"Heh. A bit more docile today, huh?" Sans is one of those types you imagine always make a comment. He thinks himself very amusing.

I don't like it. However, that's me, not you.

You mention that being whoopee cushioned wasn't exactly a great way to start something you paid for.

"Oh, what can I say kid, I hear enough about your pranks, how can I not try to emulate the old master of Hometown?"

You don't say anything after that as you sit in the back of his grandma-beige-colored sedan, and your head instead finds yourself looking out the window as you travel on the local road out of Hometown to the next town over: It's a quaint village named Townville. Not too different from Hometown, really, part of the whole county that all sit in the shadow of the central geographic marvel of the area. It's what you're staring at now: Mt. Ebott.

"Legends say that those who climb the mountain never return, kid." Sans says again, one hand on the wheel and the other resting laxly on the center console. The car smells of a fast-food joint, but oddly enough, it's not the worst smell. Asriel's friends had their van, and that smoke of stunk for reasons you didn't need to think too hard about.

Mt. Ebott has always been in the background of your life, towering over the only home you've ever known. It looks down on all the towns around, like some imposing figures ordained to look over the world. It was one of the house rules, put down by Mom, that you and Azzie would never wander to Mt. Ebott once you were old enough to walk away in the woods around town. Of all the rules you've broken, this was one of the rules you kept, if only because the same legend that Sans speaks off now as he drives you to your destination is one of you've heard all of your life from too many people.

The idea that there had been one conception of Mt. Ebott: that it did swallow kids whole, it was enough to impress upon you that there was probably a reason why it wasn't a popular hiking destination.


You look at Sans in the rear-view, his dotty eyes in the skull of his unchanging. He hasn't been in town that long. How do you know that?

"Your Mom told me last night."

Did Mom have any visitors last night? You weren't sure. Me too, actually. I slept through the night. Following you around does take its toll. You were too busy with Susie trying to find out what Alphys' project was without asking her.

You shrug at that. If only Hometown had its own local mythology and legends. But no, it was a rather dull place. Built because of a housing boom of some distant city that needed its suburbs, left behind in the subsequent quieting and financial crashes and booms of recent history. There is no history here.

Maybe that's why the Dark World was so exciting to you.

It was a world of myth and legend and adventure that you were the center of.

It was there that Ralsei attended to you as if important; because you were to that world.

You only knew them for what felt like a long afternoon, in between flirting your way across a world like no other and desperately trying to make sure that Susie hadn't put an ax through anyone innocent as you returned the kingdom a more rightful(?) ruler. It stuck, though.

"I hope I can see you again soon."

A friend. Someone who wanted to see you. Maybe it's because he looked like Asriel, but you trusted Ralsei with those words.

"Dunno how, but… It feels like we stumbled into something really important, didn't we?"

You did.

Though the Dark didn't call back to you just yet, and you had no reason to worry. Everyone seemed a little more enthusiastic with Lancer around to take charge; his father was defeated and jailed, and… and… Someone was coming.

If the Dark called you back to fight the Knight, you would. However, it was one of those things that you and Susie discovered that you couldn't force. If you had to go back, you would.

I would drag you there.

Nowadays, you have other things to worry about.

Things like Susie.

You don't know where she is today; Agatha, her mother, was passed out on the couch when you showed up that next Friday after a whole week of school. Her grades were getting better, somehow. It wasn't like you two were studying, but you want to think you've been a better influence to her, enough that she's applying herself now for the sake of keeping up, though you didn't presume. Wherever she is today, she's probably alright.

It's not like you missed her, even if you just saw her yesterday, right?

322 Main Street, Townville.

Sans reads off the address as you step out. "I'm telling you bud, my brother Papyrus would really like to meet you one day."

You smile at him and wave. You'll find the time.

"Sure you will, kid." And he speeds off at a worryingly fast speed in front of the fire station. Maybe it's not police, but you imagine it's not a good look.

There's a collection of towns that make up the county, between Hometown, Townville, Villagesquare, and other smaller places. None are big enough to necessitate services for themselves, which is why there in Townville, one of the county's shared fire stations rests.

Brick and cement, been there for years and not in any hurry.

Fire station 39.

It's the Indian Summer, so today, when the sun shines bright, and the sky glows blue, it feels more spring than autumn. It's almost the pleasure of actual Summer even, minus the leaves accumulating on the ground and the warm colors of vegetation.

