"-and so, you see, I don't think I'm any more antisocial per se than other monsters, it's just that after spending my whole life underground, I'm finding all that sky overhead is giving me the most awful anxiety." The monster in front of you clasps his hands, entreating you to understand. You nod, and he takes that as encouragement. "I mean, there's nothing there. What if gravity reverses and I just keep tumbling up and up and-" He breaks off, shuddering, and retreats more deeply into the shadows. With a sigh, he looks up at the metal girders overhead. "I suppose it's in my blood…"
You reach into your shoulder bag and pull out your thermos. "Would you like some more tea?"
"Oh…" A scaled foot eases out of the shadows. "Yes, that would be rather lovely, thank you." There's a rattling in the dark, and a clawed hand bigger than you are emerges, clutching a hubcap daintily between two fingers.
You pour a good half of your thermos into the hubcap before pouring a little tea into the lid of your thermos for yourself. You can't really address the gravity thing - it's not likely that everything is suddenly going to start falling up, but given what you know of monsters and magic, it's not outside the realm of possibility, either. "It's okay that you're scared, Philip," you say, and take a sip of your tea. "It's a big step. But maybe instead of hiding under here all the time, try putting yourself on a leash. You can tie it to the ground when you go out, so even if you do fall up, you won't go very far."
The troll under the bridge freezes for a moment, then leans forward, close enough to the light filtering through the trusses that you can actually make out his enormous green eye (currently wide with concern) and the dozens of long, knife-sharp white teeth gleaming along the edge of his mouth. He peers up at the underside of the bridge, leaning out nearly far enough to see the sky before pulling back again, breathing hard. "Well, that is a novel idea, but really, it's quite cozy under here, and-"
A rumbling interrupts him, and you wrap your arms around the beam next to you as the girder you're sitting on begins to shake. Clinging tightly, you brace yourself for the blast of air that threatens to knock you off entirely as the subway roars past overhead. A moment later, the shaking subsides, and you loosen your grip on the beam as Philip creeps back out from the depths of the darkness beneath the bridge.
"You made this place really pretty," you say, gesturing at the bright paintings beneath the bridge that manage to shine even in the darkness. "But it's not really much of a home. Don't you get tired of that noise?" Digging into your bag again, you pull out a cookie and hold it out to him.
He takes it gingerly between the tips of two claws, and nibbles thoughtfully. "Yeeeess…"
"And if you came out, you could eat at that Caribbean place you like," you add.
He sighs. "They do make the most wonderful goat curry." But his dreamy look fades, and he shakes his head. "Oh, no, Ambassador, I couldn't possibly. I am much too large, and that building is much too close to the sky."
"But if you have a tether," you insist, "even if gravity does go funny, you can just pull yourself back down." You pull out your phone and thumb through your pictures until you find what you're looking for. "Here. I got this idea today. These construction guys are working on a big building near the embassy, and there's no walls or floor yet, but they use these straps here and these clippy things to make sure they don't fall down. You could use 'em to make sure you don't fall up." You zoom in on the harness one of them is wearing, and turn the screen toward him. "See? I tried to get some better pictures, but then they started yelling that I wasn't supposed to be up there, and I had to go home."
Philip leans forward to peer at the tiny screen, and this close, you can see your reflection in his gleaming teeth, which are the size of your entire head. You blink at your reflection, and look down at your clothes. Sans and Papyrus helped you get dressed today, which means you're wearing everything that was at the top of the laundry basket. In this case, it's an orange shirt with little white dogs all over it, a green hiking vest, purple pants, and a little yellow skirt overtop. Giving a satisfied nod, you smile. You like it when you get to be colourful.
Philip sighs, a torrent of air that smells like old pigeon and chocolate chip cookies, and you grab the beam again for support. "I appreciate what you are trying to do," he says at last. "But what could I possibly have to offer the world out there?" He drops the rest of the cookie into his mouth and retreats back into the gloom. You can hear a mechanical scrape, followed by a ticking, and then an old merry-go-round crammed in the maintenance walkway beneath the subway tracks begins to turn. "It's all right, Ambassador. Leave me to my tinkering. You have more important monsters to worry about."
"Philip," you say, reaching for him, but his hand is too far away from your girder. "You are important!"
Before he can answer, your phone rings, and you can feel the blood drain from your face. You must look even worse than you feel, for Philip uncurls himself a little from his hunch, turning back toward you. "...Ambassador?"
You squeeze your eyes tightly closed. "I forgot I was supposed to go to my brothers' house after school today."
