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Handplates is an ongoing web comic by zarla-s based on Undertale. Beginning from a short comic of Frisk wondering why Sans and Papyrus always cover up their right hands, it is an AU that provides a hypothetical scenario that Sans and Papyrus were experiments of Gaster's, and suffering ensues. The focus is usually on the brothers' perspective, wherein they try to survive and adapt to the things Gaster puts them through, with the story providing explanations for why they are the way they are in Undertale proper. However, just as much time is devoted to Dr. Gaster's perspective as well, where he forces himself to continue with his experiments despite the emotional and physical toll such cruelty is taking on him, convinced that it's necessary to win the monsters' freedom.

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While the story began with several out of order comics just focusing on the brothers' lives as Gaster's test subjects, as the AU progressed a clear chronological narrative began to emerge. The AU also goes beyond just backstory, carrying on to Sans and Papyrus's lives after Gaster inevitably falls into the Core and is erased from existence. An early Flash Forward comic of debatable canon to the comic also suggests that the story will eventually feature a failed No Mercy route like in the game. Zarla has also occasionally written mini-comics and done illustrations for alternative scenarios where Gaster backed out of his experiment and raised Sans and Papyrus as his sons (either from infancy or sometime before or after first drilling the titular hand-plates onto them, for varying levels of angst) and one scenario where the boys escaped to the ruins and were adopted by Toriel.

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The index for the series and the "non-canon" side comics is available here. Before reading, please note that this series is very dark and contains several mature themes. Also, due to this being based on Undertale, spoilers for both the game and the comic will ensue.


Handplates contains examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: While it's ambiguous whether Gaster qualifies as a father or a brother to Sans and Papyrus in this AU (Papyrus has referred to him as a brother in a state of delirium but the general feel of the connection is more paternal than fraternal at other points in the story), Gaster is incredibly abusive to the brothers. In addition to the obvious physical/medical abuse, he also routinely undermines their self-esteem and purposely traumatizes them. His feelings about his actions are generally mixed: he doesn't like doing it and takes no pleasure in it, but feels that it's for the greater good and chooses to do so despite the damage it causes himself and others.
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  • Afraid of Doctors: A given for Sans and Papyrus, since the story revolves around medical torture.
  • Art Evolution: As the comic went on, Zarla's style for Gaster and the brothers got less blockier, and Gaster in particular became more slender and less square-shouldered. Zarla's take on his Lost Soul head also gradually became more shaped like a candle flame. Even when the comics are put in chronological order, it's easy to tell which comics were released earlier because of this.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Gaster is sociable towards most of the monsters, and is in fact good friends with Asgore and Alphys, but is exceedingly cruel to Sans and Papyrus. The dissonance between how he acts towards his friends and how he acts towards the boys starts wearing him down later in the comic.
  • Body Motifs:
    • Hands. Sans and Papyrus' hand-plates are a permanent reminder of their pasts even when they've forgotten it, and Gaster drilling the plates onto their hands signifies his true descent into darkness. Before then, Gaster mutilated himself by punching holes in his hands so that he could clone the boys in the first place.
    • Eyes, especially expressiveness in eyes and being able to "see." In Zarla's fic, skeletons' eyes glow different colors as a form of expression and not glowing can cause emotional problems in skeletons. Gaster is blind in one eye (much like how he's only able to see one solution to his problems) but can still glow in both, yet often chooses not to. One of Sans' eyes is broken as a result of an early experiment and he can neither see nor glow from that eye, much like how he comes to adopt Gaster's no-mercy mentality towards those that hurt his brother. Papyrus, who always insists on Take a Third Option when put against a "kill or be killed" situation, can glow and see from both eyes.
  • Call-Back: In an earlier comic, Sans makes a run for it and tries to turn off the beams to Papyrus' cell by putting his hand on the magic signature reader; because he's a part of Gaster, but a smaller part, he can only make one light on it go on. Much later, after Gaster is erased and he and Papyrus are exploring True Lab to figure out more of their past, Sans and Papyrus finally make all three lights go on by pressing their hands on the reader together.
  • Child Hater: A downplayed example as while Gaster doesn't actively hate all children, he demonstrates in the comic and in non-canon side comics that he's just bad with kids—and this on top of him torturing kids who can't be mentally over 13, although he insists he doesn't hate them. He does seem to hate the fallen child, as well, since they're a human.
  • Conditioned to Accept Horror: Sans and Papyrus have spent most of their childhoods being tortured, and therefore don't really expect anything to change.
  • Cosmic Retcon: Gaster falling into the Core erases him and everyone's memories of him from existence. Comics from after the fall that show True Lab show that even his equipment is gone.
  • Despair Event Horizon:
    • Sans crosses it in the arc where he almost kills Gaster to escape and Papyrus heals him, spoiling the escape attempt. After he makes up with Papyrus, he resigns himself to the idea that they will never get out and he takes on the listless, defeatist attitude he's most known for in-game.