You're pretty sure there aren't that many fires around, so even as you approach the great metal garage doors, opened for the breeze, you feel the lazy day everyone is having that weekend.

A lazy day, an uneventful day is a good day for the firemen of fire station 39.

Silhouettes are in a cabin upstairs along the inside of the station, two red fire trucks cleanly parked inside and sparkly clean. With little heed or greeting, you walk in, following the sound you are very familiar with.

Susie grinds her claws against each other, creating a grating sound which she uses to significant effect to intimidate. It is natural for dragons to use their claws. For some, though, some use their claws for more meaningful idle obsessions.

The shhhk, shhhk, shhhk could not be anything more than a piece of branch, being carved, again and again.

Sitting on a stool in front of a fire truck is a single man, running his claws at the point of the branch, well withered down and made sharp, wood shavings at his boots. He would've been too intimidating to approach; however, you've earned your fair share of approaching intimidating dragons nowadays. So much so that you know better.

Eventually, you step into a puddle, and his attention is drawn away toward you as you approach.

"Oh, hey there dude. You need anything?" He's a dragon too, purple scales, just like Susie. He's big and broad, and you see Susie's strength in him (though in reality, it's probably the other way around). He's got more height and a fuller tail, a tank top over him with the pants of a fireman hanging by suspenders being worn and rolled down to his waist—a full head of brown hair, not unlike how Dad styled it.

Of all the things that Susie has inherited from her parents, it is her father that has given her her smile, for he smiles at you, and you see that same cocky but warm grin upfront.

Recently you've been to the point, straight, with talking to people. It's the fact that this is Susie's father that makes you talk to him a little easier than you thought.

Balling yourself up, you nod to yourself and introduce yourself.

You're Kris Dreemurr. Susie's your best friend.

Shit. You were her best friend.

Your words hit him twice: first, at your name, second, at why you'd matter to him.

It's a critical hit, at that.

"Oh. Wow!" A face you've seen eternally on your father is now on Susie's dad as he sets down his branch. "A Human too?"

You nod; last time you checked, you were.

Lucas Scaleman is no older than his ex-wife, which is to say he is very young; that doesn't mean to say he doesn't have the might of a man, though, given his trade. With the way his arms bulk and his shoulders square, you can imagine him even taking on Asgore in a fight.

"Whew. Look at my Doozy Susie, making friends with the only Human in the whole tri-state area. Put 'em there!" He walks to you from his stool in front of the truck, and suddenly you're reminded of the day after summer vacation years ago when Susie experienced her growth spurt, which made her the tallest in class. Nowadays, you're not that much shorter than her. Maybe a head lesser. Though with Susie's father approaching you, you're reminded of that original feeling as he extends his clawed hand or a shake. "Name's Lucas… Ain't you Asgore's kid too?"

Again, last time you checked, you were.

In a world where divorce rates make up almost 40% of marriages, you're not surprised that Lucas would know your father. There are only so many divorce lawyers in the area and only so many small-town rumors that can spin up and around.

"Now what brings you out here all the way from Hometown? Is Susie around?" He darts his eyes around, trying to find his daughter that isn't there. You shake your head—only you. And me, technically, but you know how it is. No one knows I'm around.

She doesn't know you're out there. Hell, you haven't seen her all day. Maybe she's sleeping out in the woods, bathing in the sunlight. Perhaps she was just in her room, and you didn't dare go there when you went to her house. (You didn't exactly want a repeat of the last time.)

You can imagine her bedraggled, sleepily fazing in and out of her dreams before heading right back into her slumber. It's a thought that makes fills you with a particular type of warmth, but it's a little bitter because she just isn't around you.

It's very easy for you to imagine her like that.

One moment, you're introducing yourself to Susie's father. The next?

You suck in your breath and steel yourself, your teeth, your body, and your bones.

You can do it.


You told Lucas that you were trying to figure out how to ask Susie to the Sadie Hawkman dance.

In the ten seconds that feel like years it takes Lucas to respond to that, he has taken to the news as well as you, for he says only one thing, dumbfounded: "Oh."

It comes spilling out of you.

You've only been friends with Susie for about a month, month and a half now, and even though you've known each other all your life, this is the first time you're getting to know her, and you have a bigger plan that involves playing a prank on the dance, and you hope that Lucas doesn't do anything to stop you and-

"Uh. Are you and Susie uh- dating?" He puts a stop to your vocal vomit at once, genuinely dumbfounded.