"Ahhhhhh." His tail curls around his taloned feet as he wilts. "You are in trouble because of-"
You cut him off, sharply raising a finger in his direction. "If you start blaming yourself I swear I won't bring you any more cookies!" He looks horrified, and shakes his head mutely as you tug your phone out of your pocket. "And don't say anything about the bridge," you add, checking the display and feeling your heart sink. Papyrus, at least, you could have distracted. Taking a deep breath, you connect the call.
"hey, kiddo. H o w 's it hangin g?"
Ohhhhhh. Oh no. He knows.
Your heart now somewhere in the vicinity of your boots, you look down.
The beam you're sitting on isn't very wide, and as you look past the dinosaur-dotted rubber of your boots, you have a clear view of the very, very long way down to the ground below. The subway bridge spans the top of a deep valley, carved out by the river beneath over thousands of years. On one side of the river, a path meanders beneath the steel arches of the bridge, and the path has two blobs on it that weren't there before. Fairly certain already of what you're going to see, you activate the phone on your camera, point it at the blobs, and zoom in as far as it will go.
Papyrus has his hands on his head, staring up at you with his mouth agape and his eyes practically bugging out from his head. Sans just looks as he always does, one hand in his pocket and the other holding the phone as he, too, looks up at you.
"I'm so sorry," you say, quietly. "I got distracted."
"yeah, so we noticed," Sans says, making you wince. There's an edge in his voice, and even though you know it's because they were worried about you, it makes your heart sink. It drops even lower as Undyne pounds up the path behind them, Alphys trailing at a distance. They were all out looking for you.
"Why didn't you call?" you ask.
"Oh," Philip says, perking right up. "I believe it has something to do with the substantive amounts of metal in the structure of the bridge. The signal wouldn't reach your phone unless it's…" He thinks about it, and shrugs. "...well, directly below you."
There's a sigh on the other end of the phone, and you can hear Papyrus and Undyne yelling something in the background. "look, kid, whatever's going through that head of yours, we're not mad. just come down before one of us has a heart attack and we'll talk it over, okay?"
You nod, not sure if he can even see you from that distance or not. "I'll be right there." As you zip the phone into your pocket, you give Philip an apologetic shrug. "I have to go."
"I understand," Philip says, and he does a very good job of hiding the sadness in his voice.
Digging through your bag, you pull out the bag of cookies and hold it out to him. "Here," you say. "You need these more than I do."
"Oh!" he exclaims in delight. "Why, thank you Ambassador!"
Smiling as he delicately picks through the cookies with his claws, you rise to your feet. "You're welcome," you say. "And you can call me Frisk."
"Oh, oh no," he says, though he's clearly distracted by the baked goods. "That wouldn't be proper at all."
Shaking your head, you look down and move yourself into position. The steel girders criss-cross the underside of the bridge quite closely, but you've done this often enough that it's easy to find the right way down. Making sure your bag is secure, you wave at Philip and step off the beam.
You think you hear a noise from below you, but you're very high up, and you need to concentrate on what you're doing. You skid down the curve of the next beam, and as you duck one to let it pass over your head, you reach out and grab it as you pass, using your momentum to fling yourself over to the next beam. Again and again you jump, and catch, and flip, until you finally run out of girders. This part's a lot tricker, but the vines that have grown up over the featureless concrete bridge supports over the years are more than enough for what you need. You swing once and let go, dropping rapidly away from the girders. This time, you're sure you hear a sound. The chorus of indeterminate yelling from your family is unmistakable. You stretch out your hands as you fall, reaching for the big vine that spans the two adjacent columns…and miss.
You're not worried. This happens all the time, and there are tons more vines for you to grab on the way down, but the screaming below you intensifies. Your breath leaves you in a rush as your soul tears free of your body, and seconds later, the red glow of your soul is consumed by blue fire. Your descent slows, leaving you dangling halfway between the bridge and the ground, supported by nothing but the tingling touch of very powerful magic.
Nearly upside-down, you twist, intending to protest, but the words leave you at the sight of your friends. Papyrus and Undyne are practically pulling each other over in their race to get beneath you first, and Alphys, still a few feet behind them, runs as fast as she can, but her expression is horrified and helpless.
Sans stands behind them, feet braced and hand outstretched, and there's real fear behind his unchanging grin. So you swallow your words as the angle of your descent changes sharply, and your reach for Papyrus as Sans drops you into his brother's arms.
"OHO!" Papyrus holds you up triumphantly. "HOW FORTUNATE THAT I, THE GREAT PAPYRUS, HAPPEN TO BE SO SKILLED AT CATCHING THINGS!"
"yep. you're the coolest, bro."