    • Funnily enough, Gaster treating the boys better is the result of him passing this. An experiment gone wrong leads him to learning that he may not even exist in the future; this, combined with Papyrus' continuing kindness and insistence that he can change, leads him to just drop the experiments and brood over the possibility of his approaching nonexistence.
  • Desperately Craves Affection: Papyrus only has his brother, but is desperate for Gaster to treat him kindly. During the arc where he and Sans were fighting, he becomes especially clingy towards Gaster, to the latter's disapproval.
  • Does Not Know How to Say "Thanks": Gaster is completely unsure how to react when Papyrus thanks him for the simplest kindnesses.
  • Dramatic Irony:
    • Going by release order, in the comics that take place before the hand-plates are drilled on the audience has seen plenty of comics that showcase how horrible Gaster is to Sans and Papyrus. But before the hand-plates are drilled on, Sans and Papyrus see Gaster as a caring, if weird, caretaker, even if Sans is a little suspicious.
    • The scene where Sans and Papyrus see visions of their future and take it to mean that they'll escape the lab one day, though they can't see enough to understand what exactly is going on in them. One vision is a foreboding one of Papyrus meeting Frisk in Snowdin. The other is Sans coughing up blood in the final corridor.
    • Close to the point where Gaster ends up falling in the Core, he gives up forcing himself to carry out experiments on the boys. Alphys, who is worried about him, ends up finding his lab and finds the cell the boys are being kept in—which now, unlike any other time prior, has food, a few toys, and some blankets in it, as well as pictures Papyrus has drawn about how he HOPES Gaster will treat them from now on. Alphys sees this and interprets it to mean that Gaster IS treating the boys well.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Gaster's opinion of Papyrus is a variation wherein he can't comprehend how someone who was made from himself could be capable of such unwavering compassion and mercy, since he doesn't see himself as capable of it. He understands Sans' resentment and aggression towards him much more easily.
  • Fix Fic: Many a fan of the comic has written one to try and give Sans and Papyrus happier lives; subverted by Zarla's alternative scenarios that show Sans and Papyrus either being raised as Gaster's sons or show the boys escaping to the Ruins, which end up being depressing for their own reasons.
  • Forced to Watch: As Sans has an HP of one, Papyrus undergoes the brunt of the physical abuse, much to Sans’s dismay. Gaster is implied (and in one instance, outright shown) to use this as a punishment when Sans acts out of line since he's too fragile to punish directly.
  • Foregone Conclusion: To the first arc, thanks to game canon and Sans and Papyrus' future vision; Gaster gets thrown into the Core and erased from existence, and Sans and Papyrus escape the lab to live in Snowdin. Although this development did surprise some fans since not all of them knew how much of the game's timeline the fic was going to cover.
  • Freudian Excuse: Gaster grew up before and during the war between monsters and humans, and not only was raised by emotionally distant parents, but his attempt to be a pacifist and not hurt any humans led to him watching as all of his friends and family died in the war. Many of his opinions on mercy and kindness are clearly formed from survivor's guilt.
  • Freudian Excuse Is No Excuse: Even if his entire race has been wiped out, that doesn't give Gaster the right to do half the things he's done to Sans and Papyrus; this is stated not only by the author herself, but is an opinion clearly shared by Sans.
  • Hates Being Touched: Gaster refuses to let himself be touched by Sans and Papyrus, deciding that it would pose too much of a risk of him getting attached. This behavior carries over a little bit into his interactions with other monsters as well, as he's not generally affectionate.
  • Heel–Face Turn:
    • It takes a very, very long time, but Papyrus eventually wears Gaster down enough that he can no longer continue to hurt the boys. The lead up to his being thrown in the Core shows several days going by without any experiments.
    • A Flash Forward comic that is potentially Handplates related shows Papyrus doing the same thing to Frisk, who evidently was doing a No Mercy route and is shown hugging him with their knife discarded.
  • Hoist by Their Own Petard: Afraid that Sans and Papyrus might use blue magic against him, Gaster traumatizes them to the point where they're both incapable of using itnote . This comes back to bite him when, after he's pushed into the CORE by Sans, Papyrus tries to catch him with blue magic, the Trauma Button activates, and Papyrus loses his grip.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: Gaster frequently justifies his actions by saying other people "need" him to do the experiments and it's what he has to do, since his hope is to break the barrier without Asgore having to kill any more children to do it. In a comic after Gaster is erased Asgore (referring to the human children he's killed) also says it was what he "had to do", and Sans remarks that he has deja vu again.
  • "It" Is Dehumanizing: Gaster intentionally refers to the boys as "it" at first, and for a long time after also refers to them as "things". This is purely to keep himself from becoming attached to them.
  • Last-Second Word Swap: Gaster frequently stops himself from saying words or phrases that imply the boys are children, or that they have any familial relation to him, usually to replace them with colder sounding phrases.
    Gaster (offering his sleeve): Here. Hold on to m—this.
