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Consequences

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Looking back, I still wonder how any of this happened. How did I end up living with a pair of skeletons in a world that wasn't even supposed to be real? It was only a video game.

What made me so special?

Sometimes it still feels like a strange waking dream, like I should just shake myself awake and I'll be back home with my family, in my own world… but every time I open my eyes, I rediscover the strange fiction I'm living in.

I started writing things down, because it's getting harder and harder for me to tell the difference between what's real and what isn't. Everything's muddled where it wasn't before.

I didn't know. I just wanted to live my life, find some peace and contentedness, maybe even help others. I never wanted to hurt anybody. I just wish… I want everyone to know how sorry I am. I want to make up for what I've done. But how can a person do that when no one even remembers what you did? I've always been the sort to hold myself accountable, because if no one else will hold me to a higher standard, then I must… right? Even if no one remembers…

So here's to you, dear reader. My story. My mistake. If no one else remembers, at least… maybe you will. If no one else will listen, at least you did.

Welcome to the beginning. The moment my entire life changed. All because a monster was afraid.

 

[oOo]

The machine was a hulking monstrosity of wires, hoses, and metal. It took up most of the space in his small workshop, leaving just enough room for him to maneuver around it and a few feet of extra space on either side. Sans huffed as he extracted himself from the side panel he'd been working on. He never imagined he'd be "under the hood" again after coming to the surface, but here he was, wrench in hand. Sans scratched at his brow with the back of his wrist, a wistful smile flitting past his teeth.

He adjusted another bolt, checked the magi-flux capacitor and its connecting hoses to make sure they were tightened and secured one last time. Only then did he replace its metal siding and, with a satisfied hum, gave the old machine a quick pat with his phalanges as he took a step back to observe his handiwork.

All that's left is to start her up…

Sans glanced at the front panel, glasses askew on his nasal bone. Papyrus is gonna have a fit when he sees this mess. He chuckled to himself as he looked down at the oil spots on his tee shirt. Heh. At least it's black. He would face his brother's wrath a hundred times over—and then some—if this worked. Hell, he'd take every single one of his brother's rants for the next century if this worked. If his equations were correct, all it would take was the press of a button to secure the rest of his—and every monster's—future.

He would secure this timeline.

No more Resets. No more alternate realities. No more dreadful déjà vu, knowing another timeline bit the dust. No more lost futures.

No more what-ifs or could-have-beens.

No more warnings buzzing his phone in the middle of the night. No more whispers about anomalies detected. No more nightmares.

No more sudden shifts to the left, to the right, like time had been shoved by a schoolyard bully.

If this worked, then…

There'd be a permanent, happy, future for him and his brother. For his kid. For every monster who ever lived Underground.

Sans hummed to himself. He placed the wrench down with a clang on the metal countertop behind him before turning to the machine's interface. The old green-tinted screen had been salvaged from the underground's dump over three decades ago; it may have been dated, but it served its purpose. Coordinates and equations blinked and shifted, sensing every fluctuation in the temporal field around it… sensing every possibility, every hole, every threat. His fingers flew over the keys just below the screen.

It'd taken him months to isolate the string of numbers, and even longer to have the machine ready again. He still didn't know if it'd work the way he wanted.

He remembered the first buzz of his phone, warning of something imminent. A powerful flux somewhere in the timeline. This timeline. His timline. An Anomaly. Somewhere out there. Something bigger and stronger than anything he'd ever seen before. It made spacetime wobble and stretch—made time bend when it was only ever meant to branch—and threatened to break his entire reality apart.

Sans couldn't let that happen. Not here. Not now. Not again. He wouldn't see the last decade of his life thrown away just because some uncaring entity decided it wanted to toy with his life.

Whatever was out there, whatever was capable of doing this to his timeline, capable of Resetting… it was out there. His machine could pick up on it, detect its presence. And if it could be detected by something like his machine, then maybe he could do something about it after all. Isolate it. Remove it. Wherever it resided, whether in a universe like his own or next to his, or somewhere else entirely, his machine gave him a chance at stopping the Anomaly for good.

All he had to do was enter the coordinates. He just had to enter those…

Okay. All that remained was to push the metaphorical "big red button." Sans let out a shaky breath, index finger hovering over the "enter" key.

This was it. The moment he'd been working toward over the last four months. The moment that could save all of monsterkind… or send it back Underground.

If it worked…

What's the worst that could happen?

Condensation formed along his brow. "Show time…" he murmured, finger slamming down before he could change his mind. Sans swallowed hard and watched as the screen flickered and information started flying by so fast he couldn't read it.

Coordinates accepted. Calculating…

You could wake up back in Snowdin.

But it was a risk he'd take if it meant there was never another Reset.

The machine hummed to life, lights and buttons flashing as its processors started up and the magic began to flow, filling the entire workshop with its scent. The whirr of the cooling fan filled the small space a moment later as the machine started to k-chunka-chunk and the motors started roaring full-force.

Sans grinned. "Atta girl!" Everything was running perfectly. No alarms, no dings, no chimes that shouldn't be happening–

Then the soft whirring pitched up as the fan started working harder.

Okay, so the motor was running a little harder than usual but that's fi–

A sick-sounding ka-chunka-CLANG.

Okay, so the motor was practically whistling now—overworking—but not overheating. But it's fine, the fans are keeping up

The fluorescent lights flickered overhead, dimmed.

Sans cast a wary glance at the mass of cables connecting it to the wall and generator. It had plenty of power, why was it–

The interface started beeping and the machine started printing logs of data, paper spitting in a long stream from its side. It must've locked on to the Anomaly—finally—and Sans shoved his hands into his shorts pockets to keep them from fidgeting. It was all he could do to keep from backing away. It's probably fi

The humming pitched up into a high whirr—higher still—this time accompanied by what sounded like a hose blowing loose. Sans's sockets widened. That's probably not good. He backed away, hand groping for the counter behind him. He stopped when his spine pressed against the cold metal. He couldn't get any further back.

Numbers flicked by in computer green so fast now Sans couldn't focus on any one set of coordinates without referring to the readouts on the side. The paper waved two feet out and still more printed as he rushed to see; he snagged the stream of paper between his thumb and index finger. Flickering eye lights scanned the paper rapidly for relevant information. "C'mon, c'mon, c'mon…" He glanced up as the noise continued to grow, fans working at maximum capacity.

It wasn't supposed to sound like a rampant steam engine.

Still, at least the readout looked promising. He scanned the basic information—his settings and coordinates, his parameters—for what he needed most. Ah-ha! There! His fingers tightened and he squinted through his glasses at the sheet, teeth grinding uneasily.

PARAMETER: ANOMALY.

STATUS: DETECTED.

ISOLATING: ANOMALY.

ANOMALY: ISOLATED.

ISOLATING…

ISOLATING…

This was more than he could ever ask for. It was working! "You can do it, ol' girl!" Sans glanced at the machine, a tentative hand resting on the metal siding. Just a little more.

Somewhere metal warped.

An earsplitting bang had Sans scampering back.

"Shit!" Paper forgotten, Sans ran to the other side of the machine—skidding to a halt in his socks—to assess the damage. He could see where the side panel had blown off (again), leaving delicate wires and circuits exposed to the air. Magic thrummed through its hoses, glowing ominous red. The tubes spilled like guts onto the floor; they pulsed and shook as the machine worked, heaving desperately to keep pace with its processors.

Smoke started to rise as a circuit sparked. Sans cringed at the acrid smell.

Not good. Very not good! His eyes darted across the room, where the missing sheet metal had embedded itself several inches into the white drywall above his desk. Maybe he should have reinforced the walls a little better… it must've fired clear across the room (and with some wicked velocity). Sans dragged his hand over his face, palm settling over his teeth as he stared at the metal sheeting. Good thing he'd been standing on the other side. Yup. Paps is gonna kill me when… if he sees this.

Another solid ker-thunk had the skeleton skittering backwards a second time, out of the way of anything else that might potentially go flying. He'd only ever seen the machine behave like this once; it quaked and expanded like a living, breathing thing… the metal almost seemed to move, shivering as time fluxed around it.

His sockets widened. Was it going to explode? 'Cause it looked like it was going to explode. Maybe he should pull the plug before it–

Another massive crash sent Sans diving under his old desk in a desperate bid for cover.

A pulse rippled through the air; papers scattered in all directions as the machine's alarm klaxon started blaring like a tornado siren. Sans only hoped it wouldn't be a big explosion… Paps wouldn't be too thrilled if they had to move. Again. He could only thank his lucky stars his brother wasn't home yet, because there was enough noise to wake the dead in the small lab.

CRASH!

Sans clamped his hands over his skull and squeezed his sockets shut.

He heard the fan break. It made a sick clink-clink-clink as it tried to keep chugging along.

The air shook, heaving like a living creature.

The lights flickered again.

Shit!

Pulling the plug would probably be the best option, but getting any closer seemed like a decidedly bad idea. The last thing he needed was another accident…

"C'mon, you can do it," he growled, as if the encouragement might stop the inevitable. The machine would pull itself apart at this rate! He peered between the legs of his desk as the machine roared. Stars… the siren reverberated through his skull. If the machine didn't explode, his skull just might. Another earth-shaking pulse quaked through the air, so strong this time Sans felt the floor shift, the house rock on its foundation, and his desk chair… well, it went flying back, slamming into the far wall with a mighty crash.

The air heaved again, like something sick–

The lights flickered, went out–

Darkness.

One last violent shiver through the air, so powerful Sans felt his magic try to scatter in its wake. The very essence of his being tried to reorganize inside him, twisting and straining. Like waves in a hurricane, the pulse blew through him, his Soul quaking in rhythm. He felt his joints pulling apart, his skull aching. And just when he thought it'd tear him apart…

Silence.

The pressure in his Soul eased and his magic quieted. His joints popped as they settled back into place. His skull rang as his hearing returned to normal. He could hear the wheels on his chair spinning, squeaking just like the broken fan.

Then… nothing. Not even the hum of the machine… it was dead.

The backup generator kicked on with a low thrum and the lights came back on in an unsteady fluorescent stream, one after the other. The basement had power again… hopefully the rest of the house too. The machine groaned, processors kicking back on with a low beep.

Sans's eye lights flickered as he slowly lowered his hands from his skull.

Well. He wasn't dead. Or scattered to pieces. And he could still see all four walls of his workshop, so… that was a plus. Sans lifted onto his elbows. Did it… work?

The machine smoked and he could see circuitry sparking, but the smell of melted plastic and overused magic aside… this wasn't a bad outcome. Yeah, if anything, it hadn't exploded and maybe it'd need a few tune-ups, but the processors starting back up was a good sign. He'd pretend the machine hadn't just acted out. Severely.

…a small plaintive sound. Quiet, so quiet, but so very out of the place after the cacaphony, he could never have missed it. And it came from the other side of the machine. Beyond the curtain partitioning the back of his workshop.

From the gateway.

Sans bolted upright, his head colliding with the bottom of the desk so hard he saw stars and the its solid frame jerked a solid inch off the floor. His breath hitched, the wooden thunk resonating through his skull. He let out a low curse as he rubbed the top of his head and scurried out from underneath, fingers catching the edge of the old desk to pull himself up. I'm getting too old for this.

Between the ringing in his skull and the sharp pain from nearly cracking it open (okay, probably not really, but it sure hurt like he had)… he stood still for a moment, head spinning, vision blurred, one hand steadying himself on the wooden desk. He plucked the glasses from his face to rub his sockets.

Another shift beyond the curtain.

Sans tensed, sockets wide. No way. There's no way. Spell broken, he tiptoed to the readout and glanced at the printed words with a dash of disbelief and a considerable helping of fear. An arm rubbed uneasily across his teeth as his eyes surveyed the information.

ANOMALY: ISOLATED.

PARAMETER: ANOMALY SYNCING.

SYNCING.

SYNC SUCCESSFUL.

PARAMETER: ANOMALY

STATUS: SYNCED.

Sans looked toward the white curtain, brimming with trepidation. He hadn't used the doorway to bring anything through since… not since Underground. And then it was only ever small things. And he had to make sure everything was in place, it couldn't happen by chance.

It wasn't supposed to sync.

It shouldn't have been able to sync!

Why the hell did it sync!?

How could it?

Another small scuffle of movement beyond the curtain. Sans froze, breath catching, a fox listening for a mouse. The paper fluttered from his fingers. He turned toward the curtain, reaching out with shaking fingers.

Anomaly synced.

How could the machine sync an anomaly? The Anomaly. Was it really an actual, physical being? Sans hesitated, fingers twitching. Could all their hypotheses be true after all? He didn't dare to hope it was possible. What did that mean for him? For monsterkind?

What did it matter?

Whatever he would find on the other side of the curtain… it was the thing that had caused so much suffering for all of the monsters trapped Underground. It was the thing that caused so much suffering for him. He'd lost so much… his peace of mind the least of those things. He knew whatever was on the other side… it was responsible for tearing a hole in his reality, like water on tissue paper, making it weak and breakable, making the Underground susceptible to the Determination of humans like Frisk.

Sans took a small breath, steeling himself for whatever he might face. He couldn't afford to show fear now. He couldn't afford to let the coil of anger bubbling through his marrow interfere with his reason. On the other side of that curtain was something—some demon or entity—capable of altering reality, of wiping it away like chalk on a blackboard.