You glance over Papyrus' shoulder. Sans' hands are back in his pockets as he rocks on his heels, and he winks at you when he sees you looking. He doesn't seem like he's mad, but you still feel bad enough that you cling to Papyrus, resting your head against his cape. Papyrus gives a soft, consoling sound, shifting you just enough that he can pat your back.
"Eh, the little punk was doing pretty good up until the whole falling part." Undyne reaches up to pull a twig from your hair, tossing it over her shoulder. "So now I know what to add to your training roster!"
"Undyne-" you groan.
"FUHUHUHU! We're gonna drop you off ALL THE THINGS! ALPHYS! BUILD THE THINGS!"
Alphys, who dropped to the ground, panting , the moment Papyrus caught you, looks up with a pained expression. "What, now? C-can't we, you know, um…maybe stay here a little first?"
Undyne's expression gentles, and she kneels next to the little scientist, resting a tender hand against her frill. "Alphys."
Her cheeks reddening a little, Alphys leans into the touch, shyly tapping her fingertips together. "It's just...it's such a nice day, and we found Frisk, and we've done soooo much running already..."
Cupping Alphys' face in both hands, Undyne leans closer until their foreheads nearly touch. "Alphys…"
"Y-yes?" Alphys stammers, her face growing steadily redder.
"Babycakes…if you're tired…"
"THEN WE'RE JUST GONNA HAVE TO COME UP WITH A TRAINING PLAN FOR YOU, TOO!"
Alphys blinks, her face blank with shock. "Wait, what?"
Grinning fiercely, Undyne grabs Alphys and tosses her over a shoulder, her grin widening at the little squeak that startles out of Alphys. "Right. You two got things covered with the kid?"
Papyrus casts her an affronted look. "OF COURSE! THE DAY THAT THE GREAT PAPYRUS CANNOT CARE FOR HIS HUMAN IS THE-"
"Yeah, yeah, great. You guys take it from here." She hoists Alphys more securely in response to the scientist's feebly kicking feet..
"Uh, Undyne?" Alphys sighs. "Do you think we can maybe not train right now?"
"WHAT?" Undyne roars. "NO! IT IS TIME FOR YOUR EXTRA-SECRET PRIVATE TRAINING!" She tosses her hair and grins at Alphys. "You know, at home. Alone. Together."
"Oh…" Alphys says, and her eyes widen suddenly. "Ohhhhh! Ooh! Uh, yeah! Yeah, I feel r-really, uh… motivated all of a sudden. Let's go t-train!"
Papyrus takes a step forward. "WAIT! THIS SOUNDS EXCITING! PERHAPS I SHOULD COME AS WELL!"
"NO!" Undyne and Alphys chorus together, stopping him in his tracks. As Alphys turns a spectacular shade of pink and curls her toes, Undyne plants her free hand on her hip. "You're too good, Papyrus. Alphys needs some very special training. It won't interest you at all."
"Yeah, uh, Papyrus, I d-don't want to hold you back." Alphys adds helpfully.
"Uh huh. There's gonna be a lot of holding going on," Undyne says, making Alphys giggle.
"WELL," Papyrus says, looking dubiously at the girls. "IF YOU SAY SO…"
"welp. you two crazy kids have fun," Sans says with a wave. "c'mon, papyrus. let's get the kid home."
At last, you part ways with Undyne and Alphys, and as Papyrus carries you down the path, you catch Alphys' gaze and wave. Smiling, she returns the gesture, and soon Undyne has carried her far enough away that you can't make them out any more. You drop your weary head down against Papyrus' shoulder again, and let yourself bask in the warmth of him. Being held by Papyrus is like being wrapped in sunshine. You sigh softly against him, and he gives your back another comforting pat. Only once you've hugged it out does he set you down, and he takes your hand as you head for home.
It's a beautiful day. The bits of wild and wetland on either side of the river have been left to grow unchecked, and though the trees are bright with reds, and oranges, and golds, the sun gently warms you as it filters through the leaves. The tall grasses, glimmering golden in the light, ripple and whisper with the furtive movements of insects and animals disturbed by your passing. You've spent long, long hours hunting for glimpses of them with Toriel; there are so many more of them here then you ever found in the months you spent with your mother in the Ruins.
As you walk, you glance at Sans, and your hand twitches, uncertain of your reception. But even though he doesn't look like he's watching you, he moves closer and picks up your free hand, and walking with a brother on either side makes your heart a little lighter, even if it does make people stare as you pass by. Sans winks at one passing jogger, making the runner stare so hard he crashes into a sign. Papyrus lets go of you long enough to pick the man up and hand him a card to Undyne's gym, with the suggestion that a little training is all he needs and he'll be running without falling over in no time. You smile and wave at the man as Papyrus rejoins you, but for the rest of the walk home, your head is full of heavy thoughts.
