Kris is there, hiding beneath the bleachers. They're eleven years old and have a healthy amount of filled water balloons that may or may not be also mixed with some sugar to REALLY get the mosquitos going if, for some unfortunate reason, they were to hit someone. When they said they were trying out for the little league team that last summer, Toriel didn't quite understand, but Asgore was more than enthusiastic about taking them to the field to help practice their pitching arm. Heck, he even got the police department to sponsor their entire team.

Little did anyone know that it was just practicing for a whole assortment of mischief that had to do with throwing things. This would've been test number one: simple water balloons. They didn't throw a mean fastball for nothing, and on that track meet with the high school track team from the next town over visiting, Kris felt a little less bad about any unfortunate side effects that were to happen. If they had to guess, most side effects were mosquito and itch related, but what did they know. They weren't supposed to be there that day.

The would-be targets were not there yet, however, and instead, just a dozen yards away, is the rest of the Dreemurrs. Asriel is currently on the field, and he's the new star of Hometown's track team; his parents are there to cheer him on. Maybe, if there weren't anything to do today, Kris would've relented and came with them to cheer them on instead of hiding with their own plans. Asgore, however, made up the difference in his bellowing voice, screaming for Asriel to put some leg into it.

"You're a goat! You've got the legs for it, my boy!" And some variation on that for the last hour as Toriel was embarrassed for both herself and Asriel's sake.

Kris has come prepared, as they usually do. A ski mask is ready to cover their face (nothing to say about how, when it does happen, the assailant would obviously be Human).

But the best-laid plans never survive contact with an enemy. That was their initial thought as they heard the high-pitched screaming, the crash, and the fall of liquid splashing.

Had someone else had the same idea today?! That was Kris's thought as a balloon is in their hand and ready to go, going up to the slits between seats on the bleachers and peering out. It's not the best view, between legs and metal, but any fears that, somehow, there was another plan going on today.

Maybe it was that jerk Susie they've always seen up to her own trouble around town; perhaps it was Berdley, who finally grew a spine and rose up against what Kris expects to be the sporty ruling class that is present here. Maybe someone from the town that's competing today had their own Kris.

It's not that; however, Kris's eyes darting to and fro to find what was the issue:

Mrs. Holiday had been Hometown's mayor for Angel knows how long. Her campaign had been so intimidating and relentless that it was a lost cause even to consider running against her incumbency, so she had kept the job. Despite this, every day seemed to be a campaign for her, and it was a common fact that every time there was some sort of public event, she would be there for a rousing speech in service of nothing but very obviously self-vindicative of herself.

Kris, even at eleven, knows better. Maybe it was the misfortune of their birth, perhaps it was a clarity they got for being the lone Human in a town of monsters, but they know better beyond themselves that in itself in service to perhaps not the best cause.

As they look out from in between the seats, maybe, they consider, targeting Mrs. Holiday one of these days is in the cards. There is no other joker, but there is a victim.

"Noelle Holiday!" a huge damp splotch is over her white suit, her short, bun-kept hair unfurled and framing an absolutely terrifying face as her hands reach down. There is rage in her face.

Her daughter. Kris knows her well, if not the best of kids their age. She's in her green sweater, even in the relatively warm spring, red bows tying together her blonde locks of hair that is falling apart by the way her mother is jerking her, held up by one of her ears. "I told you to do one thing! Hold my coffee! And look what you did Noelle!"

Kris can't quite hear, even though the crowd has gone silent, and the scene is being made, but they think at least they can listen to the squirming "I'm sorry"s of a girl who has never done anyone any wrong except for now apparently.

A string of curses, of disappointment, flows through Mrs. Holiday's mouth right down to her captive daughter until, all at once, she is dropped to the puddle she has made in its brown stew, and she runs off and away.

Asgore, even off-duty, is there as Rudy emerges from hiding from the storm that is his wife to console her and, hopefully, tell her that perhaps that wasn't needed as Noelle disappears. Kris's wonder about where is immediately cut off as said runaway ends up nearby. They can hear because of the crying and the frantic stepping about.

