And here we go.
Sans jolted awake, as he usually did after a terrible nightmare. He clutched at his chest tightly, forcing himself to remain still as he bit his tongue. He didn't need to go screaming again and alert his brother like the last time. Not that he remembered, but still. Sans squeezed his eye sockets shut, taking a few long, deep breaths through his nostril bone. He could still feel the wetness at the bottom of his shorts from kneeling in the snow, Papyrus's scarf clutched loosely in one hand. Still hear the wordless screaming as he reached out for someone that wasn't there anymore. He shuddered quietly, struggling to sit up and stare out the window at the gently falling snowflakes. Just take a few deep breaths to catch up, pretend that everything was fine. All he had to do was fall back into routine. Things were easier that way. Simpler. Sans could live with that.
Knock knock knock.
Same time, every time.
“Who's there?” Sans tried to ask in a jovial voice, but his heart just wasn't in it anymore. That didn't mean he couldn't keep up appearances though.
“Sans, it's time to get up, you lazybones!” Papyrus called through the door. “Are you trying to go back to sleep or something?”
“Yes,” Sans sat up with a grin as his brother poked his head in through the doorway. “I'm getting faster and faster at it, I think I need more practice napping.”
“Sans, the only thing you need more practice at is literally anything and everything except napping!”
“Like sleeping,” he shrugged. “Or snoozing, or relaxing, or chilling, or chillaxing-”
Papyrus threw up his hands with an irritated shriek, stomping away.
“Just get up already! I made breakfast spaghetti,” he could still hear his brother clearly even though he was already halfway down the stairs. Sans most certainly was not in the mood for breakfast spaghetti of any kind, and he closed his eye sockets for a few moments. Hadn't he just done all of this the other day? Or was it days ago? A week? Didn't really matter, he supposed. He dragged himself out of bed and tried to clear his mind of the images still burned into his eye sockets. Papyrus's scarf in the snow. Dust blowing freely through Waterfall. Splashes of red on golden checkered tiles.
He clenched and unclenched his hands slowly, digging out his old journal and scribbling down a few notes before dressing in his shorts and the first white turtleneck that he pulled out of his messy closet. He just had to stay calm. He knew what happened when he panicked, and even though every fiber of his being wanted to scream that absolutely none of this was normal, he had to keep going. He felt a little prickle on the back of his neck of being watched as he dressed, but he brushed it off. He had other things on his mind. He locked his door behind him as he snagged his jacket, pulling it on lazily as he watched Papyrus stretching in the living room.
“What'cha doin' that for, Paps?” Sans asked casually. The last time he had asked numbly about training with Undyne, and the time before that had been 'prepare harder for the zombie apocalypse, bro!' He had to change it up a little each time. If he didn't, he would have gone absolutely crazy by this point. If he wasn't already.
“Today is going to be the day,” Papyrus gave a firm fist pump.
“Which day?” Sans winked at him. “Wednesday?”
“No, Sans,” the lights in his eye sockets rolled. “The day I succeed at long last!”
“Because you didn't succeed in making in through yesterday?”
“Because today, brother, is going to be the day that I catch a human!”
“You're really excited about this, huh,” Sans tried to say with some cheer, but it was falling flat. He gave himself a little shake, forcing a slightly wider grin.
“This is the day, the day I catch a real, live human!” Papyrus was almost bouncing back and forth at this point, struggling to pull on his boots as he stood. “I can just feel it, Sans!”
“In your bones?”
“In m- Sans!”
“Only jokin', bro,” he shrugged, watching his brother struggle for a moment. “Come on, man. Maybe... maybe we don't have to catch a human today?” Sans asked somewhat hopefully. Papyrus only stared at him as if he had suddenly grown a second head.
“Oh,” Papyrus snapped his gloved fingers after a moment. “Joke. Right.”
“Yup,” Sans said humorlessly as he stared over at the couch, wishing that he could just flop onto it and sleep his problems away. “Just a joke. Ha ha.”
“Are-are you okay, Sans?” Papyrus tapped his fingers together worriedly.
“Yeah, of course!” he replied with a bit too much enthusiasm. “Let's get goin' already, eh?”
“That's the spirit!” Papyrus crowed, grabbing him by the shoulders excitedly. “I want to catch that human!”
“Hey, not possible outcomes, definite outcomes!” Sans grinned up at him, knowing exactly how to get him going.
“I'm going to catch a human!” he thrust a fist in the air, readjusting his scarf in preparation.
“Yeah, I'm feelin' it!” Sans grinned, unable to help growing a little thrilled himself at his brother's display. “Your puzzles are gonna stump some humans.”
“My puzzles are going to stump all the humans!” Papyrus said firmly, newfound determination in his eye sockets.