At first, you don't think Papyrus notices anything. He's his usual cheerful self as you work with him to prepare dinner, and he shouts at the TV just as emphatically as he always does when you watch a movie afterward. But when you excuse yourself before the credits even finish, he turns around on the couch to watch you climb the stairs, his face drawn with concern.
"HUMAN, I CANNOT HELP BUT NOTICE THAT YOU ARE NOT QUITE YOURSELF TONIGHT. YOU FLUNG THE TEST SPAGHETTI AT THE WALL DURING YOUR COOKING LESSON WITH ONLY A SMALL FRACTION OF YOUR USUAL ENTHUSIASM, AND YOU BARELY SHOUTED AT ALL DURING THE MOVIE. IS SOMETHING WRONG?"
Smiling fondly, you shake your head. "No, I'm good. Just tired today, is all. I just want to go to bed."
He doesn't say anything, but he looks at Sans, and the smaller skeleton covers Payprus' hand with his own. Something tugs deep within you, and you turn and run up the rest of the stairs to your room.
You're not sure how much time passes after that. You're not crying, but you're hugging your stuffed skeleton with all your strength, and as much as you love Arial, sometimes she's just not the same as having the real thing. Which is probably why you left your door open, and why your heart lifts just a little when you look up and see Sans standing in the doorway.
"hey, kid," he says, but he doesn't move until you shift over on your bed. Only then does he come in and sit beside you, propping himself up against your headrest. "talk to me."
"I'm trying," you say, and it's the truth. You promised him years ago that you wouldn't keep stuff that's bugging you inside, and you have no intention of breaking that promise, but sometimes it's hard to find the words.
He taps a bony finger against your head. "big thoughts all tangled up again?" When you nod, he winces in sympathy, drawing one of his knees up so he can rest his arm against it as he looks down at you. "okay, let's start with the basics. is this a frisk thing or an ambassador thing?"
"...yes," you admit, and curl up around Arial.
"oh, man." He sighs, rubbing his head. "all right, let's start with work."
Frowning, you smooth out Arial's little dress as you think. She's got a lot of clothes now thanks to Mom and Papyrus, and sometimes Sans. The dress is one of your favourites, and it's often on Arial, regardless of whether it's a day when Arial is he or a day when she's she. You run your finger over the little heart embroidered on the front of the dress. "Do you think everybody stares at us because I'm the Ambassador, or because you're monsters and I'm… not?"
"huh. honestly? probably a little bit of both, but i'm thinking there's more of the first and less of the second than there used to be. you're getting pretty famous, kiddo." He gently shifts one of the curls that's fallen across your eyes. "i know it's annoying and all, but you usually just wave when people stare. i didn't think this stuff got to you so bad."
"It doesn't, usually," you say. "But I've been working so hard this year to make things better between humans and monsters, and sometimes it doesn't feel like I'm getting anywhere. Like, Philip makes this awesome stuff, you and Alphys would love it, and he's letting it all rust under this bridge because he's too scared of humans to come out." You sigh. "Well, that and falling into the sky, but I can't do anything about that one."
"nah. altering the fundamental laws of the universe isn't something you learn 'till, like, high school, at least." He winks when you look up at him, and rests a hand against your head. "look, pal, i know it seems like you're running in place and not getting anywhere-"
"Like a treadmill?"
"yeah. i mean, those things are even more pointless than regular running - reason number twelve why i won't go anywhere near that gym no matter how many times papyrus asks." You giggle, and he tousles your hair. "but, kid, things *are* better than they used to be. even i can see that." Shifting, he laces both hands behind his head. "and maybe they're just staring 'cause they've never seen anyone as cool as my bro before."
"I guess…" you say. There was a time, not long after you reached the surface, when people used to run away when they saw you coming with your family. Or yell. Or worse. Now they just look, or sometimes come and ask you for an autograph. Or a selfie. You had to turn your notifications off because they never stopped pinging, but the Embassy still monitors the social media stuff for you, and Artie says you're tagged in an awful lot of photos with random people. "That still doesn't help me convince Philip to come out, though."
"is *that* why you were hanging out under that bridge instead of coming home like you were supposed to?" Sans asks.
Oh. Right. You'd forgotten about that. Groaning, you bury your head under Arial. "I'm so, so sorry," you say, your voice muffled by the toy.
Bony fingers pull Arial away from your face, and you squint into the sudden light from the bulb overhead until Sans leans over and blocks it. "kid, you don't gotta apologize for doing your job." He settles Arial next to you again. "just remember to call home first, okay? and maybe not throw yourself off any bridges."