The communal effort to look past it and continue with the track day is almost cruel. Still, Kris could hardly care as, from their shadows, they see a girl, basically vibrating in shame, holding herself up against a supporting beam of the bleachers as she breaths her shaky breaths. Should they hide? Should they go? Does it matter anymore?

Frozen there, Kris does nothing but look on until eventually, out of the corner of her eye, eleven-year-old Noelle Holiday sees them:

Kris is a gangly child, thin, compared to their family, and it makes sense as the only Human of the town, their hair messy and beat down by the sun. Only through their bangs are their eyes seen, and they look to Noelle. Maybe Noelle is just used to it, but what would've been a creepy sight is instead… Just Kris.

Hey, Kris says, silently, caught like a rat across the distance of yards.

Noelle tries her best to clear her voice and compose herself, but it's to no avail. "Uhm… What are you doing Kris?"

The red cart that, years later, would hold a certain birdcage instead is kicked away with its sugar balloon contents into hiding.

It's a poor job of hiding at that, but in reality, Kris knows this by the way Noelle's eyes are bloodshot and teary; she doesn't care.

It's a question they don't need to answer as instead, they pose their own:

Are you okay?

Over the noise of that day, no one can hear them as races go on. She's not; they know this, but it's good to listen to it from her herself as she comes closer to them, finding a place on one of the supporting bars of the bleachers that provide space. One of her ears is red, oddly so.

"Mom… she…" She gestures to the ear, making a twisting motion. "I'm okay. She was just preparing for this speech for a long time and I… I ruined it."

So that's what that commotion was; Kris is quick to rationalize. Usually, other people's troubles are below their pedigree, as they often make their own life complicated enough as is, however here and now, the result is before them. It manifests in Noelle Holiday. They've known her all their life, and vice versa, and for all the time, they wonder when they became comfortable enough just to talk. There is a familiarity there, and right now, that's perhaps what Noelle needs.

The shadows are over them, and she sobs because of it, hands rubbing at her eyes.

Beyond the bleachers, an announcer is yelling Asriel's name as he breaks records and takes heart in a relay, the roar of the crowd rising, and competition is off. Kris wonders, faintly, if this is a familiar sight: a Dreemurr with a Holiday. Noelle seems to know it so. She is her sister's keeper.

Kris has seen this before in the distance: Of December (Dess for short) Holiday and their own brother, Asriel, sitting by her whispering private conversations and being alone with each other for once. Kris had been wise never to intervene, to let them have their peace, and perhaps what was happening now with Noelle had been the reason: The Holiday sisters always found comfort in a Dreemurr. More often than not, it was Asriel, but Kris quickly remembers that they are a Dreemurr too.

Noelle's shoulders rise and fall in silent sobs, her golden hair drifting into unkempt strands downward as she cries.

"I didn't mean it, I didn't…." She's always been a shy girl, more than willing to be her sister's shadow. It's because of moments like this, however, where her shame is born by dozens of people, where her own family ridicules her, it reinforces and brings her to her literal knees. She can't take it.

Your Mom's just being stupid; Kris says only what comes to them naturally. It's no big deal.

"No big deal?" She looks up at them with her tear-soaked face. "I made her look stupid in front of the entire town!"

It was hyperbole, but it didn't matter to her. She felt it as if. "She's going to be so mad when I get home!"

And Kris understands that most of all. It's never a good time waiting at home after these types of days, especially if their mother knew whatever he had been doing. So they tell her that, and they tell it slowly, up in the air, the shadows and shapes of other people sitting and moving above them like clouds. On that day, it is the longest Noelle has ever heard Kris talk candidly, and their voice, it's soft and easy on her ears. Of all the loud voices yelling at her today, laughing at her, whispering disappointment, Kris's voice is simply confiding in her the knowledge that it wasn't going to be so bad; take it from them: someone who knows that they aren't exactly always an angel.

