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PATCHWORK SOUL - NEW MEDIUM

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It had never really been a realistic prospect for the underground to clear overnight. Monsters took a look at the surface. There were celebrations, jubilation, and then a realization that this might take a bit more planning than first thought. That was overwhelmingly okay with the two kids mostly responsible for the overhaul of existence, though. Settling down at home in a certain snowed in town in the meanwhile was the best possible outcome for the exhausted, fractured-souled pair and their family.

 

King Asgore was confident in his people and their sun-filled future, though, and the town layout designing began. Put up to a vote, the name Starhome—in honour of the beautiful view from the mountaintop— was chosen, resoundingly beating Newest Home and Mt. Mountain, just as it had a rewound year ago.

 

They made contact with the humans. At first, it was just via radio: a brief, friendly announcement that the mountain had been opened up. Then, Asgore talked to one of their leaders on the phone. Then, through a video chat. Finally, a week later, they organized a meeting in the mountain, at Asgore's home.

 

It was a lot like the first time. This round, however, he had an uncanny feeling that he knew how it should go. Frisk did, too, and this time she brought Papyrus with her as well. Though Asgore had been uncertain, Frisk was sure he would really point things in the right direction much more quickly than the first version.

 

As she expected, the human leader and the people he brought with him seemed only mildly startled by Asgore. They had seen images of him in their picture books forever, after all. A lady even brought one for him to sign, a short children's story called The King Under the Mountain that portrayed him in a surprisingly benevolent light. He read it with her, chuckled, and offered them all tea.

 

The humans, in fact, had come bearing an apology. The war had been so long ago, and things had changed so much over the centuries that the outside world wasn't even sure if the monsters were still alive or how to contact them. Magic had drained from the world up top. There were no longer any red-souled wizards. There was even a significant amount of the population that thought that the monsters may never have been real at all. The humans (for the most part) were happy, actually, to get to see them again.

 

The envoys had been surprised, though, to see the human child joining the King after introductions had been made and tea and cakes had been served, and downright alarmed by the tall skeleton that walked in holding her hand. But, as Frisk thought, her brother's enthusiasm and energy infected the humans like a cold. He offered them pasta, assuring them that magic food was delicious, and shared a couple of his graph-paper puzzles, essentially derailing the meeting and turning it into a game. The human leader couldn't keep up his stoic front as his advisors, in turn, couldn't help but try to solve the theoretical switch puzzles, "no flying or snow pants allowed". Papyrus wooed them in minutes.

 

Frisk, of course, received some questions as well, about living with monsters; how she had been treated. She explained that she was an orphan and had fallen, an "accident", and how she'd been adopted and cared for. That monsters would never hurt a human without cause. That soul-stealing was essentially a myth. Asgore got a little sweaty-looking and excused himself as she fibbed on his behalf. But, she explained, very honestly, that even the monsters with the biggest claws and the sharpest fangs really just wanted to be friends. That skeletons and ghosts weren't scary; didn't mean any harm. Papyrus was living proof of that. She did have to explain, though, that he wasn't made of a dead human— the thought of which absolutely horrified him— and that skeleton monsters were just born like that.

 

Everyone at the meeting went home happy. Things wouldn't be over in a day, but it certainly sped things along a great deal. What had taken almost six months before was almost over in two and a half.

 

- - -

 

In the meanwhile, Asriel and Toriel moved into the skeleton household almost immediately after the barrier fell. Sans didn't care where he slept, so gave up his room to Toriel. Though the place suddenly seemed a little crowded, it all felt very right.

 

Though building her school again was near the top of Toriel's mind, the family's attention had to remain squarely focussed on Asriel and Frisk for the time being. Their souls were unlike any in recorded history. Testing every day in Alphys's lab saw them trying hard to recombine themselves. Determination knitted into every facet of the Prince's new soul, so strong that, for a while, Frisk had to act as a conduit for it. It would burn any monster in direct contact with it. Alphys had a few new, orange scars on her fingers as proof.

 

Physical changes came along with progress. Asriel got worse before he got better, his form becoming more beastly as the determination seeped through his new soul to bind it properly. Two months from its creation, he was a hulking, knuckle-walking, sabre-toothed beast with huge, curling horns, and white irises on black sclera, who had to sleep exclusively on the living room floor. That is, until one day, about a week later, there was a shift. The soul finished remaking itself, snapped into place, and Asriel woke up just a smidgeon taller than Frisk. Pale, mist green eyes; adorable as ever, with the only physical changes remaining being the stripes on his face and back, and that his horns had begun to show a bit longer than his age would suggest. It was a relief if only for the sake of standing-room.

 

Frisk's transition was simultaneous, but less dramatic in the sense that she certainly did not grow to almost eight feet tall. She did, however, grow horns for a little over a week. Nubs at first, they sprouted a few inches, developing a faint, lyre-shaped curve, and then receded into nothing just as she was starting to come to terms with having them. She also turned blue for three and a half days, which— after the initial shock— gave Sans ample material for jokes. Mostly, though, her soul was readjusting. Already more attuned to monster magic than a regular human soul, it seemed to be coping just fine with only a few hiccoughs along the way.

 

That wasn't the only thing that changed for Frisk, though. Despite all the good they had done, the glowing handprints of magic and memories had faded from her face ever since the day the barrier had broken. With them went the borrowed powers of her brothers. Papyrus was probably more disappointed than she was, though. The invisible lines between her fingers hadn't lit up since then, either, and though the circular scar was still on her back, it hadn't glowed again.

 

The hairline cracks in Asriel's soul and Frisk's sparkling constellation points were rarely visible anymore, and showed less and less the more time passed. Only a great effort revealed them— a shining white, sometimes prickled with a faint spectrum of colours. But, their souls were solid now, even though Asriel's glowed red with determination: a fractured, mirror image of Frisk's.

 

No one was entirely sure what had happened, but the chunks missing from those who had given soul fragments to Frisk had started to come back on their own. Alphys began keeping track when she realized the missing piece of her finger started, very slowly, to reappear. It seemed to be exposure to Frisk's magic, but gaps missing from Sans, Papyrus, and Toriel, were nothing more than a memory within the first month. They weren't regrown pieces, though: the energy acted as if it had never been gone in the first place.

 

Alphys theorized that it might be that Frisk's magic was unconsciously turning the souls backwards in time. Sans was the only one who didn't seem the least bit surprised. The others took a little longer, from what Alphys guessed was less natural exposure. Sans actually seemed a little disappointed that the hole in his hand closed up, but Alphys was pretty relieved to have the rest of her pinkie back.

 

- - -

 

Three months in: though some monsters had already begun to set up outside— including Mettaton, who had raced to plunk down what would eventually become his television studio and Alphys's new laboratory— it was going to be about a month or two more before Frisk or any of her friends would build their homes on the surface. The last time, there had been a bit of scramble and, as a result, the initial "surface CORE", or SCORE, construction was plagued with issues and setbacks. This time, Alphys was taking no chances, going over the original CORE by the inch to make sure she had every little detail she would need before she moved to turn it down to almost zero, a necessary step before connecting the SCORE to it on the mountaintop in order to power what would become the city-state of Starhome.

 

This afternoon, though, she was out hiking the mountainside, camping with Undyne for a much needed break. Mettaton would be hosting a big surface party soon, humans included, and she was expected to help out. After days of spending almost every waking hour staring at schematics and computer screens, being dragged away from the artificial glow was really what she needed. She still posted update photos of just about everything every ten minutes or so, though. Campfire cooking, exploring the forests; jumping off a small waterfall over Undyne's head to play in the river under a free and open sky. Frisk had been keeping track throughout the day.

 

She was on the surface this afternoon, too. The roadmap of Starhome was laid out on the ground, a little different than how it had been, and a few houses had already been erected though, as scattered as they were, made the whole place look very quaint and rural. It wouldn't always, though. Eventually, the main bulk of the city would come to look a lot like New Home had, with merloned walls and the occasional domed roof. If things went like last time, it was the outskirts that would eventually end up looking more quaint and cozy, like Snowdin but with a lot more space.

 

The sun was shining, warm and inviting even as it began to fall towards the horizon, though the ground was damp from rain hours past. Now that she had proper shoes, Frisk quite enjoyed the squishing sound as she walked on the grass. She double-checked a photo on her phone— one of a house that looked like it was a boulder carved into a rectangular cottage, with some crystals jutting out here and there and a waterfall pouring down its side and into a pond in the front yard.

 

Frisk put a hand to her eyes and squinted into the distance. She could have sworn she saw a shimmery, pink sheen blink back at her. She turned to Sans and held up her phone, then pointed at a small, stoney lump in the distance. He took it and stared at the screen.

"Whatcha think?" she asked.

"Think you found it," he said.

She grinned and grabbed his hand.

 

Down the hill, they arrived at exactly the house from the photo, except for more crystals had sprouted from its left side, glimmering bright in the sunshine. Before they even crossed the yard, the door flew open and they were greeted by a beaming, rocky ram monster.

"You found it!" Flint said. "Have any trouble?"

"Nah," Sans said.

 

"Frisk!" A tiny little rockram shot out of the house around her father's legs and glommed onto the kid, squeezing her tightly. "You came! Come on, you gotta see my room, okay? It's brand new!" She hopped back, the blue stones on her cheeks glowing faintly, and she grabbed her hand to drag her inside.

"Okay, okay!" Frisk laughed.

 

As she was whisked away, Flint beckoned Sans towards the door. He had a big grin on his face.

"Good t'see you again," he said.

"Yeah, same," the skeleton replied. "How is she?"

"Like night and day. Could hardly believe it," he said. "Come on, come in."

 

The inside of the house was furnished like a cozy cottage, decorated with shells, chunks of crystal, and vinyl records. The little fish boy was setting the table and his mother laid out a casserole dish filled with something purple.

"I'm so glad you two could make it!" she said, grinning upon seeing him. She crossed the room quickly and wrapped him in a hug. "How have you been? Are you planning on moving up soon?"

"Eh, maybe in the next month or three. We got a spot; we're okay with bein' in the back end of things. Looks like you got this place all put together pretty quick," Sans said.

"It was a lot of work, aye, but worth it," Flint said. "You hear they're openin' up the way back into Home? Heard it was supposed to be for the scientists or somethin'."

"For all the eggheads," Sans said. "Yeah. Should be helpful for the SCORE, too, or whatever."

"I was a wee kid when I saw it last," he said. "Interested in takin' a look myself!"

 

"Hey, Sans? Saaaans?" Adaro darted over and grabbed onto his sleeve. "Okay, like, you know more about this place, right? The sky can't suck you up, right?"

"What, like a vacuum?" Sans tilted his head. "Nah."

"So when the world goes upside down, we'll be okay, though, right?" he insisted. "We won't fall off?"

"And what, go spinnin' off into space?" He grinned. "Nah. Gravity stuff. Same thing that makes you fall back down when you jump."

Adaro grinned brightly and punched the air with both fists. "That's awesome!"

 

Lari and Frisk returned shortly and, with a few more table settings, everyone sat down. Naiad gladly served them all the purple something—that ended up tasting like some very good potatoes— and some crispy fish alongside sweet, leafy vegetables. Flint was hyuking it up about all the novel things they'd seen above ground. The clouds rushing past, the birds twittering in the bright-leaved trees, the casual breeze; the little bugs in the grass.

 

The whole family was so exuberant and excited. Frisk couldn't help but catch a little of that enthusiasm as she listened to them. Naiad really did look so much better here. There was an iridescent shimmer to her scales that had been absent beneath the ground. Adaro, too, had a little glimmer of blue and green in the purple of his scales in the right light.

 

She was happy to see them— happy for them, too, but she couldn't keep her mind all the way there. This wasn't the last meeting she had to go to today, though the final one wasn't going to be as nice as this, she could bet.

 

"Frisk, sweetie, is something the matter?" Naiad's voice cut through her thoughts. She smiled gently. "Is it the veggies? It's alright if you don't like them."

"Oh, no no, they're great." Frisk realized, with hot embarrassment on her face, that she'd been nudging her food around with her chopsticks for a while. "S-Sorry."

Sans gave her a knowing look. She took a quick bite and Lari leaned over to gently grab her sleeve.

"What's your favourite surface thing, Frisk?" she asked.

"Um… Stars, I guess. And wind," she said.

"But you were up here before, right? Have you seen more? Like, from far away?" Adaro asked.

"I guess… Oh! The ocean's good. You guys should go there," she said.

"Ah, yes! I've always heard such wonderful things about it," Naiad said. "But, Frisk? Are you feeling okay?"

"Ah, it's just… I, umm…" She wasn't sure how to explain.

"Some treaty finalization thing with the humans tonight," Sans said. "She's worried because they've, uh, taken a bit of an interest in her."

"Oh? Eh… Why?" Flint asked with a blank look on his face.

"They think she's one of them." He shrugged. "Doesn't matter. Nothin' they can do either way."

 

Frisk knew he'd been reading their laws ever since the first day they'd ever brought her up in their meetings with Asgore and Toriel. It wouldn't matter, she'd assured herself. Asgore'd declared her a citizen as soon as it was relevant to do so, and it wasn't like she even had a record of existing anywhere else. It'd be fine. Still, it put a knot in her stomach. It also didn't help that she'd been dreaming about a human coming in and dusting some people precious to her through some horrible misunderstanding. Not even her subconscious would let her thoughts go elsewhere.

 

"So what's that about, anyway?" Flint asked, a burrow in his heavy brow. "They lookin' for your folks?"

"It doesn't matter." Frisk almost had an edge to her voice— she couldn't help it. "Even if they do, I don't care and I don't want to see them."

Naiad smiled sympathetically. Sans didn't seem concerned. He took a swig of his drink.

"They won't find a thing." He sounded utterly confident.

The kid smiled slightly. That always made her feel better, even if she wasn't sure she believed it.

"Ah, don't worry." Flint waved his hand and smiled wide. "You're such a good kid! I'm sure everythin'll work out just fine for ya! Besides, don'tcha got all those superpowers? You'll be fine."

"Yeah!" Adaro agreed, grinning his bright, pointy teeth. "You're super tough! Doesn't matter what they do, you're a monster like us now! Even if you're not!"

They all seemed so earnest about it. Smiling at her like they believed in her with all their souls.

"Y-Yeah. Yeah. I guess you're right," Frisk said.

 

- - -

 

Lari had a new game she wanted to show off. It was funny to Sans how bright and enthusiastic that little rockram got around Frisk compared to her normally sheepish manner. It was even funnier to him that his kid was actually taller than that little monster— seemed, somehow, to be the older and more mature of the two. Maybe that wasn't a surprise, though. She was the shortest one in their house and she was still fiercely protective of everyone there, even if that sharp tone didn't come out unless someone mentioned the surface and some hypothetical missing family to her.

 

None of this distracted him, though. No, he'd been focussed on the meeting with the human Ambassador for days, now. He was almost grateful that Asriel and Papyrus were currently occupied helping make something for Mettaton's party so he could focus on the the emotional wellbeing of only one person, for now.

 

He wasn't worried— not really. He knew with every note of magic in his bones that nobody would ever find someone related to her in the human cities. He'd told her a dozen times: she was his sister. Even so, she still carried a lump of guilt in her sometimes, some misplaced, heavy thing that turned her stomach and made her fingers shake.

 

Sans watched over the kids for a little while until the time they told Asgore they'd meet him started to creep up on them. He excused them early, his eye kept closely on Frisk. She seemed in relatively good spirits despite everything, and wasn't bothered when he suggested walking the "town" a little. He used the excuse that he wanted to get a lay of the new roads. Not untrue— he couldn't shift himself well without knowing an area, and the patterns on the ground helped.

 

"S'nice, huh?" he said as they wandered. "How you feelin'?"

"Okay," she said. She had her hands stuffed in her pockets and she looked a little distant, but she smiled tepidly at him. "It's always nice to see them."

Sans nodded. Maybe it was a bad time to ask, but he'd been wondering ever since they'd started visiting the family. "Not too hard with Adaro?"

"N… No. Nah. I mean…" She smiled a little brighter, though there was sadness in her eyes. "He doesn't have a reason to hate me this time."

"Wasn't your fault back then," he said.

She shrugged. "I can see it his way, though," she said. "I mean… Okay, maybe this isn't, like, good for my brain, but I counted the days and—"

"I know. She went down a day before it did. It was rough."

"I know!" she said loudly. "Jeez, like, that would suck so much I can't even…! Ugh."

"Still wasn't right, what he said," Sans said.

"…Doesn't matter," she said. "Didn't happen."

The skeleton nodded. Frisk took a deep breath and then puffed it out as a sigh. Her shoulders slumped and she went quiet for a while.

 

Sans watched the kid closely. Her eyes were up and alert. It was like she was waiting for something. She walked like a wary cat.

 

There was one bus-stop in the area, coming off a dirt road at the edge of a tree line on the town's border. The only real link to the human world from here, connecting their newly made city-state to the nearest country. There was a small general store set up nearby, as well as the house of the only humans in town. They were an old, retired couple, insistent on spending their twilight years as far from the bustle of the big city as possible. They had certainly not chosen poorly.

 

The bus, painted a friendly pink and blue, was just up the road, in fact. Frisk paused and clung to her brother's sleeve, edging behind him slightly as it rolled up and wheezed to a halt at the wooden bus shelter near the tall, blue signpost. When all that offloaded was those old folks with armfuls of grocery bags and a busload of Tems, the kid relaxed slightly.

"Chill," Sans said.

"I'm trying," she whined. She let out a deep breath. "I'm sorry."

He shrugged. She pouted and clenched her fingers into his sleeve, watching as the dozen Tems waddled swiftly into the general store like a fluffy tidal wave. Sans levelled his finger at the place.

"Want anything?"

"We just ate," she said.

"So?"

"And that's like, a million Tems, I'm gonna sneeze to death," she said.

He snickered and patted her on the shoulder. "Alright. Gimme a sec. Might get a bit hairy in there."

"Pffft." She folded her arms and held back asking him to hurry as he wandered off across the road.

 

After a minute, the bus rumbled and pulled forward past her to turn around and then was off, heading back to the human world, kicking up a spray of dirt behind it. Frisk crossed to the wooden bus shelter and took a seat to wait. Her feet dangled from the bench and she listened to the birdsong coming from the woods.

 

The sound of an engine soon rattled the air again and a bright orange sports car zoomed by, stopping just a little ways away with a screech. The kid bristled and leaned forward to put a foot on the ground, only sitting back when she saw a lumpy slime monster with eyes on stalks roll out of the back seat. A deer smoking a candy cigarette and a pink crocodile with shaggy red hair popped out of the front. The latter pulled out her phone and held it up to the car, where it sparkled, dissolved into glitter, and spiralled right into the tiny device.

 

The three teenage monsters aimed themselves back towards the mountain. The slime caught sight of Frisk with his wiggly eyes and twisted all the way around to wave. She'd never met him before— or any of them, for that matter— but she waved back. He bounced and nudged his friends. The crocodile stopped to look and then cupped her hands around her mouth as if to amplify her voice.

"HEY KID, THANKS," she shouted.

"Happy to help!" Frisk called back.

 

Seeming satisfied, the monsters continued on their way back towards the mountain. Frisk let out a sigh of relief and sat back on the bench. She didn't know why her nerves were so shot. If it had been humans, they probably wouldn't have actually bothered her, either. She'd have to remember that trick when they got Papyrus a car at the new house. They could maybe have a proper guest room instead of a garage-slash-guest room this time.

 

She peeked at the time on her phone. The meeting was soon, but still enough time to breathe in between. Maybe that was worse, though.

 

Heavy footsteps caught her attention, as did a gravelly laugh. She looked up to see an old turtle smiling down at her with yellowed teeth, a grocery bag slung over his arm.

"You youngsters, always with your nose in your phones," he teased. "Back in my day, we only had rocks to keep us busy!"

"Hey, Gerson," Frisk said. "What'd you do with those?"

"Threw 'em. Skipped 'em. Chewed 'em." He guffawed and sat down beside her, letting out an ancient wheeze and a chuckle. "How you been, kid? Likin' the sky? Hah! Guess it hasn't been that long since you seen it, right?"

"Guess not," she said. "I dunno. It's good. Everyone seems happy. How about you?"

"Mm. Well. Never thought I'd see it again, that's for sure," he said. "Didn't realize how much I wanted to. Saw your brother in the shop. Thought you hadn't moved out yet."

"Oh! We didn't," she said. "We're just visiting friends."

Gerson nodded. "Glad it all worked out how it did," he said.

"Me too," she said.

 

"Hey. I'd like t'ask ya somethin'," he said. "It's been on my mind for a long time. So. I know what you and the Prince did for us without actually seein' it. How's that work?"

Frisk smiled. "You know, you're the first person to actually ask me that?" She tented her fingers. "Long story. Sans has special memory magic. When Az took every monster soul to do the barrier thing, that magic helped everyone keep a little memories from then so they'd understand why we hoped we could get everyone to let Az keep just a tiny piece of their souls so he could come back to life properly and stuff."

"Aah, I see, I see." Gerson pulled a notepad from his jacket and nodded to himself. "I'm writin' a history book, see? I'd love to pick your little human brain about some of this stuff. I mean, heck, I saw some crazy things in the Before The Mountain Ages, but nothing like a tiny human kid bringing a dead prince back to life through the power of love and all that. And breaking a centuries-old spell in one go."

"It wasn't just me, it was a whole bunch of people," she said.

"And yet nothin' started until you got here." He smiled. "You're a weird kid, ain't ya? But you're a good egg. Thanks for humourin' this old coot."

 

The time-worn turtle creaked back onto his feet and stretched his old bones. He turned his head and raised his hand to wave at someone. Frisk leaned around him and saw Sans ambling back towards them. Her eyes instantly lit up. The monster patted her shoulder with a heavy hand.

"Might send a list of questions for ya to your mum," he said.

Frisk stuck her thumbs up and the old turtle went off slowly on his way. His new house wasn't in sight but Frisk knew that it was in a cave off the beaten path, at the edge of river that ran down from the mountain.

 

"Good chat?" Sans asked as he got close.

"Yeah, not bad," she said as she slipped off the seat. She sneezed and covered her nose.

"Whoops." Sans laughed and he took off his hoodie. He emptied the pockets into her hands— a bunch of candy bars— and then stashed it in the dimension box on his phone. "Hope you're not furry-ous."

She laughed and gently nudged him with her elbow. He patted her head and tilted his down the road. She nodded and followed him as he stared to wander. She shoved the candy into her pockets, but he instantly reached in and took one. He offered it to her. It was butterscotch flavour in chocolate. She took it gratefully.

 

"Feelin' any better?" he asked.

She shrugged. "I dunno. I guess?" She gnawed on the end of the chocolate bar. She broke off a piece from the other side and offered it to him, but he shook his head. "I dunno, I… Eh…" She pouted.

"Talk to me," he said.

"It's just whining, forget it," she said sheepishly.

"Oh, my favourite." He cut his eyes at her and grinned.

Frisk laughed tiredly and she rubbed the back of her head. "I… I guess I just wish… I wish I hadn't done whatever the heck I did that made them pay attention to me this time," she said quietly.

"You'll be okay," he said.

"Nuh-uh, I bet some weird important human is gonna show up with their dumb stuff and be like, oh, wow, a human, she should live with other humans, let's just cause trouble for no reason even though it's not like we cared when she did live near humans," she grumbled.

"They got nothin' on you," Sans said. "No laws say humans get to tell humans what to do because they're human. I checked."

"At least that's not garbage," she muttered quietly. "Ugh. What if I have to run away and go into hiding? W-Will you come with me?"

"Obviously." He shot her a grin. "Hey. You're gonna be fine."

"And what if some mysterious guy comes in and shoots everything up?!" she demanded.

"We just don't let a mysterious guy in," Sans said. "You'd recognize him? I know sometimes the dreams aren't great at faces, but…?"

"Um… I think I could," she said.

"Then you're good. Don't worry," he said. "Wanna go home until, uh…" He checked his wrist as if looking at a watch, though he didn't have one. "Well. We have a little time."

 

Frisk paused to consider it. Her face soured and she rubbed her eyes. "Shouldn't I do that math test?"

Sans snorted. "Why?" he asked.

"Because…! Because I… I should do something, right? I mean… I should try to keep up, right?" she insisted.

He shrugged. Frisk pouted.

"Um. H-Hey. Mom's not… mad at me, is she?" she asked softly.

"Pffft, no, course not, why?" Sans said with a laugh.

"Well, it's just… She wanted so much to do school stuff and now I…" She put a hand against her chest. Her heart was already fluttering uncomfortably. "I can hardly go."

"Hm. She didn't mention?" he asked.

"Mention what?"

"She was the one who suggested mostly homeschoolin' you for now."

"She was?" Frisk couldn't help but look taken aback. "Really?"

 

Sans nodded. All of a sudden, the scenery switched. There was rough rock beneath their feet and the view from high up on the mountain. He plunked down, dangling his legs off the edge. He patted the stone by his side and the kid slid over to sit down with him.

"She can see you wanna learn. But, uh, havin' trouble breathin' and pukin' your guts out isn't really helpful, huh?"

"Y-Yeah." She sighed quietly. "I'm really sorry. I didn't used to have all these problems."

"Well, I mean, can't really blame you, can we?" he said.

She shot him a confused look.

"You thought you were safe," he said, "and then had the whole world yanked from under you. That kinda thing isn't just gonna go away in a month or two, y'know? And then this extra crap, well…" He raised his brows.

Frisk's face flushed a little. She nodded and stared out over the edge, looking at the forest spread out beneath them. "Yeah, I guess it is kinda a lot," she admitted. "I never thought about it like that before."

Sans tapped the side of his skull and smiled. "So. Take it easy. School's important, but nobody said you gotta do it at any pace except your own."

"Or yours," she joked, grinning. "I kinda like that, actually, I feel like I actually always get what you're talking about." She gripped onto his arm again. She was kind of glad, truth be told. The more time she could spend with her brothers, the less anxious she felt. She looked up at him hopefully.

 

He laughed. "Really wanna do that math test, huh?"

She nodded. He smiled fondly and ruffled her hair.

"Alright. Jeez, so responsible," he said. "Guess we have time. Shouldn't be too long, it's for little kids, anyway."

"I am a little kid!" she said.

"Oh, perfect," he said.

 

He brought her home, pushed aside some books about geography, cooking, and ghosts, sat her at the side table in the living room with a hot chocolate, and tossed the worksheet Toriel had made in front of her. Pretty straightforward stuff. She was finished quickly; he wasn't surprised. He knew exactly how her brain worked, after all.

 

He plunked down beside her to check it over and she went back to her phone to wait. Asriel and Papyrus were posting photos from the plateau of the mountain, where the party was being held. Asriel, especially, was posting a decent amount of selfies with humans. They all thought he was adorable. The kid couldn't disagree. The stripes on his cheeks suited him.

 

She sat at the table, tapping her toe against the floor. Her fingers wandered to an old string of texts that kept, on her end, bouncing back. With a lump in her throat, she sent a quick message to an old friend, though, as she knew would be the case, it returned to her with a message that the account didn't exist. It had been the same for months, but that hadn't stopped her.

 

She tried her best to not look outwardly disappointed and started to browse Alphys's pictures to distract herself. She supposed she'd be up on the plateau soon, too, but for now, she was hanging out with Undyne in the woods, hiking leisurely back up the slope. They probably weren't too far from where she and Sans had just been. Alphys looked good in the sunlight. It gave her a healthy sheen to her scales. Undyne was just like Naiad and Adaro— her scales were iridescent up there, the dark blue shimmering with a little turquoise throughout, and just a tiny bit of red in on her upper arms, neck, and eyelids.

 

"Take a look at this," she said. She showed him the photo Alphys took of Undyne laughing under one of the waterfalls on the mountainside.

The spray made a faint, misty rainbow in the sunlight. He grinned.

"Pretty cool," he said. He put a final pen stroke on the test sheet and then tapped it with his fingertip. "Okay. Done. Wanna go over it now or later?"

"Now, I think," she said. "Did I do okay?"

"Mostly, yeah," he said.

"Mostly? Uh-oh," Frisk said.

Sans laughed. He pushed the test back to her and she saw he had circled red around some of questions at the bottom. Frisk felt a sinking feeling.

 

"Really? Those?" she squeaked.

"Welp. We didn't cover division yet," he said. "Guess they did in class, though."

"Division?" She tilted her head. "Um… I don't, uh…"

"I know. Sorry. Shouldda looked through this first. That symbol means division."

"What?! No way. I… I thought the printer just goofed up a plus sign," she said.

Sans laughed. "I figured. I'll give it to you. If it were addition, your answers would be right."

"Phew. But… B-But I don't know… division," she said quietly. "Do I…? Uhh…"

 

"Ah. Think I got it. I mostly used a kinda slash symbol instead, right? Same process, though." Sans put his chin on his fist thoughtfully for a few seconds. "What you wanna do is usually divide the first number by the second one. This ringin' any bells in there?"

"I… I think maybe I can get it?" she said hopefully.

"This one's easy, right? Six by two." He drew six dots on the paper. "Image that's candy or whatever. You're there with Papyrus. You wanna split it. How many do you each get?"

"Oh, he can have like, five, I only want one," she said quickly.

Sans laughed. "Sweet thought, kiddo, but in this hypothetical, you're goin' half and half. How many?"

"Oh! Easy, three," she said.

"Right. That's division," he said. "Six by two is three. Get it?"

"Ooooh. Okay. It's kinda like backwards multiplying!" Frisk's face lit up.

Sans grinned. He pointed to the next one. "Thirty six by three. So, thirty six candies, you, Paps, and Az, how many do you each get?"

"Twelve!" she said right away.

Sans wrote in the answer for her. "You're a natural, kid. Okay. Last one. Twenty nine by two."

"Um…" Frisk frowned for just a second. "F… Fourteen and… and a half? Is that right? Can there be halves?"

"Sure can. You got it," he said. He looked quite proud as he wrote in her final answer and gave her a perfect score. "Welp. Good job. I'm done as heck for today, you?"

She nodded.

"Thank god," he joked.

 

Another ten minutes of lazing, and it was time. Sans grabbed the kid and whisked her straight to Asgore's place. The stones and the ground outside it had started to regain the tiniest bit of colour saturation. It was the first timeline they'd ever seen anything like that. The inside of the house was similar. When they stepped in, they were instantly greeted with a hug from Toriel, who was tense despite trying very hard not to look it.

"Thank you for coming," she said. "This shouldn't be long."

 

She lead them into the living room where Asgore had a small desk set up near the fireplace. It boasted a large computer monitor with blinking, colourful lights on a metal panel on its side and a digital keyboard laid out before him. Currently, he was fiddling with some knobs on rim of the monitor. He turned in his spinning chair— like Alphys's but a few times larger— and shot them a big, fond smile.

"Howdy! I'm glad both of you are here! Frisk, it's so good to see you! I feel like it's been ages," he said. "We're just waiting for the human Ambassador to join us, now. Thank you so much for coming to, well, translate— for lack of a better word— if we need a little cross-species help."

"No problem," Frisk squeaked. She was never sure how helpful she could actually be, but Asgore seemed confident anyways. She pulled out a chair at the dining table and sat off to the side, out of view of the monitor but still able to see it clearly.

Sans patted her shoulder. She took a deep breath. It'd be fine, she told herself. Just a few more talks about borders and gold trades. Then it was done.

 

The first time this had taken over six months to finalize. Because of the whole monster thing and the lack of any real ability to gather resources from it, no human country really held claim to their mountain home in the current era. In fact, Frisk had learned that a monster kingdom called Annwyn had once been there. The name Mount Ebott, as their mountain had come to be called, was from monsters as well, coming from the name of a mysterious white dog that had, apparently, once lived there in bygone eras. Asgore had no desire to reclaim any lost territory, completely content with the mountain and the unclaimed miles around it. Easy.

 

Maybe it wasn't so bad, Frisk thought. At the same time as wishing she hadn't been seen, she was still, strangely, a little glad that she had been. Somehow, her talking with the grown-ups on the other side had reassured them of the monsters' peaceful intentions. That was worth her anxiety, wasn't it?

 

A pleasant chiming noise from Asgore's computer made her jump. Her focus shot to the screen as Sans slipped off towards the kitchen and Toriel positioned herself near the computer as well. Asgore hit a big green button and the whole monitor filled with the live video of a woman. She was probably in her mid-thirties, with a sharp but friendly face. She had jet black hair cut in a shoulder's length bob and pale skin, which made her dark, round eyes stand out brightly through a pair of reading glasses. Frisk had seen her before, though she didn't know her name.

 

The Ambassador smiled and bowed. "Hello, your Highness, it's good to see you again."

"And you!" he said. "Howdy! I would have thought you'd be at the party tonight."

The woman looked taken aback. "The party? But I… I wouldn't miss our meeting," she assured him swiftly.

"Oh, come on, we can always reschedule," he said. "I'm always around! But Mettaton's event is just for tonight! If you'd like to cut out early to go, please do! I won't be offended, I promise."

"Th… That's very kind of you. Either way, I don't think this should take very long," she said. "Can I assume Lady Toriel is here, too?"

"Yes! She's just off to the side here, as she would probably not fit in past my shoulders!" Asgore said with a laugh. "I also have my Royal Advisor around here somewhere… Uh…" He cast around, eyes roaming for the decidedly absent Sans. "Well! I can't see him at the moment, but he sort of slips in and out like that, I'm sure he'll catch everything."

"Perfect," the woman said. She looked down at some papers in front of her and then back up at him. "So. The issue with the borders is resolved— they'll be internationally recognized, and your proposal regarding the gold trade was well received."

"That's a relief!" he said.

"And have you decided if you plan on building a wall around your lands or not?"

"We did discuss it. I tend to think we have been walled off for too long, actually," Asgore said with a chuckle. "We may do something decorative. Maybe a hedge. Any word on Tideston's port usage?"

The Ambassador smiled and nodded. "They'd like your people to use passports, but otherwise it's a go," she said. "It'll all be listed in detail in the treaties. Aside from that, we're expecting our people will use ID as well, coming into your lands, is that right?"

"Sounds right to me." Asgore grinned. "That's wonderful. Could you send it along?"

"I was just about to suggest the same thing," she said.

 

She pressed a button somewhere on her side and something inside Asgore's computer buzzed. A blue button lit up, and he he pressed it, a slot opened in the front of the frame and spit out a stack of papers.

"You can take your time to look it over," the Ambassador said.

"I'll read it now," Asgore said. "Honestly! You should go to that party if you can get up there. It should be going all night. It's still early and the busses are still running."

"I might," she said earnestly.

 

Asgore took the papers in his big paws and knocked their bottoms against the desk to straighten them before laying them flat to read them. He hummed a gentle tune and followed the words along with his finger.

 

Toriel took a moment to move her chair closer to him and flipped her ears, her brow furrowing ever so slightly. Frisk could tell she was impatient to read it herself.

 

Asgore toddled through the documents contentedly for a few minutes. A visible bristling of his fur drew their attention and he straightened his back slightly. Toriel looked at him skeptically.

"Wait. Wait, what is…?" Asgore's face went slack-jawed and he looked up at the woman on the monitor with wide eyes. "I am sorry, but I can't sign this."

"Oh! I'm sorry!" She looked alarmed. "Is there something wrong?"

"Hang on. One moment." The big monster got up from his seat and Toriel grabbed his shoulder. He passed her the papers and winced. "Absolutely not."

Toriel snatched up the forms and her eyes shot across them quickly. She began to snarl and her ears pinned back. "That's my daughter!" she barked. "That. Is. MY. Daughter. They have no right—!"

"I know. I know, I know." Asgore raised his hands as if to calm her. "They don't. They…" He looked aghast all of a sudden. His eyes turned on Frisk as if he'd forgotten she was there.

 

Frisk's vision had long since tunnelled. Her heart was beating up in her ears. She felt like she might be sick.

 

"Your Highness? Are you there?" the Ambassador asked worriedly, tapping on the screen. "If we've offended, we apologize, but we need to discuss this."

"Oh, we'll discuss it alright," Toriel growled, folding her arms.

Asgore grabbed her paw in both of his and patted her gently. He sighed and returned to his seat.

 

"The provisions about the rehabilitation of the displaced human," he said. "I need them removed."

"Pardon?" The Ambassador looked perplexed. "What's wrong with them?"

"She's a citizen here. She has a home, a family, and a life, here," Asgore said. "She won't be leaving under any circumstances except by her own choice."

The woman seemed surprised. She drummed her fingers, at a loss for words. She shook her head. "We didn't know. I'm sorry. Of course, we'll send another draft. But…"

"But nothing." Toriel strode up with fire in her eyes. "You will remove it. You will not mention it again. And you will leave my daughter alone."

"Technically, you can't actually tell her what to do, anyway." Sans appeared behind them on Toriel's seat, a large, heavy book open on his knee. "Your, uh, human laws say you can't order her around outside your country if she's not a citizen. You guys don't have any record of her bein' one. I checked."

 

"Ah! O-Of course!" She shuffled through some papers, her eyes skimming them quickly. "Yes. Okay. That's fine. In that case, we would just like to send someone to talk to her."

"What for?! She's here, you can talk to her through the call," Toriel said.

"I'm sorry." The Ambassador did truly look apologetic. "That's what our policy says in the, um… Well. I guess they thought this situation would be a lot more unlikely than it, uh… I'm sorry." She put her hands up. "Don't worry, I will make this as painless and stress-free as possible."

"But, excuse me, if she was never a citizen of your country anyway…" Asgore said.

"It would be more to just confirm what your skeleton friend has said, in person. That we have no record of her," the woman said quickly. "It wouldn't take long. Just an hour or so. We'd only need passage for one human. It could be me, even, if you'd prefer. Would that be alright, your Majesty?"

 

Toriel snorted. She shot Asgore a cold look. He sighed.

"One moment, please," he said again. He got to his feet and gently pulled Toriel aside. "If it gets them to leave her alone…"

"We should not give them anything. They have no right," she said.

"That's… true. Um." He turned his eyes on Frisk and looked apologetic. "My child, I'm so sorry about this. I thought I made it clear…"

"M-Me too," she said.

"What d'you wanna do, kiddo?" Sans said. "Tell 'em to buzz off?"

 

Frisk did. She dearly wanted to tell them to never come here. She wanted to beg her family to stay under the mountain so no human would ever even see her again. But that was no solution. And if it was just the Ambassador, then that might not be so bad. The human she'd dreamt hadn't been a woman.

"…No. No." Frisk sighed. "Let someone come. I'll talk to 'em. Then they'll know they can just leave us alone for good about me."

"Are you sure?" Toriel said.

Frisk nodded. Her mother sighed and she nodded as well. Asgore wilted with relief. He returned to the monitor.

 

"Okay. One human," he said. "The child has agreed to the meeting with one human."

"Thank you so much, your Highness!" The woman's face lifted instantly and she smiled. She scribbled something quickly on her notes. "Would next week work?"

"Tomorrow," Toriel said.

The woman froze. "T… Tomorrow?"

"The sooner the better," Asgore agreed.

"We, um… That's so sudden. Would it be possible to compromise and do the day after?"

The King looked back at Toriel. Her eyes narrowed.

"C-Considering preparations and travel time is all, your Highness," the Ambassador said swiftly.

"Fine," she said. "No later. And after this, I don't want to hear of this nonsense again."

"We will do our very best," the human said with a shy smile. "Thank you. I'll bring the revised treaty as well and… And we should be good to go! Thank you." She bowed. "Is there anything else urgent or otherwise you'd like to talk about?"

"No. No, that's alright. Thank you," Asgore said.

The woman bowed again and disconnected the call.

 

The monitor buzzed and cranked out a transcript, like a receipt. Asgore heaved out a long, deep breath and massaged his brow. Toriel growled to herself and then hurried over to wrap Frisk in her arms.

"Nothing will happen," she said quickly.

"Y… Yeah," Frisk said.

"It'll be fine." Sans didn't look worried at all. He held up his large book for a moment and then tossed it onto the floor. "They wouldn't have a leg to stand on even if they did wanna try somethin' sketchy. And, to be honest, that human just kinda looked… I dunno, just sorta normal concerned? I mean, hell, it's not like they know how important you are, kiddo, they're not gonna be real eager to try to break a peace treaty over a human kid just livin' here."

"Y-Yeah. Yeah. You're right, bro," she said. "Yeah. Nothing to worry about." Even so, her chest was getting tight. Her vision was blurring at the edges and she was having trouble catching her breath.

"What's wrong?" Toriel asked gently.

Frisk felt words disappear down her throat. Sans stared at her for a moment and then sighed. He took her by the shoulders.

"I'll take her home," he said.

 

Before she knew it, Frisk was being plopped right on the couch back in Snowdin, and Sans sat with her, a hand on her head sparking with magic and his eye lighting up.

"It's okay. You're fine," he said. "Breathe deep, okay? In and out. Count it."

Frisk shakily nodded and did like he said. It took her a minute before she could force out a few words. "I… I f-feel like…"

"I know. But you're okay," he said. "Nothin' wrong with you, alright?"

She reached out for him and he cuddled her into a warming hug. She shook and closed her eyes to get away from the grey in her vision. She forced herself to take deep breaths until she wasn't being deafened by her own heartbeat.

 

"Sorry," she said quietly.

"Don't." Sans gently bonked his brow against her head.

"Wh-What if they find someone?" she asked.

"They won't," he said.

"B-B-But what if…?"

"Hey." He lifted her face and cupped her cheeks, staring into her eyes seriously. "Listen, okay? They won't find anyone. There's no one to find. You're my sister."

"Not even s-some weird distant cousin or—?"

"No. Nobody," he said. "I promise."

 

He looked so steady. She didn't understand how he could say that with such confidence. Even so, Sans didn't really make promises. She could count the times she'd heard him say that on one hand. He must've been serious, right? Frisk took a deep breath and she nodded.

"Okay. I trust you," she said.

"Good." He grinned and mussed up her hair. "Poor little nerd. Hey. You're gonna be fine. Besides. See how pissed Tori got? She won't let anyone sketchy get within a mile of you."

"Right," she said. "Y-Yeah. Besides. O-One human versus all of us, I think… I think we'd be okay."

"You bet," he said. "And don't forget. She breathes fire. And so does Az, y'know."

 

Frisk flopped backwards onto the couch and groaned, rubbing her eyes. She sighed deeply. "Hey, I didn't cry this time," she said tepidly.

Sans snickered. He got up and ambled off towards the kitchen. There was a clinking sound, a clunk, and water running. Then, the kettle softly bubbling. Frisk's blood ran cold.

"Sans," she said. "Mom has that conference on the weekend. And… And Az was gonna stay at Asgore's, so… H-He won't be here either."

 

She heard him clunk something onto the counter. She knitted her fingers and clenched them nervously. He let out a long, deliberate hmm.

"She'll skip it," he said.

"I… I don't want her to," she said. "Not just for me, as… as long as one of you is here…"

Sans sighed. "I'll tell Undyne to escort the human either way, then."

"Thanks, bro," she said. "It… It'll be fine. Right?"

"Course it will," he said.

Frisk sighed. She felt a weird roiling inside her. Her face got hot. "Oh. Oh no."

"What?" Sans asked.

"Aaaaactually might need to puke, um…" She ran out the door as quick as she could.

 

Sans picked up the trail of her footsteps out in the snow, but could find her just by the awful retching sound she was making. He rounded the corner to the house, going just barely around to the back before he paused and put his back to the wall, giving her a little privacy.

"Here if you need me, kiddo," he said.

She might have mumbled a thank-you, but it was quiet and shrill in between deep breaths. She was muttering something. Cursing, maybe.

"That bad, huh?" he said.

"Uuuugh…" It took almost another whole minute, but she wobbled over to join him, looking dazed and embarrassed. There was a little red flickering in her irises. "It, um… It was that… black stuff again."

"Yeah? Jeez. Sorry," he said. "You okay?"

She nodded. He grabbed the kid around the shoulders and plunked her back into the house where she had been trying to rest before.

 

He brought over a glass of water and some hot chocolate for her, then dragged a blanket around her to warm her up. She drank slowly. She didn't feel nearly as bad after that.

"You are just havin' a garbage day, huh, kiddo?" he said sympathetically.

"Could be worse," she said with a weak shrug and a smile.

He patted her head and flopped down lazily beside her. She grabbed him and curled up at his side.

 

They watched TV in a lethargic heap. He grabbed her purple comb and brushed her hair for a while; she almost fell asleep despite her anxiety.

 

Sans's phone buzzed from somewhere inside the couch. Took him a minute to find it, only to see it was Toriel. He answered.

"I. Am. Furious," she grumbled.

"Hey, Furious, nice to meet ya, I'm Sans," he said.

"…Pffft…" Toriel sighed. She let out a small, quiet laugh. "I needed that. Is she okay?"

"Puked black slime again, otherwise, sure," he said.

"My poor girl…" she muttered. "Alright. So. I'll cancel my trip and I'll—"

"Better not," he said.

"What?" She sounded baffled.

"She said she didn't want anyone to change their plans. And Paps and I will be here. Won't be too bad. I'll get Undyne, it'll be like a dumb party or something."

Toriel was silent for a few seconds. Frisk caught Sans's eye and looked at him certainly. He shrugged slightly.

"Ah… Would it be easier…? If I was not there?" Toriel asked. "I have to admit. I might start a fire or two if I am."

"That'd be hilarious, but it's not about that," Sans said.

"Yes. Yes, I know. She knows it wouldn't actually be a bother, right? She is not a bother," she said. "Tell her that?"

"Will do," he said. "Comin' home?"

"Soon, hopefully. We have a few more things to go over." She sounded tense. "Thank you, Sans."

"Mhm. See ya." He hung up and then leaned over to Frisk. "You hear that?"

"Y-Yeah," she said. Her cheeks flushed and she nestled up with him, exhausted. "Thanks, Sans."

 

Frisk hadn't hoped for reprieve through her dreams as she dozed off, but she certainly didn't expect to see what she did. The CORE. Blazing and churning a stark, hot orange, so bright in places it hurt to look at.

 

There was black ooze globbing down onto the rocks from somewhere, as if seeping from the heat-thickened air itself. She felt a sudden pain so intense that everything went numb and cold as if to cope. As the pool began to thicken, a hand that wasn't hers pulled itself out of the sludge. It was a skeleton hand, moving as if it belonged to her, in tandem with thoughts that were her and yet weren't. She had barely enough wherewithal to think about how weird a dream it was as she was carried along in this form that wasn't hers.

 

The bony fingers gripped tight into the rock and, shaking and rattling, arms aching as she weakly heaved herself out of the sludge. She desperately gasped for air, feeling an anxious pressure everywhere— sluggish, heavy heat passing through an open ribcage. Her vision fogged and she clunked impotently onto her side until a wave of nausea overcame her. She struggled up onto her knees and wretched. More of that pitch slime poured out and it was instantly a relief.

 

She coughed and heaved voicelessly and clattered back onto the stone, then tried to get an arm under her body to shove herself upright. She saw more bones. Bare leg bones. There was a long, shallow gash carved out of one. It was worth it, for some reason.

 

She became disoriented suddenly. The dream shifted into colours and then darkness. Heat and cold, and more strange black, ooze. When her eyes refocused, she was heaving back that door to the inner CORE and stumbling back out onto cool, hard tiles. The CORE thrummed deep behind her, but the only other sound to break a silence was the clack of bones against the smooth floor. The next thing she knew, she was clawing her way into an ancient locker, shivering and chattering. Her fingers locked into thick material of an old, tatty leather jacket.

 

Frisk woke with a start, surrounded by fluff and a smell of fresh popcorn. It took her a moment to process that Asriel was snuggling her groggily. The room was dim, making the TV stain the place with coloured light that was a bit harsh on her eyes. She looked up as her brother yawned wide, showing his big fangs before smacking his lips sleepily and rubbing his heavy eyelids. He had almost nodded off.

 

"When'd you get back?" she said with a tired smile.

He jolted slightly and then looked down at her with a sympathetic grin on his face. "Little while ago. Hey. You okay?"

"Kinda." She shrugged and sat up a little, rubbing her eyes. "I think I had a really weird dream."

"Our kinda weird?" he asked.

"Nnno, I don't think so," she said. "I was like, a weird skeleton puddle or something and then I went to get a coat because I was cold even though there was lava, I think."

"Pffft, okay, that is weird," he said with a laugh. "Glad it wasn't that other one again."

"You didn't wanna stay for the party?" she asked.

"Nah. I'm beat," he said. "Besides. I heard from parents that you had a pretty rough time, huh? I gotta set anyone on fire?"

"No, no no, it's okay," she assured him quickly. "It's just… It's stressful. But it'll be okay. Is, um…? Is mom still mad?"

"She's super pissed," Asriel said. "They're going through every letter of every contract thing, she said. Just to make sure."

"Waste of time," Sans said from somewhere. "They're not tryin' some underhanded thing, they just made a real stupid mistake."

"Hope you're right," Frisk muttered.

"I'm totally right," Sans said.

 

Frisk sighed. She couldn't get that nagging doubt out of her head. She settled back against the cushions and tugged a blanket up more tightly around her shoulders. Asriel flicked on the TV and turned the volume low. There were cameras on Mettaton's party. It was lively and the stars were bright. Frisk sat up slightly. Papyrus, in blue, was way off in the background as Mettaton spoke straight to the camera about something.

"Saaaaans, Papyrus is on TV," she said.

"Nice." He was beside them instantly on the arm of couch. He leaned forward curiously. "Huh. That outfit looks kinda familiar."

"People actually came expecting to meet the famous actor who played Cooper the skeleton. Weird, huh?" Asriel joked. "Seems like Mettaton always has that outfit on him, somehow."

Sans snickered. He rested his chin on his fist. "Got some humans there, too, huh?"

"Yeah, a couple," Asriel said. "Some of them brought food so that's going to be, um, interesting tomorrow for a few people."

"You didn't eat any, did you?" Frisk asked.

"Pff, no, no way," he said with a laugh. "Didn't have time, anyway. No, I just, like, spent all my time making cauldrons of popcorn for… who knows why, actually."

"Mettaton's weird," she said.

 

It wasn't too long before both the kids had fallen asleep again, despite the commotion and flashing fireworks on the TV screen. Sans didn't mind. He took them upstairs to tuck them into the second bed they'd shoved against the wall opposite the race car. Asriel stirred— just barely— for a moment. The green in his eyes was shining and he clutched Frisk with a shiver in his grip. His fur was standing on end all along the back of his neck. Sans put a hand on his head and one blazing eye shot up to stare into him.

"Chill," he said. "You're home. And look, you got hands and everything."

Asriel's gaze darted over his own body. He slumped. "Thanks," he muttered. The glow dimmed and he collapsed in a heap. He mumbled something into his pillow. His soul and Frisk's flared faintly red in the dark.

"You're alright. Sleep well, huh?" Sans slipped off, turning the lights out and gently closing the door.

 

He took the couch and proceeded to do basically nothing for a long while, skimming a tattered old car magazine inside the cover of a joke book intermittently mixed with almost dozing off, until Papyrus burst into the house, looking around frantically. Sans pointed upstairs. The tall skeleton took the flight two at a time.

"She's asleep," Sans said.

"I need to see her though, I'll be quiet," he insisted. "Sans. Nothing bad will happen, right?"

"Course not, bro," he said.

Papyrus nodded quickly, though he was gripping his hand, thumb nervously running over a scar that wasn't there any longer. He rushed into the bedroom and was gone. Sans supposed he must've already heard all about it.

 

He came back shortly after, a determined look on his face. He grabbed Sans's shoulders tightly. "Tell me, honestly, do we need to go on the run?"

Sans laughed. "What? No."

"They can't have her," he said.

"They won't," Sans said.

"Did I tell you? Honestly? This is my worst secret fear," he said quickly.

"Paps. Don't worry. She's our sister."

"Yes, but THEY don't know that!" he said shrilly, gesturing wildly to an imaginary human. "And… And! Even though she definitely has my stylish, cool looks, what if they think she looks more like them than she looks like us?!"

"It doesn't matter," Sans said. "They can't do anything."

"Are you SURE?!" Papyrus said.

"Unless they wanna start a war, then, yeah," he said.

"But what if they do?! What if they love wars?! What if wars are their absolutely number one favourite thing?!" he demanded. "Frisk is the most special and important human in the whole world so—"

"Not to them, she's not," Sans said. "She's some random little kid. Don't worry so much, okay?"

"…Okay. Okay, fine." Papyrus sighed. He ran his hand over the top of his skull. "What. A. Mess. I'm going back up. I will read them a story or something."

"Good plan, bro," he said.

Papyrus gripped his hands with each other tightly, locking his fingers together, unable to keep the anxiousness from pooling shadows around his eyes. He sighed. He bounded back up there and vanished.

 

When Toriel arrived a while later, a concerned, curious look on her face, Sans pointed up the stairs again. The large monster seemed to deflate as a sigh left her.

"She managed to get to sleep? What a relief," she said. "Any more episodes?"

"Nope," Sans said. "Just the one."

"Thank god," she said. She puffed out another sigh. "I was about to roast Asgore, let me tell you. But… There was nothing hinting at this in the previous documents, so… It wasn't his fault. Of course. He wouldn't risk her like that."

"Sure wouldn't," Sans said.

 

She smiled at him fondly. She sat down beside him and her eyes traced to the door and she stared for a little while. Her ears perked. "Papyrus is snoring." She laughed softly. "I guess he decided to stay with them. He's so good."

"You know it," Sans said.

 

Toriel leaned back and rubbed her face with her palms. Sans smiled sympathetically. She looked exhausted, too. Drained. Couldn't be easy, any of this.

"I told her the same thing," he said, "but they won't find anything."

"Can't guarantee anything," she said reluctantly.

"Sure can," Sans said. "They won't."

"I wish I had your confidence, sweetie," she said.

"Trust me," he said.

"I do," she assured him.

 

He smiled. She went quiet, looking like she had words on the tip of her tongue that she couldn't quite spit out. She grimaced.

"She did her math test," he said.

"Really? After all that?" she asked. "Silly girl…"

"Aced it," Sans said. "Kid's got a calculator head. And I'm pretty sure it's not from me."

Toriel chuckled quietly. She hesitated with something more to say again. She bit her lip and crossed her arms tightly to her chest.

"Grillby's?" Sans suggested.

"Oh. I don't know." Her eyes sparked in a way that said she dearly wanted the reprieve. "Should we? I mean. This kids are—"

"Just fine," he said.

Chapter Text

Sans took Toriel to his regular spot at the bar and she huddled on what was usually Frisk's stool, though she was much too large.

"We could go to a booth," Sans suggested.

"No. No, this is fine." She rubbed her head. "My goodness."

Sans caught Grillby's eye and jerked his thumb at Toriel. He dipped his head slightly and moved to some taps.

"You, uh, wanna talk?" Sans said.

Toriel grimaced. She rubbed the brow of her snout. "Just had a little bit of a long day, that's all," she said quietly.

 

Grillby slid him a bottle of ketchup and he nodded his thanks. He popped the cap off with his thumb. It made a very satisfying sound.

"Pretty drainin' huh? Bit too much time with Asgore?"

"I… do not want to discuss him," she muttered.

Sans shrugged. Grillby clunked a foaming mug of amber liquid in front of Toriel. She looked surprised.

"I didn't even order yet," she said.

"Yeah, Grillbs is pretty good like that," Sans said with a wink.

"Hm. Thank you, Grillby," she said. She picked up the mug tentatively and took a sip. She paused, looked thoughtful, and then took another. "It's just…" She looked quickly up at the fire elemental. "It's very nice. Thank you." She turned her attention back on Sans, even though her gaze was lost in the golden liquid in her frosty mug. "Even though we're working together again, the history is… hard to overcome."

"Mhm."

"After all this time, I… I was so angry with him. Part of me still is, but I see Asriel with him again and it's like I'm back in time. But I can never forget. He did some things I can never forgive, even if I am able to move past it, to some degree." She sighed and tapped her claws against the glass. "But with these extra timelines, knowing that he killed my daughter, I just… It always brings it all back up again."

"Forgiveness is hard," Sans said, nodding, "especially when you cared so much."

"Yes. Exactly. Thank you," she said. "But sometimes I feel… like I am awful. Like I'm a horrible person for not being able to get over it."

"Why?" Sans asked.

"The bigger person would forgive. Wouldn't they?"

"Easy to say," Sans said with a shrug.

 

Toriel sighed. She downed the rest of her drink in one gulp and then held the mug tightly in her paws. Before either of them could say a word, Grillby gently slipped it away from her and offered her another. She stared at it for a few seconds and chuckled, gratefully taking it from him.

"I'm going to regret this tomorrow," she said. She shot Sans a worried look. "What would you do?"

"I dunno," he said. "I'm, uh, not some moral paragon, dude. It depends, y'know?"

"Hm." She knitted her fingers together and glowered at the wall across the back of the bar. It may have began to smoke. She took a deep breath and settled back. "There has been far too much death here, my child."

"I know," he said. He drummed his fingers on the counter. "Guilty."

"I am as well," she said. "But you took care of Frisk, even back before you knew her well, did you not? Asgore would have killed her. Asgore did kill her. By the grace of luck, she was unable to die. Or else sh-she… she would have been the seventh. And that would have been that." She winced. She wiped her eyes, and then laughed at herself. "I'm sorry. The thought is… painful."

"Not great," he agreed.

"You know. This will sound awful. But, I did not care about the barrier by then," she said. "I… I hoped Asgore would never get the seventh. I did not want to inflict that power on humanity, no matter what they'd done. I can't subscribe to that method of thought: that they were all worthy of punishment for what happened to our children. Even after all of that, my second child was still a human. No matter if she hated the world she came from, I could not hate a world that gave her to us."

 

Sans nodded. He looked thoughtful and then nudged her gently with his elbow. "Guess we're kinda the same like that. Couldn't care less about some grudge with humans at the time. Which, you know, felt kind of crap, in a way, because of people fallin'. But. I was kinda caught up with the whole tryin' to stop the world from gettin' wrecked thing, I didn't have the energy to worry about that, too. Hm. Sounds kinda bad when I say it like that."

"No. No, not at all," Toriel said, shaking her head. "Tell me, then. Did you know…? Did you know that driving force was… Chara?"

"I knew there was ghost in the ruins," Sans said. "Human ghost. Tried to get these anomalies to do bad stuff. Didn't really get it all the way until Frisk told me about her, and then after I saw into her mind, well… then I really got a bigger picture."

 

Toriel shook her head. "I… I can still hardly believe my little girl had such rage in her."

"Welp. To be fair. Human ghosts do some weird crap. Not a whole lot of experience with it, obviously, but I did a bit of readin' since we hit topside. Seems like whatever they died with, it gets kinda amplified if they take the spook-route. And I guess she was pissed enough to try to end the world. Over and over," Sans said. "Lucky for me her memories were contained per anomaly. Their determination is what would make her active again, but on her own, she didn't have any. Or else none of this would be here, I think. She wouldda had me memorized a long, long time ago." His brow furrowed. "Can't say I'm sorry I did what I did, but I am about the way it all went. "

"I know," she said quietly. "I wish… I wish I could understand." She shook her head. "What could we have done different?"

"Nothin'. She was kinda messed up before you ever got her. At least that's how Frisk put it," Sans said. "If it helps. You guys were the one thing she cared about."

"It does, a bit. Thank you." She took a small gulp of her second drink and rested her ear on her fist. "You really had to fight them, didn't you? The ones that she…? There was no other way?"

"I tried other ways. Believe me," he said.

"So why did you not simply destroy every child who came through the door?" she wondered. "There were… There were six. Before Frisk. I guess that does not count those other time children I do not remember, however."

 

He drummed his fingertips on the bar. "You know, I was too young to run into one through five. The other time ones, they weren't all a hundred-percent bad. I, uh, honestly got nothin' against humans overall, y'know? And I knew I was waitin' for Frisk what feels like a million years before I met her. Wasn't totally sure what she looked like, just knew… a situation. Saw it. And a feeling, maybe. It was her second time back. Thankin' me for savin' her after she got booted through the barrier."

"Hah. I'm sorry, hun, I sometimes forget how young you are. So what did you do?" she asked. "When you did find her?"

"Oof. Uh. Fell over. Cried a bit. She hugged me, the dork." He laughed and took a quick swig of ketchup. "I could hardly believe it. She asked me if she could stay as if I might actually say no, and that completely messed me up. Said she loved me. Of all the people she couldda picked…" He couldn't help his eye from glowing faintly. "Messed me up even more."

Toriel chuckled. "I suppose that's fair. She chose her guardian very well."

Sans scoffed and took a drink, but the blue on his cheekbones was enough to make Toriel smile fondly.

 

"You're… You're right. They won't find anything," Toriel said, nodding to herself. "And you'll protect her. Of course. But are you sure I shouldn't—?"

"Look, worst thing you can do is change your plans because of this," Sans said. "She already feels like she's derailin' everything, which, I mean, is nuts, but that's just how she is."

"She doesn't need to take everything on her shoulders," Toriel said with a sigh.

"Yeah, we're still workin' on that a bit. Guilt's always a heavy thing for a soul to carry, and she's pretty small, y'know?"

"Alright. If you're sure."

He stuck his thumb up.

 

Toriel nodded and carefully sipped from her glass. She looked him up and down, a melancholy weight in the furrow of her brow. "Sans. You… You've had a rough life, haven't you?"

"Eh. Not bad," he said.

"Bullshit," she said.

Sans stared and then burst out laughing. She chuckled, too.

"Whoops," she said, looking into her drink. "How strong is this?"

"As strong as you want it," Sans joked.

"Hah. So it's my own fault." She snickered and shook her head. "Oh my. Just. You'd tell me if you were having troubles, weren't you? If there's any undue stress?"

"Nah, don't worry. It's pretty much perfect now," he said. "You know, except this thing, but it'll be over in like two days, so…"

 

"I wish I had understood earlier," she admitted. "Do you remember when we first met?"

"Course I do," he said. He shot her a grin. "You were such a mom."

"Pfff. Well. I certainly am one," she said. "I remember. I heard this sound. I thought someone was crying, but—"

"I was just laughin' at some crappy book."

"It was hard to tell through all that stone!" she said with a laugh. "You'd just moved to town, right?"

"Nah, that was a few years before. I was still a teenager," he said. "Was doin' some dumb science thing. Or, technically, takin' a break from some dumb science thing."

"Was it really that long ago?" She pouted slightly. "God. I'm just… Sometimes I feel like I'm made up of a never-ending series of bad choices."

"Who isn't?" he said.

"I'm serious," she said, her ears pinning back and her face drooping a little. "If I wasn't such a coward, I would have kicked down my seal on that bloody door and taken you and Papyrus the second I realized you didn't have a mother."

"That's sweet of you, Tori," he said, "but don't worry about it."

"And I would have been a better judge of character. Tell me. In these… In these other timelines, you call them? These other children who time travel, before Frisk, what would they do? Did I just let them all out willy-nilly, even the murderers?"

"Nah. Most of those ones killed you."

"What? No." She raised her brows. "You're… serious, aren't you? …My god."

"I know, right?" he said. "Goddamn mess is what that was."

"Did I…? Did I used to remember that?" she asked quietly. "You know. Before?"

"No. You'd still only have Frisk's timelines," he said. "I mean, there's always a little bleed after so many times, but… nah, don't think you did."

"That's a relief," she said quietly. "But… have you died many times?"

"Sure."

"You… remember all that, then?" she said.

"I do, yeah."

"And Papyrus?" she pressed.

"Oof. Now, see, that's kinda my sore spot," he admitted with a wink. He tipped some ketchup into his mouth and then settled the bottle, looking off with a joyless smile and tired eyes. "He… remembers more than I'd like. But not much."

"I understand," she said.

 

She finished the mug and waved for another. Sans laughed.

"Doin' okay?" he asked.

"Oh, I'm perfectly fine," she assured him. She smiled warmly at Grillby as he brought her a third mug of the bubbling amber liquid. "Thank you, old friend. It's very good."

He seemed pleased. He held her hand for just a moment and then slid away. Toriel sipped this next one a little more gingerly.

"Thank you for bringing me out. I think I needed this. I feel like I can talk to you about anything. I hope that's not too much pressure. Let me know the second I'm overloading onto you," she said with a bashful smile.

"Chill. We're just talkin'. Good to get it out sometimes, y'know?"

"I guess, it's just… Everything. And on top of that, seeing Asgore. It's hard, sometimes," she said admitted. "Harder than I thought. I was hoping, after all this time… But still. When I see him. Even though Asriel is here, and he's safe, I see my son die."

"I know," Sans said.

"And I see that rage on his face. It didn't look like him anymore. I… guess I probably didn't look like myself for a long time after, either. But when he decided to gather the souls and destroy humanity, I thought… I knew he was talking from a place of grief. And our people were grieving, they needed to hear it." She put a hand to her brow and leaned over the bar with a sad sigh. "My children were their hope. They thought Chara was the angel from the surface to save us, and when we lost her, it was like the humans had stolen every light from our world. But… when that next human fell. I found him in the Ruins. I nursed him back to health. I sent him to Asgore. And he killed him. That's when I knew he was serious. That little boy trusted me. And the man I thought I loved killed him. I could not forgive that. Maybe…" She growled, showing fang. "And maybe I don't want to."

"Got it," Sans said. "Not sure I could either."

 

Toriel snorted. Her brow furrowed. "I… I'm not sure that I can forgive myself. But. Still. With that soul, with that single sacrifice, no matter how much I abhorred the circumstances, Asgore could have bonded with it and left the mountain. He wouldn't have had to kill if he was patient. He could have had the souls in a matter of days. I tried to tell him. But he was a coward. And… I suppose I was, too. I am certainly not blameless. I could have done it. But I couldn't bear to face that soul. Does that sound crazy?"

"No," Sans said. "Not really."

"Really?" Her voice was unsteady.

"Fusin' with a human soul… I dunno. Couldn't imagine it if it wasn't Frisk," he said. "For it to work right, it's gotta be someone you trust with everything you are. Because you get everything, and so do they. And if that soul doesn't want you touchin' it, you're not gonna get too far for too long unless you can beat it down with determination, seems like."

"I guess you'd know better than almost anyone, wouldn't you?" she said.

"Yeah. So. Guess I don't blame you," he said.

"Hah, thank you, sweetie," she said quietly. "Even if you are humouring me."

"Hey, takes a certain type of dope to find the humour in that, huh?" Sans said.

 

Toriel snorted and smiled fondly. She gently patted his skull. "I love you, Sans."

"Thanks, Tori, love you, too," he said.

She snickered and leaned her cheek on her fist. "You know, in all my years, I've never met someone as… solid as you. I'm glad. I'm proud to call you my family. I… may not be your real mother, but know that I think of you as my son. I hope that's alright with you."

"Ah… Jeez, Tori, you're makin' me blush," he said, grinning bashfully. "I, uh… I appreciate that."

"I'm glad we could all be a family," she said. "Having a bustling house again… It's really a blessing. The fact that I can say I have four children— that I've had five. Even having an extra step-child, in a fashion… It's makes me feel like I'm alive again."

"That's good," he said. "Yeah. S'weird. Never expected it to end like this. Not that I'm complainin'. This sorta thing was way too hopeful for me. But, this? Like last time, plus Az? Really dig it, actually."

Toriel beamed. "I'm so glad you two get along, after what he told me."

He snickered. "Yeah. Me too. Turned out he was a pretty good kid, huh? Who'da thunk?"

 

Toriel smiled warmly. She nursed her drink for a little while longer. "…I'm sorry if you hate to hear this, but I do miss Chara dearly."

"Don't hate to hear it at all. We knew different people," he said.

She sighed and rested her cheek in her hand tiredly. "Damn," she mumbled, smiling dryly at herself. "I still have to take that trip tomorrow, don't I?"

"Tried to warn you," he said gently.

"Please don't tell the kids," she said.

"I won't. But Frisk'll know."

"Ugh. She's just like you," Toriel said with a laugh. "Can't hide a thing, can I?"

"Shouldn't bother, anyway, it's alright to not be perfect," he said.

"They're too young to know about things like this," she joked. "I haven't had a drink like this since before Asriel was born."

"You're allowed once in a while." He winked. "I'm alright with attemptin' to, uh, actually be an adult for a bit while you take a nap or somethin', you know?"

She sat up and hugged him, pressing her soft snout against his head. "Thank you for listening, Sans," she said. "And. For saying what I needed."

"Hey. Anytime," he said with a wink.

 

- - -

 

Sans woke up in the morning, sprawled out on a messy blanket pile on the floor of the kids' room, to the feeling of cloth rubbing on his skull. "What the heck, kiddo?" he asked quietly, groggily opening one eye.

The kid was blotting his brow ridge with a napkin. She laughed. "Sorry. I was bringing you food and I totally spilled stuff on you." She pulled it away; there was red on it. "There."

 

He sat up, rubbing the back of his skull, and Frisk passed him a plate of pancakes with ketchup on top. "What's the occasion?"

"Mom got up and cooked kinda early, but now she's not feeling super well," she said. "I think she's really worried. Bad night, right?"

"Eh. She needed to get some stuff off her chest." He tried the pancakes and then nodded.

Frisk smiled. "Wanna try mine? Mom made a butterscotch syrup, too. It's pretty great."

"Sure. Trade?"

Frisk winced, and then laughed. "You know what? Okay. Trade."

They swapped a piece.

"You're right, that's pretty great," he said.

The kid cautiously tried the ketchup one. She looked at it and then laughed. "It's not that bad!" she said. "It'd be good with a hotdog on it."

 

Sans smiled fondly. "You sleep okay?"

"No," she said.

"Same one?" he asked.

"Yeah," she said. "It's… It probably won't happen. Right? I mean. It's just a thing that might happen, right? If I caught it early, I could stop it?"

"Sure," Sans said.

"Okay…" She pouted. "And I dreamt about the CORE, too. It was too hot, I don't like it."

Sans laughed and patted her shoulder. "Jeez, kid, catch a break, will ya?"

"I want to!" she protested. "I… I really want to. Jeez."

"Jeez," Sans said.

"JEEZ!" She laughed and rubbed her face. "Ugh, I'm a meeeesssss."

"What else is new?" he said.

 

He ate a little more pancake. It was pretty good. "Hey, uh… How 'bout Az?"

"He's not bad, I think." She nudged him with her elbow. "He's almost as bad as you about trying to hide it from everyone, though, so maybe you guys can bond over it or something."

"Yeesh, pointed, huh?" he teased.

"It's not that sharp, is it?" She looked down at her arm.

Sans snickered and she lit right up.

 

On the way downstairs, Frisk lazily slid down the banister and flopped onto the floor, where Sans appeared to pull her upright with one hand, balancing their dishes on top of his head without much care. Asriel scoffed and waved from where he leaned back over the arm, kicking his paws up. Toriel was at the table, head on her fist as she ate very, very slowly. Papyrus was bringing her a mug filled with coffee. He noticed his siblings right away.

"Good morning, lazy bones!" he said, whisking the hat of dirty plates away from his brother. "I am making tea, would you like some? Frisk?"

"Sure, bro, thanks,"

"Yes please!" Frisk said.

Papyrus grinned and bounded back into the kitchen.

 

Frisk went to sit down with Asriel. There was a loud clatter of mugs from the kitchen. Toriel winced. Sans's grin turned sympathetic and he shifted to sit on the table beside her. She jumped a little.

"Oh! Sans. Sweetie. Hello," she said.

"Hey, Tori," he said. "Thought I could give you a hand. Looks like you need two, actually."

 

He rubbed his hands together and his bones crackled with blue sparks. He put his fingers to her temples. She stared back at him with surprise. The blue magic seeped through her fur and, after a moment, the skeleton pulled his hands back and shook them out.

"There, that should be a little better," he said.

She smiled and cupped his face. "What would I do without you?" she said with a laugh.

"Have to sit through a big dumb headache, that's for sure," he said.

 

"WHAT?! Mom, did you really?!" Papyrus demanded. "Nyeh! You said you were just tired!"

"Well…" She smiled sheepishly and shrugged her shoulders.

"Ugh, you should not fib about things like that," Papyrus insisted. He carried three mugs of tea in two hands and began to pass them out. "How can we be expected to help you if you are not honest about your feelings?"

"Sweetheart, I… Hah. You know, I do not wish to trouble you all," she said. "That's all."

"Pffft, mom, c'mon," Asriel scoffed.

"If you can't trouble us, who can you trouble?" Frisk joked. "Seriously, we're like a big pile of dumb emotional problems and junk. I mean, except Papyrus."

"This is true," Papyrus said. "I'm as stable as they come!"

"So! I mean. You're not alone, I guess is my point. Right?" She looked at Sans and Asriel. "I mean. Even if we don't always get it, we're good listeners, right?"

"Yeah, I mean, check out these ears!" Asriel said.

 

Toriel chuckled quietly and wiped under her eyes with her thumbs. She kissed Sans on the head, and then got to her feet. She gave Papyrus a hug and a kiss, too, and then scooped up both kids and snuggled them close.

"Thank you," she said, plopping back onto the couch with the two of them held snuggly against her. "I needed to hear that." She sighed and nuzzled her snout against Asriel's head. "I'll miss you all this weekend."

"Would you like someone to come with you?" Papyrus asked.

Toriel chuckled. "Sweetie, that's such a nice thought. I'll be alright. You'd all find it terribly boring," she said. "Besides. You should be home with Frisk."

"I'm gonna be fine," Frisk said.

"Yes! Yes. Of course. But I'll stay," Papyrus said. "I would love to walk you to the bus stop, though!"

"I would like that," she said. "I suppose I'll go pack. Frisk? Would you come with me?"

 

Frisk suspected the reason. She nodded and followed her mother up into Sans's temporarily Toriel-compatible room. The woman was silent for a few seconds as she headed for a case she'd already laid on her large, pristinely made bed that took up most of where Sans's stuff used to be. The trash tornado still spun in the corner, though. Toriel liked the breeze and she'd added a couple herbs to the mess to make a pleasant smell.

 

Frisk watched her mother slowly pack away a few items of clothing. The fur on the back of her head was bristling. She waited for her to speak. It felt like a long time.

"Frisk," she said. "Please. Listen closely? Save tomorrow morning, and have that be your last one until the human leaves the underground entirely, alright?"

"Oh, um, okay," Frisk said.

"That way," she said, turning back to her with a smile, "you can tell me if something goes wrong and I should have enough time to return to you before it does again."

"Okay. Thanks," she said.

"Honestly." Toriel grabbed her shoulders gently. "It's just some silly conference."

"But… I dunno. You seem to always have a lot of fun at those," Frisk said sheepishly.

"Honey," her mother chided.

Frisk shrugged. Toriel sighed, dropped down to her knees and pulled her into her arms, gently nuzzling her head.

"Be careful, alright? And call me afterwards. And… And, listen. I know that normally, honesty is the best policy, but if there's anything you don't want to say for any reason—"

"Mom, are you telling me to lie?" Frisk joked.

"Well, I mean…"

The kid laughed. "It's okay. I know. I won't tell her about the time travel or how I keep getting killed by stuff or how I helped break the barrier. I know when not to say a thing."

Toriel chucked, shook her head, and smooched her gently on the brow. "Oh, Frisk. I know. You're very clever."

"Sometimes," she said with a shrug.

 

"And, Papyrus," Toriel said, raising her voice, "you can come in, dear."

"Ah!" The door creaked open and the skeleton peeked in with a bashful smile on his face. "I just wanted to… um… H-Help you pack! Yes! Um. I wasn't… worried or anything. Nyeh heh… heh."

"I would love the help," she said.

"Ah! Great! Because I am great! At! Helping!" he said brightly.

Toriel chuckled and pointedly turned her back on them, busying herself with nothing. The concern showed on the skeleton's face instantly and he bent down to hug his little sister warmly. He glowed. She giggled. No matter what, he was always a comfort.

 

- - -

 

As Toriel prepared to leave, Frisk did, too, opting to try school with Asriel this morning instead of sitting in and stewing. The goat boy shoved a couple books into his bag and Frisk copied him lethargically. She didn't really want to go. It made her feel nauseous. But, it would be good to see Kid.

 

They said goodbye to their mom before heading back down the stairs. Sans caught them from the corner of his eye as he lay back, half asleep on the couch. He sat up slightly and shot Frisk a puzzled look.
"You're goin'?" he asked.

"I'm gonna try," she said, heading over to give him a good-bye hug. "I kinda got the shakes, though, so I'll probably come home at lunchtime."

"Cool." He gently bonked his head on hers. "Good luck, huh?"

"I'll take care of her," Asriel said.

She grinned and stood on her toes to kiss Sans's cheek. She put her bookbag over her shoulder and Papyrus bent and held her hands.

"Remember! If you get into trouble! Just call us! And also remember! Both of you!" He grinned and formed his hands into a heart. "I love you!"

Frisk giggled and gave him a tight hug. He squished her close and reached over and pulled Asriel in, too.

"Nyeh heh heh! Have a great day!" Papyrus said. "And I'll see you tonight!"

 

With the kids out the door, Papyrus delved into the kitchen to begin preparing some travel snacks for Toriel. Sans kicked his feet up on the couch.

"Brother! Can yoooou bring me mom's handbag?" Papyrus called.

Sans slumped into the cushions. He felt like he'd only been there a second. "I dunno, where is it?"

"Near the door! As always! Check under her coat."

Sans grumbled, rolled onto the floor, and made his way to the coats. After a moment of digging, he found it where Papyrus had suggested, and he brought it over and plopped it on the counter.

 

Papyrus had a few small plastic containers packed full of pasta and was just finishing putting a sandwich together and wrapping it in a paper sheet. "Do you think she'd like one of those weird sodas? No?"

"Eh. I dunno. You got her some of that conversion powder in there?" he asked.

"Yes! Enough for about a week. And seeing as she's gone for just two days, that should be fine. Right? Yes." Papyrus paused and his brow furrowed. "Oh."

"What?"

"She's going to be gone for two whole days," he said. "Oh no, I'm going to miss her."

Sans smiled and held in a laugh. "Just text her the whole time. It's just a teacher's conference, I'm sure there'll be breaks."

"Yes! You're right! Of course," he said.

Sans stuck his thumbs up. Papyrus sighed.

"The house is going to be so quiet this weekend!" he said.

"That's okay," Sans said.

"Yes, I guess so." He smiled. "I guess a relaxing weekend of puzzles and cooking and TV would not be all that bad. You know. After the weird human lady goes home."

 

He packed away the food in Toriel's bag along with some cutlery and napkins. He made a face, paced for a moment, and then scoffed and added a can of pop. Just in case, surely. "Sans, you're sure there's nothing to worry about, right?"

"Yup," he said.

"Super duper super sure?" Papyrus squinted suspiciously at him.

"Yup," Sans said again.

"Ooookay."

 

Papyrus perked up to the sound of paws coming down the stairs. He grabbed the bag and pranced out to meet her.

"Oh! Papyrus!" She was toting some luggage with her and she smiled when she saw him. "Is that my bag?"

"Yes! I've filled it with food!" he said brightly.

"That's lovely," she said as she took it from him. She put it over her shoulder and then whisked her larger bag of essentials away into the box of her phone before stashing it away in her purse. "Thank you so much, hun. Guess I should be on my way."

 

Sans shifted to behind her and patted her arm. She jumped with surprise, but began to laugh almost right away. He grinned.

"Keep your phone on, huh?" he said. "Let Frisk know if you need a save."

"I'm sure it'll be fine. I know how to handle myself around humans." She bent and gave him a hug. "You will look after them, won't you?"

"I'll keep an eye socket out," he said.

She smiled and booped her snout against the top of his skull, and then straightened up. She turned to Papyrus and smiled. "Shall we?" she asked.

"We shall!" He grinned and puffed out his chest. "Hold down the fort, brother! Don't total the place while I'm gone!"

Sans stuck his thumbs up.

 

Toriel put on her coat, Papyrus threw on his new purple sweater, and they headed out into the blustering Snowdin morning. The calm quiet was a little jarring so suddenly. Sans plopped onto the couch and folded his arms behind his head. Alone. It felt a little weird. He fished his phone out of the couch near where the remote lived, and turned it on. He scrolled through Alphys's recent posts on UnderNet. There were a lot of photos of Mettaton's party from the night before. Nice, but not totally interesting. He could see that Frisk was online. Must've had her phone out in class. He smiled faintly.

"hi" he sent.

She replied with a text heart. It was exactly what he needed.

 

He covered his eyes with his arm and lay back. He was sure he fell asleep for a little bit. He woke to the sound of footsteps clunking by outside. Didn't seem to be anything, though. He stayed where he was for a while. But, maybe, he needed a little something. He rolled to his feet slowly and ambled to the kitchen. He put the kettle on and pulled out the box of hot chocolate mix.

 

Just as the water had finished bubbling, the front door opened. Sans felt a little pull of excitement for a moment before he realized it was odd. When he turned, he saw Frisk kicking off her shoes and ditching her hoodie on the floor. She had something different about her face. A dark bruise on her cheek. She smiled bashfully when she caught his eye.

"You're home early," Sans said. "Sup with your face, kiddo?"

"Oh. Yeeeeah, I got sent home," she said. "Got in a fight."

"You got in a fight?" Sans raised a brow. "Uh-huh."

"Well… It was kinda more like I put my face in between a small kid and a bigger kid's fist?"

"Oh." Sans held in a laugh and came closer. "Gotcha." He cupped her face, and his magic flared blue in his palm. He tilted his head as the dark spot on her skin faded a bit. "I think it's… okay?"

 

He pulled his hand back. Frisk poked her cheek. She grinned and nodded.

"Thanks a bunch," she said.

"So you in trouble?" he said. "Need me to make somethin' up?"

She shook her head. "Nah, don't worry about it."

"Welp," he said, "want a drink?"

"Yes please," she said.

 

He headed back to the kitchen and Frisk tossed her book bag across the room and flopped on the sofa. No sooner than she had gotten comfy, though, did the front door open again. Asriel strode in, looking rather pleased with himself despite his disheveled fur and a tear in his jacket.

"Howdy, sis," he said. "Soooo guess who just got suspended?"

"Oh jeez, what'd you do?" She got up and grabbed him by the shoulders worriedly.

"Oh nothin', just melted some kid's hat." He grinned. "I know, I know, you don't like fighting, but I figured, you get sent home for fighting without actually throwing a punch, I might as well make up for it."

"Well. I appreciate the thought," she said with a laugh, "but don't fight though, okay?"

"Okay, okay." He gave her a hug. "You alright?"

"Uh-huh!"

"Good. Or else I'd go back there."

"Az," she chided.

 

"Ooh, watch out, we got a tough guy over here," Sans said from the kitchen.

Asriel froze up and his ears went back. "Oh. H-Hey, Sans, um…"

"Chill out," Sans said. "Want some hot chocolate?"

"Y… Yeah. Thanks, dude," he said. "Don't tell mom?"

"Don't tell mom what?" Sans said.

Asriel smiled. "You're the best."

 

Frisk snickered and brushed some of the dirt out of his fur, and then smooched his snout. She plopped back onto the sofa lazily and he yawned widely. Asriel huffed, blowing a little flame out of his mouth.

"All fired up, huh?" Frisk asked.

"Pfff. I guess. I mean. It's fun. When nobody gets hurt." He grinned. "Mostly. Yo. Sans?" He stretched his arms out, cracking his knuckles. "When I get back, wanna fight me again? I mean, uh, like a training battle, right?"

"Nah."

Asriel groaned. "Come on. I still need to beat you!"

The skeleton chuckled. "Welp. You can try."

"So is that a yes?" he insisted. "Come on, Papyrus lets me fight him all the time."

"Nah."

 

Frisk snickered as the boy pouted. He folded his arms tight and tapped his paw on the carpet, then his expression shifted into a sly grin.

"Bet you're just afraid I'll win this time," he said.

Sans chuckled. "Doubt it."

"I'm the strongest monster, though," he said.

"Doesn't matter. Know why?" Sans said. He was suddenly leaning up on the doorframe and, with a flash of blue in his eye, two huge, draconic skulls boxed the kid in, toothy maws agape.

"Ah jeez!" Asriel protested. He stumbled back and bumped into the snout of one. He grabbed onto it as the other nudged him gently sideways and snorted a faint, blue fog at him.

"Here's, uh, a hint; might be a little on the nose," Sans said, grinning. "Don't waste time sniffin' around."

"Aw, c'mon," the boy protested, though he grinned sideways. "I'm not bad, y'know."

"Nah. Not bad," Sans agreed. He snapped his fingers and the massive Blasters vanished in gentle, blue sparks. "Little too preoccupied with lookin' cool, though." He vanished from his spot again.

"What's wrong with looking cool?" Asriel called.

"Nothin," Sans said with a laugh from the kitchen.

 

Asriel frowned, sighed, and dropped down onto the couch beside Frisk. She shot him an amused smile.

"What?" he said.

"I think he just means… you know, open big," she said.

"I guess," Asriel said reluctantly. "But I dunno, sometimes it's fun to build into it and then—"

"Drop star meteors on their head," Frisk said with a grin.

"Pffff! You're not salty about that, are you?" he asked.

"Nah." She grabbed his face under his ears and flopped them around playfully. "I still won."

"Baaaah, only 'cause you're an anime protagonist or some junk!" he joked.

She snickered and smiled at him fondly. His face flushed and, masking it with a grin, he mussed up her hair. She squeaked and laughed, and then grabbed him in a lazy hug under his arms. His eyes widened, soul thrumming with a little ting of surprise. He hugged his sister in return and felt warm under his fur. He rested his chin on her head. He had to pull himself away, though, or he might give up leaving entirely.

 

"So, I'm thinkin'," he said bashfully, "maybe I, uh, get outta your hair early, a little? So I'm not so tempted to just stay and glare at the human when they show up. Would that be okay?"

"Yeah, of course, you don't gotta ask," Frisk said.

"Just in case you'd, I dunno…" he said. "Would you rather I stayed?"

She shook her head. "You had plans."

He smiled and tented his fingers. "I mean, I don't super like being away from you guys anyway, but—"

"Dude, you don't gotta explain. Being with your dad is super important," Frisk said. "We're just a text away if something goes weird anyway."

"But are you sure?"

"Stop asking me if I'm sure!" She playfully tossed a pillow at him. "Besides, I really don't want to interrupt what you're doing."

"I don't care though," he said.

"But I do!" she said with a laugh. "Don't worry. You'll probably see whoever it is first anyway, right? You can text me and tell me how much of a dumb baby I should pretend to be."

"Right, right, you do look, like, four," Asriel teased.

 

Frisk groaned and rubbed her face, but she laughed, too. He snickered and tilted his head back. He stared at the ceiling for a few seconds, and then shot her a questioning look. She stuck both thumbs up. He sighed.

"What's the guy in your dream look like again?" he asked.

"It won't be him, it's gonna be the Ambassador, and she's a lady," she said.

"Yeah but still," he said.

"I dunno. He's, like… big, and pale-skinned with no hair, I guess," she said. "I don't know much else, it was kinda a blur and the air was kinda… dusty."

"You just really can't catch a break, huh?" he said.

"It'll… " She folded her arms and sighed. "It'll be fine. Don't worry about me. Have a good time."

"Alright," he said, albeit a little reluctantly. "Guess it's not a terrible idea to play look-out. Think I'll pack."

"Want some help?" she asked.

"Thanks but naw, won't take long," he said.

"Take this, first," Sans said. He came out of the kitchen with the mugs.

Asriel gratefully accepted one. "Thanks a lot, bro."

 

He scampered up the stairs, careful not to spill, and ducked into the bedroom. He slammed the door a little too hard and shouted an apology back to them. Sans strolled over to give Frisk her drink.

"Thanks," she said. "Needed this."

"I know." He sat on the couch and rubbed his eye socket with his palm. "Hey, uh, turn your head?"

She did. His brow furrowed and he cupped her cheek, pulsing careful blue until what remained of the bruising was gone. He pulled back and shook his hand out.

"There," he said.

Frisk grinned. "Thanks."

"Hm. Two rounds, not bad," he said.

"It's great!" she assured him. "I'm sure you'll get back to normal eventually."

"Heh. Maybe. I was never much of a healer anyway, but…" He shrugged. "It's helpful."

"Mhm!" She sipped her cocoa and grinned. "Thanks again."

He nodded and, after a lazy few seconds, he forced himself back up and ambled back towards the kitchen.

 

Frisk finished up her drink slowly and then lay down on the couch and stared at the ceiling. Her head felt a little fuzzy, still, but at least her cheek didn't hurt any more. Mom would inevitably find out. She hoped she wouldn't be too mad.

 

Frisk stretched out and was perfectly content to stay there. She closed her eyes. After a few minutes, there was a sort of sharp, insistent knock on the door. She rolled off the couch and onto the floor.

"I'll get it!" she called.

 

When she opened the front door, she was surprised not to see faces she she recognized, nor even the faces of monsters. There were three humans there. Her stomach dropped for just long enough to bring the nausea back before she realized that these were definitely not the people the humans had sent, nor the man she'd dreamt.

 

A man, a woman, and a kid— maybe her age, maybe a little older, filled their front step. The man and the kid were a bit darker than her, the woman a bit lighter. He had a pointy face and high cheekbones; looked inquisitive, but that might have just been the glasses. The woman had a rounder, friendly face with freckles on her nose and fluffy orange hair. The kid just seemed cold, with cheeks flushed ruddy even as he hid under a hood. They all had jackets, but probably not quite heavy enough. They looked just as surprised to see her as she was to see them.

 

"Oh! Hello, little girl! Are your parents home?" the woman asked.

Frisk tilted her head. She looked back into the house. "I don't think so. Um. Sans, mom left already, right?"

"Yuuup," he called back from somewhere.

Frisk shook her head, trying to hide a flinch at an odd popping sound behind her. "Is there something I can help you with? Or do you just need a grown-up? My brother's a grown-up."

The adults didn't get a chance to answer before their kid moved, curiously, a little closer to Frisk.

"You look a lot like a human," he said.

"Oh, that's not—" the man began quickly, but Frisk laughed.

"That's 'cause I am one," she said.

 

"Oh!" The man suddenly looked much more interested. "There were humans living here all this time?"

"No, just me," Frisk said.

"You live with monsters?" he pressed.

She nodded. His face lit up.

"Amazing," he said. "Sorry to seem so excited. I'm a historian from the University of—"

"Honey, she won't recognize the name if she's from here," the woman laughed. "We're very interested in this place, is all. We came to take a look before all the monsters moved out. But I'm afraid we got a little lost in the snow."

"Oh!" Frisk smiled. "Okay, where're you headed?"

"The Snowed Inn?" the man said.

"You're on the right track," Frisk said. "I can take you there."

"Oh, no, we wouldn't want to bother you—" the woman said quickly, but the kid sighed and tugged at her sleeve.

"Mom, we're lost as heck, just let her show us," he said.

 

"It's no problem!" Frisk assured them, a little unsure how they could get lost on a straight path. "Don't worry. I, um, kinda need to go to the store beside it anyway."

"Well, in that case…" the woman said, looking at her husband with a smile.

Frisk pulled back to get her hoodie from its lump on the floor. "Guys, I'mma go out!" she called.

 

She saw a look of fear cross the faces of the family in front of her. She raised her eyebrow and turned back to see Sans standing a bit behind her, holding the heart-and-circle emblem shirt he'd been wearing with red on his hands and ribs.

"What?" he asked.

"Dude, what the heck?" Frisk asked with a laugh.

"What, a guy can't walk around without a shirt out in his own house?" He grinned slightly and ambled across the room. "Uh. We're outta ketchup now, by the way."

"Put the cap on better, then" she teased.

"Eh, you're not wrong," he said.

 

Frisk smiled apologetically at the humans at the door. "Sorry about that, that's just my big brother," she said. "Let's—"

"Waaait, wait, wait!" Asriel ran up behind her, clapping a hand onto her shoulder. "Oh. Humans? Howdy! I gotta go to the store, too, I'll come with."

He grabbed his jacket and Frisk thought she heard the woman whisper something about how cute he was.

 

The humans seemed genuinely fascinated as they walked into town. The adults were particularly chatty, mostly amongst themselves, about the architecture and the use of the cavern space, and the unique way the cold felt, while their kid seemed completely enthralled by Asriel. He, however, was fully focussed on his sister.

 

"Um, 'scuse me," he said. "Um. Can y-you, um…? Can you do magic?"

"I am magic," Asriel said with a grin. He raised a paw and, in the centre, a red flame appeared.

The kid's eyes just about bugged out of his head. Asriel held the glowing fire out towards him.

"You can touch it, it's not that hot," he said.

Cautiously, the boy did. He laughed and held both hands in the flame. "It's nice."

 

Frisk snickered. The man turned to her inquisitively.

"Would you mind? Can I ask you a question or two?" he wondered.

Though the kid smiled politely, Asriel was instantly alert. He held her arm.

"I don't mind," Frisk said.

"How does a human find enough food here?" he wondered.

"Magic," she said.

"You… eat magic?" he said.

"Sure, monsters do," she said. "It just kinda isn't a problem."

"What the heck does magic taste like?" the kid asked.

"Like whatever it's supposed to, I guess. I mean, except sometimes things got kinda confused because they were under the mountain so long. Like, if you see a lime soda, it's actually probably gonna be lemon instead." Frisk pointed out Grillby's as they went past. "Check this place out if you wanna eat monster food though, it's great."

"Oh! It's… Is it like a pub?" the woman asked.

"Yeah, basically," Frisk said. "Best place in the whole underground."