"I was going to be fine," you mutter, crossing your arms. "There were more vines. I've done it tons of times before." His quiet groan tells you that's probably not what he wanted to hear, and your cheeks heat up as you curl around Arial again. "I got lots of practice running around on spider webs. I wasn't gonna fall."
Sans glances at you sharply. You don't tend to talk much about some of the not-nice things that happened Underground with anyone, not even him, but you can tell he knows exactly how you got so much practice on the webs.
"look, buddy, i know that if there's one thing you're good at, it's getting yourself out of sticky situations," he waits for your inevitable "nnngh" before continuing with a wink. "but tori wants you back in one piece, and i think all of us would be happier if you didn't scare us to death first. 'sides, you know most humans won't understand."
...oh. He's right. You never even thought of that. It's been a while since the people in suits kept coming around, asking questions, looking for a reason to take you away from your family. A flash of nightmare memory streaks across your mind like the afterimage of lighting, lights in the dark, blinding you, as hard hands drag you to the house at the top of the hill-
"whoa! kiddo! take it easy. breathe, now. c'mon. nobody's taking you anywhere."
You hadn't even realized how desperately you were struggling to for air until Sans' words pierce the memory, and it shatters like a soap bubble in the safety and comfort of your room. You force your hands open from where they've locked onto his hoodie, and you nod, drawing a deep, shuddering breath.
"that's it. there you go. okay, so here's my thought - what say we get undyne to call muffet so she can give you some lessons and tell us when she thinks you're good enough? that way you can keep doing your thing, we know you're safe, you get some kind of certificate thing we can show all the human-types, and your mom won't have to set anyone on fire."
"That… that sounds good, I guess." You peer up at him. "Why can't you call Muffet?"
"uhhh, yeah." He shrugs. "cause undyne's in change of your training. aaaaand maybe 'cause the spider queen and i haven't exactly been on great terms since back in the day. turns out she sees hot dogs as competition. who knew? but i'll do it if i have to, okay? we're gonna make this happen."
His grin is so bright when he turns it on you, and yet, it hurts. He's willing to do something that makes him uncomfortable just to make sure you can't scare him again like you did today. His grin wavers as your eyes begin to sting, and he straightens in alarm. "whoa, hold up, what's with the waterworks? we just fixed things, didn't we?" There's an edge of panic in his voice. All these years later, and you've seen him stay calm through floods and fire, but he still gets antsy when you cry.
"I'm sorry," you whisper miserably. "I let you down. I try hard to be good, I really do, but today…"
A bony finger pokes you between your eyes. "oooookaaay, i think i know where that brain o' yours is going, and i'mma put the brakes on you right there, kiddo." He gives a small shake of his head. "we've been over this, frisk. nobody's gonna send you away just 'cause sometimes things go wrong." Your lip trembles, the tears threatening to spill in earnest, and he opens his arms. "awww, kid, you know i can't take it when you do that. c'mere."
You don't need him to tell you twice. Half-blind, you clamber over Arial and fall into Sans. He gives a quiet "ow" as your head whacks into his sternum, but he picks you up and pulls you closer, and you cling to him for dear life. "I'm sorry," you whimper again.
"shhh. it's okay, kid. it's okay." It's not the words that matter. Not really. It's the tone of his voice, rushing over you like waves over the shore. It's the warmth of his arms around you as you hide your face against him. It's the comfort in his touch as he pets your head, a gesture born years ago out of desperation that has become as familiar and as comforting as Papyrus' cooking or your mother's smile. You shudder, and his words keep coming, keeping you afloat. "you scared me, sure, but that doesn't mean you let me down. it's okay. you're not going anywhere." The soft movement of his hand against your hair echoes his words, driving them home, making them real. "there's gonna be bumps in the road, but that's okay. remember, i've lived most of my live with papyrus. if i bailed as soon as the going got tough, i never woulda made it past the year he got taller than me. seriously. he makes me *clean stuff,* frisk." That last part is said with such weary disgust that it surprises a tiny laugh out of you, and you raise your head at last, your cheeks lined with red where they've been pressed against the ties of his hoodie. He smooths the marks with his thumb, and rests his brow against yours. "face it, shortpants, you're stuck with us."
You don't ask him to promise. He hates making promises. But you do blink the tears away as you stare into the shadowed hollows of his eyes. "For real?"
"for real," he agrees, and boops your nose. "now whaddya say we get papyrus in here and we'll do an extra-long bedtime story. sound good?"
