Sans lights the tea candles of his miniature shrine. There were nicer, bigger versions at the store, but somehow the smallest, humblest kit appealed to him. After the monsters had returned to the surface, with Frisk's help as human-monster ambassador, they'd established all kinds of businesses, homes, institutions... including a bizarrely popular cult to the robed, skeletal figure who everyone now remembered as the one who led their SOULs out of an empty sky and back to the kids for them to SAVE. Once, the only one who remembered Gaster's name was Sans. Now everyone does, albeit in a totally different context. It's been kind of overwhelming.
Not in a bad way, though. Sans sets up one of the photos of his private collection, back when he'd kept everything truly important to him in the locked shed behind the house in Snowdin, and takes a step back to take the effect of the whole thing in. Somehow, it feels inappropriate. He kind of likes the idea of his father being embarrassed by all the fuss, though. He decides to keep that thought to himself.
"So," he begins, tucking his hands into his pockets. "You're probably watching, listening from somewhere... Well, I guess you always were? But this feels more like a personal conversation, so... here goes.
"I don't really have to tell you what's been going on, I'm sure. You probably saw Frisk agree to be ambassador when King Asgore asked. Heh, I bet you've seen Papyrus go out and be the monsters's mascot. The humans really like him?" His perpetual smile crinkles wider. "I wasn't sure how things would go, but hey, it turns out humans have good taste.
"So anyway, I'm sure you know me an' Papyrus got brand-new rides - he really loves his shiny red car. Drives everywhere in it. You know Tori started up that school she always wanted to, and Asgore's a professional gardener now. And of course, Alphys's been doing great. She even goes out sometimes? I heard she hit the beach with Undyne last weekend, and she invited me and Papyrus go on on a picnic with her and Undyne today. I'm really glad for her; she's happier than I've ever seen her. 'Course, she got fired as Royal Scientist after all, but there's not really a Royal anything anymore, so I guess that's just as well."
Sans pauses. When he set this whole thing up, he decided he'd ad-lib the whole thing. No point in preparing a speech - just let it all flow from the heart. But, well... there's not a lot of flow for someone like him. "Frisk is doing fine? They seem really happy now. Like they're in their element, thriving," he hazards. "They always did like helping people, and now they're never alone. Oh, speaking of, they told me they talked to you. They're a good kid, huh." Another pause. "I'm... really happy they asked you to help out. That's probably why everyone remembers you now, huh? I mean, it's not as good as it could be, but it's way better than I bet either of us ever expected to get anymore. They did what... what I never managed to."
A third pause, this time to rein in the bubbling of emotion that threatens to knock down the dams of his barriers. He coughs into one hand, completely unnecessarily, but it helps him pull himself together.
"Anyway," he continues, "about Frisk's partners in time..." He trails off. What to even say about them? "Between you, me, and the wall, it's really fucking weird to have them around," he decides. "I'm pretty sure I'm the only one who thinks so, but maybe that's 'cause I'm the only one who knows about them being part of the anomaly. I haven't even told Alphys yet. I'm not sure I ever will. You think I should?"
No answer, of course. The tea candles don't even flicker.
"Yeah, I didn't think so either," he concludes. "Glad to know you've got my back, Gaster." He waits a beat, then widens his grin. "Just kidding."
This time, the candles do flicker. Sans stares at them. Then he glances away. "...Yeah, I guess that was kind of spiteful. Sorry.
"Uh, anyway. At first glance, Asriel seems like a nice kid. If you didn't already know, you'd probably never guess he was Flowey. What a difference a SOUL makes, huh? Except I'm not sure the difference it makes is THAT huge. I've been keeping an eye on him, just to be safe. Sometimes I go to his performances with Tori." He scratches his skull. "Starting to think I was just being paranoid, though. He seems perfectly happy with the way things are. He joined a club at school, even started one of his own? Some kinda support group for kids going through rough times. I popped in once, and he seemed like he was thriving. Maybe what he really needed was some friends. Papyrus's more than happy to step up, there, too.
"Same goes for Chara... I think. They're a harder read. Or maybe I just don't see 'em as often. They stay inside a lot, more than even Alphys does. I haven't actually seen 'em in a while. I think it might be... a month now? Yeah, a month, I'm pretty sure. Undyne sees 'em more than I do. Apparently they've been training with her, or so I heard from Alphys. Not sure how I feel about that. I guess I should cut 'em more slack; I mean, I know they're not a bad kid inside..." He shrugs, arms spread. "I'm pretty okay with us staying out of each other's ways, though.
"And anyway, Tori and Asgore can handle 'em. Asriel and Chara spend alternating weeks at Tori's and Asgore's, while Frisk stays with Tori full-time and sometimes spends a weekend at Asgore's when Tori knows there's someone else to supervise too. Seems to be working out so far. She's real happy Frisk decided to stay with her after sayin' good-bye to their old foster parent. Oh, and she told me, when they're at her place while the others are at Asgore's, they work on writing up some memoirs - or maybe it's a story, or a biography? They've been writing something, anyway. In between being ambassador, natch. Which they're doin' a great job on! But you already knew that. Because I said so already. And... because you've seen it for yourself. Probably."
He falls silent. Even for him, that sure was a whole lot of beating around the bush and refusing to get to the point. There are a whole lot of others monsters he could probably give meaningless updates on, like Mettaton and Napstablook and Muffet, but... enough is enough.
"...So, yeah," he says, glancing away and scratching himself again. "Sorry. I did this to try to air some stuff out, but... I think maybe I'm too used to keeping it locked up inside. Doesn't feel natural to say it out loud. Heh, guess maybe I'm a little too keyed up, huh?"