"But my mom's the mayor, Kris."

Sure, they respond, but it's not the end of the world. This is a small town, and who cares about stupid politics?

She's not so sure, but Kris does, inching their way toward her on that bar as they tell their stories, their own experiences of being yelled at. They don't know why they do; maybe it's to get the point across, perhaps it's because it feels better with her closer, but they do, and soon enough, they are both in arm's reach of each other.

And even if she is the mayor, Kris goes on. It doesn't make it right for her to yell at you in front of everyone like that.

The image of the dragon girl, Susie, in the stands, chewing on popcorn and laughing at her as if it was the best show on earth is fresh on her mind, and she realizes that yes, it was wrong for her mother to shame her like that in front of everyone. But what's done is done, and the damage is there as the tears start anew.

What else can Kris do but try to catch them?

Kris is their brother's keeper, and they do what they know of their own. Even they got upset from time to time, from being grounded to being unfairly blamed for just any bad thing that happened around town. Sometimes all they needed were someone to hold their hand.

So that's what they do, and they reach out, slowly, fingers touching at her hands.

Noelle looks up at them and, at first confused, but eventually complacent. There is no malice on Kris's face, no deviousness. Just someone who wants to help. So she lets them take her hands, and their thumbs come to rub circles into the back of them. They've been learning piano recently, so the pads of their fingers have started to work in calluses. The feeling is almost pleasant, however, soothing.

Kris is silent, but not because they want to be. They don't know what to say, but they know what to do: Someone is crying, sad, upset. This wasn't the time for pranks and hijinks. It was the time to ACT.

Kris told her that she shouldn't worry. Everyone made mistakes—even Azzy.

Perfect Asriel making mistakes? Noelle couldn't believe it.

Kris could only nod urgently. Of course, Asriel made mistakes; he was, to use an odd phrase, only Human. Asriel would always make his small mistakes, which tumbled into big ones with their mother. The most minor things like forgetting to do the dishes would culminate in a stern talking down that Noelle knew very well, for she had her own. They are usually over her not being that perfect little girl that she needs to be, over her getting her dresses and sweaters muddy or putting herself in a position to scrap her knees or shirk her schoolwork.

Kris tells her, instead, it's alright. You do so much more anyway that it doesn't matter. Me? They say, gesturing to themselves, I have no excuse. All I got are pranks.

"That's not true, Kris." Noelle says quietly. "You're more than that."

All the while, they are still rubbing circles into her hands, and that is proof of that.

"You never treat me any differently. It's… nice. Except when you scare me, but that's… I don't know. It's not okay but, but…." She doesn't need to explain. Kris doesn't pick on her anymore specifically than anyone else. It's just nice to get a reaction out of her.

Slowly, she leans forward, her head leaning over Kris's heart, closing her eyes.

This wasn't how Kris expected the day to go, but it was lovely. It's warm. It's okay.

One of their hands finds her back, and they run circles into it the same, beneath that green wool sweater. Distantly, Kris thinks, that this was what it might've been like to be the bigger sibling. Minutes go on, and it feels like hours, but that was a privilege at that moment. There was nowhere else to be, and nowhere else they'd rather be. Every stroke of her back is just a coax, half-guessed motion on how to comfort a crying girl: They only hope it does just drain it out of them, but they give her time.

You're allowed to make mistakes. The way it sounds out of their own mouth, Kris can hardly believe it but knows it true for the doe they hold now. She leans back, and Kris almost drags her back; however, she doesn't move far, looking into Kris's eyes as she genuinely hears what they have to say. She has her peace made in hearing even this simplest lesson. Coming from Kris, it must mean something.

Noelle, her vision darts from side to side, unsure of how cool and smooth Kris would take this, and, for all that they're worth, they do maintain a level head. Their proximity is eventually noticed, the smell of each other's breath, of their scent, is fully realized. This felt natural, somehow, being like this, and eventually, Noelle thinks so too. Everything they did next felt natural.

