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Do You Think Even the Worst Person Can Change?

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The last series of tests had pushed 6 beyond what he was used to. While the interim time between test periods often lacked much in the way of stimuli, the downtime was normally a welcome period to be alone with his thoughts, which had lately become overwhelmingly filled with questions he wasn’t sure he would ever have an answer to. But tonight, he was too tired to do anything other than stare vacantly at the other side of the room.  

6's room was bare except for the bed he lay curled up on, some books, a drawer mounted in the side of the wall that allowed for things to be passed from the outside of the room to the inside and vice versa without having to open the door, and a small intercom adjacent to a camera mounted in the room’s far corner.

He was never quite sure when his next interaction with the doctor would be. While 6 was aware of the concept of “time,” it was difficult to discern its passage in the depths of the laboratory, where the light remained constant and the tests he was asked to take part in seemed to be on a completely random schedule. As he had been reminded on multiple occasions, 6's purpose was to solve problems. The tests were meant to measure his progress and determine how close he was to being “ready”; whatever that was. Discerning a pattern in his test schedule shouldn’t have been as problematic as it was proving to be.

The crackle of the intercom jolted him awake.

“Good morning,” came the clipped voice of the doctor. “Morning” was a term that 6 understood to delineate a moment in “time,” though he hadn’t quite figured out why it was more relevant than any other points in his existence.

The doctor rarely discussed the world outside the laboratory — something that 6 had only recently become aware of existing. It started as jumbled clues — smells that clung to the doctor’s clothes that did not seem to match anything else within the lab, slips in casual conversation that pointed to an existence beyond what 6 was aware of, containers with labels written in unfamiliar characters. His attempts to ask for more information about these things were only met with the doctor being more evasive with his answers and prone to hiding anything of interest that he brought into the lab with him.

6 sat up and stared into the camera, which served as a connection between the large room in the central lab and his own room, which lay behind a heavy door stenciled with the written form of his moniker in Hands — an hourglass.

“You’ve been sleeping nearly twelve hours. The last test must have taken more out of you than I’d anticipated,” the doctor's voice said through static on the intercom.

6 remained silent. His skull hurt and each one of his vertebrae seemed to be pulsing with a dull ache. Twelve hours did not seem like enough sleep. 

“Get dressed and come to the central lab.  We’ll do an assessment to see how you’re holding up before we do any further testing today.”

The line went dead.

6 realized that the doctor had already been by without him noticing — a fresh set of clothes was waiting for him in the drawer, identical to the ones he had on currently. He tossed his worn clothes into the drawer and pulled on a clean white shirt and grey scrub pants, cinching them tight around his hip bones so they’d stay put. The door swung open with a loud hiss, followed by a thud as steel contacted steel. He quickly finished pulling on a pair of black socks over his feet and headed down the hallway to the central lab.

He found the doctor hunched over a folder, chewing on the edge of his pen as he looked over the papers in front of him. While the doctor and he were anatomically similar, the doctor was more than double his height, and usually donned a lab coat over muted, long-sleeved shirts. 

6 approached quietly and stood next to the table, awaiting instructions. After a few moments of silence, the doctor looked up, setting the folder and pen down. 

“How are you feeling?” the doctor inquired, moving his hands as he spoke. 

While Hands was a language that didn’t require motion to be understood, the motions added dimension to oral conversation, which was lost over the intercom. 6 could discern from the motions that the doctor was concerned; a slight tremor in the doctor’s right hand indicated that he had not slept so soundly. 6 also smelled traces of alcohol, confirming his suspicion that something was amiss. The smell often stuck to the doctor's clothing following a difficult test phase or an unexpected problem. 

6 gestured back, without using his voice. “Hurts,” he signed, moving his hands to indicate a general, broad ache rather than a centralized injury. “Still tired,” he added, when the doctor remained silent. The doctor seemed to consider this before scribbling some notes in his file. 

“Did you dream?” the doctor asked, his hand gestures small to emphasize that he was asking gently. 

Dreams were something the doctor was highly interested in lately. 6 had never dreamed until a recent experiment, where the force of a high impact attack had knocked him off his feet and left him unconscious. When he awoke to see the doctor standing over him, he had frantically tore the breathing mask off his face and asked the doctor where the others had gone, describing a series of landscapes and figures he’d seen during the course of the two days he’d been out cold.

“They used sounds!” he had explained, the first time he’d experienced this. “But…it wasn’t like how we speak. I couldn’t understand anything they were saying. They didn’t use hands at all! And they were…”

6 hadn’t been sure how to describe what he’d seen. He used his fingers to make a cuff around his arm to show that they were…thick? This was followed by a confusion of gestures to explain that the beings he’d seen were covered in some sort of…soft substance. Like they had a full body blanket on over their thick skeletons. 

The doctor had looked alarmed at this explanation, and had left the room to review the test results to figure out what had happened. Upon returning, the doctor spent several hours explaining the concept of dreams, reassuring 6 that what he had seen was something limited to his mind’s eye. Yet despite this, the doctor asked him for a detailed analysis of what he’d experienced, asking a number of questions that confused 6 (“Wait, you saw Hotland? But how? Did anyone look at you directly? Did they react to you being there?”).

Despite his attempts to maintain a calm demeanor during his questioning, 6 could see that the doctor was clearly spooked by this new development. But for 6, sleeping now presented a new freedom that he hadn’t realized he’d been missing, though he struggled to make sense of what he was seeing most of the time. 

“6, did you hear me?” 6 looked at the doctor, but remained silent, recalling the white, cold environment he had found himself standing in the night before, uncertain of how to explain what it was he had seen.

He was exhausted. 

The doctor looked as if he was about to press further when a sound went off, startling both of them. A red light flashed above a doorway that 6 had never been through, while the doorway to the hall that led to 6’s room slammed shut. A heavy THUNK indicated that it had locked.

“What in the hell—" the doctor stammered, shifting his gaze to the monitors behind 6, which showed the hallways and lab rooms of the facility. He shot up suddenly, his eyes widening as he knocked over the contents of a coffee mug onto the desk. 

6 spun around to see what the doctor was looking at and felt his breath catch in his ribcage. There was…something in the hallway. It looked like a figure out of his dreams. Was this a test? He watched the monitor intently as the figure strode down the hall towards the central lab.

“Shit,” the doctor said through gritted teeth. 6 was unable to tear his eyelights away from the figure approaching on the screen, but could see the reflection of the doctor dashing around the lab behind him, hitting buttons that slid equipment into the floorboards and tossing papers into cabinet drawers.

So this must not be a test. Forgetting his exhaustion, 6 began to summon an attack when he felt the doctor grip his arm firmly. 

“No!” the doctor hissed, his gestures angrily instructing 6 to dissipate the sharp bones that had shot out from behind him. 6 scattered the attacks, confused, as a knock at the door snapped the doctor to attention. A voice bellowed from behind the door in a language that 6 had only heard in his dreams.

The doctor gulped, sweat beading on his brow. “Get to your room. Now,” the doctor said to 6 quietly.

6 hurried to the door leading to his hallway, only to find it locked. He looked at the doctor, who was frantic. 

“Fuck!” the doctor muttered, grabbing 6 by the shoulder blades and quickly steering him into the small kitchenette at the other end of the room. He shoved 6 into a supply closet, between lab coats and cleaning equipment. “Not a word,” the doctor signed silently, before closing the closet door.

6 stood frozen inside the closet, his soul glowing in panic and illuminating the interior a dull cyan through his shirt. He heard the sound of the hallway door opening and jumped when he heard the doctor speak with whatever it was that was behind the door, using the same strange language he’d heard earlier.

Although terrified, his curiosity was too much to bear. 6 slowly approached the closet doors and peered through a crack. It was hard to see from his vantage point, but a large, furry figure stood before the doctor, towering over him. The figure was dressed in garments 6 had never seen before – rich purple robes, a silk tunic, and a crown that sat firmly between two massive horns that nearly scratched the doorway he stood in.

“Ah, I thought I’d find you down here,” the figure bellowed.

The doctor stood in the doorway, looking as if he were trying to form a shield between himself and the inside of his office. 

“Asgore! What a uh, unexpected surprise!” the doctor laughed nervously, which came out sounding halfway between a laugh and a sob. “How did, uh…what brings you down here? I’m assuming it’s not an emergency or you would have called me? You know I’m happy to meet you at New Home, there’s no need for you to come out this way.”

“Nonsense!” the king laughed, pushing his way into the lab and spinning the doctor along with him as he threw a massive arm around his shoulder. “I was out here this morning for the Snowdin Librarby opening anyways and thought I’d stop by to see if you’d like to join me for a cup of tea. I would have knocked on your front door, but one of your colleagues told me I’d be more likely find you down here.”

The doctor shot a look towards the kitchenette before turning back to the king. “I uh, suppose that's true. With all the problems we’ve had with the Core overheating lately, I’ve just been working out here so I can monitor the cooling system directly. It’s much easier for me to address issues as they come up when I’m working in Snowdin. Why are you out here anyways, the report isn’t due for at least another few weeks, yeah?”

The king looked surprised. “Wingdin, I didn’t come to nag you about your report, I stopped by to check in on you. Tori asked about you during supper the other night and we realized that you haven’t come by to visit us in almost…three years? Four? Certainly not since we moved to New Home.” The doctor remained silent. “I hope we haven’t offended you in some way.”

“Not at all!” the doctor interjected. “I’ve just been busy, that’s all.”

6 shifted slightly to keep the two in eyesight. He couldn’t understand what was being said verbally, but he could at least make out the doctor’s side of the conversation from the hand gestures that were accompanying his speech. The king glanced at the monitors, which all displayed empty rooms and hallways throughout the lab. His eyes stopped on 6’s room.

“Er, I would offer to make you some tea here,” the doctor said quickly, stepping around the king. “But I haven’t restocked my cabinet in quite a--SHIT!” the doctor cursed, slipping and catching himself on the desk. He looked down to see what he'd slipped in — the contents of the coffee mug he had overturned in the process of stashing equipment away had saturated the papers beneath it, creating a small pool of liquid on the floor. He cursed in Hands, turning the mug upright and scooping the wet papers off his desk.

“Oh my, let me help with that,” the king said cheerfully, as he strode from the desk to the kitchenette’s supply closet in less than two steps.

Before the doctor had time to react, the king had pulled open the supply closet door, scanning the top shelf. He grabbed a rag and was about to turn back around when his eyes caught sight of 6, who stood stock still in the closet with a look of sheer terror on his face. The king started, dropping the rag.

“Oh! My goodness!” the king laughed, as he bent down to pick the rag up. “You scared me, little one! What were you doing in there?” The king turned back to the doctor, grinning. “Wingdin, who is this?”

6 couldn’t understand the monster that towered over him even while kneeling, but he radiated a warmth that made him instantly appealing.

The doctor froze; a few moments passed before he replied. “That’s…um…that’s my son, actually.” The doctor looked at the king as he spoke, but 6 saw him continue his thoughts to him in Hands silently. “Do not speak. Not one word.

The king’s eyes widened. “Son?!” The doctor nodded, looking extremely frustrated. “Wingdin, you…I mean, I realize it has been awhile since I last saw you, but how did I not know about this?” The king looked hurt as he looked back and forth between 6 and the doctor.

“It’s private. I don’t want to discuss it,” the doctor replied curtly. 

“By all means, you have no obligation to. I am just confused why you would hide something like this from me. He must be…golly, four years old?”

“He’s…six, ironically enough,” the doctor said, rubbing his hand over his jaw line so hard that 6 could hear the scrape of bone on bone from across the room. “He’s just small.”

6 remained frozen in place, only moving his eyelights to look back and forth between the two monsters.

“I apologize for being rude, young one. I am Asgore, though I’m quite sure you are aware of that already,” he added with a wink, extending a hand out to the small skeleton. 

6 cocked his head, not sure what was being communicated. He winked back, causing the king to burst out laughing. 6 looked back at the doctor, who had a horrified look on his face, but appeared to be making a valiant effort to stay composed. 

“Oh my, I was not expecting that!” the king laughed. “And what might your name be?”

6 searched the king’s face, recognizing he was being spoken to, but having no idea what was being said.

“Sorry, he’s uh…he’s very shy,” the doctor stated. The king turned and looked at the doctor. “His name is S...ans. Yeah. Uh, his name is Sans,” the doctor spat out quickly. 

The king turned back to 6.

“Sans, huh? Well, Sans, I have two little ones, who are only a few years older than you. You’ll have to come by and meet them sometime. In fact…” he said, turning back to the doctor, who was visibly sweating again. The king didn’t seem to notice. “Wingdin, I was going to invite you to join Tori and the children and I for supper in New Home tonight, but now that I know you’ve been hiding a young one from me, I’m going to insist that you be there. Both of you. Tori will be delighted, you know she loves children.”

6 saw the doctor sign an expletive before vocally responding. “Er, well…I don’t think tonight will work. I have some diagnostics I need to run on the Core to ensure that –“

“You have a whole staff, do you not? Have one of your lab assistants do it. I will not take no for an answer.”

The king looked at 6, winking again. 6 winked back. The king smiled. “Five o’clock sharp, Wingdin. I’ll see you then.” And with that, the king strode out of the room, the sound of his footsteps fading down the hall, ending with the clang of the door locking back into place as he exited the facility. 

Chapter Text

The doctor let out an audible moan and slumped onto the ground against the desk, putting his head in his hands. 6 stood silently, still in the cabinet, trying to process what had just happened. His head ached, and 6 wondered for a moment whether it was possible to have so many thoughts inside your skull that it’d crack open.

The doctor’s voice brought him out of his shock.

“6,” the doctor called softly. 6 pushed the cabinet doors open slowly and approached, still not quite sure if this was another dream or not.

What’s…what’s happening? What was that?” 6 signed. The doctor wasn’t looking at him. 6 cleared his throat, still raspy from the day before, and tried again verbally. “What was that?”

The doctor sighed. “Go to your room, 6, I need time to think.” He motioned towards the still-closed door leading to the hall to 6’s room.

“It’s locked,” 6 replied quietly, without moving.

“Of course it is! Because you’re not supposed to be out here when the auto-lock system is engaged!” the doctor laughed humorlessly. He stood and opened a panel outside the doorway where the king had exited and punched in a series of numbers, unlocking the door to the hallway leading to 6’s room. “Not like it matters anymore, I suppose. Cat-monster is out of the bag. FUCK I can’t believe I was so careless.”

6’s eyelights darted towards the door, then back to the doctor, who was slumped against the wall near the entry door with his head in his hands. Questions were tumbling around in 6’s mind so quickly that he wasn’t sure where to start. He was suddenly aware of his exhaustion again, but his mind was too active to want to go back to his room and sleep.

6 stood, uncertain, before clearing his throat. “What was that?” he asked again.

The doctor looked up at 6, looking resigned.

That,” he started, his hands indicating sarcasm and hinting that ‘who was that’ was probably a more accurate question, “was the king. King Asgore. My boss. Although once he figures out what you actually are, he probably won’t be my boss anymore after he murders me,” he added, speaking more to himself than to 6 at this point.

6 didn’t know what a king was. Or a boss. “Why was he speaking dream language? Why were YOU speaking dream language?” 

“Dream language! God, I am so fucked.” The doctor looked at a device in his hand, then put it back into his pocket. “Shit, five o’clock. That’s not much time.”

6 saw his window of opportunity to get answers closing quickly. “What’s a king?” he tried again.

“It’s a…like a person in charge. Of everything. Look, 6, there are, uh, a lot of things that you don’t know and that aren’t going to make sense to you, and I was hoping I wouldn’t have to deal with this for a long time, but obviously I’ve become a bit lax in my judgment here. So we’re just going to have to figure this out. If we can get through tonight by some miracle then we can sit down and I will try to answer the millions of questions you’re probably going to have after this. But first I need to figure out how the hell we’re going to do this without getting dusted, so please, just do what I ask and give me some time to think.”

6 stared at the doctor for a few more seconds, before turning and heading to his room. The door clanked shut behind him. 

Nearly an hour later, the door swung back open and the doctor’s voice crackled onto the intercom. “Okay, come back out here.”

6 walked back out to the main lab, where the doctor was setting down a large brown bag on his desk. He pulled out a crumpled map from a desk drawer and beckoned 6 over.

“Alright, you know what, we’re just going to do this,” the doctor said, flattening the map on the table top. “You know what this is, yes?”

6 eyed the map, then looked back at the doctor, raising an eye ridge. “Puzzle?” he signed.

The doctor sighed, scratching his face before answering.

“Close. It’s called a map. We often use these in puzzles to help you know where to go and where you are. You know what this is.”

6 nodded, and the doctor continued. “Now…this is where we are,” he said, pointing to a small square on the map. “And this is New Home,” he said, pointing to a large area on the opposite side of the map. “The king lives there. That is where we have to show up tonight so that I don’t get wrapped in dog treats and fed to the royal guard and can hopefully figure out how to explain this away and go back to doing my work in goddamn peace. This whole thing,” he continued, motioning to the entire map, “is the Underground. There are a lot of other monsters like you and I down here.”

6 squinted at the map. He wasn’t sure how all of this fit together. Was New Home a part of the lab he hadn’t been to before? He looked at the doctor, who continued talking.

“So here’s how we’re going to do this. You’re going to put on these clothes that I got you so that you don’t look completely out of place,” he said, motioning to the brown bag on the desk, “and I’m going to need a drink so I don’t completely lose my mind. Then we’re going to take the ferry to Hotland late this afternoon since that’ll keep us out of the work rush hour…that ferry person is never really paying attention anyways, so that’ll be fine. And then…I suppose we’ll just take a shortcut through the Core and shoot up the elevator to New Home.” 6 watched as the doctor traced a path along the map with his finger. “And then…fuck, and then we actually have to make it through dinner. And get back again.”

The doctor rolled the map up and stuck it back into the desk. “Welp!” he said, clapping 6 on the back and grinning. “It was a nice run. I felt like we were really making some progress towards getting through the barrier, but that might all just be on permanent hiatus now thanks to Asgore and his fucking hospitality. Ready kid?”

6 wasn’t sure what he was getting ready for, but he nodded, still in too much shock at the information overload he’d been wading through since that morning to do much else. He’d given up trying to make sense of what the doctor was saying to him. The doctor tossed the bag at 6. “Throw those on and let’s get this over with.”

Chapter Text

6 opened the bag up to find a wad of clothing inside. He recognized the general shapes from the set of clothing that he’d changed in and out of for as long as he could remember, but they were still a far cry from anything he’d seen before. For one, they were much more colorful. And they looked to be made out of a different sort of material than he was used to.

He reached in and pulled out the contents of the bag one by one: a striped blue and black shirt with long sleeves, white slip on shoes, and black pants with a drawstring. He laid them out in a row, holding onto the shirt sleeve and rubbing it gently between his fingers. It was much softer than the clothing he normally wore. And it smelled…different. He put the shirt close to his face and inhaled deeply, a sense of comfort washing over him.

“What the – 6, cut it out,” the doctor snapped, snatching the shirt out of 6’s hands and motioning with his free hand for 6 to change out of his clothes.

6 pulled his shirt off over his head and tossed it into the now empty bag, pulling the striped shirt on over his head to replace it. The doctor continued to move about the room, tossing things into his briefcase and locking up equipment that had been pulled out after the king had departed. When 6 finished changing, he sat on the floor next to the paper bag and watched as the doctor put away a few remaining documents.

“Alright, I think that about does –” the doctor started, but immediately froze as he locked his eyelights on 6.

“What?” asked 6, standing up.

“It’s nothing,’” the doctor replied, gaining his composure and shaking his head. “You’ll blend right in.” He forced a weak smile. 6 noted sadness in his hand movements, though it was barely detectable.

“You’re sad.”

The doctor laughed. “I am. I am a sad, sad monster, 6. You got me.”

6 tugged on his shirt sleeves, finding the feeling of the fabric between his fingers comforting in the strangeness of the situation. The doctor approached 6, squatting down so that he was close to eye socket level with him.

“6, you’re going to have a lot to process today. So I need you to just think of it like a new test, okay? Like another puzzle. And if you pass, you can learn more about it and we’ll um, figure out how to integrate it into your normal routine. Or something. I haven’t quite figured everything out yet.” 6 could read from his gestures that there was a deeper meaning to the conversation than he was choosing to convey, but he couldn’t determine what.

The doctor stood. “Right. Before we leave, we need to set some parameters for this, uh, puzzle. And these are very important.” 6 nodded, and the doctor continued. “Alright. The first rule. No attacks. Do not attack ANYONE. In fact, no magic, period. Just keep it to yourself.”

6 tried to think of a time where a puzzle hadn’t involved some sort of magic, but couldn’t recall any. The doctor continued. “Let’s see…uh, rule 2: the puzzle I’m taking you through doesn’t use Hands. They speak a different language.”

“Dream language?”

“Something like that. It’s not that complicated, it’s essentially a dumbed down version of Hands, but you’re probably not going to be able to understand anything and they’re sure as hell not going to be able to understand you, so just…no talking. I’ll do the talking. Understand?”

“Yes.”

“Shit, I didn’t really even think about the language issue. We’ll just have to figure out a reason why you’re quiet for dinner, I guess.” The doctor ran a hand over the back of his skull before picking his briefcase back up. “I think that’s all the rules for now, I’m sure I’ll think up a couple more as we’re walking. Oh! One more rule.”

He pointed at 6 before continuing. “Rule 3: do not leave my side. This puzzle is incredibly dangerous. And if you leave my line of sight, you’ll probably be killed. So don’t do it.” 6’s eyes went dark as he nodded. The doctor scooped a few vials off his desk and stuffed them into his bag. “Good. Alright, let’s go.”

The doctor punched some numbers into a keypad by the doorway, and shot a bullet pattern onto the pad next to it, causing the door to pop open. 6 drew close to the doctor as they walked down a long, dimly lit hallway to a flight of stairs leading up to another door. The doctor pulled a set of keys out of his coat and unlocked it.

6 had grown used to the consistent temperature in the lab, and instinctively flinched when a cold gust of wind blew through the open door and hit his face. It took a few moments for his eyelights to adjust to the environment. The ground was covered in white, and dotted intermittently with structures similar to the one they had just emerged from. A few figures, much smaller in stature than the king, but still far taller than 6, walked about between the structures, talking amongst each other. Before 6 had the chance to determine whether he recognized any of the dream language, the doctor pulled him in the other direction, circling the back of the structure they’d just emerged from to head up another path.

6 noticed the white stuff on the ground being kicked up onto his shoes as he struggled to keep pace with the doctor, who had begun to move more quickly once they had reached the pathway. Their shoes made a soft crunching noise on the ground, and 6 could feel his socks getting slightly wet as they pressed onward. He picked his feet up higher, trying to keep from tripping as he stared up at his surroundings. The large green objects that lined the pathway on either side were so tall that 6 had to crane his neck bone as far back as it could go to see the tops of them. The air was much colder than inside the lab, and an occasional a gust of wind cut through the green objects as they walked, chilling 6 down to his marrow.

Eventually, they reached the edge of the path, where a wooden dock jutted out into a dark expanse of water. The doctor stopped at the end, looking up the river expectantly. When nothing appeared, he let go of 6’s hand.

“Guess we’re early. Or the river person is late. I can never tell with that one,” he said, glancing down the river in the other direction. 6 looked in the same direction, trying to discern what the doctor was looking for. The river stretched so far that he couldn’t see the end. He shivered slightly.

“Cold?” the doctor asked, making a gesture to indicate that he meant chilled, not the deep, cutting cold that 6 was experiencing. 6 shook his head and put his hands up, struggling to figure out how to describe what he was experiencing. The doctor raised a brow ridge.

“…small,” 6 signed, finally.

The doctor looked confused. “What?”

“Small,” 6 repeated using his voice. When the doctor continued to look confused, 6 slumped his shoulders. “Not cold, I just…I didn't…”

6 struggled to find the words to accompany his gestures, but this was a new feeling. The lab was something he knew intimately. He knew his room was fifty steps foot-to-foot. He knew it took seven deep inhales and exhales to get from his room to the main lab. He knew that if he stood on tip toe, he could see over the tops of all the desks and was tall enough now to climb up onto the test table without the doctors’ help. He searched the doctor's eyelights for understanding. “This puzzle. It’s big. It makes me feel really...small.”

“Ah, I see,” the doctor said, sitting down on the end of the dock next to 6. He pulled a bottle out of his briefcase and popped the stopper off, then patted the spot next to him. 6 sat down cross-legged, his hands in his lap. The doctor sighed heavily and took a swig out of his bottle, staring into the inky water. Now that they had stopped walking, 6 was struck by how quiet it was without the steady hum of the machinery that he was used to hearing as an ever-present background noise in the lab. It made him nervous. After a few moments, the doctor cleared his throat.

“I knew that at some point we’d have to talk about things,” the doctor said flatly, using the hand without the bottle in it to underline his meaning as he spoke. “I was hoping maybe it’d be, you know, farther in the future. When I had figured out how to explain it. It’s funny, time gives you the opportunity for perfection, but it also inevitably complicates matters.” He picked absentmindedly at a label on the bottle in silence a few seconds as 6 sat quietly, staring. The doctor shifted uncomfortably, taking a long swig out of the bottle he was holding before recapping it and stuffing it back into his briefcase.

“I know this is a lot to take in, 6,” he continued. “The short version, I suppose, is that yes, you are small. I’m small. In fact, we’re all incredibly small. You remember that map I showed you of the Underground, yes? The lab is just a tiny speck on that map. The Underground, well that’s also just a tiny speck on an even larger map. And that larger map…even that is a tiny speck on the entire world. The world itself is a speck among stars.”

He painted a vast expanse with his hands, looking at 6 for understanding. 6 stared blankly. The doctor frowned, clearing the gesture and centering himself before continuing. “I’m getting off on a tangent. My point is, the Underground, this place, it may seem big to you, but it has limits. It wasn’t always just the Underground, we could explore places and see things. But that all ended with –”

“The Barrier?” 6 knew The Barrier well. His testing explanations often involved some mention of it as the ultimate challenge that they’d one day need to figure out, though in his mind, The Barrier had always looked like the largest wall he knew of in the lab. Being out in the vast expanse of his new environment, he realized suddenly that he had no concept of how large The Barrier might actually be.

“Yes. The barrier came up and we were trapped down here with no way to get out. Many monsters were left on the outside with no way for us to communicate with them,” he said darkly. “It took a lot of trial and error, but eventually we determined that a special combination of a human and a monster soul could break through the barrier and cross to the other side. Heh, unfortunately, humans are a bit scarce down here so uh...” The doctor drummed his fingers on the dock, searching the waters silently. “Anyways, 6 there are…many monsters down here. Hundreds. All very different, but all made up of essentially the same components. But you have something extra, something that sets you apart and something that I hope can one day make the Underground speck a whole lot less…well, speck-like.” He paused, searching 6’s face. “Does that all make sense so far?”

6 looked down into the water, his reflection staring back up at him sadly. He turned to his hands instead, raising them up slowly as he tried to articulate his thoughts. “So...there are…hundreds of monsters. Trapped in the Underground.”

“Yes.”

“And the Underground is a speck. A speck we can’t leave because of The Barrier.”

“Yes.”

“And…being trapped. Not being able to go outside. That’s a…a bad thing. A terrible thing.” 6 noticed his hands were beginning to shake slightly as he spoke.

“6?”

“And the lab…is just…is just a speck in the Underground.” 6’s eyes darkened.

Water sloshed heavily against the dock as the world tipped. The doctor lurched forward, catching himself from tumbling into the water as the sudden shift in gravity knocked him off balance. He grabbed his briefcase as it shot across the dock towards the water, catching it before it fell. 6 put his head in his hands and curled in on himself on the edge of the dock, loose pieces of stone, ice, and snow toppling down the walkway and into the water below him.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa! Hey!” the doctor shouted, clutching the dock and grabbing 6 by the arm. 6 buried his head further into his elbows, his hands clutching the back of his head.

“6, you have to calm down,” the doctor stated firmly. “Hey. Look at me.” 6 didn’t move.

The doctor noticed a boat approaching in the distance, far enough away that it hadn’t yet been affected by the gravity tilt. “Shit. Okay, clearly trying to get this all out in one go wasn’t the right way to do this. Maybe we should just let you process the Underground before we start throwing you into an existential crisis, huh?” 6 remained motionless as the boat drew nearer. The doctor frowned, reaching into his bag.

“6, I don’t want to do this the hard way, but either calm yourself down or I’ll do it for you.” The doctor could see 6’s grip on the back of his head tighten. He nearly dropped his bag as the world tilted suddenly in the other direction, knocking him onto the backs of his hands.

“Alright, hard way it is,” the doctor said flatly, pulling a small vial out of his bag and removing the stopper with his teeth. He summoned a hand-shaped bullet and dumped the contents of the vial onto it, before sending it straight into 6’s soul. The world righted itself as 6 slumped onto the dock into a heap.

Chapter Text

The doctor exhaled, standing and straightening his coat out before scooping 6 up into his arms. 6’s head lolled to one side as the doctor shifted his weight to his other leg to pick up his bag. The boat pulled up silently alongside the dock.

“Tra la la, the waters are wild today! This is good luck,” sang the river person, as the doctor stepped onboard and used bullet magic to toss a gold piece into a can marked “CHOOSE A FAIR FARE.”

“Hotland,” the doctor said curtly, switching over to the common language. Aside from the boat being later than he’d expected, he was relieved to see that no one aside from himself, the lump in his arms, and the river person were onboard. He moved as far from the river person as he could and sat on the bow of the small boat, setting his bag on the ground beside him. After a few moments, the boat pitched forward and sped off towards Hotland.

The doctor eyed 6, who was sleeping quietly. He’d become so used to seeing 6 in the clothes he kept for him at the lab, that it was disarming to see him looking like…well, a normal monster kid. Which is essentially what he is, he thought gloomily. After all, 6 was made from the same components that skelemonsters had always been made from, with a few minor additions. He just hoped Asgore didn’t think too hard about where he’d acquired those components from. Or why he’d never seen 6 until now. Or why 6 only knew Hands.

Gods, he needed another drink.

“Tra la la,” the river person sang, pulling him out of his thoughts. “I hear that shortcuts are faster than ferries these days.”

“Great,” the doctor quipped. The river person usually had something cryptic to sing at him whenever he took the ferry, and more often than not, it was pure nonsense. He looked down and saw 6 stir in his sleep. He had pushed enough of the sleep serum into him that he’d probably be awake in less than an hour. The short amount of time between the king leaving the lab that morning and the frantic rushing around Snowdin afterwards to find a set of monster kid clothes that would actually fit a small skelemonster on short notice had left the doctor with little time to lay out a fully forged plan for getting through the evening incident-free.

Thankfully, the Snowdin shop bunnies happened to have an overabundance of monster kid clothes in all shapes and sizes, and only slightly raised an eyebrow at his request. Sleep-drugging 6 from the get-go or just straight-up leaving him behind in the lab and telling the king he’d gotten sick had both crossed his mind as possible alternatives. But both options meant there was a higher probability that King Asgore, or worse, Queen Toriel, would attempt to venture out to the Snowdin lab again. He couldn’t lock any of the royal family out of the lab, unfortunately, but he could at least shorten the list of reasons for why either of them would want to poke around down there.

The doctor looked down at 6, who continued to sleep.

Maybe it’d be okay. 6 had an incredibly calm demeanor, all things considered. If he could get through tonight without blowing the lid off of decades of research, he didn’t see any reason that his work couldn’t continue to move forward. And he hadn’t planned to keep 6 in the lab forever anyways, although he had certainly anticipated that 6’s first experiences in the outside world would be more…well, under his control.

Ah well. Centuries of experience had taught him that even with the best laid plans, the only thing one could be certain of was uncertainty.

“Hotland!” the river person announced, as the boat pulled up alongside the dock.

The doctor stepped off, 6 in one arm and his briefcase in the other.

“See you soon,” the river person sang, as the boat pulled away from the dock and sped away.

The doctor set off down one of the caverns leading towards the Core, taking a detour to avoid having to walk past the Hotland lab. Although he had staffed the main lab in such a way that he wasn’t needed there full time anymore, the doctor would normally stop in a few times a week to troubleshoot any issues with the Core that had arisen that the staff couldn’t resolve on their own.

But more often than not, it was business as usual – filling out reports, sending out his staff to search for scrap metal that could be used as replacements parts, trying to figure out which of the pieces they found could actually be turned into something useful...doing it all over again. While building the Core had been a satisfying project when he’d been in the midst of designing and coordinating its construction, the routine maintenance it required now that it was more or less finished was incredibly boring. Relocating to Snowdin where he could focus more energy on his side projects while still being able to access the resources of the Hotland lab had been an excellent move.

The doctor emerged from the shadows of the cavern he’d cut through many times before and stopped in his tracks. Normally, at this point in his journey, the final leg to the Core would be stretched out before him, its massive framework looming in the distance. Instead, the doctor was confused to find himself standing on the snow-covered pathway outside of the Snowdin bakery, the unmistakable sweet smell of cinnamon permeating the air. He spun on his heel quickly, unsure of what had just happened, but saw nothing but forest trees behind him.

“What in the hell…?” he spoke quietly, taking a step backwards. He set his bag down and reached out to the area he had just stepped through, waving his free arm around. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. He ran a hand over his jaw, perplexed, before noticing that 6 had woken up.

“Oh, you’re awake!” the doctor gestured. “Heh, well, we were supposed to be nearly there by now but…apparently I’m losing my mind.”

He set 6 down next to his bag and turned back around to eye the area he’d walked out of. He stepped forward and pressed one of the trees, then waved his arm around in the air in front of him. Nothing happened.

6 stood silently, watching the doctor march back and forth across the small area of forest in front of them.

“Hmm. I don’t know, 6, what do you think?”

“Um, it smells like my clothes here,” 6 stated.

“Uh huh,” the doctor said, distracted. 6 turned his head to look back at the Snowdin bakery.

“What is it?” 6 asked, though the doctor wasn’t paying attention to his hand gestures.

The doctor walked back to 6, shaking his head. “This is officially the strangest day I’ve had in a very long time,” he replied.

“No, what's the smell.”

“What? I don’t know, cinnamon probably? It goes in food, they bake things over there.”

“Cinnamon,” 6 repeated, trying out the hand gesture.

The doctor started to say something, then stopped, scratching his face absently.

"I am honestly losing my mind. Welp, I don’t know if we’re going to be able to get over to New Home on time at this point. Or," he laughed pathetically, "if I actually care that much right now.” He stood silently, staring at the same spot in the trees, before shaking his head. “I guess I’ll come back later,” he said, kicking some fallen branches into the shape of an X before grabbing his bag and taking 6 by the hand. 6 paused, looking into the woods before staring back up at the doctor.

“Um,” he stammered.

“Hey, you know, we probably should show you some table manners before we go to New Home anyways, right?” the doctor said, cutting 6 off. “We have some time still, why don’t we pop into Firenze’s real quick? I mean, this day is pretty shot to hell anyways, might as well go out with a bang.”

6 didn’t know what half of what the doctor was saying meant anymore, but the last time he’d seen the doctor in a similar mood, the test session had ended with 6 out cold on the ground after the doctor had decided it was “definitely the day” to amp up the attacks he was throwing at him. He slumped.

“Come on kid, don't look so serious,” the doctor remarked cheerfully, pulling 6 along with him as he headed to the structure near the cinnamon-smelling outpost.

The doctor pushed the door open with his foot, glancing around before pulling 6 inside along with him. Inside, a furry monster sat slumped in the corner at the end of the bar. Two small dogs were seated in a booth nearby, arguing over a game of cards. In the back, a slim green-flamed figure stood polishing a glass behind the bar, and a young, bespeckled orange-flamed figure pushed a broom around the floor to the beat of a jukebox that played softly in the background.

The doctor sat 6 down in the booth farthest away from the green flamed figure. “Alright, stay here. I’ll be right back,” the doctor said.

6’s eyes went dark. “Alone? But you said--”

“Just stay put, I’ll be back in five minutes.”

6 stayed rooted in place, eyes wide, staring at the table in front of him. It was made of wood rather than the metal tables he was used to seeing. He traced a finger along the ridges for a few minutes before turning slightly to peek around the side of the booth. The doctor was speaking to the green-flamed figure behind the bar, though 6 only caught a few of the hand gestures that accompanied the other language he was speaking. 6 noticed one of the small dog monsters staring at him and ducked quickly behind the booth wall again.

A few minutes later, the doctor reappeared, holding a drink in his hand. “Alright, food should be ready pretty soon. We’ll make this fast and try to get to New Home again without popping into existence somewhere else.”

The smaller orange fire-figure appeared about fifteen minutes later, holding a plate of food and a bottle of ketchup, which he set on the table. He pushed his glasses up further on his face and looked at 6. 6 stared back silently.

“Thanks kid, we’re good,” the doctor said to the fire-figure, interrupting the staring contest. The flame monster glanced at 6 one more time before heading back to resume pushing the broom around the bar. The doctor held out a rolled set of silverware to 6, gesturing for him to take it.

“Alright um, so I actually have no idea what we’re eating for dinner, but I’m guessing silverware is probably going to be involved. I know you know how to use spoons and forks, but I just want to make sure you don’t look totally out of place. And you probably should know how to use a knife without chopping your ulna in half.” He motioned for 6 to pick up his fork and knife, demonstrating how to hold them.

“Yeah, that’s good. Okay, um, so I probably shouldn’t have ordered a burger for you to practice on since you’re actually supposed to just eat these with your hands but…it was the cheapest thing on the menu, so we’ll make it work. Anyways, see how I’m cutting it? Try and do that.”

6 looked at what the doctor was gesturing and attempted to cut his burger in half.

“Um…yeah, that’s sort of close. Try to keep it on the plate though. You want to sort of saw back and forth instead of just pressing your knife straight down into it. Yeah, like that. Okay, now use your fork to eat it. No wait, don’t just throw half the burger in your mouth, you want to cut it into small pieces.”

6 pulled the half-burger off his fork with his hand and put it back onto the plate, picking up the knife and fork to try cutting it up again. He looked up at the doctor, who was trying to keep a straight face. “Okay, that’s small enough, you’re not making confetti. Now you get to eat it.” 6 put a piece in his mouth, chewing slowly. A strange feeling washed over him and his eyes darkened.

“What’s wrong? Does it need ketchup?”

6 felt like he was going to cry suddenly. “It’s…it’s so good.”

The doctor laughed out loud, startling 6. “This is probably the most shit thing on the menu, so I’ll make sure Firenze knows someone finally likes it. Okay, don’t talk when you have food in your mouth or you’re going to spray it everywhere. And don’t sign either, you’re just throwing your silverware around.”

6 jabbed as many pieces of burger onto his fork as he could and stuffed his mouth full, barely pausing before scooping more pieces up. He coughed as a piece of bread got stuck in his tract.

“Whoa, slow down, jeez. You’d think I starve you or something.”

“How come the lab doesn’t have food like this?” 6 said with his mouth full, attempting to spear the remaining burger crumbs on the plate with his fork.

“Uh…I mean, I guess we could make that happen,” the doctor said. “I didn’t really think about it before.”

6 looked over to see the green fire monster staring at them with an odd expression on his face from behind the counter, though he quickly looked away when 6 made eye contact.

“Anyways, I think we’re good on the table manner stuff. Just let them put everything in front of you tonight and don’t say anything. I’ll speak for you. And if you don’t know what to do, just sort of look at what I’m doing and try to copy that. Got it? Alright, hurry and finish up so we can get moving.”

The doctor downed the rest of his glass quickly and slammed it down on the table. 6 considered this a moment before picking up the ketchup bottle, taking a swig out of it, and slamming it on the table as well. The doctor laughed harder than 6 had ever heard him laugh before. “Wow, okay please don’t do that at the king and queen’s home tonight."

“Why?”

“That’s supposed to go ON the burger.”

“Oh. Why?”

“It makes it taste better.”

“Well, it tastes good like this too,” 6 said, eyeing the bottle. The doctor picked it up and moved it to the other side of the table, glancing quickly over towards the bar.

“Okay kid, let's clear out before Firenze starts asking questions," he stated quickly. He took a gold piece out of his pocket and tossed it onto the table, picking his bag up and motioning for 6 to join him. 6 glanced over his shoulder as he followed, noticing that the bartender and the two small dogs were still staring at him. He walked quickly to keep pace with the doctor.

The river person was already at the dock as they approached, the boat bobbing up and down quietly in the water. This time, the doctor didn’t throw a coin into the can. “Tra la la,” the river person sang, as they stepped aboard. “Welcome back!”

“Hotland. Again,” the doctor mumbled, walking past. He moved to the same spot that he’d sat at earlier, motioning for 6 to sit next to him on the side farthest from the river person. The boat remained bobbing in the water a few more minutes, before lifting up out of the water and speeding off down the cavern.

6 peered around the doctor at the river person. “How do you know what they’re saying if they don’t use their hands?” he signed silently.

“Eh, you just have to pick up on other things. Like their facial expressions or how they’re standing or whatnot,” the doctor shrugged.

But that one doesn’t have a face.

“Yeah, that one is a bit of an anomaly.”

What’s an anom...anomaly?

“Uh, it means they’re different than everyone else.”

“Oh,” 6 said quietly, looking over at the river person again, who was humming to themselves at the other end of the boat. “Am I an anomaly?”

“Uh,” the doctor started, but was interrupted by the boat coming to a stop.

“Hotland!” the river person sang. “Come back again!”

“Yeah, not if we can help it,” the doctor said, taking 6 by the hand and stepping off the boat.

Chapter Text

6 watched the boat bob silently in the river, as the doctor stood and pondered over the cavernous pathways ahead of them. “I’m a little tempted to go back the way we went the first time and see if we fall out in Snowdin again,” the doctor gestured after a few moments, dropping 6’s hand and peering down the tunnel he’d walked through earlier.

“What's Snowdin?” 6 asked.

“The place we just were,” the doctor replied.

“Oh. With the burger?”

“Yes. Well, I mean, the burger was in Firenze’s, but Firenze’s is IN Snowdin. Snowdin is that whole area. You know, with the snow everywhere.”

“Snow?”

The doctor turned around, attempting to use his hand with the bag in it to gesture at 6. “6, you’re giving me a migraine. Remember how we talked about saving your inevitable million questions for later?”

He looked at 6, who, despite having a permanent grin on his face, looked disappointed. The doctor sighed. “Ugh, okay, snow…you know the cold white stuff everywhere that we just walked through? That’s snow. Happy?”

6 nodded.

“You know, screw it, I need to find that shortcut,” the doctor said, grabbing 6 by the hand and starting off down the tunnel he’d gone through earlier that afternoon.

“How come there isn’t snow here?” 6 asked, looking around the darkness of the humid cavern.

“Gods, 6, seriously, I can’t do this right now. Just...later, okay?”

The doctor paused near the spot where he was pretty sure he’d tumbled out into Snowdin earlier, but didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. He drew an X on the ground with his foot and placed a large rock next to it.

The journey through the Core to the New Home elevators was non-eventful, aside from a few of the doctor’s colleagues that mumbled greetings and eyed 6 curiously before going on about their business. The doctor breathed a sigh of relief as he punched a button on the panel and the elevator doors closed behind them. He pulled a device out of his coat pocket and glanced at it quickly. “Phew, plenty of time,” he said, hitting 6 with his elbow.

6 nodded, trying his best not to show how confused he was with figuring out how time kept factoring into whatever it was that they were doing. A few moments passed before the elevator door opened back up, revealing a long, stone pathway overlooking a dramatic cityscape. 6 followed the doctor as he walked out of the elevator, unable to tear his eyes away from the vast expanse of buildings laid out on either side of them.

“Hey, eyes on me,” the doctor said, snapping his fingers at 6. “We can’t have you tilting us off the edge of this thing.”

6 attempted to keep his eyes on the doctor as they approached the doorway at the end of the pathway, though he took the opportunity to steal a few sidelong glances at the buildings on either side of them when the doctor was looking elsewhere, slowing the world down to take in the details. The structures were packed closely together and 6 could make out hundreds of figures moving about within and outside of the buildings. None of them seemed to look like himself or the doctor, but none of them appeared to have much in common with each other either. It was hard to tell with the world slowed, but most of them seemed to be emoting using their faces instead of their hands, which was unsettling.

6 released his hold on the pace of the world, focusing again on the doctor in an attempt to ward off the dizzying feeling of smallness that was coming over him again. He realized that the doctor had been talking to him through the warp, though the slowing had distorted the sound accompanying the doctor’s hand gestures.

“-what we tell them, I guess,” the doctor finished, stopping and looking at 6. “Make sense?”

“Uh,” 6 said.

“We’ll be okay,” the doctor said, more to himself than anything. 6 could read from his hand gestures that he wasn’t actually certain of what he was saying.

A few minutes later, they emerged into a small clearing in front of a home, where 6 saw two small monsters sitting in a grassy patch wearing green and yellow striped shirts. One of them, covered in white fur similar to the king, had his paws placed on top of the hands of the other figure across from them, who looked to 6 to be some kind of peach-colored, padded skelemonster. The furry monster was trying to pull his paws away quickly from the peach-colored one, who was in turn attempting to slap the other before they could pull their hands away. After a few misses, a loud SMACK rang out as the peach monster landed a blow on the other's hands, and promptly burst out laughing.

“OW! Chara, I told you don’t hit so hard!” the white one cried out.

“Don’t be such a cry baby,” laughed the other.

“I’m not crying!”

“Yes, you are.”

“I’m not.”

The doctor cleared his throat and the two monsters looked up at him. “Apologies for interrupting,” the doctor said, his hands absently signing the words he was saying as he switched languages. “Are your mother and father home?”

“What?” the peach-colored monster asked.

“Are your mother and father home?” the doctor repeated, more slowly.

The peach-colored monster looked confused, then looked to the white monster next to them. “He talks funny,” they whispered loudly, giggling.

“Chara, that’s rude!” the white one said, pushing the other in the shoulder and standing. “I’ll go get them,” he added, then ran off into the house.

The peach-colored monster stared at the two of them for a few moments quietly, before the king emerged from the house, followed closely behind by the small white monster. The king had switched from the lush purple robes he had been wearing earlier that morning into cargo shorts and a pink polo shirt, though he was no less intimidating than he’d been in the lab. He scooped the peach-colored monster up and set them on his shoulders, then clapped a large hand on the doctor’s shoulder.

“Wingdin, so nice to see you again! Thank you for making the trek out here. It’s not often that I get to see you twice in one day anymore. I hope Chara and Asriel greeted you properly,” he added, ruffling the fur on the white monster’s head.

“Chara told him he talks funny,” Asriel said, tugging on the king’s shirt.

“Oh my GOSH Asriel, you’re such a tattle tale,” Chara countered, rolling their eyes.

“Children, come on now,” the king said, setting the monster on his head back on the ground. 6 looked at the doctor, willing him to speak so he could at least follow some of the conversation through his hand gestures. Instead, the doctor remained quiet, a look of annoyance spreading across his features.

“Now, let us try this again,” the king instructed gently. “Introduce yourselves like your mother and I showed you.”

Chara sighed heavily, sticking their hand out to 6. “Greetings. My name is Chara. It is a pleasure to meet your acquaintance,” they droned dutifully. 6 stared at them, then looked at Gaster.

"Put your hand out like they’re doing," the doctor signed to him silently. 6 put his hand out slowly, where it was immediately seized and shaken up and down so vigorously that 6 almost lost his balance. Chara let go and moved to shake the doctor’s hand, as Asriel stepped up to 6 and made the same motion.

“Greetings. My name is Asriel. It is a pleasure to MAKE your acquaintance,” he said, shooting a look at Chara as he shook 6’s hand. Chara ignored him.

6 had been prepared for another round of rough handshaking, but instead found Asriel’s grip to be so gentle that his hand almost slipped out of his grasp. Asriel then moved to the doctor and shook his hand.

“Very good!” the king smiled warmly, putting a hand on each of their shoulders as they stood in front of him again. “Children, this is Dr. Gaster, our kingdom’s Royal Scientist and a very dear friend of mine. And this is his son, Sans, who I just had the pleasure of meeting this morning.” The two children gave 6 a once over.

“Does he talk funny too?” Chara asked, looking at the king.

“Okay, rascal, get inside,” the king chided, motioning towards the house with his head. “You too, Azzy.” Asriel took off running and beat Chara to the door, only to be pulled backwards by the shirt before he could step inside. 6 could hear the two of them arguing loudly with each other as they disappeared from view. The king chuckled, shaking his head. “My goodness, we still have some work to do on our manners, don’t we?”

“Yes, well,” the doctor muttered, fumbling around inside his bag and pulling out a bottle of wine. “Anyways, this is for you,” he said, shoving it towards the king.

“Oh! Why, thank you! I actually don’t touch this stuff anymore myself, but I have a suspicion you will be Tori’s favorite person tonight,” he laughed, winking at the doctor. “Come on inside, I’ll give you the tour!”

6 was instantly flooded with a sense of safety from the light and warmth emanating from the homestead. Music played softly from the room off to the left, periodically interrupted by the sounds of the two children and another voice 6 didn’t recognize. The king shut the door behind them and made a motion at the doctor, who handed his coat over to him. Hanging the coat on a rack near the door, the king spread his arms and gestured to the room they were standing in.

“Entry way, of course. Down there are bedrooms and some storage space,” he said, pointing in the opposite direction of the music. “And if you want to follow me this way, we have the kitchen and living room. And of course, the garden’s out back.”

The doctor stood quietly, looking around. “Isn't this...the same house you were in before, back at the Ruins?”

The king laughed, running a hand through his mane. “It is! It is. We loved that old place, so we just had the builders construct a duplicate. The other home is still where it was before. Tori is hoping that perhaps one of the children will want it for their own families one day.” 6 was trying to follow the conversation, but could only discern that the doctor looked mildly disturbed by something the king had said. 6 looked back at the king, who was smiling down at him and saying something.

“—oh uh, sorry, Sans is a bit shy. He doesn’t speak much,” the doctor interjected, indicating in Hands that whoever Sans was, he better not speak much if he knew what was good for him. 6 looked back to the king, who smiled and winked at him as he said something else, before motioning for the two of them to follow him into the other room.

6 looked up at the doctor once the king’s back was turned and quickly signed to him, "Who is Sans?"

"Don’t worry about it," the doctor signed back, following the king into the other room.

Asriel was carefully straightening bowls he’d laid out on a small table. Chara stood at the end with their hands behind their back, looking at the king with a forced expression of seriousness on their face. “Hey dad!” Chara called, as the king entered the room. “Can you see what’s missing from the table?”

The king eyed the table, raising an eyebrow. “Hmm…silverware?”

“Knife guess,” Chara said slyly, pulling out two tumblers from behind their back and setting them on the table, “but since you can’t see, you obviously need glasses.”