 

"Could I ask you something else?" the man pressed. "That… skeleton? Back there?"

"Mhm?" Frisk said. "What about him?"

The man and woman looked at each other. The man paused a moment as if to consider his words.

"Did…? Hm… Did he… pass away? Is that how—?"

"Oh, no no no," Frisk said with a laugh. "No. He was born a skeleton."

"They were never dead humans, if that's what you're asking," Asriel said.

"Oh." The man's face flushed a bit and the woman smiled and nudged him gently with her elbow. "That's good to know, actually."

"Try not to be scared of monsters, huh? They're pretty friendly," Frisk said. She paused and pointed her finger at the inn as they came up past the door. "Here."

The humans stopped and looked the inn up and down.

"Oh, it's really cute," the woman said quietly. "Thank you, kids."

"No problem!" Frisk assured them.

 

She waved and she and Asriel continued on to the next door down. Asriel shot her a grin.

"Weird to see so many again, huh?" he said.

She shrugged and nodded. "If I'm totally honest," she held the door open for him, "it still makes my heart go a little too fast."

"Yeah, I heard," Asriel said, pointing at his ear.

 

They picked up a baker's dozen of cinnamon bunnies from the store. The rabbit woman behind the counter had a few extra items on sale, on clearance, since they'd be moving and reopening on the surface soon. One such thing was a set of teacups and a ceramic kettle that looked like a chubby white rabbit. Asriel and Frisk gladly split the cost of them as a gift for Asgore.

 

They headed back and stopped in at Grillby's. At the counter as usual, Grillby picked them out them out the moment they walked in and raised his hand. Frisk grinned and scampered up to meet him.

"Hiya!" she said. "Sans sent me to pick up some—"

Grillby nodded and clunked a case of glass ketchup bottles onto the counter. Frisk grinned.

"Perfect, dude." She used an empty stool to boost herself up a bit and thumped some gold onto the counter. "Really appreciate it. Thanks so much."

"…Mhm." He smiled a little. "…No problem."

 

At home, Sans was lazing in the corner of the sofa, shirt changed appropriately to the one covered in Z's. He raised his hand at them as they came in.

"Got a whole case!" she said proudly.

"Oh, jeez, kiddo, you guys are too good," he said.

Frisk smiled proudly and headed straight for the kitchen. Asriel ditched his coat and then stretched.

"Hey, Sans?" he said.

"Mhm?"

"You okay?" Asriel asked.

"Hm?" Sans looked a bit confused through the drowsiness. "Whatchu mean?"

"Well, I saw you texted Frisk before," he said.

"Oh. Yeah," he said. "How's your face?"

"It's alright," he said with a shrug.

Sans waved him over. "C'mere. I need the practice."

"Oh! Uh. Okay. Thanks."

 

The skeleton straightened himself up and put one hand on his neck and the other on his head. The boy could feel the magic start to ebb in through his fur.

"Anything?" Sans asked.

"For sure," Asriel assured him.

"Cool, not totally useless," he said.

 

After a few seconds, Frisk came to join them, holding a cool bottle of ketchup in one hand. She sat on the arm of the couch, watching with curiosity. Her brother's eye had lit up and he was starting to get a little sweaty. They stayed quiet to let him concentrate.

"Okay, think I'm good," Asriel said.

Sans pulled back, looking tired but uncharacteristically proud. Frisk passed him the bottle and he popped the cap and took a swig. He instantly looked better.

 

Asriel hopped to his paws, giving the skeleton a thumbs-up. "Gonna finish packing," he said. "You mind if I borrow your charger for the game thingy? I can't find mine."

"No worries, take it," Frisk said.

He grinned and dashed up the stairs.

 

Frisk smooched Sans on the head and he snickered. "Doing okay?" she asked.

"Yeah. You?" he said.

She nodded. She slipped down from the arm and flopped over his legs lazily. After a moment, she rolled off the couch and then clambered back to sit beside him.

"It's been picking up a bit, huh?" she said.

"Hm?"

She pointed to his chest. There was some pride in her eyes.

"Oh. Yeah. Not bad."

"Tell Papyrus, he's gonna be really proud," she said.

"Eh."

"Okay, I'll tell Papyrus," she said.

Chapter Text

Once Asriel had his bags packed, he and Frisk headed off towards New Home, deciding to take a walk the long way through Waterfall. Sans couldn't blame the kid. She was doing a lot to get this thing tomorrow out of her mind. He half regretted not going with them, though. The silence was creeping in on him and he wasn't really a fan.

 

He dragged out his coat and shuffled off outside. He wandered the streets and caught sight of those humans again. Grillby's green-flamed daughter was talking to them, trying to explain how it was that she was made of flame and yet didn't burn the things around her. They seemed so earnestly interested.

 

Now that he saw them again, he recognized the man. History professor, worked at the university Sans had in another time, though they hadn't spoken much. Funny coincidence, but he supposed the place wasn't actually all that far away. Figured that a teacher who studied the past would find all this stuff interesting.

 

He stuck a hand up to greet Grillby's kid and then slipped inside the place and took a spot at the counter. Grillby met him with raised eyebrows.

"I'm moving," the elemental said.

"Oh. When?" Sans asked.

"End of the month." He slid the skeleton a bottle of ketchup. "End of main street."

"Cool," Sans said. "New building, or—?"

"I'm taking it," he said.

Sans snorted and laughed. He grinned and stuck his thumb up. "Good. S'better that way."

Grillby nodded steadily.

"We'll still be in, like, every day," Sans assured him. "Not really like distance is an obstacle, huh?"

"You don't sound like you're being sarcastic," he said.

"I'm not," Sans said with a laugh.

 

Cold air hit the back of his head and Grillby looked up curiously. The voices that blustered in were those of the small human family again. Grillby shot Sans a look, and then disappeared somewhere behind the counter. Sniffling and shivering, the human man walked up to the counter with cautious optimism on his face.

"Excuse me, is this, uh…? Is this where we order?" he asked.

"Usually," Sans said. He leaned over the counter to look down, but Grillby was gone. "Someone should be back soon, I guess."

 

The man eyed him over curiously. He carefully slid onto the seat beside him. "You're a skeleton, right?"

"No bones about it," Sans said.

"Could I ask—?"

"Honey!" The human woman waved to her husband from across the restaurant, and then gestured to one of the booths. "Over here!"

"Would you mind sitting with us?" the man asked curiously.

Sans was a little puzzled, but he supposed it didn't really hurt to be a novelty.

 

The humans looked surprisingly excited to see him. Especially the kid. They stared closely at his hands as he sat down.

"Thank you for joining us," the woman said. "All these monster things are a bit new to us! But, at the same time, this isn't so different from back home, is it?"

"A little more rustic." The man nodded anyway. "So, uh. How does this work, exactly?"

"When the dude made of fire shows up, just go over and tell him what you want," Sans said.

"Oh, not that," the man said quickly. "I mean. Humans. Eating magic. Your, uh… That little girl? You were at the same house, right?"

"My sister," he confirmed.

"Right, she mentioned that a human can just eat magic. Is that… I mean…?"

"Yeah, you just put it in your face, I guess," Sans said. "Don't think too hard about it."

"Does it do anything weird to you? Does it turn you green?" the kid asked, wide-eyed.

"Uh. Usually not," Sans said. "Just makes you feel better." He shrugged when the humans looked back at him with confusion. "With monsters, only real cure if you're hurt of feelin' sick other than healin' magic is just eatin' and gettin' some rest."

 

"So, like, how do you do that?" the kid asked.

"Do what?" Sans asked.

"You know. Eat. And… talk?" He tilted his head. "Your mouth doesn't open even though it kinda moves and stuff, I don't get it."

"Oh." Sans laughed. "Yeah, don't think too much about that, either. Monsters kinda come in all kinds of weird shapes. We're made of magic, huh? Don't need to really make sense. Guy who owns this place's technically got no eyes, but he can see you just fine."

"That's amazing," the woman said. "I hope you don't find these questions intrusive."

"Wouldn't answer if I didn't want to," he said with a shrug.

 

"In that case. Would you mind if I pick your brain for a moment?" the man asked.

"Don't actually have one of those, but I get your meanin'," Sans said with a wink.

"You don't have a brain?!" the kid yelped.

His mother nudged him, but Sans simply laughed again.

"Course not." He tapped the side of his skull. "Kinda a bonehead, y'know."

The woman's eyes seemed to glitter. "We were talking to a girl made of fire, earlier. And one that looked like a small airplane, somehow. And so many rabbits!"

"I was mostly wondering, though," the man said, "how the barrier came down. I mean, honestly, we weren't even sure your people were still down here. How did all that work?"

"Kinda complicated," he said. "King's kid did a thing. My sister did a thing. It's, uh, probably best you ask the King about that, actually. You meet him yet?"

"First thing!" the man said. "I mean, I've never even met our Prime Minister, but, first minute here and the King comes out to say howdy."

"He's huge!" the kid said, raising his arms. "I never ever seen someone so big before."

"We didn't really expect to be so welcomed here," the woman said with a shy smile. "Not after all this time. But then it turns out there was a human living here the whole time."

 

Sans caught sight of Grillby coming out of the kitchen door with an armful of clean mugs. He raised his hand and the skeleton slipped out of the booth. "C'mon, let's get you somethin'," he said. "I'd recommend the burgs."

"Do they count as vegetarian?" the woman wondered.

"Well, they sure ain't made of meat," Sans said with a laugh. He tilted his head back towards the counter.

 

The human man scrambled to follow him as he returned to Grillby. He nodded politely.

"Whatcha think?" Sans asked the human. "Burgs and fries? They're good."

"Yeah. Alright. Three of those. Please," the man said quickly. He sounded a little nervous.

Grillby slid off silently. Sans took a seat again and leaned his back up on the counter.

"Don't worry so much, human, you're not doin' bad," Sans said.

"Thanks. It's… Maybe this'll sound weird, but it's always been a dream of mine to come here," he said. "I've been studying artefacts from the war for years."

"Huh. Much left from our side?" Sans asked.

"A few books. Some art. Some old ruins." The man sounded apologetic. "It wasn't right, you know? What happened."

Sans shrugged. "Wasn't there. Hey, you wanna learn more about it, some of us still remember it."

"Remember it?" The man looked baffled.

"Yeah. King was there, even. I'm sure he'd tell you stories if you asked. Retired Captain of the Guard's a big history buff; he's up on the surface now. Old wrinkly turtle, hard to miss. Or you could borrow a book. Check out the Archives in New Home, I'm pretty sure they didn't start movin' stuff yet."

The human didn't respond verbally, but his eyes looked like full moons and his jaw dropped. Sans groped around behind the counter and pulled up a napkin. He scribbled a small map of the section of New Home they'd need, trying to write slow and large so he was sure it was legible. He handed it over. The man took it with shaking fingers. He stared for a while, gulped heavily, and looked into Sans's eyes.

 

"I'm sorry," he said.

"Okay," Sans said.

"It was a genocide," he said softly.

"Sure was," Sans agreed.

The man gulped again. Sans snickered; the human to look baffled.

"Chill. No one blames you new humans," he said. "You weren't there. Just, uh, let's not do any cyclical history this time, huh?"

"That'd be good," the man said, laughing dryly and rubbing his hair. "God. That's… Monsters live that long?"

"Guess you guys forgot about that," he said. "Yeah. Long time."

 

The man was at a loss for a little while. He sat beside Sans again and put his chin on his fist. "I have so many questions."

"Okay," Sans said.

"Can I start with that girl? Your sister, you said," he said. "How did she get here? How does a human that young end up down here?"

"Ah." Sans grinned. "Funny story. She dropped from the sky."

"From the sky?" he repeated.

"Sure. One day, just, plop, kid falls outta the ceilin'," he said, grinning slightly. "Lemme tell you about it, it's a riot."

 

- - -

 

Sans went back home to the empty house having seemingly made the day of a strange human family with his monster lore and odd stories. He didn't mind one bit, to be honest. Humans were much more curious than the average monster. It was sort of invigorating.

 

The house was far too quiet. He figured maybe he could sleep the silence off. It didn't last long, however. He was almost grateful to be woken up by his phone playing a song from between sofa cushions. When he fished it out, he pressed a button and clunked it against the side of his head.

"Brother! Hello!" Papyrus said. "It is you, right? You didn't drop your phone and have it get taken by an annoying dog, did you?"

"Uh. Bark," Sans said.

"SANS! You definitely can't fool me with that lacklustre performance!" he said.

Sans snickered. "Whatcha need, bro?" he asked.

"I'm at Alphys's! She has a weird science thing for you to look at," he said. "Aaaaaand you know Frisk and Asriel came through here, right?"

"Yeah," he said.

"Did she have another thing? You know? Those panic things? At school?" Papyrus asked. "She said she got whacked in the face but she wasn't bruised so…"

"Oh. Yeah. Healed that," he said. "She's fine."

"Oh good! I'm glad it wasn't… OH! Hey! Nyeh heh heh! Congratulations!" Papyrus said loudly. "How many times?!"

"Took two," he said.

"Oh. My. God. That's fantastic!" he said. "Good job, brother. I'm glad she wasn't sick, though. So. Are you coming?"

"Right now?"

"Yes, Sans, right now!" Papyrus said shrilly. "The Doctor said it was really important."

 

Sans pocketed the phone, rolled onto the floor, and shifted himself to the lab. He caught Papyrus glaring into his phone.

"Yo," he said.

"Ah! Well. At least you're punctual," Papyrus said.

"Sans!" Alphys surprised him from behind. She gave him a hug when he turned around. "G-Good to see you!"

"Hey, Doc, good trip?" he asked.

"Y-Yeah! Um. It was… p-pretty strenuous." She smiled bashfully. "But it was good! But, you know m-my luck, come b-back from vacation a-and the CORE is acting up. Of course."

"Ah. Great. CORE stuff. Love it," he said.

"I know. I'm sorry," she said. "B-But you know it b-better than anyone."

 

Alphys went to her computer and gestured for him to follow her. He took a moment to brace himself. Papyrus put a hand on his shoulder and walked past to stand behind the scientist with a curious look on his face. Sans was sure his eyes had gone dark, but he tagged along.

"So, is it, uh, a pretty bad problem, or what?" he asked.

"It's just… w-weird. That's all," she said. She rubbed her hands together with nerves, running her fingers habitually over the orange scarring on her right hand that looked almost like streaks of paint.

"What, like Az weird, or something else?" Sans asked.

"Not quite as weird as that, b-but… I d-dunno, see for yourself," she said.

She waved him closer to the monitor and switched to one of several running analytics tabs, showing a bright graph of the current energy fluctuations of the CORE. Sans's brows raised slightly.

"Oh. Yeah, alright, I see it," he said.

"What? What?! I don't get it," Papyrus asked worriedly. "Is it bad? Is it going to break again? Oh, no no no, we can't—! We're not sending Frisk in there again, are we?!"

"No. N-No, no, it's not that bad again, it's not h-having weird determination bursts this time, see?" Alphys guided Papyrus closer and pointed out one of the moving graphs, one that was relatively level. "S-See? Not much change."

 

"Hm." Sans rubbed the back of his head. He knew what she must want. "Should I go check or something?"

"W-Would you?" Alphys asked hopefully. "Y-You know h-how it works in the chamber a bit better than I do."

Sans shrugged and nodded. "Sure. Guess I could go now."

"Oh! Sans! Are you sure?!" Papyrus demanded. "You don't need to prepare at all?"

"Nah," he said. "I'll just throw myself at it for a bit, no big deal."

"Oh." Papyrus looked skeptical and started rubbing his thumb along the back of his opposite hand. "Do you want me to come? I mean, I am by far the strongest of the two of us, so—"

"No offence, bro, but absolutely not," he said.

"So it IS dangerous, then?!" he yelped.

"Dunno. Probably not bad but, uh, I'd rather not have you remember bein' blown to dust if somethin' goes nuts, y'know?" he said.

"And what about you?!" he demanded.

"Eh, I already remember bein' blown to dust, no big deal," he said.

"AAAH SANS!" Papyrus pouted and grabbed him into his arms just a little too tightly. "Stop doing that immediately!"

 

Sans snickered. His brother puffed and bonked his brow on his lightly before letting him go and giving him a thumbs-up filled with determination.

"Good luck, brother, please don't do anything too dangerous."

"I'll get the kiddo to do a save for me, no biggie," he said.

"Good. Good good, no need to worry at all, then!" Papyrus said. "But I would still greatly prefer if you don't explode, okay?"

"Sure thing. Just sit around here or somethin'. I'll be back soon," Sans said. "Or we'll reset, that'll be fine."

"P-Please be careful, okay?" Alphys said.

 

Sans stuck his thumb up and then shifted himself deep underground. There he was again, in front of that old door. Last time he'd been here, they'd hauled his sister out, unconscious. Wasn't really a fan.

 

He put his hand against it and was startled to feel it respond in a rather friendly way. Like it was inviting. It was definitely unlocked.

 

He could feel the prickle of unruly magic in the air. Stronger than he anticipated. Frowning, thoughtful, Sans drew back and supported the wall. He pulled out his phone and turned the screen back on. Seemed to have missed quite a few texts, but that didn't concern him much this second. He immediately went to Frisk's number. For some reason, he felt a sting of nerves. He took a deep breath. It was fine. Didn't matter how dangerous it might be. The kid had his back. Always did.

 

"kiddo do me a favr?" he texted. He didn't have to wait long.

"sure what do you need?" she said.

"save n check back in 15?"

"oh! ok, comin up on one in just a minute!"

"k"

 

Sans waited. He could feel that magic swelling. He rested against the wall and tried to keep his nerves in check. It would be okay. Didn't matter if he didn't make it. He could stand being dead for a few minutes if it came to that.

 

It wasn't too long before he felt the phone buzz again.

"ok, got it! be careful ok? we'll wait for you. love you <3"

"love u 2"

 

Sans pocketed his phone, braced himself, and then pushed the door open. The magic inside the room was roiling like the swelling of a thunderstorm. Most jarring, though, had nothing to do with the building tempest of energy, nor the crackle of colourful magic swirling around the pillar. There was someone at the console. Human-shaped. Heavy brown leather jacket, a hood up from a black sweatshirt underneath. A dark scarf around their neck. Sans felt a strike of shock. Couldn't be, could it? How could anyone get in here?

 

When the person turned, startled at the sound of the door, Sans froze up. Felt like he might collapse. It wasn't some human— some saboteur. It was a skeleton. A tall man with two defined cracks in his skull, eyes glowing blue and gold.

 

Sans knew him— would recognize him anywhere. This man filled in his memories instantly, seamlessly integrating into almost every day of the first twenty years of Sans's life. The skeleton that had vanished. Torn away from everything when the CORE erupted on top of him ten years ago. Gaster. His father. It hit him like a truck and he almost lost his breath.

 

The world went silent for a moment as they locked eyes. The man standing along that stoney path felt it too. He looked stunned. It took them both a few seconds to pull themselves back together.

"I… I could use an extra set of hands over here!" the skeleton called.

 

Sans was over at the console in an instant. "What do you need?" he asked.

"Hold this steady." He looked at his hand on a lever on the console. "We're going to push it a little farther in just a moment."

Sans raised a brow, but grabbed tight to the lever and the man moved his hand and patted him gently on the shoulder. He turned his eyes upon the crackling magic on the ceiling.

"Thank you, Sans," he said. "Trust me?"

"Mhm."

"Just a little more."

Sans pulled the lever downwards and pressed a few buttons around the left side of the machine to keep things steady, but the wind of magic began to whip around them faster and faster. Gaster took a deep breath. He pulled off one glove with his teeth and then the other as he rolled up his sleeves, and put the gloves in his pocket.

 

"I'll explain everything soon," he said. "I'll meet you upstairs when this is done. At the closest starlight. Do you understand?"

"Gotcha," Sans said.

His father smiled fondly. "I love you." `

Sans felt a strange pang through his bones, but he grinned nonetheless. "Love you, too," he said. "Crankin' it?"

"Hm." The mismatched glow in his eye sockets brightened. "Alright. Here we go."

 

He raised up his right arm, straight at the ceiling, his middle and index finger extended. Magic in his palm pulsed gold and drew down energy, vibrant and crackling, from the torrent above them— a lightning rod. It twisted around through his bones and and he braced himself, wincing. Sans watched, eyes wide, and he quickly steadied the reactor. The magic pulsed through the other skeleton, arching off his body erratically, and his legs almost gave out. Sans grimaced and grabbed Gaster's soul tightly. His father grinned and put his other hand fondly over the glow.

 

He closed his eyes and his left hand glittered with blue, and he reached out in front of him. His fingertips cut through the air like a bad movie backdrop, revealing a space of dark and starlight ebbing behind. Then, it pulsed white-blue, overcoming the entire room. When the light faded, he was gone.

 

Sans stared at empty space for a second, and then hurriedly pressed some buttons and gently pushed the lever back up. The storm of magic slowly dissipated, and then settled back into the calm, regular whirling spectrum up the centre pillar. Sans let out a deep sigh of relief and slumped, hand on his brow. He was trying not to reel. He leaned his back against the console and turned his gaze on the ceiling. The magic above was like an aurora against the red-tinted stone. It was surreal. The whole world was surreal. He wiped his eyes and then shifted.

 

He went to the tear in time a bit farther up the tower and, to his relief, Gaster was there. He was rattling, and he looked exhausted as he leaned against a wall. But he was there. Not some illusion in the magic, not some hallucination or a dream. Real, magic and bone, standing there, and somehow it all seemed painfully normal.

 

Gaster's eyes welled up the second he noticed Sans. He closed the distance and hugged him tight against his chest. Sans slumped and snickered. His eye shone bright with blue and he clung close. Gaster took a deep, shaking breath. He cupped Sans's face in both hands and gently touched their brows together. He tried to speak. Couldn't manage it. Gritted his teeth and let the tears flow down his face. Sans sparked with blue and put his hand on his.

"It's okay," he said.

The man huffed. Fought to regain his breath. He started to laugh. He wrapped his arms around him and snuggled him close. The glow of his eyes shone bright. "I missed you so much."

"I know," Sans said.

 

Gaster's whole frame trembled. All of Sans's magic ebbed with sympathy, and his father made a faint choking sound and reciprocated brightly with energy it seemed Sans had never really forgotten the feeling of. His eyes watered and he smiled.

"God, this is weird," he said.

Gaster wheezed out a laugh and had to gasp for air. He spent a few long moments taking deep breaths before starting to snicker. "I-I'm still not used to breathing again."

"You gonna be alright?" Sans asked.

He nodded. He pulled back and puffed out a deep sigh, rubbing his hands over his skull. He coughed a little. Sans's smile was sympathetic.

"You kinda look like crap, you wanna sit down for a bit?"

"I do. Definitely," he said.

 

He settled his back against the nearest wall and Sans followed to drop down beside him. They sat in a comfortable silence for a while. Gaster absently rubbed his hands together and then kneaded at his eye sockets with the heels of his palms.

"Oh my god," he muttered.

"Tell me about it," Sans said.

Gaster let out a quiet, hoarse laugh. "You, uh… You look well," he said.

"Pffft. Yeah. Guess I am," Sans said.

"And… A-And, how's Papyrus?" he asked.

"He's great," Sans assured him.

Gaster breathed a sigh of relief.

 

Sans couldn't help but stare at him for a few long moments. It was so strange to see him again. Aside from the crack on the right side of his face that ran up from his eye, he really didn't look any different than the day he'd vanished. Actually, now that Sans thought about it, he remembered seeing that line form. His father, absorbing all that energy from the CORE— he could still see the split crackling with colour in there in his mind's eye. The whole ordeal had been so utterly loud. He could recall the deep, tingling chill that had overtaken him then as if it were yesterday.

 

"I'm so glad you showed up," Gaster said. "I was starting to think I was in a wee bit over my head."

"Hey, what else is new?" Sans said with a wink. "Next time call or somethin', huh?"

"I didn't exactly have your phone number. Or a phone." The skeleton laughed. "I'm sorry."

"Nah." Sans waved a hand at him. "Glad you're back, though. Ten years, huh?"

"Is that all it's been?" Gaster laughed, the sound laboured and weak, and rubbed his eye sockets again. "When did you remember?"

"Second I saw you," Sans said. "Weird shit."

 

Gaster smiled. He took a deep breath. He rolled his fingers over his thumbs and then held out his hands before him, just a few inches apart. He concentrated, eyes lighting up blue and gold along with his finger bones. After just a few seconds, a pair of oval-rimmed glasses crackled into existence. Sort of rough, but the lenses looked good. He put them on. Squinted. Took them off; wiped his eyes before trying them again.

"Oh, for god's sake," he muttered. He squeezed on each lens and then tried once more.

"Could you not see that whole time?" Sans asked, trying not to laugh.

"Somehow, my eyes are much better than they were before I went in," he said, bemused. "I guess it was just the tears. Hah."

"For real?" Sans said. "Weren't you almost blind in the right one?"

"Absolutely I was, but…" He chuckled tiredly. "I'm glad for the improvement."

"Congrats," Sans said.

 

His phone buzzed in his jacket. He pulled it out and Gaster leaned over curiously to look. Frisk had sent him a text. Just like he had asked.

"yo bro did you explode?"

"nah" he replied. "thx 4 waitin"

"np! <3" she asked. "was the save ok? didn't need it?"

"yup no probs"

"whatre you doin anyway?" Frisk asked.

"supr secrt dnger mssion" he replied.

"omg wow thats even more secret then normal!"

"yup" he typed. "dont wrry its all gud"

"ok! <3 glad to hear it. see you at home later? you can tell me all about it!"

"k" He paused for a moment and his cheekbones flushed faintly blue. He typed a heart; she responded with three. He had a dopey smile on his face almost instantly.

 

"Is…? Is that Frisky?" Gaster's voice was hopeful. "It is, isn't it?"

"You guessed it," Sans said.

The tall skeleton's face lit up. "So… So I didn't imagine it. You really found each other."

"Yeah, she made kind of a stir when she showed up, actually." Sans winked. "No idea why."

Gaster laughed quietly and folded his arms to his chest. "That's good. So do you…? So you know who she is?"

"Course I do," Sans said. "Not that you made it easy to figure out."

He looked relieved. "Does she?"

"Not in so many words. It never made sense to try to explain without you around and only half-answers." Sans smiled. "Not that it changes anything, anyway."

"You wouldn't believe how happy I am to hear that you feel like that," Gaster said.

"Welp. I figure, you know, bein' big brother's one thing I've been consistently okay at," he said. "Goin' for round two? I'm into it."

Gaster grinned. "You aren't just okay," he said with a quiet chuckle. "If how you handled Papyrus was any indicator, I'd say you're perfect."

Sans snickered. Gaster yawned. He tented his fingers.

"S-So. Do you think…? Do you think he'll remember me?" he said. "He was only, what, ten?"

"Eight," Sans said.

"Eight!" Gaster took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. "Only eight… My god."

"He'll remember," Sans said. "Don't worry. He's not so different, y'know."

 

Gaster went quiet. His fingers traced those cracks in his skull near his eyes. He sighed and folded his arms, and put his head down on his knee. "I… I'm sorry, Sans."

"Hm? What for?" he said, shifting a little closer.

"It… It was all my fault. Everything," he said. He looked up, but his gaze was a million miles away. "Sans, I… I had the dreams. Going back to when you were just a child. I knew… I knew what you'd go through. And even so. I had to make it happen like that anyway. You were so brave, and you… you should never have had to be. I'm so sorry."

"Oh. You… know all about it, huh?" Sans grinned a little and his father gave him a worried, confused frown. "Good."

"Good?" he repeated.

"Then I don't have to tell you about it," Sans said.

"You're not mad," he said with a frown.

Sans shrugged. "Nah."

"Nah?! That's it? No dad, you're an idiotGaster for Worst Father in the Universe award?" he demanded. "Idiot skeleton creates life, accidentally condemns said life to fighting in a never-ending time loop against invincible time anomalies by his own sheer incompetence? Nothing?"

"That doesn't sound like me at all," Sans said with a laugh.

Gaster smiled a little. "I suppose it doesn't," he said. "Hah… You're too forgiving."

"Grudges are exhaustin', dude. Besides. It worked out. Time loop broke. And… it's good that it was me."

"Why?" Gaster asked with a frown.

Sans shrugged again. "Didn't have to be anyone else."

 

Gaster stared at him in silence for a long while. His eye sockets welled up again and he put his glasses down before pulling Sans into his arms. "That's a-always been just like you," he said quietly. "Sans, I… I never gave you the idea that you were… expendable, did I?" Gaster spat that word out, like it left a bad taste.

Sans looked up at his father and felt suddenly very snug. Safe. It was strange and comfortable. He felt kind of like a kid again. It definitely wasn't the worst feeling in the world. "No." He laughed. "No. Don't worry."

"Good. Because you're not." He shook his head. "God, the mental fortitude that must've taken—"

"It's alright. It's done," Sans said. "We do what we have to. Just like always."

"You have to be happy," Gaster said, pouting a little. "You… are happy?" He looked very much like Papyrus in that moment.

Sans almost laughed again. "…I'm real happy," he said.

 

The relief in his father's energy was overwhelming for a second. He gripped onto him sleepily and Gaster snuggled him close.

"I… I should… I should tell you everything," he said.

"Eh. Later," Sans said. "I'm gonna pass out."

"…Me too." Gaster sighed.

"Then forget it for a bit," Sans said. "We can just chill."

"But I…"

"Hey. You're back. That's good enough for me right now," Sans said.

 

He felt his father's hand on the back of his skull, pulling him in, and the affectionate pulse of magic he gave made Sans grin. This was alright. Maybe even the final puzzle piece.

 

- - -

 

The lights in New Home were becoming speckled when watched from above. Some monsters had begun to move out for good. The stores were starting to close, but there was still more than enough activity below to make it fun to watch from the high pathways on the way to Asgore's.

"It's gonna be weird," Asriel said.

"Hm?" Frisk asked.

"When it's empty," he said.

"Guess so," Frisk agreed. "But, you know, eventually it'll be kinda the same outside."

"That's kinda nuts that you've seen it all, huh?" he said.

Frisk shrugged, and she smiled. "Yeah, but who knows what'll happen, huh?" she said. "Hey! We should go back to the Archives sometime before they move it and look at more movies or something, what d'you think?"

"Sounds cool to me."

 

Asriel pointed over his shoulder with his thumb. Frisk turned and they continued up the path together. "So was Sans alright?" he asked.

"Yup," she said.

"Didn't say what he wanted?" he asked.

"Nah. He hates typing," she said. "I'll text you later when I know, okay?"

 

They reached Asgore's house within a few minutes. Frisk lagged.

"What? Aren't you comin' in?" Asriel asked.

"Um! Oh, yeah. Sure," she said. "S-Sorry."

"What? You're not already traumatized, are you?" he asked worriedly.

She shook her head quickly. The boy raised his brows at her skeptically.

"It's not about the memory thing, is it?" he asked.

"Um… Well…"

"Ah, jeez, Frisk, don't worry about that. He doesn't care," he said. "He really cares about you, though, y'know."

"I know," she said sheepishly.

Asriel thumped her on the shoulder. "If you wouldn't mind the flowers…?"

"I remembered, don't worry," she said.

 

He pushed down some of the spikier fur between his horns and shoved the door open for them. "Dad?" he asked loudly, raising the pitch of his voice slightly. "Dad, you here?"

Asgore emerged from the kitchen with a big smile on his face. "Kids! Howdy! So good to see you!" He hugged Asriel tightly, and then scooped Frisk up, too. "Hope you didn't have any trouble getting here. Did you have a good walk?"

"Totally," Asriel said. "We went up the CORE and everything. It was pretty cool."

Asgore grinned. He put the kids down and clapped his big paws together. "How would you two like a nice cup of tea?"

"Yes please!" Asriel said; he cast a look at Frisk. "You can spare a few minutes, right?"

"Absolutely," Frisk said. "We brought you something."

 

The King looked surprised, and Asriel quickly went to the big dining table and pulled the white rabbit tea set from his dimension box and then took a step back and stood rather rigidly. Asgore looked like he could squeal with glee.

"Those are adorable," he said, inspecting the little cups. "Such wonderful designs. Thank you! I love it! It's from Snowdin?"

"Yup! The family that runs the inn was selling it," Asriel said. "Pretty neat, right?!"

"I will treasure it," Asgore assured them. "Thank you both. How perfect, three cups and three of us! Let's try them out." He tenderly scooped up the tea set and carried it to the kitchen.

Before following him, Frisk hurriedly moved the flowers off the table and onto a shelf, just behind a picture frame.

 

As he filled his huge kettle from the the tap, he looked down at Frisk with a sympathetic smile. "I hope you're feeling a little better, honey," he said. "I'm really so sorry about all this, but—"

"Don't worry," Frisk said. "I can handle it."

"If you want me to be there when—"

Frisk giggled and Asriel nudged her in the ribs.

"Everyone keeps saying that," Asriel said. "She doesn't want any extra help."

"No? There's no shame in it," Asgore assured her.

"It's not that. It's… I'll be okay. Don't worry," she said. "You guys should just have a nice weekend."

"And you should not?" Asgore knelt down and rested a giant paw on her head gently. "Don't worry. I'm the King. I'll protect you."

"By sending Undyne to protect you," Asriel suggested.

"Sans's already asking her," Frisk said.

"Good! We are family, after all. I'll make sure it all goes to plan," Asgore ruffled her hair and then straightened up. "Okay! Onto something more pleasant. Would you two like some cookies?"

"Heck yeah I would," Asriel said brightly.

 

Frisk was grateful when they dropped all talk of the meeting tomorrow. She gladly sat quietly and sipped her sweet, milky tea, dunking in barely overdone shortbread biscuits as Asriel told his dad all about the events of the previous night and how school had gone during the week. He didn't drink a sip.

 

It was always nice to see how Asgore lit up when Asriel was around. It was unlike his reaction to any other monster. And, Frisk thought, it was good how Sans's ability to drag them through space effortlessly made any distance between their houses irrelevant. Asriel could stop in to hang out with his dad at a moment's notice. It was a sort of strange family dynamic with Toriel still being so chilly around the King, but it worked as well as it could, at least in Frisk's opinion.

 

"Oh! So, dad? Papyrus has been working on magic a lot with me recently. I think I'm gettin' real good at some new forms," Asriel said.

"Oh ho! That's excellent." Asgore beamed. "And Papyrus will be a great guide for you, he was always so good at those."

"Totally! I've been working on some new patterns with the fire. Can I show you?"

"Of course you can!" he said.

Asriel grinned. "Wait here." He dashed for the door and held up a paw. "Gotta set up."

 

He closed the door with a loud bang that shook the walls, and they could hear him call a bashful apology back from outside. Asgore chuckled faintly.

"Still doesn't know his own strength…" He looked at Frisk from the corner of his eye with a little trepidation. Like he wanted to say something but couldn't quite find it.

 

The air was suddenly heavy. It was strange. Frisk realized it was the first time they'd been alone together since the barrier had gone down. His big, soft face wore a sort of grim gloominess all of a sudden. His smile was cautious; a little sad. His ears drooped back.

"Frisk. Um." He looked like he didn't know what to say.

She didn't either. She knew what she wanted to say, but she wasn't sure how to start.

"Frisk," he began again, "I'm—"

"Sorry," Frisk said quickly. It came involuntarily, like a cough.

His eyes went wide. She smiled a little.

"I'm, um… I'm sorry," she said.

"Oh. Oh, no, Frisk, I'm the one who should be apologizing," he said quickly. "After what I did, I—"

"Nuh-uh, Asgore, no way. I'm sorry," she said. "And… And I'm sorry we didn't talk about this before. What I did, it got you killed. I never meant for that."

 

The great monster's eyes welled up. He pulled his chair over to sit beside her and put a gentle, hesitant hand on her shoulder. "Little one… You've been carrying that guilt for far too long. It was never your fault. And me, I'm…" He puffed out a sigh. "I… really am a wretched creature, aren't I? I… killed you. I fully intended to kill you."

"You thought it was the only way," Frisk said.

"Even if it was, it's… It wasn't right. It was never—! And I was wrong," he said. "I… was wrong about all of it. I can't ever expect your forgiveness, but—"

"Asgore," Frisk said quickly, taking his giant paw in both hands. "Anything I can, I do. For real."

 

He stared at her in silence for a long while.

"Look, I, um…" She sighed. "I… I wanted to talk to you about it, but… mom was always there, you know? And she wouldn't really understand. She still gets mad, sometimes, you know? At you."

"I know. And rightfully so," he said.

Frisk shrugged. "I could have come earlier. Sorry."

"Honey, don't," he said gently. "This was never your burden. Honestly."

"But it shouldn't be yours, either!" she said insistently. "I tried to die. Do you remember that? I tried to give you my soul."

Asgore grimaced. He nodded. She smiled tiredly and rubbed her eyes.

"It was a mistake," she said. "But I meant it back then. I… I didn't know I had a family to go back to. I didn't realize for way too long."

"You were a child— You are a child, and you should never have felt like you had to make that choice," Asgore said. "Why on earth…? No. I'm sure your reasons felt like good ones at the time."

"Hey, wh-what's my reason for doing, like, anything, right?" she joked, though her eyes welled up slightly. "Thought it would make Paps happy. Turned out it was like, the worst possible thing I couldda done, you know? Jeez."

"Oh, Frisk…" Asgore said.

 

She laughed and rubbed her eyes again. She stood up on her chair and hugged him. He gently held her close and patted her hair.

"I'm just so sorry you know what it's like, now," she muttered.

"What?" he asked.

"…To die. It's my fault."

"Oh. Sweetheart." Asgore pulled back with wide eyes. "Was that really what this is all about?"

"Well, yeah, of course," she said. She grimaced. "I thought you'd… I thought I'd remind you of…"

"Oh, no no no," he assured her. "That's… That's nothing. Honestly. That's why you stopped coming around so much?"

She nodded sheepishly.

He blew out a relieved sigh. "I was… worried you feared me."

"What?! No, of course not," Frisk said quickly. "N-No, I just… I felt bad for what happened that first time and… a-and I don' want you to feel bad, either."

He chuckled quietly. "Maybe, together, we can try to let go of those worries," he suggested.

"Hah! Alright, I'll try," she said. "Both of us, right?"

"Yes, little one. Both of us," he agreed.

 

He pulled back and his big hands cupped her face. "You're very wise for your years, aren't you?" he said. "I admit. I don't understand everything that's happened. Alphys tried to explain it to me. And Undyne did. And Asriel. But…" He shrugged.

Frisk laughed. "Yeah. It was a big mess."

"I… don't mean to pry," he said, "but… No. Never mind. Stupid question."

"What?" Frisk asked.

"It's just that… Frisk, I'm sure that if you had explained to me what was happening, I would have helped you," he said. "I… I'm not sure that you'll believe me, but I… I-I never wanted to hurt anyone. But I thought that, if… if someone had to, it—"

"I know. We do what we have to. Sometimes it's really tough to see another way," she assured him gently. "Honestly? I was going to. You remember how I came to give you that tea one time, but then undid it? I… I saw all that guilt on your face. I couldn't do that to you when everything was still not totally set in stone, you know?"

"Frisk…"

"And then I couldn't tell you about Asriel, because what if it didn't work? I couldn't break your heart like that, dude," she said. "Not after everything else."

 

Asgore's brow furrowed slightly, but his expression gave way to a tired smile. "You know it all, don't you?" he asked. "Asriel. Chara. All about them. And what happened after? What I…?"

"Yeah," she said. "I'm… sorry about Chara. She was… I don't think there was any way I could help her."

"No. I suppose not." His smile was sad. "The poor child. But… Thank you, Frisk. I know there is no replacing her. But you have stepped up for Asriel. That he calls you "sister" is a miracle to me. Let alone that he's here. I owe you everything for that."

"Oh." Frisk blushed. "D-Don't play me up too big, huh?"

He laughed and gently ruffled her hair.

 

Asgore looked like he had a little more on his mind, but the front door cracked open before he could get a word out.

"Okay!" Asriel said as he bounded back in. "Think I got it! Ready? It's pretty cool!"

"I'm very excited, son," Asgore said with a big smile.

The little monster beamed and he grabbed his dad's hand and pulled him towards the door. He shot Frisk a knowing wink over his shoulder. She followed, though she took a moment to wipe her eyes. She couldn't help the smile on her face, though. A cloud had started to drift away.

 

Chapter Text

Papyrus was fussing around with his phone when Sans strolled back into the lab. He looked up quickly and swiftly pocketed the thing, hopping back onto his feet.

"Sans! There you are," he said. "You alright?"

"Mhm." He stole a glance around. "Where's the Doc?"

"Ooh. Basement," he said. "She just left. She's grabbing some things, I think? She said I should wait here for you just in case."

"Hm. Good plan," he said. "I, uh, got a surprise. Big one."

"Ooh. A surprise? I love surprises," Papyrus said. "I mean, reasonable surprises, not jump-out-of-your-closet-with-a-trombone-in-the-middle-of-the-night surprises. What is it?"

"He's just outside," Sans said. "Tryin' not to have a panic attack, probably."

Papyrus tilted his head. "Does this surprise person need a hug? I am very good at those, they are good for anxiety," he said.

Sans grinned. "He'll love that, dude," he said. "Just, uh, gimme one sec?"

 

Sans backtracked to the door at the east end of the lab and opened it. Gaster was pinned up against the wall, worry all over his face, his bones rattling faintly.

"Dude, c'mon," Sans said. "Let's go." He jerked his thumb over his shoulder.

"He's… H-He's in there?" he asked softly.

"Yeah."

"Maybe I should just—"

"Get inside?" Sans suggested.

"I will, but—"

"Look. That's your kid, right? Nothin' to be worried about." Sans nudged him. "He's gonna flip."

"I'm going to flip," Gaster joked weakly. He forced himself to stand up straight and readjusted his glasses, and followed Sans back into the lab with just a hint of trepidation in his steps.

 

His smile was bashful, though he froze and his eyes welled up at the sight of his son. Papyrus tilted his head. He blinked with surprise. His jaw dropped and he pointed, at a loss for words for a long few seconds.

"D… Dad?" he stammered. "DAD?!"

Before Gaster could answer, Papyrus sprinted over and stopped mere inches from him to stare him in the face. He looked like he couldn't quite believe his eyes.

"H-Hi, Paps," he said quietly. He grunted when Papyrus grabbed him and squeezed him tight. He laughed quietly and held him close. Tears began to stream down his face, but he was smiling. "You're so tall."

"YOU ARE SO NOT MISSING!" Papyrus said loudly. "OH. MY. GOD."

 

They glowed together, so bright it lit up the room in a burst. Gaster held the back of his son's head and breathed a sigh of relief. Papyrus trembled. He squeezed him tight and hid his face against his shoulder. The man cooed gently and brushed his fingers over his skull reassuringly, his magic ebbing out, warm and soothing.

 

Sans couldn't help the grin on his face growing wide. It was like that missing time hadn't made a difference in the least, with the exception of his brother's height.

 

Papyrus looked up into their father's face, eyes glowing bright amber; tears streaming down his cheeks. "I m-missed you. I didn't know, but I missed you," he squeaked. "I-I'm so glad to see you!"

Gaster smiled. He gently used his thumbs to brush away Papyrus's tears. "Oh, kiddo…" He laughed. "You're so cute. God. I missed you, too."

"C-Cute?!" Papyrus scoffed, but he was beaming anyway. "Come on, now, surely cool is better w-word to… Oh. You know, never mind, I'll take it."

Gaster laughed. "You're my kid, I'll always think you're cute. Here." He drew back and held him by his shoulders. "Let me look at you, Paps."

 

Papyrus stared at him with wide eyes and his cheekbones flushed as Gaster gently took his chin and tilted his head to check him over. The younger skeleton hurriedly wiped his eyes on the back of his glove.

"You barely changed at all, did you?" Gaster said.

"Well, I did grow just a bit," Papyrus joked. "But you… Your head…" He reached up and gently brushed his fingers over the crack that ran upwards from Gaster's right eye. "That's new, isn't it?"

Instead of answering, Gaster gently grabbed onto his son's purple sweatshirt to straighten out the front and pattern. "Are you wearing the Delta Rune?" he asked curiously.

"Y-Yes! Um! Mom… Toriel. Mom made it for me," he said. "Don't deflect! That's a big crack!"

 

Gaster chuckled and hugged him again. Papyrus sighed and clung tight.

"We… We have a lot of catching up to do, don't we?" Gaster said. "I'm so sorry I missed so much."

"Well, obviously you couldn't have helped it, or you would've been here," Papyrus said quickly. "But where were you? What happened? Why did I forget you were ever here? I mean, you're our dad, that shouldn't have ever happened, right?"

"That is… a long story," he said.

"What a coincidence, I love long stories," Papyrus said.

 

Before Gaster could elaborate, they heard the elevator ding. Papyrus hurriedly wiped his eyes again and Gaster turned as Alphys wandered out back into the main room, eyes fixed on her phone. Gaster found himself starting to beam.

"Hey, Doc," Sans said, grinning.

"Oh. Sans, welcome back, how did it—?" The second she look up, she froze to the spot and her jaw dropped. It was like her mind crashed and had to take a moment to reboot. "Uh. Uhhhh… Oh. Oh my g-god. Oh. My. GOD. G-G-G-Gaster?!"

"Alphys!" he said brightly. "It's very good to see you again. I'm sorry I am a bit of a mess."

She gawked. Stammered something incoherent and dropped her phone as she came closer and looked up at him. "O-Oh my g-g-god!" she said shrilly. "C-Can I hug you?! I'm hugging y-you."

 

She grabbed him and he chuckled and squeezed the little lizard close. He glowed softly. She made a shrill snorting noise.

"O-Oh my g-g-god, G-G-Gaster, I c— I c-can't… H-Holy. Crap."

Gaster smiled fondly. "I missed you, too," he said gently.

She choked out a warbling, nasally laugh.

 

"So guess who was causin' the CORE problems," Sans said with a grin.

"Y-You?!" Alphys pulled back, holding Gaster's arms.

"Me. I'm sorry to have worried you," he said. "I can assure you, the CORE is fine."

"Forget about the CORE, oh m-my god!" she shrieked. "You're… You're…" She grasped her head and took a deep breath. "H-How the hell do my memories feel itchy?!"

Sans burst out laughing and Gaster grinned apologetically, biting back a laugh himself. Alphys took a deep, steadying breath.

"Okay, Alphys. Okay. B-Breathe. Breeeeathe." She squished her own cheeks. "I can't believe… You r-realize you were…? Of c-course you do. Wh-what the hell is g-going on? You…! You v-vanished? I didn't… I didn't r-remember y-you at all! But then I saw you and I… Oh my god! You were…! Everything was…! But why couldn't I r-remember you?!"

"You aren't the only one," Papyrus said quickly, and he had to wipe his eyes again. "Phew! My gosh. What a day. I can't believe it. I haven't seen you since forever."

"I know. I know. I'm… I'm so sorry, Paps," he said.

"No, no, don't be!" he said. "It's just so weird! Especially since you seemed so much taller before and now you seem just a little taller. It's kind of surreal for me!"

"And you," Gaster said, holding the boy's face in both hands, "are practically a full-grown skeleton now."

 

Papyrus blushed. His eyes seemed to glitter with stars. He grabbed the man around the chest again and squeezed him tightly. He blew out a relieved sigh and bounced back before his father could react. "So what the heck is going on right now?" He looked between Gaster and Sans.

Sans shrugged. "Ask this guy."

"Oh m-my god I'm s-so confused," Alphys muttered.

"I apologize," Gaster said. "Would you like me to ex—?"

"YES! Yes. Please," the lizard insisted.

"It's a long story. Should we sit down?" He raised a hand, which glowed blue, and four of the chairs scattered around the lab gently plunked in around them as magic facsimiles of his hands in that same blue and black pulled them all over. He sat down and gestured for the other to do the same. He bounced on the seat briefly and then settled back.

 

"Alright. Where should I begin?" he said.

"Where you've been would be good," Sans suggested. "What happened?"

Papyrus nodded enthusiastically.

"Well. The CORE happened," Gaster said.

"Th-The malfunction?" Alphys asked. "Oh. G-God. Right, there…! There was a serious problem and… A-And you and Sans went in, b-but only he came out. R-Right?"

Gaster nodded and took a deep breath. His expression became serious. "I'll get straight to it. I designed the CORE with a massive flaw that didn't become clear until a long time later. Its magic tapped into time— or, the space between. Bloated it," he said. "The error, ten years ago? It happened because of me. I pushed it too hard long before that. It was reaching critical mass. I realized it too late."

"So what happened? D-Did you fall in?" Papyrus asked. "I mean, it was an accident, right?"

"Not quite. I—"

"No?! Did someone push you in?! Why?! What?!" Papyrus asked at a mile a minute.

 

Gaster chuckled. He shook his head. "I studied it. Realized I had to allow myself to be taken by it, or else it would've consumed the mountain. Then everything else. And by everything, I mean that very literally. Time had to be carefully ripped from the inside. Relieving the pressure, in a sense." He rubbed the back of his skull and suddenly looked exhausted. "Unfortunately, that caused a whole host of other problems. Timelines dividing outside of the natural rhythm. My own… circumstances. The time anomalies we tracked. There was no other way."

"And it… I-It erased y-you from all our memories?" Alphys asked.

"From time itself, superficially," he said. "Because there were still some remnants, obviously. Or else you two would not be here." He gestured at the other skeletons.

"Weird," Sans said.

Gaster laughed quietly.

 

"So… So, that night you came home all dizzy," Papyrus said, frowning thoughtfully at his brother. "When I was just a little Papyrus. That… That was when that happened, wasn't it?"

Sans nodded. Alphys put her hands to her mouth.

"S-Sans… That's why you left," she said quietly. "You… You s-saw your dad get hurt by the CORE. I guess on s-some level, you must've j-just been devastated."

"Must've been," Sans said with a shrug, and he turned his gaze on Gaster. "So. What were you doin' in there just now?"

"Ah. Thank you again, by the way," Gaster said. "When I reformed, it was a little premature. I had one more large split to make in time. Which I did. Things on that front should be stable now."

 

"B-But. Okay. Dad," Papyrus said. "If you got basically pulled out of time, how the heck did you come back?!"

Gaster smiled fondly and he folded his arms as if to warm his chest. "It's thanks to Frisky."

"You… know F-Frisk?" Alphys asked.

"Know her? Of course, she's my…" He looked at Sans with a sudden, startled sense of realization on his face. "You didn't tell anyone, did you?"

"Nope," he said.

"Tell anyone what?" Papyrus asked.

Gaster put his face in his hands for a moment and then began to laugh. He took off his glasses and rubbed his eye sockets. "Couldn't have made this easy for me, could you?" he joked.

"Hey, sorry, you didn't exist," Sans said with a shrug. "Made havin' to explain a huge chore. Didn't bother."

"Like most chores," Papyrus retorted. "Explain what, exactly?"

 

Gaster's cheekbones flushed a little blue. He clenched his hands together. Sans put his chin on his fist and his grin widened.

"You're gonna like this a lot," he told his brother.

Gaster hesitated. "Should I tell them, or you, or…?"

Sans gestured at him to continue. He took a deep breath.

"Frisky is… She's my daughter," Gaster said. "Your sister, Papyrus."

Alphys dropped her jaw and her glasses, Sans grinned wide, and Papyrus laughed.

"Well, that's a weird coincidence, because Frisk is already my…" It seemed to settle on him very abruptly. "WAIT, WHAT?!" He grabbed Sans and shook him a little.

"Dude," Sans laughed.

"Is he serious?!" His voice was very shrill. "He's serious, isn't he?!"

"Yup," Sans said.

"W-W-WHAT?!" Alphys shrieked.

"…Wait, WHAT?!" Papyrus said, almost in tandem. "But she's a…?! Oh my god. Skeleton on the inside. OH MY GOD. IT WAS FORESHADOWING ALL ALONG BUT IN REAL LIFE!" He put his hands on his head and gawked.

 

Gaster's smile was sympathetic, but he was clearly trying hard not to laugh. Alphys put her hands to her mouth and started making a weird, alarmed snorting noise.

"H-How?! How c-could…?!" Alphys couldn't even finish. She just stammered shrilly.

"S-So. Wait. WAIT. Oh my god," Papyrus said. "You…? You made her?! Like you made us?!"

"It's complicated," he said. "Frisky came about when I… When I was destroyed, I suppose. My determination pulled out of me and from the CORE, as well as all that energy out in time that it tapped into. It shot out into the world and… fused. Multiplied exponentially until it somehow became a new soul, based somewhat on an inverse of my own. I… I suppose, in this version of our world, she was the only form it could ever take, really. She's… Hah. Unexpected. But. I wouldn't change her for anything. Second time this has happened to me, actually."

"Heh. Yeah, she's my favourite accident, for sure," Sans said with a wink.

"Well, I suppose that once I made the CORE, she was more of an inevitability," Gaster said. "Of course, there was no way to know when I began, but, with the flaw that developed quite early in production, it really was just a matter of time before she was created. She is a necessary component of our universe, after all. But. I take your point. Except when it comes to something like that, I have two favourite accidents." He smiled at the short skeleton fondly.

 

Papyrus stared, uncharacteristically silent. Alphys stammered incoherently for a moment, fumbled for her glasses and put them back on before rolling forward on her chair and grasping tight to Gaster's hands.

"Y-You're… You're her dad…" She sounded like she could barely believe it. "Is… Is she even human, then?"

"She is," he said. "Only a human can contain that much determination."

"B-But how?!" she squeaked.

"To be honest, I'm not entirely sure," he said. "But… it all worked out, thankfully. Though, honestly, my ideal situation would have been to not explode over time and space and just have her born under the mountain with us. Though that's purely fantasy, mind you."

"Oh. My. God," she said softly. "H-How…? B-But… Oh my god. Sans. Sh-She… She really w-was… No wonder y-you were the closest th-thing to a d-dad she had."

"Sans has always been good like that," Gaster said rather proudly. "And Papyrus was always so protective and sweet. I knew if she made it here after I sent her, she'd be in good hands."

Sans shrugged, but couldn't conceal that he was rather flattered— not that he tried very hard.

 

Rather suddenly, Papyrus lurched forward. He put his face in his hands and began rattling so hard the chair under him shook, too. He made a whimpering sound.

"Whoa, uh…" Sans said. "Bro?"

Papyrus started to sob and everyone froze.

"P-Papyrus, what's wrong?" Gaster asked shrilly.

 

He got to his feet, but Sans beat him to it, holding up one hand to get them to wait. He held Papyrus's shoulder with one hand and the back of his skull with the other.

"You okay?" he asked.

Papyrus took a trembling breath and began to babble, so fast and stuttering that it was almost impossible to understand. Sans nodded anyway.

"S'alright," he said. "Slow up a bit. Take a breath."

Papyrus tried. His shoulders heaved. His brother stroked his head, and Papyrus made a sort of hiccoughing sound.

"Sh-She'll… She'll n-never have that nightmare again," he said. "Never, never, never. And sh-she's safe… She's s-s-safe! She's safe."

 

Though Gaster looked puzzled and worried, Sans smiled and laughed quietly, pulsing gentle blue through his hands.

"Yeah. That's right," he said.

"Oh, my gosh, th-that's so sweet," Alphys said quietly.

"What does that mean?" Gaster asked quietly.

"Tell you later," Sans assured him.

Gaster looked between them, brow furrowed a little, but his face relaxed when, somewhere in between sobbing, Papyrus started laughing. The two sounds were a little hard to separate.

"I… I c-can't stop!" he said.

"I know, just keep your head down, don't need any sloshin', right?" Sans said.

"EW. S-SANS."

Sans laughed.

 

"H-He's very sensitive when it c-comes to Frisk," Alphys told Gaster quietly.

Before he could say a word, Papyrus finally sat up again and hugged Sans quickly, and then got up and grabbed his father's shoulders.

"This day is really good," he said. He was beaming. "Thank you. For coming back. And for giving us our sister. She's going to be happier than ever to know that."

Gaster smiled and gave him a hug. He snickered, took a deep breath, and wiped his eyes when he pulled back.

"Got it all out?" Sans asked.

"Mostly. I… I think," Papyrus said.

 

"A stór, conas atá tú?" Gaster asked gently.

"I'm fantastic," Papyrus assured him. "Oh wow, I totally forgot that until just now. Pffft, how weird! Tá brón orm! Oh! I speak it, too! Sans, do you?!"

"Ní thuigim," he replied with a grin and a shrug, making Alphys snicker.

"Oh, stop it, of course you do, you're speaking it right now!" Papyrus said, rolling his eyes.

"Then why'd you ask, bro?" Sans said.

"Ugh, never mind, you're impossible," he sighed.

 

Gaster chuckled and shook his head. He smiled fondly as he took his seat again. "You two don't change a bit," he said. "Papyrus, I am sorry, though. I never meant to shock you that badly."

"It's alright. I mostly cry when I'm happy, if I'm honest," he said. "I just got a bit overwhelmed, is all. To know that Frisk is really… I mean. I know you weren't here for this, but she always felt a little out of place, and to know that she's really, really not? That's going to be the best thing for her, you can't even imagine. Especially with that thing tomorrow. Thank you." He wiped his eyes again and laughed at himself, though his voice was still a little hoarse.

"What thing tomorrow?" Gaster asked, his brow furrowing.

"Ah. Yeah. That," Sans said. "So, humans out there got a little confused on what was up with her and put a rehabilitation thing in one of the treaties before Asgore made them take it out. But I guess to make sure she's eatin' her greens or whatever, they're sendin' someone to talk to her tomorrow."

"…Did they threaten to take her?" The skeleton bristled.

"Nah. Kinda just a miscommunication, it'll be fine," Sans said. "Told her. She doesn't belong there. No one's got a family claim on her. Obviously, 'cause, uh, we do."

"Oh, poor thing, that must be so stressful," he said quietly.

"She'll be just fine now, though!" Papyrus said brightly, though his voice was still crackling. "Because you're here! And… And…" He had to cough.

 

"Oh! Hey, Papyrus, let m-me make you some tea," Alphys said. "I-It'll help. Actually. I'll make tea for everyone."

"Thank you so much, Doctor," Papyrus said as he settled back down, wiping his eyes again.

"Oh! Gaster, I'll make you some coffee," Alphys said. "A-Actually! I still have some of your favourite i-instant brand around in the c-cupboard."

"Do you?" Gaster asked with surprise.

"Yeah, I… I c-could never bring myself to g-get rid of it, or use it myself," she said, shooting him a smile. "Didn't know why."

"You could have had some!" he assured her.

"I know, b-but… I'm glad I still have it," she said as she put the kettle on her hotplate. "This shouldn't take long. Two sugars, right?"

 

Gaster smiled. His eyes seemed to glitter. "So… The little details, they've come back, too."

"Did you think they wouldn't?" Papyrus asked worriedly.

"I didn't know what to expect," he said. "I was almost expecting to return to no one even recognizing me."

"What? Why?" he asked worriedly. "This place where you were, it sounds like it was no fun at all.

"It wasn't. But it was necessary," he said.

"I guess it was. If that's what made Frisk," Papyrus said quietly. "We really needed her. I really needed her. But Sans probably needed her most."

"Hm. I didn't expect that strong of a reaction," Gaster said.

"Oh, G-Gaster, Frisk and P-Papyrus are basically inseparable," Alphys said with a laugh. "Th-The only reason she isn't here is that she's w-walking Asriel to h-his dad's place."

 

Gaster looked like he'd been punched in the back. "A-Asriel?!" he repeated loudly. "Oh. God. Sorry, my mind just went… You couldn't mean… Never mind, I—"

"Oh. Right. Probably shouldda mentioned," Sans said. "There's this other kid. Think you might know him. Kinda like our, uh, little brother, I guess. Latched right onto Frisk, mostly, but Paps and I, we're getting pretty comfortable with him."

Papyrus nodded. Gaster's cheekbones flushed a little.

"You aren't serious," he said.

"Tori and Asgore's kid," Sans said. "I mentioned Tori kinda adopted us, huh?"

 

Gaster nodded stiffly, and he quickly wiped a tear from his eye. "Asriel's… alive."

"Thanks to Doctor Alphys," Papyrus said brightly.

Gaster's brow furrowed with confusion, and Alphys's cheeks flushed and she busied herself making the drinks so as not to make eye contact.

"We'll cover that later," Sans said, "but it's kinda of a big part of the reason the barrier's down to begin with. Him and Frisk ended up being the key to all this."

"Oh… My god. And… And Chara…?"

Sans shook his head. Gaster sighed and rubbed his eyes.

"Is…? Is he okay without her?" he asked quietly.

"He's fine," Sans said. "As much as he can be. Think Frisk fills part of the hole, at least."

"And he lives with you," Gaster sounded slightly awed. "He… Huh. A little brother…"

"Welp. He calls us "bro" and Frisk "sis"so guess that's where we stand," Sans said with a grin.

Papyrus nodded and smiled quite brightly. Gaster looked relieved.

"There's more, too! We ended up with quite a big family, in fact!" Papyrus said brightly.

"Oh, yeah, there's also this fish girl that Asgore kinda adopted, too, which plunks her right into that Asriel circle," Sans said with a grin, "which basically means we got a, uh, fish-sis, in a way. And she and Alphys are a thing, so…"

"Oh, wow, honestly?" Gaster smiled at the lizard. "Well! Welcome to the family, then."

"Pfffft! Th-Thanks," she said.

 

Alphys brought over the hot drinks and Gaster immediately knocked back half of the steaming mug. He took a deep, contented breath. His magic in the shape of hands snuck over to the fridge and returned to him with a ginger soda, popping the tab.

"I guess a lot of things are going to be surprising to all of us," he said as he poured a large glug of it into the coffee, causing it to froth up into a fluffy foam, before passing the rest to Sans.

"Absolutely. Oh! I bet you're eager to see Frisk, right?" Papyrus said. "We should call her and get her to come here, don't you think? Or! We could go up to the King's place and say hi!"

"Oh! Oh. I… I don't know what to say, yet," Gaster said quickly. "I… I'm not prepared, I—"

"Y-You talked l-like maybe you knew her, though?" Alphys asked.

"I do! I do," he said, "I… It's hard to explain."

"He was the mystery dude," Sans said. "Shadowman. Y'know, as if that weren't obvious by this point?"

"Y-Yeah, I… I figured," Alphys said. She nudged Gaster with her elbow. "You know, you really sc-scared the hell out of us."

"I'm sorry. I… I didn't know how else to help, but I had to try," he said. "I'm aware it was a total mess. And my energy was so twisted that prolonged exposure could do heavy damage. Sans. I am truly sorry. I hurt you, didn't I? I'm sure I did."

"Eh, forget it," he said, waving a hand dismissively.

 

"S-So you were… I mean? You knew wh-what was going on?" Alphys pushed.

"Somewhat," he said. "As I said, my mind was mostly in pieces and running in a non-linear fashion for the majority of it. Parts are a bit foggy, now. Except for Frisky, of course. But overall, my eyes weren't exactly functioning correctly. I was completely blind, aside from her, for what seems like quite a lot of it."

"But… B-But you helped me with my calculations, r-right?" Alphys said.

"Oh! You got them. Good," he said. "Hopefully they came at the right time?"

"They did! Th-Thank you so much," she said. "How did you know I n-needed help?"

"I transitioned through several phases during my time out of time," he admitted. "As my power began to grow through my connection with Frisky, I was able to manipulate the electro-magic signals in the air to tap into the UnderNet. It was nauseating, to be honest, but that allowed me access to computers and phones, for a short time. I read your notes. I saw an error. I remembered… Heh. For just a minute, I remembered a little yellow someone that I felt some affection for, and I wanted to help."

Alphys blushed and smiled shyly.

"So why'd you stop?" Sans asked.

"Keeping focus was difficult," he said. "Strangely, while my mind was operating outside of a linear perception of time, it was easier because everything in my existence was confusing and blurry. The experience didn't bother me simply because I had no sense of time. But as I got stronger, I started to come out of the fog. It was much easier to visit in person or through dreams, and I actually completely forgot that it was a thing I was able to do. All of my memories continually reset themselves. I didn't even really know who I was for most of the time."

"That sounds awful!" Papyrus said shrilly.

"It was," Gaster said with a laugh. He sipped his coffee concoction. "Fully banjaxed, for sure."

"Was any of this not awful?!" he insisted.

"You. Your brother. Your sister," he said.

 

Papyrus frowned. He pouted and sipped his tea. His brows raised. "Wait, wait, did I hear this right? You also said y-you sent Frisk to the mountain, though? You said that, right?"

"I did." Gaster nodded. "Well. It was more of a suggestion. It was her idea. She decided to make the trip on her own. If I would've remembered the mountain earlier, I might have tried to get her there, but at the same time, I'm not sure she would've made it. Even then, she was only ten, but her body wasn't v… In any case, she was very small, physically. And I couldn't help her."

"Not at all?" Papyrus asked worriedly.

Gaster went a little stiff. "It was… complicated. I was around frequently. I suppose I was more of a shadow than anything else. I wasn't always able to even make myself perceptible. Physically interacting was almost completely out of the question. I remember her mumbling one day. About how much she hated where we were. How she'd heard of the mountain. It brought some of it back to me for a short time. I suggested she come here. I had her write it down several times, I think. I gave her some initial directions. Had to do some tricks to even get it in English, mind you."

"So you were there with her the whole time?" Papyrus said.

"It's complicated. Sorry, I will be saying that a lot," he said. "I was, but often unconsciously. I wasn't always aware. But once she reached the mountain and hooked into one of the tears for the first time, suddenly I was… something again."

 

"So you've been stuck to her for a long time, then," Sans said.

"Because of what happened to me, I was linked to her. It's hard to explain. My existence was… scattered? And my mind was fractured. It was… dismally lonely. And maddening, in some ways," he explained. "It always felt like the awful shock of when it first began, and the weight and hopelessness of having been there for eternity, all at once. I had this feeling of knowing I had two boys waiting for me, and a small red someone that needed me. I knew she forgot me, though, and I forgot myself. Quite regularly, in fact. I sometimes didn't know when I was, or where, or even who, just that that I needed to rip time where I could."

"Wow, that sounds more and more awful the more you explain it," Papyrus said sympathetically.

"It… wasn't exactly pleasant," Gaster said, though he laughed a little and rubbed his head. "When I visited a few months ago, those were all during brief moments of lucidity. I found that the more Frisk was connected into that fractured CORE energy— the more she tuned her soul to resonate paired with magic— the more clearly I could reach her. I started to fall back into time, like things were finally starting to happen in order for me. I could touch on her soul, mostly when she was dreaming, at first, and she would start to retain tiny pieces of me. The more she could remember, and the more real I could make myself."

 

"So. You drew power straight from her," Sans said. "That suddenly makes a ton of sense."

"It wasn't intentional. Not at first," he said. "But when I realized what was happening, how strong she was getting, I… I couldn't help myself. But, what it must've put her though… I feel awful about it."

"You wanted to b-be with your family," Alphys said gently. "No one could blame you for that."

"But what I did…" He looked at Sans. "Do you remember? I spoke through her."

"…Oh. Shit. Yeah. Guess that does make sense." Sans frowned. "What the hell was that about?"

"I was so selfish," he said quietly. "She understood me for the first time and I knew… I knew I had a place in reality again. I was desperate and I seeped in too close. That's why I asked that flower to send me back to the v—"

"I think I missed this completely," Papyrus said, wide-eyed. "Didn't I?"

"Don't worry about it, Paps," Sans said. He turned his eyes on his father.

"Please don't tell her how weak I was," he muttered. "It must've made her so sick."

"Honestly? Yeah. It did. But she'd be relieved that she helped," Sans said. "She's weird like that."

"Yes! Dad, Frisk loves helping. It makes her really happy," Papyrus said. "Even, ummm, if it's not exactly the healthiest for her. But she helped you! I mean. You left some glowy bits on her but, I'm sure she'd understand. You need to see her."

"Glowy…? I know, but I'm… I'm not sure how to even approach her with this sudden dump of information and what will undoubtedly be a rather traumatizing experience," he said.

 

Sans laughed. "Traumatizin'? You're kiddin', right?"

The tall skeleton was thoroughly taken aback. Before he could protest, Alphys reached out and held his hand.

"G-Gaster, the most important thing to Frisk has always been h-her friends and f-family," she said. "She's a great kid. R-Really. Papyrus is right, she'll be so happy to know sh-she even has a dad. I mean, correct m-me if I'm wrong, guys, but she always had that little hangup about h-how she didn't know if her parents just left her somewhere or what."

Sans nodded. "You know she remembers you, right?" he said. "After that night she saw you melt, she remembered everything. Even from when she was a kid. I mean, y'know, a smaller kid."

"She did?" A hopeful look crossed his face. "That carried over? Seriously? She remembered me?"

"She did. Loved you to death, y'know," Sans said. "Really tore her up when she saw you melt in that weird time void place."

"Oh my god," he breathed. He looked like he could cry, but the smile on his face quickly fell to worry. "Oh. God, but I… I was a ghost. Some twisted thing that disrupted her memories. I couldn't even speak to her, I sounded like something out of a horror film. How do I even begin to explain?"

"You should just say it, I think," Papyrus said. "Frisk is very smart, she'll understand."

"She won't even recognize me," he muttered.

"Bet she will," Sans said, and he pointed at Gaster's face. "Your skull still has those cracks in it. She'll recognize you."

"…You think so?" He didn't look so sure, but he couldn't help the little glimmer of hope deep in his dark eyes as he rested his fingers gingerly on the crack that went down his cheek.

Papyrus took out his phone. "Would you like to see her? I have many photos. We like to take selfies, sometimes! Or just stuff to send to mom, things like that."

Gaster froze. He looked uncertain. "I… um…" He took a deep breath. "I do."

Papyrus scooted over to his side and queued up the pictures, and then handed it over.

 

Gaster stared; clenched it in his fingers tightly. There she was, in a slightly lopsided frame, slumped, napping on Sans on that old green couch he remembered. Tiny little thing. Still scrawny, under a squishy grey sweatshirt. Light brown skin, dark brown hair, cut straight and just barely to her shoulders. There was a scar on her cheek; a magic burn. He took a moment to process it. That was his little Frisk. With the exception of that mark, she was exactly as he remembered her. His mind hadn't just filled in the blanks. Something had stuck. He gently touched the screen, trying to ignore the tears in his eyes, and he swiped to the next photo.

 

A selfie with Papyrus. She had warm, brown eyes. Her smile was bright— brighter than he had ever hoped. In another, he could see the shine of her soul. Red. Vibrant, shining, red. A similar photo showed pinpricks of iridescent white glimmering it it, like starlight. And there, too, was Asriel, as they seemed to be engaged in a mock-battle. The boy was a little different than he remembered, but close enough that he felt his breath become short.

 

More selfies. Papyrus and Alphys, Papyrus and a blue fish monster he was sure he recognized but couldn't grasp the name of. A shot of Toriel baking. He smiled. It was good to see her. She looked happy. Then, a selfie of Papyrus, and behind him, Sans holding Frisk as they read a book together.

 

Gaster blew out a trembling breath. He bent his head and couldn't help the tears. Alphys touched his shoulder gently.

"A-Are you okay?" she asked.

He nodded. "I am," he huffed. "B-Better to do it now than… than in front of her. Oh god, I'm a bloody m-mess."

"It's going to be just fine," Papyrus assured him, dragging him into a hug. "Frisk will love you. She'll be so happy to meet you for real, I just know it. Don't worry."

He nodded again. "Sh-She's… She's getting enough to eat, right?" he asked softly. "And… And staying warm? Her skin, it's… it's more sensitive than our bones are, and—"

"She's fine," Sans said. "Chill. There was a learnin' curve, but we made do."

 

Gaster took another few moments to catch his breath. Alphys brought him some tissues and he smiled gratefully and wiped his face.

"Thank you," he said. He poured the rest of his coffee into his mouth. "I'll be alright."

She nodded. "Sh-She's actually, um…" Alphys said gently. "She's actually v-very strong."

"We have a really good kid," Sans said.

"Hah. I'm sure we do," Gaster said.

 

The front door of the lab burst open suddenly with a loud bang. Alphys and Gaster jumped.

"Hey, nerds!" Undyne said loudly, tossing some metal onto the floor. "Babe, I found you some cool crap and…" She seemed to forget what she was saying when she took note of the group sitting close to the fridge.

Sans grinned and tried not to laugh as Undyne's finger traced in the air between the skeletons.

"Uhh… Oh. Hi," she said, walking closer, ear-fins perked and curious. "Sorry, Paps, I thought… you and Sans were the only skeletons left."

"Ah! Not quite," Gaster said.

 

He got to his feet and Undyne smiled and tilted her head.

"Oh. Hey, you're… I recognize you. You're that scientist, right?" she asked, offering him her hand. "Oh! Shit, you're their dad. Right?"

"Dead on!" He shook her hand, unable to help a smile. "I'm so sorry, a name isn't coming to me."

"I'm Undyne."

"Undyne? Really?!" He began to absolutely beam and he clapped her strongly on the shoulder. "My god, it's been so long since…! I hardly recognized you! The last time I saw you, you were just a little girl!"

"Think I was closer to a teenager, dude," she said with a laugh.

"And now look at you! You're a fighter of some kind? A Guard?"

"Guard Captain," Undyne said.

"Guard Captain?! That's amazing. Asgore must be so proud," he said. "Congratulations."

"Hah! Thanks." She grinned. "I do alright."

 

"Really enjoyin' how chill she is about this," Sans said.

Undyne laughed. "You're, uh… Huh. Oh yeah, Gaster. Right? I… huh… Weird, my memories are, like, itchy, but yeah, I remember you comin' around a lot. Asgore's best friend. Right?"

"Dead on, again," he said as, behind him, Alphys pointed at Undyne and tapped Sans with her knuckles, looking excited and mouthing the word itchy. "Actually, that's a relief that someone not directly connected to me can remember me now."

"Must be. So where were you at all this time?" she asked. "Because I think I remember you bein' the one to patch up my face when I got hurt. Right?" She pointed at the spot hidden under her eyepatch.

"I was!" He smiled. "As for the "memory thing", I was stuck outside of time and space. It was all very complicated and unpleasant."

"Huh. Frisk stuff, huh?" she said.

Gaster couldn't help but look taken aback. "How did you know?"

She shrugged and thumped his shoulder. "Anything weird and time related, that's got that kid written all over it," she said. "Well. Welcome back, then! Guess you guys are pretty hyped, huh?"

"Absolutely!" Papyrus said.

 

Undyne grinned and grabbed Papyrus into a hug. He snickered, bones flushing.

"I'm so happy," he mumbled.

"Yeah, I bet!" she said. "I'm real glad for you."

"Awww," Alphys cooed.

"By the way. She's the, uh, fish I mentioned," Sans said.

"Oh really?!" Gaster looked between Alphys and Undyne. He smiled brightly. "Well! Welcome to the family to you, too!"

"OH! Right! Hey, thanks," Undyne said with a laugh. "Funny how that all played out, huh?"

"Nyeh heh! I, for one, think it's just fantastic!" Papyrus said brightly. "I mean, it's pretty hilarious that you ended up being Asriel's older sister in a way, which technically made you ours as well. I mean, except for Sans, I guess he would be your older brother?! And Alphys can be everyone's sister-in-law!"

Sans snickered and Undyne smiled sideways, patting the skeleton on the shoulder.

"Man, we didn't need just that plus-one to be family, though," she said. "But. Hey. For a technicality, I dig it."

"Nyeh heh heh! I know! Who wouldn't want a brother as cool as me, anyway?!" Papyrus said.

 

Alphys giggled. She held Undyne's hand. "Oh! O-Oh, Gaster, can I t-tell her, too?"

"It's not a secret," Sans said with a grin.

"Tell me what?" Undyne asked.

"Undyne. This is, um, kinda big but, D-Doctor Gaster… he's also F-Frisk's father," she said.

Undyne stared blankly for a few seconds. She looked at Gaster and tilted her head."Huh. Big shark jump. Okay." She looked at Sans and Papyrus curiously. "How long you known that?"

"Few months," Sans said.

"WHAT?! I only knew since just now!" Papyrus said shrilly, whirling on his brother with wide eyes. "Sans, why didn't you say anything?"

"Would it have changed anything?" Sans asked.

"Well, not really, but—"

"There you go." Sans grinned and pointed at his father. "Biggest deal is for Frisk and this dude."

"You should really tell me these things!" Papyrus said, pouting and folding his arms tight. "I would have made her my special celebration spaghetti."

"You can still do that," Sans said.

"So, wait, she doesn't know either?" Undyne asked. "Sheesh. She's gonna cry like a baby, dudes."

 

"You're not surprised?" Gaster asked.

Undyne shrugged. "I mean, yeah, of course," she admitted. "How's a monster make a human, anyway? Is there another parent? A mom? Dad two?"

"Just him," Sans said.

"Yeah, what the hell is that all about?" Undyne asked.

"He was such a huge lonely nerd that he figured out how to make monsters out of himself," he joked.

"Well, I… Technically. That's true," Gaster said. "Though Frisk is not a monster. It's a long story."

"Basically, he blew up, his determination that was already stupid high got slapped out of him and mashed with some other junk in the CORE, it went through some weird exponential time spiral, and somehow became the kiddo," Sans said, shrugging.

"That's…! Surprisingly accurate," Gaster said, putting a hand to his brow.

"S'pretty weird. Probably had to make a human body so it wouldn't just disintegrate," Sans mused, tapping his teeth. He winked. "I'm literally not exageratin' when I call her a time god, y'know."

 

"Whoa. That's messed up," Undyne said. "But she'll be real happy to hear all that, actually."

"I'm not so sure," Gaster said worriedly.

"Dad! Come on, what have we been saying?" Papyrus insisted, grabbing his sleeve. "Frisk thought she was alone! She was so scared she maybe had secretly dead or terrible parents. And then she was scared that the surface humans would try to make her go somewhere and we'd have to go on the run and…! If she has you instead, she's going to be so, so happy. She already likes you and everything!"

Gaster looked relieved. He rubbed the back of his skull. "I certainly hope so."

"Don't even doubt it for a second!" Papyrus said loudly. "Ooh! We should go home! We can meet her there! I'll make some spaghetti and we can introduce you at dinner or something! What do you say?"

 

Gaster froze up. He rubbed his hands together nervously. Alphys shot him a sympathetic smile.

"Um, P-Papyrus, I think y-your dad might be thinking of s-something maybe a l-little, um… quieter?" she said gently. "Th-This can't be easy."

"Why? What's hard about it?" Papyrus asked curiously. "You love her, right?"

"Of course," Gaster said, "but—"

"And she loves you! Of course she does! She just needs to know you're back, right?"

 

"You could always take her somewhere quiet," Undyne said with a shrug. "Explain everything."

"I… I could. She loves Waterfall. The wishing rooms, right?" He looked thoughtful. "I… I'm not sure… Maybe I could… get her to meet me there?"

"That sounds like it's gettin' overly complicated already, dude," Sans said.

"I d-dunno, that c-could be really s-sweet, you know?" Alphys said. "If… G-Gaster, i-if you're not s-sure what to say at first, you could always take some time to write a l-letter to her, you know? To, um… T-To get your thoughts straight? You could leave it somewhere for h-her, or P-Papyrus or s-someone could g-give it to her. That would give you a little time to g-get ready before she goes to meet you."

Gaster looked intrigued. Sans rubbed the back of his skull.

"Or, y'know, you could just, uh, tell her?" Sans said. "I'll do it if you don't want to."

"I can do this," Gaster said. "Maybe I… Maybe I will write a note."

"Would you like some help?!" Papyrus asked.

Gaster laughed and shook his head. "That's nice of you, Paps, but… I think this is something I should do on my own," he said quietly. "I'll… Hah. Grillby's still around?"

"You know it," Sans said.

"I'll… take a walk there," he said. "Get my thoughts sorted in Snowdin, I suppose."

"I'll walk with you!" Papyrus said brightly.

Gaster smiled and nodded. "I would like that very much," he said. "We have a lot of catching up to do, don't we?"

"We do!" Papyrus said brightly. He grabbed his bag and slung it over his shoulder, then snatched his father's hand and then pulled him towards the door. "Come on! Ooh! I can tell you all about my puzzles, and my guard training. I'm getting very good, you know? And I'll tell you all about mom and Asriel, and you can come see our room before you go to the bar, how's that? And—"

 

They lost Papyrus's words as the lab door slammed closed behind them. Undyne grinned sideways and cast her eye towards Sans. He was still in his seat, looking rather content and a little bit amused.

"W-Wow…" Alphys muttered. She took off her glasses and wiped her eyes. She wandered over to Sans and, before he could say a word, she pulled him off his chair and hugged him tight.

He laughed. "What's this for?"

"I… I'm, um… Whew. I'm s-so glad he's… here. I d-didn't even r-realize… Wow. Th-This is big."

"It is. But it's fine," he said.

"But… B-But this whole thing with Frisk, it's…" She pulled back and turned away to wipe her eyes again and she laughed. "Oh g-god. I can't stop."

Undyne scoffed and strolled closer, stretching her arms above her head. "How d'you think the kid's gonna take it?"

"She'll cry and then she'll be fine," he said with a shrug. "Probably that. On loop for a bit."

"Seriously, though, you knew for months?" Undyne said.

"Yeah," he said.

"How?!" Undyne said. "If no one remembered your dad existed, then…? I don't get it."

"It was kinda obvious," he said with a shrug.

"Well? Fill us in," Undyne said.

"She's my little sis, I dunno," he said.

"Sans," Undyne said sternly.

 

Sans laughed. He paused for a moment as if to consider his words. "Welp. Alright. Kinda long and boring though. Might doze off partway through."

"I'm gonna dunk you right in the garbage if you do," Undyne said.

"Oh, cool, right where I belong." He winked. "Okay. Goes like this. Kiddo mentioned those cracks in dad's skull a while ago, before she remembered him. That started it for me. When the CORE blew and my memories were a mess, I drew a picture of someone. Same eye cracks. Guessed he was important. Also, emphasis on cracks, in this case," he said, shrugging again. "Considerin' all the other factors, it means skeleton."

"R-Right, right, because who else c-could have a c-cracked face like that?" Alphys muttered. "S-So… So… What made you think he w-was your dad when y-you couldn't remember?"

"Welp. Part of it was that drawing. Makes sense that if I thought I was losin' my memory that the first thing I would do was make sure I had somethin' of my brother. But who else would be important enough to me that I would go outta my way to draw him with enough detail that those eye cracks would be so prominent? Gotta be family," Sans said. "Paps and I, we were the only skeletons accordin' to every other monster ever. But, we all know that's not possible since we even exist at all, huh? Couldn't even remember how I got Papyrus. He's younger than me, so, that's weird, isn't it? I remembered him bein' born in the lab, remembered waitin' for him before that, but not who was makin' him. So, fill that in, and it's the skeleton with cracks in his skull who's gotta be our dad, right? Can't come from nothin', so, he's gotta be a missin' piece."

 

Alphys's eyes went wide. She nodded and watched him eagerly. He shrugged and started counting on his fingers, like he was keeping track of the steps in his head.

"Then, Alph, you and me figured out we knew him. He worked with us. I was pretty sure who he was right then. When Frisk remembered him; that he'd been with her for her whole life, she told me a conversation they had. Monster with the cracked face, he's real affectionate with her. Said he's got three kids. Calls her Frisky instead of Frisk."

"That's a big deal?" Undyne asked.

"Skeletons used to name each other based on a sort of… It's hard to explain. A visualization of their voice and hum, I guess," Sans explained. "We can kinda see it in our heads if we try to. That's how dad named me, and how I named Paps. And here's the thing. Frisk's name in skeleton, it's Frisky."

"S-So a… a skeleton gave her her name, and th-there's no other skeletons," Alphys said, eyes wide. "Oh… S-So at the very least! Y-You could have assumed he knew her when she was really young, c-couldn't you? E-Even if she didn't remember at the t-time."

Sans nodded. "So, I already knew that the guy with the cracked face, he's a skeleton. One that I knew, and well, too. And he's got three kids. Two accounted for: me and Paps. And now we have a weird little human made of determination with time travel powers, no human parents, with a name given by a skeleton. Who just happens to have a special connection to the monster with the cracked face. And who, once her energy shifted enough, could sync with me and Paps the same way we could with each other. No effort whatsoever. Gee. What a strange series of coincidences, huh?" He raised his brows.

Alphys gawked. "O-Oh my g-god, that's nuts! That's like… th-that's like… a weird, skeleton dad algebra equation!" she said.

Sans laughed and shrugged. "Now it's more like weird skeleton dad-dition," he said.

Alphys could't help snorting out a giggle.

 

Undyne folded her arms. "And you never thought to mention this?"

"Does it make sense to try to explain it if Gaster wasn't real?" Sans wondered. "Imaginary numbers are one thing. Imaginary skeletons, maybe a bit more complicated, huh?"

Undyne grimaced. "Guess you're right. But why didn't you tell her?"

"Tell her what? That she's my sister? She already knows that," he said. "I tell her that all the time."

"Yeah, but, for real though," Undyne said.

"It was always for real. Never felt any different. I mean, maybe if we never did the whole bone dragon thing, I would've pushed it a little harder, but… She knows how it is." He smiled and rubbed the back of his skull. "At least that was one thing she never had to be insecure about."

"W-Wow, S-S-Sans, that's super sweet," Alphys said.

He grinned. "Nah, just true," he said. "Bet you're kinda happy too, huh?"

 

Alphys's cheeks went red. She nodded. Undyne tilted her head, her ear-fins perking.

"You were close, too, huh?" she asked.

"Uh-huh," she said bashfully. "It's… I-It's really nice to, um… To see him again. He was my mentor. H-He, um, made me f-feel like family, too. When I st-started working here. Oh my god this is crazy, isn't it? Isn't it just nuts? It's so weird, it's like… I really, seriously c-can't believe it."

"Sans, uh… You sure you're okay?" Undyne asked.

"Yup," he said.

"It's kinda funny, now that I think about it," she said.

"I know, right?" he said.

 

"O-Oh my god, we have so much c-catching up to do," Alphys said. "Oh, and we'll need to get him a new phone! And… And! Oh, I'm sure I have an extra around here s-somewhere." She dove into a box of junk head-first and began to loudly rifle around. "And I'll h-have to update him on ten years of research and… Oh! I guess I'll n-need to include him on my determination thesis, b-because he came up with that word, right? And h-he'll need to learn about portable dimension b-boxes and conversion powder and…! OH!" She kicked her feet and yanked herself back out of the box with an old phone clasped in both hands before turning to Sans. "We'll need to tell him all about Frisk and the barrier, right?"

"Kinda touched on it," Sans said. "But yeah, guess so."

"You gonna tell him about your time crap, too?" Undyne asked.

"Don't have to, he used to have better premonition dreams than I do now," he said.

"Oh, wow, really?" Alphys asked. "That… That explains a lot, actually."

"So, is Papyrus seriously the most normal of you four?" Undyne joked.

"Nah, he's pretty extraordinary himself, actually," Sans said with a grin. "He's just not stuck in time-hell with the rest of us losers."

 

Alphys was starry-eyed. She hugged Sans again and scrambled away to her work table. "This won't take long!" she called. "Should I give him his old number?"

"Probably," he said.

A sound of buzzing and clinking erupted from upstairs and Alphys began to hum.

 

Sans turned to Undyne and raised his brows. "Hey, uh, you heard what's up tomorrow?" he asked.

"Nnnnno, why?" she said.

"Some human's comin' in. Gonna talk to Frisk. She's not exactly thrilled, so if you wouldn't mind showin' up…"

"Oh. Shit. Yeah. Of course," Undyne said. "Asgore know?"

"Yeah," he said.

"Okay, I'll get the deets from him," she said. "Jeez. What happened?"

"They didn't realize she lives here somehow," he said.

"For god's sake." Undyne rubbed her temples with her fingertips. "Hope the panic attacks didn't get her."

"Did. Just one so far, though," he said.

"Jeez, poor kid," Undyne said. "Yeah, don't worry, you guys can count on me. Oh. But… Hey, what about your dad?"

"What about 'im?" Sans asked.

"Well, like… I mean. What're they gonna even say, exactly? She's got a mom and a dad and three brothers, like… The King is basically her uncle or step-dad or something; I don't even know what they'd expect to do."

Sans shrugged. The big monster paced for a few seconds and then rubbed her head again. Her brows lifted and her ears drooped.

"She's gonna have two real heavy days, huh?" she said.

"Yup," Sans said.

She jabbed her thumb into her own chest. "I got her back."

"Thanks a million," he said.

Chapter Text

Lively and cold Snowdin town gave Gaster a heavy sense of nostalgia. The crunch of snow around his boots, the smell of the river; the shine of the coloured lights dyeing the whites festive colours in small patches. And it was cold. Colder than he remembered but, then again, he'd felt cold even in the CORE. He wondered how long that would last.

 

As he took in the town and Papyrus told him about every little detail, he couldn't help but smile. He felt like he hadn't been to this place in a hundred years. The sign at the west end of town was new, but almost identical to the old one, minus the "Howdy!" that used to sit on top of the other words.

 

Papyrus took him all the way to the Ruins door and that old, purple-hued stone wall. He was surprised to see it ajar, and then it very abruptly settled on him that Toriel was no longer inside. She had survived all those years ticking down. Toriel, in fact, had adopted his children. She might be at their house right this second.

 

He ran his gloved fingertips across the worn stone. A flash of a memory ran through his mind and he tilted his head up to look at the Delta Rune on the door. Lopsided. That felt like eons ago.

 

"Aaaaaand, that's it, that's everything," Papyrus said brightly. "Unless you'd like to see mom's old house, but there's not really that much in there that isn't in boxes already. Oh! Hey. Do you know mom, by the way? Toriel. She was the queen? She's a very large white goat… dragon… something."

"Hm? Oh! I do. Very well in fact," he said. "Or. I did. A long time ago."

"Oh? Did something happen?" Papyrus asked.

"After… After Asriel and Chara passed, she left for the Ruins and sealed herself in. I think I may have been the only one who knew, but… after a few months she stopped answering me entirely," he said. "I'm… happy. That she's alright. And that she's with you!" He turned to his son and couldn't help a smile. "I never would have guessed. I'm glad, actually. You like her, don't you?"

"Well, yes, obviously," Papyrus said with a laugh. "She took Frisk first and then we took Frisk— or maybe Frisk took us— so she took us, too."

"And when was that?" he asked.

"A year and a few months ago in the big roundabout timeline stuff, just a few months ago this time," he said.

 

"Aah." Gaster folded his arms. "When did you start remembering?"

"Frisk made me remember a few months ago," he said. "Just her timelines, though. Not all of Sans or Asriel's bad ones. Though I don't completely forget those, either. It's hard to explain."

"I see…"

"Hey. Dad?" Papyrus tilted his head. "Could you save? You could, right? Like what Frisk does?"

"Ah. Just, um… Partially," he said. "I believe my determination in terms of sheer numbers was high enough, but it was unnatural. It sort of worked. Where I could force it. The timeline had to already be much more pliable than normal."

"Frisk saw your memories, I think," he said. "I think… She saw when I followed you out of the apartment and you showed me that star behind the building, when I was just tiny. Wow, that's weird, I just remembered that."

 

Gaster patted him on the shoulder and smiled slightly. "You must've moved out of there a while ago, hm? Do you like it here?"

"Of course! I've lived here most of my life, you know." He grinned. "Come on, I can show you our house! It's pretty great. I do all the cleaning, of course. Or, I did, now Frisk helps a little but she's really quite short so it's still mostly me and sometimes mom and that's okay!" He grabbed his hand and nodded his head back up the road and began to walk, tugging him along. "It's nice, you'll like it, I'm sure. Though I'm not eeeexactly sure where you're going to sleep."

"I can sleep on the floor," Gaster volunteered.

"No, no, Sans already sleeps on the floor," he said. "You can have the couch, I think! Or we can set something up in Sans's mysterious basement room, or—"

"I'm excited to see all of it," he assured him.

 

Papyrus seemed to love to talk. About anything and everything, and very enthusiastically, too. Gaster could have listened to him for hours. Funny how his voice had dropped and yet the tone hadn't really changed very much at all. Ten years— he'd missed most of his boy's life. Missed him sprouting up so tall; becoming so bold and confident. He tried not to dwell on it, but his eye sockets welled up nonetheless. He pulled up his scarf bashfully.

 

The house he was dragged into just a little while later was cozy while still being a little sparse. There was some furniture he recognized and, to his absolute joy, many of his books had been kept, stored away in boxes in the attic.

 

He felt a little strange being in the bedroom upstairs, though. He decided very quickly not to intrude on Toriel's space, but Papyrus was insistent he see his— and the kids'— room. A sign on the door announced that it belonged to Papyrus, with little additions of Frisk and Asriel's names.

 

It felt so surreal to look at the things of the daughter who had never truly met him. She didn't have a lot. A strange but cute round dog plushie, a small handheld game system, and a handful of books. There was also a small box. As Papyrus rushed about, he peeked inside curiously. There was a carefully-folded square of tin foil, an iridescent pink crystal, a paper snowflake, and a hand-written ticket stub to a concert of some sort in Waterfall. He closed the box quietly. He noticed a small, colourful cube on the computer desk and lifted it curiously. A puzzle. He recognized this. His cheekbones flushed.

"Where did you get this?" he asked.