No. You adjust yourself, gathering in.

"Oh. Like a friend asking out thing. Right then. Sure?"

He tells himself in the same way you told yourself.

You're not exactly sure why this thought of dating or being close or intimate with Susie sits weirdly in you. It would've been easy if you were in love with her or if you had been disgusted at the thought outright; however, that's not where you sat with your feelings for her. They stay dead in the middle, or, maybe, that's just how friendships were; not that you had any extensive experience with such. The thought of asking her out in the way it's meant to be done, because you did like her like that, didn't feel quite right, but it also didn't feel not right.

You liked Susie, but that word "liked" was a very generic descriptor.

If anything, you did need to ask her out just for the sake of her showing up to the Sadie Hawkman's dance. It wouldn't be right if she were just there independently; no one would believe that. You haven't told her the plan yet, but it wouldn't matter if she didn't go to the dance, and given that, it seemed like a good idea to ask someone else familiar with Susie to see if this was a-okay, you figure you reach out to her father.

"I- uh. I mean, have you met Agatha?" He's a bit timid when it comes to issues with his ex-wife, and it's a look you've seen before with your father when he talked about Mom.

Yes, you have. You answer with just the right amount of apprehension to lead on that your meeting wasn't exactly the most friendly.

"Then you know. I'm not the biggest advocate of this kinda stuff this young, because I met Agatha 'round your age, but if you're just going as friends then there's… no issue. I guess."

One is helpless, and the other is hapless. Susie, and to a lesser extent, you find yourselves in the middle of it. Always in the middle.

Now you know what Malcolm felt like.

His eyes dart between puddle and puddle on the concrete ground. From what you can tell, it's been a slow day as far as "things catching on fire" goes. With it being cold and wet, there's not much fuel for the fire that keeps them otherwise occupied, although Thanksgiving is coming around, and heavens know that a good amount of turkey deep fryings will light fires. It's not Thanksgivings yet, and thus, the dance. You've still got the last half of October, Halloween, and then some of November to go before that fateful day. "You uh, come out all this way just to get permission?"

That was the big thing, but you've always been one to ask questions. You just wanted to know, wording it most delicately, if Susie has always been like the way she is.

Lucas blinks several times. "I mean, wouldn't you know?"

There is regret in his eyes for a flash of a second, his fists curling, his face faltering in a sigh. Susie lived in Hometown with her mother. Not here, with him. Why that was decided, you could never be sure. Was it the bias of the court system in divorces to prefer the mother? Was it some unknown fact that you have yet picked up on, or Susie has yet to tell you about Lucas's true nature? Or maybe it was just cruelty like that, and Agatha had the better lawyer. You don't know, but in the end, it just means that Susie spends more time with her mother than her father, and that is the tragedy unto itself.

You spend more time with her than Lucas nowadays.

He nods to himself, however, not wanting to play at semantics. "Yeah, no, I know what you mean. Sometimes when Agatha can't make it to a PTA meeting I go instead, and, well, I hear things from your school."

You do wonder what he hears, though, exactly, from your mother, from Alphys, from all of the staff at the school. It's not anything good. Not her grades, at least, for you know how they are. It was only because Alphys was just a tad incompetent teacher that she hadn't been outright failing. Of course, what else is there to talk about but her attendance problems? Her attitude? Her ability to bully kids around and not be challenged.

He knows. He knows in the way you see the failure in his eye and the regret on his tongue.

"When you can only spend a few days a month with your kid, do you really want to spend it scolding them?"

It's been a long time since Asgore was a father to you. He always would be, but that's not what you meant. A father figure rather. Someone strong, with a guiding hand that can hold as hard as it can stern. Someone to teach you rights from wrongs.

Asgore isn't much a father figure anymore as much as he is someone who'd rather just be happy to be around you, and you wonder, just for a moment, if Susie had been the one adopted instead of you, what she'd be like. Was there a "right" version of her in some other life? Maybe, maybe. Though that wasn't the life you lived.

"Truth be told, I thought if you were asking her out, like in a romantic way, it must've been good. Letting herself feel out, you know? She's all fun and smiles with me, but I see how people are around her, and I see how she is around other people…. What is she like with you?"

She's half-amused, half-satisfied. There's content in her form and ease to her that you've never seen. If you were so bold to admit, she enjoys your company, and you want hers, and it's a cyclical beast which you're not quite sure how to tame. It's a life you had been living ever since elementary school.