Chara looked pleased with themselves and winked at Asriel, who rolled his eyes as a voice unfamiliar to 6 burst out laughing in the adjacent room. Another monster, who stood almost as tall as Asgore, but without his horns or wide shoulders, emerged shortly thereafter, wiping her paws on a dish towel.

“My child, I do hope that someday spoon I will be able to tell jokes that are half as terrible as yours,” she laughed. Her eyes lit up upon seeing the doctor.

“Wingdin! It has been far too long!” she gasped, sweeping him up into a hug. “Oh my, and this must be Sans!” she continued, as she set the doctor down and knelt in front of 6. “Greetings, my child. I am Toriel,” she said warmly, holding her paw out. 6 stuck his hand out, which she took in both of hers and squeezed gently. “I am so happy to finally meet you." She smiled at the doctor, still holding 6’s hand in hers. “Wingdin, I had no idea. I am so very happy for you.”

The doctor cleared his throat, looking away uncomfortably. “Uh, thanks,” he said to the floor.

Toriel released 6’s hands, standing and straightening out her dress. “Asgore, would you be a dear and bring the pot on the stove to the table? Oh my, is that wine?” she asked, plucking the bottle from the king's hand as he passed. “Wingdin, you are such a sweetheart, you did not have to bring us anything. I shall go open this up. Please, sit,” she said, pulling out two chairs from the table and motioning at them. She turned to Chara and Asriel, who were seated at the table already. “Asriel, would you please bring the bread to the table? It is on the kitchen counter.”

Asriel popped up immediately and headed into the kitchen after his mother. The doctor and 6 sat down across the table from Chara, who put their elbows on the table and rested their chin in their hands, studying the both of them intently. After a few moments, Chara turned their gaze to the doctor. “Are you skeletons?” they asked.

“Something like that,” the doctor answered, his eyes darting towards the kitchen.

“Wanna know how I knew?” Chara said, a mischievous grin spreading across their face. The doctor stared at them silently, looking irritated. “I could feel it…” they started, leaning in closer, “…in my BONES!” they shouted, bursting out laughing, though they quickly quieted upon noticing the lack of reaction. "Get it? Bones?"

6 glanced at the doctor, who had a look of disgust on his face. He thought about taking a chance and asking what had just happened under the table, but was interrupted by Toriel, who set the open bottle of wine down and handed a glass to the doctor, placing another next to her bowl as she took a seat.

“Ah, is Chara keeping you entertained? I am afraid we have quite the comedian in our family." Chara looked extremely pleased with themselves at this, and winked at Asriel as he reentered the room. Asriel raised his eyebrows in response. Setting the bread down on the table, he quickly seated himself next to Chara and placed his hands in his lap. The king emerged a few seconds later, carrying a large, steaming pot. He set it on the table and pulled the lid open to reveal a thick, creamy stew.

“This smells wonderful, Tori, thank you” the king said, kissing Toriel on her cheek before sitting down at the opposite end of the table from her. “And thank you, Wingdin and Sans, for making yourselves available on such short notice. It means a lot to us.”

“Of course,” the doctor responded for the pair of them.

“Dig in!" the king smiled, gesturing towards the ladle. "I was just telling Tori, we really should work on extending that river system out to New Home. It is quite a trek to get to Snowdin! I tend to forget that until I have to make it myself."

The doctor ladled stew into his own bowl before scooping some into 6’s, then handed the ladle over to Toriel. “Yes, well, I think the folks that end up staying in Snowdin like the quiet,” the doctor replied, tearing a hunk of bread into two pieces and handing one to 6. “I can’t imagine having a ferry showing up every day filled with city-people trying to take advantage of how cheap everything is out there.”

“You think that would happen?” the king asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Definitely,” the doctor replied.

“Well, it would certainly do the people of New Home some good to have a change in scenery once in a while,” Toriel said. “I have always loved the trees out there. And I hear the new library is lovely,” she smirked, looking at the king.

“Oh yes, the ‘librarby,” the king laughed, ladling a generous portion of stew into his bowl. “My goodness, I just assumed that to be the name of the building, I didn’t even consider that it might just be misspelled until I told Tori about it.”

“Ah. Yeah, I think I know who did that,” the doctor said, stirring his food around.

“Oh!” Toriel gasped suddenly.

The doctor looked over at 6, who was inhaling his food as fast as he could with his spoon while shoveling bread in his mouth at the same time. Chara and Asriel stared at him, slack-jawed.

“Seriously kid?” the doctor asked, putting a hand over his face. 

Toriel erupted into laughter, picking the ladle back up. “My, what an appetite! It is nice to see someone enjoying my cooking so much. Would you like some more?” 6 looked up at the doctor, hoping he’d interpret, but the doctor took a swig of wine instead.

 “You want mine too?” Chara asked, holding their bowl out to him. Asriel snickered.

“Nice try, but you must finish your food if you expect to have dessert,” Toriel replied, shooting the two of them a look as she ladled more stew into 6’s bowl.

“I stopped by Firenze’s while in Snowdin this morning for a cup of tea,” the king said, changing the subject. “That’s actually what prompted me to come by to visit you.”

“Oh?” the doctor asked, topping off Toriel’s wine and adding some more to his own glass. He looked at 6, who was wolfing his food down again noisily. “Okay, cut it out, you’re going to make yourself sick,” he said, signing to 6 as he spoke. 6 hesitated, then reluctantly put his spoon down.

“How does he eat without opening his mouth?” Chara asked Asriel, cocking their head to one side. Asriel shrugged.

“Chara, manners,” Toriel said, shooting a look at them.

“But he opens his mouth,” Chara said, pointing at the doctor. "Where does the food go anyways?"

“Chara. Enough,” Toriel said firmly. Chara huddled down in their chair, sulking.

“It’s fine,” the doctor said flatly, looking into his wine glass. “I wouldn’t expect a human to know anything about monster anatomy.”

Chara looked furious, slamming their hands down on the table. “I’M NOT A HUMAN!”

The doctor looked confused, then snorted. “Um, alright,” he laughed. Chara stood up, pushing their chair out noisily.

“My child, please sit down, he didn’t —” Toriel started, reaching a hand out, but Chara threw their napkin onto their chair instead and stomped down the hallway, slamming their door loudly and knocking a picture frame off the wall.

“Excuse me,” Toriel sighed, leaving the table and walking quickly down the hall.

“Was that really necessary?” the king said to the doctor, who was trying to suppress his amusement.

“How am I supposed to react to that?!” the doctor asked, throwing his hands up.

The king sighed, looking over at Asriel as he rose from his chair. “Asriel, I’m going to show Wingdin the garden out back. Why don’t you finish up your dinner and you can tell Sans about the work you’ve been doing on your magic?”

“Can I come with you?” Asriel asked, standing up.

“No, Asriel. Sit down and finish please, and help your mother when she returns. We’ll be back shortly,” the king smiled, leading the doctor outside and closing the door softly behind them. After a few moments of quiet, the king spoke, softly. “Wingdin, I am worried about you.”

“Wha-”

“No, please let me finish. I must be honest, when I came to Snowdin this morning for the library opening, I stopped into Firenze’s for a cup of tea. Seeing his son there helping him reminded me just how long it had been since the last time I came through. I asked if he had talked to you recently and he told me that you seemed, well..."

"Well what?"

"Depressed.”

The doctor stared angrily off into the distance for a few moments before continuing. “Is that what this is about? You invited me over because you thought I was depressed? I'm fine.” 

“Look, Wingdin, I know I have had my hands full recently,” the king continued. “The kingdom has grown tremendously in the last few decades. I have always known that one child would require a great deal of attention, which is why we wanted to be sure that the kingdom was stable before deciding that the time was right for Asriel to be born. Of course, with Boss Monsters, it is difficult to raise two children at once. We would age much too quickly to benefit either of them, as you know. So imagine my surprise, after all that careful planning, to find myself as the father of two!” he chuckled, before looking out at the flowers in the garden solemnly. “For centuries, I harbored a hatred for the humans who trapped us down here. I wanted nothing more than revenge. It consumed my thoughts, my life. It blinded me to the fact that in spite of the barrier, the kingdom was flourishing. Perhaps more so than it had ever been. Being trapped down here has inspired something in the people that I could have never imagined for us above-ground. Do you know what that is?”

“Er, no?” the doctor replied.

“Hope, Wingdin. We have become a resilient people, don't you think? It astounds me, how long it took for me to rethink our life down here in the Underground. So many years wasted on cursing the loss of what might have been, rather than focusing on the potential for what could still be.”

The king paused, stroking a hand through his beard. “When I first asked you to begin the Soul Project, I thought that by understanding the nature of the human soul, we might harness their power and reclaim the world that was once ours. But being down here for so long…it has given me time to think, to let my anger subside. Had Asriel not found Chara before you or I…well, in hindsight, it pains me to think of what might have happened. What would have happened.” He sighed, then looked at the doctor pointedly. “When I asked you to scrap the project, it was not because I had given up on reaching the surface. It was because I was, and continue to be, confident that Chara and Asriel are the hopes and dreams of our kingdom. I see my children together, living as equals, and in them, I see a future that I did not think was possible. I know, deep in my soul, that their actions will lead us all to freedom. I do not wish for you to be disappointed or think that your work was in vain.”

The doctor looked at his feet for a few moments. “Pardon my saying, but I just don’t understand why we can’t do both. Why not put faith in your children and continue the research? We were so close to a breakthrough when you scrapped the project. I’m confident that with one or two more souls, we could –”

The king shook his head. “That is out of the question. Toriel has forbid harm to any other humans that fall down here.”

“Yes but, most of them don’t even survive! Your human just seemed to be more determined than the others, but maybe if we just –”

"They're not 'my human,' Wingdin. They're my child."

The doctor didn’t get a chance to respond before a shriek rang out from inside the house. The king threw the door open and hurried inside, the doctor following closely behind. Asriel had toppled backwards out of his chair, and remained splayed on the ground with a hand raised protectively in front of him, a small flame flickering in his palm. 6 stood on the other side, a tight row of blue bones creating a barricade between him and the table. 

“Asriel, was that you yelling? What is going on?” Toriel asked, as she came rushing out from the hallway. 

“Hey, what did I say about attacking?!” the doctor shouted, impulsively switching back into Hands.

“It was going to attack me, what was I supposed to do?! I don’t know what anyone is saying!” 6 shouted at the doctor angrily, dissipating the barrier he’d created.

The queen looked perplexed. “Is he speaking in Hands?”

Asriel picked himself back up and righted his chair. “I was just trying to talk to him and he looked confused when I asked him what kind of magic he used, so I just was trying to show him the fireball trick dad’s been teaching me and –” Asriel made an explosion noise and threw his hands up.

“My child, what did I tell you about using fire magic in the house?” Toriel said, sharply.

“But dad told me –”

“Your father should know better as well,” Toriel scolded, shooting a look at the king, who shrank slightly. “No matter,” Toriel continued, stooping down to kneel in front of 6. “My child, are you able to understand me?” 6 glanced at the doctor, who looked terrified. Toriel tried again, switching to Hands. “It has been a long time since I last used this language,” she gestured quietly. “My apologies if I forget a few words. Are you able to understand me, my child?”

“Yes,” 6 replied. The queen smiled.

The doctor looked confused. “You still speak Hands?” he asked, in common.

“I am admittedly a bit rusty,” she replied. “It has been a very long time.” She turned to 6, switching back to Hands. “I am sorry for not properly introducing myself earlier, I did not realize you could not understand me. My name is Toriel,” she gestured.

“Um,” he replied. “I'm 6.”

“Ah yes, you are quite grown up,” Toriel replied, misunderstanding.

6 noticed that Chara had reemerged in the hallway, and was peeking around the corner at them. Toriel stood and set her hand gently on 6’s head. “Wingdin,” she said gently, switching back to common, “who watches Sans while you are working?”

“Uh, you know. He keeps himself occupied,” the doctor admitted nervously.

“You let a six year old child stay by themselves all day?” Toriel asked, looking appalled.

“Welp, it’s getting late, uh…guess we better head back if we want to catch the ferry,” the doctor spat out quickly, grabbing 6 by the hand and heading towards the door to throw his coat on. “Thank you for dinner!"

“Wait, Wingdin –" Toriel started, but the doctor had already disappeared out the door.

Chapter Text

By the time they reached the ferry, the doctor realized that consuming wine on top of everything else he’d been drinking throughout the day had probably not been the best idea. Although, running out of the house in the middle of a dinner party at the Dreemurr’s home probably was not the best idea either, the doctor thought to himself gloomily. He attempted to use bullet magic to toss a gold piece into the FAIR FARE jar as they boarded the ferry, but accidentally ricocheted it off the side of the boat instead. He looked over to the river person, whose hood was pointed in his general direction.

“Er, sorry,” he said, stooping down to pick up the gold piece. He attempted to toss it into the can using his hands instead, but overshot it. “Whatever,” he said, sitting down on the bench that ran along the side of the boat. 6 picked the gold piece up from the ground and dropped it into the jar. The river person nodded at him when he looked up, startling him. He took a seat next to the doctor as the boat rose out of the water and began to trot quickly across the tops of the gentle waves.  

“No words of wisdom tonight?” the doctor asked, glancing over at the river person. The river person nodded towards a bucket sitting near the bow of the ship.

“Use that.”

“Hmm?”

The river person didn’t reply.  The doctor felt the beginnings of a headache tugging on the outer edges of his periphery as he tried to focus on the double edges of the river person’s cloak, but was pulled out of his thoughts by the sound of 6 retching.

“Holy shit! Hold up,” the doctor said, grabbing the bucket and putting it in front of 6 as blue magic spilled out of the young monster’s teeth. The doctor threw an arm in front of his nasal cavity to block the smell of sick coming from the bucket as the small monster continued to vomit into it. Eventually, 6’s retching subsided into soft moans as he continued to hover over the pail. The doctor started chuckling.

“Heh, I thought throwing up all over the place after a party was my m.o.” he said, putting a hand on 6’s back. “You alright?” 6 shook slightly and dry heaved once more into the bucket.

"Hmm…maybe ate too much today, eh kid?”

“No food talk,” 6 signed weakly.

The doctor picked the bucket up and dumped it overboard, then plunked it back down in front of 6. 6 put his hands on the rim and rested his face against them. The bucket was nearly as big as he was. “Feeling better?” the doctor said, crossing his arms and peering down at the small skelemonster.

No,” 6 signed silently.

“Eh. I guess that’s to be expected. It’s been a long day,” the doctor replied, searching the darkness of the river tunnel’s ceiling. “Why don’t you rest up when we get home and uh, I guess we can talk about everything tomorrow?”

6 pushed himself up so fast that the bucket he’d been supporting himself on clattered sideways and rolled under one of the seats along the sides of the ferry. “But you said if we got through today that you’d tell me what's going on,” he said sharply, attempting to draw himself up to his full height…which was nearly to the doctor’s waist. The doctor looked down at him.

“6, we have plenty of time to –”

“No.”

“No?” the doctor asked, raising an eye ridge. He tried to remember a time when 6 had challenged him, but couldn’t recall any.

“You said you’d answer my questions.”

"6, it’s going to take me all night to try to even figure out where I start with explaining everything to you.”

“Then take all night!” 6 shot back.

The boat pulled up alongside the dock, lowering itself back into the water slowly.  “Snowdin!” the river person sang cheerfully, completely oblivious to the vomiting and shouting that had been going on in front of them for the past fifteen minutes.

The doctor sighed. “Alright, come on,” he said, motioning to 6. He tossed an extra gold piece into the FAIR FARE jar on the way out for good measure.  

The two monsters walked down the snow-covered pathway in silence for a few moments, 6 stewing at the doctor’s side. He felt a heat radiating within his rib cage that he wasn’t used to, and the more he reflected on everything he’d been through that day, the angrier he became. It took every ounce of self-restraint to keep his emotions from bubbling over and tipping the world onto its side.

“Okay,” the doctor said, pulling him out of his thoughts suddenly. “I’m exhausted, but I did say I’d answer your questions if we got through tonight so, uh, how about pick three and we can talk more while you’re on the drip tomorrow?” 6’s eyes widened, his anger subsiding. He had so many questions that he wasn’t quite sure how to narrow it down to just three. He stopped in his tracks, rubbing the fabric of his sleeves together between his palms as he thought carefully.

“Uh, what are you doing?” the doctor said, stopping also.

“I need a good question!” 6 replied frantically, throwing his hands up.

“Kid, this isn’t like, your only opp-“

"Okay, I got one!” 6 said, pushing his sleeves up over his hands to make sure his questions were understood clearly. “Explain time to me.”

The doctor stood stunned for a moment, before bursting out laughing. “Wait, what?”

6 articulated his gestures carefully as he spoke, trying to be as clear as possible. “Time. You keep saying ‘be on time,’ ‘few more minutes,’ ‘tomorrow,’ ‘this many days.’ Whenever we talk about time in the lab, we’re talking about how fast I’m moving but then we’re out here and it’s like something different.”

“Um, okay,” the doctor said, clearly amused. “What do you want, the classical physics concept of time? Quantum mechanics? What?”

“I want all of it. The whole thing,” 6 said.

“Oh man, we’re never sleeping again,” the doctor said, running a hand over his face. “Time, huh? I guess the short version is uh, time is a marker for defining events. So, you know, back when we were above-ground, we’d mark at what point in linear time we were all at by the Earth’s rotation on its axis, or its rotation around the sun...it’s all sort of arbitrary. Anyways, you have clocks and calendars and whatnot that tell you what point in time we’re all at so we can define how we’re moving through space together. Most monsters probably think of time as invariable, meaning everyone’s experience of it and how we measure it is essentially the same.” He shrugged, looking at 6 to see whether he was following him before continuing. 6 was hanging on every word.

“So uh, yeah, that’s a really simple way of thinking about time. But there’s other theories that the progression of time isn’t universal; it actually depends on who’s measuring it and how fast they’re going relative to what's being measured. Actually, there’s all this new stuff coming out around the whole ‘arrow of time’ theory being affected by quantum entanglement that’s pretty interesting too…” The doctor trailed off, wondering suddenly if the shortcut they’d fallen through might potentially be related to the principles in quantum theory he’d been exploring years earlier. But that seemed to be a stretch. Perhaps if he pulled out his old work on that, he could figure out how to replicate what had happened…

He suddenly remembered 6 was still standing there waiting for him to continue.

“Er, look buddy, how about I just give you some of the reports I have on this stuff and you can knock yourself out?”

“Okay,” 6 said, looking pleased. The doctor was relieved to have dodged the question for another day when he wasn’t so damned tired. “Alright, next question,” the doctor said quickly, before 6 could think of any follow up questions relating to time theory. “And can we walk and talk? I’d like to get home before midnight.”

“Like that! What is midnight?”

“I’m going to take that as your second question –" the doctor said, heading down the path towards Snowdin Village.

“No wait, um…” 6 concentrated hard on the ground as he kept pace with the doctor. He thought quietly for a few moments, before looking up at the doctor again. “Okay, how come everyone here speaks Dream Language but then you and Toriel can do both and I can only do Hands?”

“Heh, yeah that was weird. I didn’t realize she still knew it.” The doctor switched his briefcase into his other hand before continuing. “So…um, a long time ago, before the barrier, there used to be a lot more skelemonsters. Actually, there used to be a lot more monsters period. We just had more space than we do down here, despite ‘the kingdom flourishing’ and whatnot,” he said bitterly.

“Anyways, when we were above-ground, there were a variety of other languages, depending on where you came from and what type of monster you were. Hands was mostly a skelemonster thing, although I think there might’ve been some other monsters that lacked much in the way of facial expression that used to use it. It’s hard to remember. In any case, once we were trapped down here, people began to gradually switch over to the same language. It just made things more convenient. Plus, there were many of us that were the only ones left from our monster type. Doesn’t make much sense to hold onto your own language when you have no one to talk to.”

The doctor sighed heavily, then pulled a set of keys from his coat, swinging them around his fingers absently as they approached the lab. “Toriel was good though,” he continued, thoughtfully. “She always tried to learn as many other languages as she could so she could accommodate her subjects rather than force them to try and switch over to her language. I’ve just spoken common with her for so long that it seems weird to switch back to Hands all of a sudden.” The doctor unlocked the door to the lab, pushing 6 into the hallway ahead of him. The doctor could see the whites of 6’s eyelights looking up at him in the darkness of the hallway.

“Okay kid, last question,” the doctor yawned. He flipped a panel open at the end of the hallway outside of the steel door to the lab, punching a series of numbers into the keypad underneath and shooting a bullet pattern into it. The door opened with a loud hiss. He walked inside, setting his briefcase on the desk as he flopped into the big chair next to it. 6 was playing with the sleeves of his striped shirt again, searching the floor as he tried to think of a good last question to ask.

“Come on 6, I don’t have all night,” the doctor said, putting his chin in his hand.

“Can we see them again?”

“Who? The Dreemurrs?” the doctor asked. 6 cocked his head to one side, uncertain. The doctor cleared the gesture and clarified. “The Dreemurrs. The king and queen’s family.” 6 nodded, looking hopeful.

“Um, I mean, I don’t really have a choice in the matter. Toriel and Asgore are my bosses and uh, probably aren’t very happy with me for dine-and-dashing after avoiding dinner invitations for four years. I’m sure I’ll be hearing about that one.”

“Yeah but, can I see them?”

“You think Asriel wants to see you again after you threw an attack at him?”

“But I didn’t attack him though.”

The doctor rolled his eyelights. “Okay, scared the ever-living daylights out of him, same thing.”

6 tugged at his sleeves quietly, his brow ridges furrowed. “I just couldn’t understand what he was saying,” he mumbled. “I thought he was going to attack me and I didn’t know why.”

“Eh, well, at least you didn’t hurt him,” the doctor said, standing and pulling a set of clothes out from a drawer behind him. He handed them to 6, who stared down at them sadly.

“Can I stay in these clothes?” 6 asked quietly.

“That’s four questions,” the doctor said, putting a hand on the back of 6’s head and pushing him towards the hallway leading to his room. 6 looked up at him. “I’m kidding. No, by all means, go to bed in dirty clothes that probably still have sick on them,” he shrugged. “But this is just a tonight thing, got it? We’re going back to a routine tomorrow when I have less of a headache.”

“I wish I could speak Dream Language,” 6 grumbled. The doctor considered this as he punched in a code to open the door to 6’s room. He didn’t exactly have books lying around that translated between the two languages like he did when he was a monster kid. All the books he’d given to 6 so far had been ones written completely in Hands. He’d have to think about how to do that.

6 set his clean lab clothes in the two-way drawer, kicked off his shoes, and climbed into his bed, still dressed in his monster kid clothes. The doctor closed and locked the door behind him, heading back into the central lab. He considered turning the video feed back on, but that would require rebooting the whole system after the emergency protocol had been triggered that morning…which would probably take a good half hour or so at the very least.

It’d be fine to leave it off for one night.

The doctor sighed wearily, double checked that all the doors were locked behind him, and headed to his home above the lab.

Chapter Text

6 couldn’t sleep.

Between the long nap he’d been forced into that afternoon and the tidal wave of information he’d been thrown into head first that morning, the last thing he wanted to do was shut his eyes. He stared blankly at the ceiling instead. While he had once found the familiarity of the cracks in the tiles above him comforting, he now found himself getting angry at their presence. Was he the only one who’d lived in a lab his whole life? And why was he back in here again when there was so much outside to still see? He flopped over onto his side and stared at the door instead, wondering if he was small enough to fit through the two-way drawer to get to the outside. Although then there was the big metal door in the hall to reckon with. And the main lab.

6 sighed heavily, fiddling with the sleeves of his shirt. The shirt still had traces of smells from outside, but they were much weaker than they’d been when he’d first returned to the lab. 6 tried to recall the hand gesture for cinnamon that he’d learned earlier, but found his memory of the word to be almost as faint as the smell now was. The thought occurred to him that he had no idea how you would actually say the word in Dream Language.

I bet it sounds even nicer, 6 thought bitterly. He flopped onto his back, kicking his covers off and throwing his hands behind his head. He closed his eyes to keep the ceiling cracks from annoying him, focusing instead on the memories he’d created throughout the day in an attempt to quiet the emotions welling up inside him. It wasn’t long before hazy Dream World mirages began to dance into his peripheral vision; shadow-like scenes and beings that became more vivid the closer they came to him, though somehow always remained out of focus, as if he was watching them from behind a thin sheet of plastic. 6 found himself standing in inky blackness, lit only by florescent blue plants that gently pulsated with light. Fireflies dipped and bobbed around him and the sound of water falling could be heard in the distance. 6 sat mesmerized for a few moments, before snapping to attention.

He was asleep!

His eyes popped open. He was still in the dark room of the lab, with the same ceiling cracks. Or was he? He sat up and looked more closely at the cracks above him. There was a new split in the ceiling that he hadn’t noticed before. And this one looked…different.

6 glanced at the video camera in the corner of the room. The red light was off.

He turned his attention back to the new crack on the ceiling, which seemed to be emanating some sort of yellow light, though it was so thin that it was almost invisible. Glancing one more time at the video camera, he took a deep breath, and tilted his center of gravity onto its side, hopping from his bed onto the side wall, then from the side wall to the ceiling. 6 noticed that the thin line of light was actually hovering a couple feet above (or below, had he been in bed still) the ceiling itself, as if suspended in space. He pulled a sock off and dangled it above the line of light, dipping it into the illuminated thread ever so slightly.

Nothing happened.

He dropped the entire sock into the light.

Still nothing. The sock fluttered onto the bed above him as he released it.

6 ran a hand over the back of his head, drumming his fingers on his cheek as he inspected the thread. He reluctantly reached out a hand to touch it.

The instant his hand made contact with the thread, it split open, startling 6 and knocking him over backwards. A fence of bones erupted in a semi-circle around him out of instinct. When nothing attacked him immediately, he peered cautiously over the bone fence into the tear he’d opened up. It was almost like in his dreams, except this time, the image on the other side was crystal clear. From his vantage point on the ceiling, he was looking down on the main pathway in Snowdin that he and the doctor had walked along earlier that day. He scattered the attack he’d created, captivated by what he was seeing. If he stood on tiptoe, he could make out a few of the upside-down buildings they had walked past earlier, and the large green things that surrounded the buildings. He ducked back into his own room upon hearing the voices of a couple monsters laughing to one another as they walked arm and arm along the pathway in the other direction. When he went to look again, the tear had sealed itself and was gone.

“Wait!” 6 shouted, swiping at the spot where the tear had been a few moments before. His eyes darted frantically around the rest of the room, stopping suddenly on another thread of light in the far corner above him, along the floor. He tilted his center of gravity the other direction quickly, dropping back onto the bed and nearly somersaulting off it in an effort to get to the other light tear before it disappeared. This time, he threw a hand out quickly at the light, erupting it into a small opening. He heard voices on the other side, but this time, he didn’t hesitate.

He darted through.

~

The doctor awoke to the sound of the door pounding almost as much as his head was. “Mmmugh, what?” he said in Hands, pulling his clock close to his face to read the numbers.

Shit, he’d overslept. The pounding on the door continued.

“Argh, hold on one second!” the doctor yelled, pulling a long coat on over the clothes he’d slept in and wrapping it tight around himself. He cracked open the door, angry that he was being forced to interact with the world before he’d been able to ward off an even bigger headache with a gallon of coffee.

“Ah, so you are home,” said Toriel sweetly, standing on the other side.

Dammit.

“Uh, good morning?” the doctor said cautiously.

“Good morning. I was on my way to run some errands and thought that perhaps I would stop by and leave some dessert with you since you were out of sorts by the time we got to eating it last night,” Toriel said, holding out a basket.

“Oh, um, thank you,” the doctor said sheepishly, taking it from her. Toriel peered into the house over the doctor’s shoulder.

“Wingdin, if your son is available, I would like to apologize to him for Asriel frightening him last night. He really should know better than –”

“Oh uh, he’s asleep still. We were out pretty late last night, it took a lot out of him,” he said quickly. “And uh, you don’t need to apologize. They’re kids, it happens.”

“Yes, well, all the same. He should know better than to use fire magic in the house without supervision. And with guests over, at that,” Toriel replied, looking disappointed.

The doctor snickered.

“What is it?” Toriel asked.

“Nothing, I just suddenly had a flash back of you attempting to light the stove one year and blowing your kitchen to shreds.”

“Oh my goodness,” Toriel chuckled. “I was hoping you had forgotten about that.”

“No, it was great. You kept trying to host the party like nothing happened and that woshua you invited was having a shit fit.”

“Oh my, that is right!” Toriel said, erupting into laughter. “Goodness, we had a lot more dinner parties back then, did we not?”

“Well, parties, yes. I remember more drinking and less eating.”

“I am actually surprised you remember much at all with all the drinking we did,” Toriel laughed. A look of panic spread across her face suddenly. “Oh my, Sans cannot hear us talking, can he?” she asked, lowering her voice. “I do not want to be a negative influence on him.”

“Ah, he’s fine,” the doctor said, waving it off. Toriel continued to look concerned, but said nothing. The silence that followed made the doctor feel awkward. “Er, I need to get dressed really quick but uh, do you want some coffee or something? We could drink it out on the steps so we, uh, don’t wake the kid up.”

“Actually, that would be lovely. I have a fairly light day today, believe it or not. Do you not have to work?”

“Mm, I’m going to pop by the Hotland lab later today and make sure they haven’t blown themselves up yet, but that shouldn’t take too long. Take a seat,” he said, motioning to the steps. “I’ll be right back.”

~

6 emerged into a dark room, behind a large statue of some kind. He peeked around the edge to determine how close the voices he had heard while still in his room were, but was unable to see anything. It was eerily quiet. He suddenly had the feeling he was being watched, and looked over his shoulder quickly.

“hOI!!!!!!”

6 jumped in the air, a fence of blue bones impulsively erupting between himself and the voice. He spun around to see what had startled him. Two small, furry monsters with shaggy black hair and two sets of ears each sat perched on top of each other in a large crack in the wall above him, trembling.

“NO!!!! attack tem, NOT CUTe,” one of the monsters shouted down at him.

“tem y yell??” another monster shouted, dancing into view behind 6. It too looked exactly like the monsters in the wall.

“tem!” one of the monsters in the wall replied. “tem sit in WALL mind own biznus and LITTL monster SOC UTE then aTTAcK tem and tem!”

“NOT CUTE!!1” the monster on the ground yelled, its fur bristling along its back as its legs sprouted, tripling its height. 6 looked up at the monster, terrified. “Y aTTAck firend tems?” the now-tall monster demanded.

6 stole a quick glance behind the long-legged monster, and saw the large, open mouth of the cave behind it. He wasn’t sure what was on the other side, but supposed it was better than this. He dashed under the legs of the tall monster and ran for the opening. The monster attempted to turn around and got tangled in its own legs, falling over onto its side.

“u REGRET dis!!!” the monster yelled after him. 6 darted out the door, looking frantically around for another tear, spotting one off of the pathway to his left. He threw a glance over his shoulder to make sure the long-legged monster wasn’t following him, then ran over to the light thread. He tried to push the monster out of his mind as he threw open the tear and jumped through.

To his horror, he was back in the room he’d just ran out of, although in a different spot. The monster outside of the wall had shrunk its legs back to a normal size and was now surrounded by three identical other monsters, in addition to the two that remained stacked on top of each other in the wall crack.

“tem…DYINGGG,” the one on the ground cried, throwing its legs in the air frantically.

“NO tem, DYINGGG not CUTe!” one of the monsters surrounding it cried, vibrating furiously in place.

They hadn’t spotted 6, who inched along the wall back towards the entryway he’d sprinted out of just moments before. 6 thought he saw another tear in front of him, and kept an eye on the monsters as he scooted slowly towards it. The minute they locked eyes on him, the tear vanished.

“DER it IS!!!” the monster on the floor yelled, flailing its limbs about.

“tem avENGe u tem!” another yelled.

6 ran as fast as he could back out onto the lit path, making a left and nearly tripping over a pod of mushrooms as he dashed wildly away from the cavern. He could hear the angry shouts of the monsters behind him as he made another quick right to stay on the path, shooting a glance over his shoulder to see how close they were.

He plowed right into a stocky monster.

“OOF!” the monster said, taking a step backwards. “Hey there, watch where you’re going, young man.”

The small monsters were closing in quickly. 6 looked about frantically for another opening, but couldn’t see any. He darted around the monster he’d just crashed into and continued to book it down the pathway. If he could just figure out how to find that ferry that they’d ridden on earlier…

Suddenly he saw it! Not the boat, but a glimmer of gold light near a tree to the right of the trail a few feet ahead. He screeched to a halt, throwing a glance behind him. The monsters were no longer in sight, though he could hear their angry yelling in the distance. He exhaled quickly, focusing on the boat, and threw the tear open, checking first to make sure he wasn’t jumping straight into a room of two-eared fur monsters again. To his relief, he saw the wooden planks of the ferry across from him, the river person standing a few feet away with their hood turned in the opposite direction. He seemed to have opened a tear that was hovering right over the boat.

Leaping through before the portal could close again, he hit the deck loudly and toppled straight into the chair that held the FAIR FARE jar. He covered his head as gold pieces and other small knick knacks spilled out across the floor of the ferry. He looked up expecting to find the river person yelling something incomprehensible at him. Instead, they acted as if nothing had happened. Standing slowly, he bent down and began scooping the fare shrapnel back up into the jar.

“Tra la la!” the river person sang happily, still facing straight ahead. “Singing is a universal language!”

6 looked over the side of the boat, which was parked alongside a dock he didn’t recognize. He was getting tired of trying to outrun every monster he came across. Maybe if he could get back to the lab, he could convince the doctor to help him with figuring out how to understand what they were saying…

He looked up to see the river person staring at him. “Um,” 6 stammered in Hands, certain he wasn't going to get anywhere with this plan. “Can you take me to uh, Snowdin?”

“Snowdin!” the river person replied cheerfully, in common. 6’s eyes widened, recognizing the word as one he’d definitely heard a few times during the dinner conversation the night before. The boat lurched forward as it began to speed off down the river.

“Wait, do you know what I’m saying?” 6 asked, approaching the river person, who hummed tunelessly to themselves and continued to stare straight ahead. “Hello?” he tried again. No response.

Weird, thought 6.

6 took a seat in the same spot he’d sat in earlier with the doctor, quietly looking out ahead of the boat and willing the ferry to take him where he hoped they were going.

Chapter Text

“You still take it with a lot of cream and sugar, right?” the doctor said, kicking his door shut behind him.

“Oh, no, I only drink black now,” Toriel replied, looking up at him from the steps.

“Oops. Well, uh, I guess you can have mine then,” he said, handing her his mug. Toriel laughed, pushing it back towards him gently.

“I jest, Wingdin. Yes, cream and sugar is lovely, thank you for your hospitality.”

“Wow,” the doctor replied, handing the mug of half-cream, half-coffee over to her. The doctor felt the anxiety that had been building up within him over the last decade melting away as he took a seat on the step next to her. He missed this.

“How is our Royal Scientist these days?” she asked, looking at him.

“Ugh, don’t call me that,” the doctor winced, taking a gulp of coffee. “I keep telling Asgore to at least be accurate and change it to ‘Royal Engineer’ if he’s going to insist on silly titles for everyone that works for him.”

Toriel laughed. “Next you will be telling us that New Home is not a creative enough name for our new home.”

“Heh, well at least it’s accurate. I had a feeling you weren’t the one that came up with that one,” he chuckled.

Toriel smiled, taking a sip of her coffee. She looked out at the road ahead of them quietly, the mirth fading from her eyes. "Wingdin, I must confess that I had an ulterior motive for visiting you this morning,” Toriel admitted after a few moments, looking into the depths of her coffee guiltily. The wave of anxiety flooded back into the doctor’s psyche like a rip tide.

“Oh yeah?” he asked, as nonchalantly as possible. He made an effort to keep both hands on his mug to avoid giving away anything to her as he spoke.

“Yes. I am quite concerned that you leave Sans unattended while you are at work,” she said flatly, looking over at him. It was the doctor’s turn to stare guiltily into his coffee.

“Er, well, he’s made it to the ripe old age of six, right? Must be doing something right if he survived this long,” he shrugged, tapping his finger on his mug nervously.

“Furthermore,” she continued, “I am absolutely a proponent of honoring and sustaining the cultural identities of our people. But I am deeply concerned that Sans does not have any other monsters to communicate with aside from yourself. Unless, of course, I am misunderstanding the situation and there are other monsters in our kingdom that continue to use Hands to communicate? I certainly could not think of any when I was ruminating on this last night.”

"Well maybe there would be if Asgore was more invested in getting that barrier down," the doctor shot back, before he could stop himself.

“Wingdin, you are overreacting.”

“Overreacting," he repeated, chuckling. "Alright, sure."

Toriel frowned, lowering her mug. "I am just trying to offer my help. We care about escaping just as much as you do, but we must make the best of it."

Wingdin was quiet for a moment, before slamming his mug down between them, spilling some of the contents onto the porch steps. "Toriel, it is lovely that you have a family down here. With a human child of all things. And that the kingdom is flourishing and everyone is hopeful and happy and whatever. It really is. But some of us,” he snapped, yanking his glove off his hand and holding it up to look at her angrily through the gaping, jagged hole in the center, “lost everything in the war. I know it was a long time ago and people want to pretend everything is all fine and dandy now, but I'd personally like to try and see if there's still anyone left on the outside within the next, oh, hundred years or so," he finished, pulling his gloves back on irritably.

“You think we do not want to bring the barrier down as well?” Toriel responded, icily. “That my husband and I have not driven ourselves near mad, fretting about how to do this for centuries? What do you propose we do, Wingdin? Leave our children behind and have Asgore or I cross the barrier on our own when we have no idea what kind of weapons await us on the other side? Perhaps ask the humans nicely to sacrifice six of their kin to save us? It would be a suicide mission, we both know that."

The doctor fumed, trying to think of a retort that wouldn’t blow Asgore’s cover on the now defunct Soul Project. He picked up his coffee mug with a vice grip to avoid gesturing something at her he’d really regret, wishing he’d kept his mouth shut.

“Do not confuse my optimism about the present with indifference about the past,” she continued. “I do not expect you to understand our reasons for adopting Chara into our family. But I do expect you to give them a chance. They should not have to pay for the sins of their ancestors.”

“They’re a human, Toriel.”

“They’re a child, Wingdin,” she retaliated, setting her mug down on the porch and standing. She looked down at him coldly. “Thank you for the coffee. I must be going.” 

“Toriel —” the doctor called after her, standing as she headed down the steps.

“I need a moment before I lose my temper. This is not the end of this conversation,” she replied brusquely. The doctor watched her until she disappeared from sight, then flopped back onto the step, groaning. How’d they even get onto that topic anyways?

Fuck, what time was it?

He pulled a watch out of his coat pocket, realizing he hadn’t checked in on 6 yet. Grabbing the two mugs off the porch, he headed inside and dropped them into the sink, quickly throwing some food and medicine into a bag to bring down to the lab. It’d been a couple days since 6 had been on the DT drip. The poor kid was probably going to end up going into withdrawal if they didn’t do that soon. Asgore’s impromptu visit had completely thrown him off his schedule.

The phone rang, startling him. He pulled the receiver off its hook and untangled the cord as he flipped on a television monitor in his kitchen quickly to check in on 6, remembering suddenly that he’d neglected to reboot the video cameras the night before when the feed didn’t pop up immediately. "Yes?” he asked into the phone receiver.

“Um, Dr. Gaster? Hi, this is Phineas. From the lab. Er, are you coming in today?”

“Yeah, I’m coming in this afternoon,” the doctor said, swallowing a few aspirins dry.

“Oh, um, could you maybe come in uh, sooner than that? Like, uh, really soon?” the voice on the other end squeaked. The doctor thought he could hear alarms going off in the background.

“Yes, I’ll head over in a few minutes,” he grumbled, hanging up the phone.

The lights flickered on as he entered the downstairs lab. He flipped a switch and punched in a series of passcodes to reboot the surveillance system.  Neon green font danced across the faces of the computer monitors mounted along the wall as the cameras slowly came back online. The doctor grabbed a fresh set of clothes for 6 from the supply closet and headed down the hallway, pulling open the two way drawer only to find the clean clothes that he’d given 6 to change into the night before still laying inside. He knocked on the door.

“6? You awake?”

There was no reply. He tried again. “6, get up and get dressed, we gotta get some DT into you before I leave.”

Silence. He hoped the kid wasn’t withdrawing already.

“6?” he called again, punching some numbers into the console by the door. The door hissed loudly as it swung open.

“What the hell…” the doctor sputtered, looking around inside and seeing no one. “6?”

He picked up the small bed, finding nothing but the floor and a few books underneath. A sinking feeling bubbled up inside his chest as he set the bed down and searched the blanket carefully for any signs of dust. When he failed to notice anything out of the ordinary, he scanned the room again. The other set of monster kid clothing 6 had been wearing the night before was gone, but the kid’s shoes were still there…and a sock? It didn’t make any sense.

“6?” he called out into the hallway. It didn’t add up for the kid to be running around in the lab either; the door would’ve been open. And even with the video cameras off, this place should’ve been on lock down. He rushed back into the central lab, throwing some supplies into his bag and slinging it over his shoulder. “6, if you’re in here hiding somewhere, you’re in big trouble,” he called out loudly. No response. The phone in the central lab rang loudly, and he picked it up, continuing to scan the room.

“Yes?” he snapped.

“Uh, sorry Dr. Gaster, it’s Phineas again. From the lab.”

“Yeah, got it, can you explain what’s going on? Is this an emergency?”

“Um, well, I don’t know if it’s an emergency, it just looks one of the water heaters is leaking some sort of fluid all over the place and we can’t get it to stop. And now it’s sort of um, spraying everywhere?”

“Okay, we probably just need to replace the TP relief valve. Just power the unit off for now and I’ll be over there soon,” he said, hanging the phone up again. He locked the lab up behind him, just in case, and hurried outside, double checking the perimeter of his home and finding nothing out of the ordinary before heading quickly up the pathway to the ferry.

~

6 was right — against all odds, the river person had somehow understood him and taken him back to the snow-covered village. He stepped off the ferry timidly, trying to remember which path they had taken to get from the lab to the ferry in the first place. It seemed like such a long time ago.

He concentrated hard on his room in the lab, hoping a light thread might appear to take him back before the doctor noticed he was missing. Despite his best efforts, nothing was happening. He turned and noticed the river person watching him ominously from the ferry.

“Tra la la,” the river person called to them cheerily, nodding towards the buildings off to 6’s right. “Better hurry!”

6 wished he understood what they were saying. He headed in towards the cluster of buildings, searching the windows for any sign of familiarity. Not a moment after 6 ducked out of sight, the doctor strode up the pathway quickly, hopping onto the ferry. “Hotland, quick quick quick,” he said to the river person, throwing a handful of coins into the jar. The boat lifted out of the water and trotted off towards its destination.

Toriel emerged onto the pathway soon after, carrying the packages she’d picked up from the bakery...just in time to see the ferry dashing out of view. She frowned, approaching the dock and looking down the river after it.

Perhaps the walk to Waterfall would do her some good, or at least help quell the residual anger she was still feeling after her argument with the doctor, she thought to herself. Sighing, she turned around to head back to the village, shifting the brown bag she held into her other arm. She nearly tripped over 6 as he wandered back out on the pathway in front of her.

“Oh!” she said, catching herself to avoid tripping on the small skelemonster in front of her. “Sans? Oh my, what are you doing out here by yourself?” she asked. He looked relieved to see her. She frowned, taking note of his dirty clothes and the fact that he was wandering around in the snow with just one wet sock on. She freed one of her paws to allow herself to switch to his language, kneeling down to be closer to eye level with him. “My child, what are you doing wandering around outside with no shoes on?” she asked, gently.

“I don’t know, I was in my room and I accidentally opened a…” he searched the air for a word to describe what it was he had jumped through. “Window? I fell through and couldn’t get back, then these things showed up and started yelling something, so I ran! And then I came back here…and I don’t know which one is mine,” he stated, looking at the structures behind him.

Toriel stood, her brows furrowed. “Wingdin, you are in a lot of trouble,” she muttered to herself. She turned back to 6. “Let us walk together, I need to have a word with your father,” she replied in Hands, smiling sweetly and holding her massive paw out to him.  He held out his hand, expecting her to shake it. Instead, she grasped it gently and they turned to head down the road together.   

Chapter Text

Toriel rapped on the door of the doctor’s home loudly for a second time. 6 looked up at her, awed by how someone could manage to nearly knock a door off its hinges with one hand, while maintaining such a gentle hold on his hand with the other. It was amazing and terrifying in the same instant.

“Wingdin!” Toriel called, when no one answered. “I need a word. Now.” She banged on the door again.

“He’s not home!” called out a small monster from the pathway behind her, bundled up so tightly that only its eyes were visible under an oversized beanie. “I saw him heading towards the ferry about a half hour ago!”

“Oh? I must have just missed him. Thank you very much,” she called back sweetly. She turned back to the door, releasing 6’s hand and pulling a small notebook and pen from a pocket on her dress, which she quickly scribbled a message on. “I suppose this will have to do for now” she said to herself, as she tore out the page and stuck it into the doorframe. She turned to 6, kneeling down to be at eye level with him and switching to Hands. “My child, I would like for you to accompany me this morning while I run my errands. Your father will have to come and find us later. Does that sound agreeable?” 6 didn’t know who ‘Your-Father’ was, but decided this must be part of an errand puzzle. He nodded.

“Very good,” she smiled, taking his hand. “Let us get you a fresh set of clothes to change into, shall we?”

~

Toriel boarded the Snowdin ferry with 6 and dropped three gold pieces into the FAIR FARE jar. A few other passengers sat in the ferry, looking excitedly at the queen. She acknowledged each of them before taking the seat nearest to the river person, and helped 6 climb onto the seat next to her. 

“Waterfall, if you please,” Toriel said to the river person, putting a hand on 6’s shoulder. 6 relaxed visibly, not realizing that touch had been something missing from his life.

“Tra la la!” the river person sang cheerfully, as the boat lurched forward. “Repeat customers make the ferry go round!” Toriel looked down at 6, who was watching the river person quietly and playing with the sleeves of the purple and pink monster kid shirt she had picked out for him at the Snowdin bakery. She felt 6 trembling slightly under her paw. She wasn’t sure how to determine whether a skelemonster was malnourished, but he certainly had been ravenous at her home the night before. And although it’d been centuries since she had seen a skelemonster other than the doctor, Sans seemed to be incredibly small for his age. She felt him shudder again. Perhaps he is slightly ill from wandering around barefoot in the snow for gods know how long this morning, she thought sadly, wishing she had found him sooner.

She had been irritated with the doctor after his outburst, but now she was livid. How could someone so intelligent be so irresponsible? She should have known something like this was going on. When Asgore had returned home the day prior and asked whether she knew that Wingdin had a son, she had been shocked. Wingdin had certainly never expressed any desire to have children of his own to either of them, in fact, he'd often commented on how annoying they were; although it had been quite a number of years since they had last seen each other. And in that time, he has somehow managed to isolate his son so well that he is unable to communicate with anyone verbally except for his father, Toriel thought irritably. She frowned as the image of the doctor staring at her through the hole in his hand replayed itself in her head. She hadn’t realized how bitter he still was after all these years. Wingdin had always been incredibly loyal to their family. She had rightly expected him to be furious about their decision to adopt a human child as one of their own, especially after everything that he had been through during the war. But to not seek help in raising his own child when he clearly needed it? It was totally unacceptable.

She felt a tremor shoot through the small skelemonster beside her. “Are you alright, my child?” Toriel gestured to him. He looked up at her and nodded, though continued to shake slightly. She pulled out the red knit beanie she had originally purchased for Asriel and pulled it over his head. The hat was so big on 6 that the back slouched in a bundle behind his skull rather than sitting tight on his head as it would have on her son’s. “There, that should warm you up a bit,” she chirped. He stared up at her, grinning, though the smile seemed to be a permanent fixture on his face. It was difficult for her to read his actual emotions. “What is it you were thinking about?” she asked gently, trying another tactic.

“Um,” he said, looking back at the river person. “I was thinking how I want to learn more code words so I can go more places on the boat.”

“Code words?” she asked.

“Yeah, like…Snowdin!” he looked back up at her sheepishly, shrugging his neck into his shoulders. “That’s the only one I know so far.”

“Oh!” she laughed, suddenly understanding. At least this means that Wingdin has not been letting the child run amok on the ferry system yet, she thought to herself. “Well, we can certainly add some words from my language to your vocabulary, if you would like.”

6 nearly leapt out of his seat. “Yes!” he exclaimed, throwing his hands up to his face excitedly. He noticed some of the other passengers looking at him awkwardly. “Can you teach me?” he whispered to her, quieting his hand gestures.

“What would you like to learn?” she asked. He looked around the ferry.

“Waterfall!” the river person called out, pulling up to the dock.

“That. What they just said.” 6 gestured, pointing at the river person. Toriel helped 6 down from his seat and rose to exit the ferry.

“That might be a tricky one, but we can try it,” she said in Hands, leading him to the side of the pathway as they exited the ferry. She knelt down beside him. “I will say it slowly and you repeat it.” She switched to common. “Waterfall,” she enunciated.

“…wa…” 6 tried slowly.

“Waaaaater. Fall,” she repeated.

“…waaata…..” he said, cocking his head to one side and trying to figure out the ‘f’ sound.

“It is a difficult word. How about we try something more simple to start with?” she asked in Hands, noticing his frustration. “Sans,” she said firmly in common.

“…sssans,” he repeated. He liked the feeling of the ‘s’ sound on his teeth.

“Very good!” she clapped, switching back to Hands. “Try it once more.”

“sans,” he said, more quickly. His grin widened as he looked at her excitedly. “What does it mean?”

“It is how you say your name in my language.”

“sans,” he repeated again, trying to absorb the sound into his mind.

“Wonderful. Now let us try another word,” she said in Hands, before switching to common. “Hello!”

“…eyy...elll…” 6 repeated. It was hard to figure out how to replicate the sounds from looking at how she made them with her lips.

“Hello,” she repeated, more slowly.

“…ello.” he said back. “heh….hello. hello?”

“Hello!” she said back, chuckling.

“hello!” he grinned. “What am I saying?”

“You are saying ‘hello!’ in my language,” she said. “And it is a very useful word, because now you can practice with everyone. And if someone asks your name, now you can answer them! ‘What is your name’ in common sounds like– ” she switched to common, “What is your name?”

“whaees. youuuur….”

“Name.”

“yoor name.”

“What is your name?”

“whatees yoor name?”

Toriel chuckled; his accent combined with his little monster voice was adorable. “Very good,” she said, standing. He looked up at her.

“whatees yoor name?” he asked again.

She placed a hand on her chest. “My name is Toriel.” He squinted.

“That’s a long name,” he replied in Hands. She laughed.