"Oh! Frisk gave it to me," he said. "From the dump. It's a really excellent little puzzle cube from the human world."

"Does…? Does your sister like puzzles at all?" he asked.

"Sure! Of course she does! She's my fantastic puzzle assistant, you know. She's very good at them. At that one, too! Once she gave it a try," he said. "And she realized it was all just maths. She's very good at math, by the way. Would you like to see our puzzle binders?"

"Of course I would," he said.

Papyrus was beaming instantly. It warmed the old skeleton to his core.

 

It was a little difficult for him to just sit there, though, as his son went through his notes, proudly showing off his diagrams and live testing. He was so proud. So overwhelmingly proud. He almost felt sick. Papyrus paused and looked at him with raised brows after a little while.

"You're all flushed, are you okay?" he asked.

"Ah. I'm fine. Sorry," Gaster said.

"Reeeeally? Are you sure?" Papyrus asked. "You look a little upset. Oh no! Are you upset?! Do you need anything?!"

"No, no, it's just…" He sighed and pulled Papyrus into his arms. "I'm so glad to see you."

"Oh!" Papyrus snickered and squeezed him. "Well! Understandable. I'm glad to see you, too. It's like seeing you as a whole new person, you know? Very exciting!"

Gaster nodded. He blew out a sigh— suddenly realized that sick feeling might not just have been him feeling overwhelmed. He pulled away and quickly got to his feet. "I-I'll be back," he said.

 

He managed to hide himself away behind the house before he buckled onto his knees in the snow. He coughed and a thick, tar-like substance oozed from his mouth. He cursed quietly but couldn't help but wretch, choking the gunk out. It took only a minute but it felt like an hour. He wheezed and sat back, sighing as he caught his breath.

 

"Um. Dad? Are you okay?" Papyrus asked.

Gaster cursed internally. He slowly got up, kicking snow over spot where the sludge had vanished and Papyrus offered him a dishtowel. He hurriedly wiped his face with it, though the black hadn't stained.

"So?" Papyrus pressed. He looked a little disturbed. "Are you?"

"Don't worry," he said.

"Oh. Okay. It's just…" The skeleton looked concerned and his brow furrowed. He scratched the back of his skull. "It was that black stuff, right? Frisk's been doing that, too."

Gaster's crackling soul stuttered and he felt a chill deep through his bones. He put a hand to his face. "Sh-She has?"

"Oh, yes, every week or so since the barrier dropped, but she always says it isn't so bad," he said. "But… Oh! I know. Go inside, okay? Get warm! I'll get you something and I will make you a nice hot drink! Okay? Okay!"

 

Gaster found himself being ushered towards the front door and then left alone inside in the quiet. He slipped his gloves off and rubbed his hands together, hoping the friction might help him warm them. He felt desperately cold. A faint tingle in the air and a speck of blue magic in his mind's eye announced Sans's arrival, and he turned to meet him the second he blinked in at the doorway.

"Well, you look awful," Sans said.

"I know," he said with a laugh. "I, uh… I've still got a bad dose of it, I'm afraid."

"Makes sense." He disappearing into the kitchen and began to fill the kettle.

"I like this place that you picked." Gaster smiled. "I also like that you kept the couch."

"Yeah, well… Got pretty sick of that heat, y'know?" Sans said, reappearing, flopping down, and kicking his feet up. "Paps show you around?"

"He did. Everything, briefly. The bedroom, mostly," he said. "And the kitchen. Thank you for keeping my books, by the way. He said there wasn't so much in the basement; that it just has some weird machine in it?"

"Oh. Heh. Yeah. Time machine," Sans said with a wink.

"Seriously?" Gaster tilted his head. "You… built a time machine?"

"Sure did," he said.

"Did it work?"

"Kinda?" Sans shrugged. "Tried to go back to the CORE exploding to see what the hell happened, but the disruption was too bad and I could never force it without gettin' dusted, so…"

"You…? You died?" Gaster asked.

"Sure, tons of times," he said. "Don't worry about it."

 

Gaster sighed. He dropped down onto the couch and wrapped him in his arms. Sans scoffed.

"No biggie," he said.

"I know. I know. I saw, it's just…" He sighed. "I wish you didn't have to know what it was like."

"Eh, I'm pretty numb to it at this point," he said. "Besides. The kiddo's got a handle on it. S'like I never have to worry again, it's great."

"I can't tell if that's awful or if it's a relief," Gaster said with a sigh.

"Little bit of column A…" Sans grinned and shrugged. "Don't worry."

"I'm your father and I'll worry if I want to," he said.

"Hey, fair enough," Sans said.

 

Gaster sighed again. He folded his arms and breathed deeply. He couldn't help but fidget and got up to slowly pace the room. Sans watched him with amusement.

"You'll be fine," he said.

"I hope so," Gaster said.

"Seriously. You don't have to be so sneaky about this," Sans said.

"So what would you do?" he asked worriedly.

"Find her, give her a hug; tell her the truth," he said with a shrug. "The hug is real important, you gotta do that."

"I don't know, I… I am, essentially, a stranger," he said.

"Nah. Not really," he said. "You popped up enough those last few weeks underground that she already trusted you. Like I said. She remembered you. She liked you a lot, despite all the weird crap. So. Don't worry too much."

Gaster took a deep breath. He rubbed the back of his skull, but he nodded and managed to smile. "I'll come up with something," he said. "Thank you."

 

"Speaking of," Sans said. "Here." He patted the inside of his jacket and then produced a black flip-phone with green accents on the sides. He held it up for him to take.

Gaster plucked it up with cautious curiosity. It was just big enough not to slip into the holes in his palms. He turned the screen on and tilted his head. "Oh, would you look at that…" he said quietly. "Is that…? Oh, my god, she really did it, didn't she? Sorry, I mean, the dimension boxes. Contained in this little device! And portable. That is something. They work well? Out of beta and everything?"

"Yup," Sans said. "But, uh… That's not all that's on there, huh?"

Gaster looked curious. He tapped through the screens. "Oh. She… She actually got me one of my old accounts back on this number, that's…" He froze. Eyes went wide.

"Don't freak out," Sans said.

 

It was too late for that. He had a huge backlog of texts. With trembling fingers, he brought up the messages and immediately felt his breath seize. "Cnámha m'anam," he whispered.

The texts were from Frisk. They reached back months. His eye sockets welled up.

"She… She was still trying?" he said.

"Maybe once a day, yeah," Sans said. "Give or take."

 

The skeleton dropped like a stone onto the couch and scrolled through everything slowly. She'd been keeping him— or what she knew of him— updated on little things for months. Then, he came to the longer messages. The ones from when he must've stopped being able to exist in either of his usual planes of reality. He cringed and took off his glasses, wiping his eyes quickly. He tried to say something, but his voice snagged. He coughed quietly.

"She's v-very persistent, isn't she?" he joked.

"Determined, even," Sans said.

Gaster clenched the phone in both hands and wilted. "This poor kid," he said softly. "You know her better than anyone. What do I do?"

"Say hi, that'd be good," he said.

"You know what I mean," he said, folding his arms tight.

 

He jumped as the door burst open and Papyrus ran back in and shoved a paper bag into his hands.

"You take that! And hello, Sans!" He raced into the kitchen. "I will just be a minute! Don't you worry!"

"Sup, bro?" Sans said as their father fished a cinnamon bunny out of the bag and cautiously bit into it before passing another to him.

"Dad did the unfortunate goo-spew thing like Frisk does, with that awful black stuff," Papyrus said. "So! I am making him some tea! You know, before he goes and puts all that greasy bar food in his face. Which I can't imagine helps very much. And… OH! We have a whole bag of these bunnies in here, uggghhhh, I didn't even notice! Oh well, I suppose more can't hurt."

 

Sans shot Gaster a curious look tinged with suspicion. The tall skeleton drooped; his cheekbones flushed. He sighed heavily.

"What is it?" Sans asked.

"I… I don't know," he said. "It's residue. From reforming, as far as I can tell. It's not poisonous."

"Why's it comin' outta her, though?"

Gaster could only shrug. He gladly accepted a cup of tea from Papyrus. He sipped it and finally a bit of warmth came back to his bones. It was Asgore's special blend— he'd know it anywhere. "Thank you," he said quietly. "I'll make sure she's alright. I promise." He smiled proudly. "You're very protective of her, aren't you?"

"Pfft, is he ever!" Papyrus said. "One time he pushed himself so hard to help her that his hum evolved, can you believe it?!" He thumped Sans affectionately on the shoulder. "Which is shocking, I know, seeing as he is incredibly weak, but it's a hundred percent true."

Gaster looked at Sans with wide eyes. He received a shrug as a reply. He couldn't help but smile and he put one hand to his own chest. Neither of the skeletons could see his soul flicker with colour through his heavy jacket, but they could hear his distorted, fractured hum rattle through the air. He chuckled, a little embarrassed.

"Well," he said, "I can only hope to follow your example, Sans. I'm in dire need of some retuning, it seems."

"Yeah, that sounds pretty bad," Sans said sympathetically.

"I would be lying if I said that was not the worst song I've ever heard in my entire life," Papyrus said, tapping his chin, "but don't worry, dad, I'm sure it'll get better eventually! You just came back from a horrible time place, after all."

"Hah, that's true," he said.

 

Gaster drank more tea and held the cup in both hands. He ran his fingers over the hard surface slowly and then rested them over the top for the warmth. Sans could see the guilt all over his face. He patted his arm.

"Sure you don't want me to go get her now?" he asked.

"I… I just need a little time. Do…? Do you know when she'll be home?"

"Depends if she wants to walk or not," he said.

Gaster tented his fingers. His nerves were palpable. Papyrus tilted his head. He shoved himself between the two and grabbed his father's shoulder.

"Why are you so worried?" he asked. "It's just Frisk! She's very nice! And she already likes you! And she really needs this."

"You're right. You're absolutely right." Gaster sighed out heavily. "Alright. Okay. I'll head out. I'll see you two soon? And… And hopefully, next time I do, Frisky will know she has a father, at the very least." He grabbed Papyrus and hugged him close. "Thank you for everything."

"Of course!" Papyrus said. "Good luck! She'll love you. I know it."

Sans stuck his thumbs up. Gaster pulled his hood up and put his gloves back on, and then headed back out into the cold.

 

Papyrus seemed very content and satisfied. He shot Sans a grin. "Well! This has been a weird day, right?! Hey. How are you feeling?"

"Pretty good, you?" he said.

"I feel fantastic, but also confused, and also… worried? But happy. Incredibly happy," he said. "This is very surreal, isn't it?"

"Guess so."

"So you…" He tapped his fingertips together bashfully. "You really knew the whole time, right?"

"Not exactly," Sans said.

"Did you know we had a dad when we didn't remember?" he asked.

"Kinda? Not… I mean, the pieces made sense," he said. "Because, hell, I didn't make you."

"Oh. Yes. Of course." Papyrus laughed at himself and rubbed the back of his skull. "I never really thought about it. It's so weird that it's like, he was just kind of grabbed out of our memories, right? Is it like that for you? It didn't feel like there was anything missing but—"

"There were plot holes?" Sans suggested.

"Yes! Yes, plot holes," he said, nodding. "Oooh, Frisk is going to be so happy that he's okay."

"Sure is," Sans said. He folded his arms and there was a little heaviness in his brow.

"What? What's wrong?" Papyrus asked.

"Hm? Oh. Nothin'," Sans said. "Don't worry."

 

- - -

 

When Frisk said goodbye to Asriel and Asgore, she walked away with a little lightness despite the shadow lurking in the back of her mind. She took the upper pathway back towards the multipurpose elevator. She rolled her fingers over her phone in her pocket. When she slipped into the lift to head down and away towards the lab, she called Sans. He didn't answer. She called Papyrus instead. Two rings and there he was.

 

"Frisk! Hello!" he said brightly. "Sans says sorry, he heard the phone but he couldn't find it. I think it's under the couch but he refuses to get up," he said. "H-How are you? How's Asriel?"

"Fine. Everything's fine." She already felt so much better hearing his voice. "He's okay, then, right?"

"Mhm! Yep! Absolutely fine!" he said.

"Okay. Good," she said. "Do you know what the problem was?"

"Problem?! Uh. Um. N-Nothing, I think, just a bit of magic doing something silly, it's no big deal!" His voice was rather shrill.

"Are you okay?" Frisk asked curiously.

"AH! Yes! Of course! Nyeh heh heh! Um. You should come home though, okay? Right away? I mean. If you can. Nyeh heh… heh."

"Yeah, I'm on my way," she said, leaning her shoulder back against the wall. "I'm in the elevator right now."

"OH! Good! Um. Do you want a lift home?" he asked.

"I'm in a lift," she said.

"Pffffff, Frriiiiiisk, not like thaaaaat," he whined.

She smiled to herself as she considered it. She did want to be home, but they'd just worry over her the second she walked back in, wouldn't they? Maybe just a little more break from her stuff would be nice for them. "I can take the boat."

"Oh! Okay. Um. Yes. Sure! Great! But don't take too long, okay?" he said.

"Yeah. I won't," she said. "See ya."

"Okay bye love you!" he said brightly.

 

When elevator clunked down and the doors opened to the sound of a pleasant ding, Frisk was surprised that Alphys pulled her out and into a hug right away.

"Oh hi," Frisk said shrilly.

"Hi, sweetie, h-how are you doing?" Alphys cooed. Her voice was high and she had a big, fond smile on her face.

Frisk grinned sideways. "C'mon Alphys, you don't gotta worry about me."

"Worry? Wh-What worry?" she asked.

"You only call me that when you're worried," Frisk said, giving her a teasing nudge in the side.

Alphys gulped, her scales flushing red. She snickered and snorted, and ruffled the kid's hair. "Aw, no, it's okay. Um. H-How are you?"

"Okay," she said with a shrug.

"Did you talk to Asgore about t-tomorrow?" she asked.

"Just a little."

"And?" Alphys raised her brows.

Frisk shrugged. "I dunno. Everyone keeps telling me not to worry. I'm sure it'll be fine. I mean, I can time travel, right? What could possibly happen?"

"But you're st-still nervous," the lizard said gently.

The kid flinched a little. She guessed she had a pretty bad poker face today.

 

She was surprised to see Undyne vault over the railing. She waved and the big fish monster jogged over and pulled her into a hug, too.

"Got you," she said. "Hey. I'll be there. Tomorrow. And so will… Uh. I mean. You got your family. You're gonna be okay." Suddenly, Undyne looked just a little sweaty. "S-So. Uhhh… You goin' home?"

"Yeah," she said.

"Okay. Cool. Uh." Undyne shot Alphys a look with raised brows.

Alphys shrugged as a reply. Frisk tilted her head curiously.

"What's wrong?" she asked.

"Uhhh. Nothin'." Undyne grinned her big, pointy teeth. "Hey! You know what? I'm gonna come in tomorrow in my armour and I'm gonna scare that human's pants right off and it's gonna be hilarious. And then we'll all, uh… We'll do somethin' nice when it's over, okay?"

"Oh, you don't have to do that," Frisk said sheepishly.

"Pfft, c'mon, kid," she said. "Hey. Let yourself get taken care of a little, alright?"

"Sh-She's right, Frisk," Alphys said quickly. "W-We know you haven't been f-feeling that good since the humans c-came back into the picture. Please d-don't try to handle it on your own, and I know Doctor G…. Aaaah… Uhh…" She put her hands to her snout and her eyes went wide.

Undyne let out an uncomfortably loud laugh and thumped Alphys on the shoulder. "Doctor's got just the thing! To help, you know? Like friendship and family and all that sappy stuff!" She smiled sympathetically. "Look. Kid. I get it, alright? You don't want people to fuss and worry over you. And that's, like, really admirable and junk. But the thing is, we all really like you, and you shouldn't feel guilty about it."

"Annnnnd yep, d-definitely just trust your, uh, good pal Doctor Alphys," the lizard said with a grin. "And I can f-for sure find something to help you. L-Like, um, some chocolate or something!"

"Th-Thank you," Frisk said.

 

Undyne and Alphys shared a look, and then Undyne offered the kid a hand. "Hey. If you want. I'll keep ya company on the boat."

Alphys started to nod as if urging her on. Frisk found herself smiling and she took the big monster's hand.

"Thanks, guys," she said.

 

- - -

 

When Frisk flopped into the house after the leisurely drift down the river, she was exhausted. She hadn't really done anything, but she felt like she could just pass out and sleep until tomorrow afternoon. It wasn't even that late.

Sans saw her first, before she even greeted him. He picked her up and hugged her. She was a little surprised, but her heart swelled. She clung to him.

"S'okay?" she asked.

"Yeah," he said.

"What happened?"

He put her back on the floor and patted her head. "CORE went a little off. Wasn't a big deal, though. Just wanted to be careful."

"Oh. Okay. That's really good." She looked around, checking for Papyrus. She waved her brother closer. "Everyone's acting kinda weird," she said at a whisper.

"Oh yeah?" he said. "How so?"

"I dunno." She pressed the tips of her fingers together. "It's like they're trying not to tell me something or… something."

Sans grinned and he burst out laughing. Frisk looked puzzled, but couldn't help but smile when her big brother patted her on the head.

"You're too smart for your own good, y'know," he joked.

"I am?" she asked.

 

"OH! Hey, is that Frisk?! Is she back?!" Papyrus raced down from upstairs and swept her up into his arms. "Heelllooooo, little sister! Welcome home!" He nuzzled her head.

Unseen, their souls glittered orange together. Frisk felt warm and toasty from the inside out.

"Are you feeling any better?" he asked.

"I dunno, a little I guess." She threw her arms over his shoulders and flopped, pouting. "It's okay if I just want like, all the hugs, though, right?"

"Yes, of course!" he said.

"A-And it's okay if maybe I'm sorta nervous, right?" she said.

"Yes, also of course!" Papyrus assured her. "Friiiiisk, how would you like some special spaghetti tonight? You know, with the cheese and everything?"

"Sounds good," she said.

"Good! Great! Excellent."

 

He seemed tickled and then bounced away to the kitchen. Frisk was about to follow, but something still confused her. She turned back to Sans.

"What'd you mean?" she asked.

"Dunno," he said.

"Are…? Are you guys hiding something?" she asked, her brows furrowed.

"Oh, for sure," he said.

Frisk rubbed her brow and laughed weakly. "Okay, fine, be like that."

"Sure thing," he said. He patted her head. "Hey. S'good though. You'll like it."

"Oh! Okay. Well. I just thought maybe you guys heard something more," she said. "From the humans."

"Nah, nothin' like that," he said.

 

She deflated with relief. Sans tilted his head slightly and looked thoughtful for a long few seconds.

"Hey, uh, kiddo," he said. "I was thinkin'. Maybe we stop in at Grillby's for a bit, huh?"

"Isn't Papyrus cooking dinner?" she asked.

"When's that ever stopped us?" he asked, grinning. "I was just kinda feelin' fries and a shake, what d'you say?"

"Oh! Okay," she said, "if you don't mind, Paps?"

"Mind?! Me?! Nooo, not at all!" he assured her quickly. "You two have a good time! There will be plenty of time for pasta when you come home!"

"Oh. Uh. Also," Sans said, "you mind goin' to grab our spots? I just remembered I gotta check a thing with Alph about the stuff that happened earlier."

 

"SANS," Papyrus said shrilly.

"What? She's old enough to walk down the street on her own, bro." He was grinning widely when Papyrus stuck his head out of the kitchen to give him a disapproving look. "Aw, c'mon, don't gimme that face."

Papyrus sighed, tossed his oven mitts aside, and then knelt down in front of Frisk, gently holding her shoulders.

"Just so you know. I love you. So much. More than anything. Okay?" he said.

"Oh. Okay." Her cheeks flushed and she grinned. "I love you, too. Seriously, what's going on?"

"NOTHING. Nothing at all." He rushed back towards the kitchen. "Nothing. At. All. See you soon, little sister, don't worry, there will be plenty of pasta waiting when you get home!"

"Um." She didn't have the heart to tell him he'd repeated himself and she grinned bashfully. "Okay, bro, I'll see you later! See you there, Sans?"

"Mhm, just gimme ten, maybe?"

"Gotcha!" she said.

 

- - -

 

Grillby's was pretty quiet when Frisk walked in, absent of all the regulars. The only person she saw was a tall someone in a leather jacket with a hood up, their head down on their arms on a table. Maybe a human? They were roughly human shaped. They looked really tired. The way the shoulders were, maybe a bit upset, too. As she passed them by, she took a monster candy out of her pocket and slipped it onto the table, then continued up to the counter.

 

She saw the whoopee cushion on the seat ahead of time and smirked. She moved it to Sans's chair and hopped up. Grillby smiled at her.

"Heya! Just waiting for Sans," she said.

He pointed his thumb back over his shoulder.

"Oh, no, it's okay, I can wait until he's here," she said.

He raised his brows. She smiled bashfully.

"Really, that guy ordered one, too? Well. Alright. Since you're making them now anyway," she said. "Two. Thanks a million, dude."

Grillby nodded. Frisk smiled.

"Well, they're really good!" she said.

Grillby smiled and turned back to one of the machines at the back counter and put his heat-proof mitts on.

 

She waited patiently, a little drowsy, with her cheek on her fist. "Any humans come through yet?"

He shrugged and nodded.

"Oh yeah? Small family?" she asked.

He nodded again and she smiled.

"Hope they didn't give you any trouble." She smiled when he shook his head and then cut his eyes at her. "Well, you have the best place in the underground, of course I'd tell them to stop by. I'm glad it worked out. Did they like it?"

He shrugged and nodded. She grinned.

"That's great," she said. "Hey, I was wondering. Thought about moving back up yet?"

His brow furrowed a bit. "Soon. Strange, though…"

She laughed. "I know. It'll be super weird. But you gotta take your daughter to see the stars, it'll be totally great! And. You'll do great. People love this place, wouldn't be home without it, y'know?"

The fire in his cheeks went a little blue. "Thanks…"

"It's totally true!" she assured him.

 

He finished preparing the first milkshake, in one of the tall glasses and clunked it down heavily on the counter's usual pick-up spot before turning back to ready the others. Frisk had never seen the new guy in the booth, so she was considering just bringing his ice-cream to him, since she knew that wasn't really Grillby's style. She heard bootsteps behind her after a few seconds, however, so she figured she didn't really need to worry.

 

She cast a curious glance over at the person who came to get the milkshake. Looked like they were kind of cold, the way they were dressed. They had gloves on, still, and the hood of a sweatshirt up even though they wore a heavy-looking coat. They also had a black scarf up over half their face, but the way their head was bent, she couldn't see the rest past the hood anyway. She lazily rested her elbow on the counter again and stared at the glasses near the back wall.

 

She heard the person say a quiet thanks to Grillby, his voice low, but with an accent she felt she might have heard once before. She couldn't quite place it. Then, to her surprise, she heard the telltale sound of rattling bones. She snuck a glance at him and he quickly looked away as if he had been doing the same to her. She caught that glow in the eyes. Gold and blue. The dark fissures in his white face. She couldn't believe it for a moment. She felt her heart thump. She turned on her stool and watched him slip back into a booth.

 

Shadowman. It had to be. Hurriedly, she pulled off her glove. The lines that were between her fingers were flickering delicately. If that wasn't proof enough, she didn't know what was. Her mind raced. He wasn't melting. He was speaking English. He had ordered a milkshake. She bit her lip. What if he didn't remember her? It took her a moment of consideration to decide it didn't matter. He was okay. That sad, lonely friend of hers, from the edges of her memories— he looked an awful lot like a monster, and he was very definitely alive. Her heart swelled.

 

She waited, trying to conceal her impatience, checking back over her shoulder once in a while to make sure he hadn't left. When Grillby brought her her milkshake, she smiled gratefully and pulled some change out of her pocket to leave on the counter and then slid off her stool.

 

She snuck up to the booth where the man sat. Peeking around the bench, she saw him close to the wall, head down, sipping his milkshake through a bendy straw and focussing intently on something he was writing. She steadied herself and then slid in beside him. He froze and she shot him a smile.

"Hiya," she said.

 

She'd clearly caught him off-guard. He jerked and shoved the paper to the side. He moved forward and quickly pulled his scarf up. Frisk tried really hard not to laugh.

"They're good, right?" she said, pointing at the cup. "The milkshakes. They're my favourite. You?"

She saw his gloved hand tense up— there was that rattling sound again. "…Hah. Mine as well." He kept his voice low. "Good for your—"

"Bones?" Frisk asked.

He looked up quickly. She could see the shine of his eyes again. She grinned.

"You don't mind if I hang out, do you?" she asked.

He shook his head quickly.

 

She scooted a little closer and sipped her milkshake. He bent his head a little; took off a pair of glasses and put them on the table, then rubbed his face. Frisk smiled sympathetically. She put her drink down and then gently grabbed his fingers.

"I'm really happy you're okay," she said.

"Wh…? What?" he asked.

"You, um, remember me, don't you?" she asked. She pointed to the energy flicking in her skin. "You left that, right? You remember?"

"Of course I remember," he said quietly.

Frisk grinned. "Oh good! I'm really glad. How're you feeling?"

He froze again. With a second's hesitation, his much larger hand closed around hers. The brightness of the magic faded down into nothing.

"…Good," he said. "Can't stop shaking. But… breathing feels good."

"I bet," Frisk said. "I'm really glad you're here. When I saw you melt, I… Well, never mind, as long as you're okay, everything's cool."

 

He chuckled quietly. "You are a strange kid, Frisky."

Her face lit up and she grinned. "Hah, tell me something I don't know," she said, but then she frowned. "You weren't gonna just go without saying anything, were you?"

"I… Hah." He leaned forward and put his cheek against his fist. "I wasn't. I'm sorry. I was going to… I was just trying to… Ah. Never mind. I… just wasn't sure what to say."

"Hi would be good," she said.

He chuckled. "Hi."

 

She grinned, but her smile turned swiftly apologetic. "Oh, sorry, did I interrupt?"

"Only slightly. But that's alright," he said.

"Good! Because I'm so happy to see you," she said.

"That's… a bit of a surprise," he said quietly.

"Why?" she said.

"I wasn't exactly good for your health," he said.

"That's okay," she said. "Wasn't your fault, it was just dumb out-of-time memory junk. I'm just real happy you managed to get out of there!"

 

He wiped his eyes with his thumb and finally pushed back his hood. Frisk took him in with interest. Definitely a skeleton. Somehow, she felt like she knew his face, though it was not very much like pale, ghostly visage with the vacant eyes and fixed smile that she had come to expect. No, he looked quite a bit like Papyrus, now that she saw him properly. But, older. A little sharper in the cheekbones; his face accented with a thin, dark crack from each socket, upwards on the right and downwards on the left, familiar from his old form but not so exaggerated.

 

"Oh my god," he said quietly, his knuckles kneading at his eye sockets. "Hah. I told myself not to cry when I saw you. There goes that."

"Don't worry," she assured him again. "I'm like, the biggest crybaby ever, no one needs to be embarrassed around me."

He smiled and gently patted her hair. She all but glowed.

 

They sat in a somewhat comfortable silence for a little while. He kept looking at her, though, trying to get his thoughts together. Wanting to say something but not having the words. He finally broke the silence, drumming his fingers on the table.

"Um. Sweetie. Do you, uh…?" He looked embarrassed when she gave him a questioning look. "Do you know who I am?"

"Well, duh," she said.

He chuckled. "Really know, I mean."

"Well… I… I don't know your name," she said. "But I know you were there for me. And that you're really nice. And…" The notion struck her rather suddenly. Sans's picture. Of course. "Oh. God. You know my brothers, right? Are you related to them?"

 

He was clearly taken aback. "Did Sans tell you?" he asked.

She shook her head. "Sans had this picture he drew. From when the CORE blew up and messed up his memories for like two days?" she said. "He can't draw at all, though, it was a really bad picture, but there were three people. One of them was him, one was Papyrus, and one was a tall guy with cracks in his skull, just like yours. So, since you're a skeleton and he knew you were important to him, you're probably related to them, right?"

"Mhm." He looked rather proud. "I'm their father."

"Their…?" Frisk's eyes went wide and and almost jumped to her feet. She slammed her palms onto the table. "They have a dad?!"

"Of course, it's not as if skeletons are born from ice cream," he said with a wink.

"Holy crap!" she squeaked. "Y-You're… Wow. That's… That's kind of great? Wow. Wait. Wh-Why did you come to me? And not to them?"

"You needed someone, too, didn't you?" he asked gently.

"Yeah, b-but, so did they! I mean, if you're their dad, shouldn't you have been with them? E-Even if the memories didn't stick right? Wouldn't that be the most important thing?"

"Oh. Sweetheart." He patted her hand gently. "You're important, too."

 

Frisk stared up at him, her eyes wide. He smiled warmly at her. He seemed so genuine about it. Her head was reeling with confusion, despite how elated she was to see him. Her brothers had a dad. That alone was enough to throw her for a loop, but the fact that it was him, of all people, who had helped her for as long as she could remember was absolutely baffling. She tried to process; tried to steady herself.

"What's, um…? I dunno if you ever told me, but what's your name?" she asked. That seemed like one of the least important things she could ask, but she wasn't sure what else she could even say.

"My friends call me Gaster," he said.

His name bounced around in her head. That seemed right. Why did she feel like she knew that already?

 

"Gaster…" she repeated. She put her cheek on her fist. It put an itch of an image in the back of her mind, but she couldn't quite reach. And then there were the Gaster Blasters. Of course. Had he invented them? "Man. That's kind of confusing."

"I'm sorry," he said.

She snickered and shook her head. "So, they know you're here, right? Do they remember you?"

He nodded. She laughed.

"It was a setup!" she said, smacking her palm on the table.

"More for me than for you," he said with a smile.

"No wonder Papyrus was acting so weird," she said. "And… And Alphys?! Alphys super knows, doesn't she?! And Undyne, too?"

"Please don't be upset with them," he said quickly. "I wanted to see you. More… More than almost anything, I just… needed to tell you myself."

 

"Oh my god." Frisk rubbed her face. "So what…?" A dream she'd had suddenly slapped her in the brain. She looked up at him with wide eyes. "You came out of the CORE."

"How did you know?" he asked.

"I dreamt it. But I was, like, in your eyes?" she said, puzzled. "I saw you come out of goo. D-Did you come out of goo?"

Stunned, he nodded. He laughed weakly and rubbed his face with both hands. He suddenly looked exhausted. Even so, he still hadn't stopped glowing. He rubbed his eye sockets and desperately tried to dull it. It wasn't really working. She smiled sympathetically.

"I'm sorry," he said.

"No way, why? Don't even," she said quickly. She gently tugged on his sleeve and he looked at her quickly. "Um. G-Gaster?"

"What is it?" he asked.

She beckoned him closer, and when he bent down, she hugged him close. He froze utterly, like he'd been turned to stone. She felt a little selfish, but she needed to do this. She could feel the hum of his soul faintly, some broken, fractured warble of song. She glowed and he rattled.

"I'm just so glad you're okay," she said. She gave him a quick, soft smooch on the cheek.

 

His face flushed a pale gradient of blue and gold, and he stared at her for a few seconds. "F-Frisky, I…" He put his hands to his face. "O-Oh my god. Oh. My god."

Frisk smiled apologetically. "S-Sorry, I—"

"Don't, it's… Oh." He picked her up swiftly and carefully and left the bench, then plunked her back down. "I just… I just n-need… Okay. I'll be right back, okay?" He put his hands on her shoulders. "I promise. I'm coming back. Just… stay here, okay?"

"Okay?" she said.

He nodded. "Good. Good. Alright." He patted her head. "You're such a good kid, you know that? Hang on."

 

He walked outside with hurried steps. He paced, his mind racing, only to let out an involuntary yelp when Sans was suddenly standing rather casually in his path.

"Oh. Thank god," he said quickly. "Sans, I need your help."

"Why? Did you tell her?" he asked. "She start cryin'?"

"I… I haven't yet," he said.

"Aw, dude, c'mon," he said. "It's not that hard."

"Not that hard?" he repeated shrilly. "Sans. It's… It's been ten years I spent on and off with that kid, with my very existence messing with her mind, barely able to say a thing to her and now it's… it's like it's all normal to her. She's not even panicking half as much as I am. How did I have such a sweet kid? After everything I put her through, and still she—"

"Yup. That's Frisk," Sans said with a wink. "The shit she's seen, dude, she's probably just happy you're alive."

"But she already knows that I'm your father. And… And I… I didn't even hug her. Oh my god, what is wrong with me?!"

"Chill," Sans said, and he grinned, wincing slightly. "But that is pretty bad, though."

"I know. I know." He sighed. "It's just that I… I wanted it to be perfect. I don't want to hurt her feelings and—"

"Sheesh, dude." Sans rubbed the back of his skull. "You think you're overthinkin' this a little bit?"

"It's shock. I must be in shock, I'm not acting logically, I'm just—"

"Chill."

"It's just that it's very important and I… I don't know! What do I say?" he demanded.

"Tell her the truth?" Sans suggested.

"Well, obviously, but… She's… She's adorable, isn't she? And so clever. And… small. God, she's small, isn't she? And so matter-of-fact. She's just like you, for god's sake—"

"Nah, she's great." He patted him on the arm. "You're talkin' without breathin'. Look, you want me to go in and just drop it? Or are you gonna—?"

"I should…" He nodded to himself and took a deep breath. "It should be me. I should do it. But. Oh my god. I'm a bloody mess. How do I?"

"Just go for it," Sans said with a shrug. His eyes cast off behind the tall skeleton and he started to grin.

"What? Just say it? That's it? Just… Just go up to her and say hi Frisky, surprise, I'm your dad!?"

"Wait, what?"

 

Gaster turned quickly to see Frisk standing behind him, still holding the door for a second as she came outside. She tilted her head slightly to one side. His cheekbones flushed brightly and he put his hands to his mouth, wide-eyed, totally frozen. Looked like he would kill to be able to time jump backwards about ten seconds. Sans, on the other hand, began to laugh so hard that tears came to his eyes. Trying to gather himself, he wandered to Frisk and thumped her affectionately on the shoulder.

 

"Whew! Kiddo. Fantastic. Perfect timing," he said, wiping his eyes with his thumb.

"Um. Thanks?" She grinned bashfully. "Did I, um…? Did I hear that right?"

Gaster started to rattle. Sans smiled and ruffled her hair.

"Yup. Sure did, kiddo," he said.

Frisk looked absolutely floored. "Wait, you… you mean…? You'd really be willing t-to be like my dad, too?" Her cheeks flushed a little as her eyes welled up. "I… I never had a dad. That's really cool of you, that you'd like me enough that you'd…"

"Oh. Oh, it's… it's not that. I mean. It is that, that's part of it, but… Oh god." He sighed at himself and rubbed his eyes as the kid started to look confused again. "Oh my god. I'm the worst. I am. The worst. Ever."

Sans tried not to laugh too hard and did not succeed, and Gaster walked in a circle quickly, pacing and anxious.

 

"Welp. I'm gonna go inside," Sans said once he stopped wheezing. He wiped under his sockets with his thumb again. "Order some grub. Frisk, whatchu want?"

"But S-Sans, wait, I—!" Frisk stammered.

"Chill out, kiddo," he assured her.

"But I can't believe you have a dad!" she squeaked.

"I know, weird, right?" Sans turned his gaze on Gaster again and winked. "Good luck."

 

Before Frisk could ask him what he meant, the door was clunking behind him. She rubbed the back of her head and then turned her attention back on Gaster. He looked shaken. When his eyes focussed on Frisk again, he grimaced for a moment. He went down on one knee. He took her hand.

"Can I… tell you a small story?" he asked.

She was still confused, but she nodded. The skeleton sighed quietly.

"I was the one who created the CORE, a long time ago. It was meant to be our energy source after we were sealed under the mountain, but it effected time in a way that I never predicted. Ten years ago, the CORE had a malfunction, and it pulled me from time itself. It… destroyed me, ripped me apart and scattered pieces of me all over," he said. "My… My determination was something that was taken. You know how strong it is, first hand, don't you?"

She nodded again. For some reason, she felt her ears heat up.

"It bound to all my soul, the determination of the magic in the CORE, and the energy in time itself. It multiplied exponentially into the only thing that could hold so much. A soul. And… Frisky. Sweetheart." He cautiously cupped her face. "It became you."

 

Frisk went cold. Her stomach hit the snow and there was a dizzy pressure behind her eyes. She cautiously raised a finger and pointed at herself. He nodded and began to smile.

"You became our anchor then. And… And mine, too. You tethered me to this world again. You brought me back."

"S-So…" Her throat was dry; her head was spinning. "Wait. Wait wait. Y-You…? You made… me? I'm… I'm m-made of… you?"

He nodded.

 

The kid was floored. Her vision tunnelled. "Are you sure?" She couldn't even remember thinking to say that, let alone opening her mouth.

"I'm sure." He tilted his head and he smiled fondly. "I saw your soul pull out of mine. It was one of the last things I saw, in fact."

Frisk put her shaking hand to her soul spot. She felt like she might faint.

"What I said when you walked out, I… I meant every word," he said. "I'm your father. And I… I love you. Always have. Even when I was that… mess. I'm sorry it took so long to tell you."

 

He wilted a little. Frisk stared back at him blankly for a long, quiet while. He was about to pull back to give her some space, but she didn't want him to. She latched onto his shoulders tightly. He froze. His eye sockets welled up. He buckled and curled around her, clutching her tight against his chest.

 

For Frisk, it felt like something missing, blank, was coloured in. She could have stayed there forever. Acceptance— was that what it was? She hoped he felt it, too. Because even if had really been just the word, she had loved him forever, even with those fractured memories.

 

"Oh crap," she squeaked.

He laughed quietly. Frisk pulled back just a fraction and cupped Gaster's face with warm red magic glowing in her palms. He drew in a sharp breath and immediately reciprocated, eyes shining bright enough to make the few tears on his face glow faintly. She revelled in that light for a moment before she started to giggle, grabbed him around the neck and snuggled in close. He held her like he'd be okay never letting go. She could feel his soul, its pulse stumbling; fractured, but so warm and content that it overwhelmed her.

 

It took a little while, but the itchiness in her eyes finally got her and she had to pull back, sniffling, laughing quietly, and wiping her sleeves across her face. "I… Jeez. I don't even know what to say."

"I know, it's… It's…" He sighed. "It must be very confusing and—"

"You're my dad," she squeaked. "You're just legit my dad. Oh my god. I… I have a dad. I have a dad? Oh my god. That's… Oh! Oh. My. God." She grabbed his shoulders. The realization hit her like a train. A chill passed through her whole body; she was light-headed and her stomach flipped. Her eyes were wide and glossy with tears. "They're my brothers. They're my a-actual brothers."

"They are—" He grunted when she threw herself against him, her skinny arms grasping him with surprising strength. "Oh, Frisky, it's alright."

"O-Oh my god, I'm sh-shaking t-too hard," she said through a choked laugh. "Oh my god, dude."

 

She struggled to catch her breath and wiped her face on her arm again as she backed away a smidge. Gaster reached out to her and brushed her tears away with his thumb, tsking in a soft, affectionate way. Even that sent a tingle of warmth through her. This gentle skeleton— this was who she came from. Her heart swelled. She was, very suddenly, absolutely smitten with the idea.

"Dude, y-you…" She sniffled and hurriedly wiped her face again. "You totally blew my mind just now."

"I know, it's… It's a big change," he said. He seemed almost regretful. Like it was some burden he'd placed on her.

"Well. Yeah. But I'm happy, though," she said quickly. "I thought… You know, I thought maybe I had parents and they just didn't want me."

 

Gaster looked stunned for a moment— his heart broke. He shook his head vehemently. "I… I know I could not be a good father to you, but I've always loved you. I… I don't know if there's anything I could ever say to make those years okay, but… but you always belonged with us. You know that now, don't you?"

"Mhm!" she said. "That… Hah! That's funny, Sans always said that, too."

"I hope you believed him," he said.

Frisk smiled sheepishly. She wiped her eyes. "He's a really great big brother, you know?"

Gaster smiled and nodded. "He was always like that for Papyrus; I'm so glad he could be that for you, too. It's… sort of his element."

Frisk nodded and grinned. She couldn't stop her heart from pounding. What could she even say to him? "Sh-Should we go back in?"

"Ah! You're getting cold," he said. "I apologize. Let's."

 

Inside the warmth of Grillby's walls, Sans was waiting against their table, half-asleep, arms folded. Frisk raced to him and grabbed his sleeves.

"Sans. Sans Sans Sans," she said.

"Mhm?" He put a hand on her head and opened one eye; it shone blue. "Hey. Looks like you might've gotten some good news, huh?"

"D-Dude! Dude, we're… Oh my god, we're really—"

"Hey." He took her by the shoulder and grinned. "Always were."

Frisk beamed. She grabbed his face and pulled him down to touch her brow to his, and they glowed bright purple together. He snickered and squished her shoulders gently.

"S'good," she said quietly. Tears began to dribble down her cheeks and her voice snagged. "S'really good, huh?"

"Mhm," he said.

"I love you so much," she squeaked. "I l-love all you guys so much."

"I know, kiddo, I know. Love you, too," he said. "Don't cry too hard, huh?"

"H-Hah!" She giggled and buried her face into him. "Big bro… W-We really were the same, weren't we?"

 

He beamed, plucking her up off her feet and into his arms. She yelped and laughed, and did her best to catch her breath as she wrapped her arms around his neck. She coughed and trembled, squeaking as she tried to regain herself.

"Get it together, sis," he joked.

"Oh. God." She sniffled and hid her face against his shoulder. "I… I'm gonna puke."

"Don't you dare," he said.

 

Gaster watched cautiously, wringing his hands, until Sans shot him a look. The short skeleton's cheekbones were a little blue, but the knowing smile on his face reassured his father. Sans stroked the back of the kid's head and she blew out a long, deep sigh.

"Oh man. Jeez. Thank you. Thank you a million times," she said quietly.

 

Her soul stuck against his and, for the first time in a long while, he didn't feel any of her guilt in how close she wanted to be. That lingering, tiny flicker of doubt that had always seemed to come back like a bad cough had left her. Finally, he thought.

 

"Oh my god…" she whispered. "Papyrus knows? He does, right? You told him?"

"Yeah. Filled him a few hours ago," Sans said. "Guy cried like a baby."

"Aw! Well, I guess this is b-better, then, because if we were together, we'd totally flood the room."

Sans laughed. "What else is new?"

"That's good, though. That's super good. H-How do you feel?" she asked.

"Me? Pretty good," he said.

"Y-Yeah?" She drew back a little and put a hand on his skull. "That's a lot to come back at once, huh? Your head okay? I mean. Jeez."

"Mhm. Memories just kinda plopped back in," he said. "Think you know how that feels, huh?"

"You're so calm," she said with a laugh. "Thanks."

"Hey, no problem, takes zero effort," he said with a wink, and then turned to look at Gaster. "Go on, you nerd, sit down, you look like you're about to fall over."

 

Gaster hurriedly slid back into the booth and Sans plunked the kid on the cushy bench beside him. He snuck in across from them and Frisk, after wiping her eyes on her sleeve, leaned over the table.

"So, how long've you known?" she asked.

"What makes you think it's not news to me?"

Frisk smirked and rested her cheek on her fist. "What, you think I can't recognize that smug look after all this time, bro?"

He laughed, grinning wide. "Hm. Figured it out when you remembered him. It kinda filled in the pieces. Plus, you know, your hum? Says your name in skeleton is Frisky, so…"

"Oh my god," she said, and she turned to Gaster. "Really? That's where it comes from? My hum?"

"It is," he said, "though, I have to admit, I'm surprised you managed to get that yourself. I never expected you to even hear any name I called you, let alone start using it."

 

Frisk stared at him for a little while. She carefully took one of his long hands in both of hers. "So it was really pretty messed up wherever you were, huh?" she asked.

"That's more than fair to say. I'll be honest, I never expected to come back. But I'm so glad I did."

"How? You were all melty and weird, and no one could remember you except…?" Frisk frowned. "How'd you get out of there? I tried to bring you a few times, right?"

"You did bring me," he said fondly.

"So…! So what worked?" she asked.

"It was through sheer determination," he said with a smile. "Your soul acting as an anchor is not just a metaphor."

"Oh really?" Frisk's eyes went wide. She cupped her soul again and smiled faintly. "I'm… Wow. I'm really glad. I never expected you were… I guess that explains a lot, huh?"

"I know this might be a bit strange for a while," he said. "But… But I mean, don't… Don't feel obligated to call me "dad" or anything even remotely paternal if you're not comfortable, you can just call me "Gaster", or… "hey you", or—"

"I'm sure I'll figure it out, pops," she joked.

His eyes went wide and his cheekbones flushed. Sans burst out laughing. Frisk snickered and grinned up at him.

"Wait. Pops. Paps. Paps. Pops," she said. "That's too confusing. Guess I'll just have to stick to dad, huh?"

 

Gaster's eyes welled up again, and he scooped her up into his arms and squished her close. She was more than happy to hug him again. Sans grinned wide.

"Jeez, you really are a wreck, huh?" he said.

"I know, I know…" he muttered.

"Hey, I'm not judgin'," Sans said. "Welcome to the club. Right, kiddo?"

"Uh-huh!" she said brightly. "You're member number four! Don't worry, meetings only involve hot chocolate and bad TV shows. And Papyrus is the cheerleader."

"H-Hah!" He gently lowered her and she sat comfortably in his lap.

 

The kid grinned. "I like this."

"Told ya. Don't have to worry for a second about tomorrow, huh?" Sans said.

"What? OH!" Frisk's eyes went wide. "Oh my god, I didn't even think of… Oh my god." She laughed, put her face in her hands, and groaned.

"What?" Gaster asked gently.

She took a deep breath and looked at Sans with an expression that might have been incredulous if she wasn't smiling. "You literally told me. Like a bunch of times. Didn't you?"

"Well, yeah," he said. "Course I did."

"Oh my god."

"Told you what?" Gaster asked.

"He told me like a hundred times ever since the humans noticed me," she said, "that they would never find a human related to me in a million years. And that… I'm his sister. Aaaannndd I'm an idiot."

"You called her an idiot?" Gaster yelped.

"No no no, I called me an idiot," Frisk said swiftly. "Sans'd never call me an idiot."

"Because you're not one," Sans said. He winked. "Guess it turned out that you're a bit of a bonehead though, huh?"

"Pfffft, okay, I'll take it," she said. She let out a deep sigh and rubbed her eyes again. "I'm not gonna wake up, right?"

"You're awake," Sans said.

 

Frisk had to take another moment. She steadied herself and tilted her head back to shoot Gaster a curious look. "So, like, what the heck am I, though?"

"Determination?" Sans suggested.

"You are… human. Mostly," Gaster said. "I… I think."

Frisk laughed. "Science guy doesn't know, uh-oh."

"So…? So you remember I'm a scientist?" he asked curiously.

"We figured that out a while ago," Frisk said with a smile. "But… Um. Hm. Actually. I feel like… I dunno, I remember…? You in the lab somewhere? In the… basement, maybe? Huh. Weird."

"What else do you remember? A-About me?" he asked. "Sorry if that sounds conceited."

 

"Um. Well. You like coffee, right? All your stuff, it smelled like coffee," she said. "Aaannd… You lived on the surface. So you must be super old, then. As old as mom? Um, Toriel, I mean, Toriel's my mom."

"Good," he said. "Just a little younger, actually. I honestly never thought you'd remember any of that. Anything else?"

"It's kinda rough other than that," she said. "I'm not sure. Did I… tell you a lot?"

"You told me a little about a lot," he said. "You told me about coming to the mountain and learning to time travel. You told me about trying to make a soul for your friend. You told me you crossed the barrier. Both of you."

"Spilled all the beans, huh, kiddo?" Sans said with a grin.

"Guess so!" she said with a laugh. "I think that's my only missing bit. Maybe. I hope?"

"Don't be too concerned," he assured her. "You remember more than I could ever have hoped. But, I… I am sorry that some of that might be less than pleasant."

"What d'you mean?" she said. "I mean. Yeah. It was bad. But none of that part was your fault. I like the, uh, what d'you call it? A retcon?"

"Retcon," Sans confirmed.

"Yeah! Frisk backstory retcon!" she joked. "It's weird but it's a little less lonely. Aw, Sans, bummer that you don't have it."

"Have it?" Gaster repeated.

"You're explainin'," Sans said.

"What? Why?" she asked.

"Grillby's gesturin' at me." He began to slide off the seat.

Frisk stuck her tongue out at him. "I'm waiting until you get back, you know!"

 

"Is this about when you two shared your souls?" Gaster asked gently.

"Oh, no way, I told you already?!" she asked, looking up at him with wide eyes.

He tilted his head. "You said you shared memories as well. Does that mean all of them?"

"Yep! Except the ones with you, apparently," she said. "Jeez, I guess I did spill all the beans."

"God, that's… something else, Frisky," he said. "Sans has quite a few years on you, that couldn't have been easy."

"Nah. Easiest thing in the world," she said with a smile.

 

Gaster looked thoughtful. He rested his cheek on his fist. "I still can hardly believe it. But, I suppose you're the master of bending rules, aren't you? I think I recall you mentioned a dragon, as well?"

"Yeah! Bone dragon! That's what we were together. We looked super cool! Do you have any paper?"

"I do." He passed her the letter he had been trying to write, the words almost entirely crossed out.

She already had a pen, a red one.

"Y-You… kept that?" he asked.

"Kept what?" she asked.

"That pen."

She looked puzzled for a second. She looked at the pen and then back at him. She grinned. "Yeah! Always felt important after that. It was from somewhere weird, right? It was grey, but it changed."

"It was from outside of time," Gaster said.

"Oh! I get it," she said. "I… Hah. I get why you were so excited to see that, now. Do you want it back?"

"Absolutely not," he said quickly. "It's yours."

"Thanks!" she said brightly.

 

She scooted back onto the bench and sat on her knees. She started to draw what they were, oblivious to his obvious puzzlement, as Sans came back with their food.

"He basically already knew," Frisk said.

"Oh dang," Sans said. "You showin' him?"

She nodded. "We had three spikes, right?"

"Mhm, three spikes and two horns," he said.

"Right, right." She outlined the head: it was a little cartoonish, but it was mostly accurate. "And our left eye was just like yours!"

"Mhm. Bet if you knew how to glow then, we couldda done red in the right one," he said.

"Aw man that would've been so cool!" she said with a laugh. "Hey, if I ever explode again, grab me before a reset, we'll see if it works. Plus, we're both totally missing each other's Gaster memories now, so…"

"That's super morbid, kiddo," he said, and he sipped his milkshake and looked thoughtful. "Just don't do it on purpose."

Frisk grinned.

 

"That's fascinating," Gaster said, resting his cheek on his fist. "You'd… honestly be willing to do that a second time?"

"We know what to expect," Sans said with a shrug. "Plus. Kinda promised."

"And it is super cool," Frisk said. "But. Just with Sans."

"Really? Technically, it would be a possibility with anyone, wouldn't it? Since it's impossible for you to die under any normal circumstances," Gaster said curiously.

"Yeah. But the memory transfer thing is a big deal," she said. "I dunno if I'd want to intrude on someone else like that. I mean, me and Sans, we didn't know that was gonna happen the first time. And there's no way Sans wants anyone else in his memories ever, right, bro? Since I have 'em all."

"Mhm, exactly," he said.

"And then I also have some of Az and Chara's, and that's a whole other dumb mess," Frisk said. "Nobody else needs to deal with that junk."

 

She finished up her drawing and slid it over to the tall skeleton. Sans shot her a grin.

"Welp. You're a better artist than me," he said with a laugh.

"I think it doesn't look too bad!" she said proudly.

"Let me see." Gaster put his glasses back on. "Oh! Okay. That's… Really? You two were this?"

"Uh-huh!" Frisk said. She pulled out her phone to show the little dragon skull charm attached to it. "Like this, see?"

"Ah, I do." He peered closely at the drawing. "And these are wings? What's that in the membrane?"

"Space. Or. It looked like space," she said. "I'm not sure why. I guess it was just magic."

"Did they function?"

"Yup. Flew around the mountain," Sans said, drawing a circle in the air with a fry. "Saw the stars, got rained on; it was a blast."

"But… Frisky, you had no skin," Gaster said, "wasn't that weird for you?"

"It was, but it was okay, for Sans it was normal, so it was pretty normal for me, too," she said.

 

Gaster smiled and gently ruffled her hair. She seemed quite content with that. She scooted up to his ribs and he smiled fondly.

"So. You're gonna come live with us, right?" she said.

"W-Well, I—"

"Course he is," Sans said.

"We're gonna have to explain a lot to mom," Frisk said.

"Don't worry about that. I'll do it," Gaster said. "We… We're old friends. I'm sure I can figure it out. Honestly. The last thing I want to do is disrupt the family you've all made for yourselves."

"Disrupt? That's a weird way to put it," Frisk said with a laugh. "You belong with us. Right, Sans?"

"We're kinda a mishmash family anyway. It'll work out. We'll just make the house bigger."

Gaster's bones flushed. "If it's not much trouble…"

"Where else would you go?" the kid joked.

 

Gaster's cheekbones flushed a little and he tapped his fingertips together. "I'll be honest, this is still a little nerve-wracking for me."

"Oh jeez, hope I didn't make you too nervous!" Frisk said quickly, an apologetic tilt to her brows. "I was just super excited to see you weren't just goop."

"Oh. No, Frisky, I…" His voice snagged and he put a hand over his eyes. "Ah… I'm… I'm a wreck, I'm just a bloody wreck."

"Dad, it's okay," she assured him. "Take your time."

He put his face in both hands.

"Just keep breathin'," Sans suggested.

"Should I hold off on it?" Frisk asked him at a whisper. "I thought it would be just good to start the habit right away?"

"No, dude, you're totally right," he assured her. "He's just had a rough… everything."

"Yeah, I got that," she said, her smile sympathetic.

 

Gaster breathed out, long and heavy, and then rubbed his brows. He finally took a fry from his plate, and his magic lifted the lid off his milkshake and he dipped the fry before eating it. Frisk's face lit up and she grinned wide and pointed. Sans snickered.

"Who wouldda thought, right?" he said.

"Hm? Sorry, have I done something strange?" Gaster asked.

"Nope!" Frisk said brightly.

Chapter Text

 

Gaster was over the moon. It was as clear to Sans as the cracks on his face. His eyes seemed to glitter as he followed every jump of emotion from Frisk. He'd casually asked about the barrier situation, and Frisk had replied with the question of if he wanted to hear the whole thing. Maybe a bit naïvely, Gaster had said yes. The kid was more than happy to tell him every bit of the story.

 

It put a smile on Sans's face to see his kid so animated. She was all alight and had so much energy all of a sudden that it was like nothing was wrong. She underplayed the rough bits— she always did— but, actually, she was a pretty good storyteller. Gaster was leaning on the table, food forgotten, enthralled by her words, even the parts she warned were boring.

 

It was increasingly hilarious that his father had been worried about how she'd react. She wasn't the least bit shy. It was just like they were old friends— in a way, he supposed, they were.

 

When she was done, with a surprisingly proud smile on her face, Gaster wrapped her in a relieved hug, unable to help himself. Sans could feel his grin spreading. Frisk was everything their father had worked for his entire life— a much more powerful and almost perfect version of what Sans's own soul was originally intended to be. A way to freedom in the best possible way.

 

"Saaaaans. Sans? Sans." Frisk reached across the table and grabbed one of his hands in both of hers, snapping him from his thoughts. "Um. So, uh. This is pretty crazy, right?"

"Yeah, a bit," he said.

"So what do we tell mom? Should I call her? Oh man, and what about Az?" She whipped around to look at Gaster. "You knew him?"

"Ah… I did," he said.

"This is the weirdest thing in the whole world," Frisk said with a laugh. "Saaaaaans?"

"Yeah?" he said.

Her eyes seemed to glitter. In fact, they did. A little of her iris flickered red. They'd been doing that a lot more recently. She gripped tight to his fingers and grinned sheepishly. "Thanks."

He snickered. "Went well, right?"

"Super great," she said with a grin.

"Finish your stuff, huh?"

"Oh!" She grabbed her milkshake and took a swig. "I totally forgot!"

Sans smiled fondly. "Don't choke."

 

- - -

 

Outside again, the second they hit the cold air, Gaster shivered and bundled up, hood, gloves, scarf and all. Sans shot him a curious look. He shrugged slightly. Sans gently nudged Frisk with his elbow.

"Kiddo, how 'bout you head home, huh?" he said.

"Oh yeah?" she asked.

"Yeah. Gotta talk to this giant dork," he said, jerking his thumb at Gaster. "Give Paps the update?"

"Oh. Heh. Yeah," she said, smiling bashfully. "I'm gonna cry and then he's gonna cry."

Sans snickered and patted her head. She stood on her toes and he bent down to let her smooch his cheek. She grinned and then beckoned at Gaster. When he bent down, she gave him a kiss, too. His cheekbones went stark with colour and he froze entirely. She grinned, waved, and scampered off down the road.

"See you guys at home!" she called.

 

Gaster stood stiff like he'd been turned to ice. Sans held in a laugh and nudged him with his elbow. He jolted quickly.

"Jeez," Sans said.

The old skeleton looked like he could crumple into a pile of bones. Quickly, he had his arms around his son and squeezed him close. Now Sans couldn't keep in a chuckle.

"That went well," he said.

"Cnámha m'anam." Gaster's voice was even lower and more gravelly than usual. He coughed, then let him go and took a deep breath. "She… She liked me."

"Course she did." Sans nodded up the road in the opposite direction. "C'mon."

 

He started on his way and his father hurriedly moved to follow him. He rubbed the back of his skull and his bones rattled. Sans shot him a sympathetic smile.

"You alright?" he asked.

Gaster nodded. "I never expected her to just…" He waved his hands as if trying to pull words from the air. "To just accept it like that."

"Why?" Sans asked.

"She's clearly a human," he said. "We're clearly not."

"She's been family basically since we met, dude," Sans said with a wink. "I don't think skin or, uh, lack thereof really matters to her."

Gaster sighed deeply, but he started to laugh softly as well. "You're amazing, do you know that?"

Sans shrugged. His father looked at him very seriously.

"I mean it," he said. "After all those other anomalies, you had no way of knowing. And yet you still had enough in you to give that girl your trust."

"Yeah, well." Sans shrugged again and grinned. "What can I say? The time travel messed us both up in ways that made it so we wouldda been like this no matter where she was from. And it's not like this just went one way, huh?"

 

Gaster started to grin. Sans cut his eyes at him.

"What?" he said.

"I see…" Gaster chuckled. He wiped his eyes quickly. "I'm so glad you found each other."

"Yeah, dysfunctional together is almost functional," he said with a wink. "Thank god for Papyrus."

Gaster laughed. "What is it that you wanted to talk to me about?"

"Hm? Oh. Nothin' much, just wanted to give those kids a bit of privacy," Sans said with a shrug. "It'll be emotional enough with just the two of them without us weirdos hangin' around."

"Ah," Gaster said. "Judging by earlier, he must be very close to her. Right?"

Sans nodded. "In her first timeline, when she got booted through the barrier, and we couldn't find her, Paps lost it. Inconsolable for like, a week, until we found her again. Tried not to be apart since, even after a reset. It's kinda clingy but I think it's real good for 'em both."

 

"For everything being such a bloody mess, I'm glad things turned out that way," Gaster said. "That must've been hard. But, at least you were able to remember her, right?"

"Sure," he said. "So did most of our, uh… I dunno, circle, I guess, this last time."

"Right, how on earth did that work?" Gaster asked. "That must've been such a relief, but how is that possible?"

"I found a way to hook into her determination and basically use her as a memory save," Sans said with a shrug. "Wasn't ideal but the world was about to end and I didn't wanna send her backwards with nothin'."

"You… used her as a save," his father repeated, eyes wide. "How is that possible?"

He shrugged. "Kinda used myself as one, too. It wasn't perfect. But, she's so stuck into that time stuff, it just kinda worked since I knew how to do it to begin with," he said. "Our magic or whatever has always been stuck to each other. Combine it, and, well, there you go."

"Sans, that's…"

"I know, sounds weird, but I'm kinda protective of the kid, y'know?" he said. "And if leavin' some weird marks on her could save her, then, I'd do whatever it takes."

 

Sans stalled in his steps as he noticed Gaster had come to a halt. His father seemed stunned, but he was starry-eyed and glowing faintly.

"What's that face for?" Sans asked with a laugh.

"You're… You're a genius. You're a bloody genius," he said, starting to beam. "I… I never even thought… Sans. I'm blown away."

"S'not that big of a deal," he said with a shrug.

"For you to have mastered the temporal energies to that point, disregarding what should have been physical limitations and tapping straight into the— That's… That's phenomenal. I never would have thought to try that."

"Eh. Desperate times," Sans said. "You probably wouldda."

"You are a genius." Gaster's smile only grew brighter. "I'm so proud of you. Oh. Sorry. I hope that doesn't sound patronizing. It's just. I am. Very proud, I mean. Not patronizing. I mean. I hope not."

"Y'know, not all that much has changed since you been gone," Sans said with a grin. "I mean, with the way me and Paps are. S'not like I'd just suddenly think you're a weirdo or something. Oh, c'mon, you don't need to cry."

 

Gaster hurriedly wiped his eyes on the back of his glove again. "It's just… I thought I'd never see you again," he muttered, his voice croaking. "Any of you. Any of this."

"I know," Sans said.

"I was never supposed to come back," he said. "The chances of pulling me out of that hell were so infinitesimally small that I still almost can't believe I'm even here. That I can feel… anything. That I can even think clearly."

"There wasn't any way to fix you besides the kid, huh?" Sans asked.

"I… I couldn't say, really. I doubt it," he said. "It took what would have otherwise been a catastrophic amount of determination."

"Heh. Catastrophic," Sans repeated. "Funny word to describe Frisk with."

"Isn't it?" Gaster laughed tiredly. "I'm still a bit overwhelmed. Forgive me."

"Don't," Sans said. "Looks like you need a breather, too, huh? No worries. Actually. I wanted to ask why you're freezin'."

"I… I don't know," he said. "I haven't been able to get warm since I came back. And I keep having… episodes. I'm sure I'll… Well…"

"Hm. Alright. We'll keep an eye socket on you, huh?" Sans winked. "Come on. I know a spot that's pretty, uh, interestin'. I'll show you where the kid got in. S'full of these golden flowers. And it's definitely warmer than here. I think you'll like it."

 

- - -

 

The closer Frisk got to home, the slower her steps felt. Her chest was tight and her whole body was numb. Her mind was spending most of its energy trying to reorganize where she fit in the universe. No more blank family tree; no more uncertainty about humans leaving her alone in the cold of the surface world. She was sure she had to be in shock or something, but her focus was on getting home. She had to see Papyrus. She had no idea what to say, but that was fine.

 

When she got there, she hesitated. She had to take a long, deep breath. Told herself not to cry yet. She pushed back the door and braced herself. She didn't know why her heart was beating so quickly.

 

"Hey, Papyrus?" she asked. "I'm back."

"OH! Oh! Little sister! Hello!" He stumbled out of the kitchen, tossing his apron aside so quickly that he almost slipped on it. "H-How are you? Did you have a good time?"

She nodded. "Pretty good time," she said, and she tilted her head "You okay?"

"Oh, yes, perfectly fine! As always," he assured her. He tented his fingers. "So, um. Did you, I don't know, meet anyone interesting out there?" He was a picture of nerves despite trying to hide it.

 

Frisk smiled fondly: he was too honest for keeping secrets like this. She shrugged. "Yeah, I guess," she said. "Found Sans. And I saw Grillby. Annnnd, oh, totally met our dad."

"Our d…?! OH! Oh Frisk!" Papyrus let out a squeaking sound, knelt down, and grabbed her by the shoulders. "You met him?! And?! How do you feel?!"

"Still kinda shocked, I think," she said. "But… I'm really happy, bro."

 

Papyrus beamed. He pulled her in against his chest, the pulse of his soul synching close, almost overwhelmingly so. She held onto him tightly. The instant she hoped she wouldn't start crying again was exactly when she did.

"See? Little sister. You were never alone," he cooed quietly. "I'm so happy for you. I'm just… I-I… Oooh no. Nyooo. I'm crying."

"It's okay, me too!" she snickered.

He giggled. He took a little space to wipe his eyes. Frisk laughed and did the same. Her brother grinned and gently squished her cheeks.

"Squishy little skeleton," he joked.

She laughed and squished her hands on his cheekbones in return.

 

"Bet it feels good to have your dad back, huh?" she said.

"Oh. Yes. Definitely," he said. "Weird, though. Weird because I didn't remember. And now I do. I was younger than you are, even, when he vanished. But! Hey. You know what?"

"What?" she asked.

He grinned. "We know when your birthday is now."

"We do?" she asked.

"Yes! The day dad vanished. That's the day you were made!" he said brightly.

"Oh! Yeah, I guess you're right," Frisk said.

"Nyeh heh heh heh! Well. You know. Maybe it was a big mess, but since time was going to break anyway and this is how it all had to go, having you, that's definitely worth it."

Frisk blushed. "Thanks, Papyrus."

"Don't thank me, it is just completely true," he said. "Ooh, you are just going to love having dad as your dad! He's really nice, and smart, and he's a huge dork! And he loves ice cream! Actually. Now that I think about it. You two are quite a bit alike."

"You think?" Frisk asked.

"I know!" he said, and he pulled her snugly into his lap as he sat down. "I'm so happy for you. Really. And I'm so excited! Now no one can ever ever ever steal you away." He looked bashful all of a sudden and pushed his index fingers together. "I always had this little worry deep down inside me. It was a secret. Of course. But, um." He sighed. "I worried that one day some weird humans would just show up and try to say that they were your real family when really we are your real family. And then this whole thing happened and… And I was so worried. Because I could never lose you. And now I never will! It was all really a big relief for me. Does that make sense?"

 

Frisk was taken aback. She'd had no idea this thing with the humans was as much a nightmare for him as it was for her. She should have known. She hugged him and settled close. "No way. We'll always be together. You couldn't get rid of me if you tried."

"Nyeh heh heh! As if I'd try." He curled up around her and let out a quiet, relaxed sigh. "Do you have somewhere to be?"

"Nope, don't think so," she said.

"Want to just stay here for a while?" he asked.

"Yeah, for sure!" She snuggled right in and he seemed so happy he could melt.

"Best timeline," he cooed.

 

- - -

 

Gaster was sick in the Ruins. That same black sludge. It was some kind of twisted, liquid magic, presumably. It stained the ground and then vanished like nothing had ever been there. Disturbing, in some ways, but then again, neither of the skeletons were really surprised. Sans had never seen the void his father had existed in, but he'd felt it. It had killed him, in fact.

 

Sans offered a shortcut. Really preferred not walking. But, they had some time they needed to kill, and Gaster hadn't seen the Ruins in centuries. It was pleasant and nostalgic to stroll through it until the nausea had hit him.

 

Gaster had to stick his whole head in the river to make himself feel any sort of relief, though the water pouring out of his eye sockets wasn't exactly pleasant afterwards, either. Sans tried not to laugh and thumped his father on the back. Gaster coughed and chuckled, wiping his face on his scarf.

"Well that was… something," he said.

"Excitin'," Sans joked.

Gaster huffed. He rubbed the back of his skull and puffed out a sigh. "Banjaxed," he muttered under his breath.

"Yeah, you're kinda a mess," Sans said, helping him back to his feet.

"Oh, god, you don't even know," Gaster joked. "You should see my soul. And my leg."

"How many holes you got, now?" Sans said. "Don't have any more secret kids out there, do ya?"

"Pffff. No. No no," he said. "I'm just… a little rough around the edges, is all."

"Rough around the top, too."

Gaster scoffed. "I'd say you're cracking me up, but I've done enough of that myself. Are we almost there?"

Sans snorted out a laugh and pointed up ahead, and his father lit right up.

 

The heavy stone door left ajar in their path lead to a double set of stairs. They framed a patch of red leaves and a bright tear in time that glittered pleasantly. Gaster's eyes lit up, bicoloured and bright, when he saw it.

"They're all over, now, aren't they?" he asked.

"Sure are," Sans said.

"I wonder…" He pulled off a glove and stuck his hand right into it. When he pulled back, the hole in his palm shimmered an extra few seconds with that bright colour. His eye sockets watered and he quickly brushed them with his thumbs. "She wasn't in a good place the last time she was here, was she?"

"Not really," Sans said.

"Poor thing," he said softly. He slipped the glove back on and rubbed his hands together. "Hope this wears off soon…"

"Ask the kid to give you some of the red stuff when we get home," Sans said. "It helps."

 

The deepest section of the mountain wasn't much farther. Gaster expected to see mostly darkness, so he was thoroughly taken aback by the smattering of bright, golden flowers that greeted them. Sans pointed up and his father followed his finger. He gasped and reflexively took a step back.

"She fell from there?!" he said.

"Jumped," Sans corrected.

"How did she s…?!" Gaster's expression turned melancholy. "Oh. She… probably didn't. Was that where this all started?"

"Nah. Down here. She only had to do it once," he said.

"Brave," he muttered, smiling grimly. "I wish I could have helped."

Sans shrugged. "Sure. Me too. Wanna take a look?"

Gaster hesitated. He rolled his fingers over his thumbs, winced, and then put his hand on Sans's shoulder.

 

The cave was wiped away, replaced by a night sky thick with clouds looming down over them, crags of rocks beneath their feet, and an entrance down below to their backs. Gaster took a heavy step backwards, eyes wide, jaw agape. He darted forward and peeked down over the edge to the jutting mountainside and forest below, the treetops bustling in the wind, looking much more like dark water than foliage in the low light. He whipped around to look at Sans and couldn't help a grin.

"It's beautiful," he said.

Sans laughed. He folded his arms and leaned back, cocking his head to the side. "Guess it kinda is."

"And this…" He peeked into the cave. "Oh! It's actually a bit of a drop just in here, isn't it? I suppose down was the only way out."

"Good thing, too," Sans said. "Tori got her right after."

"Right! Right. Of course." He scuffed his gloved fingers across the stone and then peered upwards at the clouds. He shivered. He shot Sans a smile. "I'm grateful for that."

"Me too," Sans said. "Welp. What d'you think? That enough time?"

"I hope so."

 

Sans grabbed him and his eyes were instantly readjusting to the cozy light inside the living room. Stunned for a moment, Gaster stood, frozen, as Sans casually flopped on the couch and kicked his feet up.

"Nyeh heh! I'd know that cushion squishing sound anywhere!" Papyrus bounded to meet them from the kitchen, squeezing Gaster into a quick hug and then racing to Sans, grabbing up both of his hands. "Brother. Oh. My. God."

"Doin' alright?" he asked.

"So very alright! Amazingly alright!" he said certainly.

"Where's the kid at, by the way?"

Papyrus pointed at the ceiling. "Saving."

 

Sans wasn't really willing to wait. He blinked upstairs and found the kid at the light in the attic. He sat on a box and she turned at the sound of his weight settling. Her face broke into a bright grin and she ran to him. He gladly accepted her into his arms. She giggled.

"So, I saved," she said. "He's stuck with us."

"Good," he said. "Holdin' up?"

"Y-Yeah! Yeah, I'm okay. I… I still kinda can't believe that I… That we…" Her voice cracked. Her eyes began to shimmer. "We…" She wiped her face on the back of her arm; coughed to clear her throat and grinned wide up at him. "Aaah, you know! I'm just r-really happy. It's so weird but it's so great!"

"Hm." He bonked his head on hers. "Welp. S'good, though. You have basically forever to get used to him."

"Won't take that long," she said. "Ooh! Is he back, too?"

"Yup," Sans said. "Took a shortcut."

Frisk stared back at him blankly but then grinned wide. "You're so cool, bro."

 

She snuggled into him and their souls sparked a soft purple together. She felt relieved. Content. No guilt. Not even for crying. He couldn't help but beam with pride.

 

Sans plunked them back downstairs and Frisk was almost instantly facing Gaster. He looked thoroughly shocked and she smiled and jumped to her feet on the couch. She looked him up and down, and then got on top of the arm in an attempt to approach his height.

"Hey, look at you!" she said. "C'mere?"

Gaster cautiously pointed at himself. He edged over and Frisk grabbed both of his arms and looked up at him. His cheekbones flushed faintly blue and gold, and the kid tilted her head slightly. She reached up for his face and he bent slightly to allow her to put her hands up against his bones.

"Wow, I mean, it's kinda great, right? How weird is it that you're just, like, here, standing in the house, right? You look so normal now," she said. "Did you look like this before you went in?"

"M-Mostly," he said. "The larger crack is relatively new."

"Oh yeah?" She brushed her thumb over the healed one coming down his cheek. She grinned and then poked her own face. "Look, we're almost the same!"

"Frisky…" he said quietly. He shook his head. "You're much cuter."

She scoffed and laughed. "You look good, though!" she said. "You know, from being all time-melty and going back to being a pretty normal-looking skeleton. I expected you to be super goopy next time I saw you, so this is way better."

"I… I suppose you're right," he said with a tepid smile. He looked like he was trying not to cry. "Frisky, I…" His voice caught.

"Aw, jeez, you're not feelin' good, though, huh?" she said. "C'mere?"

 

She hugged onto him and he was stunned still, only to cautiously scoop her up. She set her hands aglow with red and held him tight. He froze up as the warmth seeped in and his soul instinctively wanted to reach out. He tried to stop it but it glowed faintly, a spiky, out of tune, cold and bristling mess. The kid yelped and then began to laugh.

"Oof, it's still pretty messed up, huh?" she asked sympathetically.

"It's, uh…" He lost his words again. He squeezed the kid gently and almost choked when she relaxed against him despite his awful soul.

 

"Nyeh heh heh!" Papyrus thumped Gaster heartily on the shoulder, grinning wide at him even though he stumbled and quickly put the kid down. "You look like you could use a big, hot plate of my special spaghetti. They don't call me Master Chef Papyrus for nothing!" He pulled a big, steaming plate of pasta from somewhere and held it out with a twinkle in his eye. "It'll fix you right up."

"Oh. Th-Thank you," he said, his voice croaking as he took it. His finger bones clattered against the plate and he hurried to sit down at the table to the side of the room.

 

Papyrus thumped him on the back and he took a cautious bite of the food. He broke down almost instantly. The younger skeleton squeaked with surprise.

"I didn't think it was THAT bad!" he said shrilly.

"I-It's fantastic, a stór," Gaster stammered, wiping the streams from his eyes quickly. "Go raibh maith agat." He shovelled pasta into his mouth with more speed than seemed wise.

 

Frisk watched him with pity in her eyes as his shoulders sagged. She shot Sans a worried look, and though he looked mildly sympathetic, he didn't seem overly concerned. She'd follow his lead. He knew his— no, their— father best.

 

Papyrus dragged over a chair and sat beside him, rubbing his back gently. "Hey, now. You're going to be okay! And you can have as much spaghetti as you like! Forever and ever. Promise! Okay?"

"I'm alright," Gaster said. "Don't worry about me. Aren't you all eating?"

"Ah! Yes, of course, I'll get plates for everyone!" Papyrus leapt to his feet in a hurry and raced away, accompanied by the sounds of clinking cutlery.

 

The tall skeleton reluctantly heaved himself out of his seat again. He hesitated, but he quietly unzipped his coat and took it off to put it near the door with the others. That heavy jacket had made up a lot of the bulk in his shoulders, but he was still a little more physically imposing than Papyrus was despite the typical thinness of tall skeletons like them. Now, he shivered in the faded, black hoodie he was in underneath. The elbows were patched and the front showed a worn logo of some sort— one that vaguely looked like a bunch of beakers framed with a big circle. He folded his arms tight to his chest.

"Hey, if you're still cold…" Sans said.

"It's fine. I mean. I am," Gaster said, "but I'll get accustomed to it."

"Can I help?" Frisk asked worriedly. "Want a blanket or something?"

"I'm alright," he assured her, raising both hands quickly. "It's just… ah…"

"He's still kinda chilled from the whole nothin' void," Sans said.

"Jeez," Frisk said quietly. She looked between the two of them curiously. "Hey, how long have you been back, anyway?"

"A day or so," he said.

"Oh, okay, so that's maybe normal, then, if it hasn't actually been that long," she said. She laughed. "Sorry. I mean. Whatever could maybe be called normal after that. What a weird place, right?"

"Absolutely," Gaster said as he sat down again. "It was good that you could pass through so seamlessly. I am a little surprised."

"Of course she could." Papyrus returned with plates filled with pasta for himself and the others, and dutifully passed them out. "She is a super time kid, after all!"

"Universe's resident time god," Sans joked.

He looked down at the bashfully grinning kid with surprise. His gaze softened and he smiled fondly. "I suppose you are, aren't you?"

"I try to do a good job," she said. "I got superpowers now, so that's kinda helpful."

 

Sans scoffed and laughed. She nudged him with her elbow and he did the same in return. Gaster, however, looked intrigued.

"Superpowers, you say?" he asked. "What kinds of superpowers?"

"Oh! Well. I can glow. And I can make a bubble thing that glows," she said proudly. "And I can give super hugs with my soul feeling thing, everyone seems to like that. I used to be able to borrow Sans's kinda future sight thing or Papyrus's bone attacks, but that doesn't really work anymore. Oh, but I can use time magic I guess, to turn stuff back in time to fix things or freeze stuff if I gotta. It's kinda hard, still, though."

"And her eyes glow sometimes!" Papyrus said. "Though we, um, can't really figure out what makes them do that. And I'm not sure if that counts as a super power but I guess since she's a human…" He shrugged. "Oh also she could do a big hex shield for a couple days but not since then."

"Hex shield?" Gaster tilted his head.

"Yes, like a big shield made of hexagon patterns," Papyrus said.

"Like… Like this?" Gaster held a hand out and the magic in him pooled in the gap in his hand. Suddenly, at his fingertips stretched a barrier of energy, a little distorted and flickering, but shifting black with fragments of gold and blue.

 

Frisk's eyes went wide. Papyrus grinned.

"Yes! Exactly like that, except red!" he said. "Hey, wait a second, how are you doing that?! I don't remember that at all. Can we do that?"

"Not exactly, it's more of a… Well, I mean, maybe, if I can find the spell again," he admitted. "I composed this myself a little bit after the sixth human arrived. I ended up not needing it much." He pulled his fingers away from the magic and it flickered out and dissolved into obsidian sparkles. "Frisky, you…? You had this?"

"Mhm! I got it after we did a determination ex…" Her words trailed and she couldn't help a look of shock. "Oh! It was your determination, wasn't it?! In the basement? You set that all up!"

"Ah. I get it," Sans said.

"I'm very glad it was of use," Gaster said.

 

"So… So, wait." Frisk frowned and crossed her arms. "I had all those messages in skeleton writing on my hand, but I still don't remember where those came from. That was you, right?"

"Oh! God. That. Right," he said quickly. "Don't fret about that. I am glad it helped, though. It… did help?"

"Of course it did!" she said. "Az wouldn't be back if it didn't. And we mightta blown up in the CORE, too. That shield saved us from a ton of rocks."

"Wait. Wait wait. Can we back up for a second. Are you telling me you can just design a new magic and just use it like that?!" Papyrus yelped. "I want to do that! How did you do that?"

"Oh. Well. It's not exactly easy. It's a similar process to learning any new colour of magic, involving soul tuning, though," he explained. "This shield was artificial. It is a little bit like writing music. But using obscene amounts of energy. And a lot of trial and error."

"Wowie." Papyrus's eyes glittered. "That's amazing! I didn't know that was even a thing!"

Gaster nodded. "Unfortunately, it's a bit of a lost medium." His attention turned to the small kid again. "It seems like you've gotten quite used to those powers, hm?"

"Oh, yeah! They were kinda freaky at first but I can use the backwards one to heal people, so that's pretty great," she said.

"To heal?" He looked thoroughly surprised by that. "You can…? Of course. That would make sense… Did you figure that out all on your own?"

"Sans helped," she said.

"Did I ever," he said with a laugh.

Gaster looked between the two of them again. Sans mussed up the kid's hair and she grinned and flopped back into him.

 

Gaster had a million things he wanted to ask; wanted to say, but when he opened his mouth, he couldn't speak. Cold enveloped him and he cupped his hands to his mouth as his teeth began to chatter.

 

All eyes turned on him with concern. He held up one finger with blue and black magic facsimiles of his hands as if to ask them to wait as he silently choked on air behind his real hands. Sans leaned up off the couch and his brow furrowed.

"Uh. You alright?" he asked.

His voice still absent, he sat back on his chair and nodded; shivered hard enough that his bones began to rattle. Papyrus cooed sympathetically and wrapped him in a hug and set his amber magic ablaze. Gaster buckled in his arms.

"I have you," Papyrus assured him. "It's alright. Wait it out."

Frisk looked between her brothers. She tugged Sans's sleeve. "Is there anything I can do?"

"I, uh… Hmm…" He finally got up and shifted over to Gaster, and gently shooed their brother to the side. "Okay. Lemme feel."

 

Gaster sighed breathlessly and sat back and put a quaking hand over his soul. They couldn't see it, but the shrill, backwards sound warbled out loudly. Sans put his hand to the spot and his fingers glowed with blue. Though the tall skeleton was curled up tight on himself, seemingly freezing, his false hands shrugged. Sans snickered.

"You'll be alright. Breathe. And Paps, c'mere," he said. "Focus right in the centre."

Papyrus saluted. "Got it!" He grabbed him again and glowed bright. "Don't worry, dad."

The false hands stuck their thumbs up.

 

Frisk frowned with worry. She folded her arms. Gaster's eyes, shimmering uncomfortably with magic, met hers and he looked, suddenly, cautious and guilty. He opened his mouth but still couldn't say a word. He flinched away. Frisk's heart broke for a moment. She got up and she held his real hands, setting the magic in her fingers aglow to warm him up. He smiled faintly.

"Is this normal?" she asked worriedly.

One of his false hands levelled out and moved from side to side, as if to say, "sort of".

"His soul's a mess," Sans said. "Told you it's, uh, pretty sound-based, right? So. His voice might kinda cut out every once in a while. We'll fix it. Eventually."

"That's scary," she said. "Sorry. Sans's totally right, though, if anyone can help you, it's him. Aaaaand maybe Alphys, I bet."

Gaster's smile widened a bit. He nodded and squeezed her hands gently. His shivering was lessening by the second.

"Ooh! Hey!" Papyrus said loudly. "You're right, I bet if anyone has something that could help, it would be Doctor Alphys, wouldn't it?! Maybe she's got some magic medicine stashed away in the lab! I could take the boat there, I guess, it wouldn't take that long."

"Shouldn't you be doin' the healin'?" Sans asked.

"Pffft, you could use the practice," Papyrus said. "Besides. Maybe Alphys will want to come back with me! She can't go your way."

 

He dashed to the door and swept up his big, purple Delta Rune sweater and ran out with a wave. Gaster huffed out a silent laugh and shot Sans a curious look. He shrugged.

"He's right, I guess," Sans said. "It's startin' to level out a little, actually. Kiddo, you wanna see if you can maybe do somethin' with it?"

"Oh! Yeah!" She hopped up to sit on the table. "Do you mind?" She shook out her hands and let them glow again, shooting him a sheepish smile. "I guess this might be a little ex… experimental," she said, "but I just saved a few minutes ago, so we won't really lose much if I gotta go back. If that's okay with you."

He seemed intrigued. He nodded.

 

Frisk reached out and put one hand on his head and the other on his soul. She closed her eyes and tried to visualize it as her magic snuck through his bones, trying to figure him out. She felt the chill in him. Like it was emanating from the centre of each bone. The picture his hum began to paint in her mind was such a jagged thing. It didn't even look like a soul. It seemed like it was split— out of alignment, like when those old tapes from the human world didn't run right and the picture overlapped and broke in places. She concentrated hard. He'd been fine just a few minutes ago, so she reached from there. His soul flickered in her mind's eye and, to her surprise, resisted. It was absolutely unmoved. She guessed that made sense, in a way. She bit her lip and felt the hair on the back of her neck stand up. Pushed it, just a little more.

 

There was a pressure settling behind her eyes but she let her magic give his soul a good, hard shove. The alignment slid, just a little. Just enough, it seemed, because she instantly heard Gaster let out a relieved sigh.

"Th-That… Oh. There it is. That feels better already," he said. He smiled warmly at her when she opened her eyes. "Oh!" He tentatively cupped her cheek. "Your eyes."

"Black or red?" she joked.

"Red."

"They'll be normal in a minute." She stretched. "Phew!"

"And, here." Sans appeared — though she hadn't realized he'd been gone— and handed her a steaming teacup. "Good work."

"Yeah, guess you're off the hook," she said with a grin.

He winked. "Exactly."

"Should we call Paps back?" she asked.

"Nah, he's probably right about Alph. She may have somethin' to help," he said.

 

Frisk nodded. She tipped back her tea and then let out a loud, deep breath. "Okay! I'm gonna go get some blankets and stuff so the couch'll be extra cozy, it'll be good." She passed Sans back her cup with a grateful smile and then bounded away quickly, though she did stumble on the last step.

 

Sans smiled fondly. "She's somethin' else, huh?"

Gaster touched his hand against his soul spot and he cracked a grin. "Very much so." He let out a deep breath, his shoulders sagging. "I'm sorry for causing so much trouble."

"Stop," Sans said.

"I can't believe it," he muttered. "That's… a lot of power for a child, isn't it?"

"She's got it handled," he said with a shrug.

"Hm." He smiled. "You've helped her a lot, I can see it."

He shrugged again.

"This is… so surreal," he said.

"Tell me about it."

 

Gaster paced the room quietly. He touched his fingertips against the wall. He hurried back into the kitchen and scoffed at the high sink. He took note of the ladder beside one of the counters.

"I can't believe I'm here," he said quietly.

"Yeah, weird," Sans said.

"That you're here," he said quietly. "And Papyrus… He's so… So… everything. Everything I wanted for him."

"Yeah, he's pretty great," Sans said.

"And Frisky, she's just…" He put a hand to his soul. "I… I just wish…" Gaster's eyes traced back to the stairs. He tented his fingers and recoiled nervously onto himself. His bones rattled and he sat down on the table to catch his breath. "There's a lot I want to talk about. I… I want to tell her so much."

"So go," he said.

Gaster drooped even lower. "It's… It's too much, isn't it? I… How do I explain?"

"Explain what?" Sans said.

"…How I left her there," he said softly. "How I… I was there but I couldn't… I couldn't even…"

"Dude. That's useless," Sans said. "She doesn't blame you."

 

Gaster winced. Sans nudged him with his elbow. The tall skeleton lifted his chin and he took a deep breath. He stood up stiffly and then grabbed Sans into a tight hug, causing him to grunt and laugh.

"Okay, okay. Seriously." Sans said. "Think you two need each other right now."

"Doesn't all this frighten her?" he asked sheepishly. "Don't I…? Am I not just some…? I don't know."

Sans rolled his eyes so dramatically that it might as well have been audible. Gaster's bones flushed and he laughed and shook his head.

"Okay, I take your point," he said.

 

He headed for the stairs and then hesitantly looked back at Sans. The short skeleton raised a hand and set blue upon his father's soul and gave him a gentle nudge. Gaster scoffed and forced himself upwards.

 

He knocked on the bedroom door, waiting to open it until he heard some sort of affirmation from the kid. He hesitantly edged in only to see Frisk assembling a pile of blankets and pillows near the bed, along with a couple books which, all together, would have been far too much for her to carry on her own. He watched how she moved, how the light played off her hair; how small she was in relation to everything around her. It was all so strange that is was real. He could see this kid— his daughter— with his own eyes.

"Hey! So, I got you some stuff to keep you warm," she said brightly, kneeling as she stacked up the books, with the largest one on the bottom. "And also to spend some time if you're kinda a night-owl like Paps is sometimes. I'm not sure what kinda books you like, so I grabbed a few. Do you like adventure stories?"

"Those are fine," he said.

 

It was weird, how real it was all feeling. He'd never expected her to know who he was. Never expected to be able to properly answer a single question she asked him. Never dared to hope for this.

 

"Cool! There's this one series called the Trident of Vengeance that's really good. There's like, four books, if you like this one? Me and Sans are on book three right now," she said.

He was snapped from his thoughts. "Oh? He… reads to you, does he?"

"We trade chapters every once in a while," she said. "I'm still learning. But I'm getting a lot better. Annnnd… Um." She turned back to look at him and gently placed a final book down in the small pile. "Hey, are you okay? Does your soul hurt after that? It's not just going back, is it?"

"It's fine for now," he said quietly.

"Phew!" she said.

 

He shuffled awkwardly. Took him a second to get the words out. "Frisky. Um. May I talk to you, for a moment?"

She looked back at him over her shoulder. "Yeah, dude, of course."

He smiled fondly. He sat on the floor and she plunked down across from him. Carefully, he held her hands. She was momentarily fascinated by the holes in his palms. He chuckled.

"How are you?" he asked.

"I'm good," she said.

"Good. Good." He raised a hand towards her head, then paused. "I'm… sorry, I never asked if you mind."

She shook her head. He gently brushed a little hair away from her face. He looked thoughtful. She laughed.

"It's okay, you can touch my head and stuff. Papyrus was pretty interested in my hair when we first met, too," she said.

"It's just… I hope this doesn't come off as too clinical, but you're absolutely fascinating to me," he admitted. "I wonder how this is what you came to look like."

She smiled hesitantly and shrugged.

 

Honestly, the skeleton was enthralled by every aspect of her. Why had the determination picked that specific brown tone for her hair; why this lighter one for her skin? Why this warm chestnut colour for her eyes? Why these cute, sharp little features? All of it was perfect. He was sure whatever she looked like, he would have found it perfect, but even so… He chuckled and gently ruffled her hair. "You're very cute," he said.

She scoffed, her cheeks flushing. "Aw, nah."

He cautiously reached out towards her face. "May I?" he asked.

"Yeah, sure, go ahead," she said.

He curiously cupped her face in both hands. He felt her ears carefully. Then, her eyebrows. Cautiously, he brushed his thumb over the scar near her eye that ran down her cheek. "That mark…" he said quietly.

"Just a magic burn," she said. "From Sans saving my butt one time. No worries."

"Ah, you were lucky, then. Sitting down might have become quite awkward," he said.

She snorted.

 

He tilted her head upwards gently with his fingers under her chin. He looked thoughtful and then held her hands, his fingers focussing particularly on her knuckles and her fingernails. There were a lot of tiny, faint marks scratched on her skin. A particularly light one on the side of her hand stood out. She took the opportunity to gently touch the ridge of the holes in one of his palms.

"A little different, isn't it?" he said, smiling.

"Do they hurt?" she asked.

His smile only grew. "That's funny. When you saw them the first time, that was what you asked me right away," he said. "They don't. Not anymore. Just a little sensitive to the cold."

"Was that how you made Sans and Paps?" she asked. "You took parts of your hands?"

He nodded. "I did. It was a hole thing."

"Pfff! So you're where he gets it from," she teased.

He smiled wide. He held out his left, and then his right. "Sans. And Papyrus. Left first. For no other reason than I'm right-handed. Strange, isn't it?"

"You weren't expecting him, huh?" she asked.

"I wasn't."

"But you expected Papyrus?" she asked.

"You know, back then," he said, "we basically lived in the lab. And, poor Sans, when he was little, all he really had was me. And the King, and an intern or two, every once in a while. So I thought… a little brother, that'd be just right for him, wouldn't it?"

Frisk grinned and nodded. "That's really perfect, actually," she said. "I, um… I'm not sure how I…? Oh." Her cheeks flushed. "Actually. I think I kinda read your diary. About when you made Sans. I mean. I didn't know what that was at the time"

"Diary…? Oh! You mean my subjective experience notes for the experiment." He laughed. "Good, I'm glad, actually. Do you remember it, now?"

"Do I…? Oh! Yeah!" she said. "Wow, that's weird."

 

Gaster chuckled and looked at her fondly. He lifted her hands up again and his eyes roamed her skinny arms. His cool fingertips tested her skin. "These little marks," he muttered.

"From climbing the mountain, mostly," she said a bit shyly. "No big deal."

His brow furrowed a little. His thumb brushed over the faint discolouration of a scar on the side of her neck. "These… These are all scars, correct?"

She nodded.

"How did you get this one?"

"Oh. Umm. You know, I can't really remember," she said apologetically. "Probably from climbing under a fence or something, I dunno. Honestly, half the time I don't even notice getting scratched."

 

He sighed. He pulled back and rubbed at his forehead, like a headache was coming on. "Frisky. Frisk. I… I came up here because I wanted to apologize."

"Um. Okay. What for?" she asked with confusion.

He went quiet for a little; looked like he was trying to gather his thoughts. He put a hand on her shoulder gently. "Do you remember anything at all from when you were…? When you were very, very young?"

Frisk frowned a little. She thought back, and then shrugged and shook her head. "Like, really really little? Dunno. Not very much."

He sighed with relief. "Thank god," he said quietly. "I just… wanted to say, I'm sorry. I couldn't help you. I… tried."

"Hey, that's okay," she said. "I think I turned out okay. I'm a bit short, but that's fine, right?"

 

He smiled a little, but it was poorly masking a heavy sense of heartbreak. He pulled her into his arms and held her, cozy against his chest. "You… You do get enough to eat now, don't you? And… And you stay warm? You've stayed safe, right?" He shuddered and his voice went soft. "I'm… so sorry. Frisky, I'm so sorry."