“Today is gonna be the day!”
“Today is going to be the day!”
“You are the Great fucking Papyrus!”
“I am the Great f- Sans!”
Sans only cackled as his brother goose stepped him out the door, grumbling loudly about the lack of use for their swear jar. Maybe this time things wouldn't be so bad. Maybe, just maybe, this time things would be different.
And they would be different, one way or another.
Even if he had to make them different.
The crunch of snow was all that Sans heard in the silent forest.
He stood just behind the treeline for a while, ensuring that there were no fresh footprints around aside from his own, and he slowly made his way to the large door emblazoned with the royal seal in the middle of the woods. The old door that lead to the ruins. It was strange that his friend chose that of all places to live when surely there were many more comfortable places to be. He had only been in the ruins a couple of times himself, and it just plain creeped him out seeing all of those empty buildings and worn out structures that had been abandoned or lost to time. Why anyone would willingly choose to stay in a place like that was beyond him, but at least his friend had some good knock knock jokes and a decent sense of humor. He was missing her already.
Maybe this time she would actually come around when he knocked.
Sans sighed as he watched an icicle fall from its loft perch above the door and shatter with a light tinkle to the ground. It was approximately seven fifty-eight in the morning, and he didn't even need a watch to know what time it was. Maybe he should get one. He shrugged the thought off. He had a specific line of dialogue set up for approaching humans, it helped him keep it together. He'd had enough practice, he thought grimly to himself. The delta rune covering the large door ever so slowly split as it opened just a crack, allowing a small child in a blue and violet striped jumper. He knew better by now than to let looks deceive him. He shifted from shadow to shadow as he stalked them, like a fox hunting a rabbit he stealthily slipped from tree to tree. He saw them carefully clamber over a large branch, and after a few steps they turned on the spot and held something behind their back, looking worriedly about. Sans waited for a few moments, trying to shrug off his weariness. Maybe he could do it again this time.
He fell forward into a shortcut, and stomped down hard on the branch with a resounding crack! that caused the human to jump and whirl around again, but he was already gone. Their face was so full of fright, of terror that he made a mental snapshot of it and tucked it away for later. It was a petty victory and he knew it, but he would collect what trophies that he could. Sans watched them approach the shoddily constructed 'gate' that Papyrus had made to prevent any humans from crossing (not that it had done much good before) and Sans fell into another shortcut, taking his time and letting his footsteps crunch through the snow as he stomped toward them to alert them of his presence. They didn't turn around though, holding something in front of them and shivering. Although whether it was from the biting cold or their apparent fear, Sans neither knew nor cared. He simply stood behind the little anomaly and stared down at the human, nearly a head shorter than him.
They turned and stuck out their hand, not meeting his gaze with their eyes hidden by locks of hair, and they stood expectantly like that for a moment.
“... What?” he shrugged after a few seconds. “Meet some new monster and the first thing you wanna do is shake hands? Weird.”
Their hand slowly dropped to their side and they looked away, tugging oddly at their sleeves as if they could pull them over their hands. His gaze lingered on their hands for a moment, noting that they were thankfully clear of dusty powder this time around. Their mouth opened and closed a couple of times, but they said nothing. Sans had spent years and years studying facial expressions, and with all of the resets that he had gone through he had plenty of time to perfect his hobby. This human, however, was difficult to get a proper read on. Their face drained of all emotion, and they stared up at him with a look that he could not for the life of him identify.
“So, my bro, Papyrus,” Sans continued casually. “Really great guy by the way; the thing is, see, he'd love ta see a human. So if you could, I dunno. Keep pretending to be one? That'd be swell.”
They flinched hard and rubbed their arms close to their body, shaking.
“Actually,” he carried on, trying not to delight too much in their distress. “That's him over there. Why don't you-”
Sans blinked, dropping his arm and sticking his hands into his pockets. It was the first time that he had heard them speak since the Judgment Hall, and their voice was soft, clipped, and so frail that he was surprised it didn't break on the wind. They were quieter than then, too. Or maybe that was just because it seemed louder because everyone else was gone. They shivered and shook and Sans saw that they were beginning to cry, clinging to themselves for warmth.
“I'm sorry,” they sobbed again, their little shoulders wavering with their voice. “I'm sorry. I'm s-so, so sorry.”
“Sans?” he glanced upward to see Papyrus marching toward them through the snow. He wanted to tell Papyrus to keep away, but this new turn of developments was proving interesting, even if it was all obviously just an act. “What's going on? This person seems to be... crying. Rather hard, actually.”
“Funny,” Sans said without a single trace of humor in his voice. “They must have had a bad time or somethin'.”
This only served to make them cry harder.