“I said ‘My name is Toriel,’” she replied in Hands. His eyes widened, recognizing the word ‘name’ from both sentences. “Shall we continue our journey?” she said, holding her hand out to him.

“Yes,” he replied in Hands.

“Yes,” she repeated, in common.

“yesss,” he smiled back. Toriel lead 6 through the tunnel that yawned open to them across from the ferry dock. They passed a few houses and emerged into a cavern where a large corral of snails sat splayed out before them. A yellow ghost was cursing as he fought to yank a snail off of the wall in the corner farthest away from them; two other ghosts — one white, one pink — stood by next to the fence, watching the yellow one with lukewarm expressions on their faces.

“Uggggggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhaaaaaaaaaaaa,” the pink ghost moaned, throwing himself over the fence dramatically. “If I wasn’t a ghost already I’d be dying of boredom.”

“oh….” the white ghost next to them said, noticing Toriel. The pink ghost raised its head, perking up immediately when he saw the queen.

“Oh! Queen Toriel, welcome back!” the pink ghost sang out, rushing over to her with stars in his eyes.

“Good afternoon!” she said, cheerfully. “I hope you and your family are well today.”

“Of course, love, now that you're here,” he smiled brightly, though a look of disappointment came across his face as he noticed 6. “No Chara today?”

“hello!” 6 said, grinning.

“Hello darling,” the ghost replied dismissively, looking back to the queen.

“Chara is helping their father today, but –” she said, smiling and pulling a folded paper from her pocket with the words ‘MR. GHOST GUY’ scrawled across the front, “they wanted me to make sure I delivered this to you when I stopped by.”

The ghost took the folded paper from her and opened it up. A badly drawn picture of a pink ghost riding a giant snail over a screeching yellow ghost while a crowd cheered him on was inside, with the words “#1 BLOOK!” written in large, block rainbow letters overhead. He burst out laughing. “Blooky, look!” he cried, waving the drawing over his head. “Fan mail!”

The white ghost looked at the drawing and smiled meekly. “oh……that’s very good…..i wish i could draw.”

“This is absolutely marvelous. You tell Chara that ‘Mr. Ghost Guy’ is hanging this on his wall with a gorgeous macaroni and glitter frame around it.”

“Lazy, lazy, LAZY!” the yellow ghost yelled behind him, continuing to yank on the snail unsuccessfully. “Do I have to do everything MYSELF here?!”

“You’re doing wonderfully, darling,” the pink ghost sang, continuing to look at the picture wistfully. “Now then, how can we be of assistance to our most valued customer this wonderful afternoon?”

“hello!” 6 said to the white ghost, who he'd walked over to while the pink ghost and Toriel had been talking. The white ghost disappeared quickly and reappeared on the other side of the pink ghost, peering at 6 cautiously.

“I was hoping to make a snail casserole tonight,” Toriel said, scrutinizing the snails that plodded slowly through the gravel behind the ghosts. “Do you have a recommendation for which ones I should take home with me?”

“Why of course, love,” the pink one said. “Blooky, would you kindly be a doll and grab that one and…that one.”

“GET IT YOURSELF YOU USELESS BUM!” the yellow ghost shouted from the wall. The pink ghost ignored him.

“Thank you so much,” Toriel said, taking the basket with two snails inside from the white ghost, who blushed. “I will return them tomorrow.”

“Return them whenever you like, darling,” the pink ghost smiled. He looked at 6. “Hmm, your substitute child seems to be leaking,” he frowned.

Toriel peered down and saw that in addition to shivering, 6 was now sweating blue magic. “Oh my,” she said, switching everything she was carrying into one hand and picking 6 up to sit on the side of her hip. “I apologize for the short visit. I must be going.” The two ghosts watched Toriel as she hurried back towards the ferry.

“Do tell little Chara that I said to come visit us soon!” the pink ghost called after her.

~

The tinkle of bells that normally announced the arrival of a new customer into the Snowdin bakery was overpowered by the sound of the door slamming loudly into the wall. The shopkeeper, a rabbit-monster, jolted upright out of her seat, nearly knocking the wide-brimmed hat off her head. “Excuse me!” she huffed, straightening her hat back out between her long ears.

“Er, sorry,” the doctor said, shutting the door behind him and taking stock of the room quickly. “Damn, I thought he’d be in here. You haven’t seen a kid around here today, have you? About yay tall?” he asked, holding his hand out to about where the top of 6’s head would normally be. “Or, I guess yay short,” he clarified, looking at where his hand rested.

“Dr. Gaster, between my sister and I, there are so many kids running around here that match that description that I don’t know where to even begin with answering you,” she responded, crossing her arms in front of herself.

The doctor sighed, realizing that checking in the bakery was likely wasted effort. He peered over the counter behind the shopkeeper. “Um, little skelemonster,” he clarified, “probably wearing the monster kid clothes I bought from you yesterday. Probably um, getting a bit twitchy by now?”

The shopkeeper tipped her head thoughtfully. “Well, I don’t know about twitchy, but the queen came by earlier to buy some monster kid clothes and had a little guy with her that matched that description.”

“Oh good,” the doctor breathed a sigh of relief, then bolted upright. “Oh! Oh, shit. How long ago was that?”

“Mmm…I’d say a few hours ago now,” the shopkeeper replied slowly. “Something the matter?”

“Nope, everything is great,” he said, heading back out the door towards his home. The anxiety he’d been feeling that morning upon realizing that 6 had gone missing had somehow managed to quadruple in size. It was one thing to try and pull a fast one on Asgore, but Toriel? He was done for. He wondered how long it would take for him to get to the restricted area of the Hotland lab and incinerate all the other evidence before the queen had a chance to discover any of that mess.

Slow down, you don’t know how much 6 has told her, he thought to himself, climbing his porch steps and pulling his keys from his coat pocket. And 6 doesn’t know anything about the Hotland lab. Just stay calm. He noticed the note tucked into the door frame and opened it quickly.

W.D. – I found your son walking in the snow with no shoes, lost and covered in mud. This is unacceptable. I am taking him with me. Call me at your earliest convenience and we will discuss. I shall be home this evening. –T.”

Well, better than ‘There is a warrant out for your arrest, the dogs will be here for you shortly,’ he thought, tucking the note into his pocket. He wondered if she’d come looking for him sooner if the kid started having a meltdown from the lack of DT exposure. Might as well hide some of the equipment in the downstairs lab while he waited, just in case.

Chapter Text

Toriel opened the door of her home quickly, dropping her basket and bags on the ground inside and rushing to Asriel and Chara’s room with 6 in her arms. She threw the covers on Asriel’s bed open and laid 6 on it, who immediately curled into a ball, moaning. He’d thrown up twice on the ferry ride to their home and his shaking had grown from a slight tremble into a full on tremor. She’d tried a few healing spells on the ferry, to no avail, and she was running out of ideas. She hurried into the kitchen and tried calling Wingdin on his home phone, though he didn’t pick up. She hung up and dialed Gerson, an old turtle-monster and close family friend that operated a small medical supply shop in Waterfall, to see if he had any ideas for non-magical remedies.

Gaster has a son?! Since when?” his voice barked out on the other end of the line.

“Gerson, please, I am not sure what to do, I have tried healing magic and nothing seems to be working,” Toriel pleaded.

“Hmm…I suppose you could try some sea tea, but I don’t think it’ll help much if he’s throwing everything up. You think he’s been poisoned?”

“Oh, gods I hope not,” she said frantically.

“What’d Gaster say about it?”

“It is a long story, but I do not think he knows I have his son with me yet.”

“Hmm, well I would try giving that smart ass a call and see if he can tell you what’s going on. Sorry I’m not much help, Tori,” Gerson apologized.

Toriel hung the phone up and tried to reach Wingdin at the Hotland lab, but was informed that he’d left already. She returned to the room quickly to check on 6, who was still curled into a c-shape with his head in his hands. Uncertain as to how to check whether a skelemonster was running a fever, she instinctively put her hand on his head. He was drenched in sweat, but seemed to be the same temperature as he was before.

“Oh my goodness, Sans, I am so sorry. I am not sure how to help you,” she said in Hands, removing his damp beanie and mopping his head with a dry corner of it. He squinted up at her trying to read her hand gestures. His eyelights had gone out completely; it was so unsettling that Toriel had to look away briefly. When she looked back, 6 appeared to be trying to say something non-verbally, but the gestures weren’t making sense to her. “I am going to try and call your father again, I will return shortly,” she said to him as she headed back to the kitchen, keeping the door to his room open. She almost bumped straight into Chara as they threw the front door open and struck a dramatic pose in the entryway.

“We’re HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOME!” Chara called. Asriel stood close behind them with an annoyed look on his face, waiting for them to move out of the doorway.

“Honey, keep your voice down please,” Toriel cautioned, looking out the door behind the two of them. “Is your father home as well?”

“No, dad says he’s gonna stop by and see how the aquarium stuff is going,” Asriel said, pulling his jacket off and stepping around Chara.

“Sounds fishy,” Chara said, looking at Asriel mischievously. 

“Ugh, you already made that joke like four times today,” Asriel replied.

“’Cause I’m a repeat a-fin-der,” they winked.

“Oh my gosh, stop,” Asriel said, trying not to laugh. The sound of 6 retching caught his attention. “What was that??”

“Sans is very sick,” Toriel replied, picking up a wastebasket and heading back to the room to set it next to the bed. “I am trying to get ahold of his father so I can figure out what is going on.”

“How’d he get here?” Chara said, following Toriel into the room. Asriel remained in the doorway, examining the room cautiously.

Toriel sighed. “It is a long story. Would you be a dear and watch over him while I try to call his father again?” Chara nodded. “Thank you, my child,” Toriel said, kissing the top of their head and squeezing Asriel’s shoulder gently before hurrying back to the kitchen.

“Wow, you don’t look so good,” Chara said, peering at 6, who was shaking so hard that his bones were rattling. Asriel crept into the room and sat on Chara’s bed across from them. “Why didn’t mom just heal him?” Chara asked.

“Must be really sick,” Asriel shrugged. Chara sat down next to 6. He immediately stopped trembling.

“Whoa, what the heck?” Asriel said, leaning in and looking closer at 6. “What’s wrong with his eye?” Chara looked down to find 6 meeting their gaze; while his right eyelight was still out completely, the other was lit up so brightly that Chara’s shadow was cast behind them onto the wall and floorboards.

“Whoa,” Chara repeated, watching the color of the room dance from cyan to yellow and back again. “Think we should get mom?” Asriel nodded, standing up. Chara made to stand up too, but felt a bony hand grab their sleeve, surprising them. “Pfft, hello!” they laughed, sitting back down.

“…hello,” rasped 6.

Chara’s eyes popped open. “Hey, I thought you said he couldn’t speak common!” they shouted, sitting back down on the bed and shooting a look at Asriel.

“Well they didn’t yesterday!” Asriel countered, throwing his hands up.

“Hey Sans,” Chara said, looking at him. He looked a lot better, though his left eyelight was still manically flickering from bright yellow to cyan. “You know what I’m saying?”

“…whatees yoor name?” 6 asked weakly.  

“Ha! See?” Chara blurted, looking back at Asriel triumphantly. They turned back to the skelemonster curled up on the bed next to them. “My name is Chara, remember?”

“Charaemember?” 6 replied sleepily. His brightly lit eye faded as both eyelights slowly flickered back into place. His eye sockets drooped slightly.

“Told youuuu,” Asriel replied smugly from the doorway. “I’m gonna get mom.”

Chara sat quietly next to 6, who gradually fell asleep and loosened his grasp on their sleeve. Eventually, Toriel reentered the bedroom, Asriel following close behind.

“What is going on?” Toriel asked, brushing the fur on her head back into place with her hand as she crouched down next to the bed to look at 6. “Oh good, he is asleep. He certainly looks much better…perhaps his fever broke?”

Chara shrugged. “His eye was doing something crazy,” they said, looking up at their mother. “Hey mom, can Sans speak common?”

Toriel put the back of her paw on 6’s forehead again, though it was still the same temperature as before. “No, sweetheart. Though I was trying to teach him a few words while he was helping me with errands this morning.”

“Oh. Me an’ Azzy can teach him!” Chara announced, looking determined.

“That is very thoughtful of you,” Toriel replied. She scooped Asriel into her arms and sat down with him on Chara’s bed, looking at 6. “Actually, I wanted to ask the both of you whether you would be amenable to Sans spending some more time here. Just the mornings and afternoons, while his father is at work. That way, I could teach him while you are both away at school in the mornings and you two could come home and help him practice in the afternoon.”

“We’re adopting him?” Asriel asked.

“No, honey, just helping his father out,” Toriel corrected.

Chara considered this for a moment. “Weren’t you just yelling at him on the phone? I could totally hear you.”

Toriel sighed. “I should not have raised my voice like that,” she replied, picking stray bits of fur off of Asriel’s shirt. “He is on his way here to pick up Sans, but he will start bringing him by tomorrow if Sans is feeling better.” She stood and set Asriel back onto the ground. “I need to put my things away, but I will be in to check on him. Come now, you two can help me prepare for supper.”

~

The doctor knocked on the door about 40 minutes later. When Toriel answered, he braced himself, expecting her to continue berating him as she had on the phone earlier. Instead, she looked relieved. “Thank you for coming so quickly,” she said, opening the door up and throwing the tea towel she was holding onto her shoulder. “He is in here. None of my healing magic seemed to be doing much good, but his fever appears to have broken.” She lead him into Chara and Asriel’s room, where 6 was sleeping soundly.

Interesting. Perhaps the shock of withdrawal caused 6 to produce some DT of his own finally? the doctor wondered silently. Chara appeared behind the two of them suddenly.

“He stopped thrashing around when I sat next to him,” they said, rocking back on their heels and looking pleased with themselves. “I think he likes me.”

Ah. That explains it, he thought. 6 had been exposed to DT for so long, he had begun to develop some odd traits that the doctor was still trying to make sense of. For one, he didn’t even need to mainline DT into 6 any longer, the kid seemed to be able to leech it from anything emitting DT within a 15 foot radius. Perhaps having 6 hanging around with a DT-radiating human on a daily basis isn’t such a bad idea after all, he concluded. It would certainly save me a lot of time having to procure more of it.

“Hmm,” the doctor replied. “I’m sorry for the trouble, Toriel. I’m honestly not sure how he got out without my noticing. That hasn’t happened before.”

“My child, would you kindly help Asriel in the kitchen and make sure he is being gentle with the snails?” Toriel asked Chara, nodding towards the kitchen. Chara’s eyes darted towards the doctor quickly, then back to 6, before they slunk off down the hall. Toriel crossed her arms and spoke quietly. “Wingdin, if there is something you feel you should tell me, then I hope for your sake you will come forward with it rather than have me find out later.”

The doctor felt his marrow run cold, but kept a straight face. “What do you mean?”

“I feel as if you are hiding something from me, but if I am being presumptuous…” she searched his face, then slumped. “Or perhaps I am being paranoid.”

He relaxed, noticing her doubt. “I’ll be the first to admit I’m a terrible parent,” he shrugged, trying to reign her in. “I don’t know what the hell I’m doing half the time.”

She chuckled. “That makes two of us. But as I said over the phone, Sans really needs to be around other children. It is unhealthy for him to be so isolated. I have always loved teaching. I am more than happy to take care of him while you are working. Please bring him in the morning before you go to work tomorrow, if he is feeling better.”

Except I’m going to have a lot less work to do with you watching him, the doctor thought, annoyed.

“I appreciate it, Toriel, but —”

“That was not an offer, Wingdin. That was an order,” she said sternly.

 “Well, alright,” he conceded, stooping down to pick 6 up. “See you tomorrow, then.”

~

6 awoke to see the snow passing by beneath him. For a moment, he thought he was staring into a dream window before he recognized the feeling of the doctor’s coat. He lifted his head.

“Oh, you’re awake?” the doctor asked, tipping his head back to look at him. “Good, my arm was falling asleep.” He set 6 down on the ground and pulled his arm across his chest to stretch it.

“hello!” 6 chirped in common.

“And you’re bilingual now, great,” the doctor said. “Guess you don’t have to go to Toriel’s house tomorrow.” 6’s grin dropped and the doctor smirked. “I’m kidding. Alright, come on, let’s get inside.”

6 recognized the house this time, and turned to head towards the lab entrance.

“Nope, new room for you, since you’ve apparently figured out how to walk through locked doors,” the doctor grumbled, pulling a set of keys out of his pocket and heading up the stairs to his porch. 6 followed him inside. The doctor’s house was colder and much less colorful than the Dreemurr’s home. There were no decorations on the walls – instead, bookshelves lined the interior, filled with books and journals. A small television set sat in the living room across from a gray couch, with a modest kitchen adjacent to the living room. 6 looked around as he followed the doctor up another flight of stairs. “Alright, here you are,” the doctor said, throwing open a door that lead to a small room. Inside was a tiny bed, a set of drawers with a few books on top, and a lamp. 6 looked up at the doctor, confused. “What?” the doctor asked.

“No more lab?” 6 asked, walking into the room and looking around.

“Well, no more sleeping in lab,” the doctor corrected, folding his arms and leaning against the doorway. “So how did you get out of your room this morning, exactly?” 6 looked up. He hadn’t seen any light threads since he’d crash landed onto the river person’s boat.

“Hmm…I don’t know,” he said.

“Did you happen to do whatever it was you did yesterday to land us back in Snowdin while we were on our way to dinner?” 6 thought back to their journey to the king and queen’s home the day before, remembering waking up in hot, humid darkness and wishing they were back in the snow. The light thread had popped up in front of him before he’d even realized what he was looking at.

“I think so?” he replied.

“Very interesting,” the doctor said. “And that’s never happened before?”

“No.”

“Hmm. Well, I don’t know how long I’m on probation with the queen, but we’re going to figure out how you did that tomorrow after I pick you up. That could be the key to getting us out of here.”

“Okay.”

The doctor gestured towards the drawers. “I put some clothes in there for you, so have at it. And I’ll wake you up tomorrow so we have time to run you over to Toriel’s place. Did she tell you what’s going on?”

6 shook his head.

“You’re going to hang out with her in the mornings so she can play teacher, and I’ll come pick you up in the afternoon so we can keep working.”

“Morning?”

“Yes.”

“What’s morning?”

“Wait...was that what you were asking about when you wanted to know what time was yesterday?” he laughed. “Okay, that makes a little more sense. How about I’ll show you where the shower is, you rinse off, get some new clothes on, and we go over to Firenze’s to celebrate my not being murdered today and I’ll explain it to you.”

6’s eyes widened. “The burger place?”

“Oh my gods, kid, there are way better things on the menu, please don’t embarrass me,” the doctor smirked. He paused, kneeling down to be eye level with 6 and putting a hand on his shoulder. “Look kid,” he said flatly, “you need to promise me something. Do not, under any circumstances, discuss the work we do together here with Toriel. Or Asgore. Or anyone else for that matter. It’s top secret.”

“Okay,” 6 whispered.

“You promise?”

“I promise,” 6 said. The doctor squeezed his shoulder blade and stood.

“Good,” he said, cheerfully. “Grab some clothes and I’ll show you the rest of the house.”

END OF PART I

Chapter Text

“Alright Sans, enough,” the voice of the doctor crackled over the intercom. Sans pretended not to hear, slowing the world down to give himself a few more moments to try and figure out how to break through the force field that Gaster had set up to mimic the properties of the barrier. The young skelemonster had upped his abilities over the last five years, working off of the doctor’s hunch that his non-skelemonster-specific magic aligned closely with some basic principles from quantum mechanics.

Learning to read and speak a second language had opened a new world up for him to explore, in addition to the literal world around him, and he’d taken full advantage. In between school and the work in the lab, he’d torn through every report that the doctor had been able to dig up on quantum theory, both written by the doctor himself in decades prior, as well as bits and pieces of information that the doctor had collected as he’d come across them in the dump from the world above-ground. Being two places at once, short-cutting across the underground, and basically ignoring the laws of classical physics came as second nature to him now – as long as no one was watching.

Other abilities, namely his effect on gravity, seemed to be weirdly amplified distortions of normal skelemonster magic, though the doctor had explained to him that his ability to use gravity to drag his perception of the flow of time to a near halt wasn’t anything he’d ever heard of. His strange aptitudes appeared to be limited to the space within the confines of the underground — the world outside of the barrier remained frustratingly out of reach. And the fact that certain skillsets only worked when they were not being monitored made it difficult to determine what exactly was going on most of the time.

“Sans,” the voice on the intercom repeated in verbal Hands, the words sounding slow and distorted through the time warp. He released his hold on the world and shot a look at the video camera. The red light pulsed on and off, reminding him silently that he was being watched now. “You’ve been in there for seven hours,” the voice continued. “Give it a rest, buddo.”

Sans eyed the force field one more time before letting out an exasperated sigh. Quantum tunneling. It was the one thing he really had no idea how to do, but the doctor was almost positive that figuring it out was the key to being able to get out of the barrier without the use of a human soul. He’d been trying to activate that part of his abilities for years now, but wasn’t any closer than the day the doctor introduced the theory to him. He was beginning to doubt whether it was even something he was capable of doing at this point. Pushing open the heavy door leading back to the hallway with a sigh, he found the doctor spinning his chair back and forth idly in the central lab area as he chewed on a pen. He looked up as Sans entered, dropping the stack of papers he was holding back onto his desk.

“Anything?” the doctor asked, overshooting his attempt to toss the chewed pen into the trash can across from his desk. Sans read from his gestures that the doctor already knew the answer.

“No,” Sans replied, climbing into the chair on the other side of the desk and flopping down into it irritably.

“Eh, maybe it’s just not a trick in the hand you were dealt,” the doctor shrugged, picking up the pen on the floor with magic and dropping it into the waste basket. Sans said nothing, slumping down further in his chair in an effort to connect his feet to the ground. Despite being nearly 12 years old now, he hadn’t grown more than a few inches and was often mistaken for being much younger than he actually was because of it.

“So you going over to hang out with your buddies today or what?” the doctor asked, leaning back in his chair.

“Yeah, I guess so,” Sans replied, looking at the floor as he signed. “I kinda wanted to read over that one report you gave me the other day though…”

“You only have a few months left until school starts back up and we switch back to working at night, might as well rot your brain out with your friends while you still can,” the doctor replied. “This isn’t something that gets solved overnight kid, believe me.”

“Yeah,” Sans conceded after a few moments, getting up slowly and throwing his jacket on over his black and blue striped shirt. He’d grow fond of clothing with large pockets; it was easier to keep himself from accidentally gesturing in Hands while speaking common with other people with his hands shoved into them. “You gonna be around later?”

“I should be. I have to stop by the Hotland lab at some point and check in on a few things, but shouldn’t take long. Firenze’s tonight?”

“Sure,” Sans replied.

“Alright, get out of here.”

Sans nodded in reply, heading out the door. As soon as he was out of the line of sight of the video cameras, he opened and stepped through a tear onto the porch of the king and queen. He knocked loudly on the door and waited, bouncing on the balls of his feet. When no one answered, he walked around to the backyard, leaving a second self to stay on the porch in case someone showed up.

Being in two places at once was really only useful for figuring out if someone was watching you – his consciousness would snap back immediately to the version of himself that had a person looking at him, even if it was just a passing glance. It made sneaking up on him near impossible. And it definitely made for some great practical jokes when he was able to get the timing right. But trying to do anything productive with both versions of himself at the same time hadn’t seemed to work out so far – it was akin to trying to rub your stomach and pat your head at the same time. He felt his consciousness rush back into the self in the backyard, and noticed Asgore walking towards him from the far side of the garden carrying a sack of tea leaves. 

“Well, howdy Sans!” Asgore said, smiling and wiping sweat off his brow as he slung the bag over his shoulder. “Beautiful day outside, isn’t it?”

Sans blinked, realizing he hadn’t actually been outside more than a few minutes that day. “yeah, super nice,” he replied, shoving his hands into his pockets. “char and azz home?”

“Think the two of them headed off to Waterfall about an hour ago,” the king replied, pulling a small branch out of his mane and flicking it away. “I assume they’re still down there. That’s a bit of a trek, would you like a cup of tea to take with you? I just picked a whole bunch of stuff out of the garden."

“oh, no i'm okay. thanks though,” Sans replied.

“Hey, while you’re out there, would you please remind them to make sure they’re back in time to help out with supper tonight? You are, of course, invited as well,” he added with a wink.

“sure thing, mr. dreemurr,” Sans answered. If the two had headed to Waterfall, he was pretty sure he knew where they were. Sans headed back out towards the front of the house and blipped into Waterfall as soon as he was out of eye sight, following the sounds of the children’s voices to a large, open cave. Chara was running laps around Asriel and shouting taunts at him as Asriel shot small fire balls into shimmering patterns around them to leap and duck through. Fireflies floated up from the ground behind Chara as they dashed about wildly, creating a shimmering orbit that expanded and collapsed around the young boss monster in the center. Sans blipped closer, waiting in the shadows until Chara looped back towards him, still yelling empty threats at their brother and not watching in front of them. He darkened his eyes and stepped into their trajectory.

“B O O.”

“HOLY CRAP," Chara shrieked, screeching to a halt. Asriel threw his arm in the air to avoid hitting Chara with a fire ball, ricocheting it off the ceiling where it fizzled out into sparks above them. Chara pushed Sans roughly in the shoulder once they recognized him.

Sans winked at them, his eyelight flicking back on. “oops, didn't see you standing there.”

“Butt head,” they replied, laughing.

“Did I miss the creepy face?” Asriel asked, dancing a fireball over his fingers and fizzling it out again. “Wait, do it again, I missed it.”

“THINK FAST SANS,” Chara yelled, grabbing a stick from the ground and swinging it towards him. He slowed the world down and leaned out of the way, then did it again as Chara tried to whack him a second time. “Seriously, one day I’m going to get you," they groaned, tossing the stick aside.

“Where were you? We got tired of waiting around,” Asriel said, dusting soot of his paws.

“eh, i was helping gaster with something,” Sans said, shrugging.

“I thought mom told him to stop pushing you so hard,” Asriel replied.

“heh, he’s actually the one who told me to take a break this time,” Sans said, gesturing absently before catching himself and shoving his hands back into his pockets. “what are you guys doing?” he asked, changing the subject.

“Helping Asriel out with his magic so he’s not fired when he becomes head hauncho,” Chara smirked, looking over at their brother. “Get it, Azzy? Fiiiiiiiired?”

You’re fired,” Asriel responded flatly, though Sans could see the ghost of a smirk on his face.

“Hey, no need to be a hothead,” Chara said, winking at Sans. Asriel groaned, pulling on his ears and making a face. It had taken Sans a few years to get the general gist of setting up and delivering verbal jokes, but once he'd gotten the formula down, he’d found them to be extremely useful – stupid jokes made it incredibly easy for him to read other people’s faces. The more cringe-worthy, the better.

“maybe you should cool it, think you’re adding fuel to the fire,” Sans suggested to Chara. They nodded solemnly.

“Agreed. Don’t want to burn him out.”

“Whatever. I’m making a wish that you both turn into big stupid heads,” Asriel said, flopping onto the grass to look up at the sparkling stones lining the ceiling of the cavern. He propped himself up on his elbows, looking back at the two of them. “Oh look, it worked!”

“Oh noooooo,” Chara moaned, clutching their head in their hands. They stumbled over dramatically and flopped down on the grass next to Asriel. “You must teach me.”

“Teach you what?” Asriel asked, shifting slightly as Sans sat down next to them.

“To be a big stupid head, since you have so much experience.”

“It’s easy, I just pretend to be you every day,” Asriel snorted.

“You’re lucky you’re an only child, Sans,” Chara said, putting their hands behind their head and laying on their back to mirror Asriel.

“i dunno,” Sans replied, pulling his hood up and lying back to look up at the ceiling alongside them. “i think it’d be nice to have a brother.”

“Well, you can make a wish on the fake stars,” Chara said, fanning their hand out in front of them.

Sans was quiet for a few moments, gazing up at the crystals glittering above them. He turned to look over at Chara. “did you ever see them? the real ones, i mean.”

Chara pursed their lips and nodded, searching the ceiling and playing with the locket around their neck absentmindedly. “It’s been a long time though. I barely remember what they look like anymore.”

“i’ve seen pictures in books but…it’s hard to tell what it’d actually look like if you were standing there looking up at them. like, i know they’re supposed to twinkle, right? is there really that big a difference between these things and real stars?”

“Yeah, real stars belong on the stage surrounded by their adoring fans!” Chara said smugly. It took Sans a moment to pick up on the word play.

“heh,” he replied, daydreaming of a kid brother skelemonster that looked like a mini version of himself, now on a stage surrounded by adoring fans under a star strewn sky. “think we’ll ever get to see it in person?”

Asriel looked over to Chara, who frowned and didn’t say anything. He crossed his arms over his chest and exhaled. “Yeah. Some day,” he said softly. Sans continued to gaze at the ceiling, a wave of guilt washing over him suddenly for not being able to figure out how to get through the mock barrier in the lab. It’d be so easy to get everyone out if he could just get through…maybe run to the other side, figure out how to grab seven souls, bring the barrier down. If he just knew how to switch on that part of himself, they wouldn’t be wishing on rocks in the ceiling. They’d have the whole universe to wish on.

“What are you wishing for, Azzy?” Chara asked, breaking the silence.

“I already told you what I was wishing,” Asriel replied.

“I’m serious.”

“Hmm…” he said, thoughtfully. “Well, actually I was thinking about how I’d like to see the real stars someday. I wasn’t really making an actual wish, I guess,” Asriel admitted.  Chara was unusually pensive as they chewed on his answer. “What about you?” Asriel asked.

Sans looked over and saw Chara break their solitude with a blasé smirk. “Yeah, that was my wish too.” Sans could read the lie clearly on their face, even in the dim light. He made a note to ask about that later.

“What about you, Sans?” Asriel asked.

“uh,” he stammered, not wanting to talk about his actual wish of being able to break through the barrier. “guess i used my wish on a family already.”

“What about Gaster?” Chara asked.

“i mean….he’s alright. but it’s not like what you guys have.”

“Why do you call him Gaster anyways? Why not just dad or something?”

Sans thought about lying and saying it was a Hands thing, but changed his mind. “i dunno, he was the one who wanted me to call him that. he got really weirded out when i tried to call him dad one time.”

“I mean, it takes a lot of work to make a monster kid, right? Why would someone…” Chara trailed off, shaking their head and looking back over to Sans. “Anyways, you don’t need a family; you’re practically part of ours anyways.”

“heh, thanks,” Sans replied, still feeling guilty. He suddenly remembered his conversation with Asgore earlier. “oh, shoot. i told your dad i’d tell you guys to come back and help with dinner.”

“Oooooooops,” Chara said, not moving.

Asriel pushed himself up, sticking out a hand and dragging Chara to their feet. Chara threw an arm around Asriel’s shoulders and turned back to Sans. “You coming too? Azz and me found a recipe book in the dump the other day and we're going to try baking something.”

“Butterscotch pie,” Asriel clarified.

Butts pie,” Chara laughed, clapping Asriel on the back.

Sans considered it, but remembered the report waiting on the night stand in his room that he still wanted to spend some time looking at again. “nah, i told g i’d go back over there. maybe tomorrow though.”

“Suit yourself,” Chara replied, shrugging.

“Bye Sans!” Asriel called over his shoulder, as the two strode off towards the direction of the ferry.

Sans continued to lie in the grass, staring at the ceiling with his hands behind his head as fireflies danced around in front of him. The quantum tunneling problem was still stressing him out. It’d be one thing if he knew for certain that he even had a latent ability to unlock, but the fact that it was still completely unknown was irritating. He wasn’t sure that the report he’d wanted to look at again was even going to reveal anything new…he’d practically memorized it already from looking at it so often. Probably should have just gone over to the Dreemurr’s home to help out, he thought in hindsight. Oh well.

He rolled over and pushed himself up into a cross-legged position, thinking about the conversation earlier. Chara was right, he was over at their home so often he might as well be part of the family. But the relationship he had with all of them wasn’t the same as the relationship between Chara and Asriel. The two bickered constantly, but at the end of the day, they were inseparable. You hardly ever saw one without the other close behind. Maybe a real star isn’t someone on a stage surround by adoring fans, he thought, trying to alter the weird image of a small skelemonster on a stage that’d been burned into his mind’s eye earlier by thinking back to the illustrations in the astronomy books he had stacked up in his room. Chara and Asriel were more like...a binary star system. They’re so close that they can’t help but feed off of one another’s energy.

He didn’t need a binary star system. One real star would be more than enough. Someone with a gravitational pull so strong that you couldn’t help but to be pulled in and revolve your life around them.

He noticed a thread shimmer into existence suddenly off to his right…which was odd. He hadn’t been focusing on a destination like he usually was when a tear popped up. He pulled it open, curious, and thought he could hear a low humming emanating from the inside, though it was hard to make out anything else through the darkness on the other side of the tear.

This was new.

He took a deep breath, glancing at the gems on the ceiling one more time before stepping through.

Chapter Text

Sans stood in the darkness waiting for his eyelights to adjust, the air around him filling his chest cavity with a humid warmness. The steady hum of machinery reminded him of the Snowdin lab, though he couldn’t make out how large the space was that he was standing in. He took a step forward slowly, causing a series of fluorescent lights to sputter on along the ceiling in succession, temporarily blinding him. When he opened his eye sockets, he jumped; a fence of blue bones erupted out of the ground around him on instinct as he backpedaled.

Before him was what appeared to be a gigantic, bestial skull standing nearly three times his height, staring at him with darkened, cavernous eye sockets. When the skull didn’t move, Sans scattered the blue fence and formed a long, white bone in his hand with his magic instead, holding it in front of him as he approached. He tapped it with the bone quickly and pulled back.

It didn’t move.

He exhaled and dissipated the bone, turning to see a series of similarly shaped bestial skulls lining the walls, staring vacantly towards the middle of the room into nothingness.

It appeared that he was in an even bigger version of the Snowdin lab – the ceilings were higher, the floors wider. Blank monitors lined the room on one side behind a massive desk stacked with files and papers. Sans couldn’t see any doors or windows. There seemed to be no video cameras monitoring the room either, as he was able to successfully leave a duplicate of himself behind as he approached the desk.

Though the room was covered in a thin layer of dust, whoever had been there last had been pulling things out in a hurry – files were askew, the chair was tipped over, and various folders looked like they’d had pages ripped out of them. Sans vanished his second self so he could focus on what was in front of him, picking up a folder with the words “G – SP3” on the front, written in Hands. He opened the folder to find a series of schematics that resembled the skulls lining the walls in front of him, notations in the margins detailing the size and velocity for each model, along with the DT requirements for each.

DT. That was something familiar.

He flipped the page over, looking to see if DT was elaborated on elsewhere in the report, but didn’t see anything. Tossing it aside, he picked up another notebook full of quickly sketched drawings, notes, and calculations that didn’t make any sense to him.

It was clearly Gaster’s handwriting in the reports...what had made the tear open up here? He leaned forward and put his chin in his hand, drumming his fingers on the table, before noticing another schematic sticking out from beneath another stack. When he pulled it out to inspect it more closely, he felt like he’d just sunk underwater.

It was a blueprint, similar to the schematics of the skulls he’d looked over earlier. Except this one was of two skelemonsters. And one of them looked extremely familiar.

It was him.

~

“Quiet in here tonight,” the doctor remarked, as Firenze slid a tumbler across the bar counter to him. Firenze nodded, picking a glass out of the sink to polish it. Aside from a large wolf passed out in the corner, the bar was deserted.

“Jukebox is broken,” Firenze replied.

The doctor tapped the side of his drink, the silence making him feel awkward. “Any news on that second location?”

Firenze set the glass he was polishing down on the counter, picking up another and inspecting it in the light of his green flames before shrugging. His voice was often difficult to hear over the general chatter that normally permeated the bar, but tonight, it resonated clearly through the quiet. “I was hoping maybe they’d finish up repairing that inn near New Home so we could open up another one there before I retire, but –”

“Wait, retire?”

“I’m not going to run this place forever,” Firenze replied, shooting him a look. “I probably got another ten years left in me before I turn it over to Grillby and call it a day.”

“Gonna have to change your sign out front then,” the doctor said smugly. “Just don’t hire the guy that made the one over the library.”

Firenze chuckled, putting the polished glasses away beneath the counter. “What about you, doc?”

The doctor raised his brow ridge. “You want me to make you a sign?”

“No, I mean, when are you going to retire? Are you ever going to?”

“And do what, sit around?”

“Sure, sit around. Enjoy the money you’ve been saving up over the last however many centuries old you are. Show up at the lab and bug your son when he takes over instead of fussing about it yourself all the time.”

The doctor choked on his drink and coughed into his napkin. “Nah, I got too much work left to do to think about retiring, Renzy. No way in hell Sans is taking that over.”

Firenze looked uncomfortable. “I still don’t understand how you kept him a secret for so long.”

Downing the rest of his drink quickly, the doctor pushed his glass towards Firenze. “Can I get another?”

Firenze sighed, taking the glass and filling it again. This time, he walked around the bar and sat down next to the doctor, setting the drink down in front of him. “Look, Wingdin," he began slowly, looking at the floor. "Let’s just be straight with each other." The doctor snorted. “I’m serious! You were so adamant about not having a family for so long, I’m just still really confused why –”

“Renzy, I reeeeeally don’t want to talk about this right now,” the doctor groaned.

“I know you don’t want to talk about it, but I just…I guess I just don’t understand why you were suddenly so fine with creating a kid on your own when, you know…” he continued, his green flames dulling visibly. “I mean, we could’ve done this together, and you didn’t want that. Which, I mean, it’s fine, that’s your choice but…I just really don’t understand what happened.”

The doctor sunk uncomfortably into his bar stool, contemplating the feasibility of drowning himself in his drink, when he was jolted out of his thoughts by the sound of a folder being smacked down in front of him.

“What the hell is this?” demanded a voice in Hands. The doctor looked up to see Sans standing on the barstool next to him, his eye sockets dark. 

”How...how’d you get in here?” the bartender asked, startled.

“Oh, hey Sans,” the doctor replied in common, letting out a sigh of relief. He threw his drink back and roughly shoved his bar stool away from the counter. “Welp, nice chattin' with you Renzy, gotta go! Throw it on my tab, will you? Actually, throw a round for yourself on there too while you’re at it,” the doctor added, grabbing the folder in one hand and Sans with the other and heading out the door quickly.

“Put me down!” Sans shouted angrily, his gestures frantic. The doctor dropped him into the snow outside the bar, looking relieved.

“Good timing kid,” he laughed.

Sans snatched the folder out of the doctor’s hands, pulling the blueprint out of it. “What is this?” he demanded, gesturing to the two skelemonsters. “Who is this?!” he added, pointing at the second figure in the drawing.

The doctor sobered up immediately. “Where did you get that?”

“W H O  I S  I T” Sans signed, his hands shaking as his eyelights went dark again. The doctor felt his center of gravity tilt slightly and caught himself before stumbling.

“Whoa, calm down before you knock all of Firenze’s glassware over,” he scolded, snatching the blueprint back without looking at it. “Where did you find this? Did someone give it to you?”

“I found it in the lab,” Sans replied coldly, his eyelights still dark, underlining “lab” with a gesture to indicate that he meant a different one than the one beneath the house they now shared. He noticed the doctor trying to unsuccessfully hide an expression of surprise in his hand movements.

“Interesting. And how did you get down there, did your friends let you in?”

“What?” he responded, his eyelights flicking back on. “No, I just…appeared there. Do they know about that place?”

The doctor looked like he was doing some quick thinking. “Listen, Sans –”

“Wait, no, I’m not finished,” Sans interrupted, his gestures clipped. “That’s me in that drawing, isn’t it? I thought ‘Sans’ was a language thing, but then on the blueprint…it just, it hit me. That’s not how you would translate my name from Hands. You…you numbered me,” his voice cracked slightly as his shoulders drooped. The doctor remained silent, folding the blueprint and tucking it into a pocket inside his jacket. Sans looked back up, his eye sockets narrowing. “If 6 is me, then where is the other one?”

“Sans –”

“W H E R E  A R E  T H E Y.”

The doctor looked up as a small hedgehog monster scurried past them into the bar, shooting a glance over her shoulder nervously.

“You really want to do this here?” the doctor asked casually. When Sans didn’t reply, he shrugged. “I suspect they’re still in the lab where I left them.”

“…wait, what?! Where you left them?! What do you mean?”

“Calm down, it’s not like they’re even lucid. You’re getting worked up over nothing. Now walk if you’re gonna talk, kiddo, I’m not standing out here all night being interrogated,” the doctor grumbled, walking past Sans back towards their home. Sans noticed the doctor was swaying slightly as he hurried to keep pace with him.

“I want you to tell me what’s going on,” Sans demanded. “What’s that lab I was in?”

“Look, I clearly have no way of keeping you from prying around where you don’t belong. The short version, Sans, is...heh, is there a short version? Anyways, there are a few ways that we know of to get through that barrier, and all of them require using human souls.  But, those aren’t exactly plentiful down here, are they? So what do you do when you don’t have the ingredients you need? Pray to the Delta Rune? Kick back and retire and give up on the hard work you’ve dedicated your whole life to?”

“Uh…” Sans stammered, not sure where the doctor was going with his story.

“No. You don’t. You figure out how to make the gods damned ingredients yourself. It stops being about magic and starts being about science. Humans have something in them that we don’t that allows their souls to break the barrier, but not ours. That allows them to climb to extreme LV and persist, while we turn into dust en masse,” he said, approaching their home. He turned and sat down on the steps leading up to the house.

“…DT?” Sans asked.

The doctor pulled a carton out of his pocket and tapped a cigarette into his hand. He lit it and took a drag before continuing, using one hand to gesture wearily. “Yes, DT. Determination. We monsters have magic coursing through our being…humans have DT coursing through theirs. You know what happens when monsters become too determined, Sans?”

Sans shook his head.

“They melt. Our bodies can’t handle it. It’s a horrible way to die.” He took another drag off his cigarette before continuing, small wisps of smoke rising out of the collar of his sweater. “But, therein lies the problem. You can’t harness the power of something if you’re afraid of it, can you? But you also can’t inject monsters with straight DT, that’s basic biochemistry 101. And you can’t put monsters in a position where DT bubbles up and floods their systems on its own, or the same thing will eventually happen. That’s all to say, the idea behind the Soul Project was that we would create a vessel that could withstand DT, potentially mimicking a human soul and allowing us to get through the barrier without having to wait around for humans to fall down here. Our destiny would be in our control. And not only that, by understanding the nature of DT, perhaps we could better protect ourselves from the humans the next time we faced them. Use their greatest weapon against them, so to speak. Bit of perverse justice. You following me so far?”

Sans nodded, feeling lightheaded.

“The problem is, we still don’t exactly understand DT. It has some weird side effects that I’m not sure are a result of DT itself or some sort of effect of the barrier’s magic,” he trailed off pensively, taking another drag off his cigarette. “In any case, the first four attempts to build an artificial soul were a no go. Either the DT leaked out everywhere or the container melted or it didn’t bond correctly. We were able to create some interesting spin off projects based on concepts from that, so it wasn’t a total loss, but it wasn’t getting us any closer to unlocking DT. I needed to understand its properties better and you can’t do that when you’re staring at its components through a microscope and not applying them. Then, one day it suddenly occurred to me — if we were going to be successful, we needed a vessel that straddled the line between monsters and humans. Something that already successfully combined the properties of both monsters and humans into one being that could potentially withstand and perhaps even produce DT if exposed to it long enough.”

Flicking the ash off from the end of his cigarette, he took a final drag quietly before continuing. “Humans and skelemonsters are very closely linked, did you know that? In fact, there used to be an old monsters’ tale, back above ground, that humans evolved from skelemonsters. That they gave up the love, mercy, and compassion that forms the foundation of our magic and armed themselves with shields of muscle, flesh, and determination to conquer the world instead.” He stubbed his cigarette out into the snow on the porch next to him. “You know how skelemonsters are made, Sans?”

Sans shook his head again.

“You need a human. A dead human. Combine that with a monster soul and poof, you get a skelemonster. See why there aren’t more of us down here? No humans, no skelemonsters. And no humans have fallen down here since Chara, right? They’re the first human, after all.”

Sans felt sensation of numbness creep over him. “Wait, then…then how…”

“Yes, very odd, since according to the king and queen, no humans fell down here before Chara. So how on earth,” he asked sarcastically, pulling the blueprint back from his jacket pocket and opening it up, “did I manage to so easily get my hands on not one, but two skeletons down here? How is it that we even had souls to pull DT from in the first place, if their ‘child’ was the first one to fall down here?”

“There…were humans before that?” Sans asked hesitantly.

“Of course there were. We’ve been down here hundreds of years, it’s so strange to me that people haven’t paid more attention to the fact that there’s a giant skylight to the outside world that humans love to fall through every few decades or so. But the king couldn’t have monsters standing around waiting in the ruins for humans to fall so they could snatch up the souls one at a time and make a run for the barrier. It’d be mass chaos. So he closed off that part of the underground and put their home at the front to guard it. Of course, I don’t think he anticipated that his son would be the one to find the next human...and a live one at that. Normally those things die on impact with a fall like that, but this one seems to have an unprecedented level of DT for whatever reason.”

The doctor leaned back on the step behind him, sighing. “In any case, by the time they found their human, I’d already moved forward to see if my hunch about skelemonsters was valid. If I could create one that was exposed to a massive amount of DT from the start, then maybe we’d finally be able to get through the barrier without the need for a human soul.”

“…so you made me,” Sans said flatly.

“Well, uh…no, actually. I had found a perfect specimen buried in the ruins to use. But not knowing what was going to happen, I didn’t want to fuck it up and melt it if it didn’t work out right away. So yeah, I prepped that skeleton, but I didn’t start the DT process on them. They were put into suspended animation once they were strong enough so I had time to test things out on a prototype first.”

Sans read his connection to the word ‘prototype’ clearly through the doctor’s rapid hand movements. Feeling ill, he steadied himself on the railing he was leaning on. 

“Buuuut, then the human fell, the Soul Project was put on indefinite hiatus, and I was told to destroy all the research I’d been working on in favor of Asgore's hunch that his new pet was the key to getting us out. But by then, you’d been thriving off of DT in a hyperbaric chamber for over a year, and something really strange was going on with your magic. Only an imbecile would toss that out and go back to routine Core maintenance. So, I hid what I could, sealed off that part of the lab, and…snuck you out with me to Snowdin. And there you have it.”

“You just left the other one down there?!”

“Sans, they’re in suspended animation. They could stay like that for hundreds of years and be fine. Plus they were too big to take with me, someone definitely would’ve noticed me dragging a large skeleton through the forest.”

“But…Asgore sees me almost every day…”

“Heh, yeah, I thought I was dust when he first saw you, but I suspect he never closely read the reports I was giving him. He genuinely thinks I just decided to pull a kid out of thin air one day.”

“You…you need to tell him.”

The doctor barked a laugh. “Okay kid detective, since you’re on a roll here, I’ll throw another mystery at you. Who do you think ordered all of this to begin with? You think I just decided out of the blue one day to build a secret lab and brood about all the evil experiments I was going to work on down there?” he asked, folding his arms and using one hand to gesture. 

“Asgore ordered it?”

“Congrats. Merit badge for you. Can we go inside now?”

“But, Mrs. Dreemurr –”

“Ah, yeah she has no idea what we were up to," the doctor shrugged, as he stood up swatting snow from his coat. “Which is why you are of course welcome to go and tell Asgore and Toriel about all of this. But be forewarned, you’d be blasting a hole right through that relationship. Probably throw the whole kingdom into turmoil. Hell, you can tell your little buddies too while you’re at it, I’m sure the human child would love to hear you’ve been using them to leech DT off of for the last five years and could’ve been made out of their bones if they’d fallen earlier.”

Sans pushed himself up from his slouch, his head spinning from trying to process the onslaught of information. “But that doesn’t make any sense. Chara is around other monsters all the time, I don’t see anyone melting.”

“That’s because they’re not absorbing it like you are, Sans. You’d have to mainline it into most monsters for it to have an effect like that. But you’re able to process it and spit it back out, that’s something no other monster’s been able to do until now. That DT’s swimming in your soul power. It can’t hurt you like it hurts other monsters; you can use it to your advantage. It’s pretty interesting stuff, yeah?” Sans clutched his head, trying to process everything. The doctor pulled his keys out of his coat pocket nonchalantly and nodded towards the house. “You coming in or you going to pour out here all night?”

Sans was so overwhelmed with a mixture of shame and anger that he could hear his bones rattling. The doctor eyed him before turning to unlock the door. “Kid, you’re being way over dramatic. It’s not the end of the world.”

But when he glanced back over his shoulder, Sans was gone.

Chapter Text

Sans felt a crunch underneath him as he landed on his back into something gross. He’d been aiming for the grassy spot near the top of a small waterfall overlooking the dump, but his emotional spiral had somehow caused him to miss his mark — he found himself face up in a pile of garbage instead. Feeling something wet seeping through his jacket into his shirt, he shifted slightly to move away from whatever was poking him in the back, only to knock a box full of wet pamphlets over onto his head.

Great.

He sighed, letting himself sink into the pile of trash. He wasn’t sure what his next move was. Anger welled up in his chest at Gaster’s indifference, only to be bowled over by frustrated guilt at unintentionally using his friend for the past several years without them having any idea. And on top of that, there apparently was another him trapped in a lab somewhere.

He exhaled loudly, hearing the crunching of wrappers and other trash readjusting beneath him. Maybe he could just lay here and melt into the damp boxes and half-eaten food around him, turn into dust, let his essence be one with the trash. It seemed appropriate.

He started to drift off to sleep without realizing it, but was awoken by the sound of someone rummaging around in the pile somewhere next to him, mumbling to themselves as they tossed things aside. His eye sockets drooped slightly as he quietly willed them to move onto the next pile and avoid the soggy, pamphlet-strewn nest he’d created. Just as he was about to drift off to sleep, a high-pitched squeal snapped him awake — he could hear whoever it was hyperventilating over whatever it was that they’d found a few feet away. A sharp tug on his foot a few moments later finally forced him to sit up straight, annoyed.

"AIEEEEEE!!!" shrieked a stout, yellow monster, who tripped over the long skirt they were wearing and fell backwards into the water, clutching a box filled with junk to her chest. “Oh my god! A-a-are you a trash demon?” she asked nervously, pushing her glasses back up to her face to peer at him.

Sans pulled a leaflet off his head and brushed what looked to be coffee grounds off his jacket. “…a what?”

“Oh!  Y-you’re just a little…a little kid!” she laughed, standing up and smiling awkwardly. “I d-didn’t see your striped shirt, eheheh! Isn’t it a little late for you to be out here?” Sans shrugged, jamming his hands into his coat pockets and looking away. He really didn’t feel like talking to anyone. “S-sorry, maybe that’s p-personal. I just…I don’t normally see anyone out here this late! Um…i-is everything okay? Do you want me to c-call your parents? I have a landline back at the lab you could p-probably use…”

“the lab?” Sans asked.