The tealights bob a little but burn steadily. Sans's smile strains.
"Yeah. Yeah. I know. God, I just wish I knew for sure you were there," he mumbles.
The tiny candles flare. He nearly jumps. When they die down, he peers closer and finds that they've already nearly burned down to nothing. "Get what you pay for, I guess," he mutters. "Ahh, forget this. I never did know what to say to you, anyway." He pinches the wicks to extinguish the flames, then watches the trails of smoke waft up to the ceiling. "But I will say this: I'm really, really glad people remember you now. I hope it cheers you up too... Dad."
Silence fills the room along with the faint smell of incense. A buzz rattles Sans's pocket. He pulls out his phone and reads the text he just received, then sets it back.
"Anyway, that's Papyrus tellin' me he's just about back with Undyne and Alphys, so I gotta get going," he says, looking back at the photo centered in the mini-shrine. "And... that's it. Maybe next time, I'll have something real to say." He pauses. "Well, bye."
Outside light briefly floods Sans's disaster area of a room as he opens and shuts the door. The invisible figure of Gaster remains behind in the darkness, next to the extinguished shrine.
"(Next time, my son,)" he murmurs, then fades away.
Spotlights illuminate Asriel, and Asriel dances. A pirouette with a fouetté turn, a failli leading into a jump, and then landing with his right foot at a careful angle, his left leg arced gracefully behind him, and arms en haut as the music glides to a halt with him. Applause thunders through the auditorium, and Asriel can't quite keep a pleased smile off his face, even if he's not 100% he got the ballet terms right in his head.
Frisk, Chara, and he had all agreed to attend his mother's new school together, a place for both human and monster children to learn. With monsters and Frisk around, Chara doesn't get as anxious around humans, and it's apparently politically sound for the ambassador to attend school with the first mixed-species school in the country. His mother had urged each of them to take up a hobby via a club and be a leader, though only if they felt comfortable with doing so. Frisk had been too busy with everything else, so they'd picked something low-impact, a literature club for reading; Chara had refused to join one at all, opting instead to mooch off Frisk's books; and on top of founding his own support group for troubled kids, Asriel had decided to join an amateur dance troupe for people wanting to learn ballet.
Somehow, though he'd never been interested before, he found himself drawn towards toe shoes and tutus. At first he'd been worried it was the influence of his patchwork SOUL; now, he not only doesn't care, he embraces it. The sensation of his arms and legs in motion, expressing his feelings through pantomime... Once he tried ballet, he found swiftly that it could give him everything he's lacked for so long. And, quite apart from that, he genuinely enjoys it. It's tough and competitive, but that's part of the fun. One day soon, he will land a premier danseur role.
As the applause begins to die down, he breaks form to bow, then bow again. Back row where there's space for the biggest monsters, near the center, and he catches sight of them: Mom, Frisk, Chara, Papyrus, and Dad, still clapping for him with broad smiles on their faces, Dad holding a video-cam to record. He beams back at them, resists the urge to wave (he'd look like such a kid), and bows a third time before turning on his toe shoes and hopping away en pointe, just to show off. It turns out the way his legs are built, he's naturally good at it; his teacher has high hopes for him.
He chats excitedly with his club-mates who took their turns before him, comparing notes on what they did well and what they messed up on; it's everyone's first performance, so they know they made little errors, but he thinks everyone overall did a great job. When the show ends after the final curtain call, he waves off to them, then changes into regular clothes, including a jacket (it's a bit chilly this late at night) and his new favorite hat. He looks over himself in the mirror and tilts his hat just right, then smiles in satisfaction, grabs his duffel bag, and heads out.
On the way out, he waves to classmates and club-mates alike. Being the son of the teacher/principal means, much like when he was a prince, pretty much everyone is friendly to him, human and monster alike. It's still a little lonely, but being in clubs - and making his own club - makes him feel a lot more like he belongs.
As he passes by a trio of classmates, they wave to him, then shout and wave him over. Asriel obeys, moseying over to join them as he adjusts his duffel bag.
"Your dance was so good, Asriel! Great job tonight!" one of them, a human non-binary kid with pink barrettes in their bushy pigtails, enthuses. "You'll be a primo in no time!"
Asriel puffs out his chest and tips up his hat. "Thanks! You know it, Ja'mi!"
"You must be upset, though," added another, a mouse-like monster girl with bright, copper eyes. "I saw hardly anyone from your other club in the audience. I can't believe they didn't show up to support you!"
"Naw, it's not a big deal, Penny," Asriel said, waving a paw. "They've got their own things going on."
"Like what? Staring into space all day and skipping school every other day? Yeah, I'm sure that's real important!" says a human boy with cropped hair and a baseball cap. He laughs, and so do the others.
Except for Asriel, who frowns. He knows exactly who the boy is talking about - a human girl who's almost as quiet as Frisk used to be. He'd just invited her to his group last week, though she hasn't given him a response yet. "Cut that out, Tommy! People don't completely tune out like she's been when everything's going okay. You wouldn't want people making fun of you either if something bad was happening to you!"
All three look chastened; Tommy grimaces, Penny blushes, and Ja'mi ducks their head.
"Sorry," says Penny. "I just thought she was being rude."
"Even if she was, that doesn't make it okay to laugh," Asriel chastises. "You never know what someone else has going on at home! Be more careful, all right?"
"Yeah, you're right," Ja'mi agrees. "Sorry, I didn't think."
"Hey, you're making me look like the bad guy here," Tommy complains. "I didn't say anything that wasn't true!"
