with a whimper – not the best front to put up, but honestly you were at the end of your tether and didn’t really care whether the monster was impressed or not.

                Unsurprisingly you heard the branches rustle, one of them snapping, before one of the hands fell over your back, the thick phalanges wrapping around your torso. There was nothing you could do – nothing to hold on to or hide behind – as the skeleton easily dragged you from your hiding place. You squeezed your eyes shut, hoping to stave off the swoop of vertigo that always accompanied being lifted off the ground.

                “Da fuck are you supposed to be?” The skeleton demanded, sitting back against the tree he’d been leaning against before. When you didn’t answer, the fingers squeezed slightly, pressing against your bruised skin and creaky ribs. A soft, pained cry fell from your lips, earning a huff from him. “So you can make noise. C’n you talk?”

                “Yes,” you squinted up at him, voice breathy and faint but there. You didn’t want him to squeeze you again, or have any cause to hurt you. You’d learned, early on, that anything could throw a monster into a temper. It was safer to comply when possible, stay silent and unobtrusive when it wasn’t.

                The floating skull moved to hover over his master’s shoulder, eyes curious as they focused on you. He floated forward a bit, booping you with his snout, sniffing curiously. You flinched back into the skeletons hand, though the skull didn’t snap at you – he let out a huff and licked the side of your face with a glowing, bright-red tongue instead.

                “Heh, that’s enough, Bruiser,” the skeleton chuckled as you gagged and tried to shake cherry-red slobber off your face. “Yer one a’ those ratter things, aint’cha?” He tilted his fist about, examining you from more than one angle. “You ain’t nearly as cute as everybody goes on about.”

                He was wrong, but you didn’t want to speak up – Master had always given you extra-special punishments when you tried to ‘correct’ him. At least he was right about the ‘cute’ thing. Your master had constantly commented on how you were too pudgy, then too scrawny, then too ugly to be a proper pet.

                “What, nothin’ ta say?” The skeleton laughed, relaxing more against the tree now that any perceived ‘threat’ was gone. “Nah, it wasn’t ratter, was it?” His shark-like teeth ground against where his bottom lip would be, if he had skin. “It was somethin’ else stupid. Started with ‘n R. Whatever.” He shrugged carelessly. “Don’t matter. What do matter is that you’re supposed to have an owner, right? So where are they?”

                You looked away, silent, despite every ounce of sense urging you to tell the truth, because anything else was dangerous.

                The skeleton scrutinized you closely, taking in your silent defiance before smirking. “Heh, that’s the guiltiest expression I’ve ever seen.” He chuckled roughly, his grip tightening slightly. You winced, then quickly stiffened and held your breath. Master didn’t like weakness – flinching meant the punishment would be worse.

                Surprisingly, the monster didn’t keep squeezing. He shifted his fist to sit on top of his knees and slowly opened his fingers, so you were lazily cupped in his palm. As soon as you were able, you pulled your arms against your chest, quickly followed by your knees, performing a fantastic impersonation of a hedgehog.

                “So, where’s yer owner at?” You tucked your face into your knees, refusing to answer once more. “What, you kill ‘em off or somethin’?” That had your head snapping back up, staring at the skeleton with wide eyes, mouth agape. “Hah! There’s yer face. Knew you had one.” His other hand stumped out his cigarette butt in the dirt before lifting to rest of his knees. He tucked the tip of one phalange just beneath your chin, keeping you from hiding in your knees once again. “Nu-uh, ratter, ‘s polite to look at people when they’re talkin’ to ya.”

                You focused on the space just above his eye sockets, between the surprisingly pliable and expressive brow bones. This was a trick – it had to be. You had been trained to never look your owner in the eye. Doing so was like saying you were an equal to him, and that wasn’t correct. You were a pet. A nothing. You were nothing. And nothing looked the master in the eye.

                “So, where’re they at?” The skeleton demanded, narrowing his sockets. You drew your already-tense shoulders and legs into yourself, focus going fuzzy as you put all your attention into the small wrinkle between his brows. “C’mon, ratter, fess up. I’m willin’ ta bet there’s a bounty on yer head, and I’ve gotta tab to pay off.”

                Your stomach lurched, and were there much in it you may have choked and puked. You remember, when you first came into being, meeting another Reader who explained the monsters to you. He’d said they were made of love, compassion, kindness, and hope. You’d been eager to find a monster of your own, but had been given over into a hell instead. Now, after two years, you’d been sure you were going to be free. There were rumors among the Readers of a village of wild Readers who lived in the forest surrounding the foot of the mountain – a village that accepted any Reader who wished to join them. That had been your goal, but now – now some idiot skeleton wanted to use you to pay off a tab. He was ruining your whole escape.

                “No bounty,” you managed to croak, hoping that without a reward the skeleton would let you go.

                “Yeah, right,” he sneered. “You ratters are expensive as hell. I’m bettin’ there’s a pretty penny on yer head.”

                You shook said head, though only a bit – his finger was still pressed to your chin. “No,” you insisted, “no owner.”

                “Really? Then what’s this?” He tilted your chin up more, revealing your neck and the thin, silver chain resting around it. A tag hung from the front, the name and address of your previous master inscribed on the flattened oval. You jerked back, away from his finger, and tucked your head back down, hiding the damnable collar from sight. “So, yer a liar. Gotta say, I’m not real fond of liars.”

                “I’m not – I’m not lying,” you whimpered, keeping your eyes on his knees.

                “So what, your owner just ditched you?”

                Well, that sounded better than running away. You gave a tiny nod.

                “Hmph.” One finger flicked the tag, then he moved his thumb up, forcing your head back. He grabbed the chain between his phalanges and, with a sharp tug, broke it. The broken ends of the chain scratched at the back of your neck as he yanked it off, but you didn’t say anything. He squinted at the collar, then sent it flying into the woods with a flick.

                “There, rat. Now, yer mine.” You stiffened, eyes going wide and panicked, much to the skeletons delight. “I’m bettin’ I can get a good sum for ya. Ol’ Grillbz might even take ya off my hands and wipe my tab clean. He’s been lookin’ for a pet to show off ta customers.”

                You slumped in his grasp, all thoughts of fleeing gone from your mind. After two years, you’d thought you’d be free, but now – now you were right back where you started. In the hands of someone who saw you as a mere commodity. Out of habit, you blanked out your mind, focusing on nothing, staring at nothing. It was easier to disassociate than face the disappointment of failing head on.

                A sharp ringing made the skeleton jolt in surprise. The hand beneath you twitched, sliding to the side, and you found yourself without a solid surface to sit on. Only years of practice kept you quiet as you rolled down his leg to the forest floor, a huff of air escaping the only noise you made when you hit his shoe. You trundled to a stop a few inches away from his toes, lying face down and resisting the urge to groan.

                “Fuck,” the monster swore, but you couldn’t tell if he was talking to you or his phone, which was trapped somewhere in his jacket. You wondered if you could make a run for it while he was on his phone – as long as you reached the trees outside the clearing and were able to hide in the bushes, then you would be good right?

                Bruiser licking your hair quickly stopped that notion – even if you ran, the dog-like monster (pet?) would catch you. He nuzzled your side with a soft whine as his owner scrambled to answer the phone.

                “Uh, heh, hey Pa – Boss! Hey Boss! ‘sup?”

                The floating skull gently nudged you in the side, rolling you so you were able to look up at him, and the giant skeleton behind him. The dog – you may as well call it a dog; all its mannerism was spot on, even if the skull shape was a bit off – shoved his nose against your arm, which lay limply on your side. When he let out a pathetic whine you slowly lifted your hand and, carefully, slowly, set it on his nose. The big eye sockets slowly shut and he rested on the ground beside you, digging into the dirt a bit to get comfy instead of floating.

                Above you, the monster on the other end of the phone was bellowing at the skeleton. You couldn’t make out any words, but the tone was obvious: whoever it was, they were pissed.

                “Yeah boss – nah, I haven’t stepped foot in Grillby’s today – I am tellin’ the truth! – Yah – No, I – I didn’t! – Ugh… - I’ll be home soon…”

                The skeleton ended the call with a violent jab of his thumb and shoved the phone in his pocket. His fingers twitched, like he wanted to hold a cigarette, then shifted and snapped several times, annoyed. “Right,” he sneered, getting to his feet and brushing off his shorts. “Bruiser, bring it here.”

                The skull you’d been gently petting while listening to the skeletons phone call jerked and yelped happily. Before you could move, his big teeth wrapped around your torso. You stiffened, but the skull was gentle as he pressed his fangs against your arms and stomach. It hurt, but even as he lifted off the ground and turned to face his owner, the sharp canines didn’t puncture your skin or draw blood.

                The skeleton held out his hand and Bruiser obligingly dropped you into his grasp. Once in his palm you curled up on your side, still and silent, like a good nothing-pet should be.

                “You don’t got a lot of bark or bite, do ya?” He asked, poking you in the side with a clawed phalange. You didn’t rise to the bait, laying still even as he prodded you harder. “Hmph. Fine, ratter, let’s go. Boss ‘s waiting fer us.”

                The world tilted and shook as it dissolved into darkness, before rearranging itself like a bunch of pixels falling together on a loading screen. All at once everything snapped together, and you lunged for the edge of his palm and emptied your stomach.

                “Here we – UGH!” The monsters other hand pinched the back of your shirt, yanking you off his palm.  You coughed, spluttering and spitting. When you were able to open your eyes, you saw a splotch of sick trickling down his sleeve, staining the fake fur and thick cotton. “You stupid fuck!” The skeleton hissed, shifting his hand so you were clamped within his fingers, which squeezed tightly. “Look what you did!”

                You coughed but swallowed, not wanting to get any sick on his fingers and make him angrier. He scowled and muttered some child-unfriendly swears, wiping his sleeve off on his hip. While he was planning your death, you looked around. The forest was long gone. Instead, there was a nice two-story house made of dark – almost black – wood, with a small porch and a shed to one side. It was incredibly…foreboding.

                “Alright,” the skeleton huffed in annoyance, “Boss can’t see ya. If he nabs you, I won’t see a bloody coin you’ll bring in.” He clacked his fangs together in thought, then shifted his free hand and dug through one of his pockets, pulling out a plethora of mustard packets and some spare bits of paper. He dropped it on the ground without a second thought to littering.

                “You,” he brought his fist up to his face, and tightened his grasp even further. You felt your ribs shift a bit in protest, but it was nothing new. “Don’t make a fuckin’ sound,” he sneered, “or you’ll get what you deserve.”  You nodded to show you understood, and without further threat he shoved his fist – and you – into one of his hoodie pockets.

                It was stifling hot and you could barely breath, but you didn’t utter a syllable in protest. His fingers eased up at least, making it easier to suck in a muggy, mustard-tasting breath.

                God, you hated mustard.

                Outside your fleece-and-cotton prison, the skeleton moved. The jerking of his hips and the sound of rubber hitting wood told you he was moving up the steps to the dark house. A door clicked open, shuffling, then the door swung shut, loudly, making you twitch a bit in alarm.

                “SANS!”

                The voice from the phone bellowed and the skeleton froze. The fabric jerked around you as his shoulders tensed and pulled at it, before relaxing. His hand withdrew from the pocket, and without his support you fell onto your side. A sharp pat from the outside of the pocket warned you to stay still.

                “Yeah, Boss?”

                “Where have you been? You were not at your post!” The new monster had a higher voice that had a nasally undertone.

                “It ain’t a post, br-boss. It’s a hotdog stand.”

                “I do not care! You were instructed to be there at three o’clock sharp, yet you were not! I instead had to engage in pleasantries with that orange-clad imposter! You know I detest him!”

                “I didn’t know you were dropping by, Boss. Orange asked fer some extra hours, offered to take my shift.” The fabric jerked as the skeleton shrugged.

                “Ugh. Honestly, Sans, you are worthless. How did a skeleton as GREAT and TERRIBLE as I end up with a stupid, lazy brother like you?”

                “Ya got lucky?”

                The other monster didn’t respond – instead, the world around you jerked alarmingly as, outside of the hoodie, the skeleton (Sans, you were guessing) was moved violently. There was another jerk, and a tilting movement, like a roller coaster heading downhill.

                Bones clattered as the skeleton hit the ground. A pained squeak escaped you as what felt like a rib pressed down on your side, pinning you to a hard floor. Sans must have caught himself slightly, otherwise his weight surely would have crushed you. The monster swore a bit, shifting your prison as he moved to sit up.

                “I am in no mood for your mouth today, Sans. Get out of my sight.”

                “Yes sir.”

                More moving, more steps, another door opened, and then slammed shut. The heavy click of a lock echoed damningly in your ears, muffled as it was through the fabric. Barely a moment after the door shut, sharp white phalanges had grabbed you and yanked you out of the jacket. Sans wasted no time in bringing you back up to his face, sharp teeth gleaming in the light spilling through the window.

                “I thought I said, not a sound.” He hissed. You didn’t answer, which was apparently not the right move, and he squeezed his fingers and shook you a bit. “What? Nothing ta’ say?” He demanded.

                When he stopped shaking his fist back and forth, you caught a shallow breath and wheezed, “Sorry!” When he didn’t look appeased, you rushed to explain. “I-i-it caught me b-by surprise!”

                “Hmph. That’s not an excuse,” Sans snarled, crossing a messy bedroom to a desk. He threw one of his arms in front of him and a red glow surrounded the books and papers stacked there. With a quick movement they all slid off the desk, piling semi-neatly beside it instead. He dropped you on the now-clean surface, dropping himself into the ratty chair in front of it.

                You pushed yourself up, feeling a bit light headed from all the fast movements and squeezing. The skeleton leaned over you, looking less than pleased. He reached out and grabbed at the bottom of your shirt, yanking it up sharply. “Take this off.”

                “W-what?”

                “Off. Now.”

                You swallowed, but didn’t try to protest. There was a faint red glow in the skeletons left eye, and the last thing you wanted to do was piss him off more. Actually, now that you could see his face properly, you noticed a slight divot in the side of his skull around a section of bone that was rapidly discoloring as you watched. Had that other skeleton hit him? At least the sluggishly bleeding cut you’d seen when you first noticed him had stopped leaking.

                “Now.”

                Oh, right. You were taking your shirt off. You didn’t know why he wanted to see you bare-torso, but it couldn’t be good. With sore arms you grabbed the bottom of your shirt and tugged it over your head. You carefully folded it into a square and set it on the desk beside you.

                “…da fuck happened to you?”

                You didn’t answer, and he didn’t press, merely leaning forward to examine your skin closer. All along your torso and arms were dark bruises that perfectly mimicked straight, thick stripes.

                “What’re you, part zebra?” His fingers pinched your shoulder and twisted you around, so he could see that the stripes continued along your back. You were unsure if it was a rhetorical question or not, so you stayed safely silent. When he released you and leaned back in his seat, you turned carefully to face him again. That was another rule – face your punishment head on, obediently, without complaint or noise.

                Sans was still eying you, taking in your bruises and scars, of which there were far too many. “Hmph. Pets gotta be punished,” he leaned forward and rested his hand in front of you on its side, back facing you. “Put your hands at your side.” You unwrapped your arms from your stomach and let them hang at your hips. “When I tell you ta’ be quiet, yer quiet, understand?” He demanded.

                You nodded and, with one quick move, he flicked your stomach, hard, with one finger. The breath was crushed from your body, leaving with a force like a sucker punch to the gut. You doubled over with a silent gasp, one arm wrapping around the offended muscles, the other grabbing onto the skeletons hand, keeping you from face planting on the desk.

                Sans was frowning at you, looking a bit odd…worried, maybe? Certainly not guilty or remorseful for hurting you. That was impossible. “You been through some shit, huh?” He asked, voice not kind but softer than before, with a hint of understanding. You couldn’t have answered if you wanted, but he didn’t seem to expect you to.

                “Boss will kill me if I go to Grillby’s tonight. Guess you’re stuck here ‘til tomorrow.” He pulled open the top drawer of his desk and frowned at it. Pencils, tape, and other odds-and-ends poked out. He grabbed a handful of the mess and dumped it on top of the books and papers he’d moved off the desk. A flash of red in his eyes had a pair of clean socks appearing in his hands. “C’mere,” he motioned you over as he laid one of the socks in the drawer. Still trying to catch your breath, it took you a minute to stand and move towards him.

                He’d cleaned out the front half of the drawer and laid out his socks to form a mattress. When you were sitting at the edge of the desk he swept his hand behind you and knocked you into the drawer. You nearly bit through your lip trying to keep silent at the sudden fall. Thankfully it wasn’t long, and the landing was soft. The socks were soft and smelled like laundry detergent.

                The skeleton grabbed something from one of the lower drawers and tossed it at you. Worn blue fabric landed on your lap, bringing with it the smell of taco spices and honey.

                “Heh, stole that from Blueberry last poker game. He still doesn’t know who took it.” The skeleton looked very pleased with himself. You didn’t know why a blueberry would have a bandana, but it was warm and soft, so you weren’t going to question the fashion tastes of fruit.  

                “We’ll go to Grillby’s in the morning,” Sans glanced at the door, as though waiting for the other monster to burst in and hit him again. “Get to sleep, and I don’t’ want to hear a peep,” his countenance grew threatening as he hunched over the drawer, looming over you.

                “Yes, sir.” You pulled the bandana up around your shoulder, shrinking into it.

                He seemed pleased, and you congratulated yourself on giving the correct answer. “Night, Zebra.” Before you could lay down he slammed the desk drawer shut. An eraser and a mini pencil sharpener bounced off you as everything rattled about. It didn’t hurt, but it did daze you a bit. You pushed the eraser away and stretched out on the sock-mattress, wrapping the bandana around yourself.

                Now alone, without a looming monster or the threat of being eaten or killed out of the way, your mind turned to the day’s disaster. You’d finally gotten the chance and courage escape your cruel master, and had made it all the way down several roads and into the forest. Then, you’d stupidly rested for an hour and ended up being captured by a bastard skeleton who you couldn’t quite get a read on, which made your mind itch and worry. He’d brought you home, hidden you from his ‘Boss’ (Brother? Father? Lover? You weren’t sure.), gotten hit, then taken you up to his room and, in turn, hit you. Then he’d made you a surprisingly comfy bed and called you ‘Zebra.’ True, sleeping in a shut drawer wasn’t exactly a step up from the cage you’d had before, but at least you were warm and safe from strangers.

                But being safe from strangers wasn’t the same as being safe. You pressed a hand against your stomach and sucked in a sharp breath, barely cutting off a cry of pain. You were sure that, no matter how quiet you were, Sans would hear you and most likely punish you again. You weren’t sure you could handle that. True, you took a lot of pain from your last owner (the rubber-band bruises all over your body proved that), but that didn’t mean you were about to start seeking it out. This time, you took a deep breath before pressing against your stomach. There was a sharp jolt of pain, and you were certain there would be a bruise there when you woke up.

                You tucked yourself on your side, drawing your knees up, even though it made your abdomen ache. Today had simply been overwhelming – it felt like you’d had cotton stuffed between your ears the entire time, making everything that happened feel fuzzy. Maybe sleep would help. It certainly couldn’t hurt.

                Outside of the drawer, you could faintly hear heavy snores. The loud lullaby kept your mind from wandering back to darker topics as you fell asleep.

 


 

                “SANS GET OUT OF BED THIS INSTANCE!” The other monster – Boss – hollered, perfectly audible even through the thick wood of the desk drawer. You jerked awake and almost panicked at the unfamiliar surroundings, though you stayed quiet as you’d been trained to.

                “I’m up, Boss.”

                “You WILL be going to you shift today! No excuses!”

                “Yes, sir.”

                The door to the bedroom slammed shut, and you heard Sans groan and mutter before his footsteps came close. The drawer was roughly jerked open, hard enough that you couldn’t catch your balance and you fell over with a ‘umph!’

                “Mornin’ Zebra,” Sans greeted, sleep clinging to his eye sockets. “You sleep?”

                You nodded, but when his fangs twisted into a frown you managed a ‘Yes, sir.’ Without a word he scooped you up and held you up to his face. At least this time you were sitting on his palms instead of in his fist.

                “I like being spoken to, got it?” He asked. You nodded, and when his frown grew, you wanted to smack yourself.

                “Yes, sir.”

                “Good pet.”

                Good pet? Nobody’s ever called me a good pet before. The words left a warm trail from your hear to your stomach.

                Downstairs a door slammed open, then shut. Sans waited several moments, head turned to the side, before his shoulders relaxed. “Alright, Boss is gone. Let’s go.” He shifted his fingers to hold you in a fist, then paused. “No puking on me this time.”

                Before you could protest, or at least explain you hadn’t done it on purpose, the world pixelated and fell apart. You shut your eyes tightly and wrapped your arms around his thumb, which was pressed to your chest. It was only then you realized – you’d never put your shirt back on.

                Even with your eyes shut, your body registered the sudden change in location and made your stomach lurch. Thank god the monster hadn’t fed you anything. After taking several deep breaths, you slowly opened your eyes to find Sans peering at you, his head far too close for comfort. When you didn’t violently puke on his face, a grin tugged his fanged mouth. He looked…proud? That wasn’t right.

                “Good job, Zebra.” Sans praised you quietly, before dropping his fist a bit to rest against his chest. “Ey Grillby!” He called much louder, moving through the room you’d teleported to.

                “Edgy.” A dark, dangerous voice greeted. You unconsciously gripped Sans thumb harder, heart stuttering to your throat. Hadn’t the skeleton mentioned selling you to a ‘Grillby’ to pay back his tab? You hadn’t thought for a moment that it would be a kind monster, but that voice – it just dripped with malice. If you were sold to this Grillby character, you were sure you would be dead within a week.

                “Aw, c’mon, what’s with that tone?” Sans asked, voice calm and cheerful.

                “We do not open for two more hours,” the voice answered, and a chill ran down your spine at the venom in it. You pressed your face against Sans thumb, whimpering a bit. His grasp tightened slightly, not enough to hurt but a warning non-the-less. You hushed, though you didn’t move your head.

                “Ya should be happy to see me!” Sans chimed and jolted a bit, before he stopped moving. He must have sat down. You weren’t feeling brave enough to take a look. “I got something to pay off my tab.”

                “Oh?” There was more doubt and skepticism in that one syllable than you’d ever heard before.

                Sans pulled his hand away from his chest and opened his hand. You spilled onto a shiny wooden surface, the unexpected drop leaving you sprawled on your stomach. Slowly, you pushed yourself up to sit on your knees, keeping your eyes trained on the wood beneath you. Just because Sans wanted you to look at his face didn’t mean this new monster would be so lenient.

                “A Reader? You’re trying to buy me off with a Reader?”

                Beside you Sans fist slammed down on the counter, making you jump. “A READER! Tha’s what they’re called! I’ve been calling ‘em a ratter all night.”

                The new monster sighed, and you felt a warm breeze roll over you, smelling of charcoal and burnt sugar. “What’s wrong with its skin?”

                “It’s part zebra.” Sans deadpanned. The new monster snorted.

                “Really?”

                “Nah. It was all marked up when I fo – got it. Doesn’t mean it’s worth any less.”

                “Edgy,” the monster groaned, “Your tab is at five-thousand gold. You seriously think one little Reader is enough to forgive all that?”

                “Not just any Reader,” Sans corrected. One of his fingers ran down your spine, making you shiver. “Look up, pet.” He ordered.

                You didn’t want to look up. You really, really didn’t. But Sans had given you an order, and you had been hardwired to be obedient. Swallowing silently, you tilted your head back and looked up at the new monster.

                He was flaming hot. Literally. His entire body was made of purple flames that flickered in intensity along his arms, chest, and head. His eyes were obscured by a pair of black-rimmed glasses, and he had on a stylish black coat with a fluffed-up fur collar. His eyes were bright white almonds in his face, and as you looked up one brow lifted slightly in curiosity.

                The flame elemental leaned forward, folding his arms on the edge of the – oh, you weren’t on a table, you were on a bar top. He leaned on the edge of it, bringing his face close to you, his eyes flicking over you from top to bottom.

                “Hello~.” He purred, finally meeting your eyes, one white brow arched elegantly. The look made you feel greasy and sick.

                “Hello,” you parroted automatically.

                “Good pet,” Sans muttered, running his finger down your spine again. You nearly jerked forward, but that wasn’t what a good pet would do. The words made you feel warm in your heart and stomach again.

                “Hmph,” Grillby pressed his face even closer, until you could feel the heat rolling off his head. “They’ve got nice eyes,” he finally acquiesced, “but that isn’t enough to pay back your tab.” He straightened up, voice suddenly uninterested and business like.

                “What? They’re already trained!” Sans motioned to you with a wave of his hand. You carefully tilted your head back to look up at Grillby as he crossed his arms and rested his hip against the bar.

                “Good for a toy, might be some fun in the bedroom,” he ran a bright violet tongue across his lips in a lewd gesture, “but not what I’m interested in.” Grillby examined his fiery nails, suddenly radiating disinterest. “If I were to get a Reader, they would need more bite. I don’t want a broken yes-man toy.” He tapped his chin in thought, eyes drifting over you once again. “You might try the Red Light district – I’m certain some of those Lust Clan monsters may be interested in a new toy.”

                You dropped your gaze to your lap, hearing Sans sucking in an angry breath behind you. Instinctually your shoulders hunched up to your ears, trying to protect them without being obvious.

                “Fine.” Sans voice was surprisingly even as he spoke. “Your loss, Grillbz.” His fist wrapped around you and you were plucked off the bar, wrapped in one fist. “See you for dinner,” he called to the flame, before the world began to melt.

                “Pay your damn tab, Sans!” Grillby hollered as Sans teleported back to his bedroom.

                You weren’t as prepared this time, but with an empty stomach you dry heaved, not getting anything on his sleeve this time.

                “Hmph, I should probably feed you.” Sans huffed, setting you back on the desk. “Can’t have you keeling over ‘fore I get on Temmie-List.” He folded his arms, staring down at you and tapping his fingers against his elbow. “I can’t imagine ya wanna stay in the drawer, but I can’t risk Papyrus seeing ya in the kitchen.” He huffed in annoyance, then snapped his fingers. You watched in awe as a rip in the very fabric of time and space appeared, just big enough to allow Bruiser to float out. As soon as the skull had cleared the hole, it snapped shut, like a rubber band.

                The dog skull yelped in excitement and bumped his nose against Sans skull. “Yeah, yeah, ya mutt, hello ta you too.” He gave the skull an oddly affectionate pat, then slid the mask of cool disinterest once more. “You,” he pointed to the skull, making sure it’s eyes were on his hand and following it as he pointed to you, “are guarding them. Do not let them leave the room. Got it?”

                Bruiser narrowed his eyes and nodded, bouncing his entire skull up and down earnestly. Sans nodded, then blinked out of sight. As soon as he was gone, the skull turned and floated over to you. He rested on the table in front of you, his eyes set sternly on your own.

                “Uh, hi?” You greeted the dog. He inched forward a bit, pressing his nose to your stomach. When he made a small whining noise, you carefully lifted your arm and rested it on his snout. When nothing happened, you gently began to pet him. He ‘mrrrrrrd’ and his eyes became heavy as he pressed his muzzle more firmly against you. You almost drew back at the affection, but the happy, peaceful look on Bruisers face urged you to continue petting.

 


 

                Sans was not often conflicted, but when he was it spelled trouble. Mental conflicts were best avoided, especially in a world where true, physical confrontations were the norm and death was a very real danger. True, the ‘kill or be killed’ motto of his clan had dulled since they had reached the surface, but he couldn’t just learn to stop being on edge overnight. Heh. On edge. Edgy.

                Ugh. The skeleton wanted to slam his fist against something – mostly Grillby’s face. He hated that stupid nickname – ‘Edgy’ – and he hated Orange for spreading it around. The scrawny green-bean and honorary Sans was a thorn in his side, even if he was the Underfell monsters best friend.

                Annoyance at the nickname wasn’t the main problem, however. The little Reader upstairs was on his mind. He’d never really interacted with one, despite being up top for nearly ten years. Papyrus would never allow a pet in the house – hell, he’d nearly killed that annoying dog that sometimes popped in at least a dozen times.

                Sans himself wasn’t interested in a pet. He could barely take care of himself, and he most certainly didn’t need to deal with Papyrus and a needy little pet. Then again, Zebra didn’t seem needy at all. In fact, they acted as though they were trying to be as unobtrusive as possible. They’d barely fought when he first found them, besides from a few token struggles. They barely verbalized, refused to look him in the eyes, and didn’t ask for anything.

                The skeleton busied himself, slapping together a messy mustard-heavy sandwich and grabbing his bag of chisps from the fridge. There was something irking and familiar about the way the Reader was acting, but he couldn’t put his phalange on it. Sans forced the thoughts away as the front door slammed open and Papyrus stormed in. Before his brother could see him he vanished, in no mood to face his brother at the moment. He belatedly realized he hadn’t grabbed anything for the Reader. They’d have to do with chisps, and if they dared to complain, he’d make sure they wouldn’t in the future.

 


 

                When Sans popped back into the room a few minutes later, you were draped over Bruisers muzzle, hugging him tightly, your shirt back in place. The skull’s eyes were shut and he was purring happily, more like a cat than a dog. His bones were warm, and thrummed with magic. You’d pressed your cheek to the bridge of his snout, and your eyes were half-lidded as you stared blankly at the trash tornado in the far corner of the room.

                Sans dropped the plate of food down beside you, creating a loud clatter and making both you and Bruiser jump. The startled skull flung you off his nose and shot up into the air, looking about frantically for the source of the noise. You landed on your back, staring up at the upside-down Sans in shock. The skeleton raised a brow, then reached out and gave Bruiser’s nose a pat.

                “Enjoying yourself, you lazy mutt?” He asked, faint affection in his tone. Bruiser purred happily and gave his master a loving head butt. “Yeah, yeah, piss off.” The skeleton pushed Bruiser away, and the skull obligingly floated to sit beside you once again.

                You sat up, and as soon as you were stable, Bruiser shoved his nose beneath your arm and snuggled up against your side, looking for more pats. You obliged as Sans sat down and picked up his sandwich, which (to your disgust) was dripping with mustard.

                “Here,” he said with a full mouth, dropping the sandwich and reaching for the bag of chisps. He ripped it open and pulled one out, handing it to you. Before you could take the food, Bruiser snapped his maw around it, devouring the chip in one bite. You froze, hands still up to accept the food, and blinked at Sans suddenly empty fingers. Well, that had been stupid – of course he wasn’t giving it to you! He wouldn’t waste good monster food on you. He was trying to feed Bruiser, his companion, not his nothing-pet.

                “Bruiser, you dumbass,” Sans muttered, pushing the skull to the side. He held a chisp out to you, glaring at the skull when he whined. “C’mon, rat, take the food.” He pressed the chisp into your chest, getting salt on your shirt. You automatically lifted your hands and accepted it, not about to turn down food.

                It was crispy and salty and made you dreadfully thirsty but it was food and it was given freely. At least, you thought it was given freely. He hadn’t demanded anything in exchange for it, not yet at least. You managed to eat about half of the large piece before you were full. Bruiser had nuzzled his way back to your side as you ate, and as soon as you stopped nibbling he whined. Without thinking you offered him the rest of your chip. He yelped in excitement and snatched it up, then licked your face.

                “Hey.” Sans was frowning down at you, shoulders a bit tense. “Don’t feed ‘em or he’ll become a pain in the ass.” He snapped, poking you hard in the shoulder.

                “Yes sir,” you replied automatically, shrinking in on yourself a bit. Bruiser pressed himself to your side, purring softly, bones rumbling and sending a tremor down your side. It almost tickled, but mostly it felt like a soft massage. You leaned against him, tilting your head so it rested on top of his.

                Sans finished his sandwich and licked mustard off his fangs and chin with a weird, glowing blue tongue. “Alright, Zebra,” he stood, leaving the dirty plate where it was, “I’ve gotta head to work. I’ll be back in three hours. You aren’t to leave this room, or make any noise. Papyrus is home, and if he finds out you’re here, he’ll kill you.” There was no artifice in his voice – he was completely serious. “Bruiser, you keep an eye on them.” He ordered sternly.

                The skull barked happily – if he had a tail, he’d be wagging it. He licked your cheek, then rested his mandible on your lap, purring deep and sending tremors up your whole body. Sans nodded in approval, then winked out of sight. You heard raised voices from downstairs, then the front door slammed. Someone stomped up the stairs, and the door to the room next door was slammed as well, rattling the lamp on the desk.

                You stayed silent, petting Bruiser’s cheek bones and resting your chin on his forehead. With the Great and Terrible Papyrus in the next room, you didn’t want to risk making any noise that might attract his attention.

                It was a very dull, but safe, three hours. Your legs fell asleep, but Bruiser was sleeping happily and you didn’t want to wake him and risk him barking. You could hear papers being shuffled and boxes being moved next door.

                Sans returned with a bag of greasy hot dogs and French fries. He frowned when he spotted the pair of you, setting the bag on top of his dirty plate from lunch.

                “Did you spend the whole time sitting there?” He demanded roughly. You glanced at the wall separating Sans and Papyrus’ room, hoping the tall skeleton hadn’t heard. The sudden halt of paper shuffling and heavy steps coming closer. “Oh, shit.”

                Bruiser whined at the anxiety in his owner’s voice, shaking you off and lifting off the desk. Sans swept you off the desk, eyes narrowing as the footsteps grew closer. Without preamble he dropped you on Bruiser’s head and, with a swipe of his hand, cut a rip open in time and space. “Don’t let go,” he warned, before shoving Bruiser into the void and shutting the cut behind you.

                Pressure was the first thing you noticed – like being in an airplane, your ears and sinuses felt as though they were tightening and stretching and filling with cotton all at the same time. You swallowed hard, relieving the uncomfortable feeling a bit. Shifting so you were sitting on the top of Bruisers skull, you looked around.

                It was…dark. But not the darkness you were familiar with. Even within the drawer there had been some semblance of light as your eyes adjusted – not true light, not beams, but particles that allowed you to see. Here though, it was as though light simply did not exist. It wasn’t dark from lack of light, it was dark because in this place, light had never existed.

                There was nothing to hold onto, technically – not unless you wanted to dig your fingers into Bruisers eye sockets, which didn’t sound pleasant for either of you. So you sat as still as you could on top of his skull as he floated forward into the darkness, making a chittering noise by clacking his bisected jaw together.

                Apparently the noise was some kind of call, because something in the not-darkness made the same noise back. Actually, several somethings made the noise. “Bruiser?” You pressed yourself closer to your ride, voice shaking as new shapes began to loom out of the darkness.

                Three hulking forms emerged from the darkness, easily able to be seen despite a lack of true light. You flattened yourself against the top of Bruisers skull, eyes widening as they approached. “Bruiser?” You asked again, voice wavering. He made that same odd chittering noise again and rushed towards the approaching skulls. “Eep!” You dug your fingers into the brow ridge just above his sockets, trying not to fly off into the weird darkness.

                The shapes were skulls, similar to Bruiser in form, but much, much bigger. They were at least as large as Sans, not including the various horns and spikes jutting from their forehead and jawline. Bruiser was obviously a babybones in comparison. As said babybones rushed up to them, you took in the differences between them.

 

 

                The one to the left was rounder than its companions, and his expression was much more friendly (if you were reading them right). He had a red tongue poking out over his teeth, and was panting in excitement. To the right, an angry-looking skull with scars gouged in his bones and a nasty-looking crack along his right eye socket was glaring at you. One of the bone spurs that curled off the back of his head was broken, leaving a jagged stump in its place.

                What held your attention was the giant skull in the middle. It was slightly larger than its compatriots, and had an expression in its red-pupil sockets that spoke of wisdom and experience. It was obviously the oldest of the quartet. Bruiser rushed up to bump noses with it, making a happy purring noise in greeting.

                The large skeleton chittered in response, returning the nudge gently. Bruiser floated back and began yipping and yelping, bouncing slightly as he hovered. You held on tight, really not wanting to figure out what would happen if you fell into the darkness. The other two skulls sniffed and listened intently as the dog spoke.

                After several minutes of yelping (and being watched carefully by the other skulls), the large one turned and floated away. Bruiser happily bobbed after him, and the other two skulls brought up the rear. Their gaze on your back was unnerving, and you hunched against Bruiser, hoping that if something happened he would protect you.

                The skulls somehow knew where they were going, despite there being nothing but darkness, not a single landmark to navigate by. Eventually they came to a space that seemed less…less dark? Huh. You weren’t sure how it was possible, but the area lightened ever so slightly, creating a discernable difference between a floor and the horizon. They settled on the surface, which clicked against their bones like tile. Bruiser made an odd whining noise and, as the smaller two skulls settled on either side of him, he pressed his nose to the floor and gave a little shake, dislodging you.