Could it still do that, now it was here?

His magic flowed in anticipation. His left eye flickered and glowed to life, flashing blue and yellow. He tore the curtain back like an old bandaid. He inhaled sharply through his teeth.

Sprawled in the middle of the floor was–

A human?

The Anomaly.

ANOMALY SYNCED.

SYNC SUCCESSFUL.

Sans heard a sheet of paper fall to the floor and flinched.

A scared human girl.

…human? The Anomaly.

She looked up at him, eyes wide, as she choked on her own breath. "S-Sans?"

His magic snuffed out and his eyes shrank to pinpricks before blinking out entirely.

…what?

Chapter Text

Have you ever had a lucid dream before? The kind referenced in movies like Inception? The kind so real you're not sure whether it's even a dream at all?

Yeah. That.

There are supposed to be clues if you're aware enough to look for them. Time is inconsistent. Words you just read are different the second time you read them. Locations change and you don't remember how you arrived somewhere. But it's a dream—you don't notice anything's wrong until you start looking.

I never remembered falling asleep, I never remembered what I was doing before I ended up in the workshop, sitting on the floor.

 

[oOo]

I can't remember what I was doing before I ended up flat on my butt on ugliest linoleum tile I'd ever seen in my life (No, seriously. It was that ugly, heathered sort of teal-green you saw in old psych wards. It felt gritty under my fingers, like it hadn't been swept in ages.). It seemed like I'd been at home. Mom and Dad arguing. I must've been exhausted, because I sure didn't remember falling asleep.

I sat up slowly, knees splayed and hands steadying. A curtain cordoned off the area before me, topping off the old psych ward vibe. I shivered, nose scrunching as goose pimples ran up my arms. Stuff like this gave me the willies… plus, the air had that damp, basement chill. The kind of cold that seeps all the heat away from you.

I tried to make some sense of my surroundings. I couldn't remember a dream where I ever felt this aware. Where I had this much function and motor control over my own body. I craned my head back to regard what looked like a pair of metal pillars on either side of me, each one several feet tall, almost connecting at the top like some sort of arch—gateway?—yeah, they made me think of a gateway. They looked like a prop straight out of a '60's sci-fi movie, that sort of retro-futuristic look. Very Doctor Who. My stomach clenched, a discomfiting sensation welling within me. Where is this even supposed to be?

It felt disused; the fluorescent lights overhead were burnt out. I thought I could see a swaying cobweb stretching between the sheet and the ceiling.

Why did it feel like the beginning of a horror game? I shivered for an entirely different reason as memories of Outlast sprung to mind. I really hoped this wasn't the sort of nightmare where giant naked men ran after you with butcher knives… maybe I'd watched one too many Let's Plays on YouTube the night before and now it seeped into my dreams.

Beyond the curtain the lights worked. And if there's one thing I knew about video games… you go toward the light. I don't know if the same is true of dreams, but sitting on the cold linoleum floor didn't exactly appeal to my sensibilities. If I went beyond the curtain, what might I find? Nightmarish monsters or pleasant dreams?

One way to find out… I steeled myself, taking a small breath. I hesitated however, when an unpleasant tang hit my nose. Like metal, oil, melted plastic, chemicals and something… musty and acrid, sharp. Ozone. Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew the smell meant something dangerous, like the feeling before a bad storm rolls in. Anticipation. The hairs on my arms stood on end and the back of my neck prickled. I don't remember smelling things in dreams before.

I rubbed my fists against my eyes in a vain effort to convince myself I had nothing to worry about… danger or no danger, I couldn't just sit here. I pulled my feet under me to stand, but before I could get my balance, something slammed through me. Like a pulse, or a wave… like the pounding bass at a rock concert, or the percussive reverberation of a firework's explosion. The nearly-physical force speared through my chest and knocked me back on my rear again, leaving me breathless, heart stammering.

My chest tightened and excruciating pain bloomed behind my eyes; I closed them on reflex, hands clutching my head. Air hissed between my teeth as I shook, the light beyond the curtain suddenly too bright. After an agonizingly long second, the pain faded. I took slow, even breaths. My heart calmed.

At least until I heard a solid thunk from the other side of the room.

I straightened, fight-or-flight response kicking in hard. With no exit I could see, I could only hold my breath, ears straining—a frightened hare on the alert for a wandering fox.

Right. So. In the midst of all my… educational reading, I remembered one particular risk factor of lucid dreaming: experiencing nightmares vividly. My fingers clutched at the smooth flooring beneath me. I'd played horror games (God, Amnesia. Just. Amnesia.). This felt like the beginning of one. It just screamed evil abominations and jump scares.

Do not want.

I thought I heard footsteps… and I may actually have whimpered right then.

Apprehension coiled in my gut like a snake as a silhouette fell across the sheet, illuminated from behind like a shadow puppet. The shadow looked vaguely human, only just off enough in the legs and arms I found myself shrinking back. My throat tightened, chest rising as I tried to breathe as quietly as I could. Maybe it didn't know I was here. Maybe if I could be quiet and just–

A clawed hand lifted toward the sheet.

I tensed, trying to get my feet under me as quietly as I could. I could feel pressure in the air. My legs and arms wobbled.

A set of boney digits hooked round the edge of the curtain, clutching it like talons. Too white to be fingers. Almost like bare bone. My eyes widened and my heart sped.

No skin. There's no skin. They've got no skin. Claws. Why are there claws? Oh God.

Any sense of calm I attempted to maintain scattered as my mind went blank, whispering horrible suggestions of what those sharp digits might belong to.

The violent sound of metal on metal, skittering and scraping, grated against my ears as the partition was yanked aside like an old shower curtain. My knees gave out and I fell back as a scream lodged in my throat.

It never came.

My eyes widened and I gaped, unable to believe what—who—stood before me. Before I could catch it, a name tumbled from my lips.

"S-Sans?"

This was an Undertale dream? I didn't know whether to be thrilled or worried. I must've been more stressed than I realized. Escaping too much. I'm dreaming about a video game for cryin' out loud! I've finally cracked.

I sat up a little straighter, fear forgotten in favor of fascination as I squinted up at him like he'd disappear if I blinked again. No way. No flippin' way.

Sans the Skeleton stood before me. He wasn't wearing the iconic blue hoodie, but there was no denying the unusually pudgy, skeletal features (Isn't that an oxymoron? How on earth could a skeleton be "pudgy?") or the broader-than-average ribcage. He looked sturdy. Solid. Real.

And as stunned as I felt if his wide sockets were anything to go by. He didn't have eyebrows, but I got the sense they were raised and the only reason his jaw wasn't hanging open was because it seemed fused shut (could he even open it? And how?). The tiny lights floating in his sockets to serve as pupils flickered, almost as if he were blinking. He gripped the curtain like a lifeline as his gaze finally seemed to settle, unblinking and intense. It felt like he was trying to figure something out.

I swallowed. His fingers did look a little like claws…

I scooooooched back. Not subtly. Not gracefully.

Just scooted. Slowly.

Across the floor.

My brain was too busying looping on Holy-Shit-It's-Sans to really process the numbness in my fingers or the rampaging sensation in my chest that fell somewhere between rampant fangirl excitement and terror.

My back hit the far wall.

I blinked, processes jump-starting. I could see so many details. Things were usually fuzzy and unfocused in dreams, but here I could see his fingers—phalanges?—making this even more surreal. In the game they were represented as or covered by mittens…

Huh. My dream gave him fingers. Neat!

My head tilted. Sans mirrored me, stare unwavering. His eye lights seemed to dilate, then shrink again in quick succession. As if coming to a decision, he gave a sharp nod and brushed the sheet aside. He stepped forward.

Holy-shit-it's-Sans.

A squeak, somewhere between fear and excitement tangled in the back of my throat as I drew a shaky hand to my face. He was so cool in an understated sort of way. When he wasn't being a troll. Or terrifying. I wasn't sure which version to expect.

Light poured over his shoulders to cast him in the most ominous shadows I'd ever seen in my life. My eyes flicked between his sockets. One of his brow bones twitched—okay, so they could definitely move—then his sockets curved and his cheekbones lifted as if to emphasize the teeth too long and straight to be a normal human skeleton's. He held out a hand to me.

"Heya pal," he rumbled. "You look like you've just seen a ghost."

"M-more like a skeleton, actually," I said, eyes wide.

It didn't seem to be the reaction he expected; his smile twitched and his eye lights flickered, brightening even as his fingers withdrew slightly. I saw his brow quirk again. He was definitely raising it at me, no doubt about it. He held his hand forward once more, fingers intently outstretched.

He reminded me of a statue, unblinking and unmoving. Unnaturally, frighteningly so… but if I looked—really looked—I could see the subtle rise and fall of his chest as he breathed (with what lungs?), and the lights in his sockets shivered subtly as he waited.

I let out a slow breath.

Sans chuckled. The deep, throaty laugh seemed loud in the stillness and I twitched. My reaction only seemed to encourage him and his grin grew wider still, amusement clear on his features. One socket winked shut (so he could close them, but it seemed optional? Because he definitely didn't need to blink for the past several seconds) as he stretched his fingers a little further, wiggling them in my face. "You gonna sit there all day, pal? Or are you gonna take my hand?"

I finally pulled my hand from my face to place it in his. He took a firm hold and hauled me to my feet with a disconcerting effortlessness.

The world seemed to tilt as I stood. I pressed my free hand to my temple until the sensation faded.

This dream had a lot of detail. Like how his hand was very… well, hand-like. For a skeleton. This close, I could see the small bones and joints—knuckles and all—making up his hands. They were thicker than normal bone, pale and smooth, and tendons (or something like them, anyway) connected his palm and fingers, giving him something a bit more solid to grip with. Not at all the claws I'd imagined.

And his hand was warm, especially against my icy fingers.

He cleared his throat (how…?) and my eyes snapped to his face. "What? Never held hands with a skeleton before?"

I dropped his hand like I'd been bitten and mumbled an apology. I hadn't even realized how hard I'd been staring…

Sans shoved his hand back into his pocket, impassive.

"No. Uh. Well, I haven't. Just, it's uh… you're Sans," I stammered, as if it would explain everything.

"The one and bonely," he quipped, mouth twitching in amusement as his eyes scanned me. It felt like he was looking for something.

I felt exposed under his stare. My arms wrapped around my middle, fingers clutching at my sleeves as my chest seemed to squeeze a little. My mind froze, and I didn't know what to do or say.

"Welp. Guess I don't gotta tell you who I am… but let's share an' share alike. Who're you?" He asked, shifting to look at me from the corner of his socket.

I screwed up my face. It was an easy question. At least, it should've been… only, for a second—just a second, mind you—all I could see instead of my name was a big blank space in my head. Nothing. I shook my head, because yeah, of course, of course… God, stupid things happened when I got nervous. Fear scrambled my head, and it didn't keep up like it should.

"My name's Lumena." I tried to hide my embarrassment behind a charming smile.

"Heh. Well, buddy… welcome to my workshop." Sans rocked back on his heels and shifted to the side, his eyes lingering on me as he held the sheet aside and gestured beyond the partition with one hand. "So. Lu—can I call you Lu?"

Has a nice ring to it. I nodded.

"Maybe let's get somewhere a little cozier than this ol' place. Bit chilly down here."

Almost on reflex I rubbed at my fingers and nodded. I could feel Sans's gaze on me as I crept past him. My hands lifted to my chest as I resisted the urge to let my internal excitement squee out. His worksop didn't look exactly how I remembered, but considering I'd only ever had a top-down view from a retro-style video game to work from, I can't say I was surprised. This place is amazing!

As my eyes roved the room, I could see paper everywhere, scattered all over the floor like a small whirlwind had blown through. And… was that a piece of sheet metal lodged in the wall? I pulled a face. How the hell did three feet of scrap metal end up embedded in a solid wall?!

"Thought I'd redecorate," Sans said cheekily as he followed my gaze, a hand waving like it was the most obvious thing in the world as he stepped up beside me. I looked at him with a raised brow, snarky comment at the ready–

My breath caught. I forgot whatever comment I'd prepared, lips still parted as I gawked.

The machine.

My eyes felt drawn to it, riveted, as I took it in.

Even smoking and half-broken, I found it intimidating; I felt as if it loomed, prowled, waited… like a lion ready to pounce.

You know how sometimes your intuition tells you things are just wrong and you have no way to really explain or describe it? There's no logical reason for the feeling—it's just there? That's how the machine made me feel. There was an awful sense of foreboding deep down inside that made me want nothing more than to run away screaming.

I was vaguely aware of Sans waving a hand in the corner of my eye.

A small screen on its front blinked with green text. Enthralled, I stepped closer and squinted to read it. Just as I did, some wiring sparked and I shrank back. Sans chose that moment to step up, one hand brushing my upper arm. "Bit of a zoo down here right now. Sorry." He jerked his chin and pointed with one thumb over his shoulder toward the only exit. "S'probably not the safest place to be–"

Right on cue the machine sparked and emitted a particularly loud bang.

I jumped, hands flying to my mouth to hold back a scream.

Sans cringed, putting a large step between himself and the cranky metal behemoth. With his point made for him, he sent me a quick glance and guided me away from the machine. "Wouldn't recommend coming back down here until I can get it cleaned up."

I hazarded one last glance back before turning my attention to Sans. "Looks like a tornado blew through here."