“W-well, I mean, I p-probably shouldn’t be in there after hours, b-but I’m pretty sure my intern card would still work. S-sometimes I have to stay late to f-finish stuff there and I haven’t had a p-problem using it.”

“it’s okay. i was going to head home soon anyways,” he lied.

She looked more closely at Sans, her eyes widening.

“Oh-oh my goodness! Y-y-your accent!  Are you related to D-Doctor Gaster?” she asked excitedly, then turned pale. “OH MY GOD IS THAT RACIST I’M SORRY YOU JUST LOOK SORT OF LIKE HIM I DIDN’T MEAN THAT!” She was spitting words out in such rapid succession that it was hard for Sans to follow everything she was saying. He could read from her face that she’d been in the dump for over an hour, and had found something while digging around that she was clearly embarrassed about. Quickly, he tried to steal a glance into the box she was holding, but she pulled it away quickly, looking flustered. Closing both of his eye sockets, he leaned back into the trash casually.

“it’s okay,” Sans shrugged, opening one eye socket back up to see if he could figure out what she was hiding. “i ain’t got a bone to pick with you.”

“Oh good, sometimes I…w-wait w-was that a joke?” she asked, looking confused.

Aha, there it was. Dirty magazines. There were sins all over her face.

“Eheheh, oh wait…am…am I allowed to laugh at that if I’m not a skeleton?” she continued nervously, shifting the weight of the box in her arms.

“heh, so how do you know gaster?” Sans asked casually, as if sitting in a giant pile of trash was part of his normal routine.

“Oh! Uh, I work for him! Or…I m-mean, I don’t really work for him yet, I’m s-still an intern, but once I finish my dissertation and uh, m-my engineering classes and uh, y-you know, apply for a r-real job, then I’ll work for him! B-but right now I guess I mostly just see him when he comes in for debriefing sessions with the rest of the t-team I’m working with...” A goofy look spread across her face, which she quickly shook herself out of, blushing. “Eheheh, sorry, he’s uh. I mean, I actually went into engineering because of him.”

“yeah?”

“Oh yes, he’s incredibly smart and witty and not to mention very handsome and he even remembered my name the other day and I almost died because I thought maybe I still had a big ramen stain on my lab coat but I don’t think he noticed thank god and I mean not like I’m stalking him or anything but I finally asked Gerson the other day if he could tell me anything about him since I knew they were both in the war together and oh my god he’s just got such an interesting backstory and then the other day I –”

“wait, slow down. he fought in the war?”

“Er, y-yeah, you didn’t know that? I thought everyone knew that! Th-there’s only a handful of veterans left down here!”

“oh. guess he doesn't talk about it much,” he replied, gesturing absently.

“Oh my god, are you speaking Hands?!!” she squealed, setting the box down next to her and sitting on it, caving the top in slightly. “Wait wait, I learned a phrase…hold on…” She gestured something that looked like “Hello Alname me am” in Hands.

“heh, that’s pretty good. wait, what’d gerson say?” he asked, trying to keep his expression casual.

“Er…well, I-I guess I can tell you. I mean, Gerson told me, so I don’t think it’s a secret or anything,” she stammered, playing with her tail nervously. She took a deep breath and lowered her voice excitedly. “So, Dr. Gaster always has those g-gloves on, right? It’s so mysterious…like he’s a bad guy out of a shojou manga or something. I asked Gerson about it because uh, I wanted to m-maybe find some like that for myself? Don’t judge me, eheheh. Um, anyways, Gerson told me that he started wearing them because of the war! I guess, well, you speak Hands, right? He s-said that the humans knew that uh, Dr. Gaster, well, I g-guess he wasn't a doctor yet. Anyways, he was cl-close friends with the king and queen, so they captured him and tried to m-make him tell them how to defeat the King by uh…well, by torturing him!"

"what?!"

"I know! They thought if they could r-ruin his hands, that they’d be taking away everything from him…s-since, I guess that's a major part of skelemonster identity? Ehehe, sorry, you probably know that already. But, um, the humans knew that us monsters can’t withstand p-pain like humans can…s-so they’d chip away at him un-until his HP was too low and then, uh, h-heal him and do it again. But he didn’t tell them anything! I guess he was down there for w-weeks before Asgore was able to rescue him, but it completely messed up his magic.” She stopped short, looking more closely at Sans. “Wait, but…Gerson also said he w-was the only skelemonster to survive the war…but…uh…” she stammered, her eyes suddenly big. “Oh my god.”

Sans raised an eye ridge, but didn’t say anything.

“OH MY GOD, HE DOES THAT SAME FACE!  DID HE…ARE YOU…oh my god, are you like his kid or something?!”

“uh…something like that, i guess,” Sans shrugged.

“He has a secret family!” the monster trilled, stars in her eyes. “Ugggggggggggh, it’s just like in my fanfic. Oh my god, wait don’t tell him I said that!” 

“you said you work in the lab, right?” Sans interrupted. “um, do you know about uh…like, a big room with giant skulls in it?”

The monster gave him a blank look. “Er…no, that doesn’t sound familiar. I’m uh, only an intern though. My badge has the w-worst security clearance, so m-maybe that’s just something I haven’t been able to see yet? Wait, is there really a room with giant skulls in it?!”

“ol' pops must've been making a joke. heh,” Sans replied quickly. “guess he got me."

"He makes jokes?"

"sometimes. uh, so who has security clearance, aside from him?”

“Mmm, I don’t think anyone aside from the royal family. But I’ve never s-seen any of them in the lab aside from the king one time, and that was only because of a s-special occasion, I think.”

“hmm,” he said nonchalantly, pushing a broom handle that was jutting out from the trash pile and poking him in the back further away from him. “uh, i'm sans by the way.”

“Oh! Sorry, I got carried away, I didn’t even introduce myself, eheh! I’m Alphys,” she grimaced. He winked at her, hoping his perpetual grin was coming across as cool and collected instead of completely exhausted. “Well, it was n-nice to meet you, Sans! Uh…” she said, glancing down at the crumpled box. “I better be heading b-back soon so I don’t miss the ferry. Y-you sure you don’t need to use the phone?”

“oh, yeah i’m okay. just bone-tired, heh.”

“Okay, if you say so,” she said, heading towards the ferry. She stopped quickly. “W-wait, that was a joke too, wasn’t it? Eheheh…you know, you're a lot f-funnier than your dad is. Oh my god, don't tell him I said that either! Um, maybe I’ll see you around? Ehehe, like the ferry? 'Cause that goes around? God I’m not good at this.”

"need a hand with your box?" he asked, suppressing a laugh when her face turned beet red.

"Ahahaha, n-n-no no I'm good! Gottagonicemeetingyou!" she cried out, rushing off quickly. Sans watched her hurry out of sight, then opened a tear to the top of the waterfall where he’d meant to end up originally. He sat down in the grass and took his jacket off, holding it up to inspect the back of it. A huge blotch of something foul had soaked through it and was now dripping out of the bottom. He thought about popping back into his room in Snowdin to grab a new one, but didn’t want to risk Gaster hearing him moving around in the house.

A war hero, huh? That was new. Gaster had said Asgore was the one who ordered the experiments to begin with. Maybe he wasn’t as bad of a guy as he'd thought. But then, there was another skelemonster still sitting alone in the lab somewhere…good people didn’t do things like that, did they? And if Gaster was a bad person then…what did that make Asgore? What did that make him?

He folded the coat over to bury the wet blotch and put his head on the dry side, gazing up at the crystals on the ceiling as his eye sockets grew heavy. Maybe there was more to it than a person simply being good or bad. Morality was turning out to be way more complicated than he’d initially made it out to be.   

Chapter Text

Sans was confused where he was when he woke, until the huge crick in his neck reminded him that he’d fallen asleep on the ground. Animated chattering reverberated off the cavern walls from the garbage pile below the ledge he was sitting on, the acoustics bouncing off the ceiling making it sound almost as if the voice was right next to him. He sat up and tugged on the front of his shirt to unstick it from his ribs – his clothing was soaked from being outside in the dew all night.

“Ohhhh! Lemonbread! Look look look!” the voice from below sang out. Sans peered over the side of the ledge, recognizing the pink ghost from the snail farm picking through the trash with a small fish monster he’d seen a few times before, but hadn’t actually met. An aaron was flexing into his reflection in the waterfall further down the pathway, but didn’t seem to be with them.

Holding up a broken lamp with glass prisms dangling off its bent lampshade, which caught the light and projected small rainbows onto the sides of the cave’s wall, the pink ghost giggled gleefully as he waved it about in front of his companion. The fish monster said something in reply, but their voice was too quiet for Sans to make out from where he was perched. 

“Of course I already have a lamp, but how could I pass up an upgrade like this, darling? I’ll give the old one to Blooky. Now what about that thing, are you giving it to Shyren or…?” The fish monster reluctantly tossed him a sparkly piece of fabric she'd been holding, and was quickly swooped up into a hug as her companion squealed happily and danced her around.

Sans zoned out and picked at a blade of grass while the two monsters below him continued chattering, wondering if he should go back to Snowdin or try and hunt down Chara and Asriel instead.

A loud crash pulled him out of his thoughts.

“That can’t be true, can Boss Monsters even get sick?” the pink ghost asked the aaron, aghast.

Peering back over the edge, Sans saw the pink ghost still clutching the fish monster over the remnants of the shattered lamp lying beneath them as they gawked at the aaron, who had come around the garbage pile and was now hovering in front of them.

The aaron preened his mane a bit before answering. “Yup, heard it firsthand. Old turtle bro told me he was on the way there to see what he could do.”

“But how…”

“It was the human, obvs,” the aaron chuckled, tossing his mane and winking at the fish monster, who shrank back behind the ghost and whispered something in reply, too soft for Sans to make out from the ledge. The aaron shrugged. “Only know what I heard, babe. And what I heard was...the human poisoned the king.”

Sans felt his face go cold. The fish monster looked to be saying something to the ghost, who shook his head. “No, I’m with you beautiful, that can't be right.”

“You’re surprised?” the aaron asked, stroking his bicep. “It’s a human, you know.”

“Yes but, this one was always so nice,” the ghost sighed. “Surely it was an accident?”

“Can’t trust humans tho,” the aaron replied knowingly, giving the fish monster a once over, who glowered and turned away from him. "Those things are dangerous."

Sans pulled back out of sight quickly, throwing his damp jacket on over his wet clothes and searching for a tear to the Dreemurr’s home. When none appeared, he aimed at Snowdin instead, and popped out into the space behind Firenze’s. The streets were abuzz with pedestrians talking amongst each other in hushed, frantic voices — the tension in the air could've been cut with a knife. Heading in the direction of his home, Sans scanned the faces of the people around him quickly as he walked by to try and piece together what had happened.

“…heard he collapsed in the garden…”

“…always knew that human was a bad idea…”

“…but he hasn’t died yet, has he? So that means there’s still hope…”

“…shouldn’t have taken that thing in …”

"Oof!" He was concentrating so hard on the conversations around him that he smacked straight into Grillby, who had been headed in the opposite direction back towards the bar.

“whoa, sorry grillbz,” Sans apologized, catching the lanky monster by the arm to keep him from falling backwards. “uh…did I miss something?”

“Yeah, the king is….really sick. Poisoned or something,” Grillby answered in his quiet voice, straightening out his glasses.

Sans felt his insides sink. “what happened?”

Grillby ran a hand over his neck, looking uncomfortable. “Er…everyone seems to be saying that Chara had something to do with it,” he replied slowly, looking at the ground.

Sans paused for a moment, then snorted. “heh, that doesn’t make any sense. how would they be able to poison someone as big as asgore?” he laughed, searching Grillby’s face. It was pretty difficult to read monsters that didn’t have actual faces in addition to not using Hands, but he knew Grillby well enough to usually pick up on other cues. However, Grillby was a blank slate today. All he could discern was anxiety.

“….don’t know. I mean, they seemed nice enough the few times I met them, but…”

“but what?”

Grillby crackled a bit, avoiding looking at Sans. “…nothing. I mean, I don’t know. I’ve never heard of Asgore being…sick before, you know? It's very strange.”

The two stood silently, staring at their feet for a few moments, before Grillby looked back up at Sans. “…oh, Doc was looking for you earlier. Said Gerson called him so he was heading over to help him out with the king, but asked if we’d seen you. He was really freaked out.”

“about me?”

“…er, no. About Asgore.”

“heh, guess that makes more sense."

“….anyways, I gotta go over and help Pops out, the bar's crazy right now. Stop by later?”

“yeah, maybe,” Sans mumbled as Grillby hurried off towards the bar. He could see a small crowd of people huddled around outside of it, chatting to one another nervously. Ducking around a corner, he popped through a tear into his room, pulling his wet clothes off and quickly throwing on a dry set. Double-checking that Gaster wasn't home, he slid down the banister and headed to the kitchen, pushing a chair against the sink to reach the phone. The line was busy when he dialed the Dreemurr’s home, though he tried calling once more before realizing there was probably a swarm of people gathered there if no tears were opening up. 

It just didn’t make any sense. Chara loved Asgore. They were always picking up little trinkets and knick-knacks to bring home that they thought he might like, were the first to pick a fight if anyone said anything that could be construed as negative about the king or queen…and weren’t they harassing Mrs. D a couple weeks ago to teach them how to knit so they could make something for him? You wouldn’t start a project like that for someone if you were just going to poison them, would you?

He hopped off the counter, uncertain of his next move. He could try taking the ferry to New Home, but if Chara was in as much trouble as it sounded they might be, he wasn’t even sure he’d be able to get anywhere near enough to talk to them. And Asriel was bound to be wherever Chara was.

He supposed Firenze’s was as good a place as any to try and piece together what had happened until he could talk to them directly, and it sounded like Gaster was on his way to New Home as well. Knowing him, he was bound to show up at Firenze’s at some point that night. He pulled the door open, trying not to let the unease he was feeling creep into his facial expression as he headed back down the road towards the bar.

~

The doctor clutched his bag tightly to his chest and pushed through the crowd that had packed itself tightly around the outside of the Dreemurr’s home, picking up on the nervous chatter around him as he jostled through the throng to the front door. He knocked loudly and the crowd hushed, trying to peer around him as Gerson pulled the front door open. The doctor stepped inside quickly, leaning against the door once it’d shut behind him.

“Fucking zoo out there,” the doctor muttered, pulling his scarf off. “Where is he?”

Gerson motioned towards Asgore’s room with his cane as he headed off down the hall, the doctor following closely behind. “Good thing Ol’ Fluffybuns is as resilient as he is or he’da been dust for sure,” Gerson smirked.

“Gods, I wish you’d stop with that nickname.”

“Wah ha! I’m not the one who came up with it, am I? Seems to be doing a lot better than he was this morning, in any case.”

“So what happened?”

Gerson glanced towards Asriel and Chara’s room, lowering his voice as they passed. “Eh, I’ll let Asgore tell you. Not quite sure what the mix up was, but he seems to think it was an honest mistake.” He knocked on the door before pulling it open. “Wingdin’s here!” he called, as he walked in.

“Oh good,” Toriel said, standing up from the spot beside the bed where she was sitting and releasing the king’s hand. Asgore turned and squinted at them through red-rimmed, watery eyes, a weak smile on his face. His mouth was cracked and covered in blisters, his mane matted to head with sweat. 

“Wow, you look like shit,” the doctor muttered.

“Nice to see you too,” Asgore chuckled hoarsely. Toriel ran a hand over his head, looking worried.

“I did as much healing as I could…the medic said the rest of it just needs to work its way out of his system. But...at least you are awake now,” she smiled sadly, kissing Asgore on the forehead.

“Hmm,” the doctor said, pulling a few things out of his bag. “Well, I have some pretty potent painkillers in here if you need ‘em, but it’s not going to do much for your HP.”

“Puttin’ that doctorate to use finally?” Gerson said, picking up one of the bottles and inspecting it.

“More like…putting my scavenging-in-the-dump-for-drugs skills to use,” the doctor said flatly. His eyelights darted over to Toriel. “Wait, you said the medic’s been by already, yeah?”

Toriel nodded. “Yes, they left a couple hours ago. They will be returning later to check in on him.”

“Okay good, I didn’t want Asgore mistaking me for a medical doctor,” he quipped, smiling snidely at Asgore. “I know you’re terrible with names.”

Asgore laughed. “My goodness, was that a joke? I must really be ill.”

“Terrible,” Gerson said, rolling his eyes. “Anyways, I told Wingdin I’d let you two fill him in on what happened so we can start culling all the rumormongering.”

"I am not quite certain what happened myself," Toriel sighed, setting the medicine bottles the doctor had handed her on the bedside table. “Apparently the children thought they would try baking a pie without supervision and misunderstood the instructions in the recipe they were using. I was late returning home last night and found Asgore collapsed in the garden. I had to call a few of the guards to help me bring him inside…he was delusional most of the night.”

“What made him so sick?” the doctor asked.

“The children thought they could substitute buttercups in place of a cup of butter,” Toriel replied, shaking her head. “I have told them both on multiple occasions not to use the kitchen without supervision; I honestly do not know what got into them. I am just grateful that my husband was the only one who consumed any of it, I cannot imagine what would have happened if either of the children…” she trailed off sadly, looking distant. Asgore squeezed her arm gently.

“How do you mistake poisonous flowers for butter?” the doctor muttered, crossing his arms and gesturing with one hand. "Sounds suspicious to me."

“Wingdin, it was a mistake," Toriel replied, crossly. "Though I am admittedly very upset with the both of them.”

Gerson eyed the doctor. “So where’s your kid? He wasn’t over here when this happened?”

“Nope, dropped him off with Firenze on the way here, in fact,” he lied, waving a hand at Gerson. “That kid can barely microwave noodles, don’t think a pie would’ve happened if he’d been here.”

“Wah ha! Must get that from you,” Gerson laughed.

“Do tell Sans that I am sorry we will not be able to have him until Asgore is feeling better. The children are both grounded, I am afraid,” Toriel said, running her fingers through Asgore’s mane, who had closed his eyes and drifted back to sleep as they were talking. “I appreciate you both coming over so quickly. I was in a bit of a panic this morning.”

“Of course,” the doctor replied casually, wondering how much DT he had in reserve back in Snowdin. Hopefully the human would only be under house arrest for a few days, or Asgore wasn’t going to be the only monster feeling under the weather. “Oh uh, by the way, I fixed this thing finally,” he continued, pulling a large camcorder out of his bag. “It was in my bag already, so thought I might as well bring it back while I was out here. You gotta dig around for VHS tapes if you want to use it, but it’ll record over anything as long as the tape is intact.”

“Oh!” Toriel said, taking it from him. “I had forgotten you had that still. Last week seems so long ago now with all of this happening.”

The doctor nodded, throwing his bag over his shoulder. “Anyways, guess I’ll leave you to it. Let me know if you need any more meds, think that’s the strongest stuff I have in my arsenal at the moment.”

“I appreciate it,” she said, pulling him into a warm hug. "I am very glad you are back in our lives, Wingdin."

The doctor pulled out of her embrace, feeling awkward. "Heh, yeah. Feel better, Asgore," he added, though the king was sleeping soundly.

He followed Gerson back out into the hall, closing the door to Asgore's room behind him gently. The sound of the human child squealing with laughter through their own bedroom door rang out suddenly from further down the hall. “Seriously?” the doctor asked irritably. Gerson shot him a look from over his shoulder as they proceeded back towards the entryway.

“Wingdin, keep a lid on it,” he warned.

“You saw Asgore’s HP, that little thing in there almost killed him and now it’s just sitting in the room next door laughing? That doesn’t piss you off just a little bit?”

“Not my place to get angry, and...guess what? Not yours either! Why don’t you just trust Asgore and Toriel for once?” Gerson chided in a hushed voice, continuing towards the front door. The doctor was about to follow when another peal of laughter rang out.

“Okay, you know what,” the doctor said angrily in Hands, throwing the door open to the kids' room before Gerson had time to stop him. The two children looked up at him from the floor where they were sitting, their eyes as big as saucers. “I don’t know what’s so funny,” he snarled at Chara, trying to keep his voice low enough that Toriel wouldn’t incinerate him before he could finish. “But the king almost died last night. Don’t think for a second that any monster in the underground would hesitate to turn you into a bloody smear on the sidewalk if the king and queen weren’t here to protect you. So maybe keep that in mind next time you get any stupid ideas, human.”

Asriel stared up at the doctor silently with his mouth agape as Chara seemed to deflate slightly. Gerson pulled the doctor out of the doorway and stuck his head in. “I’m sorry you two, Dr. Gaster doesn't have his head screwed on today. I'll be right back.” Shutting the door quickly, he thwacked the doctor hard on the arm with his walking stick. “What the hell is the matter with you?!”

“What’s the matter with me?!” the doctor asked indignantly, lowering his voice. “Yes, I’m the one who’s gone crazy. Let’s all dance around the fact that a human almost murdered Asgore last night with a pie of all things. What happens when they start digging knives out of the drawer, huh? You and I both know they could take the whole underground out in less than a day if they wanted to.”

“Then don’t give them a reason to, you nutcase!” Gerson snapped, dragging the doctor down the hall to the entryway by the arm. Stopping at the front door, he spun the doctor round to look at him. “Now you listen here. I distrust humans just as much as the next person. But I’m loyal to Asgore and Toriel, and if the two of them tell me that those two children are their children, then as far as I’m concerned, that’s what they are! So quit throwin’ stones at other people and stirring up the pot. Think we’ve all mistakes we’re not proud of, lest you forget.”

The doctor blinked. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Stay outta trouble, smart ass,” Gerson said, pushing him out the door and back into the crowd, who swarmed around him trying to get information about the king.

~

By the time the doctor arrived back in Snowdin, it was early evening. The insane amount of people he’d had to deal with throughout the day trying to glean details about the incident, both in New Home and the Hotland lab when he’d stopped by, had completely burned him out. Rather than make a beeline to Firenze’s as he normally was inclined to do after a shit day, he headed home instead, collapsing on the couch in a heap. The house was unusually quiet – either Sans was upstairs asleep or he hadn’t returned home yet.

He shut his eyes and sighed, trying to process everything. He’d warned Asgore that keeping the human alive was a bad idea from the start. Now he just felt helpless to do anything about it other than stand by and watch. Thinking about it gave him the same sinking feeling he’d experienced centuries ago when they’d first heard that the humans had amassed an army and were on the move towards their stronghold beneath Mount Ebott, slaughtering monsters and kicking up a cloud of dust in their wake so thick that it’d nearly blocked out the sun. Asgore hadn't listened to him then, either.

He frowned, trying to shake himself out of the past. As much as he hated not being able to do anything, the human was allowing him to keep Sans going strong without having to sneak down to extract more DT from the souls they still had in reserve every couple of weeks like he'd had to do previously. Although, if Asgore hadn’t canned the Soul Project to begin with, we probably would’ve figured out how to reproduce DT by now anyways, he reminded himself irritably.

He felt a strange sensation come over him and opened one eye, jumping with a start. Sans was standing next to the couch staring at him.

“Fuck! Gods almighty, kid, can’t you just announce yourself like a normal person, holy shit –”

“thought you were asleep,” the small skelemonster shrugged, pulling his hands out of his pockets to switch languages. “Is it true? Chara poison the king?” The doctor turned the lamp on next to the couch so he could read his gestures more clearly.

“What do you think?” the doctor replied irritably. The combination of the doctor's hand movements and facial expression told Sans that he had about half the story right.

“Wait, Asriel was there too... Oh, it was an accident! Heh, I knew something didn’t sound right.”

“You’re way too good at that,” the doctor sighed, flopping back down onto the couch. “Asgore was in pretty bad shape when I got there, but…lucky for us, you can’t kill a Boss Monster that easily.”

“He gonna be okay?”

“Yeah, he’ll pull through.” The doctor was quiet for a few moments, his brow ridge furrowed. He looked up at Sans. “We need to buckle down on figuring out that barrier.”

Sans looked resigned. “I know. I'm trying.”

The doctor examined the ceiling above him for a few moments before speaking again. “Maybe…if we went to the real barrier and took a look at it? I mean, the thing we’ve been working with is only a model; the real one is made of some bullshit human magic that I don’t totally understand. Actually, I bet we could even go over there tonight, everyone’s so distracted with Asgore being sick and all – ”

“Wait, tonight? ” Sans asked, studying the doctor’s gestures carefully. The doctor sighed heavily, looking exasperated.

“I’ve seen this shit before, Sans. Doesn’t matter how friendly or harmless humans might seem, eventually they’re going to realize that they’re more powerful than you, or they get mad about something, or gods, they get bored even, and then all hell breaks loose. At least if we could get through the barrier, we wouldn’t have to be trapped down here when it happened.”

“Are we still talking about Chara? Because I’m pretty sure you just told me it was an accident –”

“Maybe this time it was, but – ”

AND that Asriel was part of it too, but no one seems to be talking about him at all.”

“You don’t know what humans are like, Sans.”

“Well I know what Chara is like,” Sans challenged. “They love their family more than anything in the whole undergound. They’re always trying to fit in, and talking about how to help everyone down here. But then the minute they make a mistake, the entire underground turns on them. This is such bullshit,” he snapped, as the books behind him flew off of the bookshelf and onto the ground with a loud THUNK. He looked behind him, startled.

“If you’re going to have a tantrum, do it outside. We’ve been over this,” the doctor muttered, looking annoyed. 

“You’re saying humans are so cruel…you’re the one that kept kids locked up in a lab tryina be all secret about it! But did I tell on you? No! I didn't! Because I thought maybe you just made a mistake and were tryina better person…and then I find out yesterday that you still have another me locked away somewhere like they’re a…a spare part!" he fumed, before pointing at the doctor angrily. "Maybe you should look in a mirror before you start telling me about what humans are like!”

"Whatever, kid. I've only been around a few hundred years, what do I know,” the doctor grumbled, feeling too exhausted to argue with the child raging in front of him.

Sans paused, looking like he was doing some quick thinking. “I want you to wake them up.”

“Wake who up?”

“The other skelemonster. You said they weren't awake. I want you to wake them up.”

The doctor smirked. “Okay, let's just think about what you're asking for a second. Pretend I go in and ‘wake 'em up,’ so to speak. You think he’s just going to come out and we can have a little chat with him, maybe take him out for a drink and then, I dunno, we can bring him back here and have a happy little family together? Watch some TV or something? Because that’s not what’s going to happen! He’s been in suspended animation, that means his body is going to be the size that a skelemonster should be for a twelve year old –”

“I'm eleven and a half,” Sans corrected.

“Okay, whatever. But his mind is going to be like a two year old's! And I never exposed him to DT, but judging from your attacks, he’s probably going to have some pretty powerful magic at this point…with no self-control!”

“We can teach him to control it then!”

“Sans, the kid’s going to be like…some sort of freak, we can’t wake him up. Not unless we had some sort of secure environment where no one would ever see him, or...I dunno, locked him up somewhere so we could monitor him.”

“We’re not locking him up!” Sans growled.

“You’re right! We’re not,” the doctor said, standing up. “Because we’re not waking him up! So…go run off and pout again or stay here or whatever, but a) I don't need to make a case to you about this, and b) I’m going to bed, I’m wiped out.” He felt a tug on his sleeve as he started to make his way towards the stairs and looked down to see Sans grabbing his coat sleeve, looking up at him imploringly.

“I…I’ll take care of him. You don’t have to do anything. Please?”

The doctor paused for a moment, remembering his own family, which he'd lost long ago. Could he wake 5 up? The image of two Sanses running around throwing tantrums and knocking the house over popped into his mind suddenly. But maybe having an incentive would force Sans to cooperate with him at least? He barely had any control over him anymore as it was, who knew what would happen when the monster kid became a monster angry-teenager.

Gods, could they even fit three monsters in this house?

"I don't understand why you want this so much," he said, pulling his arm away as Sans continued to look at him hopefully. “Let me think about it,” he said finally, heading up the staircase. Sans’ face lit up. “That’s not a promise,” he warned.

“Thank you,” Sans called after him. 

“I said no promises,” he repeated, shutting the door behind him.

Chapter Text

“Hey. HEY.”

Sans opened one eye wearily. A blurry image of the doctor sitting across from him waving a gloved hand in his face came into focus slowly. Had he fallen asleep again?

That’s right, they were at Firenze’s, weren’t they.

“uh…sorry,” Sans said, shaking his head in an effort to snap out of it. He noticed Grillby looking at him worriedly from further down the bar as he put dishes away under the counter, and turned away uncomfortably. Chugging a bottle of condiments usually forced Grillby to drop being nosy, but Sans was way too tired to do anything more than focus on propping his head up with his eyes open.

Monster kids weren’t normally allowed at the bartop, but Firenze had made an exception for Sans. Although he’d explained to him this was purely so Grillby would have someone to keep him company while he was helping him out, Sans knew better. Firenze always perked up when he was getting any sort of attention from Gaster.

However, the doctor’s full attention was split between Sans and his drink at the moment. Sans shifted slightly, trying to focus on the conversation going on between two bird monsters seated next to him. Something about rent prices and…ketchup…

“SANS.”

Sans jolted awake again, as the doctor smacked him in the shoulder with a menu. It’d been a few weeks since he’d been able to visit with Chara or Asriel. Though the king had fully recovered within a few days of falling ill, the two kids had been grounded and apparently, refusing visitors once they were reenfranchised.

Asgore’s recovery was inversely mirrored by Sans’ rapid decline. Although the doctor had managed to dig out some of the old DT he’d had in reserve in the Snowdin lab, getting access to the souls to get anything more wasn’t as easy as it’d once been. Sans’ convulsions and retching had subsided over the past week into general malaise and a constant feeling of being overwhelmingly tired. While the doctor had left him at home to try and sleep it off the first few days that it’d happened, he’d quickly switched to bringing the small skelemonster along with him everywhere he went after he’d returned home from the Hotland lab one afternoon and been informed by a panicked shopkeeper that Sans had been found asleep in the snow near the main pathway.

Firenze returned from dropping food off at one of the booths, leaning in to speak quietly to the doctor over the music blaring out from the recently repaired jukebox.

“Nah, he just needs to stay awake, he’s fine. We actually better get going, I need to make a phone call before it gets too late,” the doctor replied, downing the rest of his drink before tossing a gold piece onto the bartop. He nudged Sans, who slid off the barstool slowly and grabbed onto the doctor’s sleeve to steady himself. 

When they arrived home, Sans flopped onto the couch, staring off into space in the direction of the blank television. The doctor followed a few minutes later, the smell of cigarettes clinging to his clothes. He frowned at Sans, who was trying unsuccessfully to keep his eyes open.

“Alright...guess I should give Toriel a call and see if the kids are still being recluses,” the doctor sighed, speaking in Hands. Sans didn’t move his head, but threw a sidelong glance towards the doctor to read his gestures. There was anxiety written all over his movements, though he appeared to be trying to hide it.

“’s'okay. shouldn’t be leechin’ off people anyways,” Sans muttered, replying in common to avoid having to make any additional movements.

“Yeah, well, I’d like to get rid of the moldsmal on my couch and get my son back, thanks,” the doctor replied irritably. Sans raised a brow ridge at this – the doctor didn’t normally refer to him as his son unless he was talking to someone else. Midway through pulling the phone off it's hook, the doctor froze, realizing what he’d said. 

“nothing wrong with moldsmals,” Sans said quietly, trying to quench the awkwardness. He rested his head back on couch’s arm and made patterns in his mind out of the stucco on the ceiling as he listened to the doctor talking on the phone to Toriel in the kitchen. The doctor plonked down on the couch next to him a few minutes later, picking up a water damaged science journal he’d brought home from the dump earlier that day off the coffee table and whacking Sans on the arm with it. 

“Alright, Toriel says the kids’ll give you a call tomorrow morning and let you know where to meet them," he said cheerfully. "So just keep a listen for the phone if I don’t hear it. Okay?” Sans shrugged in reply. Opening up the journal, the doctor cast a sidelong glance at Sans as he pretended to read. When he noticed tears starting to roll down the small skelemonster’s face, he closed his journal up and turned to him. “Okay, seriously, what’s up.” 

Sans flopped an arm over his face. “i’m just tired,” he replied, remaining quiet until loud sniffle gave him away. He gave up and let his arm hang limply alongside the couch. “i’m a bad friend.”

“Mmhmm. And what makes you say that?” the doctor asked.

“i just…i didn’t know i was just using chara this whole time. and i can’t figure out the stupid barrier. and i wasn't even there to stop them and maybe i could've. and i hate feeling like this.”

The doctor sighed, trying to restrain himself from doing what he actually wanted to do, which was to grab the pack of cigarettes back off the counter and hide outside on the porch. “You're being too hard on yourself, kid,” he replied instead.

“am i a bad person?”

“For what?!” the doctor shouted, exasperated. “You think things are black and white like that? That people are bad or they’re not?” Sans shrugged, hot tears continuing to roll down his face as he stared quietly up at the ceiling. The doctor shifted, kicking his feet up onto the coffee table and staring up at the stucco alongside Sans irritably. He huffed, annoyed. The drinks from the bar were making it harder to kick his guilt to the curb like he normally would at a time like this.

“I’m…okay, look,” he began reluctantly after a few more moments of quiet. “I wasn’t really uh…well, I wasn’t really expecting you to be you when I started this whole thing, I guess. I got so caught up in trying to get something to work that I just, uh…well, I probably made some questionable decisions. I guess I wasn’t even paying attention to any sort of ethical boundaries anymore, if I’m being honest. And by the time I realized how fucked up the whole thing was, you’d been in the lab for so long that I felt like I was a bit past any sort of redemption arc, you know?”  

He paused, searching the ceiling before continuing. The alcohol was making it easier to talk freely once he’d started. “So yeah, I made some bad choices. But you think some bad choices means you’re incapable of making better ones? I mean, science is all about learning from your mistakes so you can improve on them, right?”

He glanced over at Sans, unable to see his face from how they were angled on the couch. The kid had every right to be pissed off, he thought to himself gloomily.

“Heh, it’s funny,” the doctor began again, quietly. “I was so pissed off at Asgore for barging into the lab that day, but…guess he sort of saved me before I could dig myself into an even bigger hole.” He traced the outline of the gape in his hand through his glove absently before continuing.

“I guess...I probably need to come clean with Asgore about you at some point,” he sighed, feeling a little sick thinking about it. “And the other one, too. I honestly don’t know how I managed to dance around this thing for so long without him questioning me. But uh…I guess I’ll just gauge how pissed off he is at me before I ask him about unsealing that part of the lab again. And I’m probably going to have to repair a bunch of equipment to revive the other one, since it’s been so long. It’s not going to be an overnight thing.”

It seemed odd to him for Sans to remain quiet despite the mention of 5. Leaning back over to check on him, he realized that Sans had fallen back asleep, the tear lines still wet on his face. The doctor sighed, picking Sans off the couch and carrying him upstairs.

It was probably better that he didn’t hear him anyways, he thought, as he dumped Sans into his bed and turned the light off.  He didn’t want the kid to think he was going soft.

~

Sans had already fallen asleep at the kitchen table in his breakfast when the phone rang the next morning. He slunk off his chair and pushed the chair over to the counter, climbing on it to pick the phone off the receiver.

“’lo?” he said sleepily, wiping crumbs off his face.

“Sans?” he heard Asriel ask on the other line.

“hey azz,” Sans replied, happy to hear his voice again.

“Hey! Uh, so me and Chara are going to…” he lowered his voice to a dramatic whisper, “the super duper secret spot. Know which one I mean?”

“wait, the super duper, or the super super duper?”

“Super duper. We’re leaving now. See you there?”

“kay. see ya.”

“Bye!” Asriel replied cheerfully. Sans hung the phone back up and pushed the chair back to the table. He saw the doctor throwing his coat on in the other room.

“uh, imma shortcut over and meet up with my friends” Sans said to the doctor, leaning on the side of the doorframe. The doctor gave him a once over, looking concerned.

“You sure you should be shortcutting? I’m heading over to the other lab if you want me to walk you there halfway," the doctor offered, in Hands.

“nah, it’s fine. the shortcuts are easier than walking anyways,” Sans replied, still using common.

“Okay…well, I’ll see you later then,” he gestured, heading out the door. Sans waited a little while before opening a tear to the meeting spot – though Asriel and Chara both were aware of his knack for showing up unexpectedly and absurdly quickly, Gaster was the only one that understood how he was able to do it. And he hoped to keep it that way – it was almost as useful as bad jokes in getting a reaction out of people.

He emerged into a large, open space in Waterfall where a panorama of New Home could be seen off in the distance. The super duper secret spot (not to be confused with the super super duper secret spot or the triple secret super spot) was a small alcove the three had found together the year before amidst the rock pile on the outside of an entryway to the main cavern. The opening was covered with hanging vines, blocking the view to the inside from sight unless you were directly in front of it. He could hear the two inside chattering as he approached the entrance.

“What, you’re not going to do it again?! Quit tricking me!” Sans moved the vines to the side, peeking in to see Asriel fiddling with the lens cap on a large camcorder he was holding.

“Hey! You can’t come in without the password!” Chara shouted from the other side of the cavern, pointing at him and standing up.

“oh, heh. i’m the supreme butt nugget,” he replied, his grin widening. He wasn’t even standing near Chara, but was already feeling better, he realized guiltily.

“Duhhhh, we know that. But what’s the password?” Chara sang back. Asriel laughed so hard that he started coughing. Chara smirked as Sans walked in and leaned against the side of the cave wall next to them. The sudden rush of energy he was experiencing gave him a weird urge to run around and do a cartwheel, but he restrained himself. Light flooded the cavern despite the vines covering the opening behind him.

“Whoa, your eye is doing that weird thing again,” Asriel said, still fighting the cap on the camera.

“heh, uh, it’s because eye” he said, winking so that only his bright blue eye was showing and pointing to it, “missed you guys.”

“Wow, no,” said Asriel flatly. "Oh! Hold on, I'll film it!"

“where’d you get that?” Sans continued, trying to calm down so that his eye would stop glowing. He nodded towards the camcorder casually. Asriel picked it back up and held it up in front of him proudly.

“Like it? Dad said we could borrow it,” he replied excitedly.

Chara rolled their eyes. “It’d be better if someone could remember to take the freakin’ cap off when they used it.”

Asriel stuck his tongue out at them. “It’s not like you’d be able to see anything anyways dumb-dumb, it’s too dark in here! Except maybe with your goofy eye...oh shoot," he stammered, looking around suddenly with a panicked expression on his face. “Uh, Chara…did you grab the backpack off the ferry or…”

“Oh my GOD Asriel!  Did you seriously lose my backpack?!”

“Don’t worry! I bet it’s on the ferry still! Be right back!” Asriel fretted, setting the video camera on the ground and dashing off.

“Ugggggggggggh, he better find it,” Chara remarked angrily. “Did you take the ferry here? See a backpack on it?”

“er, no,” Sans replied quickly. Chara huffed, tying the vines in the entrance back and sitting on a rock to look out at New Home from the doorway. Sans took a seat on the ground next to them, his eye fading as he relaxed. The world seemed so much brighter to Sans all of a sudden; he’d forgotten what it was like to feel normal. “so uh…what happened?” he asked after a few moments of quiet.

“What, you didn’t hear about it from like, everyone?” Chara muttered, picking up a pebble up and throwing it as hard as they could out in front of them. “Everyone hates me,” they muttered, their shoulders drooping.

“i don’t hate you,” Sans said, looking up at them.

“Yes you do,” Chara said, leaning back on their hands. “Why’d you stay away so long? Cause you’re afraid of me?”

“your mom said you guys didn’t want to see anyone!” he countered, gesturing the words in Hands as he spoke without realizing it. Chara shrugged, looking out at New Home sullenly. “we don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to – ”

“I just…I didn’t realize how many people hated me,” Chara said quietly. “It’s like, I messed up once and all of a sudden it’s ‘oh, the human this’ and ‘the human that.’ Like I’m not even a person anymore.”

“yeah,” Sans acknowledged, feeling bad for bringing it up.

“Why are you even friends with me?” Chara asked sullenly, pulling their knees up to their chin and wrapping their arms around their legs.

Sans felt his insides go cold. Did they know about the DT? “uh…what?”

“Everyone else hates me so much, why are you still here?” Sans felt the coldness turn into a burning sensation in his chest as he tried to figure out how to confess to Chara that he’d been using them for energy without completely destroying their relationship in the process. Chara interrupted him before he had a chance to reply. “I thought your dad wasn’t going to let you be my friend anymore after he bit my head off."

“…what?! when?”

“It doesn’t matter. I guess I deserve it.”

“whatever, like he’s one to talk,” Sans muttered, his words spilling out angrily before he could stop himself. “besides, he’s the one who told me that skelemonsters can’t even exist without humans. and humans used to be able to do magic too, it’s not like we’re even that different from each other! he’s full of crap.”

Chara sighed wearily. “You and Azz are both so naive. I mean, he’s right. Humans are the worst. I’m the worst.” They stared out at the castle in the distance, still clutching their knees to their chest. “But, do you…I mean, do you think even the worst person can change? That everyone can be a good person, if they just try? I just, I don’t even know how to prove to everyone...”

“you don’t have to prove anything, who cares what people think,” Sans replied bitterly, feeling ill again despite the determination surging through him. “you’re not a bad person, chara.”

In fact, if anyone should be feeling like the worst right now, it was him. He couldn’t break through the barrier, he’d been letting another skelemonster just rot in a lab somewhere while he was out running around like an idiot…hell, he couldn’t even function normally without leeching off his friend, who on top of everything was convinced that he hated them right now.

Chara looked down from their perch at Sans, considering him. “You know, Sans, you and Asriel are the only ones here who just act like I’m a normal person down here. I mean, mom and dad are good too but…sometimes, I forget I’m different from everyone when I’m around you guys,” they said, relaxing a little. 

“well, you’re my friend,” he replied. "even if you're a butt nugget."

"Better than a legendary fart master like you," Chara laughed. “I just…I dunno. I wish it could be like it is with us three with everyone." They were quiet for a moment, staring off at the city silhouette laid out before them. "Sometimes I think...I dunno." 

"what?"

"Well, just...maybe I should let Asriel absorb my soul so we could cross the barrier.”

“what?!”

“I mean, why not? I’m going to have to give up my soul eventually if we want to get out of here. Isn’t that how the barrier works?”

“i mean, yeah, but…there’s got to be another way to break out of here,” he replied. “i just…we just need to figure it out.”

“Mom says monsters have been trapped under here hundreds of years, Sans. If there was another way to get out of here, don’t you think they would’ve figured it out by now?"

“well, just give it some time,” he replied, frustrated.

Chara laughed. “Dad says I’m the future of humans and monsters. Like, all the time. It's destiny, Sans.” They flopped back onto the rock they were sitting on. “Besides, if I could get us through the barrier then…it's not like I'd be dead dead, I’d get to be with whoever I gave my soul to forever, right? We'd be like, heroes. And mom and dad would be happy. You'd get to see the real stars!”

“man, chara it’s not that easy.”

“Oh yeah? How do you know?”

Sans felt a weird sensation as he debated how much to tell them about his work with Gaster on figuring out the barrier. “uh…well,” he started, hesitantly. “wait, you can’t tell anyone.”

“Pinky promise,” they said, putting their hand out with an extended pinky. Sans made the same motion and they locked their pinkies together.

“so, uh, me and gaster have been trying to figure out how to get through the barrier too. without a soul.”

“Seriously?”

“yeah and, uh…i’ve asked him before, when things weren’t working, why we couldn’t just take a human soul and run through, ya know?” he continued, trying not to let it slip that Asgore already had a few souls hidden away somewhere. “um, anyways, he told me it's not that easy. like, if the human or the monster isn’t in the right mindset, it can have a really terrible effect on the…” he struggled to think of the translation from Hands that expressed the point he was trying to make.

“Bond?” Chara asked, watching his hand gestures as he tried to find the word.

“yeah…like, but that specific one-on-one bond. i don't know how you say it in common. anyways, he uh, said he’s seen some pretty gnarly things happen when monsters and humans messed up trying to combine powers like that before. you need a monster that is like, really strong to be able to handle it.”

“What, you don’t think I can do it?”

“just…there’s got to be another way,” he said. Chara seemed to want to reply, but was interrupted by Asriel hustling back with a backpack held high in the air.

“Found it!” he called out triumphantly. “The river person was even holding it out like they knew I was coming back for it!”

“chara, just…give me a chance, okay? don’t do anything stupid,” Sans said quietly, as he stood up. Chara made a face as they climbed off the rock, but didn’t reply.

Chapter Text

“Oh my!” Toriel gasped, stifling a laugh. She knelt down and attempted to roll up the sleeves on Asriel’s pajamas, which hung over the small skelemonster’s hands comically despite his best attempts to push them up. “My apologies, I thought for sure these ones would fit. I suppose I could look for some of his older ones, though I believe we may have donated most of them…”

“nah, it’s okay. um, thanks mrs. d,” Sans said, holding his arm out as she rolled the other sleeve up. He paused, trying to discern why her expression was telling him that she had a secret to share.

“I shall not be defeated,” she replied, the trace of a smile showing clearly on her face. “But, you have been!” she laughed, pointing to the spot where his feet should have been, which were buried under his much-too-long-for-him pajama bottoms. “We can fix that though,” she continued, rolling up the end of one of his pant legs. His eyes widened suddenly.

“oh! de-feeted. heh, that took me a minute,” he said, his grin widening. She chuckled, rolling up the other pant leg and pinning it in place.

“I am sorry I do not have better fitting clothing for you. Had I known you were going to be staying earlier, I would have gone out to get some others, but –”

“no, it’s okay, these are…uh…” he said, trying to think of a good joke to volley back. He’d cinched the top of the pants tightly to make sure they’d stayed put, but held onto them just in case, as he checked out the now-folded bottoms. They’re a cinch?  No, that was dumb. “they’re good,” he replied lamely.  

“Well, next time we shall plan ahead,” she said, squeezing his clavicle gently and standing. “Shall I find you a toothbrush? I am certain we have a spare somewhere…”

At some point in the middle of dinner that night, apropos of nothing, Chara had suddenly demanded that Sans spend the night. It took some convincing, but Toriel had finally acquiesced on the condition that Sans call and ask permission from Dr. Gaster first. Gaster had been confused at what the point was, and why Sans was suddenly calling him to ask for permission about anything. But by the end of the call, he’d seemed eager to get Sans out of his home for the night.  

“Incoming!” Asriel shouted, running down the hall towards them as he mimicked a tsunderplane swooping through the air with the spare toothbrush. Chara leaned against the wall watching them with an expression of disinterest on their face.

“Thank you,” Toriel said, plucking the toothbrush out of his hand and handing it to Sans. “Now, you three wash up. Sans, I put some blankets and pillows in the room for you to sleep on, but do let me know if you need more than that. Shall I read you all a bed time story before you go to sleep?”

Sans wasn’t sure what she meant by that, but saw Asriel looking embarrassed. “Uh…no, it’s okay mom.”

“That’s baby stuff, mom!” Chara said, frowning.

Toriel laughed, though Sans thought he could read sadness in her eyes. Or…nostalgia? “Well, alright then,” she replied, kissing Asriel, and then Chara, on the forehead. She laid a hand on Sans’ head gently. “Do not stay up too late. I will see you all for breakfast in the morning.”

~

A loud buzzer went off and the words “ACCESS DENIED” emblazoned themselves across the panel in bright white letters. The doctor groaned and punched in a second series of numbers, throwing another bullet pattern into the console after having forgotten what the original password was that he’d programmed in so many years ago. He held his breath as the console flickered, processing the new information. This time, the door next to the console swung open, the pitch black hallway yawning out before him. He wasn’t sure if the light for the corridor even worked anymore, but flipped open the panel near the entry point and threw the switch a few times to check. When nothing happened, he summoned a small semi-circle of bullets in his hand to light the pathway before walking forward.

Surprisingly, the Restricted Area signs that’d been posted every few feet around the old corridor entrances had managed to deter staff from wandering around where they didn't belong, which certainly would have been his first impulse had he been a young monster working in a lab like this. Then again, most monsters seemed to have an inherent respect for authority that he’d never quite understood, but which tended to work in his favor now that he was in charge of things.

He traced his hand along the wall, feeling for the unevenness in the tile where the doorway had once stood. Once he found it, he glanced back down the hall quickly towards the door he’d just walked through out of habit, knowing full well that the last staff member had gone home hours ago. Concentrating on the space in front of him, he stepped back and blasted the bullet magic into the grout. A few tiles clattered noisily onto the floor.

He reached ahead of him in the dark, feeling around inside for the door handle in the space between the now blasted-away retainer wall and the entrance to the hidden lab behind it. There was still a ways to go before he’d be able to step through it. He took a breath, lined up another bullet pattern, and fired, annoyed that his damaged magic still took him a frustratingly long time without any additional tools.

Additional tools. Of course.

The doctor stepped back from the wall, focusing inward to try and root out a connection. He could feel the weight of his magic as it swept over the objects on the other side of the wall, dragging along the floor until it bumped into a massive object that he recognized as bone. He gripped onto the core of the object and a sudden rush of energy came through him as he felt his magic amplify. He stepped back a good ten feet from where his magic was building up on the other side of the wall. Sealing up a bullet-blasted wall would, of course, be much easier than sealing up the gaping hole he was about to blast through the door. But if Toriel and Asgore came down here, he’d be screwed regardless, wouldn’t he?

THOOM!

The tile blasted outwards, scattering dust and debris down the hall along with chunks of the interior wall that had once held the door in place. Light from the inside room spilled out into the hallway, allowing the doctor to maneuver around shrapnel littering the pathway as he made his way towards the opening. He poked his head through the hole and looked in. The smiling face of a giant, bestial skull hovered quietly on the other side, white magic shining through its sharp jaws lighting up the fluorescent-lit room even more brightly. The doctor stepped over the remains of the doorway and patted the muzzle of the beast as he surveyed the room, setting the skull back down where he’d summoned it from before continuing inside.

Sans had definitely been through the desk — it looked as if he’d unsuccessfully tried to pry open some of the locked drawers and given up halfway. After straightening a few of the folders on the desk, he headed towards one of the large skulls in the far corner, using blue magic to pull its jaws wide enough that he could step through to the door hidden behind it. He’d originally planned on asking Asgore for permission to proceed with what he was about to do, but had quickly remembered how much easier it’d been, in his experience, to ask for forgiveness later. Or not ask for forgiveness at all, if he could play his cards right. He placed his hand onto the scanner next to the door, which buzzed thoughtfully for a moment before a beep and the loud click let him know that the door was unlocked.

