Kris was minding their own business when purple claws slammed down on the table in front of them. "We need to get Lancer a gift!" Susie roared.
Chewing their sandwich, Kris looked up and stared at her.
"And, like, Ralsei too, I guess," Susie added. "But I'm more interested in getting something for Lancer. You think they have DVD players in the Dark World?"
Kris glanced around the cafeteria. Susie had attracted attention with the noise she made, and now the other schoolkids were whispering to each other and glancing at them. Kris locked eyes with Noelle for one brief instance before their classmate averted her gaze.
Susie looked around, too. "Aw crap. I'll catch you after school, Kris!"
She bolted out of the cafeteria, nearly running into a group of kindergarteners. Kris watched her go, then refocused their attention on their sandwich.
After their last class, Susie grabbed Kris and lifted them over her head, laughing maniacally and once again drawing a lot of attention. Kris lay in her arms and waited for her to realize the people staring at the two of them. Once she did, she cleared her throat and put them down.
"So!" she said. "Let's go buy some gifts!"
They went to buy gifts. The department store wasn't close, but Kris called their mom and asked her to pick them up afterwards, so at least they wouldn't have to walk back. "Man," Susie said, "it's gonna be weird, being in a car with Toriel. I don't think she likes me very much. 'Least not when she was my teacher."
Kris couldn't picture Toriel not liking anyone. Except Asgore. She probably would never like Asgore.
They reached the store. Susie made a beeline for the discount movie bin, while Kris fell back and tried to think of something Ralsei would like. Maybe a plant… but would plants from the surface grow in the Dark World? Also, the store didn't sell plants.
Kris wandered off and found themself in the books section. They ran their fingers along the spines, and found a book they thought would be a good fit for Ralsei. Tucking it under their arm, they looked up and squinted at the signs for the aisles, wondering if anyone else from the Dark World should get a gift. Seam, maybe? He was nice to them, if a bit depressing to talk to. Rouxls? Nah.
They grabbed a sticker book for Lancer and went to find Susie.
Someone coughed behind them.
"Um," Noelle said when they turned around. "Sorry to bother you, Kris! Can I ask you something?"
Noelle grabbed Kris' hand and dragged them to the hallway just outside the store's bathrooms. "Okay," she said. "Susie won't notice you're gone, right?"
Kris thought of Noelle murdering them and hiding their body in the clearance section, which would be entirely out of character for her. Besides, Kris would much rather be sold at full price.
Noelle took a deep breath and wrung her hands together. "Do you… like Susie?"
"I mean–do you like her? You know…" She made an incomprehensible gesture.
Kris shook their head. Noelle visibly relaxed. "Okay! Um, do you know who she likes? And not like, as a friend, but… you know…"
At this point, they were pretty sure they got the idea. Kris frowned and tapped their foot. Noelle looked at them expectantly, but Kris wasn't sure what to say. Susie didn't like most people, and hadn't shown much attraction towards anyone other than occasionally pointing out someone to Kris and asking if they "thought that girl was hot." Actually, that might mean something. Kris filed that piece of information away for future reference.
Noelle still needed an answer. Kris shrugged.
"Oh…" Noelle managed a smile. "That's fine! That just means I still don't know! That's… fine, I guess… aha, sorry for bothering you, Kris! I'll let you go back to… whatever you were doing."
Kris nodded. A thought occured to them–Kris tucked the two books they got under their arm and gestured for Noelle to follow.
"Do you think Susie would like this?" Noelle said, holding out a shirt with a word Toriel had scolded Kris for using. "She likes swears, right? I know she says them."
Kris shrugged and thought of the chains they gave Susie in the Dark World.
"You know her best, right? Do you think–"
Noelle jumped as Susie appeared out of nowhere and slapped Kris hard on the back. "You got everything?" she says. "I got a great movie for Lancer, and, like, some candy for Ralsei, I guess? You think he'd like candy? Oh, Noelle."
"Uh," Noelle said. "Hi."
Susie frowned. "What're you doing here?" she said, and Kris almost felt her guard going up. "Kris, what's she doing here?"
"Just shopping!" Noelle said quickly. "I wanted to try out some new fashion, so I asked Kris for their opinion!" She held the shirt up to herself. "How does it look, Kris?"
Kris gave her a thumbs up.
Susie nodded, and the grin reappeared on her face. "Man, you're such a dork, Noelle! Caring about fashion and stuff. Looks good, though!"
"Really?" Noelle flushed. "I–I mean–I'm a dork?"
"You sure are!" Susie laughed. "C'mon, Kris, let's pay for our stuff and get outta here."