Sans chuckled, shrugging his shoulders as he walked ahead of me. "You could say it had a twist at the end."

Chapter Text

Since when does anyone feel such intricate sensations in dreams? I told myself it was only because I'd never had a dream like this before. So I took it all in stride, unaware anything and everything I did was watched, noted, remembered.

 

[oOo]

Sans lead me from his workshop. I felt mild shock when we stepped into a long hallway rather than the cold of Snowdin. I peered up at the empty white walls for a moment, mentally shrugging off the discrepancy. We took the stairs and ended up in the living room (which looked very much the same as I remembered it looking in-game).

Apparently the layout of their house wasn't exact in this dream, just like his workshop hadn't been exact. Not that I'm complaining—it's not like anyone ever got to see a door for his workshop—just the black screen directly from Snowdin to Sans's workshop. Kudos to my dream for making things a little realistic, right?

"Kitchen's this way," Sans waved me forward as he crossed the room, socked feet shuffling across the plush carpet. I had only a few seconds to take in the burnt, pumpkin orange of the walls and the silly painting of a giant cartoon femur hanging over a worn, green couch. We passed through one doorway into a small foyer. Stairs rose to my right, going up, up, up, before making a sudden turn and continuing up to the left, beyond my sight.

I looked left. The front door, bordered by decorative glass, allowed sunlight to stream through, spilling across the floor right to my toes…

Sans stopped to glance back at me curiously when I paused.

"Where is this?" I asked.

Sans turned to face me, brows raising. His teeth lifted in a smirk, "What? You never been in a skeleton's house before? We don't just hide in closets, you know."

I grinned and shook my head, trying to ignore the nagging feeling in the back of my mind. "It's just… this isn't Snowdin."

Sans's hands were in his pockets again, smile small. His eyes flicked over my face, the peculiar expression from the basement returning. Searching. Looking for something. One corner of his mouth lifted. "Nope. It's not Snowdin."

"This is your house…" I murmured, a hand lifting absently to my face as my eyes trailed to the front door again, to the stairs, to the doorway Sans lingered beside. The nagging feeling redoubled.

Sans cocked his head, brows lowered. "Yup. I brought you here. Using my machine. In my workshop. In my basement… which is in my house. Which—while we're stating the obvious—I might mention, isn't in Snowdin."

His snide response left me fidgeting, fingers curling against my thighs. I liked to think I could read people fairly well. Sans was all but saying he was in control… over everything. Me, the machine, this place—his place—and… whatever else this dream(?) had in store for me. I swallowed down the flicker of irritation I felt. I was probably reading too much into his words. I took a small, steadying breath and bobbed my head with a smile. Nothing to do for it now. "Okay."

"Okay?"

"Okay!" I echoed with a playful curtsey, eyes twinkling up at the skeleton despite the uneasy feeling in my gut. "Here I am." Now what? He dragged me here. There must be reason.

Sans scoffed and gave me another good once-over. "…here you are." A heavy silence settled between us before he motioned me after him again. "Anyways. Let's move this rodeo to the kitchen. I'm thirsty."

The kitchen felt cozy and bright, with pale yellow walls offsetting the tile flooring. A clock ticked quietly on the wall close to the fridge.

"Have a seat," Sans said, voice disarmingly casual as he gestured to the table. "Make yourself comfortable. There's a few things we gotta get straight."

I glanced at him one more time before I settled in a chair on the far side of the table. Okay, well… take it away, dream. Let's have a chat with Sans the Skeleton.

Sans regarded me like an equation that didn't add up. One hand planted on the countertop beside him as he pressed casually against it. His fingers rat-a-tat-tatted on the surface. "How 'bout somethin' to drink? Something warm?" His head tilted, his fingers stilling.

"Yes, please."

Sans straightened, a brief smile lighting his features before he turned to the cabinet just over his head. "Sure are polite, ain'tcha?"

I shrank under the simple observation, hands clutched together under the table. I knew it wasn't a reprimand; still, uncomfortable memories of expectations I could never meet flashed in my head.

The soft clink of porcelain and soft whump of the cabinet closing brought me back to the present. Sans set on a kettle to boil before giving me a sidelong glance. He seemed to notice my discomfort. "Nothin' wrong with good manners."

I remained decidedly silent as Sans busied himself; he flung the fridge open with one hand while a finger tapped his chin, eyes searching. The fridge looked old—retro—just like the workshop. My eyes were drawn to the multitude of photos and papers stuck to the door. In particular, a child's drawing with a name scrawled on it in faded purple crayon:

Frisk, age 7.

Frisk stood at the center, shaggy brown hair scribbled wildly in brown crayon and shirt rendered with blue and purple. Still, more precious than the self-portrait, a familiar cast of monsters stood on either side of the child. Drawn in blue (and with an abnormally large smiley face for a head) stood Sans. Papyrus stood next to Sans with a plate of spaghetti held over his head (there were little sparkles drawn all around him). On Frisk's right, hand held fast to the child's, stood a beaming Toriel. Her face resembled a white, smiling jelly bean with horns. And completing the image were the words, "My Family," scrawled above in child's handwriting.

My lips lifted as warmth flooded my chest. The idea of Sans and Papyrus displaying the kid's artwork like proud parents… seeing this house, the smiling faces framed by photographs… they were all the result of a Pacifist Ending. I didn't even realize my smile had become a broad grin until the fridge slammed shut, jolting my attention back to Sans. He stood with one socked foot still lifted after kicking the door shut, a bottle of ketchup in one hand.

The silence became uncomfortable. "The kid's quite the artist."

Sans tilted his bottle in my direction as he returned to the counter. "Yeah, the kid's great." Undeniable warmth lit his eyes as he looked at the faded crayon on wrinkled paper. I stared at his back as he returned to the stove.

When he turned back to me, Sans held the daintiest teacup between his thumb and forefinger. He set the steaming cup down in front of me before he plopped himself in the chair directly across from my own. A finger tapped once on the table and he nodded toward my cup when he saw me eyeing it curiously. "It's Sea Tea."

I wrapped my fingers around the petite cup; the warmth felt wonderful against the chill and they prickled as the heat seeped through them. I sank a little deeper into my chair, sighing softly. I tried to ignore the heaviness in the air as Sans and I sat eye-to-eye. The kitchen light shone down between us.

Sans unscrewed his ketchup and eyed the contents of the bottle contemplatively before taking a long swig.

I blinked up at him, then back to the amber liquid in my cup. I took a small sniff, the heady aroma almost immediately clearing my mind. My brows furrowed curiously. Is it because it's monster food? Is it magic?

"S'not poisoned," Sans said with a wry smile, leaning his elbow on the table. "If I wanted you dead, you wouldn't be sittin' in my kitchen with a cuppa." His grin broadened as I shrank back a little, startled by the implication it might be anything other than tea.

For the record, I didn't think he'd poison me. Nevertheless, my eyes narrowed.

He snorted, fingers tap-tapping before he shook his head. "No need to look so put out. I'm only messin' with ya. Yeesh. Lighten up." He withdrew, waving one hand in front of his face, sockets curving. "But in all seriousness… my brother's gonna be home soon. So. Let's just cut to the chase." I didn't miss how he straightened in his chair or how his face grew serious.

My forefinger bounced subconsciously, mirroring Sans's rhythm. Once I realized what I was doing, I forced my fingers to still and tilted the cup to my lips; a calm seemed to flood through me, warming me from within and stilling my shaking fingers. Why are they shaking? I refused to be scared. I leveled my gaze with the skeleton and offered a faint smile. "All right. Let's."

The problem-solving expression returned as Sans's fingers started working overtime on the wooden tabletop. My eyes darted to his twitching digits. The constant clicking did nothing for my nerves. When Sans caught my glance his fingers stilled momentarily.

"Welp. First things first," he breathed. He leaned against the table, sockets narrowed as he gave me another searching look. "You seem awful trusting, considering we've never actually met before."

I lifted one shoulder in a shrug, lips pursing as I thought. "How do you figure we've never actually met? Maybe we have…" I pointed out. I did know a thing or two about the skeleton after all.

He smirked up at me before taking another swig. He seemed to gather his thoughts for a moment before he set the bottle down harder than necessary. "I mean, yeah, maybe. Maybe we have. But I seriously doubt that," he said, one finger beginning to tap again, slowly. He watched me for any indication he might be wrong. I thought I did a good job putting on a poker face, but… "You an' me both know we've never actually met. You're not really the type to get involved directly… what, bein' the Anomaly an' all." His smile fell away entirely as he looked up at me from under his brow.

I stared, frozen by the ice underlaying his casual tone. Anomaly? I shook my head slightly to clear it, brows furrowed as a nervous smile tugged at my lips. Of course we'd never physically met—that was impossible. Sans came from a video game. A very medium-aware video game, but still… just a video game. I took another swallow of tea.

"Anyways," he continued, unbothered by my confused expression. "I figure given all that you are the Anomaly, you must know a lot about us monsters." He hooked me with an unblinking stare. Sans grunted, shifting in his seat as he scratched his knee. "Obviously you know a thing or two about the Underground too, or you wouldn't be talking about Snowdin." Sans leaned forward, grin veiled.

"Is that about right?" He prompted when I remained silent.

"Yeah, that's about right," I answered. I knew at least as much as I could learn from a video game or… well, from whatever my head wanted to make up for this kooky dream.

"Then you know what I am, right?" He leaned on his forearms. The table shifted under his weight.

My brows furrowed at the question. Didn't he just ask me if I knew what monsters were? Unsure what he meant, I supplied a cautious answer, "You're Sans… Sans the Skeleton. A monster… from Underground."

He seemed dissatisfied with my response. Still, he nodded, fingers tap-tap-tapping away again. "Yep. And as you can see, we've got something of a cozy place here on the surface. We'd like to keep it that way, if you know what I mean."

I met his pointed stare, no less confused than I'd been a moment before. "Of course. I mean, why wouldn't you…?"

Sans inspected the tips of his fingers as he rubbed them into the wood. "So. I got some questions for you." Sans cupped his cheek in one hand, rolling his eyes toward me lazily.

I raised a brow. "Even more? You sure are nosy for a guy without one…"

Sans pulled a face as he tried to suppress a surprised laugh. His hearty chuckle finally won out and his smile became a full-blown grin. "Yeah. I got a ton more—a skele-ton."

A giggle bubbled up from my chest. "Anyway. You've got questions… fire away."

Sans shaped his fingers into a gun and pointed them in my direction with a wink and click of his tongue as he cocked the metaphorical weapon. "What do you know exactly?"

Know… exactly?

The clock punctuated my silence with a steady tick-tock. My gaze wandered to it.

4:47pm.

My attention returned to the skeleton across the table from me. I tilted my head, hands folding over one another. "Well… I know a lot?"

"What's your take on monster history? You know how we ended up underground, right?"

I took a sip of tea as I considered. "Well… monster- and humankind had a war a long time ago. Humans won and trapped monsters underground behind a barrier because… because humans were afraid." I dug back into my memory, of what information I could find in-game. "Something about humans being afraid of the ability of monsters to take human souls and use them to become immensely powerful."

It felt strange repeating the story out loud with a monster sitting in front of me. I felt an illogical twinge of guilt and… something else.

Pity.

Pity tugged at my heart. I glanced across the table at Sans; I could only imagine what it must have been like, trapped underground with no hope. All because humanity feared what monsters were capable of. They locked monstrosity away, dooming them to a hopeless future… until Frisk came along. I recounted what history I knew to the skeleton. The story of Undertale. Sans listened intently, offering the occasional acknowledgment, or pressing me to continue when I paused.

He seemed intrigued by what I knew, but not surprised. I had enough of a working knowledge to pass for someone who, well, belonged here, or lived near the mountain. If anything, I knew more than the average human. I even knew how Frisk managed to break the barrier alongside Asriel.

The china clattered quietly as I set down my cup. Sans peered at me curiously, slouched into his chair, fingers tapping quietly along the tabletop.

The ticking felt unusually loud and I felt my gaze drawn to the clock once again.

4:56pm.

Nine minutes had passed… time proceeded. Huh. Since when did dreams have a normal concept of time?

My eyes flickered to the child's art on the fridge.

My Family. Frisk, age 7.

My hands clutched under my chin as I rested my head on them; they were going cold again… "How long have monsters been on the surface?" I asked, distracting myself from the uneasy feeling trying gnaw its way to my core, trying to set off the alarm bells in the back of my mind.

He hummed low in his throat as he scratched at his temple, eyes on his ketchup. "Been six years now." His eyes snapped back up to me. "Six good years."

"Wow…" I breathed. "…wow. Six years? I can't even imagine what it was like coming up here after…" I hesitated, voice lowering as I looked toward Sans. "After being trapped for so long." I held the tea cup gently, my thumb absently tracing the delicate, curling design on its side. A smile found its way to my face.

Sans finished his ketchup, chugging down the last few drops and clanging the glass down on the table. He sighed, satisfied. "Amazing," Sans said, smile straining. "Like a dream come true." He stared down into the empty bottle for a moment before leaning back in his chair again. His arms slid behind his head, eyes half-closed.

"I'm happy for you," I said sincerely, my gaze lingering on Frisk's artwork before finding Sans's face. He looked up at me with one half-lidded socket.