                You yelped as you fell, rolling down his nose and landing on the weird surface. It was odd – a bit like a thinly-carpeted floor, but with more give. More like a firm mattress than anything. The skulls settled about you as you sat up, pinning you in so all you could see were fangs and bright-red eyes.

                They stared at you. You stared at them. You wondered if it would be possible to communicate with them – it seemed like Sans could, but you had no idea how to understand the various yelps, chirps, whistles, and barks the skulls made. After a moment of staring, the largest skull made a low muttering noise. All at once the skulls began to chatter with each other, leaving you sitting in the middle of what sounded like a heated discussion.

                Several times the scarred skull glared at you and made a hissing noise through a gap in his fangs. You scooted away from him until your back bumped against Bruisers muzzle. He rattled his bones and nuzzled you gently, tongue gently swiping your cheek.

                The scarred one got into an argument with the large one – at least, it seemed like an argument. Scarred one barked angrily at large one, raising a bit off the surface and snapping his fangs at him. Large one calmly responded with a low chirp, remaining sitting (was it sitting if they didn’t have bodies?), before chattering his lower jaw bones together again. Scarred one huffed, then settled back down, shooting you a glare that could have melted stone, his eyes seeming to glow brighter by the second.

                Bruiser and the round-faced skull moved quickly – your babybones friend nudged you behind him, while Round one pushed his way forward and growled at Scarred one. You got to your feet and clung to the top of Bruisers skull, peeking over his muzzle at the confrontation. The two were yelping and yipping at each other, Round one’s voice much higher than Scarred ones.

                Before it could escalate, Large one snapped, a dangerous red glow growing between his fangs. The smaller two immediately backed down, Round one whimpering while Scarred one merely huffed and turned his back on you all. The Round one moved back to his spot, nearly squishing you between himself and Bruiser.

                With the Scarred one out of the picture, Large one started addressing the smallest one with soft murmurs and coos. Bruiser returned the noises, his own more chipper and energetic. You leaned against the smallest skull, looking at Large one over his muzzle. The Round one nuzzled you from behind, making you jump, but after he got your scent he backed off and simply sat, watching his fellow skulls chat.

                You weren’t really sure what to make of this situation. You had no idea where you were – other than the fact that it was dark, had a floor, and was full of floating skulls, there was nothing to go on. The odd pressure that had greeted you had dissipated, and distracted as you were by the skulls you hadn’t noticed. So, to sum up, you didn’t know where you were, there were three large, strange skulls that could gobble you up without having to bother with chewing if they so pleased, and your only defense was Bruiser, who was itty bitty and probably liked you, but likely not enough to go against his family if they decided it was snack time.

                Before you could begin forming a ‘just in case’ escape plan, an odd ripping noise echoed through the not-darkness. All four skulls straightened up, eyes glowing brightly for a moment before snapping to a place somewhere farther in the darkness. Someone snapped, and Bruiser shot off the ground and took off for the noise. Half a second later he turned around, rushed back, grabbed you by the back of your shirt, and brought you with him.

                After a terrifying moment of hanging from his maw, dangling over nothing as he sped towards the snapping noise, a tear in space time appeared and he dove through with a happy noise. The world exploded in color and sound – you were back in Sans messy bedroom, and after a wave of that same odd pressured feeling passed you could make out the skeleton praising his pet.

                “Good job, Bruiser.” Phalanges encased you, and the skull let go of your shirt and swept his tongue over your head, ruffling your hair and leaving it full of ectoplasmic spit. Sans chuckled as he set you on the desk, though the sound was oddly hollow and pained. Once you’d gotten your bearings back, you glanced up and immediately saw why.

                Sans looked like – well, there was no nice way to put this, he looked like shit. There were several new cracks along his skull, one of his cheekbones looked like it had almost caved in, three of his teeth were missing, and you could see cracks along a few of his vertebrae. The only reason you could see his vertebrae was because his jacket was missing, leaving him in only a torn white t-shirt, which was splattered with red marrow, among other things.

                Your last owner had trained you to speak only when spoken too, and it wasn’t like Sans had been particularly kind to you, but worry overrode instinct and you loudly blurted out, “What happened? Are you alright? You’re bleeding!” All in a rush. “Did – did that Papyrus bastard do this to you?!”

                Sans stiffened where he stood, shoulders pulled back as his bones tensed. You barely realized your mistake before he backhanded you, hard. Were you the same size, your head simply would have snapped back, and you may have stumbled. But you weren’t the same size – you were infinitesimally smaller, and the strike threw you across the room. You hit the wall above his bed with a muted huff, the breath knocked from your lungs. The messy bed broke your fall, the comforter catching you in thick folds.

                You weren’t given a chance to catch your breath – deep, bloody red magic surrounded you, lifting you from the bed and bringing you to hang before the seething monster. Sans left eye was blazing bright red, flames licking at his skull, which was beading with sweat.

                “Don’t. You. Ever. Talk. About. Boss. Like. That.” He growled, voice growing deeper as he spoke. A flick of his wrist and you bounced on the bed again, the magic dissipating quickly, as though he couldn’t stand the thought of touching you in any manner any longer. “Ugh, fergit it. Bruiser. Snack time.”

                The skull, who had been hovering near his master the entire time, made a confused sound, tilting slightly. You scrambled to sit up, reeling a bit from being tossed about, and from the implication of being turned into dog food.

                Bruiser made another confused sound but followed his owners pointing finger and floated over to you. You tried to scramble backwards, but the pain in your head was making it hard to move. The skull came to rest in front of you, eyes slightly squinted. He opened his maw and you cringed, waiting for the feeling of fangs tearing through your flesh.

                A warm tongue scraped across your cheek, leaving a trail of spit. You opened one eye and was nearly blinded when he licked you again, before making a soft, happy trill and nuzzling your side. You stared at him in surprise, before a groan had your gaze snapping to Sans. The injured monster had a hand over his eyes, his mouth pulled down into a tight frown.

                “Of fuckin’ course,” he huffed, sounding more put out and tired than angry now. He yanked open the larger, bottom drawer of the desk and dragged out a broken computer monitor. “Fine, you wanna be friends? Be friends outta my way.” His magic grabbed you once again and yanked you to the desk, dropping you into the bottom drawer from an uncomfortable height. Bruiser whined and followed you, barely fitting into the drawer but squeezing in so he could sniff at you. Sans pressed the skull down, and slammed the drawer shut.

                Bright red lights lit up the drawer, radiating from the skulls gaze. His jaw was pressing against you a bit, his size leaving only a small gap between Bruisers mandible and the bottom. You squirmed until you hit a corner, where you could sit up, his rounded muzzle giving you a bit of room.

                “I’m sorry,” you whispered as quietly as possible, reaching out to pat his nose. “I didn’t mean to get you in trouble.” Bruiser just trilled and dropped the last little bit so he was resting on the pressboard bottom of the drawer. Once comfortable, he began making a soft chittering sound using his mandibles. You watched, curled up in the corner, in no need of a blanket thanks to the heat radiating from his bones. The skull stared back, watching you even as his brows began to droop. His sockets closed long before yours did, and you spent the night watching the skull snooze, the drawer lit by the faintest red lights from his sockets.

 


 

                Sans looked much better when he yanked the drawer open the next morning. He was still scowling and angry, but his clothes were clean, and he’d eaten some monster food or used some magic to heal up his scrapes and cuts. There were a few new nicks and cuts on his bones, but there was no bone marrow or blood to be seen.

                Bruiser bounced out of the drawer with a happy yelp, circling his owner several times before licking his cheek and barking. Sans shoved the skull away, looking angry for a moment before giving in and patting him. A quick movement of his fingers opened one of the weird rips and Bruiser obligingly shot through. That left you alone with the groggy monster.

                “Did you sleep?” The skeleton was peering down at you, looking far from pleased. You struggled to stand, moving from the corner and standing in the middle of the drawer, where he could easily see you. You almost looked down at your feet, but his words from your first meeting returned and you tilted your head back, looking him in the face.

                “No, sir,” you answered, keeping your voice quiet in case Papyrus was next door.

                “Good.” Sans sneered, eyes sparking. He was obviously still angry at you for speaking up last night, and insulting his brother/father/lover – you still hadn’t seen this Papyrus character, and didn’t know what he was to Sans. “You can just stay in here while I’m at work – I don’t trust you to do something stupid.” Without warning he kicked the drawer shut, and you tumbled backwards. You’d been falling a lot the past few days.

                You slept uneasily on and off all day, woken by nightmares where you were swallowed whole, or chewed to bits, by a Sans with a Bruiser-like head. At one-point Papyrus stomped into the room and moved some things around, but he left without checking your drawer. By the time you saw proper light again, the sun had fallen and Sans was looking tired yet again. At least he was injury free this time.

                The skeleton snatched you out of the bottom drawer and dropped you on his desk. There was a paper bag lying on its side – you could see part of a hotdog and some fries poking out from one end. Sans dropped into the seat and glared at you, picking at his teeth with one claw.

                “I ain’t gonna sell ya,” he said after a few minutes of silence. You rolled the bottom of your shirt between your fingers but otherwise stayed silent, giving him all your attention. “Not yet. Too much heat on Temmie List over illegal shit goin’ on. So here are the rules,” he leaned forward, face shifting to a serious, dark expression. “You don’t make any noise without my permission,” he held up fingers as he listed the rules, “When I ask you a question, you answer. You don’t leave this room unless you are with me. You don’t try to escape, or get Papyrus’ attention, ever. You don’t talk back. You don’t make a mess. You don’t touch my stuff. If you break any of these rules,” his eye flared bright red, “and I will punish you. Understand?”

                You nodded, quickly saying ‘Yes sir,’ when his brow crinkled. He leaned back, face smoothing out.

                “Good pet.”

                Despite the injuries he’d inflicted, despite the rules he’d just laid out, despite the fact that he didn’t see you as a person or even a pet, but a commodity that would eventually be sold, his words made you feel warm and valued. A very faint part of you knew it was wrong – there was a word for this, some weird Swedish word or something, but the rest of you didn’t care. Obeying him meant surviving, and you wanted to survive. Especially since she hadn’t.

                You wanted to hear him say it more.  

Chapter Text

Eye See What You Did There

 

Sans & Pipsqueak

 

            Sans was having another nightmare, and his thrashing and muttering had woken you up. After a month of living with him, you’d gotten used to it – the nightmares tended to happen on a weekly basis. Most of the time a few sweet words and some pats to the face would wake him. Not tonight, though – you had been trying to talk him down for several minutes now, and nothing had helped. He was facing the ceiling and you couldn’t reach his cheeks or eyes – just his jawline. Patting his jawline wasn’t doing any good, though, so you decided to take a chance.

            Despite the appearance, the skeleton brother’s bones were not perfectly smooth. There were pits and dips in the white surface, which made perfect little handholds and footholds. It was surprisingly easy to pull yourself up the crown of his skull and sit on your knees at his brow.

            “Sans,” you muttered, running your hand over the pliable ridges over his closed eyes. You’d long ago given up on understanding the physics of the skeleton monster. “Sans, wake up. You’re having a nightmare. C’mon, it’s Pipsqueak, wake up now,” you leaned forward a bit as his eyelids crinkled. “Time to wake up, ya big lug.”

            You were sitting over his right brow, so when he gasped and his eyes snapped open, you were left staring into an empty pit for all of five seconds. He jolted, left socket alight with blue energy, and you pitched forward with a panicked shout.

            Sans…did not have eye balls. You tumbled straight into his skull, which should have been impossible, so so so impossible, but here you were, falling through an odd darkness that seemed to take up every iota of space, before smacking into the hard surface of the inside of the skull you’d just been climbing.

            The curved world tilted as Sans sat up, and you rolled down to a flatter area, which you supposed was the bottom of his skull, where it flattened and floated over his neck. You sat up and looked about, rubbing at the growing bump on your head.

            “Uh…kid?”

            Sans voice seemed to come from all around you, echoing oddly in your ears. A slim line of light opened in front of you, moving as he spoke, and you reasoned this must be his mouth. Odd, it didn’t look like his teeth moved when you saw him speak from the other side of the bones.

            “S-Sans?”

            The world jolted a bit and you guessed the skeleton had jumped in surprise at hearing a voice from inside his skull.

            “Kid, are you – am I hearing voices or are ya’ in my head?”

            “Probably a bit of both,” you quipped, watching his mouth curiously as he spoke. “I knew you were a numbskull, but I didn’t expect your head to be so empty.”

            “No stealing my jokes, kiddo,” the line of teeth widened as he grinned. “Comfy?”

            “Not in the least.” You looked around the darkness again. It felt as though it had a weight, and pressed against you. It wasn’t uncomfortable, just heavy. It made you very aware that you were somewhere you weren’t supposed to be. “How do I get out?”

            “Heh, I’m uh, not completely sure. Never had this happen before, ta be honest.” Your surroundings shifted a bit and you pressed your hands against the bone beneath you to keep from falling over. “That feels so weird…”

            “Tell me about it,” you muttered.

            “Hang on a second, I have an idea.”

            The line of teeth in front of you opened wide – wider than you thought possible – and light flooded the odd blackness. Large fingers reached between his teeth and quickly found you. The back of your shirt was grabbed between the tips and he quickly pulled you from his skull.

            Sans dangled you in front of him, grinning widely. “You okay?”

            “Yeah,” you nodded as he dropped you into the palm of his hand. “Are you?”

            “I’m fine,” he laid back down, settling you on his chest, head propped up a bit so he could still see you. “What were you doing on my head anyway?”

            “I was trying to wake you up,” you explained, stretched out on his hoodie, making yourself comfortable.

            “From the inside out?”

            “No! I tried to wake you up and then when you jerked up I fell in!”

            Sans chuckled, resting a hand over you as he let his head tilt back, eyes falling closed. “Let’s not try that again, okay?”

            “Agreed.” You shut your own eyes and relaxed completely into the soft fabric beneath you. “G’night, Sans.”

            “Night, pipsqueak.”

 

 

The Eyes Have It

 

Ducky and Blue

 

            In the end, Orange declared both of you guilty and put you both in the corner. He said it had been stupid, immature, and had impressed upon you that neither of you had any right to scare him like that. He sat Blue (and, by extension, you) in the corner, facing the wall, before stomping off, muttering about a stiff drink and a cigarette at Muffet’s.

            The entire thing had started with a question. It wasn’t your fault Blue had been a willing participant. You’d watched him use his magic to chop up the vegetables for the night’s tacos and noticed that only his left eye lit up with the bright-blue magic.

            “Why don’t both your eyes light up?” You’d asked, pointing at his sockets when he looked over at your voice.

            “I dunno,” he shrugged with a thoughtful expression, turning back to scoop the veggies into a bowl. “It’s always been like that. I can’t make my right eye turn blue, though I can make both my eye lights disappear!” He turned to you suddenly, eyes blank and black, mouth pulled down in a scary expression.

            Instead of being frightened, you leaned forward and poked at his socket. He pulled back before you could touch it. “What are you doing?” He pouted, disappointed he hadn’t scared you.

            “I’m curious!” You waved his head back down and patted his cheek, examining the empty sockets. “Is there even anything in your skull?”

            Blue drew his brows down, pouting teeth moving to a line. “I don’t know,” he confessed. “I’ve never wondered about it. I’ve always just been…me.”

            “Well, you have a good head on your shoulders.”

            “AGH! Not the puns! Papy is a bad influence!”

            “The worst,” you agreed. “So, can I like, stick my hand in there?”

            The eye lights reappeared in widened sockets, and you found a very startled expression mere feet from your own. “What? No!”

            “But I’m curious!” You wheedled, grinning up at him, knowing he could be just as much of a curious cat as yourself at times. “Don’t you want to know what’s in your head?”

            “I am in my head! That is all that needs to be there.”        Rolling your eyes, you leaned forward and patted his cheek. “C’mon, it won’t hurt! Don’t be such a babybones!”            “I am not a babybones!” Blue pouted, setting the knife and cutting board in the sink and putting his hands on his hips.

            “Then let me take a look!”

            “Ugh, fine!” He leaned forward and rested his chin on the counter top. “Just don’t – don’t break anything in here.”

            “Don’t worry, I won’t break your brain.”

            “I’m a skeleton, I don’t have a brain!” He harrumphed but flicked out his eye lights, leaving you with two empty sockets. You could faintly see the inner curves of his skull, now illuminated by the kitchen light. Odd; when he had his eye lights up, it was like there was a black curtain behind them, blocking any reflections. Now, you could see into his head.

            “It’s like an empty bowling ball!” You stuck your whole upper body into his skull, leaning over the bottom of his eye socket.      

            “Hey!” Blue flailed his arms a bit but did his best to keep his head still. “Don’t go inside my head!”

            “Why not?” You didn’t move any farther, however, simply looked about the smooth surface of the inside of his skull. There was no brain matter, which was to be expected – he was a skeleton after all. His squirming made you pause. “This doesn’t hurt, does it?”

            “No, it just feels funny,” he grunted. “Are you done? I need to finish dinner.”

            That sparked an idea – a positively wicked idea – and you wiggled until your feet were firmly back on the counter and looking at his face from the outside. “Blue, we should play a prank on Orange!”

            “Oh?” Blue leaned back and rubbed at his sockets, relighting his pupils and focusing on you.

            “Yeah!” You bounced a bit. “What if I hang out from your eye and we pretend I’m stuck! Won’t he freak?”

            Blue frowned. “That doesn’t sound like much fun – a prank should make everybody laugh, not scare people.”

            You rolled your eyes a bit, and in that movement Blue couldn’t see any of the original timidity you’d had in you when he’d first adopted you. “He’ll know it’s a joke, Blue. Please? It’ll be funny!” You clasped your hands in front of your chest and stuck out your bottom lip, tilting your head just so. “Please?”

            “Ugh, fine!” Blue huffed, just as the front door popped open to admit the punny, orange skeleton. Still looking a bit reluctant, Blue scooped you up and turned out his eye lights. He plopped you – feet first this time – in his left eye socket. You hung over the thick bone at your waist, grinning wickedly as Orange came into the kitchen.

            “Hey bro, what’s cooooooooooh my stars!”

            The candy cigarette in Orange’s mouth dropped to the floor as his jaw went slack, eyes widening. He stood rooted to the spot, taking in the sight of you two.

            “Oh my stars,” he gasped again, suddenly rushing forward. “Blue, what happened? Are you alright? Are you okay Ducky? What happened to you two?” He fretted over the both of you, sweat beading on his skull. “What should I do? Should I call Asgore? He knows healing magic…”

            That was when you started giggling, and Blue began to grin once more. The panicked look on Orange’s face turned to confusion, quickly followed by annoyance as you tumbled from your precarious post. Blue moved to catch you, though he needn’t have bothered – you fell straight into his bandana, caught in the soft folds. Still giggling, you rolled over to look up at the stormy look on Orange’s face.

            He was certainly less than pleased, which had led to you and Blue being put in time out while he muttered to himself as he left for Muffet’s. Now, as the two of you stared at the wall, your lips began to curl.

            “Heh. He was freaked.”

            “Shhhhh! We’re in trouble!”

            “It was funny!”

            “No it wasn’t.”

            Despite his denial, his grin stretched a bit.

            “Oh c’mon, the look on his face? The way he jumped like a frightened Chihuahua? It was hilarious!”

            Blue snorted a bit, but quickly tried to cover it. “No, no, it wasn’t funny!” He smothered another chuckle.

            “Fine, it wasn’t funny.” Still grinning, you watched the wall, idly kicking your feet when you realized something was wrong. “Blue – where’s my other shoe?”

 

 

 

Eye Am Not Amused

 

Mobsy and Indigo

 

            “I don’t like this,” you declared, opening and closing your fingers around empty air, longing for the feel of steel rod beneath them.

            “It’s not exactly a cake walk for me, either.” Mobsy – god, he hated that nickname, which was why you used it. “Just sit tight.”

            “Like I can do anything else.” You crossed your arms in a pout and sat against the curved, pitted surface behind you. It was comfortable, you had to admit – aside from the suffocating darkness and the fact that you were, technically, trapped, it wasn’t a bad place to sit and rest.

            “Just be quiet,” Mobsy snapped, and the surface beneath you tilted a bit as he moved his head. “They’ll be here soon.”

            You listened for all of half a minute. “So why isn’t there any light in here? I mean, you have two huge eye sockets, a nose-hole, and, like, gaps between your teeth, right? Shouldn’t I be able to see them? It should be like being inside a jack-o-lantern, shouldn’t it?”

            A long-suffering sigh that echoed all around you, like a movie played on surround-sound, was your only answer. Your pursed your lips and tapped your fingers against the rough bone beneath you.

            “Stop that, it feels weird.” The surface tilted a bit and you barely caught yourself. “It looks like that cause of magic, okay? Now shut up and sit still.”

            “Fine,” you grumbled, “No need to be an ass about it.”

            He growled, which sent shivers up your spine – you were sitting at the base of his skull, where it connected to the rest of his body, meaning you were right above his throat and the magical organs that provided his voice.

            Several more moments passed in silence, then the bone vibrated once more. “They’re here. No matter what happens, be quiet and don’t move.”

            You obeyed, knowing better than to go against that tone of voice. Outside of the bone (which was brilliant for picking up noises – the thugs voices were loud and clear to you), several people began to bellow.

            “Well, well, if it isn’t the short stack.” A deep, gravelly voice greeted

            “The shortest,” Mobsy responded with levity, forced cheer in his voice.

            “Heh, cute. So, you know the drill.”

            “It’s been a few months since our last date. Remind me, sweetums?”

            The world rocked sharply to the side, and you barely bit your lip in time to keep a yelp of shock in.

            “Remember now?”

            “It’s coming back to me.” Mobsy slowly rolled his head back upright, and you just as slowly laid down on your side, minimizing the chance you had of falling if he got hit again.

            In all the training the Mob Clan had given you, being quiet while sitting in Sans skull while he was being beaten for information was not one of the situations you’d foreseen.

            “Good. Now, why were you sneakin’ around in our ‘offices’?”

            “Your offices? Yeesh, ya might wanna ask yer boss fer an upgrade.”

            The world tilted again as he was hit, and you closed your eyes and held back a pained whimper when your head bounced off the inside of his own.

            “Tell me: What. Are. You. Doing. Here.”

            “I don’t think your clearance is high enough for me to answer that.”

            Once more the world rocked around you, accompanied by a sharp cracking sound this time. Mobsy snarled in pain, and you cringed at the thought of another scar on his face.

            “Heh, you hit like a whimsun.”

            THOCK

            Oooh, that was blood, wasn’t it? And skeletons didn’t bleed, meaning it was your blood. You ran a hand through your hair and felt warmth staining your roots, while more dripped from your nose, seeping between your lips to coat your tongue in copper. Heh, maybe you and Mobsy would have matching scars by the end of this.

            Mobsy made a low moan in his throat, sounding a little dazed by that last hit. Then again, he may have been moaning to cover your own groan of pain.

            “Careful, boys,” he growled, “You know I’ve only got one HP to spare.”

            “Heh. We know just how much you can take.” A soft tapping echoed, as though someone was bouncing their fingers off Mobsy’s head. “This isn’t our first rodeo with a Sans.”

            “You’ve been cheating on me with other clans? I’m hurt.”

            The gravelly voice laughed. “Not yet you’re not.”

            “AND YOU WON’T BE!”

            The voice was accompanied by a loud ‘bang’ as a door (or wall, or window…there was no telling with this particular skeleton) was knocked down. Unlike some other iterations from other clans, your tall skeleton wasn’t partial to monologue-ing the villains.  Instead, a quick succession of ‘thwaks’ and ‘smacks’ echoed outside the skull you were stuck in, followed by the sound of bodies hitting the floor.

            “SANS, YOU LAZY BONES! YOU AREN’T EVEN TIED UP!”

            “I couldn’t leave the evidence behind, Paps. Big Boss woulda had my ass.”

            “You don’t have an ass!”

            “Sans, I can hear the Reader, but I don’t see them. Where are they?”

            “Oh, right.”

            You sat up (now that Mobsy’s head had stilled, no longer being knocked about by the idiot thug) and watched as a line of light opened in front of you. Without waiting for you Mobsy, you crawled across the bottom of his skull and poked your head out between his teeth.

            “Hi, Stretch!” You waved a bit, and the tall, sharply-dressed skeleton frowned at both of you.

            “I do not believe that is sanitary,” he remarked, leaning his bone club up against one shoulder and tilting his fedora back with his free hand.

            Mobsy, since he didn’t need to move his teeth to speak, easily spoke around you, voice not muffled at all. “Eh, we bathe ‘em at least once a week.”

            “Yeah, I’m clean!”

            “You’re bleeding.”

            You paused, then reached up and touched your nose and hair. They came away bloody, and Stretch leaned forward and held his hand out for you to crawl into. The bone club disappeared, magic disappearing to settle back into his bones.

            “Honestly, I cannot leave you two alone for a moment without you getting into trouble.” He grumbled, running a thumb over the new cracks on Mobsy’s face. “I expect this from you, Indigo, but Sans you should really be a better role model!”

            “Me?” Mobsy ducked away from his worrying little brother and began to move about the lab once again, picking up where the two of you had left off. “It was their idea to hide in my skull!”

            “Liar!” You accused cheerfully as Stretch settled you in the breast pocket of his impeccable suit, feeling a bit light headed from the hit you’d taken. “Hey, where’d you put my sword?”

            Mobsy picked the scalpel you carried with you from his pocket, but ignored your grabby hands and put it back in his pocket. He gathered up the papers Big Boss wanted, then turned to his bro. “Okay, all done, let’s go before Indi stains your suit.”

            Stretch waited until his brother was passing him to smack the back of his head. “Honestly, Sans, your manners are appalling.” He handed you a piece of monster candy as he followed Mobsy out of the lab, and you sucked on it happily, doing your best to forget the past fifteen minutes of odd, jarring interrogation.

            One thing was for sure – you were never sneaking out on a mission with Sans again!

Chapter Text

            “2P, attack the box.”

            “B-but it’s moving…”

            “Attack the box, 2P.”

            “Is – is there something alive in there?”

            “P1, this is your final warning. Attack the box.”

            “N-n-n-no! Not i-i-if it’s going to hurt s-someone!”

            “It is not a someone, it is a something, and it will not feel pain. Attack. The. Box.”

            “No, I won’t, I won’t attack it, I-“

            “2P, attack the box or 1S will be terminated.”

            “…”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

            CRACK

 

            “Good work, 2P.”

 


 

 

            “Sans?”

            “Yeah, bro?”

            “Am I a bad monster?”

            “What? No! You’re the best monster I know.”

            “But…but today, in the lab…there was someone in that box…what if it was another monster?”

            “I don’t think it was, bro.”

            “What do you mean?”

            “You didn’t gain any XP or LVL, did you?”

            “No…”

            “See? There was nothing in the box. It was probably some mechanical thing that made it shake.”

            “Oh – Oh! That makes sense.”

            “Yeah. Get some sleep, bro. You didn’t hurt anybody.”

            “Nyeh! Thanks, Sans! Good night!”

            “Heh, night bro.”

 


 

            The glow-in-the-dark clock at the end of the hall read 12:01 when the building was rocked by a violent explosion. Sans, who always slept on the outside of the cot he and Papyrus shared, was shaken off the bed and landed on the floor with a surprised yelp. His younger brother rolled over and peered down at him, sleep clinging to his sockets and a yawn lingering on his teeth.

            “Brother, are you alright?” He jumped off the cot and helped Sans sit up, small hands worrying over his skull and searching for new divots or cracks.

            “I’m fine, bro.” Sans muttered quietly as several of the gray-hued monsters that worked for the doctor rushed by, ignoring the various test subjects trapped in their cells. A second explosion rocked the floor beneath them, and the smaller skeleton fell on top of his brother with a surprised yelp.

            “Wh-wh-what was that?!” Papyrus rolled off his brother’s boney lap and crawled over to the bars that separated the cell from the hallway. “Why are all the doctors running away?”

            Sans followed and pressed his face against the bars, bright eye lights glancing up and down the way. Normally there was at least one guard on the hall, and a scientist was almost always present. Now, the hall was empty, not an adult or authority figure in sight. “Oh my god.” The older skeletons gasped.

            “What is it, brother? What is happening?”

            Sans didn’t answer – he dragged his brother away from the bars, sitting him firmly on the cot. “Sit here for a minute,” he demanded, ignoring the question. He faced the bars and took a deep breath, hoping that whatever chaos was happening in the main part of the building would give them enough time to do this. Ignoring Paps questions, he dragged his magic past the barrier of the collar latched around his neck and shoved it, as hard as possible, at the bars.

            An explosion of blinding cerulean light shot from his hands and decimated the bars, melting them into unrecognizable shapes and leaving more than enough room for the two skeletons to escape.

            Sans dropped his hands as the collar around his neck buzzed angrily, sending a sharp shock of electricity along his spine. He winced, more than used to it, and turned back to his brother with a large grin. “C’mon, bro. We’re getting outta here.”

            Shocked, Papyrus slipped off the bed and took his big brothers outstretched hand. “Where are we going, Sans?”

            “Somewhere safe, Paps.” He squeezed his brothers hand and tugged him through the bars. “Somewhere free.”

 


 

            When K-3-18 was taken, you knew it was the last time any of you would see him. The tall, thin scientist that ran the hell you and your fellow Readers were trapped in only took his subjects out of the room when he was ‘done’ with them. Any day that ended on the inside of your cage was a good day. So as the Intelligent Reader was taken away, he gave you all a halfhearted wave with a trembling hand, knowing he was done for. Few of you waved back, the rest merely looking away, ashamed at the relief they felt at not being chosen.

            The doctor did not return until late that evening, and he was furious when he did so. He muttered angrily beneath his breath, things about ‘P1’ and ‘willfulness’ and ‘disobedience.’ He ignored the wall of cages that housed all his subjects, moving instead to his large cabinets on the far side of the room. With a flourish of tailored sleeves, he threw open the very top and pulled out a shiny brown bottle that sloshed unpleasantly. He grabbed a beaker, checked to see if it was clean, then poured a few fingers of the alcohol in it and downed the shot in one. You and the others hid sighs of relief – the doctor never ran any of his terrible ‘experiments’ when drunk, or even simply buzzed.

            “Father?”

            The tallest of the three skeletons that you and your fellow Readers had gotten to know over the past few months stuck his head through the door, followed quickly by his lanky body. You had taken to calling him Stringbean in your head. His father was the Doctor, and his brother was Cigs (because he ALWAYS had a cigarette in hand or wedged between his teeth).

            Stringbean rolled his eyes (somehow) when he saw the alcohol in his father’s hand but didn’t mention it. “We are about to post the Readers. Are you ready to watch the bidding?”

            “Yes, son, I am coming.” The doctor capped the bottle and put it back in the cabinet, then carelessly tossed the dirty beaker into the nearest sink. Stringbean held the door open until he’d gone through, then tossed the wall of cages a quick, concerned look. You liked Stringbean – unlike the Doctor and Cigs, he never participated in the experiments run on you all. He only ever came in to watch or talk, and whenever he saw the doctor testing some of his more…bloody hypotheses, his skull would pale and he’d be quick to make an excuse to leave. True, ‘not torturing you’ wasn’t high on the list of things that made a person likable, but for a lab rat it was a big factor.

            As soon as the door swung shut the half-dozen of you still trapped in cages relaxed, knowing you’d all survived another day. Those who shared a space spoke softly to each other, while the rest of you moved to settle down for the night. Nobody knew who would go tomorrow, but you’d all found out quickly after arriving here that there was no use worrying about it. What would happen, would happen, and there was nothing you could do to escape your fate.

            Not even five minutes after Stringbean and Doctor left an explosion rocked the entire building, shuddering through the floor and vibrating tools off their trays. The cages, stacked a bit crookedly by a lab assistant who had been running late, trembled on top of one another. You were lucky enough to be in the bottom cage – above you, the others whined and yelled as the world jerked about them. Slowly everything settled, and you crawled to the front of your cage and tried to crane your neck to see the others.

            “Are you all okay?” You yelled, unable to help but be worried about them. One of the older Readers – long gone by now – had called you a ‘bleeding heart’ when you’d tried to check on everyone every night. A few of them yelled affirmatives back. Just as you began to relax, a second, much larger and much closer explosion hit, knocking you clear to the back of the cage and deafening you.

            Several minutes – or was it hours? Days? No, you were still in the cage, and smoke from the explosion was beginning to fill the room – your jumbled mind settled enough to form coherent thoughts.

            You were alive.

            The room was on fire.

            The other cages had fallen.

            It was silent.

            With a groan you dragged yourself upright and crawled to the edge of your cage. The door had popped open, the latch bent out of shape. Coughing as the smoke began to cloud the room, drifting low enough to make your eyes water, you very carefully stepped out of your prison and into – hopefully – freedom.

            “Guys?” Pulling the collar of your stained gray hospital gown over your mouth and nose, you moved to the nearest cage and peeked inside. It was empty, aside from a small pile of gray-white dust. You had to swallow the bile that threatened to spew at the sight. Quickly, you moved to the next cage, then the next, only to be met with the same sight: dust. The fall had been hard enough, or the smoke cruel enough, to leave only six small piles of dust waiting for you.

            Knees shaking you backed away from the cages, breath stunted but not from the smoke. A third explosion – this one far away, only sending a faint tremble through the tiled floor – knocked you on your ass and put your thoughts in gear. You had to get out of this room before you turned into dust alongside them. Tears could be shed later.

            The door to the lab was open, and after tripping past the fallen tools you made it past the metal slab and into the hallway. Parts of the walls were burning and sparking wires hung from the ceiling, but it seemed safe enough to traverse for the moment. There were no doctors or scientists or monsters in the way, and the smoke was a bit thinner here – some of the windows along the wall had been blown out, giving it a way to escape (though they were far too high to provide an out for you).

            At least the lights work, you comforted yourself as you crawled over a fallen slab of ceiling tile and barely avoided sliding into a puddle from a broken water main. You made it all the way to the first intersection before seeing a monster.

            “Sans, c’mon, this way!”

            “Wait up, Paps!”

            Two skeletons, very unlike the doctor and his son, stopped as they entered the large main hall you’d been traversing. They were short and had rounded faces with large eyes, like children. Each of them wore a gray-green hospital gown, identical to your own. The larger one – Sans – grabbed the other one’s arm and peered cautiously around the corners before letting him go.

            “Calm down, Paps. We have to be careful so nobody sees up, remember?” He chided the younger skeleton gently.

            “But brother, we have to hurry! It is not safe to be surrounded by fire like this!” Paps whined, eyes glancing to the shattered windows.

            Sans rested a hand on his brother’s skull, having to look down a bit to do so. “I know bro, but we can’t risk getting caught or they’ll stop us.” His eyes, already aimed at the floor, swept along the tiles and, as fate dictated, fell on you.

            You’d been silent and frozen ever since the two had appeared, half-hoping they wouldn’t see you, while at the same time hoping they could point you to a way out of the building. Sans went stiff, eyes widening just a bit before the bones relaxed, identifying you as the least-threatening variable at the moment.

            “Sans, what are you staring at?” Paps tugged on his brother’s arm, shifting around so he could look down at you. “Oh! What is that?”

            “I dunno, bro,” Sans wrapped a hand around his brothers humerus, keeping him from moving closer.

            “Hello! What are you?” Paps greeted cheerily, leaning closer despite his brother’s grip.

            The bright, kind smile on his face broke you out of the statuesque state and you relaxed marginally – these were kids, not scientists. “Uh, I’m N-2-47.”

            Paps frowned, but recognition lit up Sans eyes. “That’s a serial number. You’re an experiment too?”

            “You’re like us!” Paps beamed. “I’m Papyrus, and this is my brother Sans! Oh, but the doctor calls us WDG-2-P and WDG-1-S!”

            “Not for long,” Sans growled beneath his breath, eyes sliding to the windows. They were far too tall for either boy to climb out of, but you kept your mouth shut.

            “Are you running away too?” Papyrus had managed to shrug off his brothers slackened grip and he moved to kneel in front of you. “Sans says we’re going to go somewhere free! Do you want to come with us?”

            “Papyrus, no!” Sans rounded on his brother as he hissed. “We can’t-“

            “Why not, Sans? They’re all alone! We should help them.” Papyrus, despite having no lips, gave his brother a very convincing puppy-dog face. The (obviously) elder brother sighed and ran a hand down his face.

            “Fine! Grab them and let’s go before the doctor comes back!”

            Papyrus beamed like the sun after a rainstorm and, without asking (though you’d never been asked before) swept you up into his hands. You gasped, knocked onto your rear, and he gave you an apologetic look. “Oh, I’m sorry! Are you okay?”