On the way to check out, Kris picked up a gift for Noelle. Hopefully she would like it.
Susie wanted to jump in the Dark World the very next day. Kris told her to wait. "What's the point in making Lancer wait?" she said. "It's not like they celebrate any holidays there. He'll just think we waited for no reason!"
Kris' excuse was that they hadn't wrapped their gifts yet. They'd have them done by tomorrow. Susie groaned and stormed away; Kris thought she might go to the Dark World without them, but Susie was in all their classes as normal, so that must have been her way of agreeing to wait.
After school, Kris loitered around the halls until Susie left them alone, then stuffed an envelope in Noelle's locker. With that, everything was ready.
The next day, the classes seemed to drag on and fly by at the same time. Susie sat next to Kris at lunch and talked their ear off about the Awesome Movie she got for Lancer, it had So Much Blood. Kris isn't sure they like the idea of a movie with that much blood, considering that monsters didn't have blood and all that violence would be against humans. They asked Susie if it had a lot of dust, too. She snorted. "Yeah, but that's boring. Humans actually leave bodies and blood behind when they die! That's hardcore!"
Kris shrugged and ate the rest of their sandwich.
Eventually, in no time at all, Kris met Susie at the door to the supply closet.
"Finally!" Susie said. "What was the holdup? You took forever!"
Kris looked around. They told Noelle to meet them here, but she was nowhere to be seen. Was she not coming? Kris frowned and tapped their foot, gesturing for Susie to wait.
Susie did not. "Come on!" she said loudly. "I already wrapped the presents and everything! Let's go!"
Without another word, she grabbed Kris' arm and pulled them into the supply closet.
Kris dusted themself off and shot a glare at Susie, who laughed. Her outfit here still had the chains Kris gave her the first time they were here. Guess she really did like them.
"So!" Susie said, hefting up her bag wth the gifts. "I'm gonna go find Lancer. You can come with me, or you can find Ralsei or, y'know, whatever."
Kris turned to see Ralsei running up to them, his hat pulled down over his head. Kris waved.
"I'm so glad to see you!" he said, his eyes sparkling. "I thought I heard you earlier, so I ran all this way–but no one was here! Welcome back, friends!"
"Hey, nerd," Susie said. "It's a holiday up on the surface, so we got you some gifts. Where's Lancer?"
"Lancer's at the castle," Ralsei said. "Um, did you want anything from me? I can bake a cake!"
"Hell yeah!" Susie said before Kris could tell him it wasn't necessary. "That'd be awesome! Let's go find Lancer and have a real celebration!"
Though the magic doors would take them directly to the castle, the nearest one was a bit of a walk. Ralsei chatted excitedly with Kris about the cake he was going to make, while Susie talked loudly about how Lancer was gonna love his gifts. "I bet you'll love yours, too, Ralsei!" she added. "But man, Lancer's really gonna love his!"
"I'm glad you and Lancer are friends, Susie!" said Ralsei.
"What're you talking about?" Susie laughed and gave Ralsei a hard pat on the shoulder. "We're friends, too, aren't we?"
Ralsei stumbled forward. "Y–yeah!" he said. "We're all friends! You, me, Kris, and Lancer!"
Kris stopped walking and held up their hand to stop Susie and Ralsei, too. "What's going on?" Ralsei asked with a tilt of his head. "Is everything alright?"
They pointed up ahead, where a shadow crouched behind a wall.
"Huh," Susie said. "Maybe it's Lancer? I'm gonna go freak him out."
Susie ran off before Ralsei could object.
"Okay," Ralsei said. "Well, if it is Lancer, he probably won't mind."
Kris nodded in agreement.
"But if it isn't… Susie could really scare them! C'mon, Kris!"
With the head start Susie had, Kris and Ralsei didn't reach her before she started screaming. Another scream joined hers, and it took a few moments before everyone got to the same place and Kris took stock of the situation.
"Oh," Ralsei said. "Kris, who is this?"
"Kris?!" Noelle yelped. The Dark World had given her a new outfit, too, with a fluffy red robe and a large bow tied around her antlers. There was a large brown sack beside her, with wrapping paper colors peeking out from the opening. "Susie?! What's going on?"
"Why are you here?" Susie said loudly. "This is supposed to be a secret!"
The words spilled out of Noelle's mouth at a rapid pace. "I don't know! Kris told me to meet them outside the supply closet, and I got their early, and I had all these presents to give people and I thought I'd hide them inside the supply closet, except it was really dark and then I fell and I ended up here and–"
She stopped to breathe. Susie leveled an accusing glare at Kris.
"Why'd you tell Noelle about this?" she demanded.
