The door was open.
Sans hadn’t approached yet. The wrongness of it stopped him in his tracks, preventing him from coming closer. The door to the ruins had never been opened before, and the silence behind the open doorway felt foreboding. Behind the open door, swung outwards and obscuring the camera that he knew to be hidden next to it in the bushes, he could see nothing but darkness.
He wasn’t sure if that was what it usually looked like in there, but -
Stopped thinking, paused his every movement, and listened.
There was a tiny noise, barely audible. Something soft, a wail that didn’t quite make it there.
Sans approached the door carefully, slowly, magic at the ready. A single flick of his fingers would send rows and rows of bones forwards, crashing into any potential attacker that might come out of the ruins. He wasn’t normally the type for instant attacks, but… humans came from the ruins. Always from the ruins, that’s why there were so many sentry stations here, so he felt the caution was warranted. You never knew, with humans. The noise repeated, but there still wasn’t any movement in what he could see of the room behind the open door, so he continued his approach until he stood in the doorway. It was dark in here, only a single patch of earth in the middle of the room illuminated by faint sunlight filtering through a far away crack in the mountain ceiling above him -
He heard the noise again.
Jumped back, swept his eyes over the floor of the room, and finally saw.
Saw the corpse.
It was in a pretty bad shape, looked burned. Smelled burned. Ew. Humans were so disgusting, leaving so much behind instead of a clean heap of dust.
It wasn’t that he wanted to, but corpses didn’t wail, so he crouched down to get a better look. Checked for a soul.
There wasn’t one left in the corpse, dammit, it would have been the last -
Behind the corpse was a bright red soul of determination.
Sans shifted, leaned forwards to see, and saw the other human.
It was more of a lump, really.
A small, fleshy thing, rounded cheeks and a rounded body with stubby limbs and a small patch of hair on its head, clad in a blue and purple striped onesie. Its eyes were scrunched up close and its mouth open, heaving quietly for air, the belly rapidly expanding and contracting. Huff, huff, huff, wail. It was still not quite a wail though. More of a whimper.
“welp,” he said.
The baby whimpered again.
Sans rose slowly from his crouched position, looking around once more. There wasn’t anything else in here but the corpse and the baby.
“welp,” he said again, just for good measure. Allowed the magic he gathered to form into a single sharp bone.
The last human soul, finally. He’d better be quick about it, not that a few more moments mattered much in the grand scheme of things, after one thousand years of banishment under a mountain, moments were practically nothing, but still. Why wait? The soul they needed was right there, and dragging the collecting out felt cruel. He wasn’t cruel. He was a sentry, so he was going to do his job, quick and easy. Then Paps wouldn’t have to see this mess - wouldn’t have to be the one to do it, would never have to be the one to do it, they would be out and collecting human souls would no longer be a thing, and his brother’s innocence would be safe - and they were all going to get out.
He stepped around the corpse, stepped closer to the baby, and raised his bone.
He thought of his promise.
Did it count though? The human hadn’t come out of the door, had it? It was still in here. And they’d be free, all of them, out of the mountain -
But he still had that voice ringing through his head, the sincerity and integrity in it, the desperation. A voice he hadn't been able to deny.
He really hated making promises.
With a deep sigh, Sans dispelled the bone in his hand and crouched down again, this time right next to the baby.
“you’re lucky the woman who lives here is such a nice lady,” he told the baby, watching it squirm on the floor.
The baby whimpered again.
“where’s the lady anyway?”
More wailing noises. He ignored them and stood up, looking around again. There was a second door right across the first one, leading deeper into the ruins. He was about to walk up to it when he remembered that he had a promise to keep, and he looked back down to the baby.
He had to protect it.
His grin became a bit less relaxed and friendly.
A look back to the first door helped him with his decision. He walked back to it, took a closer look at the hinges and the lock of the door. It only opened into one direction, outwards from where he stood. There were no handles, but a small hole on the inside of the door that he could put three phalanges into. He could feel a latch there that he could push and pull from side to side. So the door really could only be opened from the inside.
With a final look outside to the path leading back to his station, he pulled the door close and slid the latch into place.
The door was closed and the only remaining entrance to this room was the one he was going to go through. Good enough for now.
“stay here,” he told the baby.
It made an unhappy gurgling noise that he chose to interpret as agreement.
Leaving the room, he found himself in a long, straight corridor, purple stone walls and a stone floor in a gradient from light to dark purple leading down to yet another door. He approached cautiously, found it slightly ajar, and peeked through the gap.
Behind the door he saw dust on the floor.
There were scorch marks surrounding the dust and he could see some on the wall, too - it wasn’t hard to imagine out what must have happened here. A human decided to fight, possibly scared and wanting to protect its baby, won but got severely burned in the process, made it through the corridor and to the final door before it collapsed.
Sans opened the door carefully, confirming that there was nobody else around, before he stared down at the small pile of dust sadly.
There was no strong evidence that this was the lady, but there had never been anyone else at the door. He couldn’t imagine it being anyone else.
“ ‘m sorry,” he mumbled. He felt oddly lightheaded.
The dust didn’t reply, not that he expected it to.
But he already missed that warm, friendly voice that had loved his jokes as much as he himself did, missed his best audience, missed hearing her tell jokes back.
He allowed himself to take a moment, just to collect himself, before he pushed forwards.
The room he was in now was small, and had another open corridor leading around a corner a short distance away. He walked up to it and peered around the corner, finding another long corridor with a set of stairs at the end. Should he?