Lucas hears you, and you can't catch his eye, saying all this, going to his knees instead.

A father's intuition about their children was among the chief principles of life. Even you, without the presence of a natural-born father, knew it true from Asgore. You loved your family.

Lucas loved his Susie. He looks up and away, out the garage doors to the blue-sky day. Clouds roll past, promising the last bright days of warmer times. Time goes forward, never stopping, promising futures you're not quite sure if you fit into. You thought once that, maybe, that question of yours and what you were going to do after high school was unique, falling into the shadow of your brother, but you confide in the fact that you aren't the only one who was aimless in life.

"She has no problem loving, you know." Lucas says quietly. "I don't think she hides it, and, God, I know she can be rough and tough. But I don't think she makes that kinda choice to not feel. She just probably doesn't have much reason."

You tried to speak up to him, but that mention of love stumbles your words and grinds his teeth in some regret and embarrassment of even bringing it up. Though he's a firefighter, and he has that mantra of in for a penny, in for a pound. The inferno rages, and he is supposed to beat through, not out.

"If I know my daughter like I think I do, Susie… She…" Memories flash by his face, and then you realize one good truth about this world: The best fathers, for you've seen this look on Asgore before, their world, their love, is for their children, and every once and a while they get sucked into that world. It's a little like falling into the Dark World, even. As Lucas comes out of his reverie, he nods, both to you and at himself. "Be upfront with her. You know how strong she is, and how blunt can be. She would appreciate it if someone spoke the same language to her, sometimes. Especially if it's something, uh, funny, like this, asking her out to the dance."

No funny tricks. No elaborate display. Something simple, to the point.

Okay, yeah, you nod back at him; you can do that.

There is confidence on your face that comes naturally, and Lucas blinks several times at you, taking you in. A thought goes by his head, and for a moment, you wonder what it was. You needn't wait long, however, for he just tells you:

"Uhhhh. If you were to date my daughter, romantically," His claw is on your shoulder, and suddenly he's off his stool. This is familiar, isn't it? You can see his teeth, fangs, far more pointed and developed than Susie's, eyes burning, looking down onto you. "Don't fuck it up. You feel me, dude?"

You would never.

And he warms, as a father does. "Good." The grab at your shoulder goes into a pat, and he nods, going back to his stool. "So what are you planning anyway? That prank? It ain't my business to break it up, just curious."

It's not quite dumping pig's blood on the prom queen, and it's not quite something as harmless as putting laxative in the punch. You describe it somewhat vaguely. Maybe a cake and some fireworks are involved.

"Well, it doesn't sound like a fire hazard. Not completely, that is." It was his one area where he would be concerned, but he gets the idea that you've had your fair share of pranks and you, probably, know what you're doing.

Gruffly, a man pokes his head out of the cabin up top, a dalmatian, fittingly enough. "Luke! Shifts up, get on outta here. Go do something with your life."

"Gladly, Chief." He waves up and out, starting to step out of his fireman trousers, throwing it over his shoulders, and walking over to one of the wall lockers. He's in track pants and a simple white shirt soon enough, taking a look at you and motioning his head over his shoulders. "Need a ride back to Hometown?"

You pause, maybe signaling that you had a rideshare you could call up. He shakes his head at that.

"I'm heading into Hometown anyway. Going to go check up on an old friend too."

If he was offering, you didn't mind, you two walking out to an old sedan that reminded you a little too much of Asgore's truck by the Flower King. If you had remembered correctly from Susie's musings one day, it was Agatha that had been paying the alimony in their separation. Maybe divorced dads always just drove shitboxes. Just one whiff of the insides as you open the passenger door, it reminds you very much of Susie, or, at least, her preferred diet. This man ate like Susie to a T, and that meant fast food wrappers all the way down the carpet, crinkling as he makes an apologetic face, reaching over the center console and scooping them all up before opening his jaws wide, eating his trash.

Dragons were truly built different.

"Ah shworry." He says with a full mouth of wrapping paper, swallowing as if they were puff pastries. "I've been thinking of getting a motorcycle because I don't have use a car for car things. I live like, down the block."


The ride back is uneventful, Lucas telling stories that he has to for someone who would listen over a shared someone they know: Susie. Autumnal leaves are kicked up onto the street and run over as he stares down the road as he drives and into a past life.