"That doesn't make it right," Asriel insists. "If you don't have anything nice to say about her, then just leave her alone."
"Look, it was just a joke -"
"Tommy, you need to stop," Ja'mi interrupts. Penny nods along firmly. "If Asriel says you're over the line, you're over the line. You know if someone was making fun of you behind your back, he'd tell them to cut it out too, right?"
He grimaces again. "Yeah... yeah, I guess you're right. Sorry, Asriel. I'll keep my mouth shut."
Asriel smiles and tips his hat at his classmates. He can't describe how good it feels that he's now known for being someone who'll stand up for others - especially since he can do so because of support from his own friends helping him to be a better person. "Don't sweat it too hard! We all make mistakes. Just be more careful in the future, hey? I'll see y'all later!"
They all wave to each other one last time, and Asriel springs back out into the hallways, seeking his friends and family with vigor renewed.
The crowds are pretty thick in the halls and auditorium, and he'd bet good money that Chara would've asked for fresh air, so he heads outside. Sure enough, he finds the group a little away from everyone else, sitting on a low wall together, Frisk patting Chara's back, Papyrus chatting animatedly at Mom, and Dad reviewing his recording. Asriel hurries over to join them, waving; Dad looks up and smiles and waves back, drawing the attention of the others who all look up at Asriel in turn.
"Hey! Congratulations! Your dance was really beautiful!" Frisk says, smiling as they stand up. They wink and point double finger-guns at him. "I just love a boy in toe shoes!"
"Frisk, you don't have to flirt with me; we're already dating," Asriel replies, smiling.
"But that's no fun!"
"And anyway, do you want them flirting with everyone but you?" Chara points out, leaning their chin on one hand and smiling wryly.
"Hmmm... That's a good point..." Asriel admits.
"You will enjoy the gushy side of romance soon enough, I am sure," Mom remarks, poorly hiding a smile behind one paw.
"Moooom," Asriel groans without feeling. She's not wrong, but he's not going to just admit that.
Dad chuckles and holds out the video cam, miniature viewscreen popped out. "Would you like to review your dance, son? I think you did a fine job."
"Agreed!" Papyrus chimes in, leaning over eagerly. "I liked the parts where you waved your arms like you were flying! I thought that was neat-o!"
Asriel beams. "Gosh, thanks! And, uh... I'd love to, but we'd better get going first, Dad," he adds. "I'm sure it'll get a whole lot more crowded out here soon as people start filing out."
"Mm... That is true," he admits. "Very well, I will be sure to make a copy and give it to you next time you and Chara are by." He carefully tucks away the video cam and gets to his feet. "Well then, I had best be on my way. It is getting late, and I am sure your mother wants to make sure you are all home in a timely manner."
"Aww, you can stay a little longer!" Asriel insists, grabbing hold of his father's sleeve.
"Asriel, if your father needs to leave, he needs to leave," Mom says, and while she sounds gentle enough, Asriel would know that steely undertone anywhere.
He sighs. His parents stay civil to each other in front of him at least, so sometimes he lets himself hope, but they're never getting back together, are they.
"Don't stress over it, Ree. Your mom and dad both made it to the recital, didn't they?" Chara says then, as if reading his mind. He doesn't know how they always do it, though it comforts him every time. They really do understand him, even if they aren't the only one anymore. "We'll see Mr. Asgore again next week."
"Aallll riiiiight," Asriel concedes, releasing his dad's cuff. He smiles when his father tousles his fur. "See you later, Dad!"
"G'night, Asgore," Chara adds, to which Frisk nods along.
"Good night, Asriel, Chara, Frisk. It was nice to see you again too, Papyrus."
"Wowie! Thanks, Your Majesty! You too!"
He smiles, then nods politely to Mom. "Toriel."
She returns the gesture, a little more sharply. "Asgore." A breath, and then: "Please be careful driving home."
He smile warms. "You as well." He nods again to the group, and then begins to walk for the parking lot.
Mom watches him go, expression inscrutable; then she smiles at Asriel and everyone. "Well then, shall we be on our way?" As a group, they too head for the parking lot, albeit a different part. Once they're in sight of her car and Papyrus's, she adds, "Thank you for joining us, Papyrus. Please give Sans my regards."
"I wouldn't miss it for the world!" he declares, grinning at her and Asriel. "And sure thing! I'm just sorry my lazybones brother skipped out!"
"That's okay. I don't mind," Asriel reassures Papyrus. Even after regaining his SOUL, he isn't quite comfortable around Sans. "See you later! Let's go on that drive next time!"
Papyrus gives him an enthusiastic thumbs up, then heads over to his hot rod. It's candy apple red and apparently has lots of ponies or something? Asriel can't wait to hear it whinny.
"You guys should do ballet with me," he adds to Chara and Frisk as they all pile into his mom's car, not for the first time. "I'd love for us to do a pas de trois together."
"I'll pass," Chara says. "I'd rather just watch you."
"Will you wear the hat?" Frisk teases.
Chara snorts. "Who ever heard of a ballerino wearing a cowboy hat?"
Asriel winks and finger-guns at the both of them. "I'm a trendsetter, baby. Just call me the future of dance!"
Chara breaks into a laugh while Frisk play-swoons. The three of them chatter on through the evening, all the way back home.
"NGAAAAH! Ready to call it quits, wimp?!" Undyne roars, grinning sharkishly as she pins Chara facedown to the mat.
"Nnnnguh - I think maybe I am," they grunt, gloved hands twitching.