"What? C'mon," she said quickly. "I'm okay! I'm okay. Everything is okay."

 

She felt his shoulders tremble. He snuggled her and he let out a raspy, tearful huff. Her heart broke for him.

"C'mon," she said gently. "It's okay."

"I… c-couldn't… I couldn't… do anything." His voice was gravelly and quiet. "I c-couldn't even… I couldn't even k-keep you warm. Y-You were… You were always so cold, and… A-And… so tiny, and… sweetheart, I'm so sorry."

 

Frisk was floored. She held him tight and squeezed her eyes shut, glowing as bright as she could. He breathed in sharply at the touch of her soul to his, then let her sink in as close as she could get despite the frozen spikiness of his. She felt his sorrow, his relief; his heartache. That desperate helplessness. The weight of his twisted, melted form; the inability to say a coherent word to those he cared about most in the world. How useless he felt.

She gulped. Her eyes welled up. Her throat felt like sand. She reached up and wrapped her arms around the back of his neck. "Hey. Listen," she said quietly. "It's okay. We're all here. We're all together."

"…It was all… my fault."

"Dad." She pulled back enough to cup his face, red shimmering in her palms.

The tears on his bones were glowing from the mismatched light burning in his eye sockets.

"Hey. Hey," she said. "Look at me. Okay? Look at me right in the eyes."

He did as she asked and she nodded and started to smile.

"I forgive you," she said.

He blinked. "W… What?"

"I forgive you. I know telling you it isn't your fault will never fly, huh? You'll always carry that with you, no matter what words I say. So. I forgive you. And besides." She grinned a little. "Your biggest goof-ups made Sans and me, and because of that we could save Asriel and everyone else, so, I think that's not so bad a record, right?"

 

He stared with shock for a few long seconds. He scooped her up in a hurry, starting to grin, and he let out a dry, raspy laugh. "You're perfect," he said quietly. "You're just perfect."

She giggled and kissed his cheek gently. "Naw, nobody's perfect. Except Papyrus."

He chuckled. He ran his fingers gently through her hair. He went quiet for a little and she clung to him, closing her eyes and letting her energy connect to his. It wasn't like with her brothers, but the familiarity made it all but effortless.

 

He breathed out a long, quiet sigh. "I… I'm sorry. I wish you hadn't seen that," he said.

"No, it was good," she assured him. "Don't hold stuff like that in, dude, you'll get super sick."

"I just…" He sighed. "I wish I could have been… normal."

"But you couldn't, so you did your best, and everything's fine now," she assured him, and she laughed. "Jeez. This is too familiar."

"Frisky, I…" He rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hand. "Thank you. Honestly. You're… You're very kind. I…" He sighed. "I'm not sure if I deserve that. But. I do appreciate it. Oh. And… A-And, please, if you're uncomfortable at any point, don't… I mean. You don't have to call me…" He drooped, his shoulders trembling. "This must be so incredibly strange for you. I'm sorry, I just— "

"Hey. So. I mean, you remember me, don't you?" Frisk said.

"Wh…What?" he asked.

"You remember everything, right? Like what we talked about and stuff? When you were in the void thing? Or what about when we kinda lived in that shed, or near the riverbank in that town with the big clock tower, huh? Or any of those other places."

"Of course," he said hurriedly.

She grinned and hugged him tighter. "Me too, now. So, you don't gotta act like you're just showing up outta nowhere, you know? Maybe I dunno all the stuff about you, but I feel like that's kinda okay. You know?"

Gaster chuckled softly. "…Hah. Thank you." He had to wipe his eyes once more. "Maybe, could we keep that I had a bit of a moment in here quiet from the others?"

Frisk snickered. "Five gold says Sans totally already knows."

"You're right, I'm certainly not taking that bet," he said.

 

He pulled back to catch his breath and wiped his eyes. "Chuaigh cos," he grumbled. "I never used to be like this. And now I'm bursting into tears at absolutely anything."

Frisk grinned and she started to laugh. She hugged him again. "Me too! Can I tell you something?"

"Of course," he said swiftly.

"I totally cried over Paps's spaghetti, too," she said. "When I came back. Hey. Bet we're pretty alike, huh?"

"I wouldn't be shocked," he said.

 

She looked thoughtful. She stood on her toes and waved him closer. When he leaned down curiously, she grabbed his head and gently bonked it against hers.

"Stole it," she said.

"Wh… What?" he asked.

"Sans does that for me," she said. "Whenever I get too low. It helps."

"A… transfer of thoughts?" he asked.

"It's not real," Frisk said, sticking her tongue out. "But! Pretend it is. And then it's just somewhere else. It helps. Promise."

 

Gaster started at her for a few seconds before he began to smile. He chuckled. "You're lovely. It may take a while, but, honestly, that does help."

"Gotcha covered, dad," she assured him.

He smiled a bit wider, his cheekbones flushing. She grinned.

"I have an idea," she said. "We should ask Sans if we can watch his favourite tape."

"His favourite tape?" he repeated.

Frisk nodded enthusiastically. "It's really funny," she said. "I don't think you've seen it, he found it after your accident, but it's one of my favourites now, too. But I'm sure you'll love it. Might cheer you up a little." She got to her feet.

He slumped a little and then plopped on his back onto the floor. "If I fall to pieces in the meanwhile, just ask Papyrus to reassemble me, alright? He always loved puzzles."

Frisk snickered. "You got it. I'll go ask Sans," she said. "I'm sure he'll say yes. Just catch your breath, okay? You're gonna be just fine. Promise."

"Hah. Thank you."

 

Frisk scurried out of the room and slid down the banister to meet Sans, who was lazing on the couch. "Hey," she said.

"Hey." He smiled a bit. "He okay now? Get some of that guilt outta his system?"

"Getting there," Frisk said. "Do you think we could watch that tape with the robots?"

"Mhm."

She grinned. "He's gonna love it!"

"Guess I'll get it." Sans vanished.

Frisk scampered into the kitchen and put the kettle on and got the packets for the hot chocolate out.

 

By the time she finished making it, Sans was back on the sofa, drowsily holding the remote. She gave him a mug and he raised it gratefully. She shot him a thumbs-up and then hurried back upstairs. Gaster was still on the floor. Still in one piece.

 

"Heya," she said. "You're not in a pile, that's good. Caught your breath at all?"

"A bit," he said. "Thank you."

"Brought you something."

He looked at her curiously and then sat up, rubbing the back of his skull. She passed him the warm mug. He looked at it blankly for a few seconds and then sipped it.

"Ooh. That's nice. Thank you, Frisky. Frisk. Sorry."

"Why sorry?" she asked.

"You chose Frisk."

"That's okay!" she said with a laugh. "Seems like every monster I ever met had a new nickname for me! I don't mind whatever you call me."

 

He smiled bashfully. When he got to his feet, he chugged his drink and patted Frisk gently on the head. "Thank you," he said again.

She grinned and nodded. She grabbed his hand and brought him downstairs.

 

She got him to the couch with Sans and took his mug from him to refill it. He sat down and rubbed at his eyes. Sans shot him a sympathetic smile. He held out his hand. His father raised his brows, but he grabbed it, and Sans grinned and shocked him with a little pulse of blue.

"You alright?" he asked.

Gaster nodded. He rubbed his brow with the heel of his hand. "Croith mé. I… I need to keep it together," he muttered.

"You gotta forgive yourself a little, huh?" Sans said. "Won't do that kid any good if she sees guilt in you whenever you look at her."

"You're right," Gaster said. "I can't hold onto that forever. It'll drive me crazy."

"Drive me crazy, too," Sans said with a wink.

 

Frisk came back with more hot chocolate for Gaster, and then squished herself between the two skeletons quite comfortably. Sans took a sip of his drink and grinned, ruffling her hair.

"Ah, kiddo, you're too good to me," he said.

She shook her head, but grinned wide. "Happy you like it," she said.

"You're not still spiking things with ketchup, are you?" Gaster asked.

"You know it," Sans said.

He rolled his eyes and laughed, giving Frisk a playful nudge with his elbow. "I have no idea where he gets that from," he said.

Chapter Text

 

Papyrus forced himself to tone down his usually cacophonous greeting to his family as he returned home with Alphys in tow. Two of the usual suspects were dozed off on the couch, while their newest addition silently watched what was left of their show with heavy eyes, arms folded tightly to his chest. Alphys twiddled her fingers in a wave and he raised a couple digits off his arm to return the gesture and smiled.

“I g-guess it went well, then?” she asked quietly.

Gaster looked down at the slumped pair and he gently patted Frisk’s head with a fond smile.

“Are you being quiet because they are sleeping or did you lose your voice again?” Papyrus asked worriedly.

The phantom, blue hands appeared and held up two fingers. Papyrus sighed.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “But! Luckily! I brought help.”

 

“Paps?” Frisk sat up groggily, blinking, and Sans fell away from her and onto the floor. She looked around and smiled at Alphys, then noticed Gaster. She yelped and then began to laugh. “Oh!! You’re still here!”

To the skeleton’s surprise, the kid threw her arms around him. His bones flushed instantly and, through shivers, he hugged her close.

“Ah, F-Frisk, you look so happy!!” Alphys said with a big smile. “Um. Y-You, um…? No h-hard f-f-feelings, right?”

“Course not,” Frisk said. “Jeez, Alphys.”

“Aaaah, I’m sorry, though!” she said.

“But you remember that one story you did? The DadSans AU? You were almost right, though, isn’t that weird?” the kid asked.

Alphys stared back blankly. She blushed. “Oh n-no, no no no, don’t b-bring that up!! Oh god. I mean…” She coughed into her fist and hurriedly tried to straighten herself up despite her wobbly smile. “Did you guys, umm…? Did y-you have an okay time? I mean, meeting and everything?”

Gaster stuck four thumbs up and couldn’t help but grin. Frisk let him go, but turned as she sat on his lap and smiled brightly. He bashfully kept a light, huggy hold on her.

“It’s not like it was the first time!” she said with a laugh. “Buuttt, it was totally my first time having a dad for real, though, so that was extra exciting. Mostly I was just super happy he wasn’t a goo-mess.”

“I b-bet,” Alphys said gently.

 

She turned her eyes on the tall skeleton and frowned with a feigned disapproval. She put her hands on her hips. “G-Gaster, why didn’t you say you were h-having this kind of issue, huh? Papyrus had to tell me a-all about it!”

He looked embarrassed and his phantom hands shrugged. The lizard sighed dramatically. She brushed her finger across her phone screen and a big white box on a trolly clunked out onto the floor, the sound finally waking Sans, who leaned up curiously on his elbow.

 

Alphys knocked on the top of the box with her fist and it popped open, revealing a few compartments of things, including a small, dark screen with the shape of a soul in white on it. She took out a stethoscope— in some sense, anyway, it was a little more like a modified set of earmuffs — plugged it into the screen, and then touched its little metal disk against the skeleton’s soul spot after Frisk shifted off his lap to give her access.

 

The lizard yelped and pulled back the second she heard it, eyes wide. “Jeez!!! G-Gaster, that sounds h-horrible!!”

“It’s, uh…” His voice was a croak. He smiled sideways. “It’s no lullaby, for sure.”

“And you k-keep losing your voice, right?” she said.

“I do, I…” It happened again. He shrugged.

 

Alphys leaned over the screen where the picture of the soul looked more like some sort of burr or crystallized spike of ice as its corrupted waveform tried to play around an already shattered image. Papyrus leaned over too and winced.

“That looks like it hurts,” he said. “Does it hurt?”

Gaster shook his head. He opened his mouth but words were still gone. He flinched. Frisk held out her phone. He stared back at her with surprise, and she opened a note app. He took it from her and tried to type, but his fingers were shaking too hard. He drooped. She held out her hand to him in reply. He looked puzzled until she tapped on her palm.

“Well?” she said.

He grinned wide and gently grasped her hand in his to hold it steady. Slowly, he began to trace letters in her palm and she concentrated hard as he did.

“What’re you doing?” Papyrus asked curiously.

Frisk held up one finger to ask him to wait. After a minute, she smiled at him. “We used to do this all the time when he was just speaking weird backwards language but he needed to tell me something,” she said. “He says it doesn’t hurt, it’s just cold. But it gets a lot colder right before it happens. Right?”

Gaster nodded.

 

Alphys looked thoughtful and she tapped her chin. “Th-That sounds an awful lot like a bad but pretty n-normal case of the offkeys.”

“Offkies?” Frisk asked.

“S’kinda like a cold where your soul kinda goes outta sync with the rest of ya,” Sans explained. “Not super common, but it happens.”

“Oooooh, off key, I get it. Is that kinda like a worse version of what happened to Undyne when she fixed your head?” Frisk asked.

“Kinda.”

“Oh! Th-Thanks for bringing that up, Frisk,” Alphys said, and she looked at Gaster with a reassuring smile. “I think I kinda know what t-to do for you, but after that, I w-want you do go do an a-attunement with Undyne, okay? Sh-She managed to get F-Frisk’s hum going with it, so it should be strong enough to help you, um, if you do it right. Aaaand w-we should find you a n-notepad to carry around, in case th-that shaking stops. Okay?”

Gaster looked intrigued. He nodded. Alphys smiled and texted with one hand, but she still looked like she was a little at a loss.

“N-Now… We have, um, a f-few options, but… Hmm…?”

Sans gestured to the box. “Opera cake?” he suggested.

“Ah! Good idea!!” she said with a grin.

 

She typed something quickly into the screen and, out of one of the compartments, raised something that looks suspiciously like a microwave. Instead of numbers or temperatures, though, the numbers on the front listed status increases and flavours. Alphys hit on coffee, chocolate, cream, batter, and a music note, and then zapped the thing so hard with yellow magic that she squeaked and hopped away, shaking her hand out. The machine beeped melodically.

“AH! Jeez.” She laughed. “Well. Give it a m-minute.”

“What is that, exactly?” Papyrus asked.

“Is it like a tiny oven?” Frisk said, leaning closer.

“Sort of! It’s e-experimental.” Alphys grinned proudly. “I a-actually started working on it around the same t-time as Mettaton’s body, but I never finished it, but b-basically it should make, um, small doses of concentrated status-reduction or status-increasing foods. You know, t-to cure poison or… or b-burns or whatever. It w-was supposed to go in first aid kits, but without, um, humans coming back down here— with the exception of you, Frisk— it wasn’t really needed. I mean. It’s a bit simpler now s-since we know h-humans don’t actually have magic anymore, soooo…” She pulled a can of soda out of her purse and held it out to Gaster. “Anyway. I need you to drink this.”

He popped the tab and chugged it without complaint.

 

The small oven rumbled and dinged. She pulled out a little tray of tiny, wrapped squares. She unpackaged one, stared at it intently, and poked it. It let out a soft, chocolatey note of music that hung, sweet, in the air. She passed it to Gaster.

“Give th-that a try.”

He ate it quickly and, after a few seconds, the picture on the monitor shifted slightly. Looked a little more heart-shaped. They all stared at the skeleton curiously and he let out a quiet sigh that did, in fact, carry his voice.

“Ah… That’s a little better,” he said. “Thank you.”

“Knew it!” Alphys said with a smile.

 

Alphys yanked a paper bag out from yet another compartment. She shovelled all the other little squares into it and handed them to him. “Keep these. And t-take one if you feel that ch-chill coming on again, okay?”

“I should have suspected you’d know what to do,” he said with a smile. “And this… attunement you mentioned, you think that might be some sort of help?”

“Might be a fix, even, judgin’ by what it managed to do to a human soul, even,” Sans said.

“That’s interesting. I’ve… I’ve heard the word,” Gaster said, “but I didn’t realize it was still a common practice.”

“It’s not, I’ve literally never heard of it except from through Undyne,” Papyrus said. “So… I guess that offkeys thing isn’t incredibly common, is it? ”

“N-Not really, it’s usually c-caused by, um, extreme strain,” Alphys said. “And… Again, since there wasn’t much to really s-strain about with no humans around, I think there’s only been maybe a d-dozen cases in the last, I dunno, five years. ANYWAY. SO. Gaster, take it easy, okay?”

“I will do my best,” he said.

“Y-You’d better! Honestly, how long did you say y-you’ve been back? Have you even slept since then?!”

“Well, not exactly,” he said. “In my defence. I did have some very important things to take care of.”

Alphys laughed and shook her head. “You h-haven’t changed at all, huh?” She pointed at Sans. “You make sure h-he takes care of himself. Have you even had a meal?!”

“I did do that,” he said, somewhat sheepishly. “Ná bíodh imní ort.

“I’ll w-worry if I want to!” Alphys laughed and thumped his shoulder. “Honestly.”

 

Frisk looked over at the bashful skeleton. The bone around his eye sockets was pretty dark.

“Hey, dad?” she said. “I mean. It’s not that late. But it’s kinda late. And if you wanna go to sleep, we could totally just leave you alone, or you could use one of the beds upstairs. Mom’s gone for the weekend, so—”

“I’m just fine.” He forced himself to his feet. “Actually. There’s… There’s something I should do.”

 

Though Papyrus and Frisk looked at him curiously, Alphys nodded and grabbed his hand, shooting him a smile.

“Want me to go with you?” she asked.

“Part of the way,” he said. “I’ll walk you home.”

“Oh! I get it! Are you going to see Asgore?” Papyrus asked. “ALSO! GASP! That means you will see Asriel!! Will you be okay?!”

“I… Well…” Gaster smiled bashfully. “Probably not. But. I’m eager for it anyway. And don’t worry. I’ll explain everything to them.”

 

Frisk looked thoughtful. She grabbed his bag. “You have a phone?”

“I do.” He passed it over.

She flipped it open and swiped through menus for the dimension box to put it away. She frowned slightly. “Did…? Did you get my texts?”

“Just a little bit before we met,” he said quietly. He looked ashamed.

She smiled, much to his surprise. She quickly brushed her the back of her hand over one of her eyes. “G-Good! I’m glad. I, um, kinda used some of those like a diary a little at some point, so, um, they might be a little embarrassing.”

“I won’t read them if you don’t want me to,” he said swiftly.

“I wouldn’t have sent them if I didn’t,” Frisk said with a laugh.

“I w-wondered why you had so many texts,” Alphys said quietly. She raised her hands quickly. “Ah!! I didn’t r-read them, I p-promise.”

Frisk giggled and shook her head. She stood up on the couch and grabbed Gaster’s hand, making sure he took the phone tightly. “Need a little time, huh? Be careful, okay?”

“Careful?” he asked curiously.

“Yeah. If you’re still not feeling well. Keep your phone on. There’s, um, a new waterproof app, so make sure you get that, in case you start shaking really hard in Waterfall or something.  And there’s a flashlight, too, it works way better than just using the screen for light if you need it. And don’t do anything weird,” she said. “Just, y’know, come back and stuff.”

 

Gaster was taken aback. He was at a loss for a few seconds, then grabbed the kid into a warm hug. Sans burst out laughing.

“Hopeless,” he joked.

“I know, I know” Gaster said.

 

- - -

 

Riding down the dark river was so familiar. It was strange for Gaster to feel the wind traveling the groove in his head. He rested his elbows on the side of the boat and watched the crystals form streaks of light above them. Even back before the CORE, he hadn’t taken the boat in far too long.

 

“S-So.” Alphys scooted up beside him. She smiled warmly. “H-How are you holding up?”

“I’m consistently a wreck. I can’t stop crying. My soul feels like it’s full of holes and icicles.” He grinned. “So. All in all. I’m doing very well, actually.”

“Hah! W-Well, I’m glad.” she said. She stretched her arms high above her head and popped her back. “You g-gotta, um, let me know if you need any m-more help with anything at all, okay? I mean… T-Ten year leave of absence, right?”

“That’s still very surreal to me,” he said. “All of this is. But it must be for you, as well.”

“Oh m-my god, you don’t even know!” She laughed and blushed. “I mean. I know it’s not n-nearly as bad as what happened to you, but having… I d-don’t know, almost two sets of memories, with and without you, it’s so w-weird! Like… I guess how t-time decided to cover you up.”

“Do you mind if I ask?” he said.

“No! It’s actually w-weird, it’s d-different for different situations,” she said. “Mostly it’s either you’re just gone, or sometimes it’s like you’re a passerby a-at the edge whose voice and f-face you can’t actually remember.”

Gaster’s gaze drifted off. He tried to wrap his mind around it. “That is interesting.” The crystals began to blur in his eyes. “I apologize if I caused you any stress.”

“You’re worth it,” she said. She took his phone from him. “Now let’s just fix this up f-for you.”

 

He’d zoned out almost completely when Alphys touched his hand. He jumped. She looked at him expectantly.

“Sorry, did you say something?” he asked.

“I w-was just wondering,” she said as she returned his phone, “how it was, meeting F-Frisk? Was it l-like you hoped?”

“Oh! She found me out before I even approached her. And… she was incredibly sweet. Funny thing, I thought she might panic, but it turned out I was the one who… Hah. She ended up comforting me more than anything else. Strange, isn’t it?”

Alphys laughed. “No. That sounds j-just like her, actually.” She smiled. “She’s a r-really good kid. She works h-hard on everything she tries. You’re going to really l-like getting to know her.”

“I know,” he said.

She patted his shoulder. “H-Hey. You’re going to be okay. I j-just know it.”

He was sure she was right. He’d probably have to rinse out his eye sockets at the end of this, but he supposed that was inevitable.

 

He walked Alphys back to the lab after disembarking, and she promised she would show him how the lab had changed since he’d left— once he was more settled, that is.

 

There were many of the star-like tears in time in Hotland. They looked strangely suited for the environment. He reached his hand into one to try to pull himself through. He was certain there was one near Asgore’s house — could see it in his mind’s eye after a few seconds. When he emerged, though, slumping out onto grey stone, he couldn’t see anything at all. He felt like a slosh. As if his body had melted and he preferred freezing back into some structure despite the numbing frost.

 

It took him a while to heave himself up on his hands and knees, and for his eyes to decide they wanted to function again. He felt an awful, chattering chill through his bones and coughed up a mouthful of pitch tar that, after a moment, dissolved into the stone below him as if sucked into a sponge. Miserable experience, he thought. Reserve that for emergencies. He supposed he’d have to take the long way home.

 

He managed to steady enough to clunk himself into a sitting position. He took a long, deep breath and pulled out his phone with shaking fingers. It took him far too long to hit the right button, and but he managed to get the bag of tiny opera cakes and hurriedly ate one. After a few seconds, he felt like he could move again. The moments he took catching his breath felt like an hour, and almost as soon as he felt like he had it, it slipped away from him with a start when his phone rang, just once.

 

Fumbling for it, he peered at it with squinting eyes and took off his glasses, rubbed his sockets, and then put them back on. It was a text, from Frisk. He almost choked. He’d accidentally sent her a gibberish message in his bumblings.

u ok?” she asked.

Sorry to worry you.” He replied quickly. “I’m fine. My fingers slipped.

ok!!! take it slow!!! <3” she sent back.

He appreciated that. More than she knew. He sighed to himself and tried to calm his buzzing, distorted resonance.

 

His legs felt numb and it hurt a little to walk, but he trudged down the path across the high walkway overlooking the city below. It hardly looked a day older than the last time he came this way, though seeing it with a faint amount of colour tinting the buildings was a pleasant surprise.

 

The sight of Asgore’s house, warm and welcoming, and with a hint of colour itself, at the end of the road sent his mind reeling. He had a flash of doubt. Would his old friend recall? He hoped desperately that he would. And Asriel… Nothing would prepare him for that.

 

He took a deep breath. He was glad he hadn’t thrown himself into the world from the starlight that glimmered right before the doorway. Didn’t want to spew inexplicable time goo out on his King’s doorstep. Another deep breath. It would be fine. Memories or not, Asgore was one of the kindest monsters to ever live. He’d hear him out regardless, he was sure. Even so, he brushed himself off and straightened his scarf. He knocked on the door. Nerves made the pulse in his soul speed and the inside of his skull get uncomfortably hot.

“Howdy! Please come in!” he heard from somewhere inside. “I’m just tidying some teacups! I’ll be with you in a second!”

 

Gaster’s hands were shaking when he opened the door. The inside was cozy. It smelled like flowers. Just like he remembered it. Like stepping into a warm, familiar family photograph. The memories of this place sang.

“Who’s there, by the way?” Asgore called.

The skeleton felt like a nervous child.  “Um. It’s, uh, Gaster.”

 

He heard china clink heavily. In the moment it took for the sound to finish, Asgore— in a big cushy green and white sweater, scented with pleasant orange dish soap— was in the hallway before him, eyes wide with shock. Gaster waved a little nervously and was immediately squashed into a tight hug. The huge monster let out a booming laugh and, shaking, Gaster gripped into him and withered with a sigh of relief. He started to glow and certainly couldn’t be bothered to keep it in check as he melted against his friend’s shoulder.

 

“GASTER! W. D. Gaster, how are you, you old bag of bones?!” Asgore demanded.

“I’m… shattered. And a mess. But. I’m good,” he said. He pulled back and thumped him on both shoulders. “You? H-How are you?”

“I am excellent!” Asgore was positively beaming. “It’s so good to see you!”

Gaster grinned tiredly. “You haven’t changed a bit.”

“You have! Don’t be so nervous coming into my home, old friend!” Asgore said. He cupped his skull with a huge, soft paw. “I can’t believe it! Look at you! You look good!”

“With these old broken bones?” he joked.

“Of course. What happened?”

“Ah. Um. Internal magic blowout,” he said. “It’s… It’s fine. It’s just a bit unsightly.”

“Nonsense, as long as it’s no harm, then it’s just fine,” Asgore said gently. “But…” His brow furrowed. “I… I’m not sure I understand. Where were you? It’s been… It has to have been ten years, hasn’t it?”

“About that,” he said. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t apologize! It must’ve been very important, but… Where were you? Why on earth didn’t I send out a search?” he asked, and his brow furrowed just a bit. “Wow, this will sound absolutely awful, but I don’t think I even realized you were missing until just now, now that I think about it.”

 

Gaster couldn’t help a smile. He had to take off his glasses to wipe his eyes and he laughed. Asgore hugged him tight again. He chuckled, though he could feel tears encroaching on him.

“I know. That’s fine,” he said. “I was erased from time, no one realized.”

 

Asgore let him go, giving him enough room to wipe his face on his scarf. Even so, tears dripped down his cheeks. He laughed at himself.

“Sorry, I just can’t seem to stop crying today,” he said.

“Don’t you dare apologize for that!” Asgore said. His ears bristled. “But. What did you say? Erased from time?” His voice came out a little shrilly. He passed a hand through his golden hair and let out a deep breath. “Oh. Right. Right, right. All that time travel stuff. I didn’t realize you were involved in that. But, I guess, of course you were, right?”

“I presume someone at least tried to explain that part?” Gaster asked worriedly.

“Oh! Yes, yes, don’t worry,” he said. “Sans did. And Alphys. And Fr… Oh!! Oh. My god. Um. Gaster, I don’t know how to say this, so I guess I’ll just say it. A-Asriel’s alive. A little human came down here and she… she saved him.”

The skeleton couldn’t help a grin. “So I was told. My boys seem very fond of him. And Frisk, well…” He felt his soul stutter. He laughed weakly at himself. “Sorry. I’m just a mess whenever I even mention her.”

“Oh?” Asgore tilted his head. “Oh! You must’ve met her! Because of Sans and Papyrus! They’re always together, it’s so sweet.”

 

He took Gaster’s shoulder and guided him towards the kitchen. “Come, come, let’s get you something to drink! When did you get back exactly?”

“Yesterday. I think,” he said. “My sense of time is a little skewed at the moment.”

Asgore filled the kettle up with water for what felt like Gaster’s dozenth hot drink today, not that he minded. “And what changed, exactly? Did you… accomplish whatever you were trying to do?” He put it on the burner and turned the stovetop on.

It was strange— it had been so long, but this felt so normal; so familiar. “As much as I could. But, honestly, I wasn’t supposed to come back,” Gaster said quietly.

 

Asgore almost stumbled; whirled on him with a worried frown sinking his brow. “What on earth do you mean by that? You can’t tell me you meant to sacrifice—?!”

“I know. I know what you’re going to say.” Gaster put up his hands quickly. “But when I say there was no other choice, I sincerely mean it this time.”

“But you thought there was no way to come back?” he demanded. “Gaster, come now, you couldn’t possibly…” Asgore sighed and took his friend’s hand gently. His big fingers passed very deliberately over the hole in his palm. “I know… that this one here is irreplaceable but… you’ve made enough sacrifices for us, my friend.”

 

The skeleton couldn’t help the colours in his eyes from flaring. Asgore cracked a smile and laughed quietly, grabbing his other hand and squeezing them both.

“So! Tell me! How does one come back from being erased in time, hm?” he asked.

“Actually… Frisk found me,” he said. “That’s… part of how I—”

“Oh! No wonder you’re so emotional about her,” he said. “You must be so grateful. I am! And I bet she just loved you, right? She’s absolutely inseparable from your boys.”

“There is that,” he said.

 

Asgore pulled out a teapot that looked like a bunny and gently put a sprinkle of tealeaves and golden flower petals into the little strainer at its centre. “I don’t know how much they told you, but it’s thanks to that girl that the barrier’s down now. Such a brave little thing. And so powerful, my goodness! Good thing she’s on our side. Maybe it’s not my place to say, but I’m very proud of her. You will just love her, I’m sure of it.”

“I do,” he said softly. “More than I have the words for.”

Asgore beamed. He patted him on the shoulder. “Oh! Actually. Speaking of humans. I have something you will be happy to see. Something very precious.” He took an old, battered phone from his sweater and put it on the counter, and then whisked a midnight blue, bound tome from inside it. He cradled it in his hands carefully before handing it over to the skeleton. “Does it look familiar?”

 

There was no title on the thick book, but there was an inlaid border in faint, metallic gold. Skeleton runes, even older than the ones Gaster knew. His eyes went wide.

“But how…?!” He opened it and his jaw dropped at the sight of pages scrawled with handwritten notes of spells in complex music.

Most of it was written in the skeleton script. The ink was in red and blue, depending on the page, and the magic compositions were heavy and dire, and a bit sombre. Custom spells that would be difficult even for a very strong monster to use.

“A… A book of Dirges?! How…? Where did you get this? I thought this magic was all lost! It’s very…” His fingertips skimmed gently over a series of symbols. “Powerful.”

“What a wonderful time for you to come back, hm?” Asgore said with a fond smile.

 

Cnámha m’anam…” Gaster’s eyes shot up to meet his friend’s. “Where on earth did you find this?”

“It was given to me. By a human visitor,” the big monster said. “He said he’d found it buried in the archives of a university years ago, though nobody could read anything but the music itself. He gave it as a gift. Had no idea of the value. I offered him gold, but he refused.” He winked. “So I may have dropped some in his wife’s bag. Purely by accident, of course.”

“Of course.” Gaster chuckled. He wiped his wet eye sockets again and clutched the book to his chest. “So much was lost, but… This is really good news. If we could study this; develop some lessons from it, we may be able to get more monsters composing more complex spells on their own again.”

“It really is a whole new world,” Asgore said brightly. He threw his arms around the skeleton and grinned. “And things are going to be wonderful from now on!”

 

Gaster smiled. He offered the book back, but Asgore shook his head.

“No, my friend, you keep it with you,” he said. “You’re the most suited to read it.”

The skeleton nodded and stashed it away inside his own phone. He jolted slightly as a door closed down the hall. He felt himself go cold at the sound of paws on the wooden floor.

“Hey, dad? I was just wondering, if…?” Asriel froze in the kitchen’s entrance. His eyes went wide and his jaw dropped. “U-Uncle G?!”

 

Now, Gaster couldn’t keep it together. Didn’t even have time to think to try. He dropped to his knees and pulled the boy into his arms. Asriel squeaked with surprise, but quickly clung to him tightly.

 

Eons past flashed through Gaster’s mind. He’d been there for this child’s birth. He’d been a babysitter, a teacher; an uncle. He remembered Chara’s illness, Asriel’s return from the surface; his funeral. His dust spread in the garden. He remember the change in his friends. The colour draining from the city. The hole in the heart of the entire kingdom.

 

He could feel something of his daughter’s soul when Asriel’s lit up against him. The melody that played in that mishmash of energy, though, was as clear as a bell. He could hear it, that same song that had always belonged to the Prince. It was stronger now, though. More complete. Sure and steady in its position entangled in that red magic. It was one of the best things he’d ever heard.

 

Gaster’s breath was rasping and his vision blurred with tears, but he was beaming. “L-Let me look at you.” He pulled back and held the little goat’s face. Stripes on his cheeks and horns on his head, and much lighter irises, but no different than he remembered otherwise. “A stór, you’ve grown.”

Asriel grinned big canines at him and snickered despite his tear-filled eyes. “Jeez. Th-That was a surprise.”

“Absolutely—”

“Oh!! Oh my god.” The boy’s eyes bugged out. “…Shadowman?”

Gaster froze. It occurred to him that Asriel knew everything. Of course. His children were his siblings. “You’re right.”

“Holy crap!! Does Frisk know?!” he yelped. “Did you see her? Did she see you?!”

“I did. Everything…” He had to pull back and wipe his eyes. “Everything’s fine. You… Anam géar. Prince Dreemurr, I’m so glad to see you.”

“Hey, same to you!!” he said brightly. “Oh! Oh man! I…” He looked over past Gaster to see his father and smiled bashfully. “I have so much I wanna…! Hey! C-Can I show you something? It’s super cool!! I think you’ll like it.”

“Of course,” Gaster said. “Anything.”

Asriel hopped up and grabbed his hand. “I’ll be right back,” he told Asgore.

“Take as much time as you need, you two,” he said, his voice a little craggy from holding back tears. He smiled wide.

 

Gaster let the boy pull him to the bedroom. Once they were there, Asriel pushed the door closed, wiped his eyes again, and shot the skeleton a tired smile.

“Sorry,” he said. “You know my story, right? I think we have a lot to talk about.”

Gaster was taken aback. The boy’s voice wasn’t really different, but his inflection was. It was a lot less like the child he remembered.

“Are you alright?” he asked.

“Oh. Yeah. I’m fine. I’m really glad to see you,” he said. “My memories got rewritten right away. It’s kinda amazing. And… Wow, I guess you’re Sans and Papyrus’s dad, right?”

“I am. But… Asriel.” He held his shoulder. “You sound…”

“Oh. Heh. Yeah.” He brushed his thumb under his eyes again. “I kinda try to… to act more like before I died around dad, y’know? But I’m, uh… I’m older than I look. Or, at least, I’ve been around longer than I shouldda been.”

“Frisk told me everything,” he said quietly.

“Probably not everything, if I know her.” He winked. “Left some stuff for me, I bet.”

“She told me what happened to you,” he assured him. “I’m so sorry. It wasn’t your fault.”

“Eh, debatable. So. What’s your deal? Why were you around her so much? Time stuff?”

“Ah. Well. Partially, but…” He folded his arms. “This may be… This may be unbelievable. But. I thought I should tell you since she told me the sort of family you’ve all built. I’m her father.”

 

“Wow, that was quick,” Asriel said with wide eyes. He cupped his chin. “Well, actually, if you’ve known her since she was a little kid except you were a weird ghost, maybe it’s not actually that quick. That’s real good of you to adopt her, she’ll—”

“Oh. Sorry,” Gaster said, raising his hands quickly. “Not… Not adoption. I made her. In a sense.”

“You… made her,” he repeated.

“When I shattered in the CORE,” he said. “It made her soul out of mine.”

“Wh… Wait, WHAT?!” Asriel quickly cupped his paws over his mouth before he relaxed and let out a long, deep breath. “Dude, you’re serious?!”

Gaster nodded sheepishly. Asriel stared at him silently for a few moments. His ears lifted slightly.

“Huh. Well. Okay,” he said. “That’s… Alright! Okay. Good.”

“Good?” Gaster repeated with a laugh.

“Yeah, actually! Really good,” he said. “That means she’s safe. So. Good. How is she?”

“I think she’s okay,” he said.

“Good! That’s… That’s really good, actually. I’ll call her after you go,” he said. “Oh man. So. Like…” He grinned mischievously. “She’s my sister now, so does that mean I technically get two dads?”

“Um! If that’s what you need from me,” he said.

Asriel barked out a laugh and grinned up at him fondly. “You were always kinda good at that. Don’t worry. I won’t be weird about it. Really. I’m glad you’re here. And, jeez. I’m so glad it was you! Who was the shadowman guy, I mean.”

“Really?” he said.

“Yeah of course! To be totally real with you, I didn’t trust you at all.” He winked. “Frisk did. I’m glad I was wrong.”

Gaster chuckled. “Can’t say I blame you for your suspicions.”

 

A soft knocking on the door drew their attention.

“Sorry to interrupt,” Asgore’s voice called gently, “but the tea is ready.”

Asriel smiled and tilted his head towards the door. “We can talk about this more when I get home, alright?”

“Of course,” Gaster said. “Ah… Prince—”

“Hey, you don’t have to call me that,” he said. “Never did. Don’t worry. Let’s not keep the old man waiting.” He smiled brightly. “Welcome home, huh?”

 

The kid grabbed Gaster with arms that squeezed like a vice. He was strong. Too strong for his size. The skeleton had a million questions to ask, but he owed these two some answers before that.

 

- - -

 

Grey darkness settled in Snowdin, the air woven with big, fluffy snowflakes. A cozy, quiet blanket. Warm inside, Frisk watched from the window, phone clutched in her hands. She had so much she wanted to say.

 

She slipped upstairs when her brothers weren’t watching. The bedroom felt foreign for just a second. Everything did. Like everything had changed. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t the things that were different.

 

She rested her hand against her soul and felt its song tremble through her skin. Her eyes bubbled over with tears and she quickly tried to wipe them away. She took a deep breath and flopped back onto the blanket pile to catch her breath. Everything was hitting her like a sack of bricks. She took a deep, trembling breath and just let herself go, allowing the warm streams to fall down her face until she felt exhausted, but satisfied. She closed her eyes to rest.

 

Her head felt comfortably foggy. She only managed to rouse herself at all when she heard the sharp rap of knuckles against the door. She let out a quiet noise of affirmation. She heard the soft creak of the hinges and knew from the slowish steps that it was Sans. He plopped onto the floor beside her and put his hand on her forehead.

“Doin’ alright?” he asked.

“Hm? Oh. Yeah.” She opened her watery eyes and her smile widened a little. “I’m just really happy.”

“Yeah?” There was a little glimmer of blue in his eye. “Feels better?”

She looked at her hands and rubbed her thumbs over her fingers. “Yeah. Feels… weird. But good. I just…” She sat up and took her brother’s hands. She ran her thumb over his cool finger bones. “Look, I… I know this isn’t that huge of a deal for you. You’ve always been so amazing to me, you know? But for me, it’s just…”  Her eyes started watering again. She huffed.

Sans tilted his head and gently patted her hair. She smiled and took a deep breath.

“I n-never thought I’d… I never thought I’d know,” she said. “And I told myself, after living with you guys, that I didn’t even want to know anymore. Which w-was true, but… I thought I’d always have that little, stupid voice in my head telling me, they’re not really your brothers and they’d be just fine if you weren’t here. And… A-And now maybe it’ll shut the heck up.”

“Jeez, kiddo.” Sans smiled sympathetically and brushed her tears away with his thumb. “C’mere, huh?” He waved her closer and bonked his head against hers.

She snickered and wiped her eyes on the back of her hand. He grinned and mussed up her hair, and she hugged him tight around his ribcage.

“Thanks,” she said.

“You know it wasn’t like that for us. Right?” he said.

“I know. I… I felt guilty for even—”

He bonked his skull against hers again. She laughed.

“Okay okay,” she said. She sat up, grabbing him, and kissed his forehead.

He snickered as she plopped herself into his lap. She sighed dramatically.

 

“Should I have said earlier?” he asked.

“Said what? You’ve been saying it this whole time,” she said. “You’re the best, y’know? Both of you guys.”

“Welp. You’re half right,” he said.

“Oh stop,” she scolded.

He laughed quietly. “Hey. You know. It’d always be true. Always was. Even if he wasn’t a thing. The fact that we… That I love you never had a thing to do with us bein’ related.”

“Aaaaah, you’re so nice I can’t stand it!” she cooed.

“That’s a first.”

“Saaaans,” she whined.

He grinned and cuddled her up in his arms. She was more than happy with that. Their souls drifted together and shone purple, and she blew out a long, heavy, contented sigh.

“I’m really lucky, huh?” she said.

“Funny. I was gonna say the same thing,” he said.

 

“Can I just creeeeeep on in here?” Papyrus stuck his head into the room. “Are you busy? Oh! Nyeh heh! Look at you two!” He rushed on over and and scooped them both into his arms. “Frrriiisssk, why were you crying?”

“Happy crying!” she said.

“Oh good! What a ridiculous day! How are you guys?”

“Fine,” Sans said.

“I’m actually a thing that should exist I guess,” Frisk said with a laugh.

“Shhhhshush shush,” Papyrus scolded lightly. “Even if you never ever even had any parents ever and you literally just plopped out of the sky, you should exist, you silly Frisk.”

“Yeah, still time god, kinda have to,” Sans joked.

“I still don’t know what to tell mom,” she said.

“Let him deal with it,” he said. “Besides. They haven’t seen each other in like a million years, so let ‘em catch up, too.”

“I agree! Though it would probably be nice to tell mom, you already have a big day tomorrow,” Papyrus said. “You don’t need to worry about all that other stuff, too!”

 

“Wow, whoever comes is really gonna be super wasting their time, huh?” she said sheepishly.

“Told you,” Sans said.

“Well, guess we can feed them spaghetti unless they’re a jerk or something,” she said.

“But what if spaghetti would make them less of a jerk?” Papyrus suggested.

“I see your point.” She slumped and rubbed her eyes. “Anyone wanna make a pie with me?”

“Pie? This late?” Papyrus said. “I mean, it’s not late at all for me, but you are so small and tired and you had such a big day!”

Sans raised his brows at his brother, then tilted his head slightly towards the window. Papyrus’s eyes got big.

“Oh!! You’re worried about dad, I guess!!” Papyrus said. He leapt up, sending the others tumbling to the floor, and determinedly stuck a finger in the air. “Then! We will make a pie! All the filling and a crust! And it will be fantastic! And we will wait up for him! Nyeh HEH!”

 

- - -

 

There was a nagging weight deep in Undyne’s soul. She didn’t like it. She hadn’t been this worried about Frisk since the kid had been knocked out in the CORE. She hadn’t gotten word from Asgore, either.

 

When she turned up on the King’s doorstep, she knocked hard and then let herself in. The place smelled like salt and tea. She was a little surprised to hear multiple voices in there.

 

“Uh. Hey?” She poked her head into the living room.

There, she saw Asgore at the head of the table, with Gaster at his side and Asriel with his chair dragged up closer to the skeleton’s. The kid was the one who reacted first. He grinned and stuck his paw up, then hopped to his feet.

“Hey!!” he said brightly. He hugged her and definitely didn’t call her a fishface.

She scoffed and gave him a squish as she noticed Asgore’s face breaking into a big smile, and the skeleton raising a hand to greet her quietly.

“Howdy, Undyne!” he said brightly. “Have you met Gaster?”

“Yup. Did for sure,” she said. “The guys stayed home?”

“They did. Um…” The skeleton looked a little embarrassed and paused himself as Asgore got up to crush Undyne into a tight hug. He cleared is throat, more from nerves than anything else. “We thought it was best if I came alone this time.”

“Because he’s a huge wreck,” Asriel volunteered.

“Can you blame me?” he joked. He smiled slightly. “I can get out of your hair, if you prefer, Captain.”

“No. Dude. Relax.” Undyne smiled sideways. “I’m here about your kid, after all.”

 

Gaster immediately straightened. A ping of nerves from his twisted soul was palpable. “Is something wrong?”

“Well. Kinda? I mean. Not now. Tomorrow,” Undyne said, turning her attention on Asgore. “I don’t get how this happened. But I’m stayin’ with her tomorrow.”

“Of course,” Asgore said. “Thank you, my child.”

“You gotta give the order, though,” Undyne said sternly. “You know. The one.”

“Oh! Right. Yes. Of course,” Asgore said. He stood up straight and puffed out his chest, putting his paw over his soul. “Undyne, Captain of the Royal Guard, I order you to protect Frisk of the Underground by any means you deem necessary, and to accompany her as close as you can until any perceived danger has passed. And you are not dismissed until everything is over. How was that? Good? Royal enough?”

“Perfect.” Undyne stuck her thumb up. She looked at Asriel. “You gonna be there, squirt?”

“No, ah… I’m the pre-warning squad,” he said. “I wanted to, but, you know her.”

 

“I’m a little lost,” Gaster said.

“Kid gets hung up on not bothering people to her own, uh, detriment, y’know?” Undyne said.

“So, that order was… Oh, I understand,” he said quietly. “Thank you, Undyne. I’m sure, no matter what she says, she’ll feel a lot safer with you around.”

“You, too,” she said sternly. “Stick as close as you can. But don’t tell them you’re her actual dad, right?”

“Right, ah… They would… probably cause us a lot of trouble if they thought we could just make humans in the lab,” he said quietly.

“Wait, can you do that?!” Asgore said, wide-eyed.

“She was more of a… one time thing, from a maelstrom of very specific but inevitable circumstances created by the nature of our universe,” Gaster said.

“So, no,” Asriel said.

“Right, that,” Undyne said. “So. Get your stories straight. Asgore, they sent you a time, yet?”

“No,” he said apologetically.

Undyne frowned and pursed her lips for a moment. “I don’t like this.”

“Yeah, who does?” Asriel said.

 

“Everyone, please,” Asgore said quickly. “It’s going to be okay. I trust the human Ambassador. And what reason would they have to try anything underhanded?” He smiled softly. “After all this time… Their hatred for us has died off, it seems. The least we can do is give them an honest chance. We will be cautious, of course, but I don’t think their intentions are bad.”

Undyne folded her arms and shifted uncomfortably. Asriel’s ears pressed back and he looked at her worriedly. He beckoned her down. A brow raised, she tilted her ear towards him.

“Dad’s real nice but he’s being naïve. I think we can trust this Ambassador person, to a point, but Frisk saw something in her dreams. If anyone else tries to sneak in… If anyone else tries to take her…” He raised his brows and then lowered his voice to a very soft, unassuming whisper. “Stab ‘em.”

 

It was kind of funny, she thought. She hadn’t forgotten who he was; what he’d done. But it was a little weird to hear those words coming from that voice. He was dead serious, of course. Made sense. He smiled slightly with those big fangs of his.

“Or. If you don’t want that on you. I’m okay breaking myself for her,” he said.

She nodded and thumped her fist over her soul. “Gotcha covered.”

“Great, thanks, big sis!!” He said that much louder and grinned bright. He threw his arms around her shoulders. “You’ll keep her safe, I just know it!”

She resisted the urge to jokingly call him a freak as she hugged him close. It’d be a little hypocritical, though. If things got bad, she was on the same page.

 

As she straightened up, Asgore clasped a reassuring hand on her shoulder and smiled at her fondly.

“Please don’t worry so much,” he said. “All of you. Trust me.”

“We do,” Undyne said.

“Come, sit with us,” he said. “Have some tea.”

She looked at the others, her eye settling on Gaster. He actually didn’t look so well— she could see a tremor in the fingers that were resting on the table— but he smiled slightly and gestured for her to join him. She pulled out a chair and clunked herself in.

 

- - -

 

When it was time to go, Undyne took it upon herself to walk closely with Gaster back towards Snowdin. The skeleton was quiet and very cold, holding his arms tight to his chest. It was kind of weird to see him seem almost fragile like that. She remembered him big and commanding, and overwhelmingly certain about everything. She remembered him holding her as a child when he gently stitched up the wound where he eye used to sit — the one that had missed the window for proper repair— explaining everything to her in such technical terms it had almost put her to sleep. It had been thanks to him that her scarring wasn’t much worse. She wanted to talk to him, but she wasn’t really sure what to say. Thanks for that thing all those years ago? Thanks for coming back for Frisk? It sounded so corny in her head.

 

As they walked through Waterfall, he began to slow. Undyne matched his pace and shot him a worried look.

“Yo, you alright?” she asked.

He didn’t unclench his arms but a blue, translucent hand in magic appeared and stuck its thumb up. The skeleton’s real body didn’t seem to agree much, however, because within a second, he was plummeting stonewards. Undyne ducked and caught him, only to see the man was oozing some sort of sludge from his eye sockets and mouth.

“Gah!! What the hell is that?!” she said.

 

He didn’t move. She winced. Hefting him up in her arms, she carried him to the closest cave wall and gently sat him down against it. She grabbed his scarf and gently unwrapped it from around his neck, took off his glasses, and then used the end to wipe his face. She held his head and put her other hand over his soul. Just the whisper of it made her scales bristle and the hair on the back of her neck stand up. She grimaced and set about healing as fast as she could.

 

It felt like it took forever, but the skeleton choked and hurriedly retreated in on himself, looking around with flickering eyes.

“Hey! Hey. You okay?” Undyne asked. “You fainted.”

“D-Did I?” His voice was weak and gravelly. “I’m sorry.”

“You’re not gonna fall, are you?!” she insisted. “You better freakin’ not.”

“Oh. It’s… It’s not like that.” He struggled to stand but slipped and was forced to rest a little longer. “I’m not falling… Except literally, I guess. I’ll be okay.”

“Look, Alph texted me about attunement stuff for you,” she said, handing him his glasses back. “You gotta go home and rest. And then the second you feel ready, you come to me. And we’ll do what we can. Okay?”

 

Gaster smiled at her fondly. She raised her brows.

“What?” she asked.

“Hm? Oh. Nothing. I was just… Never mind.” He tried to stand again, grasping to the wall tightly. He managed to get about halfway up before starting to slip again. “Ah. Damn.”

Undyne rolled her eye and grabbed him up in her arms, holding him under his knees and around his shoulders. “Don’t even think about complaining. Now let’s get you home.”

 

The skeleton did look embarrassed, but he didn’t complain. He could walk again by the time they’d reached Snowdin, but he was still looking wobbly. She opened the door for him and helped him inside, and wasn’t surprised in the least to see Frisk waiting, half asleep, leaning over the arm of the couch. Now, he shook again, but for what was clearly a different reason.

 

The kid propped herself up slightly and smiled at them. Gaster bent and put his hand against her head gently.

“Did you stay awake this whole time?” he asked quietly. “You look so tired.”

“S’okay,” she said. She looked around him to Undyne. “He alright?”

Gaster’s face flushed two-tone blue and gold, and Undyne grinned wide.

“Squirt, you’re hilarious,” she said. “He fainted on the way in. Got kinda wobbly. But… What d’ya think, Gaster, you’re doin’ a little better now, right?”

“Ah… I am. The chills have mostly subsided, thankfully,” he said.

 

Frisk waved him over and he stiffly sat down beside her. She hugged him quickly and then got up and headed for the kitchen. “We made pie,” she said proudly. “Kinda like mom’s! A bit messier, but it’s good. Undyne, you want?”

“Heck yeah.”

 

She followed the kid into the kitchen to see a huge pie resting on the counter. There was a wedge already sliced from it. Golden, butterscotch goo had oozed out ever so slightly. It smelled pretty good. Frisk climbed a little stepladder to reach the counter and reached for a blunt-edged spatula and aligned it to make a slice. Undyne smiled sideways and put a hand on hers, then grabbed the large knife at the back of the counter.

“Here, ya punk,” she said. “Let me.”

“Thanks,” Frisk said bashfully. She withdrew and looked up at the big monster curiously. “So, um, were you friends with dad, too?”

“Ah, not really. I was pretty young mostly, when I’d see him,” she said. “Kinda knew him, though. He fixed up where my eye was.”

“Oh wow,” Frisk said.

“Don’t get me wrong. Everyone kinda knew about him. And I saw him when he’d visit Asgore, back before I got my own place.” She reached up to a cupboard and pulled out three plates, letting them gently clunk onto the counter. “Always thought he was pretty nice. Kinda surreal that he’s your dad, though, right? Not a bad guy for it.”

Frisk smiled brightly. The fish monster chuckled and patted her head.

 

“Hey, uh. This all wasn’t too hard, was it?” she asked as she doled out the chunks of pie.

“What? Oh!” she said. “No way. It was easy. I mean. I was really hoping he’d show up sometime, y’know? I mean, I didn’t know he was our dad. That was just kinda extra awesome.”

“So how’s it feel bein’ part skeleton all of a sudden?” she asked. “And how’s that work, anyway? You count as a half, or what?”

“I have no idea,” Frisk said. “But, like, I always had bones anyway so it’s not like it’s that different.”

“Hah! Guess that was a dumb question,” Undyne said. “I have bones, too. Where are your brothers at, by the way?”

“Sans passed out,” she said. “Dreams haven’t been great, so Papyrus went to keep him company.”

“Ah. Right. Sorry,” she said. “Well. Hopefully it’ll be better after tomorrow. At least a little.”

 

Frisk shrugged. The look on her face told Undyne that maybe it didn’t really work like that. The kid didn’t feel like correcting her, though. She sighed and put the knife down, and then pulled her into a hug.

“I’m stayin’. Tomorrow,” she said.

“Oh!!” Frisk sounded shrill and pleased, but then she recoiled a little. “Y-You don’t have to, it’s okay.”

“Sure do,” she said.

“But I don’t wanna mess up your day,” Frisk insisted.

“You won’t. Besides. Got orders right from Asgore himself,” she said. “Wouldn’t wanna disobey a direct order, huh? Who knows what’ll happen!”

The kid looked surprised. She smiled sheepishly and squished against the fish. “Th-Thanks.”

 

Undyne snorted and patted her head. “So. We good?” she asked.

“What? Yeah, of course, why?” Frisk said.

“Wanted to tell you about that guy all day,” she said. “Sorry.”

“Oh! Don’t even think about that.” Frisk laughed quietly and hugged onto her tight. “It’s okay, it’s complicated, huh? Don’t worry.”

“Thanks.” Undyne breathed out a sigh. “Okay. Pie? Pie. Alright.”

Chapter Text

 

The wee hours of the morning were encroaching. Undyne had long since left and even so — and in spite of the grey around his eye sockets — Gaster had still not even attempted to sleep. Frisk couldn’t be sure, but she suspected his reasoning might be similar to when she or Sans pushed themselves to keep awake. She wondered why. He was so quiet, though. A combination of feeling ill and exhaustion, probably.

 

Despite that, the old skeleton looked content. Even if the chills came back a few times and his soul played its song in reverse, he had become relatively stable after two slices of pie.

 

The solidarity play— now titled “The Dark Prince and the Time Travel Princess”, for whatever Mettaton’s reasons were— was still playing on the MTT channel. It was an edited version, though, cut with extra special effects and close-ups from cameras Frisk didn’t even realize had been filming from certain angles. Her father seemed fascinated despite his obvious exhaustion. She was watching him a lot more than the show as she lazed with her back against one of the armrests.

 

Frisk tried not to doze. It was hard, though, and her eyelids were getting heavy. She could see a shadow around Gaster when she squinted. Her phone buzzed in her pocket and that jarred her upright a little. It was Asriel.

u ok?” he asked.

yup” she said.

lol so I guess u kno i saw ur dad” he said. “thats gotta be the weirdest thing thats ever happened like ever so….

I know right????” Frisk said. She couldn’t help but smile. “i’m super happy tho

me too. for u and dad” he said. “they were like bffs, i mean, he’s basically my uncle so this is pretty cool. how are the boneheads btw?

paps is like T_T but also ^_^” Frisk said. “and sans is just sans

lmao ok” Asriel said. “good?

he was so chill it was really good” Frisk said. “hes so nice to me when weird stuff happens, seriusly. think i’d kinda go nuts without him

lol u 2 r super weird but i’m happy for u” he said. “hey its really late, go 2 bed ok? i got your back tomorro.

Frisk smiled fondly. She was glad to have him, too. “ok ok i’ll go soon. gotta babysit this giant skeleton tho i think he’s trying to do the antinitemare strat lol

pffffff guess u really r related =P” Asriel said. “goodnight love u

<3 love u too!!!!” she said.

 

She looked up from the screen as she dulled it and checked Gaster. His eyes were glowing faintly.

“You okay?” she asked.

“Hm? Oh. Just fine,” he said. “Who is this playing the piano?”

“Undyne,” she said.

“So she… knows your song,” he said softly. “It was playing. Before. And yet…”

“Oh. Yeah.” She smiled. “It kinda mashes with Asriel’s. We dunno why. Something probably to do with weird time stuff. Kinda cool, right? She was the first one that noticed that they went together.”

The skeleton smiled slightly. He nodded and brushed his fingers across his eyes.

 

Frisk watched him silently for a few seconds. She grabbed up one of the blankets she’d dragged down earlier and pulled it up over herself before scooting right up against his side. He froze for a moment and looked down at her with wide eyes, seeming to forget the show entirely.

“Going to bed after this?” she asked. “I might pass out so, like, just move me or whatever. I think there’s only a bit left. Hey, watch the ending fight though, Papyrus was so cool, it was nuts.”

“Alright.” His voice warbled. He hesitantly put an arm around her. “Frisky?”

“Mhm?” she said drowsily.

“I… I think you did a very good job,” he said quietly.

“Thanks,” she said. “We only had to do it one time, even, no resets or anything. It was pretty good for something we kinda did in a week or whatever, right?”

“And this… worked?”

“It worked really well, actually,” the kid said with a laugh.

 

He went quiet again. Cautiously and quietly, she made her red magic build and let the warmth of it waft gently like the scent of fresh cookies. After a while, he lethargically began to run his fingers over her head. Frisk didn’t mind in the least. Somewhere around the start of the credits, the drowsy kid noticed he had gone limp.

 

Gaster had fallen asleep, his chin dropped down onto his chest. He looked peaceful. Comfortable, despite sitting up. He must’ve been exhausted. It occurred to Frisk that this was a big deal for him. He hadn’t slept in ten years.

 

She stood up on the couch beside him and gently grabbed his shoulders. It took her a moment, but she was able to guide him down to lay back across the squishy green cushions. She pulled down one of the back pillows to put under his head; dragged a blanket over him to make sure he was cozy. She took off his glasses and put them on the arm of the sofa where they’d be easy to find.

 

Satisfied and quite proud of herself, she turned off the TV and headed upstairs to the bedroom. Sans was clocked out on the bed and Papyrus still was up, some clothes laid out in a pile as he sat with his back to the wall, stitching the sleeve of a black turtleneck. He smiled at her warmly.

“Hello, little sister! Going to bed?” he asked.

“Soon,” she said. “Dad passed the heck out. He looks like he really needed it.”

“Oh! I’m glad he’s managing to get some rest,” he said. “All that time stuff must’ve taken a lot out of him. It was very good of you to spend so much time with him today, I’m sure he really appreciated it. So, what do you think of him?”

“He’s really nice, actually. And huggy! Like you,” she said with a smile. She sat down beside him. “It’s so weird, it’s like… I mean, I did know him for a long time, kinda, but it’s sort of like he just fits right in, you know?”

“Nyeh heh heh! That’s fantastic, I’m so happy to hear that,” he said.

“Hey, maybe you could tell me a bit more?” she asked hopefully. “Maybe something you remember from when you were a kid?”

 

“Oh! Well, let me think…” He put down the shirt he was working on and folded his arms. “Well! You know we had that apartment in New Home, but really, we spent most of our time in the lab. Dad was always doing experiments and building things, and I remember Sans did a lot of that with him, too. We sort of joked that we were a bit like lab-rats!”

“He did experiments on you guys?” Frisk asked with a furrow in her brow.

“Yes, of course! Nothing bad, obviously! It was just that we were the first monsters of our kind. Not skeletons, I mean, but made out of one monster like we were. There was a lot of tests to go through to make sure we were healthy and that our magic was working right,” he said. “When I say we, I mostly mean Sans.”

Her eyes flitted to her brother, oblivious dozed off sideways across the car-shaped bed. “Right, right, because he was always really weak, huh?”

“Mhm! Exactly right! But he also always had those strange powers,” Papyrus said. “Anyway, basically, we did weird experiments, he taught us a lot of things, we did magic together, and puzzles: basically all the things a good dad would do! Except in a lab mostly instead of not in a lab.”

“That’s good,” Frisk said. “I… I wish I couldda been there.”

“Me too!” Papyrus said. “At the same time, though, now that you are here, it feels like you always were. I hope that helps a little.”

“It does,” she said.

“You should get some rest,” he said. “Today was a good day, but so emotionally draining! Even for me. I’d actually say I’m exhausted. How about you?”

“Y… Yeah. Yeah. For sure,” she said.

 

“Hey. Kid. Whatcha still doin’ awake?”

She looked up to see Sans groggily peering at them over the edge of the bed, grinning slightly. His voice was low and rough, a lot more so than usual, and the grey around his eye sockets was heavy. He forced himself up on his elbow and Frisk scampered over to happily snuggle up in his arms. He snickered and she could feel a cool relief from the song in his soul.

“Stuck again, huh?” she said. “Bad?”

“Neutral,” he said. “No worries.”

“Was it super weird again?” she asked.

He laughed. “Pretty weird. Hey. You eat enough?”

“As if I wouldn’t make sure she was eating enough!” Papyrus cawed.

“I had pie with dad and Undyne,” she said.

“Good.” He flopped back and folded his arms behind his head. “Go to bed.”

“Ugh, how could I sleep?” she asked. “After everything today. Seriously. My head’s goin’ nuts.”

“Just close your eyes, silly,” Papyrus said.

 

Sans stuck his hand up. “Okay. Listen up. Lie down.”

Frisk raised her brows, but she dropped onto her back and stared up at the ceiling. “Okay.”

“Alright. So. Do me a favour?” he said. “Close your eyes.”

“That won’t make me fall asleep,” she said with a smile.

“Dude. I know. Just do it,” he said.

Frisk let out an exaggerated sigh, but she let her eyes close. The bed did suddenly feel a lot comfier. “Now what?” She felt what little light there was bouncing on her eyelids fade off.

“I’ve got, uh… a new book, actually,” he said. “By the same human guy who did the space book.”

Frisk opened her eyes but couldn’t see much but a faint glow of Papyrus’s amber magic. “Oh really? Where?”

“Actually, it was in dad’s stuff.” He laughed. “Go figure, huh? So. Sit back. I’ll read it.”

“Okay okay.” Frisk closed her eyes again. “…Thanks.” She rested her arms behind her head and tried to get comfy.

He shuffled and plunked himself against the backboard. He began softly flipping pages and making thoughtful sounds. The rustling of the pages was somehow soothing to her. He started to read, but she didn’t catch much of it at all.

 

- - -

 

Morning broke with a start for Frisk as Papyrus picked her up under her arms.

“See?!” he said brightly to— presumably— Sans. “She’s up. Right? You’re up?”

“Um…” She rubbed her head as she tried to get her eyes to focus. “Yeah…?”

“Soooo you should go save and then we’re ready? Right?”

“Ready?” she asked groggily.

“For the humans.” Papyrus tilted his head. “You didn’t forget, did you?”

“Mmno… No. I…” She blinked. “Um. Was yesterday real?”

The skeleton looked puzzled and tilted his head the other way. Sans, though, burst out laughing.

“Yup. Still got a dad,” he said.

The kid puffed out a sigh and grabbed Papyrus in a hug. He cackled quietly and reciprocated without hesitation.

“Things are going to be just fine,” he said brightly.

 

With Papyrus trailing close behind, Frisk touched the light in the attic and then sent Toriel a text to say what she’d done. She felt weird not mentioning Gaster.  It wasn’t like it was a secret, but it was strange. She guessed it was something that shouldn’t really be said over text.

 

Downstairs, Sans was clunking mugs of tea out onto the side table, along with plates of cinnamon bunnies and some microwaved hotdogs. Papyrus beelined into the kitchen.

“Well, look at you, being proactive for once!” he said.

“Kid’s gotta eat,” he said. “Plus. We got an extra broken nerd. Gotta keep an eye socket out for him, too, huh?” He jerked his thumb at a long lump of patchwork quilt on the couch.

Papyrus peeked out again with a bowl of pasta in one hand. Gaster was still keeled over, blankets drawn up tight over his shoulders, his face pressed up against the back cushions. Frisk crept a little closer to him and looked over him curiously.

“Aw, jeez,” she said quietly. “He’s kinda shaky, huh?”

 

She snuck her way onto the couch and rubbed her hands together, building a gentle charge of red magic in her palms. She snuck his hand out of his blankets and held the gently rattling skeleton, injecting her warm magic through him. She could see it coalescing strangely in the hole in his palm, then vanishing into the bone. She drew back with a proud smile on her face.

 

Almost as soon as she got up, though, the skeleton shot upright, wide-eyed, glowing faintly in his sockets— that blue and gold tinged with the little sparks of red he’d absorbed. His gaze cast across the room as he recoiled like a cornered animal. He put a hand to his chest.

“Good morning, dad!” Papyrus said brightly. “Did you sleep well?”

Gaster looked stunned. His voice came out at a croak. “I-Is this real?”

“Yup,” Sans said, leaning his elbow on the table. He waved him over. “C’mon, get a thing in your face.”

 

Gaster didn’t seem to process it. Frisk smiled sympathetically and reached out for his hands.

“Sorry to wake you up,” she said. “You were shaking pretty hard, though. Are you okay?”

He stared at her for a silent couple seconds. Then, defrosting, he hurriedly scooped her up into a hug and let out a deep, relieved sigh. She snickered and squished against him. The big skeleton shuddered. As Papyrus walked over, blue magic seized on his soul and he squeaked as his father pulled him in and hugged him tight, too. He muttered something low in a language Frisk didn’t understand, but it made Papyrus laugh and his cheekbones flushed with amber.

“Daaaad!” he whined, but he snickered. “Honestly. Everything will be just fine.”

“I thought it was a dream,” he muttered.

“Me too,” Frisk joked.

 

Gaster let out a hoarse, disbelieving laugh and cupped the kid’s face gently in both hands. “Just look at you.”

“She is strangely adorable, isn’t she?” Papyrus said.

Frisk scoffed and waved her hands at them. “Aw, c’mon. But. Seriously. Dad, are you feeling any better?”

Gaster froze up again. He gulped. “Ah… I’m just fine.”

“Well, that’s a relief! Come here.” Papyrus grabbed him and guided him over to the side table. He handed him his glasses. “Breakfast! Keep your energy up! Don’t you worry for a second, we’ll get you feeling more than fine again in no time!”

 

Gaster was stiff. He grabbed Sans into a quick, affectionate hug before allowing Papyrus to lead him to the breakfast table. The normalcy almost did him in again. He slumped forward and put his face in his hands. Sans gently patted him on the shoulder and then gestured to the others to give him space. Frisk looked at her brother worriedly.

“S’okay,” he said. “Just… give him a minute or five.” He patted her head as he strolled over with her breakfast. “Here.”

“Sans, what do we do, though?” she asked at a whisper.

“Welp. You should eat,” he said. “And get ready for that trash that’s goin’ on later.”

“Um. Right. Okay.” She took a bite of the cinnamon bunny and looked up at him worriedly. “It’s okay if I, um, lie a little, right?”

“Listen. Kiddo.” Sans took her shoulders and grinned. “You lie as well as you can. I got your back. Obviously.”

“Thanks,” she said.

 

Gaster finally heaved himself upright and Papyrus rubbed his back gently. He dragged over a chair to sit down with him and pushed a plate and teacup towards him.

“I’m sorry,” Gaster muttered gruffly, his voice cracking slightly.

“Stop that apologetic nonsense,” Papyrus said. “It’s all okay! Everyone’s an emotional mess right now. Well, I mean, I’m not. But Frisk is! And Sans— Well, Sans probably isn’t, either, but Alphys was! So. You’re not alone.”

“Thank you, Paps,” he said quietly. He sighed and then turned in his seat with his tea clutched close, looking back at Frisk and Sans. “Tell me. What do I need to do?”

 

“Well. Mostly. Stay outta the way,” Sans said. “It’s what we’re all gonna have to do. Let them talk to Frisk, she’ll pretend she’s normal, and hopefully that’ll be the end of it.”

“That’s it?” Gaster sounded skeptical.

“Just don’t mention the, um, time travel stuff,” Frisk said.

“No time travel, no Frisk breakin’ the barrier, keep it quiet that she’s your actual kid,” Sans said, counting on his fingers. “No deaths, time void, memory magic… Actually, kid, don’t show them any magic at all.”

“Really? You don’t think her magic could convince them everything is okay?” Papyrus wondered. He tented his fingers. “It just feels so friendly.”

“Gotcha, but we gotta have just a really, painfully average kid today,” Sans said. “Humans, uh, don’t really use any magic anymore, right, kiddo?”

“Not that I’ve ever heard of except in movies and stuff,” she admitted. “Right. No drawing attention at all.”

“I hate to make more of this than it might be,” Gaster said quietly. “But… What about those scars?”

“Oh!” Frisk put her hand to her cheek. “Like the one here? It faded a bunch, you think it matters?”

“I wanted to know about it right away,” he said.

“Oh. Um…” The kid tilted her head. “I guess I’ll make something up.” She shrugged.

 

Sans looked at her silently for a few seconds. His brow furrowed slightly. He held out his hand. “Come with me.”

Without question, she took his hand, and he brought her upstairs to his old bedroom. With a shot of blue magic, he plunked her up on Toriel’s bed and then sat opposite her. She looked at him inquisitively.

“Let’s practice,” he said.

“Practice?” she repeated.

“Mhm. So you don’t end up flounderin’,” he said. “Since I’m assumin’ that save this morning is your last one for a bit.”

“O-Oh. Yeah. Mom asked me to give her some time to get home if things go really sideways,” she said. “Okay. So, um…”

“Just pretend I’m the human. I’ll ask you somethin’,” he said. He folded his arms. “How old are you?”

“Ten,” she said.

“Gee, kiddo, you look awfully small for bein’ a ten year old.”

Frisk pitched her voice up, just a little. “I’m six!”

“Not bad. I’d buy six more than ten if I didn’t know you,” he said. “Do you go to school? Do you like it?”

“Oh! Yeah! My mom’s a teacher, and she teaches all the classes!” she said enthusiastically. “School’s okay. Sometimes I don’t like homework. But I like playing with all my friends!” She tilted her head. “…How was that?”

“Sounds like a little kid,” he said, nodding. “Should be fine. Okay. Where’d you get that scar?”

“Which scar?” She tried to ask it with genuine confusion.

“The one on your face,” he said.

“Oh! I smacked myself playing in the trees,” she said. “It really scared my mom though so I don’t go over there anymore.”

“Who are all these weirdos livin’ with you?” he asked.

Frisk couldn’t help a laugh. “Do you really think they’ll call you guys weirdos?”

“Maybe. Who knows?” Sans grinned sideways.

“Okay. So.” She cleared her throat. “Well! There’s my brothers. I have three. And my mom and dad. And I have a big sister, too, but she has her own house.”

“And… how did you meet your, uh, parents?” he asked.

“Oh. Um. I dunno. What should I say?” she said worriedly. “Should I say I fell? Should…? What about dad? What do you think?”

 

“Hmm.” He tapped his chin. “Well. Okay. You… have no parents.”

“Right,” she said.

“You never met them. Homeless.”

“Right.” She nodded.

“You fell asleep in a truck. You didn’t realize it had moved. And when you did, you were in the middle of nowhere,” he said.

“The truck drove away and it started to rain,” Frisk said. “And I went to find somewhere dry. I went into a cave and mom found me. Oh! And dad. Mom and dad.”

“And then?” Sans asked.

Frisk sighed. She flopped onto her back and stretched out her arms, staring up at the ceiling. “And then… I had a family. I dunno what else to say.”

“How long you lived here?” he said.

“Since I was four,” she said. “Heh. I wish.”

“You and me both,” Sans said quietly.

 

She sat up again and rubbed her head, only to find her big brother looking troubled. “What? Do you think that’s good enough?”

“Yeah. For sure,” he said.

“What’s wrong, are your eyes gonna go black?” she asked worriedly, leaning forward with a frown on her face.

“Ah. Don’t worry about it,” he said.

“Come on,” she prodded.

“Heh. I’m losin’ my touch.” He rubbed his eye socket with his palm. “Just… wish it’d been different. But at the same time…” He patted her on the head. “Sounds sappy, but I wouldn’t change you for anything, y’know?”

Frisk felt her eyes tear up. She latched onto him and he chuckled and held her close.

“Jeez, kid,” he said.

“You’re so nice.” She huffed out a sigh and snickered. “I’m gonna be fine.”

“I know,” he said.

 

- - -

 

Hackles raised and paws tapping, Asriel curled in his chair like a gargoyle, waiting. He could hear his father’s tidying in the kitchen and the simple tune he was humming. He envied that. He hadn’t been able to relax since he’d woken up. He’d texted Frisk— she’d reassured him. He’d texted Papyrus only to receive a verbal hug and a babbling text of “worry nots”. It almost made him feel better but, even so, he wished just for a moment that he was still an eight foot knuckle-walking dragon goat beast. He might have fangs, but otherwise, he was a furball. Maybe he could use that to his advantage, but if push came to shove, he sort of missed the extra size.

 

“Asriel?” Asgore returned from the kitchen, a sympathetic frown on his brow. “Are you almost ready?”

“Yeah,” he said quietly.

“Don’t be scared,” he said. “I’m sure the humans will be more than reasonable.”

“Right.” He pouted and checked his phone. “It’s almost noon. Shouldn’t she be here soon? They can’t just draw this out all day.”

“Don’t worry.” The big monster gently patted him between the horns. “I’m sure this won’t be nearly so bad as we’re all building it up to be.”

“Yeah, well, I don’t trust them,” he grumbled.

“My boy,” Asgore said gently, squatting down and holding his shoulders, “you’ve known more humans than most. If I recall, they weren’t so bad, were they?”

“It’s not that. I just…” He bit back what he was really thinking. It was angrier than he wanted out there. “I’m kinda scared.”

“Oh.” His father scooped him up off his seat and hugged him warmly. “Don’t be scared. I’m sure that—”

 

The computer near the fireplace let out a loud, digital jingling sound. Asgore hopped up in a hurry, but Asriel couldn’t help but feel overwhelmingly relieved. Had to be the human. Time to get started.

“Asriel,” Asgore said quickly, “I’m sorry, I need to get—”

“Yeah, get it, hurry,” he said, eyes wide.

 

Asgore plunked down in his seat and turned on the monitor and Asriel snuck in close to watch with intensely scrutinizing eyes. The screen filled with the face of the Ambassador, smiling and yet a little out of breath. She was slightly flushed and the sun was beaming down overhead.

“Hello, your Highness!” she said. “Sorry I didn’t get in contact sooner, I was on my way and the service just wouldn’t connect to you.”

“That’s fine,” he assured her. “Did the lifts work alright? Are you on the plateau?”

“Yes! It was fine. Um. We’re at the one with the “Howdy” sign,” she said. “Is this the right place?”

“It sure is!” he said. He paused and his brows raised when he saw a little movement behind her. “Is there something there with you?”

“Hm? Oh.” She looked nervous all of a sudden. “It’s just… I’m sorry. My agency insisted on an escort.”

 

She moved her camera to show that there was a human man standing with her. Pale skin, no hair, eyes hidden behind black sunglasses and a hardened face with an expression of pointed neutrality. He wore an outfit of black, thick material on his chest and green camouflage print elsewhere. Asriel felt himself bristle instantly, but his father smiled and raised a paw.

“Howdy, friend! Luckily, your job will be very easy today,” he said.

“I hope so, sir,” the man replied; the woman nudged him with her foot. “Your Majesty.”

Asriel frowned. He tugged on his father’s sleeve.

“Ah! Just one moment, my son needs me, I’ll be with you again in just a minute,” he said. He muted the call and pushed his chair back. “What is it, my boy?”

“Hang on. It was supposed to be just one human,” he said.

“Yes, I suppose so, but you can hardly blame them for wanting to keep their Ambassador safe,” Asgore said with an apologetic tilt in his brow.

“Mom will kill you,” Asriel said worriedly.

“Ah… Well…” He rubbed his beard. “I’ll think of something. But I’m sure he’d be no harm.”

“Hang on,” Asriel said.

 

The kid took out his phone and filmed a quick clip of the man as he prowled in the background. He sent it to Frisk and dialled her number and waited for the click. “Frisk?”

“Hey, hi!” she said.

“Sent you a video,” he said. “Did you get it?”

“Um, let me… Oh. Yeah,” she said.

“Watch it.”

“Kay.” She went quiet for a little while. Longer than the clip.

 

Asriel could imagine the look on her face. She let out a small, shaky breath. He grimaced.

“Is it him?” he asked.

“I… I’m n-not sure, it was b-blurry, but…” There was a warble in her voice.

“It looks like ‘im?” he said.

“Yeah. Yeah. Maybe, um… D-Don’t…?”

“Gotcha,” he said. “Hey. I got you. Okay?”

“Okay. O-Okay.” She took a deep breath. “Love you, bro.”

“Love you, too,” he said.

 

He hung and looked up at Asgore with raised brows. “Dad, we’re not letting that guy into the mountain. Not past this house.”

“I’m sorry, I’m not sure I understand,” he said, eyes wide.

Asriel sighed. “Frisk had a dream. Human that looked like that one, panicked in Snowdin for some reason; took some monsters out. She could undo it, but, um, some of them might remember it.”

“Oh, little one, that sounds awful, but it’s just a dream,” he said gently, holding the boy’s shoulder.

Asriel frowned. “No. Dad. It’s not like that. Frisk’s got time powers. It’s not just a dream. You have to take this seriously. If she says this might be who she saw, he has to stay out.”

“Asriel…” Agore stared at him, taken aback.

 

The kid winced. He’d dropped the act. He bit his lip and his ears drooped slightly, but the determination never left his eyes. “Trust me. Please?”

Asgore paused in a heavy silence for a long few seconds. He wilted and hugged Asriel tightly and kissed him on his brow. “Okay. I’ll keep him here.”

“Thank you,” he said.

 

Asgore puffed himself up and returned to the call. “Howdy again! Sorry about that! I’ll come get you. And we’ll discuss what’s going on. And, Ambassador, you can meet our little human.”

“Excellent. Thank you, your Highness,” she said.

 

Asgore donned his royal purple cloak and put his crown on his head. Asriel stuck close by his father as they traveled through the tunnel out of the house and towards the garden. The sun was shining bright on the outside when they emerged, and the humans were right there. Though the man stayed somewhat stiff, the woman bowed quickly and straightened up with a smile. There was an awed glimmer in her eye as she looked up at the King, but when she noticed Asriel, her jaw dropped and she couldn’t help but beam. Hurriedly, she gathered herself, straightened her jacket, and extended her hand to Asgore. He smiled warmly and her hand was fully engulfed in his when he shook it.

 

“It’s good to finally meet you in person,” she said.

“The same to you,” he said. “June, right? And your friend is…?” He tilted his head.

“He’s, um, more of a bodyguard,” she admitted. “This is Boyd. I have our papers, um…” She was carrying a bag over her shoulder, and she pulled open the cover and produced two small stacks of paper, clipped together with laminated ID cards at the top.

Asgore took them with a puzzled smile on his face and held them close. “Well! Okay. Thank you.”

“And who is this?” June squatted down and smiled at Asriel. “Hey there. It’s good to meet you. The Prince, I presume?”

“Yeah. I’m Asriel,” he said.

“You know, I’ve never met a Prince,” she said.

Asriel saw her eyes darting over his fur and he sighed, cracked a smile, and tilted his head. “You wanna touch my ears?”

“Wh… Uh…?” She looked confused, but also hopeful. “C-Could I?”

“Knew it.” He pointed to his head. “Go ahead.”

 

The woman grinned and gently cupped his head and squished his floppy ears. “Aren’t you just the cutest little…”

Asgore chuckled quietly. “Would you like to come in?” He gestured for them to head into the cave, past the welcome sign.

 

The Ambassador perked up, cheeks flushing slightly, and hurried into the dark, while her escort followed close behind. Asgore smiled and followed along, but Asriel hesitated outside. He watched those humans with a frown on his face. He trailed along behind them, bristling.

 

The woman had to pause in the garden. With Asgore’s eager go-ahead, she whirled around the room, taking photos and inspecting the flowers, the walls, and the throne. Asgore was happy to show her around and answer all her questions. The kid, still, stood back. So, too, did the human man. Asriel could see he was a little tense. So, if this really was the guy, what had set him off? He didn’t want to have to find out.

 

“Don’t like humans, huh?” Boyd asked. His voice was rough and his tone was cynical.

Asriel cut his eyes at him. A few feet apart, their mutual trepidation gave the air around them a heavy awkwardness. The man cleared his throat.

“Never seen one, I guess.”

“My sister’s a human,” Asriel said cooly. “So.”

He noticed the man raise his brows, though he tried not to look too surprised. “Your sister.”

“Yeah. That human you guys are here to, uh, talk to? That’s my sister. So.” His ears pinned back.

“Not your real sister,” he said gruffly.

“Gee, mister, don’t you know it’s rude to just come out and tell a kid their sister’s adopted?”  He cut his eyes at him. “That’s funny that you try to sound like you know what you’re talking about. You humans never cared about her until she lived with us, and now you guys were almost willing to risk an international incident over her. That’s really weird to me.” He smirked slightly. “But. I mean. You’re just a hired gun, right? That’s not really your fault. Not really any of your business, either.”

 

He scampered over to his father, leaving the man puzzled behind him. He reached up and tugged on Asgore’s sleeve, and then nodded towards the door. “Dad, c’mon, there’s so much stuff for her to see out there, too, right?”

“Oh! Yes! Sorry,” Asgore said with a laugh. “We shouldn’t keep everybody waiting, now, should we?” He beckoned to the humans and smiled. “Come, now, my home is just up ahead.”

June followed eagerly, but Boyd hesitated before taking long strides to keep up with them. Asriel narrowed his eyes. What was up with this guy?

 

Inside, Asgore invited both of them to sit at the dinner table.  Asriel hung back slightly and texted Undyne. As the King settled in and put aside their pile of credentials, he smiled at the humans and folded his hands on the table.

“Well!” he said. “Is there anything you’d like before you get started? Tea?”

“Actually, your Highness, if it’s alright, I’d like to talk a bit about the human that lives here,” she said. “Before I meet her.”

“Oh! Well. Absolutely. My son can definitely speak to that,” he said. “They’re very close.”

“Yup.” Asriel jerked away from his phone and hopped up onto a chair. He tried to keep his expression light. “She’s my sister! What do you want to know?”

“Your sister?” June repeated. “So, is she…? Is she here?”

“No, she lives at the other house,” Asriel said. “She comes here sometimes, though! Most of the time we’re with our mom and my step-dad.” He caught Asgore put a paw to his snout, trying not to laugh out loud, and he smiled. “We all get along really well, it’s super nice.”

“And your mother is Lady Toriel, right?” the Ambassador asked. “And your… step-dad?”

“He’s a scientist! He’s super cool and nice,” Asriel said. “His name is Gaster, he’s a skeleton.”

 

There was a little trepidation on the woman’s face now. She shifted slightly in her seat. “I guess she’s been here a while, then?”

“Oh, yes, several years,” Asgore said, nodding quickly.

“She looked very young when I saw her the first time, how old is she?”

“Oh! Um, she’s… Goodness, how old is she now?” Asgore said. He looked at Asriel uncertainly, his brow raised. “Six? Seven?”

Asriel kept his expression steady. “Seven, but her birthday’s really soon.”

“Is it?!” Asgore sounded completely genuine. He put a hand to his brow. “My goodness, how times flies. Speaking of! The afternoon is gaining on us, isn’t it?”

June and Boyd shared a silent look. The woman smiled slightly.

“I guess there’s nothing more until we meet her in person,” she said. She got up and dipped in a polite bow. “Thank you, your Highness. We’ll be on our way, if our escort is here?”

 

Asriel’s senses all hooked on the word, “we”. His mind scrambled. His eyes went wide and he tugged on his father’s sleeve. “Oh no, dad, what about the gate?”

“The gate?” Asgore looked confused.

“Yeah, you know, the gate.” Asriel raised his brows.

His father simply stared back at him. Asriel huffed and smacked both paws on the table. He looked up at the human man, his ears pinning back.

“We have this gate. For safety stuff, just a bit out front? We need your hum for it to let you through. But we didn’t know you were coming, so—” He winced as a loud, metallic bang smacked against the front door. “S-So. You… You can go.” He looked and the Ambassador but then shot the man as apologetic a look as he could muster. “But you gotta stay here.”

Boyd frowned slightly. He looked incredulous for a moment and he and the Ambassador shared a concerned look. Asgore put his paws to his snout.

“Oh. Goodness, you’re right,” he said quickly. “I’m terribly sorry.”

“What do you mean it needs his hum?” June asked.

“Ah, you see, our souls all make a sound,” Asgore said. “We’d, um… We would certainly use a human voice as a replacement, but since we were not, um, actually aware you would be here…”

 

The man stiffened. June put a hand on his arm for just a second.

“How long would it take to fix?” she asked.

“At least the rest of the day, right, dad?” Asriel said.

“Hm, that sounds about right.” The King nodded. He stood up and he extended a hand to the man, clapping it onto his shoulder— it made the human look very small. “Don’t worry, my friend! I have some tea and books to spend the time. Besides, Ambassador, you said this wouldn’t take very long, right?”

“R-Right,” she agreed.

 

Asgore smiled. He took her by the shoulder and lead her towards the door, only to look back at Asriel and wink. Asriel tried not to react. He caught the human man shooting him a dark look, but he didn’t care in the least.

 

Behind the door stood Undyne, decked out in full armour, glaring with light shining from one of the eyeholes in her helmet. June recoiled into the King, who gently guided her forward.

“This is Undyne, my eldest, and our Captain of the Royal Guard,” he said brightly. “She will make sure you get to Snowdin and back safely!”

“R-Right,” she said again. “Um! Hello.”

Undyne dipped her head slightly. June gulped. Asgore leaned around her and smiled reassuringly.

“Don’t worry! You’re not even our first human guests after our little friend, I’m sure nobody will give you trouble.”

“Right. Yes. Of course. Thank you, your Highness.” With caution in her steps, she followed Undyne out, and then disappeared down the corridor without another word.

 

As Asgore closed the door and returned to them, he smiled warmly at the human man and invited him into the kitchen for his pick of cookies to pair with the tea. The human seemed reluctant, but he went along with it. In their absence, Asriel hopped up on the table and quickly skimmed the man’s papers. He was a little confused. He was listed as a protective escort, sure, but he’d assumed the guy was human military, or their government, or something. He wasn’t. He was a security guard, from the harbour city that was relatively close to their borders. He wasn’t sure how all of this worked, but that seemed unusual.

 

Looking at the Ambassador’s records didn’t really answer any of that. She was with the human government of the closest country, clearly. She was picked because of some of her historical research into monsters at a university far to the east, and her social work, whatever that meant. She came highly recommended. The humans wanted this to work, apparently.

 

Asriel quickly withdrew to the bedroom and dialled for Frisk. She picked up right away.

“Hey, so, the lady just left with Undyne,” Asriel said before she could say a word. “Maybe dumb it down just a litttttleee?”

“How much is a little?” Frisk asked.

“She treated me like I was pretty young and I think dad panicked when she mentioned how small you looked and we told her you were seven, so… I dunno, like, a bit, I guess?”

“Okay. Okay, I think I can do that,” she said.

“Hey,” he said, “it’s gonna be fine.”

“I know. I know! For sure,” she said. “Sans was totally right. You’re right. It’s fine.”

“Yeah. And I stopped the guy, by the way.”

“I know.” She laughed. “Of course you did. Thank you.”

“No worries. Soooo… call me?” he said.

“Mhm. Yeah. I will,” she said. “Thanks, bro, love you.”

“You’re gonna be fine!” he insisted. “Love you, too. Good luck.”

 

He hung up and clenched the phone tight in his paws. She’d be fine, he told himself. Still, something about this wasn’t right. There was something under this that he couldn’t quite grasp. He’d put on a smile and keep an eye on everything.

 

- - -

 

Papyrus was a hurricane of feather dusters and blue magic, cleaning up the whole house around his siblings and father. Frisk was just trying to keep out of the way. Her nerves were stinging, but it wasn’t so much about the lady coming to talk with her. That man that had come with her was what bothered her. Plus, when Toriel found out they’d sent two people instead of her sternly expressed one, she didn’t envy the chewing out she expected the humans to endure. Asgore either, come to think of it.

 

“SANS.” Papyrus dragged the shorter skeleton up off the couch by the soul. “SANS, PLEASE. I need to straighten!! They’re going to be here any minute!!”

“Huh. Good sprinters,” he asked groggily.

“I mean not literally. I mean. Nyeh!!” He gently tossed him onto the floor and levelled a finger at the door. “Go. Go on. Go get some, I don’t know, milkshakes or something. Just get out of the waaaaay, please.”

“Alright, alright,” Sans said with a laugh. “I’m goin’. Kiddo?”

“Noooo, she must stay here!” Papyrus said, grabbing her shoulder. “What if that human shows up and she’s not here and they think that we did something or hid her or already went on the run or—?!”

“Paps, relax, everything’s going to be okay,” Gaster assured him gently.

“Nyeh!!! They why does it feel so…?” Papyrus crossed his arms tightly. He shook his head and frowned. “Ugh!! I just…! I need to clean.”

 

He brushed his father off and went back to tidying up the room, and Sans shrugged and vanished. Frisk sighed. She edged over to Papyrus and plunked herself in his path, forcing him to stop. Before he could protest, she hugged him tight. He wilted and reciprocated.

“We’ll get outta your way,” she said.

“Thank you,” he said.

 

She headed up to the bedroom and, cautiously, Gaster followed.

“Is there really nothing we can do to help?” he asked.

“Not really, Paps gets really, um, single-minded when he’s worried like this,” Frisk said, sitting on the bed. “He’ll be okay. Once this is done. Ugh, what a dumb thing, right?”

“I’m sorry you have to go through this,” he said, placing himself at her side and resting his hand reassuringly on her shoulder. “We will protect you,”

“Thanks.” She laughed. “I… It’s not that, it’s just… Confusing. I dunno. I wonder if Undyne…” She pulled out her phone and swiped through the screens. “Oh… Wait, she’s probably in her armour.”

“Is that bad?” he asked.

“No, it’s just, the fingers on her gloves are thick and pointy and she can’t really text well in them.” She sighed. “Guess we’ll just have to wait.”

 

Gaster stared at her silently for a few seconds. He flinched and then stood up and headed for the bookshelf. He ran his pointy fingertips quickly along the spines of many novels.

“You lookin’ for something?” Frisk asked.

“Ah! Not, um… Not really. I just thought maybe we could read to pass the time,” he said.

“I’ll probably just fall asleep, then,” she said with a laugh.

“Ah. Alright. Maybe not the best plan.” He returned to her side and back on the mattress. “Is there anything I can do to help? To make you more comfortable?”

“Naw, it’s okay, just gotta get through it,” she said.

“You’re not nervous?” he asked.

“Sure I am, but I just gotta kinda play up that I’m a little kid and the lady should go home.” She shrugged. “And Az stopped the other guy from coming here, so if he really was the one I dreamt about, the stuff I saw can’t happen.”

“You’ve been thinking a lot about this, haven’t you?” he said.

She shrugged and nodded. Gaster smiled with a hint of pride. His soul made a distorted, warbling sound just a little too loudly. He hurried pulled out one of the small opera cakes and chucked it into his mouth. He sighed.

 

“Is it feeling any better today?” Frisk asked.

“I-It is, actually,” he said. “The rest was very beneficial.”

“I bet!” She grinned. “So let me know if anything else weird happens, okay?”

“Kiddo, you don’t have to worry so much about me,” he said bashfully. “Come on, now. Isn’t there anything I can do to help you?”

“Just go along with whatever dumb stuff I say.” She winked. “And I’m seven, according to Asgore.”

“Oh.” He chuckled. “And you are… comfortable with this? With…”

“Lying? Yeah.” She folded her arms. “I know it’s not a good thing to do, but—”

“Don’t,” he said quickly, raising his hands. “Far be it from me to… You do what keeps you safe.”

 

He looked troubled. He knitted his fingers and his brow furrowed with concern.

“Hey, dad?” Frisk asked.

“Hm? Oh! Oh, you’re…” His cheekbones flushed. “You’re still calling me dad.”

“Yeeeeah?” Frisk smiled sideways. “Why? Do you want me to not do that?”

“It’s not that at all! Call me whatever you like, it’s just I… Never mind.” He shook his head, but he glowed nonetheless. “What do you need?”

“Well, it’s just, I’ve been thinking about stuff a lot since yesterday,” she said. “Like… about you, and Sans and Paps, and where I fit, I guess. It’s been nice. But confusing. And I guess I was just wondering if I could ask about some stuff? Kinda about our family, or about you?”

“Oh! Of course,” he assured her. “Anything at all.”

 

Frisk’s face lit right up. “Thanks! Um. Sans had in his head that you guys were the last skeletons. Is it true?”

“Unfortunately,” he said. “We lost the rest in the war.”

“Sorry,” she said quietly.