            “I’m fine,” you reassured him, not wanting to see such a look on a child’s face. One of the older Readers had always accused you of being a ‘bleeding heart,’ what with the way you tried to look after everyone trapped in the lab.

            “Papyrus,” Sans was gazing at the windows. He couldn’t see any glass sticking out of the sills, and beyond it were street lights and the faint sound of fire trucks. “This is the best way out. Give me, uh, N-2, and jump to the sill.”

            “Okay!” Papyrus happily dropped you into his brother’s hands, and you absently noticed that Sans had shorter, rounder fingers than Sans.

            “Wait, he’s not tall enough to…jump…through…”

            Your argument died on your lips as the small skeleton shut his eyes tightly and began to shift. His nose elongated, turning into a snout as his skull stretched. His arm bones shifted, hands melding into paws with sharp talons on the end. His legs did the same, and tail elongating from his tailbone to create a lashing whip that was nearly as long as the rest of him. In a matter of moments, the skeleton child had become a skeleton puppy.

            “…whoa.”

            Sans snorted, then motioned to the puppy. Papyrus – or would it be Pup-pyrus? – wiggled his new tail, took a few steps back, and with only a few steps managed to launch himself straight up the wall. His claws scrambled to grab the sill, and he easily hauled himself up to sit. You were still gaping when a light cyan magic surrounded you and lifted you towards the window.

            “Gah! What?”

            “Chill, small fry, it’s just magic,” Sans explained as he used his magic to lift you to the sill. Papyrus crouched down a bit, and you were set gently on his vertebrae, just behind his skull. “Hold on tight, Paps is gonna jump out now.”

            “Wait, what?” You yelled again, immediately grasping the bones beneath you, squeezing your knees tightly. When you leaned over to look down at Sans, you found a larger bone puppy staring back.

            Papyrus wiggled, yelped, and threw himself from the window. You shrieked, flattening yourself against his vertebrae, the wind tearing your hair from your face and making your gown flap about your arms and legs. The small pup landed lightly, though you still jolted from the impact. Not even a moment later Sans joined you, taller and stockier than his brother. He growled something you couldn’t understand and looked around. Papyrus practically pressed himself against his brother and the three of you took in your surroundings.

            The side of the building faced a road, which was bathed with red light from several fire trucks (which were luckily parked in the lot several yards away, more concerned with the fires in the lobby and approved labs). Across from the lab were large buildings that looked like warehouses. Beyond them the night sky seemed to lighten a bit, stars fading out as the blaze of the city dimmed the Milky Way.

            Sans growled something again, nodding towards the light, and led the way across the street and among the warehouses. From your spot riding on Papyrus, you twisted around and stared at the burning group of buildings behind you. Somehow, someway, you’d escaped the fate the Doctor had in store for you.

            Relief and something else – something red and warm – filled you as you turned to face forward again. Unable to help the grin on your face, you patted Papyrus’ skull as he followed his brother towards the city, where fate was waiting to be rewritten for all of you.

Chapter Text

             Papyrus found the crate while trying to goad Sans into playing tag. He’d dashed off into the woods that bordered the far side of the park, yelping cheerfully. Sans had grumbled and groaned but followed, with you clutching tightly to the spikes of his spine. He’d taken off in a lazy lope, keeping his brother’s wiggling tail just in sight as he tried to maneuver around the brush. The young skeleton still had a bit of trouble running about on four legs, despite being reasonably confident on two.

            The park had been the first place Sans had found after the three of you escaped the labs. There was a large rectangle of trimmed grass and paved walkways that was frequented by monsters, going to and from the central fountain or visiting the playgrounds with their children. The north, south, and eastern sides of the park had sturdy brick fences to keep out the noise of the bustling Ebott City beyond the walls. Bordering the park on the western side was a thick forest, which tumbled all the way down the mountain to the more residential areas. It provided the three of you more than enough hiding places, and Papyrus had declared that he was going to learn it like the back of his hand in no time. He’d then seen a new scratch on the back of his hand and panicked for half-an-hour.

            The two nights the three of you had spent there so far had been dry, but the morning of the third day had begun overcast and heavy, clouds hanging low enough to almost touch, it seemed. Sans had left Papyrus and you resting under a bench far away from the main path while he scrounged up some breakfast – half-eaten Glambagles from the stand near the fountain. You always had to pick off the sequins, and Sans hated the ones that had glitter, but Papyrus was happy to devour whatever came his way.

            It was right after breakfast that Papyrus decided he wanted to play. Fueled with day-old Glambagles, he shifted into his dog form and dashed off, yelping cheerfully over his shoulder. You were sitting on Sans knee, still picking off sequins from your bite of bagel when the youngster dashed off.

            “Paps, where are you going?” Sans made to stand and nearly threw you off. He paused when you yelped and grabbed onto the loose hoodie he’d found forgotten on a park bench a day ago. He grabbed you and lifted you off his knee so he could stand, sitting you on his shoulder, where his neck met his clavicle and you could hold on.

            Papyrus barked something cheerfully, dancing on his paws, moving a bit farther away from the two of you before coming back, yelping again.

            “Ugh, bro, I don’t want to play right now.”

            Papyrus whined again, backing away and sticking his tail end up in the air, the front of his ribs nearly brushing the grass as he growled, then let out a pleading yelp. He pranced back, and Sans sighed upon realizing that he wouldn’t be talking his baby bro out of his sugar rush.

            “Wanna play tag, Silver?”

            You nibbled the last bite of bagel and stuck the final sequin to his jacket like a sticker. “Sure! You deserve to play some too, Sans. You’ve been working too hard.”

            He snorted something that sounded like ‘mother hen’ and moved away from the bench so he had room to shift. “Hang on, then.” As you’d seen several times, he fell forward, arms held out to catch himself. Before he touched the ground his bones shifted, and paws landed on the grass. You tangled your hands in his hoodie, holding on tightly as he fell. He used one of his front paws to boost you up, so you were straddling one of his vertebrae close to his skull. With a playful growl, he took off after his brother.

            They ran about for fifteen minutes, you holding on as tight as you could to the ridges of Sans spine to keep from falling off or, more likely, from being thrown. Papyrus was beyond ecstatic at having his brother playing alongside him, and he showed it through incredibly sharp turns, jumps, and twists, half of which made your heart stutter in worry. He dashed away from the paths, towards the forest, and Sans began to slow down a bit.  

            Papyrus dove into the brush that had sprung up among the towering trees, his tail standing like a white flag pole above the brambles and leaves. Sans whined in worry and picked up his pace, not wanting to lose sight of his brother. You shifted a bit so you could see over his elongated skull, yelping in alarm when a leaf almost whipped you in the face.

            Sans tried to twist his skull around to see you and got whipped across the eye with a branch. He slid to a halt, whimpering and pawing at his socket. Ahead, Papyrus’ wagging tail stopped, and his head popped up over some bushes, tilted just so to achieve an expression of adorableness alongside worry. He bounced back over as you scrambled to stand on Sans spine, trying to see if he’d gotten cut or scraped.

            “Sans! Sans!” Ah, Papyrus had changed back He rushed up and patted his brother’s cheeks, peering at him closely. “Are you okay, brother?” Sans answered in their odd dog language, and Papyrus’ gaze moved to you. “Ah, right! C’mere, Silver!” He rested his hands on top of Sans skull and made grabby fingers at you. You had to lean forward and grab the top of Sans brow bones to pull yourself onto his forehead and within reach, and the skeleton twitched a bit as you touched a tickling spot. Papyrus’ small fingers closed around you and he lifted you to his chest, beaming.

            You smiled back and, very deliberately, laid a hand on his finger. “Tag, you’re it!”

            He gasped, dramatically, as his brother changed back and rubbed at his eye socket, seeming okay. “How sneaky!” He claimed, though he didn’t sound put out at losing. You grinned and hugged his top finger.

            “Good game, Papyrus!”

            “Yeah, good try, bro,” Sans had cleared his eye socket of any residual sticky-ness (ooh, you’d have to tell him that pun later!) and clapped a hand down on Paps skull. “You get enough to eat for breakfast?”

            Papyrus bounced a bit. “Yeah! It was really good – I love Glambagels! Can we have them every day?”

            Sans grimaced, and you answered before he could. “That’s not healthy, Papyrus. You need a balanced breakfast, not just one thing all the time.”

            “Oh.” Papyrus looked a bit downtrodden at the idea of having to eat something else, but he quickly bounced back. “Oh, brother, guess what I found!” He used his free hand to grab his brothers arm and tugged him forward. “Over here!”

            His grand fine was a large crate – the kind furniture was sent in, like couches and refrigerators. Instead of cardboard, it was wood, slats crisscrossing to form a large cube with more than enough room for the three of you. Papyrus dragged Sans over to it, standing proudly beside the open mouth, where the lid of the crate had been ripped off and thrown aside. It was on its side, so the inside was dry, if a little dirty.

            “Look, Sans, look! I found us a home!” Papyrus was bouncing, rattling your stomach about a bit but his excitement was contagious.

            Sans was looking at the box with bright eyes, and his permanent grin widened a bit. “Nice job, Pap!” He tapped the top of the crate (which was almost as tall as he was) with his knuckles, and nodded in satisfaction when it didn’t collapse.

            “It’ll be perfect!” Papyrus dropped to his knees and set you on the ground beside the box. “Look, here’s the living room, and here’s the kitchen, and here’s where we’ll sleep!” He crawled into the box and pointed as he spoke.

            His brother, meanwhile, was mumbling to himself. “We can get a fake top to put on so nobody can see us, and as long as we always leave a different way we won’t leave a trail. Nobody on the path can see back here,” he was tapping his chin, looking about the surrounding brush for the original lid, though he couldn’t see it.

            As the two were lost in their rambling, you took your own stock of the situation. The crate would need a curtain or something to keep out the rain and wind, and the boys would need something soft to sleep on. A box for food, so animals wouldn’t be able to get to it. A toy or two for Papyrus, so he wouldn’t be bored. A book for Sans, for the very same reason. A bored Sans was a punning Sans, and a punning Sans led to an annoyed Papyrus. It had only been three days and you’d figured out that much.

            You finally clapped your hands, the sharp sound getting both boys attention. Their hearing was better than the average monsters, thanks to their dog side, which made conversation with them easy.

            “Alright, boys,” you grinned up at Sans as Papyrus eagerly poked his head out of the box. “Let’s fix up our home!”

 


 

            It was a masterpiece in progress – a patchwork of fabrics and discarded materials working together to form a home. Sans had found most of it – the curtain covering the entrance to the box, the soft blankets and pillows that smelled faintly of mildew and long-forgotten laundry soap, the round cookie tin that held food safely for the next meal – all of it had been found by Sans while out on searches through the city. The colorful masterpieces tacked to the wall were all Papyrus, however – pages from discarded books, pictures colored with a box of crayons Sans had found near a toy store (some on paper, some on the wood itself), scraps of pretty cloth he wanted to have to brighten up the room.

            It was one hundred percent Papyrus and Sans. You couldn’t be more proud of your boys and the home they’d built. In the past month, they’d become your boys, without you even noticing it. Everything they achieved, you felt pride in. Every time they woke up from nightmares, you were there to soothe them. Every fall, you worried over their scrapes, every morning you greeted them with smiles and kind words. They quickly wormed their way into your silver SOUL, and you couldn’t have been happier.

            Well, scratch that – you could have been happier, if there was a true roof above your heads and gold in your pockets. Many nights you snuck your bit of dinner onto Papyrus or Sans lap so they could have a little extra, even if it was only a bite. You ate enough to survive, but the boy’s health was more important. Besides, Sans needed the extra energy – he was the one running all over the town in the early mornings and late evenings, getting you and Papyrus food and clothing and things in the first place.

            When Sans was away, you stayed with Papyrus. The two of you would wander the playgrounds together, and the young skeleton would often watch the other monster children play from afar. For some reason, he was very hesitant to go play with them, even when they waved and beckoned for him. When you asked, he said he was happy playing with you and would leave the kids to their fun.

            Sometimes, Papyrus went with Sans. Night would fall and the two would shift into their dog forms and head out to explore alleys and dig through trash cans for prizes – food or toys, anything that caught their interest. You’d gone the first night, but Sans had been attacked by a stray cat and you’d been thrown off his back. You’d escaped with a few bruises and a scrape on your elbow, but the boys both freaked out and brought you straight home. Sans declared that you weren’t coming with them anymore, and set Papyrus to ‘guard’ you for the night. The youngster took the duty to heart, keeping you in his lap all night, even as he fell asleep, waiting for Sans to come back.

            Tonight Sans was on a solo-hunt; he was able to move faster and grab more when he wasn’t worrying over Papyrus, and the tin of food was almost empty. Papyrus was happily humming to himself as he drew a picture with his crayons. The curtain that covered the entrance to the box was pulled back to let in the fading sunlight, giving him enough to see.

            “Silver,” he called, unnecessarily, as you were sitting beside his paper, watching him color in a bright yellow sun. “Look! I drew us!” Beneath the sun were three stick figures – one in a blue hoodie, one with a big smiley face and a red scarf, and on his shoulder was a gray blob that was too small to have a facial expression. They were standing on a green hill, the perfect picture of a happy family.

            “It looks wonderful, Papyrus!” You stood and carefully stepped onto the page, making sure your bare feet didn’t trail any dirt. “I see Sans, and I see me, but who is that dashing skeleton in the middle?”

            Papyrus’ ribs puffed out beneath his t-shirt in pride. “That’s me! The GREAT Papyrus!”

            You laid down beside the Papyrus stick figure, joining the line and pretending to hold onto his outstretched hand. “You are pretty great, Paps,” you agreed, and he let out a triumphant ‘NYEH HEH HEH!’ before dissolving into giggles.

            “You are very great too, Silver!” Papyrus rocked back a bit, beaming. “You look like part of the picture! Oh, hold still!” He snatched up the gray crayon and leaned over the page, orange tongue sticking out of the corner of his mouth in concentration. He carefully pressed the tip of the crayon to the paper beside your head, and traced it around your still form. The smell of wax and paper was heavy, almost overwhelming, and you were relieved when he took the crayon away. “Get up, get up!” He prodded you in the side gently, rolling you over, so you were sprawled on top of Sans now. He began coloring you in with vigor, though he took care to stay inside the lines. You’d just sat up to watch, brushing flakes of crayon off your action figure shirt, when Sans burst in.

            There was a rip in the neck of his hoodie that hadn’t been there when he left, and a few dots of bright blue magic clung to his skull as sweat. “We gotta go,” he said without preamble, scooping you up off the paper. Faintly, from beyond the box, you heard a voice.

            “Wait, please! I only want to talk to you!”

            The boys, despite not having muscles, both tensed. Sans grabbed Paps arm and hauled him upright, holding him close. He glanced down at you, sockets calculating, before coming to a decision. He released Papyrus long enough to unzip the top of his hoodie and shoved you inside, so you were tangled in his ribs.

            “Sans, what-“ He shushed you and zipped up his hoodie just as the voice came closer. You shifted so you were on the inside of his ribs, legs thrown over one set, arms draped over the other, holding yourself up. It was like sitting on a set of monkey bars.

            “Ah, there you are. I’m sorry for scaring you…” The mysterious voice said, and Sans shifted uncomfortably – you could hear the scuff of Papyrus’ feet on the wooden floor of the box as Sans tried to hide him.

            “Hello! Who are you?”

            Sans utterly failed at hiding Papyrus, and you could imagine it right now – the child poking his head around his brother, all sunshine and smiles, believing the best in any monster, despite having lived as an experiment in a lab. Sans hushed hiss of ‘Papyrus!’ completed the picture.

            “Ah, hello there!”

            “Hello!” Papyrus parroted again. “You look familiar. Who are you?”

            “Papyrus, it’s the doctor.”

            Any levity you’d found in the situation before was gone at Sans declaration – the doctor? The doctor had found you? No wonder he’d run back to try and hide you and Papyrus!

            “No, he’s not. Look! His scars are all different-y.” If you weren’t swallowing down a panic attack at the thought of being taken back to the lab (or more likely dusted in the doctors thin, sharp phalanges) you would have chided Papyrus for his manners.

            Sans made a sharp move to the side, and you heard Papyrus’ feet rush across the floor and onto dirt. “See, Sans? His face is – oh, can you lean down please, mister? Thanks! – see, his face is all smooth!”

            “Ah, I suppose you had a bad experience with one of my counterparts?” Now that you had connected them, you could hear a bit of the doctor’s cadence in the voice, though it was much softer, not nearly as rough or unkind.

            Sans relaxed a bit; you could feel his shoulders slump, clinging to his ribs as you were. “Heh, well, you smoothed that out, didn’t ya, bro?”

            Papyrus let out a cry of annoyance, while the not-doctor chuckled in appreciation of the pun. “Hmph,” you could hear the pouting in Papyrus’ voice.

            “What do you mean, counterpart?” Sans asked, zeroing in on the odd word.

            “Ah, well, in quite a fascinating cosmic tangle of events, every alternate of our universes empty into this one place in space-time. Because of that, many versions of many monsters walk the same streets. For example, I know of a Dr. Gaster who is the royal scientist for King Asgore. I also know a Mr. Gaster who excels at dancing hip-hop.

            Papyrus giggled, but Sans ribs vibrated a bit as he hummed in though. “What kind of Gaster are you?” He asked, tone under laid with suspicion.

            “I am a Mister Gaster,” the kind voice reassured them, “I work at the castle as the Royal Librarian.”

            “Wowie!” Papyrus exclaimed, glee in his voice. “What’s a librarian?”

            Librarian Gaster chuckled. “A librarian takes care of books.”

            “We have books!” The world rocked as Sans was jostled, as Papyrus darted back into the crate, then right back out. “See! This one is my favorite, ‘Peek-A-Boo With Fluffy Bunny.’ Sans reads it to me almost every night!”

            “Does he? You have a wonderful big brother, huh?”

            “I do, he’s the best!” You bit back a yelp as Papyrus collided with Sans and tightened your grip on the older skeletons ribs to keep from falling. Mister Gaster made a sound, like he was about to start talking, when Papyrus’ stomach let out a loud roar. Well, it sounded like a loud roar to you; he was still standing right next to Sans, and their bones tended to make sound echo.

            “It sounds like you could use a good meal,” Mr. Gaster commented, sounding amused. “I know a place downtown with a hot bartender that’ll cook whatever you’re in the mood for.”

            “Oooh! Do they have Glambagels?”

            You could feel Sans roll his eyes, without having to look, even as Mr. Gaster chuckled. “No, but there’s plenty to choose from – more than you can eat in one meal!”

            “Wowie!” Papyrus feet went from the wood floor to the forest soil, patting lightly. “C’mon, Sans! It’s rude to keep new friends waiting!”

            “Papyrus, I don’t think we should be bothering Mr. Gaster.” Sans sounded hesitant, but also wanting – you were certain he was just as hungry as Papyrus, if not more so. You knew you were.

            “I understand if you do not wish to come,” Mr. Gaster’s voice was soft as he spoke directly to Sans, “I can bring food back for you, if you’d like.”

            “Nooooo!” Papyrus whined, and you were reminded that despite the way they acted sometime, the two boys were young children. “Brother, I want to see the hot bartender!” Mr. Gaster made a sound akin to choking down laughter.

            “He will be pleased to hear that,” he let out a low chuckle. “I promise; all I am offering is a good meal. You are free to leave my company whenever you’d like.”

            You could tell Sans resolve was wavering – he was rocking a bit on his feet, which he did when he was thinking hard. Thanking the stars that he had thick ribs that were easy to grasp, you stretched and pulled yourself up a few more, like rungs of a ladder.

            “Sans,” you hissed as quietly as possible, “go. You and Papyrus need to eat.” You didn’t trust this new monster 100%, but both boys were more than capable of taking care of themselves. They could run if they needed to, but if the monsters offer was genuine they could get a hot meal for once.

            He made a ‘hmm’ sound, but finally rocked his head forward. “Alright,” he agreed, stepping out of the crate. You resumed your monkey-like grip on his bones to keep from slipping.

            “Yay! C’mon, Sans, food!” Papyrus bellowed. “Let’s go, Mr. Librarian Man!”

 

 


 

 

            “Firefly?”

            “Mmhmm?”

            “Have you been having a good day?”

            “Mm, yes, it’s been very busy.”

            “Oh, that’s good, but you look a bit tired…”

            “I am, but no more than any other Saturday night. Luckily we’ll have all of tomorrow to be lazy.”

            “Yes, about that, dear…”

            “What is it?”

            “Uh, Grillby, have you ever thought about having kids?”

            The bartender’s arm flew out from beneath him, his hand leaving a scorch mark along the bar where he’d been wiping it down. He barely managed to keep from smashing his face against the shiny wood surface, wincing when the side of his glasses caught on his shoulder and dug into the side of his face.

            “What?!” His head snapped up and he stared at his mate, flames flickering erratically. “Gaster, are you – are you pregnant?!”

            The royal librarian laughed loudly, the sound rolling up from his non-baby-bump belly at the panic on his mates face. “No, no,” he reassured the rapidly-flickering monster. “Grillby, breath, I’m not pregnant. I cannot imagine either of us could handle a flaming skeleton running about.”

            “Ah.” The bartender’s flames turned a lovely shade of blue across his face, clearly displaying his embarrassment for all who knew how to read his expressions. “Sorry, love. You just took me off guard. I thought you were going to tell me we were having a child!”

            The skeleton tented his fingers together and looked over Grillby’s shoulder, refusing to meet his eyes as he tilted his head to the side. “Well…”

            “…what did you do, Gaster?”

            “Mr. Gaster, can we come in now? It’s cold outside!”

            A small skeleton child poked his head through the front door, and Grillby was thankful that the bar was empty at the moment. He leaned heavily on the bar as a second face poked in over the first, this one more rounded with a pair of lazy eyes glancing about in curiosity.

            “Ah, yes, please. Come in.” Gaster, expression a textbook example of ‘sheepish,’ motioned the two children into the building, moving to close the door behind them and usher the two boys over to the bar. The smaller skeleton bounced forward happily, looking about with unbridled curiosity as he clambered up on one of the barstools Gaster motioned him to. The other skeleton child moved slowly, eyes darting about warily, as though he was expecting a sudden attack or surprise. He was hunched over a bit, one hand resting over his stomach. Once he was certain his little brother wasn’t going to fall, he pulled himself up on the neighboring stool.

            Grillby leaned against the bar, looking from the boys to Gaster (who was dodging his gaze as well as he could). Seeing his husband was avoiding tackling the subject head on, he examined the children, taking in their ragged clothes and thin bones. The rounder skeleton had a little crack under one eye, and he was slumping slightly against the bar. His companion was wearing much warmer, cleaner clothes, including a long, red scarf that was more like a cape, and was bouncing as he looked about in delight.

            “Hello!” He noticed Grillby’s gaze and fixed his empty eye sockets on him. “You’re on fire!” His expression became slightly concerned, “Are you supposed to be?”

            There was a distinct sound of bone-hitting-bone as both older skeletons face-palmed at the youngest one’s comment.

            “Ah – yes. Yes, I am a fire elemental. I am supposed to be on fire.” Grillby’s reassurance brought a bright smile to the little skeletons face.

            “Wowie! I’ve never met a fire elemental before!” He squinted up at him, examining the wavy flames and eyes hidden behind the lenses of his half-moon glasses. With very deliberate movements he thrust his arm out, having to shake down the sleeve a bit so his phalanges poked through. “I’m the Great Papyrus!”

            Grillby took the child’s hand, his own large palm completely engulfing the small, fragile bones. Flames tickled Papyrus’ bones, making the child giggle and squirm a bit as they exchanged a firm handshake.

            “It is a pleasure to meet you, Great Papyrus.” Grillby couldn’t help but smile at the enthusiasm in the child’s every move and word. His gaze shifted to the other skeleton, who had a sharp eye on the both of them, despite the bags beneath his sockets and obvious exhaustion in his frame.

            Papyrus followed his gaze and began bouncing again. “Oh, and this is my big brother, Sans!”

            The older skeleton didn’t move to take Grillby’s hand, he just nodded, slumped against the bar a bit. The bartender took in both boys thin, ragged appearance and fragile bones.

            “Are you boys hungry?” He asked, and it was like he’d said the secret word on a children’s show. Sans lifted his head, looking torn between nodding and shaking his head. Papyrus had no such qualms.

            “YES!” He boomed, standing on his stool and leaning over the bar to look at Grillby with wide, excited eyes. “Mr. Gaster said we could come here and have a real dinner! With hot food and condo-ments and hot chocolate with the little marshmallows you have to spend real money to get!”

            Gaster reached out when the boy wobbled a bit, but before he could catch the skeleton a blue glow surrounded him and steadied the stool. Sans’ left eye was flickering with bright blue and yellow magic, though the longer he held it the quicker it began to fade. The child’s shoulders shook a bit as he lowered his arm, lids closing tiredly. The librarian reached out and steadied Papyrus, keeping him from falling. He cast Grillby a look that spoke volumes.

            “Papyrus,” the flame elemental held a hand out to the boy, “Would you like to come into the kitchen and help me make some hot chocolate and hamburgers?”

            “Sure!” Papyrus grabbed his hand and giggled as he stepped up onto the bar top, before allowing himself to be picked up by the bartender. “What’s a ham-burg?”

            “A city in Germany.” Gaster chimed as he took the seat Papyrus had vacated.

            “WOWIE! We’re gonna eat a whole CITY?!”

            Grillby shot his mate an annoyed look and explained that they were not going to eat a city, but instead a special kind of sandwich. Sans watched them like a hawk as Grillby carried the boy through the swinging-door to the kitchen. Gaster was certain that if the child were not dead on his feet, he would be hurrying after his brother.

            “Sans,” he rested a hand on the skeletons head and gently rubbed the bone. The child stiffened, fingers curling into fists. “Grillby will not harm Papyrus. They are simply going to cook dinner for us all.” He shifted his hand so his long, slim pianist fingers (though he’d never taken up piano – he was completely tone deaf according to Grillby and everyone else who came to karaoke night) rested at the back of Sans’ head, his thumb rubbing small circles along the top of the vertebrae where it met the skull in a soothing motion that immediately had the child relaxing.

            Sans shifted and finally released his hoodie, folding his arms in front of him and leaning against the bar to rest his chin on them. Gaster continued to rub soothing circles along his spine as the boy angled his sockets to watch the kitchen – there was a porthole window and Grillby could occasionally be seen passing as he moved about the room, Papyrus riding on one broad shoulder. “I know,” he muttered into the torn, dirty fabric of his hoodie, “He has a good SOUL.” His pin-prick pupils shifted over to look Gaster up and down, lingering on his chest. “You do too.”

            Gaster stopped his ministrations for a moment, then resumed rubbing his spine. “You can see our SOULS?” He asked curiously, certain he had never met the child before, meaning there would be no reason for him to know what their SOULS looked like.

            Sans stiffened a bit when he realized what he’d said, but when Gaster didn’t move to strike him or pull away, he relaxed and spoke softly. “Yeah. I know ‘m not s’posed to be able to see ‘em, but I can.” His eyes drifted back to the kitchen door. “Mr. Grillby’s is really bright and warm, like Paps.” He watched his brother parade past the window, slung over Grillby’s shoulder as he tried to juggle several plates of food and the wiggling child at the same time. His gaze slipped back to Gaster. “But you’re is more…calm. Like a pond without any wind.”

            Gaster raised a brow, a bit worried at the languid way the child spoke. The boy couldn’t be more than seven or eight, but his gaze was so much older. “You’re very poetic,” he remarked, moving to rub a palm along Sans scapula. The boy had been spitting nails when he’d approached him at the park (well, chased Sans down after he caught him trying to pick his pocket, but semantics weren't important right now), but now he seemed to be letting down his guard.

            Perhaps it was because he could see their SOULs? It was a rare but not unheard of talent, though some didn’t like it because it felt ‘invasive.’ Most of the Clan leaders, the Toriel’s and Asgore’s, had some form of SOUL Sight. Seeing that he and his mate were good Monsters must have been relaxing him, calming him down enough to succumb the obvious exhaustion he’d been fighting.

            How long had the pair been on the street? Gaster had asked, but Sans had headed him off with questions about what being a librarian was like. Papyrus had latched onto that and it turned into a longer, drawn out conversation about books and the like before he convinced the pair to come get a bite to eat with him. Looking at the child’s state – bones thinner than normal for his age, sockets hollowed with exhaustion, he wondered if he would even manage to eat whatever Grillby prepared.

            “FOOD!”

            The door was shoved open by an unseen skeleton – Grillby had set the child down so he could carry out four plates of burgers and fries, as well as balance four mugs of hot chocolate. Each mug had miniature marshmallows carefully organized in a smiley face floating on top of the frothy drink.

            “Sans, look! Look! Grillby let me help him make th’ hot chocolate!” Papyrus came into sight as he rounded the bar, saw that Gaster had taken his stool, paused for a moment, then scrambled up onto the skeleton’s lap. “C’mon, wake up lazy bones, it’s rude to sleep through dinner!”

            “I’m up, Paps, I’m up,” Sans assured his brother as he straightened, one hand going back to his non-existent gut, the other propping his chin up. Gaster dropped his hand and rested it on Papyrus’ shoulder, trying to keep the wiggling child from falling off his lap.

            “Just a moment, Papyrus, and I’ll get out of your way.” The librarian smiled softly at the eager child, such a contrast to his big brother.

            Papyrus looked up at him, eyes dancing with curiosity. “Why?” He asked, leaning against the fellow skeletons chest. “We can share the chair!”

            Gaster opened his mouth to say it might not be comfortable, or difficult to eat, but the completely open and trusting expression on Papyrus’ face was enough to kill the words before they reached his tongue. “Ah, well, if you’re sure,” he muttered, glancing at Grillby as the bartender laid out the meal before them.

            Papyrus exclaimed over the food as the plates were set before them, and even Sans managed to sit all the way up and smile at the steam curling off the crisp fries. As Papyrus began to eat with gusto, Grillby rounded the bar and went to the door, flicking the neon sign off and locking it. There was a storm coming in – two feet of snow tonight predicted – and nobody in their right minds would be out with the gathering storm clouds. Heh, then again, half the monsters he knew weren’t in their right mind. Well, Sans – not the child Sans in front of him, all the grown Sanses – could go find their own Grillby’s for the night if they really needed a drink.

            The flame returned to stand behind the bar and ate standing up, keeping an eye on Sans as Gaster tried to keep Papyrus from making a huge mess. The child tackled everything he faced with gusto, including his meal. There was already a chocolate mustache on his lips, and his ragged sweater was stained with flecks of grease and ketchup.

            Sans was more reserved, watching his brother carefully between large bites of the hamburger and fries. He’d drowned them both in ketchup and, when Grillby gave him a smile, he squirted a bunch of the condiment straight into his mouth and swallowed. Papyrus theatrically gagged at the action, while Gaster merely raised a brow. Grillby chuckled and sipped his hot chocolate, flames sparking in amusement.

            Gaster relaxed a bit at his mate’s laughter – he had been worried by the bartender’s reaction when he’d first brought the boy inside, but it seemed Papyrus had softened him up. The pair had been married for years, but had never discussed children. The two skeleton children he’d found living in the park, inside a discarded crate barely big enough for them to share, without proper food or beds, had tugged at his SOUL. Now, listening to them giggle and laugh at each other as they enjoyed their first warm meal in months, he felt that tugging at his SOUL turn into a deep, warm wash of feelings.

            “Mr. Gaster,” Papyrus’ had cleaned his plate and finished his drink, and was no leaning back against the skeleton, eyes drooping, “thank you for giving us dinner. It was really good!”

            Sans, who had begun to slump again, lifted his head and nodded. “Yeah, thanks,” he muttered, before yawning hugely, jaw cracking.

            “Brother, show some manners!” Papyrus chided, though only a moment later he was yawning as well.

            Gaster chuckled and moved so that Papyrus was resting side-ways against his chest, legs thrown over his thigh, face cradled in the crook of his neck. “Let’s get you to bed,” he muttered, rubbing the child’s back.

            “Don’t have a bed,” Papyrus muttered, reaching up to wrap his arms around Gaster’s neck. Sans twitched, trying to stay awake and looking like he wanted to hush Papyrus, but his head was simply too heavy to lift.

            Grillby chuckled and rounded the bar once again, resting a hand on Sans shoulder and squeezing it. “We have a guest bed upstairs you are more than welcome to use,” he jerked his chin up, indicating the second floor.

            Papyrus gave him a sleepy smile, and both adults were certain that was what a cherub would smile like – sweet and innocent, nothing but love and trust in his face. “Thank you,” he was already dropping off, like a stone off a cliff.

            As his mate stood and adjusted Papyrus in his arms, Grillby lifted Sans into his own arms. The child went stiff at being lifted, but after a moment he relaxed against the heat the flame elemental exuded. He kept one hand over his stomach, the other in his pocket, and simply put all his weight against Grillby’s chest.

            Gaster led the way through the kitchen and up the back stairs to their modest second floor apartment. There was a small kitchen (Grillby did most of the cooking, and he used his larger, state-of-the-art kitchen downstairs for it), a large living room with windows facing downhill, towards the residential areas and forests, a decent-sized bathroom, and two bedrooms. The larger he shared with Grillby, the smaller was a guest bedroom that was rarely used.

            The guest bedroom had a large queen-sized bed, more than enough room for the two small skeletons. Gaster shifted Papyrus to one hip and folded down the blankets, noting absently that the little skellies would need baths tomorrow, and the sheets would probably need to be washed after tonight. He would also need to run out and get some clean, good-fitting clothing for the children, maybe some toys as well – Papyrus would most likely want something active, like a ball, while Sans would want something more low-key. Books, maybe some art supplies?

            Grillby settled Sans on the other side of the bed, sitting him on top of the blankets. “Let’s get you out of these layers,” he muttered softly, tugging at the bottom of Sans hoodie. “We don’t want you to get overheated during the night.”

            The boy recoiled as though he’d been struck. “No!” He grabbed his hoodie and yanked it down, farther over his hip bones and torn pants. Grillby immediately released him and took a step back, hands raised.

            “Alright,” he kept his voice low and even. “Alright, that’s fine. I just don’t want you to get too warm while you sleep.”

            Sans leaned forward, one arm wrapped around his stomach, as though protecting himself. Gaster, who had started to help Papyrus out of his layers, shot his mate a worried look but didn’t stop until Papyrus was dressed in just a ratty t-shirt and his long pants. When the librarian went to unwind his scarf, Papyrus jerked back and dug his fingers into the fabric, hiding the bottom half of his face.

            “Alright, under the covers now,” Gaster gently pressed Papyrus’ shoulder, guiding him to the fluffed up pillows at the top of the bed. The little skull easily nestled into the softness, and Gaster noted that the pallor of his skull was off, most likely from a lack of proper calcium. He would need to get some special vitamins while out shopping for them tomorrow…

            Grillby let Sans get under the blankets on his own, but once he was settled he stepped back up to the bed and tucked him in. “If you need anything we’re just next door,” he told the half-asleep pair. Sans nodded, and Papyrus let out a sleepy-sounding ‘nyeh’ as he snuggled deeper into the soft mattress. The two adults left the room, Gaster pausing to turn out the light, though he left the door open.

            “Mr. Gaster?” Sans sleep-heavy voice came from the bed as he propped himself up. “Could you – would it be okay if you shut the door?”

            “Of course.” Gaster rested a hand on the doorknob, understanding the child’s need for feeling safe. “Goodnight, Sans.”

            “Night,” came the sleepy reply as he firmly shut the door.

            Grillby wrapped his arms around his mate from behind and they stood there, staring at the shut door, for several moments before Gaster finally broke the silence.

            “Can we keep them?”

Chapter Text

            You woke in a stuffy, sweltering tent, stretched out on your side next to something hard and bumpy, sweat beading your brow. The light was dim and you could barely see the outline of whatever you had slept against. It smelt musty and dirty, with a lingering odor of ketchup beneath it all. It was a familiar smell; one you knew from many nights of sleeping between the two skelebros. You were in Sans hoodie.

            It took a bit of maneuvering, but you crawled along his spine and across his clavicle. The skeleton child was fast asleep, and didn’t even stir when you dragged yourself out of his hoodie near his chin. You crawled out onto his clothed chest and simply sat for a moment, sucking in several deep breaths as the fresh air chilled the sweat on your face. Besides Sans, Papyrus was half-tangled in the blankets, his own light, squeaky snores interrupting his brothers’ deeper baritones.