When Undyne gets off their back, hooting, they wait for half a second, then spin their legs into a sweep using their right hand as a fulcrum. They don't manage to knock her off her feet, but they do get her to stumble back several steps, giving them space to get back up.
"Then again, maybe I'm not," they add, grinning back.
"YOU FREAKIN' PUNK!" she yells, but she looks delighted as she materializes a magic spear. "You really are determined, you little sneak!"
"Gotta be determined to beat you!" they retort just before rushing at her shoulder-first.
Undyne thrusts her spear at them, but they'd anticipated that; they sidestep, made easier by how they'd rushed while presenting as little of their body as possible, and grab the shaft with their left hand as they close in. A right hook sails for Undyne's jaw and connects. It's like punching a boulder. Her grin widens as they yelp reflexively, and then she headbutts them.
"NOW are you gonna call it quits?!" she demands, bouncing up and down in place.
Head swimming, they stagger; however, they're still coherent enough to answer by way of an elbow strike. She cackles in delight and blocks them with her spear, then knocks them away and calls up a dozen more. Chara dodges to one side as the floor glows; they remember doing this several times with Frisk, sometimes in Frisk's place, while running through Waterfall. Once they're close enough to Undyne, they aim an uppercut at her jaw, then thrust themself forward with a punch to her solar plexus, or the closest thing monsters have to one. Both blows connect, and Undyne snarls, then answers by way of grabbing them around the waist and suplexing them.
They're still reeling on the floor when she demands, "Give up, runt?!"
"Neverrrrrr," they growl, then swing their legs forward and back to kick her.
Their spar continues along that vein for a while longer, until at last both Chara and Undyne are sprawled on the mats together, panting and sweating.
"I got, you good," Chara gasps, wiping the sweat from their brow.
"Heh, you're pretty tough," Undyne replies, heaving. "Guess humans, have one good thing, about 'em."
Chara barks out a laugh. "Just, the one, though."
She laughs with them and raises a fist. Chara does likewise and bumps it against hers. It's so satisfying to spar with someone who's on your wavelength.
"A-are you guys finally done? I brought drinks," says Alphys's voice from the other side of the room.
"You're the best, Alph," Undyne says, pushing herself upright.
Chara follows her lead, ignoring the groans of their muscles. They grab the towels from the bench while Undyne heads over to her girlfriend, then bring Undyne's over while rubbing their own over their face. Once they meet up with her and Alphys, they trade the towel for a frosty glass of...
"Lemonade?" they wonder, peering around the little paper umbrella.
"Yeah, l-like, I know you and Undyne don't like soda, and I hear t-tea is dehydrating, s-so I figured maybe you'd like this instead?" Alphys suggests hopefully. "It's instant, b-but still."
"Sure," says Chara, who could really have gone for some iced tea. "Thanks."
The three of them sit together on the bench along the wall, and Undyne and Chara don't speak again until they've drained their glasses. The lemonade's pretty good for instant.
"Good hustle today, Chara," Undyne says, tipping her glass at them. "I had to work my butt off to wear you down."
They smile, pleased by the praise. "My body isn't entirely physical anymore, and there's no lack of bad humans out there. Need to be sure I can help protect everyone."
"O-oh, that reminds me," Alphys says, leaning forward. "I got your test results back. They're on the kitchen table in a big envelope s-so you can read them later."
"Can you give me the gist right now? I don't want to wait."
"Oh, sure. Um, b-basically, the magical and physical parts of your body have fused, s-so there's no instability. It looks like having your own b-bones is keeping your determination from m-melting the rest of you - it gives them someplace to c-concentrate. So y-you're doing okay so far. I'd like to k-keep an eye on you just in case, though, i-if that's all right?"
They breathe out a sigh of relief. "Yeah, that's fine. Thanks."
Undyne elbows them. "Hey, good news, huh? Congratulations! Man, though, you sure are somethin' else. Even death can't keep you down!"
"For better or worse," they reply dryly. They hand their glass back to Alphys. "Are you two sticking around? I'll make us dinner."
"Nah, me and Alph were gonna go out for dinner tonight."
"Oh? Stop by tomorrow, then. I'll make you something for lunch."
"Sounds good!" She punches their shoulder playfully and gets to her feet. "Now let's get this room cleaned up before Toriel makes that disapproving face she likes to make!"
They play-punch her back, laughing. "All right, sounds good."
It doesn't take long to wipe down the mats, collect them and put them back in the closet. The garage is maybe not the greatest place for a makeshift gym, but it's as good as they'll get without leaving home. Eventually, they'll have to actually deal with other humans face-to-face, and not in a carefully arranged place like school where Toriel and Asriel and Frisk can ensure there's a barrier of monsters around them at all times, but... one thing at a time. With their knife gone, they want to be able to protect themself some other way, and hand-to-hand combat speaks to them - or to some part of their SOUL, anyway.
Though, speaking of humans... There's a few of them in Ree's club. A support group, really. He'd wanted to make sure kids like them and Frisk had somewhere to go, people to talk to, and that made them so happy... Though Chara hasn't joined it, they do watch from afar and sometimes help out.
Once everything's put away and Undyne and Alphys head out, they shoot Asriel a text: 'hey, did that one girl ever agree to join?'
He responds: 'Not yet! Feeling good about it though. Thanks for pointing her out to me btw. I thought she was just skipping for fun at first.'
They remember seeing the haunted thousand-mile stare behind her glasses, the way she'd neither talk nor volunteer on the days she showed up. 'Nobody who acts like she does has good things going on. I was just worried we'd have another Ebott kid on our hands.'