The room was just as he’d left it when he’d rushed in to grab things before the lab had been sealed off; the door to the hyperbaric chamber where 6 had been kept before he was conscious was even still ajar, and the small surveillance room where he’d monitored a few failed experiments before his move to Snowdin remained prepped and unused. He pulled a black tarp off to look at the large metal stasis pod beneath it, wiping the condensation from the glass to peer inside. The glow from the dormant skelemonster’s soul bathed the interior in a soft light. Good, he thought to himself. He looked to be at least a head taller than Sans was now, though it was hard to tell exact measurements at this point from just looking through the window.

Gods, this was not going to be as easy to hide as 6 had been.

“Alright, 5,” he said quietly, pulling out some instruments from his bag and laying them out on a small metal table next to the pod. “Don't make me regret this.”

~

“Psst!  PSST!”

Sans opened an eye slowly. He’d been having a strange dream, where he’d been following someone who looked vaguely like Chara through the snow, though in his dream, he was aware that he’d done this many times before. He wasn’t sure what to make of it. He recognized Chara sitting over him as his eyes adjusted.

“…what?”

“Shh, don’t wake up Asriel,” he heard Chara whisper next to him. “Wanna go see the barrier?”

“right now?”

“Yeah right now, dummy.”

“um, are we allowed to?”

Oh my gosh, you and Asriel are both such fraidy monsters.”

“I’m not a fraidy monster,” Asriel shouted angrily, sitting up in his bed.

Chara groaned, turning to their brother. “Go back to sleep, Azz.”

“We’re not allowed to go to the barrier by ourselves,” he replied irritably.

“Duh, that’s why you should stay here!” Chara replied, throwing their hands up in exasperation. "You weren't invited."

“If you leave me here, I’ll tell on you,” he said, crossing his arms.

“Ugh, fine! Whatever, come with us, I don’t care! But don’t wake mom and dad up or you’re dead meat,” they said, pulling their shoes on and turning back to Sans. “You coming or what?”

Sans glanced at Asriel, hoping he’d talk sense into Chara like he normally did, but instead saw him pulling on shoes and tucking a stuffed animal under his sheets to mimic being in bed still. Reluctantly, he nodded and Chara tossed him his sneakers.

It was a long walk to the barrier. Sans tried his best not to trip on the long pant legs of his borrowed pajamas that had come slightly unfurled as he followed Chara and Asriel down a long hallway underneath their home that lead to a stone entryway to the palace. The silence of the night time was periodically interrupted by the two siblings bickering with one another. Sans wondered with a sinking feeling how long he’d have to go before being able to see the two of them again if they were caught, but pushed the thought out of his head to avoid the nauseous feeling that came over him as he recalled the last several weeks of being ill.  

“It’s just up here,” Chara said, hurrying past the two empty thrones on the far end on the hall. Sans could see Toriel and Asgore in his minds eye sitting in the giant, ornate chairs, angrily judging him for not stopping their children from being where they definitely shouldn’t be right now.

“Okay, but we’re just looking real fast and then heading back, right? Mom’s going to kill us,” Asriel reminded them for perhaps the third time that night, looking nervously at the two empty thrones. 

“You’re the one who wanted to come along,” Chara muttered. “’sides, I wanted to show Sans and he wouldn’t be allowed.”

“More reason for mom to kill us,” Asriel gulped, though he continued to trail closely behind, summoning a flame in his hand to light the pathway. Sans could make out Chara’s silhouette up ahead against what looked like a shimmering doorway at the end of a long hallway.

His breath caught in his chest as he got closer to it. The barrier did look extremely similar to the mock version that Gaster had created in the lab, but he wasn’t prepared for the night sky that lit up the barrier from behind. A bright orb cast light onto a large dirt area ahead of them, and Sans recognized it from some of the books in his room immediately.

“…is…is that the moon?”

Chara nodded, crossing their arms over their chest and looking over at him. They snorted. “Are you crying?”

“what? no, heh, just got some dust in my eye socket,” Sans replied, wiping his face with his sleeve. He hadn’t expected it to be so…amazing. 

“So how do we break this thing, Sans?” Chara asked, interrupting his stunned silence as they turned and looked back at the barrier.

“What?!” asked Asriel, snapping to attention. “Right now?!”

Chara shrugged. “You wanted to see the stars, didn’t you? Wouldn’t it be nicer to look at them without the barrier in the way?”

“Yeah, but…” Asriel stammered, looking at Sans as he tried to piece together what Chara was up to. “Wait, what’s going on?”

“Sans thinks he can get us out,” Chara replied, still examining the barrier.

Sans felt his face flush as Asriel looked at him. “uh…”

“What? How?”

“i don’t know how,” Sans replied pointedly, looking at Chara, who, in turn, was continuing to avoid his gaze. He tried to recall the terms of their pinky swear agreement, but was so angry that it was hard to think straight.

“Look Azz, it doesn’t matter,” Chara interrupted, before looking back at Sans. “Do you know how to get through this thing or not, Sans?”

Sans felt the urge to blast Chara with a bone-shaped bullet, but resisted. He turned to examine the barrier in front of them instead. It certainly looked like what they’d been goofing around with in the lab. He reached out to plunge his hands into it, but was pulled backwards by Asriel.

“What the heck are you doing?!” Asriel shouted. “You can’t touch it, it’ll hurt you!”

Chara folded their arms and leaned against the wall. “How do you know? You haven't touched it before.”

“Mom said,” he replied, exasperated.

“Maybe it only hurts cry-babies,” Chara replied, raising an eyebrow. “I thought you wanted to save everyone.” Asriel balled his fist up.

“Fine, look!” he said angrily, putting his hand out and touching the barrier. Immediately upon contact, a bright white light flashed and knocked Asriel backwards. The smell of burnt fur hung in the air as Asriel cried out and clutched his paw to his chest. Chara ran over to him and pulled his hand towards them.

“You idiot, I didn’t say put your hand in it!” they snapped, examining the damage. Sans took the opportunity of the distraction to look more carefully at the barrier. That was odd. Normally, with the barrier they’d created in the lab, he was able to dig his hands in up to his forearms before he was pushed back out, yet Asriel has been blasted backwards immediately. Maybe the lab replica didn’t actually mimic this one?

“Can we go home now?” Asriel whimpered, shaking his paw out. He noticed Sans over Chara's shoulder rolling his sleeves up. “Sans, don’t!”

But Sans had already sunk his hands into the force field. Unlike Asriel, he wasn’t blown back immediately. In fact, it felt very similar to the pressure he’d played with for so many years in the lab. He slowed time down as he pushed his hands through further, examining how the force field flexed and molded around his ulna, though he still couldn’t puncture it to get through to the other side. The time distortion did allow him to pick up on the creeping sensation of pain about to shoot through the parts of him that were entangled with the barrier, so he released his hold on the world quickly and yanked his arms back. Sparks flew out, though not nearly as bright as they’d been when Asriel has touched it.

“hm,” he said, shaking the pain out of his hands.

“Wait, how come it didn’t throw you back?” Asriel asked, pushing himself to his feet.

“dunno. maybe cause you’re a boss monster?” Sans shrugged, though he suspected it probably had more to do with his being made out of human components. Or perhaps the DT…

“I want to try,” Chara said suddenly.

“No, let’s go back. I don’t like this,” Asriel whimpered, pulling on the back of Chara’s pajamas. They swatted his arm off.

“Azz, you keep telling me you want to be a hero. Heroes gotta take risks, don’t they? Stop being such a sissy,” they shouted angrily. “I just want to see what it feels like.”

“Chara – ” Asriel stammered, looking at Sans to intervene, but the determination surged through Chara so strongly as they marched towards the barrier that Sans felt intoxicated, slumping slightly as a warm feeling ran through his core. “Sans, what’s wrong with you? Oh!” Asriel gasped.

Instead of flying backwards like their brother had done, or sinking into the field like a soft cushion like Sans, Chara stopped suddenly with their arms outstretched into the field. The barrier didn’t react.

“Chara?” Asriel stammered. Chara turned and looked back at the both of them confused, then stepped through to the other side easily, the terror on their face standing in stark contrast to the calm moonlit night behind them.

“Oh my goodness! Chara!” Asriel cried out, his voice cracking. He attempted to run through to follow, but was thrown backwards, a shower of sparks raining out across the floor as the barrier flashed brightly again. Ignoring it, he stood to try again, only to be pinned by Sans grabbing onto his soul with blue magic.

“Let go of me!” Asriel shouted, tears welling up in his eyes as he struggled to drag himself forward.

“you gotta calm down, azz,” Sans said flatly, though his mind was racing. Did Gaster know humans could waltz through the barrier without a monster soul?

“I AM CALM!” Asriel shouted, though he was sobbing. Chara stood facing them on the other side, their hands up over their mouth as they stared at the ground in front of them, frozen in place.

“chara?” Sans called out from the other side after they remained rooted in place. “can you hear us?”

Chara remained silent but nodded, their hands still over their mouth. After what seemed like an eternity, they walked back slowly through the barrier. Sans released his hold on Asriel’s soul and stood quietly as Chara sank to their knees next to their brother. Asriel let out a huge sigh of relief and buried his head in their chest, sobbing.

“Let’s go home,” Chara said quietly, dragging Asriel’s arm with them as they stood slowly.

“But…but Chara, you…” Asriel sniffled, wiping his eyes with his sleeve.

“I’m not leaving without you, Azz,” Chara said to the ground, looking angry. “Don’t tell mom and dad about this.”

“But – ” Asriel started.

“I said let’s go home,” they snapped, heading back towards the throne room without looking back. Asriel glanced guiltily at Sans, who looked as stunned as he was, before chasing after them.

Chapter Text

When the final electrode had been removed and set aside, the doctor stepped back to admire his handiwork, blinking back the fatigue that’d been creeping into his eye sockets over the last several hours. While Sans had remained about the same size that he’d been since he'd first emerged from the lab, the figure before him was long and lean – much more in alignment with the normal growth trajectory of a skelemonster. 5 certainly looked as if it’d developed normally from an initial diagnostic, though he’d have to see what happened when the thing actually woke up.

The thing, he thought to himself, chuckling mirthlessly. The child. Whatever.

He exhaled loudly and grabbed a chair from the desk behind him, scraping its metal legs across the floor before plopping down in it next to the still-comatose skelemonster. He double checked that the oxygen was off before pulling a carton of cigarettes out from his coat pocket and shaking it to determine how many were left inside. Cigarettes had once been a luxury that were fortunately getting easier to come by as the years progressed, though he’d promised himself he’d kick the habit eventually. One wouldn’t hurt though.

A sudden movement caught his attention, but when he looked up at 5, the skelemonster was still sleeping soundly. A second twitch in its phalanges confirmed that its reignited soul power had begun the process of integrating into its extremities. It would take a good few days for the body in front of him to become alert and aware of its surroundings. Which, overall, meant he probably had a week or so to figure out how the hell he was going to explain this to Asgore.

Eh, whatever. It’ll work out one way or another, he reminded himself silently, taking a drag off his cigarette as he leaned back on the chair, lifting the two front legs off the ground. At least he’d finally get a more accurate point of comparison for whatever the hell he’d created by pumping Sans full of DT for the last decade.

He stretched and cracked his back, suddenly realizing how exhausted he was. Standing wearily, he lifted the skelemonster into his arms with the help of blue magic and switched on the light in the small observation room adjacent to where he’d been working. Despite being tall, 5 was still much smaller in stature than him, and surprisingly light. Taking care to raise the railing up on either side for when the magic integration inevitably caused convulsing, the doctor placed 5 onto an austere bed and switched on the video camera in the room’s corner to be able to monitor progress from the Snowdin lab.

Once he'd done a final sweep of the room and gathered his belongings, the doctor took care to lock all doors in the observation room, as well as the door leading into the work station itself, before stepping through the remnants of the giant hole he’d blasted through the wall hours earlier. He made his way back to the main laboratory, and was about to exit when a loud clatter rang out from down the hallway behind him, immediately snapping him out of his exhaustion.  

“Hello?” he called out in common, glancing down the empty hallway, where the shadow of someone frantically grabbing things off the ground ducked around the corner. Stubbing his cigarette out on the ground and tossing it aside, he mentally readied himself to blue magic the soul of whoever had broken into the lab during off-hours. He rounded the corner to see where the shadow had gone, only to collide straight into Alphys, who dropped the box she’d been in the midst of picking up. The contents inside spilled out all over the floor.

“Oh my god!  D-d-dr. Gaster?!  I-I-I-” she stammered, looking terrified.

The doctor dispelled his magic angrily, recognizing the intern from one of the teams that’d been assigned to working on reinforcing the outer Core wall. Al-something. Alice? The hell was she doing here at this hour.

“What are you doing here?” he asked, eyeing one of the schematics that’d rolled open on the floor. It certainly didn’t look like Core maintenance.

“S-s-s-s-s-orry, I-I-I-” she started again, shrinking into her labcoat as she sweated profusely. He caught sight of her key card with her credentials on it. Alphys. Close enough.

“Yes?” he said flatly, waiting for her to get on with it. Normally, making interns squirm was one of the only perks of having to come into the Hotland lab to work on anything anymore, but he was way too tired to be dealing with it at this hour of the night. Or morning? He had no idea what time it was. Instead of waiting for her to finish, he stooped down and picked up one of the schematics that had tumbled out of the box, unfurling it to take a look at whatever excuse it was that she couldn’t seem to get out of her mouth. “What is this?”

“S-s-s-s-sorry, I-”

“I didn’t ask you for an apology, did I? I want an answer. What is this that I’m looking at?” he asked, gesturing with one hand.

She turned a deep shade of red before squeaking out, “arebit.”

“I only speak two languages and mumbling isn’t one of them, so you’re going to have to speak up.”

“It’s a r-r-robot?” she responded meekly.

“A robot,” he repeated. She nodded, wringing her hands together. “Curious. More curious to me is why, Miss Alphys, you are in the Hotland lab, using equipment that is not yours, during off hours, for something that clearly is not within the scope of your internship here, without a supervisor.”

While she hung her head and continued to mumble indiscernibly, he took a closer look at the schematics she’d been working off of. Which, actually, were quite good. Very good, in fact.

“Where did you get this from?” he asked.

“Uh…th-the blueprint?” she clarified hesitantly. “I, er…I drew it?”

“You came up with this yourself?”

“Well, uh,” she answered, looking down at her hands again, “I mean, I sort of, er, adapted the d-design but I was just th-thinking about how the p-p-p….the pressure valve gets stuck sometimes and it’s d-dangerous to have m-m-monsters getting too close to the magma so…” she blushed a deep red and went quiet, picking up a small, rectangular object from the ground and holding it out to him. Upon closer inspection, he could see that it was a scaled down prototype of the drawing in the schematic, though still incomplete. He studied the prototype for a few minutes quietly, turning it over in his hands and noticing how sticky it was from the bits of food and dirt that had collected on its exterior.

“Interesting,” he stated, picking through the wiring.

She watched nervously with her hands over her mouth as he continued to mull over the bundle of circuitry in his hands, before the silence grew to be too much.

“Ssss….SORRY I WAS TRYING TO WORK ON IT AT HOME BUT THE NEIGHBORS ARE ALWAYS SO DISTRACTING AND THERE’S SO MUCH CONSTRUCTION HAPPENING RIGHT NOW AND I HAVE A LEAK IN MY ROOF SO IT DRIPS SOMETIMES AND MESSES WITH THE CIRCUITS AND THE SOLDERING IRON TIP I TRIED USING AT HOME IS THE ABSOLUTE WORST AND I CAN’T GET THE MOTHERBOARD TO STOP OVERHEATING AND I DIDN’T KNOW WHERE ELSE TO WORK SO I JUST CAME HERE AFTER WORK TO USE THE WORK STATION BUT IT WON’T HAPPEN AGAIN PLEASE DON’T FIRE ME!” she blurted out suddenly. Once the floodgate had opened, it’d been impossible for her to keep the words from tumbling out. She clasped her hands back over her mouth quickly, her face crimson.

“Clean your work station,” the doctor stated finally, handing the prototype back to her.

“Oh my god I’m fired, I’m actually fired,” she moaned, taking her project back from him with trembling hands.

“What? Don’t be ridiculous,” he chided. “This thing is filthy. If it’s overheating, it’s probably because there’s gunk clogging the heat sinks. And you should add another vent on here for good measure, it’ll help the air flow,” he specified, handing the furled schematics back to her as well.

“I….I’m not fired?”

“Of course not,” he said brusquely, heading towards the exit, “Make sure you lock up once you’re finished. And don’t tell anyone else what you’ve been up to. I expect to see it when it’s finished.”

“Yes sir!” she called after him as he headed out the door. She leaned back against the wall and slid to the floor, letting out a sigh of relief once he’d slipped out of view. “Air vents, of course. That should’ve been obvious,” she laughed to the prototype in her hands, moving to place the equipment that’d fallen out onto the floor back into the box. “I guess you are a little dirty. Oh, but he wasn’t even mad!”  she squealed, smiling to herself as she picked up the parts and hurried back to the work station she’d inhabited for the last several hours. If Dr. Gaster was interested in her work, she was going to double down and make the beta prototype as impressive as possible. What a stroke of good luck!

A goofy grin overtook her facial expression as she thought about the doctor examining the model she’d dropped, his gloved hands picking through the circuitry and the smell of cigarettes clinging to his clothing, bright pink shojo bubbles and cherry blossoms floating gently through the background behind him.

He really was dreamy.

~

By the time the ferry arrived in Snowdin, the streets were deserted. Snow drifted down quietly from the cavern ceiling, which was so far from the ground-level in Snowdin that one could almost forget it was there. It was one of the many reasons that the doctor had finally decided to build a second lab there, before moving his entire residence to the town as well. He didn’t want to forget what it felt like to be surrounded by open sky. He just hoped he’d be able to experience it again before his bones turned to dust.

But if he was honest, this was the first time in centuries that he’d actually felt optimistic about their chances. Sans was obviously frustrated by his inability to break through the barrier replica he’d created, but he’d certainly made more progress over the last several months than the doctor had ever been able to do on his own. And he clearly was displaying some weird form of magic that aligned with other principles in quantum mechanics. Quantum tunneling had to be something he could unlock, they just needed to figure out how to do it.

“Hey doc, what’re you doing out this late?” a familiar voice called out. The doctor looked up to see Firenze locking up the door to the bar, his light casting a green glow onto the snow and the darkened windows of the bar in front of him.

“Heh, should ask you the same question,” he replied casually as he approached.

“I was switching out those 45’s in the jukebox, actually,” Firenze said, his voice easy to hear in the quietness of the night. “That was a good find! I mean, a couple of them were warped, but most of them seem to be playable. Thanks for that, think the regulars will like it a lot.”

“Oh uh, yeah no problem,” the doctor replied awkwardly, hoping his face wasn’t revealing how silly he felt right then. His sternum tightened as he suddenly realized that Asgore wasn’t the only one he’d be needing to explain a sudden appearance of 5 to.

Shit.

“Guess I’ll have to stop by eventually and have a listen,” he said guiltily, brushing the thought aside.

“I was about to head home but…Grillby’s definitely asleep, he won’t miss me too much. If you want, I could make you a drink really quick? Unless you need to get home, of course.”

The doctor shifted uncomfortably. Though he’d managed to side step awkward confrontations about Sans for the last several years, he knew Firenze was going to put his foot down if another skelemonster showed up spontaneously with no explanation. Calling things quits amicably when one party in a relationship refused to have anything to do with making or raising a child was one thing. Having said partner show up randomly with a succession of kids in tow out of the blue was a whole ‘nother slap in the face that he was not looking forward to dealing with.

He stood up taller, annoyed at himself for caring. Might as well go down in flames, so to speak.

“Er, actually, Sans is staying over at his friends’ house tonight,” he said, willing his hands to stay steady as he gestured. “He won’t be back ‘til the afternoon. You uh…want to come over and I can make you a drink for once?”

Firenze brightened considerably, as he put his keys back in his pocket and nodded.

~

Sans woke with a start. The sight of Asriel’s empty bed across the room from him threw him off until he recalled that he had stayed in the Dreemurr’s home the night before, though it was so late by the time the three of them had returned from the barrier and slipped back into the room that he couldn’t actually remember falling asleep. His dreams had taken a weird turn over the past several months. He looked up at the lump in Chara’s bed guiltily as he recalled dragging what looked like a screaming human child through the palace judgement hall, its body smearing red across the pathway behind him as it pleaded to be released. A disturbed feeling settled in his rib cage as he tried to shake the memory out of his head. Did humans smear red?

Asriel poked his head in through the door, fully dressed and looking chipper, and raised an eyebrow at the sight of his friend sitting in his pillow pile with his hands over his head. “You awake? Whoa, golly, you okay?”

“uh…yeah, just, bad dream i guess,” Sans replied, throwing the blankets off and standing. Asriel shot a look of concern at the lump under Chara’s cover, which hadn’t moved.

“Chara? You awake?” he asked cautiously.

“Go ‘way,” the lump grumbled, shifting slightly.

“Hmm, okay. Guess I’m gonna have to eat all of your pancakes!” he grinned, waiting for a reaction. When the lump didn’t move, he looked worriedly at Sans, who shrugged in response. “Chara, you okay?”

“I said go ‘way,” the lump responded angrily.

“Okay, fine, sheesh!” Asriel huffed, nodding for Sans to follow him. When the two were in the hallway, Asriel lowered his voice. “Don’t tell mom and dad we went to the barrier, okay?”

“i wasn’t going to.”

“Okay. And um, don’t tell them about…about Chara going through it neither,” he stammered, playing with the hem of his shirt. “I wish we’d never gone.”

Sans frowned, an expression that could only be seen his in eyes if you were looking carefully. It didn’t matter what Asriel wanted. Once Chara was determined to do something, it was next to impossible to talk them out of it. They both knew that.

“Asriel?” a booming voice called from the kitchen. “Are you still going to help me with these?”

“Oops, sorry dad!” Asriel shouted, grabbing Sans by the wrist and dragging him back to the kitchen.

“Howdy, Sans!” the king said as he turned around, holding a plate stacked high with pancakes in front of him. “You ready for some breakfast?” Toriel was reaching into the cupboard for plates next to him, though she looked to be in the middle of getting ready to go somewhere.

Sans forced a wider grin onto his face, looking at the heaping plate in Asgore’s hands that definitely would’ve knocked him backwards had he been the one holding it. “what are those?”

“What are…you’ve never had pancakes?!” Asriel shouted from behind him, aghast.

“Well, you’re in for a treat,” Asgore winked, heading towards the table. “Asriel, grab those plates from your mother so she can get on her way, and Sans, why don’t you help me bring the utensils over. Is Chara awake yet?”

“Er, no, they’re asleep still,” Asriel said slowly, grabbing the plates from Toriel. Sans pulled the silverware drawer open. Something was missing.

“uh…where are the knives?” he asked, looking at Toriel.

“They are in a safe place,” she smiled, though the smile didn’t reach her eyes. “You do not need knives for pancakes, just use your fork. Oh my, what happened to your pant legs?” she asked, looking at Sans’ feet. He looked down, realizing too late that his pant leg was covered in dirt from being dragged on the ground most of the night after coming unfurled.

“uh…”

Asriel jumped in front of Sans a little too quickly. “We uh, wanted to show Sans the uh...tomatoes so…we went out in the garden! This morning! Uh, before you woke up!” he exclaimed.

Holy shit, Azz was a terrible liar.

Toriel looked at the pant leg suspiciously, then back to Asriel. “My child, I do not know where this streak of recklessness has come from, but you know better than to wander about outside in your pajamas. And with a guest! Surely we have taught you better than that.”

Asriel turned pink and shrunk slightly, tears welling up in his eyes. “Sorry mom,” he replied contritely.

“Is this why Chara is still in bed? Because you three rapscallions were up too early this morning?” she asked, the vexation clear in her voice. Asriel shrunk in response. “I see. I shall go rouse them. Sans, please take a seat. Asriel, we are going to have a talk when I return home tonight.”

~

Toriel headed down the hall and knocked on the door gently before opening it. “Chara, you need to wake up,” she said sternly. The lump under the covers balled up further. “I understand you three were up far too early this morning, so you are just going to have to live with the consequences now. Come on, get up.”

“Mmrrgh,” the lump grumbled. Toriel sat on the edge of the mattress, the bed sinking slightly under her weight, and pulled the covers back. Chara’s eyes were puffy, their nose red and runny, though they quickly buried their face back into the pillow.

“My goodness, what is the matter?” Toriel gasped, her irritation immediately melting away. "Did something happen?”

Chara shook their head and sniffled, remaining quiet. Toriel ran her paw through Chara’s hair silently, willing them to confide in her. Just as she was contemplating whether giving the child some space was a better tactic, Chara sat up and wiped their eyes on their sleeve, looking into Toriel’s face imploringly as they hugged their knees in to their chest. “Mom, how…how do you get human souls?”

Toriel was taken aback. This was certainly not the conversation she’d been anticipating this morning. “What?”

Chara hung their head, looking at Toriel’s knees. “Dad always says I’m the future of humans and monsters. If I’m going to bring down the barrier, shouldn’t I know how to do that?”

Toriel shifted uncomfortably, feeling a well of anger rising up in her chest. Damn it, Asgore, she thought to herself, How many time have I warned you not to put so much pressure on them? “It is not something you need to worry about for a long time, dear. Or possibly ever.  Perhaps we should get you some bre —”

“I want to know,” Chara interrupted, their voice suddenly devoid of emotion. “I’d have to cross the barrier and kill seven humans —”

"Oh my, who told you that?!"

"But what I don't get is the part after that. How would I hold onto the souls to bring them back to the barrier?”

Toriel felt her face flush. Something about her child’s face as they methodically walked through the process out loud as casually as if they were discussing their plans for lunch was extremely unsettling. “Well,” she began, cautiously, “humans cannot absorb the souls of other humans. Just as I would not be able to absorb the soul of another monster.”

“So I’d have to be a monster to do it,” Chara stated quietly.

“Yes,” she replied. Chara played with the locket around their neck quietly, looking to be deep in thought at this response. “What provoked such questions, my child?”

“Nothing,” Chara said, suddenly snapping out of their concentration and smiling up at Toriel. “Did I hear someone say pancakes?”

Chapter Text

“On second thought, I believe I will join you all,” Toriel announced, as she returned to the living room with Chara and joined the rest of her family at the table.

Even without his ability to read expressions, Sans was fairly certain her marked change in demeanor would have been easy to spot. Whatever interaction she'd had with Chara in the bedroom had clearly spooked her. Chara, on the other hand, looked right as rain, stuffing pancakes into their mouth between terrible breakfast-related puns. Had Toriel not been radiating anxiety, it would have been easy to forget that less than an hour ago, Chara had been refusing to get out of bed or speak to anyone.

“Hey Azz….Azz!” they grinned, wiggling their eyebrows at their brother.

“This better not be another joke,” Asriel warned, having walked straight into a punchline multiple times already.

“Fine. Hey, Sans? What do snowmen eat for breakfast?”

“uh, snow…cones?” he began. What did snowmen eat for breakfast? He made a note to ask the next one he came across.

“What?! That doesn’t even make sense,” Chara laughed, pieces of pancake flying out of their mouth. “They eat snow cones for dessert.”

Sans looked down at the remnants of his breakfast – wedges of thick, sweet bread were still swimming about through the syrup and powdered sugar on his plate. He wasn’t sure where snow cones fell on the dessert spectrum, but now that he was thinking about it, he wasn’t quite sure where the line between dessert and breakfast was either.

Noticing Sans, Asgore motioned towards the plate in the center of the table. “Would you like some more?”

“oh, no i’m stuffed, thanks,” Sans grinned.

“Like French toast,” Chara clarified, nodding their head knowingly. Sans chuckled even though he wasn’t really sure what the joke was.  

“I still can’t believe you’ve never had pancakes,” Asriel whispered indignantly, picking his plate up and carrying it to the kitchen. 

Now that Sans thought about it, they definitely had an oven and stovetop in their house, he’d just never seen Gaster actually use it for anything other than coffee and stacking papers on top of. Sans mostly just ate whatever was in the cupboard or leftover in the fridge when he was hungry. He wondered if maybe Toriel or Asgore would teach him how to make things on the stove if he asked nicely. Or maybe Grillby? 

He was pulled out of his thoughts when he caught a passing look between Asgore and Toriel, Toriel silently mouthing the word “later” to her husband. She stood and ruffled Chara’s hair gently as she headed to the kitchen to deposit her own plate into the sink. “I am actually going out to Waterfall to take care of some business this morning,” Toriel said gently. “Would you like to accompany me to the ferry, Sans?”

“Can I come too?” Asriel asked, following her back out from the kitchen.

“I thought you two were going to help your father with the New Home census.”

“Oh yeah,” Asriel replied glumly, sitting back down next to Chara.

“What’s that about?” laughed Asgore, picking up his own plate. “You two are the future of monsters. This is good preparation.”

Toriel cringed slightly as she wrapped a shawl around her shoulders, though she quickly wiped the expression from her face when she noticed Sans looking at her. “Er, Sans, I washed your clothes from yesterday and put them back next to your bed. Go get dressed and we shall be on our way,” she said, nodding towards the hallway.

Sans headed into the room and changed into his slacks, feeling guilty as he inspected the frayed bottoms of his borrowed pajama pants. He was in the midst of pulling a striped shirt over his head when he heard the door close behind him. He turned to see Chara leaning against it, their arms crossed over their chest.

“Hey,” they said quietly, the joy they’d emoted throughout breakfast gone from their eyes.

“hey,” Sans answered, straightening his shirt out.

“I’ve got a question for you.”

“what?”

Chara searched the floor quietly for a few moments, looking as if they were knitting together whatever thoughts were going through their minds into words.

“I talked to mom this morning. Only monsters can absorb the human souls we need to bring down the barrier,” they started carefully, keeping their voice low.

Sans stayed quiet, afraid to guess where they were headed with this.

“Anyways, I was thinking last night…about a lot of things,” Chara continued, still looking at the floor. “I know I’m the key to bringing that barrier down. But I can’t do it by myself. And Asriel wouldn’t last for a second out there.”

They looked up to meet Sans’ gaze, who was using every ounce of self-control to keep his eyelights from going out. “I guess what I’m asking is, how serious are you about wanting to free everyone? If the hopes and dreams of everyone were resting on your shoulders, could you do it?”

“what are you asking?” he asked, his face feeling cold all of a sudden despite the perpetual warmth of the Dreemurr’s home.

“You heard me. Could you do it? Kill six humans? Take their souls and bring the barrier down?”

Sans tried to keep his voice from trembling as he answered. “uh, i thought you had to have seven souls to break the barrier?”

“Of course you do, dummy, but how do you think you’d be getting out of the barrier in the first place? You’d have to already have one.”

Sans felt the corners of his grin fall slightly as he sighed. “chara, look – ”

“Just answer the question,” they stated, looking directly at him with an odd expression. Sans wondered whether this was the “creepy face” that Asriel was always talking about. Keeping his own expression neutral as he considered his answer was difficult — Chara’s determination was making him feel woozy. Getting through the barrier the last few years had always been such an impossible feat that he actually hadn’t given much thought to what would happen if he ever made it through.

But of course you’d have to kill the humans on the other side in order to collect the souls, he realized suddenly, feeling stupid. He supposed the attacks he’d been perfecting in the lab with Gaster’s assistance for as long as he could remember would be enough to take out at least a few humans, but he honestly had no idea how much damage he was capable of. He’d never tested it on anything living. And certainly never on an actual human.

He scuffled his foot as he realized that in his mind’s eye, the humans on the other side of the barrier had always looked like faceless, ambiguous beings intent on killing him before he could make the first move. But in all of his dreams lately, the humans always looked more like Chara – smaller, with faces full of fear and anguish. And more often than not, they were pleading with him for mercy.

He felt sick.

“i dunno,” he said, playing with the sleeves on his shirt anxiously, hoping the guilt he was feeling wasn’t showing on his face.

“What’s the point of going through the barrier if you’re just going to let them kill you on the other side?!”

“why are you so obsessed with this all of a sudden?” he shot back angrily.

“Don’t be an idiot, you saw what happened last night. Do you have any idea what that means?” Chara asked, their eyes narrowing. “It means if another human were to find this place, they could come back with reinforcements and wipe you all out. You wouldn’t stand a chance, you know what kind of weapons they have out there now? It’s not the ones in the human history books from school, I can tell you that.”

“but, couldn’t we…i dunno, send you out and have you lure them back here? or something?”

“Wow, yeah that’s a great idea. ‘Hey, I’m Chara, nice to meetchu, I’m that kid that went missing like ten years ago, but I’m back now. Golly, would six of you wanna go see something cool at the top of Mount Ebott? It’s a reeeeal trip!’” they laughed, miming a tripping motion. The elation drained from their face as they took a step forward and placed a hand on his shoulder, suddenly sober. “It’s kill or be killed out there, trust me. If something were to happen to me. Like, an accident or something, just…I need to know I can count on you. Not to let my soul go to waste. I don’t know if Asriel has it in him to do what would need to be done. That’s all I’m saying. Okay?”

Sans stared up at them silently, finding it difficult to discern what was going on in their head from their facial expression. They were definitely planning something, but their determination was raging so strongly that it was overpowering his senses. He nodded, feeling off-kilter.

“I'm only asking you this because you're like a little brother to me, you know? And I'm not saying that just 'cause you're short," they added, the light returning to their face as they winked as him. "Gaster was in the war, I bet he’s killed loads of humans. Maybe he’ll have some tips.”

A knock at the door interrupted them. Toriel poked her head in, a look of concern on her face. “Is everything alright? Sans, are you ready?”

“yeah, sorry, i uh, couldn’t find my shoes. oh, heh, here they are,” he said, pointing to the sneakers that were already on his feet and making a half-hearted attempt to lace them up. “see ya later,” he mumbled to Chara as he followed Toriel out the door.

~

There were a few other passengers on the ferry when the pair arrived, all of whom acknowledged the queen as she boarded and made space for her to sit down despite her insistence that they not make a fuss. The walk to the ferry had been quiet, and Sans was glad for the distraction of other people to keep his mind off of how fast everything seemed to spinning out of his control.

Once the ferry began to move, Toriel turned to him. “Do you mind if we speak in Hands? I could use the practice,” she clarified.

“Uh, yeah, of course,” Sans gestured back.

She smiled, her eyes betraying her true feelings. “Chara asked me some very strange questions this morning,” she began, speaking softly with quiet movements so as not attract the attention of the other passengers. “Did something happen last night that I should know about?”

“No,” Sans replied, a bit too quickly. No wonder Azz was terrible at lying to her. It felt awful.

Toriel frowned, recognizing the look on his face as one she’d come to know intimately from dealing with Wingdin sidestepping her questions for centuries. “Sans, if you say nothing happened, then of course, I shall believe you. But if anything did happen that I should know about, I hope that you would trust me enough to inform me.”

He nodded silently, the guilt eating away at his rib cage making him want to squirm. But what was he supposed to say to her? Actually, yeah, we all left the house last night in our pajamas and took turns running into the barrier until we figured out that humans could go through it, and now Chara’s asking me whether I’d be cool with taking their soul and killing six humans because they don’t think Azz will. Which, I think I probably would be able to do judging by all the insane dreams I’ve been having the last few months. Oh and by the way, I don’t know if you know, but I actually have some pretty gnarly attacks which may or may not be from all the shit Gaster exposed me to when I was still a lab experiment for some project he was working on with your husband that he still won’t tell me about. But yeah, aside from that nothing much going on, other than I think I'm some sort of DT addict and oh yeah, did you know I have a sibling locked up in a lab somewhere that I’m not helping whatsoever because I’m too busy trying to keep your kid from killing themselves? He stifled a laugh that was building in his throat from the absurdity of it all. If he started laughing now, he was afraid he’d never stop.

Toriel sighed. “I know Chara is having a bit of a rough time right now. It is part of growing up, I suppose, and part of being, well, a little different from everyone. ”

“Waterfall!” the river person sang out cheerfully, to Sans’ relief. A few of the other passengers on the boat gathered their belongings. Toriel stood, reluctantly.

“I am afraid I am running very late as it is,” she said, picking up her bag. “But I do want to continue this conversation.  How about I will stop by Snowdin once I am finished here and we can have a cup of tea together? I am due for a visit with your father anyways.”

Sans nodded and watched her make her way down the pathway and disappear from view as the ferry pulled away. He turned around in his seat to stare glumly over the side of the boat at his reflection in the water below as the ferry continued onward to Snowdin with its few remaining passengers.

~

The doctor pushed his scarf out of the way and took a sip of coffee as he watched the monitor in front of him. 5 hadn’t moved at all that morning other than a few involuntary spasms, which he interpreted to mean that everything was progressing fairly normally thus far. He'd have to make a trip to the lab to be certain. After jotting a few notes down, he flipped the monitor off and nearly knocked his coffee over when he looked up and saw Sans standing in front of the desk.

“Hey,” Sans mumbled, in Hands.

“Geez kid, what did I tell you about announcing yourself?!”

“I just did!” Sans replied, throwing his hands up. He eyed the doctor suspiciously. “Why is there a scorch mark on your neck?”

“There’s not,” the doctor said, irritably fluffing his scarf up. When he looked up to see Sans scanning his face for information, his patience snapped. “Okay, you know what? You can’t just waltz around pulling information off of people’s faces all the time without their permission. It’s rude. How would you like it if I did that to you?”

“I don’t care, I don’t have anything to hide,” Sans lied, crossing his arms to show he was done with the conversation.

“Oh really?” the doctor said, looking down at the young skelemonster, who was trying hard to avoid looking at him. “That’s funny, because, unless I’m just out of practice, it looks to me like you’re feeling guilty for upsetting a certain royal someone on the way over here,” he said flatly. “And I’m not even digging that deeply because frankly, I don’t want to know what kinds of preteen monster nonsense you’re up to. Doesn’t feel very good, does it?” Sans looked at the floor in response, suddenly taking an extreme interest in his shoe laces. “Anyways, I have some stuff to attend to at the other lab this morning, so if you’re done interrogating me —”

“Wait, actually…I was wondering if maybe you could help me today. With my attacks, I mean.”

“Your attacks?” the doctor asked incredulously. “Why?”

“Well, I was just um, thinking about the barrier and…I mean, what happens if I figure it out? Like I broke through it one day? I’d have to get seven souls to actually free everyone. Which means I’d have to, I dunno, dust some humans. Right?”

“Dust some humans,” the doctor repeated back with a laugh. “Heh, something like that.”

“I mean...you were in the war. You must’ve done it before, right?” Sans asked, looking up at him.

“Of course I have,” he replied quietly, his gestures somber.

“Is it hard to do?”

“It can be,” the doctor acknowledged, playing with the end his scarf as he considered the small skelemonster in front of him. Killing humans. A quick calculation of the probability that a monster with Sans’ abilities would be successful in taking out as many humans as were needed to scatter the magic holding the barrier together had more than favorable odds. There were just too many unknown variables about the outside world to factor in that he had no way of ascribing a statistical value to. Nevertheless, he was fairly certain that the odds were quite good.

But they could always be better.

“Tell you what, let me go take care of a few things and when I get back, I’ll teach you everything you need to know. On one condition,” the doctor clarified, tossing some things into a bag and throwing his coat on.

“What’s that?” 

“You keep everything I’m about to teach you between you and me. Capiche?”

Chapter Text

The depths of the Hotland Lab were chilly, in stark contrast to the humid, sweltering air outside, allowing overheated equipment from the Core to rapidly cool down as it was unloaded from the large elevators, laid out for inspection, and eventually repaired in the workrooms below. But the dissimilarity in temperature also meant that the staff assigned to work there were constantly swapping between layers of clothing – one set of lightweight garments for work done in close proximity to the gargantuan power converter, another to keep from freezing in the lower levels of the lab as they attempted to mend outdated mechanical components. Getting used to the fluctuation in climate throughout the day took time – even the old guard that had worked in the lab for decades still complained when the lower levels of the lab were particularly frigid. Yet even when the cold air wasn’t itself a problem, the colds that it instigated among the staff certainly were.

“ACHOO!” a small mouse-monster engineer cried out, turning her face into her sleeve to avoid spewing magic all over the panel she were repairing. Her co-worker, a young lizard-monster, backed up slightly, trying to avoid catching her cold without interrupting the initial diagnostics he was running on the blown transformer in front of them. “Ugh, I thought I kicked this thing,” the small engineer wailed, wiping her nose on her sleeve. Her coworker shrugged, taking note of the voltage reading before detaching a fried fuse and tossing it to the technician next to him.

“Guess we can melt that down into something,” he remarked, nodding his head towards a bin marked RECYCLING in the corner of the room. The technician, an orange loox, quickly hurried over and dumped the fuse into the bin, logging it in on the clipboard carefully before returning to the piece of equipment.

“Think you’ll be able to fix this one?” she asked the mouse-monster, who pulled a hood up over her head in an attempt to warm her now bright-pink ears. The engineer huffed in response as she noisily banged a dent out of the side of the panel with a hammer, her breath visibly puffing out in front of her as she worked.

“I don’t know why we don’t just rebuild some of this stuff from scratch with all the scrap metal we have coming through the dump lately. What’s the point in al – al – ACHOO! Ugh! It’s too frickin’ cold down here, it’s driving me crazy!” Gingerly, the technician held out a handkerchief to the mouse-monster, who promptly accepted and blew her nose into it noisily. “Can’t we just kick the thermostat up a few degrees?”

“Gotta rig up some contraband like yours truly,” the lizard monster chuckled, pointing to a small ball of fire magic burning brightly near his ankles.

“Dr. G is going to kill you if he sees that,” the technician gasped, her eye darting around nervously.

“Eh, I’ve done it loads of times and he hasn’t caught me yet. Better than messing with the thermostat, in any case. Remember the last time one of the interns messed with it and shattered the generator we were fixing?” he asked, looking over to the small engineer.

“Oh my god, I thought Gaster was going to completely lose his shit,” the small engineer laughed, remembering the terrified look on the intern’s face. “I don’t know if that intern ever came back after that, actually.”

“Would you have?! I mean, geez, one mistake and he gets his head bit off,” the technician grumbled.

The small engineer knelt down and sorted through the stray bolts that her two coworkers had pried off and tossed aside, screwing on matching nuts in an effort to keep things quasi-organized. “Well, to be fair, we’d been working on that thing for weeks. If Gaster hadn’t reamed him, I would’ve.”

“Those interns are more trouble than they’re worth sometimes,” the lizard monster concurred, twisting two wires together in an effort to get them to stand up straight.

The small engineer nodded sheepishly, remembering that she had once, in fact, been an intern years prior. Despite the massive growth of the underground, interning in the core remained among the most prestigious opportunities that young, promising monsters could to apply for. Dr. Gaster only accepted a handful each year, and of those, only a few were able to handle the long hours and often perilous working conditions that came with the job; though it was well-known that the monsters that lasted the course of their internships could essentially get a job in their field anywhere they wanted to afterwards. For the most part, though, interns tended to stick around for jobs in the Core – few other workplaces could match the high pay offered as an incentive for keeping the underground powered and running smoothly, and even less jobs offered work environments as stimulating for scientifically-inclined minds. Even if Dr. Gaster was a hard-ass when it came to the mundane day-to-day operations and policies, he was generally willing to let staff run with their ideas as long as they didn’t drop the ball on their regular job duties.

When he was around, anyways. The staff had seen less and less of him over the past decade after he’d moved out to Snowdin suddenly under mysterious circumstances. Rumors of a small child had spread throughout the lab like wildfire when one of the engineers had bumped into the two of them outside of work one afternoon years ago, and the fact that the doctor had a secret life in Snowdin was still standard workplace gossip that staff got a kick out of. Single monsters deciding to create children on their own was not unusual in the underground. But Dr. Gaster, who generally kept his staff at arm’s length, was always obsessively working on some project or another, and had been seemingly content living alone for centuries, seemed an unlikely candidate for fatherhood.

The small engineer giggled suddenly, remembering one of the current interns animatedly telling her how she’d run into the doctor’s son in the garbage dump weeks prior. She’d never actually met the doctor’s son herself, but imagined him to be a mini-version of her boss – easily annoyed, nihilistic, aloof, and smelling like cigarettes. She blew her nose into the handkerchief and stuffed it into her pocket before picking up a screwdriver. “Speaking of interns, you guys ever met the boss’s kid?” she sniffled, attempting to grip onto a stripped screw to detach it from the panel.

The technician shook her head, turning her eye to the other engineer, who smirked. “What, you met him?”

He wiped his claws on his sides, leaving smudges of black grease on his otherwise off-white lab coat. “Nah, but I have a buddy who works at the palace. Says he sees him running around all the time with the royal double-trouble. He actually thought the Queen and King had taken in another stray for awhile since he’s over there so often.”

“Really?” the technician asked, her eye widening. “I mean, I guess that makes sense, Dr. G’s pretty close with the King and Queen, isn’t he?”

“Ha, well, according to my buddy,” the engineer began, making a feeble attempt to wipe the grease off his lab coat before lowering his voice significantly, “the Queen insisted on watching the kid. Didn’t think he was doing a good enough job.”

“Not surprising,” the other engineer answered gruffly, flying back as she finally managed to pull the panel off. “He’s not exactly the warm and fuzzy type, is he?”

“Yeah, but that’s not even the half of it. Apparently, the kid didn’t even know how speak common when they first started babysitting him. He only knew that gibberish language the doctor cusses everyone out in when he gets pissed off.”

“Hands?” asked the technician. “That’s a skelemonster thing, isn’t it? Maybe he was just trying to, I dunno…pass it on or something.”

“Yeah but, the kid was like five or six years old when the Queen found out about him. No one knew he even existed. Doesn’t that seem a bit odd to you? Oh and get this, my friend told me the kid was totally bizarre when he first started hanging around the palace. Just staring at the most mundane things like he’d never seen them before…buildings and other monsters and whatnot. And no sense of personal space whatsoever. Just constantly trying to touch people’s faces and like, smelling and prodding everything. My friend told me he'd be outside just staring up at the crystals on the ceiling for hours. Really whacko stuff.”

“Maybe he was a lab experiment that escaped,” the small engineer giggled, pulling her hood more tightly around her head.

“Aww, but he’s with the royal children pretty often, right? He can’t be that terrible,” the technician rebutted uncertainly, attempting to discern whether the lizard-monster’s gossip constituted picking on Dr. G’s kid.

“Yeah, well, maybe the human liked having someone around that was more of an oddball than them,” he replied with a laugh. “Plus, sounds like the Gaster-brat’s an equal opportunity weirdo. My buddy said he was really confused how the human was any different than us when one of the guards pointed it out to him finally.”

“He didn’t know it was a human?!” the technician asked, her eye huge.

“I mean, it’s not that strange. Aren’t skelemonsters supposed to be part human or something? I never remember,” the small engineer replied, handing the melted panel off to a vulkin, who happily carried it off down the hall to a scrap pile. “Anyways, give the guy a break, maybe he’s not father of the year, but he’s n-n-not so…ACHOO!”

The lizard monster laughed, reaching in to attach two blue wires to a panel on the inside of the machinery before brightening his fire magic and rubbing his claws near the flame. “I don’t know, think the old curmudgeon is long overdue for retirement, if you ask me. Then he could go be an actual parent to his weird kid and we could crank the heat up in here a bit.”

“Don’t think that’s going to happen any time soon. Dr. G’s gonna be completely senile before he lets himself fall down. That guy’s got some tenacity like I’ve never seen,” the loox remarked, handing a piece of scrap metal off to a passing snowdrake that was lugging scrap metal and discarded wiring in the direction of the recycling bin.

“Gottah be goin’ senile. If you’re hirin' loox. As your technicians,” the young snowdrake muttered grumpily, shifting his weight slightly to accommodate the load.

“Hey!”

“Whoa, who asked you, buddy?” the small engineer chided, stepping protectively in front of the technician. 

“What? Everyone knows. You loox have zero depth perception. No offense,” he added, noticing the loox’s eye filling with tears. “Laugh, it’s a joke!”

“I don’t see anyone laughing,” the mouse-monster huffed, handing back the handkerchief to the technician, who dabbed her eye quickly and apologized to no one in particular. “Don’t let him get to you, honey, he’s just a – a – ACHOO! Ugh. He’s just a punk teenager from the looks of it. Get out of here, kid.”

The snowdrake ruffled his feathers, attempting to shift the weight of the pile he was carrying onto his other foot. “If it were. Uptah to me. I’d make some changes around here. Assign monsters accordin’ to type. Makes more sense. Technician jobs shouldn’t go. To the loox of you. Get it?” he grinned, waiting for a response. When he was met with blank stares, he set the scrap metal down and continued talking as if nothing had happened. “Shouldn’t be. Hirin’ no whimsums as foremen neithah. Oh well. You whimsum, you lose some. Get it?”

“Alright buddy, you need to cool it,” the mouse-monster engineer replied icily, mentally kicking herself as she realized she had just told a snowdrake to cool it. “Where the hell did you come from anyway?”

“I work here. Part time,” he replied indignantly, puffing his chest out. “Other part of the time. I do comedy. At the bars in New Home! Come see my show. Sometime.”

The lizard monster snorted. “If your routine is anything like this preview, think I’ll pass.”

“I do impressions. As well,” he wheezed, shutting one eye and squatting while puffing his chest out. “Don’t pick. On me!”

“Wow,” the lizard said flatly, looking uncomfortable as he noticed the technician’s mouth drop open.

“Tough crowd,” the snowdrake acknowledged, noticing their discomfort. “Okay. One more. Then you haftah come. To my show. For the rest.” He reared up to his full height, flattening his feathers out as much as possible before glaring at the three of them quietly. The mouse-monster was about to tell him where he could take his act and shove it when the snowdrake suddenly began gesturing wildly about. “Who hired this idiot? The only bad joke. In this work place. Is you. Get out of my sight. Why are you back again?” he shouted with a thick, but spot-on accent. The lizard monster burst out laughing.

“Okay, that’s actually pretty funny,” he said, wiping a tear away as the snowdrake bounced from foot to foot wildly, doing his best impression of something that sounded akin to Hands.

"Stop, stop!" the mouse-monster gasped, cluthing her sides as she laughed so hard that she nearly flew into a coughing fit. Her laughter was silenced immediately when she looked up, noticing the doctor standing casually behind all of them with his arms folded. Noticing her horrified facial expression, the three other staff spun around to follow her gaze; their laughter was smothered immediately.

“You know, it’s rude to talk about someone when they’re listening, but by all means, don't let me interrupt you,” the doctor said coolly, though the brusque movements of his accompanying gestures betrayed his annoyance. The young snowdrake’s mouth opened and closed silently a few times in response, his brow visibly beading with sweat in spite of the cold. While the doctor was distracted with the snowdrake, the lizard-monster quickly snuffed out the fire magic he’d created, praying to the Delta Rune that he hadn’t noticed.