Maybe she means it as a thanks, and maybe Kris doesn't mind it because they've always been one to roll with punches (even as absurd as they might be), but whatever is pulling them together at that moment, they both indulge for the lack of objection. Even at their young age, it feels too right not to lean in, not to entertain ideas that seem to make sense with how they are right at the very moment. This was what the older kids, the adults even, did.

It's a kiss that kids do, not knowing any better, but feeling as if it was right. It's a kiss without the emotional understanding of what it means to give and receive; it's dry, lip upon lip, bumping noses. But it means something still as the two of them close their eyes and, so slowly, after the awkward realization that there was some unidentifiable more. They've both seen the movies, courtesy of their older siblings: Dess and Asriel. They've seen the way movie stars intimate intimacy in fever pitch moments and quiet moments, actualizing and packaging love for the screen. They've seen, with much more embarrassment, Asriel and Dess do the very same.

For Kris: it's watching Asriel steal kisses from Dess at school when their mother and teacher weren't watching, walking her home after school, wearing his jacket, always setting up the excuse for himself to visit the Holiday household to "collect it." It's on this other end when Asriel comes to collect did Noelle see him sneak in through the window to spend some "quality" time with his, she feels silly at the thought, secret girlfriend. The secrets they keep because of protective and unapproving parents are shared, like so many things between them.

This moment today would be one of them.

Separately, their minds drift to other examples of kisses, however Kris, they know better. PDA from their parents come to mind, and Kris pushes the thought of Asgore and Toriel in liplock and instead concentrates on the now.

This kiss is both their first, and they're searching for some mysterious more to it, but that concentration gives way to the need for air, for breaths they didn't know they were holding.

Kris tastes like chocolate, and she tastes like gingerbread, and together it's a flavor that they've never truly tasted until it was on each other's lips.

They back off, precious inches, as Noelle's face is contorted into half-a-giggle over herself and the fact she is making out with someone beneath the bleachers, and at Kris's face, twisted into half-confusion and half-wonderment.

"I like your hair." She blurts out; fist curled at her mouth as if trying to grab the warmth, chaste as it was, she just experienced. She cannot stop being sweet now that they're this far forward. "I'm sorry. I'm being weird."

Noelle says to the joker that had a bunch of sugarwater balloons ready to go. Kris plays it off; they do, a huff of their own as they steel themselves. This was nice, but it could be better.

It is with disgust that Kris has parents that love each other: They've seen the way Toriel and Asgore kiss to start the day as Asgore went off to work as police chief, or how he is welcomed home. Noelle has no such privilege. Her parents live different lives and are different people. For that, Kris leads as they lean back in. They raise their fingertips to the bottom of Noelle's chin, and she lets them guide her forward as they continue where they left off.

It's the tiniest of lips being parted, but it feels infinitely more "kissy-er." Softly, gently, they part their lips just enough for Noelle to find purchase, and her fur feels so soft on the tip of their lips, tickling the skin below their nose. Canting their head, Kris gives her even more purchase as their instincts finally give Noelle the idea to suck Kris's bottom lip lightly. The response is immediate, their hands going to hold her shoulders urgently, wanting more as they return the same on her top.

The wetness that eluded them, wondering where it was, finally comes, and experimentally Noelle puts her tongue out, darting, catching the edge of Kris's teeth as they respond in kind, their tongues touching for the briefest moment. In a blur, it continues, and all they feel is warm, their connection between each other.

Eyes are wide open, the realization that that was what it was all about.

Cooties, Kris says once. That's how you get cooties, right?

Noelle is breathless as they separate, wiping her mouth against her sweater's sleeve as Kris stands there, looking at what they've done in the air between them.

The embarrassment comes like a storm, and they are both silent as they, eventually, come to terms with it. The spur of the moment comfort turning into whatever just happened leaves both of them flustered but alive, and suddenly throwing balloons at track jocks doesn't seem that fun. Suddenly being chewed out by her mother, to Noelle, seems like a distant memory.