'Hehe. I was saying something like that just the other day to some people.' Then, 'Frisk says they've been trying to talk to her too, so don't worry, we'll manage somehow!'
They smile and relax. Maybe they can't do much good, but if they can help even one child like them... 'Good to hear. I know you two can do it,' they text back. 'See you later, OK?'
After exchanging good-byes, Chara heads upstairs to take a shower and change, then heads into the kitchen to start making dinner. Toriel has a lot on her plate these days - seriously, she always has - but it helps out if they prepare meals every so often. Plus it's nice to spend time with her learning to cook and working through one of their many, many traumas. Humming to themself, they tie on their favorite apron and get to work on their specialty dish.
They wash a pot of rice and put it on to boil in the rice cooker, check the ingredients in the fridge, curse to themself when they realize they're missing one, find a reasonable replacement, and keep going. They bring the pork cutlets out of the fridge and score lines in them with a knife, and then start mixing ingredients in a bowl for deep-fry batter. They're in the middle of mixing the eggs when they hear the front door open.
"Welcome home," they call, figuring it's Asriel, Frisk, or both.
"Hey, Chara. S'been a while," says Sans's voice. "How you been?"
Chara nearly drops their whisk, then turns around to see him saunter into the kitchen after Frisk and Asriel.
"Recovering," they manage. "You?"
"Recovering," he replies.
They half-smile. "Heh." Then they focus on their best friends. "Hey, Ree, Frisk."
"Hey, Chara," says Asriel. "Sorry, I forgot to mention earlier, but Mom's gonna be late with parent-teacher conferences, so she won't be home 'til late. She asked Sans to keep an eye on us 'til then." He rolls his eyes. "I told Mom we could take care of ourselves, but you know how she worries."
"Ahh. Well, that's no problem. I was planning on making dinner for Undyne and Alphys too, so I got pork cutlets for six, but they decided to get dinner on their own," Chara says. "There's enough for Sans's share."
"Katsudon?" Frisk guesses.
Asriel lights up. "Oh, man! I love your katsudon, Chara! Lucky us!"
"Don't feel too lucky. I forgot we were out of soy sauce, so I'll have to replace it with Worcestershire sauce," Chara says dryly. "So the taste won't be quite the same."
"Oh, hey," Sans says, opening up his jacket. On either side, bottles of condiments poke out of inside pockets. "You really are lucky, kiddos. It just so happens I got that on me."
"That is lucky," Frisk observes.
Asriel and Chara, meanwhile, stare.
"I'm probably gonna regret asking," says Asriel. "But: why?"
"I'm a condiment salesman now," Sans replies, winking. "And I relish my job."
Asriel groans while Frisk and Chara laugh.
"Well, that's great," Chara says, turning around. "Could you hand me a bottle of soy sauce, then, please?"
"Sure." Sans plucks out and offers them a bottle of Kikkoman, ever-grinning. "That'll be 5000g."
"Expensive!" Frisk gasps.
Chara hurls an oven mitt at him. "You know my allowance isn't that big!"
Sans moves his head to one side, and the oven mitt sails past. "Oh, it isn't? My bad. How about 10,000g?"
Chara breaks out laughing. "That's even more!"
"Oh. Whoops. Then... how about -" He winks. "The last of your story?"
"Story?" Asriel echoes.
"The buttercup dog story," Sans adds helpfully.
"Oh!" Frisk utters, lighting up.
Chara stands up straight. "Really? You wanted to hear it that badly?"
Sans shrugs, ever-so-casual. "Hey, I'm just trying to make my condiments both delicious and affordable." But the look in his eyes... "So, c'mon: what d'you say?" ...is tremendously keen.
A slow smile curves up their lips.
"What's the buttercup dog story?" Asriel asks.
"It's about how they got the ability to LOAD and SAVE and RESET," Frisk explains. "With everything that happened, I totally forgot about it! You have to tell me the end too, Chara!"
"Wait, really? It didn't just happen for you?" Asriel says, floppy ears perking a little. "Could I hear this from the start? Please?"
"How could I refuse such an earnest request?" Chara replies sunnily, whose day started good and has just gotten far better. After taking the soy sauce and setting it to one side, they launch into a recap: about the buttercup pie, the garden with the two dogs, leaving with the one from the buttercup side, and how the other bid them farewell with a mouthful of herbs. When they finish, Sans and Frisk both watch and listen attentively, but Asriel's face is scrunched up.
"Okay, so... the dog you left with was the Player, and the other dog was, uh, some kinda God or something, and he gave you some kinda plant for her to hold onto?" he summarizes, puzzled. "I don't get it. How'd that get you the RESET power?"
"Hmm... What do you think, Sans?" Chara asks, sliding their gaze his way.
"Me? Uhh, sorry, I wasn't expecting homework."
"Oh, come now. This is your specialty, after all. I thought for sure you'd have figured out the answer by now."
He scratches his skull; then he shrugs. "Sorry to disappoint you, kiddo, but I don't have a clue. Been a long time since I studied quantum physics seriously. Fill us in already, would ya?"
"Well, since you insist." Their smile widens into a toothy grin. "It was all..."
"Oh no," Asriel utters, realizing the truth too late.
"...because of the thyme pair-a-dogs!" they crow.
Asriel covers his eyes with both paws and lets out the most hideous, piteous groan. Frisk gapes at them for a second, then snorts, then bursts out into uproarious guffaws. Sans, however, just stares blankly.
"Did," he starts. "Did you really just."
They spread their arms. "Hay, be-leaf it or nut, it's Dog's own tooth."