They dropped to their knees and almost sank into the snow, sobbing and hiccuping quietly with their face in their hands. Sans didn't need to see their tears streaming down their face to know how hard they were crying. The waterworks shtick could only go on for so long, and they would be stabbing him in the back before he knew it.
“I'm s-s-sorry,” they cried softly, as if afraid to raise their voice too much, pulling at their hair in distress. Papyrus knelt in the snow beside them and placed a large hand on their shoulder. “I'm s-so, so s-sorry, P-Papyrus, I'm sorry, I'm sorry-!”
“Shh. It's alright, little one,” Papyrus said gently, either oblivious to or ignoring the fact that they seemed to already know him by name. “It's okay. You don't have anything to be sorry for, little one. It's going to be okay.”
Sans groaned internally. Why did his brother have to be the type to play the hero? He wanted to tell him to just drop the filthy anomaly as he watched them get scooped up in Papyrus's arms. From the way that they were crying however, trying to curl into a ball and hide in on themselves when they were picked up, Sans almost, almost fell for their obvious trick for a moment. He just shrugged and followed his surprisingly silent brother back toward Snowdin.
Maybe this time, things really would be different.
Papyrus was not the type of person to leave someone, monster or not, crying out in the snow, and as a result wound up carrying them all the way back to Snowdin. They traversed through puzzle after puzzle, and though Papyrus was more than a little disappointed that they didn't get to try any of them, the human looked up at him as if he were the greatest hero they had ever seen the entire time.
That was... kind of a nice change of pace.
Teenage monsters playing with their friends watched them from a distance, but didn't interfere. Sans could live with that. It was quiet for the longest while, even after Papyrus had made them tea they still hardly spoke much at all.
“So your name is Frisk...” Papyrus swirled his tea around as he sat beside them on the couch. “That's a very nice name, little one.”
“And I'm Sans,” Sans introduced himself even though he knew that he didn't have to. Had to keep up appearances and all that. “Sans T. Skeleton. The 'T' stands for the,” he gave a small wink. “Evidently you already know my bro.”
“Well, are you really surprised?” Papyrus scoffed. “I mean, who hasn't heard of the Great Papyrus?”
“Heh. Got me there, bro.”
“I'm sorry,” Frisk replied for what must have been the hundredth time already, staring blankly ahead at the black television screen. “I'm so, so sorry-”
“You know, you keep apologizing,” Papyrus finished off his tea although neither of the other two had so much as sipped at theirs. “I'm still not entirely certain for what though.”
“Pa-Papyrus...?” Frisk began slowly, turning their teacup around a few times and staring down into the liquid. “Um. How... how much do you know about-about... resets?”
And here we go.
“Not a thing,” Papyrus responded instantly.
“It's-it's like... like, um, g-going back,” Frisk tried to explain without looking at him. “I mean, but not-not really. You're there, but-but you aren't, and I have to try again and again, and-and I-I-I...!”
“Shh, it's alright. You know, you look so thin, are humans supposed to be that scrawny? You look like you could use some nice breakfast spaghetti. Everybody likes my breakfast spaghetti, it's the best, except for when it comes to lunch spaghetti and dinner spaghetti and even sometimes late night snack spaghetti, but those are pretty few and far between. I learned to cook from a good friend, I think that you would like her very much,” Papyrus continued to ramble, and Sans recognized almost instantly that he was speaking in the same tone that he always did whenever Sans woke up from one of his more... devastating nightmares. Seeing it directed at the human instead of him made it feel tainted, somehow. He wasn't certain whether or not he was feeling a twinge of jealousy. But that was ridiculous. He had no reason to be jealous of the little freak.
“Papyrus,” Frisk said after a while, and the tall skeleton paused. “I'm so sorry. I... I hurt so many people. I-I h-hurt you, I-”
“Don't be silly,” he patted their head and caused them to flinch suddenly. “You haven't hurt me. I'm right here, aren't I? And besides, that would be very hard for you to do, I am a very tough skeleton. Nyeh heh heh.”
“You don't understand,” Frisk tried to say somewhat desperately, almost dropping their teacup. “I need t-to tell you-!”
“You don't have to tell me anything,” Papyrus said firmly, looking them in the eyes. “Like I said, you're practically skin and bones, you should get something to eat. Who knows, if you ditch the skin you could just be all bones, and then we'd practically be family! Wouldn't that be neat?”
“But-but-!” they sputtered, only for Papyrus to hold up a finger as he stood to silence them.
“No butts but yours, sitting right here while I go make you some breakfast spaghetti,” he insisted. He left them with that, and Sans was hardly an arm's reach away from the human. He didn't move, watching them out of the corner of his eye socket.
“... I don't understand,” Frisk murmured, and he almost didn't catch it. “I just... I don't understand.”