You nod eagerly, and Sans gives you one more big hug for good measure before he calls Papyrus upstairs. True to his words, and much to Papyrus' delight, Sans reads through three chapters of Serpentine (which you're all enjoying, despite the fact that Papyrus can't understand why the main character is so upset at finding out she's secretly half monster) before you finally fall asleep, sandwiched comfortably between your brothers. Their warmth and their love keeps you safe, and you sleep soundly, untroubled by dreams.
When you wake again, the boys are gone, though someone's tucked Arial snugly in with you. You blink sleepily, trying to figure out why you're awake before your alarm, only to realize that you dozed off before you could set it. You look up at the door to find Sans leaning against the frame, grinning at you. "hey, sleepyface. i was getting worried we'd have to send you to school in your pjs."
You glance down at the ones you grabbed out of the drawer last night. The shirt has a fluffy T. rex on it with the words "WHO ARE YOU CALLING A CHICKEN?", and fuzzy pants covered in a pattern of bones and feathers. "What's wrong with my pjs?"
"nothing, kid. but you're gonna want something a bit more rugged if you're gonna be climbing around under bridges after school."
You gasp and beam at him, and he nudges your shoulder as he climbs up next to you, eyeing your sticky-outy hair with amusement. "yeah, yeah, we made the call. you got your lessons. now do you feel like the little braids or a cool mohawk today?"
You hem and haw over the difficult decision long enough that Sans threatens to start in with the tickling, and the experimental prodding of your ribs has already begun by the time you manage to get your answer out through the giggles.
"yo, papyrus!" Sans calls.
"WHAT IS IT?" comes the aggrieved answer from downstairs. "I AM IN THE MIDDLE OF SOME VERY DELICATE CULINARY CALCULATIONS, HERE, SANS! THIS PASTA IS NOT GOING TO FIT ITSELF IN THE WAFFLE IRON!"
"kid wants braids today, bro!"
A clattering of pots echoes its way up the stairs, followed by the rapid thump of footsteps, and Papyrus bursts through your door. "NYEH HEH HEH! NEVER FEAR, TINY HUMAN! WE SHALL ENSURE THAT EVERY FOLLICLE IS- AAAH!" He pats your head in dismay. "IS IT SUPPOSED TO KEEP GROWING *OUT* LIKE THAT?"
"I told you it's getting curlier," you mutter to Sans.
"it's fine," Sans says, already starting to section off the hair on one side of your head. "it's just measuring how awesome the kid is. the poofier it is-"
"-THE MORE IT ACTS AS AN INDICATOR OF FRISK'S GREATNESS! I SEE! THAT IS VERY CLEVER OF YOU, FRISK!"
You raise a brow at Sans, but he just winks at you as Papyrus parks himself on your other side. Oblivious to the exchange, Papyrus tugs off his gloves before starting in on his own braid. You have no idea why, but neither brother can ever manage to produce two even braids on his own. The only way they can get them to come out looking the same is to have both of them working at the same time.
It doesn't take long for them to finish; your hair's not that long, and the skull hair ties they finish the braids off with brush the tops of your shoulders. You've been busying yourself by playing with Papyrus' gloves, but before you have a chance to take them off and check the mirror, you feel something low and almost imperceptible prickle across your skin. You freeze, and make a grab for the brothers' hands as dread creeps slowly over you.
"HUMAN?" Papyrus looks down at you, his brows drawn with concern. "FRISK, WHAT-"
Before he can say anything more, a low rumble echoes through the room, and the bed beneath you begins to tremble. You see movement, a flash of blue, and everything goes dark as the world attempts to shake itself apart around you.
Too much time passes. Or not much time at all. Your eyes are squeezed shut against the darkness and warmth surrounding you, and something muffles the roaring, but slowly, it fades, and the shaking stops. You open your eyes as the pressure around you eases, only then realizing that it's dark because Sans has wrapped himself around you, his hand protectively over your head, pressing it against his shoulder. Papyrus slowly sits up on your other side, gradually releasing the hold he has on you and Sans both.
"welp," Sans says into the sudden silence, making you jump. "that one wasn't so bad."
"NYEH!" Papyrus exclaims, shaking a fist. "I HATE THOSE! THEY MAKE A MESS OF MY KITCHEN AND I ALWAYS HAVE TO RESET ALL MY PUZZLES IN THE YARD!"
Sans takes his hand off your head, resting it against your shoulder instead. "you good, kiddo?"
You nod, and jump again as your phone rings. Fumbling for it with Papyrus' gloves, you frown at the display, which is showing your secretary's number. "It's Kelly."
Sans' hand tightens on your shoulder as he glares at the phone. "she knows she's not supposed to call you outside your embassy times, right?"