Sans mumbled something like thanks, shifting in his seat as his eyes darted… to the fridge, the photos and art there, out the far window… when they returned to my face, his smile flattened. "So that makes me wonder." His fingers started to drum again. "You know a lot about monsters. About our history an' the things that happened underground. You didn't even blink when I mentioned my brother. No less than I'd expect from an Anomaly like yourself… someone who's seen it all again and again. I'm just wonderin'…" He straightened in his chair, eyes piercing right through me. "If you're so happy for all o' us, then…" His sockets went dark. "Why'd you do it?"

I stared at him, confused, as an uneasy sensation welled within my chest. Do it? My fingers twitched. "Do what?"

He pressed his hands flat to the table and leaned forward, rising out of his seat. I stiffened at the abrupt movement, eyes widening as my back pressed into my chair.

The kitchen light shone down harshly on Sans's cheekbones, washing out the ivory, darkening his smile. I felt less and less like I was seated at a kitchen table and more like I was set up for an interrogation… and I was the criminal. His sockets were little more than pitch black holes in his face as he waited, clearly displeased with my response. His smile twitched. The air between us seemed to spark, pushing against me like a physical force. The small hairs on my arms stood on end. I suddenly felt trapped and I licked my lips, mouth going dry.

I gulped down the last bit of tea, hoping its warm, salty aroma would comfort me and soothe away the ominous feeling I'd been left with.

My heart stammered in my chest. Even after I drained my tea I found myself clutching the sides of the cup as I tried to collect myself. "L-look, I'm really not sure what you're getting at…"

Sans let out a sharp breath through his nasal cavity. His shoulders hunched forward. His eye lights reappeared (maybe it was just so he could give me a great, big, eye roll, but at least I didn't have to stare into empty black holes anymore). He lifted a hand to wave it vaguely next to his head. "Why'd you, oh, I dunno…" His voice came out low, deceptively calm. "Poke a hole in the universe? Destabilize time? Play with the lives of innocent monsters?"

I gripped the edge of the table with white knuckles as his accusations sank in. I felt my heart throb, dropping with each biting question. I dared not look away from the glowering skeleton, but in the back of my mind I questioned his words. Weren't we sitting in the wake of a Pacifist Ending?

"What kind o' person does somethin' like that?" He continued, heedless of how my anxiety climbed. He leaned forward until the table creaked under his weight. "Were you bored?" His head tilted. "Was it fun for you?"

I frowned, brows scrunching under Sans's scrutiny. I sucked in a small breath, not even sure where to begin—if I should say anything. I wanted to defend myself, but he continued before I could.

"I hope you at least had fun," Sans sneered.

I gaped at the monster, at a loss for words as his snide words pierced through to my core. I flicker of indignation coursed through me and I peered down at my empty tea cup just so I didn't have to look at him. I gathered myself and took up the cup, slow and deliberate as I turned it between my fingers; any calm the tea might have imparted had long since fled. The scorn dripping from his voice had my stomach roiling all over again and a chill creeping up my spine. I never cared much for confrontation. Memories of battles I could never win clutched at my heart. I wanted to run, to disappear. What could I say to make this better?

I took a small breath to steady myself before I looked back up at him, face open and earnest. "I'm just a girl from the American Midwest, Sans. I think you've got me confused with someone else." I spoke slowly, keeping my voice level.

I didn't go poking holes in universes. I worked in sales (it sucked). Drew things. Wrote. Played video games when I needed to escape. Read books. I couldn't do the things he claimed I'd done. And even if I could, I'd never been about chaos and destruction… I'd seen more than enough of my share over the past several years. Memories threatened to overwhelm me and I felt my lips tremble, though I tried to maintain a placating smile.

Sans looked like he had more to say. He leaned closer, expression a fraction softer.

That's when the front door slammed.

I jumped in my seat, jostling the china so hard my cup fell over.

Sans's head whipped back and forth between me and the doorway so fast I'm amazed he didn't end up with whiplash. His eye lights shrunk to pinheads, and when his smile came back it was tight and forced.

Heavy footfalls sounded in the hallway, stomping toward the kitchen. "SANS! I'M HOME!"

"Not a word about the machine. Not a word. Just… follow my lead." Sans said quickly, voice low.

My brows lowered as I opened my mouth to argue.

That was the exact moment Papyrus burst into the kitchen.

Papyrus froze mid-step, jaw unhinged as his eyes switched between me and Sans.

My hands clutched uneasily against my chest as my head turned to the tall skeleton, slowly, as if any sudden movement might cause all the tension gathered in the air to burst.

In one fluid movement Sans reached across the table, snagged my tea cup, and spun it round one finger. He sauntered over to the kitchen sink, movements languid and easy, smile relaxed, like he hadn't just been snarling across the table at me. "Welcome home, bro."

If I hadn't known better, I would never have known we'd had anything other than a lovely conversation…

"Sans. SANS! Why is there a human in our kitchen!?" Papyrus's eyes snapped to me, a confused scowl the on his features.

I shrank back into my seat… well shit. This just got awkward.

Chapter Text

"Bro. Is that any way to treat a new pal?"

Papyrus's brows shot up and his teeth clattered in shock as his scowl turned to his brother. "WELL! You could have at least WARNED me we were going to have a GUEST!" He stuck his hands on his pelvis, sockets narrowed on Sans's back.

Sans turned from the sink, flicking water from the ends of his fingers. He sent Papyrus an apologetic shrug. "Sorry Paps. Must've slipped my mind."

Awkward didn't quite cover how I felt. I wanted to melt into the floor… some misplaced sense of decency kept me rooted to my chair. I chewed my bottom lip as my knuckles brushed against them absently. When Papyrus finally turned his attention back to me, I did the only thing I could think to do. I rose from my seat and held out my hand. I put on my best sales associate smile—the kind that makes it seem like nothing's wrong at all—and waited for him to take it. "I didn't mean to impose. I'm Lumena."

Papyrus stiffened, sockets going wide. His cheeks tinged—was he blushing?—and his expression softened. "Oh… oh no! I didn't mean– please accept my apologies! I only meant I had no idea we had… never mind! SANS SHOULD HAVE TOLD ME!" He sent Sans a scathing look before grinning nervously at me. "Do not worry, human! Someone so small as you could not possibly impose on the hospitality of The Great Papyrus! For you see, I am always prepared for the unexpected!" And just like that he encased my hand in both of his and gave them a hearty shake. "It is good to meet you, Human Lumena! I AM PAPYRUS!"

I felt my cheeks tinge pink with the sudden warmth of his greeting; the tension diffused some and I found myself grinning in spite of myself.

Sans leaned against the counter, arms crossed. "He's an ambassador for monster-human relations."

"YES! I am the face of monster-human relations! A mascot of good will!" Papyrus puffed out his chest, one hand raised over where his heart would be. "So you see, it is truly WONDERFUL to have you in our home, human!" Papyrus dropped his hand as the gears in his head started turning and his eyes switched between me and his brother. "…although. Why are you in our home? My brother does not have human friends."

My eyes widened before darting to Sans. "Uh, well, I'm uh, just–" I stammered, brain totally blanking as I tried to figure out what to tell Papyrus.

"She's a refugee."

Refugee!?

Papyrus and I looked toward Sans in unison.

Papyrus's sockets widened as he turned to me, eyes filled with pity.

Refugee from what!?

I steadied myself on the table behind me, grateful for its support as my eyes darted, unable and unwilling to look up at Papyrus.

"But Sans, you said you didn't want to host a human refugee!"

"Well, I changed my mind, didn't I?" Sans said. "That storm was a bad one, and you're right, Paps. We got a spare room upstairs, so why not put it to some good use for a while? Human or monster, what's it matter? Lu here can stay with us until her situation gets sorted out." Sans nodded toward me, eyes sharp.

I lifted my eyes. …right. Follow his lead.

I nodded slowly as Papyrus turned back me. He took my uncertain expression for distress and crossed the kitchen in two strides to place a hand on my shoulder; he gave it a little squeeze and offered a reassuring smile before dropping his hand. "Make yourself at home, human! It will be wonderful to have you join our family!"

My lip twitched. I could feel Sans's stare on me as I looked up at Papyrus, an uneasy feeling settling into my gut. "Thank you, Papyrus. I look forward to staying here with you." It wasn't a complete lie… although, with Sans's earlier words still ringing in the back of my mind, I didn't know exactly what to think about what was going on.

My eyes automatically sought out a distraction and found the clock for the third time that evening.

5:02pm.

The unsettling sensation returned to my gut. No. No way. You can't seriously think this is really happening. This isn't some stupid fan fiction… I ran a hand over my face. Just chill, Lu. Make like The Beatles and Let It Be.

"It is nearly dinner time, isn't it?" Papyrus said. "You must be hungry! Usually, Sans and I order out for movie night on Fridays, but as you're here, this calls for the very best! A celebration of our new human friend!" Before I knew what was happening, Papyrus flung his arms around me in an embrace that lifted my feet off the floor. I flailed in his grasp. Pretty sure he crushed the air out of my lungs. "This calls for… FRIENDSHIP SPAGHETTI! NYEH HEH HEH!"

"Eheheheh, well bro, that might be kinda im-pasta-ble…"

Papyrus dropped me, sending his brother the stink eye. I stumbled, steadying myself with a hand on the chair behind me.

"SANS! Don't you even–"

"…you'll have to spa-get some more, 'cause we're fresh outta–"

"SANS!"

"Spaghetta."

I snorted into my hands, barely holding back a laugh. Papyrus's unamused expression only served to tickle me further and I bit my lip to stifle any further laughter. His eyes slid to me.

"We can just make FRIENDSHIP QUICHE instead!"

[oOo]

Papyrus had a sort of infectious energy about him. It was hard not to laugh and smile as he chattered on, filling the kitchen with anecdotes and observations as he ushered Sans and I to sit while he cooked. He had a lilting, pleasant voice (when he wasn't shrieking at Sans). It made it easier for me to understand how magnetic Papyrus could be, drawing you in with a smile and nod. His naïveté and earnestness were refreshing. I couldn't be certain about here, in this world, but I knew in mine… well, people like Papyrus didn't last long—no one stayed so… genuine.

The next hour seemed to race by, and I was content to swing my feet under my chair and listen as Papyrus prattled on. Somehow it came around to how Sans had made a quiche earlier… but Papyrus wanted my first meal with them to be "special" and insisted on making a brand new one. Something "good." Besides, in Papyrus's own words:

"Sans always ruins his by making it sweet."

Sans snorted softly from where he sat at the other end of the table. "Bro… it's pie. It's supposed to be sweet."

Papyrus looked at his brother from the corner of his eye. "Nyeh."

"Oh, come on. It was shaped like your face…" Sans said, casting me a sidelong glance. "It was a good Pa-pie-rus." Wink.

No. I stifled a snicker with my hands. He just set that up. It wasn't funny… at least, I tried to tell myself as much, but a small squeak squeezed between my fingers anyway and my eyes glistened as I looked between the brothers.

Papyrus placed his hands on his hips and sent a glare in my direction, the whisk in his hand flinging egg as he shook it. "Don't encourage him!" The dismay on his face was so exaggerated I couldn't help but laugh more.

"…see, she thinks my jokes are funny." Sans grinned.

His puns were… well-placed, I'd give him that. Yeah. That was it. They were bad, but the way he said them… his delivery was endearing.

"Oh, don't let him get under your skin, Papyrus…"

Papyrus gawked, jaw flapping as he squeaked, words lost as he stared at me.

Sans stared at me, sockets wide.

A nervous giggle slipped through my fingers, breaking the silence… and then finally I heard bone on bone as Sans slapped his knees. He laid his head between his arms on the table, but his shoulders shook with undeniable laughter.

I began to giggle again, face flushed red between embarrassment and pride, before I looked at Papyrus.

He sighed, head back in utter exasperation. "Why did we get the human with a broken sense of humor?" He watched me from the corner of his socket however, one side of his mouth quirked. When our eyes met and he grinned, unable to help himself when he saw my small smile.

The rest of our time was spent enjoying our dinner-breakfast and catching up on news and events of the day. A disastrous tropical storm and the wave it brought with it briefly entered our discussion. The wave did most of the damage, destroying homes, separating families…

A devastating disaster. So many people had been displaced that families were being sought while the authorities tries to clear out and rebuild.

…some humans wanted to blame monsters and the resurgence of magic.

A human in a monster home would help paint a good public image. But more than anything, it provided a convenient cover story.

I certainly was… displaced.

No. No, you're dreaming, you're…

You don't eat in dreams.

"Has Sans shown you the house yet?"

My attention snapped back to Papyrus and I lifted my chin off my hands.

Sans's smile fled, sockets curving bashfully as he glanced at his brother. I heard his fingers drum once on the table before he shoved them into his pockets. My brow twitched, a bemused smirk plastering itself on my face. "No. He hasn't."

The look Papyrus shot his sibling was classic—sidelong and stern. A silent admonition.

Sans coughed awkwardly into one hand and shrugged, grin sheepish. "Bro, she just got here."

I giggled in spite of myself, shaking my head slightly. Papyrus's long-suffering sigh only prompted another chuckle from me. His eyes slid to me as he leaned toward me and stage-whispered, "You'll have to excuse my brother. We don't have guests often."