And Frisk howls, they howl with laughter, tears streaming from their face as they bang a fist on the table. Asriel moans like he's on the verge of death and in excruciating pain. Both satisfying beyond measure, but the all-important Sans is quivering.
"Did you seriously tell that entire story - the one you kept implying would solve the riddle of the anomaly and the time loops and give me all the answers I've ever searched for," he says slowly, "just so you could end it with a bunch of puns?"
Chara meets his stare. "Yes."
He trembles harder and bows his head. "I can't believe it." He shakes his head, then looks up to reveal laughter all over his face. "I can't believe it! I love this little jerk! 'Thyme pair-a-dogs' - oh my god, you threw down the gauntlet, Chara. I can only dream of pranking someone as hard as you just pranked me."
Grinning in open gratification, they shrug with arms spread. "Hey, what did you expect? The answer to life, the universe, and everything?"
"Heh heh heh. Point taken." He winks, while delight and agony ring out around him in equal measure. "So consider this challenge accepted... as friends, naturally."
Chara beams, eyes sparkling. "Bring it on."
The soft scratch of pencil on paper threads in with Frisk's humming as they record the day's events in their journal. This one is red, for their current life; they have an aqua one for when they were in the Underground, and a purple one for random thoughts, observations, interesting facts, and the occasional poem or short story when they're feeling inspired.
There's a lot to talk about, especially with the resets and ultimately no explanation for how they were able to do that in the first place (they snort-giggle in the memory of Chara's pun from the other day - that was so them), so they save the aqua one for when they have to be alone. They still don't really like it, and it's lonely without Chara in their head, but it's easier these days to put up with it. It's never long before they see Chara and Asriel again, anyway, plus they've got a mom-ster and lots of friends. What a difference it makes, knowing there are people who genuinely care about you.
They aren't alone right now; Chara's in the shower (their turn was last today) and Asriel is reading a picture book. He must really like it, because his tail is wiggling. It's the cutest thing and Frisk has to stifle a giggle every time they look over at him.
The muffled sound of rushing water stops, and a few minutes later, Chara enters the room wearing pajamas and toweling down their hair. They take one look at Asriel's tail and smile; Frisk catches their eye and they share a knowing look. Then Chara passes Frisk's bed, which is next to the window, to reach their own.
"Whatcha writin' about, Frisk?" they ask, sprawling out.
"Lots of stuff. The class project we're working on with gathering all the different kinds of leaves and identifying them; we finished a really good book in lit club; the human mayor and me talked about monster food and making it more widespread, and I recommended she talk to the Nice Cream guy for a start... Oh! And Violet finally agreed to join Azzy's group. She seemed happy we cared so much!" they reply, smiling. It had taken her a long time to come around, but it's worth the wait. What a difference it makes, indeed.
Chara smiles back. "That's a relief. Sounds like your day was pretty busy."
"Nah, today was pretty normal."
They snort. "I don't think I'll ever get over how quickly you can change your definition of 'normal.'"
"I dunno. You got pretty used to how things are now too, didn't you?" Asriel points out, putting down his book and turning on his bed to face them. "I mean, you can even stand to be around other humans now, sort of."
"If by 'stand to be around other humans,' you mean 'as long as they're behind a wall of monsters and Frisk who can tell them I'm shy and they shouldn't get too close,' then yes, I can put up with it for the duration of the school day."
Asriel laughs ruefully. "You say that like you aren't paying attention to them, anyway! You could've done home schooling, you know."
"Yeah, I know."
"Why didn't you?"
Chara stares at the ceiling; Frisk watches them out of the corner of their eye as they continue to write. "Because there's still humans like Frisk and me around."
Frisk's pencil stills.
"And I like the other monster kids in our class. I'd miss 'em if I stopped going to school," Chara adds. "Anyway, if it gets bad, I can always switch to home-schooling then. Toriel said I could anytime I wanted to. That helps a lot. It makes it less stressful to go, knowing I've got the freedom to leave."
"That sounds like you," Asriel says. Frisk's pencil resumes. "You always did hate getting bossed around."
"Good thing you didn't mind getting bossed around by me," Chara replies, smiling.
"Bossed around, huh," Frisk muses. They shut their notebook and set it and their pencil down on the nightstand, on top of their lit-club copy of Gone With the Wind and Chara's personal copy of Kitchen. "It's more that you hate being controlled, isn't it?"
"Haha. True." They pause. "I don't mind being told what to do, per se. It doesn't bother me to do the dishes when Toriel asks or stuff like that. I just... don't like feeling trapped, with no way out."
Frisk and Asriel don't answer. They don't need to; they both understand.
"Anyway, I don't mean to whine. I like that going to school means I can help make a difference to the kids who need it, even if it's only a small one," they continue. "Everything else is in the past now, anyway."
"I don't know. Some things... they don't really leave you, no matter how far in the past they are, huh?" Frisk remarks, resting their chin on their hands.
"That's true. None of us can ever forget what we've done," Asriel murmurs. "Even if no one else can remember."
"Well... You're not wrong, but..." Chara rolls onto their stomach. "When I'm the optimistic one, I know something's wrong. Is something going on, Frisk?"
"Huh? Oh, no, not exactly, but..."
"Is something not going on that should be?" Asriel asks shrewdly, sitting up.
They smile ruefully and scratch their cheek. "Actually, yeah. Um... I didn't want to bring this up, but..."
Chara furrows their brows. "What?"
There's a certain tone to their voice that Frisk recognizes immediately: a seed of fear that it's something they did, that they're the cause of Frisk's worries. "It's not you. I just didn't want to upset you," they reassure them quickly. "It's about the Player."