He shook his head. “You know, for a long time, it was rather sobering to realize that I was the last, and there was nothing to be done about it. Then, years and years later, sheerly by accident, I made Sans.” A smile crept over him and a faint glow of magic shimmered in his eyes. “And suddenly I wasn’t alone anymore. Maybe we were only two, but it was absolutely amazing. Then, when I made Papyrus… I can’t describe to you how elated I was. Though it may be true that Sans can never have children, and it might be that Papyrus won’t either, as long as we’re here, there will always be three skeletons.”

She nodded. He smiled and winked.

“Well, maybe three and a half, right?” he said.

Frisk smiled bashfully. “It’s okay, I know, I’m not a monster, but—”

“That doesn’t matter,” he said.

 

Frisk’s heart swelled. She coughed to clear her throat quickly before her eyes started to water. “Um. Also. Can I ask? Why’s your magic two different colours like that? I’ve never seen it before.”

“Ah. That is an interesting question,” he said. “It comes, mostly, from my mother. Her whole line had what we call a magic split. It allowed our family to be born able to use more than one kind of magic at a time.”

“So that’s kinda unique?” she asked.

“I am the last one to have it,” he said. “It was a special boss monster trait.”

“Boss monster? Are you a boss monster?” she asked with surprise.

“Oh! You don’t know… You aren’t aware of much monster history, are you?” he asked.

She shook her head.

“Would you be interested in some context, then?” he asked.

“Sure,” she said.

 

“Well, to answer your question, I am a boss monster, in fact,” he said. “I wasn’t born one, but very close. My mother was the last in the line of skeleton boss monsters. My father was, apparently, quite normal, though I never knew him.”

“So you…? You can become a boss monster?” she asked. “How?”

“My circumstances were unfortunate,” he admitted. “I… Hmm… How to say this…?”

“It was in the war, right?” Frisk asked hesitantly.

Gaster froze. He ran a hand over his skull. “I… Hah. Frisky. You are very much like Sans, have I told you that?” He smiled ruefully. “That’s right. I ascended during the war, if you can even call it that.”

“So you fought in it, then,” she said worriedly.

“I did,” Gaster said, a sense of melancholy settling about him. “The damage it did to my soul was tremendous, though. I could hardly muster a healing spell for decades. Even now— before the CORE, I mean, it was…”

“It’s okay. You don’t have to say more. I understand,” she said. “Sorry.”

“Don’t be,” he said. “You know. For the longest time, I wondered, would it be better if I hadn’t…? So many monsters didn’t make it. I sometimes sunk into a hole, wondering why I survived and so many others didn’t. Did I have a right to live, having done something so horrible, when those who hadn’t had turned to dust? But after I made Sans and I couldn’t bear to regret it any longer.”

“Wow,” Frisk said. “That’s really interesting. And sad. And nice, too.”

 

Gaster chuckled. “Sorry, that was a tangent.”

“That’s okay,” Frisk assured him. “I like hearing about past stuff. And about Sans. I didn’t know there were more boss monsters other than mom and Asgore, though.”

“Oh! There used to be many,” he said. “There used to be several lines of… Well, at the time, they were called monster lords, rather than bosses. Asgore made the change. He never liked being called a “lord”. Thought it was too domineering. Anyway. There were several family lines of monster lords per type of monster. For example, there were fish monster lords, elemental lords; my mother was the last of the skeleton lords. Toriel was the last of her line, as far as I know, and Asgore was the son of the strongest of all of the monster lords. Their kind had always been the most powerful, naturally, of all the monsters. Which is why he was absolutely uncontested as King, aside from the fact that he was always so good at taking care of others.”

“Ooh. Okay. But, what happened to the monster lords?” she asked, frowning worriedly. “Humans got them, huh?”

“By the time we were at the edge of war, humans had killed all but Asgore, Toriel, and a dragon called Yrra. She didn’t survive,” he said, grimacing. “Humans used to send out what they’d call raid parties to confront the strongest of monsters. And we… didn’t last.”

 

Frisk gulped. She could imagine the halls of a castle, once lively, dimmed and silent, and filled with dust. “Crap,” she muttered, her voice cracking. “Your mom, too?”

“…Yes,” he said. “Humans and monsters have always had such a horrible, mutually parasitic relationship with one another. When one kills the other, the power to be gained is substantial; enough to be addicting. Our people did not take that route intentionally. Most humans didn’t, either, but the ones that did grew strong enough to rule their people. And so…” He shrugged slightly, his expression taut and sad.

“Jeez, that’s terrible,” Frisk grumbled. “And doesn’t it totally mess your soul up, too? That happened to you, right?”

“It does. The change is permanent. Though some damage can heal,” he said. “Most humans didn’t feel the adverse effects, though. Or, didn’t see those as enough of a reason to stop.”

“Did you hate them?” she asked.

“For a while,” he said. “I was young and I’d seen… more than I’d ever wish on anyone. But, eventually, I met some humans that were different than the raiders or the lords or knights. I came to understand things are more shades of grey. Everything that happened was such a shame. Your grandmother would’ve loved to have met you. She was an adamant believer in peace between humans and skeletons.”

“Grandmother…” Frisk folded her arms and looked up at him with wide eyes. “What was her name?”

“Avenir,” he said.

Frisk repeated the name in her head. Filling out a strange family tree she hadn’t even been aware of. A grandmother. Avenir.

 

“What was she like?” she asked.

“Wonderful. Very caring. And a terrible cook.” He laughed. “She was always writing something. She got me interested in books. And trying to figure out how things in our world worked. She was very tall, it seemed, at the time. I always found she looked very… queenly. Softer in skull structure than I am. And lyre horns, of course.”

“Did a lot of skeletons have horns?” Frisk asked.

“Some of us,” he said. “She did. A small number of us had tails, too. I believe it may have been a regional thing.”

“And Avenir had the magic split thing, too?”

“She did. Blue and red, in fact.” Gaster smiled fondly. “Her red was almost exactly the same as yours is now.”

“Wow, okay. Did… Did we have a big family?” she asked.

“Quite small, actually,” he said. “I had no siblings, nor aunts, or uncles. I didn’t know my father, unfortunately. And my mother was taken from me when I was very young.”

 

Frisk looked troubled. She hugged her knees. “Was that in the war?”

“Earlier,” he said. His expression glazed for a moment. He shook his head. “It was a long, long time ago. And I was far from the only orphan left around at the time.”

“So what did you do?” Frisk squeaked, eyes wide.

“I ran. I met Asgore.” He smiled slightly. “We were all but inseparable after that.”

 

Frisk tilted her head. “So I guess it must’ve been cool to see Asriel again, huh?”

“Oh. God. Absolutely,” he said.

“You knew him pretty well, I bet,” she said.

“I did! Since he was born, in fact,” Gaster said with a nod.

“So you must’ve known Chara,” she said, raising her brows.

“I did,” he said. “Poor girl. You know the story? About how she got sick and…”

“Uh…” Frisk looked puzzled. “Sick? Um. Dad. What d’you mean? She—”

“That’s how she passed away,”  he said. “We didn’t have the knowledge to heal her, it was—”

“No. No no, dad, I mean, she didn’t… She didn’t catch a bug.  She didn’t get sick,” Frisk said. “She poisoned herself. She did it on purpose.”

“…Wh-What? Frisky, what are you saying?” he asked.

 

The look of genuine shock on his face gave her pause. “Oh. Jeez, I’m sorry. I guess you missed this part, huh?” Frisk said sheepishly. “Sorry to… Never mind, it’s okay.”

“Please. What were you…?” He looked perturbed. “It was intentional?”

“Um. Yeah. She, um… She died to give her soul to Az,” Frisk said. “She wanted to kill all humans, as revenge for what they did to monsters, but Az changed his mind when they actually got to where they were gonna start and… Well, you know the rest. She turned into a weird ghost after the CORE blew up on you. She’d try to possess the anomalies who came in when everything was going weird. She was actually in the back of my head for a bit.”

“Wait. What? Are you serious?” His eyes went wide. “Little Chara?! How could that be?”

“Oh, wow, you really didn’t know,” Frisk said, unable to hide her surprise. “Did you…? Did Sans tell you what happened to him?”

“He didn’t need to, I’d seen it in dreams,” he admitted. “Why?”

“The, um, anomalies that he fought? Those were Chara. Or, kids Chara’d taken over,” she said. “You didn’t see her?”

 

Gaster froze with shock. He stared at her blankly— silently— for a while. He put a hand to his mouth.

“Sorry,” Frisk said again.

“Y-You can’t tell Asgore,” he said quickly. “Oh, god, he’d never forgive himself, he’d never—”

“Dad,” Frisk said gently, “Asriel already told him and mom everything. They know.”

Nimhneach m’anam…” He rubbed his brow. “And?”

“It was hard. But they’re doing okay,” she said. “They know it wasn’t their fault. It was just… when she was a ghost, and I think it’s a human thing? But she was basically only bad emotions, and she used that to mess with people. I know she wasn’t evil, when she was alive? But as a ghost she was, um… She wasn’t so good until near the end of my time knowing her.”

 

He let out a long, deep breath. He frowned at the floor. Frisk tilted her head. It seemed like the implications of what she’d said were running through his mind. She felt bad for that.

“She… She was inside your head?” he asked softly.

“Yeah. She, um. She tried to convince me to hurt people, sometimes,” she admitted. “But by the end, because I was trying to help her brother, she, um… wasn’t so bad to me. Then she left. I, um, never really understood why she didn’t come back at the reset, but once she said she was gone, she just kinda was. I never heard from her again.”

Gaster’s frown deepened. He quickly wrapped her in his arms. “I didn’t know,” he muttered.

“I know! I know, it’s okay,” she said. “I’m sorry, I’m sure the kid you knew was really nice, it’s just… what happened really messed her up. I hope I didn’t… ruin your image of her or anything, sorry.”

“Don’t apologize, sweetheart,” he said quietly. “When it comes to something like this, you are my first priority. Always.”

Frisk’s face flushed, and she clung to him gently. It was kind of nice. She felt very safe there, a lot like she felt with Toriel. “Thanks,” she said.

 

He was silent for a while, his hard fingertips gently running through her hair. “The world is a strange place,” he said, finally. “Funny. Since I left, things have changed a great deal. But the people are much the same. I’m grateful. And. Frisky?”

“Mhm?” she asked.

“You’re wonderful.” He pulled back and smiled at her. He cupped her cheek with his broken hand. “I’m sorry. So many things have happened to you and I… I just…”

“I’m okay,” she assured him.

“Will you let me know if you need anything? Anything at all?” he said.

“You just got here,” Frisk said with a laugh. “Don’t worry so much about me, okay? I’m fine. You should just relax. I can feel in your soul that you’re still achey all over.”

“Oh.” His cheekbones became tinted with the pale gradient of blue and gold. “I… I suppose I am.” He looked embarrassed for a few seconds, but then his expression lightened. He smiled. “Hey. I have an idea. A little less heavy than all that. How would you like to see your grandmother?”

 

Frisk was floored. She stared back at him blankly. “See her?”

“Well, see through my memories,” he said. “It’s a very basic power related to determination, an ability to look through memories while being directed. I am able to do it, so it stands to reason that you would be able to do it as well.”

“Wh…? Could I?” She couldn’t help her eyes from going wide. “C-Could I always do that?”

“Of course,” he said. “Would you like to try?”

“Um! Okay! Y-Yeah!” The thought hit her with nerves and excitement. “How do I do it?”

“Use your magic. Look to reverse. And touch here and here.” He put one hand on his temple and the other to where his soul would be glowing. “I will show you where to go, you just have to peek inwards. It’s very simple.”

She nodded and concentrated to bring red to her fingertips. She reached up and put a hand on his head and then on his chest, too. She closed her eyes.

“O-Okay. Show me?” she asked.

 

Her mind’s eye guided her through a fog of white over black. It swirled ever so slightly.

“Force it to let you through,” Gaster said.

Frisk wasn’t sure how, but she focussed in on what she wanted to see. She silently asked to be let in. Her red stained the centre of the fog and, all of a sudden, the mist painted images, like revealing an old and grainy film.

 

She saw a figure from a low angle that started to build up out of shadows. A skeleton woman. Her skull shape was slender and graceful, and her eye sockets were large with white pupils, just like Sans. She had slightly pointed eyeteeth and horns, like Gaster had said. She could only see her torso aside from that as they bounced — took a moment to discern that they were riding on a soft horse the colour of storm clouds with faint white speckles in its fur. The skeleton wore a brown muffler around her neck and shoulders, and a basic plate mail armour, grey in colour and well worn.  She was smiling back at her— no, at Gaster, she thought— and her eye flared slightly with blue.

 

“That’s a good one,” she said fondly. She was speaking a language that Frisk didn’t hear— the memories translated it instantly. She had a pleasant, silvery voice. “I’m glad you wanted to come. The road is a lot nicer with you around.”

“Oh, good!” A young boy’s voice, in that same language. Gaster. “It’s a pretty nice trip. And we’ll really get to meet the King and Queen at the end?”

The woman’s expression went tight, but she forced a smile and turned back to look ahead.

“We will meet the King,” she assured him.

“I’m excited!” he said.

 

The memory shifted and the colours around her changed to gold; became warm like fire. Bundled in a blanket, Frisk could see little skeleton hands cling to the plush surface and snuggle in under the arm of the woman. She read aloud, claw-tipped finger tracing under the words on the page of an old, tatty book, the parchment worn on the edges from frequent use. The words were muddled and the text shifted between words she didn’t understand in letters she could read to just the symbols she’d come to recognize as that old skeleton language.

 

Frisk blinked her eyes open and she was looking at her father again. She felt a little heavy in her head and almost couldn’t believe it. That had been so easy. Gaster smiled at her fondly.

“It came through, didn’t it?”

“Y-Yeah! Wow. That was her?” She rubbed her eyes with her knuckles. They felt a little fuzzy. “She looked really cool.”

“She was,” he said.

“Sans looks a little like her,” she said.

Gaster chuckled. “He has her eyes. That was a very nice surprise.”

“Where did you live?” she said. “I saw… a room? Sort of?”

“We had a castle,” he said. “A small one. I wonder if any of it is still there…”

“A castle?! And you guys had a horse?” she asked.

“We did,” he said. “Nimbus. She was with me for a long time.”

“Wow.” Frisk smiled. “Thanks for showing me that.”

“You’re very welcome,” he said.

“Was that really far away? Maybe we could go see where you used to live, out on the surface,” she suggested.

“Well… It is quite far, but I can’t see why not.” There was a warm glow about him as he said this. “It would be long trip, but…” He put a hand to his mouth for a moment. He snickered. Losing his composure, he grabbed the kid and hugged her close, grinning wide. “A stór, tá tú an-chróga. Tapadh leat. I would be more than happy to show you some day. We have all the time in the world.”

“Y-Yeah?” she asked.

“Of course!” he assured her. “Ah. I never thought there’d come a time where I could ever take you kids there, but now…” He ruffled her hair. “Thank you.”

“It was a group effort,” she said brightly.

 

“Hey.” Sans appeared from nowhere and shot them a smile. “Good chat?”

“Hey!!” Frisk hopped up to give him a hug as hello. “Dad told me about the surface, and about boss monsters, and about his mom, and the war, and his horse. He said he’d take us to go see the castle where he used to live sometime.”

“Hey, not a bad idea,” Sans said. “Feelin’ alright?”

“Yeah, I’m okay,” she said.

“Good.” He jerked his thumb back over his shoulder. “They’re like four minutes away.”

“Oof!” Frisk laughed and rubbed her head as her stomach did a backflip and a chill ran under her skin. “Okay. That’s fine. I’m fine.”

 

“What can I do?” Gaster asked, standing up. “Is there anything I can—?” He started coughing and his bones rattled.

“Gonna be sick?” Sans asked.

He froze up. Probably yes. Sans grabbed his arm and nodded towards the door.

“Okay. Get outta here? Meet us by the inn?”

Gaster nodded. He gently grabbed Frisk and bumped his brow on hers and hurried away, holding himself tightly. The kid looked up at her brother worriedly.

“He’ll be okay,” he said.

“I know, but it still kinda sucks,” she said.

“Yeah. C’mon. Let’s go pretend to be normal, huh?”

 

Chapter Text

 

Frisk set herself up on the couch with a book just a hair below her reading level and waited anxiously. Papyrus looked as nervous as she felt. When he couldn’t find another thing he could possibly clean, he edged onto the couch with Frisk and squished her close. He was pouting at much as a skeleton was able to. It struck her rather abruptly that her older brother wasn’t actually that much older than she was, and she’d never seen him look quite so uncertain as he did right this second. She hugged him.

“Of all the things to have happen…” he grumbled.

“I know, it’s the worst,” she said.

 

A heavy fist banged on their door. Frisk jumped and Papyrus got up, straightening out his Delta Rune sweater and his scarf. The kid found herself siting beside Sans very abruptly, and he gently took the book away from her and held a page open as if they’d been in the middle of something. Papyrus counted down on his fingers, and then threw the door open. It was Undyne who stood there, in full armour, her yellow eye gleaming intensely through the slit in her helmet. She moved aside before Papyrus could greet her and she firmly guided a woman forward. The Ambassador, in fact. She looked sheepish and a little underdressed for the cold. Papyrus extended a hand to her and beckoned her inside.

“Hello, human! Come inside,” he said.

“Ah. Th-Thank you.” She was shivering. “I’m June Ya—”

“I have orders to protect the kid,” Undyne said cooly, her focus on Papyrus as her words trampled over the Ambassador.

“Yes! Of course, thank you, Captain,” he said.

 

Papyrus beckoned them in, then shut the door tightly and gestured widely to the room. “Welcome to our house! I am the great Papyrus! Naturally. And over there is Sans, and—”

The woman sneezed. She blushed instantly and raised her hands. “Ah! I’m sorry, excuse me,” she said swiftly.

“Oh! You must be cold!!” Papyrus said. “Let me get you some tea.”

 

He raced away and Sans finally got up. Frisk slunk down in her seat and tried to stay behind her brother. She waved tepidly to Undyne, who had positioned herself like a sentinel beside the doorway. Sans turned to her and put a hand on her head.

“Alright, sweetheart, you wanna wait upstairs for a few minutes?” he asked.

Frisk had to stop herself from laughing out loud. She nodded and he knelt down.

“Keep your phone on,” he whispered.

 

Hurriedly, the kid ran away and closed herself in the bedroom. The Ambassador watched with interest, and then smiled politely at Sans. He flicked through the phone in his pocket and dialled the kid.

“Hello. Nice to meet you in person, finally,” the woman said. “I’m sorry to burst into your home like this. I’ll be sure to get out of you hair… um… a-as soon as possible.”

Sans shrugged. “Welp. Be good to get this sorted. Kinda freaks the kid out.”

“There’s nothing to be afraid of,” she said quickly.

“Yeah but, gotta admit, it’s pretty weird,” he said. “Plus, y’know, the kid doesn’t have a lot of experience with humans. We’re kinda the only family she’s known, so…”

The Ambassador tilted her head slightly. “And what is your relation to her?”

“Brother.” He shrugged. “Primary caregiver. Mom’s a teacher, dad’s a scientist; I’m the adult that’s home the most.”

“And you?” she asked Papyrus as he returned with a cup of tea. “Oh, thank you.”

“You’re very welcome,” he said. “I am also her big brother! Though. Sans is older than I am. Even though he is considerably smaller.” He tapped his fingertips together. “You’re… not here to try to take her away, are you?”

“Oh, no no no, nothing like that,” the woman said quickly.

Papyrus deflated instantly with a huge sigh, and then straightened up tall and wiped his brow. “Well THAT’S a relief! Honestly. So, um. What are you here for?”

“Well, I’d like to talk to her, for one,” she said. “Assess the situation.”

 

Sans folded his arms. “I don’t think you’re gonna find what you’re lookin’ for.”

“Mostly, we’re a little concerned with how this happened at all, to be honest,” she said. “I understand that your King had essentially claimed her as a citizen, which is fine, but I guess what I’d like for you to understand is how concerning it is that a girl that young even arrived here to begin with. There aren’t any towns around here for miles.”

“Yeah, she, uh, apparently didn’t have a great time out there on her own,” Sans said.

“And that’s also a very serious case of neglect,” she said. “So. If she is declared missing from somewhere, but you’re telling me she didn’t have a family before you, we’d be looking into whoever it was who let a little girl just live on the streets like that.”

“Don’t think you’ll find that either,” Sans said; this time his tone was a little apologetic. “But you’re welcome to talk with her.”

“Thank you.” June sounded relieved. She hesitantly sipped the tea and her eyes went wide. “Oh! This is… really good. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome! But just… be nice to her, okay?” Papyrus said. “We were—I mean, she was very nervous about all this.”

“I’m sure I can put her at ease,” the woman said reassuringly. “Would it be alright if I talk to her now? We’ll need some privacy, though, if that’s okay.”

“I have orders to stay with her,” Undyne growled.

Sans put his hand up to stall her and shot her a knowing look. “As long as she can have her phone with her, I got no problem.”

“That’s just fine,” the woman said. She looked between Undyne and Sans cautiously. “Is… that alright with you?”

 

Undyne didn’t move. Sans nodded. He tilted his head towards the stairs. “Hey, kiddo, you wanna come back down here?” he called.

Frisk opened the door and peeked out shyly. She came down the stairs hesitantly and snuck mostly behind Sans, clinging tight to his hand.

“Hey, so, this human lady’d like to talk to you for a little,” he said gently. “That okay with you, sweetheart?”

Frisk clung a little tighter, concealing the twitch of a smile. She pressed into his side, but she nodded. June smiled sweetly and knelt down to Frisk’s eye level.

“Hi there,” she said, her voice high and pleasant. She offered her hand. “My name’s June, what’s yours?”

Frisk hesitated, quite deliberately, and widened her eyes. She grasped the human’s hand lightly and let her shake it. “I-I’m Frisk,” she said quietly, trying to speak with an even higher tone than usual.

“That’s a nice name,” she said. “How would you like to show me your room, Frisk? I’d love to talk to you for a little. Would that be most comfortable? Or would you like to sit somewhere else?”

“Um…” She squeezed her fingers onto Sans’s sleeve and tried to exude nerves.

He rubbed her head reassuringly and she looked up at him with big eyes.

“Hey. Don’t worry. We’ll be right out front. And the Cap’s gonna be a second away,” he said with an uncommon gentleness in his voice. “Call us for anything, alright?”

She nodded before slowly releasing him, and then turned her attention on the woman. “Okay. My room is fine,” she said.

 

Frisk took the human up to the bedroom. Boots clunked up the stairs behind them and stalled just outside the door. Though the Ambassador looked faintly cautious, she took a deep breath and her eyes shot around the room quickly. She seemed satisfied.

“Wow, look at all nice stuff,” June said. “Is this yours or your brother’s?”

“Um, m-mine. Um. Some of it,” Frisk said. “We share, though.”

“Does he share everything?” she asked.

“Not everything. A-All the toys and books and he lets me use his computer, even,” she said. “But he says I can’t wear his boots because I’m too small and I’ll just fall over.”

“Ah.” The woman smiled and gestured to the closest. “Can I take a look?”

“Yeah, I guess so,” Frisk said. She wasn’t sure what this woman was looking for. She tried not to look too suspicious of her.

 

The Ambassador wandered around, peeking in at little things. Frisk kept an eye on her but didn’t follow. She hopped up on the bed and waited. She thought she heard Undyne’s boots again outside.

 

“This is a nice room,” the woman said, finally. “Frisk, sweetie, do you know why I’m here?”

“Ummm… Some humans wanted you to come visit?” she asked. “You talk to the King a lot, right? Do you work for a human King?”

“Well, not a King, but close. And I also work for social services,” she said. She smiled gently. “Do you know what that is?”

“Nope. Not really,” she said.

“I help kids who need help,” she said. “Do you need any help?”

Frisk preempted a scowl. Played dumb. “Um, nope! Sometimes I need help with my homework, but my brothers are good at that.”

“That’s good,” she said. “And, how many siblings do you have?”

“Four,” she said.

“And they’re all here, or…?”

“Well, I mean, they all live here except my big sister,” she said.

“And, how old are you, Frisk?” the woman asked.

“Seven,” Frisk said. “I’m the littlest.”

 

June smiled, but Frisk could see a question in her eyes. She didn’t ask it. She prowled the bedroom and then pointed at the slightly more normal looking bed.

“This is yours?” she asked.

“Yeah,” Frisk said.

“Where are the other bedrooms?” she asked.

Frisk froze for a second. She gulped. “We, um, we sometimes move them around. With magic and stuff. Um. I usually share with my brother, Papyrus, though. B-Because I have, um, panic attacks. So.”

“Oh. Honey. What gives you panic attacks?” June asked, kneeling to take her hands.

“I have a lot of bad dreams,” she said.

“About what?” The woman tilted her head slightly.

“Um. Well. M-Mostly about being alone, I guess?” she said. “I, um… On the surface I didn’t have any people, so I remember that a lot and it was scary and stuff, and it sometimes still gives me bad dreams.”

“So. Where were you for all that time?” she asked gently. “Were you in a house? A room? Anywhere you could recognize?”

“I was outside,” she said.

“Could you tell me where?” she asked.

Frisk shrugged and shook her head. The woman paused to consider her words. Frisk felt a little bad. It must have been frustrating. She did seem to want to help, even if she wasn’t needed. And, to be fair, Frisk really wasn’t entirely sure where she’d been. A photo of landmarks might do it, but she couldn’t point to exactly where on a map.

 

“And how is it exactly that you ended up with monsters?” June asked.

“Well, I kinda got lost on the mountain,” she said. “And I fell in a big hole. When I woke up, my mom found me.”

“And how long ago was that?”

“I dunno, a few years I guess,” Frisk said.

 

The Ambassador seemed almost disappointed for a moment, but she smiled. “Is it alright if I ask you some more questions?” she said. “I was wondering, that mark on your face… And, I’m sorry, but I saw some on your hands as well. How did you get those?”

Frisk feigned confusion for a moment. She looked at her hands, front and back. “Oh! Um. The forest, probably!”

“The forest?” June repeated gently.

Frisk nodded. “Yeeeeah, me and my brother, Asriel, we sometimes play in the woods, and it’s super easy to scratch yourself on all the trees and stuff.”

“Is it? What kind of games do you play?”

“Um. Tag, sometimes. Magic battle. That’s really fun.” Frisk shrugged. “I dunno, we just make stuff up and run around, I guess.”

 

The woman nodded. “Could I ask a little more about your family? And how you like living here.”

Now, Frisk was starting to feel a little anxious. She put on a big grin, though. She knew exactly who to channel for this. “My family? Sure! They’re so great! Oh!! Let me tell you all about them, okay? Like Papyrus! He’s the greatest!”

 

- - -

 

Papyrus was pacing anxiously back and forth. He’d already worn a path in the snow down in front of the house. “Can’t we go back? I want to hear what’s going on.”

 

The group had bunched up together near the steps where Undyne had chucked her helmet down. Sans had dragged her outside with them, and she had a deep scowl on her face. Gaster rejoined them, looking trepidatious but a lot less sick.

“Yeah, I don’t like this either,” Undyne growled. “I was literally ordered to stay with her, dude.”

“Not much to it.” Sans shrugged. “Human’ll get suspicious if we all crowd in. Might think we’re influencin’ her. Or that the kid is hidin’ somethin’.”

“But she totally is though,” Undyne said.

“I suppose we should just try not to get in the way,” Gaster said reluctantly.

“But she looked so scared,” Papyrus said quietly, chewing his knuckle. “And she sounded so scared. I’m really worried.”

 

Sans clunked his back against the wall. “It was an act.”

“What?!” Papyrus yelped.

“Well, I mean, you heard how she was talkin’ real different, right?”

“Oh.” Papyrus tapped his chin. “I… I guess you’re right, actually, now that I think about. But why would she…?”

“Unassuming little kid. That’ll probably get that human out of her hair faster,” Undyne suggested.

“Do you really think that’ll work?” Gaster asked worriedly.

“Sure.” Sans shrugged. “She’s good at readin’ people; learnin’ what they expect. This lady expects a normal seven-year-old, that’s what she’s gonna get, more or less.”

“And she can pull that off convincingly?”

“People do always mistake her for younger because she’s so small,” Papyrus said.

 

“Ugh, this sucks though, I gotta be in there,” Undyne grumbled. “I want to be in there.”

“Me too,” Papyrus said.

Gaster tapped his chin. He looked between the three other monsters curiously. “Undyne,” he said, “your determination is quite high, isn’t it?”

“Hm? Oh, uh. Yeah, I guess so,” she said.

“Hmm. Then… I wonder…” He started down the road and then waved for them to follow. “Come, you three, I have an idea.”

 

Undyne shot a confused look at Sans and Papyrus. The former shrugged. The latter perked up and quickly scampered after his father.

 

They followed him to the shining tear in time near the inn. He looked at it curiously, pulled off a glove in his teeth, and then stuck his hand straight into it.

“Is that a safe thing?” Papyrus whispered loudly to Sans.

“I think… I think this should work,” Gaster said. He took off his other glove and then beckoned to the others. “Now, if everyone would just hold onto me for a moment.”

“Uh, why?” Undyne asked.

“Well, I can get us back into the house without the whole sneaking around nonsense,” the skeleton said. “As long as we’re quiet, we can probably listen in through the ceiling.”

“What?! How?” Papyrus grabbed his shoulders. “How how how?!”

“Just hold on.” He offered a hand to his son. “I’ll show you.”

“I’ll meet you,” Sans said. He vanished.

 

Undyne looked skeptical, but she grabbed the skeleton’s shoulder. All of a sudden, the white of the snow was overtaken by oppressive black, only to have them all tumble into a stack of boxes in a dark, enclosed space. They could hear Sans snicker.

“Nice,” he said at a whisper.

 

Papyrus groaned and Undyne heaved herself off him and pulled him up, where he clung to her tightly, looking a little sick. She was pretty light headed herself. Gaster got up last, silently choking out a thick, black sludge. He wiped his mouth on his arm and Sans squatted to hold his shoulder. He stole his father’s phone and got him one of the small, medicinal cakes. The tall skeleton nodded appreciatively and ate it in a hurry.

“What the hell was that?!” Undyne hissed.

“Kinda like what I do, but through the time tears,” Sans said. “S’okay.  Now…”

They went quiet. They could hear the mumble of voices through the ceiling. Papyrus instantly perked up.

 

He jumped upright, but Sans held him back with blue magic and held up one finger. He shifted himself across the floor, arriving again in complete silence. He pointed at Undyne. She looked confused. Papyrus frowned slightly, but then quickly perked up again and sat back down with her.

“He needs a spear,” he said quietly.

“Oh.” She held out her hand and her magic flashed bright until a cyan spear dropped into her palm. She tossed it over to Sans.

 

He stuck his thumb up and used the blade to gently slice a circle in the floorboards. He caught the leftover plank in his own magic and drew it back up, letting in the light from the bedroom below. The voices suddenly came through a lot more clearly. All the monsters hunkered down, silent, to listen closely.

 

Having talked the Ambassador’s ear off about Papyrus, Frisk’s mood was genuinely lifted. The woman listened and nodded along, smiling politely. She ducked in when the kid stopped to take a breath.

“You sound like you’re very close to your brother. Do you get along well with the other members of your family?”

“Oh, yeah, for sure!” she said brightly. “Sans is really really nice. He maybe sounds all low and gruff but he tells the best jokes and he reads to me and he’s just great. And he always helps me with school all the time! And me and Az always play together and it’s super nice. And Undyne’s so big and tough and she’s really good at sports and stuff, she’s so cool. And mom and dad are really great, too. They’re all really smart and I wanna be just like them when I grow up.”

“And how do you feel about living here?” the woman asked.

“It’s really nice,” she said.  “There’s all kinds of fun places. And so many monsters, they’re all so different and nice.”

“Do you ever feel like maybe a monster treats you differently because you’re a human?” she asked.

“Oh. Well. Not really, not anymore,” she said. “I think everyone here was probably pretty scared of humans a while ago, but when they learned I was actually a human, they got a lot less scared.”

June chuckled. She nodded. “I see. I bet it was a big surprise to see a human for them, right?”

“I guess so, but a lot of them didn’t know,” she said. “They mostly thought I was a dog.”

“A dog? Really?” June asked. “Why would they think you were a dog?”

“I dunno, but once the dogs decide you’re a dog, everyone pretty much just thinks you are one,” Frisk said with a smile and a shrug.

 

June gestured to the bed as if asking to sit. Frisk scooted over. The woman placed her bag to the side and reached in. She pulled out a little rectangular device, white and blue with a plastic cover over top, with a hole in the front.

“There’s a small test I’d like to do, if that’s okay,” she said. “All you have to do is put your finger in this hole.”

“Okay.” Frisk couldn’t keep the suspicion from her tone.

The woman smiled. “It’ll just see if there’s anyone out there looking for you.”

Frisk chewed her cheek. “I don’t think there is.” She extended a finger anyway. “Does it hurt?”

“Just like a tiny pinch,” she said.

Frisk nodded. The woman held the device closer to her. The kid put her finger into the hole and, after a second, felt the smallest of stinging sensations. It wasn’t even enough to make her jump. The Ambassador smiled and then took the thing back and flipped up the cover. There was a screen in there. Frisk leaned around to look.

 

“It’ll just take a couple minutes,” June said. “If there is someone—”

“Tell them to go away and that they stink,” Frisk said certainly. “I don’t even really want to know, can you just tell my mom or dad or someone instead of me if you find something?”

The woman was taken aback. She tilted her head and smiled sympathetically. “That bad, huh?” she said gently.

“Really bad!” Frisk said shrilly.

“I’m sorry that happened to you,” June said. “Don’t worry. We’re… I mean, I’m not here to try make you meet them or anything like that. Your mother was very clear about that.”

“Good,” Frisk said.

“But you may change your mind as you get older.”

“Nope,” Frisk said, pouting.

The woman chuckled. “It seems like you have a family that cares about you a lot.”

“Yeah, they’re the best,” she said, instantly perking up. 

 

The device in the woman’s hand let out a quiet ding. She looked surprised and she took a look at the screen. Her mouth tightened for just a moment, but when she looked back at Frisk, she couldn’t seem to help a smile.

“Well. That was fast… Good news, if you can call it that,” she said. “No results. See?” She held the screen out and raised her brows.

 

Frisk leaned over and took a look. The screen assured her that there were no matches to her blood, however that worked. It wasn’t a surprise, but she felt lighter anyway — they must be almost done. She smiled and clapped her hands.

“Knew it,” she said.

 

There was a little confusion on the woman’s face. Couldn’t seem to comprehend why Frisk wouldn’t be interested in some mysterious human relatives. After yesterday, though, the kid was mostly just sorry this lady was wasting her time. Leaning back towards her bag, June pulled out a cellphone. It looked pretty similar to the monster ones in some ways, but it was a lot more screen and much flatter— less colourful on the casing. She pressed on the screen and moved some images around, and then held it out to Frisk.

“Maybe you can help me,” she said. “Do you think you could look at some pictures for me?”

“Um. Sure?” the kid said.

 

Frisk took the phone in both hands and was surprised to see the photo of a child. Young— maybe younger than her— with pale skin, freckles, and curly red hair, and a big grin missing a tooth in the front. Frisk’s brow furrowed and she looked at the Ambassador with confusion.

“What is this?” she asked.

“If you wouldn’t mind, would you look through these pictures for me, sweetie?” she said. “These are other kids that got lost. Maybe you could tell me if you’ve seen any of them?”

 

Frisk suddenly understood why this lady had come all the way here. A pang of guilt knotted her stomach. There was no good answer going to come from this. She nodded and slowly began to swipe through pictures of missing children. A little blonde girl, a fluffy-haired teenage boy; an infant in a grainy picture. No, of course, she didn’t recognize any of these.

 

June watched her intently. She kept going. Then, there was a photo that hit her with a chill down to her bones. A teenaged girl with dark eyes and dark hair, long and in a braid over her shoulder. Barely smiling. She knew that one. Hadn’t seen her herself, but knew many who had. She gulped and kept looking, and, once she reached the end, returned to the photo that had instantly set her heart beating.

“Does that one look familiar? Have you seen her?!” June asked shrilly. “She came here? She’d be an adult by now, but—”

“No. No, she just… reminded me of a girl they told me about,” she said quietly. “I… never saw her for real.”

“What happened?” she asked.

“She hurt a lot of monsters” Frisk said.

“Wh… What?” June looked thoroughly taken aback. “Pardon?”

“The girl hurt a lot of monsters,” Frisk said. “More than ten. Maybe twenty? The girl who’s the Guard Captain now? My big sister. Both her parents.”

“Oh…” The woman cupped her chin and she frowned to herself. “No wonder she was so hostile…”

Frisk pretended like she didn’t understand the word. She stared at June blankly for a while. “You could ask the King,” she said. “I’m sure he’d help you.”

“Well, the King is very kind, but—”

“I know, right? He’s super nice! And really fluffy and stuff,” she said. “He’s great. He’ll help you for sure.”

June smiled gently. She nodded, and then reached into her bag again. She pulled out a photo on a faintly wrinkled sheet, protected inside a plastic case. “What about this girl?”

 

When Frisk took it, the sight confused her. It was a picture of a young girl playing on a swing. Her dark hair was cut in the same style as Frisk’s, and her features were faintly similar, though her skin tone was lighter and her eyes looked blue. Frisk frowned slightly and looked up at the woman.

“No, sorry. Why?” she said.

“Ah… We just thought, maybe, since you made it here, other kids who nobody can find might have, too,” June said.

“Oh. No. No other humans, not for a long time,” Frisk said. “Sorry. It’s just me.”

“I understand,” she said. “Frisk. Thank you so much.” She smiled and held the kid’s hand. “I know this must’ve been a little scary for you, huh? But I think you’re just great for giving me this time to talk to you. You were very brave.”

“Um! Thank you!” she said.

“I guess I should talk to your parents for a minute before I go, um… Oh! Your mom and dad, do you know where they are?”

“Dad should be around. He was on his way home from work.” Frisk paused and held in a laugh as she heard what could only be bones on wood just above them somewhere— June didn’t seem to notice. “Mom’s at a teacher’s conference.”

 

Frisk followed the woman out of the room, only to be met by Gaster thumping in through the front door in a tizzy, his warm clothes for enduring the constant chills replaced by a black turtleneck under a lab coat. She had no idea how he’d changed so quickly.

“Frisk, sweetie, there you are,” he said quickly. “Alright?”

“Mhm! Hi, dad!” she said brightly.

Gaster instantly froze up, colours tinting his cheekbones. The kid had to resist laughing and rolling her eyes. He gathered himself up in a hurry and strode to meet the woman at the bottom of the stairs.

“I hope you weren’t too hard on her,” he said. “She’s a good kid. She’s not in any trouble, is she?”

“Trouble? Oh, no no, sir, absolutely not,” the woman said quickly. “It’s not about that at all. I can explain it all to you if you like.”

“That, uh… That would be good.” He nodded and then gently patted Frisk on her head as she snuck around from behind June. “Honey, why don’t you go outside and play with your brothers, okay?”

“Okay!” She hugged him around the legs and then rushed for the door.

“And don’t forget to dress warmly,” he said.

“Okay!”

 

Frisk deflated with exhaustion the second the door clunked closed behind her. She laughed and rubbed her fingers through her hair, and then immediately booked it towards the inn. She caught Papyrus’s eye before she’d even passed the celebration tree. He sprinted for her and bent to hug her tight, and she relaxed in his arms and clung to his shoulders.

“You did SO well!!” he exclaimed.

“Thanks. Oh man. I was so tired of talking like that,” she said. “Ugghh, done!! Done. Super done.”

“You weren’t too scared, were you?” he asked.

“No. I’m okay,” she assured him.

“What a relief!” he said. He bumped his brow against hers. “Nyeh, what a strange day.”

 

“So, that wasn’t so bad, huh?” Sans turned up out of nowhere and patted Frisk on the shoulder. “Hey, uh, good job, sweetheart.”

She laughed and hugged him. “Oh my god, you’re such a goof.”

He snickered and squished her. “Did good, sweet pea. Sweetheart. Sweetie pie.”

Frisk giggled and beamed. “You sound like an old timey gangster movie guy when you say that.”

That cracked him up, and he ruffled her hair affectionately. He tilted his head towards Grillby’s. “C’mon, Cap’s holdin’ our seats.”

“And yet we have milkshakes at hooooome,” Papyrus scolded lightly.

“And there’s still a weird human in our house,” Sans said. “Who wants to wait?”

 

Inside Grillby’s, Frisk was greeted instantly with a bone crushing hug against a heavy metal breastplate. “Hi Undyne,” she choked.

“Ah, squirt, you’re real good, y’know?” she said. She plopped her down in a booth that was already filled with food, and shoved a burger into the kid’s hands. “Oof. Think Gaster’s done yet? I didn’t want to go without seein’ you, though.”

“Thank you,” she said.

 

The big monster clunked herself onto the bench and wolfed down a half-burg, and then chugged a stein of some mysterious, amber liquid. She scooted over to make room for Papyrus as the skeletons joined them. The kid flopped up against Sans, drained, and was more than happy when he put his arm around her and slumped quite lazily himself.

“You guys were upstairs, right?” Frisk said quietly. “You heard all the stuff?”

“Sure did,” Undyne said. “Had to stick around, y’know?”

“Phew!” She stretched her back and grabbed her phone. She texted Asriel and Toriel that it was done. “Gotta admit, though, Undyne, I kinda like calling you my big sister.”

“HAH! Well. Maybe I kinda like hearin’ it.” She stuck her tongue out.

The kid lit right up. Papyrus cackled and nudged Undyne gently in the ribs.

“So do we, honestly!” he said brightly.

“Countin’ on a little nepotism, bro?” Sans joked.

“Pfffft, no, as if I’d need that!!” he said brightly. “But. I mean. If it would heeellppp…?”

“I dunno, Paps, if you’re like my new little brother, I kinda wanna keep you even further from fightin’ anybody,” Undyne said.

“Aw.” Papyrus pouted.

“But, I mean… That medic division is still not totally outta the question,” she said with a shrug. “Maybe we can do something more official this time around, who knows?”

“Trade the Royal Guard for the Royal Guard Medic Division and a new sister… Hmmm… Well, that does sound pretty promising,” he admitted. “Oooh, will there be cool uniforms?!”

Undyne barked out a laugh and thumped him heavily on the back.

 

“Hey. So.” The big monster turned her attention back on Frisk. “Weird that that lady was just lookin’ for missing kids, though, right?”

“You’d think they could maybe do that without scaring the heck out of a not-missing kid,” Papyrus grumbled. “But why would they think there would be even more humans down here?”

“Yeah, s’not really a coincidence that there was usually, like, a decade or more between humans showing up here when the barrier was up,” she said. “It’s just really out of the way. Heck, Frisk, I think you’re probably the only person who ended up here on purpose.”

“I guess maybe some of them were gone a long time. They must be desperate,” Frisk said quietly. “One was, um… number six. If you heard that.”

“Mhm.” Sans squeezed her, just a little. “You did good.”

“Thanks,” she said. “I—” Her phone buzzed. She checked it— Gaster, though it was gibberish. “Uh… I think they’re done already.”

“Okay! Gotta go!” Undyne leapt over Papyrus and shoved her helmet on. She stuck her thumb up. “I’ll be back tonight. Chill out for the rest of the day, okay?”

“We will do our best,” Papyrus said.

 

Almost as soon as Undyne stomped out, Gaster slumped back in. He slipped into the booth and flopped against the backrest.

“That was strangely exhausting,” he said. “Everyone alright?”

“Very relieved,” Papyrus said.

Gaster reached across the table and held out his hands for Frisk. She grabbed him and he smiled brightly at her.

“I am so proud of you,” he said.

“Did you run to Alphys’s super fast?” she asked.

“That’d be me,” Sans said. He winked. “Always wondered why we had so many lab coats that didn’t fit us.”

 

- - -

 

Asgore was a tremendous host: making pots of tea, serving plates of cookies, letting music play, and answering any question the human man left in his house had. Even so, that man was still agitated. Paced when he thought no one was watching. Asriel was always watching, though.

 

When a heavy knock on the door announced Undyne’s return with the Ambassador, Asriel was more than relieved. The woman looked less shellshocked than last time. He watched with feigned shyness as Asgore welcomed her back into the house and invited her to sit down for tea. The man, Boyd, looked pleased to see her.

 

When the time came for them to leave, it was quite a bit of effort for Asriel to conceal how excited he was to see the tail end of them. However, the way out of the mountain was uncommonly dark for this time of day. Asriel squinted ahead suspiciously. His father hadn’t noticed. He seemed to be having a good time chatting it up with the Ambassador. Asriel, however, felt cold water on his paws. He looked down and saw it was running down the stone from up the path.

 

Asriel dashed ahead and realized very quickly that rainclouds were smothering the sky just beyond the cavern. His heart sunk, but his ears lifted to the distant rumble of thunder. Cursing inside his head, the drone of heavy rain hit him. He didn’t dare poke his head out, but he could see the crisp arcs of light slicing the clouds in the distance.

“Shit,” he said at a whisper. He whipped around and looked at the others. He bit his lip— there was no way the humans could make it down the mountain in a storm like this. He gulped. “Um! It’s raining really hard over here!”

 

The humans shared a worried look. Asgore put a hand on June’s shoulder, and then pulled ahead to join Asriel. He peeked his head out and was immediately drenched. He spluttered and laughed, and then brushed back his shiny gold mane from his eyes.

“Wow, that sure is a storm, huh?” he said. He looked back at the humans and smiled apologetically. “It looks like we might be spending a little more time together.”

June picked up the pace and snuck in close to him to peek out as well. “Oh. Wow. Y-Yeah. I think you’re right. Is that okay?”

“Of course it is, Ambassador!” Asgore assured her quickly. “It’s getting late. You and your friend can stay with me.”

Despite the circumstances, the woman looked a little bit excited by the prospect. “Are you sure?”

“Yes! Don’t you worry at all,” Asgore put a hand on her back and walked with her towards the house again. “Come on, all of you! Let me show you around the city to pass the time. I can assure you, you won’t be disappointed.”

“I’ll speed up the first gate, then,” Asriel said.

“Hm?! Oh! Yes. Of course. The gate,” his father said. “Go on ahead, son.”

 

Asriel raised a paw in a wave and he booked it. He ran back up through the house and out onto the grey roads. He stopped quickly to phone Frisk. He half-expected her not to answer— napping, maybe— so he was overwhelmingly relieved when he heard her end of the line buzz to life.

“Az! Oh my god, what a weird day,” she said.

He laughed. “Doin’ okay, then?”

“Mhm! Oh man. And you wouldn’t believe these guys. They’ve been kinda spoiling me.” She snickered. “And jeez, dad is really cool. And… And it’s so nice, I don’t have to pretend to not be a weirdo around him because he knows everything already. It’s… It’s good.”

Asriel couldn’t help a fond smile. “That’s great. I’m happy. I have, uh… not great news, though? Sorry.”

“No, no, that’s okay,” she said quickly.

“The humans are staying for another day. The weather’s crap. Can’t get down the mountain,” he said. “But I’ll stop the guy from going to Snowdin. Don’t worry.”

“Thanks so much,” she said. “That’s fine. Everything bad I saw in the dream happened in Snowdin, so as long as he stays away, that should be fine.”

“Yeah, but mom’s still gonna be pissed, though.” He leaned up on the wall. “There’s something weird about all this. But I can’t figure it out.”

“Well, thanks for looking out for me,” she said bashfully.

“Hey. Always.” His ears perked slightly to the sound of footsteps slapping down the distant path behind him— far too light to be Asgore. “Think I gotta go, but maybe I can pop in later if Sans doesn’t pass out.”

“Thank you!!” she said brightly.

He hung up and turned slightly. He could already see the human Ambassador jogging to catch up with him.

 

“Prince!” She raised her hand. “Hi!”

“Um. Howdy,” he said. “What’s up?”

“Your dad said we’d be heading out soon, so I thought I’d see if you can use a hand.” She smiled brightly. “Is there anything I can do with this gate?”

“Oh. Um. Not really. But… I think it should be almost fine now,” he said quickly. “Let me, uhh… Hang on one second.” He fumbled with his phone and quickly phoned Alphys and waited a painful few seconds to see if she’d answer.

 

“Hey, Asriel,” the lizard said as soon as she picked up. “H-How are things g-going?”

“Hey, Doctor Alphys,” he said. “How’s it going with the gate?”

“G-Gate? What gate? Oh no, did I miss a text?!”

“Yeah, the security gate? Retuning it for the new human and everything?” he said.

“Wh…? Oh. OH! I get it. Am I, um, on s-speakerphone?”

“Nope!”

“Okay, so w-we were pretending. That’s fine. D-Don’t worry. Do you want m-me to come up there and pretend to do a science th-thing?”

“That’d be so great!! Thank you, Doctor Alphys!” he said brightly.

 

He clutched his phone close and stood in an awkward silence with the Ambassador for a few moments. He edged down the road and waved for her to follow.

“Is it very far?” she asked curiously.

“Nnnoo, not really, we just gotta wait for the Royal Scientist,” he said.

The woman nodded. Her eyes drifted off to the side and she sighed and folded her arms. She smiled. “I never imagined this place would look like this.”

Asriel watched her for a moment before continuing on. She hurried to keep up.

“Monsters are fascinating,” she said. “Oh! Sorry. I mean, everything’s just so different here.”

“Yeah, guess it would be,” Asriel said with a nod.

“I’m excited to learn more about all of this,” she said. “Your father’s been telling me the progress on the outside is going well. I’m looking forward to joining you. He said something about making a spot near the city centre.” She smiled. “I’m excited to help, where I can. It’s going to be a big change. For your people and for ours, too.”

“…So you’re sticking around? For a long time?” he asked.

“That’s the plan,” she said. “After Starhome is a bit more finished, anyway.”

Well, not the worst thing in the world, Asriel thought. At least she seemed enthusiastic. “Uh! I’m sure you’ll like it. Just, um… Once you start eating monster food for a while, don’t switch back.”

“Oh really? Why?” she asked.

“Trust me, your butt will thank me,” he said.

 

It didn’t take long for the elevator at the end of the path to make indications that it was occupied. When Alphys came out, she was wearing a lab coat with seemingly as little stains as she could find, clutching a medical bag and a tuning fork tightly. She adjusted her glasses quickly and, though her expression was taut with nerves, she smiled slightly and bowed to Asriel.

“Your H-Highness,” she said.

He held in a laugh. “Doctor Alphys! So. Um. This is the human Ambassador.” He gestured to the woman. “Um. So…?”

“Oh! Right! Um.” Alphys straightened up and pulled out some seemingly random objects and her phone from the bag and fumbled with them for a second. “It’s, um!! A-Almost done! But I can s-speed it along for you, Prince.”

“Thanks,” he said.

 

The little lizard’s face got all sweaty under the gaze of the curious human who hung back a little behind Asriel. She fiddled with her objects and typed things into her phone, holding it up as if trying to get a signal from somewhere. June watched her curiously, her eyes lighting up.

“Um, excuse me? I don’t mean to interrupt,” she said, “but are you a scientist?”

“Uhhh… Y-Yes?” Alphys said.

“Do you work with Doctor Gaster?” she said. “I hope I didn’t interrupt anything.”

“Mmno. J-Just, um, this,” Alphys said.

“So where is this gate, exactly?”

“Hm? G-Gate? Oh, it’s uhh… It’s everywhere!” Alphys said. “It’s, um… i-invisible. In this, um… area. Ummm… Sort of like a f-force field? We just, um, call it a gate.” She tapped her tuning fork against the wall and listened to it. After a second, she nodded as if she had gleaned some secret information from it. She shot Asriel a questioning look.

“It worked, right?” he asked.

“Ah! Y-Yes! Yes. It should be fine now! Um…” She backed up a couple steps and awkwardly raised a hand. “B-Bye!!” She ran away quickly, back into the elevator, and shot away downwards as quick as she could.

 

Asriel took June back home and gave his father the go ahead and, enthusiastically, Asgore herded the humans out of the house. The kid hung back, however. He would much rather be back home. He texted Sans where he was and, before he even laid eyes on the skeleton, Asriel was whisked away back to the house in Snowdin.

 

Sans patted him on the head before flopping back into the corner of the couch with Papyrus and Frisk, the latter of which was wrapped in a blanket, half-asleep on her brother’s chest as he, too, lay back drowsily.

“Hello, Asriel, welcome back!” Papyrus said.

“Hey.” He squished in snugly with Sans and rubbed his face. “Oh man, what a weird day.”

Groggily, Frisk slipped off Papyrus and he moved his legs to give her more room as she went to give the boy a hug. He hadn’t realized how anxious he’d been until he caved and clutched her close, burying his snout against the crook of her neck. He was so tired.

“Glad you’re here,” she said.

“Thanks. Think I got an hour or two.”

 

Sans patted his head and the kid smiled bashfully.

“You’re doin’ real good,” he said.

“Thanks.” Asriel let Frisk go and yawned into his paws. “Jeez. Did I mention how much I hate pretending I’m like a child stereotype?”

“I know, it’s exhausting, right?” She laughed.

Papyrus smiled groggily. “Oh, Frisk, you’re going to be fine. And mom will be home soon and everything will be even better. I’m excited to see what happens, I bet she’s going to be happy. And, also—!”

 

He lost his train of thought when the front door burst open loudly and Undyne heaved herself and a backpack into the house.

“HEY, PUNKS,” she said loudly. She flopped down onto the floor and let out an exhausted sigh. “Shit, what a day.”

“They’re still here,” Asriel said.

Undyne groaned and put her arm over her eye. Frisk slipped down to sit with her and plopped onto her back, too.

“When are they leaving?” Undyne asked.

“When the weather isn’t crap,” Asriel said.

“I hate that,” she said. “Okay. Uh. I brought some vidya and anime, anyone want?”

“Heck yeah I want.” Frisk sat up and rubbed the back of her head. “Anything’s better than just lying around worrying, right?”

“That’s the spirit.” Undyne stuck her thumb up. “Just… gimme me a minute to lie here and worry.”

 

- - -

 

There was a box filled to the top with clothes sitting on the bed. It felt so strangely normal for Gaster to pull through them— these old shirts and such that had been his a long time ago. Papyrus had dragged them all from the closet for him. The young skeleton had always wondered where all these clothes had come from, since most of them were a bit too monochrome or dark for his tastes, and were clearly too large for Sans. Gaster liked the plain, mostly black and grey outfits, though. It meant he didn’t have to think about what he was wearing at all.

 

He could hear the voices of everyone downstairs lifting a little. He felt his fingers quiver and he took a deep breath and held his hands against his chest. His soul still sounded like a discordant mess. That was okay, though.

 

He changed into the coziest sweater he had— one that had been knitted by Toriel, in fact, eons ago. Grey with white geometric patterns and stars on it, and a high collar to keep his boney neck warm.

 

He snuck down the stairs and watched for a while as everyone gathered around the TV. They were playing some sort of game pretty enthusiastically. Frisk was cozied in the lap of that big, blue fish monster as she seemed to focus pretty hard on whatever they were playing. He almost choked when he saw Asriel was there as well, lazing on the couch in between Sans and Papyrus. The kid noticed him, too, and turned and waved with a big grin.

“Ah! There you are!” Papyrus hopped from his seat and grabbed Gaster by the shoulders, whisking him over to the couch. “Take my spot! Go on.”

 

The skeleton didn’t have time to protest, especially as his son gave him a hug, then leapt away to settle in comfortably beside Undyne and Frisk. He felt almost faint from the warmth. Asriel scooted up beside him and smiled brightly.

“You still have that, huh?” He pointed at the sweater. “That’s kinda amazing. Feeling okay?”

“Not bad,” Gaster said quietly. “Can I, uh…? Sorry.” He turned in his seat and cupped the boy’s face. “Hm… These stripes…”

“Got a few more on my back and stuff. And the horns, too, huh?” He smiled sideways and held Gaster’s hands. “It’s because I’m always fused with a little of Frisk’s soul, now.”

“Is that how that worked?” he asked with surprise.

“Yup! I mean. It’s funny because… Her soul is normal now. Well. Normalish,” he said.

“You can still see the white points sometimes,” Frisk said— her eyes didn’t leave the screen as she concentrated intently on the breakneck platformer she was fighting through.

“We’re still figurin’ it out ourselves,” Sans said when Gaster’s brow furrowed with confusion. “Seems like her infinity determination number didn’t change. And it’s not like she has monster magic now. But we’ve found strangers are able to heal her better than before, at least.”

“Hm…” Gaster held in his desire to run some tests as soon as possible. “Interesting.”

“It did some crazy stuff for a bit, though.” Asriel grinned slyly. “Frisk was basically a blue goat for a while.”

“True,” she said. “Not so fuzzy though!”

“I thought it was pretty cool,” Undyne laughed.

“And I was huge for a few weeks,” he said. “But. I also kinda looked like a weird giant beast with gorilla arms, so I’m pretty happy where I am now.”

“I’m very glad,” Gaster said.

 

To be honest, though, the skeleton was having trouble not just hugging everyone here. It was seriously exacerbated when the kid kicked back and leaned against him. He wanted to say something but couldn’t think of it. There was too much. He froze. Asriel tilted his head back and grinned at him.

“It’s still so weird seeing you again,” he said. “But I bet it’s even weirder for you, right? I’m glad you’re back, though.”

That was enough for him. He hugged the kid again and squished him quite tight. Asriel snickered.

 

“This is going to be really nice when everything gets settled,” Papyrus said brightly. “Ooh, I can’t wait until mom gets home and your little vacation is over, Asriel!”

“Yeah. Probably gonna take another one, though. Next weekend, maybe.” He pouted. “These freakin’ humans are stealing all my dad-time. HEY. Fishface.”

“Sup, scrublord?” Undyne said.

“Come over for dinner more, dad loves that shit,” he said, leaning over the edge of the couch.

“Hah. Yeah. I should,” she said.

“Someone else take this, I can’t beat these freakin’ jumping cat things,” Frisk said, sticking the controller in the air.

“Gimme that, I got super reflexes,” Asriel joked, rolling onto the floor.

 

He switched places with Frisk, and the kid plopped onto her back on the floor for a few seconds before heaving herself up and stretching her arms high above her head until her back cracked.

“…What is this super reflexes?” Gaster asked, puzzled.

“That soul fuse thing again,” Asriel said.

“Oh.” He stared blankly, but didn’t ask more despite the curiosity perked in his eyes. He cautiously extended a hand to Frisk. “Um. Frisky? May I…?”

“Hm? Oh!” She plopped down beside him and put a hand over her soul spot. “Yeah, of course.”

 

The red lit beneath her fingers and the shape of a heart glowed forth. She frowned, focussing hard, and her irises shifted red as the white constellation points in her soul shone through.

“Ah, there we go!” she said. “They don’t always show.”

“…And your eyes have gone red,” Gaster said softly.

“Oh yeah? Weird!”

“What, again?!” Undyne turned to look. “Did we figure that out yet?”

“Not really,” Frisk said.

“Maybe she’s flaring up like skeletons do,” Papyrus suggested. “Only. She has human eyes. So it’s odd and isn’t as bright or anything.”

Gaster carefully rested his fingertips against her soul’s light, a shimmer of red glowing within the gap in his hand. “I… I don’t feel them.”

“My theory’s she doesn’t actually need ‘em at all and just keeps ‘em for sentimental value,” Sans joked, shooting her a grin.

“That’s silly though!” Frisk leaned back into Sans’s shoulder and tilted her head to look up at him.  She let the glow die and the red in her eyes began to fade, too. “I bet they’re important.”

“Honest answer is, we have no clue,” Sans said.

Gaster tilted his head. The short skeleton and the kid both shrugged. He smiled fondly and patted Frisk’s head.

 

- - -

 

Far too soon for anyone’s taste, Asriel got a message from his father that they were almost home, and so Sans dropped the kid back off in his bedroom at the other house. He pretended like he’d been taking a nap, yawning and stretching as he left a little while after hearing the others come back in and giant paws heading for the door. His father greeted him with a big smile and a take-out bag.

“We got some dinner,” he said. “Sorry you didn’t come with us! We had some nice conversations.”

“Sure. Um. Thanks, dad,” he said.

 

The big monster knelt down to get to his son’s level and smiled slightly, tilting his head. “How were the others?”

“Tired. But okay,” he said.

“Frisk wasn’t too frightened, was she?” he asked gently.

Asriel shook his head. His father smiled and gently patted his shoulder.

“What do you think, join us for some after-dinner tea? Or. During-dinner tea, in your case?”

Asriel held in a sigh. He nodded. The way his father’s face lit up like the sun silenced most of his annoyance.

 

The humans were waiting in the living room, which seemed oddly surreal to Asriel. They were accompanied by a few shopping bags, piled up near the armchair and the computer desk. The man was at the table, looking a little less grim than before. Tired, though. He’d finally taken off his sunglasses. The Ambassador was squatting down, looking through Asgore’s bookshelf curiously. She stood up and bowed the moment she noticed him approaching the table. He smiled sideways.

“You don’t gotta bow every single time you see me,” he said.

“Oh! Thank you.” She bowed again and then hurriedly straightened up. “Did you have a good night so far, Prince?”

“S’okay,” he said. “My sister told me you were pretty nice to her. Thanks. She was scared.”

“Scared? What for?” June asked shrilly.

“Well, I mean,” Asriel said as he clambered up into a seat and pulled out his food: macaroni and cheese, and some hushpuppies, “she was always scared of humans. Nobody took care of her on the surface. Only we did down here. She was really scared you might try to make her go with you.”

“Oh, no no, we couldn’t… We wouldn’t do that, ” June said quickly.

“Good!” he said brightly.

 

June carefully grabbed a book off the shelf and sat beside him at the table as Asgore walked by and put his big paw on Boyd’s shoulder.

“Don’t worry so much, my friend, I’m sure you will be on your way soon,” he said.

“Something wrong?” Asriel asked.

“Ah. Yes. Their phones don’t work from here, I’m afraid,” Asgore said, his brow tilted apologetically.

“We were supposed to report back in,” June explained. “I’m sure it’ll be okay. It’s just because of the storm, I’m sure they’ll understand.”

“Oh.” Asriel patted down his pockets and then slid his phone across the table to her. “Use mine. It might work a little better.”

“Can I? Thank you!” she said brightly.

“Ah, yes, his is a lot newer than mine,” Asgore said with a smile. “Why didn’t I think of that?”

 

June curled up with the phone, her eyes skimming it with interest. Asriel scooted closer and peered over as her fingers traced the screen. His father gently nudged the man and held out a paw, gesturing to the kitchen.

“Would you mind helping me prepare the tea?” he asked.

Boyd shook his head and joined him, leaving June fawning over the monster-tech phone.

 

“It’s a bit different than ours,” she said quietly. “But not too different! I guess these are apps, too?”

“Yup.” Asriel pointed out the little smooth icons on the screen. “There’s a camera, the radio, the phone, some games, the item box—”

“Item box?” she repeated.

“Oh! You guys don’t have those?” He grinned. “Oh man. They’re useful. Watch this.” He tapped the app and ran hit finger along a basic list of some stuff that he had in there. With one tap on the name, a book he’d been reading materialized on the table.

June stared at the book blankly for a few seconds. She extended a cautious finger and touched the cover, only to recoil as if she expected it to be hot. She scrambled to pick the thing up and flipped through it, eyes skimming the pages. “Oh my god. Oh. My. God.”

“You guys really don’t have that yet, huh?” he said.

“H-How much does this hold?!” she demanded shrilly, picking up the phone and moving it up and down as if to check if the weight had changed. “How on earth did…?! To compress matter like that—”

“Not matter. It’s magic,” he said. “It’s a monster book, it’s made of magic.”

The woman put a hand to her mouth. Her eyes glimmered. “That’s funny, that’s one of the most amazing things I’ve seen here.”

Asriel snickered. “Flashy stuff doesn’t do it for you, huh?”

The Ambassador looked at him with a glazed expression. He smiled sideways.

“Oh, you haven’t actually seen anything flashy, huh?” He turned his hand palm-up on the table and effortlessly conjured a red flame, flickering harmlessly in his fur.

 

June’s eyes became orb-like and glossy. She leaned in over the fire, gawking. Asriel laughed.

“Guess not.” He let it sputter out in a display of sparks and grinned at the human. “You know, I could set the whole room on fire and not burn a single thing. Neat, huh?”

“That’s amazing,” she said, her voice hoarse. “Wow. Um. C-Can, um…? Can all monsters do that?”

“No. All monsters use magic, though. Not everyone uses fire magic,” he said.

 

“Ah! Were you showing our guest your magic?” Asgore walked back in with a smile on his face. He knelt near the fireplace and gently blew into it, setting it ablaze with a warm, crackling magic flame, with little embers that carried an undertone of gentle green. “Ambassador, you should come study in the Archives or in the lab once you’re all settled in! I’m sure there’s much more to see if you’re interested in magic.”

“Thanks, your Highness.” She stood up and pointed at the phone. “Is it okay if I—?”

Asriel nodded and pointed out of the room and back down the hallway. She excused herself swiftly and hurried away with Asriel’s phone in hand.

 

- - -

 

It felt like it took forever for the adults to decide to go to bed. Asriel put up with a few more rounds of questioning beforehand, and then gladly surrendered his room for them to use to sleep. They had refused taking two rooms, though, so Asgore dragged out an old mattress and quilts, and then let the humans get comfortable inside. He left them with a warning, though, to not eat any human food they might have brought with them, since the lack of bathrooms in the kingdom could turn out to be rather problematic.

 

Though his dad had offered him a spot on his massive bed, Asriel had declined for the time being. He spent some time reading through the humans’ papers again, searching out anything suspect that he had missed. It didn’t really seem like it, but he still didn’t trust the man.

 

After Asgore turned in and the boy huddled up in the living room chair, he heard slightly raised voices from the bedroom the humans were staying in. Flinching, he slipped over to the door on soft paws and raised his ears.

The Ambassador was talking. “Listen. There… I mean, there was a little resemblance, but—”

“So was it her or not?” he insisted.

“I don’t think so, Boyd. I really don’t,” she said. “She said she was seven. And her skin wasn’t the same colour. Most of all, the DNA profile didn’t match. Not to anyone. I’m sorry.”

“But what…? What if…? I dunno, what if the magic here changed her somehow,” he pushed. “Please, June, I gotta… I gotta see her myself. I need to know.”

“You’ll have to ask the King,” June said with a sigh. “Lady Toriel won’t be happy.”

“If it was her kid—”

“That is her kid,” she said.

The man went quiet. The air was tense and silent for a while. June sighed.

“I’ll do what I can,” she said. “But I can’t guarantee…”

“That’s all I’m askin’,” the man said. “I don’t want to leave without… Thank you.”

 

Asriel had to quell a groan of annoyance. He stayed still where he was for a while, but the humans didn’t say much after that. They might have gone to sleep. He sure hoped so, anyway, he was getting tired of playing the spy.

 

He retreated to his chair and texted Frisk, though he hoped she wouldn’t get it yet. Hoped she was asleep. After half an hour of nothing from anybody, Asriel slipped away to his father’s room. He collapsed on the foot of the giant bed and put his arm over his eyes. Worry sped his soul, but exhaustion weighed his eyelids. He rolled over and stashed his phone half under his arm and went to the alarm clock. There was a motion sensor option for whatever reason, but he activated it on a five minute timer and then chucked his phone across the room like a low-flung discus. It slid under the door and he heard it clunk against the wall. Perfect.

 

“Asriel…?” Asgore’s voice was sluggish and craggy.

“Hey, dad, sorry, I wake you up?” he asked.

“Mmno, no…”

Asriel could feel his father shift and he was lazily scooped up into a warm, sleepy hug. The kid sighed and allowed himself to be held and rocked gently. There was a familiarity about this that was comforting, in a way. Maybe he could actually get a little sleep like this.

Chapter Text

 

The quietest creaking of door hinges in the wee hours of the morning was enough to shock Gaster’s mind straight awake. He saw a lot of green in the low light, heard soft footsteps, and felt a chill of cold air across the top of his head. A female voice yawned. Undyne up for breakfast, maybe? When he felt a giant, soft paw on his shoulder, however, he realized how wrong he was.

“Papyrus, honey, what are you doing sleeping down here?” Toriel asked somewhat rhetorically.

He could have been sick with nerves. She pulled away and he heard her yawn again and the sound of paws on the kitchen tiles.

 

Cautiously, he sat up and, seeing no one, he bolted for the stairs. He had no idea what to do or what to say, but before he could even attempt to regroup somewhere quiet and alone, Papyrus burst from the bedroom with a grin on his face. He gave his frozen father a hug and then bounced down the stairs.

“Mom! Is that you? It is, right?” he said brightly.

“Good morning,” Toriel said with a laugh. “I’m sorry, did I wake you?”

“Well, of course, I’d notice right away as soon as you came in. Naturally,” he said proudly. “You’re home early! We missed you. Did you have a good time?”

“As much as I could,” she said. “Did the kids steal your bed again, hun?”

“What? No. Why?” he asked.

“Well, it’s just usually it’s Sans, if anyone, on the couch, is all,” she said.

 

Gaster quaked. Especially when Papyrus let out a loud exclamation of understanding.

“Wait right here,” he said. “Promise you won’t peek?”

“Um, alright, honey, whatever you want,” she said with a tired chuckle.

Before he knew it, Papyrus was in his face, smiling wide and grasping his shoulders. Gaster shook his head. Papyrus’s brow furrowed and he cocked his head to the side.

“Come on,” he insisted.

“But I—”

“Dad. Honestly. You really have to get over this hangup,” Papyrus scolded gently. “She’ll be glad to see you.”

“I’m… not so sure,” he said quietly.

Papyrus put his hands on his hips and frowned. Gaster chuckled. He was still so bad at saying no to this kid. He patted him on the shoulder and tilted his head towards the stairs. Papyrus’s face instantly lit up and he raced back down towards the kitchen.

 

“Okay, so, please don’t panic,” Papyrus said quickly, “but we have a new and old someone here who really needs to see you.”

“Okay, hun.” Toriel didn’t look entirely awake, but she nodded. “It’s not that dog, is it?”

“Nnnno, no, better than that annoying dog,” Papyrus said. He stepped back a little and seized onto Gaster before he could change his mind, and then pulled him forward. “It’s. Our. Dad!”

 

Gaster froze. Toriel woke up instantly. Her eyes grew huge and round. The skeleton awkwardly raised his hand. The woman let out a choking sound and then crushed him against her chest. He grunted and wilted, clinging to her gently. Papyrus grinned and backed off, shooting finger-guns at his father.

“I will leave you two alone to catch up, then!” he said.

 

“Papyrus, w-wait…!” Toriel stopped herself— he was already gone. She grasped Gaster by the shoulders and stared him down with shock on her face. “What. The. Hell. Gaster?!”

“I know. I’m so sorry,” he said.

“Don’t you dare…! Don’t. You’ve seen Asgore?”

He nodded. “And Asriel.”

“Oh my god.” She cupped his face. Her eyes scanned the cracks in his skull. She seized his hand and clutched it close, a worried look on her face at the realization that his palms, too, appeared badly damaged. “What happened?”

“An accident or two.” He shrugged sheepishly and smiled. “It’s so good to see you, Tori. I… When I heard you were with them, I…” He wiped his eye sockets quickly as he felt them bubbling up. “I’m so happy you made it through.”

 

Toriel stared at him blankly for a few long, silent seconds. “…What have you done to yourself?”

“I’m not sure what you—?”

“The holes. They’re not natural. What on earth…?” Her eyes went wide. “Oh. My god. Don’t tell me. Sans and Papyrus?!”

He nodded. She put a hand to her brow. Her eyes welled up.

“Of course…” She croaked out a laugh and grinned at him. “Sorry. I’ve stolen them. Do you mind if we share?”

“Please. They love you so much.” Gaster smiled. “Come on, now, Tori.”

Toriel snickered. “We have quite a strange, wonderful family, now. But, Gaster. What’s happening? In my memories?”

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I… I was erased from time. I’ll explain everything.”

“You must.” She laughed and put her paw gently against his face. “It’s… It’s funny. Now that I can see… They’re very much like you. Aren’t they?”

“Better,” he said with a laugh. “And. Um. There’s one more thing.”

“What is it?” she said.

“Maybe over coffee?” he suggested. “It’s… big. It’s about Frisk.”

“Wh…?! Oh! Right. That must’ve been a shock for you, to find a human here with your boys, hm?”

“Oh, not at all,” he said quickly. “Frisk and I have… a history. It’s a little complicated. I’ll explain everything, though.”

 

- - -

 

Throat tight, Frisk awoke in a cold sweat. Eyes wide, shivering deep into her bones, she cast around in the dark, looking for a faint blue shimmer. It wasn’t too far, below on the floor, but her whole body felt stiff and achey. She weakly stumbled out of bed, dragging her blanket with her, and found her brother in his spot amongst a pile of pillows.

 

She flopped down and gripped him tightly, squeezing her eyes shut and focusing hard on his soul. The pit was deep but to reach up out of it wasn’t so bad anymore. His soul clung to hers and he let out a relieved sigh.

“Thanks.” His voice was a gravelly whisper. “Oof.” He chuckled dryly. “My bad.”

“Nooo, no, no,” she said quietly. “S’okay. Um. I… didn’t remember that one. Did you?”

“No,” he said.

“Is that seven or eight now?” she asked.

“Seven.”

Frisk sighed. She slumped against his side and rubbed her eyes with her palms. “Why’s it doing this?”

“Who knows why it does anything?” Sans sighed. He shifted up to rest his back against the mound of pillows and then pulled Frisk over into his lap and hugged her close. “…Sorry, kid.”

“Nah,” she said.

 

He huffed out a rough laugh. Frisk snuggled right in and tried to rest. He wasn’t rattling, but she could feel the tremor in him. She was similar, so she certainly didn’t want to let him go anytime soon. Their souls shifted to purple effortlessly and it felt substantially better.

“Funny,” he said. “Bet Paps wasn’t gone for more than five minutes.”

“Then we gotta stick together,” she said.

He made a soft noise of affirmation and rested his chin on her head. “Try to get some rest.”

 

Despite her nerves, Frisk had almost dozed off again after just a short time, but was roused from her drowsy stupor by a female voice thumping under the floor boards. An exclamation and some laughter. She thought maybe she was dreaming for a second, but then she heard it again when she was sure her eyes were open. Her stomach dropped, but she couldn’t help a grin. She gently grabbed her brother’s shoulder as she scooted away from him.

“Sans,” she said at a whisper. “Mom’s back.”

“Hm?”

“I’m gonna go see her, okay?”

“Mmmhm.” He patted her head lazily.

 

Frisk slipped out of the room on soft feet, doing her best to be quiet for Undyne as well, who was clocked out on Papyrus’s bed. She snuck down the stairs, only to see that someone had pulled their side table into the living room proper, and that Toriel, Gaster, and Papyrus were sitting around it, drinking coffee. There were some papers laid across the thing as well, and she could see that there was what appeared to be a timeline drawn on one that was almost falling off.

 

Papyrus noticed her first and perked up and grinned immediately. Toriel whipped around and, as soon as their eyes met, she left her seat in a flurry and trapped the kid in a hug. Frisk froze up for a second. She didn’t know why, but she almost cried. She clung to her mother and hid her face on her shoulder.

“Glad you’re home,” she said quietly.

“Me too,” Toriel said.

“How long you been back?”

“Oh. An hour or two, I… I’ve certainly lost track of time. It’s been a bit of a whirlwind.” She drew back and cupped Frisk’s face gently, smiling, her violet eyes warm and bright. “What a surprise, hm?”

“Well, part of it,” she said with a laugh. “I… I always hoped he’d come back.”

Toriel chuckled. She pulled her in and gently kissed her forehead. “An enigma as always, my child. I’m just so glad everything went well. In all regards. Have you done another of your saves, yet?”

Frisk shook her head. “They’re not out of the mountain.”

Toriel’s fur bristled. “Of course that couldn’t have just gone smoothly, could it?”

“Well, to be fair,” Papyrus said, tapping his fingertips together, “Asriel said the storm was really bad. It is, isn’t it?”

Toriel’s mouth went thin and her brows furrowed slightly. “I suppose, if it was a pain for me to get up, then…” She sighed and got to her feet, looking back at the skeletons worriedly. “They have not tried to return here, have they?”

 

Papyrus shook his head quickly. “Nope! Asriel’s been keeping an eye on them all day.”

“I still can’t believe they’d send two,” she growled. “Did they at least have some goal other than terrorizing a little girl?”

“I wouldn’t say I was terrorized,” Frisk said bashfully.

“They seemed to be looking for more missing children,” Gaster said. “And Asriel… Oh! Frisk, I’m sorry, I saw a text pop up on your phone and—”

“S’okay, I don’t care,” Frisk said, clambering up on Papyrus’s legs to see over the table. “What’d it say?”

“It seems like that man that was there with the Ambassador, he was looking for someone that looked a little like you.”

Frisk frowned and tilted her head slightly. She wondered, then, if that photo the woman had shown her from her bag had been his. Gaster leaned towards her.

“That doesn’t worry you, does it?” he asked.

“No, no, it’s not that,” Frisk said. “…Ah. Crap. He’s not gonna leave, is he?”

“I will make him leave,” Toriel stated bluntly, taking her seat and flipping her ears. “Both of them. They will not have a choice.”

“I’m sure if we ask nicely, they’ll go home,” Papyrus said. “The lady who came wasn’t so bad.”

 

Gaster looked uncomfortable. He took Frisk’s phone and slid it along the table to her. She checked Asriel’s text herself and her heart sunk.

“Oh. He… wants to see me?” she said.

“Absolutely not,” Toriel said. “It was bad enough for one human to come here and interrogate you. For one who wasn’t even invited…!”

“I dunno, mom,” Frisk said quietly. “As long as it’s not here, I… I guess I wouldn’t super mind talking to him, if it gets them outta here faster and without making trouble.”

“What?!” Toriel couldn’t conceal her incredulity. “We should not reward them for flagrantly disregarding the rules we set.”

“It’s not about that,” the kid said.

“We do kind of want them to go, don’t we?” Papyrus said. “But, Frisk, don’t put yourself in danger. You’re not allowed, okay? No danger.”

“It’s unacceptable that some stranger can just waltz in here and try to dictate…” Toriel shook her head. “And Asgore will permit it, of course. That old fool.” She cut her eyes at Gaster. “And don’t you take his side, you know I’m right.”

Gaster raised his hands slightly. “I agree with you. To a point. But in some situations, maybe—”

“No maybes. I will not let them bother our daughter any more with this nonsense,” she growled.

 

“I’m glad you guys can argue like old friends,” Frisk joked, resting her cheek on her fist.

The adults froze. Gaster’s bones flushed and Toriel’s raised hackles flattened.

“Ah… Frisk. Honey. I’m sorry, it’s just…” Toriel sighed. “So much has happened to you. I just thought, the last thing you need is more of… this.”

Frisk bit her lip. She drummed her fingers on the table. Papyrus hugged her gently, and she felt a little reassured in that.

 

“You know something more, don’t you?” Gaster said with a tired smile, and he turned to meet Toriel’s eyes. “I think maybe that look means she’ll do what she wants, regardless.”

“But what is it that you want to do, Frisk?” Toriel asked worriedly. “You can’t put yourself in danger for this.”

“I’m not worried about danger for me,” Frisk said. “It’s… I mean. If all this means what I think it does, the guy who came with the Ambassador lady, he’s missing his kid. He thinks I might be her. If he sees me, I know he’ll realize I’m not.”

“What makes you think that?” Papyrus asked worriedly. “You can’t be his kid, you’re our kid. How can you confuse kids like that?”

“The lady showed me a picture,” Frisk said. “A missing kid. She looked a lot like me in some ways. I think maybe the guy just wants to know for sure, after coming all the way here. But… we can’t do it in Snowdin.”

“Agreed. It’s too far into the mountain,” Toriel said. “If something goes wrong, too many of our people can be exposed to danger.”

“And… your dream, right?” Papyrus asked his sister gently.

She nodded. “Can’t happen if he never comes to Snowdin.”

“So, you’re saying to see the human where you can control it, rather than him sneaking here and fulfilling what you saw.” Gaster turned to Toriel. “Sounds reasonable. And we can very easily protect her that way. And don’t take Asgore lightly, he cares about Frisk very much. He will be there. I think that would be enough. What do you think?”

 

Toriel folded her arms tight and grimaced. She didn’t look pleased at all. Her ears pinned back. “Did you talk to Sans about it?”.

“No, I just kinda thought it up now,” she said bashfully.

Toriel smiled slightly. “Well. Talk to him. He’s the one who will have to get you in and out quickly, should something go wrong. If he can do that, I won’t say another word about it. Otherwise, I’m sorry, sweetie, but I will not let you be alone with some strange human again, especially considering your dreams have you worried about him specifically.”

Frisk smiled sideways and slumped onto her fist. She felt a little bad. There wasn’t a thing Toriel could do to stop her, really. If this was the only way to make the man leave without coming to town… But, she was getting ahead of herself. She nodded and her mother blew out a relieved sigh and patted her head affectionately.

“Thank you. Now. Back to something more pleasant.” She smiled at Gaster. “Where were we? Just about at Sans, right?”

“Ooh! Oh. This is a good story,” Papyrus said, squishing the kid and leaning forward eagerly. “You’ll all like this one, I’m sure. And then you can hear the one about me!”

 

Despite the tired heaviness in her mind, Frisk enjoyed listening to Gaster’s stories. She was mostly paying attention to Toriel, however. It must’ve been so strange for her, to have known this skeleton for however long, and then have lost contact for possibly even longer. To come back and have had unknowingly adopted all his kids— for that to be possibly the skeleton’s best-case scenario. Things around here never seemed to want to be simple, but for a story so baffling and twisted as her father’s, Frisk was happy it turned out the way it had.

 

She already knew Sans’s story, and sort of knew Papyrus’s. The tender development of a floating, warm soul in a capsule of liquid magic— watching it grow through months until the hatch was released and the little baby skeleton formed right in Sans’s arms. Though, the version she recalled had a distinct lack of adult involvement, other than a vague someone. Weird how she’d never really questioned it. Her own inception, though, that was new.

 

Gaster had known he was going to what he could only call his death— without context— for quite a long time ahead of the date. However, he’d only seen Frisk in his premonitions for the first time a day and a half prior. He hadn’t had the time to prepare anything but a letter but, nonetheless, a vision of her and Sans meeting outside the stone door to the Ruins had given him more hope for what was to come than he’d had in a long time. He was vague on his actual death, though. He did say that he had to stop Sans from saving him but, other than that, he wouldn’t describe more except to say that he’d seen Frisk’s soul start to form, pulled straight out of his own. He hadn’t known the human he’d seen was to be made of his soul until that last instant. He seemed rather fond of that memory, despite everything.

 

The kid didn’t realize how early in the morning it had gotten until Undyne, scruffy-haired and yawning, thumped down the stairs to get some coffee. Papyrus was especially excited to see her, and gleefully bounced off to the kitchen to help her out the with a “special Papyrus blend”, which wasn’t all that different from the normal coffee except he added some spices, one of which may have been oregano.

 

Frisk slipped back upstairs to check on Sans. He’d migrated to a bed at some point, but was still on top of the blankets and was facedown in an unceremonious heap. She snuck up to him and rested her hand on his shoulder and listened to his soul. It sounded, much to her relief, very low and normal.

 

She was about to turn away when her soul was seized with blue magic and she found herself hefted into the air. Rather quickly, she was plopped down onto her brother’s chest, knocking the wind out of him as she grunted with surprise.

“Aah, why did I do that?” he grumbled, holding back a laugh.

“I have no idea.” She took the opportunity to slump and hug onto him. “Ugh, it’s soooo early.”

“Why you up, then?” he said.

“Mom met dad. Dad told stories. It was good,” she said. “But now it’s like six in the morning and I don’t wanna be up. Oh. Also. News? I, um, might wanna meet with that other human.”

“Hm? Why?” he said.

“Got a text from Az. Guy might be missing a kid,” she said. “Thinks it might be me, so…”

“Ah. Let him move on. From the mountain, at least, right? Gotcha,” he said. “Good idea.”

“Yeah?” She grinned. “I thought so, but the other grown-ups were all worried and stuff.”

“Welp. Can’t blame ‘em, really,” he said. “Got your back, though.”

“You’re the best,” she said brightly. She yawned and snuggled up. “Ugh. Deal with it later.”

 

Sans held her against him and sighed. His voice was a bit rough again. There was a subtle melancholy about him. “Hey, uh… Kiddo?” he said quietly.

“Mmmmhm?” she said groggily.

“I’m, uh… Sorry. About before,” he said.

“Huh?” She opened one eye and looked confused. “What for?”

“…You had no business bein’ where it put you.”

“Oh! Hey, no, don’t worry about it,” she said quickly.

“Sometimes… I dunno. Stay too close, it gets worse; get away, still gets worse.” He sighed. He sat up, a little tint of distressed blue flickering in his eye. “Just seems like it’s not fair. Not like it ever is. But you don’t deserve it. Especially at a time like this. And I guess sometimes I just kinda feel like I really screwed up, and there’s… no way I can make it better for you, no matter what I—”

Frisk stuck her fist into his eye socket. He went quiet for a few, heavy seconds, frozen mid-gesture. His smile twisted upwards just a little.

“Uhh… You… don’t care, huh?” he said.

The kid reached up and held both sides of his head. “I love you, bro.”

“Thanks, kid, but that’s not really—”

“No. I mean. Listen. You’re right. I don’t care.” She tilted her head and smiled. “I like that we’re the same. And whatever weird thing it picks, doesn’t make it your fault any more than it’s mine, right?”

 

The blue dimmed and Frisk couldn’t see anything anymore. Her brother snorted. He hugged her and bumped his head on hers.

“…Sorry I keep fallin’ back.”

“S’okay, everyone has bad nights. And… Well, I mean, maybe we got more than most, but that’s okay! I’d rather be like this if you’re like this. I’ll say it a million times, if it helps! I like that you’re not alone. It’s real important to me.”

“Oof, kid, you’re breakin’ my heart,” he said with an exhausted laugh. “I want better for you, y’know.”

“Listen, we’re either broken together or fixed together,” she said certainly. “And I don’t think that second one’s super likely, and I’m perfectly comfortable with that.”

“You… Hah. What the hell am I gonna do with you?”

“I dunno. Sorry for stickin’ my hand in your eye, though.”

“S’okay, I needed it.” He laughed. The magic in his hands tingled, cool and affectionate. “Am I too old to be whinin’ like this? Probably, huh?”

“Oh stop. You can whine as much as you want, I don’t mind!” Frisk snickered as his eye lit blue again. She looked up at him and tilted her head. “Wanna go get breakfast with me?”

“Hope nobody’s on the couch.”

 

Frisk winced in the light of the living room as they seamlessly appeared on the couch beside Undyne, who almost choked on her cinnamon bunny as she jolted with surprise.

“Good morning,” she said shrilly. “Jeez.”

“Hiiii.” Frisk flopped off Sans’s lap and landed on the floor. She heaved herself up and headed for the kitchen. “Foooood.”

“I’m comin’,” Sans said tiredly.

“No, you stay. I got this,” she said. “Undyne, make sure he stays, okay? He had a really bad night.”

 

“Oh yeah? Huh. Sorry,” Undyne said, looking at the grey-eyed skeleton. “Hard to tell.”

“S’cause it’s my default state,” he joked. He put a hand to his brow and huffed out a laugh. “Why the hell am I like this?”

“I dunno,” she said.

“Where’d everyone go, anyway?” Frisk called.

“For a walk, I guess,” she said. “So, how you holdin’ up? They mentioned your weird plan. So I’ll stick around a bit longer.”

“Thanks!” Frisk said. “I’m okay. I feel better.”

“I mean,” Undyne said, “it’s not like we have to worry a ton, anyway. Someone comes at you, I guess you could just freeze ‘em for a sec, right?”

“Guess so.” The kid came back with two cinnamon bunnies, one iced with red. She handed that one to her brother. “Oh! By the way. Dad showed me a new weird power thing.”

 

Undyne blinked back at her. “What? Really? Just outta nowhere?”

“He said I could always do it.” She shrugged. “I can watch a memory from someone if I try, apparently. They have to wanna show it to me, though.” She took a big bite of her pastry. “Maybe I can send ‘em, too? I dunno.”

“Huh. That’s weird,” Undyne said. “So, like, you’re a mind-reader, now?”

“I don’t think so? I mean. It sorta reminds me of a thing I could do anyway, with, like, super hugs? Sometimes I could kinda feel how someone else is feeling. I think that’s pretty normal, right?” she said as she sat down between the monsters.

“Yeah, for someone you’re close to, sure.” Undyne nodded. “Okay. C’mere. Do it to me.”

“What? Really?” Frisk asked.

“Sure, let’s see how this works.”

 

Eyes brightening, Frisk clambered onto Undyne’s lap. She quickly wiped her hands on her slacks and the reached out to touch a hand to her friend’s soul and temple. With a little focus, Frisk sunk into what looked like a hovering, all-encompassing stream of pitch black water. The colours shifted to blue and white, running downwards, and the spray of cold mist. Undyne stuck her hand into a waterfall and then looked up at a sky that was mostly shrouded by clouds, though some blue did peek out. A few large birds in a V-shape flapped by above, making a loud honking noise that Undyne found very funny. She heard Alphys’s voice giggle, and the vision faded.

 

Frisk blinked and looked up at Undyne. The monster was staring back at her expectantly.

“So did you see it?” she asked.

“The waterfall?” Frisk asked.

“Yeah!! And those hilarious birds!” Undyne grinned. “What a bunch of weird crap, huh? I don’t remember seeing those honkers before.”

“I think I saw them before! They’re called, um… gooses?” Frisk said. “That’s really cool.”

“Geese,” Sans said groggily.

“Geese?” Frisk repeated.

“One of those is a goose, more are geese, I dunno why,” he said.

 

“Hey, Sans? Can you do that, too?” Frisk asked. “I mean. You’re stronger than him, right?”

“Hu-what?” He stared at her blankly.

“I mean, your determination. It’s higher. Right?” she said.

“Oh. I get it. Nah. I mean. Yeah, but it’s not really like that,” he said. “S’why I can teleport and you can’t, y’know?”

“Oooh, okay,” she said.

Sans looked at her thoughtfully. He tilted his head slightly. “Actually… Y’know. Wanna come with me?” He offered his hand and then looked at Undyne. “Be back in a minute.”

 

When Frisk grabbed her brother, they were standing in the attic beside the starlight. He levelled his finger at it.

“Do me a favour,” he said. “Touch that but don’t save.”

“Um. Okay.” Frisk reached into the light and then looked back at him with confusion. “Why?”

“S’just a power dad has,” he said. “Figure you probably picked it up.”

“Huh?” The kid stared back at him blankly.

“Let’s pick somewhere okay with bare feet. Ruins, maybe,” he said. “Picture a star there, alright?”

“What?” she said.

“Just give it a shot. Close your eyes and focus real hard. Maybe, uh, the one between the stairs.”

 

Frisk wasn’t sure what he meant, but she shut her eyes and did as he asked. Saw that glowing star and the red leaves around it in her mind’s eye. She felt a sort of steadying presence, a little like what she’d normally call a save. Her stomach tumbled. The entire cadence around her shifted and she toppled onto the ground without realizing she’d fallen. Leaves crinkled below her body. Her eyes went wide. She was right where she’d pictured.

 

She began to let out a high, alarmed whine until Sans pulled her to her feet, grinning.

“Knew it,” he said.

“AaaaaaAAAAH THAT’S SO WEIRD!!!!” she yelled.

He laughed loudly and ruffled her hair. She pulled away and spun around, looking at the place, and she put her hands to her head.

“Could I always do that?!” she yelped.

“No clue,” he said. “Pretty neat, though.”

“Oh. My. GOD. Oh… OH!” Frisk’s face lit right up and she grabbed his hand. “Wait. Wait wait. Come with me.”

 

She touched the light again and closed her eyes. She remembered something, from a while ago. A fleeting image of a forest. Like a faded old photograph through an amber lens.

 

Wind brushed the side of her head, the feeling cool grass between her toes, and the sounds of birds chirping made her eyes shoot open instantly to be greeted by bright, fresh greens. They were at the edge of a sunny glade, surrounded by forest. The sky beamed down vibrant, cloudless blue. Frisk spun— fell over into the grass and stared up, gawking.

“Oh man, no way,” she breathed.

“Whew.” Sans looked up into the sky, shielding his eyes. He plopped down beside her. “Now that was somethin’, kiddo. How’d you find this?”

“I… I’m not sure, I saw it in there, I think,” she said. “Oh… Oh!! Wait a sec.” She jumped to her feet. “I…! I should go tell Undyne.”

“Bring her back here,” he said.

“Wh…?! Can I…? Um!! Okay, I’ll try!!”

 

Within seconds of touching the starlight again, Frisk clunked down onto the floorboards in the attic. She scrabbled to get to her feet and raced to the living room. Undyne was still just as she’d been left, and was caught with her tongue out as she licked the frosting from the cinnamon bunny off her plate.

 

Frisk grabbed her phone, grabbed the monster, and dragged her up to the attic, and before they knew it, they were sprawled in the grass out under that blue sky,

“Holy shit,” Undyne said, blinking upwards. “…Could you always do that?”

“I have no clue.” Frisk rolled to sit up and waved at Sans, who hadn’t budged. She blinked and he was gone.

“Pretty nice out here,” he said from her other side.

“Where are we?” Undyne asked.