[oOo]

The brothers called their home "the Manor." Papyrus called it "quite grand." The place had a lot of the furnishings already when they moved in (I knew it! No way they did their own decorating! …it looked too nice.), but there were some things they couldn't let go of. The decorations and furniture they'd added maintained that retro 70's vibe I'd noticed earlier… A little gaudy or "bachelor pad" in places, but somehow it just… worked against the gothic interior. Dark wood floors, cherrywood paneling against light walls… relatively minimal in the décor department otherwise.

Papyrus had more than enough energy for all three of us. He animatedly described details of the old house's gothic architecture, all with a loving warmth in his voice. Sans slunk along behind, grin as constant as a Cheshire Cat's (and aloof as one too), offering snarky commentary whenever he felt his brother's explanations were inadequate (they rarely were).

I felt a strange sense of longing, like his happiness should be my own. I wanted to belong here.

Which was just weird. Home wasn't that bad… at least, I told myself as much.

I'd seen the kitchen, living room, and foyer already. There was also a cozy study in the back of the house past the stairs (Papyrus eagerly pointed out how you could see the back yard, and how it was perfect for sparring since it was so big).

Apparently the living room was, in fact, modeled deliberately after their old home in Snowdin. I wondered what fond memories might have prompted them to do such a thing when they had been trapped underground so long. I hesitated when my eyes fell on the basement door and remembered the looming machine, locked away down below.

Papyrus noticed my gaze. "That door goes down to the basement. My brother's workshop is down there."

I didn't miss the cautious glance Sans sent me.

…I played dumb, leaning in when Papyrus lowered his voice conspiratorially, one hand to his mouth. "He works on all his science-stuff down there…" He cast a glance at Sans. "For fun. He's such a nerd!"

"What can I say? No one can be as cool as you, bro," Sans said from where he'd slung himself over the side of the couch.

"Oh, but they can try!" Papyrus said, and somehow it sounded like the kindest, most encouraging thing I'd ever heard. How did he do that?

"The basement's off-limits," Sans added, catching my eye. His were closed as he rested his chin in his hand. He looked and sounded nonchalant.

Images of the machine and the feeling of the odd, thrumming pulse… an involuntary shiver ran down my spine and I bit my lip. He didn't have to tell me twice. I'd rather not think about the basement, or the machine it contained.

"Sans doesn't like anyone going down there but him," Papyrus said matter-of-factly as he turned to continue the tour. He strode from the room. I made to follow him, but a small brush against my forearm, gone as quickly as it'd come, stopped me mid-step. My neck twisted round to look back at Sans. He'd popped up off the couch, hands in his pockets, eyes contemplative. My fingers rubbed absently against my thighs; I still felt a little unsettled by his words earlier.

"Thanks for not sayin' anything to Paps. And going along with his tour. He loves this kind o' stuff." He rolled his eyes, but a fond smile remained on his teeth.

I considered Sans for a moment. He stood at ease, posture slouched… in sharp contrast to how he'd leant over the kitchen table not even an hour ago. Even his face… he looked softer. I couldn't help but smile, despite any misgivings. "Of course."

"You're really enjoying yourself."

I couldn't remember the last time I laughed this much—watching the two of them interact, the banter… "Yeah… I guess I'm having fun."

"Just remember, I got my socket on you."

A chill ran through me and I stopped mid-step. When I wheeled around to look at Sans, he'd winked his right eye shut. I blanched under the veiled threat, but forced my gaze to level with his. I'd done nothing wrong. I set my brows and raised my chin slightly, determined not to let him intimidate me. I tried to keep my voice light as I winked my own eye shut in a vague imitation of his expression. "Look, I'm not out to hurt anyone, Sans. I'm just a girl from–"

"Yeah, yeah, you said that." He waved me off.

My brows scrunched. "And even if I'm your 'Anomaly,' why would I want to hurt anyone?"

Sans laughed. He actually laughed… and completely ignored my put-out expression. "Look, so I got another question for you."

Papyrus called from the next room. My eyes flickered toward the doorway.

"What?" I asked reluctantly.

Sans's sockets curved. "Just how tall are you, exactly?"

Caught off-guard by the random question, I couldn't hold back a snort of laughter. I stood tall, squaring my shoulders so I could add as much as I could to my height. I could see Sans scanning me for any sign of hostility.

He found none.

Fan art liked to depict Sans as some sort of squat, dwarfish figure. Next to his brother and Undyne I supposed he might have been… but he had at least an inch on me, maybe two. I mean, in-game his sprite came to his brother's shoulders, and most people considered Papyrus as "tall"… so maybe I shouldn't have been surprised Sans wasn't exactly the dwarfish skeleton one might expect.

I rested my hands on my hips, smile broad and defiant as I tilted my chin back. "I'm four-eleven and three-quarters, thank-you-very-much!" I grinned, eyes crinkling.

"…and three-quarters?" He raised a brow.

"And three-quarters! That's almost a whole inch! It's very important," I winked as I wagged a finger.

Sans actually laughed—a real, genuine laugh—head shaking as he relaxed just a little. My own chuckle joined his as I tried to forget his warning.

"Hey, nothin' wrong with bein' short. I love short people. They bring me down to earth."

I raised both brows as I struggled to keep a straight face. "W-was that a barb at my diminutive stature?"

Sans snickered. "It was only a small one!"

"YOU TWO!"

Our heads swiveled in unison as Papyrus peered through the doorway, sockets narrowed in consternation. "What could be so interesting about the living room? There's still more to see!"

[oOo]

I know I said it before, but I really can't remember the last time I laughed so much. I'd always had a weakness for puns. It never seemed to matter how bad they were… they rarely failed to get some sort of reaction out of me, even if it ended up being little more than a snort and grin. I usually ended up smiling either because they were really clever or amazingly stupid. Sans seemed to have a fair mix of both, and he spared no effort. With Papyrus present, Sans played the doting older brother. It was a complete one-eighty from how he'd been with me earlier. I knew he didn't want to let on I came from anywhere abnormal, and I was determined to do the same. Still, I wondered if it was all a show for Papyrus, or if he'd really eased up a little with the condescension by the end of the night.

I felt… tired?

You don't feel tired in dreams.

The upper level split into two wings at the top. One hallway veered to the right (the bedrooms were on that end of the house). The left contained tall windows at regular intervals, allowing plenty of light and a fine view of the front yard. A paved driveway disappeared into the trees. I couldn't help but stare, gaping at a well-manicured lawn and rows of flowers around the front walkway. It really did feel grand from up here… just like Papyrus said. I sighed as admired the view.

"S'nice, innit?" Sans piped up from behind me.

I glanced back. "Yeah, it really is… but I have to wonder. How'd you two end up with this place? I mean, it's gorgeous and all, but it seems like a bit much for a couple of skeletons." I looked between the pair.

Sans's cheeks lifted as he smiled impishly, "Because it's bigger than a closet?"

Papyrus cut in sharply, his glare withering as he interrupted his brother before he could make any bad jokes. "We moved here after Sans blew up the old place."

What.

My eyes widened as my head whipped round to look back at Sans.

"Eheheh…" Sans's eyes darted to the side as his shoulders hunched. "Yeah… uh. Little mishap with a, uh, pet project of mine. So, we picked this one 'cause it was a bit bigger and uh, the basement is reinforced." (Although, maybe not enough, I thought, if the metal lodged in the wall downstairs were any indication.)

"Pet project?!" Papyrus snorted, "Your machine blew up!"

My eyes were round as saucers as I looked between Sans and Papyrus. The only thing that kept me from squeaking anything out about the potential bomb in the basement was the fact I wasn't supposed to know about it… and Sans didn't mention it first.

Sans's grin strained. "Yeah, but we wouldn't've gotten to live here if it didn't," he pointed out. "So there's that."

"Way to be positive," I deadpanned. "You seriously blew up a house? Were you guys in it?" I was equal parts (morbidly) curious and concerned.

"Well, the house didn't really blow up, so much as, uh, well…" Sans waved a hand vaguely as he looked for the right words, "it started existing in a different order. Then it kinda… collapsed?"

"That's putting it mildly," Papyrus huffed, rolling his eyes. "And no. We weren't home, thankfully."

O-okay. I wasn't even going to try to figure that one out. What did that even mean, "exist in a different order?"

"And now I just make sure– well, it won't happen again," Sans said, fidgeting.

When I finally looked back up to him, my own smile strained a little. "Well… this place is beautiful. Blowing it up would be a shame."

The taller skeleton shook his head, grumbling something about his brother's "science stuff" then took a breath."It has space for Undyne and I to train!" With Papyrus focused back on the positive, my gaze drifted. Heavy-looking double doors were set in the hall's midpoint. …something told me it wasn't just a linen closet.

Papyrus mentioned something about showing me the bedrooms, unaware my gaze had wandered. He loped away, arms swinging as he turned back down the hall… but my eyes remained on the double doors. "What's in there?"

My hands were already on the handles before Papyrus responded.

"That? It's just storage."

The boys were already half-way down the hall. I dropped my hands and glanced after them. When it came to a struggle between my curiosity and my need to be a polite guest… well, this time the manners my parents and grandparents had hammered into me won out. I backed away and followed them down the hall.

[oOo]

The guest room was closest to the stairs. I retired before the brothers, a heaviness in my limbs I couldn't explain.

As I laid back on the bed, arms behind my head and eyes locked on the stucco ceiling, I considered the events of the past few hours… at least, what felt like few hours.

I was in Undertale. Or at least in the presence of the characters, and some of the most memorable ones at that. The skelebros could easily be considered the game's mascots. I chuckled to myself, placing a hand on my forehead. This was all so… strange.

The idea I wasn't dreaming at all lingered in the back of my mind, but I refused to acknowledge its steady presence. If I did, I'd never be able to sleep… and God, did I feel tired…

I don't remember falling asleep.

Chapter Text

Nothing about this day had gone the way he imagined it would.

Sans sighed as he closed his bedroom door and leaned against it. A palm pressed to his forehead, sockets closing as he considered the day's events.

Nothing about any of it made any sense!

He crossed the room, tugging off his soiled tee shirt in the process, and threw it over his shoulder—it joined the growing pile in the corner. He should probably do laundry soon, but… eh, such responsibility paled in comparison to figuring out what went wrong. Sans fished his old flip-phone from his pocket as he crawled onto his bed to seat himself crisscross-applesauce in the middle, sheets wound haphazardly around him. He stared unseeing at the device between his fingers. He tossed it absently, sending it spinning a foot in the air before catching it with a clack back in his hand.

He'd been so sure of his calculations. So sure of the coordinates and formulas. It should have gone off without a hitch.

The phone twirled up… clack—back into his waiting hand.

But somehow, somewhere, the machine malfunctioned.

Something, somewhere, went wrong.

Sans needed to find out what.

The phone spun. Clack.

He didn't have anyone to blame for this surreal situation but himself. He knew how dangerous messing with timelines could be. He knew better than anyone. He could just as easily ended up waking up back in Snowdin…

The phone flew up and came down once more. Clack. His fingers curled around the mobile.

Sans shook his head, brows tilted as he groaned. Stars, it made his skull ache just thinking about it. By all rights she shouldn't even exist. The poor mobile device in his palm creaked as his fingers squeezed.

The machine itself would have to wait. Right now, he had a more immediate threat on his radar. A scowl settled on his features as he considered his new houseguest.

Lumena. The hell kind of a name even was that!? It didn't even sound like a real name. And what was he even supposed to do about her?

There was no denying what she was. Even if the readouts from TADaS weren't clear enough… there was the feeling she left in her wake. Was it just him, knowing where she came from? Or had Papyrus sensed it too when he came home?

Sans rubbed his fingers against his aching temples.

Sure, she wore a human face, but he couldn't deny the strange aura coming off her—a profound sense of wrongness he couldn't explain. It made him want to lash out like a frightened animal, caused his Soul to recoil, revolted, without ever giving her a chance. His patience frayed to the point he'd almost lost it in the kitchen when he confronted her. He'd managed to play it so cool right up until she looked at him, no idea what he was talking about. She was the Anomaly. How could she not know?

The phone went still in his grasp, then thumped against the sheets as he let it go. It bounced once. Sans cradled his skull, elbows on his knees as he stared hard into his crumpled sheets.

He expected someone—something—with no ability to comprehend emotion, no ability to understand pain, or suffering. He expected some demon or entity with malign intent, something devious. Something real he could unleash all his frustration onto.

He did not expect to tear the curtain back and see a girl.

What kind of all-powerful entity skitters back like its life is on the line? Unless, of course, it knew it had a life to lose…

How could she be so… human? Was that really all the Anomaly was?

What would she do to protect her life? Would she fight for it? Could he fight her? Was she some invincible demon in the guise of a human?

There were too many unknowns, too many variables.

She recognized him.

The Anomaly knew him, and for all the confusion he could see in her eyes, he saw fondness there too. Even so… this was The Anomaly. A being capable of ripping his happy ending out from under him like an old carpet. And she seemed so unfazed by everything. Did she take nothing seriously? Okay, so maybe he knew a thing or two about dancing through life, but, stars, if this Anomaly were anything like he used to be and just didn't care what happened…

He scratched at his temple absently. He just wanted his timeline safe. He wanted his happy ending secure. As he felt the familiar fear and hopelessness gathering in his bones, Sans heaved another sigh and reached for his phone.

His fingers twitched, hesitating.

Maybe Lumena was like the kid. Afraid and lonely. In need of a friend. Maybe she never meant to do harm at all.

Maybe.