"What about her?" Asriel prompts. "Isn't it a good thing that nothing's going on with her? Although, none of us have been able to SAVE or LOAD since then... Not that I'd want to LOAD back to before all of this."
That's true. Frisk hasn't even seen a SAVE point since Gaster accidentally split their SOUL from their body. "Me neither, and yes, it's good she isn't causing trouble anymore, but, well... I just hope, wherever she is now, she's doing better than she was here."
"She won't be," Chara says curtly. "She's the type who'll NEVER be happy. But that's not what you were actually trying to get at, was it?"
They shake their head and turn themself to face Chara and Asriel. "Right. Right before we fought, she said that if we beat her, she'd give us something nice. 'You'll know it when you see it,' she said."
"Oh, I get it. And she never did, huh?" Asriel says. "Now that you mention it, that does put me out a little. But I guess you don't usually get a drop from the final boss."
"I'd say her leaving forever is something nice," Chara quips.
"Maybe," Frisk says reluctantly. "But no, I told her she didn't have to, remember? Looking back, though, I wish I'd let her. Just so I could know what she had in mind."
"Who cares," says Chara. "It was probably only ironically 'nice' at best."
"I dunno... I just... wish I understood her better. I feel like all of us were a lot alike, but... I don't know. There's something about her I just don't get, and I'm not sure I ever will, now."
"Maybe that's a good thing," Asriel murmurs, bowing his head. "When I was a flower, we had a few conversations, and... I think she got me. Or rather, she got Flowey. I think someone like that is scary."
"...What she had in common with us was our worst sides," Chara observes quietly, eyes averted. "I hate to do anything she says, even in a roundabout way, but she really was a good example of what not to do. I don't want to be like her anymore - ever again."
"Same here," Asriel agrees. "Frisk, take it from us: don't worry so hard about stuff you can't change. She made her choices, and I got the feeling like she was willing to live with them."
"That's true," Frisk admits, thinking back to her last words. When they'd thanked her, she'd cried. "Sorry. Maybe I'm just overthinking it."
"Or maybe you're just a super-nice sap who feels bad they couldn't get a happy ending for every single person ever," Chara counters wryly.
Frisk giggles. Although they still feel a tinge of pity, that cheers them up. Chara really does know them well. "Maybe you're right."
"You saved me, and Chara, and everyone in the Underground. I'd say that's a really good ending," Asriel points out, smiling.
"He's right," Chara chimes in. "You did your best, Frisk. And your best was great."
They feel their face warm as their smile widens. "Thanks, Azzy, Chara."
Chara smiles back, then yawns, stretches, and rolls back around. "All right. I don't know about you two, but my horrific mutant hybrid body needs sleep. Ree, if you're gonna stay up reading, make sure you turn the lamp off, all right?"
"Wait! What about..." Asriel gets a shifty look. "...you know?"
"You know?" Chara echoes, before sitting straight up. "Oh!"
"What's up?" Frisk wonders, tilting their head.
Chara and Asriel share a glance, then sneak one over at them. Then Chara rolls off their bed to whisper to Asriel. Frisk would be lying if they said they didn't feel a little left out, but they expect they'll learn what this is all about soon enough. They don't need to rush it.
And they're right: once the two finish conferring, Asriel swoops around the other side of his bed to retrieve something, and then he and Chara walk over to Frisk's bed with something hidden behind his back.
"So," Chara says gravely, standing tall. "Ree and I were talking the other week."
"When we were over at Dad's," Asriel adds helpfully.
"We're three in a pod now," Chara continues, nodding at him and them. "But we don't have anything that's for the three of us together."
Frisk tilts their head further. They're not sure where they're going with this.
"So we got Dad to get us a jewelry kit so we could make something, and..." Asriel presents what he's been hiding. "Tada!"
Frisk blinks rapidly, first out of surprise, then to clear away their building tears. A set of necklaces glimmer in Asriel's paws, clearly three of a kind, each with a pendant that forms a heart with the other two. Each pendant is engraved with a single word: "BEST," "FRIENDS," and "FOREVER."
"Ree did the engraving, and I did the welding and picked the chains," Chara declares. "We're not going to get rid of our old necklaces, but we'll be wearing these ones instead."
"D'you like 'em?" Asriel says eagerly, watching their face.
Frisk smiles with all their might, rubbing their eyes with one hand. "I love them," they croak.
Chara and Asriel share a relieved smile. Then Asriel picks up and holds out the "BEST" pendant.
"This one's yours," he says.
"'Cuz you're the best," Chara adds, smile lopsided.
Vision blurred, Frisk accepts it and pulls the chain over their head. Chara takes the "FRIENDS" pendant and Asriel keeps the "FOREVER" one, and they too pull theirs on before sitting on Frisk's bed with them. Frisk reaches out to hug them, and Chara and Asriel hook an arm over the other's shoulders and reach back out to them for a triple embrace.
"It's great. Thank you both so much," they whisper. "B-best friends forever?"
"Best friends forever," the two chorus back, then lean in to kiss Frisk on either side of their face.
They burst into teary giggles and hug them both closer, and the three of them cuddle to their hearts's content. Eventually, though, they part to return to bed. Frisk, still glowing, unties their favorite hair ribbon and sets it on their nightstand, but leaves their new pendant on.
"G'night, Azzy. G'night, Chara. See you in the morning," they call softly as they turn out the lights.
Through another yawn, Chara replies, "Night, Frisk. Night, Ree. Sleep well."
Asriel cuddles up to his pillow. "Good night, Chara. Good night, Frisk. Sweet dreams..."
I love you.