            You slid off Sans chest, onto the blankets pooled between the two. Their smooth breathing was a sweet and familiar lullaby. Stretching like a cat, you yawned before curling up in your usual spot between the pairs chest. It was still dark outside – not even the sun had begun to peek over the hills yet, leaving plenty of time for the three of you to rest.

 


 

 

 

            The predicted snow held off until noon the next day, which gave Gaster plenty of time to put his teleporting skills to use and run about the shopping district of Ebott City, purchasing new clothes, toys, and furniture for the two boys currently snoozing away in his guest room. Grillby, the big softy, hadn’t put up a fight at the thought of offering the two boys a home. He’d been a bit cautious, warning that they should really ask the boys first, but Gaster had already vanished, giddy and with a shopping list in hand.

            He returned just as flakes began to drift down, not heavy yet, though the dark clouds promised much more was shortly to come. Grillby was sitting in the living room reading a book (he was partial to murder-mysteries and crime novellas, though Gaster couldn’t fathom why – he was more a fantasy man himself), but as soon as he saw the plethora of bags the skeleton dropped on the couch he shut his book and raised a brow.

            “Did you buy out half the toy store?” He asked, snagging the edge of one bag with a finger and pulling it open so he could see what was inside.

            “Of course not!” Gaster snapped back cheerfully. “Only about a quarter of it or so.”

            Grillby rolled his eyes and watched as his excited husband pulled out several new outfits and laid them on the couch, examining them with a critical eye. He didn’t know the boy’s sizes, so he’d guessed as best he could.

            “Where are the boys?”

            Grillby glanced at the closed door to the guest room. “Still in bed,” he leaned back and reopened his book. “Though I’ve heard them talking for the last little while.”

            “They shouldn’t be in bed this late,” Gaster muttered, pulling a pair of fluffy towels (one orange, one blue) from a bag and setting them on top of the clothes. “I’ll go get them up – could you run a bath, dear?”

            There was a beat of silence, and Grillby once again shut his book and slowly looked at his husband, raising a brow. Gaster paused in picking up the clothing and shot him a sheepish look.

            “Oh, right, uh – I’ll go run a bath, could you get them up, please?”

            The bartender shook his head, a wide grin splitting his mouth as he stood and threw his book back on the couch. He’d never thought that Gaster would be an easily-excitable mother hen. Honestly, sending his flaming husband to go run a bath…he’d better be careful, or Gaster might try and cook next!

            “Calm, bookworm.” He snagged Gaster’s arm as the skeleton passed to rush to the bathroom and pulled him into a short, chaste kiss. “Smothering and frightening the children will do us no good.”

            The skeleton melted into the kiss a bit, and when Grillby pulled back he was a bit flustered. “Ah, right. Sorry.” He gave his husband a calmer smile, before dashing off to begin a bath.

            Grillby huffed and headed for the guest room, hoping the boys wouldn’t mind being roused prematurely.

 


 

            Papyrus, having been the first to fall asleep, was the first to wake in the morning. His bouncing on the mattress woke both you and Sans, the latter of which shot upright in a bit of a panic, looking around until he remembered where he was.

            “Brother, look! We got to sleep on a bed! It’s so soft!” The young skeleton jumped a few more times before dropping to sit beside his brother, who was immediately drawn into a tight hug. “I like it here! It’s warm!”

            “Heh, I like it here too.” Sans hugged his brother back, giving him a tight squeeze before slumping back onto the pillows, pulling Papyrus with him. “I bet I could sleep alllll day long.”

            “No! No brother, no more sleeping!” Papyrus wiggled and tried to get out of Sans grasp, but his brother was larger and stronger than him, and easily able to hold onto him.

            “Sans, let your brother go.” You grinned at the pair. “Honestly, he’s not going to stop resisting a-rest.”

            “NOOO NOT THE PUNS!” Papyrus bellowed as he was released, Sans belly laugh trailing after his yell. “You two are terrible!” He frowned at Sans, then shifted his gaze to you. “Oh, Silver! We need to introduce you to Mr. Gaster and Mr. Grillby!”

            Sans laughter immediately cut off and he sat back up. “Uh, Paps, I don’t think that’s the best idea…”

            “Why not? They didn’t get to eat last night!” He frowned. “The food was really good, Silver. You need to try it!”

            “Papyrus, they can try it later. For now, they need to stay hidden.”

            “But why?” The child whined, and if he’d had lips he’d be pouting.

            You and Sans shared a long look, debating on how much to tell the child. You weren’t a monster – you were a pet, an expendable. These two monsters may want to adopt the boys – and nothing would make you happier, truly! – but they may not want to bother with a pet. If you were found, there was a good chance they would send you away – you were a needless complication.

            “For – a game!” You scrambled for an excuse he would accept.

            “A game?” Papyrus tilted his head, eyes sparking with curiosity. Beside him Sans gave you a relieved look.

            “Yes, a game!” You stood (nearly falling over on the plushy surface of the pillow) and clapped your hands. “I want to see how long I can stay hidden from Mr. Grillby and Mr. Gaster! Like – like hide and seek, only they don’t know they’re playing!”

            “That doesn’t seem very fair.” Papyrus bit at one of his phalanges, and Sans pulled his hand from his mouth with a frown.

            “Don’t do that bro,” he muttered, rubbing his thumb over the chipped finger.

            “It’s just a game, Papyrus,” you hurried to reassure him. “They won’t mind, I promise. But for it to work you can’t tell them that I’m here. No matter what. Okay?”

            The young skeleton frowned a bit in thought, then brightened up and nodded. “Okay! As long as you’re sure they won’t mind.”

            “They won’t, Paps.” Sans reassured him, looking around the bed until he found his hoodie and tugged it on. No sooner had his head popped through the hood than someone knocked on the door.

            “Shi – oot. Shoot!” Sans grabbed you mid-swear and shoved you into the pocket of his hoodie. It was warm and stifling, but was better than clinging awkwardly to his ribs like the day before.

            “Boys, are you awake?” Grillby called through the door.

            Papyrus bounced off the bed before Sans could grab him and rushed to the door, which he immediately threw open. “Yes, Mr. Grillby!” He threw his arms around the bartender’s legs. “Thank you for letting us sleep in a bed last night! It was really soft.”

            “Of course, Papyrus,” Grillby’s flames crackled pleasantly as he rested a hand on the child’s skull. “You and your brother are welcome to use that bed whenever you’d like. In fact,” he crouched, so he and Papyrus were eye-level. Sans, who had gotten off the bed, came to stand behind his little brother, his movements cautious. From his pocket you couldn’t see much, but the ragged and worn cloth made it easy to hear everything being said. “You and Sans are welcome to live here for as long as you’d like.”

            Sans took in a sharp breath, while Papyrus gasped and began bouncing on his tippy-toes. “REALLY?!” He threw his arms around Grillby’s neck, hugging him tightly. “THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!” Before the bartender could react, the young skeleton dropped his arms and threw them around Sans. “SANS, SANS! WE HAVE A HOME!”

            The elder brother rested his hands on the youngers shoulders, hugging him back gently (mindful of you, still squished in his pocket), though his eyes were locked on Grillby’s. The flame was still crouching, observing the two with kindness and amusement in his eyes. His SOUL flickered brightly, and Sans was stunned at the amount of love and compassion that seemed to pour into the monster, feeding his flames and making them spark and pop cheerfully.

            “Sans, Sans, we need to tell Silver!” Papyrus tugged on his brother’s hoodie, distracting him from staring at the flame. Sans stiffened, clavicles and scapula’s going tense as he pulled slightly away from Paps. In his pocket your heart stopped, and you cursed yourself for not telling Papyrus the truth and making your hiding into a game – he would be much more likely to keep his mouth shut if he knew you might be sent away!

            “Ah, Paps – “ His brother’s face was radiating pure joy, and Sans didn’t want to wipe that look from his eyes. “We, uh, can’t tell Silver right now, okay?”

            “What? Why not?”

            “Well, they’re not here, remember?” Sans gestured around the room, eyes begging for his brother to remember that they weren’t supposed to mention you.

            “Oh – OH! Right!” He nodded frantically. “We’ll tell them later!”

            Sans sighed and nodded. “Yeah – yeah, we’ll tell them later.” In his pocket you slumped down in relief, tension leaving your body with a silent sigh.

            Grillby watched the conversation curiously. Once he was sure the boys were finished speaking, he stood and held his hands out. “Well, Gaster has drawn a bath for you both. Shall we?”

            “A bath…? What’s a bath?” Papyrus asked curiously, immediately latching onto the flame monster. “And why did he draw it? Did he use crayons. I like crayons!” Sans stuck his tongue out but grabbed Grillby’s other hand, following the flame as he led them across the apartment to the modest bathroom.

            Gaster had filled the claw-foot tub with warm, soapy water, and had added a good dose of bubble bath. The boys new clothing was folded neatly on the toilet, beside new toothbrushes and other child-sized toiletries. A few plastic packages on the ground revealed the source of the plethora of toys floating on the surface of the bath – several rubber duckies, a plastic tug-boat that made bubbles from the smokestack when you pushed a button, and several rubber animals (some aquatic species, some not).

            “There you three are!” Gaster turned from where he was kneeling beside the bathtub, greeting them cheerfully. Sans eyed the water distrustfully, while Papyrus’ gaze was locked on the toys.

            “Wooooow…” He gaped at the pile of bubbles and toys. “Is that a bath?”

            Gaster chuckled and motioned the two boys in, while Grillby stayed safely out of the splash zone. “Yes, this is a bath.” He picked up one of the toy animals – a sea turtle – and handed it to the child.

            “Wowie! What is a bath for?” He asked, holding the turtle up to his face and examining it closely.

            “It’s for getting clean,” Gaster chuckled, “You’re both a bit dirty.” He cupped Papyrus’ face in one hand and ran a thumb beneath his eye, removing a thin layer of dirt, which he then held up for the pair to see. “See?”

            Papyrus gasped, then giggled. “Ewww!” He turned and copied the experiment on Sans’ face. “Ewww! Sans look, you’re dirty too!”

            “Sure am, bro,” Sans agreed, still eying the full bath cautiously.

            “So how do we use a bath?” Papyrus moved closer and poked at a bubble curiously.

            Gaster took the turtle and threw it back in the water. It splashed a bit, leaving a few streaks on Papyrus’ face, making him giggle. “Well first, we need to get you out of those dirty clothes.”

            Papyrus happily began to strip, removing his scarf and folding it gently before looking around to find a place to put it. Grillby took a cautious step into the bathroom and held his hand out. “I’ll wash your clothes while you bathe,” he told the pair with a kind smile. Paps happily handed over his scarf and started to take off his shirt, but Sans had stiffened.

            In the hoodie pocket, you were just as tense – there was no way Sans could hide you if he took off everything to get clean! And if you went with the hoodie and ended up in the wash, you’d be drowned. Sans phalanges dug into the pocket, carefully cupping you as he shifted uneasily.

            “Uh, I don’t – I don’t wanna wash my hoodie,” Sans muttered, trying to figure out how to dodge handing over his jacket without causing suspicion.

            Gaster, luckily, didn’t press the issue. “That’s fine,” he quickly soothed, after exchanging a quick glance with Grillby. “You can just set it on top of the hamper and put it back on after you’re clean. Neither of us will touch it.”

            You relaxed once again in the pocket of worn fabric as Sans nodded and shifted to take off the hoodie. He was careful not to tilt it around and accidentally spill you out of the pocket – you felt yourself being lifted, then squished slightly as he folded the fabric and set it down. A bit of light came through the edge of the pocket – he must have folded it so you were on top, safe from being suffocated.

            Papyrus was already naked by this point, and had one arm shoved deep into the water, swirling it around. “It’s warm!” He chirped happily to his brother, trying to get more of his arm into it by standing on his tiptoes. Gaster chuckled and scooped him up beneath his arms and set him in the bath proper.

            “There we go!” The librarian glanced at Sans, who had finished stripping. He stood by the bath, one hand clutching his right humerus. “Don’t worry Sans, it’s nice and warm.”

            The child was obviously embarrassed, but he moved forward and allowed himself to be plucked up and settled in the water beside his brother. It was warm! At the testing facility they’d only ever had cold showers that were never long enough to completely clean themselves. This was so much nicer!

            Papyrus giggled and twisted to face his brother, smile large and bright. “Brother, you have a bubble beard!” He pointed to Sans chin, which had become swathed in the light, fluffy bubbles.

            Sans chuckled, more comfortable now that the bubbles were giving him a bit of privacy. He scooped up a pile of the bubbles and dumped them on Paps head, creating a bubble hat. “Looking good, Paps!” The younger skeleton squealed in delight, and the two began to create different bubble concoctions on each other.

            Gaster gave them a few minutes to play with the bubbles and toys before grabbing the washcloth he’d bought and soaping it up with the special bone-soap he used. With gentle, deft fingers he began to wash Papyrus.

            On top of the hamper you very, very slowly pulled yourself forward until you could peek out of the pocket. Gaster was distracted by the boys and wouldn’t see you poking your head out, and the pocket was facing away from the door so Grillby wouldn’t be able to see you. You watched with a bit of envy as Gaster scrubbed the two skeletons clean – you were just as dirty, if not more, and were in desperate need of a bath yourself. Ah well, it could wait – what was some greasy hair and dirty nails in exchange for sleeping inside for once?

            Gaster was quick and methodical in his movements, and before long the water had turned a murky brown color while both boy’s bones sparkled bright white. The adult skeleton unplugged the tub and, as soon as the water had drained, stranding the toys high and dry on the tub floor, he used the flexible showerhead to rinse any left-over bubbles from the two boys.

            “Well look at that!” He exclaimed cheerily as he plucked Papyrus from the tub and set him on the rug, wrapping him in a special fluffy towel that had a hood, creating a wrap-around robe. His looked like a dragon, while the one he got Sans was a tiger. “There was a pair of skeletons under all that dirt!” He set Sans on the ground and wrapped him up as well. He pulled the clean clothes from the counter and tucked them under one arm, then took each of their hands and led them from the bathroom to the bedroom. Sans used his free arm to snag his hoodie, careful to hug the pocket to his chest, keeping you from tumbling from the fabric to the floor. Gaster gave him a patient smile, thinking it merely one of his quirks.

            The adult skeleton whisked the two of them back to the guest room, which was now their bedroom. Grillby was in there already, with several shopping bags lying half-empty on the bed as he sorted through them. He was folding and putting the crisp, new clothing into the dresser drawers, ordered by color and size. Papyrus immediately bounced over to him, eyes sparkling.

            “Wowie! Look’it all the clothes! Are they for us?” He asked the fire monster, shucking his towel creature in favor of picking up a bright yellow shirt with a stylized sun drawn on the front.

            “Yes,” Grillby took the shirt from him and helped the child pull it on, pulling skinny arms through the sleeves and helping his rounded skull pop through the collar. The bartender rummaged through the new clothes for a moment and pulled out a pair of bright blue shorts, which he handed to the child as well. “Here, these should fit.”

            Papyrus happily pulled them on, then spun in a circle, trying to admire himself from all angles. “Sans, Sans, look! We have new clothes!” He bounced over to his brother and dragged him to the bed. “C’mon, let’s find you something!” Without pausing for breath he dove into the pile of clothing, throwing them all over the room as he searched for something worthy of his brother. The entire time, he was babbling.

            “We’ve never had new clothes before! They’re so soft, Sans! See, feel this!” He shoved a t-shirt into his brother’s hands, noticed it said ‘Bad to the Bone’ on the front, shrieked at the pun, and threw it to the side. “Wait, no, not that one!” He wiggled through the pile and finally re-emerged with a blue and white striped shirt, which he threw to Sans. “Put that on!” The child began sorting through the shorts and pants Gaster had bought, finally happening upon a pair of black basketball shorts. “Oh here, these too!”

            The older brother had managed to catch the clothing with one hand, the other cradling his hoodie to his chest, protecting you from being smothered by too many layers of cotton. He sidled up to the bed and set both his hoodie and the clothing down, making sure the pocket was facing up so you could peek out and gape at the pile of clothes on the comforter.

            “Oh, oh, SANS!” Another bundle of fabric smacked Sans in the face, and he flailed for a moment before managing to pull it off. “Look, it’s a new hoodie! And look, look, there’s a pocket where Silver can sit!” Papyrus tugged the fabric from Sans grip, despite just throwing it at him, and shook it out to show it off. “See?” The hoodie was a pleasant blue, lined with cream colored fur with a zipper in front. It looked warm and comfortable, perfect for the snow swirling outside the window.

            Gaster leaned slightly over Sans shoulder, examining the hoodie he’d bought with a pleased smile. “It is perfect for you, Sans. Though I must ask, who is Silver?”

            Both boys froze up, and in the pocket you felt your stomach drop. While the adult monsters had been nothing but kind, you still didn’t want to poke your head out and say hello yet. The word ‘expendable’ echoed through your mind, squashing any desire to reveal yourself.

            “Uh, it’s – Silver is…” Papyrus shut his teeth and put his hand on his chin, thinking hard, brow bones wrinkled in thought.

            “Papyrus’ imaginary friend!” Sans quickly answered. Gaster gave him a patient smile and patted his head.

            “Ah, I see. Well, Silver is welcome to live with us as well, Papyrus. Let me know if they need anything.” He winked at the younger child, who beamed back. “Grillby, shall we get dinner started? I saw you bought a ham the other day, perhaps that would make a good Sunday dinner?” Gaster left the room alongside his husband, giving Sans privacy so he could change.

            You counted to sixty after the door had closed, then popped your head out of the hoodie and looked for your boys. They were on the other side of the huge pile of clothes, and you wasted no time scaling it. The folds and dips in the cotton and synthetic fabrics made it easy to climb, and in to time you were standing on top of it.

            “Silver!” Papyrus snatched you off the clothes and hugged you close. “You’re real, right? You aren’t imaginary, are you?”

            You threw your arms wide and hugged him back as best you could, face smooshed against the smiley sun on his new shirt. “Of course I’m real, Paps.” You pressed a hand to his ribs, and he squirmed at the ticklish touch. “See? Could I tickle you if I wasn’t real?”

            “Noooohooo!” He giggled and wiggled, pulling you away from his chest. “Oh, oh, look! We got new clothes!”

            “I see that,” you looked him up and down. “You’re quite a handsome skeleton, Paps!” He blushed, cheeks turning bright orange as he giggled again.

            “Sans, get changed so Silver can call you handsome too!” The child demanded. Behind you, Sans quickly pulled on the new clothes Papyrus had thrown at him. When he was done, Papyrus poked your shoulder until you turned around in his hand to look at the older child.

            “So, what’s the verdict, Sil?” Sans stood lazily in his new clothes, hands shoved in the pockets of his new, unzipped jacket.

            You flashed him a grin and double thumbs up. “Looking cool, Sans.”

            “Oh, but Silver, there’s no clothing for you!” Papyrus drew you close and hugged you again, pouting despite the lack of lips. “You need new clothes too! We should ask Mr. Gaster for some.”

            Sans stopped his brother before he could charge out of the room. “Uh, bro, lets hold off on that for now, okay?” He suggested. “Silver still wants to play hide and seek, right?”

            Stars bless Sans and his quick thinking. “Yes,” you agreed. “I don’t mind wearing my sweater for a bit longer.”

            Papyrus hesitated, but quickly gave in. “Well, okay, if you’re sure.”

            “We’re sure, bro. How about we go show Mr. Grillby and Mr. Gaster our new clothes?” He held his hand out, and his brother happily handed you ver.

            “Yeah! They can see how handsome we are! Right, Silver?”

            “Right,” you agreed, as Sans tucked you into the dip in his clavicle, beneath the edge of his jacket. “Uh, Sans, what’re you doing?”

            “That’s a lot comfier than being shoved in a pocket, right?” Sans shifted his shoulders slightly, but you stayed firmly seated, held in place by the jacket, which also hid you from sight.

            “Yeah,” you agreed, relaxing against the bone and peeking through the fluffy lining. You could see out, but nobody could see you. “That’s brilliant. Thanks, Sans!”

            “No prob,” he drawled, opening the bedroom door and letting Papyrus charge out, yelling for the adults and compliments.

            Grillby stuck his head out of the kitchen and grinned widely when the child pranced in front of him, holding his hands out and posing like a super star. “You look fantastic, Papyrus. Just like a superhero.” The child beamed, the joy sparking his magic and making orange stars glint about his face. Sans grinned at the pair, his brother’s excitement contagious.

“You’re not looking too bad either, Sans,” Gaster poked his head over Grillby’s shoulder and winked at the squat skeleton. “Very slacker chic.” Sans wasn’t sure what that meant, but he blushed and muttered ‘thank you’ anyway.

Grillby chuckled at their shy reactions, his flames popping in glee. “Alright, boys, what do you want for lunch?”

            Papyrus looked up, literal stars bursting into his eyes once again. “We – we get to choose what to eat?” He asked, sounding awed.

            Grillby and Gaster exchanged a glance, and the bartender nodded, shoving away the sadness in his eyes. “Of course,” he reached down and plucked the skeleton from the floor, settling him on his hip. “In fact, would you like to help me cook?”

            Another gasp, and more stars. “Really?”

            “Really,” Grillby chuckled and swept the youngster down the stairs, listing off all the dishes he could make as they went.

            Gaster rested a hand on Sans shoulder (the one without you, luckily) and gave it a slight squeeze. “Do you have something you want for lunch?” He asked, gently steering the child to the stairs. Sans thought a moment, before giving the skeleton a half-smile.

            “Something that comes with ketchup?”

            Gaster laughed so hard he missed a step and nearly fell down the stairs.  

Chapter Text

            Papyrus was in toy paradise. He dashed about the living room, playing with the action figures Gaster had bought for the boys, making them fly and fight and give heroic speeches. As he went he got distracted by the other bright toys Gaster had bought, which the elder skeleton had unpacked and set out to show the boys. There were building blocks made of wood, as well as plastic LEGO kits, toy cars, planes, and space ships, and a brightly colored bouncy ball that he kicked when running past. It bounced off the wall, nearly braining his big brother.

            Sans had ignored the brightly colored toys in favor of the books Gaster had produced. When in a neat stack, it was taller than he was! There were some simple picture books, along with more complex chapter books and science texts. Thanks to the doctors intense training, Sans was more than able to read the higher level texts, comprehending much of it on the first read through. The chapter books proved more difficult – he had no idea what fiction was.

            “They’re made up stories,” you whispered from your spot on his shoulder as he picked up and flipped through a book titled ‘Harry Potter.’

            “So they’re not true? What’s the point of reading them, then?” Sans asked through his teeth, words hidden by Papyrus’ boisterous yelling as he bounced about. Grillby and Gaster had both sat down on the couch, the former with his book, the latter simply watching Papyrus, sometimes joining in to explain a toy or keep him from tripping and hurting himself.

            “It’s fun,” you urged.

            “Books aren’t meant to be fun, they’re meant to be informative.” He put down the brightly colored book and picked up another, titled ‘The Giver.’

            You scooted closer to his jaw so you could see the cover of the book more easily. “That one looks good. Can you read it to me?”

            “Can’t you read?” He asked, raising a brow but not looking at you, not wanting to give the both of you away to the adults.

            “Yes,” you answered, jiggling your foot against his clavicle, making him twitch. It was one of those weird things all Readers could do – well, one of the things they could do if they were created by magic. They were ‘born’ already in a physical and mental teen or early adult stage, with basic reading, math, and language skills. Nobody could explain it, yet there it was. “But I’m too small to hold the book.”

            Sans snorted, and when Grillby glanced at him he opened the thin chapter book and hid his face behind it. The bartenders warm chuckle washed over the both of you as he lowered his own novel and glanced at the cover. “That is one of my favorite books. I think you will enjoy it.”

            The skeleton nodded and pulled the book away from his face so he could flip to the first chapter. To your delight he began to read aloud, just beneath his breath, but loud enough for you to hear. You relaxed against his shoulder, keeping an eye on Papyrus through the fluff of his jacket as you were read to.

 

 


 

 

            As the sky began to darken Grillby disappeared back into the kitchen. It wasn’t long before he reemerged, flames crackling in pleasure as he announced that dinner was ready.

            Papyrus, who had exhausted himself and was now half-draped over Gaster’s lap, flipping through a coloring book, perked up like a hungry puppy. “Food?” He asked happily, and if he’d been in his other form his tail would have wagged like crazy. “We get to eat again?”

            Grillby’s flames, which had been dancing in pride at his marvelous meal, dimmed a bit. His smile softened as Papyrus pranced up to him, and he bent down and picked him up again.

            “Yes, Papyrus,” he assured the little skeleton, tapping the bridge of his nose gently, “You get to eat three meals a day, as well as many snacks as you want.” He set the child at his side and held his hand, then reached out to Sans. “That goes for you too, Sans. The kitchen is open for both of you, and you can eat whatever you’d like, as long as you can reach it, and it doesn’t need to be cooked.”

            The older brother folded down the corner of the page he had been on (not catching the librarians wince) and stood. He hesitated for only a moment before taking Grillby’s hand. The bartender beamed, flames turning golden and orange as they flickered about his head.

            Gaster made a mental note to put all the alcohol in the cabinets above the stove. He followed his mate and the boys into the kitchen, where a lovely ham was set on the table, surrounded by bowls of sides. Grillby always went all out for Sunday dinners, since it was the one day he had off.

            “Wow!” Papyrus rushed forward, dragging Grillby and Sans behind him. “Look at all the food! It smells so good!” He looked at the chairs, two of which had booster seats. “Ooh, what are those?”

            “These are booster seats.” Grillby let go of Sans hand to pick Papyrus up and set him on one of the seats. It let him sit comfortably at the table, able to see over the top and reach his plate. Sans clambered up onto his own booster without help, smiling across the table at his brother.

            “Hi Sans!” Papyrus waved eagerly, and his brother waved back. “Ooh, what’s that?” He pointed at the main dish.

            “Honey glazed baked ham.” Grillby answered, taking his own seat across from Gaster.

            “And that?”

            “Mashed potatoes with garlic and cheese.”

            “What about that green stuff?”

            “French cut green beans.”

            “Wooooow!” Papyrus was almost drooling. “And we get to eat it all?”

            Gaster chuckled and took Papyrus’ dish, loading it up with a little bit of everything. The ham was tender enough that it fell right off the bone, and the mashed potatoes smelled heavenly. As soon as the plate was in front of him, the child fell on the food like a starving dog.

            “Uh, bro, you should use your fork…” Sans tried to calm his little brother down, but Grillby chuckled and shook his head.

            “It’s alright, Sans. We can work on table manners another day.” He set Sans own full plate in front of him.

            You leaned forward the tiniest bit, looking at the steaming plate of food. Sans picked up his spoon and, unlike his brother who was going to town on the potatoes with his hands, carefully took a bite. He paused, eye lights brightening. “Wow! This is fantastic!” He took another quick bite, then grabbed his fork and stabbed some of the green beans.

            The two adults smiled as the boys went to town on the dinner, and began to chat about their days. Once they were distracted, Sans grabbed a small slice of ham and pressed it into your hands. You blew on it, and as soon as it was cool, you took a big bite. You hadn’t eaten since the day before, and your stomach let out a warm, happy grumble. Once you’d finished the ham, Sans slipped you a small piece of green bean.

            At one point, when Grillby glanced over to see if Sans needed more food, you could have sworn he saw you. He didn’t say anything, though – in fact, he just dished up more potatoes for both boys and went back to chatting with Gaster. You sunk back into the jacket, making sure you stayed hidden for the rest of the meal.

            By the time all four of them had finished, most of the ham had been eaten, and what was left of the tender meat had fallen off the bone, leaving shreds decorating the plate. Grillby had just stood to begin putting away the food when Papyrus shot upright in his seat.

            “BONE!”

            In a second the child had shifted, bones creaking and elongating, spikey edges emerging as he changed to his canine form. He let out a delighted yip and snapped his maw around the bone, dragging it off the plate before bouncing off the chair and dashing into the living room.

            Grillby and Gaster stared after the boy in shock for a long moment, before both pushed away from the table at the same time and rushed after him.

            “Oh no.” Sans jumped off his chair and followed. You clung to his shoulder, trying to see what was happening over the fluff of the jacket.

            Papyrus was unaware of the shock he’d caused. He was bouncing around happily, gnawing the last of the meat off the bone as he tossed it about, jumping and twisting and rolling around on the carpet. He paused, rolling onto his back and looking at them upside down. His tail whipped against the carpet frantically, beyond happy.

            “Uh…” Grillby glanced at his husband, raising a brow. “Is this a skeleton thing?”

            “No,” Gaster answered, staring at the bone puppy, who had sat up and was grinning at them, panting despite not having a tongue. When he met Gaster’s hand he got to his paws and stuck his rear up in the air, in a ‘play with me’ pose.

            “Sans,” Grillby glanced at the older brother, who was hovering behind him anxiously, waiting for them to get angry and yell. You slid completely beneath his jacket, out of sight. “Is this, uh, normal for you two?”

            “…yes?” He said softly, sounding unsure and worried.

            “Can you do it as well?” Gaster glanced between the two brothers. Sans nodded, and the skeleton gave him a smile, then focused all his attention on the puppy. He knelt, and Papyrus ran up to him, tail wagging as he head-butted the librarians knee. Laughing, he ran his hand over the child’s skull and patted his nose.

            “Grillby,” he glanced up at his husband, who still seemed a bit surprised, “They followed me home. Can we keep them?”

            Sans giggled a bit, and Grillby rested a hand on his skull, pulling him to rest against his leg. “We already talked about this,” he shook his head, a wide grin on his face. “They’re welcome to live here for as long as they want.”

            Gaster perked up. “Do you know what that means?”

            Grillby dropped his head a bit and pinched the bridge of his nose, pushing his glasses up. “I’m not sure but I have a bad feeling in my wallet.”

            “Alright, boys, bundle up! We’re going to Blooky’s Pet Store!”

 


 

            Once Sans had convinced Papyrus to turn back into a little skeleton boy, Gaster got them both bundled up in warmer clothes. Sans avoided having to take his hoodie off, though Grillby suggested he put on long pants. You stayed safely hidden beneath his jacket, where it was warm and out of sight.

            “Okay, we’re going to take a short cut to the store,” Gaster announced, shrugging on his own jacket – a long, black trench coat.

            “What’s that?” Papyrus asked, holding his arms out to the man. The librarian obligingly swept him up, settling the child on his hip.

            “A short cut is a special way to get around, so we can avoid most of the snow.” Gaster explained, adjusting the red-orange scarf he’d wrapped around Papyrus’ neck. It was his, but the child had seen it on the coat rack and had immediately wanted to wear it.

            Grillby tugged Sans gloves on, then picked him up as well. Sans wrapped his arms around his neck, holding himself up so he could look at Gaster.

            You were honestly surprised by how well Sans was taking everything. You’d expected him to be far more nervous and skittish around adult monsters, especially one who resembled the Doctor, but he was almost completely at ease with them. It was most likely because he could see their SOULs, but still, his sudden acceptance of them made you feel…unneeded.

            Papyrus was yammering away eagerly, even as Gaster reached out to take Grillby’s hand. Once they were holding hands, the world around them shimmered. Sans gasped, looking about in wonder as their surroundings faded, while Papyrus kept exclaiming over his new scarf, not even noticing the change.

            The world returned to normal, though it was vastly different than before. Instead of being in the cozy living room, you’d all moved to front of a small store, just inside the sliding doors. Outside the doors, snow piled along the sidewalk, though the streets had been plowed. Papyrus stopped talking, looking around in awe. He quickly declared that form of travel ‘COOL!’, which Sans quickly agreed with.

            “Alright, let’s get you some puppy toys.” Gaster threw a hand out dramatically, pointing towards the neat shelves that lined the store. The librarian was pointing at the aisle marked ‘DOGS.’ He led the way, leaving Grillby and Sans behind.

            The bartender sighed, shaking his head in amusement. “He’s very excited to have you two living with us.” He explained to his bemused passenger as he followed. “Gaster and I have thought of having children before, but we weren’t sure we could, since our biology is so different.”

            Sans grinned. “Really?”

            “Really.” Grillby chuckled as they came to the aisle lined with dog and puppy toys. He set the child down and pointed at Papyrus, who was dashing about like a mad man, grabbing toys and exclaiming over them. “You’d better help your brother out.”

            “Sans look! BONES!” Papyrus threw several rawhide chews to his brother, then rushed off to exclaim over a pile of rubber chew toys in all shapes and sizes. Laughing, Sans followed, shooting off bone puns whenever the chance arose. You poked your head out of the jacket, giggling at the pair.

            In no time, Papyrus had a huge pile of bones and toys in the middle of the aisle. He danced around it in excitement, barely able to stay in his skeleton form. Grillby laughed and knelt beside the pile, sorting through it and pulling out toys that were meant for bigger dogs, or ones that were easy to break. Papyrus helpfully put them back on the shelves, directed by Sans in some cases.

            “Grillby! Hey, Grillby!” All four looked up as a bunny monsters appeared, dressed in heavy snow clothes. She tugged a scarf from around her nose and beamed at him. “What’re you doing out of your bar?”

            “I am allowed to leave it, Bonnie.” Grillby raised a brow at her, though he was grinning. Sans and Papyrus had darted behind him, peering out at the stranger cautiously. “How are you?”

            “Great!” Bonnie beamed. “Tommy and I just came to pick up some new clothes!”

            Grillby tilted his head. “Tommy?”

            “Oh right, you haven’t met him yet!” The bunny reached into her scarf and revealed a small Reader dressed in a bright yellow sweater. “This is my new Reader, Tommy!”

            “Hello, Tommy.” Grillby greeted the sleepy Reader. Tommy waved, then turned back to Bonnie.

            “I’m cold,” he muttered, making grabby hands at her scarf. The rabbit laughed and returned the Reader to her scarf.

            “Well, I’d better go check out and get Mr. Picky here home, but don’t think you’re in the clear yet, Grillby! I’ll be asking you about those two cuties your hiding tomorrow!” The bunny winked at the children, who were peeking curiously at her from behind the bartender. She gave a small wave and disappeared to the front of the store.

            “She was pretty!” Papyrus bounced back to the pile of dog toys.

            “That was Bonnie,” Grillby answered, accepting the squeaky toy Papyrus thrust into his hands as he pulled out the toys he wanted. “She’s a customer at my bar.”

            “Oh! You mean the downstairs with the big kitchen and all the tables?” Papyrus paused and beamed at him.

            “Yes, exactly! She comes in a lot, since she works down the street.” Grillby glanced over at Gaster. “Maybe some nights you can come downstairs and hang out in the restaurant.”

            “Mmm.” Gaster had folded his arms and was looking after the bunny with a slight frown.

            “Gaster? What’s wrong, dear?”

            “It’s nothing,” Gaster waved him off. “You know I don’t approve of Readers.”

            Papyrus and Sans both froze mid-rummaging in the toy pile. Beneath the jacket, you tightened your grip on Sans clavicle. “What?” Papyrus asked, sounding worried. “You – you don’t like the little bitty Reader pets?”

            Gaster sighed, seeing he’d upset them but not about to back down. “No, Papyrus, I don’t.” He knelt down and rested a hand on Papyrus’ shoulder, smiling at him. “You see, Readers are just as intelligent as you or me. I don’t think creatures with that kind of intelligence should be kept as pets. It’s not fair to them.”

            “Oh.” Papyrus glanced over at Sans, then back at Gaster. “Okay.”

            Gaster smiled and rubbed his skull. “C’mon, lets pick out some toys and head home. Napstablook is gonna close soon, and I want to make sure you two have plenty to play with, no matter what you look like.”

            Papyrus beamed and hugged the monster, then dove back into the pile of toys. Sans stood back, watching the pair with a fake smile stretched over his teeth. When Gaster had turned to look for something, he reached up and rested a hand over his shoulder, pressing gently against you.

            “Don’t worry,” he whispered, “They’ll never know you’re here.”

 


 

            By the time you all returned to the small home above the bar, Papyrus was exhausted. While Grillby set the bags full of dog toys in the living room, alongside the boy toys, Gaster carried the snoring Papyrus into the bedroom and tucked him into bed. Sans trailed after him, also dragging quite a bit. Having three square meals a day and feeling safe enough to relax had really done a number on the boys’ energy.

            Gaster had changed Papyrus into a pair of superhero pajamas. He held out a pair of star-patterned ones to Sans, who took them with a tired smile. “Thanks.” He muttered, though he made no move to change.

            “You’re welcome.” Gaster rested a hand on his round skull. “If either of you need anything, please feel free to come get us. I’ll make sure our door is open.”

            Sans nodded, but just as Gaster turned to head out, he snagged the librarians' shirt. “You’re – you’re really okay with what we are?” He asked, not making eye contact with the taller skeleton.