“Sorry sir, um, we were just – ” the mouse-monster whimpered, but fell silent when the doctor waved a hand at her dismissively. He peered at the innards of the machine they’d been working on, frowning. “Miss Pencer, can you tell me what’s wrong with this mess I’m looking at?” he asked the technician, who leaned in to assess the jumble of wires in front of them.

“Er…the circuit is overloaded? Sir.”

“And? No, you stay put,” he snapped at the frightened snowdrake, who was attempting to back away slowly.

“And, um,” the loox stammered, looking inside again carefully, “there’s condensation building up on the panel?”

“Now, why in the world would there be condensation in a workroom that’s specifically kept at a temperature to prevent that from happening? Very curious,” he mused, watching the lizard-engineer shift uncomfortably. He glanced at the mouse-monster, who was trembling slightly. “Perhaps a better question — what would happen if I asked you to throw the switch on this right now so that you could run the second diagnostic that you all should have been doing by now, had our friend here been doing the actual job he was hired to do instead of making a fool of himself?”

“Sorry sir, we didn’t mean – ” the lizard-monster spluttered, looking worriedly at his coworkers.

“No, you know what? Go ahead and do it. Let’s see what happens,” the doctor replied casually. The four monsters traded panicked looks between themselves, but remained rooted in place. “Go on then.”

After a long pause, the mouse-monster stepped forward timidly, wiping her nose on her sleeve before reaching out a shaking paw out towards the switch. Her hand was quickly slapped away by the lizard-monster. “No, Bernice, I messed up, I’ll throw it,” he conceded, taking a deep breath. He reached a trembling hand towards the panel, gripping the switch firmly. After a few moments of hesitation, he flipped the switch.

Nothing happened. He exhaled a sigh of relief loudly, stepping back.

The doctor tsked, rocking back on his heels. “Huh. Well, lucky for you, some old curmudgeon apparently disconnected the switch before you flipped it or the four of you would be dancing around trying to put out an electrical fire. Which, I daresay, is much harder to extinguish than that little foot warmer you decided was more important to you than following instructions,” he sniped, holding up a hand when the lizard-monster tried to interject. “Now, I consider myself to be fairly flexible, but I admittedly have little patience for insolence and even less for tomfoolery while I’m paying you all to get a job done. What I do have a lot of are applications from monsters clamoring for open positions here that I’m more than happy to open some vacancies up for if I need to. So consider this a warning. If I see any more magic like that down here, you’re fired.”

A sound of mumbled apologies resounded in response, though did little to muffle the sound of the young snowdrake stifling a laugh. Raising a brow ridge, the doctor waited for the young monster to get ahold of himself.

“Sorry, sorry,” the snowdrake rasped, a goofy look overtaking his face as he tried to don a serious expression. “It’s just. You said. If you see more magic. Like that fire magic. We’re fired,” he wheezed, unable to control his laughter.

“Hmm, I suppose that is funny,” the doctor replied, fiddling with the edge of his scarf again. “You know what else is funny? The fact that I hired you for maintenance and the only thing you’ve maintained around here is a track record of not finishing any of your assigned duties. So yes, thank you for the reminder. You’re fired.”

“Wait. Seriously? But the othahs. Just got a warning!”

Sighing, the doctor ran a hand over his face before answering. “If your complete disregard for doing your goddamn job didn’t get you fired, your off-color jokes would’ve. Now go pack your stuff up and stop wasting my time.”

"What am I gonnah tell my mothah?" the young snowdrake wailed, dashing quickly out of sight, the sounds of cursing and stray, angry bullets of magic ricocheting off the walls echoing behind him.

“Anyone else have any witty remarks?” the doctor asked, turning back to the remaining three staff, who shook their heads furiously. "Good. Get back to work."

Chapter Text

Despite the extensive water damage that’d wreaked havoc throughout its pages while it lay in the dump waiting for someone to find it, the bulky astronomy book was one of Sans’ favorites. Galaxies of varying colors and shapes danced across glossy spreads, accompanied by equally fascinating explanations of the technology used to capture the images, and quotations from human explorers surmising about the heavens. Sans was fairly certain he could recite most of the book by heart at this point, and it’d been a favorite of his when learning to read common. Gazing at the photos didn’t seem like something he’d ever grow tired of.

And the actual sky! Seeing it through the barrier was beyond what he could’ve hoped for. Now that he knew where the barrier was, he was fairly certain he’d be able to tear back to sneak another look at it. After all, it wasn’t like anyone was guarding the place. He’d just have to make sure he wasn’t caught.

He turned the page to a picture an interstellar cloud of dust and gases, the quote from an author of one of his other favorite books scrawled across the page boldly reminding readers, “We are star stuff which has taken its destiny into its own hands.”

Heh, destiny. That seemed to be something that Chara had grown obsessed with over the last few years for whatever reason – figuring out your purpose, who you were, what you were meant to be. Comedic outbursts and their flair for the dramatic made it easy to forget how pensive they could be when you caught them at the right moment.

The image of Chara’s stunned face upon crossing the barrier seeped into his mind suddenly. They’d just looked so…genuinely shocked. Like their worldview had been completely shattered. Sans felt slightly queasy as he recalled the conversation they’d had in the room earlier. Crossing the barrier was what he’d essentially been working towards his whole life, but he’d always felt comforted by the fact that he wasn’t on a timeline to solve it. Chara’s crossing had thrown his sense of security out the window, and the conversation they’d had with him that morning had, frankly, freaked him out.

Chara was prone to rash decisions, but they wouldn’t actually do anything as drastic as the worst case scenarios he was imagining. Would they?

No longer feeling in the mood to stargaze, he closed the book and stuck it back in the bookshelf, looking out the window and down the road for any signs of Gaster. Seeing no one other than a few of the neighbor’s kids running amok in the snow, he wandered back into the kitchen, pulling a chair alongside the counter and stepping up onto it to root around in the cabinets for something to eat. A box of oatmeal crashed onto the counter when the shrill ring of the kitchen phone startled him, its top bursting off and sending grains splattering across the countertop. Hopping down from the chair, he attempted to scoop the grains back up into the canister as he plucked the handset off the telephone.

“hello?” he asked, swiping the phone cord aside when it curled around his ulna.

“Is your refrigerator on?” a voice on the other end giggled. Another voice could be heard whispering a muffled scolding in the background. “What? Running? Oh shoot, haha! Wait, is your refrigerator running?”

“if I say no, will you give me the cold shoulder, azz?” Sans replied smugly, scooping more grains into the can.

“Aww, how’d you know it was me?” Asriel’s asked, sounding disappointed. The muffled voice in the background murmured something. “Hmm? Oh yeah, what are you doing right now? Dad said me an’ Chara are finished helping so we’re gonna go hang out in the city. Want to come?”

“um,” Sans replied slowly, glancing out the window at the empty street one more time. He could never tell how long Gaster was going to take sometimes — ‘pop over to the lab’ could mean minutes or hours depending on how distracted he got. “yeah, sure. where you wanna meet?”

The muffled voice on the other end of the line said something that made Asriel giggle. “Chara says you have to solve our disguise puzzle.”

“…what?”

“Just come and find us, hee hee!” Asriel shouted gleefully, before hanging the phone up.

Sans quickly grabbed a hoodie off the back of the door and pulled it over his striped shirt – if he was going to wander around New Home city, warding off other monsters asking where his parents were every five seconds would make it a lot easier to figure out where his friends were hiding, as his small stature often warranted assumptions that he was much younger than he actually was. He peered out the window one final time, quickly ducking back behind the curtain when he spotted Toriel heading towards his house.

Shoot, she’d wanted to talk more about Chara, hadn’t she? Feeling a bit guilty, he quickly felt out a tear somewhere in the vicinity of New Home city, glancing in quickly to make sure he wasn’t launching himself into a pile of trash or out of a ceiling before hopping through into what appeared to be an alleyway behind a restaurant.

Taking a deep breath, he started off towards what he hoped was the main thoroughfare, guessing that Chara and Asriel were probably expecting him to emerge from whatever direction the elevators to the city were in. He wasn’t as familiar with New Home city as he was with the palace grounds — the city was so packed with people in contrast to the rest of the underground that it always felt a bit overwhelming when he’d visited in the past. Really, he’d only spent time there when Chara and Asriel had dragged him along, aside from one quick trip with Gaster when he’d taken a detour on their way home from the palace to pick something up for Firenze.  

Silently chastising himself for not paying more attention to the city layout when he’d been before, he weaved between bustling monsters trying to orient himself. It was hard to see much in the way of landmarks when you were roughly three feet tall, and even harder when the monsters around you were moving so quickly. Recognizing a large fountain up ahead, he sped up his pace, only to smack right into the knees of a large, furry monster. He mumbled an apology as he backed up, promptly knocking over a rock monster that’d been walking closely behind him with their muzzle in a book.

God this was stupid.

Slowing the world down so he’d stop running into people, he continued onwards for a few blocks, looking into the faces of passersby to try and discern whether any of them were his friends in disguise. When holding onto the time flow got to be exhausting, he let go and ducked back into an alleyway, heading away from the noise of the crowd. Once he reached another pathway towards the far end of the alley, he leaned against the brick and waited for the cyan glow of his eye to settle down as his patience wore thin. He wondered irritably why he hadn’t just forced Asriel to tell him where to meet them and considered tearing back to Snowdin to go wait for Gaster. However, before he could make up his mind, he was thrown backwards as someone flew around the corner and kicked a trashcan straight into him, covering him with rotten food.

“Whoa! Sorry. Didn’t see yah –” the teenaged snowdrake began, quickly moving to pick the trashcan off of him. He snapped back quickly when he recognized the small skelemonster looking up at him, covered in sticky sauce and vegetable peels. “You gottah. Be kiddin’ me.”

“E’rythin’ alright Snowy?” asked another teenaged monster, who glided around the corner behind the snowdrake on tentacles and surveyed the scene in front of him with his three eyes.

“It’s him! The doctah’s BRAT!” the snowdrake barked, puffing his feathers up angrily.

“Haha, it’s youse lucky day!” the three-eyed monster grinned, sharp white teeth emerging from the inkiness of his face. He uncoiled a dark tentacle out to Sans, motioning for him to grab it. When Sans remained still, the tentacle shot out and snapped around his wrist instead, whiplashing him into the wall with a loud THUD. Falling back down onto the pavement hard on his shoulders, he felt his HP plummet as the air was knocked out of him.

“Dat’s for ruinin’ my friend’s day,” the three-eyed monster chuckled.

The snowdrake peered at Sans cautiously. “Huh. I thought. He was younger.”

“He ain’t got stripes on, do he?” the three-eyed monster laughed, pushing the snowdrake forward. “Damn, lots of HP though. Come on, Snowy, give ‘im a good bullet spray and let’s get outta here.”

The snowdrake shot a nervous glance at his friend before taking a step forward towards the crumpled skelemonster, who was still gasping for air through crunched ribs. In a flash, the snowdrake spread his wings to their full extent, crescent-shaped ice bullets materializing at the tips of each feather. “I should. Say something cool. Cool, ha!” the snowdrake laughed, realizing he’d accidentally made a pun before he halted in his tracks. “What the—where’d he go?!“

Sans released his hold on time flow, having pushed himself off the ground to walk stiffly around behind the two monsters. Anger welled up inside him. The frustration he’d been feeling all morning, the lack of sleep, the chaos of what had just happened, the sticky food he was covered in – all of it suddenly crescendoed into a blind rage. The backs of the two monsters lit up brightly in the yellow glow of his eye as he channeled his emotions into an attack, the shapes of his magic teetering on the edge of his psyche as the two monsters turned to see what was suddenly causing their shadows to dance in front of them.

A wave of bones rocketed out of the ground suddenly, rushing inwards as they sprouted and shrunk in size to herd the two monsters towards one another. The snowdrake attempted to grab onto his friend, but was thrown off when an eruption of bones shot up from the ground beneath them, launching the two shrieking monsters into the air. Sans seized the soul of the three-eyed monster, slamming him into the ground before snatching the soul of the still airborne snowdrake and smacking him into the wall next to him. The snowdrake feebly attempted to summon another round of bullets, but was knocked backwards by another wave of bones that rushed up and out of the ground.

“Mercy, mercy!” the snowdrake gasped, waving a wing. His friend remained motionless, his eyes staring into nothing.

“so you can dish it but you can’t take it. that’s very uh, cold. heh,” Sans grinned, standing over them, his eyelights out completely. The snowdrake shrank back and whimpered as jagged bones sprouted out of the ground behind the small skelemonster, towering over him.

Before he could throw the attack he’d summoned, two dog monsters from the royal guard sprinted down the alleyway with weapons drawn, one of them blowing a loud whistle shrilly. “What the hell is going on down here?!” growled the lead dog, whose fur was so shaggy her eyes were hidden. She pointed her spear at Sans threateningly. He scattered his magic quickly, his eyelights coming back on as he looked up at them.

“BORK!” the large dog monster echoed behind her, dropping the whistle back down around its neck.

“uh,” Sans stammered, suddenly realizing how badly damaged his opponents were. The large dog monster leaned in and sniffed the three-eyed monster, whining slightly.

“You knock someone down to 3 HP like that and are pullin’ up another attack? The hell is the matter with you,” the shaggy dog monster snarled.

Sans felt his face flush. 3 HP?! He’d been so angry that it hadn’t occurred to him to check the stats of the person he’d been fighting. “sorry, uh, i didn’t mean –”

“It doesn't matter what you meant, you nearly dusted two monsters in an alleyway! Good thing someone went and got help when they did or you’d really be in some deep shit right now. Best Dog, stabilize these two on the floor and I’ll come back and pick them up for questioning,” she barked, unclipping a pair of manacles from her belt and turning back to Sans. “You’re comin’ with us, pal.”

“what?!”

“You heard me. Hands out. You only got two hands, right?” she clarified, pushing her fur out of her eyes to look at him cautiously. He nodded, staring at the ground blankly as she snapped the cuffs around his wrists and tightened them. Had he really almost killed someone?

The shaggy dog pushed him ahead of her with the butt of her spear, heading towards what was clearly the elevator on the other side of the square. What had been an impossible walkway to navigate earlier suddenly morphed into a wide open path as monsters stepped aside to whisper amongst themselves and stare at the small skelemonster in manacles being led towards the royal guard station. Sans pulled his hood over his head and shrank as much as possible, feeling the prying eyes of the onlookers as he continued to walk with the royal guardsman towards their station.

“Sans?!” a familiar voice called out. Sans looked up to see Asriel and Chara, both dressed in a garish assortment of what looked to be bandanas, big hats, and costume jewelry, pushing their way through the legs of the crowd of bystanders that’d gathered to watch. “Hey, let him go!” Asriel demanded, removing a large, feathered cap from his head.

“Oh! Prince Asriel,” the shaggy dog monster acknowledged, bowing deeply. “I didn’t recognize you.”

Chara pushed their large sombrero back and picked Sans’ hands up, examining the manacles. “Oh man, busted!” they laughed. “What’d you do?!” Sans looked away, feeling embarrassed in spite of the calming effect of the DT rushing through him from Chara’s touch. He should’ve just stayed home.

“Release him, please,” Asriel tried again, playing with the brim of the hat in his hands.

“Sorry, Prince Asriel, but my orders come from the king and queen. Beating a monster within an inch of his life is a serious, serious offense —“

“What?!” Asriel spat out, his eyes wide. “No way, Sans wouldn’t do that. Would you?” Sans noticed a flash of interest dance across Chara’s face briefly. 

Sans shrank slightly, wishing they weren’t surrounded by a swarm of onlookers. “they started it,” he mumbled, looking at the ground.

“There, see? He was just defending himself,” Asriel said cheerfully. “Can he go now?”

The shaggy dog brushed the fur from her eyes, looking at Sans carefully. “Wait, are you…a child? Why aren’t you wearing a striped shirt?” she demanded.

“it’s under my hoodie!” he protested, holding his shackled hands in front of him.

“Boy, you’re really asking for it,” she growled, before turning back to Asriel. “Prince Asriel, my orders come from your mother and father. So unfortunately, I have to bring him in and contact his parents so they can meet with the king and queen in the judgement hall about this. That’s standard protocol,” she added prodding Sans forward.

Sans stumbled slightly as a wave of determination rushed through him suddenly. Peering over his shoulder as he continued towards the guards station, he caught Chara’s eye. They winked at him before taking Asriel’s hand and heading off in the other direction.

Chapter Text

“Sans?” Toriel called again, rapping on the door with a bit more force. The faint ring of a telephone could be heard coming from inside the doctor’s home, but no one seemed to be answering it. She sighed, glancing at the monster kids playing in the road and recognizing a couple of them as the baker’s children. No skelemonsters though.

I should have pushed him harder about Chara, she thought regretfully, recalling the guilty expression that had spread across his features when she had questioned him on the ferry earlier. The dirty pant legs on her children’s pajamas, the way Asriel had been avoiding her eyes that morning, the strange outburst from Chara — something was definitely going on. She just hoped it wasn’t as serious as she suspected it might be.

Perhaps it would be best to station more guards outside of the barrier, she thought glumly, heading down the steps and back towards the ferry. Just in case.

Chara had always been a strong-willed child, and had only grown more assertive as time went on. She recalled setting her eyes upon them for the first time (now years ago, though it somehow simultaneously seemed like only yesterday) – their clothes torn and bloodied, one arm hanging at an awkward angle, the other draped over her tiny son who helped them along delicately. She’d been absolutely startled upon seeing them – it’d been centuries, but she’d recognized the child as human immediately. The child, however, acted as if nothing was out of the ordinary, other than wincing slightly when they put weight on a bad ankle.

Asgore on the other hand, had reacted much differently than she’d expected upon seeing the child. At the time, she had taken it for shock, but it still bothered her to think about it. He’d looked almost…guilty.

“Queen Toriel?” a quiet voice beckoned, snapping her out of her thoughts. She looked up to see the slim outline of Firenze leaning against the side of his establishment, quickly putting out a cigarette on the wall as she approached. The green flames of his hands moved to straighten out his tie as he kicked the cigarette butt behind him into a snow drift. “Long time no see. What brings you out here?”

“Good afternoon, Firenze,” she smiled warmly, brushing her dark thoughts aside. “Or, evening, as I suppose it must be now. How is your little one?”

“Not so little these days,” he chuckled, his laugh sounding reminiscent of the crackle of logs in a hearth.

“They do grow quickly,” she nodded, thinking of the hem she’d had to take out of Asriel’s pant legs the week prior so that they’d fit properly. “Speaking of which, did you happen to see the son of Dr. Gaster? I told him I would be stopping by, but he does not appear to be home.”

Firenze shook his head. “Can’t say I have, although I’ve only been outside all of a few minutes today,” he admitted, peering down the street and surveying the same group of children that Toriel had espied earlier. “Care to come inside and wait? Doc usually stops by at some point, maybe he took Sans along with him.”

“To the lab? Does he do that often?”

Firenze shrugged, opening the door and gesturing for her to come inside. After a moment’s hesitation, she complied, taking a seat at the far end of the bar and accepting a cup of hot tea graciously. There were a few other patrons in the bar; mostly other furry animals that had decided to stay out in the snow-covered woods when they’d pushed forward to New Home so many years ago. She herself would have preferred to stay in the area as well – the hustle and bustle of the growing city was a bit unbearable at times. She missed the quiet and solitude of their old home. It was really no wonder that Wingdin had chosen to return here.

That had been strange too, hadn’t it? The suddenness of it all after Chara had joined their family. And then producing a son out of the blue after centuries of listening to him talk about how irritating children were. Speaking of which…

She caught a sudden movement reflected in the glassware behind the bar, and turned to see the doctor staring at her, frozen halfway through the front entrance, though he quickly attempted to play off his surprise at seeing her there.

“Er,” he stammered, looking between her and Firenze before leaning against the doorway awkwardly. “Queen Toriel. What are you doing here?”

“What am I doing here? I should be asking you that same question. Where is Sans?”

“At…home?”

She shook her head and pinched the bridge of her nose, an exasperated sigh escaping her mouth as the doctor sidled up to the bar next to her and hesitantly took a seat. Feeling the prying eyes of the other patrons on his back, the doctor hunched into his shoulders and fidgeted with the edge of the countertop.

“That’s where I left him anyways,” he grumbled, glancing up at Firenze, who busied himself with polishing a glass and pretended not to be listening. The doctor tried to keep his gestures level and his voice low, though the bar had suddenly gotten so quiet you could hear a pin drop. “I told him to stay put, I can’t be everywhere at once. Give me a break here.”

He braced himself for an explosive retort and another heated lecture about his lack of parenting skills, but was instead surprised to find the queen’s expression somber, her eyes filled with concern as she looked down at him. “Wingdin,” she began, taking a deep breath to keep her voice from wavering. “I feel as though something is…something is wrong. I know not what, but I sense something has happened with the children, something is off and I just cannot…cannot seem to get through to them and…” she trailed off, suddenly realizing how tired she felt. The doctor said nothing, waiting for her to continue. After a few moments, she sighed heavily, placing the sides of her fingers on either side of the small teacup in front of her, taking comfort in the warmth radiating from it. “I am concerned that something has happened. Something is wrong. Has Sans said anything to you? Anything out of the ordinary?”

Like how to dust humans? the doctor thought, trying to keep his expression neutral as he was overcome with the sudden urge to start laughing. “Not that I can recall,” he answered instead with a blank face. She wilted slightly, searching the depths of the small cup in her paws.

The doctor drummed his fingers on the counter. She’d been disappointed in him a lot lately, hadn’t she? He found himself wondering for a moment whether if in an alternate timeline, one in which the human had never fallen, their friendship would have remained intact, as strong as it had once been so many years ago. Decades were a mere blip in time when you lived for centuries, but the human falling had certainly created a rift in his timeline — pre-Chara and post-Chara were almost as night and day as before and after the underground.

Almost.

“Look, Toriel, I may not be the best parent,” he started, glancing over at Firenze and willing him to quit eavesdropping, “but I mean, your kids are practically teenagers. They’re going to be a bit, I don’t know, broody and closed off at that age, yeah?”

"Perhaps," she conceded, before shaking her head. “I cannot put my finger on it.”

The silence of the bar was making the doctor anxious — he was certain the other patrons in the bar were hanging on their every word. Frustrated, he pulled a handful of coins out of his coat pocket and jabbed them at Firenze. “Be a pal and crank the jukebox up or something,” he muttered. A crackle from the green-flamed monster behind the counter as he snatched the coins away told him that he was in for a quietly worded earful about taking him for granted later.

Whatever.

“Anyways, I'm sure it's nothing,” the doctor continued as the sound of the jukebox kicked on, drowning his words out from the ears of the other patrons. His eye sockets widened suddenly. “Wait, you don’t think they’ve been like, you know, experimenting or anything—”

“Wingdin!”

“What?! Okay, well, good, glad that’s not on the table,” he said, wishing he had a drink in front of him.

“Gods, is that something I need to be concerned about?!”

“No no, I just, I couldn’t read your face. Heh, anyways, um…so what’s got you so worried?

Firenze moved to answer the phone that’d begun ringing behind the counter while he’d been plunking coins into the jukebox. Noticing that the other monsters in the bar appeared to have lost interest in their conversation, the doctor relaxed slightly as Toriel played with the edge of her tea cup. “Well, I am a bit concerned that they —”

“Pardon me, your majesty,” Firenze apologized to the queen, before holding the receiver out to the doctor, who took it hesitantly. “Says it’s urgent.”

“Yes?” the doctor said, wondering which intern he was going to have to berate for blowing up lab equipment this time.

“Dr. Gaster? Dr. Wingdin Gaster?” a husky voice barked out on the other end of the line. The doctor wondered if Toriel was able to hear both sides of the conversation over the jukebox with how loud the caller’s voice was, but if she could, she was feigning disinterest.

“Speaking.”

“Sir, this is Captain Mongrella, from the New Home City central station. We have your son in custody for what appears to be attempted monstercide —“

Toriel coughed on her tea suddenly and snapped her head around. “Excuse me?!”

So she could hear. Welp.

“Uh,” he said, turning away from the queen slightly, but expecting her to snatch the phone away from him at any second. “Sorry, what?”

“Found him readying another attack on two monsters with their HP near decimated.”

“Hm.” It took every ounce of self-restraint for the doctor not to beam. He’d only been able to test Sans’ attacks on lab equipment in a controlled environment for the most part. It’d be interesting to find out what he was capable of doing to another living subject. He wondered how many times Sans had needed to strike to get the opposing monsters’ HP that low…

Toriel’s scowl snapped him back to reality.

“Er, that’s uh, quite shocking,” he responded.

“I have him down here at the station,” the voice on the other end of the line informed him matter-of-factly. “We’re still interviewing the victims, so I’m trying to get to the bottom of what happened exactly. But since he’s a minor, I’m required to call and inform you as soon as possible so that you can make arrangements to be at the judgement hall this evening when I bring this before the king and queen. You weren’t at your home when I called, but your colleagues at the lab said I might be able to reach you here so —”

“Wingdin, what is going on,” Toriel demanded, her eyes ablaze.

“You want to talk to them?” he shot back, looking over his shoulder at her and thrusting the receiver in her direction.

“Actually, yes. No, I do not wish for the phone. We are going over there immediately and getting to the bottom of this. I knew something strange was going on —”

“Oh, so you knew my son was going to go over to New Home City to kick some monster’s ass today? Great,” the doctor shot back, realizing that the jukebox could’ve been on at full volume and would have done nothing to peel the stares of all the patrons in the bar away from the two of them.

“Do not give me that —”

“I told you I don’t know what’s going on! Why is this my fault?”

“Hello? Sir?” the voice on the other end of the line called out from the receiver.

“Yes we’re on our way,” the doctor snapped into the phone, before slamming it back down onto its hook on the other side of the bar. Turning around, he shot an angry look at the prying eyes of the other bar patrons as the jukebox switched to the next song, rendering the bar silent once more. “Was that entertaining for all of you? Show’s over.”

“Doc,” Firenze warned. Toriel stood, pulling out a coin purse to pay for the tea before her money was waved away by the green-flamed bartender. “On me,” he said, taking her cup.

“Wingdin, I am certain you are well-aware that I am going with you,” she said icily.

“Fine, let’s go. You can tell me how I’m a terrible parent on the way there, I’m excited to hear about it,” he countered, holding the door open for her and slamming it shut behind him as he followed her out.

The bar was silent for a few moments before the remaining patrons burst out laughing. “Hey Firenze, you should invite the Queen out here more often!” a patron laughed from the corner booth as the jukebox kicked back on. “That was great!”

~

Red light. Heat. And…and…

The lanky skelemonster tried to sit up, only to realize he was being held down tightly by something. His breathing quickened as he fought against the restraints that strapped his body to the bed he was laid upon, crying out with a voice raspy from disuse as he twisted about trying to free himself. After a few minutes of fruitless struggling, he flopped back heavily, tears streaming down his face as he searched the ceiling, the steady hum of the machines around him calming him slightly.

Even so, he was terrified.

It was just moments ago that he’d been somewhere bright. With something else. A figure in a coat? He remembered going to sleep and…

Why was he so big?

He sniffled again, mustering his strength before pulling with all his might. Stray bullet magic blasted out in all directions, ricocheting off the walls and stinging his body as they scattered haphazardly around the room. He cried out once more, but nobody came.

Scared. Hurts. Alone…

Unable to move his hands, he sobbed quietly, his energy waning until he eventually drifted back into a dreamless sleep.

Chapter Text

Being in the holding cell reminded Sans vaguely of his early childhood, before he’d known about the world beyond the lab. Though the holding cell wasn’t nearly as clean as his room in the lab had always been. Graffiti from past delinquents coming up with creative ways to pass the time before proceeding to the judgment hall scattered the walls, and it looked like the floor hadn’t been swept for quite some time. But the locked door, the austere furniture, the bars along the window — all of it compacted together to give him a nostalgic unease like a pit in his ribcage.

This whole day had been strange, and he hoped against hope that he would wake up and find out he’d dreamt the whole thing. From the trip to the barrier, to dodging Toriel’s questions about Chara, to nearly killing someone without even realizing it — he wasn’t sure where to begin with trying to process everything.

Toriel’s going to be so mad, he thought glumly, his soul twisting into knots as the pale countenance of the unconscious tentacled teen replayed itself in his head. The door creaked open and the shaggy dog guard poked her head in, stepping aside quickly to allow a small mole monster to peek around her.

“Mmm…no ma’am, that’s no ‘em,” the mole monster squeaked, looking up at the guard that towered over her. “They was biggah. An’ there was two o’ ‘em.”

“You’re sure?” the guard clarified, leaning heavily against the door frame. The small mole monster squinted once more at Sans and nodded, looking up to the guard expectantly. “Very well. I appreciate you coming in, I just have some paperwork I need you to sign on your way out. Best Dog’ll take care of you at the front.”

Standing in the doorframe for a moment, she watched the witness make her way towards the front of the office before sighing wearily and ducking back into the holding cell. She folded her arms as she took in the scruffy child in front of her – his hoodie singed from whatever spell had bounced off of it while fighting with the monster teens, and a huge grin on his face despite everything that had transpired that afternoon.

“Kid, I don’t know what you’re looking so smug about. You could’ve been in a hell of a lot of trouble today.”

Sans blinked, searching her face for meaning before understanding suddenly. “oh. that’s just my face,” he said, pointing to his mouth and willing himself not to simultaneously gesture in Hands as he spoke out of anxiety. “it’s just like that.”

“Oh!” she said, looking startled. “Sorry, I didn’t —er, I didn’t realize that.” Sans didn’t reply, confused at her sudden change in demeanor from earlier when she’d first started angrily questioning him about what had happened. Though her face was a bit hard to read because of how shaggy her fur was, there was something strange there he was picking up on. Guilt?

No, it wasn’t guilt, it was something else.

“In any case,” she continued, eager to change the subject, “we had a couple different witnesses come forward and their statements check out with what you told me. Apparently, those teens had been picking fights with a few other monsters before you ran into them and we caught some surveillance footage of them blasting apart trash cans in the alleyway before they ran into you. Go figure, probably part of those damn gangs roaming around causing trouble the last few weeks. That and the fact that you’re a minor basically saved your uh….well, your skin, so to speak.”

She pulled a set of keys from her belt and unlocked the manacles around his wrist bones. “Anyways, what I’m saying, kid, is we’re still going to have to take this incident to the king and queen. You can’t go power hitting monsters left and right, I don’t care what they did to you first. But I think you’re out of the crosshairs for now.”

“oh. uh, okay.”

“What I really don’t understand,” she said, reattaching the manacles and keys to her utility belt and lifting her shaggy fur out of her eyes to look down at him more closely, “is how a kid your size managed to pummel the HP out of two teenagers so quickly. You’re not a boss monster, are you? I didn’t see you in the registry.”

“er, no. i don’t think. ma’am,” he added. Was he a boss monster? Asriel talked about it all the time, like it was a core part of his identity as a monster. He was fairly sure Gaster would’ve mentioned that to him at some point. But then again, there were a lot of things Gaster never mentioned. It wouldn’t be surprising if this was just another thing to add to that long list.

Looking up at her face, it suddenly dawned on him what her facial expression was probably indicating.

Pity?

“Look, kid,” she said, confirming his suspicions by kneeling down to be eye level with him – though he could no longer see her eyes through her shaggy fur. “I know you weren’t at fault today, but you gotta figure out some other way to channel your magic or this is really gonna get you in trouble someday. I’ve never seen anything like that. If you’d dusted that teen, it doesn’t matter who was in the right, you’d have that dust on your hands for the rest of your life. You get what I’m saying?”

Sans shrunk slightly and nodded, his soul tightening in his ribcage as he recalled the snowdrake pleading for mercy. It would’ve been easy to kill him. Extremely easy. What he hadn’t told the guard, and what he realized with a sinking feeling as he looked down at his hands clasped in front of him, was that he had been holding back. Gaster had always told him as a young child that he’d been designed to solve puzzles, which he of course later figured out was a metaphor for getting through the barrier. It was odd to him that the doctor had never seemed too concerned with what would happen once he’d actually succeeded in getting past it, and, as he was embarrassed to be comprehending finally, it didn’t take too much of a stretch to figure out why.

He'd been designed to be a weapon, hadn’t he? It made so much sense in hindsight — the tests, Gaster’s complete lack of concern over preparing him to grab souls once he passed the barrier, the schematics for weapons labeled 0-4 suddenly replaced by Skelemonster Kids 5 and 6. He mentally kicked himself. Why hadn’t that clicked before? And if he’d actually been the beta test for 5, then 5’s magic was potentially even more powerful than his was. Or maybe it was just the effect of the DT?

He needed to figure out where 5 was. With or without Gaster. It was taking way too long.

The guard froze, cocking her head to one side as she picked up on a noise that wasn’t loud enough for Sans to detect yet. “Excuse me,” she said, rising and leaving the holding cell, shutting the door behind her gently. Sans rubbed his wrist bones, which still felt heavy from being in manacles for the last few hours. If only he’d taken more time to look at the notes in Gaster’s files before throwing them at him — although trying to decipher all of it had been difficult enough. The mathematical formulas running alongside the sheets of data hadn’t made much sense to him out of context. But maybe he just hadn’t tried hard enough.

Sans could hear some muffled arguing from somewhere down the hall, which continued until the entry to the holding cell opened and the guard reappeared, stepping aside to hold the door open for Toriel. The doctor followed shortly thereafter, looking even more exasperated than usual.

“Thank you, Mongrella. If you would be so kind as to give us some privacy,” the queen stated calmly. The guard nodded her head in a slight bowing motion, and closed the door behind her. As soon as the door shut, the queen’s face fell. Kneeling down next to Sans, she placed a paw on his collarbone and jerked his head towards her with her paw.

“My child, I returned to your home as we discussed earlier, only to find you missing. Then the city guards inform me that you are, in fact, not waiting in Snowdin as we agreed to, but are in New Home City. Not only that, but you injured two monsters so badly while there that they had to be rushed to a healer before they could even answer any questions about what took place. What is the meaning of this?”

“Come on, it was self-defense —“ the doctor interjected from behind her, closing his mouth quickly when she shot an enraged glare his direction.

“That is absolutely not an excuse for how badly those monsters were injured,” she snapped, before turning back to Sans. “Sans, you know better than this. We always have a choice when faced with adversity — if those monsters were picking a fight, you should have fled and found an adult to help you. I am extremely disappointed.”

Sans hung his head, his shoulder blade slumping as he fought the sob in his throat to stay put. “sorry,” he mumbled into his hands, unable to look her in the eye.

“Not as sorry as you would have been if the last attack you were preparing when Mongrella found you had struck either of them. Why did you not check their HP?”

Sans gripped his hands together more tightly and shrugged, as a hot tear escaped and rolled down his cheekbone. He quickly wiped it away with his jacket sleeve, but was having trouble keeping the other tears from flowing now that the floodgate had broken.

“Let us consider this an unfortunate learning opportunity. I am quite chagrined that I incorrectly assumed you had been taught how to interact with other monsters in situations such as this,” she stated, throwing a look that could have cut through glass at the doctor, “but I should have regardless taken the time to instruct you. For that, I apologize.” She stood, folding her hands into her sleeves, though the small skelemonster chose to stare at the floor instead as he wiped his face with his sleeve again.

“I shall inform Asgore of what transpired today, there is no need to bring this to the judgment hall. That being said, I am going to insist that you join Asriel in his lessons so that you may learn how to control your magic and handle situations like this properly in the future. This will not happen again, do you understand?”

Sans nodded, wishing he could disappear into the space between shortcuts forever.

“Good. I also expect you to apologize to those two monsters you injured once they are back at full strength. They shall be instructed to do the same.”

“yes ma’am,” Sans replied meekly as he wiped his face and looked up, taking note of the doctor rolling his eyelights behind her with crossed arms.

“It has been a long day. I have some debriefing to do with the guards, but you need not be present for that,” Toriel said, motioning to the door with her head. “You both may leave.”

“Alright kid, let’s move it,” the doctor spat out quickly, his accompanying gesture for ‘move’ translating into something akin to ‘move it as fast as you possibly can for the love of all things holy’ in Hands. Sans scooted awkwardly past him and headed down the hall, hoping to get out of Toriel’s line of sight before the guilt radiating from her disappointed expression crushed him.

The streets outside were nearly empty – shops had closed for the evening and those monsters that remained seemed to be more interested in getting to their destination than searching about for gossip as had been the case earlier. Sans walked with his head down, only halfway paying attention to the doctor’s attempts at small talk as they made their way towards the New Home City elevators to head back to the nearest ferry. Sans concentrated on his untied shoelace as he trudged forward, his anger and exhaustion boiling into a fury inside his ribcage as the doctor prattled on about something insignificant. How could Gaster be so damn nonchalant when only a few hours ago, he'd almost dusted two monsters?!

Once they were out of earshot of the few remaining monsters milling about the city, Sans cut the doctor off midsentence by grasping his hands with blue magic — the Hands equivalent of putting a hand up to someone’s mouth to silence them. The doctor stopped in his tracks, stunned.

“What the hell –”

“I’m a weapon, aren’t I?” Sans asked coldly, his words sounding like more of a statement than a question. He kept his gestures clipped as he spoke, adding venom to his already angry voice. “That’s not how other monsters' magic works.”

"You're right, it's not," the doctor replied flatly. 

“Tell me,” Sans snarled, shattering the gravity binding the doctor’s hands.

“I don’t know why you're so upset about this.”

“Because!” Sans shouted, feeling the world tilt slightly as he fought to keep himself from imploding. “I almost dusted two monsters today! Two! At once! On accident! For what?!”

“This isn’t a difficult physics problem, Sans. You pummel a monster ‘til their HP is gone, they turn into dust. What’s so hard to comprehend there?”

“Oh my god, just tell me if I'm a weapon or not and stop dodging the question! Why was my magic so much more powerful than theirs?!”

“Kid, you’re raging with determination, I already told you that. So yeah, I would venture to guess that if you’ve been marinating in your human friend’s DT all night and pushed it all out into an unchecked attack, then..." the doctor trailed off, eyeing the magic radiating off of Sans curiously.  

"THEN WHAT?!"

"Then I’m surprised you didn’t dust those teens in one shot, to be honest.”

God, he was glad he’d held back, Sans thought to himself numbly. 

“I want to see 5. Now.”

“What?! We’re not — okay no, you know what, I don’t take orders from you, and you certainly don’t get to lob blue magic at me when you’re not getting your way. So you can cut all that shit out right now.”

“Or what? You’ll lock me up? Throw me back in the lab?!” The world stuttered slightly and Sans gripped his hand into a fist trying to steady himself.

The doctor folded his arms, attempting to maintain a calm demeanor, though he realized that if Sans was going to throw a tantrum out here, there was nothing he could do about it other than ride it out and hope the other monsters in the vicinity didn’t notice the inevitable disruption in gravity. “You’re being childish, Sans,” the doctor stated calmly, using one hand to gesture.

“Maybe that’s ‘cause I’m a child,” Sans laughed, feeling hysterical. Screw the barrier, he didn’t want to dust anyone anymore. All he wanted was to figure out where the hell this other version of himself was and get him out, though even that was proving to be impossible. He gritted his teeth, willing the sob he could feel rising up in his throat again to dissipate. “I never asked for any of this.”

“What, you think I did?!” the doctor shot back. “I can think of a thousand ways I’d rather be spending my time this evening than having to pick you up from the guard station with the queen threatening to fire me in every sense of the word the entire way there. And then on top of all that having to deal with your little temper tantrums over here about choices you made. You’re acting like I’m the bad guy here. I didn’t send you after those kids, you did that.”

Sans balled his hands into fists, frustrated. “I just want to be a normal kid,” he muttered. “Nobody else has to worry about this stuff.”

Though that wasn’t entirely true, he thought to himself miserably. If he didn’t figure out how to break through that barrier soon without having to rely on a human soul, he had a sick, nagging feeling that Chara was going to do something drastic.

“No one asks for the hand they’re dealt, kiddo,” the doctor replied. “I don’t know why you’re so obsessed with 5, I told you I’d look into it. But there’s, you know, complications with that whole thing that gotta be ironed out. And you’re not helping the situation.”

“What do you mean? Complications like what?”

“Oh, I dunno, like trying to explain to Asgore how I suddenly ended up with another skelemonster running around when the lab he was created in was supposed to have been destroyed years ago? Trying to explain to Toriel why her husband was secretly funding science projects in the lab basement behind her back to begin with? There’s not exactly a ‘right thing to do’ in this situation.”

“Why don’t you just tell them the truth?” Sans asked, relaxing slightly. He could read from the doctor's gestures that 'lab' referred to the one he officially worked in. So the Hotland Lab basement...that’s where 5 must be. He was pretty sure he could shortcut there now that he had a destination in mind. He just needed to wait until the doctor's back was turned...

“It’s not that easy,” the doctor admitted, his hands drifting absently to the pack of cigarettes in his jacket pocket. “Look kid, I know you’re looking for a villain in all of this, but there isn’t one. Asgore isn’t a bad guy. Neither is Toriel. Neither am I. We've all seen some shit, we all want to get out of here, and some of us were just willing to take more drastic measures than others to do so.”

“Then why are you hiding it?”

The doctor let out an exasperated sigh, looking at his feet sullenly as he thought about how to answer. “It’s...complicated,” he stated finally, looking back up and hoping the kid would just give it a rest so he could get back home and collapse in his bed like he'd been wanting to do all day.

“Sans?”

But all that stood in front of him was the empty pathway leading towards the New Home City exit.

Chapter Text

Sans stood frozen in the darkness, relaxing as the familiarity of the humid air of the lab basement let him know he’d landed in the right place. Waving a hand around, he waited for the lights to sputter back on, bracing himself not to be startled this time when the gargantuan, bestial skulls snapped into view. Taking a deep breath, he clenched his hand into a fist and stepped forward.

Okay 5, where are you?

At first glance, the room appeared to be the same as he’d left it. The giant skulls stared vacantly towards the room's center; the monitors on the other side of the room were still off, his fishbowled image reflected in the glass. He paused, noticing a large entrance blown into the side of the room that hadn’t been there before.

“hello?” he called out hesitantly, only to be met with a resounding silence.

It occurred to him that if 5 was in here somewhere, he probably didn’t know common. “Hello? 5?” he called out, turning to the rest of the room and using Hands this time. Come to think of it, he wasn’t even sure what he was even looking for. Glancing over towards the desk that had once been stacked with papers and reports, he noticed that the contents had all been removed and the top now lay bare, save for a few stray paper clips. He grabbed onto one of the drawers and pulled forcefully, expecting it to be locked, only to fly backwards and land hard on his tailbone.

The drawer was empty.

“Damn,” he cursed in Hands, double checking all the drawers and finding them just as empty as the first. Should’ve spent more time looking through everything before blowing up at him, he thought angrily as he closed the desk drawers back up. Leaving behind a duplicate of himself at the desk to be sure he wasn’t being watched, he made his way around the room to each of the skulls, running his hand over the bottom row of teeth that yawned out towards him. What were these things supposed to be anyways? Decorations? He’d never known Gaster to have a flair for the dramatic, but maybe he just kept it under wraps? He stopped suddenly when he noticed a large, metal door hidden in the maw of one of the skulls, a small panel next to it looking almost identical to the ones they had in the Snowdin lab.

Bingo.

He waved the copy of himself away to focus on the task in front of him. Tugging on the door was useless, and he rightfully predicted the all-caps “ACCESS DENIED” message that blinked at him angrily after he attempted to scan his hand on it. Feeling around on the other side of the wall for a tear was also difficult – either someone was in there staring at the exact points he was searching out, or more likely, surveillance cameras had been set up to monitor the room and were preventing him from jumping inside. He considered attempting to break the door down with an attack, but when an image of a small skelemonster splayed out unconscious in the same position as the teen he’d attacked earlier that day popped into his mind’s eye, he quickly dismissed the thought.

He leaned back on the door and slid down into a seated position, resting his head on the sleeves of his hoodie, which still smelled faintly of the garbage he’d been covered in earlier than afternoon. This was officially the stupidest day ever. If he was going to get through that door, he’d need to talk the doctor into it. It wasn’t like there was any other way to get through it. Unless…

He gasped, sitting bolt upright, as it dawned on him that there was a way to get through all locked entryways in the underground. 

The royal family.

~

The doctor clomped down the stairs towards the Hotland Lab basement, the feeling of seething frustration having given way to tired resignation at some point during his fast-paced walk from New Home City to the lab. He had no idea where Sans had blipped off to, but had a sneaking suspicion he’d find him pulling things apart trying to be a hero in the lab basement.

Gods, he just wanted a drink. And his bed. And his old life, he thought gloomily, cursing himself for pushing a quieter existence aside in favor of his loyalty to Asgore and blind faith that science still held the answers after centuries of near stagnant progress towards destroying the barrier.

Not that he would have ever been content with a quiet life. 

But what good had come of it? He’d never wanted children, and yet here he was, trudging down to the lab basement after-hours trying to prevent one lab experiment from accidentally destroying another and potentially blowing the lid off Asgore and his best-kept secret in the process. Most likely compromising his entire career and the king's reputation. And all because Asgore had made the impulsive decision to scrap the entire Soul Project out of nowhere and had wrongly entrusted the most invested monster in the underground to deal with erasing all evidence of its existence.

Exhaling loudly as he threw a bullet pattern into the panel leading to the basement, he tried to shake off the hopelessness that he was prone to drown in if he thought about the situation too much. They’d just been so close. How could he have been expected to throw all of that away over some idiot prophecy and a feeling that the human child was the key to rescuing everyone!? It was like he was the only one who even remembered the war anymore.

Fucking Delta Rune.

“Sans, are you in here?” he asked calmly, stepping through the hole blasted in the wall. No one answered, though the “ACCESS DENIED!” remained flashing across the key pad next to the doorway hidden within the blaster across the room from him. The doctor ran a hand over the back of his head, looking around but not seeing any other signs of the small skelemonster. He must’ve shortcutted somewhere else after failing to get through the door — he was fairly certain he’d rigged up the inside of the room so that there was no way for Sans to get through without going through the doorway. Only one way to find out.

The doctor placed a hand on the pad, hearing the door’s lock unclick and the whoosh of the seal opening. And...whimpering?

“Er,” he started, peering into the room and waiting for his eyes to adjust to the low light. Two pinpricks of bright white light stared back at him from the observation room, and he could hear the low click-click-click of bones rattling. He quickly ran his hand along the wall to flip an additional light switch on. Shit, how long had 5 been awake!?

The skelemonster child squeezed its eye sockets shut tightly and turned its head away from him as the light flickered on, pulling feebly on the restraints that tied it down to the bed it was laid out on. Piled about the room were small bone-shaped bullets that looked as though they’d ricocheted out in all directions from 5, but hadn’t been dispersed yet. Which meant it was probably exhausted from keeping so much of its magic materialized.

“Ah jeez,” the doctor sighed, grabbing a scanner and opening the door to the observation room so he could get a proper reading and try to figure out when exactly 5 had become lucid. He hadn’t expected it to be alert for at least another week, especially after having been in stasis for so long. Bioengineering had never been his strong suit. Not that Asgore had cared when they’d first come up with this stupid plan.

His soul twinged a bit looking at the whimpering experiment in front of him, dried tearlines still visible along its cheek bones as it peered up at him. Jotting a few notes down in the file next to the room, he returned, sitting on the edge of the bed wearily. “What are we gonna do with you, 5?” he asked, not expecting an answer, though he noticed the bone bullets scattered about the room began to dissipate as the monster kid calmed down. Grabbing a bottle of sleep serum from the table and stuffing it into his coat pocket in case the experiment freaked out on him, he undid the bindings, checking to make sure they hadn’t damaged 5 while it...well, while he’d undoubtedly been thrashing against them. After a few moments of remaining motionless, 5 sat up slowly without breaking eye contact, tucking his legs up and folding his arms around them as he stared up at the doctor silently.

The doctor rubbed a hand over his face, sitting on the side of the bed on the corner opposite from 5 and sighing. A gentle touch on his arm pulled him out of his thoughts and he looked up to see 5 crouched next to him, one hand gesturing silently.

“Uh, did you say something?”

Fr…friend?”

The doctor’s jaw dropped open. He definitely hadn’t expected 5 to be able to communicate after all this time.

“What? Can you talk?” 5 blinked up at him, tilting his head slightly as if he was confused. The doctor shook his head, turning to sit cross legged on the bed across from 5. “Understand? Do you understand me?”

“Undastand,” 5 repeated, smiling shyly and nodding.

“Okay, I wasn’t anticipating that, but uh,” the doctor said, scratching his jaw and fighting the sudden urge to walk outside the room and light a cigarette. “Fuck.”

Fuck,” 5 signed happily.

“No! No no, don’t repeat that. Shit, I need to find somewhere else to move you, I really was thinking I had more time than this,” he said, more to himself than to 5, who was listening intently with his hands folded neatly in his lap when they weren’t moving about to communicate. The doctor drummed his fingers on the cigarette carton in his pocket, his mind racing as he tried to figure out what to do next. “Alright, um...okay, here’s what we’re going to do. Yeah. The lab’s closed for the night and I think most monsters are going to be indoors anyways, so...you know, now’s as good a time as any. Throw this on,” he said, pulling the extra jacket he’d brought to New Home City for Sans to change into out from his bag and unwrapping his scarf from his neck. 5 looked down at the clothes, confused. “Understand? Do you need help?” the doctor asked.

What this?” asked 5 silently, plucking at the jacket with one phalax, then petting it gently.

“We’re gonna move you, 5. Think it’d be safer having you close by in a lab that’s actually fully functioning rather than leaving you down here where I have to run to the ferry every time something happens.” 5 looked up again, clearly not understanding. The doctor sighed, wishing Sans would just show up so he could quantum leap the three of them back to the house in Snowdin rather than having to stealthily navigate back through the underground. Actually, if he could find Sans, maybe that’d be a better idea…

“On second thought, I should probably go get your uh, well, your brother, I guess. And see if he can move you more easily. Stay here,” he said, swinging his legs off the bed to stand, only to be pulled back down when his soul was abruptly seized with blue magic. “Oof!”

No!” 5 cried, squeaking slightly in a raspy voice as he signed. “No leave.”

“I’m not leaving forever, I’ll be right back!” the doctor insisted, attempting to pull against the blue magic that was frantically grasping onto his soul. Damn 5 was strong. He’d need to make sure to take some measurements on that later.

“NO ALONE NO MORE,” 5 shouted, though his voice was hoarse from all the screeching he’d done into the darkness over the last several hours, his bones rattling again through his muted lab clothes.

“5…come on, kid, don’t make this hard,” the doctor replied, looking at him. 5 released the blue magic and slumped, breathing heavily and looking upset. Maybe sleep serum wouldn’t be necessary. The kid was clearly beat. “Seriously, I’ll be right back.”