Kris rolled their eyes. They hadn't told Noelle about the Dark World, they had just asked her to meet them and Susie at the supply closet. Noelle had no idea where she was after all–how could Kris have told her?
Ralsei cleared his throat. "Well, you're here now!" he said to Noelle. "Welcome to the Dark World! My name's Ralsei, and we're about to go see Lancer. You're Kris and Susie's friend, so we can be friends, too!"
Noelle took a deep breath and got to her feet. "It's nice to meet you, Ralsei," she said. "Sorry for, uh… freaking out. Is it really okay that I'm here?"
Ralsei nodded. "Of course!" he said. "We're going to visit our friend Lancer and exchange gifts. You can come with us!"
Kris motioned at Noelle's sack of gifts. "Oh," Noelle said. "Okay! I have gifts for Susie and Kris, here. Not for anyone else, though, I hope no one's disappointed."
Susie perked up. "Gifts? For me?"
Noelle managed a shaky smile. "Yeah! I got gifts for all my classmates! Except for Berdly. And Jockington. And Snowy. And Temmie. And, uh, anyone else who isn't you or Kris."
"Then what're we waiting for?" Susie charged down the path. "Come on!"
Upon arriving at the castle gates, Lancer launched himself into Susie's chest like a cannonball, doing nineteen points of damage. Susie cackled and pried him off, tucking him under her arm. "Hey, buddy! Missed me much?"
"Nah," Lancer said with a grin. "I'm too tough for that! What'cha got there!"
He made a grab for the gift bag. Susie dropped him and held it up over her head. "Not yet!" she said. "We've gotta make it an event!"
"Make what an event?" Lancer's eyes fell on Noelle. "Hey, who's that? She's got stuff, too!"
"I'm Noelle," she said with a smile. "It's nice to meet you, Lancer."
"Whoa! How'd you know my name!"
"We told her we were going to visit you," Ralsei explained. "She probably–"
"Okay," Lancer interrupted. "C'mon! Let's go inside!"
Kris recognized Rouxls Kaard as Lancer and Susie run past him, nearly knocking him over. "Foolish child!" he said in his probably-faked accent. "And thoust brought thour worm friends with thou!"
"Hi, Rouxls!" Ralsei said. "How are you doing?"
Rouxls snorted. "Thou guys have no idea mine troubles! I spendeth all day cooking Lancer's favoritest foods, make sure he eats his vegetables, read him stories, listen to his horrible music… and what do I get for it?"
He paused, presumably for dramatic emphasis. Kris, Ralsei, and Noelle politely waited for him to continue.
"A wonderful little boy whom I cherish and love… who stilleth calls me Lesser Dad!"
"Oh," Ralsei said, while Kris smirked. "That's too bad. I'm sure one day he'll–"
"I deserveth to be the Greater Dad!"
"Okay," Ralsei said. "Uh. Bye."
They settled in Lancer's messy room, with toys, crayons, and miscellany strewed all over the floor. Lancer and Susie were sitting on the bed while Lancer ripped the wrapping paper off his present. "You guys were way too slow," Susie said. "I'm not making Lancer wait longer than he's gotta!"
"Oh, cool!" Lancer said. "It's a movie! What's it about?"
"Blood," said Susie. "And, like, horror and stuff. It'll be great for a tough guy like you!"
"Awesome! Thanks, Susie! I'll be sure to watch it with all the lights on! And a blanket. And ice cream. And someone to hold my hand in case it gets too scary."
Kris took the present they got for Lancer out of Susie's gift bag and handed it over. Lancer ripped the wrapping off with such enthusiasm, he nearly tore the cover off. "Stickers! Thank you, Kris!"
Susie grumbled. "Yeah, well, my present was better."
Lancer slapped a smiley sticker on her face. "Do I get anything else?" he asked.
Noelle laughed nervously and put her own sack down. "I, uh, only got Kris and Susie presents," she said. "Kris, why don't you open yours?"
Kris took the package and carefully unwrapped it. Inside was a kit on how to do basic electrical wiring.
"Before you were, um, friends with Susie, you played a lot of pranks," Noelle said. "I thought, um–this would make your pranks… cooler? But you don't really do them anymore, so…"
"Hey, that's still a cool gift!" Susie said. "I'd offer to take it if they don't want it, but I'm no good at the smart person stuff like you and Kris."
Noelle flushed. "You–you think I'm smart?"
Kris was honestly more surprised she thought they were smart. Well, it was a good gift. They'd find use out of it.
"Susie, there's still more gifts in your bag," Ralsei said. "Um, are there any for me?"