"I built that house, you know. Where Susie and Agatha still live. I mean technically it came as a house kit, as a double wide, but I still built it. Agatha's family had taken her out on a week trip to the shore and well, the plan was I'd build that house in a week and surprise her with it when I got back." He almost laughs at himself. "Everything went wrong, I had to wait three days for proper tools so I had to use my boots to hit in nails and joints, and eyeball it all. So I was falling behind schedule, you see, so I ended up sleeping under the frame."

Not exactly safe?

"No, but neither was building a house all on my lonesome out there. Fresh outta the wedding." He reminisces, and you see so much of Susie's better self in it. "And, one day, bout twenty-four hours before she was supposed to get back, during my last bit of sleep to power through to the end… We were already expecting our baby at the time."

He's not quite sure why he's telling you, pulling up to a stop sign, almost into Hometown, though he tells it, because it's a story he hasn't said for a while, and sometimes memories cannot just sit in someone for years. Sometimes they need to be spoken, to be told.

You understand. It's the same with Ralsei and the Dark. You want to tell everyone about it and the wonderfulness of having that kind of mystical world beneath your feet, but you do not because you cannot. Who would believe you other than Susie?

"I carved, something, for her, my daughter, on the bottom of our house… I wonder if it's still there."

You want to ask why Lucas told you this, but you don't. No need to make the man regret it.

You both roll into the hospital's parking lot, and it occurs to you where Lucas is going, but you don't know why.

You ask.

"Visting an old friend from high school. He hasn't been well in a bit and-" His words leave your hearing as you both walk into the hospital. You think you know who it is. Without words, you follow him in, and he doesn't question it. You feel obliged to explain, however: you knew him as well.

Matthew, the nurse/receptionist in the lobby, sees you and Lucas arrive, and both he and his ears perk up in his seat.

"I was wondering if I could visit Rudy Holiday? I'm an old friend. I told him I was swinging by today, last time I talked on the phone."

Matthew nods up and down, pointing at the directory on the wall. "Oh yeah, sure. Just follow the directory to the ward, and you'll find his room on the left."

"Right, thanks."

When we left the Dark the first time, you felt obliged to just wander around Hometown. As if showing me what was up with this world. I thank you for that, and, well, I suppose it made what was about to happen a little easier.

Noelle Holiday. She's, 90% of the time, happy to see you. You can say the same. She's always kept some distance from you, but not out of malice and more out of learned experiences. It was never personal. You enjoy her company at times in class when you are partnered up, and all of this, even recently, is despite what has happened to Rudy. What has happened to him, you're not quite sure, and you don't want to ask. Though he's sick, that much is clear, and it barely beats through his up and cool personality. So unlike his daughter.

When Lucas opens the door, she's there as you know her to be: at her father's bedside attending to him, keeping him company, in the middle of a conversation. When the door opens, she finds your eyes first before looking up to Lucas, and for a moment, you can see an expression of confusion on her. No doubt that she must've seen Susie in Lucas's form.

"Luke!" Rudy, he's up in his bed, white sheets crumpling. He tries getting up, arms out for a hug, but his ass doesn't leave the bed before a crack of pain goes through his face, and he stifles a cough down.

"Rudy! You old goat!"

"Goat?! I think you got the wrong guy!"

Noelle backs off, obviously not wanting to get in the middle of this, going to the room walls and moving around until she finds herself near you by the door.

The two adults of the room stampede into a volume of happy memories and greetings and better times, and you know your bedside manner when you and Noelle both know to move out of the room, door closing behind you.

Formally, you greet her, and she does her curtsy if only to get past that awkward moment of Lucas and Rudy greeting again and forgetting about you two.

"Hello Kris." She's very sweet.

So very unlike Susie. She looks at you very kindly, and you wonder if such goodness existed in this world or if it was a trick. Maybe she was the inverse of Susie, a complete psycho on the inside but an adorable reindeer on the out. Perhaps she had her secrets because everyone does.

"Was that…" She stops, unsure if she wants to continue, but she does in the end, listening to the low rumble of adult chatter through the door. "Was that Susie's father?"

You nod. Lucas Scaleman. He's nice.

"Is he like Susie?"

You nod again—a bit.

"Oh, maybe I should get to know him."


"I uh- practice for, uhm. Talking to Susie."