"Yeah. She does." Giving up on the gloves, you cup the phone in them and bash it with your nose until the call connects. "Kelly?" you say, and blink at the barrage of words that slams into you from the other side of the call. "No, no I'm fine. I'm still getting ready for school." You glance at the concerned faces of the skeletons on either side of you, and bite your lip. "Kelly, I have to go. I'll call you soon." Mashing your nose against the phone again to end the call, you stare at it, trying to stop your hands from shaking. "She wanted to make sure I wasn't on the subway. One of the bridges cracked. There's a train stuck."
Drawing a deep breath, you pull off Papyrus' gloves and hand them back to him. "Papyrus, I need my clothes out of the laundry, please."
"OF COURSE," he says, clutching the gloves tightly. "I SHALL BE RIGHT BACK!"
As Papyrus races from the room, Sans wraps his hands around yours, stopping them from shaking. You look up into the shadows of his eyes, and his hands tighten on yours. "just tell me what you need, kid."
You stare at him as the pieces slowly click together in your mind, and the seeds of a plan begin to take root. "I need a shortcut," you say, and tell him what you're thinking.
A change comes over him. It's subtle, but he shifts from your round, squishy, easygoing big brother into something very, very different. It's not that his appearance changes at all from the way he normally looks. But something in the way he stands there watching you, in the angle of his brows and the set of his grin, makes you feel very sorry for anything that might get in his way.
Not for yourself though. Never that. He holds out his hand to you as Papyrus pounds back up the stairs, and there is no hesitation at all as you reach out and take it.
Toriel has a way of pinching the bridge of her nose when she's trying to figure out what to say that's sometimes almost worse than getting yelled at. Almost. She's very, very patient, but the nose pinch is there, making you wince.
"All right," she says at last, lowering her hand so she can look at you. "I understand why you recruited this young troll - forgive me…" she holds out an expectant hand toward the troll attempting to cower in front of her - which is not easy to do when you're ten feet tall.
"Um… Philip, Your Majesty," Philip says, trying his best not to loom over your mother as he worries his tail in his hands.
"Yes, thank you. Why you recruited Philip to help you retrieve that imperiled subway and repair the bridge."
"H-he really is amazing with engineering," Alphys supplies helpfully. "I d-don't think human crews could ever have gotten the car down on time, and h-he's already made some f-fantastic suggestions for quake-proofing the other bridges, and-" she trails off, and her cheeks flush pink. "Um, he's very good, is all."
"God, you're cute when you're excited," Undyne murmurs, and Alphys' blush deepens.
Toriel sighs. "Yeeees, I can see all that. What I do not yet understand is why my child is stuck to said clever young troll."
"OH, THAT'S QUITE SIMPLE, MRS. KING!" Papyrus pipes up from somewhere near Philip's left shoulderblade. You're not sure exactly where, since you, Sans, and Alphys are much closer to Philip's right hip. "YOU SEE, IT TURNS OUT THAT SPIDER WEBS ARE QUITE STICKY!"
Toriel plants her hands on her hips and raises a brow.
"That's my fault, Mom," you admit, looking down at her from where you're glued to Philip. Or up at her. The fact that you're mostly upside-down is confusing things. "Undyne was talking to Muffet about my training-"
"She's got some great ideas, too!" Undyne interrupts."I need to talk to you later about adding them to our gym classes, ma'am!"
"-and then the earthquake hit, but Philip is afraid of falling up-"
"Falling up?" Toriel asks.
Philip's ears droop, and he hunches in on himself, prompting an angry exclamation from Undyne, who's up near Papyrus. "You see, the sky is just so… there, Your Majesty."
"Ngggh." Toriel's pinching her nose again. "Yes, I see. Do go on."
"-so I got the idea from those construction guys - remember that one time you made them come to our class about respecting other people 'cause they kept yelling stuff? - I got the idea that maybe we could build Philip a harness out of the webs, and Muffet's spiders helped, and it was going great! We got the subway unstuck and the bridge all set and then the aftershock hit and…" You swallow the words then, but Philip sighs and finishes for you.
"-and then I panicked, and the harness snapped." He lets go of his tail to pluck at one of the strands near you. "I will admit that the elasticity of the web is much greater than I factored into my calculations."
"Oooh," Alphys says, testing it out for herself. "I bet this would work great for some of the projects we're working on."
"and hey, now we know you're not gonna fall up when the rope breaks." Sans shifts aside some of the webs covering his face so that he can wink at Toriel. "not to make light of a weighty situation."