"Yeah, nerd." Susie took two more gifts out of the bag. "One from me and one from Kris. Here's mine!"
She chucked the bundle at him, hitting him in the chest. Ralsei picked it up off the floor and examined it. "It sounds like there's a lot of little things inside… oh no! Did you get me something glass, and it broke?"
"What? No, dude, just open it!"
Ralsei's eyes twinkled as he stared at the multicolored candy pieces. "Oh! Candy! Thanks, Susie!"
"Great! It was in the clearance section, so it barely cost me anything!" Susie paused. "Might be a little stale, though. Now, Kris' gift–"
Kris took it from her before she could throw it and handed it to Ralsei.
After unwrapping it, Ralsei squinted at the title. "Cake… failures?"
Kris opened the book and pointed out the pictures of what the cakes were supposed to look like alongside the "failed" replicas. Ralsei giggled at some of the elaborate disasters. "I love it, Kris!" he said. "Thank you!"
Susie dumped out the rest of the bag. "Okay, now here's my gift to Kris, Kris' gift to–Noelle? Man, how did I not notice you were bringing this? Oh, and Kris' gift to me."
She opened her gift immediately. Kris took the other two gifts, handed Noelle hers, and opened their own.
"Holy–" Susie cut herself off and held up the shirt. "Is this real chainmail?!"
Kris shook their head. The shirt was made from soda can tabs, cut and snapped together. It took a long time, and a lot of soda, and a lot of bathroom breaks, but–
"You made this yourself?! Whoa!" She pulled it over her head. "Okay, Lancer, hit me!"
Lancer slugged her. "Did you feel that?!"
"Hell yeah, but my defense went up!" Susie laughed. "Thanks, Kris! What'd you think of mine?"
Kris examined their gift. It was a Hot Topic gift card.
"I know gift cards kinda suck, but you told me once that your mom never lets you go into that store. Now she's gotta!" Susie grinned. "Right? Right?"
Definitely, Kris thought. Now they could buy all the edgy anime t-shirts they wanted.
Noelle opened her gift. "Oh, wow!" she said. "It's a coloring book! One of the nice ones, for adults!"
Kris nodded. Noelle had always seemed like a… colorful person. So they got her a coloring book.
She smiled at them. "Thank you, Kris!"
"Okay," Susie said. "If that's all the gifts–"
"Um…" Noelle's smile vanished, and her voice rose to a squeak. "I have a gift for you, Susie!"
"What?" Susie said. "Really?"
Noelle thrust the gift towards her. "Here you go!"
Susie looked at the package, shrugged, and ripped off the paper, revealing the clear box of colorful circles. "Oh, sweet!" she said. "Cookies!"
Noelle swallowed hard. "Actually, uh–"
Susie was already opening the box and crunching down hard on one of them. "Huh!" she said through a mouthful. "They're tough, but pretty good! What'd you put in them?"
"They're… they're chalk, Susie."
Susie blinked. For a long moment, no one said anything. Kris hesitated.
"Even better!" Susie exclaimed. "How'd you know I like this stuff?"
Noelle's face turned red. "Um, I think the whole school knows you eat chalk, Susie. I think… it's… a cool… quirk?"
Susie burst out laughing and threw an arm around Noelle, who yelped. "It's perfect! Thanks, dork!"
Kris smiled. Looks like their plan worked, after all.
Ralsei looked through the book Kris got him, found the funniest cake failure, and baked one that looked just like it. Somehow, that Ralsei was able to make a perfect replica of a failed replica made it even funnier. Susie snorted cake out her nose, which she assured everyone was very painful, but hilarious.
"Thanks for inviting me, Kris," Noelle said while they ate. "This is… really special!"
"Don't tell anyone else," Susie said. "Can you imagine if the whole school knew about this? Can you imagine Berdly down here?" She frowned. "Actually, if Berdly was here, Lancer could thrash him. I changed my mind, you can tell Berdly."
"Don't worry, I'm not telling anyone," Noelle said. "It's just nice to be here."
"You can come back, if you want!" Ralsei said. "Any friend of Susie and Kris is welcome!"
"R–right!" Noelle squeaked. "I'm–I'm Susie's friend!"
"After that awesome gift?" Susie grinned. "You sure are! Wanna break into school over winter break with me?"
"Eh?! I mean–of course!"
Kris looked around at the people around them–Susie laughing at Noelle's flustered face, Rouxls putting a plate of vegetables in front of a complaining Lancer, Ralsei looking back at them and smiling under his hat–and wondered how they had gotten so lucky. They used to be just the weird kid at school–and then Ralsei had told them they were a hero of light.
Hero or not, Kris was just glad they had these friends.