            Gaster knelt down and cupped the child’s face in his hands. “Of course I am, Sans. I am fine with you both being little skeleton boys. I am fine with you both being little skeleton puppies. You are children, coming from a bad situation, in need of a good home and caretakers.” He knocked their foreheads together, in a form of skeleton kiss. “You are welcome here, no matter what. I promise.”

            Sans flushed, but his smile stretched a bit. “Heh, okay.”

            Gaster beamed and, with a final ‘goodnight’ left the room. As soon as he shut the door behind him, Sans pulled you out of his hoodie.

            “You okay, Silver?” He asked, setting you on the edge of the bed so he could change into the pajamas.

            “I’m fine,” you reassured him, bouncing a bit on the plushy surface. At the head of the bed, Papyrus cuddled up under the blankets, and you carefully walked across the uneven surface towards him. “Are you alright?”

            “I’m fine,” he parroted, giving you a flat look. It was an argument the pair of you had almost every night in the crate, both wanting to care for the other – you because it was your nature, him because he was used to looking out for those smaller than him. He crawled up onto the bed, pinning you between him and Papyrus, where you normally slept. You crawled beneath the top blanket, snuggling beneath it as Sans got under all the blankets, down to the sheet.

            “…do you like it here?” He asked after a moment, and you rolled over to find him looking at you with concern.

            “I love it here,” you beamed. “We have shelter, food, clothing, not to mention Mr. Grillby and Mr. Gaster both adore you. It’s the best possible place we could have found.”

            “But – but that’s for us. What about you?” He was frowning, though it was more sad than anything.

            “As long as you two are okay, then I’m happy.” You reassured him. Sans reached out and rested his hand on top of you, his eyes fighting to stay open.

            “We’ll have to tell them about you eventually,” he pointed out. “Even if Mr. Gaster doesn’t like readers, it’s not fair to you. You should have new clothes and toys and food and baths too.”

            “Someday,” you agreed, hugging his thumb, “but not today.”

            He hesitated a moment before nodding. “Not today.” His eyes slid shut and he let out a heavy sigh. “Night, Sil.”

            “Good night, Sans. I love you.”

            “Love you too.”

            It wasn’t long before his breathing evened out, leaving you wide awake in the middle of the bed, trying to figure out how you were going to avoid giving yourself away. Before, it may have been awkward to explain. Now, knowing Gaster was against Readers – it was imperative that you remain hidden.

 


 

            You didn’t get much sleep that night. 

Chapter Text

            They didn’t need you.

            It was a damning realization, one that came after spending nearly a month in the small, warm home above the bar. The boys were away at school, each wearing their new clothing and clutching bags of homemade lunch as they were bundled off by Gaster, who used his ‘short cut’ trick to whisk them away. Grillby was downstairs, running his bar, leaving you alone in the boy’s room.

            It really was the boys room, now. Grillby and Gaster had turned it into a colorful, safe place for the boys to sleep and play in. The queen sized guest bed had been replaced by bunk beds. The two never slept apart, so they used the extra sheets to create a ‘den’ out of the lower bunk. It hid all three of you from sight at night, letting you safely cuddle with both boys.

            There was a huge toy box under the equally large bay window, which had a bench built into the sill. Gaster had padded it with fitted cushions and soft pillows, which had quickly become Sans favorite reading (and napping) spot. A ceiling-high bookshelf painted bright colors was beside it, already close to full with books. Papyrus, meanwhile, had taken over the child-height table in the center of the room, utilizing all of its paints, crayons, and papers to craft things beyond imagination. Against the far wall, across from the window, was a desk with a sleek, black computer, which Gaster had loaded with intellectual games (as well as some silly ones).

            All their new clothes were hung in a closet or folded in the drawers of a squat, wide dresser. Lined on top of the dresser, and spilling over onto the desk, were Papyrus’ action figures. Within days of being there, he’d declared them the best thing ever and both adult monsters had begun buying one or two at a time whenever they passed a store that carried them. He had heroes, villains, and animals to use as mounts, along with dozens of outfits.

            Grillby, while getting some clothes for the action figures, had accidentally picked up a few pieces of bitty clothing – one of the color-changing white sweaters and a pair of jeans. Papyrus had given them to you that night, and you’d changed into the clean, soft clothes. They’d snuck you into the bath a few nights after coming to the apartment, and the new fabric felt good against your scrubbed skin. Without pause, the sweater had bloomed with dove-gray.

            “Silver,” Papyrus had whisper-yelled, “you’re silver!

            You’d corrected him, calling it gray, but he insisted it was sparkly silver and wouldn’t hear any different, from you or Sans.

            After two weeks, Gaster had declared it time for the boys to attend school. They had been a bit hesitant, but after a simple placement test (and a lot of encouragement from both men) they agreed and began attending Ebott City Elementary. Papyrus was in kindergarten, while Sans was in fourth grade. They rushed home after their first day and threw themselves into their bedroom, door firmly shut behind them, to gush at you about all the friends they had made, all the things they had learned, and all the new things they had seen.

             You’d insisted they tell you everything, and they obliged. Sans loved science and math, while Papyrus liked coloring and story time. Only moments after they began, however, Grillby had arrived with some after school snacks. They’d fallen on the food, and had quickly gotten distracted by the grown up, following him out of the room as he asked them about their day.

            Of course they’d resumed their stories after dinner, when the three of you were curled up in the bottom bunk of their bed. Papyrus had even read the bedtime story that night. Of course it was Fluffy Bunny, and he had long ago memorized it, but it was still and enjoyable (and interesting) read.

            So for the past two weeks, Monday through Friday, the boys were gone from nine in the morning to three in the afternoon. Gaster brought them home at three, then vanished back to work until six. Grillby would come up and spend a half-hour break with them, then go downstairs, taking them and their homework with him.

            More than once, Sans offered to take you with him, more than able to carry you in the hood of his jacket during school, but you’d refused. There was too much risk – too much chance of being seen. And if you were seen, you’d be sent away. Sans tried to make it up to you, escaping upstairs as soon as he finished his homework to spend time with you, and on weekend he made sure the two of you napped together in the sunny window seat.

            Papyrus, after the hiccup at the pet store, had stopped urging you to show yourself to Gaster and Grillby. He insisted that they wouldn’t send you away, but didn’t push you any longer to say hello. Like his brother, he made sure he played with you, often posing you among his action figures while narrating a battle, or letting you sit in his lap as he worked his way through a picture book.

            You were…happy. Yes. Happy. Happy for them. Happy for Grillby and Gaster, who for so long had wanted a child and now had two to call their own. Happy for yourself, because you were with your boys. But…you weren’t sure how much longer you could be happy for.

            The boys were at school for an odd half-day, Gaster had a day off and was sleeping in, while Grillby prepared his bar for the lunch rush. You were on the desk, where Sans had left you with a book and a snack before rushing out of the room to grab his books for class. The two of you had been reading ‘Hatchet’ by Gary Paulsen, but he’d finished it without you. He apologized and left it for you to read while he was gone, insisting you try and finish it so the two of you could talk about it.

            You’d only read a few pages, after propping the book up between the computer and keyboard and sitting far back to read a whole page at one time, when the realization hit you.

            Sans and Papyrus didn’t need you anymore.

            Grillby and Gaster could easily meet every one of their needs – food, shelter, clothing, safety, they had given it all to the boys within a day. And not only were the boys safe, they were thriving in the environment, smiling and laughing more than you’d ever seen them. They’d taken to their new caretakers in a way you could only have dreamed of, and as a result were leaving you behind.

            You were unneeded.

            Redundant.

            Replaceable.

            Small.

            The apple slice Sans had left you dropped to the desk top as your appetite fled. You stood, needing to be moving, book completely forgotten. You paced, weaving between Papyrus’ action figures and Sans stacks of books. The last time you’d felt small had been in the Doctors lab, trapped in a cage and beholden to his whims. Ever since escaping, your mind had been filled with worry and plans for taking care of your boys. You hadn’t even been able to take the time to mourn for your fallen friends in the lab – everything had been about survival in the here and now.

            Now you all were surviving. They were thriving. And you had been replaced by Gaster and Grillby. Did the boys need you anymore?

            Did the boys even want you anymore?

            Was it your fault? Had you pushed them away by wanting to stay hidden? Did they think you were ashamed of them? Or did they think you were weak, since you didn’t want to face Grillby and Gaster? Were they disappointed in you, since they couldn’t introduce you to their friends (several of which had their own Readers)? Would it be better for them if you left?

            Your stomach twisted, and you moved to the edge of the desk, standing between two bulky action figures wearing super hero outfits and capes. They were each a head taller than you – you were a bit small for a Reader, though not the smallest the Doctor had kept. Papyrus said it was good, because all the super hero clothes fit you. Dressing you up alongside his action figures was one of his favorite games.

            What would be his favorite game if you left?

            The bedroom door was thrown open, and if Sans hadn’t left his slippers nearby it would have banged against the wall. It couldn’t be afternoon already, could it? You’d barely gotten through any of the chapters, and hadn’t even been able to finish a single apple slice! Not to mention your rapidly darkening thoughts were still weighing down both your heart and head.

            Gaster stepped in, wrinkling his non-existent nose at the scattered clothes on the floor. Despite the perfectly functioning laundry basket (which looked like a whale standing on its tail, mouth gaping open, awaiting a dinner of dirty clothes), Sans tended to simply drop his clothes where he stood, leaving them strewn around the floor. At night Papyrus would lambast his brother and pick them up himself.

            “Those boys.” Gaster shook his head, though there was a fond smile on his face. He stepped over a few piles of clothes and looked around the room, hands resting on his hips. He was dressed in a white turtleneck and blue jeans, boney feet bare. “Now, where did he leave that book…?”

            On the edge of the desk you froze, willing yourself to appear as no more than another plastic action figure among the row of posing heroes. Gaster searched the books stacked on the window seat, then picked them up and replaced them on the large bookshelf beside the window. With quick motions (and using several ghostly, floating hands that had holes in the middle, just like his own) he shelved them, alphabetical by authors last name. He had obviously been a librarian for a very long time.

            “He didn’t take it to school, did he?” Gaster was frowning at the shelves, reaching up to twitch a book back in place as he looked over the titles. Once satisfied that they were in place (and not the one he was looking for) he moved on to the books piled on Papyrus’ craft table. They were all picture books, and he straightened the pile and moved the tray of watercolor paint away from the book.

            The closer he got to the desk, the tenser you grew. You hadn’t been alone with either of the men, for fear of being discovered and kicked out. You’d never noticed how MR. Gaster had the same looming presence as DR. Gaster. Just being close to him made you feel a bit sick, memories of small cages and huge needles flashing across your vision.

            “Really, Sans.” Gaster stopped in front of the desk and shook his head. He picked up the copy of Hatchet you had been reading, shutting it and running a hand over the spine, trying to reverse the damage of being propped open for some time. “I need to teach that boy how to treat his books.” He set the book beside the keyboard, then glanced at the few other tomes stacked beside the keyboard. Apparently what he needed wasn’t there either, because he sighed and turned to look at Papyrus’ collection of figures.

            He picked up the one closest to you, and it took every fiber of your being to not flinch away and yell. The librarian examined it with a critical eye, a small smile creeping over his face, lines softening as he rubbed the cape between his fingers. “Heh. Papyrus will have a collection to rival Alphys’ soon.” He carefully set the figure back where it belonged, his hand coming within an inch of you. It took everything you had not to scream or jerk away. Your muscles trembled as you forced yourself to hold still.

            The digital clock hanging on the wall emitted a beep as the green numbers flipped to eleven. Below, the front doors of the bar opened, and a group of canine guard members stormed the building, barking loudly as they gave Grillby their orders of kibble. Gaster jerked at the sound, startled. His hand, already so close to you, swept away from the desk, knocking you right into the air along with it.

            You screamed – you couldn’t help it. Any thoughts of hiding fled as you tumbled from the desk, the carpeted floor consuming more and more of your vision. Like a fool you threw your hands out to catch yourself, hoping to keep your face from smashing into the ground. It worked – kind of. Your hands hit the ground first, and the left one bent beneath you as you tipped to the side. There was a snap – it was mind shattering to you, though it likely sounded like a breaking toothpick to the monster standing beside – above you.

            “Stars!” Said monster breathed, and the feet that were only a few yards away shuffled against the carpet. As you rolled over, clutching your arm to your chest, he knelt, knees hitting the ground hard enough to make it shudder. When you didn’t say anything in response, the librarian frowned and leaned closer, face hovering far too close for comfort. His eye lights swept you up and down, brightening when they zeroed in on your bent wrist. “Stars,” he swore again.

            You remained still, trying to ignore the pounding of your blood rushing through your arm and sounding far too loud in your ears. Gaster continued to frown, and after a moment’s hesitation, he brought his hands to rest on their side of you, cutting off any chance of escape. It was a needless move – you were far to rattled and in far too much pain to try and make a run for it. The doctor had broken your limbs plenty of times, but you’d always been able to brace yourself, and the pain never lasted long. This felt very different.

            The hands moved closer, crowding you between them until you were successfully being held in Gaster’s hands. He leaned back, lifting you off the floor as he examined you with a serious eye. “It’s broken,” he muttered to himself as he stood, the movement fluid and only noticeable because the world shifted in your sight. He made a few thoughtful hums before turning and leaving the bedroom. In his hands, you shut your eyes tightly and tried to will away the pain, only able to deal with one thing at a time.

            The librarian crossed the living room and swiftly descended the stairs. The constant hum of the bar grew louder, and you cracked an eye open to see the kitchen at the bottom of the stairs. Grillby wasn’t there – he must have been tending the bar out front. Instead of going to his husband, at the bottom of the stairs Gaster turned and headed down another set of stairs. You hadn’t ever thought about the building having a basement. Why was he taking you down so far? Why hadn’t he gone to Grillby?

            Your questions were quickly answered when Gaster went through a locked door at the bottom of the stairs and turned on the lights to the basement proper. It was about as big as Grillby’s kitchen, with soft-blue walls and tiled floors. There was a row of counters against the far wall, which were stacked with various books, flasks, vial, and papers. There was a desk with a computer, several stools to sit on, and in the middle of the room was a work bench at the perfect height for Gaster to work without having to hunch.

            It was a lab.

            Gaster didn’t seem to notice your breathing speeding up as he made a beeline to the workbench. He laid you down on a soft towel that had been folded beside some clean beakers. You tightened your grip on your arm and watched the monster through heavy eyes, fighting past the throbbing pain to examine the man. He was looking about the room with bright eye lights, muttering to himself. With a snap of his fingers, half-a-dozen extra hands popped into being. They skittered off to the counters, grabbing tools from the drawers and containers. Gaster’s fingers twitched as they did so, as though he was conducting an invisible band or putting on a magic puppet show. The hands floated back over and deposited their finds beside where you lay before disappearing in sparks of magic.

            You turned your head to look at the pile of supplies. There were a few wooden stirring sticks, several packs of bandages, some antiseptic ointment, and a little vial of something that shimmered with an odd green light.

            “Alright, little one, let’s get you fixed up.” Gaster spoke in a soft, calming voice, the same he used when bandaging up Papyrus’ scrapes and bruises, or helping talk Sans through a particularly tough math problem. It was oddly comforting in this familiar, sterile environment. The ‘librarian’ picked up the vial and popped out the cork. “Here, this will fix the bones.” He held it out to you.

            You remained lying still, clutching your injured arm to your chest and eyeing the vial distrustfully. There was no telling what was in it. One of the ghostly hands came up behind you, making you jump as it slid beneath your head and shoulders and lifted you into a sitting position.

            “Come now, it won’t harm you,” the monster coaxed, voice soft and gentle. “I know you are frightened and in pain, but this will help.” The thumb from the ghost hand began to stroke the back of your head, the same way Sans did when he held you. The tense set of your shoulders dropped minutely, though you didn’t open your mouth or even look him in the face. “It is liquid magic,” the monster explained in a patient voice, holding the vial a bit closer. “It cannot harm you, I promise.”

            You watched the vial from the corner of your eye, feeling sick at the thought of ingesting some untested ‘medicine’ from a monster named Gaster in a secret basement lab.

            “Come now, it will be alright.” Gaster rubbed your cheek with a thumb, gently turning your head. The cool edge of the vial pressed against your lip, trying to edge your mouth open. The hand holding you tilted farther up, and he pressed his thumb against the back of your neck. “Open up. You don’t want Sans and Papyrus to worry about you, do you?”

            Your eyes snapped open to meet his, and there was a flash of triumph in his eye lights. “This will heal your bones,” he repeated, and the hand holding you up tapped the back of your head. “Open up now, just take a sip.”

            He loves the boys, you thought to yourself, and he wouldn’t do anything to make them upset, including hurting me. You hesitated only a moment before, then opened your mouth and took a sip of the bright green medicine.

            Almost immediately, your senses dulled. The blood that had been beating a staccato in your ears began to slow. Your thoughts followed, and your vision blurred, turning Gaster’s face into a floating white oval overhead. The bones in your wrist tingled beneath the pain, before snapping back into place. The sound made your skin crawl, but the pain dulled until it was hovering just beyond your conscious thought.

            The librarian laid you back on the towel and re-corked the bottle of magic. Your head lolled to the side, eyes drawn to the pile of supplies. Gaster’s long fingers sorted through the pieces, drawing out one of the wooden sticks and breaking it short. Your vision grew dark and wavy around the edge as he pinched your arm between his fingers and lined the wooden bit up to splint the fracture. You couldn’t feel his touch on your skin, and your vision was rapidly darkening.

            The last thing you saw was the scarred face of the librarian, blurring into the ragged face of the doctor as he bent over you, eye lights dancing with an emotion you couldn’t read.

 


 

            Sans and Papyrus woke you when they crashed into the apartment, cheerful at the thought of getting home from school early. You jerked awake from your place on the coffee table, looking about with foggy eyes. The two hung up their backpacks on the hooks by the door, Papyrus chatting happily about what he wanted to do the entire time. Sans was laughing and throwing out puns as he rounded the couch and threw himself on the cushions.

            “Sounds good, bro.” He laughed, then turned his head to look at the TV. His eye scrolled over the black screen before drifting to the coffee table. He shot upright. “Silver?!”

            “Silver?” Papyrus popped his head around the edge of couch and saw you sitting up, trying to rub the sleep from your eyes. Gaster had set you on the folded towel from the lab, giving you a comfortable place to sleep. “What are you doing out here?”

            Sans slid off the couch and knelt by the table, eyeing you critically. He quickly spotted your left wrist, which was wrapped from wrist to elbow in clean bandages around a wooden splint. “What happened?” He demanded, reaching out to rest a finger beneath the make-shift cast.

            “Gaster knocked me off the desk,” you explained, pulling your hand back to your chest. Both boys looked aghast at the idea, and you quickly added, “It was an accident!”

            “So he fixed you up?” Sans was frowning, in that special way that meant he was thinking very hard.

            “Are you okay?” Papyrus swept you off the towel and nuzzled you with his jaw in a skelekiss.

            You rested your head against his cheek. “Yeah, I’m okay,” you reassured him. “Gaster took me to his - “

            Both boys watched you expectantly, then shared a worried look when you didn’t say anything. “Sil? What did Gaster do?”

            You looked at the older brother and tried to keep your breathing slow. “Sans, he has a lab.”

            “What?!” Sans gasped, staring at you.

            “He – he has a lab? Like the doctor’s lab?” Papyrus asked, pulling you away so he could see you.

            You nodded, swallowing hard as Sans teeth pulled into a frown. He was scary when he was upset.

            “Paps, grab your backpack.” Sans stood and plucked you from Papyrus’ hands, then turned towards the bedroom. “We’re leaving.”

            “But – but Sans, maybe it was a misunderstanding?” Papyrus grabbed his brothers arm. “Mr. Gaster helped Silver with her arm!”
            “Papyrus,” Sans gave his brother a hard look, “Go pack a bag. We’re leaving. I won’t allow you to be put in a lab ever again.”

            The smaller brother wanted to protest, but a hard look from Sans had him rushing to the bedroom to pack a bag.

            “Sans, I – I don’t think we need to leave,” you tugged on his hoodie. “Please, it’s winter, you and Paps can’t leave – it’s too cold.”

            “We’ll be fine,” Sans muttered, moving to grab his own backpack and follow Papyrus. He settled you in your normal place on his shoulder.

            Papyrus was pulling clothing from the dresser and shoving them into his backpack, along with a few of his favorite action figures. There were tears brimming in his eyes but he sniffed and didn’t let them fall.

            “Grillby is busy downstairs, and Gaster rushed off somewhere after he dropped us off,” Sans muttered, grabbing a large duffel bag from the closet. “We can slip out the back door and disappear.”

            “Sans, really, this isn’t a good idea.” You tugged on his collar. “We can’t leave – it’s safe here.”

            He paused, then twisted his head to give you a strained smile. “It’s okay, Silver. I’m not going to let anybody ever hurt Papyrus or you again.”

 


 

            The crate was still in its place in the park, covered with snow but intact. Sans stopped Papyrus before he could rush to the box and inspect it.

            “Wait, bro,” Sans took his brothers hand. “That’s the first place they’ll look.”

            The child frowned but stopped. “I don’t like this,” he muttered. “I don’t think Mr. Gaster was trying to be mean or hurt Silver! Maybe – maybe it was just a regular basement and Silver got confused!” Tears brimmed in his sockets, and he reached up with his free hand to dash them away.

             “Papyrus,” Sans rested a hand on his brother’s skull, rubbing it in soothing circles, “I’m sorry, but we promised we’d stay together forever, remember? We’re a family.” He tugged the younger skeleton away from the crate and headed deeper into the forest. “I know a place we can hide.”

            “We can go back,” you whispered to Sans. “They won’t care you ran away, they’ll just be happy you’re safe.”

            Sans didn’t answer – he just forged his way through the woods. A quarter mile from the crate was a dead tree, the bottom of it hollowed out by animals and fungus.

            Papyrus frowned at it, wrinkling his nose and kicking at the snow beneath his boots. “Is this it?”

            “Yeah, Paps.” Sans set his backpack and the duffel bag down and began kicking out snow from the hole. “We can fix it up, just like we did the crate.”

            Papyrus was still frowning, but he put his bag down beside Sans and began to dig out the hollow alongside him. You clung to Sans scapula until they were done. Once they were finished, Sans grabbed a thick quilt from the duffel and folded it into the space, creating a nice, dry floor for them.

            “See? It’ll be just like our other home,” Sans rubbed his brothers’ skull, then led him into the hollow and had him sit down. “You stay in here and I’ll get a door made. Oh, and you too, Silver.” He plucked you from his shoulder and dropped you into Papyrus’ hands. “Why don’t you guys read a book together?” He set Papyrus’ backpack by him, then left to find something to use as a door to keep out the chill.

            Papyrus sniffled once he was gone, and something wet and orange landed on your head. You shook out your hair and glanced up to see Papyrus had finally let the tears fall. He wiped his face and sniffed. “S-s-sorry, S-Silver,” he rubbed his sockets. “I-I-I’m fine.”

            You scaled his sweater so you could sit on his shoulder and rest your head against his jaw. “It’s okay, I’m scared too. But I know Sans will realize he’s being silly and we’ll go back in a day or two.” You tilted your head all the way back so you could meet his eyes. “Just think of it like – like camping! We’re camping out tonight, just for fun. And when we go back we’ll have lots of stories to tell Mr. Grillby and Mr. Gaster.”

            “Y-y-you pr-pr-promise?”

            “I promise,” you nodded firmly. “Now, it was library day, right? Did you get a new book to read to me?”

            He brightened and carefully leaned forward to grab his backpack. He pulled out a Dr. Seuss book and happily began to tell you what could happen on your way to Solla Sollew.

 


 

            Sans found a large piece of bark, which he could lean against the hollow to keep out most of the wind and chill. The three of you ate bread and cheese for dinner – it was easy and didn’t need to be cooked, and filled the boys right up. Soon after, the running from the bar caught up to them. Both of them shifted to their dog forms and cuddled together beneath the blankets, with you safely ensconced between their muzzles.

            Once the pair were fast asleep, you crawled beneath Papyrus’ muzzle and over to his backpack. Fastened in his side pocket, still there from when he went to school, was the cellphone Gaster had given him. He’d given one to each boy, to keep them safe. You dragged it out of the pocket and nearly fell over – it was just a bit shorter than yourself. Holding it by the sides, you backed out of the hollow, keeping an eye on the boys as you did so. Both were sleeping like logs, snoring in tandem. Silently, you slipped out of the hollow through a crack between the tree and bark door.

            Sans and Papyrus had stomped down the snow in front of the hollow, making it easy to stand on the packed down snow. You set the phone down on the snow and unlocked it. You were able to press the app buttons with your palm, having to lean over to put enough pressure on it. Contacts, which were full of Papyrus’ new friends phone numbers, down to ‘G,’ and a click on Grillby, then on the green ‘dial’ button.

            The phone only rang for a moment before the worried bartender's voice came over the phone.

            “Papyrus?! Are you alright?”

            “He’s fine. They’re both fine.” You hoped you were close enough to the phone that he could hear your voice.

            “Gaster! C’mere!” Grillby called, then returned to the call. “Who are you? Where are they?” He demanded, and you could hear the flames crackling around his head.

            “They’re in the park where Mr. Gaster found us – them. Them.” You glanced at the hollow to make sure neither of the boys had woken up. “They’re in the forest, past the crate. Just follow their footsteps.”

            “Who is this?” Gaster demanded in the background. You didn’t answer – you slammed your hand down on the disconnect button, and the connection cut with a shot of static. You glanced at the bark door, then down the path the boys had forged through the brush. It would be better for the boys if you left – Gaster didn’t want a Reader, and it was your fault the boys had left in the first place. It would be better if you were gone when they arrived. You could follow the path the boys had made, and hide in the brush when the two adults came by.

            You peeked into the hollow once more, and gave the boys a quiet “I love you,” before turning and following their footsteps back to the crate.

 

Chapter Text

            It took you nearly an hour to trek through the snow, after avoiding the thundering footsteps of two frantic fathers searching for their sons. Luckily Papyrus’ dragging feet had left you with a tamped-down path that made it much easier to travel. Shivering and soaked from snow melting into your sweater, you let out a puff of relief when the crate loomed in your sight.

            The curtain had mostly kept the snow out of the blankets. All the drawings Papyrus had hung on the walls were gone, as was the tin for food and all the books Sans had collected. Mr. Gaster had come and gotten everything after the boys had moved in, wanting them to feel comfortable in their bedroom. All the scraps of cloth were left, however, and you climbed out of the cold and flopped on the pile of fabric with a relieved sigh. It wasn’t any warmer, but the cloth was soft beneath your face and hands. You wiggled out of your soaking wet clothes to avoid becoming a Reader-cicle and burrowed into the blankets, layering them on you until the chill of the world outside the crate was gone.

            Despite the comfort, you couldn’t sleep. Your choice weighed heavily on you, seeming to crush your SOUL and heart both. Beneath the scrap blankets, you curled up onto your side and hugged yourself, fighting off the feeling as best you could. You knew if you had the boys with you, Papyrus’ soft, squeaky snores mingling with Sans deeper snorts, you’d be able to sleep in no time. In the past few months, they’d become your family, your everything, and without them it felt like you were drowning in nothingness.

            What was that saying you saw on TV once? If you love something, let it go? Well, you loved the boys with all your heart and SOUL, and you would gladly leave a hundred times over if it meant they had a safe, warm home full of love and laughter.

            The warmth in your heart at the thought of them growing to be strong, healthy monsters with a bright future ahead of them couldn’t fight off the encroaching chill of the evening. You pulled the blankets over your head and made yourself as tiny as possible, trying to conserve what little body heat you had. It helped, a bit, and you were able to drift off into a hazy almost-dream state for a while, though true sleep still eluded you.

 


 

            You woke to warmth; not just the warmth in your heart, but warmth in your fingers and toes. For some reason you were certain that the warmth wasn’t supposed to be there. Were Sans and Papyrus supposed to be at school by now? Usually the youngest skeleton woke you up with a cheerful yelp and a nuzzle to your head – perhaps Sans had convinced him to let you sleep in today? Ever since they’d turned the lower bunk into a ‘den’ you were able to sleep freely – the boys had made the adults promise to never look inside, unless they said it was okay. The adults, wanting to be accommodating of the abused boy’s quirks, and had agreed.

            The bed shifted beneath you, and you groaned a bit, hoping that Papyrus wasn’t going to try and get you up. For some reason you were exhausted, and you wanted to sleep until the word didn’t sound so wonderful anymore. A finger rubbed your head, and you made a sleepy ‘muuuuuuurrrrr’ sound at the pleasant feeling.

            A deep, crackling chuckle made you tense up – that was a familiar voice. A very familiar voice, but one you weren’t supposed to hear, and one that wasn’t supposed to know about you, and certainly not be petting you. The finger stopped for a moment, then moved to rub your back in small, warm circles.

            “Ah, you’re awake.” The bartender’s voice came from above you, and the bed beneath you twitched. You slowly – very, very slowly because you had a feeling you knew where you were – opened the eye that wasn’t squished against the warm surface and peeked out.

            A stretch of molten skin, undulating with oranges and yellows and reds as flames flickered and spat on the long elegant fingers that extended beyond you. You turned your head, noting absently that the heat from his hand had worked out the kinks in your neck, and squinted up at the monster holding you.

            “Good evening,” Grillby greeted, sounding amused at your gob smacked expression. “I’m glad you’re alright. You gave everyone quite a scare, running off like that.” Your stomach dropped at the thought of worrying your boys.

            “Sorry,” you croaked, sitting up. He’d redressed you in clean, dry clothes – a red hoodie and a pair of sweatpants. You scratched at your cast as you looked around, trying to spot the crate. To your surprise, the two of you weren’t in the woods anymore – Grillby was holding you against his chest while walking down a sidewalk, past stores and apartments.

            “There’s no need to apologize.” Grillby shifted his hand so you were cradled closer to his elegant pea coat, where it was warm. “I am relieved I found you. Sans and Papyrus were quite frantic when they realized you’d left.” The guilt reared its ugly head again, and you glanced up at his calm face, then away again. You wondered where he was taking you – were you going to the bar? Or was he taking you to the Reader center?

            That was the only reasonable conclusion – after all, Gaster didn’t want a Reader in the house. Grillby wouldn’t fight his husband on that – you were a pet, after all. Disposable. Expendable. Unneeded.

            “Will you,” you had to stop and swallow hard, clenching your suddenly trembling fingers into fists, “Will you take good care of the boys?”

            Grillby’s gait slowed, and he looked down at you, brows tilted in confusion. “What do you mean?” He asked, coming to a stop beneath a street lamp when he noticed your trembling.

            You sniffed, taking a deep breath to fight back tears. “Will you take care of the boys? Since – since I won’t be there, will you take good care of them?”

            “What do you mean, you won’t be there?” Grillby tilted his head, flames flickering in concern about his head. “Do you not want to live with us and the boys?”

            “No! No, I – I want to stay. But Gaster, he – he doesn’t want a pet. I heard him, at the pet store.” You spoke quickly when Grillby began to frown. “But that’s okay, I don’t m-mind! The boys are safe now, that’s what’s important. I don’t mind going to the shelter now.”

            Grillby carefully lifted his hand to his face, so he could squint at you through his glasses. “Silver,” he sounded confused, “I’m not taking you to the shelter. I’m taking you home.”

            “W-what?”

            “The boys ran away because they thought we were going to get rid of you. Papyrus was hysterical when he realized you were gone – he thought we’d taken you back to the l-lab.” He stuttered over the word, mouth twisting in distaste. “Gaster stayed home to keep the boys calm while I looked for you.”

            Well that explained why the boys hadn’t come to search alongside Grillby. “Did they tell you everything?” You asked, wondering what else the boys had mentioned. Neither Sans nor Papyrus had been comfortable mentioning the lab or their escape – when asked where they came from, Sans would say the forest, Papyrus would create elaborate tales, each more different and outlandish than the last. Neither of them had ever let slip they’d come from the lab, though you were certain Gaster had seen the barcodes chiseled into their upper arms during bath time more than once.

            “They told us that the three of you escaped from a lab, and lived in the forest for a month before Gaster found you. They looked very, very guilty when they admitted you’d been living with us this whole time.”

            You cringed as he brought you back to his chest, beginning to stroll towards the bar once more. “Sorry,” you ran your fingers over the nearest button by your face, tracing the intricate design in a vain attempt to distract yourself from the gnawing guilt.

            “Do not apologize. We knew you were there the entire time.”

            “You what?!”

            Grillby chuckled, flames popping and crackling in delight at your reaction. “Silver,” his voice was warm, full of care as he addressed you, “You put your faith to hide in two children, one of whom is not very good at keeping secrets. Papyrus told me everything about you, though he insisted you were his imaginary friend the entire time.”

            “He didn’t.”

            “He did.” Grillby nodded, still grinning widely, “In detail. He drew me plenty of pictures, as well. I’ve got quite a collection of portraits of you.” You flushed bright red and buried your face in his coat, attempting to hide it.

            “How did you find out?” You asked, voice muffled by the charcoal gray wool.

            Grillby took a turn off of Main Street and headed for a line of restaurants and mom & pop shops, one of which was his own. “The second night you all spent with us, Gaster went to check on the boys and almost immediately rushed back, babbling about how he’d ‘screwed up’ at the pet store.” He shook his head, expression torn between fond and exasperated. “I went to check on the boys and saw what he saw – a third little skeleton sleeping between the boys, snoring louder than either of them.”

            “I don’t snore!” You immediately protested, then paused and thought over his words. “And – I’m not a skeleton.”

            “You didn’t see yourself,” Grillby shook his head. “Sans and Paps may be literal skeletons, but you were thin enough to be mistaken for one.” You flushed but didn’t argue.

            “So why didn’t you say anything? Force me out?”

            “That wouldn’t have done any good.” Grillby shook his head as his bar grew closer. The neon sign over the door was out, but the lights on the second floor were blazing brightly. “The boys had obviously come from a bad situation, and we figured you were the same. We could wait until they decided to mention you. Though to be honest, we didn’t think it would be more than a few days.” He chuckled.

            You frowned and tapped the button you’d been tracing. “So…you aren’t mad?”

            Grillby stopped, nice shoes squeaking against the snowy sidewalk. He brought you back to his face, which held a stern look. “Silver,” he said firmly, and you braced yourself for a tongue lashing, “You are just as welcome in our home as Sans and Papyrus. You are important to them, and that makes you important to us.” He shook his head, expression softening. “Besides, if you go, what will Gaster do with the house he built you?”

            You froze, eyes widening. “What?”

            Grillby laughed and returned you to his chest, using his free hand to fish out his keys. Without noticing you’d arrived at the front door of the bar. “Gaster is an engineer in his spare time. He loves tinkering with things. That’s what the basement is – it’s not a lab, it’s a workshop.” When you weren’t introduced to us, we figured the boys were worried you’d be sent away, because of what Gaster said. He made you a house as an apology. I know you love the boys, but everybody needs some along time sometime. He even managed to get working lights and water for you. We thought that since Christmas is next week, it’d be a perfect time to welcome you to the family.”

            “…really?”

            “Really.” Grillby swung open the door and was immediately tackled by two yelling, frantic skeletons.

            “SILVER!”

            You were snatched from the bartender’s hands by small, cool phalanges by a sobbing Papyrus. The guilt from before came roaring back, and you did your best to hug the side of the child’s face when he lifted you up.

            “You’re okay!” He wailed, pressing you against his cheek. “We were so worried about you!”

            Sans patted your head, leaning against his brother. “Don’t do that, Silver,” he muttered, though the relief was thick in his voice. “You really rattled us.”

            Almost immediately, Paps tears stopped and he smacked his brothers shoulder. “Now is not the time for puns, brother!”

            “It’s always the time for puns, bro.”

            “Agh!”

            You chuckled, patting Sans cheek when it was in reach. “I’m sorry,” you apologized, “I didn’t mean to scare you.”

            “You didn’t scare us!” Papyrus declared, sniffing and wiping away the tears with the back of his free hand. “We were just w-w-worried.”

            “Oh, okay,” you knocked your forehead against his cheek, “That’s good. I’m glad I didn’t scare you.”

            The three of you simply stood there for a few moments, soaking in each other’s presence, until someone cleared his throat from behind you. Gaster had moved to stand beside Grillby, who had his hand around his husband’s waist. Now that you could see them properly (without a halo of hoodie fuzz in the way), they made a cute couple. Gaster had a slight blush on his face, and it grew as he stepped out of Grillby’s grasp and knelt in front of the boys.