Go with you,” 5 gestured stubbornly, pulling the jacket on and clutching the scarf to his chest as he slid carefully off the bed and steadied himself by grabbing onto the doctor’s hand, who looked down at him. 5 was clearly a different skelemonster than Sans. For one, he was quite a bit taller – at least a full foot. And much louder when he spoke, in spite of his raspy voice. But unless you knew Sans really well, it would be hard to tell that 5 was anything other than his son walking home with him. 

“Kid, you are way too trusting,” he said, kneeling down and wrapping the scarf around 5’s neck, then helping him to put on a pair of slip-on shoes from the lab closet. 5 seemed to be humming something to himself, though the doctor wasn’t sure how or where he’d learned to do that. Perhaps from the time before he’d been put into suspended animation? 5 was much more advanced than the doctor remembered, and the notes he'd reviewed from right before he'd fled to Snowdin with 6 in tow had been more focused on 5's vital stats than any sort of personality.

Grabbing some supplies and tucking them into his coat pockets, the doctor straightened the room up quickly, taking care to leave out only those tools that he might need should an emergency situation arise. 5 followed right on his heels, nearly tripping him a few times in the process. The doctor had to keep himself from laughing at the thought of Toriel running into him with yet another skelemonster kid in tow right after she’d nearly incinerated him for not watching the one he already had. Maybe if they bumped into her on the way home for some reason, he’d just tell her to ask Asgore if she wanted an explanation and be done with it. He was tired of all the secrets. 

"Whatever, I don't care anymore," he said to no one in particular, shutting the light off and taking 5 by the hand. "We'll deal with it later. Let's go home."

Chapter Text

Asriel awoke with a start. Grabbing the flashlight next to his pillow, he shot the beam at the window where the sound had come from, pulling his blanket over his head to hide from whatever it was that was out there.

“Chara!” he mewed in a strained whisper. The lump in the bed next to him didn’t stir. “CHARA.”

“What?!” the lump growled.

“I heard something.”

Chara sat up in bed, looking towards the beam of light shaking about on window blinds. After a few moments, they flopped back into their bed again. “There’s nothing there, dummy.”

“There was!” Asriel whispered, his voice a bit louder this time. He strained to listen and could make out a soft rustling sound from somewhere outside. “There! Did you hear that?”

Chara rolled over and grinned, the corners of their mouth twisting up into their signature creepy face that Asriel hated so much. Especially when it was made even more creepy in the shadows of the flashlight. “I did. You know what?"

"Wh-what?"

"I bet it’s an old, hunchbacked wizard! Coming to get you and take you away!”

Asriel whimpered. “Stop it.”

Chara’s grin widened as they made exaggerated tip toeing motions towards the window. Asriel could swear the rustling was getting closer. “I hear him!" Chara whispered loudly, their grin widening. "He’s here for you!”

“Chara!”

“HE’S RIGHT OUTSIDE!” they shrieked, grabbing the pull string on the blinds and yanking them open. Chara was cut off midlaugh and jumped back quickly. On the other side of the window was the pale, round face of the old wizard staring in at them. Asriel let out a blood curdling scream.

“What the...Sans?” Chara asked, regaining their composure and recognizing their friend. Asriel’s ears perked up suddenly. Chara had barely a second to step in front of the skelemonster as the door burst open and the dark shadow of the king filled the doorway, lit up as Asriel turned the flashlight beam onto him.

“Asriel, Chara! Are you alri — oof!” he cringed, backing up after hitting his horns on the top of the doorway.

“We’re fine dad,” Chara replied quickly, hoping that Sans wasn’t still leering through the window behind them.

The king looked from Chara to Asriel, who was still shaking with a blanket over his head with the flashlight now turned upwards so that it lit his face up like a ghoul. He flicked the flashlight off, gulping.

“Ch-chara was telling me a scary story. And-and I got scared so I screamed. Sorry.”

“A scary story, huh? Well that is all fine and good, but perhaps that should be a day time activity,” he replied gently, ducking his head through the doorway and walking over to the window where Chara stood. Chara drew their breath in, but remained rooted in place. “Is something the matter?”

“Uh, no,” Chara said, chancing a look behind them. Sans was no where to be seen.

The king hunched over to peer out, the stillness of the night lit only by the bioluminescent creatures and flora living in the garden. “Beautiful night, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” Chara replied, hopping back into bed and making a show of pulling the covers back up. “I just wanted to look outside. Well, goodnight dad.”

The king glanced outside once more, then closed the blinds, turning to tuck in Asriel and then Chara, planting a kiss on each of their foreheads. “Goodnight, my futures of humans and monsters.”

“Night dad,” the two chorused behind him, as he shut the door quietly. As soon as he was gone, Chara threw the covers off and pulled the blinds up halfway, unlocked the window, and leaned out over the sill. “Sans? Sans!”

“i’m right here,” the skelemonster replied quietly, stepping out from a spot that Chara swore he wasn’t in a second ago.

“They let you out?” they whispered back, moving over slightly to accommodate Asriel as he joined them at the window.

“uh...let me out of where?”

“Jail, dummy!” they grinned. “What’d you even do?”

Sans glanced nervously at the massive shadow of the king moving about behind the curtains of another room. The shadow appeared to be pouring a cup of tea, as it moved to sit down in a large armchair.

“just a dumb fight,” Sans replied quickly, his eyelights still not leaving the shadow in the other room. He stepped closer to the window, his thoughts racing as he struggled to figure out what his plan even was. “listen, i…i need your help.”

“Are you okay?” Asriel asked, looking him over. “I can get dad!”

“no! no, just…i…i need to tell you guys something but…you can’t tell your mom or dad.”

Asriel looked at Chara hesitantly, whose grin had melted into a serious expression.

"Okay," Chara replied.

“you have to promise.”

“We promise,” Chara stated, making an ‘x’ across their chest, then elbowing Asriel, who did the same. “Cross our hearts and hope to die.”

“okay, uh, well…god where do i even start with this?”

“Did you kill someone?”

“no! just…no, we’re wasting time! can i take you somewhere? and i’ll try to explain there? please?”

Asriel deferred to Chara, who nodded. “Give us a sec.” The two pulled their shoes on and threw stuffed animals under the blankets. Asriel grabbed a backpack, throwing the flashlight inside before returning to the window, where Chara pulled the blinds completely open to give them enough room to crawl out.

“Shoot, mom better not come home when the window’s open or we’re going to be in big trouble,” Chara muttered, looking around the room before swinging a leg up over the window sill. Sans peeked back at the shadow of the king, still sipping from a small cup in the other room and looking as if he were reading a book with the other.

“wait. uh, i can take us there faster. just, shut the window and close your eyes for a minute.”

“What?”

“just close them. both of you. and don’t freak out.” Sans waited until the window was closed and he could feel the tear available in the other room. He hopped through, willing Asriel not to shriek again as he tried to remain as nonchalant as possible. “okay, uh, so…i haven’t moved two people before but —”

“I knew you had some kind of jump magic!” Chara whispered, thumping him on the shoulder with a fist. Asriel was looking back and forth from the closed window, to the room, and back to the window again.

“How…how did you do that?”

“it’s just something i can do. can we go please? i don’t know how much time we have.”

“Where are we going?”

“hotland”

“Right now?!”

“yes, i can’t do it by myself. please, just…i think my brother is down there.”

“Brother??”

Sans heard the footsteps of the king in the other room, though he didn’t seem to be heading down the hallway. God, this had already taken so much longer than he had hoped it would. He felt a warm lump rising in the hyoid bone of his neck as he realized with a sinking feeling that he hadn’t thought this through completely. But there was no turning back now.

Chara raised an eyebrow at whatever expression was showing on his face, placing a hand on the same shoulder they had punched him in previously. A surge of determination washed over Sans, stronger than he’d experienced in some time.

“Okay, I don't know what the heck you're talking about, but let’s go,” Chara stated resolutely. “You coming, Azzy?”

Asriel nodded, attempting to mimic the brave expression on Chara’s face. Sans relaxed slightly, the DT replacing his exhausted second-guessing with a wave of confidence.

“okay. close your eyes again.”

~

Asriel gasped, the sound reverberating off of the high ceilings and metal walls of the Hotland Lab as the three of them emerged into the warm humidity of the laboratory’s underbelly.

“the lights are going to flick on when we start moving,” Sans stated quietly, trying to keep his voice steady as the noise echoed off the ceiling. “there’s some uh, scary looking skulls along the walls, but they don’t move. they’re just sitting there. so don’t freak out.” He stepped forward, waving an arm to make sure the sensors saw him and blinked as the lights flipped back on in succession. Despite the warning, Asriel let out a small, startled cry behind him.

“What are those?! What is this place?”

“the hotland lab,” Sans replied, looking around quickly and heading towards the locked door. “i...i think i was made here.”

“What do you mean ‘made’?” Chara asked, following behind him and peering around the room at the blank monitors and bare wiring that had fallen loose from the ceiling.

“man, i don’t even know where to start,” Sans admitted, examining the panel locking the door, his hands shaking slightly from the adrenaline and DT surging through his system. “i don’t even think i know the whole story. but i just know i’m…i’m not like other monsters.

“What do you mean?” Asriel asked, timidly.

“i, uh. was an experiment. i guess. and i was made here. in the lab.”

The silence that followed was interrupted as Asriel laughed nervously. "Quit joking."

"i wish i was, azz."

"Who told you that?"

"i mean, i remember it. sort of. i mean, not being made, but i've uh, i've known a long time."

“What?! But that's crazy, why would someone make you in a lab?!” Asriel asked, his eyes wide. Sans looked uncomfortable, but tried to keep looking into his friend's eyes as he spoke.

“gaster made me. and probably some others, i don’t know. he told me i was made to solve puzzles, but then it was the barrier, and then it turned out i was only supposed to be a prototype for a better me, but now i think really it was some sort of a weapon he was working on or something," he replied, the words flooding out of his mouth before he could stop himself. "i don’t even think i was ever supposed to be out here with everyone else, something just happened and we had to pretend everything was normal all of a sudden, but…i’m not normal. i never was. i almost killed two people today. without even trying! and there’s another one like me down here but they didn’t wake him up and i think he’s still down here and i just left him here this whole time by himself and…”

He stopped, looking at the stunned expressions on his friends’ faces. He realized suddenly that hot tears were running down his cheek bones and wiped them away quickly with his sleeve.

“Do mom and dad know about this?” Asriel asked meekly.

“azz, you can’t tell them.”

“Why not? Maybe they can fix it!”

“because…because your dad….”

“Knew about it?” Chara asked, narrowing their eyes as they looked at his face. Sans nodded slightly, wondering if Chara could also read faces. “But not mom,” they continued, as Sans shook his head to confirm. “So why was he hiding it?”

Sans wilted, realizing he wasn’t sure how Chara was going to take what he knew to be true. “because he didn’t want her to know that, uh…that…”

“‘THAT WHAT,’ SANS?” they shouted, stepping forward suddenly, frightening Asriel. Sans backed up into the panel behind him, willing himself to keep his eyelights lit despite how panicked he was.

“that…they were experimenting on…on fallen humans.”

Chara balled their hand into a fist, taking a deep breath. “I knew it. I knew I wasn’t the first human.”

“But, but there haven’t been any humans down here since the war,” Asriel stammered, peeking around Chara. “Dad said —”

“Dad lied, Asriel,” Chara snarled, their hands trembling.

“If dad lied, then how come we haven't seen any humans huh?!” Asriel shot back. Chara looked down at Sans, peering at him closely, as if looking at him for the first time. They frowned, causing their nose to wrinkle up.

“We have,” they replied quietly.

“What are you talking about?”

Sans started to reply, but was cut off by Chara, who leaned in and took his hand.

“Never mind, Azz," they said, examining the magic stringing his bones together. "So, this is what you meant. About us not being so different. And why you could get so much farther into the barrier than Asriel could. It all makes sense now.”

Sans remained quiet as his friend processed the information.

“And why you suddenly appeared out of nowhere. Being all goofy and stuff. Not knowing how to speak common.”

Sans shrugged, looking at the floor.

“Do you remember who you were?”

“what?”

“Who you were. Before you were a monster. How you died.”

A sick feeling came over Sans as he realized what Chara meant, and he hung his head, suddenly ashamed of what he was. “er, no. i don’t. i don’t think it works like that.”

“What are you talking about?” Asriel asked, looking back and forth between them.

“Hm,” Chara replied, ignoring Asriel and dropping Sans' hand. “So where's your brother?”

Sans avoided Chara’s eyes as he turned back to the panel behind him, feeling like he needed to stand in a shower and scrub himself clean for the rest of his life.

“i think he’s locked back here,” he mumbled, pointing to the door. “but i can’t jump through. something’s keeping me from doing it. like maybe a video camera or something.”

Asriel furrowed his eyebrows. “How would a video camera —”

“Asriel, quiet. So how do we open it?

Sans motioned to the access panel. “i don’t know the code, but gaster told me that the only ones who could open all the locked doors in the underground were the royal family. that’s why i needed your help.”

Chara was quiet for a moment, before nodding. “Okay. I’ll open it,” they said, stepping towards the panel. “On one condition.”

Sans cocked his head to indicate he was listening.

“I’m helping you with your plan. But you have to promise to help me with mine. No matter what.”

Sans looked at their face, trying to read the neutral expression, but found nothing. “what plan?”

“Promise me, Sans.”

Sans felt a surge of determination rush through him, and gritted his teeth to keep his knees from buckling.

“okay, i promise.”

“Cross your heart?”

“cross my heart,” he sighed, making an ‘x’ motion over his rib cage.

Chara smirked, and placed their hand on the panel.

 

Chapter Text

A bright line zigzagged down the panel, lighting up Chara’s hand briefly, before a chirping noise sounded and a neon green “ACCESS GRANTED” flashed onto the screen. The door whooshed open. Chara looked pointedly at Sans, nodding their head towards the interior.

“Wait,” Asriel interrupted, before either of them could move.

“Azz, I told you if you’re going to be a fraidy monster —”

“I’m not a fraidy monster!” Asriel shouted, throwing their backpack to the ground angrily. “Stop calling me that!”

“Fine, geez,” Chara relented, rolling their eyes. Asriel turned to Sans, looking irritated.

“You said you couldn’t jump through before ‘cause there were video cameras or something, right? Won’t someone see us if we’re just walking in?”

Sans blinked. “yeah…yeah, good point.” Though it could just be that whoever was behind here was looking at the spot I was trying to jump to, he thought warily.

He peered around the door, noticing a video camera set up in the corner of the room similar to the one he’d grown up with as a child in the Snowdin lab, its red light blinking on and off at the same exact intervals. Aiming quickly, he blasted it off the wall with two bone-shaped bullets, hoping he didn’t startle 5 if he was actually back there behind the door. The silence that followed made him uneasy.

Taking a deep breath, Sans stepped through.

“hello?” he called out, scanning the room. The now-busted camera had been pointing towards a vacant room — the small gurney inside was rigged with leather arm, neck, and leg straps, all of which were undone. A large, metal table sat in the center of the main room under a massive tangle of wires and lights. Sans suddenly had a sickening flashback of raising his arms out as a small child for the doctor to lift him up onto a similar table, where he’d awake hours later feeling ill from whatever it was that had been mainlined into his magic while he’d been unconscious. Tearing his gaze away, Sans noticed that the other side of the room was lined with a series of hyperbaric chambers, most with the lids ajar and looking as though they hadn’t been touched for a long time. He approached the one near the far right of the room slowly, running his hand over the number stenciled onto the front in common.

6. His number.

He felt nauseous.

“Hey look at these!” Asriel shouted, pointing at bookshelves full of VHS tapes that were stacked against the wall of the doorway. “There’s like hundreds of them!”

“So where is he?” asked Chara, looking at the chamber marked with Sans’ given name curiously. Sans peered at the chamber next to it marked ‘5,’ which had also been opened, and shook his head.

“good question,” he replied, fighting off a sinking feeling. “maybe…maybe he was never even here to begin with.”

“But I thought you said —”

“yeah, i know,” he interrupted. Sans tried to recall why he’d been so sure that a brother had even been back here to begin with. The tear conveniently opening when he’d been daydreaming of an imaginary family member, the schematics of the two skelemonsters, Gaster’s dismissive reaction when he asked him to revive his counterpart — it was strong evidence that there had been someone here at some point, but it certainly didn’t prove anything.

Maybe he’d risked getting his friends in trouble for nothing?

“Hey look, is that you?” Asriel shouted, craning his neck to look up at a lit up television screen as he stepped away from the VCR.

Chara followed Sans as he hurried over to the monitor, peering up at the camera footage. Sure enough, a younger version of the skelemonster lay sprawled out unconscious in what looked to be one of the hyperbaric chambers, a monitor next to him displaying his DT reading and HP level as he slept soundly. A date and time stamp in the corner indicated the year to be 198x, indicating that he was less than a year old at the time.

“DT,” Asriel read, his hand on his chin. “Golly, what do you suppose that is?”

Sans shrugged, not feeling like explaining it, and surveyed the rest of the shelf. The tape inside the camera at the door entrance probably would’ve had the most recent footage on it — if he hadn’t just blasted it apart. He pulled another tape off the shelf that looked to be a likely candidate for the last one that’d been made, hitting the eject button on the VCR to swap out the tape. This one appeared to be taken from the camera that had formerly been mounted in the room's corner, and showed what was clearly the doctor and Asgore in the midst of an argument near the observation room.

“Is that dad?” Asriel asked, stepping closer. “Wowie, he sure looks younger, doesn’t he? Hey, I can’t hear anything, can you turn it up?”

Chara stood on tiptoe to punch the volume up to its max, which was still just barely audible above the low hum of the lab equipment around them.

“— non-negotiable, Wingdin, it’s an order,” Asgore’s voice boomed angrily. “I expect this to be taken care of by the time I return here next week. There is nothing to discuss about it.”

Wingdin muttered something inaudible, but Sans could read from his gestures that he was spewing expletives.

“I am sorry,” the king said, turning to leave. “I hope you understand.”

“Wait,” the doctor shouted. The two had moved around to the front of the metal table, making it easier to see them from the angle of the camera. The doctor had grabbed onto the sleeve of the king’s robe and was peering up at him with a look of desperation. “Asgore. Just…listen to reason for a minute,” he pleaded, dropping his sleeve as the king turned to look at him. “You know I love Toriel. You’re both like family for godssakes. But she’s making a mistake!”

“Wingdin —”

“Just hear me out for a second!” the doctor challenged, his gestures adding urgency to the words that Sans wasn’t sure translated to common. “I know that they look like monster kids when they’re small, but they’re not. They are fundamentally different from us. You can’t teach them to be compassionate! The minute that thing doesn’t get their way, doesn’t get what they want, gets angry, gets upset? We’re done for! We have nowhere to run.”

"What are they talking about?" Asriel asked, but was quickly shushed by Chara.

“Wingdin,” the king repeated.

“No, listen! I was in the war, I fought right there beside you. Those things are the most vile, unforgiving creatures I’ve ever encountered. The things they did — I don’t know why I’m the only one who fucking remembers any of this! Do you remember what they did to me? When I was down there being interrogated in that fucking hole of a prison?”

“Of course I remember,” Asgore confessed, looking ashamed.

“You could’ve had me map out my worst nightmares and I wouldn’t have even been close to what those humans came up with for torturing monsters down there. Hell, they enjoyed it. And now you're telling me to scrap the closest we've had to hope for a long time because Toriel wants to adopt one?! Has she gone mad?!"

Sans cast a sidelong glance at Chara, whose gaze was riveted to the screen.

“I lost everything,” the doctor continued, his gestures frantic as his voice cracked. “My magic, my identity…my family, my friends, my whole fucking culture! Gone! And all because those fucking humans turned on us for no reason!

“Wingdin, I understand, but that was centuries ago, we can’t —”

The doctor smashed a coffee cup that’d been sitting next to the metal table against the floor, a flicker of magic sparking in his hands.

“CENTURIES AGO!? Then why is it when I fall asleep at night, I can still see my partner turning to dust in my arms, huh?!” he fumed, taking a step forward. “Do you know what that’s like?! Watching the person you love crumble while you sit there helplessly, choking on the dust of all the other monsters being torn apart around you for no reason?”

The doctor turned away with his hand over his mouth, trying to compose himself. Asgore sighed. “Wingdin, I understand your pain. And I do remember the war, as if it were yesterday. We lost many friends, many good hearts, many brave warriors, many loved ones. I mourn their loss every day, and honor their memory. But I also trust Toriel, and if she says this is the right choice, then —”

“Then she’s a fool,” the doctor spat angrily.

The king reared up to his full height, dwarfing the doctor as a flame ignited in his massive paw. “Now you listen to me, Wingdin. You may be my friend, but do not forget that I am also your leader, and your king. And disobeying my direct orders, or your queen’s, is treason, and you will be judged accordingly, lest you forget that. Now either get rid of the Soul Project or I’ll incinerate it myself. Do you understand?”

The doctor stood silently, his gloved hands balled into fists against his sides as he glared at the floor.

“Yes sir,” he replied coldly.

“Good,” the king replied, extinguishing the flame. “I am glad I can count on you to do the right thing, old friend.”

The doctor stood rooted in the same place, staring at the floor, long after the king had turned to go. After a period of time, he ran a hand over his head and sighed heavily, pressing buttons on a panel close to the edge of the screen. The video feed cut out abruptly.  

“What?! Is that the end of it?” Asriel asked, jamming his finger against the play button and looking up at the television. “What project?! What the heck were they talking about? Should I rewind it?”

“No,” Chara muttered, folding their arms and looking at their feet. “I don’t want to watch it again.”

“You okay?” Asriel asked, placing an arm on Chara’s shoulder which they quickly shrugged off.

“I’m fine,” replied Chara sullenly, though Sans thought he could see angry tears in their eyes before they turned and trudged off.

“Maybe we should go back,” Asriel whispered to Sans. “This place gives me the creeps.”

“yeah,” Sans conceded, watching Chara run their hands forlornly along the empty hyperbaric chambers across the room. “gimme a second.”

Asriel nodded, ejecting the tape and putting it back onto the shelf by the others as Sans walked back over to the other side of the room.

“you alright?” Sans asked, noticing Chara was attempting to wipe their face without him seeing.

“No,” they stammered, a sob escaping their lips as they began banging on the lid of the chamber angrily. “I hate humans! I hate them!”

“whoa, chara —” Sans started, reaching a hand out. Chara fell to their knees, grabbing the front of his sweater and burying their face in it as they wept uncontrollably.

“Don’t you see?! If it wasn’t for humans, you wouldn’t be trapped down here! You wouldn’t have been stuck in a stupid lab trying to get us out! YOU should be the ones up there on the surface, not them. Not me. I hate humanity. I hate that I’m one of them!”

Sans looked up to see Asriel kneel beside them, his hand on Chara’s shoulder.

“Chara, don’t say stuff like that.”

“You don’t know what it’s like up there, on the surface,” they sobbed, their voice muffled in the fabric of Sans jacket. “Dr. Gaster’s right, humans are horrible. They’re cruel and mean and violent and think only about themselves —”

“But you’re not like that!” Asriel protested.

“Maybe I am and you just don’t know it yet,” Chara snapped, wiping their nose on their sleeve.

“No, you’re not,” Asriel replied sternly, putting his paw on Chara’s shoulder. “And even if you were, I don’t care. You’re my best friend and I’d do anything for you. You know that, right?”

Chara nodded, still looking at the ground.

He turned to Sans, looking tired. “I don’t like it down here. We should go home before dad notices we’re gone.”

Sans glanced quickly around the room, taking note of the things he’d want look over more thoroughly when he returned later that night without them.

“okay. yeah, let’s get out of here,” he replied, grasping both of their hands. "close your eyes."

Chapter Text

Toriel blew on her inked signature gently, closing out the last of what seemed like a larger than normal stack of documents from the New Home City police station. With the booming population had come an influx of crime, although for the most part, they tended to be minor infractions -- a storefront graffitied, a spider cider drank before payment. Never in her time in the underground had she seen a fight with that type of damage from so few attacks as that which she'd reviewed in Mongrella's report.

And from such a small monster, no less. 

She shook her head, pulling the report back out from the stack and reviewing it for what must have been the sixth time that night.

It just didn't make sense to her. She'd never seen Sans throw more than a small bone before, and even then, it was only to emphasize the punchline to a silly joke he'd been making. According to the handful of witnesses that left statements, the whole fight had only lasted a few seconds before the two teenagers had been knocked asunder, and yet their damage was nearly enough to have dusted both of them. How on earth did he know how to manifest such powerful magic?!

Wingdin, she thought angrily. 

She frowned, putting the documents into her bag and turning the lamp off. Wingdin had always been cagey, but something was going on. None of it made sense to her, and while she wanted with all her soul to believe she was being paranoid, she could swear a shadow crossed Asgore's face whenever she began to speculate as to what Wingdin's problem was to him. Was he in on something she didn’t know about?

And the kids were acting rather strange lately. All three of them. Did this outburst have something to do with that as well? Maybe she needed to keep a closer eye on them...

"Your highness," a voice from the corridor outside interrupted. The queen looked up to see Mongrella's perplexed expression, and was suddenly aware she'd been brooding silently in the darkness of the office. She smiled warmly in an attempt to ward off concern. 

"I am sorry," she apologized. "It has been...quite a day."

"You're telling me," the captain chuckled, stepping aside to allow the queen to pass. "Can I get you a cup of tea or anything?"

"No thank you, but I appreciate the offer. How are the other two monsters doing? Snowy and...Trevil, was it?"

"Think they'll be back to themselves within a day or so, now that they've been stabilized.”

”Oh thank heavens.”

”The healers were pretty um, spooked to be honest."

"Spooked?"

"Yeah. Said there was something strange about the damage. Like it was leeching their HP back down for the next few hours even after they'd brought it back to a sustainable level. You ever heard of something like that before?"

Toriel shook her head slowly, trying to recall anything similar in her centuries of studies.

"I have not," she replied slowly, her stomach sinking with the realization that despite all the time she'd spent with the young skelemonster over the last several years, she really had no idea what he was capable of.

~

The doctor wasn’t sure if it was sheer luck that they were able to board the ferry without coming across a single soul, or if it was just so late in the evening that everyone had turned in for the night well ahead of their departure for Snowdin. 5 stayed close to his side, grabbing onto his sleeve and gazing about as the boat trotted across the water towards their destination.

“What this?” 5 signed at him, for what seemed to be the millionth time that night. The doctor looked over to where he was pointing. A small, glowy bug had landed on his sleeve.

“Bug,” the doctor replied in Hands, signing back as he spoke. He pulled his cigarette carton out of his pocket, shaking it a couple times before tapping what was probably the last one into his palm. Lighting it, he took a drag before nearly choking when he heard 5 shriek.

BUG!” 5 squeaked in Hands, putting his face close to where the bug had been and a small smoosh now was.

“Shh, 5! You gotta stay quiet.”

5 turned, looking at him frantically. “PET BUG! Bug?! Bug okay?!”

“Er, maybe pet him a bit too hard, bucko.”

5 stared at him, his jaw trembling. The doctor had to fight back a laugh. So this was the ultimate weapon he’d been working towards for so many years, huh? 

The doctor smacked the mush off 5’s jacket, which was a bit too small for him despite being oversized on Sans, and wiped his hand on his pant leg. Blowing smoke in the direction away from 5, he patted the seat next to him with his free hand. “Why don’t you sit down, kid? You look exhausted.”

5 stared at the spot momentarily where the doctor had wiped his hand off on his pant leg before climbing up onto the seat next to him. “What happen bug?”

“Well, you pressed him too hard and uh...killed him,” the doctor shrugged. 

“What killed?”

“You know, you make it not alive anymore.”

5 grew very quiet, looking at the floor for a few moments before signing again.

”Me alive?”

“Yes, you’re alive. Well, now anyways.”

“You alive?”

“Yes, as far as I can tell.”

“Bug not alive.”

“Not anymore.”

“I killed bug,” 5 signed guiltily.

“Buddy, it happens. It wasn’t a monster or anything, just a plain old bug. It’s not a big deal.”

5 continued to stare at the ground sadly, his eye sockets wet with tears. The doctor considered him silently, stubbing his cigarette out when he noticed the approaching dock. “Alright, this is our stop kiddo. Look, why don’t you say a few nice words about the bug and let’s get on with it yeah?” 

5 stood, still looking at the ground, seemingly deep in thought. “Bug good. Friend,” he signed. “Good friend bug.”

“Great, let’s go,” the doctor said, throwing a fistful of gold coins into the FAIR FARE bucket. “Appreciate your keeping this quiet,” he added in common to the hooded figure who, if they saw the hefty tip, was not reacting any differently than normal.

“Tra la la!” the hooded figure sang after them, as the two stepped off the boat and headed into Snowdin. “Everyone can be a great person if they try!”

Chapter Text

Parting ways had been awkward. Rather than the excited chatter than normally permeated the air when the threesome roamed the underground together, the weight of silence was palpable as they emerged through the tear back into the Dreemurr kids’ room. Glancing quickly at Asriel as he opened his eyes, Sans could read his friend’s desire to say something that could help fix the weird shift their relationship had taken since he’d let them in on his secret, but either he couldn’t find the words or was still trying to make sense of it himself.

Chara, on the other hand, was clearly undergoing a huge wave of emotions. He didn’t even have to read their expression before the DT clashed through him like a tidal wave after the momentary feeling of nothingness that accompanied each tear jump. Chara quickly busied themselves with removing the stuffed animal from under their covers, looking to be deep in thought. Sans shifted slightly, trying to think of something he could say that would gloss things over, when the sound of the front door opening jolted all of them out of their haze.

Toriel was home.

“Quick, in here!” Asriel yelped, shoving Sans into their closet and shutting the door. He leapt back into bed, pulling the covers up to his chin just as his mother opened the door to check in on them.

Toriel peered in, looking between the two children in their beds and sighed. Wishing late nights for work-related matters were a thing permanently in the past, she whispered a quick prayer of gratitude to the delta rune before closing the door quietly and heading back down to the room she shared with her husband.

After what seemed like an eternity, Asriel breathed a sigh of relief and quietly crept back over to the closet.

“Sans? You in here?” Asriel whispered, moving clothing on hangars aside and peering around them, only to find a blank wall. “Hm, I think he’s gone.”

“Mm,” mumbled Chara from their bed.

Asriel kicked his shoes off and climbed back into his bed, his head spinning as he processed everything that had occurred over the last hour. What was that project his dad had gotten so mad at Dr. Gaster about? And why didn’t Sans tell them all this a long time ago? Did his mom know too? And what made Chara so angry back there?

“Hey Chara?”

“Hm?”

“Are you okay?”

“Go to sleep Azz,” they grumbled, turning over to face the wall.

“Okay,” Asriel sighed, unsuccessfully trying to push the video footage of his father and Dr. Gaster out of his mind. Unable to keep his thoughts inside of his head, he tried again. “Hey Chara?”

“What?”

“Why, um, did you ask Sans if he knew who he was before he died?”

“Why do you think?”

“I dunno,” Asriel admitted, turning to face them. “If he died, wouldn’t he be dust?”

“Not everyone turns to dust when they die, Azz.”

“They don’t?”

“No.”

Asriel considered this for a moment, trying to determine if Chara was joking or not. “Why not?”

“They just don’t. Humans fall down and then they just stay there like that. And then you have to put them in the ground so they don’t take space up.”

“But…but how do you put their essence into something if there’s no dust?”

“You don’t,” Chara sighed, pulling the covers off their head finally and staring out at Asriel from across the room. “They just, sort of disappear. And you have to just go and say hi to the dirt where you stuck them and hope maybe they’re out there somewhere and can hear you, I guess.”

“That’s terrible!” Asriel gasped, suddenly realizing there was a lot he didn’t know that he hadn’t known.

“Hey Azz?”

“Hm?” he replied, still unsure how Sans could have died and been buried in the ground and yet still somehow be walking around like a normal monster.

Chara took a deep breath before answering. “I don’t want you to bury me in the ground. But you know you’re going to have to one day, right?”

“What are you talking about?”

“Think about it, dummy,” they replied, looking at the floor sullenly. “You’re a boss monster like dad. He’s like, hundreds of years old.”

“So?”

“So humans don’t live that long. I’ll be an old dried out raisin human and you’ll be like, just all normal and stuff. And you won’t want to be my friend anymore.”

“Don’t say things like that!”

“It’s true though,” Chara replied numbly, meeting his eyes again. “But…maybe it doesn’t have to be like that.”

“What do you mean?”

“I think…I think maybe there’s another way.”

~

Sans woke with a start, the images of a long, dramatically lit hall contrasted against the scattered remnants of a human child fading in his mind’s eye as he pressed his hands against his eye sockets. Removing them, he could see from the reflection in the tile floor that his eye was flashing brightly again, the tiles illuminating in hues of blues and yellows. He wondered if he’d been subconsciously summoning an attack.

Pushing himself up into a sitting position, he realized he must’ve fallen asleep in the midst of binge watching as many of the video tapes as he could. Though the lack of working clocks made it difficult to discern what time it actually was, he guessed it was probably still very early in the morning. Or at least he hoped it was.

The videos he’d been careening through since returning to the hidden room had been largely uninformative. Most of them showed snippets of Gaster going in and out of the lab, moving things, writing down notes, checking monitors. And the parts that were just about to get interesting seemed to have been scrubbed at the exact moment he needed them not to be, the grey and white static mocking him as the video cut out.

Why would he keep the video of him fighting with the king and not anything else, Sans wondered, putting the last tape in and seeing nothing but static from start to finish on this one. He switched the television off and plopped down on the ground, drawing a circle absently with his index finger on the ground as he thought. Glancing up, the maw of the giant skulls outside of the door he’d propped open caught his attention. Weren’t those things pretty similar looking to the schematics he’d found earlier?

He tear-jumped into the other room out of laziness and glanced around. The perimeter of the room was lined with them.

What the heck are these things? he mused, running his hand along the gaping jaw of the skull closest to him. Aside from the 10 or so lining the walls of the room, he noticed one skull near the corner that was slightly off-kilter, and faced towards a hole that had been blown through a wall. Yet when he looked inside of it, he couldn’t see any sort of mechanisms that would’ve triggered such a blast.

Weird.

There were so many questions buzzing around in his skull, yet he doubted Gaster was going to give him a straight answer if he asked him directly — especially after he’d blown up at him earlier. On top of that, he’d probably let the worst possible people in on his secret – Asriel was a terrible liar. Which meant Toriel would probably figure everything out soon too, he thought guiltily.

Guh, and they hadn’t even found anything!

He gripped his hand into a ball with frustration, summoning an attack to throw at the ground when he felt his attack hitch on something and stopped in his tracks, unsure of what had just happened. Putting his hand down, he looked up at the toothy grin of the giant skull behind him that was still staring vacantly at the hole in the wall, pausing before raising his hand up to summon his magic again cautiously.

The hitch was still there. It seemed to be somewhere up inside the skull, though he couldn’t tell what it was connecting to. But the skull would be way too heavy for someone to just pick up on their own.

Right?

Sans made an attempt to lift the boulder-sized skull, thinking it would be akin to trying to lift a heavy object — only to trip backwards as the skull skyrocketed up way more quickly than expected. Willing himself to stay calm, he carefully floated it above the ground in front of him, maneuvering it around awkwardly as he got a feel for its direction. Maybe it was something you rammed buildings with?

The sound of a door slamming from somewhere further down the hall leading to the open hole in the wall pulled him out of his thoughts, and he quickly set the skull down, making a mental note to come back later when he had a better idea of what time it was. He felt out a tear to his room back in Snowdin, and stepped through quickly, confused to hear the television on so early. Taking his time to change into new clothes so it was less obvious that he’d been out all night, he pushed the door open and began to head towards the shower, when he stopped dead in his tracks.

Staring up at him, with a giant bowl of cereal in their lap as they sat cross-legged on the couch, was another skele-kid.

Chapter Text

Sans froze, unsure whether to believe that the brother he’d been intently seeking out for so long had somehow materialized on his couch with a bowl of cereal in his lap. He glanced around quickly, and noticed the doctor passed out on the kitchen table over a pile of paperwork, the remains of an adult beverage in front of him and his glasses askew on his face as he slept soundly.

“Hello!” the skelekid on the couch called out cheerfully in Hands, as if people appearing on stairwells and staring at him out of nowhere was perfectly normal.

“Uh...hello,” Sans answered awkwardly, trying not to wake the doctor as his thoughts raced. Had Gaster been working on this for awhile or was this a spur of the moment thing? Did he know he’d been in the lab with the Dreemurr kids? A knot balled up in his rib cage and Sans found himself suddenly wishing he’d gotten more sleep the night before.

“Dad come take me here watch light box!” the skelekid replied with a grin, pointing at the television.

“Wait, sorry, did you say dad brought you here?” Sans asked, confused.

The skelekid nodded as he looked back at the television, shoveling another spoonful of cereal into his mouth. They used the spoon to gesture at the doctor. “Dad.”

Sans started laughing despite himself. “Okay. Dad. Sure,” he replied, trying to figure out where they could talk more privately before the doctor woke up and separated them. “Hey uh, you want to come see my room?” 

The skelekid set his bowl down carefully on the coffee table in front of him, lining the spoon up neatly alongside it before heading up the stairs. As he neared, Sans realized suddenly that while the new monster certainly spoke like a young child, he stood nearly a foot taller than him. The skelekid seemed to recognize this too, as he set his hand on Sans’ head and took a look at him. After a few moments, he spoke. “Baby?”

“Baby?! What?! No, I’m just short,” Sans replied briskly, stepping back to look at him. Aside from both being skelemonsters, they certainly didn’t look much alike. Like the doctor, the new monster’s jaw opened up as he spoke, and his eye sockets were much smaller. Yet unlike the doctor, the monster in front of him radiated warmth and, Sans was relieved to find, there didn’t seem to be any DT in his aura.

Sans opened the door to his room and let the new kid inside, shoving clothes off his bed so that he’d have somewhere to sit. The newcomer walked around slowly inspecting the things on the floor, seemingly fascinated by a garbage pile that had built up next to the trash can Sans had neglected to empty the past several weeks.

“Er, sorry, I didn’t realize you’d uh, be here so soon or I’d have cleaned up,” Sans said lamely, unsure of what else to say despite the fact that he’d imagined this moment happening for so long. Sans watched the skelekid pick up a wad of paper and look at it like he’d found some sort of interesting trinket, and suddenly remembered how overwhelmed he’d been when the doctor had taken him out of the lab for the first time. “So, uh...what do I call you? You got a name?”

“5,” the monster kid replied happily, using his non-speaking hand to pick up another wad of paper and examine it.

“Thought so. Man, no, we can’t call you 5. 5 is just a number. You need a real name.” The skelemonster looked at Sans confused, unsure why he would need a different name when he already seemed to have one. Sans scratched his jaw, trying to think of skelemonster names he knew from the books he’d read. “What about uh...Arial? Or um, Roman maybe? Papyrus?”

“Yes.”

“Papyrus? You like that one?”

“What mean?”

“Er...I’m not sure actually. I think the guy in the book was like a warrior or something.”

“Warrior good,” Papyrus said, picking up a sock from the ground and inspecting it. “I warrior too.”

“Oh yeah?” Sans asked, trying to be casual. Papyrus nodded, putting the sock onto his hand and using the other to gesture.

“Yes. Fight. Protect.”

“Fight?” Sans asked, watching him with interest. “Fight what?”

“Bad guys!” Papyrus replied, turning the sock inside out. “What this?”

“Uh, a sock. Look, um...I don’t know how to explain this. But I’ve been looking for you for a long time. We sort of were made in the same place and uh, I just —”

Sans was interrupted by a loud banging from the front door. Papyrus shrunk away from the noise, looking alarmed. Sans peered around the doorframe of his room and saw the doctor shoot up out of his seat and look out the window, an audible expletive following soon after. The doctor spun on his heel and looked around frantically.

“5?” the doctor called out in a hushed voice. “Where’d you go kiddo?”

“Up here!” Papyrus called loudly before Sans could stop him. The doctor’s eyes widened as he looked up and saw the two of them standing in the doorframe.

“Oh, you’re home. Great,” the doctor replied, looking annoyed. A louder knock rang out, startling Papyrus again.

“Bad guy?”

“Heh, no,” the doctor replied, looking more panicked than he was sounding. “No bad guy, it’s fine, just uh, hey go sit on the bed in there and stay quiet and I’ll come up in a little bit, okay?”

“Are we just going to ignore my brother showing up out of thin air—” Sans started, before the doctor made a throat cutting motion.

“Not NOW, Sans. Okay?! Just, do me a favor and play along while I figure out how I’m going to explain this so 5 doesn’t get taken apart by interns, alright?”

“What?!”

“Play along,” the doctor hissed, cracking the door open to see Asgore and Asriel standing on the other side. “Good morning!” he called out a bit too cheerfully, switching to common. Sans approached and stood behind him, stunned.

“Why, good morning to you as well, Wingdin! I hope I did not wake you too early,” the king replied cheerfully. “My dear wife informed me that Sans would be joining Asriel and I in our training sessions from now on?”

“Of course he will,” the doctor said through gritted teeth, grabbing Sans by the collarbone and pulling him up alongside him. “Because we promised Toriel that, didn’t we. Heh, alright well, better get going, Sans, you heard them!” the doctor continued, practically shoving the small skelemonster out the door. “See you later!” he added, though only Sans could read the silent warning in Hands to keep his mouth shut before the door slammed behind him.

“It’s a beautiful day outside,” the king exclaimed, looking around the snow covered path happily. “And I happen to know of a great spot out here where I used to train some of our finest guards before we moved out to New Home. Asriel, you remember it, don’t you? The one out in the clearing?”

Sans glanced at Asriel, who looked as if he hadn’t slept all night. Asriel nodded meekly, not looking at either of them.

“Fantastic,” the king continued, striding ahead towards the trees. Before Sans could make a move to follow him, he felt his friend’s hand grab his sleeve and looked up to see a dark expression on Asriel’s face.

“Did you know?” Asriel asked quietly, pulling Sans closer to him.

“know what?” Sans replied, his head still spinning from the morning’s events.

“About Chara’s plan,” Asriel stated in an accusatory tone.

“plan?” Sans asked, pulling his sleeve away. “no, i don’t.”

“Chara said you were in on it,” Asriel replied, his eyes narrowing as he looked closely at his friend. “Don’t lie to me.”

“i’m not,” Sans shot back, starting to walk after Asgore, who was still striding ahead through the forest oblivious to the conversation behind him. Whatever scheme Chara had cooked up could wait until he sorted out what was going on with 5. “look, azz, i’m kinda having a weird morning. could we talk about this lat—”

“NO!” Asriel yelled, shoving Sans down with a flame attack from behind. “QUIT LYING AND TELL ME.”

Sans flipped over and slowed the world down enough to roll out of the way of a second wave of flames scatter-shotting around him. “azz! i’m not lying, i don’t know what you’re talking about!”

“Then why’d Chara pick you and not me?! I’m just as good at fighting as you are!” Asriel yelled, making a motion to lob another round of flames towards Sans. Sans quickly threw up a fence of bones from underneath his friend, knocking the prince onto his back. Asriel spun around, blindly hurling another row of attacks at him.

“What in the underground is going on over here?!” the king’s voice called out, as Asgore strode back into view.

“We’re practicing,” Asriel grumbled, once again avoiding eye contact as he picked himself up off the ground and dusted a chunk of mud from his sweater. The king hesitated a moment, then chuckled.

“I am glad you are so eager, but let’s practice out in the clearing where we can avoid harming any of the plants in here.” He motioned the two of them forward, following behind as they made their way through the snowy woods to the clearing. Sans chanced a few sidelong looks at his friend as they walked, but Asriel continued to fume silently with his head down.

“Ah! Here we are!” the king remarked, as they emerged into an open space surrounded by trees. “Alright Sans, you can come with me and stand over here. Asriel, you stay there.”

“This is your fault,” Sans heard Asriel say quietly as he turned to follow the king, who was making an x on the ground in the snow up ahead with his boot. Sans balled his hand into a fist, willing himself to stay calm as he marched to the spot Asgore was motioning him towards.

“Now, I am sure you know a lot already,” Asgore began, kneeling down to be closer to eye socket level with Sans, though he still towered over him. “But it probably would be best for the both of you to spar first so I can see what you know already, and we can go from there. How does that sound?”

“you mean fight azz?”

“Don’t be afraid,” the king winked. “Asriel is very good, but I told him not to be too hard on you during your first lesson. See if you can throw a few patterns his way and if they reach him, he’ll deflect and throw some back. This isn’t about trying to hurt your opponent. This is about controlling your magic and anticipating what the other person is going to do. Does that make sense?”

Sans glanced up at Asriel, who was still seething, though the king didn’t seem to notice anything out of the ordinary.

“I’ll stand behind and spot you as an extra safety measure,” the king continued, stepping back. “Alright, go for it whenever you are ready!”

Sans put a hand out to the side slowly, willing himself to stay level-headed as he formed a bullet pattern and looked at his friend. Gently, he tossed them underhanded just far enough to scatter about at Asriel’s feet.

“Oh come ON!” Asriel shouted angrily. “You’re such a faker!”

“Now Asriel,” warned the king. “Give him a chance, okay? Sans, I know it can be intimidating to spar with another monster, but you have nothing to fear. Just relax.”

Sans tried to bury an uncomfortable laugh at the thought of throwing an actual attack at Asriel, and ended up coughing instead. Asriel continued to glare at him from across the clearing. Slowly, he raised his hand out again...and threw the weakest attack he could muster.

“AAAARGH!” Asriel yelled, stomping his foot. He summoned a flame into his clenched hand and hurled it at Sans, who dodged aside easily. “Just fight me for reals!”

“Asriel!” the king’s voice boomed. “My goodness, what has gotten into you?”

“I want to go home,” Asriel sulked, his eyes filled with angry tears. The king looked between the two of them, puzzled.

“Well, alright then,” the king acquiesced, looking concerned. “I suppose we can try again next week. Would that be alright with you, Sans?”

“yeah,” Sans replied, still unsure what was going on. He’d never seen Asriel this upset before, but he couldn’t figure out how to ask him for more details without the king overhearing.

“Or on second thought,” the king continued, brightening up. “Sans, why don’t you and I spar for a bit and Asriel can try spotting you?”

“er,” Sans began to protest, but quickly fell quiet as the king moved into Asriel’s place in a defensive stance. Running over the events in his mind from the night before trying to recall what might have triggered Asriel, Sans was suddenly overcome with a sinking feeling as he realized how much trouble he could be in if Asriel decided to spill his secrets to Asgore. Or worse, Toriel. Was that what this was about?

He suddenly felt sick.

“Oh my, is something the matter with your eye?” the king asked, straightening up with a look of concern.

Shit, thought Sans, seeing the dancing lights of his eye reflected in the snow and realizing he was getting riled up. “sorry,” Sans said, trying to avoid looking at the king. “it just does that sometimes.”

“It’s no matter,” the king replied, summoning a small flame in his palm. “Ready?”

“yeah,” Sans called, moving aside easily as the slow moving bullet whizzed by him and was dismissed by Asriel. He summoned a small attack and lobbed it at the king, purposely veering off to the right before chancing a look at Asriel. “so are you going to tell me why you’re mad or not?”

Asriel grunted, dismissing another slow flame bullet his father had tossed to Sans before speaking. “Chara said they’re doing the plan with you already. You knew this whole time and didn’t tell me! I’m not a baby you know!”

“azz, what plan?! i really don’t know what you’re talking about —” Sans shot back, summoning his next attack.

“The plan to fuse with Chara and escape the barrier, stupid!”

Sans felt a cold snap run through him, realizing a moment too late that he’d let his emotions boil up into the attack he’d been summoning. A tidal wave of jagged bones rushed up and out of the ground towards the king, who dove out of the way as the earth below them quaked and tilted sideways. Sans quickly scattered the attack and got ahold of himself.

“they said what?!”

“What in the world?!” the king shouted from across the field, straightening the crown on his head as he regained his footing.

“sorry!” Sans called out, taking a step back to be closer to Asriel. “wait, they said i was going to fuse with them? how would i even do that?!”

Asriel looked up at him from where he’d been kneeling, a look of fear replacing the anger that has been there moments earlier. “They...they said it had to be you because you were…”

“were what?! a lab experiment?”

“They said you were the only one that could kill the humans without getting dusted.”

The nightmares of smeared blood across the floor of the judgement hall, littered with the bits of dead or near-dead humans, suddenly flashed into Sans’ mind as he felt his shoulders slump. Had that been a vision of the future this whole time? He was pulled out of his dark thoughts by a heavy paw clapping onto his shoulder.

“My, my. I was not expecting that!” the king exclaimed breathlessly.

“sorry,” Sans started, feeling his soul twisting into knots.

“Not at all. That was very well done, Sans! Did you know you could do that?”

“er, no,” Sans lied.

“Fascinating,” the king continued, looking him over. Sans fought the urge to crumple under the weight of his gaze. “How are you feeling?”

“i’m um, i’m pretty tired actually,” Sans admitted, feeling torn between wanting to go home to 5 and wanting to find Chara.

“I’m not surprised!” the king laughed, offering his hand to Asriel and pulling the prince up to his feet. “Why don’t we call it a day for now and we’ll walk you home. Goodness, I’d like to think more about this.”

“uh, i can make my way back, mr. dreemurr. you don’t have to go with me.”

“Nonsense!” Asgore replied, putting a hand on Sans’ and the prince’s shoulders to usher them along. Sans trudged alongside his friend in silence as they walked back with the king to Snowdin village.

“sorry,” Sans apologized again once they arrived at his home, hoping he could get through goodbyes as fast as possible.

“As I said before, there is no need to apologize. In fact,” he continued, looking pleased, “I’d like you to come by the palace at this time tomorrow so that we can explore this more.”

“uh,” Sans stammered, catching Asriel’s fearful expression. “yeah, um, of course. sir.”

“Wonderful. I look forward to it,” the king replied, taking Asriel by the hand and leading him towards the direction of the ferry, the two monster children exchanging a final look before the Dreemurrs turned the corner and were out of sight.

Chapter Text

Sans leaned his head against the door wearily, feeling as if he hadn’t slept in days. He briefly considered how difficult it would be to take a nap on the porch before having to face whatever it was the doctor was up to inside, but brushed the thought aside quickly and pushed the door open.

“Hello?” Sans called out in Hands, finding the home eerily empty, the lights of a muted television still dancing across the living room. “Fi...er, Papyrus? Doc?”

Sans began to head up the stairs, before doubling back to head out the front door, where he nearly crashed into Firenze.

“Oh! Hey Sans,” Firenze said quietly, catching his balance and adjusting a small package under his arm. He fidgeted for a beat before continuing. “Your dad isn’t home, is he?”