Toriel manages to turn her snicker into a cough pretty quickly. "Yes, well. I suppose there is that. Now then…" She cracks her knuckles, and fire flares at her fingertips, and the lot of you mirror Philip's cringe at the feral edge that creeps across Toriel's expression. "Let us see about getting all of you down…"
In the end, though she has to call Asgore over from where he's dealing with the press and the repair crews so that he can use his trident for leverage, Toriel manages to get everyone off of Philip and unstuck. Mostly. You'd been closest to Philip, holding his hand for emotional support, which meant you'd gotten an awful lot of web in the snapback, and a bubble bath seemed a much safer way to deal with the worst of it than fire. It's weird having a bath with your clothes on, but until they get unstuck, you don't have much of an alternative.
"So Philip's gonna start his own business?" you ask, one eye closed against errant bubbles as Toriel scrubs your shoulder firmly with a bath brush.
"Yes. Miss Muffet has agreed to help him with some of the initial paperwork in exchange for exclusive provisional rights as his cabling provider, but I believe he will do quite well as an engineering consultant." Toriel sits back on her heels, shifting some of the bubbles aside so she can see you properly. "However did you come up with the idea?"
"I talk to him a lot on my way home," you tell her. "He's really good at it, he was just too shy to tell anyone about what he liked to build."
"Well, whatever you did, it seems to have worked wonders. He and Alphys haven't stopped talking for two minutes, and I don't think I'd ever heard more than two words out of that sweet young troll before."
"He just needed to know people wanted him around," you say, leaning away from the brush as she scrubs at your arm. "Then he likes to talk. I'm glad he's gonna start working."
"you gotta admit, 'troll bridge' has a nice ring to it," comes Sans's voice from deep within the bubbles next to you. "and with management like that, you know nobody's gonna be *crossing* him."
Toriel giggles, scrubbing harder, and with a few popping snaps, the last of the webbing sticking you to Sans finally gives way, sending him sloshing beneath the water. Your mother deftly plucks him out and shakes him a few times to get rid of the worst of the drips before setting him on the tiles. His slippers give a soft squish. "There, now. You can do the rest yourself." Toriel holds up a finger. "Which you will do before you touch anything else in this house! I do not want to be cleaning water stains off my chesterfield again, young skeleton!"
"what, my dry wit isn't enough?" he asks.
Shaking her head with a fond laugh, Toriel waves him away. "Off with you, Sans. And thank you for hanging out with Frisk again."
"heh. good one, tori. and we were happy to help. it may have gotten a bit *shaky* there, but we managed to *stick* it out." Sans salutes, and gives you a final wink before he wanders out the door. You watch him go, wondering if his bedroom here has its own bathroom. The one at his house doesn't, but you still haven't found where he sleeps in the Big House.
Toriel sets at you with renewed vigour, scrubbing the final clinging strands of web from your clothes and hair, and your thoughts dissolve into giggles until the webs give up the fight with the warm, sudsy water and dissolve. You cover your face as Toriel pulls you from the bath and rubs her hands together, bracing yourself for the blast of warm air as her magic swirls around you and whisks the damp away. Clean and dry, it's easy enough to change out of your clothes and into the fresh pyjamas she has waiting. Then, you hold out your arms, and nestle against her as she scoops you up and carries you off to your room.
You've told her you're fine, but that doesn't stop her from looking you over once she sits you down on your bed, tsk-ing quietly as she finds an errant scrape and bathes it in healing green fire.
As she works, you wiggle your sock feet and sigh. "I'm sorry things got so messy at the end, Mom."
Looking up from the hand she's working on, Toriel smiles and moves to sit next to you. "I know, my dearest. I would have liked to have things resolved a little more neatly, but I am proud of you." She gathers you into her arms, and you snuggle against her, gently stroking one of the silky ears falling over her shoulder. She's never minded the familiarity, and she knows how much it comforts you. "You helped a great many people today, including one very lonely monster who should not have been overlooked." She pauses, and a gentle hand tilts your head up so that she can look into your eyes. "Oh, my child, have you been fretting all his time?"
You shake your head, smiling. "No. I'm going to try not to get so freaked out when stuff goes wrong any more. I know if it's really bad, you'll help me figure it out."
"I think that is very wise," she says, and nuzzles her nose against yours. "You are deeply loved, my little one. Your family will always be here for you. You know that."
Your mother's arms are safety, and warmth, and love, and as you breathe in the sweet smells of cinnamon and home, you can't help but smile. It's going to be a long time before you can stop worrying about all the things that lurk in the edges of your mind, and some days you really understand Philip, wanting to hide under a bridge where it's cold and dark but at least nothing can make it worse. You've been there, and there are some days that are a lot harder than others.
But days like this go a long, long way toward pulling you out of the dark for good.