"Uhm…" Noelle is the first to gather herself up. Even through her caramel fur, her face is reddened, "I'll see you at school Kris!" She darts away, leaving a literal cloud of dirt and dust in her wake, and years later, it makes sense to Kris why she stayed with the track team at Hometown.

They shared their first kisses with each other that day, and they never spoke about it in the years since. There was no need to. Even as they got older, it was just a silly something that kids like them did and all of the embarrassment that came.

Then and there, however, Kris is satisfied, and any mischievousness they had planned seems to pale with having made Noelle okay. There is a thought within them that maybe they went too far, but if they did, then it wouldn't be the first time. When they go home that day, when Toriel asks her child how their day was after Asriel wins a gold medal and they instead fake coming back from the library, Kris does not lie: It was good.

Years later, and they have fallen into the Dark.

A synthwave dream of electronic cities and weird figures all in the image of cyberspace and its inhabitants. A Queen has taken after her, in her hearty chirpy laughs, and she is fleeing from her, albeit not at an altogether dangerous pace. Noelle isn't alone, however. Far from it. Three figures of Light have come to be beside her. Susie, and all of her threatening power, all of her allure as a strong, mean girl, is there, and for the first time in her life, Noelle can see Susie at her strongest and wish, for herself, what it means to be that strong. She has a crush on her, as fiery hot as any chimney in the holiday season, and although she would've loved to be with her right now, the anxiety of it overtakes her, and it is mercy she isn't.

There's also a young boy who looks too much like Asriel not to think about, his green robes and pink scarf complimenting quite nicely his princely-groomed fur. He is kind and wonderful, but also, there's something quite off about them. Noelle believes it in the way they keep their hands hidden behind their back.

The last of which is there: Her childhood friend, the young child who perhaps knew her better than most. They've drifted apart somewhat, now, Kris only receding more into that idea of a weirdo silent-type, but she knows better of him.

In the course of what has happened to her since she fell into the Dark, she has found herself alone with Kris. They're taller now, hair more flustered than she last remembered, and they are dressed like a knight in shining armor. This land of fantasy, they seem very comfortable in it, as if this was normal to them.

Maybe because, as Noelle tells herself, walking alongside them, it is. That's the only explanation as to why everything feels the way it does.

"Puzzles" of electric fencing and mice are in their way, but this one, this last one, is just a quaint dual puzzle that requires nothing more than for them to walk down a path and step on buttons to let each other through.

Somehow between them, she's the more talkative one, and in all the years since their kissing session beneath the bleachers, there's very little to hide between them. So she talks and evokes the memories of days lived since then:

Late nights beyond the town, in the woods where she would get scared from every dark shape, and Dess would wipe away her fearful tears with Azzy's jacket as he and Kris stood guard. Sometimes, Kris would jerk as if they saw something, and Azzy, playing along, would stir up such trouble about unseen shapes that Dess even would become scared, and poor Noelle would become an even bigger wreck.

All was fair, however, in love and war.

And Kris listens, and she feels comfortable because they understand, and it was nice to be understood by someone her age who did care at some point. Did they care now? She wonders as they get to the end of the path.

Her runner's legs are handy here as she jumps over the barrier of cones to the other side; however, she's not used to doing it in that white, flowy dress, so when she lands, it's on it, and she trips, just enough.

Before she can fall face first, however, arms hold her own to steady.

The same person that's been her neighbor for years, who she grew up with, who would rock Ferris wheel cabins at their apex or scare the daylights out of her with ketchup and darkness, is there for her with their hands holding her.

They've both grown, just barely about to cross over into that world of young adulthood where Asriel has already gone. But first, they find themselves here, in this dream, in this Dark World. This feels like a dream, where she's going on an adventure amid interesting characters and clashing with danger and battles. She knows it well enough from the videogames she and her father play by his bedside in the hospital, but it feels far too real to be anything but… Still, it has to be a dream. Neon dreams for her because real life has become too stressful recently. Neon dreams where the familiar come to steady her straight.