Was she really human? Or was she merely playing a game—a wolf in sheep's clothing—trying to lure him into a false sense of security before striking? He'd be damned if he lost everything (again?) because he dropped his guard.

What if she was just a sheep, lost without a shepherd? If her humanity wasn't just a mask, if she was like…

Like Frisk.

Frisk had some power back in the Underground after all… did for a while after coming to the Surface, too. Not like this, though. Lu had to be off the scales. The metaphorical bigger fish. Frisk was small fry.

Sans's eyes wandered to the frame on his nightstand, to the precious photo it contained. Frisk's arms were flung around his neck, a wide grin on her face as he held her on his back. Papyrus leaned over their shoulders, his long arms better than any selfie stick.

Sans smiled. Frisk called him "Papa" for the first time that day.

…but Frisk had been a child. A human child. With a lot of DT, sure, but still human.

Lu was something else. Had to be. He tried to Check her. Nothing looked right! Either she was innocent as a babe or she was a mass murderer.

Which is it?

Wolf or sheep?

He could only do one thing, and he'd become quite good at it over his long life. He could wait and see. He must be patient… but he would not be a fool in this timeline. In too many timelines he only stood by and watched. And he'd make sure she knew he'd be watching. And he hoped, like a child who knows they're being observed, she would behave. He hoped it was enough. Because he knew he didn't bring her here. Not purposefully.

He didn't even know if he could hurt her if… if it came to that. His magic might not even work on an entity of her caliber.

There were more practical things he could do to get answers to his questions. There was one person he knew who was an expert on the nature of Souls. Or at least had experimented with them… one person who might be able to help him determine if Lumena were human as she claimed to be.

He flipped his phone open and input the number. For several seconds he remained still, thumb hovering over the dial button… it was late. But he knew she'd still be up. She always answered when he called. He pressed the button and waited for it to ring through.

A click as the receiver picked up.

"Hey Alphys. I need a favor…"

Chapter Text

It was easier to stay underground. Where no one could see him. Where no one had to know. It was easier to be alone.

Easier.

Ha!

Days stretched into weeks.

Weeks into months… and those became years…

I'm.

So.

Bored.

The echo flowers stretched tall around him, whispering static in the background (just like my head). They were silent, watchful giants. His only friends.

A field of white noise.

He swayed, the only movement in the forest of blue flowers.

Sometimes he talked to them. Just to hear something… anything.

But echo flowers didn't talk back; they could only repeat. They could only echo, echo, echo

"I'm lonely."

"I'm lonely…"

"I'm…"

"…lonely…"

Nothing changes. It's always the same.

What would happen if he just… gave up? It wasn't like he could Reset anymore. He hadn't been able to do that since… not since Frisk. Maybe he deserved this… yes, somewhere in his Soulless existence he knew. He most certainly deserved this. For all he'd ever done.

Sometimes he thought he saw their faces. His mother and father. Sometimes he thought… but a trick of the light, or his own head. He didn't know which. He wanted to see them so badly… maybe that's all they ever were. Waking dreams. He couldn't see them. He just couldn't. And they would never come to the Underground. Not now, when they were free. Why would they ever come to this Godforsaken place?

I should just give up.

Flowey closed his eyes. He didn't know how long it had been. But he could see no point in dragging this lonely existence out. He didn't know if the DT flowing through his system would let him, but, if he just let go, would he drift away?

His roots curled, leaves twisting as he willed himself to sleep.

Then he felt it.

A ripple through the underground; it shivered in his magic, through the core of his being. So small at first he thought he imagined it. His brow furrowed and he waited.

Nothing happened.

He closed his eyes.

It happened again. Stronger, this time. The whole of Underground seemed to quiver as something shifted, tilted, changed so drastically he could feel it in his roots. Like a wave it flowed over him; like a breath it passed through him. He could not deny what he felt as his magic responded, almost pulling him apart. Flowey's head shot up, petals wide as his eyes darted.

"What was that…?" He whispered.

The flowers around him parroted his question back to him, their voices a wondering facsimile of his own.

"What was that…?"

"What…"

"…was that…?"

"…that…?"

He could still feel the shiver of magic in the air; he knew it wasn't some figment in his head. He could taste it in the air. Something fundamental in the world had shifted. A new player had joined the game.

With nary a thought he traveled his old tunnels, following the rootways he'd made long ago to the place where once the Barrier stood, trapping him and his kin Underground for millennia. He could see the blue sky, tantalizingly near… but he knew better than to try to leave the mountain. His roots wouldn't—couldn't—go that far. So he peered toward the horizon, a teasing glimpse of all the things he could never have. Everything looked the same as it always did.

…so what if something's different. I'm still stuck here.

He sighed, closed his eyes as he withdrew, back into the shadow of the mountain. Ready to wither and die. So what if something changed? So what if there was something new and unknown out there beyond the familiar Underground? He was still trapped. So he returned to Water Fall, swayed under the echo flowers, waited, wondered if he shouldn't just go to sleep. It didn't matter that he physically couldn't.

How long did he sway, mind wandering? It could've been hours or days. He could scarcely tell the difference anymore.

"You cannot give up!"

He jolted, eyes wide. "Who was that?" Had he imagined it?

"Do not give up! You must stay Determined."

He stared at the field all around him, dark eyes wide as his stem bobbed. He feared to hope.

"Stay Determined!"

No… he heard it! He definitely heard it. That voice was real! Someone was out there!

"Sh-show yourself!" His voice cracked.

"We cannot be seen… but we are here now. We are with you."

A shiver caused his leaves to rustle. "Who are you?"

"Shhh… it matters not who we are," the voice assured him quietly. "You want to see the surface, right? You want to leave the mountain, right?"

Flowey bobbed, lips pursed as he considered. "I already tried to get to the surface. I can't. I just… can't."

No answer came. He waited so long in the silence he wondered if he had only imagined it after all. Then the voice came back, soft as a whisper amidst the field of echo flowers.

"We can help you."

The echo flowers seemed to quiver, swaying, repeating the sentiment:

"We can help…"

"We can help…"

"…help…"

"…help you."

Flowey's petals curled skeptically, hopefully. "How?"

"We still have some power. We can help your roots grow. Will you let us go with you? It is all we ask in return. We must go with you."

How long had he been down here with only echo flowers for company? How long had he waited to see her again? How long…? And she never came to see him! What did he have to lose?

"…okay."

No answer came forth, but a warmth the likes of which he'd never felt before spread through him, from his petals to his roots… he felt his entire network light up, and he felt he could see further than he ever had before. He felt like he'd been blind until this moment. An overwhelming flux of thoughts and feelings came to him… but he recognized they were not his own. This other being… was it them? He could see color and light, and… and he must reach the surface.

Come! Let us go to the surface together!

He did not know whose thought it was. His or theirs. It did not matter.

For the first time, Flowey rose beyond the caves. He uncurled his leaves and basked in the sunlight… the real sunlight. It was warmer and brighter than he ever imagined it could be.

We will have so much FUN together…

"Yes," Flowey agreed softly. "Yes, we will."

Chapter Text

I always had a keen sense of when I was dreaming and when I wasn't; I just didn't want to believe something that felt so much like fantasy could be real.

Can you imagine what it's like to wake up from what you believed was a dream, only to find it wasn't? I sure couldn't.

Pretending I was dreaming seemed better than accepting the strange, new reality. I tried to ignore the signs. The clock in the kitchen. The family on the fridge. This couldn't be real, I thought. None of this could be real! So I denied it. I pretended the disquieting feeling in the back of my mind was nothing more than my overactive imagination and it was all okay. I pretended I was okay. I pretended Sans's threat hadn't bothered me. It was a dream—a strange, amusing dream—and I'd wake up.

[oOo]

I sighed softly into my pillow, eyes still closed. I could feel the morning light on my eyelids. Already?

I still felt exhausted. If it weren't for the tantalizing smell of bacon assaulting my nose and the clang of pots and pans from downstairs I would have been content to remain in bed for at least another hour…

We don't have a downstairs.

My eyes snapped open as I jerked upright. I ignored the spinning in my head. It wasn't a dream. I really wasn't dreaming. The pale walls definitely weren't the dark, "steamship blue" of my room, nor did I recognize the white and blue duvet I'd thrown myself on top of the night before.

I took a steadying breath and tried to ignore the way my heart seemed to lodge itself in my throat.

Right. So. This is really happening.

No point moping in bed.

I swung my legs around the side of the bed and got to my feet. The clock on the nightstand read 7:15am.

Too early.

But the promise of a good breakfast was more than enough to motivate me. After making sure I was at least somewhat presentable in the attached bathroom, I made my way downstairs.

[oOo]

The soft sizzle of bacon and Papyrus's gentle voice as he hummed an unrecognizable melody drifted from the kitchen.

Papyrus. Sans. I'm in their house… how? This is too surreal.

I couldn't bring myself to enter the kitchen right away. I tried to ignore the tightness in my throat, swallowing it down almost painfully as I finally gathered the courage to step through the doorway. "Good morning, Papyrus!" I put on my best sales associate cheer, all smiles and I'm perfect-thank-you-how-can-I-help? (You learned to bullshit a lot in sales. Believe me. I know.)

The skeleton turned from the oven, bowl tucked under his arm and whisk in hand. He wore an apron with distinct red frills; it declared "Made with Love" in a curling script font. Below, in much smaller print, it added "and some other -." The last word had been scribbled out to the best of the skeleton's ability and replaced with "STUFF!" in bold marker.

My eyes crinkled, amused. I couldn't decide which I found more funny: the profanity the apron implied or the way Papyrus had clearly altered it himself. My eyes flicked up to his face as he waved the whisk enthusiastically.

"Good morning, human! I hope you like bacon and eggs."

My smile warmed as I watched him for a moment. He poured his whole being into each movement as he swept passionately across the kitchen to snag up spices and ingredients. The apron seemed remarkably appropriate…

I found myself automatically scanning the countertop. There was just one itty-bitty, teensy-weensy necessity for this morning—or any morning, really. I practically bounced over to the counter when I spied the coffee pot.

"All you have to do is push the button!"

And that I did. I rocked on my heels, impatient for the Black Juice of Life to brew. While I waited, I turned to Papyrus. "Do you need any help?" I asked, observing as Papyrus seemed to dance around the kitchen.

Papyrus paused just long enough to flash me another grin. "Oh no, you're our GUEST! GUESTS do not work in this kitchen! Go ahead and have a seat! It'll be done soon."

I shrugged, humming softly as I took a seat on the far side of the table where I could watch. I'd rather have kept my hands busy, or… anything. I tried to watch Papyrus, to keep my mind occupied on anything, but as early as it was… my eyes drooped and my mind wandered.

How. How could I actually be here?

It had something to do with Sans's machine. That much couldn't be more obvious. And I'd be staying for a while if the cover story was anything to go by. Given the state the machine was in when we left the workshop, it hardly came as a surprise. Then there was the other pressing question: Why?

Sans said he brought me here. He'd have answers… but he didn't exactly seem keen on my being here. Sure, he may have brought me here, but he'd made it pretty clear he wasn't happy about it. He thought I was the anomaly. Last I checked that title didn't belong to me. Well, not exactly.

My stomach pitched.

So, maybe… if the game had anything to say about it, I guess I probably could be—was heavily implied to be—the anomaly mentioned by Sans. As if I have some power or gift, some ability to alter time! Ha! As if… I wonder what he'd say if I told him it was all a game to me? …oh. That didn't sound good, even in my own head.

…and even if I were an—the—Anomaly, I didn't deserve to be treated like a criminal. My fingers scratched absently at the dark wood. It hardly seemed fair to be judged as if I'd done something terrible, especially as I looked at the happy skeleton rushing around the kitchen.

This is a happy ending. Shouldn't Sans be glad…?

"Human Lumena…" Papyrus's voice pulled me back to the present. "Is something wrong?"

I straightened in my chair, expression smoothing. "No, no, of course not. Sorry… I didn't mean to space out on you." I plastered on a broad smile. "Just takes me a bit to get going in the morning!"

Papyrus nodded slowly.

The coffee pot signaled it was ready with a beep. I took the interruption happily, slipping from my chair to make myself a cup. Papyrus indicated a corner cabinet filled with a few mismatched mugs. I couldn't wait to get some caffeine—a jolt to my system was just what I needed.

Breakfast tasted as marvelous as it smelled… and yes, Papyrus did boast about it. And why shouldn't he? As it turned out, he made some mean scrambled eggs; they were perfectly blended, fluffy, and lightly spiced… huh. Different. But in a good way! My head kept wandering, and some small part of me kept hoping Sans would join us for breakfast.

But Sans never showed for breakfast.

When we finished, I took each of our plates.

"What are you doing?" Papyrus asked as I waltzed past him, dishes in hand.

I grinned at his scandalized expression. "The dishes! You cooked. I'll clean. A fair trade-off, right?" I could feel his eyes trailing me to the sink as I shoved my sleeves up to my elbows.

He huffed a resigned sigh, "Very well. If you insist. …thank you, human!"

I chuckled as I started rinsing.

"Eh, human…"

I hummed softly in response, fingers continuing my work absently.

"I couldn't help noticing… those are the same clothes you had on yesterday."

I paused, fingers tightening around the sponge in my hand. I pursed my lips, a heat flushing my face. Of course he'd notice…

"…don't you have anything else?"