“Guess that makes two of us,” Sans shrugged. “So, uh. How long you playin' this game, kid?”
Frisk only looked at him with that hurt expression again.
“I-I don't...” they pulled at the tips of their hair, looking away and biting their lower lip. “Was... was it all a lie? Was it all just some big fat lie?”
Something was bothering him, tickling the back of his mind. Something wasn't adding up, and he didn't like it when all of the puzzle pieces didn't fit.
“You seem upset about somethin'...” he said calmly, finally taking a sip of the tea. It wasn't all that bad, actually.
“Why... why is he forgiving me?” Frisk's voice wavered, and he noticed that they seemingly had a hard time looking straight at him. “Just... why?”
“Paps sees a lot of good in people,” he shrugged. “Sometimes even when it's not there.”
Frisk cringed hard and hid their face in their hands, their shoulders shaking. They had already tried the crying bull once, he wasn't falling for it. He couldn't help but feel a light pang of guilt though. But if he gave into that, it would be exactly what they wanted, wouldn't it? He just had to stay stern and cold. Something familiar, at the very least. Negative reinforcements could work wonders sometimes, and if it helped to prevent them from pulling the same stunt as last time he could live with it.
“I... I unders-stand if-if you hate me,” Frisk whispered quietly, drawing their legs up and wrapping their arms around them, tea left forgotten on the couch beside them. “I... I hate me, too. I k-know that-that you probably w-wanna kill me. I... I understand. I deserve to be p-punished.”
Again, something wasn't quite adding up, and it was slowly driving him crazy. He didn't like when the equation came out wrong, there was something here that he wasn't seeing. He eventually rubbed the back of his head and sighed, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees as he stared at them. They technically hadn't seemed to have done anything wrong in this timeline. Yet.
“... Look,” he said after a few moments of silence. “Kid. Maybe... maybe we started off on the wrong foot and all. I just wanna know somethin' first.”
Frisk didn't speak, but they did finally meet his gaze and nod once.
“Why'd you come back?”
They flinched hard and looked away, ashamed. Sans again couldn't help but feel that annoying tingling of guilt pressing in his chest, but he pushed it down anyway.
“Somebody... somebody told me one time that-that they believed in me,” Frisk said softly, staring down at their hands. “That... that I could do a little better.”
“Okay. So... why'd you do it?”
“I... I thought I had to,” Frisk whispered breathily, hiding their eyes in their hands again. Sans was irritated, but he couldn't let it show. Again things weren't adding up properly. There were too many variables unaccounted for.
“Why would you think that?” Sans asked after a few seconds of silence.
“When... when I f-first, um... fell. A t-talking flower told me that-that this world was 'kill or be killed'.”
Sans sighed internally.
Of course the damned plant would be involved. When was it ever not?
More and more things were starting to click into place and he rubbed his face tiredly, bone scraping on bone as he sighed aloud.
“Kid,” Sans said as Frisk hid their face in their hands, rocking slowly back and forth. “I dunno much about the surface these days, but that is not how things work down here.”
They didn't respond, just continuing their rocking. Sans reached out against his better judgment and patted their back, causing them to yelp and flinch hard as if they had just been struck. Sans didn't draw away however, rubbing small circles on their back.
“I'm sorry,” they broke down completely as they blubbered miserably. “I'm sorry, I'm so sorry.”
“Tell... tell ya what,” Sans said after a moment. “You're sorry? You're really sorry?”
Frisk nodded furiously, wiping their eyes with their sleeves. He caught a glimpse of something on their arm, but couldn't quite determine what.
“You know what?” he gave a limp half shrug. “I guess I can forgive ya, too. On one condition.”
They stared at him worriedly, hand tracing circles at an odd spot on their thigh.
“No more resets,” he continued. “No more.”
“O-okay,” Frisk swallowed dryly. “I-I'll try-”
“Nope,” he drew his hand away promptly, folding them in his lap. “Not good enough. All or nothin'.”
“But-but...!” they looked at him in despair, pulling at their hair again. “I-I c-can't... I mean, if I, um... d-die. It just sort of... happens. I-I don't... I don't have a choice.”
That was an odd new bit of information. Maybe they didn't have quite the amount of control over time that he had initially assumed. He vaguely wondered just how many times they must have died in order to figure that out, and was hit with another unexpected wave of guilt that took far too much effort to bury.
“... Tell you what,” he said after a stretch of silence. “Nobody's perfect. How's about a proposition. You try real, real hard not to reset, and I'll try real hard to keep you from dyin'. That sound good to you?”
Frisk just swallowed again and nodded, looking away. There were so many things that he was still uncertain of, so many questions without answers. But maybe, just maybe, things would be different. They would be different.
Even if he had to make things different.