If these are dreams, she dreams along and speaks her truth to listeners that would not bring it back to her in the land of the light and the waking.

Kris, they're there, and when they see she is steady, they back off, minding their distance. Maybe, once upon a time, they were closer, both physically and emotionally. Maybe that there is some unseen wedge between them made by age and the pranks and foolery Kris had made of her over the years. Maybe there is a change because of Dess… Poor Dess…

Though those are all… predispositions… lies, perhaps.

It's been a long time since they've peppered each other with kisses in the shadow of the bleachers, and a long time since the childhood they've had since then, exploring Hometown and the woods around with them, but Noelle still remembers. She remembers Kris.

They do still care. She feels it by the way their fingers hold her steady and keep her safe.

She has a book of song lyrics she writes down from time to time, imagining them in her voice for a time when, maybe, she isn't as shy, when her dad is out of the hospital, and she is free to be herself and happy. She's happy now, she realizes, despite how weird everything is, and a smile comes to her face with how on the nose one of those lyrics are:

Don't forget, I'm with you in the Dark.

Kris, they look, they feel different, but despite everything, it's still them. They look embarrassed that they even helped; however, Noelle settles their heart.

She hooks her fingers at the top ridge of their breastplate, dragging herself closer, and she smells the apple cinnamon that defined all of the kid Dreemurrs. Kris, they've grown up a little like their dear brother, their eyes red in this world; she sees them look down on her, an eyebrow raised.

However, any questions in their mind are settled as she settles in the crook of their neck, the chiptune electronica of their surroundings tuning out to a quiet moment. Kris's hands, limp at their sides, eventually come alive as they realize what's happening. They wrap, slowly but assuredly, around her back, pulling her close, their head framed by her antlers as they rest on top of her head.

"I'm happy it's you." It's so quiet, she barely knows if she said it herself, but Kris hears it.

I'm happy that you're here in this Dark World. I'm happy it's you with me right now. I'm happy it was you I grew up with. I'm happy that you're still here. I'm happy that, maybe, we could be closer, like the old times.

Unsaid words, but all Kris knew as she breathed slowly, her breath tickling their chest.

Maybe she still prefers Susie, maybe her heart beats for another, but Kris is here, Kris still matters to her, and that she knows as true. It means something, something that might be too big to admit now, especially to this "Dream" version of them. It makes her feel like a silly girl to even think of it, but this adventure, this dream, it's a reprieve from life that has gotten far too complicated too fast, and Kris, for all their faults, is a constant she can count on.

They say nothing in return, but they don't need to, not as she can feel their palms hold her tight, and then closer, their face tilted into her hair, smelling the sickly sweet shampoo she uses. Her fingers, they, avoiding her arms being too clamped between her and Kris, instead reach up to hold their face, those cheeks that have lost their baby fat. Their eyes meet, and in that whirlwind of the day, there is peace.

Kiss me? Kris asks, and it's such an odd way to ask for it that Noelle giggles again, running her thumbs along their cheeks and jaw, tracing their blue features. Maybe, they both would never admit to themselves, they craved that particular taste of chocolate and gingerbread in their memory.

She closes her eyes while asking, and for Kris, it's the cute face of their memories that she's always had. "Maybe. Maybe if you let me know a few things about Susie?"

Perhaps that is a fair trade, and Kris cannot fault her for asking in this place, where she cannot know if it's real or not. They nod, and the joy in her face is palpable, like the excitement of Christmas morning. This was a world where hopes and dreams came true of a better, more fulfilling life, and if Noelle's realization of it comes with letting her crushes come to life, then why not let her be happy?

They nod, and she is ecstatic about it, awarding them immediately with a peck, one that promises more in the future.

They're not lovers, they're not dating, and this is the closest they've been in years; however, it feels so natural that maybe… just maybe…

Things could've been different.

Eventually, they part, and their shared warmth is missed almost immediately; however, in its place is something… old, yet new. Nostalgic maybe. Whatever it is, it sits easily in their hearts as they go chasing after a way home.