You did tell Noelle that Susie was actually nice, but given recent interactions, you regret, just a little, telling her that: putting hope in her heart. For as much of a problem you have dealing with your feelings about Susie and vice versa, you very much squarely know what's up with Noelle.

"Why were you with him today, Kris?"

Opposites attract. Another law of the universe and Noelle very much was on the opposite of the spectrum of Susie. Perhaps it would be a good thing not to, exactly, tell the truth about what you were doing with him earlier.

Instead, you told her that he was your rideshare driver and that you were in Townville planning another prank.

All the best lies have the truth in them.

She buys it because you've never been known to lie to her conversationally. Lie about ketchup being blood, yes, but maliciously lie, no. Even without me, you're not like that… Hopefully. "Ah, well, that's nice. Just don't target me, okay? It's been a while and-" She tries to put on her most forceful face, one that is of anger and fist wagging. It doesn't work, however, and does quite the opposite. "I'll be cross if you pull anything this close to the dance!"

You chuckle a bit, shaking your head. You're not really targeting anyone but a general demographic. In fact, you're sure she's going to like it.

She pouts, and you can see the hot air out of her nose, but recently you've been a good egg, if only because you've been occupied by being with Susie, so she believes you, going to sit outside the room as Lucas and Rudy catch up. You trade conversation with her readily, and she reaffirms the comment that you have been more talkative lately. It's weird, but she doesn't mind as you talk about the shape of clouds and fresh air that she isn't currently getting right now.

"I'd be out there enjoying myself but…I've got homework to do." Regret, a twinge of it. You want to do something about it. Like chasing sidequests in the Dark, helping out the denizens, whether it be mending smashed cake or breaking out insane jesters (and then promptly whooping them).

You recognized her bag outside Rudy's room on a desk for an orderly next to a chair that she swivels over to in front of her as this week's homework is up and out. On that table already: her calculator, notes from class, a stack of papers that you know represents assignments Alphys has yet to give out but has made accommodations for those who can't be in class. Susie, before you, was given the same option. Hoping to placate Alphys, at least she took the stacks of homework meant for a month out. None of it got done, but Noelle has no problem here.

She's planning to spend a long time here, with her father. She already has, based on the fact you haven't seen her out and about ever since her father was admitted.

You remember Mrs. Applebaum in her final days. Her family, in turns, were the same, sitting like this out in these halls. You were among them, playing the piano for her.

With clarity, a rush of air, the curtain rises.

Kris clears their throat, looking at Noelle as if they had never seen her before and taking all of her in. They see her completely, for they have to ask a question because they care.

"Your Dad, Noelle, is he going to be okay?" Kris says.

You might not understand what it's like to lose a father like Noelle is going through, but you understand, you empathize, in what little you can, having lost Asgore as a daily part of your life. What you said was what I would've said because I understand this tragedy as well: losing your fathers, losing your mothers.

Her smile, it remains for the first moment as she considers our question. It was a question you would've never asked if you knew this was how she was going to react: you see it in slow motion, and it hurts every tick of a microsecond. The way a smile breaks, a person breaks, it's piece by piece. Shard by shard, mote by mote, bit by bit, dust to dust. Her mouth opens, cute buckteeth exposed, but an answer she had is not an answer given, no sound out of her mouth as you see in her eyes: She cannot tell a lie.

You reach out because that's all you can do, your hands offering. She doesn't take them, but she lays them close instinctually. She cannot fight comfort.

How this good of a person has the worst happen to her.

Susie has thick skin; Noelle doesn't. Her eyes catch, tighten, and she fights back the tears. Her emotional barriers are see-through, like glass, and when they break, they break in shattering.

She doesn't need to say anything, grabbing her hands, running your thumbs over her soft wrists.

"Mom is- is- hic-" A singular sob shakily escapes her. "-busy with work as the mayor and she doesn't have time to spend here with Dad so- so…."

Who abandoned you, Kris? Why were you put up to adoption? Questions to you might've hurt anyone else, but these are questioned you've fielded in your head long ago. They don't hurt as much anymore—the idea that someone would be there for you: unfulfilled. Here, Noelle is there for her father. The cruelty of the world inverses what it should be.

Everywhere in Hometown, parental conflicts, modern life clashing with the old ways, modern relationships between parents, mothers and fathers, daughters and sons and children.

Noelle clings to her own.

Susie resents.

And you? You're not sure.