            “Silver,” he spoke softly, as though afraid to frighten you again, “I must apologize for my words. I’m very sorry for never clearing up what I said at Blooky’s. I do not believe Reader’s should be treated as pets – I believe they should be treated as family members.”

            You and the boys stared at him for a moment, before Sans muttered beneath his breath, “That would have saved us some trouble.”

            You snorted, Grillby laughed, and Papyrus scolded his brother before shoving you into Sans hands and rushing to the bar. “Silver, look! I drew you a picture while we waited!” Just as quickly he returned, holding the piece out for you to examine.

            He had drawn yet another masterpiece, this one featuring himself and Sans, dressed in their newest clothes – a bright red scarf around his neck, a thick jacket with a fluff hood forming Sans upper body. On either side of them were two towering figures – Gaster, with his hand on Sans shoulder, and Grillby with an arm around Papyrus. In the middle, held by both boys and drawn in careful strokes with a silver pen, was you. The ink sparkled in Grillby’s flames, making it stand out from the red heart Papyrus had drawn behind it.

            Tears beaded along the bottom of your eyes, and you gave him the biggest grin you could muster. “It’s beautiful, Papyrus, I love it.”

            Papyrus giggled and knocked his teeth against your forehead. “Nyehehe! We can all be one big family now!” He cheered, and once he pulled away Sans copied his movement.

            “Yeah, we lucked out.”

            “I would argue that we are the lucky ones.” Gaster had stood and was leaning against his husband. He clapped his hands and headed for the kitchen. “Now, what should we have as our first dinner as a family?”

            “Spaghetti!”

            “Hotdogs!”

            “You’re not cooking.”

             You watched Grillby block his husbands path into the kitchen, herding him to the bar alongside the boys. You were set on the bar top by Sans, who sat in the seat right beside you. Papyrus climbed onto Gaster’s lap and leaned on the counter, beaming and content. The librarian sighed and rubbed Papyrus’ back, looking equally content. Sans rested his head on his arms on the counter, and you leaned back against his elbow. This had all turned out better than you ever could have dreamed.

            “Hey, Silver,” Sans moved the arm you weren’t leaning against to grab something from the countertop. “I think we need to ketchup.”

            You groaned at the sight of him wiggling the red condiment bottle. “Sans, I can’t mustard the patience to deal with you tonight.”

            As Papyrus yelled at you both to stop, and Gaster cackled and threw in his own pun (“I relish this exchange!”), and Grillby cooked dinner in the kitchen, you felt whole and truly happy for the first time, surrounded by your family.

            Outside, snow began to fall, and the crate that was no longer your home disappeared beneath the drifts.

Chapter Text

        You hate spiders.

        You really, really hate spiders.

        And the fact that you were surrounded by spiders while being backed into a cupcake display was doing nothing to help assuage your fear.

        The biggest of the dozen or so moved closer, eight too-long legs tapping as it scuttled towards you. The cupcake wrapper crinkled as your back pressed into it, icing beginning to frost your hair. It slowed as it came closer – oh stars, it was taller than you, even with its body close to the ground. It was covered in purple and black fuzz, and it's eight eyes showed startling intelligence as it eyed you up and down. If you were more daring, and not currently petrified with fear, you were certain you could clamber up on the spiders back and ride it.

        "Please don't eat me," you whimpered, knees trembling beneath the weight of your fear. The spider paused for a moment, and you hoped that meant it was thinking about not eating you. It raised one leg and you flinched back into the cupcake, adding sprinkles to the icing in your hair. The leg dropped back to the counter top, then tapped a few times. It made an odd chirping sound, and several of the other spiders rushed away, over the side of the counter and into the darkness of the café.

        This had not been the plan. You were supposed to get in, find the key, get out. Bing-bang-boom, no more than a five-minute job. The spider security-guards had not been an expected complication. Your master was going to kill you for taking so long.

        The tarantula took another step forward, and the slightly-smaller ones behind him scurried closer as well, forming a semi-circle, pinning you to the cupcake display. You wondered if you could turn around and eat your way out of this situation, and had to clamp down on some hysterical giggles. Stars, this was not how you wanted to die, passed around as each spider took a bite out of you.

        While you were distracted, mourning your un-heroic death, the biggest spider crept closer and clicked his pincers at you. With a rather unmanly squeal you jumped, and the cupcake you'd been pressed against tilted dangerously on its little rotunda. The spider, who you decided to call Biggy, stopped, then reared up on its back six legs, lifting its long front ones off the ground. Your knees trembled, knocking together before giving in all together. You collapsed, arms covering your head in a vain attempt to stave off strikes from the lithe limbs.

        Instead of attacking, Biggy adjusted the cupcake back into place on the stand, then patted your head before stepping back a comfortable distance. When those oversized fangs didn't aim for your throat, you cautiously lifted your head to recommence staring at him. He stared back, blinking his many eyes all at different times. It was very…creepy.

        But not as creepy as the monster that chose that moment to appear.

        The petite, black chandeliers sprung to life, the magical flames a mix of white and purple, casting eerie shadows about the room. Biggy and his friends turned to chirp at the back of the room, where the door to the kitchen had been silently opened by the scariest thing you'd ever seen. A monster, petite and purple-skinned, with six arms, two legs, and five eyes, stood in the doorway of the kitchen, looking a bit ruffled. The spiders that had departed before were clinging to the shoulders of her web themed nightgown, chittering to her. Despite having just woken, the spider's eyes were sharp as she looked about the room, easily spotting Biggy and you on the counter.

        "Oh my, what have we here?" The spider monster giggled into her long, slim fingers as she stepped daintily towards the counter. "A naughty little Reader looking for a midnight snack, perhaps?" You managed to make a little half-strangled noise, choking on your answer, eyes locked on her waving limbs. Beside you, Biggy made a series of chirping and chittering noises. The smile on the monster's face turned into a rather frightening frown, fangs peeking between her lips. "A little thief, you say?" She leaned forward over the counter a bit, and you scrambled backwards, the crinkled edges of the cupcake wrapper digging into your spine.

        When you didn't say anything to confirm or deny her accusation, she leaned back and crossed four of her arms over her chest. Several of her smaller spiders scrambled towards her from the cash register, carrying a cellphone over their heads.

        "Now, if you were just a lost, hungry little Reader, I'd give you some food and take you to the shelter," Muffet hummed, "But you have a collar, and that means you're working with a nasty monster to try and rob me." You gulped and reached up to grasp the thick metal collar around your neck, fingers sliding over the thin wiring along the inside. The spider monster picked up the phone and dialed a three-digit number. You could hear it ringing, then a click as it was answered. "Yes, hello? This is Muffet of the Swap Clan. I have an intruder at my bakery and need assistance. Oh no, they aren't going anywhere. My spiders and I have them surrounded, huhuhuhu!"

        The voice on the other side spoke for a second, and Muffet gave the bakery's address. Your fingers flexed around the collar, and you slid your gaze to the large shop windows that faced the street. She was waiting across the road, in the alley, and she had to know by now that you had been caught. Oh stars, you were going to be in so much trouble…

        "Keep an eye on our little intruder, Valiance," Muffet patted the large spider (apparently not named Biggy, to your disappointment), "I need to go upstairs and change. The Royal Guard will be here in a few minutes." Valiance-not-Biggy made a purring noise and clicked his fangs, then shuffled closer to you, legs stiffening as he took up a stern pose before you.

        The spider lady was back in only a moment, wearing a pretty dress and tying ribbons in her pigtails. She began to bustle about the back counter, pouring cups of hot tea and warming up a few pastries. She hummed an upbeat tune as dozens of her spiders scuttled around and helped her.

        "Good job, dearies. We want to give the nice royal guards a treat for coming out in the middle of the night!"  She giggled and set the platter of tea and pastries on the counter a few feet away from you. "Ah, here they come now!"

        A handful of spiders scrambled up the front door and flipped the lock just as a gold-scaled monster arrived. She threw open the front doors with far too much force but didn't even flinch when they banged off the decorative vases by the wall.

        "Muffet!" The short, yellow lizard, followed by a handful of other officers, stomped into the café with purpose. She summoned a bright cyan axe and gripped it tightly. "Where's the intruder?" She demanded.

        "Calm down, dearie," Muffet waved two of her hands at the upset lizard, "I have them right here." She gestured to the counter where you were currently cringing. Valiance gave the captain a salute with one of his front legs and skittered back. The lizard met your eyes, then groaned and dropped her arm, axe disappearing in a crackling flash.

        "That's not an intruder, that's a pest!" She declared loudly, only to have a cup of tea pushed into her hands by a shushing Muffet.

        "Now, now, there's no need to be mean, Captain Alphys." The spider chided, watching as her spiders delivered tea to each of the soldiers. "That little Reader isn't going anywhere until you've finished your tea." She made a little motion with her hands, and Valiance shuffled forward. You squeaked and ended up with another glob of icing in your hair.

        Captain Alphys sneered but gulped down her cup of tea. Her subordinates happily helped themselves to the finger sandwiches Muffet's spiders provided them and chatted softly, enjoying the short break. You stayed as still as possible on the counter, hoping against hope that if you pretended you weren't there, they would forget about you. More than that, you were hoping that she wasn't waiting across the street for you any longer, that she had left and not seen how much you'd screwed up.

        That hope was dashed when a faint buzzing began to grow around you. Valiance and the other guard spiders tensed at the sudden crack of magic in the air. This got Muffet's attention, all five of her eyes snapping to check on her suddenly frightened spiders. Captain Alphys, in turn, followed the café owner's eyes and focused on the counter as well, just as the shock hit.

        You screamed – you couldn't help it. Even after months with the restrictive collar on, the magical shock of electricity still scared you when it came. Your body jerked, muscles tensing and relaxing at lightning fast speeds as the magic electricity ran through your limbs. Valiance danced anxiously in front of you, making little chirping noises in alarm. Muffet reached for you, but Alphys smacked her arm down, back on guard.

        The shock lasted for no more than ten seconds, but to you it seemed to last a lifetime. At last the humming and rattling of the collar cut off and your limbs were back under your control. You collapsed, head making a bit of a squish as your icing-caked hair hit the countertop. Valiance poked you with his foreleg, making a worried trill through his fangs.

        "What was that?!" Alphys demanded, lowering her reformed axe and staring at you. Muffet leaned over the counter, shooing away her spiders, and stared at the collar around your neck with all five of her sharp eyes.

        "It's an electronic collar of some type," she replied. "I thought it was just decorative."

        "Is there a tag?" Alphys stuck her head beside the spiders, brows drawn down sharply. You let your head fall to the side, giving them a better view of the collar, and shut your eyes with a pained huff. She knew, and wasn't happy.

        A claw tapped the collar and you whimpered at the pressure on your neck, which was throbbing and tender. The hand left, replaced by the sound of skittering and worried chirps. Valiance's surprisingly soft feet gently rubbed your arm and forehead, and he let out a sad little noise. He moved to your head and began to groom the icing out of your hair. As much as you hated spiders, the big guy was beginning to grow on you.

        "No tag," Alphys huffed, and a ramen-scented breeze ruffled your hair. "Have you ever seen this Reader before, Muffet?"

        "No," the spider monster replied, "Never."

        Alphys groaned and straightened up. "Great." There was a small beep, followed by several clicks of talons against plastic, then several more beeps.

        "Who are you texting?"

        "Sans. He has a Reader – he'll know what to do." The clicking stopped and the lizard sighed again. "Alright, wrap it up guys. We're heading back to the precinct."

        "And the Reader?" Muffet asked. You could feel the captain's eyes on you; it made your skin crawl.

        "Do you have a donut box? I don't want to hold it in case it does…that again."

        "You are truly a paragon of compassion," the spider muttered sourly as she shuffled around the counter. Tissue paper crinkled as she pulled out a wad of it, alongside a small, flattened donut box. She shook it out with a snap of cardboard and fluffed up the tissue paper before creating a nest inside of the flimsy box. "There. This will keep the poor dear comfortable until you reach the station."

        When Alphys didn't move to pick you up, Muffet huffed and used her dainty fingers to lift you herself. Valiance "mrr'd" and clung to her wrist as you were set in the tissue paper, which made a surprisingly comfortable nest. Your body began to relax into the crinkly fluff, until the large spider jumped in after you.

        "Valiance, what are you doing?" Muffet demanded, trying to snag the tarantula and tug him out of the box. He crouched down beside you and chittered, mandibles clicking close to your face. One of his legs (you couldn't tell which one) stroked your hair, which was mostly icing free. He was surprisingly warm - did spiders even have body heat? You’d never thought about it before.

        The tarantula settled himself beside you, the donut box easily big enough to hold you both, and clicked his mandibles at Muffet in a decisive, no-nonsense way. The shopkeeper clicked something back through her own teeth, which you noticed were rather sharp. Valiance sniped back and rested two of his legs over your chest. Normally you would have cringed and scuttled away, but the magic had drained you and numbed your muscles. You settled for shifting uncomfortably in the tissue paper bedding instead.

        Alphys made an impatient huff. “Are you going to get your pet or not?” She demanded, glancing at the time on her phone. The other officers had finished their snacks and were helping the spiders clean up by stacking the plates and teacups for them.

        “He is not my pet,” Muffet said calmly, though there was an underlying steel to her voice. “Valiance is his own spider, and he wants to stay with the Reader until he knows they are safe.”

        “Does he bite?”

        “Not if he doesn’t need to.” Muffet crossed two pairs of her arms, while the third rested on her hips, and gave the captain a flat look. “Are you done interrogating me? It is only one in the morning, and I would like to go back to bed before the morning rush begins.”

        When you tilted your head back you could see a scowl on the yellow lizards face, but she didn’t snap back at the spider. Instead, she flipped up the lid of the donut box, which had a plastic window on the top that let you see a distorted version of the world. The box shuddered and bent slightly at the edges as one of the officers picked it up. Valiance withdrew his legs from across your chest and settled down beside you, pressed into your side.

        You did your best to forget that he eight legs and too many eyes and instead enjoyed the warmth the tarantula emanated; it felt good to your sore, tired muscles. The world above shifted, dipping and spinning as the officer left the store and got into a car. Music from a radio leaked into the box, and absently you reached up and rested a hand on your collar, holding it tightly as the car sped towards the precinct.

        She knew you were caught. She was angry, and she would make sure you knew it.



Chapter Text

            “PICASSO!”

            You froze, paint-covered finger squeaking against the drywall as it came to a halt. That had not been a happy yell, and a familiar cool sweat began to bead along the back of your neck. Pulling back your hand, you twisted your head to look at the wall behind you. The plastic siding of the doll house met your eyes, and you let out a sigh of relief. She didn’t know where you were yet, meaning there was time to escape before she found your newest masterpiece. You wiped your hands off on your pants (which had once been a light gray, but were now a mishmash of rainbow handprints and messy splatters) and packed up your tools. Miniature paint brushes made of bristles taped to cut-off toothpicks were tucked in the bottom of his knapsack – a fold of green felt held shut at the sides with a pair of clothespins, and a button over the top fold to keep it shut. On top of his tools went a dozen twists of tin foil, each filled with a different color of paint. You slipped off your sweater, stuck your arms through the yarn straps, then pulled the bulky sweater back over it. You’d have to map out a careful route to avoid the upset deer – she had sharp eyes, especially when one of her charges were in trouble.

            The entire dollhouse shifted, then jerked away from the wall. Before you could make a break for it a gray-furred hand swept down and seized you around the middle, scooping you a bit roughly from the floor. It didn’t hurt, but it wasn’t the usual gentle ride Rivet gave her charges when lifting them.

            When the deer didn’t stand up straight immediately, you followed her line of sight and was met with your latest masterpiece, painted on the drywall behind the house. It was one of your better paintings, you had to admit. Rolling green hills resting beneath streaks of orange, yellow, purple, red, all the way to dark blue at the top, which was dotted with spots of pale yellow and white to create stars. Pride bubbled in your SOUL at the sight, and you decided then and there that if Rivet made you wash it off, you’d re-paint it somewhere else.

            “You…you…” The deer let out a rather predatory growl and turned away from the wall, instinctively bringing you up to rest against her collarbone. You grabbed the edge of her shirt and held on tight as she stepped over the pen wall and crossed the room to her desk. The glow of your artistic achievement was beginning to fade, overtaken by worry. Rivet was rarely angry beyond words, but the crackling of her magic against your body suggested she’d reached the point today. Past her desk and into the backroom you went. Well, this wasn’t too bad. Maybe she just wanted to talk? Oh – nope. She turned left, towards the wall of isolation tanks against the wall.

            The tanks were simply small aquariums, meant to quarantine sick Readers or hold violent ones. Rarely, they were used for time outs when Rivet’s temper boiled over. This was apparently one of those times. The deer gently set you on top of one of the aquariums and crouched slightly, bringing her scowling expression level with you.

            “Picasso,” her voice was flat and nearly emotionless, “this is the tenth time this month I’ve found you drawing on the walls.” She paused, and you tried to look anywhere but her eyes. A thin finger caught you beneath the chin and forced you to look at her. “What do you have to say for yourself?”

            Ah, geeze. Her ears were drooping a bit, and her stern expression had softened, becoming sad. It was a dirty trick, one you were well acquainted with. She was an expert at dealing with unruly Readers; luckily, you were an expert at getting out of trouble.

            “I’m sorry Miss Rivet,” you slipped your chin from her finger and looked down at your feet, drawing your shoulders up slightly to try and seem apologetic. “I forgot.”

            “You forgot?”

            “I forgot the rules,” you tried, twisting the bottom of your paint-spattered sweater between your hands. “I just saw all the nice space on the wall and wanted to make it look pretty.”

            There was a long pause, and you felt a bloom of hope growing in your chest. Surely, she’d let you off with a warning, like every other time?

            “I’m not buying it.” Rivet straightened up, taking you off guard. “Picasso, we have had this conversation nine times this month alone. You did not just forget the rule about drawing on the walls.”

            “I wasn’t drawing, I was painting,” you muttered, crossing your arms over your chest, but Rivet’s ears flicked and her expression darkened.

            “I am not in the mood for your sass, young man,” she snapped. “There is a stack of paper as tall as you in the pen for you to use, and I have always been happy to get you canvas to paint on as well. You do not have any reason to be painting on the walls, and I will not deal with it anymore. You’re in time out until tomorrow.”

            “What?!” You shrieked, the warm glow of hope at this being just a talk extinguished. “That’s – you can’t do that!”

            “I can, and am.” Rivet lifted the top of the tank next to you. The bottom of the tank was lined with a soft blanket, which was folded over in one corner to form a bed, and there was a huge teddy bear in the other corner for any Readers in isolation who needed some comfort. There were also a few books and a miniature bean bag chair to keep any sick readers from getting bored. Rivet plucked you up by the back of your sweater and gently lowered the enclosure. “You are staying there until after lunch tomorrow. It will take me that long to scrub all your paintings off the walls and windows.” She scowled. “Not to mention the posters, the bottom of the guest chairs, the underside of the shelves, and the inside of Spice’s room.”

            “I just wanted them to have something to look at! They’re a baby – they need something interesting to look at!” You protested, stomping your foot. Rivet gave you a withering look.

            “Painting King Asgore riding a dinosaur into battle against a horde of vampire Froggits is not what a baby needs to be looking at.” She slid the lid of the aquarium back into place, leaving a thin line for fresh air and noise to enter and exit. “Now, stay in there and think about what you’ve done, and who has to clean up after you.” The monster turned with a flip of her tail and left the backroom. A murmur of unpunished Readers slipped through the swinging door for a moment, until the wood stilled and you were left all alone.

 


 

            Night fell and you were bored. Still bored. You’d been bored since Rivet had imprisoned you in this stupid glass-walled chamber of torturous nothingness. B-O-R-E-D. There were books, but even you weren’t going to deface a form of artistic expression, even if you were dying of BOREDOMNESS!

            Rivet had brought you dinner and taken the plate away when you were finished, but beyond that hadn’t even looked at you. She hadn’t even said goodnight when she flipped out most of the lights and flopped onto the mattress in the far corner of the room. The only light left on was the dim bulb in the middle of the room, which she always left on for Readers who needed her in the night.

            You rolled over and blamed the light for keeping you awake, not the fact that you’d slept half the afternoon away in a bored stupor. No, this was all that stupid deer’s fault. If that pen she’d dropped hadn’t rolled under the shelves, she never would have bent down and seen your masterpieces hidden on the underside of the wood slats. That had led to her checking the underside of every surface in the building, and she’d found months of your work.

            And now it was all erased.

            All that time and effort you’d put in when he couldn’t sleep at night, gone with some harsh scrubbing and a bottle of acetone. Not to mention your work on Spice’s bedroom ceiling! It had been brilliant – every line of Asgore’s flowing beard carefully etched, each Froggit with their own unique set of fangs. And now it was gone! All gone, poof, like you’d never spent hours on it.

            What if she did this to your next round of art as well? What if she just kept destroying what you created, even when it wasn’t in the way? What if she threw away your artwork done on paper and canvas as punishment the next time you got in trouble? The idea of losing all your work made your stomach hurt.

            You know what? No! You weren’t going to stick around and wait for the dumb deer to destroy more of your work. You jumped to your feet and grabbed your backpack, which you’d taken off and stashed out of sight beneath the blankets when you napped earlier. It had all your art supplies – the paints and brushes, crayon shavings, chips of chalk, a bit of charcoal, and ink pen nubs alongside a foil twist of black ink. After checking to make sure everything was inside you slung it over your shoulder and began examining the walls of the tank. There were no cracks or holes to slip out of, and the walls were much too slick to climb up. You groaned, rush of enthusiasm dashed, and tilted your head back to release a stress-filled huff. Air was left un-huffed, however, because there was one way out. The top of the cage was cracked open, just as Rivet had left it. The crack was along the front of the cage, and the over-sized teddy bear meant to be a comfort item had ears that nearly brushed the lid.

            Wasting no time to give this idea proper thought, you scrambled up the bear, using the plush fur as hand holds to drag yourself up its belly and onto its muzzle. It took some careful balancing to get to the top of the bears head. You had to stand on your tiptoes to reach the edge of the tank, but once your fingers were wrapped around the edge it was only a matter of a quick jump and some scrambling to haul yourself over the top. You almost let out a victorious whoop, but the shifting of the monster across the room made you shut your mouth so fast your teeth clicked painfully together.

            Whelp, you were up and out, but how did you get down? The table was a good drop from the top of the tank, but maybe if you carefully turned and let yourself dangle, the landing wouldn’t be too hard. You carefully swung your legs over the edge and turned, so you were resting with your stomach on the top rim, legs dangling on the outside of the tank. With slow movements you slipped off the edge, until you were dangling from your hands. After taking a few deep, bracing breaths, you dropped. The wood table rushed up to meet your feet, and a jolt ran up your locked legs as you landed. You fell back onto your rear with a soft groan, mindful of the sleeping deer across the room. Pain buzzed along your legs for a moment before dispelling, leaving only a phantom ache in your shaken bones.

            Once the ache disappeared, you glanced back at what had been your prison. Time-out? Hah, it was no match for you! Grinning in triumph you stood, brushed off your paint-splattered pants, and headed for the ladder bolted to the side of the table. Down this ladder, through the door to the front room, and through the secret emergency room, and you’d be home free.

            Your work would never be destroyed again.

Chapter Text

            There were eight emergency exits built into the baseboards of the shelter. Readers were free to leave through them, as long as they understood that if they left the shelter of their own volition, Rivet was no longer responsible for their health or well-being. They were always welcome back, as well – the circular tunnels through the wall opened both ways, monitored by passive magic. When she woke the deer monster would know someone had left through one of the exits, but she wouldn’t know who or why, and you were fine with that.

            You rushed across the main room of the shelter, not stopping to see if your masterpieces had truly been destroyed by the neurotically-neat deer. If you didn’t see the freshly-cleaned blank spaces, you could pretend they were still there. The midnight darkness of the room helped. 

            The doors to the exit tunnels were slightly raised circles built into the wood of the baseboard, appearing nothing but decorative to the untrained eye. You stopped at the one nearest the front door, which was the easiest to open since it was the most used. Many of the more adventurous Readers would go on miniature journeys around the building, irking their caregiver but almost always returning unharmed. You dug your fingers into the raised edge of wood and gave a sharp tug. The circle swung open easily, revealing a small, round tunnel that led to yet another wooden circle. The tunnel was lit by a small string of fairy lights hanging from the ceiling, left over from the last Gyftmas holiday. Some Handy Reader must have set them up for the Adventurers.

            You shut the door firmly behind yourself and escaped through the second, into the flower bed that lined the front of the building. The branches of the hedge bush caught on your backpack as you crawled beneath them, but the felt came loose with a quick tug. Outside of the bush was a massive sidewalk – as wide as a football field! – and beyond that a road. You weren’t dumb enough to try and venture across the asphalt to the trees beyond – a car wouldn’t be able to see you, and roadkill was not artistic in the least. Instead, you turned to the right and, sticking close to where the sidewalk met the buildings, began your escape into a far more art-appreciative world.

 


 

 

            Monsters. Were. Big.

            You’d been walking for at least an hour and were still able to see the bushes at the shelter lingering at the end of the street. It was late enough you hadn’t had to hide from any passing monsters, meaning either you were slow, or had seriously underestimated the height of the dominant race. You needed a break.

            The building in front of you was brightly lit, and the sound of laughter and chatter flowed easily through the front door, which was cracked open. For a second you were tempted to slip through the crack and enjoy the warmth, but the fear of getting caught quickly squashed that idea. You were running away to make a point, and only escaping for an hour wouldn’t prove anything except stupidity. Instead, you slipped into the alley between the bright building and what looked like some kind of bakery. The alley was surprisingly clean, and it didn’t take you long to find a trash can to settle down against. Slipping off your backpack, you slid to your rear and rested your head on the bin.

            You’d barely settled when a door banged open at the front of the building, followed by rapid footsteps. Frantically you shuffled to the side, hiding in the deep shadow of the bin. A monster rushed into the alley, one boney hand clapped over his mouth. His face was white and round, a skull that looked like it was made out of white modeling clay stained with black on one cheek. Large pupils – one shaped like a swirl, the other a star that was tilting this way and that – darted about the alley for a moment, completely passing you over in favor of the bin. As soon as he saw the silver can, the skeleton latched onto it. He threw off the lid with a quick flick of his wrist and doubled over, emptying his non-existent stomach. Something black and gooey splattered over the edge, landing scant feet from your hiding spot.

            “Hey Ink, y’okay?”

            A second, similar-looking skeleton moseyed into the alley, a large grin plastered on his teeth. He had on a blue hoodie and pink slippers, but his eyes were simple white dots in his skull. The other skeleton – Ink? – groaned long and loud, shaking the bin and, in return, you. The new skeleton chuckled and shuffled over to pat his back.

            “Glad to hear it. So, I dunno if you noticed but you lost the bet, so the tab is on you tonight.”

            A second groan, this one more annoyed than anything, echoed out of the bin as Ink straightened, wiping off his mouth with the back of his hand. “I noticed,” he ground out, shaking the black stuff off his hand. You had to shuffle back a few steps to avoid getting splattered with the – was that paint? Or ink? “Let me…” The skeleton trailed off as he reached into the back pocket of his brown and black pants. “Shoot.”

            The slippered skeleton raised a brow and rocked back on his heels, looking faintly amused. “What’s wrong?”

            “I left my wallet at home,” Ink groused, pushing away from the bin. He was a bit unsteady on his feet, black and tan scarf flapping about his shoulders as he regained his balance.

            “That’s convenient,” Slippers snorted, teeth curving down a bit in a frown. “This isn’t one of your jokes, is it?”

            “I don’t welsh on my bets,” Ink retorted sharply, reaching out to pull at the long, thin rod slung over his back. You had to lean forward and crane your neck a bit to see it properly, and was surprised when a fluffy end was revealed. It was a ridiculously large paintbrush, at least as tall as the skeleton, maybe a bit longer. His grip wavered a bit, then he brought up the brush and swung it down. The end of the brush rippled, and the air around it responded in kind. Ink pulled the brush down and the ripple followed, colors exploding from the trembling air like a rainbow ink pen exploding. The ripple expanded, creating an oval of surging colors pulsing in the air, standing as tall as the skeleton himself.

            It was the most amazing bit of painting you’d ever seen.

            “Why don’t you just draw some gold from your reserves?” Slippers asked, though his eyes were captured by the odd horizontal ink-puddle. The ink dripped from the surface, but vanished before it could stain the alley floor.

            “I can’t just make things appear,” Ink huffed, reaching out to touch the puddle. It shuddered, then split in half, the ink retreating to form a frame about a hole in the air – no, in the world. On the other side of the hole was not the rest of the alley, but a completely different landscape. Floating islands dotted a sky of stars, each holding one or more doors. “It could disturb the order of this AU.”

            “Isn’t this a – what did you call it? – a Hub AU? What could mess it up more than every possible AU being able to travel here?” Slippers leaned closer to the portal, examining it with a critical eye, gaze skating over the various doors and their unique paint jobs.

            “I don’t want to know,” Ink huffed. “I’ll be back in five minutes.”

            “Kay.” Slippers took a step back, giving his – friend? Companion? Drinking-Buddy? – room to step through the portal. “If you’re late I’m sending Error after you.”

            Ink shot him a glare that made even you recoil against the bin, his pupils changing to sharp, jerky shapes. Slippers put his hands up and took another step back.

            “Fine, fine,” he conceded, before his grin grew even wider than before, “I’ll send Fresh instead.” He vanished before the smack Ink aimed at his head could reach him. The lone skeleton huffed and muttered something that sounded rather unflattering beneath his breath before turning back to his portal.

            “Should leave ‘em high and dry,” he snarled to himself, stepping through the ink and into the other world, “but he’d send those two and worse if I did.” The rest of his muttering was cut off as he disappeared amongst the trees, leaving the tantalizing portal sitting there, floating in mid-air, completely unguarded.

            Did you? Did you dare?

            You crept closer, clutching your backpack of art supplies close. This – this was what you wanted, wasn’t it? This was a monster that obviously appreciated art! He wore a giant freakin’ paint brush on his back, not to mention all those point vials on the belt hanging around his chest! You stopped at the edge of the portal and reached towards the ink, which was still throbbing and shifting with magic. Hesitating only a moment, you plunged a few of your fingers into the mass.

            It was warm. The ink was pure magic, warm and tickling and setting your nerves on end like an electric shock. You withdrew your hand, taking none of the ink with you. There was a light hue of yellow and purple about your fingers, but it faded the longer you stared at it. Taking several steps over, to where the portal part was lowest, you paused and reached, tentatively, towards the other world. You hand passed through another pulse of magic, then arrived safely in the foreign land. The cobblestone path that led from the portal was rough beneath your hand, and without thinking you slung your backpack over your shoulder and plunged your other arm in. In only moments you had pulled yourself through into this new place, leaving the alley standing empty on the other side of the ink-ringed portal.

            The skeleton that had created the portal, Ink, was nowhere to be seen, but he had to be coming back. He had promised Slippers he’d return, after all, which meant you needed to find a place to hide for now. Despite being an artist at heart, you didn’t want to risk imposing or scaring Ink and getting yourself kicked out of this place. There were bushes lining each side of the path, which curved forward through a small thicket of trees to a large, round meadow. There was a pond with some kind of miniature waterfall made of tumbled rocks, and a huge willow tree leaning over it, stroking the swelling water with its leaves. Beyond the pond the land vanished, ending abruptly to a star-spackled expanse of sky. Other small islands floated beyond, each having one or more doors, each door painted with its own unique pattern. They all seemed smaller than this one.

            Footsteps pulled you from your thoughts, and without pause you threw yourself into the bushes beside the cobblestone. Ink appeared at the end of the path, clutching a leather wallet in one hand and massaging his temple with the other. He was cursing someone named Horror for challenging him to a drinking game, and cursing someone else named Sans for goading him into the wager. Without giving the bushes a second look he vanished through the portal, which closed behind him with a zipper-like movement.

            You waited, tense beneath the tangle of branches, for several minutes, but Ink didn’t return. With a heavy sigh, you rolled out to the cobblestones once again and stood, adjusting your backpack over both shoulders and brushing off your paint-stained sweater and jeans. The path stretched out in front of you, just waiting for someone to travel the stones and explore this new, vast, odd world.

            Grinning so hard it hurt, you obliged.

Chapter Text

         “SANS!”

           The door to Grillby’s slammed open, startling the bar tender and the half of the clientele not yet drunk off their ass. The three Sanses and two honorary-Sanses currently in attendance at the bar turned to face the fuming fifth, all shaken out of their various states of inebriation. The shorter Papyrus – Stretch, of the Swap Clan – lazily lifted his head, chewing on the end of his unlit cigarette as he watched the fuming Creator storm into the bar. Beside him Fell-Clan Red groaned and tightened his grip on his mustard, sending some of the thick condiment dribbling from the tip and onto his phalanges. Alpha Sans thought quickly through the pranks he’d pulled that day, noted that he hadn’t pulled any on Ink, and relaxed against the bar, back pressed against the shining top, elbows holding him up. Mobsy of the Mob Clan was sitting in a similar position, pulling it off much better than his original counterpart. He had his fedora tipped back a bit, and a cocky grin on his face. Beside him Swapfell-Clan Papyrus, nicknamed Slim, threw back a shot glass full of extra-hot sauce, then picked at one of his four golden fangs. All five gave the seething Ink Sans an intrigued-bordering-on-bored look.

           “What’s got your panties in a twist, Ink?” Sans asked when their fellow skeleton didn’t immediately start hollering at their attention. In fact, the artist looked rather sick, black ink dribbling from the corner of his mouth before he reached up and wiped it away with the back of his hand.

           “Where’s Error? Or Fresh?” He demanded, voice slightly strained, the way it did when he got over-excited. “Where are those AU hopping asses?”

           Stretch whistled a bit between his fangs and leaned over to Red. “Never heard him swear before,” the Papyrus admitted. “You?”

           “Only when I stole his brush that one time,” Red returned, licking the spilled mustard off his phalanges before taking a swig from the bottle. On the far end of the bar Slim clucked his tongue at the language from the normally-calm (if mischievous and arrogant) Ink and poured himself another shot of hot sauce. The rest of the bar followed suit – in the past twenty years above ground, the antics of the various Sans & Papyrus’ had become common place and not worth turning attention from available alcohol.

           “No need to yell, Ink,” Mobsy kept his voice pleasant, “Not when there’s kiddos around.” He nodded to the booth closest to the bar, where two more skeletons sat: Sans and Papyrus, the adopted sons of Grillby and Gaster, alongside a little Reader in a silver sweater who was glaring daggers at him with frosty gray eyes. Ink immediately stiffened (he always found it odd to see children versions of him and Papyrus, though it also made a warm little flicker appear where his SOUL should have been), then drew back his shoulders and stormed towards the bar as quietly as possible.

           “Where are they?” He demanded, gaze focused on Mobsy and Sans. Out of the time-and-space traveling skeletons assembled, they were the ones who looked sober enough to give him a straight answer.

           “Do I look like an idiots’ keeper?” Mobsy snorted, picking up a tumbler of fine whiskey on the rocks and taking a sip. It burned down his non-existent throat, giving him a shock of awareness followed by a drowsy wash of pleasant numbness.

           “You look like a guy who always knows what’s up,” Ink corrected. He was tugging on the end of his scarf, which was covered with scribbles and designs, none of which made sense to the gathered skeletons.

           “And…?” Mobsy relaxed a bit more against the bar, the wave of booze doing its work. It’d been a hellish day of chasing after shadows, and he wanted to unwind, not fight with the stuck-up Creator. Behind him, Slim snagged the edge of his half-full whisky glass and dragged it over, filling the empty space with hot sauce before throwing it all back. He barely managed to put the glass down before his forehead hit the bar, followed shortly by a soft snore. Mobsy snorted and motioned to Grillby for another round in a clean glass.

           “I’m not trying to draw any conclusions, here,” Sans interjected, “but what do you want with Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dumb? I thought those two drove you nuts. Hell, you’re practically mortal enemies with Error.”

           Ink dropped the end of his scarf, eye lights brightening, one forming a red ‘X’, the other shifting into a white swirling vortex. “One of them has been destroying my Doodle Sphere,” he admitted, reaching back to grasp at the handle of his paintbrush.

           The barstool skeletons sat up straighter (aside from Slim, who had vastly underestimated his ability to hold his liquor compared to Mobsy) and gave him rapt attention. While none were particularly fond of the stuck-up skeleton, and while they often teased him about his role as ‘Guardian’ of the AUs, they understood that he had a job to do. If someone was messing in his Doodle Sphere – especially someone with as much power as Fresh or Error – then their very existence could be in jeopardy.