“No clue.” He flopped back into the grass and stretched his arms out. “We gotta bring Paps here.”

Undyne sat up and rubbed her claws through her hair, wincing and making a quiet growling sound. She cast about and then stood, looking into the distance. “Seriously, dudes, what the hell?” She stood on her toes, wobbled for a moment before regaining herself, and then sprinted for a tree.

 

In a quick, powerful leap, she was up in its branches. She scaled it to the top and peeked out into the distance. She swung around the tip of the tree to look the other way, her red hair streaking behind her in the wind. “Uhh… Hey guys?!”

“Yeah?” Frisk called.

“I, uh, kinda don’t see a mountain at all.”

“What, really?” Frisk ran over to her and reached her arm up.

 

Undyne swung down and whisked the kid up with her, letting her clamber up onto her shoulders as she scrabbled to the top of the tree again. Frisk’s jaw dropped. The view was an unending ocean of leaves spread out under the bright blue sky. White cottonpuff clouds only dotted the farthest distances from them. Shielding her eyes from the bright sun, the wind blowing around her ears, Frisk looked around them, squinting at the horizon. The only gap in in the foliage seemed to be some sort of vague, stone something, probably kilometres away.

“Wow. Yeah. We must be super super far from home, then,” she said.

 

Undyne let her down into her arms, and then Frisk twisted to look at her brother.

“Hey Sans!! There’s no mountain anywhere!”

He stuck his thumb up— if he hadn’t, she would have been sure he was asleep. Undyne grinned. She settled somewhat comfortably, ears perking.

“Hey. You know… This is pretty awesome,” she said. “No monster’s been this far away from the mountain for like a thousand years or something crazy, huh?” She looked down at the kid with a fond smile. “Thanks for draggin’ me out here.”

“Yeah, super didn’t expect this,” Frisk said.

 

The cool wind picked up and Frisk pushed her hair back behind her ears. Undyne began to somewhat resemble a shaggy fish-mastiff. She laughed and ran her hand over her head to sweep her mane of hair out of her face.

“This is real nice,” she said. “But, uh… Kinda doubt our phones work this far out, huh? Think we should head back?”

“Ah. Yeah. Guess so,” Frisk said. She turned back for Sans again, but couldn’t see him. “Sans?”

Undyne followed her gaze and her brows lifted. “Uh… He didn’t just go, did he?”

 

The monster hopped down from the treetop and let Frisk onto the ground. The kid scampered back over to where she’d seen her brother last, but there wasn’t much sign of him save for a bit of bent grass.

“Sans?” She felt a bit of cold worry kick her in the guts. “S-Sans?!”

“Whoa, relax.”

She spun at the touch of his hand to her shoulder and she grabbed him tight. He laughed and patted her head sympathetically.

“Jeez, kiddo, I was just gone a second,” he said. “Hey. C’mere, lemme show you somethin’.”

 

He headed for a small gap between bushes and beckoned for her to follow. She blushed fiercely and took a deep breath. He didn’t bring her far, just to a little extra splash of colour in the green. She noticed a sweet scent here, where the wind wasn’t blowing between all the leaves.

 

There were a few flowers, blue and white, star-shaped, sprouting steadfast in small patches. Frisk looked at her brother, brows raised.

“Flowers?” she said.

“Those are pretty nice, bud,” he said, “but look.” He carefully stepped over the plants and lifted her up in blue magic. “Heh. Gimme just a sec. It’s a little prickly.” He brought her over just beyond one more bush. “I was kinda checkin’ it out when I noticed this. Thought it was kinda gneiss.”

 

In another small gap in the trees sat a tall, stone totem— it reached half the height of the surrounding trees. Faintly egg-shaped in the curve at the top, and reclaimed by moss and vines, it might have been hard to say this was anything more than a big rock if the aged, worn shape of a snout and some fangs weren’t poking out between patches of green. Frisk squinted up at the thing and gestured upwards. Sans floated her higher.

“Oh wow, weird,” she said. “Hey, is this, like, a statue or am I losing my marbles?”

Sans snickered. “Tuff call, kiddo. ”

 

“Hey.” Undyne had followed them in and stood behind them. She plucked Frisk out of the air and held her up in one arm as she put a hand to her hip. “Hm. Kinda looks like a goat.”

“A goat?” Frisk squinted again. “Where you seeing a goat?”

“Well, look.” She pointed. Her fingers traced between some old, weathered lines around where the snout was. “See, there’s the beard? And the eyes? Or one, anyway. And up there, see how it twists back?”

“Huh. Guess you weren’t kiddin’, Cap,” Sans said.

“Oh wow, do you think it’s supposed to be Asgore?” Frisk asked, wide-eyed.

“Could be. Or maybe an even older King than him.” Sans jerked his thumb back towards the clearing. “I mean, we know who made the tears now, huh? Maybe he did it for a reason. Y’know, somewhere in that confused head of his.”

 

A cool breeze brushed the leaves around them, and a buzzing cheep lightly disturbed the air. A bird, lightly grey and orange with a little tuft poking back from its head and a black bandit’s mask pattern around its eyes alit on the side of the stone. A second joined, ruffling dark wings marked with red and yellow, and the two of them ducked under some of the leaves and seemed to disappear into the rock. Frisk leaned around to look, but couldn’t see them anymore.

 

“Maybe he knew this place,” she suggested. “But it is pretty far from the mountain…”

“Monsters came from all over before getting stuck in there,” Undyne said. “Maybe he lived around here. Maybe a bunch of monsters did, if they even built this.”

“Hm. Could be hundreds of years old.” Sans laid his hand against the stone and was quiet for a few seconds. “Ah. Even older than that. It’s faint. But. Yeah. Magic touched this a long time ago.”

“So, like… How old are these old frickin’ monsters, exactly?” Frisk asked.

“Older than rocks.” Sans shot her a wink. “Who knows, really?”

“Yeah, I think you probably stop countin’ birthdays at some point.” Undyne folded her arms and smiled sideways. “Ever think what it’ll be like that long from now? We’ll probably see some crazy junk.”

“Might go to space,” Sans said.

“Um. Will I make it that long?” Frisk asked quietly.

 

Undyne froze up, her cheeks flushing dark, but Sans laughed.

“Seriously?” Sans said. He jerked his thumb at her, grinning knowingly at Undyne. “Time god’s askin’ how long she’s gonna be around.”

“Oh. R-Right.” Frisk smiled a little. “Oh, hey! So! If I’m… I mean. I have a lot of time, right?”

“Literally all of it,” Sans said.

“So at some point I should get over all this panic stuff, then! I mean, I have all the time in the world. Right?” She looked hopeful.

Sans laughed. “Yeah. I’m sure you’re gonna be just fine. Hey, who knows, few more trips like this might even do ya good.”

 

Frisk paused to think about it. She put a hand over her soul spot and felt strangely secure. It was the first time she’d been to the surface since the barrier went down and she didn’t feel the sharp, breathtaking sting of anxiety. She smiled.

“We should come back! All of us,” she said. “And we’ll look around and…! And maybe we’ll find more cool old stuff like this!”

Sans grinned at her. “So. Maybe outside’s not so bad, huh?”

“As long as we’re all together,” she said sheepishly. “And, hey. If it turns out we do have to go on the run, this isn’t so bad a place. And I don’t even know where it is.”

“Why would you have to go on the run?” Undyne said, holding back a laugh.

“Long story,” Sans said. “C’mon. We should get back before they notice we’re gone, hm?”

 

It was just a touch of the bright starlight before all three of them clunked back into the attic in Snowdin. Before they could right themselves, Papyrus stomped up to meet them with a scowl on his face.

“Were you hiding from me?!” he demanded.

“Nope,” Sans said.

“Didn’t you hear me calling?!”

“Not exactly,” Undyne said, nursing the back of her head.

“Oh.” All the frustration faded from the skeleton’s face and his brows raised. “Well. Okay. But, Asriel called. He said he couldn’t reach you, Frisk. Did you turn your phone off?”

Frisk sat up and rubbed her head bashfully. “Well, um…”

“Well, never mind, but apparently the humans are getting a little antsy,” he said.

“Oh great,” Frisk said.

“They want to meet you and the King doesn’t know what to say,” he said.

The kid sighed. “I’ll call them.”

“Oh good! Excellent! By the way.” Papyrus raised his brows. “What is that smell? Sans, did you actually get your clothes washed without me nagging you and nagging you and then doing it myself?”

“Not quite.” He winked. “Alright, should we go deal with this garbage?”

“Yeeeeah,” Frisk said reluctantly.

 

Frisk went on ahead, only to be followed soon afterwards by Papyrus’s shrill voice shrieking something like, “She did WHAT?!” from up in the attic. She was a little relieved that she wouldn’t have to explain it herself.

 

She found Gaster waiting near the bottom of the stairs. He perked up upon seeing her, his hands quivering. He quickly folded his arms to his chest, but he smiled brightly.

“Hello, Frisk! Did you get any more rest?” he asked.

“Not much, but that’s okay,” she said. “So. Seeing mom went okay, right? I’m glad you did it.”

“As am I,” he said. “I just…” His voice seized up. He looked uncomfortable for a second but he smiled and shrugged. He knelt down and gave her a gentle hug before he sat down on the stairs and got his curative cakes out of his phone.

 

She plopped down beside him. “Is it feeling any better?” she asked as he tossed one in his mouth.

“Actually, it is, despite my appearance,” he said, his voice croaking. “It’s a lot less frequent. What is that smell?”

“Which one? Oh no, do I stink?” She pulled up a bit of her shirt around her collar to sniff herself.

“It’s… Floral.” His brow furrowed and he leaned a little closer. “Is that…?  Beltaine?”

“Um. What?” Frisk asked.

“A blue flower? With five petals?” He saw the recognition in her eyes and swooped her up on his knees, a little glimmer of magic in his sockets. “Where did you go?”

“Um! I’m not sure, really. A forest,” she said. She grinned bashfully. “I saw it in one of the saves and I, um… can kinda go through them?”

 

She was surprised when Gaster laughed and smiled at her fondly.

“Well, of course you can,” he said.

She stared back at him blankly.

“Oh! You didn’t know? You must not have,” he said. “That’s funny I could’ve sworn I… It must’ve been from within that bubble, no wonder.”

“What?” she asked.

“Never mind, it’s of no consequence.” He shook his head. “Kiddo, I’m so happy it worked.”

“…Did you help me get that power, too?” she asked.

“Well. Technically. But it belonged to you anyway. I just sped up its arrival.” He hugged her gently. “I’m so glad. Your soul’s adapted so well.”

“To what?” she asked.

“Magic, of course.” He bumped his brow on hers. “Frisky, I’m so proud of you.”

“O-Oh! Thank you!” she said shrilly. “Um. What’d I do?”

He simply snickered and cuddled her gently. Frisk hugged onto him. He was strangely cozy despite the chill that still emanated from him.

 

At the sound of footsteps, he put her down, though he was absolutely beaming. Frisk hardly had time to ask him what had made him so happy when Papyrus barrelled down and gave her a hug.

“They told me everything, you need to show me that place sometime, okay?!” he said.

“Yeah, of course,” she assured him.

“Good! What a strange bunch of stuff, though, honestly,” he said.

“What is?” Toriel called from the kitchen.

“Frisk can teleport, it’s all very odd. But good. But odd,” Papyrus said.

 

Toriel popped out of the kitchen smelling faintly of dish soap, bubbles trailing behind her. “What’s that? Did you say she can teleport?”

“Between rips in time,” Gaster explained. “It’s a very basic power: a slight elaboration on her ability to “save” the timeline. Traversing the void between the rips is very simple for a time anomaly like Frisky, so—”

“Alright, forget that, is it dangerous?” Toriel said quickly.

“Not for her,” he said.

The woman raised her brows and looked at Frisk. The kid shrugged. Toriel laughed tiredly and rubbed her brow.

“Okay. Alright. Just… Honey. You know what I’m going to say.”

Frisk stuck her thumbs up. Toriel smiled fondly. She put her hands on her hips and looked up at the ceiling.

 

“So, I was thinking,” she said, “this place, it stands to get rather crowded now, doesn’t it? And, Gaster, you cannot just stay on the couch forever.”

“I don’t mind,” he assured her.

“But since you’re here, and we’re still down here for another few months, what do you think about clearing the attic? Turning that into a room for you? And I suppose we could even divide it in half and I could give Sans his space back.”

“Ooh! And I could finally dust all up there, and we clean out all that old junk!” Papyrus grinned. “I like that idea! Can I help?”

“Ah, I could sort through all my old books…” Gaster nodded. “That’s a great plan, Tori.”

 

“Hey, uh, so cleanin’ is a real riot and all…” Sans had appeared, leaning up against the table casually, arms folded. “But let’s say we take out the trash first, before we get too ahead of ourselves.”

“What trash? Sans, you didn’t make a mess up there, did you?!” Papyrus said.

“No, he means… Right, I gotta call Az,” Frisk said. “Um. Guess we’ll do that stuff first.”

“Don’t go without me,” Undyne called from upstairs. “Kid, let’s go together, okay? I wanna be there.”

“Ooh, should we go Frisk’s new special way?” Papyrus asked excitedly.

“Nah, I’m gonna walk,” Undyne said. “Kinda makes my head spin, and I think I had enough of it for today.”

“Oh, jeez, I’m sorry,” Frisk said quickly.

“No, no, don’t be,” Undyne said with a laugh. “That you could bring me along at all was super cool. I’ll just probably need breaks in between.”

“Oh, okay, phew,” she said. She looked around the room at the mostly concerned monster faces and smiled bashfully. “We’re gonna be fine.”

“Yes! Of course! That’s the spirit!” Papyrus said brightly. “Ooh! Let me go prepare!! Hang on just a miiiiinute!!”

 

Papyrus raced up the stairs and away. Frisk bit her lip and looked at Undyne. She hesitated, then folded her arms tightly.

“What’s wrong, hun?” Toriel asked.

“He’ll probably take a long time to pick an outfit…” she mumbled.

“Hm? Want me to rush ‘im?” Undyne said.

“No, um…” She bit her lip. “Can we…? I mean. Can you come without your armour?”

“Uh. I guess? Why?” she asked.

 

Frisk flinched. She bit her lip, and then looked up at her parents with big eyes. “Can you do something for me?”

“What is it?” Gaster asked worriedly.

“Can you… slow him down?” she asked. “I… I don’t want him there. I don’t want him to go near that human. You too, mom.”

Gaster stared at her, brows raised. Toriel looked concerned and knelt down to her level.

“Is this about your dream?” she asked.

Frisk nodded. Toriel frowned. She looked back at Gaster and, though she opened her mouth, her words lagged uncertainly.

“Please,” Frisk said. “It’s… It’s really important.”

“Are you sure?” he asked,

“But then we could not go with you…” Toriel said.

“You can. Just… after,” she said. “Just… I dunno. I don’t wanna risk it.”

 

Toriel looked at Sans quickly, wide-eyed. His arms were folded as he kicked back against the wall.

“Agreed,” he said. “We’ll go now.”

“What?! Sans, really?” Toriel said shrilly.

“Yup.”

The woman looked between the skeletons with wide eyes. She grimaced and then stood, tall, towering. “But I am your mother, Frisk. I should be the one to protect you.”

“You are. By not coming right now, you super are. I promise,” Frisk insisted. “Please.”

“I’d just trust her on this one,” Sans said.

Toriel sighed. “I… I know. I understand. But… Papyrus, he’s going to want to race right after you.”

“I… I think I know what to do,” Gaster said quietly. “…Don’t worry. I will keep him safe.”

 

- - -

 

Frisk was quiet, chilled by guilt, on their way to Asgore’s. However, every time she looked at her brother, he had a strange expression on his face. What was it, pride?

 

Asriel met them outside Asgore’s home, and grabbed Frisk into a tight hug as soon as he could. She slumped on him— hadn’t realized she’d missed him so much.

“They’ve been being pretty quiet,” he said. “But they seemed really relieved when you said you’d meet them. Dad’s has them at the garden right now. Save, okay?”

“Will do,” she said. “Thanks for everything.”

“Mhm.” He looked up bashfully at Sans and Undyne. “H-Hi, guys. Um… Where’s everyone else?”

“Papyrus’s grounded for an hour,” Sans said. “He just doesn’t know.”

“Oh? Oh. Well. It’s for his own good,” he said.

“So, like, all of you are that worried about it?” Undyne said.

“Not worth the risk,” Sans said. He grinned and ruffled Frisk’s hair. “Kiddo acted real quick.”

“I’m just glad dad was on board,” she said.

 

She backtracked to the bright golden tear in time and eyed it with a little trepidation. This was the right thing to do, wasn’t it? The nerves were coming back full force. She took a deep breath and let time stick right where it was.

“You’re doin’ good.” Sans put his hand on her shoulder. His grip was strong; reassuring.

“Hope so,” she said.

“Hey, you’re doing way more than anyone could ask you to,” Asriel said. “If it were me, I probably woulda told ‘em to get outta my damn house.”

“Pfft, I wouldda picked ‘em up and chucked ‘em outta my damn house,” Undyne said.

Frisk snickered. “This is less trouble,” she said. “And if I’m right, well… I dunno. At least that guy won’t be looking in the wrong spot.”

“Must be desperate, though. To come lookin’ here,” Sans said. “How old you say the kid looked?”

“I dunno, honestly,” she said. “Like… Younger than me.”

“So an infant, then?” Asriel joked.

“Stoooop.” She couldn’t help a laugh. “I dunno. Like, little. But not a baby.” She locked her fingers together and stretched her arms forward to crack her knuckles. “Okay. Let’s go.”

 

They took over the dining table quickly. Frisk moved more flowers away behind a jar of spoons in the kitchen, Undyne stole a brush, sat the kid on her lap, and ran it through her hair a couple times. Sans flopped out across the table, and Asriel finished setting up his phone to covertly record in his bedroom, convinced that the humans would want to speak to Frisk alone. She thought he was being a little paranoid but, honestly, she appreciated it.

 

The Ambassador returned to the house first. She was holding a couple flowers when she entered, but she froze with shock when she came into the room. “Oh! I… Hello!”

“Hi again,” Frisk said.

Sans lazily raised a hand to wave and Undyne straightened up a bit, tightening her hold on Frisk with one arm and draping the other over the back of the chair. She nodded curtly.

“I don’t believe we’ve met,” June said with a bashful quiver in her voice.

“Nah, we met,” Undyne said. “Just was wearin’ different clothes.”

“Wh…? Oh! God. Are you…? You’re the Guard Captain?” the woman asked. “I’m sorry, I didn’t—”

Undyne waved a hand dismissively. “Drop it, will ya?”

 

June gulped and nodded, and then cautiously edged in towards the table. She placed the flowers into a small glass vase in its centre. “I’m… I’m sorry to cause you all any trouble.”

“Well, kinda late for that,” Sans joked, floating the flowers farther down the table and away from Asriel. “Kid said yes to bein’ troubled, though.”

“Uh-huh!” Frisk said.

“It shouldn’t take long,” she said. “My associate just would like to confirm something.”

“Associate?” Frisk tilted her head.

“The guy she works with,” Sans said.

“Oh! Right, okay.” The kid tapped her fingertips together. “He’s not scary though, right?”

“No, no, he can sound a little gruff, but he’s a nice man,” June assured her.

 

Frisk wondered how nice the man she’d seen lose it could really be. She didn’t know how to rationalize the two concepts in her mind. Asriel reached out and held her hand. She blushed— she must’ve looked nervous. She nodded. Undyne’s earfins perked and she tilted her head towards the stairs.

“Sounds like they’re on their way up,” she said. “We’ll be right here, okay, kid?”

“Yeah,” Frisk said.

“Um. It might be better to do this with a little privacy,” June said quietly.

Just like Asriel had thought. Sans shrugged. He looked at Frisk.

“Okay with you, sweetheart?”

“Well… Ummm…” Frisk pretended to look even more nervous. She pouted. “Okay.”

“If you want, use my room,” Asriel said.

 

Frisk slipped off Undyne’s legs and hesitantly made her way to the first room down the other hallway. She sat on the greyish bed in the greyish room, wondering what to expect. She closed her eyes and did her best to listen through the walls. The images that filled her head weren’t good ones. She hoped Papyrus would forgive her for leaving him behind.

 

She heard male voices, unintelligible. One clearly Asgore, but the other… Almost done, she told herself. And she’d just saved. She took a deep breath and settled on the mattress, realizing rather abruptly how cramped her shoulders and legs felt as she let them relax. Nothing to worry about.

 

A knock on the door made her jump.

“Frisk, my child, the human would like to talk to you now, okay?” Asgore called.

“Y-Yeah,” she answered. Why was her heart beating so hard?

 

The door creaked open and, even though she’d dreamt the human, she half-expected to see someone ghoulish before her. But, he was normal. Average. A human man with no hair and stubble on an unshaven face. He had broad shoulders but he wasn’t particularly tall or imposing. Asgore’d taken them clothes shopping, because he wasn’t in that pseudo-military outfit she’d pictured. He looked grey, and tired, and pale.

 

The second his eyes locked on Frisk’s, he had to have known. The line of his mouth went thin. His eyes seemed to glaze. The kid pushed forward on the bed slightly and stood up. He put a hand to his mouth. Frisk tilted her head; was about to apologize, but the man wobbled and dropped to his knees. She squeaked and recoiled, but couldn’t keep herself back as she heard the man let out a choked, rough sob.

“O-Oh no. Um. Are you okay?” she asked quickly.

“Idiot… Idiot.” He kneaded his fingers into his eye sockets. “Selfish bloody idiot.”

“Hey…! Hey.” Frisk darted over to him and put a hand on his shoulder. “C’mon. Wh-What happened?”

 

Frisk was taken aback when the man grabbed her into a tight hug. She froze up utterly.

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” he muttered.

“Wh… What?” she asked.

“I’m such a selfish pr… Oh my god. I… I thought… But of course you’re not…” He coughed to try to clear his throat. “I’m sorry, kid. I… I didn’t even think… I shouldn’t have put you through this or…” He hurriedly drew back, wiping his face quickly. “Sorry. God. I’m… sorry.”

 

Frisk stared back at him, wide-eyed. Again, reconciling what she saw in her dream with what was right before her eyes made her mind spin. She gulped. “You were looking for someone. Right?”

“This never should have happened,” he said quickly. “I didn’t even stop to consider that… I could have disrupted your whole life with this, I…”

“Yeah, it was pretty stressful,” she said. “But, dude, there’s obviously something more than that going on.”

He shook his head and mumbled something into his fist.

 

Frisk sighed and she sat down with him. “Tell me about it.”

“Wh… What?” he said.

“Tell me who you’re looking for. What’s going on?” she said. “Maybe I can help.”

“Not sure that would—”

“Try me.” Frisk raised her eyebrows.

He looked at her with a probing expression. He sighed quietly, his voice still craggy. “I was trying to find my daughter.”

Frisk wasn’t surprised at all. She nodded.

“I-It’s been two years. She… ran away. A little after her mother died, right after the funeral,” he said, voice taut. “I’ve been looking, but… nothing. I was desperate. Al… Uh. The Ambassador, she’s an old friend of mine. She told me there was a human here that looked a bit like my little girl, but…”

“Oh. That was me, huh?” she said quietly. “Sorry.”

“No, no, don’t…” He rubbed his face. “Ugh. I… don’t suppose you’d mind keeping that bit quiet, would you? She’s a good person, but that’s a huge c… uh… She could get in a lot of trouble with her job if they knew that’s why I was picked to…”

“Don’t even worry,” Frisk said. “I understand. I can’t even imagine…” Her hand moved to her soul spot as the dismal feeling that had sunk Sans into a pit when he thought he’d lost her after the reset settled in on her. “I’m, um… I’m really sorry. The last human before me was fifteen years ago. Do you…? Do you think she would have actually tried to get here?”

“She loved the stories of the King under the mountain,” he said quietly. “She would always play pretend on the monster mountain, stuff like that, I… I just don’t know.”

 

Frisk bit her lip. She folded her arms and tapped her fingers. Her heart broke for this stranger. But, a little kid going missing two years ago— was there anything she could even do about that? The words hung heavy on her tongue but she forced them out anyway. “Are you sure she ran away?”

“What?” The man looked like anything else hadn’t even occurred to him. “What do you mean?”

“Well, I mean…” Frisk scratched her head. She had an idea. “Hmm… Do you remember the last day you saw her?”

“Yeah, of course,” he said. “Look, kid, I’m sorry, I—”

“Wait a sec, I think I might be able to… well… Maybe give you a different p-perspective?”

 

Boyd stared at her blankly for a long, silent few seconds. He laughed wryly. “What’s with you kids here?”

“Ah. Um…” Frisk’s face flushed. “Sorry, um… I was kinda… pretending to be a bit more, um… childish? Az was too. We’re, um… We’ve seen a lot more bad stuff than a lot of the grownups in our lives really understand, if that makes sense.”

“So I guess we both kinda have a secret, huh?” he said quietly.

“I kinda got another one.” She held out her hand and let the red magic crackle across her fingertips.

 

The man recoiled, his eyes fixing on the kid’s fingers. “That’s not possible.”

“It’s kinda new,” she said. “But, um, I have magic? And it has a lot to do with memories and stuff. So. I was thinking, maybe… you could show me that day?”

He eyed her up and down suspiciously. But, he edged closer. There was a hint of hope glimmering in his eye. “How?” he said.

“Basically, I just gotta touch you and you just think of what you want me to see, and I can see it.”

“I’ve replayed that day over and over,” he muttered. “But… A set of fresh eyes… I mean. If it wasn’t obvious. I’m pretty desperate.”

“Okay.” Frisk held out her hand. “Let’s try.”

 

A tremor in his fingers, Boyd rested his big, battered hand on hers. She set her other hand alight, too, and touched two fingers to his temple. His memories whisked her away instantly. Through fog, she could see a dour room, with people dressed in black. He supported the wall, heavyhearted. This wasn’t unexpected, but it was harder than he’d though. And his daughter— she could see her, tiny, well groomed, and in a black gown, being fawned over by people the man carried some ire for.

 

“Who are these people?” she asked.

“Wh… What are you seeing?” he replied.

“Your brain says it’s a… funeral? After the funeral,” she said.

“…God. Okay. Uh. Which people?”

“The ones you don’t like,” Frisk said.

“Oh, them, they’re… My wife’s family. They were estranged. Um. She didn’t talk to them,” he said. “They didn’t help at all when she was sick, but boy did they like to talk about how much they… I’m sorry. I… tried to let it go.”

“It’s okay,” Frisk said.

 

She watched through the lens of Boyd’s eyes. Though he was focused in on his daughter, Frisk could wander, just a little. She could see these people he didn’t like treating the girl rather kindly. She seemed to like the attention, but she kept looking back at her father as if for reassurance. She could also see the Ambassador, helping set up a table far in the back. These two must’ve been old friends.

“How old is she here?” Frisk asked.

“Three,” he said quietly.

 

The kid noticed two women whispering to each other. Boyd hadn’t heard them— hadn’t been paying attention, so the words weren’t there. Frisk instantly didn’t like them, probably because the man didn’t either. One was an older woman, tall and thin and lithe, with prim silver hair and a face like all she ate was lemons. The younger one bore a resemblance, though she had cool blue eyes and sheer blonde hair framing a long face.

“These two?” Frisk asked.

“Who?” he said.

“The grumpy old lady and the sad looking one with her,” she said.

“Oh. That’s… My wife’s mother and sister,” he said. His tone was heavy and carried a little venom.

 

The memory shifted. The same group were outside an old stone building now. As Boyd’s focus once again was on his little girl, nodding along with something a bearded man in black told him, the others in the group got into cars. Blue and silver, grey with a dent, rose gold with the emblem of a horseshoe on the front, and glossy black marred with mud around the wheels, and— the vision blurred. Maybe it wasn’t important.

“They didn’t stay,” Boyd grumbled. “Nobody stayed.”

 

The sludgy mess of colours brightened slightly, repainting a new sky in pink, orange, and dark blue, as a blazing gold sun lethargically settled behind a row of houses. There was grass tickling the man’s feet as he sat off a porch and watched that little girl running amok with a skinny, big-eared calico cat. His head was heavy and his eye sockets felt bruised. The kid ran up and he ruffled her hair affectionately. She asked something about her mother— something that made his heart ache. He told her no and she pouted dramatically. She stomped back into the house. He sighed and sat there for a long time.

“She left that same night,” the man said. “I… I called the police, but, nothing.”

Frisk flinched. The memory started to fade. “Wait. Hold it,” she said quietly. “Run it again.”

“It’s… not easy,” he muttered.

“I know, I know, just… I need to look around,” she said. “Gimme just one more time.”

 

To her relief, the swirling colours took her back. She braced herself and forced her eyes to stop following Boyd’s tunnel vision. He was so out of his head; she couldn’t blame him. She looked at the cat, and at the tiny kid. A toddler, really. How far could a toddler really have gotten? Then again, she had gotten pretty far herself, not being much bigger than that.

 

She squinted through the man’s point of view, looking at the yard— for any dangers he might have missed. There was a picture book beside his hand on his porch. The King Under the Mountain— with a picture of a friendly white dragon that vaguely resembled Asgore. Then, a colour struck her. One that had been there but didn’t look out of place. Rose gold. The sun glinted off the emblem on the front, obscuring its shape. But it seemed to be that same car. Parked down the street with another one.

“What colour’s your car?” she asked.

“Black, back then,” he said. “Why?”

Frisk squinted. She tried to focus. There wasn’t much memory there, more of a blur, but she could make out an indistinct person in that car. She bit her lip and kept her eyes focussed as hard as she could on that spot. There might have been a second person. Boyd had long since checked out.

“Anyone on your street have, like, a small car that’s this kinda weird gold-pink colour?” she asked.

“No,” he said. “Why? What do you see?”

 

Frisk blinked and pulled back and away from the man. He looked back at her with wide, worried eyes. The expression reminded her a little of Gaster. She rubbed her brow.

“It had, like, a bright emblem thing on the front. You know anyone with a car like that?” she asked.

He scratched his scruffy beard, his brow furrowing. “Well… I think maybe my mother-in-law. But she couldn’t be, she had no idea where we li…” His eyes went wide and round. “She followed us.” Suddenly, it seemed like everything made sense. “Oh my god. I… I gotta go. I gotta—”

“Go,” she said. “Good luck.”

 

The man scrambled to his feet and rushed out of the door, shouting for June. Frisk pushed back the sudden pressure and dizziness in her head. She held to the wall as she wandered out of the room. She was in a bit of a daze. She watched the humans quickly excuse themselves from Asgore, gather their bags, and then rush straight down the stairs in the centre of his house.

 

“Goodness, I hope it’s stopped raining, then,” he said quietly. He looked at her with a concerned smile. “Oh, sweetie, you look a bit sick.” He bent and swooped her into his arms, hugging her gently. “I heard what you did for that man. Sorry. Big ears.”

“It’s fine.” She clung to him. “I… I really hope he finds his kid.”

“I think you’ve given him a chance,” he said. “Funny. I had no idea that’s what his true intentions were. Suppose you can’t really judge a book by its cover, hm?”

Frisk shook her head. “N-No. Guess not.”

 

- - -

 

When the rest of Frisk’s family arrived, heralded by Papyrus’s typical kicking-in-of-the-door, the kid and the others were already decompressing in Asgore’s living room floor, huddled up with tea and pillows and blankets in front of a warm and cozy fireplace. Frisk had insisted she was fine, but the fact that she was shaking like a leaf and had a problem keeping her feet under her told a different story.

 

The skeleton lurched into the room, panting, eyes blazing amber. He dove for his sister, wrapping her in his arms and squishing her. “I’m so sorry we’re late!!”

“Don’t be!” Frisk said.

He breathed a sigh of relief and found a blanket draped over him like a cloak. Undyne patted his head.

“Everything was fine,” she said.

He cracked a smile and Frisk hugged him tight. She felt like the weight of a boulder had been lifted from her back.

 

“Frisk did an excellent job,” Asgore said proudly. He smiled warmly and waved at Gaster and Toriel as they found their way in. “Everything is okay, don’t you worry at all.”

“I apologize, this was my fault,” Gaster said.

“Pffft, you were sick, it’s not like you could help it!” Papyrus said.

The man sighed and rubbed his face as he plopped down on the floor with the others. He reached out and took Frisk’s hand. The tremor in his fingers and the look in his eyes told her that whatever he’d thought of to delay Papyrus hadn’t been necessary.

 

“So. They won’t be back until the city is done. Right?” Toriel asked.

“Well, not on business, no,” Asgore said. “But the Ambassador seemed to really enjoy her time here, though. I think she’ll be a good fit.”

“Asgore.” Toriel frowned.

He grinned sheepishly. “Listen, I signed all the papers, they’re going to leave Frisk alone, and she helped the man get some answers about his daughter. I think it’s all good news!”

“His daughter…?” Toriel’s expression softened. “I see. Well. Hopefully that’s the last of that.”

“Was pretty funny to see that lady, like, freakin’ out a little at every monster she saw, though,” Undyne said casually. “Guess it must be like that for them, huh? Most humans are kinda the same shape, which is super weird. Hey, Frisk, what’d you think when you saw a monster the first time?”

“That I was dreaming. Or dead.” She laughed and looked at her mother with a smile. “But, I mean… It was just mom, so, like… it wasn’t hard to not be weirded out.”

“I was scary, though, right?” she asked with a grin.

Frisk laughed. “Only ‘cause you were so grumpy!”

“Pfffft, okay, fair enough. So who was the scariest, then?”

“Ummm… I dunno,” she said. “Nobody, really. Umm… Maybe Lemons, the first time. They were just, like, super loud with huge teeth, and they were also reeeeeally grumpy then, so maybe them.”

“Doesn’t sound too different from Undyne, though,” Sans said.

She knocked him on the head. He snickered. Asriel peeked just his snout out from under a quilt.

“Not me?” he asked.

“Oh, well, yeah, actually, for sure,” she said with a laugh. “I didn’t know if you counted or not.”

He bared his big fangs in a grin, hunkered down, and then pounced on her, cackling as he was scooped up by Papyrus, too. She squeaked and giggled, and he put his arms around her and rested his chin on her shoulder. Their souls hummed their conjoined tune, contented and warm.

 

Their mother watched with a big smile on her face.“Good job, you two,” she said. “I feel much better knowing how you’re watching out for each other.”

“Gotta.” Asriel winked. “Frisk’s self-preservation instinct is, like, nil, so…”

“My monster preservation ones are pretty high, though,” she said.

“Oh no, not you, too,” Gaster said, eyes wide. “Who put that in your head?!”

“Um. Nobody?” she said, puzzled.

He sighed and reached out to her, holding her face gently with shaking hands. “Please be careful.”

“You too,” she said.

“I know, I know. I… may be a bit of a hypocrite in this regard, but…” He caught Sans giving him an amused look. “Okay, I’m a massive hypocrite. But still.”

 

Asgore let out a booming laugh and moved over to thump his friend on the shoulder. “Well. If she’s from where you say she is, she most certainly got it from you, my friend.”

His bones flushed and Sans cracked up faintly from wherever under the blanket he’d vanished to. Frisk smiled. There was something very reassuring about all of this.

 

She heaved herself out of Papyrus’s lap and reached out to grab Gaster’s hands again. She held one of them tight in both of hers, feeling his shivers deep into her own soul. She set her fingers ablaze and smiled at him as the worried expression on his brow relaxed. He almost looked like he might fall asleep right where he sat. She snickered fondly and stood on her toes to hug him around the neck. He froze up for a brief moment, then crumbled and grabbed her tight and blew out a sigh that shook his shoulders.

 

Though this obviously didn’t phase anyone else, and Papyrus grabbed onto Gaster to gently to bonk his brow on his affectionately, Asgore went a little stiff. A big, warm smile crept over his face and his eyes glistened.

“I have an idea,” he said. “Let’s take a little break, and then how about we grab Alphys and I treat you all to a meal downtown, hm? I think everyone here has earned a nice, long rest after this.”

 

As the younger monsters took the aforementioned rest near the fireplace, the elder ones gathered themselves in the kitchen. As usual, Asgore put the kettle on, more so out of habit than anything else. He took off his crown and unhitched his purple cape. He draped it over a chair near the counter, but Toriel tsked at at him and took it to fold it neatly.

“Honestly,” she said in a low voice. She placed the cloth down on the counter and gave him a narrow-eyed look. “Dreemurr. That was risky.”

“I know,” he said. “Trust me, I know.” He rubbed his hand through his golden mane. “If it wasn’t Frisk— if I didn’t know how well she can handle herself— I would never have even considered it. I am very sorry to have put your daughter through something like this. Both of you.”

 

Toriel’s fur bristled. She looked at Gaster and snorted out a laugh. He rubbed his face and snickered as well.

“Never imaged myself co-parenting with you,” Toriel teased.

“And I will do my best not to be a pain,” Gaster said.

“You will do fine!”Asgore assured him, thumping him warmly on the shoulder. “And, don’t forget! Good old Uncle Asgore is here to lend a hand, wherever you need.” He smiled. “She really did do an excellent job. Of course. She was so brave for agreeing to meet that man.”

“You are amazingly lucky she still likes you, you know,” Toriel told him.

“I know. Absolutely,” he said, nodding swiftly. “After what I did, I… I don’t…”

“Oh stop,” Toriel said, rolling her eyes. “Yes, yes, you don’t deserve it, ad nauseam.” She smiled sideways. “The kids feel how they feel. But you had better not inflict your complex on them.”

Asgore cracked a sheepish smile. “You’re right.”

“Of course I am,” she said. She leaned back on the wall and blew out a tired sigh. “I am gone for a day or two and the whole world turns on its head, hm?”

Gaster laughed. “Sorry.”

She shook her head. “Anything else I missed?”

 

“Oh! Actually!” Asgore brightened and nudged Gaster with his elbow. “Did you show her the book?”

“The…? Oh!” The skeleton pulled out his phone and, after fumbling for a second, summoned the book of Dirges he’d squirrelled away out and into his hand. “A human brought this back to us. Look.” He handed it over to her carefully.

Toriel’s brows raised and she gently flipped open its pages. She froze, eyes wide. “…You’re kidding.”

“Isn’t it something?!” Asgore grinned. “With notes like this and just a bit of work…”

“I thought they were all lost,” she admitted. “Destroyed or… Gone with the monsters that wrote them, but, if we could start teaching this sort of thing…”

“Isn’t it exciting?” Asgore asked.

“You’ll have to walk me through this later,” Toriel told Gaster.

He nodded. “Gladly.”

 

“Hey, guys, whatcha readin’?” Asriel wandered groggily into the kitchen and headed for the fridge. “We got any razuperi drink? Got a craving.”

“Ah, in the very back, behind the soup,” Asgore said. “Have you heard of Dirges, son?”

Asriel paused. He looked up at the adults with a brow raised. “Those spells from way the heck back? Yeah, sorta, why?”

Toriel showed him the book. His jaw dropped as his eyes skimmed the open page.

“Wh…?! Oh! Okay! I thought all those and Cadences and Arias and stuff were all mute spells now,” he said. “But you guys found some?! Is it all Dirges?”

“It may not be,” Gaster said. “I will need to translate it.”

“Hey, good news, then, right?” Asriel said brightly, pulling a bottle of red juice from the fridge and bumping the door closed with his hip. “I just remember, we used to have those magic classes, right? But they kinda had to stop because… What was her name? That moose lady?”

“Alcie. Yes, she fell down, the poor thing,” Asgore said.

“She was the last composer we had,” Gaster said.

“Yeah, that sucked,” Asriel said, ears drooping slightly. “This is good, though. I’m glad.” He shot Gaster a smile. “What a time to come back, huh?”

The skeleton nodded. Toriel patted his shoulder and returned the book to his careful hands.

“Keep it safe,” she said.

He nodded and stashed it back inside his phone’s dimension box. He smiled. “It’s odd, but I enjoy that I already have so much to do.”

“Not today, though,” Asgore said.

“Yeah, jeez, take a rest already,” Asriel joked. He headed back for the living room. “We are.”

Chapter Text

Alphys was a welcome addition to the group as they went down into New Home to trawl through cafés and ramen joints in the late afternoon. Frisk was wobbly— seemed, strangely, to be weakening after peering through the human’s memories. Papyrus didn’t mind carrying her, and when she dozed off, the only thing stopping her from faceplanting into a bowl of noodle soup was Sans’s blue grip on her soul.

 

Back home was finally a bit of quiet. It was only the skeleton siblings, for now. The others lagged back with Asgore for all the human diplomacy updates, plus Asriel wanted to actually have some time with his dad to himself.

 

For the first time in a long while, Papyrus allowed himself to take a rest. With a cooking show playing in the background, he lay back on the couch, cradling his sleeping sister, his eyes glazing over as old, box-shaped Mettaton stirred cake batter dramatically. In a dazed voice, he repeated Mettaton’s words quietly. He’d heard them a thousand times. “Stir whip stir whip, whip whip stir.”

 

Sans brought him a cup of tea and carefully edged himself onto the couch around his brother’s feet. He sighed and rested his cheek on his fist. Papyrus leaned his head back and poured the cup in its entirety into his mouth. Sans snickered.

“Tired, huh?” he said.

“No. Yes.” Papyrus sighed. “I’m happy, though.”

Sans smirked. “Figured. Gotta admit, kinda nice to have one thing taken care of.”

“Must be a new feeling for you.” He smiled. “Maybe you could get a similar satisfaction from picking that sock over there up.” He levelled his finger at the sock that lay, limp and pathetic beside the wall beside the TV.

“Hm. Probably.” Sans didn’t move an inch.

Papyrus scoffed, but couldn’t bring himself to even feign annoyance as he put his arms around his sister and slumped. “…I’m so glad that’s over.”

“Freaked you out, huh?”

“Pfffff, I mean. Of course not. It’s not like humans could come and they could just try to…” He pouted and hid half his face against Frisk gently. “A-Anyway. There’s no way anything bad could have happened. Not with the great Papyrus watching out for her.”

 

Sans grinned fondly. He put his arms behind his head and shut up, watching as Papyrus slowly drifted off. Took him a minute to force himself up and to his feet. He dragged up a blanket that had stuck behind the couch and tucked them both in under it. His brother started snoring within seconds. That had to be a good sign.

 

As Sans sipped his tea and began to doze off himself, he heard a clunk and a groan from upstairs. Then, a sort of rough, coughing, retching sound. He rolled his eyes.

 

In the attic, he found Gaster on his hands and knees, eyes squeezed shut, breathing deep and rattling.

“Don’t learn, huh?” Sans knelt and patted him on the back. “Need anything?”

His father shook his head quickly. He quivered as he inhaled and then slowly sat back up and rubbed his hand across his brow. “H-How are the kids?” he croaked.

“Fine,” he said. “How’d it go?”

“I…” He coughed and slowly got to his feet. “I n-never imagined things were this f-far along. Toriel did not seem at all shocked, though, so I suppose this is normal, hm? Aside from that, un—” He put his hand to his mouth as he choked. “Uneventful. Alphys did give me more of those helpful cakes, though.” He held up his phone and then smiled quite brightly. “I still can hardly believe she managed to incorporate dimension box technology into such small personal cellphone devices. It’s amazing.”

“Oh. Yeah. She did a lot,” he said. “You meet Mettaton yet?”

“You mean that robot on the TV?” he said.

“That’s the guy,” he said. “He’s, uh… not quite what he seems. And the tech in that frame is pretty advanced, you should give ‘im a look.”

 

The loud squeak of a voice jarred the two of them. Conversation forgotten, Gaster went ashen and he stumbled over boxes trying to get to the retractable ladder.

 

Sans was already there when he reached the ground floor. Papyrus was sitting up with Frisk, his thumbs glowing with amber magic as they rested on her closed eyelids. She was wincing.

“What happened?!” he demanded.

“Oh. Hi dad. Ow.” Frisk’s voice was small, but she smiled slightly. “Um. Whoops.”

“Just relax. Papyrus has you!” Papyrus assured her.

“So why the hell was it doin’ that?” Sans asked.

“I dunno,” Frisk said.

“Doing what?” Gaster insisted.

“Oh, her eyes went red again but the magic sort of started sparking out, it was rather strange,” Papyrus said. “But! Not to worry! I feel it settling down already!”

 

Gaster looked perturbed. He folded his arms tight and gritted his teeth. Sans slipped in beside the kid and put his fingers to her temple.

“Oof, it’s spikin’ a little, huh?” he said.

“Yeah, right outta my eyeballs,” she joked. “Hey, dad? Is that normal for humans with magic?”

“Ah. Um. I’m not sure,” he said quietly. “Let me just… Uh… Hang on a moment.” He bounded away, back up the stairs.

Sans rolled his eyes. “Hopefully he doesn’t do somethin’ stupid.”

“I’m sure he’s just trying to help,” Papyrus said. “Alright. Done.” He lowered his hands and looked at his sister anxiously. “Well?”

 

Frisk cringed a little and then blinked. Her eyes looked utterly normal. She rubbed them with her knuckles and smiled. “Thanks, bro, that feels a lot better.”

“I knew it!” He grinned proudly. “Well! That was a big scare over nothing, hm?”

“What else is new?” Sans said with a laugh. “Kiddo, get yourself together, alright?”

“I’m trying,” she whined.

“Sans, be nice, she’s had a very very long weekend,” Papyrus said.

“I am bein’ nice.” He put an arm around the kid. “Guess determination ain’t exactly the measure of how well that power works then, hm?”

“Guess not,” she said,

“What do you mean?” Papyrus asked. “What power? What did I miss?”

“Memory read,” Sans said. “Like dad does.”

“What?! Oh!! Okay. So. Wait. I’m confused,” he said.

“Worked on dad. Worked on Undyne,” Frisk said. “Worked on the human guy, but then I did… you know. That.”

“Familiarity, then,” Sans said. “Try on Alph, see what happens.”

“She might be too embarrassed,” Frisk said.

“Just tell her it’s for science, she’ll do it.”

 

The kid snickered. She gave him a hug and then flopped over his legs. He rubbed her back lazily and rested his cheek on his fist.

“Hey, y’know, now that I think about it…” Sans tapped his chin. “I bet there’s all kinds of weird crap you can do.”

“Wh-What? What d’you mean?” she asked shrilly, flipping over onto her back. “Why, does dad have all kinds of other weird powers like that?!”

“Mmno, but… I mean. We just been kinda takin’ it as it comes, right?” he said. “But… Like. If you could do that almost the whole time…”

“So can she finally do bones, then?!” Papyrus asked excitedly.

“No, no, just…” Sans let out a low, thoughtful sound. “Gotta think about it a bit.”

 

Frisk’s brow furrowed. She looked at her hands and the little red sparks that crackled from her fingertips. She rubbed them together and then looked up at her brother curiously. “Hey, Sans? Did, um…? Did dad… design me like this?”

“Pfff. No.” He pointed at Papyrus. “Only one of us had anything even close to that level of thought put into ‘em. And even then, we mostly let Paps just kinda develop on his own.”

“But he came out perfect anyway, huh?” She grinned as Papyrus snickered and blushed faintly. “Well. I guess I’m okay with that.”

“Listen, kiddo, you’re way too young to be goin’ through a second identity crisis,” Sans said with a grin. “Unless, uh, you’re actually havin’ an issue, in which case, y’know, let us know.”

“No, no, I’m good,” she said quickly, sitting up. “Fine. Awesome. Cool.”

“Hm. Good.” He offered her his hand. “Could get a little cooler, though. Hey, Paps, meet you at Grillby’s? Think the kid deserves another milkshake.”

“What?! Oh… Pffff, fine,” Papyrus said. “But only because it’s been such a ridiculous day. And Frisk needs it.”

Frisk couldn’t help a grin. She loved Papyrus’s never-ending series of “but-onlys” when it came to Grillby’s.

 

- - -

 

Alphys was just getting in the door of the lab when an alarm went off. She squeaked and jumped, looking around with wide eyes. Something in the basement? That didn’t make sense, that alarm hadn’t sounded since the amalgamate monsters had moved out. She hurried to her computer and brought up her cameras. It was dark down there, but she could see a concentrated spot of extreme blackness, lighting just occasionally. Two points— highlighting the ridges on a skull.

“Gaster?” she asked quietly. Confusion marred her face. She cleaned her glasses just to make sure.

 

She hurried downstairs and raced into the room that had previously been full of beds and now only had a small smattering of beds and was littered with boxes in preparation for moving. She turned the light on and heard a sort of gasp, then a laugh.

“G-Gaster?” she called.

“Sorry, Alphys.” The skeleton, wobbly on his feet, stood up and rubbed his skull. His eyes were blazing. “I keep telling myself I should not actually be travelling this way except in emergencies. And then I keep rationalizing that things are emergencies, so…”

“Why, what happened?” she asked.

“It’s, ah… It’s… Well, Frisk did…” He mimed a sort of explosion from his eye sockets.

“Her eyes b-blew up?!” Alphys yelped.

“Ah!! Not like that, her magic was just… Ah. It’s… It’s okay, Papyrus settled her, it’s just… Do you still happen to have my notes, by the way?”

“Oh! Y-Yeah, of course.” She smiled bashfully. “I… I could never bring myself to toss a single thing. Plus, I, um, kinda th-thought some of them were mine. Weird, right? Come with me.”

 

She lead him to the hidden door to the north of them and opened up the old room of computers and shelves upon shelves of books and notes. Gaster beamed like a kid in a candy store.

“Oh, Alphys, look at this…”

“I know, it’s s-so dirty in here, I’m sor—”

“It’s great. It’s perfect,” he said. “Now let me…” He made his way inside and zoomed about between shelves and cabinets, running his fingertips along the spines of books. “Hmm… Now where did I put…?”

“What a-are you looking for, exactly?” she asked.

“Notes on Sans’s development,” he said. “I had… a notebook annnnd… Ah!” He pulled a big, three-ringed binder from its place wedged against the side of the shelf— the dark grey outer cover was warped.

 

Inside, there was a small, black notebook, alongside some sheets in plastic protectors: little baby skeleton hand and foot prints, measurements of bones, growth rates of both the physical and the magical; records of unique abilities and complications thereof. Alphys snuck over to look.

“Is…? Oh my g-god, are those Sans’s little baby prints?!” She squeed. She held out her hand beside the ink marks. “Aaah, th-that’s so cute! Look how tiny he was!”

“He was.” Gaster couldn’t help a fond smile, but he turned quickly and headed for the chair at a nearby computer desk. He zeroed in on that book and pulled it up, skimming the pages with slow deliberation, determined not to miss a thing. “I may just sit here for a while, if that’s okay with you.”

“Of c-course!” she assured him. “Would you, um, like any t-tea or anything? Soda? Coffee?”

“Oh, Alphys, that’s sweet, but you don’t need to…” He lifted his head and smiled at her fondly. “You’re not my assistant anymore.”

“Yeah, but I’m y-your friend, right?” She patted his shoulders. “I’ll m-make some coffee.”

 

She left him to get the kettle boiling. In the drawer where she kept a box of homemade tea and some small energy drink cans— some of them crumpled and empty— to pull out a yellow bag of instant coffee from the back. She held it fondly for a second before putting it up on the desk. She had always rationalized it that the monster who’d made this kind of coffee had passed away, so no more was to be had. She’d save it for a special occasion, she’d thought, but then it had simply slipped her mind.

 

Her shoulders twitched and she jolted with surprise when she heard the elevator ding.

“Are you sure she would not mind?” That was Toriel’s voice.

“Course not.” Undyne. “I wonder if she’s even…? Hey, Alph?! Are you…? Oh!” She grinned bright and stuck her hand in the air. “Hey, babe, how’s it going?”

“Oh, fine. N-Not bad. Um. Everything okay?” Alphys asked.

“Yes. Finally.” Toriel smiled, though her eyes looked tired. “Sorry to burst in. I’m just on my way home.”

“G-Good. I’m sure they’ll be really glad t-to see you,” Alphys said. She blushed when Undyne wandered over and bent down to smooch her on the head. She bit her lip. “Gaster’s downstairs.”

“Is he? That was quick,” Toriel said. Her brow furrowed. “…Did something happen?”

“I’m n-not, um… Not entirely clear on that,” she said sheepishly.

“Must’ve. I’ll go check on him.”

 

Toriel found Gaster with just a cursory look around the lower level. He raised a hand in greetings without looking up from the book he was glued to. She put her paw on his shoulder.

“Have you noticed anything odd about Frisk’s magic recently?” he asked.

“Odd? What isn’t odd about it?” she said in jest. “Frankly, I do worry about her a little when she uses it. Many times after that… healing, I suppose? If it’s not on someone particularly close to her, it drains her. Have you seen that?”

“Hm.” He nodded. “Apparently her eyes flared.”

“Seriously? That doesn’t sound right… Was she okay?”

“She was actually in fairly high spirits when I left, and—” His phone beeped and he froze in place. He lifted it to take a look and his cheekbones flushed instantly. “Oh…”

Toriel plucked the phone from his hand and tilted her head as she read his text. Just from Frisk, asking her dad where he’d gone off to. She smiled fondly at him and passed it back.

 

“Better answer her,” she said.

He nodded and put his book aside to text her back. Toriel’s smile grew.

“So she’s already accepted you, hasn’t she?” she said.

“It appears so.” The colour on his bones shifted a shade darker. “I… I didn’t…” He sighed, but he smiled. “I guess you might be the one person who understands.”

“I guess you’re right.” She laughed. “What an odd pair we are, hm?”

“I’d say so. I’m really very glad it was you who… Well. Thank you, Tori.”

She waved a hand at him dismissively, smiling, and patted his back gently. “I feel like I should be thanking you. Anyway.” She pulled up a chair and sat with him, resting her elbow on the desk. “Take your time. I will wait for you.”

 

- - -

 

Gaster didn’t find much answers in his old notes. Though it was true Sans had had some similar issues when he was a child, they had been more intense and more frequent, and seemingly caused by nothing at all. Maybe it wasn’t the same. He’d have to wait and see. He gathered up his notes and some of his other old books, and shared coffee with the other monsters before he and Toriel headed home.

 

The house felt so calm and cozy that night. Papyrus was very watchful and caring, making sure everyone was warm enough and had plenty to eat. Gaster tried to get a little work done, pulling down some boxes of books to begin to sort through them, but his son all but forbid him. Tonight, they watched some goofy bad movies and ate chips, and Gaster began reading through the book of Dirges. Sans turned in early, with both Toriel and Gaster falling closely behind him— despite the latter doing his best to stay up and read. Papyrus tucked him in and shut off all the lights.

 

When Frisk and Papyrus headed to the bedroom to draft some puzzles to pass the time, they found their brother in the blanket mess pile, as usual. Tutting, Papyrus scooped him up and tucked him into the second bed. He turned off the light and then let a half-lit computer screen be all to illuminate the room. He waved Frisk over to the desk and pulled over an extra chair with a book on it for her. He grabbed one of his puzzle books and opened up to a new graph-paper page.

“I had an idea the other day,” he said, keeping his voice low. “But you still know a little more about this than me! But I was thinking. What about seasonal puzzles?”

“Ooh. So, like, maybe some plant ones in the spring or leaf ones like in the Ruins in the fall?” she asked.

“Yes! Exactly.” Papyrus grinned. “You understand me so well! I had some ideas! How about we…!” He stopped; bristled. Looked back quickly towards Sans.

 

Frisk didn’t blame him. She felt it, too. They shared a worried look. Papyrus joined Sans and put a hand on his head, the amber glow of his eyes starting to shine brightly.

“Oh. Oof. Okay.” he said. “This is, uhhh… Nyehh…”

“Bad?” Frisk asked.

“It’s, um… Well…” He sat on the mattress and lifted their brother up in his arms, clutching him close. “His energy’s very, very heavy. I think… I think, yes, that’ll be a stuck one. Not good. Not at all.”

Frisk winced. She nodded. She knew what they had to do.

 

- - -

 

It wasn’t very often that the cold was what woke Sans up. There was a strange tremor in his bones. He opened his eyes and felt foggy. It was dark, but not so much that he couldn’t see anything. The door was open a crack, letting in a stream of cool, white light. There was something strangely heavy about his skull.

“Hm. Okay…” He blinked one eye and then the other; couldn’t see from the right. “Oh great.”

He sat up; tossed some junk at the approximate area of the light switch. It clicked on. His room looked very much the same as he would have expected a month or so ago. Socks on the floor, junk in the corner, though the walls had some chipped sections of paint but there wasn’t a crack in the ceiling. He hadn’t been asleep here, though. No, this wasn’t really his room at all.

 

He rubbed his eyes and immediately noticed something else weird. His fingers were longer and tipped with sharp claws. He also seemed to be missing the ring finger on his right hand. He scoffed.

“Okay,” he said. Weird to be in a body that wasn’t quite his, but he’d make do. Partial blindness and missing appendages were absolutely no hinderance to taking a nap.

 

He kicked back, folding his arms behind his head, and he closed his eyes again. After a little while, he heard a hard rapping on his door. It opened loudly. The lights went on.

“Sans!! Come on, it’s almost time to head out!” Papyrus said.

“Uh-huh,” he said.

“Get up and get your jacket! You didn’t lose it again, did you?” he said. “The Captain said you’re in huge trouble if you head out without it.”

“Oh no,” he said, grinning to himself.

“Saaaaaans, come on!” Papyrus whined.

 

Sans opened one eye. Remembered he couldn’t see out of that one and opened the other. Papyrus had his back to him, searching through his dresser. Though he wore a red scarf, as usual, the rest of his outfit was made up of shiny black and red armour that was quite spiky, especially at the shoulders.

“What’s with that get-up?” he asked, slowly getting up and stretching.

“Hm? Ah! Here we go.” He held up what closely resembled a black aviator jacket with a hood rimmed in white fluff. “No wonder you couldn’t find it in there.”

 

When Papyrus turned to face him, Sans was startled still for a second. He hardly looked like himself. Though the armour could have been easily excused, it was his face that what especially striking. His dark eye sockets, narrower and more angular than usual, had rings of red around his irises, and all of his teeth were pointy. Some were distinctly fangs. It gave him an almost feline appearance. Sans stared back at him for a few seconds before he burst out laughing.

“What? What’d I do?” Papyrus asked.

Sans grabbed him by the shoulders and peered at him curiously, unable to keep from grinning. This didn’t suit Papyrus at all. It was kind of hilarious.

“Nothin’. Nothin’.” Sans snickered and shook his head, and then grabbed his spiky, fanged brother into a hug, thumping his back. “Good morning.”

“Um! Good morning to you, too, brother,” he said. “Are you ready to go?”

“Alright,” he said. “Gimme a sec.”

 

He backed off and shifted himself to the bedroom over. Papyrus’s room was all but identical to normal. He was eager to see what the dream had done to him, if his brother looked like he’d stepped out of a fantasy-horror film. He opened the closet for the mirror on the door, and froze when he saw himself. There was a small fracture in his face across his dark right eye, and the iris of his left one was red, visible despite not glowing in the least. There was a similar, healed crack farther back on his skull, like someone’s claws had cracked through the bone. In fact, a lot of the right side of his body looked worse for wear. His fixed grin was filled with pointed teeth. He couldn’t help it— he began to laugh again. He put a hand to his head and wheezed.

 

“Brother?! What’s going on in there?” Papyrus opened the door and peeked in, and the worried look on his face made Sans break out into laughter all over again. “What? Is there something on my skull?”

“No. No no.” Sans took a deep breath and held out his hand. For the first time in a while, he was eager to see where this would go. “Out, right? Toss me my thing. Let’s get goin’.”

 

- - -

 

It was encroaching on midnight. The house was dark. Papyrus was cautious on the stairs as he peeked over into the living room where Gaster was still nestled up on the couch, asleep. He tiptoed as quietly as he could and hurried for the kitchen. He didn’t dare turn on the light, but he glowed his eyes just enough to help him see into the cupboards. He needed to get Frisk to sleep. Tea could help, maybe. Something else? He wasn’t sure.

 

“Paps?” Gaster asked groggily.

Papyrus spun on his heel to see his father sitting up slightly, blinking at him as if even that much light was too much. “Oh! D-Dad. Sorry to wake you up. Um. I forgot how light a sleeper you were.”

“Don’t worry,” he said, pawing around for his glasses. “Why do you look so nervous?”

“I’m not! Uh! I was just… trying to find something to help with sleeping,” he said.

“Are you having troubles?” he asked.

“Not me, no,” he said. “Um.” He rubbed his arm. Couldn’t keep the worried look off his face.

Gaster smiled. “You can tell me,” he said.

“Okay, but don’t be worried, we’ve done this before,” he said quickly. “Sans is stuck in a dream. Frisk wants to fall asleep to go help him until he can wake up.”

“Oh?” Gaster looked more alert. “Is there anything I can do?”

“Nnooo, not really, we do this all the time, it works really well,” Papyrus assured him. “She sleeps, the dreams go together, and I wait outside in case something goes really sideways. So. No real need for anything else! I mean, unless you know a something that can help Frisk get to sleep quickly.”

Gaster looked thoughtful. He tapped his chin. “Spiced milk?” he suggested.

“Spiced… milk,” Papyrus repeated.

“Mhm. Let me show you,” he said.

“No, you should go back to bed!” he said shrilly.

 

Gaster chuckled and shook his head. He stood up, putting his glasses on, and patted the boy on his shoulder as he headed for the kitchen, smiling fondly.

“Let me at least do this,” he said.

 

He pulled a jug of milk from the fridge as magic hands glowed around the room, grabbing some old spices from the cupboard and a bag of sugar. He took a small pot from under the stove, added the milk, and put it on a burner. Papyrus hovered over his shoulder curiously as he added a few spoons worth of sugar and some spices to the pot as he gently stirred.

“Cinnamon,” Papyrus said, pulling the little packages away from the false hands. “Nut… meg? Card-a-mom. Huh! I didn’t know we had these!”

“You used to love this when you were little,” he said. “I’m sure you’ll remember once the smell gets going. Pity about the ginger.”

“What ginger?” Papyrus asked curiously.

“Exactly,” Gaster said with a laugh.

 

Soon, the milk was gently bubbling and the scent was warming the whole room. Papyrus did remember. Before it boiled over, Gaster turned off the heat, then poured the milk into two mugs and then handed them both over. Papyrus looked confused and his father gestured to one of the mugs. Cautiously, he tried it.

“Oh! That is really nice,” he said. “Thank you.”

His father nodded and patted him on the shoulder. “Good luck. Come get me if you need anything.”

 

In the bedroom, under low light, Papyrus saw Frisk with her back against the headboard, watching over their brother as he dozed lengthwise across the foot of the bed, blue leaking faintly from his eye socket. She shot him a tired smile and held out a mug to her. She took it curiously and peered inside.

“Dad made it,” he said. “He said it would help you sleep.”

“Oh. Nice,” she said. “Thanks, Paps.”

She took a sip. The drink was very warm and relaxing. She nodded. Papyrus smiled and sat with her, scooting up past Sans and curling up with her. He put an arm around her and she snuggled up close.

 

- - -

 

It didn’t take Frisk much longer to close her eyes and open them somewhere strange. It was dark, with a small, vertical sliver of light shining in her face. Cautiously, she touched it and it creaked. She heard padded footsteps and leaned forward just a little. A form in black crossed in front of the light. Frisk tried to get a look better look.

 

Her foot caught on something and the door gave when she tried to catch herself. She yelped and stumbled forward, toppling onto the floor. She came face to face with a sharp-toothed version of her brother that startled her still, seeming to loom over her with one red eye peering down and his thick black jacket making his shoulders look large and strong.

 

They stared at each other blankly for a few seconds. He squatted down and offered her his hand; he had long, distinctly clawed fingers. He tilted his head and grinned.

“The heck you doin’ in there, kiddo?” he asked, clearly trying not to laugh.

 

She knew it was her brother the second he spoke. She relaxed and took his hand, and he helped her upright onto her knees. She grabbed him and hugged him tight. He snickered.

“Jeez, I scare you that bad?” he asked.

“No! No, I was just worried about you. You were locked in,” she said. “I was trying to get in for like an hour.”

“Fair enough,” he said. “Hey, at least you look normal, that’s good.”

“Yeah, what’s up with that?” she asked worriedly. She grabbed his face in her hands. “What happened, is your eye okay?”

“Heh. Yeah, it’s fine,” he said, though his cheekbones flushed faintly red. “It’s, uh… probably been like that for a while.”

“Have you been here long?” she asked.

“Felt like maybe two hours,” he said, shrugging.

“What the heck is going on here?” she asked.

“Not sure, but this place is nuts,” he said. “Looks like someone smacked it with the spooky stick.”

“Oh yeah? Outside too?” she looked around, and though the kitchen looked normal with the exception of the much more normal-sized cupboard under the sink, she’d take his word for it. “Can I see?

“Uh. Better not,” he said with an apologetic smile. “They seem to be more into the whole human huntin’ stuff here than back home ever was.”

 

Frisk couldn’t keep the puzzlement from her face, but she nodded. He grinned and gently ruffled her hair.

“Thanks,” he said.

“Mhm!” She sat back and awkwardly got her legs under her to stand. “This is super weird. I don’t know how one can happen where you look different like this.”

“Yeah. I’m not real sure either,” he said as he straightened up. “Heh. Edgelord timeline.”

Frisk scoffed and snickered, and her brother grinned. She peeked out into the main room.

“So, where’s Papyrus?” she asked. “Is he here? Is he all, like… pointy, too?”

“Oh yeah, way more than me,” Sans said. “Seems a bit on edge. Heh. Everyone does. It’s kinda strange.”

“Hmm… So. What should we do?” Frisk asked. “Just stay here? Until we wake up?”

“Easier than goin’ somewhere else,” he said.

 

The living room was much the same, to Frisk’s relief, though the couch did have a patch or two stitched onto the seats and arm. She jumped on it and bounced on the cushions. Sans joined her. He reached into the side of the sofa and patted around. He pulled out a book that proudly bragged on the cover about containing five hundred jokes, but the inside was gibberish. Sans sighed and tossed it.

“Got anything to pass the time?” he asked.

“Noooot really,” she said. “Sucks that we can’t just explore. Or watch TV.”

“Man, I wish,” he said with a laugh.

“I’ll make some tea or something,” she said. “Sink’s not too high here!”

“Fair point,” he said.

 

She scampered back to the kitchen. Sans could hear her clunk around, looking through the cupboards.

“Aw! We don’t have any,” she said. “Only coffee! Man, maybe I can…” She wandered back out, staring very intently at her hands as they started to glow faintly red. “Oof, it’s hard here…”

“Don’t bother,” Sans said.

 

Frisk shot him a questioning look. He kicked back and put his arms behind his head. Frisk let the glow die and sat back down with him. She yawned. He chuckled. He looked kind of sleepy himself. Those grey shadows under his eye sockets looked dark. She leaned back into him and rubbed her eyes with her knuckles. He took off his jacket and draped it around her shoulders. It was quite cozy.

“Thanks,” she said. “It’s warm.”

“I know, right? Kinda dig it,” he said. “Might get one like it for real.”

“Go for it, it’s nice,” she said with a grin.

She felt a lump in there and she reached into the side curiously. There was a hole in the lining, making a pocket. She felt something plastic in there. When she pulled it out, she almost laughed. A bottle of ketchup, a real fancy looking one. She smiled and offered it to her brother.

“Nice. Thanks,” he said with a laugh.

 

Now that she had his jacket, Frisk noticed Sans’s bare arms. His bones, predominantly on the right side, were covered in nicks and gauges. Even the side of his neck was missing a small chunk. She took his right hand. It was missing his ring finger entirely and some of the knuckles across the top had clearly been crushed. She grimaced and looked at him with wide, questioning eyes. He could do little more than shrug. She held his hand tight, pouting. He snickered.

“What kind of weird, pointy-teeth, bone-stealing timeline is this?” she wondered.

“Good thing I’m not right-handed, huh?” he said with a grin. “

“I hope Az isn’t in here,” she said. “You don’t think he is, do you?”

“No clue,” he said.

“Boo,” she grumbled.

She concentrated hard and tried to feel for him. It was a strain, but she didn’t hear her counterpart at all.

 

After a minute or so, the front door slammed open, jolting them both out of their half-nap, and another skeleton burst into the house. He started pacing the floor anxiously, seemingly blind to their presence.

“Hey, Paps,” Sans said.

The skeleton turned sharply to look at them. Frisk would know Papyrus anywhere, even though his face was quite different. She was taken aback, but that startled expression was very much familiar to her.

 

“Wh-What?!” he stammered loudly— no matter what he looked like, he still sounded exactly like himself. “S-S-Sans, what are you d-doing with that…?! That human?!”

“She was in the cupboard,” he said with a shrug.

“H-Hi, Papyrus,” she said with a shy wave.

His jaw dropped. He put his hands on his head, the metal gauntlets clunking unnervingly off the bone. “Sans. No. No! You can’t. You. Can’t. They’ll take your other eye this time if anyone finds out! They’ll take your arm!”

“This time?” Frisk asked worriedly.

“Oh my god. Oh my god.” Papyrus quickly went back to pacing. “This isn’t real. It’s not happening. I don’t want to…”

 

“Um. Papyrus,” Frisk said gently. “D’you wanna stop running around? Are you okay? C’mon, dude, you look super tired.”

“Oh no.” He froze and stared at her; put a hand to his mouth. “She’s really sweet.”

“C’mere,” Sans said, beckoning to him. “Why don’t you ditch that get-up, huh? Take a day off?”

“I c-can’t, it’s the law!” he said, eyes wide. “A guard must always be armoured up and ready to go at the drop of a spear! If anyone s-saw me—”

“Jeez, what is up with this place?” Frisk asked worriedly.

“Sounds a bit too serious for me,” Sans said.

 

Frisk frowned. Papyrus opened his mouth but said nothing, putting a hand against his skull and then shaking his head vehemently.

“Papyrus, c’mere?” Frisk said gently, holding out her hands.

The skeleton froze. He looked at Sans, who stuck his thumb up. Cautiously, he came closer and dipped to one knee. He hesitantly took her hands and she smiled.

“You’ve heard how strong humans are, right?” she said. “You heard we’re really tough and hard to beat?”

“Y… Yes?” he said.

She grinned. “Then I’ll protect you! From anyone! From your boss, even! If you want.”

Papyrus stared at her silently. The red in his eyes glowed faintly and his cheekbones flushed with the same colour. “O-Okay. M-Maybe… Maybe just this one time,” he said, straightening up quickly. “Sans!! You better stay indoors too!!” He stomped quickly up the stairs and disappeared into his bedroom.

 

Frisk folded her arms, her brow furrowing. “What kind of place is this? He seems so scared.”

“Yeah, can’t say I’m a fan,” Sans agreed.

“Did you hear what he said?” she asked softly. “So… In this place, you helped a human before and someone did all that to you.” She gestured to his arm.

He smiled and shrugged. “I guess it can be a little, uh, disarmin’.”

“Pffft.” Frisk couldn’t help but grab his ruined hand again. “Jeez, dude.”

His grin only widened.

 

Announced by an awkwardly loud creak, Papyrus snuck out of his bedroom. He was wearing just a cozy red sweater and black sweatpants now, instead of the armour straight from Mordor. He looked almost embarrassed.

“You okay?” Frisk asked.

He nodded quickly, clutching to his own hands tightly.

“Is it okay if we all just hang out here for a little?” she said. “Do you mind?”

“Mhm. Yes. O-Of course it’s fine,” he said, rushing to join them. He stood on his toes, glancing around as if he expected the door to burst inwards at any moment. “…I hope the Guard Captain doesn’t notice I’m not out on patrol.”

“She won’t,” Sans assured him. “And if she does, screw it, I’ll chuck her in the river.”

“Sans, honestly. That’s technically treason, you know,” he said worriedly. “I’m scared one day I’ll come home and you’ll be just a head!”

“Ahead of what?” Sans asked with a grin.

“No no, I mean… BAH! SANS!” Papyrus cawed.

Sans smiled and shrugged. The other skeleton rasped out a tired laugh and rubbed his eye sockets. His shoulders sagged.

 

“Papyrus?” Frisk said gently. “Hey. You wanna sit down?”

“You do look a bit like you’re gonna fall over,” Sans said.

The tall skeleton looked at them cautiously. He slid over and sat beside Frisk, keeping his legs together and his back rigid. Frisk turned to him and gently grabbed his big, clawed hand. He was shaking.

“What’re you scared of?” she asked, and quickly withdrew. “Oh! Sorry. Not me, I hope? I’m not gonna hurt you.”

“Oh! No, no, it’s just… I know I’m supposed to kill you but that’s just horrible and awful, and…! And I don’t know! I feel like down here, all the monsters are being bad, but I really don’t want to be bad!” he said. “My big brother isn’t bad. And I don’t think I’m bad! But the law says I have to be bad, and I don’t want him to get hurt.”

“Ah. Jeez, kid,” Sans said sympathetically. “You aren’t bad. Couldn’t be bad if you tried.”

“I know! I was trying! And I couldn’t,” he said.

 

All of a sudden, Frisk stiffened to the twinge of a song prodding her mind. She straightened up, eyes flitting around.

“What?” Papyrus asked.

“I felt it, too,” Sans said.

The kid tried to feel out the energy. There was a weight in her, though. She couldn’t move to him. She grimaced and she hopped to her feet. “He’s not in the house, is he?”

“Doubt it.” Sans raised his brows. “Wuh-oh. Whatcha thinkin’?”

Frisk pulled the coat tight around herself and flipped down the hood. Sans couldn’t help but laugh.

“Bit big, huh?” he said.

“I gotta go out there, though,” she said. “Aaah, jeez, what…? Ah, dang, it’s gotta be good enough.”

“Aah! W-Wait a second!!” Papyrus squeaked.

It was too late. The kid was already out the door.

 

Even though the house had looked almost just like home from the inside, the outside was a strange, tar-black, twisted structure shaped like a squat fortress. There were still some string lights near the windows, but they were all red.

 

Snow was ankle deep, but it was tinted off-white slightly by reflecting back the colour of odd, magical clouds above. They were heavy and sullen, dark grey, flickering with sparks of red. Frisk didn’t know what to make of any of this, but she took a deep breath of the frosty air and felt for Asriel’s energy. Seemed like it was to the west, so that’s where she headed.

 

If this was Snowdin, it sure didn’t look like it. There were shiny metal fences that looked like obsidian spears poking out in front of buildings, all of which were remarkably similar to the skeleton house. Many of them were also decorated with string lights.

 

Frisk ducked under the hood at the sight of the first monster wandering the streets. It was a rabbit, possibly. Black fur, though, with a long face and spikes on their ears and neck, and bright red eyes. Another monster up ahead, coming out of what might have been a shop, looked like a four-legged dragon stretched out and walking on their fingertips, with teeny, leathery wings with massive claws poking out of the back of a dark robe, and spikes jutting out all over. Other monsters even farther down the street were much the same: black, a little white sometimes, with red eyes and spikes everywhere. It truly was the edgiest timeline.

 

Frisk didn’t slow at the sound of feet clunking behind her until blue magic seized her soul and she had to stop. She turned to shoot Sans a worried, cautious look. He huffed and leaned forwards to catch his breath.

“Did you actually run?” she joked.

“I’d, uh, call it more of a brisk walk.” He brushed the back of his hand across his forehead as he straightened up. He looked around at the other monsters, brows raised. “Huh.”

“What?” she asked.

“They’re more passive,” he said. He stuck his hand out to wave at the oddly-shaped dragon. “Afternoon.”

“Afternoon,” the dragon growled back, copying his cadence exactly and moving on without so much as a glance at the kid.

“Huh.” Frisk relaxed where she stood. “Okay. Not so dangerous, then!”

“Weird,” Sans said. “Had more personality earlier.”

Frisk shrugged. “I’m not complaining.” She grabbed his hand. “Come on.”

 

The kid focussed on the music of Asriel’s distant soul. It pulled her down a side street and between mounds of black houses coming out of hills between tall, skinny trees that looked like they’d been burnt to husks. She thought she could hear a voice cursing in the wind. She dropped Sans’s hand and took off at a jog.

 

The streets were a maze, black and white blurring in the kid’s eyes as she followed the sound. A frosty chill was settling in heavily.

“Az?” she asked. “Az, you here?”

 

She came to an abrupt stop when a figure popped out down one of the snowier streets. Wasn’t Asriel, though. Was someone a little taller than Frisk, staring at her from under the hood of a baggy sweatshirt. Eyes blazed red in the shadows. Frisk gulped. She felt sick all of a sudden. The person raised a hand. It looked shockingly human. They pointed down a small, side-street. She nodded despite the hair standing on the back of her neck.

“Th-Thanks,” she said.

 

Frisk took off as fast as she could. “Az?” she called again. “Can you hear me?”

“Ah, shit, d-don’t look at me,” his voice came from somewhere.

 

Frisk ran faster, coming to a dead end against a hill of snow between two of the black houses. There was a twitching, grey-green, viney something there. The kid’s heart thunked to her stomach. She pushed back her hood and knelt down. The plants recoiled and tried to press themselves into a corner.

 

About the size of a dog, what could loosely be called Asriel’s body was formed from a long, thick stem that made a serpentine spine and tail. He had four limbs, at least, almost the same width as the rest of him, with claws made of thorns at the tips of short, creepy plant fingers. His white face was stretched forward, with pitch black eyes and a mouthful of fangs that looked like needles. He had a tattered mane of pale gold flower petals. They locked eyes and he breathed out a deep, annoyed sigh.

“What a frickin’ mess, right?” he said.

“I’m glad I found you,” she said, offering her arms. “C’mon, it’s too cold here.”

“Mhm.” He moved like a slithering nightmare when he crept over to her. “Uh. Sorry if I stab you.”

“Wouldn’t be the first time,” she joked.

 

He couldn’t help a weak snicker as she scooped him up. He curled up as best as he could, heaving out a weak, trembling breath. Wilting, he pressed himself against her, burrowing into her heavy sleeves. She kissed him on the head gently. He tasted like burnt bark and dusty roses.

 

“Got any idea why I look like way more of a freak than usual?” he asked hoarsely.

“Um. We’re in some edgy spooky timeline or something,” Frisk said apologetically.

“I’ll be haunted by the experience, for sure.” Sans had finally caught up, and he took one look at Asriel and smiled sideways. “Sheesh, kid, what’s wrong with your face?”

“Dunno, how ‘bout yours?” he asked, wide-eyed.

“No idea. Sorry you’re that,” he said.

He drooped and grimaced, his obsidian eyes becoming glossy and wet. “I… I’ll be okay.”

“Jeez, kiddo.” Sans knelt down to look him in the face. “…Do you wanna go?”

“If you’d f-found me first,” he joked weakly, winking.

“Az, it’s okay,” Frisk said gently. “You can.”

He shook his head. “C-Can’t leave both you losers here alone, right?”

 

“SAAAANS?! Sans!? Are you out here?!” Papyrus called above the frosty silence. “I aaaaam following your fooooootprints, just so you knooooow, but it would be easier for meeeeee if you just said where you aaaaaare!”

The short skeleton straightened up and shoved his hands into his pockets. He shot the kids a questioning look. Frisk shrugged. He sighed.

“Here, Paps,” he said, raising his voice a little.

 

Heralded by the sound of crunching snow, Papyrus rounded the corner to join them, looking uncharacteristically nervous. His jaw dropped. So did Asriel’s.

“Who is this?!” he demanded.

Asriel shrivelled down in Frisk’s grasp but awkwardly raised a limb to wave anyway. “Uh. Hi. I’m, um, with these nerds?”

“Well, obviously! Nyeh!” Papyrus said. He straightened up quickly, alert and wide-eyed. “Wait! Shh. Do you hear that?”

 

Frisk and Asriel shared a puzzled look. She tried to listen. Snow crunching, maybe? Sans bristled. He pulled Frisk’s hood back up and took a cautious step in front of her.

“We should go,” he said. He grasped Frisk’s soul.

“Y-Yes! Um! Yes, we should definitely…” Papyrus gulped heavily. He recoiled backwards as dark fingers oozed around the corner of the building.

“Human?” a low voice asked. “Human?”

Another voice joined in and a shadow with eyes seeped onto the ground. “Human?”

Papyrus trembled. Black monsters forming a shadowy mass encroached. His eyes flared red and he backed up, placing himself between the others and the darkness.

“No no no not again no no no no,” he muttered.

“Paps, chill out,” Sans said.

“No no, they know, they know,” he whimpered. “No no no no no. Big brother, you have to run, y-you can’t—”

 

Frisk hurriedly joined him and held his hand tightly. “They don’t know,” she whispered.

“They don’t?!” Papyrus looked at her with wide eyes and, as he froze, so too did the approaching dark mass of monsters.

The kid’s gaze darted back. Sans pointed forward and stuck his thumb up.

“Run,” Asriel hissed.

Frisk pulled the skeleton and ran, pushing through the mass of bodies that parted like smoke. He yelped and, jarred from his stupor, he scooped her up.

 

The monsters, acting as one, roared with a dozen voices and barrelled after them, fangs bright and long fingers reaching out from a writhing mass. Papyrus broke into a sprint, breathing hard.

“Huuuumaaaaan,” the monsters groaned. “Traaaaaitttoooorrr.”

Frisk’s heart was thumping. She ventured a look over the skeleton’s shoulder and couldn’t see much beside darkness pricked with red eyes. It seemed to reach so far up into the mountain’s cavern that it fused with the roiling thunderheads above.

“Can’t you do anything?” Asriel asked shrilly.

 

It was too late for an answer. True to any nightmare, Papyrus tripped and the three of them tumbled to the frosty ground in a tangle. Frisk coughed out a mouthful of snow and shoved herself upright only to see a roiling thunderhead of creatures. Papyrus was stunned still, horrified, hands clasped together.

 

Frisk took a deep breath, positioning herself between the darkness and the others. She rolled up her sleeves, focussed her magic, and held out her hands. “Come on, come on, stop,” she muttered. “Stop stop stop.” Red flickered from her fingertips and she felt like she was pushing on a wall.

The mass of darkness slowed, sparks of her magic dancing through them.

“It’s just a dream,” she whispered. “Just a dream. Knock it off.” Sweat beaded at her forehead— the pressure was immense. She gritted her teeth and pushed back.

 

The mass of monsters turned sluggish and though they strained, they couldn’t pass the farthest point they’d reached, giving the kids only a few metres of breathing room. An uncomfortable stalemate.

 

Papyrus whimpered and scuttled backwards. Asriel growled and leapt up to him, staring into his face.

“Are you real? You’re not ours, are you?! No. No, you’d be…” He grabbed the skeleton’s shoulders. “Why’d they only appear when you showed up, huh?!”

“I… I d-don’t…” His teeth chattered.

“Frisk!” Asriel said. “Think this guy’s broken, you’re on your own.”

“But… she’s… sh-she’s…” Papyrus gulped. “It’s a nightmare.”

“Sure is!” Frisk said. She took a deep breath. The dream was starting to feel like a fog creeping into her eyes. Her vision was fluctuating between what she could see and what she’d already seen.

 

The kid’s magic burst red around her small form. The pressure started to fade and and her magic gently wound the cloud of monsters backwards, forcing their roiling retreat. Then, almost as quickly as they’d formed, the clouds dispersed and all that was left was some relatively normal monsters, wandering about and back to their business. The kid blinked; hoped her eyes weren’t fooling her. She took a deep breath and slumped in place, rubbing her head. She shot Papyrus a reassuring smile.

“Told you I’d protect you, right?” she said.

 

Papyrus’s jaw dropped. He grabbed Frisk’s soul and she squeaked as he pulled her over to him and held her shoulders.

“You…! You! Nyoooo, I can’t believe it! I f-froze up, I’m sorry! I…” He shivered. “I’m so confused. This doesn’t seem right. A-And my big brother…? Oh… I’m worried but I’m happy?!”

“You’re okay,” she said gently. “Don’t worry so much, alright? You’re safe.”

“Where’s my big brother?” he asked, wide-eyed, peering around her worriedly.

“He’ll catch up,” Asriel said.

“Nyooo… Not again, not again.” The skeleton held his head and started to breathe a little too fast.

Frisk hurriedly cupped his face and drew his eyes up to meet hers. “Hey. Hey, it’s okay. It’s okay! I’ll go back and get him, okay?”

“Frisk, c’mon, he’ll be fine,” Asriel said. “Let’s get somewhere safe before something goes nuts again. It’s not like it’s real but I dunno what those things’ll do to us if we’re locked in.”

“I know, but…” This close, Papyrus looked a little younger than she’d expected, actually. “I can’t leave him like this.”

Asriel huffed. “Well. I mean. I guess if we’re stuck anyway…”

 

Frisk smiled and backed off, waved, and then bounded away back the way they’d come. She followed her footprints in the snow and bumped right into Sans around the first turn she took. She hugged him tightly and he chuckled.

“Took care of it?” he asked.

“Yeah,” she said.

He mussed up her hair. “What a weird frickin’ place.”

“This can’t be real, right?” she asked. “I mean, there’s no way this is ours.”

“Farther,” he agreed as they began to trudge back towards the house. “Real… I mean. The detail’s pretty high. Might be real somewhere else.”

“But those monsters making a cloud thing, that seemed… off,” she said.

Sans merely shrugged in reply.

 

Papyrus and Asriel were waiting outside the house. The tall skeleton perked up and ran for Sans, scooping him up right off his feet and squishing him tight.

“Whoa, bro, chill out,” Sans said gently.

“Nyehhhh, I was worried,” he grumbled. “The small human rescued me, did you see?!”

“Oh, uh, yeah. Course. Kiddo’s real good at that,” Sans assured him. “Now, uh, why don’t we head back in and relax a bit. You look like you’re about ready to fall apart.”

“Buhhhh, fine, yes, you’re right,” Papyrus said. He carried Sans over his shoulder and back into the house.

 

Frisk sighed. She looked around at this dark place and flinched. Asriel tugged on her huge sleeve.

“Hey,” he said. “Something’s weird.”

“Tell me about it,” she muttered.

“No. I mean. I know.” He climbed up her arm and she held him gently. “That Papyrus. I mean. He’s not ours, right? He’s not asleep.”

“No, he’s the dream, I guess,” she said. “He’s having a rough time, though? I mean. He acts pretty real. Maybe because of Sans? I dunno.”

“Yeah. I mean. Maybe?” He frowned. “He said something weird while you guys were gone.”

“Like what?” she asked, reaching for the door.

“He said this all doesn’t seem real,” Asriel said.

“Well, yeah, why would it?” she said, smiling sympathetically as she took them back inside.

“But why would dream guy care if a dream doesn’t seem real?” he pressed.

“I, uh…” Frisk’s heart thunked. “I have no idea.”

 

Sans was flopped out on the couch as if he’d been tossed there like a sack of potatoes. Papyrus was gone. Frisk snuck over to the short skeleton and nudged his shoulder. He raised a hand lazily.

“Was that what it was like outside before?” she said. “Sorry for getting us into trouble.”

“Meh.” He sat up and rubbed his face. “No. It was more… normal? That was full on nightmare cloud, don’t see that kinda thing all that often. Were you, uh, real spooked?”

“No, not really,” she admitted. “I guess a little bit? But not until it showed up.”

“Hm. Right, so…” He tapped his pointed teeth. “Az?”

“Don’t look at me, if I have nightmares, they’re not about that,” he said.

“Same,” Frisk said.

Sans could only shrug.

 

“B-Board up the door please.” Papyrus peeked out of the kitchen, wide-eyed and rather low to the ground.

“Dude, it’s fine,” Sans said.

“Nyoooo, I’m not happy with this at all,” he said.

“Aw, jeez, Papyrus,” Frisk said quietly. She put Asriel on Sans’s legs and got up to join the cowering skeleton. “Hey. It’s okay! It’s okay.”

He looked nervous. He was hunched over against the wall; seemed like he might want to hide away in one of the cupboards if he could fit. She frowned thoughtfully.

“Can I hug you?” she asked.

“What?” he asked shrilly.

“I’d really like to give you a hug, if that’s okay,” she said.

“I… I’d like that,” he said quietly. “Sk-Skeletons secretly love hugs. We’re not supposed to tell people that, but it’s true.”

“Good!” she said.

 

She hugged him tight around his neck. He squeaked and his shoulders slumped. He sat on the floor and, cautiously, he put his arms around her, and though she knew it probably was in vain, she let her soul glow warmly for him. She was surprised when she felt something hum back at her. He clung a little tighter. When he looked back at Frisk, it was with wide, surprised eyes.

“Oh!” he said. “I… Wow. Okay.” He raised his hands and looked at them, staring as if it was his first time to see them.

“You okay?” she asked gently.

“Mhm! Very much so!” His expression had completely switched. The melancholy was gone and he had begun to grin. “In fact! This is better than I’ve been in a while. Thank you, little human! What did you say your name was?”

“I’m Frisk,” she said.

“Frisk! Right! Wowie. That’s interesting,” he said. “Oh! So. You are not from here, then, right?”

“Uh. Right,” Asriel said. “We’re just kinda stuck in the dream until we wake up.”

“Right, right,” Papyrus said. He stood up and stretched, wandering back into the living room, and Frisk followed him cautiously. “Well. Thankfully. This is just a dream. Because those monsters before were pretty bad! And this place was thoroughly awful.”

 

Sans raised his brows. “You just become self-aware or somethin’?”

“Well. Sort of,” he said, rubbing his skull and sitting on the arm of the couch. “My mind was stuck in a weird past time, but now it’s much looser, thankfully! Thank you, little human! Can I hug you again? I’d like to!”

“Yeah, of course!” Frisk assured him.

He cackled, pleased, and scooped her into his arms. She clung to his shoulders and he snuggled her gently. He felt almost as warm as her real Papyrus did.

 

“So what kind of place is this, anyway?” Asriel asked. “Why does everyone look so weird?”

“We don’t look all that weird, do we?” Papyrus asked.

“Just compared to what we’re used to,” Frisk said. “But you still look like a Papyrus to me!”

“Nyeh heh heh, because I am a Papyrus!” he said. “But, um! Yes! I think the plan of laying low would be a good one because this is not a good time. Especially to be… Well. Especially to be anybody, really, it’s all around unpleasant. Human, that was really brave what you did out there before but I’d be really worried to risk it again, because that was probably quite a close call.”

“Yeah, it seems kind of rough,” Frisk said. “What happened to Sans?”

 

“Oh! Gosh, it was horrible,” Papyrus said, putting the kid on his knee. “So. When I was just a little Papyrus, I met my first human! I liked her a lot! But then the King found out. He wanted to eat seven human souls, but he had five at the time.”

“Wait, eat?” Asriel asked. “He… Wait. I don’t understand.”

“Oh! Well, you see,” Papyrus said, “the Prince and Princess got killed by humans. And so the King really, really hated humans. He got so mad, and the story went that he was so mad that it cursed all the monsters into looking very dark and pointy, so the Queen told him he was horrible and left him, and he just got madder and madder.”

“Well that’s horrifying,” Asriel said, wide-eyed.

“Yes! It was not good. So, I tried to hide the human. But the King found out and took my human’s soul. Sans pretended he was the one who hid her, so he got punished i-instead of me,” he said.

“Makes sense,” Sans said with a shrug.

“But that’s awful!” Frisk said shrilly. “He’s all smashed up.”

“Yes, it wasn’t very good,” Papyrus said, looking quite sad. “I would have… I mean. I was was very young. B-But I—”

“Hey. Big brothers watch out for little ones, alright?” Sans said. “I’d always choose that.”

“But this is… Anyway. This is after that. By a lot,” Papyrus said quickly. “This is the day I met my second human. I got to keep this one, though, and I love her very much!”

“Wait, so what happened to the King?” Asriel asked.

“Oh! Well. My human broke the curse on everyone! The King snapped out of being so angry, and he actually became really nice, but he’d done a lot of really bad things,” Papyrus said. “So he exiled himself. I don’t actually know where he is anymore. But that was a few weeks after this day.”

 

“So… this really is another timeline,” Frisk said quietly. “This doesn’t sound anything like ours.”

“Could ours really have ever gotten like this?” Asriel looked at Sans worriedly. “If the world ended enough times?”

“Can’t really answer that,” he said. “Sorry. I mean, maybe? Who knows?”

“If you don’t, I guess nobody,” Frisk admitted.

Papyrus looked a little confused. “Your… timeline,” he repeated.

“Ah! Sorry, never mind,” Frisk said sheepishly. “I wish we could help with yours, though. Whatever this is.”

“Oh! No no no, don’t you worry,” he assured her. “This isn’t real! It’s okay. I mean, I thought it was for a little bit, but you made me see it was just fake, so please, don’t worry about it at all.”

“You’re not scared of the Guard Captain showing up anymore?” Asriel asked.

“She’s actually the Queen now! And she’s much better now that the curse is gone. Everyone still stayed a little pointy, but not as pointy as this! I even got my proper magic colour back! I mean, red is nice— it’s my sister’s colour— but I like my normal one much better on me,” he said. “Hey! While you’re here! How about I make you three some nice, refreshing spaghetti! I’m quite good at that!”

Frisk had to stop a laugh. Some things never changed. “Can I help?” she asked.

“You want to cook spaghetti with me?!” He absolutely glowed. “Wowie! I’d love that! Thanks so much, Frisk! Let me show you how I do it! I am basically a master chef, you know!”

 

When Papyrus bounded off into the kitchen, she followed him, and soon the house was filled with the smell of tomato sauce. Sans stayed put, though he kicked his feet up onto the couch and cradled Asriel carefully. It was sort of funny to see that even his toes looked like talons, except for a couple on the right foot that were broken off at the ends.