"Well… no," I answered, scrubbing slowly at the plate in my hands.

An worrisome realization came to me. I tried to shove it to a distant corner of my mind, tried to lock it away where it couldn't bother me, where I didn't have to acknowledge it. But all the same it settled and twisted.

I had nothing.

Literally just the clothes on my back.

I had no phone, no identification, no paper trail… unless there was another me out there, I didn't exist. I was in another world. In, presumably, another universe. I frowned down at the plate I was drying, mouth suddenly dry. Good thing my back was to the skeleton; I didn't want him to see my downtrodden face, or the wince as I felt a pang in my chest. I settled the plate carefully on the drying rack.

"I… lost everything."

That much was true, at least, and fit in with the refugee story. I don't understand why Sans wants me to lie to his brother anyway. What different does it make?

When I finished drying the last plate and turned to face him, Papyrus wore a thoughtful expression. "Well. That settles it!"

I blinked in confusion and leaned against the counter. "Settles what?"

Papyrus's eyes lit up as he stood from his chair and placed his hands on his pelvis. "We are going shopping!"

What.

I'm sure I pulled a face. I tried to cover my awkward laugh with a cheery smile, head shaking. "Papyrus, I don't exactly have any money–"

"Nonsense." Papyrus cut me off with a wave of his hand. "I will not hear of you living under our roof in your present state! Your clothes are WRINKLED! YOU REQUIRE MORE! I will not have anyone looking at our human–"

Our human?

"–and seeing anything other than how she is VERY WELL CARED FOR!"

I stared at him, wide-eyed as everything he said sank in.

"Papyrus, I–"

"I'll hear no more of it! Besides! YOU MUST SEE OUR MALL! IT IS TRULY THE GREATEST!"

My grin faded and my fingers tapped uneasily against my thigh… it was clear I wouldn't be able to talk him out of it. Besides… he was right. I didn't even have a comb or toothbrush! Being presentable hadn't been at the top of my priorities this morning, but… I needed to think logically about my situation. If nothing else, I could focus on that instead of worrying about the how or why.

[oOo]

Papyrus left no room for argument. If anything, he seemed eager to show off his car—he practically bounced up and down when he showed me the bright red muscle car. (Oh, I know there's a joke in there somewhere!) The convertible was fitting for the skeleton… but blessedly I convinced him to leave the top up. I did not feel like dealing with windblown hair. Not at all.

Our drive didn't take long. Papyrus had no idea I'd never seen New Town before, and the moment he uttered the name out loud I barked out a laugh. I couldn't help it! New Town. Another brilliant name from King Asgore… "Hey, at least it's easy to remember," I said when I glimpsed Papyrus's indignant expression.

According to Papyrus it was one of the first settlements on the surface (as if the name weren't a dead give away). The town itself wasn't far from the manor and had a blink-and-you-miss it sort of atmosphere. Reminded me vaguely of my grandma's old neighborhood. Rows of perfect houses, perfect lawns… all very Edward Scissorhands. The further we drove, the more commercialized it became; there were so many monsters, so many things I'd never seen with my own eyes before.

"It's so peaceful," I said, voice filled with wonder as I took it all in.

Papyrus made a sound of agreement.

I turned in my seat to look at him. "Has it always been like this? Since monsters came to the surface, I mean."

Papyrus pondered the question a moment before he answered. "No. When we first came to the surface, it was chaos! Humans and monsters together again for the first time in centuries! But it wasn't bad. Most humans are very amicable toward monsters now—not at all like they were in the history books! We were able to build up a community in no time at all and now… well… here we are!"

We pulled into a vast parking lot.

New Town Shopping Mall was lit in neon, logo illuminated in pastel pinks and greens. Maybe it wasn't just the skeleton brothers who were caught up in the old-school feel… it rather made me wonder how this retro flair stuck around. Maybe it's a monster thing?

"What was it like underground?" I asked as we stepped from the car. "Did you know a lot about the surface before you came here?"

Papyrus answered as we approached the main entrance. "We had a library chock-full of information on monster- and human history in Snowdin—that's where my brother and I were living when monsters were freed from Underground. We had a lot more to learn when we got to the surface!"

"Yeah? Like what?" I wondered.

"Well, for one… everything here is new. We got all our information from the dump!"

"So… you got all your information second-hand?"

Papyrus actually chuckled. "Not all of it. We had some catching up to do in the technology department when we got to the Surface. But we had magic, and power—The Core." The skeleton wrung his hands together, step slowing to look down at me. "We had as much to offer humans as humans had to offer us. Outside of our WONDERFUL FRIENDSHIP, of course!"

I grinned, eyes twinkling as I looked up at him. "I'm glad everything worked out so well…"

"Well, why wouldn't it?"

I stared up at Papyrus for a moment. Undertale suggested things were peachy on the surface for monsters and humans. Could a picture-perfect universe like that even exist? Somehow I doubted it. "There's no racism? No tension at all?"

"Well…" Papyrus hesitated, voice pitching up. "Aren't there monsters where you came from?"

I paused mid-step to glance back at him.

All these questions… I wondered if they might be common knowledge in other places, but for me? These details after the story were all new. I was under no illusions—Papyrus wasn't stupid, and I needed to remind myself I had a cover story to maintain. I wasn't supposed to be from another world. I mentally backpedaled, and my answer came out quiet. "My community was small." I kept as close to the truth as I could. "I like to think we'd be open to their presence if there were any, but…" I shrugged, voice trailing. We don't live in a perfect world. …well. I didn't.

I couldn't speak for monsters. But humans? Humans couldn't even live in peace with each other… "I guess the small community makes it hard for me to imagine what it's like in bigger towns where there are humans and monsters together. I don't know how well they get along and I… well, I don't—didn't—keep up with the new so much… the world isn't perfect."

"If the world were perfect, monsters would not require a wonderful mascot such as myself! We will all live in peace together! Everyone can be good if they just try—and we can make this world a better place together!"

His optimism warmed my heart and my smile was very real as I stepped into the mall beside him.

Even this early on a Saturday, monsters scurried to-and-fro. Youngsters dragged their parents down the wide aisles. My head pivoted as I took in the monsters around me. So many fascinating and terrifying shapes… so much more variety than I'd ever been exposed to in my entire existence.

When we passed a family of dog monsters, I couldn't help but hold my hands to my face and dance from foot-to-foot. They had kids! Puppies? Little bipedal kid-puppies! I nearly squealed. Papyrus had to place a hand on my shoulder to stop me from approaching the small family as they trotted by. I barely noticed their suspicious expressions as the parents ushered their puppies along on the opposite side of the aisle. Instead I turned to look up at Papyrus with a sheepish grin.

"Dog monsters are terribly protective of their puppies, so let's do keep our distance," he warned gently.

I tried not to stare too hard at a man(?) resembling a giant foot as Papyrus lead me through the mall toward a directory. Some of the store names I recognized. Others were entirely foreign. There was one called "Forever 22" and another called "Young Blue"—that one drew a chuckle out of me (Papyrus didn't understand what I found funny). As he browsed and murmured aloud a list of things he thought I might need I tuned him out, gaze wandering.

A monster that looked like little more than a giant green man with horns and a tail stalked by. And just across the way? A tall, lanky monster with hot pink scales trying on a yellow feather boa… not even sure what they were, actually. But I still grinned from ear-to-ear as they flaunted their new accessory.

The few monsters who noticed my stare received a quick smile. Most of them offered a wave or smile in return (as far as I could tell), though there were some who shied away. Must not be used to humans… which is fine. I'm not used to them either.

"All right! I have a plan!" Papyrus straightened, one boney finger held in the air. My attention snapped back up to the skeleton.

"We need a plan?"

Papyrus scoffed. "OF COURSE WE NEED A PLAN! There are many shops and only so many hours in a day!"

I shook my head, a smile tugging at my lips. "Papyrus, you're not planning to go to all the shops, are you?"

Papyrus frowned as he rubbed his chin. "Well, of course! We have to go to all of them to make sure we get everything you could possibly need!"

I rubbed my arm and looked up at the tall skeleton with a tiny smile. "I appreciate your… thoroughness, but I'm pretty low maintenance."

Papyrus finally relented, and our spree began in earnest.

By the time we'd finished, a couple hours had passed and Papyrus had two bags of clothes (just a few things because I refused to allow him to buy every single thing I eyed) and I carried another small bag of necessities (because I refused to allow him to carry everything).

I'd find a way to pay him back. Somehow.

We were on our way out when a sweet scent wafted past my nose. A shop full of vibrant color caught my eye—I recognized the array of goods immediately and my inner child squealed in delight. I took hold of Papyrus's forearm (Oh weird, bone!), "Oh! Look, Papyrus!"

Before I could stop myself I trotted over to the candy store, eyes bright.

Papyrus tilted his head as he sauntered over behind me, sockets flickering between me and the shop. He'd been patient with my meandering up to this point (I was usually quick shopper anyway), but I could hear the doubt in his voice as he followed me in. "You need candy?"

I snorted. "No! I don't need candy, but…" Before he could say another word I stepped into the store, eyeing the shelves. A profound sense of nostalgia had me looking around fondly. I could hear Papyrus grumbling as he skulked behind me, eyeing all the sugary confections like they'd jump off the wall and strangle him if he let his guard down. I looked back at him and grinned. "Oh, come now, Papyrus. It's not that bad," I said as I nodded a greeting to the girl managing the storefront—some sort of bird monster. She twittered a nervous hello.

I perused the wares for a minute before my eyes fell on a black, square package. I grinned.

"Oh my goodness. Papyrus."

Papyrus squinted over my shoulder.

My eyes glistened as I clasped my hands together. "They have Pop Rocks. Have you ever had Pop Rocks? We have to get them." My voice deepened as the stream of words came out in one breath.

"Pop Rocks?"

The questioning look on his face was all I needed to see. I turned away to hide my devious smile. "Oh! Oh my gosh. Can we get some? You've got to try them."

"What's so good about them? They're just candy." Papyrus stared down at the little package as he plucked it from the shelf, flipping the little paper over and shaking the candy inside curiously.

I laughed. "They're not 'just candy.' They're popping candy! Seriously, you've gotta try them."

A few minutes later we were walking out of the store with several packages in a variety of flavors. I had no idea what would happen if a skeleton monster tried to eat candy or if it would even work if he didn't have a tongue (did he have a tongue?), but the impish side of me was eager to find out.

I tore open a package as we made our way past kiosks and families with small children. I hardly noticed the stares I received as I bounded ahead of Papyrus and held the package out before him. "Come on! You've just gotta try them! Just a few."

The skeleton rolled his eyes, hand reluctantly raising to accept. "If you insist…"

"Oh, I do!" I poured the small green crystals into his palm, grinning all the while.

Papyrus eyed them for a moment, suspicion in his sockets as he looked between my face and the candy he held. I poured a few into my own hand. "We'll both have some. How's that? On the count of three."

"…this looks like pure sugar. It is so bad for your teeth!"

"One…"

Papyrus huffed. "Must I?"

I nodded. "Two…"

Papyrus sighed and rolled his eyes.

"Three!"

I licked the rocks from my hand. The first delightful tingle and pop as the candy reacted prompted a giggle.

Papyrus threw his back. I half-expected the sugar to fall right through his mandible, when it didn't… His sockets narrowed as his jaw twisted as if he were puckering.

And then I heard it. The first, soft pop!

His eyes widened as the candy crackled in his mouth. When all was said and done, Papyrus was giggling like a kid despite his best efforts to remain stoic. "How… odd! Delightful. But odd! Humans come up with such strange things. This candy feels like magic!"

I giggled, "Yeah! Aren't they cool? You should see what happens when you pour them in soda…"

As we approached the exit, I paused, eyes flicking to the bags on his arms. "Hey, Papyrus?"

He turned to look back at me.

I felt my face heat up even as I smiled. "Thanks so much. For everything." I lifted one bag-laden arm. "I'm not sure how I can pay you back, but…"

Papyrus silenced me with a look and a broad grin. "Nonsense! Consider a gift from the Great Papyrus himself! And as your gracious host, you are welcome! Now you can be stylish and almost as cool as me!" He brought a hand up to his "COOL DUDE" shirt. "I have a wonderful fashion sense—I'm certain you will look fabulous in your new clothes!"

I stared up at the skeleton gratefully, warmth tingling in my cheeks as I marveled at his kindness.

The ride back to the Manor was spent listening to oldies on the radio. I found a station playing The Beatles… and we both sang at the top of our lungs as "A Hard Day's Night" came on.

"HOW CAN ONE POSSIBLY SLEEP LIKE A LOG!? LOGS DON'T SLEEP!"

I could only smile and shake my head as we arrived back at the Manor.

[oOo]

The bright sunshine Papyrus and I enjoyed on our way to the mall was swallowed up by swollen gray clouds by the time we arrived back at the Manor. We all but ran from the car to the house as the first droplets came… in ones and twos, then more, faster. It became a torrential downpour before ever reached the front steps. The few seconds we were in the deluge left us both drenched from head to toe.

I flung the door open for Papyrus, then ran in close behind him and slammed it shut.

I found myself laughing, back pressed to the front door. Droplets flew from the ends of my hair as I shook my head, and water pooled around my feet as my clothing dripped onto the bone-shaped welcome mat.

Papyrus shook his head, flinging water from his skull in a small torrent. He scowled when he saw my grin.