Did he know about 5?  Sans thought, trying in vain to read the green flames that made up Firenze’s visage.

“uh, i actually was just looking for him,” Sans replied, wondering if the newest addition to their weird little family was going to come waltzing out the door from behind him. He struggled to keep a laugh in his throat at the thought of it, the corner of his mouth twitching at how absurd his life had suddenly become.

“Hmm. Maybe at the lab again,” Firenze sighed, pulling the package out from under his arm and handing it over to Sans. “Hey, if you see him, could you give him this and tell him I was looking for him?”

“sure,” Sans answered, wondering what was hidden beneath the brown parchment of the small item he’d been handed.

“Er...well, how’s he doing anyways? Has he said anything?”

“about what?”

“Oh, you know. Just how he is. Or, um. Yeah, just how he is, I guess. Haven’t seen him in a few days,” Firenze said awkwardly, visably backpedaling on his words as they spilled out. “I get worried. Anyways, just tell him I stopped by, okay?”

Sans nodded, watching the green-flamed bartender slink back towards his storefront until he was out of eyesight. As soon as he disappeared, Sans tore open a pathway to the lab beneath the house and stepped through, immediately relieved to hear the doctor making small talk in Hands, accompanied by the loud sound of duct tape being pulled off the roller and smacked down into submission. Sans headed off quietly in the direction of the noise, and upon turning the corner, was surprised to discover a massive hole blown through what was once the back wall of the training area in the lab.  

“HELLO!” the taller skelekid shouted cheerfully in common, waving at Sans from where he sat cross-legged on the floor watching the doctor attempting to tape up plastic sheeting over the gaping hole. Snow from the outside was blustering through beneath the plastic, melting to form a small puddle under the doctor’s boots.

“Whoa, what happened?” Sans asked, trying to determine where the source of the blast was. He turned to the still-grinning skelekid, who seemed unphased. “Hey buddy, how goes it?”

“Minor setback,” the doctor grumbled, his back still turned as he ripped another piece of tape off with his teeth while trying to prop the sheeting up. “Help me with this, will ya?”

“If I help you, you gonna fill me in on what the heck is going on?” Sans asked, picking up a roll of tape and pushing the sheeting into place on the wet wall.

“What’s going on,” the doctor responded, emphasizing the word with his hand while propping the sheeting up with his elbow, “is that I apparently underestimated how strong your brother is and now have a huge hole in the wall to show for it.”

“You did this?” Sans asked, looking behind him at the skelekid. The skelekid shrank back slightly and nodded, playing with the undone laces of his shoe. Sans appreciated that his brother appeared a bit smaller than he actually was for once, as he was wearing one of the doctor’s oversized sweaters over a much too small t-shirt. Sans whistled and winked at Papyrus when he looked up hesitantly. “Dang, you’re pretty good!”

“Yeah, well, let’s start by not encouraging him to blow more walls off the house, huh buddy?” the doctor grumbled, stepping back to take a look at his handiwork. “Well...shit. Guess I’ll grab some metal from the lab tomorrow so I can rebuild this.”

“Hey Papyrus, see if you can blow a hole through this part too,” Sans said excitedly, pointing at a spot further down the wall.

“NO, do NOT do that,” the doctor shouted, stepping in front of the new skelekid and the spot where Sans was pointing. “Who the hell is Papyrus?”

“Me!” Papyrus exclaimed, leaping up and holding his arms aloft. “Warrior!”

“We decided numbers don’t make good names,” Sans stated, his eye lights reflexively going dark.

“That is...almost as terrible of a name as Sans,” the doctor replied, looking away from the inky blackness of Sans blank eye sockets. “Could you cut that out, if I had skin it’d be crawling.”

Sans shook his mood off, noticing Papyrus watching him and trying to figure out how to mimic the expression he’d just made. The doctor attempted to push a corner of the tape that had come unstuck back into place, to no avail. “Anyways, how’d your rendez-vous with Asgore go? I’m assuming you didn’t tell him about our new house guest since my skull is still attached to my neck.”

“what if I did?” Sans glowered, switching to common to try and keep Papyrus from following the conversation too closely. The doctor gave him a once-over, his sight darting to the package that Sans had tucked under his arm.

“Like I said,” the doctor replied coolly, also switching to common. “I know you didn’t, or I’d have more to worry about than a giant hole in the wall of the lab.” He gestured at the package. “That for me?”

Sans handed the parcel over, mentally kicking himself for thinking he was going to get more than cursory responses out of the doctor, who tore the package open and groaned.

“Seriously?” the doctor muttered under his breath. Sans slowed the time around him down enough to catch a glimpse of the title — “Starting Over: How Every Monster Can Conquer their Demons”  — before the doctor stuffed it into his coat pocket. “Welp, I’m officially starving. Let’s skip Firenze’s today and see what we have in the cupboards, huh?”

~

Asgore perched on his seat in the ferry, trying his best to balance his weight so as not to sink the tilting vessel as it puttered onwards to New Home. He hummed a tune to himself, trying to soften the silence hanging over the boat between himself and his son, whose normally bright and cheerful demeanor appeared to have been chased out by something dark and brooding. He’d never seen him like this before.

“My son,” Asgore tried again, hoping he’d get more traction than shrugs this time. “What is it that troubles you? There is clearly something on your mind.”

Asriel sighed, shrugging and shrinking further down into his seat across from his father.

Asgore remained silent for a few moments, before looking off at the scenery passing by behind them.

“You know,” the king continued, changing the subject, “when our nation first arrived in the underground, this river was a place of community. The worlds beneath Mount Ebott were a cold and dark place compared to where we had once called home, yet we were united by this river. Many believed it to be a blessing from the Delta Rune — encouragement that even in the darkest of hours, we had each other. And therefore, we had hope.”

He smiled, waving back to a few of the monsters on the shore that had run up to the riverbank to shout greetings as the boat sailed by. “One day, when you take on my mantle as king, I know that you will continue to be a river to our people — whether we’re still in this home, or perhaps in a better one.”

Asriel shifted uncomfortably, looking up at his father for the first time since he’d boarded the boat. “Dad?”

“Yes, my son?”

“What if...what if you could save everyone in the underground. If you could free them all from this place. But, you might have to die if you did it.”

“What?”

“Would you do it?”

“What an odd question. Is this what you have been so worried about? That I am going to die?”

Asriel felt his eyes getting hot as he fought back tears, thankful that his true intentions in asking this question were still unbeknownst to his father. “Would you?” he asked again.

The king considered this question for a few moments before answering, his face serious as he deliberated on the best way to answer. “It is my duty and honor as king to do what is best for my people. And if laying my life down so that others may enjoy a better future is what it takes, then, yes. Without hesitation.”

Asriel seemed to deflate even further at this, though he nodded in agreement as he looked back at his feet. The king reached across the boat, taking his son’s chin in his hand tenderly. “The body is only a temporary home for the soul. We live on in the hearts and minds of the souls we have left behind. So we are never truly far from the people we love, even if we can no longer see them in front of us.”

“Yeah,” Asriel said, wiping his nose on his sleeve and turning his head away from his father’s massive paw.

“New Home!” the river person called out cheerfully, in stark contrast to the gloomy conversation taking place in front of them.

“Do not worry yourself with things that have not happened yet. Our time comes when our time comes. We just have to make the most of the opportunities we are given in the meantime,” the king continued as he stood to disembark the ferry, nearly tipping to one side beneath him as his misstepped. “Oof, ha ha! We do need a bigger ferry, don’t we?”

Asriel smiled softly, as the wise king melted back into the father figure he was most familiar with. The king ruffled the fur on his head, pushing him along gently towards the direction of their home. “Come now, I believe a sidequest for some Nice Cream on the way home will do us both some good.”

Chapter Text

“Sans. Wake up. SANS.” 

“mmm wassit?” Sans opened an eye socket wearily as the dark room came into focus. He seemed to have fallen asleep at some point in the midst of attempting to stay up all night talking to his new sibling -- he was still sitting propped up with his back against a pile of cushions the doctor had thrown together for his brother to use as a makeshift bed while he scouted for some actual furniture. It was either that or bring up one of the mattresses from the lab, which Sans was firmly against. The smell of the lab still invoked a vague sense of claustrophobia for him. His brother deserved better.

The doctor had fallen asleep hard on the couch the night before after polishing off the last of one of the liquor bottles in the cabinet, giving the two skelekids some time to actually talk without interference. Papyrus didn't seem to remember much -- fuzzy memories of being in the lab, the doctor (who he always referred to as “Dad,” despite Sans trying to correct him), and training to “fight bad guys.” When Sans pressed him to elaborate on details, he became shy, more interested in steering the conversation towards the colored blocks he remembered having in the lab room than expounding on combat. Papyrus knew very little common, and even his language in Hands was somewhat stunted. It was often difficult for Sans to discern if Papyrus didn't actually remember certain things or if his shrugs were in response to him not understanding the questions he was being asked.

Papyrus had asked a lot of questions too, but mostly seemed to be trying to pick up vocabulary for the various things around the room and hanging on the walls. He didn't seem too bothered by the fact that he was seemingly confined to the house for the near future (or at least until the doctor figured out how to explain his sudden appearance), nor did he appear shocked by the vast amount of space he suddenly found himself in. On the contrary, he just seemed to take it all in and accept it.

Despite what Sans viewed as dreary subject matter, Papyrus radiated a consistent and pleasant sense of optimism that was incredibly reassuring, even when saying nothing at all. Sans found himself wondering if they were actually related with how different they were. He still wasn't sure exactly how skelemonster family trees fit together, given the interchangeable parts involved.

His brother drifted off at some point late into the night, leaving Sans to stare up at the ceiling quietly for the next couple hours, his mind racing. As the night wore on though, his excitement over his new family member subsided into crippling worry, as he retraced the events of the day and found himself replaying Asriel’s words over and over again. Fusing with Chara. Escaping the barrier. Killing humans. Without even asking him! Did Chara think they could blackmail him into their plan or something now that they knew his secret? And what did that entail, exactly? That he'd have to kill his friend? 

And what would all that mean for Papyrus?

“SANS.”

“WHAT?!” Sans shouted back, his sleepiness replaced by bleary-eyed irritation. He threw a hand in front of his face to block out the light pouring in from the doorway that was threatening to blind him.

The doctor made a motion with his head to follow, heading back into the hallway. Sans pulled himself up to his feet, seeing an empty imprint of his brother in the cushions. 

“Papyrus?” Sans called out, not sure where he would've gone. 

Heading out to the balcony, he let out a sigh of relief upon seeing his brother perched on the couch, a giant bowl of cereal in the skelekid’s lap as he watched the screen intently with a large spoon handle sticking out from his teeth. The doctor stood in the hallway with his arms crossed, looking perturbed as Sans approached.

“So. I just got a call from one of the stewards at the castle. Apparently you slept through an important meeting with Asgore?”

Sans felt a chill bolt through his marrow. 

“uhh…” Sans replied, trying to read from the doctor's face how much he knew about his sparring session the day prior. 

“Quit with the face tricks, kid,” the doctor muttered. He turned quickly and marched down the stairs towards the kitchen to avoid Sans’ eyelights. “Care to tell me what this meeting’s about?”

“why do you care?” Sans shot back grumpily as he followed the doctor, switching to common to avoid upsetting Papyrus, though he was fully absorbed in whatever it was he was watching.

“Oh, I don't know, maybe because I want to know how much of a death sentence I'm facing for this little Frankenstein stunt? You know. Stupid reasons,” the doctor snarked, plopping down heavily in a chair at the kitchen table. His rapidly tapping finger on his sleeve betrayed his anxiety. When Sans didn't say anything, the doctor shifted, wiping an imaginary crumb off the table. “Whatever. If you're going to rat me out, at least have the courtesy of giving me a heads up first so I can spend my last hours doing something fun instead of schleping around here all day with a hangover.”

“not everything is about YOU, geez,” Sans snapped, peeking out of the blinds to see if any of the Dreemurrs had shown up. 

“That so? Then why’d the steward inform me he was bumping your skipped meeting to an afternoon slot because the king insisted it was ‘an urgent, confidential matter’? Seriously kid, just tell me if you said something, I'd rather know it was coming than --”

“it's not about you,” Sans said exasperatedly, climbing up into the chair across from him. 

That was untrue. The king wanted to see what other fighting tricks Sans had up his sleeve, Sans was sure of it. Which, of course, was a result of the lab. And the doctor. And the DT flowing through his soul. But ultimately...that was because of the barrier, wasn't it? Not just because of the doctor. So maybe not completely untrue. But he had more pressing things on his mind right now.

The doctor raised a brow bone, waiting for him to elaborate.

“i, uh…” Sans started, feeling his soul twisting into knots as he realized how desparately he wanted to talk to someone about how worried about his friends he was. He glanced at Papyrus, who was still staring intently at the television and didn't seem to be paying attention to their conversation. 

“um, i'm worried, i guess. about chara.”

“About Chara?”

“yeah,” he mumbled. Sans glanced up at the doctor, whose expression of irritation had melted into one of serious concern, though Sans could tell he was trying his best to hide it.

“...and why are you worried about them?” the doctor asked cautiously.

“i just...i dunno. azz blew up at me yesterday and said they were saying some weird stuff. i just...i guess i don't know what to do.”

“Saying weird stuff like...”

“just like…” Sans chanced a glance back up at the doctor, who was leaning forward slightly as he waited for him to continue. Sans quickly thought through how else to get the answer to the questions he really wanted to ask, and after a few moments of weighing the risks and realizing the doctor was probably one of the few monsters that would be able and willing to answer anyways, decided to take his chances.

“well,” he started, unsure how to even phrase it without completely implicating himself. “so uh, the barrier.”

“The...barrier?”

“yeah. um. so chara knows about it too. and talks about, you know. how to get us out and all that. um but, i guess...well, what would happen if, uh. if they, i don't know. gave another monster their soul. to get through.”

“What, they're going to off themselves?”

Sans slumped at hearing the words out loud, but continued to push for an answer. “i mean, i don't know. but like, how would that even work? would that get a monster through the barrier if they did that?”

The doctor hesitated before answering, and Sans saw in his expression that was he doing some quick thinking. “Okay, so...theoretically, yes. You can fuse a human soul with a monster's soul. But it ain't pretty. There's a reason Asgore put himself in charge of that task when we were still going that route. I mean, for starters...human deaths are uh, messy. To say the least.”

“i know,” Sans replied darkly, thinking of the smeared humans begging for mercy that haunted his nightmares.

“Heh, kid you have no idea,” the doctor replied sadly, looking away and becoming lost in his own thoughts for a moment. “Anyways, just...there's not a good way to do it. And yeah, there's a soul remaining, but only temporarily. There's a huge risk of not being able to catch it fast enough, and then you have a dead human on your hands and no soul. Just a flesh shell.”

Sans suddenly felt ill as a scene from one of his nightmares involuntarily began playing in his mind’s eye. Except instead of a stranger, their bruised and battered face was replaced with Chara’s. Their eyes unseeing, though staring right at him. He shuttered.

“And even if you are able to snatch the soul in time...I mean, gods I wish I could unsee how many idiots attempted to do that during the war as a last ditch effort to kill off the rest of the humans we were fighting. It's uh...pretty disturbing. Probably one of the more disturbing things I've seen during my time, and that's saying a lot. You don't just, I don't know, level up and become a super you, contrary to popular belief. It's...gruesome. Parts shifting and transforming, personalities combining and exploding miserably outwards. I think perhaps boss monsters have a better time of it and can withstand the uh, fusion somewhat, but normal monsters? It's…” he trailed off, looking like he was pondering a bad taste in his mouth. 

“violent?”

“That’s probably the best word for it,” the doctor conceded. “I mean, look kid, Chara may have uh, charitable intentions. But there's a reason we were trying to do it artificially and under close surveillance. There's no coming back from a transformation like that. A lot of factors go into it. And even if it was to happen and the fused monster could get themselves together and maintain their sanity enough to walk through the barrier...I mean, the humans would be all over them in an instant, I'm sure of it. You're not immortal in a fused body, and who knows what kind of weapons the humans have at this point. From the newspapers I've been able to get my hands on in the dump, it's pretty fucking terrifying. We're not dealing with simple spears and swords and whatnot anymore. I mean, they've got flying contraptions and explosives and gods know what else. You'd be flattened in seconds if you weren't careful.”

“but what about asgore?”

“What about him?”

“i thought he was going to do it before.”

“Well yeah, but not all willy-nilly. I mean, originally, there was a whole military plan to build up an army once the seven souls were collected or made or whatever. Build some weapons of our own to try and match whatever damage the humans doled out. Knock the barrier down in one hit and just have hundreds of monsters charge through to clear out whatever humans might be lurking around while you had the element of surprise. And like I said, Asgore is a boss monster. An incredibly experienced one. He'd have much better control in a situation like that.”

“oh,” Sans replied, unsure of what else to say.

“But obviously, that's not the plan anymore,” the doctor said, rising to turn a kettle on and pulling a jar of coffee grounds down from the cabinet. “Who were they planning on ‘giving’ their soul to anyways? Asriel?”

“i don't know,” Sans lied.

“Ugh, yeah that little guy would be torn apart in seconds. He's not a fighter,” the doctor said, shaking his head as he dumped grounds into a small filter. “Well, look, maybe tell Asgore you're worried about your friends, but you tell your friends exactly what I told you. Better yet, tell Toriel so she flips her lid and keeps them in eyesight. They're not being heroes, they're being stupid. Even if the human were to, I don't know, die tomorrow or whatever, it'd be better to hold onto their soul and wait for seven so that Asgore could take the barrier down in one go. We're about halfway there as it is. And maybe Toriel would be more open to turning to science again by that point so she could adopt another one.”

Sans frowned. “but...wouldn't i have the same problem if i figured out how to get through the barrier on my own?

“With what, getting killed?” the doctor asked. “I mean, yeah there's always that risk. But that's where hopefully your small size would put you at an advantage, I suppose. And you're not exactly a pushover, it'd take a lot to take you out. You have an insane amount of HP compared to the average monster, I don't know if you've realized that yet.”

“Lotta take you out!” Papyrus quipped cheerfully, take a seat at the table and attempting to mimic the doctor's body language as he plonked his empty cereal bowl down on the table.

“That's right, buddy,” the doctor agreed, looking oddly warm as Papyrus grinned up happily at him. His expression hardened as he turned back to Sans, switching back to Hands. “I'm serious. Talk to Toriel. If you can't do it, I'll do it.”

“no, it's okay. i can do it,” Sans replied glumly.

“Atta boy,” the doctor sighed, glancing at a clock on the wall behind him. “Alright well, good morbidly dark chat with you, as always. You better get a move on unless you want to take the next phone call from the steward and explain why you're more important than the king’s schedule.”

Sans slunk off the chair, feeling like his pockets were full of bricks as he grabbed a striped navy and grey sweater off the door and pulled it over his head. Why was it that he always felt like he had more questions than answers whenever he came to the doctor with problems, he thought wearily, as he pulled the door open, stepped outside, and tore open a passage into New Home City.

~

“Hello? S-sir?” Alphys called out, as she struggled to balance a knotted bundle of cords and machinery in one hand while using her other to knock timidly on the clouded glass window of Dr. Gaster’s office door. It certainly looked dark in there.

“No use,” a large woshua in a janitor’s outfit called out, as he worked to scrub a scuff mark out of the hall floor. “Not there. Not today. Not yesterday.”

“Y-you sure?” Alphys said, cupping her hand over the glass as if that would help her to see into the darkness. “N-normally he comes in at least o-once during the week. I wonder if he’s s-sick?”

The woshua shrugged, taking out a wire brush and getting so close to the floor in an effort to scrub it that small bird-companion in the bucket on his back nearly tipped off its perch. 

Alphys sighed, stepping back from the door and shifting the bundle of mechanical parts from one arm to the other. She wondered if he’d even had a chance to take a look at the proposal she’d shoved under his door last week with the new schematics for the heat-resistant bot she’d been up late furiously designing for several weeks prior. While she was sure the design was on point (she'd checked the layout for the circuit board multiple times and made sure there were not smudges or sticky marks or anything to betray how messy her workplace still was in spite of his warning), she wasn't quite sure how she'd be able to get the parts she needed unless she could get permission to take them from the lab warehouse. Finding mechanical parts in the dump happened from time to time, but more often than not, the lab scooped them up for use in the core before anyone else could get their hands on them. A lot of monsters had managed to make a fairly decent living bounty hunting for specific pieces of junk, which on the one hand was a nice service if you didn't have time to do it yourself, but made it a lot less likely that you could acquire the things you needed on your own. And it was quite expensive.

Her face blanched suddenly as she tried to recall whether she’d actually changed the nickname she’d come up with for her creation into something more generic before jamming it under the doctor's door. “Hotty bot” was certainly not in line with professional standards. And neither, she thought, were the embarrassing drawings she'd doodled along the margins while rereading her work. She'd erased those, hadn't she? The more she tried to remember, the more she began to second guess herself.

Alphys bent down and peered beneath the door, seeing her proposal perfectly bound, and just out of reach on the other side. She attempted to shove her arm under the door as far as she could, and got stuck at the elbow as she stretched her fingers out as far as possible. The proposal was still a good six inches away.

“S-s-say, you wouldn’t have a uh...broom or a mop or something w-would you?” she called out to the janitor, trying to think whether any of her coworkers had stretchable limbs or tentacles of any sort that would be willing to grab the report without reading the front cover. Had she remembered to replace the cover that had the hearts doodled around Dr. Gaster’s name? 

She groaned as her face turned an even whiter shade of pale.

“Broom? Mop?” the woshua repeated back indignantly. “I clean. Not clean enough? Is problem?”

“Er, uh, n-n-n-no I just, erm…” Alphys said, standing back up and wiggling the door handle. There was a broom closet down one of the halls around here wasn’t there? 

“I’LL BE RIGHT BACK!” she shouted, nearly tripping on her coat as she rushed down a side path, hoping to put some distance between herself and an awkward situation so she could calm down and think clearly. She continued down another hallway, turning down the first pathways she came across and headed down a network of zigzagging passages she wasn’t familiar with. 

After a few more turns, she realized she had somehow emerged in a part of the lab she'd never been to before. A sign marked “DO NOT ENTER” lay dust covered on the floor, along with a barricade that has been tipped onto its side. Dim red light flooded the narrow hallway, making it difficult to see.

“Hm,” Alphys said, gazing along the pathway to what looked to be a rubble pile strewn about the hall floor. Making her way down the hall as quietly as she could (which was, in fact, not quiet at all), she peered cautiously into the darkness. If there’s this much dust and gravel down here, surely there has to be a broom of some sort lying around, she told herself, though at this point, her curiosity at her new surroundings were outweighing her worries over the unreachable proposal. 

Taking a deep breath to keep herself from shaking, she stepped through. The lights snapped on in quick succession.

“Oh...m-m-m-my god!” she shrieked, tripping over her coat and falling backwards. She bolted upright and gazed wide-eyed at the room around her. Surrounding her were a series of gigantic skull heads, mouths slightly agape, as they stared into nothingness. A few of them looked like they'd been picked up and flung about recently -- the clean circle amid the dusty floor indicating where they most likely had been moved from. 

Alphys gulped, taking in her surroundings as she slowly got to her feet. So the giant skull weapons were real. 

She approached the one closest to her slowly, hoping there wasn't some sort of automatic trigger, when she noticed what looked to be a door inside the mouth of the skull next to it, its lock pad rendered useless by the fact that the door was slightly ajar. Feeling less afraid by way of shock, she pushed the door open and stepped inside.

It only took about twenty minutes of poking around and a history of sci-fi addiction for Alphys to put the pieces together. The empty pods, the life support equipment, the old biotech hardware, an operating table with straps to tie someone down onto it. Clearly there had been some sort of bioengineering experiment happening down here. But on what?

A rickety television set and pile of VHS tapes in the corner of the room caught her attention, and as she popped in the first video, it took only a few moments for her to register what she was looking at. Her stomach dropped as everything from the past few years of stalking Gaster and his secret family life suddenly came together to make perfect, focused, horrific sense.

“Oh my god...S-s-s-sans??”

Chapter Text

New Home City seemed to take on a bright new hue of color in the days since Chara had settled on the action plan to finally fix everything. The world teemed with possibilities now, and every step they took as they followed their mother through the streets toward the New Home University library teemed with a profound sense of purpose. 

They were going to save everyone. It was so simple. And yet even the grown ups had never figured out how to do it.

That’s why us kids gotta handle this stuff, Chara reminded themselves, picking their pace up to compensate for their mother’s much longer strides.

Their heart fluttered as they imagined a much brighter future than the one they’d been resigned to only days earlier — not only would they be helping the underground to take back the world above, but they too could finally, actually be normal. No more stares from other monsters, no more whispered secrets or snide comments alluding to the sins of their ancestors. Just them. An actual part of a larger “us.” 

“What is so funny?” Toriel asked, turning to see what Chara was giggling about. 

Chara caught up and jumped into Toriel’s arms, nuzzling their face into her dress, which still smelled faintly of the cinnamon bunnies they’d baked together that morning. “Mom, I love you.”

“Oh! Why, I love you too!” Toriel replied, pulling Chara close and running a paw over their head. “How have you grown so much so quickly?” she asked, stifling a lump in her throat.

“Because I’m grrrrrrrrrreat!” Chara whooped, stepping back and flexing dramatically like an Aaron. 

“You truly are,” Toriel replied, standing back up and taking Chara’s hand. She was happy to see Chara in a good mood after a few continuous days of a very dour household. She wasn’t sure what sort of an argument had taken place or whether it was the typical preteen moodiness so many of her fellow parent friends had warned her about, but whatever it was seemed to have lifted that morning. Chara had positively skipped to the kitchen to help with breakfast and animatedly chattered with her about anything and everything. 

It was a welcome break from Toriel’s own worries. After hearing from her husband the night before about the rather odd sparring session he’d had with Sans, and then learning only a couple hours ago that the young skelemonster had neglected to make an appearance that morning, the gnawing feeling in her soul that something very strange was going on had only gotten worse. And knowing Wingdin likely had something to do with the oddities in Sans’ magic only made her more wary.

She watched Chara dash ahead of her into the University library, which, with the generous donations from thousands of monsters throughout the years, had amassed a collection that far surpassed the library in the royal palace, now held seemingly all genres of literature. However, there was only one subject matter she was looking for that day.

“Chara, my child. Would you like to pick out a few books for yourself, and perhaps one for Asriel?” she asked, nodding her head towards the children’s section of the library.

“Mommmm, come on, those books are for KIDS,” Chara groaned, rolling their eyes. 

“Are they now?” Toriel laughed. “Excuse me. Perhaps you could help us find something suitable for...young adults?” she asked sweetly, flagging down a university student that was busy reshelving. The student let out a little “yip!” upon turning to see the queen, almost knocking the cart over as she spun around. 

“Queen Toriel! Of course” they cried out excitedly, straightening their four pairs of glasses and beckoning Chara to follow them. “Hmm...young adults. Oh!  I know. Right this way!”

“Meet me back here in thirty minutes!” Toriel called after Chara, watching the two head off towards a section that seemed to be stockpiled with fantasy books. Her smile faded as they disappeared, and she quickly headed off in the opposite direction, making her way through archives and shelves that became dustier and less disturbed the further back she went. A twinge of nostalgia pricked her as she noticed the labels along old book spines morphing into a rainbow of lost languages that had long since expired since they'd been forced into the underground.

Finally, she came to the section she’d been looking for. 

It took flipping through three or four books before she found what she needed. While some of the terminology went beyond her area of expertise, she was able to decipher enough to confirm what she’d been dreading. She read the ancient medical text quietly to herself, stopping to pinch the bridge of her nose in an effort to ward off an oncoming migraine. She didn’t know why it hadn’t dawned on her earlier. 

Unless he’d somehow managed to pull the components out of thin air, Wingdin had gotten ahold of a skeleton. A human skeleton. And since Sans was a few years younger than her own children, this obviously meant that it had to have happened at some point after Chara had fallen. Which, of course, was when she and Asgore had issued a proclamation forbidding anyone from tampering with any fallen humans — dead or alive — unless they had explicit permission from the king and queen to do so. 

Chara had been the first human she’d ever known to have fallen. So where the hell did he find the child sized skeleton that was used to make Sans?!

And he'd been so little when she'd first met him. She suddenly felt very ill at the implications.

She scanned a few more pages which, as suspected, revealed nothing remotely similar to the magic Sans had displayed in his last few confrontations. Replacing the book back on the shelf, she mentally kicked herself for not questioning how strange it was to see a new skelemonster in the underground when the doctor had first shown up out of the blue with Sans years earlier. 

And where was it that Asgore had mentioned seeing Sans for the first time? Hiding in a broom closet?

She groaned, realizing what a pain in the ass summoning Wingdin for questioning was going to be. But she had questions that only he was going to know the answer to. Perhaps if she sent the royal guard out to retrieve him he’d realize how serious she was about this…

She headed back to the front of the library, finding Chara with an armful of books, bouncing on their heels as they waited for her. 

“What did you find?” Toriel asked cheerfully, trying to hide the fact that her soul felt like it was twisting into a knot. 

“Oh, um. This one. It’s about flowers. And this one,” they replied, quickly bypassing another book to show her the cover of a book about star patterns from the world outside.

Toriel nodded, glancing at the title of the book wedged in between the two Chara has shown her that seemed to be a thick book about monster anatomy. She wasn’t sure why Chara would be attempting to hide that from her, but decided not to make a big deal of it. 

“Did you pick one out for your brother?” Toriel asked. Chara scrunched their nose up, then walked back over to the children's section. 

“There,” Chara stated, dropping a copy of Peek-a-boo With Fluffy Bunny onto the pile.

“Is that not a bit young for him?”

“You didn’t get anything?” Chara replied, changing the subject as they stuffed the books into their backpack and threw it over their shoulder.

“Oh, no I found what I needed. I just decided not to bring it along with me today,” Toriel admitted, opening the library door up for Chara to walk out.

The streets were quieter than normal that afternoon, but Toriel lowered her voice as they continued down the empty sidewalk just to be safe. “Dear, may I ask you a question?”

“About what?”

“About...well, about Sans.”

Chara froze, their face suddenly taking on a greyish color. “Uh, yeah?”

Toriel tried to keep her face neutral. “Has he ever told you anything, er, strange? About himself? Or Dr. Gaster?”

“No,” Chara replied, a little too quickly, although relieved this didn't seem to be a question relating to The Plan. “Like what?”

“I was just thinking, I do not believe I have heard him mention Dr. Gaster other than in passing. I was curious if he talked to you at all about things that might be bothering him.”

Does mom know about the lab? Chara wondered, their heart sinking. If Toriel had somehow learned about Sans’ secret, that meant putting their plan into motion was going to be a lot more complicated. Although maybe that would give Sans more incentive to do what I need him to, they realized. Their mother being upset with Dr. Gaster usually resulted in Sans staying over at their home multiple nights in a row. 

Even if they did say something, it wouldn’t matter that much in the long run. This was a small issue in the grand scheme of things. 

And they’d never liked Dr. Gaster very much anyways.

“Well…he told me to keep it a secret,” Chara said, as they uttered the words they knew would catch their mom's attention. 

“My child,” Toriel said, kneeling down to put her hand on their shoulder. “You must never keep secrets when someone is putting themselves or someone else in a dangerous situation. It is in their best interest. So if something is going on and you know of it, it would be best to tell me everything so that I can address it.” 

“Well,” Chara continued, feeling slightly conflicted. Clutching the books in their arms tighter, they reminded themselves that this was all part of something much more important.

“He said...he said there’s a lab. Where they do, uh, stuff. Experiments. On Sans.”

“A...I am sorry, a lab?” Toriel repeated, unsure where this was going. 

“Yeah. A lab. And Dr. Gaster used something on Sans to make him really strong when he was a baby monster. Like...D something.”

“What in the world,” Toriel gasped, putting a hand over her mouth. 

“And uh...he said dad got really mad at Dr. Gaster for not listening to him.”

Toriel stood slowly as she processed this. “Did...did Sans say where this lab was?”

Chara shook their head. “No just that it had a bunch of locks and stuff. And some big, giant skull things everywhere.”

“Skull things,” Toriel repeated, trying to think of what Sans might've been talking about. Wingdin couldn't possibly have the Blasters still, could he?

Chara shrugged, a mix of adrenaline and guilt kicking through them as they waited for the repercussions of their actions to kick into motion. They suddenly found themselves wondering if the main reason they had decided to tell was to in fact force themselves to go through with the plan as much as force Sans.

“My gods. I — I had no idea. Chara, you must not hide things like that from me! How long have you known this? Why did you not tell me this sooner?” 

“I don’t know!” Chara shouted. “He only told me a couple days ago!”

Toriel bit her lip to avoid cursing. This was far worse than she had anticipated. Hell, this may have even crossed into treason. The guards definitely needed to be alerted.

“Chara, do me a favor and find Sans. Tell him to come to the palace immediately. I am going to go find your father. We need to get to the bottom of this.”

~

The doctor grunted, pulling aside a large piece of aluminum sheeting to discover what may have at one point been a chair of some sort, but was far from the length of material he'd need if he was going to throw a new bed together.

He stood back and leaned against the large piece of concrete block that stood behind him to take a break, removing a glove to rub the bones connecting his hand to his wrist. He hated admitting how old he actually was at this point. It was definitely getting harder and harder to do the manual labor of scavenging on his own, especially with his magic being as useless as it was. But he knew the minute he stopped pushing himself to work was the minute things were sure to go downhill for him. He’d seen it happen way too often during his time in the underground. 

Pulling a cigarette from his breast pocket, he patted about his person for a match while he surveyed what he’d been able to drag from the refuse pile so far. A few wooden slats that could be pieced together as a frame. Some metal pieces that could function as rebar, along with some sturdier material that could be dismantled and used to repair the hole in the basement wall. He was pretty sure he could drag a mat up from the basement lab to use instead of trying to find one without anyone knowing the difference, as long as Sans didn’t catch him.

“Need a light?” a gentle voice asked, startling him. He turned around to see Firenze’s familiar green flames among the refuse. The slim monster’s arms crossed as he cocked his head to one side to look at what the doctor had pulled up out of the pile. 

“Uh, yeah sure,” the doctor replied, trying to look casual as Firenze approached and lit the end of his cigarette with his palm. “What are you doing here, shouldn’t you be at the bar or something?”

"Shouldn’t you be at work?” Firenze replied quietly.

“Touché.” 

“I ran into someone who told me she saw you headed this way. Thought maybe I’d come find you since you’re obviously trying to avoid me." 

“Hm,” the doctor replied, thankful he’d decided against bringing 5 along with him. “I’m not trying to avoid you, I’m just um, busy.”

“Mmhmm.”

“What?”

“You haven’t been by in...what, a week or two now? If anything, you come in more when you’re busy. You can at least tell me what’s going on.”

“I told you already, it’s nothing,” the doctor replied irritably, wishing he had Sans’ ability to teleport out of awkward situations.

“Uh huh. Wingdin, you know what a gossip mill the bar is. Word is you haven’t been into work for quite some time either.”

Ah, shit, the doctor thought to himself. He made a mental note to try and get back into the office at some point to run interference. Maybe when Sans was back at the house to keep an eye on 5.

Why were they talking about him at the bar right now anyways? 

“Welp,” the doctor replied, taking a long drag on his cigarette before tossing it onto the ground to squash it. “Don’t know what to tell you.”

“Maybe the truth? It’s going to come out eventually, I’d rather hear it from you.”  

“What does that even mean?” the doctor shot back, studying Firenze’s countenance. “The truth. Okay, the truth is...we’re not together anymore. I’m fine. And you don’t need to keep trying to check in on me and constantly remind me that I’m a fuck up, alright?” the doctor grumbled, attempting to drag the materials he’d found into a pile to keep himself from looking at Firenze. 

“Oh my gods, why are you always like this.”

“Look, I didn’t follow you here, you followed me. I don’t owe you answers. And you don’t need to be in my business every godsdammned second, alright?”

“Hm. Alright, then...in that case, I suppose I shouldn’t loop you in to the fact that the royal guard came by looking for you.” 

The doctor stopped what he was doing and looked up. “Wait, what? At the bar?”

The barkeep nodded. “About an hour ago.”

“Oh...fuck,” the doctor replied, standing up straight with a blank look on his face. “Shit. Wh-did they say why?” 

Firenze shook his head. “Told us all to notify them immediately once we knew your whereabouts though. Had a flyer with your face on it too, as if we didn’t know who you were. Now do you want to tell me what’s going on?” 

“Did they go by the house?” 

“I mean, probably?” Firenze replied. “I would assume so.” 

“They didn’t have uh, anyone else with them when they showed up at the bar, did they? It was just them?”

“.....yes,” Firenze answered suspiciously, growing irritated with the doctor’s usual routine of stepping around a direct answer. 

“Okay. Okay, good,” the doctor said, relieved. There were two possibilities right now. In scenario one, his suspicions that morning had been correct — Sans had told Asgore everything, the jig was up, and he was screwed. However, if the royal guards had broken into the house and either taken 5 or been blasted to bits by him, Firenze would have definitely heard about it. Which made him think that for whatever reason, 5 had not been discovered. In scenario two, Sans had not told Asgore anything, something completely different was going on requiring the royal guard to seek him out, and he was panicking about nothing. 

He hoped for the latter. Although he was so tired at this point, kicking back in a cell and waiting to fall down felt mildly alluring. 

“Alright. Well...no use dragging this shit back home right now, I guess,” the doctor sighed, sitting down to put his coat back on and grab the bag he’d brought along with him. “Uh...thanks. Firenze. For the heads up, I mean. Guess I better see what it is they want so badly that they’re flashing my picture around.”

“Think I already know the answer to this, but need a friend?” Firenze asked, offering a hand. The doctor blinked. 

“After all that?” the doctor asked incredulously. Firenze shrugged, keeping his hand out. “Okay. You know...sure,” the doctor said, allowing the barkeep to help him up. “Honestly, I don’t know what I did to deserve you sticking around for so long.” 

“I’ll put it on your tab,” Firenze replied with a smirk, as the two headed off in the direction of New Home City.

Chapter Text

Sans appeared in an alleyway off the main footpath leading to the castle, taking care to slink around the wall and onto the thoroughfare so as not to draw attention from the guards posted along the building. It was nearing the lunch hour, meaning less passersby would be mingling about the castle grounds, which hopefully meant it was less likely that he’d stick out too much. The incident with the two teenagers had been big news in a city void of scandal. While Snowdin was thankfully removed from the underground media circuit, and his identify had mostly been concealed since he was a minor, anyone with more than a passing interest could’ve easily pick him out of a line up as the blurred monster kid being hauled away by Mongrella in the pictures that had dominated newspaper front pages for the past few days.

He hadn’t meant to skip his meeting with Asgore that morning, but he hadn’t been looking forward to it either. Staying up late the night before chatting with his new brother had largely been to sate his long-held desire to have someone with a shared experience he could finally bond with, but had also been a delay tactic in going to bed and having to face Asgore the next day. He wasn’t sure what Asgore wanted to know, exactly. Or how much he already suspected. 

And on top of that, there was Chara. He hadn’t exactly talked to them about what they were planning or confirmed it firsthand. It was all hearsay from Asriel at this point. He wasn’t sure that it was enough to risk putting them under house arrest and having to deal with turning into a lethargic zombie while he waited to see them again. And he wasn’t sure Asgore would take him seriously if he said something about it anyways. 

There were a few other monsters queued up in the waiting area for the king already. He thought he recognized one of the individuals waiting, her tail curled up as she chewed anxiously on the corner of her thumb sitting in one of the chairs lining the hallway. When she looked up and met his gaze, she quickly shifted away from him with a look of panic on her face.

What was her name? Alice? Alfus?

“Sans Gaster?” the secretary called out. He tensed, not expecting to be the next in line given all the other monsters waiting. He chanced one more sidelong glance at the yellow monster before heading inside. He was pretty sure he’d ran into her at the dump awhile back, but didn't remember anything happening then that would warrant that reaction. Maybe it was because of the newspapers? 

Stepping through the massive doors, Sans realized that he’d never actually faced Asgore in a formal setting. He was so used to him being somewhat of a bumbling father figure in his life that he was thrown off seeing him in his formal attire, seated on a massive throne gilded with metals and gems that formed into the shape of the delta rune behind him. The carpet covered walkway leading to the king looked thirty miles away in the context of the high ceilings and stained glass windows of the room. Sans was momentarily paralyzed. How many thrones did they have in the palace anyways?

“Ah. Sans,” the king called out in a chipper voice. He rose and strode down the series of steps leading up to the dais where he’d been seated towards Sans, a warm expression on his face. “So glad you could make it.”

Okay, so he probably isn’t upset, Sans reassured himself, stepping forward and remembering that it was just Asgore he was meeting with, after all. 

“How was the journey? I was not sure how quickly you would be able to get to New Home City, but I do appreciate you coming out here to meet with me.”

“uh, yeah no prob. problem. no problem, i mean. uh, sir,” Sans replied awkwardly, feeling a strange pressure to be formal. 

“Perhaps it is of greater benefit to me, but I sure could use some fresh air after being cooped up inside all day. Do you mind if we perhaps take this to the garden outside?” the king asked, removing his cape and draping it over the back of the massive chair he’d been seated on.

“er, yeah. sure,” Sans replied, still uncertain what to expect from this meeting. Asgore opened a large door to his right, motioning for Sans to walk through. 

Behind the door was a well-manicured walking path that encircled a large, open green space that seemed almost too big to be tucked back behind the room they had just been in. Around the perimeter were a variety of plants and small trees that vaguely reminded Sans of the garden Asgore tended to at the Dreemurr home.

"You like it?" Asgore called to Sans, closing the door behind them. "I call this my thinking space. It is much easier to ponder problems out here than in a stiff metal chair."

"...uh, yeah," Sans replied, unsure of how else to respond. "kinda looks like the one at your house."

"Do you see that tree over there?" Asgore asked, pointing to a fir tree on the other side of the garden. "I bet you would recognize that one. It's from Snowdin."

"mmhmm." 

"Why don't you take a closer look?"

Sans cocked his head, confused why Asgore was asking him to look at what was by far the most common occurrence in his hometown, only second to the snow covered ground. But out of politeness, he turned and started across the grass to the tree.

He'd only taken a few steps when something shifted, causing him to pause. Turning quickly, he slowed time down to check that his instincts were correct. 

He was startled to see Asgore, in slow motion, hurling what appeared to be a large ball of fire his way. He sidestepped, quickly letting go of his hold on the world, only to see Asgore rapidly summoning another attack and hurling it in his direction. 

What the hell?

He dodged again, ducking under a series of fireballs and pivoting to launch himself in the other direction. Throwing a row of bones up behind him to deflect the flame ball, he tossed the flame up into the ceiling where it exploded into a rainfall of ashes. He glanced at Asgore, who had a look of determination on his face. 

Remembering Toriel's advice and not wanting to accidentally blow the king to dust, he took a beat to check the stats of the king. As expected, he had plenty of HP. Almost as much as he did.

The king made a horizontal sweeping motion with his hand, summoning a line of flames that he proceeded to launch at Sans -- the fire dancing in growing and shrinking patterns as it shot down the field. Sans could feel his DT bubbling up as he spun out of the way and on instinct, he tipped gravity over, using the wall to get up and over the flames while the king lost his balance and tumbled onto the ground. Sans quickly tipped the world in the other direction, summoning a sheet of bones to act as a platform to land on while the king struggled to right himself. 

A cascade of sharpened boned jettisoned out behind him as he turned gravity right-side and raised the platform he was on a bit higher, adrenaline coursing through him as he struggled to figure out what was happening. To his surprise, the king began laughing. 

"Amazing. Truly amazing," the king said, shaking his head and picking his crown up from the ground. Sans remained quiet, keeping himself from dismissing the bullet hell he'd summoned in anticipation of another surprise attack. He could see the reflection of his eye flickering blue and yellow on the platform beneath him. 

The king put his hands up, stepping back and bowing slightly. "That was very, very good. How did you learn to do that, Sans? I must say, I have worked with many a guardsmen and fighter in my time and never have I seen anything quite like what you are able to do."

Sans paused, still unsure what to trust anymore. He wasn't sure if the king really had no idea about the lab or if he was just messing with him.

The king gestured with open hands and motioned for Sans to come down. "I will not attack you Sans, that was unfair of me. Though I would very much like to know more about how you've managed to become so skilled at such a young age!"

Reluctantly, Sans scattered the bullets he'd summoned and hopped down to the ground, trying to read the king's intentions. He didn't seem to be hiding anything...was he really that oblivious to what had been going on right under his nose? Asgore had been responsible for the whole Soul Project to begin with! Was he really not connecting the dots? 

Asgore approached slowly when Sans failed to respond, kneeling to be closer to eye level with the young skelemonster. Sans was struck with a faint memory of stumbling out of a broom closet and finding himself looking up at Asgore in a similar way. That'd only been five years earlier, when he was only six years old. And yet it felt like an eternity had passed since then. 

Man, his life was so much more complicated now.

"Sans. You clearly are a very talented young monster. Of course, knowing you like I do I have always been very impressed with how clever you are. And a loyal friend to our family.  But I am curious why I am only now learning what a talented fighter you are. Surely they did not teach you this in school."

"no sir," Sans replied, his voice cracking a bit. 

"I would have been quite surprised if that were the case, as I recognize many of your maneuvers," the king chuckled, clapping a hand on Sans' shoulder bone. "You know, before your father was injured, he was quite the fighter too. Did you know that?"

Sans was caught off guard by that. He actually knew next to nothing about the doctor's life before the underground, though he'd caught pieces here and there throughout the years. 

"he doesn't really talk about it much," Sans replied. "what uh...what was he like?"

"Quite clever. Like you. Perhaps too clever for his own good at times," Asgore winked. "But also very good at maneuvering quickly."

"so he was a soldier?"

"Well, yes. But eventually he was my chief strategist during the war. Alongside his partner, of course." 

"partner?" 

"Yes. A very brave soul and dear friend lost during the war," Asgore replied. "Though if he is keeping that information to himself, then perhaps I should not discuss such matters without his consent —"

"he said his partner died in his arms."

A disturbed look passed over the king's face suddenly. "Yes. It was...it was a dark day for all of us."

Sans studied the king's features and decided to take a gamble. "and that's why he decided not to follow orders?"

The king looked taken aback by this. "Yes," Asgore replied slowly. "That is why he made a choice to disobey orders. And why he no longer has the magic abilities he once did."

"do you think he did the right thing?"

"The right thing?"

"disobeying orders to save others?"

"Disobeying direct orders from your king is treason, Sans. A crime punishable by swift execution in many cases. But given the circumstances..." The king stood, suddenly looking very tired. "In any case, it is rare that I come across talent like yours at so young an age. I would hate to see that go to waste. Tell me, Sans, what is it you hope to do in the future?"

"break the barrier," Sans replied, feeling ill. The king laughed.

"That would be something, wouldn't it?"  

Sans considered bringing up his concerns about Chara, but was interrupted when the door to the garden was pushed open and the tiny secretary poked their head around the corner.

"Your highness? I'm sorry to interrupt. The queen is on the phone and wants to speak with you. She says it's urgent."

"Urgent? Hmm. Very well. Sans, do you mind giving me a moment?" 

Sans shrugged, following the secretary back out into the waiting area. Immediately, the intern he'd met in the garbage dump caught his attention. She was visibly sweating and seemed to be purposely avoiding eye contact with him as she shifted uncomfortably in her seat. 

"Care for a snack?" asked the secretary, who stepped in front of him and held out a plate loaded with treats. "It's near lunch time, you must be getting hungry!"

"uh...sure. thanks," Sans replied, chancing one more glance over to the intern. Why was she acting so weird, she was fine talking to him before? 

Letting his curiosity get the better of him, he grabbed a cookie and casually walked over to sit in the open chair beside Alphys, pretending to be oblivious to how squirmy she got as he headed in her direction. 

"hey," he said to her, spitting crumbs everywhere.

"H-h-h-hi there! I d-d-d-d-didn't see you! There. Ehehe...heh. Um, h-how are you doing?" Alphys asked, her eyes darting around frantically looking as if she were willing Asgore to come back out.

"i'm okay. just here for the cookies. heh. what about you?" he asked, trying to get a read on her, though it was difficult with how twitchy she was. What the heck was going on? He'd barely even talked to her before, yet something about him being there was making her panic. 

"Uh...y-y-yeah same!" she blurted out, clutching her tail in her hands and pushing a small bag farther under her chair. 

"what's that?" Sans said, suddenly taking note of what she'd brought with her. Her face turned a pale shade of yellow and she swung her feet around to get in the way of him being able to investigate further. 

"NOTHING. It's, it's nothing."

"hey you work with doc — er, my, uh, dad right?"

Getting her to finally make eye contact with him told him everything he needed to know. She knew something. Something she wasn't supposed to know.

Something bad. 

"Erm, y-y-yes..." she stuttered, guiltily sinking lower into her seat. 

Taking advantage of the opportunity, Sans slowed time down to give him a chance to snatch the bag out from under her chair. He immediately recognized the contents inside.

The lab tapes. A series of them.  

She knew. 

"oh...shit," Sans stated, dropping his magic. 

"S-STOP!" Alphys yipped, pushing him back out of reflex. A few of the other people in the waiting area looked over to see what was going on as he tumbled out of his chair. "Oh! S-s-sorry, I didn't mean to —" 

"how did you get those?" Sans asked in a panicked whisper as he got to his knees and put a hand on her chair. Alphys' face blanched even more, but she remained quiet. "what are you doing with them? you...you can't...you can't show that to asgore. it's private. please..."

Alphys looked desperately over at the secretary, who signaled to a guard to check into what was happening.

"alice? alice, right? seriously. please. don't." 

"Is there a problem?" the guard asked, their ears perking up. Sans caught sight of Alphys pleading with the guard silently to do something. His shoulders slumped. There were too many eyes to just tear out of here with the tapes. 

If shit was going to go down, he needed to protect Papyrus. Especially if the doctor was right and they were going to be picked apart by scientists when they were caught. He didn't want to risk it. Why hadn't he hidden the tapes somewhere when he'd found them?!

"uh, i forgot i need to get something," Sans replied quickly, pushing himself upright. "i'll be right back."

"Kid you can't....HEY KID!" the guard shouted as Sans dashed down the hall and out the door.

As soon as he could he tore open into his room back in Snowdin. The echoing sounds of the hallway were replaced by soft chatter going on in the room below. Throwing the door open frantically, he headed out to the balcony overlooking the living room. 

"G?!" he called out in Hands, the chatter below coming to a standstill. "Papyrus?"

"Oh, hey Sans," called out a familiar voice casually. 

Sans tried to keep his legs from buckling as a wave of panic washed over him. There at the table was his brother, sitting happily at the table with his crayons, paper...and a very irritated-looking Chara.