Noelle sits there, tilted toward you, eyes down at your intertwined hands. Minutes go by, tears that fell dry off on her cheek. You roll the pads of your thumbs into her hands, giving her something to focus on, to center on.

You are your brother's keeper, aren't you?

Azzie would do the same thing for you when you were upset as a kid.

So you sit there, and time fades away as you hold Noelle's hand and let her be weak before the world. She deserves it.

The more nuanced points of holding Noelle's, a girl's (a traditionally cute one at that) hand isn't lost to you as eventually, you tell her you need to get home for dinner. Noelle, feeling as best as she can now after a decent cry sesh, can only thank you as warmly as she can as she resumes her duty, on guard for her father as he and Lucas catch up. You only ask her to extend your thanks to Lucas for today. She promises, and you go off, back home in sunset skies.

When thinking of nuances, you can't help but think of what Susie would think about that and whether or not you would've done anything at all if she was there, by you, witnessing that. Why would you care after all?

Well, several reasons, but there's one right in front of you that rubs shoulders with why you went out to see Lucas today. The implication is there, the implicit wants and needs of a young person such as yourself finding his first, real, non-familial connection.

Also, hormones. But are easily understood, unlike feelings.

Every day where you don't see her is an abnormality. You don't like it.

It's amazing what comes into mind, feeling as you do right now, feeling the autumnal breeze of the day wash over you.

You miss her.

Only one day, and it makes you feel… weird.

Does she feel the same?

Lucas and Asgore were one degree of separation away from each other growing up, with Rudy as that hinge. It would not be outside the possibility if Lucas and Asgore were friends that, maybe, just maybe, you and Susie could've been childhood friends. You could've had whatever you had for most of your life, and that thought, that lost life, fills you with… regret, almost.

It almost makes you want to load a save at the very beginning of your life, huh?

In your hand out of your pocket is your phone, not touched for most of the day: no exceedingly essential updates or notifications. Absent-mindedly, however, you go to Snapgram and see on your relatively sparse feed a new photo posted by Azzie.

He's the spitting image of Ralsei, or rather, maybe it's vice versa, but here he's doing something Ralsei would never do: Wherever he is for college, the first dustings of snow have come early. To him, that means a ritual, as he alludes to, apparently created the night before: He's down to his underwear in the photo and sopping wet, two boys his age on his shoulder smiling as big a smile as he. In the background: a lake with a few holes where ice certainly was broken on its surface.

Just below the likes counter (mostly girls unabashedly liking to see Azzie bare his form) is an explanation:

To break in the first snow! Or maybe breaking the ice! Eh? Eh?

Why anyone would do that is beyond you, but it's tradition, as of… now?

You miss your brother. It's a tugging cold that has you miss him, but it does not cut too deep. You know he'll always be there for you; he's family. More than that, he's the family that chose you.

It's different than the way you miss Susie.

It's more intense with her, more concentrated around your heart, singing of memories you wish you made with her on that day because life is so much more worth making memories with her around. As stupid, as dramatic as that feels to admit, it is. You want her to be there, and it draws you to bring up her number to text.

There's an emoji, animated. You find it pretty deep in the catalog because some megacorporation wants there to be fifty pages of ways to communicate with funny and cute pictures. Thankfully you're able to find one that just seems right to you today: It's a bear, a toy bear, like how every child was supposed to have in picturesque hometowns like this, and it goes through the motions of hugging itself with tiny red hearts coming off of it.

You close your eyes, press down on it, and send off the text.

By the time you open your eyes next, you're basically at home, and the phone is somewhere in your pocket, untouched, even if it buzzes back. By the time you eat dinner and give Mom the bare abstract details of what you did today, dodging her more specifically digging questions, you still haven't looked and are content just to wash up and throw yourself on your bed.

Azzie's side is glowing with luminescent stars, still there from when he was a kid.

You realize something: Back with Noelle. I wasn't… there.

You look between your feet and see me, still red, still glowing, still in that birdcage that you think keeps me put.

Even you can take control sometimes, Kris.

Despite everything, it's still you.

Alright, you're not entirely convinced but, let me make my case.

You are a vessel, Kris. Two drivers at the wheel. Neither intrinsically belong to you or me. 50%. Right down the middle.

I'm not gonna bother you with things like this, with your life, but…

I have a story to tell you when you're ready.

Not tonight, you say, rolling over in your bed. You have your plans, and I have mine.