“You’re a mess,” Asriel commented.

“Sure looks like it,” he said.

“Does it hurt?” he asked.

“Nah,” Sans said, shrugging one shoulder.

“What about your eye?” Asriel pushed.

“Who needs two, really?” Sans joked. “Just means I can sleep with it open.”

“Shit,” he grumbled, looking up at him worriedly. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

“Yeah, of course.” Sans chuckled. “Don’t worry about me. How about you?”

“Honestly? Screw being a plant. Like. Honestly. It’s the worst.”

“I know,” Sans said.

“I’d rather be d… Oh!” Asriel’s warped plant body started to glitter. He let out a relieved sigh. “Finally. Hey. I’ll call.”

“Forget it. Talk in the morning. See you, kid,” he said.

 

A loud, alarmed yelp came from the kitchen. Sans got to his feet as Asriel turned to glittering sand and vanished completely from his arm bones.

 

Papyrus had recoiled against the counter, and Sans had just enough time to see the red sparkles of his sister drift away.

“Wh-Where’d she go?” he asked.

“Oh. No worries. She just woke up,” Sans said.

“Oh! Wow. Okay. Phew, I was scared for a second,” Papyrus said. “So, that’s what it looks like.”

Sans was taken aback. “What?”

“Waking up,” Papyrus said. “I’ve always wondered. I usually wake up first, so I’ve never really seen it before!”

“…What?” Sans’s eyes went wide. The gears spun in his head and he almost didn’t believe the conclusion he’d come to.

 

Papyrus sighed; seemed very relaxed. He smiled. His hands and shoulders began to sparkle, like wisps of sand blowing away from him.

“Ah! And there I go, too, I guess. I know this was just a dream, but I really appreciate this,” he said. “It’s been hard to sleep recently and Sans has been staying up to watch over me, and—”

“Wait. Wait wait wait.” Sans grabbed his shoulders. “You’re real?”

“Um! Yes! For sure I am!” he said, eyes wide. “Though I don’t normally look quite as spiky as this! Not anymore, anyway!”

Sans started to laugh. He couldn’t contain it. He put a hand to his head. “Same here.”

“Wait, you’re real, too?!” Papyrus’s jaw dropped. “B-But how?! Wait! Your human must be a time human, too, right?! And she was real, too?!”

Sans nodded. “Sure is. How’d you get here?”

“Well, actually, I’ve been having these strange dreams of things that happened for real for a while now. My brother, too; we call them time dreams. They’re usually very exhausting,” he said. “But I was actually really excited when you started doing things different, and your little human was not the same as the one I know, and is a really nice one! And how she beat my nightmare cloud— I get that sometimes even when it isn’t time dreams. And it was so weird, I thought this was real, but then she hugged me and it snapped me right out of it!”

 

For once, Sans was at a loss for words. It took him a moment to regain himself. “You have the time dreams, too.”

“Uh, yes, unfortunately, me and Sans— my Sans— have had them for a while,” he said.

“So I guess you figured pretty quick that I wasn’t your Sans,” he said.

“Well, of course,” he said with a smile. “My brother never calls me Paps. He calls me Papy. Not that I mind either way, of course! But you’re a lot like him, actually, so I was glad to see you.” The sparkling in his hands began to speed up and he smiled. He patted Sans affectionately on the shoulders. “Well! Guess I’m going to be awake really soon! Thanks for making it more bearable. And thanks to your cute little human, too! And that weird plant monster!”

“Y-Yeah. Heh. No problem,” Sans said. “Uh. Feel better, huh?”

 

- - -

 

When the front door closed in the middle of the night, the sound was quite distinct. Pair that with a lingering scent of coffee, and the two together were odd enough to jar Gaster out of slumber again. He sat up on the couch and rubbed his eye sockets. The kitchen was dark, but someone had just been there.

 

Gaster could see the coffee maker set up on the counter beside a bag of sugar and some small cream pods. The carafe was still half-full, and hot. He poured himself a mug and, grabbing his housecoat, bundled up and headed outside.

 

Tracks in the snow lead around the side of the house, and there was a waft of steam gently flowing around the corner. Cautiously, Gaster peeked around the side of the house. As he expected, Sans was there, looking absolutely dead on his feet. He was clutching a mug, staring absently up into the dark above them.

“You and coffee?” Gaster said as he slid in to stand beside him. “Didn’t think you mixed.”

“Well, uh, that’s what you drink, right? When you don’t wanna sleep?” He sipped from his mug and stared ahead with a blank gaze. “S’not so bad. Just add a ton of sugar to it. I’m sure that’s healthy.”

“Sans…” Gaster’s brow furrowed worriedly. “What happened? Did the kids find you?”

 

Sans was at a loss for words. He held out a hand like he was trying to beckon some from somewhere. He sighed and shook his head. He took another swig of coffee; continued looking vacantly out into the cavern. Gaster put a hand on his shoulder.

“Let me help you,” he said.

“Don’t think you can,” Sans said, shooting him a sideways smile.

“What happened?” he asked again.

Sans still didn’t say. Gaster sighed.

“Didn’t there used to be a time where you told me everything?” he said.

“I never told you everything,” Sans said with a tired grin.

Gaster laughed. “It was worth a shot,” he said. “Sans, adult or not, you’re still my son, and I hate to see you so out of your head. If I can do anything…”

“Not sure I’d want you to do anything,” he said. “But thanks.”

 

Gaster nodded. He sipped his coffee. They stood in silence for a while until the steam rising off their mugs started to vanish. Sans sighed; his father instantly perked.

“The dreams are gettin’ worse,” Sans said.

“Oh. Sans, I’m so sorry,” he said quietly. “But not sleeping won’t—”

“It’s not just that,” he said. “Doesn’t help that I’m draggin’ those kids though it all too, but… No. It’s… Heh. I don’t even know.”

“What?” Gaster said gently.

“It was real,” he said, and he raised a hand before Gaster could interject. “Not like before. The Papyrus in there wasn’t just a dream. He was real. From another timeline.”

 

Gaster stared back at him, frozen. Sans sighed.

“I thought it was just a real weird regular one at first, but then Frisk hugged him. Synched her soul with him. It let him break free of a loop, just like she did,” he said. “He knew things. I saw him wake up.” For the first time in ages, the sturdy little skeleton’s expression fell to genuine uncertainty and fear as he shot his father a cautious look. It faded quickly, though, as he laughed tiredly and rubbed his hand over his eyes. “Shit,” he said quietly.

“Is… Is this the first time?” Gaster asked.

“Can’t say,” Sans said. “I suspected for a while. It started happenin’ more over the last, I dunno. Two months? Seein’ timelines that I knew couldn’t be mine. But this? Nothin’ like this.”

 

Gaster was at a loss. His shoulders slumped. He didn’t even know what to say. Sans downed the rest of his coffee. He stretched his arms above his head, then patted Gaster on the shoulder as he wandered back towards the house. He heard the door open, then clunk closed. He put a hand to his mouth and winced, his soul starting to ache.

 

He peeled himself from the wall and went back inside. He walked in on his eldest cradling his youngest on the couch, a faint, purple glow ebbing from their chests. He stopped and stared with surprise. Frisk said something quietly to her brother before shooting Gaster a tired smile.

“Hey, dad, doin’ okay?” she asked.

“Uh. Oh. I’m fine. Thank you, Frisk,” he said. “Did…? Um. Are you alright?”

“Yeah. I’m fine! Thanks for showing Papyrus that drink, it was nice,” she said.

“Oh, that was no trouble,” he said. “Was the dream okay?”

“Weird as heck! But not too bad,” she said. “I mean, none of us got killed or anything. Wish Asriel didn’t get dragged through, though, it always turns him into a flower thing again and he haaaates that.”

“Who wouldn’t?” Sans said. “Anyway. Pretty late, huh? How ‘bout you go, grab Paps and a book or somethin’. I’ll be up in a minute.”

Frisk nodded. “Don’t worry. If that guy was… If you’re right, we’ll figure it out.” She sat up on her knees, kissed his brow, then bounded away.

 

Sans stared after her vacantly as she closed the bedroom door upstairs. He sighed. “She’s sweet, huh?” he said quietly. “Hate to put her through this. Hate that I kinda need her afterwards.” He cut his eyes at his father and grinned tiredly.

Gaster sat on the arm of the couch with a worried crease in his brow. “Sans…”

“Actually, though. Glad I was the prototype,” he said. “It’s better this way.”

“Come on, you weren’t a prototype,” Gaster assured him gently.

“I like that better than byproduct,” he joked.

“Sans,” Gaster chided.

 

The short skeleton laughed. He rubbed his eye sockets. “More I see, more glad I am that I’m here. Believe it or not, I wouldn’t change this,” he said, and he pointed to his right eye and glowed the left so his white pupil vanished. “In there? Couldn’t even see out of this side. Could be a lot worse. Trust me. I’m okay. Just gonna be real tired for a bit. Heh. What else is new?”

Gaster sighed. He grabbed Sans in his magic and dragged him over to give him a hug. “I never wanted this for you. I want you to feel safe in your own mind,” Gaster said quietly. “If you want, we could… We could modify the old stabilizer, we could—”

“Nah. I’m good,” Sans said.

“Are you sure?” he asked.

“Yeah. I’ll deal.” He patted his father’s back and got to his feet. “Alright. Welp. Wish me luck.”

“Mm. Good night,” Gaster said gently.

 

Sans vanished. Gaster’s knees went weak and he plopped back down onto the couch. He put his face in his hands. His fractured soul pulsed; nauseated him. He’d made a terrible mistake.

Chapter Text

 

Rough nights lead to lazy, sluggish mornings. Even the drifting of the snow seemed more lethargic than usual. Technically, school was on today. Frisk wasn’t going. Sans probably wasn’t teaching. They moved like snails.

 

Papyrus was just as bouncy as usual, if not a little cautious. He stepped outside with Undyne to begin their training routine as Toriel shuffled groggily around the kitchen, making breakfast. Coffee was brewing, bubbling dark and hot, and she laid out mugs with one hand as she gently shook pancakes on the stovetop with the other. Beside her, Gaster squatted in front of the open fridge, yawning and peering through the shelves.

“Ah… I should go shopping,” he said quietly.

“Is it still quite empty?” she asked.

“Quite full. Of pastries. And ketchup.” He laughed and rubbed the back of his skull. He straightened up and peeked out of the kitchen. “Some ginger soda might be nice…”

 

Sans and Frisk were on the couch, curled up together under some blankets. They had a book with them, but both of them looked far too tired to even lift it.

“Hey. You two? Do…? Do you need anything?” he asked gently.

Sans's eyes flitted up. He poked the kid in his arms. She rubbed her eyes with her palm and shook her head.

“Breakfast is almost ready,” he said.

“Thanks.” Frisk’s voice was sleepy and soft.

 

Gaster gnawed his fingertips as he retreated. Toriel passed him a mug of coffee and he held it close and tight.

“I’m worried about them,” she said quietly.

“I am as well.” He drummed his fingertips against the mug. “Have they told you much about their dreams?”

“Yes. It’s… almost unbelievable. But, Asriel has them as well, and even Papyrus gets drawn in, but to a lesser extent, so I’m told.” She sipped from her mug and her brow furrowed. “Is this something you’re familiar with?”

“I am. Maybe a little too familiar,” he said.

“I just don’t understand why these dreams are so… I don’t know.” She shook her head.

“Honestly? Calling them dreams is… Well. It’s a deliberate oversimplification,” Gaster said. “These things have happened. Or, will happen. And they feel very real as they are experienced. Which is why they’re so exhausting.”

“I can’t even imagine,” Toriel said. “So, what exactly are they supposed to do? Not sleep?”

“That would make it worse, in fact,” he said. “It shouldn’t always be like this, though.”

“Seems like it’s been every night for a while,” she said, her fur bristling.

 

“Almost.” Frisk slipped into the room and she shot them a tired smile. “We’ll, um… We’ll be okay.”

Toriel’s mouth went taut. She placed her coffee aside and bent down to embrace the kid, touching her big, soft snout against her head. “How do we help you?”

“Dunno.” Frisk rubbed her head bashfully when her mother pulled back. “See, um, a stressful thing always makes it worse. And then it might take a day or two after for it to not be like that anymore. But… I mean… I dunno, they have been kinda weirder than usual recently.”

“Sans mentioned,” Gaster said. “You… may be seeing farther. Right?”

“Um. Maybe? I mean… That might make sense.” She shrugged. “It’s fine. I’m okay. I just…” She stole a glance back over her shoulder. She laughed tiredly and then raised her voice as she leaned outta the kitchen. “I’m just a weird time god thingy and I wanna protect my goofy big brother, is all!”

Sans snorted and laughed. Frisk grinned.

“Hey. Lemme make you some coffee you actually like, okay?” she said.

“You can try,” he said.

 

She dragged a chair in and stood up near the counter, grabbing ahold of the carafe tightly and carefully in her small hands. As she poured some coffee into a mug, Gaster crept in close and peered over her shoulder to watch her. She only filled the mug halfway and then dragged over a container of sugar to pour a bunch in. She stirred, then jumped down from her chair and moved it over to another part of the counter— her father sidestepped to stay out of her way. She fetched the cinnamon, and then the milk and ketchup from the fridge. A chair-move back, and she was stirring all of it together in a mug. Gaster leaned in again as she tried some on the tip of her finger and winced.

“Not good?” he asked.

“It’s perfect,” she said with a laugh.

 

As she carried it back to Sans, the front door pushed open and a tired-eyed Asriel wandered inside, yawning.

“Oh hi!” Frisk said.

“Hey, nerds,” he said. “Uncle G. Mom.”

Gaster froze up, but he raised his hand, and Toriel greeted him with a hug and a kiss on the head.

“Good morning, sweetheart,” she said. “I’m glad you’re home. Would you like some breakfast?”

“It’s fine, dad fed me,” he said. He flopped over the couch onto Sans and held onto him tightly. “You’re a goddamn mess.”

“What else is new?” he asked, patting the kid’s head.

Asriel hugged him and settled in. The skeleton raised his brows.

“Shut up, I’ll pay you back when I’m big and furry,” Asriel said.

“Welp. Can’t complain about that,” he said.

The kid sighed. “I guess maybe Frisk’s stuff wore off on me,” he said. “Because, like, I’m really pissed that all this messes you up so bad and I kinda wanna protect your dumb bones, bro.”

“Brotect.” Frisk nodded solemnly.

 

Sans grinned big, snorted, and cracked right up. He pulled both kids in under his arms and squished them. Frisk giggled. Toriel smiled at them fondly.

“Asriel, what do you think, are you up to getting ready for school this morning?”

“Oh. Ah. Hah… About that.” He sat up and smiled sideways. “I’m, uh. Suspended. So.”

Frisk’s stomach dropped. “Oh no, I forgot about that.”

“Suspended?! Again?!” Toriel barked. “When?! What?! What on earth…?! Asriel!!”

“I know, I know, I’m sorry.” He raised his paws. “In my defence… It was worth it.”

“Oh, for god’s sake. What did he do?” Toriel turned that question on Sans.

Sans merely pointed back at the kid. Frisk quickly stood up, looking apologetic.

“I-It’s all my fault, mom, I’m really sorry,” she said.

“Honey, no offence intended, but I don’t believe that for a second,” Toriel said.

“Okay, look, Frisk got punched in the head by some dork who was trying to punch someone else in the head, so she got sent out for fighting,” Asriel said. “That didn’t seem fair to me. So. I just chucked a guy in the river and melted someone’s hat. That’s it.”

 

Toriel raised a finger; opened her mouth, scowling and incredulous for an instant. She drooped slightly, sighed, and rubbed her brow. “What am I going to do with you?”

“Please d-don’t be too mad,” Frisk said. “He… I mean. He was trying to help.”

Toriel sighed. “How long?”

“I dunno, probably like… a day? Or two?” Asriel said. “Oh, and Frisk is, too. I mean, not like she goes anyway, but…”

“I am?! Oh… Y-Yeah. I… I got so caught up in everything else and… I’m really sorry, mom,” she said sheepishly.

 

Toriel’s lip curled but her anger now seemed to be directed at something beyond the front door. “I’m going to have a talk with… Ah…” She sighed and rubbed her head. “You are not in trouble, Frisk. But, Asriel… No video games while you’re out. And you take your lessons with S…? Oh. No, Sans, you’re far too tired for this, I’m sure. Take your lessons with Gaster, okay?”

“Okay.” He threw his hands up and rested them behind his head, grinning. “No problem.”

“Don’t look so smug,” she said, thought she couldn’t help but crack a smile. “Listen. My child, I understand, you meant to help your sister. But please, try not to get into any more fights this season?”

“I’ll try,” he said.

“Asriel.”

“Okay, okay, I promise I won’t,” he said.

“Thank you.” Toriel smiled warmly. She knelt down to the worried kid standing before her and smooched her on the forehead. “Oh, sweetie, relax, you’re not in trouble.”

“O-Okay,” she said.

 

Toriel raised up and cast her gaze on Gaster, who was peeking cautiously out of the kitchen. “Is that alright with you, my friend?”

“It is. Uh. Asriel, just… tell me what you need to study and I’ll do my best,” he said.

“Thanks, Uncle G,” he said. “Jeez, Frisk, you gonna cry?”

“N-No!” she squeaked indignantly. She wiped her eyes anyway.

 

- - -

 

Asriel was surprisingly eager to sit with Gaster to go over the school notes his mother had left behind. As they sat at the side table with some books and paper, Frisk flopped beside them, watching them silently, exhausted, her cheek squished against the wood as she zoned out between plates of pancakes.

 

When Asriel got to work, Gaster rested his hand on her head.

A stór, you can go back to bed, if you like,” he said gently. “Not… Not that you need my permission, of course.”

She stuck her thumb up. Her father patted her hair absently. She could have gone to sleep right there instead.

 

When Asriel finished one of his homework sheets and put it aside, she leaned forward and picked it up to give it a read. Some history worksheet. He’d finished it very quickly, with overly long answers. Flexing. A little sassy. She smiled faintly and put it aside.

“Hey, dad? You gonna go with Undyne today?” she asked.

“What for?” he asked.

“Attunement thing,” she said.

“Oh! Oh. I forgot about that. I will, if she has time,” he said.

“Definitely do it,” Asriel said. “It’s funny, she looks like just a big tough dope, but she’s got probably the best soul fix in the underground. It even helped me when I was giant and weird for a while.”

Gaster nodded. Frisk smiled sympathetically.

“Bring Papyrus,” she said.

He patted her head gently in reply. “I will.”

 

The kid sat up a bit and stretched her back, and then peeked over at Sans. She sighed and heaved herself out of her chair and wandered over to him, where he was slumped halfway off the couch. She pushed him back up and chucked his blanket over him, lighting the magic in her hand and holding the side of his head gently.

“Has he been like this all weekend?” Asriel asked.

“Yeah, it’s been… Yeah.”

“Poor guy,” he said.

Sans stuck one hand up slightly. “I’m fine.” His voice was low and soft. He opened one eye slightly and poked Frisk on her forehead. “Quit worryin’ so much.”

“Nope!” She grinned.

He laughed and then drowsily rolled over.

 

Frisk returned to the table, laid her head down on her arms, and dozed off. When she came to, her face kind of hurt, and the house was still and greyish save for some rambling dialogue and white light coming from the TV. Blinking groggily, she sat up, a patchwork blanket falling away from her shoulders. She grabbed it and held it close like a cape. It seemed like everyone was gone, except Asriel, who was parked on the couch with a book of sudoku and a stack of old tapes. The Mettaton voice Frisk recognized from the television was the one from Circuit Super Investigator.

 

Stiff-legged, Frisk ambled over and flopped heavily beside Asriel. He shot her a sympathetic smile.

“Feelin’ any better?” he asked.

She shrugged.

“Undyne dragged the guys to Waterfall,” he said. “Paps even made Sans go. But, who knows, it might be good for him. I told them to let you sleep.”

“…I hope they all feel better,” Frisk said.

“Think it could help you?” he asked.

She shrugged again. He sighed and chucked his book away like a discus, and then grabbed her and held her close.

“Okay, serious, what the hell do we do you with you guys?” he asked.

“Aren’t you feeling weird?” she asked, puzzled. “It… It does even worse stuff to you.”

“Sure, but it… I dunno. I think… I really think it’s Sans,” he said. “He’s been going through this for how long? I mean. The bad ones. Years, right? And then your energy hangs onto his and won’t let go. The worse he feels, the worse you feel. And me, I dunno, I was across the Kingdom from it. I’m not… I’m not the same as you guys. We’re connected, but I’m not stuck as close to him, if that makes sense.”

“Yeah, I guess,” she said. She gave him a hug and smooched his cheek before letting herself fall back and lie on the couch, staring up at the ceiling. Her stomach hurt.

 

“I, um… I talked a little with him last night after we woke up,” she said. “He kinda thinks that the Papyrus we saw last night might be a real guy. From somewhere else.”

“Is that possible?” Asriel asked.

“I guess?”

“I guess that would make sense with how he was talking,” he said. “Does that freak you out?”

“Little bit. But he was nice so… It’s not too bad,” she said. “It’s more… I don’t know why time stuff is breaking so hard.”

“Could it be me?” Asriel wondered. “Since like… my soul shouldn’t exist?”

“I don’t know,” Frisk said.

“Or maybe your dad, since he was in the void place so long?” he said.

“I really don’t know.” The kid sighed and rubbed her forehead with the heels of her hands. “Should I be doing something about it?”

“I dunno,” he said. “Sorry.”

 

She rolled onto the floor and went to the kitchen. There was a bag in there that looked out of place and when she peeked inside, it was her mother’s lunch. She grabbed it.

“Az, mom forgot her lunch,” she said. “I’m gonna bring it to her, okay? Wanna come?”

“Love to. Can’t,” he said. “I’m banished, remember?”

 

Grabbing her heavy black hoodie, scarf, and some boots, Frisk headed out into town towards the river. The streets were a little busier than average today; more kids about. That didn’t make much sense to her. As she turned towards the river, she was stopped by someone calling her name. She turned, puzzled, to see a rabbit boy coming towards her. She recognized him.

“You’re Frisk, right?” he said. “Hey. Uh. Sorry about punchin’ you right in the face the other day. I didn’t really mean to.”

“Oh. Um. That’s okay,” she said.

“Well, I mean, I saw you weren’t in school, so… I mean, nobody’s in school now, but…” His ears drooped. “I, um… I mean, it’s not really fair that you got in trouble.”

“That’s nice of you, but maybe punch people less,” she joked.

He laughed, but his ears wilted, embarrassed. “Your brother kinda beat me up and I told my dad about what happened and he said I was acting like a jerk. So, um. I guess I probably was acting like a jerk. Sorry, y’know?”

“Oh jeez.” Frisk rubbed her head and laughed. “It’s okay. Um. Why isn’t anybody in school?”

“The principal got really mad at one of the substitutes and lit some of the rooms on fire.” He shrugged. “She sent everyone home.”

 

Frisk burst out laughing. The rabbit cocked his head. She waved at him dismissively.

“Oh. Man. Sorry. That’s just…” She couldn’t help a grin. “That’s really funny. Thanks.”

He nodded and then looked past her, up towards the river. “You’re not going over there, are you?”

“Yeah, gotta,” she said. “Thanks for the warning, though.”

He stuck his thumbs up and, at the sound of another few young, male voices calling him, he waved and stepped away to join more monsters on main street.

 

Frisk kept on ahead, taking the short boat trip down a little cave passage and to the other side of the river. The school was past a few little burbs of houses and through a field dotted with pine trees decorated with sparkling, festive lights. The field was even brighter now because the old-fashioned schoolhouse was indeed on fire. Frisk snorted and shook her head.

 

She elbowed the door open and the heat was noticeable as sparks danced through the cracks in the stone on the walls. She wandered the halls until she found where the blaze was strongest, through the principal’s office, a dark brown door with a frosted glass window.

 

Beyond that sat Toriel at her desk, frowning and dour, as she wrote something with intense concentration. She snorted and flame came from her nostrils.

“Hey, uh, mom?” Frisk said.

Toriel jerked up instantly, eyes wide, and the fire in the walls cooled. “Frisk?! What are you doing here, my child?”

“You, um…” She tried not to laugh. She grinned and lifted up the neatly folded bag. “You forgot your lunch.”

“Oh.” Toriel sighed out the word and put her face in her hands. She laughed roughly. “Thank you.” When she lifted her head, her smile was apologetic. “I just have to do an hour or so more of work and then I will be home, alright?”

“Sure.” She eyed the flames licking the ceiling as she put the bag on her mother’s desk. “So, um…”

“Ah, never mind that,” she said quickly. “I will see you at home. And, um. Tell your brother that he may play some video games, if he wishes.”

Frisk smiled. “Will do.”

 

On her way home, despite the walk being nothing out of the usual, the half-expected tightness in Frisk’s chest returned. She paused to take a breather near the crossroads between the burbs and main street. She considered calling Papyrus— squeezed her phone in her pocket and did nothing instead. They were doing the attunement now, she thought. She shouldn’t interrupt. It was hard, but she caught her breath and continued on her way.

 

Before she’d gotten very far, she heard footsteps rushing up behind her and, after a moment a yellow lizard monster in a pink and green poncho dodged in front of her. She was quite a bit taller than her, maybe a teenager, with short little arms and spines running along her head and down her neck.

“Hey, Frisk,” the monster said brightly.

“Oh, hi,” she said.

“Glad I caught you,” she said. “You guys moving out soon? For the surface and stuff?”

Puzzled, Frisk nodded. “Um. Next month, I think?”

“Oh, cool, do you know whereabouts?” she asked. “Dad was asking.”

 

The kid was baffled. She couldn’t say she knew who this monster was or who her dad was, either. “Um. Well,” Frisk said. “There’s like a valley, right? That’s where the main town is. We’re, um…” She tried to mime the dip of the valley with her hands, rising up into the surrounding area. “We’re just kinda south? On the flat bit, still near the mountain. Kinda near where the King is?”

“Oh! Wow, okay, that’s perfect,” the monster said brightly. “Dad’ll be happy. He wanted to set up kinda near you. He thinks that’s the safest, y’know, since you’re a human, you can keep other humans away. Plus, y’know, my brother’ll be really happy.”

“Your brother,” Frisk repeated.

“I’m really glad you two became such good friends. Means I have to worry about him less,” she said with a sideways smile. She turned her head and her brows raised. “Ah! Right on cue.”

 

Frisk leaned around her to look and saw Kid bounding up to see them with a big grin on his face.

“Yo, Flora,” he said brightly. “Oh! You found her!”

“Sure did, shortie,” she said with a smile. “Got the answer, too.”

“Aw man, you win,” he said.

“Well, I have longer legs.” She patted his head and then turned to wave at Frisk as she left. “Thanks again, Frisk!”

 

Frisk waved and smiled, but her mind tripped over itself. Flora. She’d never seen Flora before.

“We were racing,” Kid said. “Kinda silly, I know, but—”

“She’s your big sister,” Frisk said quietly.

“Well. Yeah,” he said brightly.

“And we’ve… met before,” she said.

Kid raised his brows. “Uh, yeah, of course! She picks me up from your place all the time,” he said. “Are you feeling okay?”

“Um! Y-Yeah, I’m, uh…” Her brow furrowed. “But. Um. The first time we met…?”

“Was at the play. You know. When my whole family showed up after?” he said.

 

Frisk folded her arms and thought hard about it. She could picture it as if she’d seen it, though it came with a sort of warbling song of energy that made her uncomfortable. Kid looked worried.

“Seriously. Are you okay?” he asked.

“Oh! Yeah,” she said. “I’m fine. Sorry. I just… uh… Sorry, it’s been a weird few days, I guess.”

 

Kid snickered and smiled fondly. “When isn’t it for you? More time stuff? Did I miss anything?”

“Kinda, but not like that,” Frisk said. “Um. I… I met my dad?”

“Your dad?!” Kid’s eyes went wide. “Dude! You…? Oh. Jeez. You… aren’t going away with him, are you?”

“No, no no, he’s staying with us,” Frisk said. “Even if he was the leaving kind, I’d stay.”

“That’s good,” Kid said. “But that’s so weird, though, how did he find you all the way down here?”

“It’s, um, kinda complicated.” Frisk smiled sheepishly. “Also he’s, um, not a human, by the way.”

“What? Wait, WHAT?!” Kid yelped. “Are you not a human?!”

“I’m a human,” she said. “He, uh… Well, he’s like, a super good monster scientist. And he made me by sorta blowing himself up into time and space.”

“Okaaay,” he said, raising his brows.

“Also he’s a skeleton,” she said.

“A… skeleton?” Kid’s eyes seemed to bug out of his head. “You don’t mean Doctor Gaster, do you?!”

“You know him?” she asked.

“Oh my god.” His jaw dropped. “Yeah, dude, of course! Who doesn’t? He’s advises the King on like, everything ever. He’s, like, such a huge nerd. And everyone knows he built the CORE for us and stuff. He’s kind of a hero. Jeez, if anyone couldn’t make a… a human out of nothing, of course it’d be him! So, wait, did he, like, make you to save us?!”

“Um, I think I was an accident,” she said bashfully.

“Best accident ever!” he said with a grin. “Hey. I’m super happy for you. I bet he was really happy to see you, too.”

“Y-Yeah. Yeah. He was.”

“Were you happy?” he asked.

“Yeah. Really happy,” she said.

 

Kid beamed. He bounced on his toes. “Jeez, dude. Hey. You busy right now?”

“No,” she said.

“Wanna grab Asriel or, like, any of your brothers, and go check out the Ruins with me?” he asked. “My parents said I could go as long as it was with you guys. Since your mom was from there and everything. And… Y’know, since school is out due to fire. You can tell me all about your dad!”

“Ooh. Okay. That sounds nice,” Frisk said. A good distraction. Finally. “Az is at home.” She waved for him to follow and they continued on down the street.

 

“I still sometimes super can’t believe that the old Prince is your brother now,” he said, bouncing along beside her. “And, like, that he was that flower, too, and that I’d totally met him earlier. Isn’t that weird? I mean, maybe it’s just weird for me.”

“No, it was weird for everyone.” Frisk laughed. “I think we were all just happy we finally got him his body back.”

“Yeah, I bet,” he said. He grinned and nudged her gently. “I still think it’s, like, super funny that you just ended up knowing all the most important people in the Kingdom because of your weird adventure. Annnnnd that also your secret dad was the dude who made the CORE. Like. Seriously. Hey! Actually. That’s really kinda, what’s the word? Appropriate?”

“Oh yeah? Why?” she asked.

“Well, that means your family totally saved all monsters twice,” he said. “Without the CORE, we’d be screwed. With the barrier, we were screwed. So.” He shot her a big, bright smile. “Good job.”

Frisk laughed. “I had a lot of help.”

“Sure, but…” He shrugged and promptly faceplanted into the snow.

Frisk ducked to help him up, and he just grinned brighter.

“Race ya,” he said.

She was happy to take him up on the challenge.

 

- - -

 

The rush of luminescent waterfalls easily drowned out everything else. The constant rhythm, despite the volume, was enough to be a narcoleptic. Even if that lukewarm water was constantly pouring into one’s skull.

 

With heavily lidded eyes, Sans watched the flow of cyan and amber magic glimmering off the moving water and sleek black rocks. Undyne guided the other skeletons through a set of fluid movements, almost too graceful for her usual demeanour. Gaster wasn’t using magic yet. His eyes might have still carried blue and gold, but it seemed like almost anything coming from his fingers was sheer and black.

 

Alphys observed from the bank, gently kicking her feet in the water, trying to hide that she was blushing stark red behind checking her phone every once in a while. It wasn’t working. 

“H-Hey, um. So. Is it helping yet?” she asked sheepishly.

“I’m feeling very energized!” Papyrus said. He cradled an amber orb in between his hands and then twirled it around his palm, lifting it to spin it on his fingertip. “Nyeh heh! Pretty cool, right?”

“Yeah, Paps, that’s great.” Undyne grinned and let her own magic drift off into sparks. She eyed Gaster up and down. “How you doin’, Doc?”

“I’m… not sure,” he said.

“Okay. Ditch the shirt.” She waved her hand at it. “Let me see it.”

Alphys squeaked and hid behind her hands as Gaster quickly pulled his t-shirt off. The collective wincing of the other monsters made him smile awkwardly and shrug.

“Dad, oh my god!” Papyrus said shrilly.

 

The skeleton’s soul was all but invisible for a second, before brightening with white as a burr that was barely soul-shaped at all. Blue and gold flickered within, only to be absorbed back into the blackness.

“It’s awful, hm?” he said laughingly. He rubbed his skull. “Chuaigh cos…”

“Yes, that’s absolutely for sure the worst soul I’ve ever seen!” Papyrus said shrilly.

“…Aah, g-god, I guess I should have actually looked at it with, um, my eyes before, huh?” Alphys said, leaning forward. “D-Does it hurt?”

“It’s cold,” he said.

 

She got up and carefully waded through the water to him and stared up at his broken soul. Cautiously, she reached up and laid her hands against his bones, squinting with focus. She sighed softly and rubbed her head spines.

“W-Well. The, um, sound’s pretty bad,” she said. “But it’s n-not quite as bad as yesterday.”

“Still a wee bit of a mess,” he joked as he pulled his shirt back on.

“You can say that again.” Undyne cupped her chin. “Okay. Well. We’ll go a little longer. And then sleep on this. We’ll probably go again another time.”

“Sounds good to me,” he said.

 

“So, um, what m-magic do you have that’s actually working?” Alphys said.

“Well. Let me think.” His false hands hovered around him, shrugging as he cupped his chin with his real one. “Those. My HAARM-Blocker, in theory. And…” He stuck out his hand hand drew his fingers upwards as they began to glitter.

The bones that rose out of the water were black and twisted, pockmarked with holes and bristling with spikes along the shafts. Papyrus recoiled.

“Ummm. Oh. W-Well. Those are. Um. Not weird or frightening at all. Um! Nyeh heh! I’m glad that works,” he said.

“Don’t worry, Paps, working is an overstatement.” He laughed, punctuated them with a flash of gold and one of blue, and let them collapse into black sparkles that scattered across the surface of the water. “I can’t imagine that healing would be working.”

“That’s okay! I already heal for the whole family!” Papyrus volunteered quickly, grinning. “And Frisk is getting good at it too!”

“And I bet Sans is, as well.” Gaster turned to look at Sans and smiled. “Are you asleep over there?”

 

Sans raised his hand slightly and then rubbed the back of his skull. Gaster waded over to him and squatted down, holding a hand against the side of his head.

“How are you feeling?” he asked quietly. “Are you sure you wouldn’t like to join us?”

“I’m fine,” Sans said quietly.

“Sans, come on, why don’t you push some magic around with us? It’ll do you good!” Papyrus said.

“Nah,” he said.

“It could be fun?” he suggested, lowering is voice. “Papyrus would love to bounce some magic off you, I’m sure.”

Sans grinned slightly. “S’got you now, doesn’t he?”

Gaster’s eyes went wide.

“Don’t be embarrassed,” Alphys said. “I’ll d-do it, too, would that help?”

“You go ahead,” he said. He still hadn’t even opened his eyes.

 

He definitely dozed off and away from the water, because when roused himself, he saw snow. His cheek was on his fist as he slumped at the sentry station on the border of Snowdin. He sighed. He put his hand over his soul to check for anyone else, and felt something, but not what he’d expected. No Frisk or Asriel. Something else that he couldn’t quite place. The trees around him were obsidian, thorny, and twisted like warped antlers. He held out his right hand; it was missing a finger.

 

He wasn’t really surprised that it had happened again. So soon, though? It hadn’t even been a full day. He stretched his arms high above his head and popped his neck. Did he have enough energy to seek out any info about this place? See if someone else was in there with him? Did he even really want to know? His skull felt heavy; like something was leaking in. Monsters with proper noses has a word for it. Congested.

 

His soul drummed uncomfortably. He rested his cheek on his fist and closed his eyes. Maybe when he opened them again, he’d be awake for real.

 

He wasn’t. He saw himself working in the lab in a memory he didn’t recall, looking at machines that seemed familiar but he didn’t recognize. Feeling frustrated. Looking at a concentrating, scowling Gaster at another desk with such bitter resentment that he knew it couldn’t have been his own thoughts. Another blink of his eyes and everything was white and chilly.

 

He was standing down the street towards home, looking at the back of his sister as she stood out in the snow without a coat on. Sans could sense he was away from the other place, and also that that wasn’t really Frisk. It was an uncanny sensation. Always was. Especially with her, though.

 

The kid was shaking. Sans frowned sympathetically. He got a little closer and then stepped around her as she slumped forward with her face in her hands. Sans’s first reaction was to reach out to her, but when his hands met her shoulder, she didn’t react in the least.

“Kiddo?” he asked.

Nothing. He looked at his fingers. They were a little blue. That was weird. Maybe he wasn’t here, then?

 

He didn’t know where this fit. Past? No, not in her memories. She straightened up, blowing out a sigh and running her hands through her hair. She had such dark circles under her eyes, and she looked gaunt and ashy despite her dark skin. She looked like she’d been crying. He could still see the faint scar on her cheek. Future. Good to know. She couldn’t see him for whatever reason.

“Jeez, kiddo,” he said quietly.

 

Quickly, she perked up and whipped around as if a sound had caught her attention. He leaned around her and tried to follow her gaze. He saw nothing instead.

“Sans?” she asked. She looked spooked. She sighed and rubbed her head. “Okay. Okay okay. Get it together. Jeez.” She took another deep breath. “Okay, okay, stop crying, stop freaking out. Oh my god.” She wiped her eyes and then sat down heavily on the steps. “He’s fine. He’s gonna be fine. It’s gonna be okay.”

 

Sans tilted his head. He squatted before her, trying to read the pain on her face. “Who’s hurt, kiddo?” he wondered. Hoped it wasn’t Papyrus. Maybe it was dad. That made the most sense. He reached out for her and gently patted her head.

 

She wiped her eyes again. She suddenly lifted her head and looked off to the left. He followed her gaze to see Asriel booking it towards them from down the road. He skidded to a halt and sat down beside her, rubbing his hands over his face.

“I missed him, huh?” he said. “Sorry. It takes me a bit to get through one of the rips.”

Weird, Sans thought. Could he do that on his own? That was interesting.

“That’s okay,” she said.

“Did he say anything?” he asked.

 

The dream faded to fog and smoke and blustering snow. Sans awoke to Papyrus smiling into his face through sparkling, black water. 

“Aaaah, Sans!! That was so cool, did you see that?!” he demanded.

“Uh. Sorry, bro. Must’ve missed it,” he said.

“Aw. But my special attack!” He threw his arms up in the air. “It came through really well, though!!”

“Did for sure,” Undyne said, grinning and sticking her thumbs up.

Sans smiled. He could see their father— he looked so proud he might cry. He forced himself up and out of the waterfall, stretching it arms and shoulders. “Show me again, sometime, huh?”

“Yes, of course! Nyeh heh heh!! It was very impressive, if I do say so myself. Which I do,” Papyrus said, jabbing his thumb pointedly against his own chest.

 

They had dry clothes at Undyne’s place, which was probably good because everyone was a soggy mess by the time they dragged themselves out of the water. Gaster clearly felt better, though. His soul was still off key, but it didn’t sound quite as grating on the ears anymore. It was a good first step.

 

Sans kept an extra eye socket on him, though. He didn’t know who his dream had been about, but the only guy he could really rule out was Asriel. Alphys paid extra attention to him, too, giving him even more of those opera cakes even though she had just done so a little while ago. She was like a watchful mother hen. She had always been like that, though, Sans thought, observing from the piano bench with amusement as she fretted over him. Making sure he ate and drank enough, giving him some of his old gloves she’d fixed up to expose his fingers but also to cover the holes in his palms; slipping some mostly unnecessary healing goo into the cracks in his head. It was just like old times.

 

Sans let Papyrus carry him home, happy to sleepily listen to him chattering with their father on the way. The kids weren’t there when they got back, though. Instead, there was a note saying they’d gone to the Ruins. Normally, Sans could wait, but today he wasn’t willing.

 

He poked his head around the Ruins in a few spots and found Frisk sitting with Asriel and Kid, dangling their feet in the water and laughing about something as they munched on some donuts. That sense of normalcy was so nice to see but, for some reason, he was cold. He wanted… He wasn’t sure what he wanted. He was about to leave, but Frisk let out a subtle ping in her energy that felt like his and she whipped around. She grinned big and bright.

 

The kid stumbled upright and ran to him, greeting him with a hug as she always did. He squished her a little tighter than usual.

“Hey, hi! How was Waterfall?” she asked.

“Wet,” he said.

“Yeah, you’re all chilly!” She patted his face and grinned. “Kid wanted to explore. His parents said not too far this time, but maybe next time we’ll go down into the old city parts. Wanna come?”

Sans tilted his head. “You don’t wanna just spend time with your pals?”

“You’re my pal,” she said, her brow furrowing slightly.

“Yeah, Sans, we’d love for you to come,” Kid said brightly. “Plus, uh, my parents would feel a lot better if we went with a grown-up.”

“Even though I’m the one who knows the way around,” Asriel said teasingly.

“Well, you know, they’re pretty overprotective,” he said bashfully. “And we’re not like you guys. I mean, Flora’s a good sister and everything but it’s not like we always wanna hang out together.”

“Weird,” Asriel joked. He waved his hand. “Nah. I know. We’re the weird ones. We’re all codependent, we got PTSD and crap. It’s fine.”

“Peaty…?” Frisk repeated, puzzled.

Sans patted her head in reply and cut his eyes at Asriel. The goat kid grinned and shrugged.

 

On their way home, out of the Ruins and through the woods, Sans hung back a little. It seemed like Kid and Asriel were getting along pretty well. The innocent little yellow lizard seemed to get a kick out of how occasionally blunt and vulgar the Prince could be. They seemed to laugh a lot.

 

Frisk dropped back to join before he realized, smiling up at him. He raised his brows at her.

“So how’d it go?” she said.

“Dad’s still trash,” he said. “Paps is the opposite.”

“And you?” she said.

“Also trash,” he said.

“Did you do the energy whooshing thing?” she said.

“Nah. Waterfall stuff,” he said. “I, uh…” He frowned. Overrode his instinct to shut up about it. “Had a weird dream. Future stuff.”

“What?! Really?! Oh wow,” she said. “What did you see?”

“Not sure,” he said. “…Think someone got kinda sick. You looked upset.”

“Me?” Frisk frowned. “So… Anything I should watch out for?”

“Nah. Sorry. Not enough info,” he said. “But, uh… Asriel…”

“What? Did something happen to him?” she asked.

“Star hoppin’.” Sans shrugged. “Like you. Like dad.”

“What?!” She said it so loud that the others in front of them stopped.

“What?” Asriel asked.

She grinned. “Az, we gotta try a cool thing later.”

“Well, okay,” he said, raising his brows.

 

After they dropped Kid off, Frisk dragged Asriel back towards the inn and the shining starlight that sat outside it. She touched it quickly to lock the timeline.

“Okay, so, like, I can go through them, right? Sans said he had a dream where you could, too, and that makes a ton of sense, actually. So, wanna try?” She grinned brightly.

“What?! Um. Really?” He looked at Sans with wide eyes.

The skeleton replied with a shrug and a nod. Asriel’s ears perked a little.

“Hey. Cool. Useful paradox, then. I dig it.” He stuck his hand into the light and his eyes glazed. “Oh. Hey. Okay. Been meaning to go to the tree, actually. Gimme a minute.” His soul pulsed bright red and then he vanished.

Frisk yelped, eyes wide, but she quickly grinned and clapped her hands together. “It actually worked!!”

 

Sans plopped them both into the Ruins, out front of Toriel’s old house. Amongst the purple stone, starlight glittered in a patch of stark, red leaves. No Asriel, though.

“Um, where is he?” Frisk asked.

“Give him a few,” Sans suggested.

The kid nodded. She stretched and wandered down the path a little ways towards the tall, blackened tree surrounded by more of its fallen leaves. Sans sighed tiredly and slumped against the stone wall to their left. When she came back, dry foliage crunching under her sneakers, she slid up beside him and smiled sympathetically.

“You feelin’ a little low, bro?” she asked.

“That’s the nature of bein’ under five foot, kiddo,” he said with a wink.

She snickered and gave him a hug. “Well. Okay. But, like, let me know if you’re feelin’ weird, okay?”

“Why, I lookin’ weirder than usual?” he asked.

“I dunno, you just feel…” She looked up at him with a puzzled tilt in her brow. “Heavy? Does that… make sense?”

“Eh, s’not so bad, just a few rough nights pilin’ up in here.” He tapped the side of his head. “No big deal.”

“Hmmm…” Frisk looked at him skeptically. She stretched, cracked her knuckles, and then shot him a tired smile. “Well. Okay.” She jerked her thumb at the starlight. “This is super cool. I hope it works. Hey, if it doesn’t, think I can just hop in there and drag him out?”

“Who knows?”

 

Frisk stared at the light curiously. She leaned back and folded her arms. “Hey Sans? Can I tell you something really really weird?”

“Mhm.”

“So, um. Uhh…” She rubbed her head. “It’s… Do, um…? Do you think maybe time stuff happened to monsters other than dad? Because, uh, turned out Kid had a sister I’m pretty sure didn’t exist like a day ago. An older sister.”

“Uh. Huh.” Sans raised his brows. “You sure?”

“Yeah, before he always said his family was his mom, dad, him, and Daisy. And today I met Flora and she… like… talked like she knew me and stuff?” She shrugged. “And Kid said that she picks him up from over here all the time, and that I met her at the play. I kinda think maybe a time thing happened. Whaaat, um…? What do you think?”

Sans tapped his teeth thoughtfully. “Huh. Well. You know, it could be.”

“Could be? That’s it?” she asked, her brow furrowed.  “Do you remember her?”

“Kinda. A little,” he said. “I mean. In passin’, y’know? But I see what you mean. There’s a haze.”

“Right?!” she said.

 

Sans took a step back, grabbed Frisk, and moved her with him. A second later, the tear in time flashed and Asriel dropped heavily into the leaves, sending some upwards in a pomf. He sputtered and laughed disbelievingly, and stuck his fists up and cheered.

“Aaaah, oh wow. Shit. I love that.” He tried to heave himself upright and fell heavily. “Ah. Never mind. I hate that.”

“Oh wow, you okay?” Frisk asked. She knelt to grab his arm.

He laughed, his breath rasping, and he coughed and sneezed, his fur bristling. He wiped his snout and draped himself around Frisk. “Yeah. I’m fine. Wow. What a trip. I kinda didn’t expect that to work.”

Sans knelt down and patted the kid’s head. “Hey. One step closer to havin’ to, uh, take less steps.”

“Pffft. Guess you’re right. Unlocked fast-travel, fantastic. ” He staggered to his feet with Frisk’s help. He had to grab her shoulders to keep himself upright. “Jeez.”

“You sure you’re okay?” she asked.

“Yeah. I’m fine.” He laughed and wrapped her in a hug. “Thanks.”

 

When he pulled back, he turned his head towards the tree. A faint, tired smile crossed his face. “You guys can leave, if you want.”

“I don’t mind,” Frisk assured him.

His ears perked, and he looked quickly at Sans. The skeleton had plunked down into the leaves and taken to supporting the outside of Toriel’s house. He’d dozed off. Asriel smirked.

“Can’t leave him alone for a second, huh?” he said, shaking his head.

 

He prowled around the barren tree to the other side. Someone had left fresh flowers in a small, glass vase up against the trunk. He took a deep breath and walked up towards the gnarled old roots. Frisk followed quietly. She darted ahead and picked up the vase carefully. She moved it around to the other side of the tree, just out of sight.

 

Asriel patted her gratefully on the shoulder when she joined him again. He sat on his knees and brushed some of the red away to reveal a small, wooden box nestled at the base of the trunk. The top was carved with the Delta Rune and polished so it shone. Frisk sat down beside him and he scooted a little closer to her. He flipped open the lid and his own hum, played on the tuned, metal lamellae inside, began to ting out slowly. He sighed.

“Wish we’d heard hers,” he said quietly.

 

Inside the box rested a golden locket shaped like a heart and nothing more. Asriel fished in his pocket and pulled out a chocolate bar. Human make, with a foil and red wrapper. He lifted the locket and laid down the candy before replacing it gently. He closed the lid and the tune stopped abruptly

 

Replacing the music box right where he’d got it, he carefully covered it with the bright red leaves and then leaned back, looking up at the dark branches that reached for the roof of the cave in vain. He grabbed Frisk’s hand and squeezed it.

“Thanks,” he said.

“Yeah, of course,” she assured him. “It’s been a little bit, feels like.”

“Month and a half.” He laughed dryly at himself. “Dunno why I bother.”

“I do,” Frisk said.

Asriel flinched. He gulped hard. His grip tightened and his voice rasped a little. “It’s just us, now.”

She offered him a hug. He took it eagerly. He sighed and rested his chin on her shoulder.

“I’ll come with you as many times as you want,” she said.

“I know.”

 

He drew away, huffed, and then flopped back in the leaves. Frisk copied him, resting her arms behind her head. He stared up at the branches and settled in, folding his hands on his chest. It was strangely comfortable.

“Hey. Look.” Frisk pointed up to one of the spindly twigs that stretched out above them. “Is it actually trying to grow something?”

Asriel squinted. Looked like she was right. A tiny speck of a red leaf budding from way up there.

“Hasn’t done that in a while,” he said. “Funny.”

“I guess it doesn’t do so good without sunlight, huh?” she mused.

“It’s supposed to be dead,” he said with a laugh. “So I guess this is better than I thought.”

 

They stayed a while, though Asriel poked Frisk up before she could fall asleep. After she replaced the flowers, they grabbed Sans and, as one more test, zoomed home through the tear in time and landed in the attic. Again, it took Asriel just a few minutes longer, but he plunked out of the light onto the wood floor with a laugh and a groan without any incident more than the fall itself.

 

As Frisk helped him up, hurried, thumping steps ran beneath them and the ladder up to the attic was yanked down by magic hands. Gaster heaved himself up with a worried look on his face.

“Did something happen?” he asked.

“Az can go through the time things, too,” Frisk said brightly.

Gaster gawked. He put a hand to his soul. “R… Really?”

“Yup. Stole your kid’s soul, so…” Asriel thumped Frisk affectionately on the shoulder. “You’re just really dedicated to making me OP as hell, huh?”

“I don’t mind,” she said.

“Wait, so… because a note of Frisk’s soul is in yours…?” Gaster tilted his head and carefully reached out to the boy to touch on his soul. “Oh. Ohh. I… I see.”

“What?” Frisk asked curiously.

“His soul is made up of many, right? It’s interesting. You don’t hear the others. The energy—”

“Fused through solidarity, the determination took over, and my hum came back but better,” Asriel said with a grin. “We know. Alph was really into studying it. Could you tell all that just by touching it?”

“Ah… I could.” He grinned sheepishly. “Do you happen to know if she recorded it all or—?”

“Who d’you think you’re talkin’ about?” Sans said with a laugh. “Just ask, she’ll tell you everything. For hours. And. Hours.”

Gaster snickered and massaged around his eye sockets with his fingertips. “I should have guessed.” He reached for Asriel’s shoulder and tilted his head. “And how do you feel?”

“Great. Like I got hit by a train,” he said with a laugh. “Don’t worry.”

“Lemme make you something. We can dump you on Paps,” Frisk said.

“That’s a good idea,” he said.

 

They left down the ladder. Sans didn’t look like he had any intention of following. The grey around his eye sockets seemed to darken. He rubbed his brow lethargically. His father stood and held up his hands as if asking him to pause.

“Sans. If it’s alright? I’d like to talk to you,” he said.

“Hm? Uh. Sure,” Sans said. “What about?”

“Well. It’s… something you said earlier,” he said. “I’m… I’m a little worried about you.”

“Uh.” Sans grinned sideways. “Why?”

Gaster tented his fingers, the tips resting lightly against each other as his brows adopted a cautious tilt. “I can almost hear it. But I know you’d never ask. They need you. You are what I could never be, do you understand?”

“Nnnno?” Sans said.

 

Gaster sighed. He sat down on a box and interlocked his fingers, grimacing thoughtfully. “Let me tell you something. Do… Do you remember…? Maybe you were too young. But, when you were a baby, I… I had no idea what to do with you. You came from out of the blue. And after what happened when you were born, I hated being separated from you. I didn’t even leave you with Asgore so much. But I was a mess. I had never even imagined being a parent myself, and yet, there you were. This tiny, perfect little being that I…” He had to cough. “Anyway, it took you quite a long time before you began to talk. I think it was mostly because you felt like you didn’t have to. And, to be fair, you weren’t wrong, but… Your first sentence… Do you recall?”

“Can’t say I do,” he said, raising one brow inquisitively.

“I was keeping you with me as I worked. Up late nights, as you do. And you’d sit up on my counter, and watch, and I could swear you were starting to understand, even then. And that’s where you said your first sentence, too. At one in the morning, you grabbed me as I was working on some project for the fifth night in a row, and you told me to go to bed.”

“Sounds like me,” Sans said.

Gaster smiled fondly. “You were better at keeping track of how I was feeling than I was.” His shoulders slumped and his expression turned melancholy. “I should’ve been a better father. I know I wasn’t the greatest.”

“Eh, you were fine,” Sans said with a shrug.

“But it shouldn’t have been an infant telling me to go to bed. It shouldn’t have been a five year old patching up my broken bones, a seven year old teaching himself algebra; a thirteen year old raising his brother.”

Sans frowned. “It’s not like you weren’t there. What’re you gettin’ at?”

“What I’m getting at is that you are not only necessary, but very much wanted,” he said. “I’ve seen you taking small steps back. And your dreams— you’re worried about the feedback loops. I understand. But, please, you have to ignore that feeling.”

An uncertainty flickered across Sans’s face. He shrugged. “You’re their dad.”

“But I was never the one that taught Papyrus everything he knows. I was not the one that did the same for Frisk. I could not be there for them. That was you. I may be their father, but it was you who guided them through so much. So. Please. Don’t change a thing.”

 

Sans stared at his father blankly for a few long, heavy seconds. He smiled slightly and scratched his cheek. “Whew.”

“Whew?” Gaster laughed. “I thought that that was very heartfelt! Was that too much?”

“Guess maybe you’re a little better than you gave yourself credit for.” Sans winked. “I’m, uh… Nah. I gotcha. Don’t worry about me. You’re not wrong.”

“Thank god.” He gave Sans a hug and blew out a long sigh. “Because I’m a bloody wreck.”

“What else is new?” Sans thumped him on the shoulder. “S’all good.”

 

Downstairs, Asriel was loudly cracking up as Toriel, sitting on the side table, looked amused but embarrassed.

“Alright, alright,” she said. “I see your point.”

Asriel grinned. He was sitting with Papyrus, clutching a mug of spiced cocoa and having his ears brushed, and trying not to look overwhelmingly smug. Toriel sighed.

“What am I going to do with you?” she said.

“Iunno.” He shrugged in an exaggerated sort of way. His eyes darted to the incoming skeletons and he smiled. “Hey. Un-grounded.”

Gaster froze up for a moment. Sans didn’t even bother with the stairs and went to the kitchen. Frisk was there and, though she jumped, she grinned when she saw him.

 

He put a hand on her head and ruffled her hair. “Hey. Uh. Didn’t mention. But I saw the other place again. Just for a sec. So. I figure we’ll probably be doin’ that dumb adventure a few more times.”

“Oh weird! Okay.” She tilted her head. “Does it freak you out? Is that why you didn’t…?”

“Yeah. Sorry.”

“That’s okay, me too,” she said.

 

He grinned fondly. It hurt a bit. Always did to hear about something scaring his kid sister. But, he reminded himself, it was okay for them to work together on this. It was okay for them to be a team, like she always said. He’d keep repeating that to himself until he passed out.

Chapter Text

 

That night, after everyone else had fallen asleep, Frisk was still up with a lot on her mind. The only downside to having Gaster around now was not having the living room to mope around in. Instead, she curled up between boxes up in the attic with her journal and quietly scribbled in it by the light of a tear in time. She wrote about the new dreams, and the new powers, Gaster’s arrival, and about Flora. With all of it happening at once, she was sure there was some connection. Had to be. It was too strange otherwise. Sometimes, just getting it all on the page helped to sort it out.

 

At the moment, the issue of Flora troubled her the most. Sans’s memories of the CORE rupturing were as fractured as her thoughts. What little there was didn’t feel like him— it was more like the memory of something he’d seen on TV. Did it erupt? Explode? It had happened in that chamber, as far down as a monster could go, right? But the spire went up through the mountain, and the magma reached far above that. So did something burst outside that chamber, too? How else would Flora have been effected? How old was Flora, anyway? When had she been yanked away?

 

Frisk tapped her pen on her notebook. Could there be more monsters who were gone? More who’d come back? She hadn’t met every monster that lived underground, though. She didn’t know if she could ever answer the question. She wrote down to ask Gaster about it.

 

Her fingers hesitated on the page, red ink dotting heavily in one spot before she pulled it back. Her hand felt stiff writing the word “dad” on the paper. She read it over and over again until it looked like gibberish. “Ask dad”. Underlined it. She smiled to herself. He was just downstairs. Real and solid and settling right in.

 

She went back to writing, though her eyelids were getting heavy. Before she knew it, she was blinking awake, rubbing her eyes at the sound of a hissing whisper.

“Psssst. Pssssssst. Little sister? It’s your coolest and tallest brother Papyrus, are you up heeeeere?”

“Mhm. Yeah,” she said quietly. She coughed to clear her throat and then stuck her hand up so he could find her past the boxes and the treadmill.

 

Bright-eyed, he leaned around a pillar of cardboard, then grabbed half of it to set it aside. He sat down on the smooth wooden floor and scooted over, tilting his head. “Are you doing okay? Why are you up here?”

She held out her journal. He took it hesitantly and looked her up and down. She stuck her thumbs up. He grinned and lifted her in his magic, pushing himself over into her spot. He let her down on his leg and held her with one hand as he held the book with the other.

 

She fell asleep again until he squeezed her gently into a magic-charged hug. She blinked heavily and patted his arm.

“Are you awake enough to talk?” he asked.

“…Yeah.” She rubbed her eyes and smiled up at him. “You read the whole thing?”

“Yes. Yes, definitely. Your spelling is getting better. It’s just… Nyehhh…” He jokingly squished her head. “There’s so much going on in this little space, isn’t there!”

“Hah, yeah, I guess so,” she said.

“What did you make of that dream in the weird place, with the weird Papyrus?” he said. “He wasn’t cooler than me, right? Impossible! Right?”

“Bro, you’re the coolest, you already know that.” She smiled up at him sleepily. “You’re such a goof. Don’t worry.”

“What?! No! It’s just…” He tapped his fingertips together. “I mean. If I were less cool of a brother. I might, um… I might worry that… Maybe these last few days have been kind of rough. And maybe I wasn’t as helpful as I could have been when things were happening and a certain little sister was going on weird time adventures. Nyeh. Heh. Heh…”

Frisk smiled sympathetically. “Man. Don’t worry about that.”

“Well, I mean, I know that almost everything that happened was objectively good, but still…” He frowned. “You didn’t want me to come to meet the humans with you. Did you?”

“Whaaaat? What do you mean?” She grinned sideways but couldn’t even attempt to keep it up when he raised his brows skeptically. “Oof. Um. No. I… I guess I didn’t. But it’s not… I mean. It’s not like…” She rubbed her head and puffed. “Okay. Listen. I had a future dream, right? The one I was worried about. And this is gonna be hard to hear, but you and mom both died in it. There was a misunderstanding with the human guy and he kinda flipped out. Still not sure why, don’t really care, honestly. What matters is I didn’t want either of you anywhere near him.”

“Wait, didn’t he turn out to be nice, though?” he asked.

“Yeah, but that didn’t really matter,” she said.

“Why didn’t you just tell me that?” he asked with a laugh. “Gosh, little sister.”

“Because… I dunno. You always wanna be there for me,” she said. “Which, honestly, is like the nicest thing ever. And I love that about you. But I couldn’t… I couldn’t let you remember that.”

“But. Wait. I don’t understand,” he said. “You have to remember it, though.”

“I can’t help it,” she said with a tired grin. “I’m used to it now. But the first time… Seriously. You don’t wanna. I promise, you don’t wanna.”

“But, I mean, I do remember that it happened to me before, when it was just me and Sans.” He tapped his chin. “Though. You are right, I don’t exactly remember right at the moment of… Nyeh heh heh!! Wow, that’s really super morbid, isn’t it?” He rubbed the back of his skull. “But, honestly, you shouldn’t have to be doing so much worrying about me! I’m the big brother here, after all!”

“I know. I know.” She hugged him around his ribs. “Hey. You missed it before, but, you wanna see the forest?”

He leaned closer, eyes wide. “Can we do that?”

 

Frisk took him to the tear in time that glimmered on the other side of the room. She grabbed his hand. “This made Undyne feel a little sick, just to warn you. I, um, don’t actually know how any of this works, but… We’ll see.”

“Oh! Okay, but…” He reached out and carefully touched the light himself. He winced in anticipation. Very quickly, his face relaxed and he grinned at Frisk. “Hey! I didn’t start crying this time!”

“Sorry about that,” she said with a laugh. “I guess whatever of me was out there was a bit rough, huh?”

“That’s okay! It still sounds like you, though,” he said brightly. “Okay! Show me.”

She touched the light, held the world solid, and then focused through to that place again.

 

All colour shifted to blue as grass spread out before them and the waning moon glowed bright, a silvery crescent high above them in the clear sky, surrounded by a blanket of stars. Insects buzzed gently in the air and a refreshing breeze rustled the plants around them. Papyrus squawked loudly and spun in place. He lifted Frisk up under her arms and stared her in the face.

“Could you always do that?!” he demanded. “Where are we?!”

“Dunno!” she said. “Cool, though, right?”

“Um! YES!” He stared upwards, his eyes glowing faintly. “Oh wow. It’s so clear, here. You can see the stars so well!” He sat back in the grass and turned his face upwards. The moonlight made his bones shine.

 

Frisk plunked down with him and leaned back.

“So where is this?” Papyrus asked.

“No clue,” she said. “Monsters lived around here once, though.”

“Wowie. Really? I wonder why an opening lead here. Maybe that’s why?”

She shrugged. Papyrus wiggled his toes. Then, he jumped to his feet so abruptly that Frisk toppled back, startled.

“Hey!” he said brightly. “Little sister!! Let’s go exploring!”

“What? Right now?” she asked.

“Yes right now!” He beamed. “Come on, you said monsters lived here, right? There has to be some interesting stuff around, right? We could see that statue you wrote about, couldn’t we?” He reached out and patted her head when her brow furrowed. “Don’t worry! If we get too lost or something, we can just go back in time.”

“I guess so,” she said.

“Fantastic!”

 

She pointed him in the direction of the statue and he took off. He was already out of sight before Frisk reached the bushes, but he quickly doubled back, grinning, and he grabbed her by the hand and lead her through the trees.

 

True to form, he quickly found the statue she’d mentioned. He darted all around it, touching it with careful fingers, measuring himself up against it; even climbing to the top of it to take a look around. Frisk was just worried about stepping on a snake. The twigs and plants beneath her bare feet weren’t exactly the most comfortable, either. Her feet had gotten a lot weaker since she’d started regularly wearing shoes. Maybe that wasn’t so bad. Except for right now, of course.

 

When Papyrus came back to earth, hands on his hips and looking rather proud of himself, he shot a glance off through the trees and then levelled a finger in a direction that didn’t look too different from any other.

“I say we go that way!” he announced. “I have a good feeling about it!” He took her hand and walked with her for a few paces before changing his mind and scooping her up, helping her up onto his shoulders. “Maybe we can see the mountain from here if we go a little farther!”

“We’re too far,” she said. “You can’t see it at all.”

“What?! Really?! How can you tell?” he asked.

“Undyne climbed a tree,” she said.

“What?! Oh! That’s a good idea.” He was up in the branches of the nearest, thick tree in an instant. “Hang on tight!”

 

He clambered up and Frisk clung, white-knuckled, to his shirt and scarf. He surveyed the area and his jaw dropped.

“Weird, right?” Frisk said.

“Nyeh! What the heck? Where are we, then?! Oh. Wait. You don’t know. Um.” He put one hand up to his eyes. “Hey! Do you see that?” He pointed out into the distance to a spot where the trees gave. “Want to go over there?”

Frisk squinted. She recalled the stone something she’d seen the first time they were there, in the daylight. It looked really far away, though. Then again, she wasn’t the one who’d have to do the walking. “If you want to. I’m kinda curious.”

“Nyeh heh heh! Good! We’ll have a little adventure! I can see it from here, so it can’t be too far!” He let himself slide down the trunk and bounced back to the ground. “It’ll be a nice walk! Or run! You can sleep up there, though, if you want! I won’t mind.”

“I’ll try to stay up,” she said with a laugh. “Not too hard where I am.”

“Ugh, Frisk!” He rubbed his face. “You really do take after Sans, don’t you? But less lazy.”

 

Papyrus strode with confidence through the dark forest, skipping over a little brook and hopping over felled, ancient trees. Even so, he never deviated from the path. No, he was sure he knew where he was going. Something in his bones told him what was the right way. Frisk wasn’t sure if that was just a saying or not, but he insisted it was more literal than that. Something was drawing him to that crumbling place. It probably had magic in its stones, too, just like the statue of the ancient monster King that resembled Asgore.

 

Frisk almost dozed off, her mind only snapping back into focus when she realized Papyrus was talking to her. “Hm…? Sorry, what?”

“Friiiiisk, did you fall asleep?” he teased.

“Um. Yeah.”

He scoffed and snickered. “Like I was saying! It’s so weird that we haven’t run into anybody, don’t you think?”

“It’s like two in the morning out here, bro,” she said with a laugh. “In the middle of nowhere.”

“No, I know, it’s just… I guess this whole outside thing is really a lot bigger than I realized. I mean. We had our town. And then the beach and the ocean. And then the big city. But nobody lives here?”

“The world is super big,” Frisk said. “There’s a ton of places nobody lives in at all.”

“Oh! So there’s plenty of room for monsters anywhere, then!” he said. “I mean, there’s not all that many of us.”

“Mmhm,” she said.

“But I like where we are,” he said.

“Me too.”

 

Heat prickled along the backs of her ears. She perked up and peeked around. Papyrus ducked to pass below a low hanging branch and she hurriedly copied him so as not to get beaned.  The rustling of the foliage formed a rhythm in her mind, the wind like a distant flute. Frisk tapped on her brother’s head and he stopped and leaned back a little.

“Yeeeeesss?” he said.

“Do you…? Do you hear that?” she asked.

“What?” he asked.

She shushed him and they stood in the quiet night for a little while. The sounds itched the back of the kid’s head. Papyrus edged forward, his bare toes clicking against some stones beneath his feet.

“Ooh.” His soul flickered. “I think that’s some magic drifting around.”

“Me too,” Frisk said.

 

Excited, the skeleton picked up the pace. Though the sounds didn’t get louder, the tingling got a little stronger.

 

The moonlight was trapped high above by leafy boughs, and the forest got deeper and darker the farther they walked. Even so, Frisk felt utterly secure. Papyrus lit his eyes, and though it wasn’t much, the shimmer of amber was enough to pick out the ridges of tree trunks and the muddle of bushes he stepped over.

“This is nice,” Frisk said quietly.

“Oh! You’re having a good time? Nyeh heh! Me too!” he said. “I like a nice long walk sometimes! And with a mysterious destination, out in the dark woods, on a chilly night like this? It’s great!”

Frisk snickered.

 

The trees began to press closer together as they approached what seemed to be the edge out towards large mounds that may have the stones they were looking for. Papyrus took Frisk off his shoulders and into his arms and sidled sideways out of the forest. Suddenly, silver moonlight lit upon a crumbling wall of stones like a spotlight.

 

Excited, Papyrus bounded up to the wall and put Frisk on it as he leaned over the top to survey the place. Beyond them, in ruins, worn down by wind and rain, was a castle partially in rubble, a crippled tower and more walls caved in around it. Much had been retaken by greenery. Leaves on the vines cradling the walls carried a moonlit sheen and a scattered bunch of flowers that shone pale blue speckled the ground near a sloping entrance.

 

“Oh wow,” Frisk breathed. She slipped off the wall and her feet met grass much softer than she expected on the other side. “Dude, look at this.”

“What a find!” Papyrus vaulted over and stood on his toes. “Ooh! What’s this?” He took Frisk’s hand and raced over to a squarish block. “This looks like something, doesn’t it? A puzzle, maybe?”

Frisk stared up at the hunk of stone. She put her hands on it and stood up taller. She climbed up and sat on the top of it. From there, she could see the ground and more stones embedded deep in, almost completely overgrown with that same soft grass. She also noticed something else— a strange shape on a similar block, off in the shadows of one of the broken walls. She turned to her side and gently felt through the vines. She could see there were chunks of stone that almost looked like the bottom of a shoe.

“It was a statue,” she said. “It’s broken, though.”

“Hm? Oh!” Papyrus seemed to see what she had and then dashed over to the other one. “Oh!! You should come see this! It’s very cool.”

 

Frisk slipped to the ground again and moved to join him. He grinned wide and gestured to the statue as if he’d carved it himself. It was a horse. Aged and rough and covered in vines, but still standing proudly on all four hooves. The kid felt a thunk deep inside her.

“Um. Hey. Whose place do you think this was?” she asked.

“I have no idea! Someone who liked… this thing! What is this?” he asked.

“A horse,” she said.

“Oh! A horse! Okay. I’ve never seen one on four legs before!” he said. “Interesting! Do you think horses lived here?”

“At least one,” she said with a smile.

“Wowie. That’s interesting,” he said. “Hey. Do you think we can get inside there? Come on!”

 

Papyrus dashed towards the dark opening of the largest structure, bouncing through the grass to avoid the blue flowers. He waved at Frisk to follow him. She was careful not to step on anything, too.

 

There wasn’t actually anything blocking the doorway into the ruins. Maybe there once had been— there was some metal that looked like hinges and some broken wood. There was a scuffed, threadbare carpet beneath their feet, dusted with mud, faded in spots, and entwined with creeping vegetation. Beyond that, they couldn’t see a thing.

 

Papyrus lit his eyes again, but it wasn’t much help. He laid his palm against the wall and crept forward a hesitant few steps. A groove in the wall revealed a metal sconce, two spiralling bands that crossed each other until they formed a cone. The skeleton touched it and it let out a strangely melodic sound against his finger. Magic swelled. Frisk yelped and hopped back, holding onto her brother’s leg as the sconce leeched some energy from his hand and brightened with an amber flame.

“What the heck?” He poked the metal cautiously.

Abruptly, the whole hall lit up, flames in the colour of his magic rushing along the walls and concentrating in more spiral holders.

“Oh wow,” Frisk said, eyes wide. “That’s nuts!”

 

The skeleton scooped her up and held her up to the flame. “You try.”

She looked back at him with raised brows, and he gave her an insistent nod. She gently touched the sconce and the flame burst bright. He yelped and pulled her back, just as the amber was dyed deep red. When the flame didn’t stir again, he grinned.

“This must be where a monster lived, then!” he said. “Maybe a horse monster?”

“Could be,” Frisk said.

 

Papyrus strode down the hallway along the red rug without an ounce of trepidation. They passed two grooves in the walls opposite each other where something had once stood. Statues again, probably. There was only rubble and a vague shape of feet left there.

 

Through the hallway, the fires lead them into a small room. Braziers near the door lit with the same amber fire. Objects in here hadn’t weathered like things farther out, but the whole place was in disarray.  Long, wooden tables were upended and chairs lay strewn about with broken legs. At the back end of the room, though, still stood a larger seat made in stone, the arms and legs carved with distinct, spiralling markings. It had a chunk cut from the side of it. The walls were scarred with puncture marks.

“Nyoo… This… looks a little less good,” Papyrus remarked. “Look at this mess. Ugh.”

Frisk’s chest got heavy. Something bad happened here. She wandered up to the throne and took it in. The polished, pale stone was carved with intricate, knotted patterns and spirals. Some of them formed bones. She bit her lip. Carefully, she clambered up onto a purple cushion. She could see empty sockets on either arm of the chair. Cautiously, she reached up and touched the broken chunk.

 

Her vision flashed over with red. She saw the light change to orange, her mind rushed, and she saw a strike of bone. She reeled back and fell onto the ground with a grunt. Papyrus was at her side in an instant, helping her up.

“Are you okay?!” he demanded. “What happened?”

“I… saw something,” she squeaked. She pointed up at the gash in the rock. “A bone.”

“A bone?” Papyrus perked up and he got to his feet, leaning in over the throne curiously. “A skeleton was here?”

“A… A l-long time ago,” she said. “I guess m-maybe the energy was really strong.”

“Must’ve been!” he said.

Frisk felt a chill of dread prickle her skin.

 

The door to the next room had been battered off its hinges, which really did not help. The flames led down a short hallway and to another open threshold. Frisk peeked in and stepped cautiously over the old planks of wood. On the wall, between two of the sconces, hung a large tapestry, a little faded but still mostly intact. The story woven on it seemed to be one of skeletons. Famers and knights, horses and dogs, working together, growing trees covered in pink blossoms. The figures that stood out the most were three skeletons in the centre of the image that seemed to be surveying everything protectively. One in the middle, the tallest, in blue armour with lyre horns stood proudly, and beside her were, presumably, knights: a short skeleton with a big grin and small, triangular horns, and a tall one with a serious face and bigger horns, holding a bone spear and shield.

“Oh dang,” she said.

“What?” Papyrus stalled where she had. His jaw dropped. “Oh. My. God. Is this…?!” He gently put his hands on the cloth and leaned in close. His touch brushed dust away, leaving the colours brighter. “Oh wow!! Look at them all! Do you think these were real skeletons? Or just fictional skeletons for the sake of the picture? Oh!! Look! This one’s sort of round, like Sans!” His finger traced between a shorter skeleton that was depicted petting a dog and a skeleton with a mohawk of spikes who rode on the back of a brown pony. “And this one, look at those spines! And this one has horns!” He pointed to the one in the centre of the tapestry. “How weird!!”

“Avenir had horns,” she said.

“A… Avenir? Wait. Dad told you about…?!” His eyes shimmered like stars and he squealed excitedly and scooped her up into a tight hug. “Nyeh heh heh! Oh! That’s good progress, actually. Hm.” He held her in the crook of his arm. “So do you think skeletons lived here? Or maybe just some fans of skeletons?”

“Probably skeletons,” she said. “I think that one in the middle, that could even be Avenir, maybe.”

“You really think so?!” Papyrus looked thoughtful. “Well, I mean. She was a very important skeleton, actually, so that could be right! Ooh. So. Maybe some of these might be our distant cousins.”

“Cousins?” Frisk tilted her head. “Dad said he didn’t have any brothers or sisters though.”

“Oh. Yes. Right,” he said. “Too bad! Imagine being an only child?”

“Don’t have to imagine,” Frisk said.

He snuggled her reassuringly. “But never again, though!”

 

Frisk was warmed to the core. Her gaze lingered on the old, woven pictures, and she looked up at her brother curiously. “So, like, you remember a bunch about skeletons, now, right?”

“What?” He looked thoroughly puzzled.

“Well, you guys seemed not to before dad got back, right?” she asked.

“HMMM.” Papyrus cupped his chin and tapped his foot. “Well. Actually. Yes?”

“And mom didn’t either. Remember? You guys had to explain your emotion magic stuff to her a couple times and she always said she didn’t know much about skeletons. But that doesn’t make sense, if she was such good friends with dad and is also super old, right?” she pushed. “You think she remembers, now?”

“HmmMMMM. So all remaining skeleton facts were erased with dad?! That’s pretty dismal,” Papyrus said. “Maybe it was just… the ones people learned from him? I don’t know, honestly. Because other facts I learned from him didn’t vanish, but then again, they weren’t actually facts about him, were they?” He started along the carpet towards the upcoming threshold, frowning to himself. “Ugh, I wish all this timey-wimey-woowoo stuff was more consistent, I can’t keep up sometimes.”

“Same, though,” Frisk said.

Papyrus laughed. “Nyeh heh! That makes me feel a bit better, to be honest.”

 

The next room was damaged, too. Battered bookshelves lined its walls, and there was another, open-centred level above them with yet more bookshelves rimming it. Intricate red carpets covered flagstones. The place smelled of warm ash, pine sap, and musty paper. A stone hearth beside a set of cushy, large pillows began to burn bright with amber fire. Despite the broken table, toppled chairs, and scattered books close to them, the place was cozy and warm.

 

Frisk skimmed the room curiously. “Huh,” she said, brow furrowing.

“What?” Papyrus asked. “Is something wrong?”

“Well, it’s just… I dreamt a place a while ago that looked a lot like this,” she said. “But… It for sure wasn’t this place.”

“Oh! How weird,” he said.

 

He gently put Frisk back down and went to inspect a bookshelf. Some of the books, though clearly old, looked rather pristine, while others were decrepit— just tattered, ratty covers with colours fading to grey slumped awkwardly onto the shelves. As he poked about with the tomes, Frisk noticed something else. One of the shelves was split straight down the middle. She crept up to it and cautiously touched the splintered wood. Red caught in her eyes again and she saw a sudden massive wall of bones slam into the shelf.

 

With a yelp, she stumbled back. Papyrus shot her a worried look.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“I… I, um…” She glanced to the other side of the room. She could see parallel cracks in the stone. She gulped. “I saw more bones.”

“Oh?! Wowie, that’s interesting,” he said. He took a step back and put his hands on his hips. His eyes skimmed the room overall. “Huh. I… suppose there was a fight in here?”

“I think in the whole castle,” she said.

“Ooh. You know! I bet! You’d be very helpful at any old ruins, don’t you think? If there was strong magic in it? That’s really neat.”

“Yeah, but I keep scaring myself by accident,” she said with a sheepish smile.

He snickered and patted her head. “You’ll be just fine, I’m sure of it. Hey! That means you’d be a great, um… What do you call it? Archeologist!”

“I guess that’s true,” she said.

He lit right up and grabbed her around the shoulders. “Imagine it! If people had a history question, you could just come right in and answer it because you can see it! That’s really amazing.”

 

He squatted down and ran his fingertips along the rough edges of the wood until he tapped something metal near the bottom. He ducked down and found a box pressed up near the shattered edge. Frisk leaned in curiously over his shoulder as he lifted a dented, dark metal case.

“Oooh, mysterious,” he said. He tried to open it, but it was stuck tight. He reached into the front of his shirt and pulled out his small gadget knife and held it up. “Do you think it’ll have an un-sticker?”

“Umm… Probably? Unless that’s a box with a magic lock or something?” she said, slumping over his shoulder. “You can probably just use the knife part. Or the nail file.”

He flipped out the blade and wedged it in between the two bits of metal and, with just a tiny bit of pressure, it popped and released. With a grin, he clipped his gadget closed again and dropped it down his front. He waved Frisk in a little closer and opened up the box.

 

Inside rested a polished, pale wooden cube, segmented and dotted with symbols, not unlike the Rubick’s cube he had back at home. It wasn’t colourful though, and had many more rows of small blocks connected to each other. Some didn’t have a symbol on them at all.

“Is that a weird magic block or something?” Frisk asked curiously.

“Ummm… Nyeeehhh I’m not sure, actually,” he said, lifting it up and turning it over in his hands. He twisted a row of symbols and, to their surprise, the ones he’d touched lit up with the colour of his magic. “Oh! Wowie, would you look at that?!”

“Oh, that’s cool!” Frisk said.

He passed it back to her. She peered at it close as the symbols dyed her with a firelit glow.

“I’ve never seen symbols like this, have you?” she asked, running her fingers over them. “Oh. Uh. Oops. You don’t think this might be like, a spell or something?”

“Oh! No no, it feels very weak, actually,” he assured her, looking back over his shoulder. “I think maybe it’s a puzzle! Maybe it opens something?”

 

Frisk let out a quiet hmm and then stood back a little, her focus on the cube. She looked around, but it wasn’t as if some door had popped open, and nothing else was echoing Papyrus’s soul.

“Maybe it’s just a game,” she said.

“Ooh, do you think it’d be okay if we took it home?” he asked.

“Can’t see why not.” She took a moment to twist the little sigils into the shape of a heart on one of the faces and grinned when it lit up with red. She offered it back. “Here! You keep it.”

“Oh! Nyeh heh heh!” He held it in both hands and grinned bright. “I think I might even keep it just like this for a little while!” He dropped it down the front of his shirt, too.

“Are your boxes full?” she asked. “I can carry that if you want.”

“Oh! Yes, but don’t worry about it,” he said. “It’s all very important stuff that I’d like to have close at hand.” He began to count it off on his fingers. “A cookbook, a plate of spaghetti, a bowl of spaghetti, some dry spaghetti, some very cool nighttime sunglasses— Anyway! I won’t bore you with that! Maybe there’s more puzzles around?”

 

As he crossed the room, his foot bumped on something and he stopped abruptly. He squatted down and lifted a book that had been on the floor carefully in his hands. All the text was in that old skeleton script. He flipped it open carefully. The pages were a little dusty, but intact otherwise. Frisk scooted over to look up. She noticed the door nearby that was slightly ajar, not broken like the others. There was a hand’s imprint burned into the wood. She gulped. She wasn’t sure she wanted to touch that one. She looked up at Papyrus, who was gently skimming through the book he’d found.

“What’s that?” she asked.

“An old story book,” he said brightly. “Ooh! It has a bookmark in it. I guess someone was reading this when…” He froze up. He ran his fingers over the red scrap of cloth gently. He gently closed the book. “Oh. That’s… That’s sad. I hope they’d read it before. So they knew the ending.”

 

“We’d read it many times.” The voice came from behind and caught them both off guard.

Frisk spun around so fast she fell over, only to see their father at the edge of the room. He raised his hands apologetically.

“Jeez, you scared me,” Frisk said with a laugh.

“I’m sorry,” he said, coming closer. “When you two weren’t home or… anywhere… I found your journal upstairs, Frisk, and I figured maybe you’d found your way here again. I saw the fire lighting the hallways.”

“Wowie, that was a good guess, then!” Papyrus said. “Hey. Wait. But you just said…?”

“This was my childhood home.” He smiled faintly. “I guess while I was out of time I was drawn back here.”

“Is that Nimbus? Out front?” Frisk asked, wide eyed.

He chuckled fondly and shook his head. “Her grandfather. Tekton.”

“The other statues, though—”

“It… doesn’t matter,” he said quietly.

 

Papyrus frowned slightly. He handed Gaster the book he’d found, careful with it despite it not showing much age. “I… I guess you can read it again, now.”

“Thank you.” He smiled warmly and held it close to his soul. “We can read it together, if you want. It is a good story. It was one of my favourites, back then.”

 

“So, like, did you just sprint over here, or what?” Frisk joked.

“Ah. Um.” Gaster’s face flushed. “I was just concerned.” He tented his fingers. “…Sometimes there’s wild bears out here. Or there was. Probably still is.”

Frisk snickered, but she felt a heavy sense of melancholy settling in over the tall skeleton. She reached up and held his hand in both of hers. “There was a big fight here, huh?”

“There was. They took quite a bit. Not the parts of the most value, though.”

 

He carefully stepped around the others and knelt down near the rug that was closest to the next doorway. He rolled the carpet up. Papyrus leaned over his shoulder curiously. His eyes fixed on the wood of the door and he levelled his finger at the handprint.

“What’s that?” he asked.

Gaster looked up. His face went blank. “Oh.” He leaned forward on his knee and gently touched his fingers against the matching ones on the wood.

The door pushed away very slightly. He sighed and sat back on the worn stone floor. Papyrus and Frisk shared a look. He dropped down and grabbed their father into a tight hug.

 

Frisk sat down with them and looked at Gaster sympathetically. “Is this the first time you came back?” she asked.

“It is,” he said.

The kid flinched. She looked at her hands. She rubbed her fingers against her thumbs. “Um. Do…? Do you want to know?” She pointed at the skeletal print. “I can, um… See.”

He froze. He clenched his jaw. He reached for her hand and she held him gently. “Perhaps it would be… I’m not so sure that’s wise, but…”

Frisk got to her feet. She felt her stomach drop before she’d even touched it.

“Wait,” Gaster said. “Wait, Frisk. I… I can’t ask you to—”

“It’s okay,” she said.

 

When she touched the mark, the room was orange with daylight and her hand was a taloned, skeletal one. It trembled. Her vision was cloudy and light-streaked. A jerk of her head directed her gaze onto a large man in a cloak of brown fur. She lurched upwards and put her hand across his snarling, bearded face, burning another print into him before everything went grey. A thought intruded into her mind, one in a determined voice not her own:

You cannot be rid of me. I will make you see you were wrong to come here.

 

Frisk toppled backwards and blinked into the bleak darkness of the other room. She couldn’t see much but a small bed back against the wall and scattered books, tossed haphazardly all around. She gulped and turned back to the others. Before she could say a word, Gaster grasped her into his arms and touched his brow against her head.

“I’m sorry. That was… That was so selfish. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay! It’s fine,” she assured him.

“What happened?” Papyrus asked worriedly.

“She cursed a guy, maybe? If that’s a thing?” Frisk said. “I… I think there were a bunch of guys. But she only focussed on one of them. And she put her hand on his face and said… Well, she didn’t really say it. But she… wanted something to stick on him, kind of. It’s hard to explain. She sorta said: I’m gonna make you see you were wrong to come here, and you can’t get rid of me. But, like… In a feeling. It was weird. Does, um…? Does that help?”

 

Gaster stared down at her, wide-eyed. A tear slipped down his face and he began to grin. He snuggled her and coughed out a laugh. His soul spiked. He let out a long, voiceless breath, and he grabbed Papyrus, too, and hugged him tight.

“Oh! Is… Is that a good thing?” Papyrus asked.

Gaster nodded emphatically.

“So…? Wait. That was…? Grandma Avenir, right? Was that a curse? Can we do curses? Is that a thing?” Papyrus asked. “I thought we just did bones and other bone-related things. Was it a bone curse? Bad calcium? I don’t think we should be doing curses…”

He held Papyrus’s skull and gently bonked his brow against his. He took Frisk’s hand and gently traced letters in her palm.

“Not a curse,” she repeated. “Then what did she mean?”

He cupped her face and smiled at her fondly, and then playfully ruffled her hair. She pointed at his chest and let her hand flare with red sparks. He nodded.

 

It took a lot of focus, but she cranked his soul backwards a bit. He chuckled.

“Thank you,” his voice was raspy and had a distorted warble in it. He got to his feet slowly and popped his shoulders. “As I said. Not a curse. She… used some of her last energy to try to impart her point of view. I have a feeling she succeeded.”

“Oh really? Why?” Papyrus asked.

“Because all that time ago, there were rumours of a human man, with a scar shaped like a hand on his face, that helped monster children.” He put his hand to his chest and was quiet for a second. Then, he smiled brightly. “Alright. Would you two be up for helping me gather a few things? There’s a lot of books here that would be fantastic to read again.”

 

Despite the centuries past, after the initial looting, the small castle seemed to have been left alone. Frisk and Papyrus were probably the first people there since Gaster had fled from the place. They’d come back another time, Gaster said. He’d show them the place in the daylight. Maybe even rebuild it someday. Tonight, though, they were happy enough with what they’d found, despite what had occurred there so long ago.

 

Papyrus took a special interest in the ancient kitchen. It had a big fireplace in the stone, shaped in an arch, hooks adorned with battered old cooking pans and metal pokers hanging above. Some empty pots were piled up at its side, and there was a hefty wooden bench near them, against the wall. Papyrus heaved open a drawer underneath it to unveil a bunch of old cooking implements. He looked over them thoughtfully, rubbing the back of his hand with his opposite thumb.

“Did you scrape yourself?” Gaster slid in to join him and gently grabbed his hand to peer at the bones.

Papyrus laughed. “Oh! Nyeh heh heh. No.” He drew a line over the back of his hand with a finger. “Just a habit, I guess! I had a scar there in some of the time that didn’t happen anymore. Human metal can leave pretty good gouges if you’re not careful! But! It was for a good cause.” He grinned.

“Ah, I see.” Gaster thumped him on the shoulder. “You’ve found some of our old tools, hm?”

“Ah! Yes! I’ve never seen some of these things,” he said. “Which must mean they’re very old, since I’m a master chef nowadays, you know.”

His father plucked out an an old, bent masher and brushed the benign dust off with his fingertips before setting it down gently on the table. “My mother was not a very good cook, so I spent a lot of time in here myself, before… Feel free to take anything you like.”

“Wowie, are you sure?!” Papyrus asked.

“Absolutely. And maybe we can all cook together sometime,” he said.

“YES PLEASE!” The boy’s face flushed. “I mean. Nyeh. I’d like that.” He puffed out his chest and put his hand against it. “You might even learn something from me!”

Gaster smiled fondly. “I’m sure I would.”

 

Frisk, meanwhile, was still in the library. She was too short to reach much, but what she could find was mostly books she couldn’t read anyway. She caught a glimpse of Gaster as he left the kitchen, and followed silently at a distance as he walked the old halls with quiet reverence. The only room he didn’t want to enter, it seemed, was behind the door marked with the hand print.

 

Cautiously, she slipped inside. The fire didn’t follow here, so she concentrated hard to create a red bubble of energy in her palm to light her way. There wasn’t much, though it was clear it was a child’s room. The bed was small, and patchwork quilts were tossed askew. A chest had been opened and books tossed about. There was a window with broken glass out of sight of the door, where plants had crept inside. Somehow, there wasn’t any weather damage despite it.

 

With a bit more focus and a heavy huff of breath, Frisk made her orb float alongside her. It put a strain on her head, but she’d deal with it. She carefully checked inside the chest. There was an ancient plush dog on the inside. Put aside but treated well. Not much else was to be seen though, aside from a tin with a few small, chipped coins inside and something made of folded cloth.

 

“Frisk?” Gaster called from another room. “Frisk? Ah… Cá bhfuil tú?”

He mumbled something else in that language, but Frisk couldn’t hear it. Not that she could understand it anyway.

“Over here,” she replied. She stuck her head out of the room, her light dimming. “Sorry!”

“Oh!” Gaster hurried to her side and then looked around her into the darkness. “Were you in there? Tá tú an-chróga.”

“Um.” She tilted her head and smiled bashfully. Curiosity sparked in her eyes. “Hey. What language is that anyway?”

“What? Oh! I apologize. It’s my native language. Creatlach,” he said. “Old Skeleton, as it was colloquially called.”

“Creatlach,” she repeated, raising her brows. “Oh! Okay. Is…? Is that why your accent is so different from the others?”

“Partially,” he said. “Apart from the usual small differences, I still carry that sort of cadence as well, if that makes sense.”

“Yeah, I got it. I still got a lot to learn about monsters. I didn’t even know there were other monster languages,” she said.

“Not so many left,” he said with an apologetic tilt in his brow. “Your brothers both know it. It was inborn. Do…? Do you understand it?”

“No. Sorry,” she said.

“Would you like to learn?” His eyes brightened. “I would be happy to teach you.”

“Lemme finish learning to read English first,” she joked. “But, yeah, I think that’d be kinda cool!”

 

Gaster grinned. His eyes sparkled and he held her gently by the shoulder with one hand and patted her head with the other. “You are very good, a stór, putting up with an old bonehead like me. It would really mean a lot.”

“Well then, that’s even more of a reason to do it,” she said with a smile.

 

The old skeleton smiled. He sat down on the floor with her, his cheekbones flushing. “I… I really need to thank you,” he said.

“For what?” she asked.

“Well… I… I suppose I never expected you to accept me so quickly.”

“Why?” she asked. “It’s not like you’re a stranger.”

“Even so, to have some guy just show up. Even if he is your father… I don’t know,” he said, shaking his head. “I really don’t have any right to expect anything from you. You’ve had to be independent for so long, I don’t feel like I have any business stepping in and trying to… Honestly, you don’t even have to call me dad if you don’t want to. I’d never want to impose that onto you.”

“I want to,” she said. “What else would I call you? It’s not like you had a different name or something I got used to.”

 

Frisk was a little surprised by how thoroughly startled Gaster looked. “You know I love you, right?” she said with a worried frown. “You… do know that. Right?”

He froze in place. He gritted his teeth but his eyes began to glow softly. His words seemed to catch when he tried to speak and nothing came out.

“You know,” she said, tenting her fingers, “when I remembered you, I… I was so sad for you. I was so mad at myself for not remembering. Because I knew you were nice, I knew you were there for me. I knew that look you got whenever we had to start again. I wanted so much for you to be okay after all that happened. And I wanted to tell you that I remembered everything now. And I felt… I mean, totally loved you. Of course. ”

“Frisk…”

She laughed at herself. She rubbed her eye with the heel of her hand. “I was gonna invite you to live in the basement or the garage or something until we could figure out how to make people remember you! Silly, I guess, but… Well. Anyway. Then you show up and you’re okay, and… And. Even if you weren’t my dad at all. Still love you.” She shot him a grin. “So, I guess what I’m saying is that when you told me that, it’s just… I dunno. Even if you had just said, I’m your brothers’ dad and I really like you, too, and I’m gonna stick around, that would’ve been more perfect than I could’ve ever imagined. But this, it makes me feel like a person. I never expected to ever know where I came from. Even if it is still super weird. I’m really glad you’re here.”