           “What kind of destroying?” Stretch, level-headed as always (when it didn’t involve his brother), dug straight for the details.

           Ink sniffed, sounding insulted not by the question, but by the very thought of what had been done to him. “Graffiti,” he hissed, “All over the paths and on my house!” There was a pause as he looked at the Sanses, waiting for a similar outrage, only to see relief cross their skulls at the news.

           “Is that all?” Sans relaxed once more, reaching for his bottle of ketchup. Without realizing it he grabbed one of Red’s yellow bottles and squirted a nice, big glob of mustard in his mouth. He immediately spluttered, spitting it out and gagging. Red cackled as he snatched the bottle back, muttering about wimpy clans with no taste for the spice of life. Stretch brayed with laughter at the pun on his other side, exclaiming it was a sweet pun, tipping his honey bottle to Red as he did so. The two burst into laughter, ignoring Sans as he wiped out his mouth and drowned the taste of mustard with chilled ketchup.

           “What do you mean, ‘Is that all’?” Ink demanded, raising his voice to mock Sans as the skeleton recovered. Sans frowned at the attitude, but quietly reminded himself that it was just Ink being Ink.

           “It ain’t that bad,” Sans explained around the nozzle of the ketchup bottle. “Can’t you just use your fancy brush to paint over it?”

           “I do,” Ink said in a tone that suggested he thought Sans was an idiot for suggesting such an obvious solution, “But it just reappears the next day! And it’s always different.”

           “So what, is Error writing dirty limericks or something on your front door? Like,” Papyrus cleared his throat and sat up straighter in his seat before beginning to recite, “There once was a man from Nantucket-“ Before he could get any farther Grillby whacked the back of his head and, with a stern glare, pointed at the booth where his sons were doing their homework. Red snorted, spraying mustard over his jacket, and muttered the last few words of the infamous poem beneath his breath. This time it was Gaster who delivered the hit as he passed by to gather up his three charges and sweep them away upstairs. The two children, bright-eyed and ready for dinner, gave their alternate selves a wave before following their adopted papa into the back. From Papyrus’ shoulder, Silver gave the adults a stern look and, when certain the kids were distracted chatting with their papa, flashed Ink a middle finger.

           The guardian reared back a bit, face flushing in anger at the cheeky move, but before he could retaliate they were gone. Sans chuckled, eyeing the swinging door that led to the kitchen. “Heh, they don’t like it when people swear around their monsters,” he explained, “Takes after Grillby.”

           “Hmph.” Ink crossed his arms and glared at the five in front of him. “Do you know where Error and Fresh are or not?” He demanded, risking raising his voice now that the impressionable youth were gone.

           “No idea,” Sans shrugged, followed by similar answers by Stretch and Red. Mobsy, sipping his new glass of whisky, nudged Slim for an answer but the skeleton was out cold.

           “Ain’t seen or heard from ‘em since you bought us all drinks,” the dapper skeleton said, pulling out his phone and texting his brother for a ride. Slim would need a place to sleep off his hangover without that shrieking banshee he called a brother waking him before dawn. “Speaking of, it’s been three whole days. You sober enough to try out-drinking me?”

           Ink fumed, both eyes flashing to red skull-and-crossbones. “You aren’t taking this seriously.” He accused.

           “So they decided to prank you a bit across space and time,” Sans waved a hand, as though shooing off the problem. “You can fix it with a single stroke of your brush. They’ll get bored, and you’ll have your magical doodle circle back.”

           “Doodle Sphere.”

           “Whatever,” Sans shrugged, pushing himself off the stool and squirting the rest of his bottle in his mouth. “I gotta go read Paps his bedtime story. Night, guys.”

           His fellow skeletons (sans Ink) waved him off. Grillby crackled something about his tab and Sans laughed, thanking him before disappearing out the door. Mobsy stood not long after, dropping several gold coins on the bar top and dragging Slim up, one of the Papyrus’ arm over his shoulder. He gave his own farewell and pulled Slim from the bar to the car where his brother was waiting.

           Ink fumed at their dismissal. How could they not see how important this was? Someone was attacking his home with graffiti! It was a threat to his safety! What if they touched one of the doors? Even a small change, like an extra stroke of paint in the wrong place, could destroy the spell and seal the universe off until he could build a new door. That itself could take weeks – if this was Error or Fresh, they could be doing this on purpose to destroy one of the many AUs that he protected. It was a disaster!

           “What about Dream?” Red suggested quite suddenly, “They can do that AU-hopping stuff, right? Or that one guy, the creepy one with the scythe – Death? Yeah, Death can hop too. So can some of the Gasters, and those creepy River brothers – Delta and what’s-his-face.”

           “None of them can access the Doodle Sphere at will, since they’ve never been there. It has to be either Error or Fresh leaving the pictures.”

           “Pictures?” Stretch was tall enough to glance over Reds head at Ink. “You got any photos?”

           Ink dug out his phone, wiped off a glob of ink, and flicked it on. He’d taken photos of each incident of vandalism before painting over them. The pictures weren’t bad, per say – in fact, with some practice and guidance, the artist could prove to be quite capable. But they were unwanted, which made them a problem in the delicate Doodle Sphere ecosystem.

           Red and Stretch examined his phone, flicking through the paintings. Sunsets, sunrises, various monsters, human-like creatures, sprawling patterns with no real start or end, mandalas of growing difficulty, colored patterns that looked like hopscotch courts, all with the remains of chalk, crayons, or paints about them.

           The Underfell skeleton tapped the screen, a frown on his fangs. “These are all small,” he pointed out, looking thoughtful for some reason. Stretch kept flicking through until he came to the mural painted on the side of Inks house: Queen Toriel riding a triceratops regally while battling what looked like werewolf Whimsuns.

           “These are good,” he admitted, handing the phone back, “Doesn’t look like Error or Fresh’s work.”

           “Can’t be anyone else,” Ink countered, glaring at his phone, still fuming that his bursting in and threatening the skeletons hadn’t worked in his favor.

           “It could be a-“ Stretch was cut off by a sharp elbow in his ribs, curtesy of Red.

           “Couldn’t be,” he cut the Papyrus off, a mischievous sparkle in his eye lights. Stretch raised a brow but obediently shut up, not about to ruin his friends plan.

           Ink, who had been absorbed in mentally critiquing the photos on his phone, glanced up at the pair. “Were you saying something, Papyrus?” He asked, tucking the phone in his pocket.

           “Nothing.” Stretch held up his hands and wiggled his phalanges. “We’ll keep an eye out for your vandals.”

           Ink gave him a mistrustful look, then relaxed and nodded. “Right. Thanks, Papyrus.”

           “Stretch.”

           “Uh-huh.” Ink had already gone back to his phone, squinting at the detail in Toriel’s fur. He muttered to himself about brush strokes and color blending as he left the tavern, nudging a few patrons out of the way without noticing. As soon as he was gone Red cracked open a new bottle of mustard and swung his barstool towards Stretch.

           “How long do ya think it’ll take him to realize?”

           Stretch fished a fresh bottle of honey from his hoodie pocket and sipped it thoughtfully. “I say…a week.”

           “Heh, yer giving ‘im too much credit. I say a month.” Red squirted more mustard past his fangs.

           “Wanna bet?”

           “Wouldn’t’a asked if I didn’t.”

           “Loser pays off the others tab.”

           “Fair ‘nough.”

           The two knocked their condiment bottles together in agreement and cackled at the trouble they were helping to cause. After all, how would Ink, who’d never properly met a Reader, figure out it was one doing the damage?


           Heaven. You were in heaven.

           There were art tools scattered everywhere. The skeleton monster – Ink – was an artist, and left his supplies all over the place. You could only travel on the one large island you’d originally landed on, the other, smaller pieces of floating land out of reach, but that was fine. You had more than enough room to express yourself. Each cobblestone was a brand-new canvas, as the walls of the small house Ink lived in provided plenty of space to experiment. Paint, chalk, charcoal, pencil lead, markers – any and all tools were scattered in the grass or on the patio for your use.

           True, your work didn’t last long – only a day or two, if that, and it reminded you of Rivet and her scrub brush far too much for comfort. But there was something different about how Ink handled the vandalism. Whenever he found one of your masterpieces, he’d growl and gruff, then examine it and talk to himself about the details or the color or the potential. He’d take out his phone and snap a picture of it before painting over it with the giant brush on his back. It still irked you, that your work was being erased, but at least this monster took the time to appreciate your skills.

           In the week you’d been in this odd world – Ink called it a ‘Doodle Sphere’, which was as good a name as any – you hadn’t felt sleepy or hungry once. The sky hung in perpetual twilight, providing enough light to see but still dark enough to let the stars stand out in the ombré evening. There were fruit trees among the thick woods that took up a good chunk of the island, and tangles of raspberry and blueberry bushes in the field by Ink’s house, but you didn’t feel the need to eat like you had in the other world. Sleep was the same thing. You could fall asleep, you’d found. After Ink found your mural on his wall (a companion piece to the one you’d painted for Spice), he’d paced about the entire island for hours. You’d hidden beneath a thick bush and, bored out of your mind, had drifted into a light sleep, despite not feeling tired.

           These were exciting revelations. Not having to stop to eat or sleep allowed you to spend that much more time on what was important: art! Every drawing you created was an improvement on the last, every sketch more detailed, every stroke of the brush more precise. It was as though simply being in this Doodle Sphere was making you a better artist. Or perhaps it was that you could do it freely now, without the worry of persecution? Unless of course Ink was there, but he spent most of his time on the other side of the various doors on the far islands, or one his phone yelling about (or was it at?) someone named Sans.

           Now, on the evening of your second Monday in the magical land, you stuffed your backpack full of all the chalk you’d scrounged up over the past week, and topped it off with a raspberry. Just because you didn’t need to eat didn’t mean you wouldn’t – the fruit and berries here were perfect in every sense of the word. It would make a good celebratory desert when you were finished with your newest masterpiece. Hiking the bag on your shoulders, you left the hidey-hold you’d created beneath a bush and set off for the far side of the island.

           Away from Ink’s house, from the pond and waterfall, from the meadow and the odd spot where Ink opened his portals, was a bluff. The land wound upwards, creating a cliff top that gave a good view of the entire land, and all the door-topped islands beyond. There were large slabs of stone at the top, for use as seats and decoration. They were smooth on the side and would be a perfect canvas for your one-week mural. Sure, it was a few hours hike, and you’d be sweaty and gross by the time you reached the top, but that was a sacrifice you were willing to make.

           Really, what’s the worst that could happen?

Chapter Text

Looking for the new chapters? Head to the beginning!

 

Over the next few weeks I'll be tweaking the stories I've already posted to fit with the new world building I've done. Have any questions? Feel free to hit me up in the comments, or at my tumblr! When I update/re-post a new chapter, I'll put the date next to the title so you can tell.

 

I'm planning on rewriting:

Timid Reader & Underswap Bros

Runaway Reader & Underfell Sans

Hungry Reader & Alpha!Grillby 

All Damaged!Reader Chapters

Abused Reader & Edgy

 

I'm planning on tweaking:

Exotic Reader & Mobtale Sans

Picasso & Ink Sans

 

Future chapters include

Aggressive Reader & Horrortale Sans

Star-Crossed Lovers & Alpha Mettaton

Techie Reader & Flowey

Rescued Fighter Reader & Gerson

Exploited Reader & Fell Mettaton

Geeky Reader & Outerspace Sans/Papyrus

Talented Reader & Dancetale

Athletic Reader & Lust Clan

Ill Reader & Reaper Sans

Insomniac Reader & Dream Sans

Insane Reader & Insane Gaster

Bitty Reader Avengers

Abandoned Readers

The Secret Reader City

Humans v Readers

 

 

Have any other ideas? Leave it in the comments on this chapter, and if I think it's feasible/writable for me, I'll add it to the list! 

Chapter Text

You were tired of being timid.

Sweets told you it was nothing to be ashamed of - you weren’t the only one with a pale-green sweater in the shelter, after all - and that nobody was judging you on your color. That, of course, was a lie - everybody judged everybody else on their color. It was a way of knowing who to hang out with, and who to avoid. If you were Active, you wanted to be with the Brave or the Adventurous in order to climb the plastic replica of Mt. Ebott (complete with hidden tunnels and a twisty-turny slide painted like a waterfall). If you were a Clever, you hung out with the Curious to read books or play with the Reader-sized chess pieces (which took two Readers to push into place, but toppling the opposing sides pieces was so satisfying when you had to bodycheck it into submission).

And if you were a Timid...you hung out with yourself.

There was a stigma that hung around those clad in pale green. Timid Readers were rarely adopted, and it was thought that those who hung out around Timids would lose their chance to be adopted as well. Most didn’t avoid you to be mean, it was just...the way it was. You’d been here three months, and the only friend you’d made was Sweets.

Sweets was a compassionate Reader who had decided to stay at the shelter after her former owner, an elderly therapist, had passed away. She was young enough that the death of her Monster didn’t kill her, and with several years of being a therapy companion under her belt she managed to help in ways the shelter owner and others couldn’t. And since she didn’t want to be adopted, she wasn’t scared to hang out with you and your pale-green sweater.

In fact, Sweets was the only reason you were out of the yellow house today. It was the first Saturday of the month, meaning Adoption Day had arrived, and the shelter was swarming with curious monsters looking for the perfect companion. For the past two months you’d sheltered inside the various doll houses or in one of the plastic caves in the mountain whenever there were monsters about, but today you’d been stupid and made a promise . A promise to not hide inside while the monsters were there.

So you were huddled against the eighteen-inch wall that seperated the Pen from the rest of the shelter. The Pen was a fenced-off area of the shelter, taking up a whole third of the room to the left of the main door. It was filled with anything a Reader could want - several fully-furnished dollhouses, the plastic mountain, a closed little building full of showers and baths, a whole crate full of clothes, half-a-library of books stacked haphazardly on a long row of shelves, Reader-sized tables with pencils, papers, and art supplies, and enough pillows, blankets, and oversized stuffed animals to cure even the worst case of insomnia.

You’d chosen to curl up against the wall and observe your fellow Readers with your back to the larger part of the shelter, which was thriving with Monsters. It kept your promise to Sweets, but also kept you out of sight - the only way a Monster would see you was if they stood right at the wall and bent over, or if they stepped into the Pen itself. Sweets had caught your eye a few times, and while she didn't seem too happy about your clever hiding spot, she didn't say anything about it, just gave you a smile and rushed to help the next Reader find a forever home.

You picked at your stupid pale-green sweater and thought about mint leaves and baby fiddleheads and DOS screens and all the brighter, deeper shades of green that existed in the world. Some of those shades rushed by you in a tizzy, alongside all the colors in the rainbow that adorned every size of Reader, from charcoal-gray to palest yellow. A new wave of monsters had rushed in, coinciding with the 5 o'clock rush passing on the road outside of the shelter. Readers eager for a forever home moved to greet them, gathering around several ladders that led to the top of the wall. The wall itself was five inches thick across the top, giving the eager bitties plenty of room to sit or stand and talk with their prospective Monsters.

The door to the shelter burst open, a cacophony of bells announcing the arrival of someone who let out a loud, excited “MYEH-HEH-HEH!” as they trampled into the room. You flinched and scrunched farther against the wall, wrapping your arms around your knees, which you drew to your chest. Loud, sudden noises always made you jump. Sweets said you had ‘PTSD’ or something like that, from when you were formed. Unlike the majority of Readers, you’d had the misfortune of being born in the middle of a battlefield.

Not a real battlefield, of course - there were no battles on the mountain. No, you’d had the luck of being formed in the middle of mock skirmish being held by the Royal Guard, between the Tale and the Fell guards who had grown bored with no humans to hunt or lawbreakers to punish. The two sides had been going all out after months of stagnant patrols and routine paperwork, and only a handful had noticed the little swirl of magic and flash of light that heralded your birth.

You were lucky Readers were born fully physically developed, or there was no way you’d have survived. Despite being a bit dazed and trying to figure out how much air to pull in for a breath, you’d managed to scramble out of the way of a boot, and avoid the sharp end of a spear. Above the din of slurs and insults, someone had started yelling ‘STOP!’ and ‘CIVVY ON THE FIELD!’ but that had barely slowed the thundering feet around you. You tossed yourself to the side for the second time and spotted your salvation: a potted fern, sitting on a concrete porch at the end of the field. Beyond it was a building that exceeded the definition of ‘ginormous,’ filled with spectators. The path to the plant was clear, though, and without wasting a second to doubt you rushed towards it.

The frantic activity on the field began to calm as a monster wearing a red scarf began yelling about someone being in danger, soon accompanied by another tall monster wearing a similar scarf, only more tattered. You could feel eyes on you as the battle slowed, then stopped, from both the guards and the spectators but you didn’t care. All you cared about was the safety of the small space between the potted fern and the wall. A monster in white fur wearing a cape moved across the patio towards you, but you managed to scramble up on the concrete slab and dive behind the pot before his large mitts snatched you up.

The plant was set in a corner, where part of the more-than-ginormous building jutted out, creating a cozy cover for you to crouch in. Crouch you did, doubled over and clutching your hands to your chest, trying desperately to pull air into your brand new lungs. Screeching and screaming voices from the battlefield rolled over you like a wave, amplified by the concrete walls and terracotta pot, making you whine as your eardrums ached.

A new, booming voice flowed over the screams, leaving a deafening silence in its wake. Softer voices picked up, and the ground shook as the spectators began to leave the patio, alongside the warriors who had been fighting. You tipped back to sit against the wall, the concrete cold against your bare skin. In the panic before you hadn’t noticed, but at the moment you weren’t wearing a single scrap of clothing. The sudden realization almost had you giggling.

You’d just streaked across an active battlefield.

The giggles were quick to dissolve into soft, hiccuping sobs as feelings - new, terrifying, alien feelings - rushed over you, reminding you that you had just barely survived being stomped, skewered, and snatched. Fear, relief, terror, vertigo, unease, and confusion shoved its way into your SOUL, fighting for supremacy as you tried to gather your scattered thoughts. Darkness filtered over your little corner but you barely noticed it, too distracted in trying to keep your psyche from shattering. It vanished, and was replaced by pink.

Pink hair, pink eyes, pink sweater, pink cheeks, pink tennis shoes with hearts doodled on the white rubber toes - pink. Just...just pink. Pink made a disapproving cluck with her tongue and wrapped you in a large, fluffy bit of (thankfully not pink) fabric. She patted your head, rested her hands on your cheeks, and squished your face a bit, talking quickly to someone you couldn’t see about your STATs, whatever that was. You closed your eyes and listened to Pink’s rambling, and felt her hand began to stroke your hair back, the touch gentle and soothing.

That had been your first meeting with Pink, the first of many. After nearly an hour of soothing you and petting your hair and adjusting the not-pink fabric that was your only source of warmth she’d coaxed you from behind the plant and into the hands of a gray monster with antlers. Then you’d been swept away to the shelter, bathed and given a fuzzy sweater that turned a minty-green as soon as you’d touched it.

It wasn’t long after you arrived that you were spooked by your first monster - the owner of the shelter, who had stepped too close and sent you in a blind panic that had you running face-first into a wall and knocking yourself out for a solid five minutes. Sweets began talking with you after that, bringing you to her ‘office’ in the Yellow House (a yellow dollhouse with Victorian furniture that was surprisingly comfortable) and discussing your thoughts and feelings on Monsters. After a few weeks of nightmares, another handful of embarrassing (and sometimes painful) meetings with other Monsters, and two panic attacks that had you shut down completely for nearly an hour, Sweets declared you the lucky owner of a case of PTSD.

A timid Reader with PTSD. You were un-adoptable.

This led to your current predicament, three months later. Sweets had slowly prodded you to hang out around Monsters more, and had managed to extract a promise from you to sit in the Pen today, out of cover of the deepest cave in the plastic Mt. Ebott. So you sat against the wall, out of sight of the Monsters, and listened to the new comer with the ‘MYEH-HEH-HEH’ laugh bounce around the main room.

“Hello, shelter owner! I am seeking a companion!”

“...Sans?”

“Ah, I see my amazing endeavours have spread my name far and wide! Indeed, I am the Magnificent Sans!”

“...Yeah, sure, let’s go with that. You’re here to adopt?”

“Yes! I am in need of a magnificent companion!”

“Well if you’ll come with me we can take a look at the paperwork…”

The voices faded off, and conversation between other adopters and adoptees picked back up. You rested your head against the wall and blocked out the mindless chatter, imagining a cool, dark room with a comfy bed and the sound of rain hitting the roof. You just had to meditate until six, and the shelter would close and the monsters would be gone.

Thunder interrupted your mental rain as the Chatty-Cathy Monster returned, still talking in a too-loud voice about how excited he was. The shelter owner was gently coaching him to use a soft voice and a calmer demeanor, and it seemed to be working a little. The monster dropped his voice to a tolerable level as they came up to the Pen wall. Several curious Readers climbed onto the wall, whispering to each other as they moved to meet the new monster.

“Where do I step in?”

“Oh, Monster’s aren’t allowed in the Pen, sorry,” the owner apologized. “We have some Reader’s who are afraid of Monsters, or who don’t want to be adopted, and they stay in the Pen where it’s safe for them. The Reader’s who want to be adopted are up here, on the wall. Take a look, talk for awhile - but keep your voice down! - and let me know if you gentlemen click with any of them.”

“Sure thing, toots.”

“Stretch…”

“Excuse my brother’s rudeness, Miss Hart!”

“Sure thing, Mr. Sa - er, Bllue. Let me know if you need anything.”

So the loud Monster had a brother? Good for him. A set of bouncy steps moved farther down the wall, to the front of the store, where the ladder was set up and most of the Reader’s were congregated. The loud Monster began talking to them in a still-slightly-too-loud voice. You went back to imagining rain on rooftops, until something scraped against the wall above you.

Slowly, like a cornered protagonist in a bad horror movie, you tilted your head back to look up. You were spared any alien goop or fake blood, thank goodness. Instead, a Monster was staring down at your curiously. He (she? How could you tell with skeletons?) had a long face, lantern jaw, and rounded cheekbones. His (if this was the ‘brother’ then it was a he, right?) eyes were long, dark ovals set deep in his skull, and magic had dyed the bone beneath them, giving him a tired air. Despite not having pupils or irises, you knew he was looking at you. He rolled something in his mouth, and you realized a sucker stick was protruding from his teeth.

“Sorry kid, didn’t mean to scare you.” He apologized, shifting his arms to cross beneath his skull. He rested his chin on his forearms and tilted his head so he was watching the loud Monsters further down the wall.

Amazingly, you didn’t mind. The skeleton had acknowledged you (even apologized) and then proceeded to ignore your existence. The panic that had begun to edge its way into your SOUL slowly leaked away, and you dropped your chin to your chest with a silent sigh, trying to call back the room with rain. You just had it in your grasp, down to the stripes on your bedspread (every color except pale green), when screaming once again interrupted. It wasn’t a Monster this time, though - it was a Reader.

Specifically an Adventurous Reader, who had grown bored of climbing the fake Mt. Ebott and had decided to try his hand at scaling the side of the Yellow House freestyle, without any ways to keep him from slipping. He’d made it to the top before losing his footing, and was now dangling from the plastic rain gutter nearly five feet off the ground. If he fell it most likely wouldn’t kill him (Reader’s were oddly durable), but he would definitely break a few limbs and be in pain for weeks, if not months.

A blur of white and blue leapt over the wall further down and rushed across the Pen, placing his feet delicately but swiftly between the milling Readers. Without harming a single hair on any of their heads, he landed before the house (which was nearly as tall as he was) and reached up with flat palms to offer the Adventurer a place to stand. Face the definition of relief, the Reader dropped down and fell to his knees on the boney palms. You clutched your chest, startled by the sudden appearance,  but he was far enough away that you didn’t start panicking.

“Are you alright, tiny Reader?” Mr. Blue asked, examining the Reader closely. The Reader weakly lifted an arm and gave a thumbs up, still trying to get his bearings after the scare. Slowly, Mr. Blue knelt and set his hands on the ground, allowing the Adventurer to slide off and stumble into the arms of a worried Compassionate, who helped him over to a cushion to sit.

“Mr. Blue,” the shelter owner had heard the commotion and swept over. The skeleton tensed, slowly turning his head and giving her a pleading look, eyes wide and pupils blown into star-shapes.

“Miss Hart, I am so, so, so sorry , I didn’t mean to break the rules…” He trailed off, and you could see the deer farther down the wall, holding her hand out to stop the small skeletons rambling.

“Mr. Blue,” she began again, “please make sure you do not sit or step on any of the Reader’s while you are in there. And don’t pick any of them up unless they ask.” She gave him a stern look, then turned and began attending to the remaining Monsters. After a moment, Mr. Blue fell back on his rear, a wide grin splitting his face. Within seconds he was swarmed with curious, grateful Readers, thanking him for saving one of their own and inquiring about himself.

Above you, the long-faced skeleton chuckled, and you tilted your head back ever-so-slightly to peek at him. “Heh,” he caught your eye and gave you a wink, “Isn’t my brother the coolest?” You glanced back down, blushing, and he chuckled again and went back to admiring his brother. It made sense, though - for him to be sitting with his chin and arms on the wall comfortably, he had to be pretty short, just like his brother.

The last half-hour of Adoption Day slowly wound down, Monsters leaving the store alongside new companions, while Readers were swept away into their new lives. Mr. Blue, surrounded by his adoring new entourage, chatted happily about everything under the sun with his audience. A pair of lazy Reader’s had actually gathered the strength to climb up his shirt and were sleeping in his bandana, well a plethora of active and excitable Readers were perched on his shoulders, knees, legs, and lap, all listening and adding their own two cents whenever possible. The Adventurous Reader he had saved was sitting in one of his hands, talking animatedly and waving his hands around like a madman, re-creating his harrowing experience and unexpected savior.

The skeleton above you, meanwhile, had fallen asleep and was snoring softly past his sucker stick. You were glad he didn’t drool - a sticky-sucker-spit-shower was the last thing you needed right now. You ignored his soft huffs in favor of watching the clock hung above the Pen slowly tick its way up to six. Five minutes. Four. Three. Two. One.

Six little chirps rung out as the shelter owner shooed the last of the non-skeletal Monsters out of the building. She let out a huff, and you could imagine the stack of paperwork she had balanced on her desk, waiting to be filled, filed, and forgotten. Everyone was always worn out after adoption day - it would be an easy dinner and an early night for many, you included.

“Mr. Blue.” Rivet had approached the Pen wall, and when you tilted your head up you could see her watching the skeleton with a fond yet exasperated expression, “I’m afraid the shelter is closed now.”

The Reader-covered skeleton carefully turned his head and gave her the undead version of puppy dog eyes. “But - But I haven’t chosen a Reader yet!”

“I’m sorry Mr. Blue, but I need to close up and get dinner served. You’re welcome to come back tomorrow and talk with them more.” She gave him a bright smile. “In fact, you’re welcome back any day - it seems most of them are really taken with you!”

Mr. Blue glanced down at the Reader’s covering him with a grin, a slight blue coloring his cheeks pale blue. Those on his legs beamed back before jumping to the ground, helping each other down before heading off to let the others know it was dinner time. Blue gently helped those on his shoulder down, and reluctantly woke the two Lazy’s sleeping in his scarf. The stretched and groaned and with a delighted expression, Blue compared them to his brother. Above you, the long-faced skeleton let go of an amused huff, opening one socket to watch as his brother sent the two sleepy Reader’s off with a little pat to their heads.

“Hey bro, did you meet this one yet?”

Just like that the day came crashing down. The brother was pointing down at you with one of his long fingers, a calm smile on his teeth. Mr. Blue turned his big eyes on you, curiosity lighting his face like a bonfire, and all at once your heart seized and decided it didn’t really need to work. Your lungs, sensing this, went on strike as well, and for what felt like an eternity you couldn’t breath. All you could see were his large sockets filled with curious blue lights, those same lights a shade close to the spear that had nearly impaled you when you were first born, and there was dirt in the air and people were screaming as footsteps shook the Earth beneath you and then

Pink.

There was pink.

You choked a bit as air forced its way into your lungs, forcing them to expand and making you cringe in pain. Sweets was talking to you, chanting something in a low, soothing voice that sounded reassuring, even though you couldn’t make out the words. The two of you were walking somewhere - when had you gotten to your feet? - and the skeletons were nowhere in sight. Still muttering ‘It’s okay’ and ‘You’re safe’ right in your ear, Sweets led you into the Yellow House, to one of the bedrooms in the back. It was empty, and you faintly heard the music of utensils hitting plates as dinner was passed out in the Pen.

You were settled onto the bed and handed a glass of water. Sweets sat with you until your chest finished aching, and when you refused dinner she left a plate with some toast on it by your bed anyway and helped you wiggle under the covers. It took you feigning sleep for half an hour before the mother hen left, muttering angrily to herself about not paying attention and pushy skeletons who didn’t read the sweater pamphlets.

Eyes trained on the ceiling, you thought of the blue-eyed Mr. Blue, and the way the other Readers gravitated towards him, and how he was nothing but sweet and gentle and friendly. You thought of how happy all the others were in his presence - and how it was his mere presence that had set you off on yet another beautiful panic attack. With a groan you rolled over, pulling the extra pillow over your head to block out the sound of your own mind replaying the afternoon over and over, making one thing clear.

You were tired of being timid.

Chapter Text

Mr. Blue was back. Again.

You glared at him from the safety of the top floor of the Yellow House, nose pressed against the windowsill, only your eyes and the top of your head visible. The skeleton was talking to Rivet, who was sitting at her desk trying to get through some paperwork. He was waving his arms around, cheeks flushed and eyes narrowed, but wasn’t yelling - you couldn’t hear what he was saying from here.

And here was where you would stay until he was gone. The skeleton had been coming in every afternoon for the past week, desperately trying to talk to you. Rivet and Sweets had distracted him, reminding him that the Pen was off-limits (last Saturday had been a one-time thing). His amazingly-tall brother had come in the first day as well, slouched in an orange hoodie and looking ready to take a nap standing up. Despite the heavy lids, his eyes had been sharp enough to pick out your nose pressed against the glass of the Yellow House window, and after registering your intense glare he’d had the good grace to look away in discomfort.

You’d found being angry was easier than being afraid. When you were afraid, your emotions were out of your control - worry and despair cutting off any chance of rational thought as adrenaline took over, demanding immediate flight from whatever the threat was. Anger let you be in control - if you were angry at the threat, then you didn’t have room to be afraid. So, from a distance, you drew up as much anger as your little body possessed, and aimed it squarely at Mr. Blue and his brother.

The brother - Sweets called him Stretch once, was that his name? It was as good as any other - didn’t come back again, and you congratulated yourself on having such a fearsome glare. Mr. Blue returned every afternoon, however, alone now and with an apologetic slump to his shoulders each time. Beneath the weak shoulders, however, was a burning determination to write his wrong. He was nearly desperate to apologize to you in person - if you hadn’t been petrified at the thought of being within five feet of him, you’d have admired his tenacity.

Today he had something clutched in his hand and was gesturing wildly with it as he spoke. Rivet and Sweets both looked interested, nodding along with what he was saying up until the thing slipped from his grip and smacked the deer in the face. Her nose wrinkled and her ears folded back against her head in displeasure, but she picked up the item and examined it, ignoring what looked like Mr. Blue’s babbled apologies. She interrupted him to ask something, and he immediately brightened up and leaned closer, talking faster and with more gesticulating than before. After a moment, Rivet nodded and gave the black square to Sweets, who gave a jaunty salute and began hauling it off the desk. The deer laughed and gave her a lift down, placing her on the floor and out of your line of sight.

You ducked away from the window as both Rivet and Mr. Blue looked over at the Pen, feeling too tired to bring up the energy to glare. Being angry took more energy than being scared - when you were scared, it happened naturally, a flood of adrenaline fueling your fight-or-flight response. But when you were angry, you had to choose to be angry, choose to expend your energy on being upset, choose to glare and huff and sneer and throw angry words around. It was exhausting .

Knowing that Sweets would be along soon with the mysterious black square, you sat on your edge of the doll bed and picked at the corner of the quilt that covered it. It was quiet and safe in your little room, and you took a few deep breaths to center yourself. Sweets had suggested using meditation when you were upset, but it didn’t do much good when you couldn’t ‘center’ yourself in the first place.

In no time Sweets was there, dragging the black thing behind her, face flushed and sweaty. “Delivery!” She called out in a cheerful voice, despite her rosy cheeks. “Straight from Mr. Blue to you!” With one last heft, she dragged it into the room and let it drop to the carpeted floor. You craned your neck and peered down at the thin, black rectangle of plastic and glass.

It was a phone - one of those smartphones that had a touch screen and no keyboard, with the power and volume buttons on the side. It was nearly as tall as Sweets, making it all the more impressive that she had managed to lug it all this way. When she dropped it the screen blinked to life, revealing a picture of a meadow with a tree, and a clock reading “6:50” over a line of text saying ‘Slide up to unlock.’

“A...phone?” You stood and bent over the device, noting that there was no battery or signal indicator. A monster phone, then - one that didn’t need to be charged and that ran on magic.

“Yep!” Sweets put her hands on her hips and blew some sweaty hair out of her face. “Blue got it for you.”

“...Why?” You tried to wrap your head around the idea. Having regained her breath, Sweets shifted the phone, carefully propping it up on the wall next to the window. She unlocked it with a sweep of her hand, revealing the home screen. There were a few small squares with different names - ‘Contacts,’ ‘Undernet,’ ‘Camera,’ ‘Face-Snap,’ and two folders. One was labeled ‘Pictures’ and the other ‘Games.’

“He said,” Sweets huffed, adjusting the screen so it was only slightly tilted, “it was to better apologize to you.” The camera, which was in the middle of the top of the phone, lit up when she pressed the little blue button with a white camera outline on it. The screen went black, but a quick press of a button that had the same camera picture with a turning arrow under it revealed the inside of the room, creating a perfect mirror of the bed, Sweets, and you. Grinning, Sweets pressed the screen again, and with a flash the picture was burned into the phones memory.

“I don’t want him to apologize,” you huffed, wrinkling your face at the bright light, “I want him to go away.”

“He’s not going to go away until he apologizes. He’s very determined .” There was weight behind that word, the way she said it, though neither of you knew why. “Just let him say sorry over the phone.” She peeked out the window and flashed someone a thumbs up. A moment later the phone let out a loud jingle, and the mirror image of the room was replaced with the symbol for the Face-Snap app (half camera-motif, half smiley-face). INCOMING FACE-SNAP FROM BLUE SERIF, the screen announced, and without waiting Sweets smashed her hand against the green ‘accept’ icon.

The screen went blue for a moment, before it was adjust to reveal Mr. Blue’s smiling visage as the phone was drawn back to a proper distance. Behind him was the inside of the shop part of the shelter - he was sitting on one of the couches by the Reader changing rooms. The shelter was a non-profit (as Rivet’s terrible ramen habit would attest), but there were several monsters in the community who made clothing and furniture that was Reader-sized and sold it through the shelter. There were shelves of clothing, tools, furniture, vitamins, and toiletries, all fit for their tiny bodies. After some Monsters complained about having to stand while their picky Readers took hours picking what they wanted, the deer had invested in a pair of comfy couches for Monsters to use. Mr. Blue was sitting cross-legged on one of these, and as you watched he turned so he was sitting sideways on the couch and perched the phone on the top of the nearest shelf, bringing him to ‘eye-level’ with you and Sweets.

“Hello!” He greeted cheerily, sitting back and dropping his hands into his lap. You hadn’t noticed it before, but his blue irises were shaped like soft, rounded stars.

“Hi Mr. Blue!” Sweets waved cheerily, dropping to sit beside you on the bed. “The phone works perfectly!”

“That’s good!” Mr. Blue bounced a bit where he sat, the stars growing even brighter. “I was worried the touch screen wouldn’t react to your fingers!”

“Well, I had to use my whole hand, but it works. That’s what’s important!” The two shared large grins, before Mr. Blue’s attention shifted to you. His expression softened to one that could only be explained as ‘hangdog.’

“Hello,” he greeted again, his voice much softer, and you realized something that nearly took your breath away. You were facing - interacting! - with a monster , a giant being of magic and unfathomable strength, and you weren’t afraid. You were nervous, sure, but you were always nervous when meeting new people. Even other Readers made you nervous when they wanted to engage in small talk! Nervous - not terrified, not panicked, not crying and blacking out and suffocating on your own innumerous fears. Butterflies in the stomach. Worry over saying something embarrassing. Normal nerves .