  • Moral Event Horizon: In-Universe, Gaster believes he crossed it when he drilled the titular hand-plates onto Sans and Papyrus' hands, intentionally doing it without anesthesia and without any explanation to the boys both so they'd stop viewing him as a parental figure and so he himself wouldn't hesitate to do any of the other painful experiments to them from then on out. This idea is defied by Papyrus, however, who continually insists (like in the main game) that you can always stop making bad choices.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: The first time Gaster ever killed someone, which was to stab a human in self-defense during the war, he was near catatonic for a long time afterwards and couldn't stop shaking. To a much lesser extent, he'll occasionally feel this way towards what he does to the boys—not that this is enough to make him stop.
  • Not So Stoic:
  • Poor Communication Kills: On their first meeting, Alphys is unable to speak with the boys since they don't know English, only Wing Dings. She doesn't know how horribly Gaster has treated them and therefore isn't careful when telling them where he currently is in the Core. Sans, as well, knows Gaster can track them down even if they escape and still believes that he will continue torturing them, because Gaster hasn't even made it clear to them that he no longer has the will to carry out his experiments. This all culminates in Sans pushing Gaster into the Core and erasing him from existence.
  • "Reason You Suck" Speech: Sans delivers one later on when Gaster is delivering food to them, pointing out how for all his talk of "people need me to do this" in regards to the experiments, as if he doesn't have a choice in what he does, he has a lot more freedom than Sans and Papyrus will ever have and even Papyrus is still able to choose to be kind and Sans himself is able to choose to keep going. Gaster doesn't respond to it.
    Sans: you got choices. you're just not strong enough to make them.
  • Recursive Fanfiction: More than a few fanfic and webcomic authors have done their own takes on Handplates, either doing AUs where the boys escape or continuations of the story past the point the webcomic was at when they started. Others have written fanfictions where Gaster gets an assistant character to help with his experiments, usually either Alphys or an OC of the writer's.
  • Replacement Goldfish: After the arc where Gaster's erased and the boys have escaped, Sans starts to suspect that Asgore is using him and Papyrus to replace the children he lost, and this is one of the reasons they move to Snowdin.
  • Ret Gone: Gaster gets wiped from existence after Sans pushes him into the CORE. Nobody remembers he existed, all written mentions of his name are blanked out, and Sans and Papyrus lose almost all memory of their childhood.
  • Sadist: Gaster insists that he does what he has to when it comes to hurting the boys, and for the most part it's clear that the guilt is having a physical toll on him if nothing else, but in a conversation with Sans he can neither confirm nor deny that he has enjoyed doing it. Zarla also made a (joking) comment in the past that if he had a tail, it would probably be wagging while he was performing his experiments.
  • Shout-Out:
    • In the comic "Whoops!", Gaster's coffee mug has NIMH written on the front.
    • One flashback comic to before Gaster made the boys has him wearing a shirt for Star Control II
    • One of Gaster's hoodies (which Sans also occasionally wears after he's erased) has Black Mesa on it.
  • Stepford Smiler: Papyrus; he constantly tries to stay cheery for Sans' sake, especially after Sans really falls into depression, but it's obvious he's suffering too. This carries on even after Gaster is gone, as he tries to pretend he's awesome and cool and without any emotional baggage even when he's obviously traumatized by things he can't remember and barely anyone pays attention to him.
  • Trauma Button: To avoid the boys using blue magic on himself, Gaster intentionally traumatizes them out of using it at all, even making sure to test afterwards that they can't use it even if their lives might depend on it. Sans is evidently able to get over his fear, but this incident is used to explain why Papyrus never throws you around with it in the main game.
  • "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Papyrus is DESPERATE for Gaster's affection, even when Sans (correctly) points out that he'll probably never get it. Alternate scenarios of the fic show this as being true even if Gaster had lost his nerve and raised them as his sons from infancy. Gaster dotes on Sans because of his intelligence and Papyrus becomes neglected as a result.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Gaster creates the boys as part of a series of experiments to find alternative ways to break the barrier (among other things.) He believes that his experiments are worth it as long as Asgore doesn't have to kill anyone and change himself to break the barrier. He also believes that his cruel behavior while doing them is necessary so that he doesn't start getting attached to the boys.
  • What You Are in the Dark: Gaster has a very low opinion of who he is when no one is watching. His treatment of Sans and Papyrus is evidence of how far he's willing to go as long as none of his friends are there to be horrified by it.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Gaster, although not at first—he initially tries to make the boys seem as unchildlike as possible before he gets to the meat of the experiments by speeding their growth and trying to speed their mental capacity along as well. When he realizes that he's getting attached, however, he decides to go forward anyway despite the boys' immaturity.
  • You Are Number 6: Gaster refuses to refer to Sans or Papyrus by anything other than 1-S and 2-P for the purposes of establishing a baseline of psychological distance from them; they only get their names after he's thrown in the core and they're taken in by Asgore.
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