 

Gaster sighed quietly and wrapped the kid in a gentle hug. She leaned in gratefully. After a few seconds, she started to laugh. Her fingers were tight and sure.

“Aaah, it’s so weird but so cool,” she said.

Gaster grimaced and gently bumped his head against hers. “I love you so much,” he said quietly. “I… God. I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t worry! Jeez.” She looked up at him with a bright smile. “Love you, too.”

 

He went quiet, content, his soul humming gently and warming the kid, even though the sound was awkward and sharp.

“Sorry if it’s still a bit wonky,” he said. “…A lot wonky.”

“Doesn’t matter,” she assured him. “If it’s yours, it’s good. Have you heard mine?”

“Of course,” he said with a laugh. “It’s the only one I’ve heard for ten years.”

“Really? Oof,” she said. “Sorry, that must be annoying.”

“Exactly the opposite,” he said.

 

- - -

 

As the moon began to dip behind clouds and the splash of rain pattered on the ancient rooftops, the skeleton family prepared to head home. They only took some books, the kitchenware, the rolled-up rug, and the tapestry off the wall.

 

Papyrus was full of energy now after the jog through the woods with the cool water dripping overhead, and sat up with Gaster in the living room, keeping him occupied with stories as he treated his warping soul with more opera cakes.

 

Frisk, on the other hand, retreated to the bedroom with a heavy head and a lot to think about. She found that Sans had fallen asleep upright against a wall, and she grabbed a blanket and wedged herself into his lap and closed her eyes. Her mind was going too fast, though. She just kept replaying what she’d seen. She pictured what little she’d caught of Avenir and it hurt in her chest.

 

Sans ruffled her hair with a weak hand, a shiver in his fingers. She was surprised he had even woken up. Their souls shifted purple. He felt a little sick, but pretty content as well. Same for her.

“See you soon?” she said quietly. “Got a bunch to show you.”

“…Sure,” he said groggily. “Hey, uh… sorry to even ask, but…”

She lit her fingers up with red and hugged onto him. Magic lights like drifting embers in crimson and purple floated from her skin and tinted the room around them. His shoulders slumped and he let out a quiet, relieved sigh.

“No, don’t, I’m glad to help,” she said.

“…Thanks, kiddo.” He was still cold, but it helped. Hoped wherever she’d been was warmer than here.

Chapter Text

 

Frisk fainted on her way down the stairs in the later hours of the morning. Nobody was home and, when she came to, she rolled over and lay on her back, staring up at the ceiling, legs propped up on the steps without the will to try to stand. Her whole body felt like a bruise. 

 

She eventually slid away from the stairs and flipped over, though the second she was on her knees, she upchucked black liquid onto the carpet. It vanished almost instantly. She groaned and gave up on trying to stand again. She lay on her back and didn’t bother with much else until she heard her phone ringing. She couldn’t remember where she left it, but it sounded like it was on the couch.

 

It took a long few seconds before she’d gotten up again. She grabbed it off the arm of the sofa and answered it with a weak grunt.

“Uh. Kiddo?” Sans’s voice. “You okay?”

“No,” she said. “You?”

“Nah. Sleepwalkin’. Sorry,” he said. “I’m in the lab. Alphys’s insistin’ on givin’ me a physical.”

“Good.” She laughed and rubbed her eyes. “I fainted.”

“Oh. That’s, uh, not good.”

“Yeah, and I fell down the stairs.”

“Oh for f— Jeez, kid, can’t catch a break, huh? Or, uh, did you?”

“Nah, I’m just bruised,” she said with a laugh. “I’m okay. You hurt yourself?”

“Nah.”

“Phew!” She rubbed her forehead. “Guess you don’t happen to know where anyone is, do you?”

“Didn’t catch ‘em.” He sounded thoughtful. “Look. I’ll come home real soon and—”

Alphys interrupted him. Frisk couldn’t hear what she was saying, but he laughed.

“Okay. I’m bringin’ the Doc. Won’t be too long. Just, uh. Hang in there? Don’t do anything weird.”

“Won’t.” She flopped forward onto the couch. “Byeeee, bro. Love you.”

 

She let the phone drop from her hand and rested her head on her arms. She guessed maybe she’d been using that way of travelling through the tears in time and space too much too quickly. That’d make sense, right? 

 

The house was too quiet. She felt a heavy loneliness, even though she was sure that nobody was actually that far away. Toriel was probably at school. Maybe Gaster was, too. Papyrus was probably with Undyne. Asriel, though, she wasn’t sure. She wished Sans and Alphys wouldn’t be too long. She turned on the TV so a recording of Mettaton could keep her company. 

 

She dozed off, her dreams dragging her to a town where everyone she knew treated her like a stranger. When her phone rang again, she awoke, heartsick and nauseous. She struggled to pick it up and answered it with a soft sound of affirmation.

“Howdy! Frisk, is that you?” Asgore asked.

“Oh. Yeah. Hi, Asgore, how’s it going?” she asked groggily. She felt an uneasy twang inside her. “Everything okay?”

“Oh! Yes, absolutely, my child,” he said. “I just wanted to check in on you. Did I wake you?”

“Me? Oh. No. I’m okay,” she said despite yawning quietly and trying to muffle it with her hand. “So nothing’s wrong? Not with the humans or anything?”

“Oh, goodness no!” he said. “The Ambassador said it was a pleasure to meet you. She seemed quite taken with our home. I just know you have been through a lot recently. So I thought… I mean. I know it’s… just me, but I thought maybe if the King were to tell you he was on your side…?”

“I know you’re on my side,” she said with a laugh.

“Oh! Oh, good! Excellent. I’m happy to hear that,” he said. “I apologize that I have not been more active with what you’ve been going through—”

“Oh, jeez, that’s okay, you have so much to do,” she said.

“It’s true, but even so. With all this… I know it can’t have been easy at all. Have you been able to have a decent break since then?”

“Uh… Yeah. Yeah. Not bad,” she said. “I’ll be okay.”

“It must’ve been so strange, with all that and with Gaster returning. I’m sure it was overwhelming, especially all at once.”

“Eh. It’s okay. I mean. After what I been through, this is pretty easy,” she said. “And I got a dad now, so that’s good.”

Asgore chuckled warmly. “Frisk. Listen closely. I am very proud of you.”

“You are?” she asked.

“Of course I am!” he said. “Once all this nasty paperwork is done, and everything is settled— and if it’s alright with your mother— I think a nice, long family vacation is needed. For all of us. What do you think, does that sound nice?”

“Yeah. It does,” she said. Her mind flitted off to Gaster’s old castle. “I’d like that.”

“Good.” He sounded pleased. “I’ll let you go for now. Take a nap, little one! Talk to you later!”

 

She dropped her phone on the floor again and turned to the TV. Mettaton was on live now, reporting the news and the weather out on the surface. She should probably get up, she thought. Take care of that headache. She didn’t want to stand, though. 

 

She didn’t realize she’d fallen asleep again until she got gently flipped onto her back and felt a cool hand on her forehead.

“Yup, she is bruised as heck,” Sans said.

She raised her hand to wave. She opened her eyes a crack to look up into her brother’s face. “…You’ll always remember me, right?”

“You delirious?” he asked with a laugh.

“Just tell me yes, will ya?” she said.

“You already know that,” he said.

“Kay…” Her eyelids drooped closed. “Dreams are trash.”

 

She was wrapped in the hug of warm, scaly arms and she felt a familiar, lemon-coloured magic flicker across her skin.

“Aw, sweetie, what happened?” Alphys said gently.

Frisk snickered. “You don’t gotta worry so much.” She blinked heavily and rubbed her eyes. “Thanks, Alphys.”

“B-But…?” She looked at her, waiting on elaboration. 

“Oh. I, um. You know. Fainted on the stairs. Guess I was worn out,” she said.

“Mm, Sans mentioned.” She affectionately patted Frisk’s head. “S-So, um, how far did you go? I mean… N-Not down the stairs, obviously, but I mean, through the, um…? You know? The tear?”

“No clue. Ask dad. It was his house when he was a kid.”

“Mhm! S-Sans told me you, um, showed him in your dream?” she said. “G-God. Hah. That must be so weird. To lucid dream like that all the time. Right?”

“For sure,” she said with a laugh. 

 

She looked around for her brother. She noticed a sound or two from the kitchen over the songs on the TV. She hugged Alphys gratefully. “Hey, you know what’s really weird?”

“What?” she asked.

“Okay, like… So. We have a dad, right? I… have a dad,” she said. “That means, like… there was a whole family and stuff. We had a grandma and everything. I mean. That makes sense, right? But it feels so weird to me that… I mean. It’s weird. I still don’t understand how I work if I’m not made of magic, but… Ummm… Hey, Sans?”

“Yeah?” he said.

“So, like… How related are we, actually?” she said. “I mean, like… physically”

“Dunno,” he said. “Magic’s related. But then, your magic’s also related to Az’s in some weird way. And then you got that whole extra body thing goin’ on over there. Who the heck knows how that works.”

 

Frisk’s brow furrowed. “I am still a human, right?” she asked.

“Of course you are,” Alphys assured her. “Aw. You’re still a little c-confused, then, right?”

“I think I’ll always be confused but I feel so much better now, you don’t even know,” Frisk said with a smile. “But… Wait. Hey Sans?”

“Yeeeah?”

“If my soul is just straight up made of dad’s soul, how come he can still exist and stuff?” she said.

“Time magic? You probably reversed the heck outta him when you yanked him outta the time void hellzone,” he suggested. “You’re not just a clone or somethin’, obviously.”

“A clone,” she repeated, frowning slightly.

“She is a little like a weird s-super opposite clone, though,” Alphys said with a a laugh. “Ooh. That’s… an, um, interesting thought.”

“AU?” Frisk asked.

“W-W-Well, I mean…”

 

Sans scoffed. He brought Frisk a steaming mug of spiced hot chocolate and handed it off to her carefully, patting her head gently as he sat down. “Whatever you are. However this works? You’re my sister. And dad’ll always just say you’re his kid. The rest of it, does it really matter? Also, jeez, you look like a frickin’ raccoon.”

“I probably hit like four stairs on the way down, too,” she said with an embarrassed smile. She sipped her cocoa. “Thanks.”

“I know. Things are still kinda weird,” he said. “I mean. I know what it’s like. To not know. No answers. But, I had Paps so stuff didn’t matter so much. But. You…” He shot her a sympathetic smile. “Sorry. Guess it’ll always be weird.”

“It’s a super comfortable weird, though,” she said. “But, it’s still kinda confusing to think about. To be made by a monster and stuff—”

“If we wanna get technical about it, he wouldn’t have actually made you,” Sans said.

“Um, what?” Frisk asked blankly.

“Your soul made itself out of his energy and every time thing that was explodin’ through him all at once,” Sans said. “So, you’re more like… time shovin’ itself into a soul through a skeleton that was smashin’ into time. Theory goes that all that determination and time magic could only really exist inside a human, and accordin’ to the Dark Model, you gotta exist no matter what, kiddo. We know, up there, you weren’t, y’know… Exactly near anyone else, right? So, guess you kinda… formed yourself? Instead of, uh, comin’ outta an egg or whatever humans normally do.”

“Wish I picked a better spot to do that, though. ” Frisk pouted. “But that’s super weird! How does that even work?!”

“Who the heck knows, kid?” he said. “Got you. Don’t really care much about the rest.”

“Well, I guess if nobody really knows how it works, then we’re all on the same page, right?” she suggested.

“That’s a r-really good way to look at it,” Alphys said fondly. “It’s really okay to not understand, b-because, well… We don’t either. A-All we know is that we… Sans was looking for you for a l-long time. Um. I mean. We a-all were, you know? We j-just didn’t know. And e-even if you didn’t hatch from a normal human egg, that’s totally f-fine!”

“And you can headcanon it any way you like, right?” Sans said with a wink. 

Alphys blushed. She waved her hand at him and tutted as if to shoo him away before she turned her attention back on Frisk. “A-Anyway!! So h-how much did you see of your grandma, exactly? Her name was Avenir, right? What did you think?”

 

Frisk snickered. “Sheesh Alphys.”

“What? Oh, come on! I do r-really want to know,” she said quickly. “Gaster almost n-never talked about her. B-But he seemed happy whenever h-he let anything slip. But n-not many monsters who were around back then really wanted to talk about the Before the Mountain Ages. It’s just… i-interesting, to hear anything from that far back, d-don’t you think? Sans, aren’t you curious?”

He shrugged. She scoffed and whacked his arm.

“I only saw a little,” Frisk said. “Her voice was nice. And she had horns. And big dark eyes. Dad wasn’t with her very long, I think. But she was really good to him.”

“Sh-She was a seer, right?” Alphys asked.

“I dunno, what’s a seer?” she asked.

“S-Someone who… Well! Actually! S-Someone kinda like you,” Alphys said. “Someone who s-sees things in advance.”

“Oh. So more like Sans, then,” Frisk said. 

“See-er,” he joked.

The kid grinned. She tapped her fingertips together. “Dad said she had, um, what’d he call it? A magic split, I think. And part was red, like me. So. I guess maybe she saw stuff, too.”

“We’re a family of dumb time weirdos,” Sans said. He tapped the mug in Frisk’s hand. “Drink it, will ya?”

 

Frisk hurriedly tipped her cocoa into her mouth. She sighed happily. “I can show you guys the place. If you want.”

“Another day, huh?” Sans put his hand on her forehead again and shifted her bangs. “Still rough.”

“I’m w-working on it,” Alphys said with a sideways smile. “But, um… I’d l-love to see it. Let’s just g-give you a few days, okay? P-Pace yourself.”

“Oookaaay,” Frisk said.

 

- - -

 

An hour or so later, Gaster returned on his own, the chill and damp of water about him, a buzz in his soul that sounded faintly more melodic than it had yesterday. He had brought a large batch of crabapples back with him. He’d seen Gerson, he said. Caught up for a while. Got a bulk fruit discount.

 

The others decided to stay mostly out of his way as he dragged box after box of books and other old stuff from the attic down into the living room. It was all from the apartment at Dandelion Plaza, Sans explained. Frisk liked seeing all the books; liked picking up the old tomes that were bigger than her head. Alphys sat on the floor, dragging out the books and stacking them, unable to help herself from checking each one.

“What’re you gonna d-do with all this, anyway?” she asked.

“Hopefully, we will be able to set up a room for it. And then I’ll have to get to organizing,” Gaster said. “I can’t imagine you kept them in any order, Sans.”

“Nope.” He folded his arms behind his head and kicked back near the wall. “Wasn’t even lookin’, to be honest. We didn’t really hang around.”

“My goodness, you got spooked,” Gaster said.

“H-He just walked out of w-work and never came back,” Alphys said with a sympathetic smile on her face.

Sans shrugged in reply. 

“You don’t work in the lab anymore?” Gaster asked.

“Nope. Not for like ten years, dude,” he said.

“He’s a sentry,” Frisk said proudly.

“Oh.” Gaster raised his brows.

 

The short skeleton shrugged again, though his father’s forehead bent with worry. Alphys laughed with an awkward lilt, a little sweat beading on her scales. She grabbed some books out of the boxes, fumbling with them as she tried to hold them up.

“Um! H-Hey, so h-how are you, um, going to sort all this?” she said.

“Oh! Well. There’s so many options,” Gaster said. “Sort by author. Or by subject. Or alphabetically by title. I’ll often do subject, then author within the subject, and then book title, and if there’s many first letters that are the same, I’ll go by colour in a gradient.”

Sans caught Frisk’s eye and rolled his before covering his face with his arm. She snickered. 

“I l-like to do by author, too, but then by how long ago th-they wrote the book,” Alphys said.

“Oh, that is not a bad idea.” Gaster tapped his chin. “How about—?”

 

Frisk never got to hear the end of the sentence. She was upstairs in the bedroom. She turned and saw Sans leaning up against the bed behind her.

“Oof. Bored me to tears,” he said. “They always get like this about filin’.”

“Really?” She scooted around to face him. “He was a librarian before all of this. Wasn’t he?”

“How’d you figure?” he asked.

“I… Uh. I’m not sure,” she said.

“Welp. You’re right.” He winked. “Once upon a time. A long time ago.”

“I liked the big book room in his old castle house,” she said. “We should do that.”

“Sure we can figure somethin’ out,” he said.

“Then I can practice reading all day,” she said.

“You could do that anyway,” he said.

“Yeah, but in a big room all full of books with a cozy fireplace and big pillow chairs and everything?” She glowed and pushed over to sit beside him. “I dunno, I think that would just be super perfect. Right?”

Sans grinned. He ruffled her hair. “Takin’ a leaf outta his book, huh?”

She snickered. Her brother looked at her fondly. His expression fell for just a second and he rubbed his eyes. Frisk tilted her head curiously. He leaned back and rested his arm across his knee. 

 

“It’s, uh… It’s weird,” he said. “Movin’ forward, I guess.”

“Yeah, I know, right? I mean…” She grabbed his hand in both of hers. “For you especially, I bet.”

“Hm. But. We finally get a place, right? You… Heh. You get a home. A real one,” he said. He rubbed his head, then settled, giving her a tired, knowing look. “You’re gonna like havin’ your own place for good. It’s gonna help.”

“Hope so,” she said. She scooted around and plopped herself beside him. “I… I sometimes still get that really awful feeling, y’know? Of just… Y’know, of losing it again.”

“Bet those dreams don’t help.” His eyes narrowed. “Doesn’t feel predictive, does it?”

“No. Just… guess it just knows what I hate. Whether it’s a reset or we’re all somewhere new, it’s just… when you guys don’t remember me? Or never knew me at all? That messes me up. I know it doesn’t make sense, but I kinda can’t help it. I, um… I guess I’m still kinda scared of that. Um, d-don’t tell the others?”

“No. I mean. I know. How could you not be? After all that crap.”

She shrugged sheepishly. “I mean, I know it wouldn’t happen again. Can’t, right? But when it shows me you, and you don’t… Ugh. It’s just… Worse. Y’know?”

“Don’t worry about crap like that,” he said.

“I know, I know,” she said. “S’just you’re… Dude, sorry this is the sappiest thing ever, but you’re, like… If you’re there, I know everything’ll be okay.”

“That is the sappiest thing ever,” he said. 

She shrugged again and shot him a bashful smile. “I know, I can be kinda a weirdo sometimes, huh? Sorry.”

He winked. “I’m used to it.”

 

A hard, sharp knuckle tapped on the door, and it creaked open slowly.

“Ah… There you two are,” Gaster said. “Is… everything okay?”

“Fine,” Sans said.

Frisk nodded. Gaster smiled, relieved, and backed up a step. The kid raised a hand up to catch his attention.

“Um! Just a sec. Can I, um, ask you something?” she said.

“Absolutely.” He was over in an instant, kneeling down. “What is it?”

“This is weird. But, uh… Do you, um…? Do you think that maybe anyone else could have been taken out of time like you were?” she asked.

 

He froze as still as a statue and stared at her silently. Her brother nudged her in the ribs.

“Think you broke ‘im,” he said.

“…Dad?” Frisk asked.

“What?” he said blankly. He shook his head. “I mean. Wha…? Who?”

“It’s just, my friend’s sister,” she said sheepishly. “Flora. She just came up to me and talked to me like she knew me, and then Kid, he told me I met her back when we did this big play thing with Mettaton, but I’m sure she wasn’t there.”

Gaster frowned. He tapped his teeth with his fingertips. “You’re positive?”

“It was always just him, his parents, and his sister, Daisy. She’s just a bit older than him,” Frisk said. “Flora looks a bunch older.”

 

Gaster opened his mouth, then closed it again. He raised one finger, then tapped his chin, the faint sound of bone on bone only interrupted by his eventual, low, contemplative hmm-ing. “Where does this girl live?”

“You’re the one that showed me their house,” Frisk joked. “In the little section of houses behind the bar. Near the river. With the really low extra doorknob thing.”

“You’re right.” He straightened up quickly and rushed out of the room. “Alphys! I have something for us to do.”

“Don’t creep them out!” Frisk called.

He thumped loudly down the stairs. “I won’t!”

“He might,” Sans said with a grin.

 

The door slammed shortly after. Sans chuckled quietly. He rubbed his brow.

“Well. At least that’ll give him somethin’ that’s not endless sortin’ hell.”

Frisk laughed. “Sounds kinda like he likes it, though.”

“Sure, until he loses like twelve hours to it.” He grinned. “He’s always been a bit, uh, overzealous.”

“Kinda like Paps?” Frisk asked.

“A bit. But more of a dork.” He winked. He got up and stretched his arms. “Hey, kiddo, you wanna…?” His voice caught. His vision blurred and his shoulders went stiff. Colours pulsed and scrambled, making his head ache instantly. 

“Wanna what?” she asked.

He couldn’t answer. His vision shifted. Overlaid a different room overtop of the one he saw. A faint image of Papyrus. Not his. He had fangs; a faint crack in his skull. He was sorting books.

 

Frisk edged into his line of sight with a worried look on her face. He wanted to tell her. He couldn’t. Couldn’t move. She grabbed his shoulder with one hand and cupped his cheek with the other. She talked to him but he couldn’t understand. His vision tried to blot her out while he did all he could to focus on her. Her voice started to fade. Fear hit him. His soul bristled as her face stopped registering. He wanted to curse. Tell her to come closer; grab her up in his arms and collapse. It was as if his bones had petrified.

 

Then, he saw himself. Translucent, like Papyrus. Different, like Papyrus. Pointed teeth in his grin, broken lines in his skull. And, when he turned, his eyes caught on his— the other skeleton’s expression shifted from a relaxed grin to a shocked, worried frown. He knew the sudden dark-eyed expression. The other guy saw him. Hesitantly, he came closer and Sans still couldn’t move. The universe was an oppressive weight crushing him into his own bones. Dark crept in at the corners of his vision as the other cautiously approached and extended his broken hand. The air was gone and he was fossilized. He felt like he was about to die.

 

He was yanked to the ground, breaking him from stone. Frisk held him, hands clinging tight as she pulled him close, as if using her small frame as a shield. The purple warmth in their souls erased the grey and black, but the layers were still pushing in. Sans grabbed her as tight as he could and buried his face against her. He wished, in a second of dazed panic, that he didn’t even have eye sockets.

 

“I got you. I g-got you.” She sounded certain despite the warble in her words. “Holy c-crap.”

He took a deep breath. His eyes began to water, stinging deep into his cranium. It was a strain to even vocalize. “Did…?” His voice snagged. He tried again. “Did you see it?”

“No,” she said. “I felt… I felt you… going. I don’t know.”

“It’s, uh… It’s bleedin’ real bad,” he croaked.

She kissed his head and rubbed his back as he began to rattle. “How bad?”

“He saw me.” He pressed the heel of his hand against his brow and puffed out a sigh. He laughed disbelievingly. “Oof. Sorry, kiddo, I am really frickin’ broken.”

Frisk held him tighter. “Got you.” She bit her lip and a spark of red shone in her irises. “Got you.”

 

- - -

 

Grass felt nice. Asriel used to hate it. Hated the smell, the feel, even the look of it close up. It was different out under an open sky, somehow. Everything felt new and refreshing. He liked the soft green blades under his paws. He pretended he could wave them back and forth with a lazy gesture of his hand.

 

“Asriel?”

He opened his eyes. His mother leaned over into his view of the cloudy, bright blue sky and then knelt down, smiling at him fondly. 

“Were you napping, my child?”

“Nah. S’just nice out here,” he said. He sat up and stretched. “Did you need me again?”

“No, no. We’re done for now.” She put her hands on her hips and looked off into the distance with a satisfied smile on her face. “I think, this time, I will place the school just at the base. There. Near the river.” She looked down at the clipboard and notes that she brought. “Though… Not many people here to actually survey… I think this location will be much better.”

“Oh yeah? Where was it last time?” he asked.

Toriel froze. Her hand dropped, and she quickly shook her head. “Somewhere much less scenic. And I think it would be nice. To have the children able to take lunch outside near the river. Maybe even go fishing on time off. You know, children who have time to sleep in in the mornings and that are able to take breaks during the day are able to learn much better than if you push and push.”

“Makes sense,” he said. 

“Do you think I should ask Sans to teach?” she wondered. “He’d be so good at it.”

“Only if you plan on letting Frisk stick around him all day,” he said.

“True,” she said. She tapped her chin. “Maybe later, then. Another year. When Frisk is better.”

“If she gets better,” Asriel said.

“I’m sure she will,” she assured him. “It may take a long time. But that’s alright. We’ll take it as it comes, won’t we?”

 

Asriel couldn’t help a smile. He rubbed the back of his head. “Hey. Thanks for understanding.”

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“Well, it’s just, it’d be easy for you to not get it at all. I mean. Even if you don’t. How could you, really?” He shrugged when his mother gave him a worried look. “Inside her head’s all messed up. The stuff she’s seen, or felt or…” He clenched his fists. “What I did to her. It’s, uh, not easy sometimes.”

Toriel tsked gently. She let herself down in the grass and grabbed him gently into her arms and booped his forehead with her big, soft snout. 

 

Asriel smiled fondly. He’d missed this. When she let him go, she gently ruffled his ears. He’d missed that, too. 

“I hope you’ve been enjoying things, at least,” she said.

“What? Me?” He laughed. “Literally anything is better than before! But. Yeah.” He smiled. “Yeah. It’s been good.”

“In spite of the nightmares, I hope,” she said.

“Like I said. Literally anything.” He folded his arms and leaned against her, tilting his head back to look at her. “…I haven’t told dad.”

“Really?” Her eyes went wide. “Why not?”

“Man, he’s… He’s just… He’s so messed up inside on his own,” Asriel muttered. “He doesn’t need that on him, too. You know him, he blames himself for everything on the planet. Even if he’s got nothin’ to do with it, and knowing he can’t fix me would tear him up so bad…”

 

Toriel gritted her teeth. She kissed his head. “You’ve seen it, haven’t you?”

“Yeah, of course,” he said. “You always dealt with it better.”

“How many times did you tell me?” she wondered. “How many times didn’t you?”

“Oh, god, I don’t even know,” he said with a laugh. “Sorry. I’m messed up, too, huh? I know it’s not comfortable to hear about.”

“No, it is not.” She chuckled quietly. “Oh, you poor thing. You know, Asriel, of course, your father and I aren’t exactly on the best terms, but… I think, when you’re ready, you should open up to him more. It does no good to feel like you’re hiding yourself in your own home. And his home is yours, you know that.”

He shrugged. “Yeah, I know, it’s just… I’m dumb, I dunno.”

“You’re not dumb,” she assured him. “Stubborn, yes. Dumb, absolutely not.”

“Hah!! Wonder where I got that from?” he teased, sticking his tongue out at her.

She snorted and frowned, but couldn’t help a smile sneaking across her face. She kissed his nose and he snickered and let her cuddle him a bit more. The breeze picked up, cool and refreshing. The scent of grass and fresh water was in the air.

“I’m so glad you’re back,” she said softly.

“Me too,” he said.

“You’ve grown up quite a bit since we were last together.”

“Had to, I think,” he said. “Sorry. If I could’ve come back exactly the same as I was back then—”

“No, no, honey.” She smiled. “You’re perfect.”

 

Asriel took a deep breath of fresh air. His eyes welled up a little and he blinked quickly. “So. Um. Hey. Is this where you guys were last time? Goin’ for the same spot?” he asked.

“Mhm.” She gestured to the rolling hills and trees around them, where the only interruption were loose dirt paths and some houses far in the distance. “We must try not to crowd the place. The nature of the surface is a little fragile, and very important. It seems to cope well with magic, though.”

“So what’re we thinkin’? Guess the plans’ll change a bit since Gaster showed up,” he said.

“Well, everything is so different now in general,” Toriel said with a fond smile. “You’re here, too.”

“Right.” He laughed. “Kinda excited to start aging again for a bit, if I’m honest.”

“Excuse me if I’m a little pleased that you’re still pick-up-able right now, though,” she said.

He snickered and nudged her gently with his elbow. “I don’t really mind.”

 

Toriel smiled knowingly. She turned her snout into the wind and let it buffet her long ears gently. She got to her feet and strode over towards the trees. They were mostly pines, but there was a couple maples and other broad-leafed trees dotting their land. 

“I think I would like to have a garden this time. Away from the house, of course,” she said. “And perhaps even an apiary! A small one. Frisk is not allergic to bee stings, is she?”

“No, she’s only allergic to Tems,” he said.

“Oh. Yes. Right.” She scratched her chin. “I should’ve… Ah. Never mind.” She shook her head. 

“What’s wrong?” Asriel asked.

“Oh. Nothing, my child,” she said swiftly. She held out her hand. “Shall we head home?”

 

He tilted his head, his brow furrowed, but he took her paw and let her pull him up. He tried to picture a house on that spot. Still, all he could really imagine was the inside of their place in Snowdin, but bigger. Wasn’t the most exciting, but he liked the thought. Except, maybe having his own bedroom would be nice this time.

 

He shoved his paws into the pockets of his hoodie as he and Toriel began the walk to the lift to take them back up to the plateau. The sky felt so huge above them. Even months later, Asriel still wasn’t used to it. Nice to not have to experience it from dirt-level, though.

 

The path up towards the mountain delved back into forest. Leafs bustled in the wind and birds called to each other in shrill, pleasant melodies and repeating patterns. The river, unseen through greenery, blurbled constantly through it all.

 

“Asriel?” Toriel’s voice snapped him out of his thoughts. “I was wondering. Did you have any thoughts for what you might do after school?”

“Take a nap?” he suggested.

“No, hun, I mean after all the classes are done,” she said with a sideways smile. “In a few years.”

“Dunno,” he said. “Kinda figured I’d help Undyne out running stuff once dad retires. That might not be for a long time, though.”

“Oh. Yes. Right. He… formally recognized her as his heir, didn’t he?” Her mouth went thin. “Does that… bother you, my child?”

“Nah, not at all,” he said. “He did that way before I came back. Undyne’ll be a good Queen. She’s kinda rough around the edges but so am I, and we all got a big family of smart people to chuck their opinions at us. I think we’ll be okay.”

“I’m glad to hear it.” She paused and cupped her hand over her mouth to hide a laugh. “Oh my.”

“What?” he said. 

“I suppose that means we may eventually have a Queen Alphys, as well.” She winked. “Won’t that be something.”

“Oh my god.” Asriel snickered. “You’re right. I don’t think she even realized yet.”

“The poor dear. Alright. You will definitely need to help them out, sweetheart,” she said. “It’s very stressful, ruling a kingdom.”

“Yeah, I know, I…” His nose twitched. He sneezed heavily, and quickly wiped his snout. There was black on his hand, but it vanished. Before he could even vocalize how weird he thought it was, his soul shook. He put his hand against it, frowning deeply. 

 

“What’s wrong?” Toriel asked.

“I… I’m not sure.” His energy pinged as if receiving a transmission. His head swam with music for a brief instant and he saw a flash of blue in his mind’s eye. His ears lifted. “I… Oh. Shit. We gotta get home.” He picked up the pace, but stalled when his mother put her hand on his shoulder.

“What on earth is wrong?” she asked, eyes wide.

“I’m not sure, I think…? I think it’s Sans?” he said. “Uh. Should I run ahead? What should I…?”

“Go.”

 

Asriel took off at a sprint towards the mountain. His mind rushed for the closest tear in time. There was one on the plateau, but was there one closer? He ground his heels into the dirt. Back in town. Near the river, where it dipped into a valley and widened out. He remembered Frisk latching to it a while back the first time Asgore had taken everyone fishing. 

 

He bolted from the path and ran through the trees until water opened up before him. He took a deep breath and pulled his phone from his pocket. Calling Frisk didn’t work. He couldn’t tell if the signal was bad or she just wasn’t picking up. 

 

He braced himself. His fur bristled. The determination in his soul churned. He sprinted along the bank, his paws scraping over rocks and through mud. When the water sped, he knew gravity was guiding it down into the valley. He broke through the tree line and skid down the slope alongside the rushing river.

 

The golden light was back against a small, sheer cut from the higher ground above. He ran across the slippery, wet stones and shoved his hands into the light. He closed his eyes and focussed hard. Attic.

 

A chill resonated through every inch of his body, down to the tip of each strand of fur. Light and pitch darkness played on the backs of his eyelids, though he didn’t dare open them. His muscles swelled. His fangs and horns itched and grew, or he imagined they did, at least. Intense vertigo rocked his head and  the wind was punched from him.

 

He toppled with a thud onto the floor of the attic and sucked in a deep breath of air. His whole body hurt. He checked his phone with shaking fingers. He’d lost about five minutes. Whatever. He heaved himself to his feet and dropped straight down the ladder and into his mom’s room. He rubbed his rump and grumbled before shoving himself up again and pushing through the door as if he had to break out.

 

“Guys?!” he called. “Sans?!” He peered over the banister but he wasn’t on the couch— it was weird, though, had it always had those patches of blue? “Frisk?!”

Her voice answered from nearby. The other bedroom. He shoved his way in and his vision scrambled instantly. The colours were wrong and jerky in big, distinct squares, like broken pixels on a shattered monitor.

“What the hell?” he demanded.

“Oh no, do you see it, too?” 

 

Frisk sat back near the closet. Sans was with her, drooped, with the hood of his sweatshirt pulled up over his head and covering most of his face. Though an arm was around her, she looked much more like she was consoling him.

“Yeah, I see it, I… What is it?”

“I don’t think it’s real,” Frisk said. “I mean. It might be reeeeal but the room’s not actually changing, it’s just we’re… seeing weird stuff. Except Sans. He’s not allowed.”

“Fine by me,” he said quietly.

 

Asriel frowned. He stepped cautiously through a rug of distortion and squatted down. The skeleton wasn’t just hiding under his hood. There was some black cloth completely covering his eyes as well.

“Are you blindfolded?” he asked.

Sans bashfully rubbed the back of his head. “Ah. Yeah. Until the place stops lookin’ like sunspots took over and the weird time ghosts go. Kinda gives me a headache.”

“Don’t blame you,” he said. He put his hand against Sans’s chest and felt his soul’s upset beat through his fingers. “I felt something happen to you.”

“Heh. Sorry.” he said.

“Okay, one, shut up,” Asriel said. “And two. What the hell, for real?”

“Something’s messed up,” Frisk said. “He saw… He saw another him. A real one. That saw him, too. While he was awake.”

“Not that it was much better while I wasn’t,” Sans joked.

Asriel’s jaw dropped. His brow furrowed. He gulped and looked at Frisk, grimacing. “What do we do? How do we help?”

“I, um… I’m not sure,” she said. “Sans?”

“Can’t really see a solution,” he said.

“Pfff.” She held his face and bumped her brow on his. “You’re gonna be okay.”

He drooped, but a bit of the bristling reduced. He cuddled her up in his arms. 

 

Asriel sighed and plopped down beside him. He rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands. The colours of sunspots was pretty accurate, now that he thought about it. “Hey. You guys call Gaster?”

“Yeah, didn’t get anything,” Frisk said. “He’s already trying to figure out why I’m pretty sure Kid’s sister didn’t exist like a week ago.”

“What, Daisy?” Asriel asked, raising his brows.

“No, Flora,” she said.

“Flora…?” He frowned. “Flora…”

“Do you remember her?” she asked.

“I’m… not sure? Wow, that’s weird,” Asriel muttered. He rubbed his eyes and blinked. “So. Wait. Forget that. Why are the colours only bad in here?”

“Did you not see it outside?” Frisk asked.

“Nnnooo,” he said. “Well, uh… maybe a little? I’m not sure.”

Frisk’s eyes went wide. She grabbed Sans’s hands to pull him to his feet. “Let’s try outside.”

 

Out of the room, however, the fractured colours and images weren’t much different. Frisk pouted.

“No good?” Sans asked.

“I guess it’s just us,” she said. “Wherever we were?”

“Great,” he said with a tired laugh.

“Think your dad’s gettin’ it, too?” Asriel asked. “Oh. Should we, um…? I mean. If we split up for a little, do you think—?”

“But Sans can’t see, I don’t want to leave him,” Frisk said.

“But maybe he could if you left him,” Asriel said. 

“Oh. Um.” Frisk looked uncomfortable. She shot Sans a worried look. “We could… try?”

“Don’t have to,” Sans said.

“Better to test it,” Asriel said.

 

He took Frisk and they waited outside the house. She paced, folding her arms tightly, worry all over her face. She could still see patches of the world shifting, but it didn’t seem quite as bad as before. She bit her lip. If her staying with Sans had only made him worse…? Her heart sunk.

 

However, it didn’t take Sans long to peek out the doorway again, though his hood was still low and his eyes were shrouded. He touched on Frisk’s soul with his magic and smiled apologetically. 

“Still bad?” she asked.

“Not as much,” he said. “But. Yeah. You?”

“Not as much,” she agreed.

“Hang on. Lemme check something.” Asriel sprinted away down the road until he disappeared behind the festive tree. Then, he ran back, towards Waterfall. When he returned, he huffed and ran his hand through the fur on his brow. “Okay. It’s not distance.”

Frisk sighed with relief and Sans seemed to perk up a little. 

“I think it’s just time,” Asriel said. “I mean. Time passing. Not… You know.”

 

They went back inside and Sans flopped himself onto the couch and put his arms behind his head. “Actually. Don’t hate this.”

Asriel rolled his eyes. “So. What triggered this?”

“Standin’ up too fast?” Sans grinned apologetically. “No idea.”

“And why are you getting it the worst?” he pressed.

“He always gets it the worst,” Frisk said dismally. “So… I guess we just have to wait it out?”

“Guess so,” Asriel said, ears drooping.

“Just glad you nerds aren’t seein’ what I’m seein’,” Sans said.

“Which is?” 

“Lotta people,” he said.

“And… Um… Did more of them see you?” Asriel asked.

“Don’t think so.” He shrugged.

“What’s that like?”

Sans grimaced slightly. “…Wouldn’t recommend it.” He put the heel of his hand to his brow. “Tell me when you guys stop seein’ stuff, huh?”

“Okay. Don’t fall asleep though,” Frisk said quickly. “It could make it way worse.”

“Hate that you’re right,” he said.

 

Frisk felt helpless. They put the TV on, but she couldn’t stop pacing. This seemed to amuse her brother, who kept track on her by his hold on her soul. It felt like hours before the colour splotches vanished, though it couldn’t have been that long. She looked at Asriel. 

“Well?” she asked.

“Uh. Maybe… okay?” he suggested. 

“Sans?” Frisk asked.

He stuck his thumb under the cloth covering his eyes and pushed it up a bit. His left iris was vibrant blue. He blinked and squinted. He sat up, pulling what was a dark, folded scarf away from his face and looked around. “Welp. Could be worse.”

“What do you see?” she asked worriedly.

“Room’s a bit off-colour in bits, but that’s a hell of a lot better,” he said.

 

The kids let out a collective sigh of relief. Frisk grabbed him into tight, desperate hug and smooched him between his eyes. He laughed, finally releasing her soul, and ruffled her hair gently.

“S’okay. Quit worryin’ so much,” he said.

“But it’s super freakin’ weird though, bro,” she said.

“She’s not wrong.” Asriel rested his hand on his chin. “What do we do if it happens again?”

“Still happenin’ currently.” Sans pointed at his glowing eye.

“You know what I mean,” he said.

 

Frisk pouted and tried to call Gaster again. It didn’t work. She tried Alphys and that didn’t seem to work either. Papyrus, Toriel, Undyne, all the same. She groaned and rolled onto the floor.

“What do I do?” she asked.

“What d’you mean?” Asriel asked, leaning down over her. 

“How do I fix this?”

“Probably can’t,” Sans said.

“No, no, there’s gotta be something, right?” she said. “It… It just started, right? So something went wrong. Something changed. That makes sense, right?”

“I, um… I guess so?” Asriel said, his brow furrowing. “What weird time things happened?”

“Um. Dad came back. But… But I don’t think that would be it.” She sat up and folded her arms. She chewed the inside of her cheek. “Oh… The… The star travel thing.”

“What?” Asriel asked.

“What else did I do different? Nothing, right?” she said shrilly. Her eyes went wide and glossy. “I-I must’ve been using it too much. Sans, I’m so sorry.”

“Uh…” He grinned sideways. “Kiddo. C’mon. Why would it be that?”

“I dunno!” Her throat tightened and her voice cracked. “What else could it be?! Nothing else really changed before it got r-real bad and… I’m so sorry, it’s probably all my fault.”

 

Sans got on his knees and grabbed the kid’s face in both hands. He brushed his thumbs under her eyes. “Jeez, kid. C’mon. Don’t cry on me. Even if we pretend for a sec that it is your fault. I don’t care. You know that.”

She gulped and nodded stiffly.

“Why couldn’t it be your dad coming back again?” Asriel said. “I mean. That’s the biggest thing, isn’t it?”

“It was getting worse before he got here,” Sans said. “Just, uh… not like this.”

“I’m so sorry,” Frisk said quietly.

“Kid.” Sans gave her a stern look.

 

She drooped and wiped her eyes. She shook her head quickly. “I’m gonna figure it out.”

“Relax,” Sans said. “I know I ain’t the only one seein’ stuff.”

“It doesn’t matter.” She made as if to get up, but her brother seized on her soul and plunked her right back into place. “Saaaans.”

“You wanna help, right?” he said. “Chill out.”

They locked eyes— a strange, steady standoff. She gritted her teeth. She leaned into him and gripped him tightly around his ribcage. He sat cross-legged and scooped her up.

“Don’t freak out on me, alright?” he said quietly.

She nodded. “I’ll t-try not to. Isn’t there anything I can do, though?”

“Well. Maybe one thing,” he said.

“What?” she asked so quickly it came out like a bark.

“Tea.”

“Tea? Tea!” She finally cracked a smile. She got up and rushed to the kitchen. “I can totally do that! Just a minute!”

 

When she was gone, Sans let out a quiet sigh, resting his back against the couch. Asriel slipped over and squatted beside him. 

“Seriously,” he said at a whisper.

“I’ll be fine.” His eyes looked heavy. He drummed his fingers on his leg. “Hey. Do me a favour?”

“What?”

“She’s… She’s gonna try to do somethin’ stupid,” he said. “Might work. Might not. Probably can’t stop her, but… watch her back, okay?”

“Wh…? Uh.” Asriel’s eyes narrowed. “What do you know?”

Sans shrugged and he smiled sideways. “Just know her.”

“Right.” Asriel straightened up and shot him a smirk. “For the record. I don’t believe you. Not about her. About you.”

“Hey, whatcha gonna do?” the skeleton said. He sighed heavily. “Sheesh.”

 

Asriel looked him up and down. He scooted a little closer, hesitated for a moment, and then grabbed him into a tight hug. The skeleton snorted.

“Kid, I’m okay,” he said. “Uh. Actually. Are you? You been a little more…”

“I know, I know, I just…” He sighed and pouted, drawing back and and shaking his head. “After everything, we… Okay, not me. But you. You deserved a rest. A longer one, before you say, oh, I had a month, or some crap.”

Sans laughed. He patted Asriel between his horns reassuringly. “Jeez, if you’re sayin’ that, guess you’re real serious, huh?” he said.

“Shut up, of course I am,” he said. “…You’re my brother now. Even if that’s… so weird.”

 

Sans caught himself grinning a bit wider. He squished the kid’s ears gently. “Yeah, guess it’s pretty w-eared.”

“Why did you…? Oh, come on!!” Asriel protested, scrunching up his snout. “You just can’t help it, can you?”

Sans’s smile widened. “Oh, no, I can totally help it.”

“I think that’s worse,” the kid said.

 

- - -

 

It didn’t take too much longer for Toriel to arrive. She’d beaten out everyone else and instantly took Sans into her arms and squished him close, even before anyone had explained what had happened. Once they had, she flared her magic bright and held him, pulsing energy through his bones as strongly and as steadily as she could. He had to admit, it wasn’t half-bad.

 

Frisk, on the other hand, was a roiling ball of nerves. Phones still weren’t working to call with. She’d thought maybe it was just them, but Toriel’s hadn’t worked either. She wanted to talk to Gaster. More than almost anything. If anyone had answers, it had to be him, right? And maybe Papyrus was with him. She sure could use an amber-magic hug right about now. She had never wanted to leave her house so badly in her life.

 

When her mother pulled Sans aside to show him new floor plan drawings, Frisk stayed anxiously in the living room. She eyed the door. He’d try to stop her. Would probably know where she was headed, too. Maybe she could get a head start, but…? 

 

She was jerked from her thoughts as Asriel pulled her into his arms. 

“Hey. So. I noticed you’re schemin’,” he said.

“What? No!” Frisk said shrilly. “I’m not…”

“Yeeeeah, you super are,” he said. He touched his snout gently against her cheek. “Listen. Just relax. He’s gonna be okay.”

“I need to do something,” she said quietly. 

“What can you do?”

“I need to talk to dad,” she said. “He’ll probably be in the lab by now. Right? So—”

“But, I mean, you don’t look so good yourself.” He grinned. “That was quick.”

“Huh?” She stared at him blankly. 

He snickered and tilted his head. “He knew you’d try something. Didn’t think it’d be so soon.”

“Oh…” Frisk wasn’t even sure why she was surprised. “What if I just tell him?” 

“What?” Asriel blinked.

“What if I just go tell Sans I’m gonna find dad and just… see what he says?”

“Oh. Well… I mean. Go ahead?” he said. “I’ll come with you.”

“You don’t have to,” she said.

“Want to,” he said.

 

Frisk slipped upstairs to where Sans and Toriel were talking. They were in his old room. She tapped on the door and let herself in, where the two of them were sitting on the bed, surrounded by papers. Toriel smiled at her.

“Hello, hun,” she said. She gestured to the mess. “We are going to need some proper desk space for future projects, I think!”

She nodded. She caught Sans counting down on his fingers and she pointed at him. “I see that!”

He grinned. She sighed and laughed.

“What is it, my child? Did you want to tell us something?” Toriel asked.

“Um. I’m gonna go to the lab,” she said. “I wanna talk to dad about what happened and since phones are still stupid…”

“That urgent, huh?” Sans said. 

“Cours it is! Jeez,” she said, eyes wide. “Are you still seeing it?”

His hesitation gave her her answer. He smiled tiredly. “Can’t talk you out of it?”

She shook her head. “I need… I need to at least see if we can think of something to help.”

He sighed. “Want a lift?”

“No, no, you stay here, don’t teleport or do anything timey that doesn’t just happen in your head, okay?” Frisk said quickly, raising her hands. “Please? Just in case?”

“Oh, my, this really spooked you, didn’t it?” Toriel asked gently. “But can it not wait until Gaster gets home? You look exhausted.”

“I can’t just do nothing,” she muttered.

“Nothin’s the easiest thing in the world,” he joked.

 

Frisk got closer and grabbed his hands. “I just wanna talk it out. Okay? I’m gonna go? Az is gonna come with me.”

Sans patted her head. “Hate to see you all torn up. Honestly. Chill. But, I mean, can’t stop you.”

“Right! Okay! Right.” She grabbed him and hugged him tight. “I love you so much and I’m gonna fix this and it’s gonna be fine.”

“Jeez, kiddo,” he said. “Relax, will ya?”

“Oh, sweetie, she just wants you to feel better,” Toriel said, putting a caring hand on his shoulder and smiling. “Just as we all do, honestly. You of all monsters know you should let her help.”

“Oof,” he said with a laugh. “Nothin’ too weird though, okay?”

“I’ll do my best,” she said brightly.

 

Frisk and Asriel left together and quickly headed into Waterfall. They checked Undyne’s house on the way, but nobody was there.

 

When they reached the lab, they started hearing chattering voices as soon as they opened the door. Mettaton was inside with a camera and a microphone pointed directly at Alphys. Gaster hovered around behind her, trying to make himself inconspicuous as if he’d been trapped in the shot and was afraid to move. He noticed them and bashfully twiddled his fingers to wave.

 

“As you know, for almost all monsters— especially myself— phones are a necessity! What are you doing to fix this?” Mettaton asked.

“W-Well! Um.” Alphys turned back to the monitor behind her. “H-Honestly, it’s just a little power fluctuation. I, um, just will need to r-reboot a few of the systems attached to the CORE and then we should be o-okay!”

“And that will solve the power failures of the lifts from New Home and the Hotland puzzles, too, correct?” he said.

“It should.” The lizard nodded and grinned nervously. “Um. Yeah! S-So, um, if you’re stuck in a section, just, um, get some lunch? And it sh-should be fixed by the time you’re done! If you, um, m-miss school and need a note, s-send me a text when this is all fixed and I’ll make sure you don’t get in trouble!”

“FANTASTIC!” Mettaton leapt in front of the camera, arm extending out to hold it exactly in place as he grinned into the lens. “Well, there you have it, beauties! Our dear Royal Scientist should have all this done in, oh, say, ten minutes?”

“M-Maybe more like a half hour or so,” Alphys squeaked. “So, um, the power might g-go out for a few minutes in—”

“A half hour! Fantastic. Try not to bore yourselves to death in the meantime, my darlings! That is the end of Mettaton’s Super Emergency Broadcast Special! You all have yourselves a wonderful day! Ta-taaaa~!”

 

Mettaton hit some buttons and put the camera down. Alphys slumped, but he grinned and grabbed her shoulders. 

“Great job,” he said. He whirled and grinned brightly at Frisk and then glided over like he had wheels in his feet. “HELLO my darling little Frisk! How are you doing?!” He lifted her up and squeezed her before she could answer. “I heard about that nonsense with those foreign humans, how are you holding up? They didn’t cause too much trouble, did they? I can write a political hit piece if you need!”

“No, no no, it’s fine,” she grunted as he put her down. She took a breath. “It’s good to see you. I watched your party thing on TV, it looked cool.”

“Of course it did!” He posed proudly, and then shot a smile at Asriel. “And hello to you, too, Prince Dreemurr! You were a great help on that.”

“Well, popcorn ain’t gonna pop itself,” he said.

“Exactly! And Papyrus was—! Oh, actually!” He gestured widely to Gaster, who had crept in close with a hopeful smile on his face. “Have you been introduced to Doctor Gaster yet?”

Frisk grinned. “Yeah, we mightta met a few times.”

 

With a big smile on his face, Gaster knelt to give her a warm, relieved hug. “I’m glad to see you.”

“Me too.” She tried not to get too weak in the knees.

“Oh, s-so, you must’ve b-been calling,” Alphys said, edging in. “Sorry, F-Frisk, it just went haywire at kind of a bad time, huh?” She looked around. “Where’s…? Is Sans not with you?”

“Yeah,” she said. “Um. Something… Um. Something didn’t go so well back home.”

 

That drew all the adults’ attention completely. Frisk tented her fingers. 

“Um.” She took a deep breath. “Sans saw through time. It… wasn’t good.”

“Wait what?!” Alphys said shrilly.

Gaster’s eyes went wide. He put a hand to his soul spot. “Was…? Was that what that was?”

“Did you see, too?” Asriel asked.

“No, but I…” He shook his head quickly. “How is he?”

“A little better. It was rough, though,” she said. “He almost fainted. He couldn’t look at anything for almost an hour.”

“Wait, what does that mean?” Mettaton asked. “I don’t understand what any of this is, by the way.”

Alphys groaned and pushed him off to the side so that he rolled away. “Not now. S-So. What’s happening? Why is i-it happening?”

“It’s… been getting worse, hasn’t it?” Gaster asked softly.

Frisk nodded. She grabbed his hand tightly in hers. “I… I need your help. I need to fix it. It shouldn’t be this b-bad, right? There has to be something I can do. Right?”

 

Gaster tapped his teeth thoughtfully. He turned to Alphys. “Fix what you can? I need to help Frisk with this.”

“R-Right. Um. Right!” She stuck her thumbs up. She grabbed Mettaton by the hand and pulled him towards her desk. She grabbed her laptop. “C-Come on. I’ll need your help.”

“What? Moi?” Mettaton put a hand to his chest, his eyes wide.

“You’re so m-much taller than me!” she said with a laugh, shoving her computer into his arms. “And most of the old controls were designed by that guy over there.” She jerked her thumb at Gaster.

“Fair enough.” 

“This doesn’t…? Is this anything to do with Sans?” Frisk asked worriedly.

“Oh! Because of the…? N-No, no, it was just m-my fiddling with it while I w-was trying to, um, r-reverse engineer s-something. A small p-part, um, overloaded,” Alphys said with an embarrassed laugh. Her cheeks flushed. “Um. Asriel, m-maybe could you come, too? I mean. In case there a d-determination flare up anywhere? Oh! Um. Unless you’re needed here?”

Asriel raised his brows. He looked at Frisk. She shrugged.

“Gonna try to not do anything stupid,” she said.

He grabbed her shoulders; stared deep into her eyes. “Don’t mess up.”

“Okay okay.” 

 

Asriel laughed and headed over to join Alphys and Mettaton. Alphys smiled fondly and patted him on the shoulder. 

Mettaton leaned in close to her as he followed her towards the door and whispered, “It’s okay to leave them alone, right? He’s not going to do strange experiments on her, is he?”

“PFFT! No, no,” Alphys laughed. “He’s her father.”

“Her WAITWHAT?!” He was dragged out before he could ask any more questions.

 

Gaster smiled bashfully despite the worry making his brow heavy. He put his hand on Frisk’s head and tutted softly. “You look so worried, a stór. What can we do?”

“I dunno, that’s why I came to you,” she said. “I… I’m so freaked out I don’t even want him to go to sleep like this. I don’t know what’ll happen. He keeps saying it’s fine. He won’t care unless it’s happening to me.” Her throat tightened and she grasped her hands. “I can’t let it keep getting worse. But whatever I gotta do… I dunno. I gotta go into the void, right? I must have to. Right?”

Gaster tapped his teeth. He nodded. He offered his hand and she took it readily.

“Come,” he said. “I think I know what to check, at least.”

Chapter Text

 

Gaster’s set-up was below the most utilized floor of the lab. He took Frisk into the elevator and urged it farther down. It was oddly nostalgic to stand there, looking up at him with that low humming sound and the rumble underfoot.

 

She recognized where he was taking her as connected to the room where Alphys had first shot her with a beam of determination for her soul to absorb. Gaster had commandeered a small room shooting off of that area before the several locked doors, and had pulled in monitors and a computer from elsewhere. There was some sort of prickly metal pole bound together with tape in the corner, jabbing up into the ceiling, and some stacks of bulky drives and terminals with coloured lights blinking as if trying to communicate some mysterious message.

 

“Um. What is all this?” Frisk asked.

“It’s mostly an analysis room,” he said as he hurried to the computer. “It’s a wee bit scrappy, but it’ll do. I can pull data from a receiver up the CORE tower to track… Well… Almost anything.”

“You just set that up?” the kid asked, eyes wide.

“I had one before,” he said. “Everything’s been all shifted around but… They’re not exactly hard to make if you know how.”

“Okay,” Frisk said. “Oh. Did you… Uh. Find anything out about Flora?”

“Funny you should say,” he said. He pulled out his phone and offered it to her. “You know. I was thinking of sending out a read on the signal that… Oh! Take a look.” He tapped on an app on the screen with the symbol of a white heart and the letters SOULSCN on it. “Alphys is so clever, I can’t even tell you.” He grinned proudly.

 

The app opened up to a dark screen with a large panel and a circle taking up most of it, and a list with different coloured hearts and names beside them. A lemon yellow one was labeled “ALPHYS-TUTORIAL”, a black one with a white outline said, “WDG” and the last one was a pale, leaf green, labeled, “FLORA”. He tapped that one and it came up with the wafting, magic image of a heart of that same colour, and a waveform of a hum below it. The soul itself, though, occasionally had a strange spike, where the colour went darker. Gaster tapped on it.

“See that? That is absolutely unusual,” he said. “And if you look at mine…” He switched the panels to WDG to show that, in fact, his soul’s entire image was made of those spikes. “Bears a certain resemblance, doesn’t it?”

“So if you tracked that—”

“I could find anyone else who was effected.” He nodded. His brow furrowed and he gently held her face in his hand. He brushed his thumb under her eye. “What is…? Are you injured?”

“Hm? Oh. No.” She smiled bashfully. “Just gets like that when I’m real tired.”

 

Gaster frowned. He straightened up and went back to the computer. As he navigated the interface, his magic projections of hands appeared to help him operate some of the other gadgets on towers of stacked computer terminals. “So… This thing with your brother. It’s… quite serious, isn’t it? Can you explain in a little more detail?”

“Um. Well, I mean… He said he was seeing people. As if they were there. But it was himself and Papyrus, mostly, but not looking the same. And there was a Sans from… From a timeline we dreamt together. And that one, somehow, Sans was sure he saw him, too. He— the other one, I mean— tried to touch him.”

“Hm… Maybe… I could run some tests, rebalance him if I’m able to perhaps extract—”

“It’s not just that, Az and I saw it, too,” she said. “That’s why I think it’s out there.”

Gaster turned and stared. Looked liked he’d just broken a glass. “You… saw it.”

“Not as bad,” she said quickly. “It was like… patches. Like these rectangles of the wrong colour or the wrong time of day or… something. It’s hard to explain.”

 

Fear flashed through the skeleton’s eyes. He turned away, grimacing, and he paced the room quickly, back and forth a few times. He whirled on Frisk, bent down, and hugged her. “I’m sorry. I… I’m so sorry. So… it’s not just in his head.”

“Yeah. Pretty sure. Um.” She looked up at him with big eyes. “I kinda hate to ask, but you know it better than anyone. Maybe… Could you help me see if anything’s wrong out there?”

“Of course I can,” he said quickly. He clenched his fingers gently into the back of her hair. “I… I knew it was getting bad, but I didn’t think…”

“Yeah. It, um… It got worse real quick,” she said quietly.

He sighed and bumped his brow on hers before swiftly straightening up. He looked back at the monitor and flinched. “I think I may have an idea.”

 

He pulled up a moving energy diagram on the screen that Frisk didn’t understand. She edged closer and tried to read it. Something to do with CORE fluctuations and a map. After a second, she realized some dots on it matched up with where the tears in time were. She shot her father a curious look. He drummed his fingertips against the computer, and the screens began to shift far too quickly for the kid to follow. She blinked and rubbed her eyes, and one of her father’s magical hands reassuringly patted her on the head. Curiously, she grabbed the hand and held it in both hers, and looked it over. It was almost exactly like the real one, hole and all, except the colour and faint transparency. It grasped to her gently and she snuck closer to Gaster.

“Um. So. Do you know what to do?” she asked.

He turned to her, about to speak, and froze instead. He stared at her and then couldn’t help but smile. He rubbed his face quickly; the false hands vanished into dark glitter in the air. “I think you’re right. We need to check the space between. Just… give me a moment.”

 

Gaster used his phone to pull out a dark blue tome and opened it on the desk. He flipped through the pages quickly, past the small amount he’d already read. He was looking for shielding; perhaps a way to protect Frisk, but he found nothing of the sort. No, the spells here were stronger and louder than what might have been a relatively simplistic spell of protection. Long-range, bombastic; experimental. Dangerous. Spells of destruction, storms; alchemy. Of lucid dreams and prophecy. Built on will and determination, only suitable, for the most part, for a boss monster or a choir of monsters.

 

As Frisk leaned in to look at what she couldn’t read, Gaster frowned thoughtfully at the pages.

“What’s that?” she asked.

“A spellbook, essentially. I’ll explain everything a little later,” he said. “I was just hoping…” He shook his head. “Well, it’s good for many things, but not exactly what I would like.” He stashed it away again. “Alright. Come.”

 

In the main body of the lab, Frisk latched to the light to hold the world steady. Gaster held her gently and reached his hand through the star, too. His eyes went dark and his bones took an ashy tint.

“You okay?” Frisk asked.

“…Fine.” He didn’t sound fine.

“You can wait here. Just tell me what I’m looking for,” she said.

“I can’t, I need to…” Gaster smiled and then put a hand over hers. His fingertips grazed the light, his bones shimmering with blue, and they connected with a sharp crackle of energy. “Close your eyes.”

Frisk did as he asked. A chill hit her like she plunged into water.

 

When she looked again, darkness dotted with stars stretched out endlessly before her. She took a deep breath. She was alone. “Dad?” she asked. Her voice echoed to nowhere.

 

Frisk frowned. She spun around. Nothing. She flipped upside down. Still nothing. She put her hand against her soul and let it glow softly. Her song resonated in the back of her head— inaudible sound that pulsed from her, somehow. She thought she heard something and flipped back up. She saw a shape cut in front of a light. She willed herself towards it.

 

It was Gaster. He was drifting, unconscious, goo as dark as the void around them pouring from his eyes. Frisk yelped and grabbed onto his shoulders.

“Dad?!” she demanded. Her heart sunk. She’d messed up already. “Oh, man, c’mon, dad, don’t do this.” She cupped his face and grimaced, leaning forward and bumping her brow on his. She focussed her energy on his, though it was cold and dark and deep. “Come on. Come on come on come on…”

 

He gasped. She pulled back quickly, but held him tight as his eyes shot open and he looked around frantically. His irises beamed with gold and blue.

“Hey. Hey, relax, you okay?” she asked.

He fixated on her and his expression softened. The light in his sockets dimmed. With shaking arms, he hugged her gently. “I’m sorry.”

“No, don’t, it’s okay. Was it too much?” she said. “Should we leave?”

“I… I’m fine,” he croaked. “Let’s get started.”

 

He managed to straighten up a little and he wiped the blackened tears off his face. “It’s alright,” he said. “We’ve been here before. Remember?”

“Is this where I found you?” she asked.

“It is. You pass through, for just a moment, every time you move yourself.” He smiled at her fondly. “This is the place where you are the most powerful.”

“It is?” she asked, frowning. “But… You came here first. You cut it, didn’t you?”

“I can change little aspects. But to truly manipulate it. To do what we need. Only you can,” he said. “It’s in your nature.”

“Oh. R… Right,” she said. “Um. But. This all, um, kinda looks the same to me. I mean, it’s super pretty but I… I don’t know what to do. This place is huge.”

“Infinite,” he said with a nod. He drew his hand through the dark and it rippled. “Think of this place like… Water. Or. Maybe more accurately. Blood. The blood of time. Even if that sounds quite melodramatic.”

Frisk snickered. “Gross.”

“It is an accurate analogy,” Gaster said. “It was an old human method of medicine to lance swollen wounds. Gross, as you said. But, potentially effective. To relieve the pressure. That is what I did.”

“Okay,” she said. “Because… the CORE did something to it? How’d you manage that?”

“That is far too long a story,” he said apologetically. “Now, the problem we’ve seen is something external to your timeline is seeping in, right? So, if we continue along that train of thought…”

“…There’s a… A cut? Or something?” Frisk said. “And it’s leaking? But in.”

“I would expect so,” he said.

“So, um, you know what we need to do, right?” she asked.

He dipped his head in a nod. “You will need to seal the tear.”

“And… Um. Okay. How do we find it? Can your machine do that? Do you know what it looks like?”

 

Gaster chuckled and smiled at her fondly. “You’re asking all the right questions, Frisky. Though, I’m afraid I don’t have many answers in this case. Numbers and data can only take us so far when we haven’t observed what we’re looking for ourselves. You’ll have to rely on your soul and your senses.”

“You… sound like you’re not coming,” she said.

“I can’t,” he said apologetically.

Frisk grimaced, but she nodded. She held his hand. “I understand. You’re still sick, huh? Yeah, you should stay back, then.”

“It’s not just that,” he admitted. “I… This will sound strange. But I don’t trust myself close to any significant tears that reach beyond your universe. You will need to be the one to protect everything. From… From me.”

“From…? Wait, what?” she asked.

 

His smile was forlorn. He put a hand on her head gently. “In my time outside of myself, I saw… other timelines. Other versions,” he said. “In countless universes, there are countless other versions of myself, with countless other CORES, that will inevitably rupture their own universes. One of those rupturing might have caused what we’re seeing now.”

“Oh. Jeez,” Frisk breathed. “But… won’t they need help? Like you did?”

“We can’t help them,” he said. “Not without compromising our world. While I was here, I… I saw into some of their minds. I believe you might have had a similar experience, in your dreams. With other anomalies. Right?”

She looked worried, but she nodded anyway.

“Some of them are like me. Most of them are different, some in ways that are… dangerous. Cruel, even,” he said. “And almost all will shatter like I did. And some may break things, unintentionally or not. Maybe some already have. I… cannot risk us like that. And I don’t trust myself.”

“What d’you mean?” she said.

“I’ve always been drawn to this place. I know many of the others must be like this, too. I can’t guarantee I won’t get curious. That I won’t try pulling on it again.” He flinched. “I am afraid that the way I… The way I returned may have also contributed to this. The way I dragged myself away from timelessness attached to your soul.”

“…But I wanted you to come back, remember?” she said.

“And you would have brought me. You did. But I clung. I fear I ripped something. And despite how sick it makes me, I keep wanting to pass through this place again. It can’t be helping. I can’t be allowed to pick at the wounds in here. Whoever else is out there can’t, either. We must… You must cauterize it.”

“C… Cauterize,” she repeated.

 

He looked so worried; so sad. She gulped and she reached up to hold his hand.

“So… So what do I do?”

“Reach out. Use your magic to close it off,” he said. “I know it sounds daunting. But I think that you are so connected to this that, once you link in, you’ll understand right away.”

Frisk sighed and laughed at herself. “So much for not doin’ anything crazy,” she said.

“We can try a different—”

“No. No. I can’t let Sans sit through just seeing other times all the time. He’s gonna go nuts,” she said. “I’ll go. I’ll try.”

 

The kid took a deep breath and closed her eyes. She put a hand to her soul spot and lit it up bright. Her father put his big, broken hand over hers.

“What you’re looking for,” he said gently, “is an ebb and flow of time. Like water, moving between different levels of pressure. Do you understand?”

“Think so,” she said. When she pulsed, she felt an immediate connection all around her, like she was the centre of a spider’s web. She could hear voices, some she knew and some she didn’t. She could hear people crying, people laughing. Overwhelming noises, voices; hums. Her ears pricked to one she knew better than all others. Sans’s voice, deep in the dark, out there somewhere she couldn’t see.

 

She reached out, heat swelling in her fingertips. Her energy tried to tap in, and she felt little tugs in all directions; short snippets of song. Her brother’s. Of course. They would always be connected through what had happened to them, wouldn’t they? Didn’t matter what version.

 

Her heart felt heavy and she blew out a shaky, cold breath in the darkness. When she opened her eyes, she was alone. She saw bleak space divided by a scar of white so bright it hurt her eyes. She thought about going closer and her body did it on its own, shifting, effortless. Maybe this was the rip? At least, a place where any sort of separation had stretched and thinned. She wondered what would happen if she stuck a hand through, then thought better of it.

 

She drifted towards that divider. Circling it, it had no form at all from the reverse. She moved back to the front of it and squinted into the light. She laid her hand against it and felt someone reaching out for her. She gulped. Someone out there needed her help. She closed her eyes again and focussed. There was a song. That other one. The one Sans’s soul made when the world might end. It hurt her heart. Was he calling out with it?

 

The longer she stayed, the more she could feel his energy. But she felt something weird; unexpected. Determination. A lot of it. She grimaced and focussed all she had and put her fingertips against the grey and gently pushed until it got darker and darker, slowly quieting the noise. At the edge of pitch black, Frisk felt something familiar jab into her.

 

In that deepened grey, blue flickered. A very specific, familiar blue. She gently touched her palm against it.

“Sans, I’m sorry,” she said quietly. “I… I don’t know how to…”

The blue formed a shape. A palm. Slowly, fingers made of bone and dyed that same shade of blue pushed through cautiously from out there. Her stomach dropped into sheer cold. But that had to be him. From somewhere else. Why was he there now? Because she was?

 

Cautiously, she touched the boney fingers. She felt a tremor of surprise through them and she laughed in disbelief. It wasn’t a vision— there was really someone over there. She grasped him tight and traced “hi” in his palm. Though the blue hand shook, it held hers. The thumb seemed to test her skin and the shape of her palm curiously. Then, the other side of the world got blue again. And there was a knock. Like a fist tapping on frosted glass. Frisk burst out laughing. She knocked in return.

 

Can you hear me?” That was Sans’s voice. It came in through the back of her mind, though, not her ears.

Frisk’s heart thunked hard in her chest. “Yeah. Can you hear me?”

Oh. God. Okay. You’re… real, then?

“Yeah,” she said.

Uh… Who are you, kid?” he asked.

“I’m Frisk. Um. Sounds kinda weird, but I’m like the, um, anchor, anomaly thing in charge of time stuff of this side? Like, this universe thing over here.” She grinned embarrassedly. “Oof, that comes out real dumb sometimes.”

Pffft. No. No, that’s fine,” he said. “Actually. Just who I’m lookin’ for.

“Oh?” She tilted her head. “…You do need help, huh?”

I don’t. I mean. I do. But not me. Does that make sense?

“More than you’d think,” she said. “So… So what’s the problem?”

Real me’s stuck in a loop. Needs a break. Really, really bad,” he said. “It’s… Well. If you could do anything… To be honest, I got no clue how long I been out here and this is the first gap I’ve ever seen with someone on the other side. Can you come through?

Frisk froze. She gulped. She looked at the space around her. “Can I…?” She took a deep breath. “Okay.”

 

She let the blue hand pull her through to the other side. A strange, rippling sensation passed over the kid’s body. It was like moving through a bubble. She was brought face to face with her brother’s blue-tinted twin— a perfect replica except a faint scratch in the bone on his brow. Frisk stared at him, stunned, for a moment. He looked back at her with considerably more shock, his dark eyes seeming huge in his skull.

“You’re human,” he said.

“I’m Frisk,” she joked.

He cracked a smile. “Thanks for comin’. What were you doin’ all the way out here? I mean, you’re a tiny kid. Uh…” He smiled sideways. “Unless you’re older than you look.”

“I’m eleven,” she volunteered.

Sans laughed and grinned. “Well. Technicality, I guess.”

“What?! C’mon, how old do I look?” she asked.

“I dunno. Half that?” He patted her shoulder. “Still. Big place. Small kid. But, uh, so you’re… the one in charge of the timeline stuff?”

“Yeah,” she said quickly. “I do time travel stuff and I can’t die. S’kinda my thing. My brother sorta thinks I’m a time god? It’s sorta weird to say, and sorry if it sounds kinda full of myself, but it’s the quickest way to explain.”

“Right. Okay. Fair enough.” He tilted his head. “So, uh, whatcha doin’ out here?”

“Something’s all messed up with my brother,” she said. “We see time stuff normally but we don’t super control most of it, and then it started to happen in a really bad way, so I thought if I’d come out here to fix… something? It might help him. I thought maybe it was this rip thingy. That’s where all my magic stuff took me, anyway.”

“Oh. Alright. Makes sense,” he said. He tapped his teeth thoughtfully. “Actually. This might help you, too.”

 

“Oh?” Frisk tilted her head. “You know something?”

“Kinda,” he said. “Buncha things can cause these rips. But I think a big push from someone like you could close it as long as what’s makin’ it ain’t holdin’ it open. But, see what’s been wearin’ it thin on this end is, uh… Me.”

“Okay,” Frisk said.

“See. It’s complicated,” he said apologetically. “I’m… like a fragment. A bit stuck through a save. Kinda to, uh, try to hold sanity. If that makes sense. The real me is just stuck in this real strong loop. Has been for a while. But you… If you’re really are what you say, then, maybe you got a chance of breakin’ it. I mean…” He looked bashful all of a sudden. “S’that too much? To ask a favour from a time god? I’m not sure what I could give ya, but I’ll do my best. ‘Cause, seriously, I’m sorta runnin’ low on options here.”

“Whoa, whoa whoa, you don’t gotta give me anything,” Frisk said quickly. She held out her hand. “Just, um…? Bring me to him. You. You know.”

 

The skeleton’s face broke into an even wider grin. His eyes lit up. “Thanks, kid. ‘Preciate it.” His soul spot began to glow and so, too, did the palm of his hand. “Hope you won’t regret it.”

“Nah.” She winked. “Helping Sanses is what I do.” She reached into that blue light and felt her stomach drop. The black around her plunged and blurred like mixing paint before her eyes until it was a radiant spectrum. Then, the world was solid.

 

She saw Sans, soul shining blue in that golden hallway. He had the same scratch on his forehead that the blue skeleton out in the void had. She almost rolled her eyes. Of course he was here.

 

His face was steady, but before she could even open her mouth, her soul turned blue, too, and he threw her to the ground. With a squeak, she scrambled up to a wave of bones rushing her. Heart pounding, she ducked and weaved and jumped, and braced for what was next. Massive, draconic skulls burst from nothing and loomed above her.

 

Reflex and awful memories guided her and she sprung out of the way as beams of energy accompanied by a deep, magical thrum shot out, driving her back and forth and boxing her in. She didn’t take a hit.

 

His expression didn’t waver, but the feeling in the air did. It crackled, and in an instant, his song burst to life. Not the normal, relaxed notes, though. The bombastic one, the one that meant he was filled with determination; the one that his soul shouted when the world was dying. Frisk gulped.

“S-Sans, hang on a second!”

 

He didn’t. He held her soul, pinned her with gravity, and his attacks came relentlessly. Frisk knew them. Jumped and dodged; readjusted herself when he threw her into walls. She hated it, and she was already wearing out a little. He wasn’t talking, either. No sass, no quips, no moralizing. He just seemed exhausted. She felt awful for him. All she wanted to do was hug him, tell him everything would be okay; let him know that, for now at least, he was safe.

 

Lost in thought for a moment, Frisk tumbled in the blue magic. She yelped and a bone slammed into her and sent her rolling across the floor. It didn’t hurt much at all, but it knocked the wind from her. She pushed herself up to her knees to take a breath, only to be toppled over again. She grunted and rolled onto her back and sat up, rubbing her head. She caught a glimpse of Sans. He looked thoroughly disturbed, but his attack had stalled. She waved awkwardly. She saw him tense, and her hand fell.

“Oh, uh. Right. Sorry,” she said bashfully.

 

In a blink, he was in front of her, and he squatted down, tilting his head and giving her a quizzical frown. “Is this some kinda joke?” he asked. “Cause I ain’t laughin’.”

“Oh jeez, you must be really tired, huh?” Frisk said. “You okay? You wanna sit?”

He looked baffled. He hesitated for a moment, but then took her by the collar of her shirt and pulled her closer. “What the hell are you…?” His words stalled. He seemed taken aback by her worried look. His brow furrowed. “Wait…” He put a hand on his head. “Oh. My god. You’re… You’re not her, are you?”

“Her? Chara? No,” she said.

 

Sans stared for a few seconds before he dropped down onto his tailbone, put a hand on his brow and began to laugh. His song faded to nothing, leaving the hall oddly still and silent except for his exhausted chuckling. “Ah, jeez, kid,” he said. “Heh. Sorry. Seems like there’s been a bit of a mixup. Didn’t dunk you too bad, did I?”

“No, don’t worry,” she assured him.

“You know who I am,” he said, raising his brows.

“Yeah, of course,” she said, and she smiled a little. “Sans. Captain lazy bones. Possibly the master fartmaster. Depending on the time, I guess.”

“Heh. Alright,” he said. “Sure you’re fine?”

“Yup, no worries,” she said. “Sorry to scare you.”

 

He raised a brow and then rubbed his tired eyes. “So. I don’t get it. Your LV is nil. How’d you know my moves so well?”

“Long story,” Frisk said. “Part of it is we— um, the Sans I know, he went through some stuff just like this. And we have the same dreams. I used to have to sit in the head of another anomaly kid without being able to control it. So…”

“Well shit,” he said with a tired laugh. “That sucks.”

“It’s a little better now,” she said. “Sorry.”

He shook his head.

 

They sat in silence for a little while. He looked like he could fall asleep at any moment. Instead, he turned to her.

“Welp. Better run off back to your own timeline, huh?” he said. “This one’s crap.”

“How long have you been here?” she asked worriedly. “You look so tired.”

“Heh. What else is new?” he said. “I dunno, actually. Feels like forever.”

“Oh… I’m so sorry,” Frisk said.

He shrugged. “How’d you get here, anyway? You look a bit like that other one. Bit different, too, though. So I guess you gotta be one of these weird time kids.”

“Right. I’m Frisk. Where I’m from, I’m the anchor,” she said. “If that, um, means anything to you.”

“Oh. So you’re a good one.” He looked a little surprised. “Huh. Who’da guessed. So. It finishes. At some point. That’s good to know. Whatcha doin’ here?”

“I’m, um… Well, I was looking for a way to close my timeline. See, my Sans, from my time? He’s seeing other times while he’s awake.”

“Welp. That sucks,” he said.

“I know, right? So. I mean. We both have the time dreams, but it just got super bad super quick. And I’m the only one who could maybe help, so I went out and I… I was trying to close it. I think? It’s all, like, really abstract imagery stuff?”

“Tell me about it,” he laughed.

She smiled bashfully. She tapped her fingertips together. “But then I heard you. I mean, your song. Can’t really say no to it. And I just… I dunno. A fragment guy of you was out in the time void and he asked me to come see you. He thought I could help.”

“Pfft. Alright. Guess I’ve heard weirder.” He stretched. “Guess you know a version of me pretty well, then, huh? If you’ve seen the dreams.”

She nodded again. He looked thoughtful.

 

“What are you to me?” he asked. “Or. Us? Him? Other me. We pals, at least?”

“We’re family,” she said.

“Oh. Huh. Didn’t expect that,” he said. “That’s actually pretty nice. Bet that made him real happy.”

“Yeah, made me really happy, too,” she said with a smile.

“You, uh… still have Papyrus where you’re from, huh?” he said. “Keep him safe, okay?”

“For sure,” she said gently. “H-He’ll come back, you know. At a reset.”

“I know,” he said with a smile. “Still hate it.”

“Me too,” she said.

 

He sighed and rubbed the back of his skull. “So, you got any idea what you’re doin’ here?”

“I dunno, sounded like you needed help,” she said.

“Kiddo, we all need help,” he said with a laugh.

She looked him up and down and then sighed and gave him a hug. He froze.

“You’re so brave, dude,” she said. “I know you’re just, like, thinking you’re only doing what you have to. And maybe that’s true? I dunno, but… whatever happens out there, you’re gonna do great.”

“Heh, I dunno, kid,” he said quietly. “Can’t even explain the crap I’ve seen.”

“Don’t need to,” she assured him. “I believe in you. Even if it gets as bad as it can possibly get, just hang in there. I promise you’ll make it.”

“…Even if the world ends?” he said.

“Even if the world ends,” she said. “Just keep going. Chara can only push so far. And one day, she’ll find some kid she can’t push. Even if it’s not me, or… or it’s some other version, however that works, you’ll find an anchor. One who loves you. There’s always one. Has to be.”

“Kid…” He sighed. “Dunno. Lookin’ kinda bleak to me.”

“I know,” she said. “But you’re determined, too, huh?”

 

He was quiet for a few seconds. He slumped a little. He wrapped her in his arms and their energy linked. He felt old. Much older than he should. Exhausted. But, together, they were warm, and steady. Together, they shone purple.

 

Sans pulled back and looked at his hands. That purple energy coursed between his bones; dyed the blue in his soul, too. “Huh. That’s new.” He started to laugh and rubbed his face. He looked bone-tired but, somehow, a little relieved. “I’m not gonna remember a second of this, am I?”

“No clue,” Frisk said. “But, the smartest guy I know told me that, in all this time stuff, feelings stick, and… well, you’re kinda purple right now, maybe that’ll stick, too.”

“Heh. Fair enough.” He ruffled her hair. “Dunno why, but I think something changed. Feels kinda okay. How about you?”

She nodded. He grinned.

“Thanks, kiddo. Good luck out there.”

“You too,” she said.

“Whew. I need a nap.”

 

He slowly got up and turned to walk away. Frisk grinned.

Bone voyage!” she called.

He stopped dead in his tracks. Smacked himself in the forehead. “Why didn’t I think of that?” he muttered, and he turned to shoot her a smile. “I’m totally stealin’ that one.”

“Do it!” she said.

He stuck his thumb up. He looked back at her inquisitively. “You okay on your own here?”

“If I’m not, I’ll find you,” she said.

“Alright.” He vanished, but then reappeared in a heartbeat. “Hey. Sorry. Can I ask a favour?”

“Yeah,” she said.

“Can you reset for me?”

 

Frisk’s heart thumped heavily. She cupped a hand over her soul and, though cold sweat beaded at her brow and nerves dumped nausea through her, she frowned quizzically. “C-Can I even? This place isn’t mine,” she said quietly.

“True, but you booted the other one,” he said. “Which… Oh. Hey.” He started to grin. “Think that means you shot that psychopath out into god knows where. That’s hilarious. Anyway, I can’t pull it back. If you’re as strong as you say, shouldn’t be a problem, right?”

“But I… I don’t know if I…”

“See, thing is,” he said, carefully pulling something red out of the front of his t-shirt and holding it tenderly in his hands, “I, uh, would really rather not stay here with that flower at the end of the world, y’know?”

 

The kid gulped heavily. She’d do it for them, wouldn’t she? It made her sick, but she got to her feet. “If you’re the one asking me,” she said, “of course I’ll do it.”

“What? Really? Huh. Thought I’d have to be more convincin’ than that,” he said.

She shook her head. “I-If… If this place is mine, even if it’s only for a few minutes, I c-can’t leave it like this.”

 

Sans grinned. He dipped his head and clapped her on the shoulder. “That’s all I needed to hear, kiddo. Thanks a million.”

The world shimmered and leaked away like sand drawn through an hourglass. She tumbled into blackness and her body went numb. She couldn’t see a thing.

 

A hum buzzed through her soul. Her brother’s. A different stage, but the same tune. A cold, gentle, boney hand touched on her soul. She could feel his other arm across her shoulders as he supported her body.

“Aw, kiddo. Hang in there, alright? You did good,” he said quietly. “Sorry to drag you all the way out here.”

“D… Did I do it…?” she asked weakly.

“Sure did,” he said. “Exactly what we needed.”

The centre of her gaze filled in dimly with his face, grey and foggy. She blinked. His eyes lit up and he grinned fondly.

“Hey there, sweetheart. Just gimme a sec,” he said.

“…Sweetheart?” She rubbed her head and snorted out a soft laugh. “Which Sans are you?”

“A helpful one. Hopefully.” He grinned sideways. “Sorry for the little detour. Doin’ alright? Need anything?”

“Uh… Well, I mean, I—”

“I already know why you came here.” He grinned. “You’re real brave, y’know?”

“…Was it you? Calling me?” she asked.

“Yup.”

“Are you…? I mean. This is weird, but, are you my brother?” She frowned. “Am I just super hallucinating right now?”

 

The grey Sans laughed. He rubbed her head gently. “It’s complicated. Don’t sweat it. And, uh, close your eyes? This is gonna get bright.”

She did as he asked. There was a flash of red that shone through her eyelids. “Oof.”

“Told ya,” he said. “Now, let’s get you right back on track. Keep ‘em closed.”

She felt the hard pads of his thumbs resting gently on each of her lids. She was a little confused, because he still held her shoulders. Did this Sans have a bunch of arms? “Um, what’re you—?”

Blue and amber light flashed and then shifted to red. She squeaked with surprise and recoiled slightly. He laughed.

“You can look now.”

 

She blinked, but her vision was filled with spots. It wasn’t unlike what had happened when time seemed to be leaking. She rubbed her eyes with her knuckles. “What the heck was that?”

“Okay. So. Might be a bit weird. But it’ll be good. Soon. Promise,” he assured her.

“But, like, you’ll…? He’ll be okay?” she asked.

“More than that. Hey. Think of all this kinda like a quilt, yeah? Lotta little weird pieces, but it should make sense and come together eventually. Trust me, alright?” He grinned. “You did real good.”

“Um. Thanks,” she said bashfully. “I’m glad I could help.”

“I knew you’d say that.” He ruffled her hair gently. “Sendin’ you back. Y’ever need directions, come find me. Have a good one, huh?”

“Wait, but—”

“Trust me.”

 

When Frisk blinked her eyes again, everything was black. Her head spun and her stomach dropped. She felt herself slip away, and a calm came over her. She was ready for a nap. Something clunked. Something else clicked. A red thread stitching a wound. Imagery she couldn’t parse.

 

She could hear music. Her own. It was all around her. Soft and reassuring. Why was the universe humming her song?

 

- - -

 

The darkness was singing. Absolutely radiating with magic. An orchestra. But in this swell, Gaster couldn’t find his daughter. Her soul had slipped away from him, and horror set in.

 

Shouting was no use. He’d called and called, but the sound went nowhere. He could have simply fallen to dust in his dread.

 

He reached out his hands and tried to feel through everything, calling out to her soul with his magic. No matter how strong his was, it was just a drop in a galaxy here. He pleaded. She wasn’t meant as some sacrificial lock. He had to pull her back.

 

Something pinged in the back of his skull. Little tingles of boney fingers crept at the edges of his mind, poking for a crack. He was almost sick.  His hand glowed with his black, sparking energy and he held it out and closed his eyes, focussing as hard as he could on that feeling.

“Get out, get out, get out,” he grunted.

Everything inside him turned to ice. A low, dark sound thrummed inside his head and rattled through his bones, getting deeper and deeper until it could only be sensed as an uncomfortable, incessant sense of dread. He felt like it was going to shake him apart.

 

The air hit him with a shock and the world cracked like thunder into a vacuum. He whirled; squinted through the dark. Was that red that glinted back at him? Had to be. He headed for it as quickly as he was able; shifted himself towards the light until it seemed like a looming, flaming rip straight through the blackness into the sun.

 

It was blinding, the colour so vibrant at its centre that it washed out white. There, though, he was sure he saw something. Some shape amongst the radiance. He took a breath. That had to be her. He reached out and it was like a torrent of wind in stagnant air. He braced himself and waded in, but it blinded him utterly. He tried to shield his face, but there was nothing he could do. He stretched his arm out and pleaded with the universe to give him his daughter back. The song in his head began to swell, but he felt himself start to drop. He gasped and grimaced. Realized he wasn’t asking the right question.

 

“Frisk. Please,” he said. “Come back. I was wrong, I’m sorry. Please. Come back.” The moment the words had left him, he felt something soft brush his fingertips. He couldn’t see, but he could feel a small form lost in this light. He grabbed her to him.

 

It was like snuffing the flame from a candle. The world around them dimmed. He saw spots and red, and the form of his little girl, but her eyes were open and blazing like fire and she was limp. He could have cried.

“Frisk. F-Frisk. A leanbh. Can you hear me, sweetheart?” he asked. “Oh god. I should never have brought you here. I’m so sorry.”

 

“D… Dad?” Her voice was soft and her fingers were weak when they clung to his shirt.

Tears blurred his vision and he clutched her tight against his ribcage. “I have you. Are you okay? Your eyes, you’re…” He realized too late that she was barely conscious, and he cradled her gently with his hand against the back of her head. “Are you there? Can you see me?”

The corner of her mouth twitched upwards. She seemed very calm. “I see… everything,” she whispered. Her eyelids drooped and she wilted in his grip, but still the red blazed from her eye sockets.

He felt a pang in his soul. He knew what this was. He’d thought it impossible. “Don’t worry, sweetie, I-I’m getting you out of here,” he muttered.

 

He raked his fingers through the void, down and then sideways. He had no idea where they’d be, but it didn’t matter. He threw himself through the tear and collapsed sideways onto cool, dark stone.

 

Heaving himself up on his knees, he could see he’d ripped a hole into a tiny cave in Waterfall where all there was otherwise was a bench. He looked down at Frisk, finally able to see properly. She, however, was still oozing magic.

 

Gaster couldn’t even recall using the light he’d made to jump back to the lab, but the next thing he knew, he was stumbling across smooth tile on the lower floor. He ran as fast as he could, babbling apologies to the unconscious girl.

 

He knew what he needed. The rooms were different, though. He realized, with horror, that he had no idea where his things were anymore. He pawed for his phone. Couldn’t find it. Frisk had one. He took it and was relieved to find Alphys’s number in it. He called. Every second he waited felt like an hour. He begged for it to work. The click and the ambience of the receiver made him melt.

“Hey, h-hi!” Alphys answered. “Good t-timing, I was just going to t-test call.”

“My arcane-harmonic stabilizer, where is it?” Gaster said.

“Wha…? G-Gaster, what are you…?” she stammered. “Uhh… I h-had to move it, I… It’s d-downstairs in the r-room just past the, um, d-determination injector chambers. Why?”

“Thank you,” he said. He hung up to her shrill sounds of protest.

 

He sprinted for the elevator and slammed his fist into the wall, his magic forcing it to drop like a rock. It slammed to a stop just before his destination and he bounded out.

 

Doors that were otherwise locked shot open for him, but everything was a blur until he stumbled into the room connected to the opposite side of the determination chamber. His eyes scanned it in panic, and for the first time since he’d started running, he took a deep breath. It was exactly as he’d left it.

 

Control panels unused for a decade lit up when he shocked them with magic and he rushed to what was essentially a repurposed dentist’s chair. He carefully placed Frisk into it, though it broke his heart to let her go. She looked so tiny.

“Oh god. God, sweetie, I’m so sorry,” he muttered, holding her face gently. “What was I thinking? What have I done to you?” He stretched out his arm and magical facsimiles of his hands hovered over the controls and rushed to boot up the stabilizer. His left eye lit with blue and showed him the screens as he hurriedly positioned the kid right in the chair.

 

The stabilizer was still on an arm that hung from the ceiling. He grabbed it and yanked it down to rest in front of her. It was equipped with three adjustable magic prongs that looked a bit like monstrous drills. He had never gotten around to refurbishing it to look less like a science-fiction torture device, as Sans had joked about when he was younger.

 

Soul buzzing, heartbroken; dizzy with worry, Gaster had to slow himself as he aligned one spike each with Frisk’s eyes and the spot where her soul glowed from her chest. Couldn’t make a mistake. He was already at the edge of never forgiving himself— that would certainly topple him. She was just barely too small for the safety restraints to keep her aligned. There was no way he was willing to let her go. He’d just have to hold her.

 

Despite their disuse, Alphys hadn’t altered his machines at all. It was up and running quickly. He set the dials and the tips of the prongs began to glitter with white. He turned it up, higher than he’d used on himself or on Sans when this had happened. He triple-checked the alignment and then, taking a deep breath, grasped his little girl tight and turned the machine on. The magic thrummed deep and loud, pounding into his skull as blinding lasers struck right into Frisk’s eyes and chest. He winced. Bowed his head and closed his eyes, and counted down from thirty. Time slowed to a dragging, uncomfortable crawl. The second it was up, he switched it off and shut the whole thing down.

 

Frisk didn’t move, but the red flaring from her eyes was gone. She looked like she was asleep.

“Frisk? Sweetheart?” he asked quietly. He didn’t really expect a reply, but even so, his heart sank when he didn’t get one.

 

Gritting his teeth, he lifted her up and bent his head to listen to her. Despite everything, her hum was strong, and he could hear her heartbeat going steady. He touched her soul spot with gentle fingers, testing her energy. It wasn’t arcing or sputtering, swelling or leaking. It felt like what he expected. He let out a long, deep breath.

“Oh, Frisky, a stór, I’m so sorry,” he muttered. “Gaster, you absolute idiot. How could you? To your own daughter… Idiot. Idiot.”

 

Cradling her close, Gaster rushed back up a level. He had to remind himself he’d seen this before. It was only the precursor that had been different. He preened her hair gently.

 

There were still a few beds in the large, main room on the uppermost basement floors. He ran to them and, using magic hands, pulled back the blankets on the one closest to the door so that he could carefully lay the kid down on the soft mattress. The false hands vanished in sparks and he knelt down, resting his broken palm against her forehead. Her body temperature was just slightly elevated, according to his memory of what a human was supposed to feel like. He gently cupped her face, letting a weak glimmer of healing energy to pass into her. It fizzled out within seconds. He couldn’t do much more.

 

He fumbled with her phone. He shivered at the thought, but as quickly as he could, he called Sans. His heart leapt when he heard the click on the other end. “Sans.” Gaster almost choked. “C-Can you come to the lab? Now? I’ve done something horrible.”

 

- - -

 

Alphys stared at the screen of her phone, puffing her cheeks and frowning in frustration. She dialled Frisk’s number again. Why wasn’t anyone answering? And what did Gaster want with those old contraptions of his?

 

She tapped her foot and tried Gaster’s number. Still nothing. What was he doing? She called Papyrus and he didn’t answer either. Sans. Nope. Alphys pouted. Maybe her phone fix hadn’t worked as well as she hoped.

 

She sat down with her laptop on her knees against one of the CORE tower’s big, blue walls, and checked the diagnostic she’d been running. She sniffled— the sharp, high-atmosphere smell of the place sometimes made her snout itch. Everything looked normal on the screen, though. She sneezed, squeaked, and then leaned back and sighed to herself.

 

She was about to try calling Undyne, but heels clunking on the metal floors gave her a start and she fumbled with the device. Yelping, she caught the thing in shaking fingers and then clutched it close to her chest. She looked off towards the sound, brows raised high.

“M-Mettaton, is that you? You didn’t have trouble with the reset switch, d-did you?” she called.

“Oh, it’s me alright,” he said. “Uhhh… No. But…” He came around the corner and into view with Asriel draped, limp, in his arms. “I had a trouble with the Prince?”