Without thinking you leaned to the side, trying to peek out the window and see if you could spot the monster on the couch, but Sweets wrapped an arm around your shoulder and tugged you back, forcing you to focus on the screen. Mr. Blue sat patiently, still smiling at you both, stars dancing in his eyes. Swallowing your absolutely-normal social nerves, you nodded to him and let out a quiet “Hi.”

His visage immediately brightened, skull lighting up in delight. “Hello!” He said again, with more enthusiasm, smile stretching even further across his face. “I’m Sans Serif, but everybody calls me Blue because there’s a lot of Sans up here and it would be confusing if we all went by Sans and since Sans got up here first - Alpha Sans I mean - he gets to keep his name while the rest of us have nicknames but that’s okay because I like the name Blue. Blue is one of my favorite colors, after all! But my brother likes orange. His name is Papyrus by the way, but everybody calls him Stretch because-”

Sweets cleared her throat, trying to get the rambling skeleton back on track, and had to do it a few times to get him to calm down. He trailed off, and a brilliant blue blush covered his cheeks.

“Oops, I guess I got a little carried away, huh?”

Sweets gave him a patient smile and squeezed your shoulder, her arm still around you. “Wasn’t there something you wanted to say?” She coaxed.

“Oh, right!” Mr. Blue went from beaming to ashamed in barely a second. “Um, oh shoot, I don’t know you name…”

“I don’t have one,” you answered, used to the question from other Readers. Names were given by owners, and you didn’t have an owner. Rivet sometimes named the Readers that stuck around for a long time, but you hadn’t been given one, despite living in the shelter for three months.

Mr. Blue gave you an odd look, but steamrolled ahead. “Oh-kay, well, little green Reader, I wanted to apologize.” He moved so he was sitting on his knees, looking solemnly at the camera. “I’m very, very sorry for scaring you last week! I should have known better to approach you, and I definitely should have read the sweater pamphlet more thoroughly instead of charging in like a - like a bonehead .” He grimaced at the pun and Sweets smirked (you had no doubt she had helped him script part of this apology, and had thrown that phrase in as punishment). “I’m sorry I made you feel unsafe, and I promise to never come near you if you don’t want me to again.”

Sincerity shone in every line of his face, and after a moment’s thought you found yourself nodding, accepting his soul-felt words. “Okay,” you muttered, voice quiet.

Sparkles of magic appeared around Mr. Blue’s face, and the stars in his eyes grew bigger than before. “Really?” You nodded, and he began swaying in his seat, looking like he wanted to jump up and down. “Oh wowie, I’m so glad, I was worried you would hate me forever! I’m so happy!”

You gave Sweets a questioning look, but she just shrugged and looked equally pleased. “I told you, Blue, they’re too nice to hate anybody!” She tugged on your sleeve. “After all, the root of green is kindness!”

“Mweh-heh-heh! You’re right! And now we can talk every day!”

You stiffened, and having her arm around you, Sweets notice. “Maybe not every day, Blue. But what if you called a few times a week? I’m sure they’d love to chat with you every once in a while.” The pink Reader ignored your questioning look. “After all, you must have plenty of amazing stories, being the vice captain of the Swap Royal Guard!”

“That I do! Plenty of amazing, daring, heroic stories of heroism and strength!” Blue stood on the couch, putting one fist to his chest, the other on his hip, and loudly laughed - you could hear it not just from the phone, but through the walls of the doll house. The phone’s camera was wide enough that it caught Rivet appearing behind the bouncy skeleton, grimacing at the sight of dirty boots on her upholstery and the disruptive noise he was making. Sweets made a quiet, delighted little ‘oh no!’ sound beside you - she was always one for drama.

“Mr. Blue,” Rivet crossed her arms and glared at the skeleton, “While I am very pleased you have made friends with one of my Readers, I am going to ask you to remove your boots from my couch.”

The skeleton blushed once more, in embarrassment this time, and quickly dropped to sit on the couch, boots dangling over the edge. “Sorry, Miss Rivet,” he shot a rueful look to the phone, the pliable bone above his nose-hole wrinkling when he saw Sweets giggling at him. “I just got excited.”

“Well, you need to get excited elsewhere for now. It’s six, and I need to close up and get everybody their dinner. It’s pizza night - you don’t want to see what will happen when fifty-six Reader’s are delayed getting their pizza.” The deer’s expression softened and she winked at the skeleton.

“I would not want to stand in the way of pizza, even if tacos are the superior food!” Blue beamed at her, then turned back to the phone. “I will talk to you both soon!”

“How about Thursday?” Sweets suggested, while beside her you mouthed ‘again?’ to yourself.

“Thursday it is!” Blue beamed. “I will see you both then!” He waved, and Sweets gave a little wave back. You copied her, though still confused. The skeleton reached up for his phone, filling the screen with blue once again, and cut the call. Sweets kept her arm around you until the bell above the door jingled, followed by the sound of the lock turning.

“Well, that went better than expected!” The compassionate Reader finally released you and flopped back on the bed with a huff.

“Doesn’t he need his phone back?” You asked, standing and poking at the now-black screen. The date and time popped up, ‘6:01’ beaming back at you, and a feeling of amazement took the place of confusion. You’d had a ten-minute conversation! With a monster !

“Nah, it’s one of his old phones, he said.” Sweets had sat back up and was watching you, beaming. “He brought it for you.”

“...me?”

“You!” She giggled and threw her arms around you. “I’m so proud of you for talking to him!”

Blushing, you reached up and hugged one of her arms to yourself. “I only said, like, two words.”

“Which is two more than you’ve said before!” She squeezed, then released you and jumped to her feet. “Blue is going to call every other day now, and you can talk to him as much or as little as you want. It’s called exposure therapy .”

“...he’s going to be naked?”

Sweets let out a delighted laugh, and you realized it was the first time you’d made a joke around her.

“No!” She pulled you up, off the bed, and led you from your room. “Unless you’re into that…” You blushed, going as pink as her sweater, and she laughed again and led you down the stairs. “Honey, I think we just figured out how to help you get over your fears! Now c’mon, it’s pizza night !”

She led you from the Yellow House, towards the Readers gathered and waiting for their favorite dinner of the week, and for once didn’t mind becoming part of the group. You were too busy thinking of starry eyes and patient smiles to worry.

 


 

Blue called again on Thursday, at seven o’clock exactly. You were laying on your bed, reading a book from the little library. The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. It was a weird murder-mystery, and you couldn’t figure out if the character Turtle was a human with the nickname Turtle, or an actual turtle-type monster. She could be a Woshua, but you’d never met one with a single pigtail before…

The phone chimed, the Face-Snap app appearing on the formerly black screen, with the line ‘INCOMING FACE-SNAP FROM BLUE SERIF’ flashing beneath it. You jumped, losing your place in the book, and frantically looked around for Sweets. The pink Reader was nowhere to be seen, however - she was likely helping some other Readers with their evening chores, or reading with the book club that met every Tuesday and Thursday evening. This left you alone, with a monster calling on the phone. It was up to you to answer it.

Or I could just let it ring

You thought of the first time he’d called, how you hadn’t been relaxed but hadn’t been terrified. You’d had social-butterflies in your stomach, but had overall enjoyed the conversation (even if it was mostly him apologizing, despite you not needing one). You thought of how novel it was, to face a monster and hold a conversation, not run away screaming or shut down completely. All you had to do was hit the ‘accept’ button, and that feeling would come back. You probably wouldn’t have to talk much - Blue could converse enough for five monsters…

With decisive movements that made you appear more confident than you felt, you folded down the corner of the page you were on and put your book aside, then stood and approached the phone. Biting down on your fear (on your timidity ), you pressed the green button.

Mr. Blue’s face filled the screen, and he beamed, looking beyond pleased that you had answered. “Hello again, green-Reader!” He greeted, leaning back from the screen slightly. You didn’t know where he was, but there was a black flag with a skull-and-crossbones motif on the wall behind him. Home, maybe? Or a skeleton bar? Was that a thing?

You raised your hand and twiddled your fingers in response, the word ‘hello’ getting stuck in your throat. This was a bit more nerve-racking than you thought it would be, without Sweets there to ground you.

Mr. Blue didn’t seem bothered by your silence. He just beamed and twiddled his fingers back. “I’m so glad you picked up, I was worried I’d called at a bad time. I just got home from the Palace! Well, it’s not really a palace, but that’s what we all call it, because that’s where the Kings and Queens and Princes and Princesses all live. It’s funny, all the Asriel’s are boys, but all the Chara’s and Frisk’s are boys or girls or agender, depending on what they want to be. And all the Flowey’s want to be called boys, but technically flowers don’t have genders. I guess what they want is more important though, right?” When you nodded in agreement (you weren’t a boy or a girl, either - you were just you, a timid Reader who was maybe beginning to feel okay with being you), he beamed and kept going.

He told you all about his job as Vice Captain of the Swap Clan Royal Guard, which mostly involved patrolling the Palace and looking cool for photo ops with visitors. He also helped run an Obstacle-Course Club with two friends named Papyrus and Edge. They had commandeered a large part of a local park for their work, and had built various obstacle courses with moving parts, so they could be rearranged to give a new, different challenge each week. They even had a few mini-courses for the local children to play on. Even their lazier brothers (Sans, Stretch, and Red) had chipped in, helping with the construction some and falling asleep in various impossible ways on the multitude of ladders, ropes, ramps, tunnels, rock walls, stone walls, spinning tubes, et. all.

This turned into him telling you all about his brother Stretch. Stretch was long, lanky, and lazy to boot. He was a part-time scientist at the Royal Labs, and when he wasn’t working or goofing off with his friends (the aforementioned Sans and Red) he was at Muffets, drinking honey and flirting with anything that moved. Mr. Blue spoke of him with fondness, laced with exasperation. He moved on to talking about his father, Gaster, who was the Riverperson underground, but now ran a successful cab company with all the other riverpeople from the various Undergrounds. They all lived together in a nice cabin-like house on the edge of town, right next to the woods and near a few of their alternates.

Mr. Blue chatted for nearly an hour about his life, asking you questions and accepting all your nods and non-verbal answers as they came. He never once asked you to talk, or asked why you weren’t talking when he knew you could. He just...rolled with it, carried the entire conversation himself, and was happy to do it.

Around eight o’clock he slowed down, and you heard someone knocking on a door on his side of the phone. “Pappy, I’m talking to my new friend!” He called, turning away from the phone, and you went bright-pink. Friend ? He thought of you as a friend ? The only friend you had was Sweets, and sometimes you felt more like a patient than a friend with her. A deep, warm feeling grew around your SOUL, leaving you feeling pleased. Blue turned back to the screen, looking disappointed, and you realized you hadn’t heard anything he or his brother had said to each other.

“I’ve got to go, green Reader! We have company over for a movie night, and I must prepare my famous nachos.” He looked disappointed at having to say goodbye, and you mirrored his sad smile. It had been fun, listening to him enthuse over his job and family. “May I call you again, sometime? Maybe - not tomorrow, I have night patrol...Saturday? Can I call you on Saturday so we can talk more?”

You didn’t even have to think before nodding - you wanted this. Wanted to talk to him more, wanted to hear him be so completely over-the-top with his ideas and passions, wanted to learn more about this monster who didn’t make you feel scared when you talked to him over the phone. Talking to him made you feel normal. Less frightened, less wary, more like you had a place in this world. Even if you weren’t talking back yet, just watching and listening to him proved one thing: you could stop being timid. You could change your fate, even if it was only with this one monster.

“Great! I’ll call you on Saturday then!” Blue beamed, stars in his eyes once again. “Goodnight, green Reader!”

“Goodnight, Mr. Blue.”

The stars grew, and a blush colored the bone beneath his eye sockets. With a soft ‘Mweh-heh-heh!’ Mr. Blue closed the connection, leaving you alone in your room once again. You laid back on your bed and thought about everything he had told you - all about his life and family. You didn’t have anything as interesting to talk to him about. He knew all about the shelter - his brother was friends with Miss Rivet, and the deer was warming up to Mr. Blue, too. Your life before the shelter was only a few hours long, and they were not a few hours you wanted to relive. Frowning, you flipped onto your front and picked your book back up.

Maybe he wouldn’t mind that you didn’t have much of a past - after all, you were three months old. Maybe he wouldn’t mind if you talked about your books and drawings and people-watching habits. Maybe, being the Magnificent Blue, he would be magnificently patient with you as you taught yourself to talk to him. Maybe, just maybe, his patience was what you needed to emerge from your timid shell.

Speaking of shells, back to the mystery of Turtle. Human or turtle-monster? It was hard to tell...

 


 

Mr. Blue called like clockwork, every other day. On weekdays he called at seven, right after you both finished supper. On weekends it varied - sometimes in the morning, sometimes in the afternoon, most often times in the evenings. You kept an ear out for the tinny ring of the phone, rushing to your room whenever you heard it. Sweets had joined in once or twice, but after seeing you lunge to answer the call after the first ring, she left you to it.

A month into your bi-daily phone calls, he asked if you wanted to have lunch together. “We could have a picnic in the backyard of the shelter,” he’d explained when you gave him a confused look. “Or even inside the shelter, if you want! It’s my Clans turn to do the city sweeps - we change it up every month, that way there’s always guards on the streets, but also in the Palace, just in case, and this way it feels fair, y’know? And I asked for the route that goes by the shelter, so we can try having lunch together!” He blushed a bit, though he looked pleased. “I thought - you’ve been doing so good talking to me over the phone, maybe it won’t be so scary? Now that we’re friends?”

You’d hesitantly accepted, and now here you were, standing on a large red and white checkered picnic blanket in the backyard of the shelter, trying to tamp down your nerves to an acceptable level. Rivet and Sweets had both agreed to the idea wholeheartedly, and the deer had even set up a nice little area for the two of you to meet, away from the large playground and the miniature Reader-sized pool. The scent of blooming spring flowers from the garden beds along the fence was almost overwhelming, but you were thankful for it. The heady sensation kept your mind off your growing not-just-social nerves.

“Hello, green Reader!”

Blue was here, standing by the back door to the shelter, on the other side of the lawn. He had a wicker basket thrown over one arm and was nervously shifting his weight, despite the million-watt smile on his face. You couldn’t help but swallow, hard - he was much, much bigger in person than on the phone. He didn’t make a move to approach, though, staying where he was, swinging the basket a bit.

“Is it alright if I approach?” He asked after a moment, watching you carefully, though for what you didn’t know. Panic attack? Fainting? Booking it out the nearest crack in the wall? You entertained all the options for a moment before forcing yourself to be rational. You had been talking to Blue for a month now, and the two of you were friends . He’d told you all about his family, and his friends, and had even cried with you for a few minutes when he’d stepped on a butterfly and killed it while going for a jog. He was a good monster, and would never, ever hurt you.

Plopping back down on the blanket (not even realizing you’d stood), you nodded. Used to your silence, he beamed and plodded over, carefully setting the basket down before sitting on the other side of the blanket. He was too far away to touch you without having to stretch all the way out, and you smiled at him to show you appreciated the space he was giving you.

“For lunch today I have made the most fabulous, the most wonderful, the most magnificent , meal of all time!” He threw open the top of the basket with a bit more zeal than required, and you knew what was coming next.

“Tacos?”

“Correct, tiny green Reader! Tacos!” With flourish befitting a magician he pulled out a tupperware container stuffed to the brim with both soft and hard-shell tacos, each carefully filled and sprinkled with MTT-Brand edible glitter in a rainbow of colors. You resigned yourself to nibbling off one of his monster-sized tacos for lunch. You didn’t mind much, really - sometimes, when Rivet was sick or something happened that called her away from the shelter, you and the other Readers ate monster-sized food. Shrinking spells were tricky and took a certain flick of the wrist to be successful. There were stories of an elephant-sized teddy bear that some of the older Reader’s whispered about, but Rivet denied.

Blue didn’t pop open the box of tacos, however - instead, he reached back into the basket and pulled out a smaller tupperware, filled with at least three dozen soft-shell tacos, each with a different color of glitter decorating it. “Here you are, tiny green Reader!” He announced, popping off the lid, which he set in front of you. Bright blue magic picked up a few of the tacos and set them on the lid, turning it into a plate. “I could not find a way to make tiny hardshell tacos, so I hope you do not mind soft shell!”

You didn’t really know the difference - most of meals at the shelter consisted of casseroles, pastas, and pizzas. Simple things that could be made in large quantities to feed all the hungry mouths. You’d never eaten tacos before (though you’d had taco casserole, and nachos). Shrugging, you gave a small ‘thank you’ and lifted up one of the yellow-sparkled tacos. On the phone you’d begun talking to him a little bit, but seeing him now, in all his 5’6 glory, made you nervous to speak once again.

It didn’t last. Flavor exploded on your tongue, spiced meat mixing with cool cheese and the sliver of lettuce and tomato that had been slid in, all wrapped within the delicious, flaky tortilla. The MTT-glitter added just the slightest hint of sweet to the otherwise spicy meal, contrasting in a surprisingly palatful way.

“Oh my stars,” you took a second bite, then a third, woofing down the first miniature taco in a minute flat. “This is amazing!” You praised Mr. Blue, who had begun on his own taco. Stars exploded on his eyes and his cheeks lit up as he chewed (did he open his mouth? How did he eat?), looking beyond pleased with your praise. You picked up a second taco (pink sparkles this time) but took your time with this one, savoring the meat and cheese. Without realizing it you began making pleased little hums and purrs as you ate.

Mr. Blue’s grin grew even wider at the happy noises, and he scooted just a bit closer to you, happily munching on his own food. He didn’t talk, just enjoyed the calm silence. Rivet had convinced the other Readers to stay inside on this lovely spring day by offering a special popcorn lunch with a movie, meaning they didn’t have to worry about anybody but themselves. So you both ate the tacos and enjoyed the sun.

By the end of your third taco you were beginning to feel full, but you didn’t want the rest to go to waste. Mr. Blue chuckled, having already polished off his fourth taco, and leaned towards you a bit. “You have something on your-” His hand reached for you, and you jerked back, dropping the last of your taco and flinching from his touch.

“Oh - oh stars, I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to scare you!” Mr. Blue withdrew his hand and sat back, giving you plenty of room and looking as guilty as sin. “Oh jeez, I’ve just ruined the day,” he muttered to himself, voice dropping to near silence. Even without hearing him, you could see the emotions flicking across his face. You weren’t called a Reader for nothing, after all. Guilt was there, but so was anger - anger at himself, at his actions, anger at not thinking, anger at himself for scaring you.

You paused - you weren’t scared. You’d been startled, sure, but...but you weren’t scared. Not of him. As Mr. Blue muttered something that sounded like ‘stupid’ to himself a few times, you brushed off the rest of the taco (which had fallen on your lap and stained your jeans) and stood. The monster noticed and went still, ready and waiting for you to bolt back to the shelter, away from his stupid hands and his stupid impetuousness.

Instead you approached him, carefully, slowly, across the checkered blanket. He had dropped his hands in his lap, and you wobbled across the uneven cloth to pat his knee instead. Being even closer to Mr. Blue reminded you just how tiny you were, but it didn’t bother you. Not with him.

“I’m not scared of you,” you patted his knee again. “You just startled me.”

He stared down at you with tiny, quivering pinpricks of light, stunned, and at a loss you gave his knee a third ‘pat-pat.’ The lights exploded into stars, and his magic sparked around his face, creating sparkles that wouldn’t be out of place in one of the manga’s from the library (all donated by the plethora of Alphys’ & Undyne’s on the mountain).

“Really?” He asked, breathless. “You’re not scared of me?” His hands twitched, and you moved back a bit to avoid getting taken out by any over-enthusiastic gesticulating.

“Well, I - I don’t want to be picked up, o-or anything like that,” you looked away, feeling your own face heat up, “But I’m not scared you’re gonna hurt me anymore.”

Mr. Blue let out a little high-pitched ‘squeeeeeeeee!’ noise, bringing his hands to his chest as he bounced in place. “Oh, little green Reader, I’m so happy you trust me!”

Trust him? Yes. You did trust him. Nobody who cried over stepping on a bug could be a bad guy, you had decided. And him not being a bad guy meant you could...possibly...trust him. Not to pick you up or handle you, but to be near you? Yes. You trusted him.

Feeling a bit overwhelmed at the realization that you trusted a monster , you trudged back to your tacos and sat back down, suddenly feeling hungry once more. You nibbled on your fourth, decorated with pale-green glitter, just like your sweater, and watched Mr. Blue come slowly off his ‘friendship high’ to resume eating his own lunch. By the time his watch beeped, signaling the end of his lunch break, you had both eaten far too many tacos and were basking in the sunshine and the silent glow of your newfound ‘trust-ship.’

“I must be off, little green Reader!” He announced, shutting both his and your tupperware containers. “I will give this to Miss Rivet, so that you may have tacos whenever you wish!” He shook the box a bit. “It is all monster food, so they shall never go bad!” He placed it on the blanket, then pulled out an even larger tupperware full to bursting with even more tiny tacos. “And I brought these so your Reader friends will not be jealous! They shall also have some of the Magnificent Blues Terrific Tacos!” You noticed that these tacos didn’t have any glitter on them, and felt a little ping of warmth in your SOUL. Your tacos were special, different from the rest, because Mr. Blue had made them for you , and you alone. He packed up his own lunch but, before standing, he gave you a long, hesitant look. “Reader, may I - may I give you a pat before I go?” He asked.

A pat? Had he meant a pet? You thought of Doggo, who had a seeing-eye Reader who visited the shelter every few weeks to do some chores for Miss Rivet, like patching the roof or helping build on to the crazy backyard playground. He was always going on about being pet, and in turn petting his little Reader. The pets always looked...kind of nice. Soft. Slowly, you nodded.

With a frankly ridiculous and slow movement, Blue reached out with his hand flattened, and gave you a gentle ‘pat, pat’ on the head, just like you’d done with his knee. He drew his hand back and, looking like a kid in a candy store, said ‘Goodbye!’ before getting to his feet and fleeing into the shelter, nearly vibrating with excitement. You heard him whoop loudly a few minutes later, after you assumed he’d escaped the shelter and resumed his route. Grinning like an idiot,  you reached up and ran a hand over your head, where he’d pet you.

Pat, pat.

You liked pats.

 


 

Phone calls nearly every day now, and lunch twice a week (every Tuesday and Thursday). You began talking back on the phone, telling Blue (he’s insisted you drop the ‘Mr.’ to his name, since you were friends) all about life at the Shelter, about the kitchen and the mountain and the other Readers and the library. You told him all about the books you read, and he’d even gotten a copy of The Westing Game and was reading it with you, both of you promising not to read ahead, and together you were working out who the murderer was. Blue had even looked it up and confirmed that Turtle was, in fact, a human with a weird nickname, not a turtle-monster named by Asgore.

Sweets was over the moon. As you opened up more to Blue, you began leaving your room more often, and even spent time at the art corner or at the communal library pillow, not talking much but still being there , with others, instead of closing yourself off. You no longer ran for cover the second an unfamiliar monster visited the shelter - you kept your distance, but you didn’t hide, didn’t panic. On the few occasions it rained on a Tuesday or Thursday and you had to eat your picnic lunch inside, Blue made enough for all the other Readers and Rivet and everybody ate lunch together.

But you were the only one he pet.

It had moved on from pats. Your second lunch, you moved to sit beside him, and he gave you a pat at the end of the meal. The third time you had spoken for a few minutes about a book you found that you liked, and he’d patted your head and encouraged you to tell him more. By the sixth time, if he didn’t have something in his hands, he was patting and petting you, or just resting a hand on your back, as much as you’d let him. You found it soothing and comforting, and no longer had any fear that he would hurt you on purpose. (You were a bit of a realist, and accidents did happen, all the time).

You let him pick you up, once. You’d been showing him how part of the crazy jungle gym worked (swinging from an ascending set of monkey bars to a tube that led to a twisty slide) and had fallen and hurt your ankle. He’d spent three minutes dithering before asking, point-blank, if he could pick you up to take you inside, and after an equal time of dithering on the answer, you’d said yes. He’d moved with that exaggerated slowness again, making sure you could see and knew what he was going to do. He’d scooped you up and held you close to his chest, close enough you could hear his SOUL pulsing, and taken you inside. Rivet had wrapped your ankle and warned you to be more careful, though there was no heat in the warning and she looked beyond pleased that Blue was holding you. The skeleton had kept you in his hand for the rest of lunch, and you couldn’t find any reason to object.

That hadn’t been repeated - he was respecting your boundaries as much as possible, and the second you showed discomfort he backed off and made sure to understand what he had done wrong. He understood when you had a bad day because of a nightmare and kept his hands to himself. He understood when you were in a cuddly mood and wanted to hug his hand. He understood, and you honestly couldn’t ask for anything better.

You trusted him, and you trusted he would always do what was best for you. In return, you would do your best for him.

 


 

Two months later, Blue was back on city patrol. You liked seeing him in his uniform - he looked like a police officer, but instead of a badge, he had the sigil of the Swap Clan embroidered over his chest pocket. He also had a peaked cap that made his head look rounder than before. He kept stopping by for lunch, always cheery and saying hello to all the Readers he knew, but reserving most of his attention for you.

Today he didn’t bring in his basket, or his smile. Today his arrival was preceded by a screech of metal as outside the shelter, on the slick rainy street, one car turned too fast and slid, straight into another that was waiting to turn. In the crash and the chaos the skidding jeep bounced off the waiting one and flipped, first onto its side, then its roof, trapping its passengers. The other car, a more sturdily built SUV, rocked on its heels and had a large dent but was fine. The bunny family inside - a mother and her four kits, grocery shopping for the week - got out to assess the damage, and the mother called the guard.

Blue had almost been to the shelter door when he saw the crash. Without missing a beat he threw open the door and yelled for Rivet, who was already halfway across the room with her first aid kit to see if she could help.

“I’m commandeering this space for any injured we need to get out of the rain before the ambulances arrive,” he explained, and the deer pinned her ears back in worry (and a bit of annoyance at being told her shelter was ‘commandeered,’ if she were being honest). “I need you to get all the Readers in the Pen, I don’t want any to be in the way or get hurt.” He glanced over at the Pen and gave the gathered Reader’s a forced smile. “Hear that, guys? I need you out of the way please.” White eyelights skimmed over them all, and came to rest on you.

You were sitting on the Pen wall, a new mystery book you both had been reading clutched in your hand, the list of clues and suspects escaping your mind as you met his gaze. He gave you an apologetic smile and motioned, with a jerk of his head, to get in the Pen where it was safe, before running back to the car accident outside. He spoke to the mother bunny, then went to the car and knelt beside it, talking to the monsters inside. There was no dust, so nobody was badly hurt or dead, but you could hear them screaming from all the way out here.

The mother led her bunnies into the shelter, and Rivet finished shooing all the Readers into the Pen and hurried to check them over. She gave each of the kits a lollipop and set them up on one of the couches, then began conversing quietly and urgently with the mother. Outside another guard member, this one a yellow lizard-monster, had arrived, and she and Blue were carefully cutting off the doors of the jeep, and if the shrieking coming from the driver's seat was any indication, the owner was not happy.

It wasn’t until after they’d pulled the last of the teenage monsters from the car that something akin to panic washed over Blue’s face. As the last teen was pulled free (an odd tentacle-like monster who was yelling about her skateboard breaking), one of the others began screaming about someone being missing. Blue hushed her and leaned close to the wreck, listening hard for something. Whatever it was had his skull growing pale, and he took off for the door at a sprint.

You jumped when it banged open, but before Rivet could chastise the skeleton, he’d zeroed in on you. You were still sitting on the wall, clutching the book and watching the scene outside with a growing sense of dread in the pit of your stomach. You’d always thought of Monsters as being perfect, powerful beings. Not god-like, but certainly not able to be hurt and rattled and scared like little Readers were. Now, there were frightened rabbit kits on the couch, a worried mother trying to sooth them, and four rattled teenagers freaking out over something , not to mention Blue looked like he was caught in a life or death situation. From what you’d just seen and heard, you were thinking that was the case.

Blue rushed to the wall and held out his hand in front of you, blue sweat beading along his pale skull. “I need your help,” he said, voice firm despite the anxiety on his face. “There’s a Reader trapped under the jeep, but I can’t move the jeep because I don’t know where they are. I need you to-”

You didn’t let him finish. You dropped the book and climbed onto his hand, the urgency in his voice spurring you to action. You’d spent the last three months learning to trust Blue, growing to be his friend, and when a friend was in need, you did what you could to help. Forget your sweater, and it’s stupid pale-green color. This piece of fabric didn’t define you! You weren’t timid, you were brave and strong and kind. You’d made friends with a monster, despite all your fears. You could do whatever Blue - whatever your friend - needed you to.

Said friend gave you a relieved look, pulling his hand up to his chest to hold you steady before turning and sprinting out of the shelter. The yellow lizard (you were fairly certain her name was Alphys, if she was the friend Blue often spoke of) was herding three of the teenagers into the shelter, where they would be dry and warm. The fourth teenager, a cow monster, was standing by the car, hysterically calling out a name over and over again. The jeep had been propped up with four glowing bones on each side, keeping it from rocking or sliding in the rain.

“Matty! Matty, please, say something! Maaaatttttyyyy!” She sobbed, kneeling by the back of the jeep.

“Ma’am,” Blue grabbed her shoulder with his free hand and gently pulled her back, “Ma’am, I need you to step back and be quiet for a moment. I have someone here who will help you find your Reader.” He gently shushed the monster, who wiped at her eyes and looked down at you.

“You can find Matty?” She asked, her voice drained and hoarse.

Your SOUL swelled at the tone, and you nodded. “Yes, I’ll find him,” you reassured her, reaching out and patted her hands (which she was wringing in front of her chest). You didn’t think that it was odd, to be talking to and touching a strange monster. You just thought of how upset she was, and how scared she was for her Reader, and how comforting her was the kind thing to do.

Stepping away from the teen, Blue knelt down beside the jeep and, after hesitating a moment, moved his hand through the space where the back door had once been. A bright-blue bone appeared, its magic lighting up the whole interior of the car, revealing ripped leather seats and a maelstrom of fast food wrappers mixed with broken glass. You carefully stepped off your boney magic carpet, grateful for the boots you’d taken to wearing so you could run around with the other Readers outside.

“He was riding with his owner in the backseat,” Blue explained, and the bone floated towards the back. The roof of the car had crumpled upwards, pressing against the back of the seats, leaving only small gaps where there used to be plenty of head space. “The back was full of boxes - the driver just moved to an apartment. I think he’s trapped back there.” He pointed a bit, and you followed his finger, seeing a maze of seat leather and cardboard illuminated by the bone. You hesitated to move towards it, wary of falling boxes, but Blue gave your head a little pat. “My magic is holding everything still,” he explained, “But if you don’t feel safe, that’s fine, we can figure out something else.”

You thought about your birth, about the insanity of the battlefield and the feeling of being alone, of being afraid, of being trapped behind that stupid potted plant and having no idea where you were and who to trust. You thought of being trapped in between boxes, thrown about as the car slid, having no idea where your Monster is or if anybody is going to save you in time. You thought of Matty being alone, trapped in the back seat, pinned between the roof of the jeep and a layer of cardboard boxes, not knowing whether help was coming or not.

“He needs help,” you said, moving towards the maze, “and I can help him.” Blue nodded, and the bone carefully followed you as you squeezed past the backseat and the side of the car and into the mess of the back. The blue light cast everything in an eerie, alien glow, but it gave you plenty of light to see by. There were cracks and spaces between the boxes, too big for a monsters hand to fit, but small enough for you to slip through. You moved slowly, tugging the bone after you, pressing against the boxes, all of which stayed perfectly in place, held tight by magic to prevent further injury.

At about the middle of the maze you heard it - a quiet rasping noise, the sound of labored breathing, the sound of someone holding back tears of fright. It was a sound you knew well. You froze, listening, and heard it again coming from your left. Grabbing onto the edge of the bone, you pulled it after you, into a crevasse made between a box of kitchen pans and a sleeping bag.

A male Reader in an fluffy jacket and jeans was lying on his back, his ankle twisted at an unnatural angle. He was huffing, tears staining his cheeks, and judging by the trail of blood behind him, he’d used up all his energy to reach this point. As the light filled the space, his head snapped up, hope lighting them. “Bessie?”

“No, sorry,” you whispered, tugging the bone closer so you could see him clearly. His ankle was definitely broken, and there was a cut on his arm that was sluggishly dripping blood. “I’m - well, I don’t have a name yet. Blue sent me to help. Bessie is really worried about you.” You knelt beside him and helped him struggle into a sitting position.

“Is Blue your monster?”

You opened your mouth to say no, then thought about it. He came to see you all the time, the two of you talked almost every day, you shared everything, you’d solved the murder of the Westing Game together…

“Yes. Blue is my monster.” You moved his arm so it was over your shoulder and hauled him to his feet. He grunted, and you grimaced as some blood was wiped on your sweater (your stupid, wrong, pale-green sweater). A couple swears slipped out beneath his breath, and you grinned at his frustration. He was a Brave or a Determined - no other Readers swore with that much creativity.

You shuffled back through the maze, making sure to look at the labels on the boxes to make sure you were going the right way. It was slow going, and several times Matty accidentally put weight on his bad foot and had to stop and swear again. Soon, the smell of wet asphalt and worried voices met your ears. The pair of you emerged through the small crack by the back seat, to be hit with blinding light as a flashlight swept past.

“Oh thank the stars!” Blue, without waiting or asking for permission, swept the both of you up in his hands and brought you to his chest. You took one look at his worried face, furrowed brow and all, and decided you’d let it slide this once. Matty wasn’t ruffled, simply looking happy at being off his bum ankle. “You’re both freezing - lets get you inside.” As he turned, you could see a police car and an ambulance pulling up.

“MATTY!” The second you were through the door the cow monster was there, looking frantic and making grabby hands at her Reader.

“Bessie!” Matty was no less relieved, and he reached out for his owner. She scooped him up and cradled him to her cheek, cooing at him and worrying over his ankle. Rivet (who had been yelling at the other three teens, who were draped in blankets and clutching hot cocoa) came over and offered to look at Matty’s leg and arm. Bessie followed her into the back room, crying and huffing out ‘ohmygoodness’-es all the while.

A new guardsman, this one a tall, sharp-looking skeleton monster with red eyes and three scars over one socket, strode into the shelter, looking less than pleased at the situation. “Report!” He snapped at Blue, who held you a bit closer to his chest and glared at him.

“There’s no need to be rude, Edge.” He huffed, before pointing across the room at the water-logged teens. “The driver of the jeep took a corner too fast, slid into Mrs. Manicarots car, and flipped. Alphys and I got everyone out safe, other than some bumps and bruises. There was an injured Bitty Reader, but Rivet is taking care of him now.”

Edge nodded, threw the long end of his scarf over his shoulder, and marched over to glower and yell at the reckless teens for driving dangerously. Blue let out a huff of relief and moved to sit by the Pen wall, leaning against it and setting you down on top of it.

Well, trying to set you down. You wrapped your fingers firmly around the front of his shirt and pressed your face against the clean cotton. He chuckled and leaned back, letting you settle against his chest and stroking your back with his thumb. “You’re soaking wet,” he muttered, though he made no move to move you. “You need to change clothes.”

“Already on it!”

Sweets, like a particularly annoying genie, had appeared with a soft white sweater and a clean pair of sweatpants in her arms. She was beaming at the two of you, looking like a proud mama bird who’d just shoved her baby out of the nest and watched it fly away. Despite your grumbling Blue pried you away from his shirt and set you on the wall, leaving you without a skeleton to hug. Pouting, you turned away from Blue (who glanced away, blushing) and quickly changed into the new pants. Sweets stood between the pair of you while you pulled off the blood-stained, stupid-pale-green sweater and replaced it with the soft white one.

Not white for long , you thought to yourself, soon it’ll be that stupid pale-green again . Ignoring the magic that changed the sweaters colors, you sidestepped Sweets and tugged on Blue’s sleeve. He glanced back down at you and, to your surprise, went rigid, jaw dropping and stars blooming in his eyes.

“What?” You asked, turning to glance at Sweets when he didn’t answer, only to find her in the same state of silent excitement. “What’s wrong with you two?”

“You’re sweater! Look!” Sweets grabbed your arm and forced it into your field of vision. The sleeve of your sweater was green (of course), but not the pale minty color you had grown used to. Instead it was a dark, emerald green, like moss or oak leaves or emeralds. It wasn’t the green of timidity, or of shyness, or of quiet. It was the green of kindness, the shade of selflessness .

“You’re a kind Reader!” Blue announced, reaching out to scoop you up. He paused, but when you nodded he caught you in his hands and brought you to his chest.

“No,” you muttered, snuggling back into his shirt (in a spot slightly to the left, where it was dry), “I’m your Reader.”