The unspoken, mutually understood words drift between the three and cradle them all into gentle slumber.
Pink rays of dawn stretch through the window, and Frisk, closest to it, stirs. They yawn and sit up and glance blearily at their bedside clock. 6:03 AM. Almost an hour before they have to get up. They're tempted to lie back down and go back to sleep, but the pink, orange, and copper seared into the sky are beautiful enough to draw their interest. As quietly as possible, they slip out of bed, rub the sleep from their eyes, and sit next to the window to watch the sunrise.
The sun hasn't quite crested the horizon yet. As annoying as it is sometimes to have an east-facing room, at times like this, it affords them a great view. Though, they wonder who forgot to close the blinds. Usually one of them does it. Maybe they all assumed someone else had. Oh well.
The morning star glitters up in the sky, not far from a pale crescent moon. Frisk leans their head on the windowsill to admire it. Though, it seems odd that it's glittering. According to the astronomy books Sans lent them after they all came to the surface, the morning star is actually the planet Venus, and planets don't glitter, which is actually a function of distance and atmospheric disturbance (they think; it was a little dense for them). Either way, it shouldn't sparkle like that. Or, they're pretty certain, drift like that. Or look like it's drawing closer...
Frisk is on their feet in an instant, wide awake, unlocking the window and pushing it up. A moment later, what they thought was the golden planet comes to a stop on the windowsill and shimmers just as it is, right where it is. Though Frisk hasn't seen one of these for what feels like a long time, they know exactly what it is.
If You Beat Me, I'll Give You Something Nice.
You'll Know It When You See It...
In an instant, they're at Chara and Asriel's bedsides, shaking them both awake in turn. "Chara! Azzy! Wake up! You have to see this!" they hiss as quietly but urgently as they can. When Chara mumbles something and pulls their blanket over their head, Frisk grabs the other end and yanks it off.
"Nngnghgdkhlgrl," Chara mutters, burying their face under their pillow. After several seconds of Frisk shaking them insistently, they groan, "What?"
"Come with me. You have to see this," Frisk insists.
"If you say so," they mumble, sliding off the bed.
Next to them, Asriel sits up, rubbing sleepily at his eyes. "What's going on?"
But Frisk just gestures for him to get up, and as they and Chara pad over to the window, he wobbles out of bed to follow. Frisk arrives first and waits for the others; once they arrive, one by one, they stare uncomprehendingly until the light breaks through the fog of sleep.
"What the hell," Chara utters.
"Is - is that what I think it is?" Asriel wonders, blinking owlishly.
"Yeah," says Frisk. "It's a SAVE point."
For a silent moment, the three of them stare at the four-pointed star, glittering cheerfully as it waits to be used.
Chara is the first to break the stunned quiet: "Why now?"
"I think maybe because we talked about the Player for the first time since we all left the Underground," Frisk says. "She said she'd give us something nice. I think this is it."
"Wait. Does that mean she's not actually gone?" Asriel wonders, eyebrows furrowing.
Frisk shrugs. "I'm not sure. But I don't think she's coming back."
"It could be a trap," Chara murmurs, rubbing their arm. "If we use this, it might act as an invitation to bring her back. We should ignore it."
"I don't know," Asriel says slowly, scratching his cheek. "I mean, you might be right. But... I feel like this is probably legit."
"How do you know?" they ask.
"I don't. I just have a feeling."
Chara purses their lips. "What do you think, Frisk? Obviously you aren't taking it at face value either, or you wouldn't have woken us up."
"It's not that," they reply. "Actually, I think it's for real, too. But I thought it wouldn't be fair if I used it on my own." They pause to look between Asriel and Chara. "I think we should use it... but only if all three of us agree. We all made it here together. It's our determination combined that keeps our SOULs together. So if we aren't of one mind, I don't think it feels right to SAVE."
Asriel nods slowly, considering this. "D'you still think we should ignore it, Chara?"
"...Are you asking that because you want me to tell you what to do?"
He shakes his head. "No... I agree with Frisk. I think it's a good idea to SAVE." He smiles. "We've done a lot and come a long way. I think it's worth preserving what we've done."
"I'm not arguing against that," Chara replies. "I'm just worried we're being manipulated."
"That's true... I mean, it's not impossible that it's a trick," Asriel murmurs. "Is there any way we can be sure it's not?"
"I don't think so," Frisk says. "But... she said she was tired. That she just wanted this to be over with. Maybe this is her way of making sure none of us have to do any of that all over again."
Asriel sighs wistfully. "I'd do the same thing in her place," he admits. "If I'd gone back to being a flower... I don't think I could do all this again." He looks at Chara. "I don't think we can trust her. But I think we can trust her wanting closure."
"Closure," they repeat softly. The SAVE point's light reflects off their eyes. They glance away towards the brightening sky. "I'm not sure we can trust her." They pause. Then they look back at their two companions. "But I am sure I can trust you two." They hold out their hands. "If you both think it's legit, fine. I'll chance it if it means I can protect you and this world we SAVEd together."
Frisk takes their hand, and Asriel takes the other. They each give each other a squeeze and a smile.
"On three, okay?" Frisk suggests. "One, two...!"
On three, the trio reaches out and touches the SAVE point. As it records all their hopes and dreams and feelings and memories, it glitters off the three matching necklaces around their necks, highlighting the word inscribed on the heart fragment on each. Then the SAVE point twinkles into nothing as the rising sun's light envelopes them all, leaving Frisk, Chara, and Asriel to bask in the new day.
END of ARC 3 -ASRIEL-
END of STRANGE PLACES
THANK YOU FOR READING!