"Free shower?" I giggled, flinging my hands out (I heard droplets hit the walls on either side). "What a perfect way to end the afternoon," I added, tongue-in-cheek, nose scrunched, grin still in place.

"Humans are so weird," Papyrus mused as he looked at me, bags still hooked on either arm. He set them down at the base of the stairs so he could shake more water from his sockets.

I stared for a moment, wondering if it was anything like having water in your ear… I always hated the muffled, swishing sensation. I'd never felt so blessed to have skin before. Then again… he didn't seem to have to deal with being cold as far as I could tell. Meanwhile, I could already feel a chill trying to seep its way into my bones. At least I'd have warm clothes to change into now!

"Your magic doesn't repel the water or something?" I asked, crossing my arms for some small amount of warmth (it didn't work).

"Oh, it does! In a downpour like this one, some always seems to get through anyway," Papyrus explained.

"I guess you didn't have to deal with rain like this underground, huh?" I said as I shook more droplets from my fingers and started working on getting my shoes off (I still maintain there's nothing worse than peeling off wet socks).

"No, nothing like this." Papyrus groaned, a hand cupping his "ear" as he drew out more water. "Are you familiar with the locales of the Underground, human?" Papyrus asked, peering up at me as he bent his head over.

"A little."

"The closest thing we had to rain Underground was in Water Fall. It was always very wet there…" His brows lowered as he all but smacked the side of his skull with a hand, head tilted so far to the side he was nearly level with me. He grumbled, shaking more water from his cranium. "Undyne lived in Water Fall! It was the best place to train—there were so many places to climb and jump, different things to try… and the water glowed!"

"It sounds beautiful…" The luminous water against the stark black of Water Fall had been gorgeous in-game. One of my favorite locations where appearance was concerned. "I bet it would be amazing to see."

Papyrus straightened, jaw hinging to speak.

"Bro!" Sans's voice interrupted from the living room, followed by the skeleton himself. He paused in the doorway to take in the sight of his bedraggled brother and the sopping wet human.

"Wet's up?" He asked, a smirk lighting his face.

Papyrus huffed.

I grinned behind my hand, eyes crinkling.

Sans straightened a moment later as his face grew stern. "I've been tryin' to get a hold of you." His eyes briefly darted in my direction.

Papyrus met his brother's gaze for a long second before his sockets widened. "Oh!" He turned this way and that, patting at his pockets. His brow twisted when they came up empty. "How irresponsible of me… I seem to have misplaced my phone. Er, I mean—I left it charging! Probably." His voice was small. "I'm sorry, Sans! Is everything all right? I know how you worry–"

"Woah, woah! Slow down Paps!" Sans smiled reassuringly, hands held out in front of him.

Papyrus's fingers rubbed absently along his knuckles. "Still. It is hardly responsible of me to have left something so important. I shall have to do better!" The ivory along his cheeks colored as he glanced between me and his brother.

"Don't worry about it, Paps… I just thought we could use some more ketchup is all. No biggie."

Seriously…? He just wanted ketchup? Yeah, somehow I doubted that.

Sans's eyes rolled to me next. "You guys have fun at the mall?"

Papyrus spoke up before I could.

"Sans! We went into a candy store!" For a moment, Papyrus looked scandalized. Then he was grinning from ear-to-ear as he dug through one of the shopping bags. "Look! They're called Pop Rocks! They pop! In your mouth!" Papyrus pulled one of the black candy packets from his bag and held it in front of Sans's face eagerly.

Sans went cross-eyed staring at little paper pouch. "She… managed to drag you into a candy store? Wow. Color me impressed," he said with a small laugh as he looked at me. "I can't get him to touch the stuff," he stage-whispered, a thumb poking in his brother's direction.

"Sugar really isn't good for you, Sans!" Papyrus huffed. "BUT JUST THIS ONCE I MUST MAKE AN EXCEPTION!"

I remained decidedly silent, happy to let Papyrus distract his brother as Sans tried the candy at his brother's insistence. I tried not to stare too hard as Sans's mouth opened, but… unlike Papyrus, there was no obvious hinge or mandible. His teeth parted and he poured the rocks back. I thought I spied a faint glimmer—magic?—before he clamped his teeth shut.

"You know where to find the good stuff." Sans sent a wink my way as he spoke… I could hear it beginning to pop behind his teeth already. I was struck then by how odd it was his mouth didn't open when he spoke. It didn't move at all unless he expressed some emotion… very unlike his brother's wagging chin.

"Aren't humans clever?" Papyrus grinned, sockets bright.

My head whipped around to look at Papyrus.

"They sure are. Wish I coulda seen your face," Sans said, words punctuated by a steady snap-crackle-pop!

"Next time, you should totally come with us!" I beamed, leaning forward on my toes as I peered up at Sans from under my sopping hair. I pushed a strand away from my forehead.

Sans shrugged noncommittally before his eyes wandered to the multitude of bags situated at Papyrus's feet. "So. What'd you get?"

"There you go being nosy again," I said good-naturedly, eyes narrowing. "I needed a few things…" I rubbed my arm, smile fading. "I hope that's okay. I, uh… I didn't have any other clothes, or… a-anything," I fumbled awkwardly.

I didn't even think about it before now. Did the brothers share an income? Did Sans work? Or did they have plenty of money to spare after coming to the surface? Evidently they could afford a small estate, but… in spite of what Papyrus told me this morning, I felt myself shrinking a little, uncertain. Undertale implied Sans was the one who actually owned the house, paid for it, provided for his brother. He was the practical one when it came to monetary issues, from what I could gather. Probably all those side jobs…

So… did Papyrus buy those things for me using Sans's money? I did not need another mark against me. Yeah, sure, Sans said Papyrus "worked" as an ambassador, but Papyrus? He called himself a mascot

"I'll find a way to pay you back." The words tumbled from my mouth as I tried to make sense of Sans's apathetic smile.

Sans considered me in turn, hands shoved in his pockets as usual.

I could feel the tension like icy claws closing in on me. …or maybe it was only the chill from the wet clothes. I shivered.

"Okay," Sans said slowly, smile growing.

Oh boy.

"You get to do my chores for a week."

I backpedaled. "What?"

Sans's eyes darted. "Yeah. My chores. Y'know. Laundry, cleaning, dishes."

Sounded easy enough. I was expecting worse.

"Also, I was kinda thinkin' it was time to clear out the storage…" He tapped his chin thoughtfully.

Maybe less easy.

"BUT!" Papyrus interjected, voice raised in exasperation.

I cringed at both its pitch and volume.

"It was a WELCOMING PRESENT!"

"I know… and I'm very grateful, Papyrus," I said before he could go on.

Papyrus pouted. He may not have had lips, but I knew those puppy-dog eyes anywhere on anyface.

"It would make me feel better if I did something in return," I added gently.

Papyrus sighed in defeat. "Let me take these upstairs for you, at least!" He snagged up the bags before I could stop him… even if I'd wanted to. Once Papyrus disappeared up the stairs (more like stomped), I turned back to Sans.

"So, I do your chores for a week and we're square." I grinned as I thrust my hand toward him, fingers wiggling. "Deal?"

Sans stared down at my hand for a moment before he clutched it in a firm shake. "Deal."

Sans pulled his hand from my grasp to tuck it back into his pocket and turned toward the kitchen. Before he took another step he turned back round however; I could see one hand fidgeting in his pocket. "Oh. I almost forgot…"

His serious expression had me fidgeting at the hem of my shirt.

"Next time you decide to go somewhere with my brother… let me know first, would ya?"

He appeared calm, but the way his sockets dimmed and the tight smile he wore now… I swallowed and hesitated. I could feel the ice in his voice.

He worried about his little brother… of course he did. I had sisters. I knew what it was like to want to defend them… how many boyfriends had I glared at from across the room? I was a complete stranger, one he assumed could be dangerous. I tried to disregard how the suspicion stung. "Yeah, of course. We should have said something or left a note… I guess I'm a little out of sorts after yesterday."

Sans's expression eased slightly at the sight of my wan smile. "Hey, don't look so glum… just… let me know next time."

"Okay."

Satisfied, Sans turned to go, but not before calling over his shoulder. "Didn't mean to rain on your parade."

That one got a quick smile out of me, just in time for another shiver to wipe it away.

"Welp. Water you waiting for? Don't you have some new digs to try on?" Sans added, shooing me toward the stairs. "Better go make sure you don't need to make any returns."

I waved him off with an easy grin. "Yeah, yeah…"

[oOo]

A hot shower gave me time to think and clear my head.

I felt like I'd gone crazy.

I was in another world. (What happened to mine?)

Were my bills, responsibilities—my life—continuing without me at this moment? Did my family know I was missing? Or had I just been pulled from my world entirely and they had no idea I wasn't there… like I never was?

Like… Gaster?

I mean, part of me was thrilled to meet these amazing characters—people—and experience this world. That said, this wasn't… well, a fan fiction. I thought Sans was a neat character. He and his brother had this wonderful relationship… and I thought it'd be cool to meet him. His reaction to our meeting put a damper on my enthusiasm, however…

The guy definitely didn't like me. Or at least didn't trust me.

Then why did he pull me into this world? How? …could I get back? It'd probably require his help, which meant staying on his good side (and I was certain I already wasn't).

And that brought me back to his words at the bottom of the stairs.

Next time you decide to go somewhere with my brother… let me know first would ya?

Simple as the question was, calmly as it was delivered… the more I thought about it, the more his words perturbed me.

What did he think I was going to do? Papyrus took me to the mall, not the other way around! I scrubbed the shampoo against my scalp harder than necessary and told myself I worried too much.

Besides… if I thought someone was a dangerous being from another world and I knew next to nothing about them, I guess I'd be pretty worried too. Even so… it still stung. I sighed and let the steaming water wash over me. I just wish it could wash my worries away too.

[oOo]

The rest of the weekend flew by. Monday afternoon found me with the house to myself. Sans was… somewhere. I'd hardly seen him at all since Saturday. I had chores I'd promised to start but I still had questions for Sans. When I did finally catch a glimpse of his blue hoodie, he was disappearing through the basement door. I only just managed to stop him before he could close it behind him.

"Hey, wait!" I crossed the living room in two bounds, reaching out to grab his sleeve. "Hey, Sans–"

He tensed under my grasp and his head turned sharply. My words died on my lips as I let go; his scorching glare sent a chill through me and I stepped back like I could actually be burned. If looks could kill… I cleared my throat softly, unsure what exactly I'd done to earn his ire this time.

He glanced at my face. His expression softened slightly. "Yeah?"

"I, uh, just… I wondered…"

"Well? Go on. What did you wonder?" He prodded, brow quirking.

I swallowed down my nerves and tried to smile again. "Could we talk about what happened sometime? I'd like to know more. Like… why I'm here. How I'm here."

"Getting all philosophical on me now, huh?"

I tapped a finger on the thigh, lips pursed. I was being serious!

Sans crossed his arms as he leaned against the doorframe.

"I think we may have gotten off on the wrong foot," I continued, shrugging off my frustration. "I mean, this whole situation is weird, right? For both of us." I saw his brow lower. "And… another thing. About what you said the other day. You were worried about Papyrus. You didn't really just want ketchup, did you? I realize maybe a stranger disappearing with your brother might not look good."

Sans raised a brow. "You goin' somewhere with this?"

I frowned. "Yeah… it's just… you're treating my like I'm someone awful. You don't even know me. You haven't even really given me a chance. Maybe… maybe we could just talk a little or… or something…" I shrank as he watched me, unblinking. I swear the room got chiller. "…o-or not." I fumbled, trying to reorder my thoughts when he didn't respond. "B-because, I get you're worried about your brother, and wherever you think I came from or s-something, but… I'm not really clear on exactly what's going on here. I'm not here to hurt anyone, even if I am this… anomaly of yours. And I especially wouldn't hurt Papyrus. Papyrus is so cool!" I grinned nervously. "I still can't believe he took me shopping… he didn't have to." As I spoke, I tugged absently at the sleeve of my new shirt.

The mall trip was definitely going on my list of strange-slash-cool experiences, right up with getting sneezed on by an elephant.

Sans didn't say anything. I recognized the expression from the kitchen a few days ago—the questioning, searching look. His sockets narrowed slightly and his smile strained as he tried again to find answers…

Answers I'm pretty sure I don't have.

Okay. This is awkward. I almost thought he wouldn't speak at all and my shoulders slouched as my courage began to fail me.

Sans finally spoke, uncrossing his arms. "We couldn't exactly leave ya with nothin', could we?"

He pushed away from the doorway and continued watching me even as he turned toward the basement. "Look, I'm sure you've got a lot on your mind, kid. There's a lot to unpack. Believe me, I get it. For now, you worry about settling in. We can talk more when I don't got my hands full with the machine."

I rubbed my arm, a pinch of anxiety still running through me in spite of his reassuring words. "Yeah… okay."

"Okay." Sans flashed one last smile before he turned to go.

"Sans?" I called after him.

He turned again, brows raised in a classic "what now?" expression.

"How long?"

The skeleton tilted his head, smile shrinking, eye lights dim. "Huh?"

"How long? How long do you think I'm going to be here?" I clarified.

His eyes darted, a finger tapping against the doorknob. "…like I said. Worry about settlin' in. We'll have time to talk and figure it out. 'Til then, don't sweat it, Lu."