He thought of the baby back at the door.
Decided a few more moments wouldn’t hurt.
He approached the staircase and slowly made his way up until he found himself at the top in an open, cozy foyer. It appeared to belong to a house; there was an entrance door between two windows opposite the staircase, and to the left and right open doorways lead to what looked like a hallway and a living room.
There was only silence.
Had this been her house?
Sans took a quick, superficial look at the rooms - the living room and the connected kitchen with a fresh pie still sitting on the counter, tasting like cinnamon and butterscotch; the hallway and the three rooms it lead to; a bedroom, a kid’s room, and a bathroom that was halfway through renovations - before he made his way back down into the cellar through the long corridors leading to the door to the rest of the Underground.
The baby was where he left it, right next to the burnt corpse of what he assumed to be its parent. It wasn’t whining much anymore.
It was hard to tell, with the way the baby’s eyes were scrunched up. He leaned down and picked the baby up, awkwardly trying to support its neck. He felt he had heard that was a thing you were supposed to do somewhere. Probably. It didn't look like it could support its neck by itself, in any case. The baby huffed and squirmed in his arms, apparently not asleep after all. He decided to put the baby in the crook of his right arm, to leave the left one free for operating doors and magic, should he need it. It hung there like the useless lump of meat it was.
“you’re kinda flabby,” he told it.
It occurred to him that the baby might have gotten hurt, either in the fight its parent had or when the adult broke down and died. Probably should have checked that first. He looked the baby over, but couldn’t see any burns, scrapes or bruises on it. Systematically working his way through all the moveable parts, he gently pushed the limbs this way and that, looking for signs of pain. There were none. The baby just kept huffing silently in his arms.
“i’d say you’re good to go,” he declared.
The way back to the house was quicker this time around. It was only when he stood in the foyer again that he noticed that he was at a loss as to what he was supposed to do next.
The baby squirmed, its face scrunching up. It was quietly starting to wail again.
Sans stared at it, scrambling for a course of action. He had promised the lady to protect humans from the ruins, and he was sure that even though the baby hadn’t come out of the ruins, this still counted. She would be horrified if he left the baby. Would have been horrified. But what in the Underground was he supposed to do with it now? He couldn’t stay and take care of it, but leaving it here all by itself was no option either. Maybe he could drop it off somewhere? He couldn’t think of anyone who would be willing to shelter and raise a human baby. The only monster he could imagine doing something like that was the old lady, and all evidence pointed to her being dead.
“what am i gonna do with you now?”
The baby started crying.
He rocked it a bit, not knowing how exactly to go about it. What if he jostled it too hard and hurt it? How fragile were these things anyway? The baby kept wailing and he rocked a bit harder.
“uh. it’s okay?” He tried. “shush?”
The baby’s wail became louder.
“ya… ya hungry? ‘s that it? right, food. c’mon, no need to cry, imma make ya… somethin’.”
He had no idea what he even could make. Slowly, he made his way into the kitchen behind the living room. Keeping the baby in the crook of his arm, he took a look inside the fridge and some of the cabinets, ignoring the pie for now. He was reasonably sure that cinnamon-butterscotch pie wasn’t adequate food for babies.
The fridge was well-stocked with fresh produce and containers of pre-cut vegetables. And snails, for some reason. There were potatoes in one of the cabinets under the worktop and some dried plants he couldn’t identify. He decided to go with the potatoes. Potatoes were always a safe choice, and easy to mash.
“hang in there, buddy. i got this.”
The baby didn’t seem reassured by his words, and kept crying. It was beginning to grate him, if he was being honest. He found himself at a loss when he took the knives out and then didn’t have another hand free to actually use them and peel the potatoes. What now? He couldn’t just put the thing on the floor. Even though he had initially left it lying on the floor. It seemed as if that was a little bit not okay though, in retrospect.
He gently extended his magic towards the baby's soul. Should he?
It was probably fine. There was no reason to assume this would hurt the baby.
“don’t freak out, ‘kay? i gotcha.”
With a stronger push of his magic, the soul of the baby turned blue with a high ringing sound, and it took only a quick flick of his fingers to remove the gravitational pull on it entirely. He let go of the baby at about the height of his head and it floated there, unsupported in the air.
It blinked at him with an almost comically surprised expression on its round, soft face, so much that he had to laugh before he turned to peel the potatoes.
Then the baby really started to scream.
“shit,” he said, turning back to it again, to see if something was wrong, but the baby just hung there in the air. Nothing had changed, it just suddenly started to wail loudly.
“hey, it’s fine, i won’t take long, okay? calm down.”
The baby did not calm down.
Sans didn’t know what to do with the baby, it was crying before and it was crying now and the only ideas he had to calm it was shushing it or rocking it or feeding it. The first two hadn’t worked and he was now attempting the last one, but for that he needed the baby out of the way so he could peel the potatoes. He was beginning to feel a headache pressing against his skull at the constant loud noise and it aggravated him.
“shut up, for heaven’s sake!”
The baby only continued to scream. He peeled the potatoes a little bit faster, a little bit sloppier, and set up a pot of water to boil. As soon as the water was hot enough, he added the potatoes. He hesitated over the salt. Mashed potatoes with no spices was bland beyond belief, but was salt healthy for babies? His brother kept nagging him about his own sodium intake and he was a grown skeleton, so he wasn’t sure if babies were supposed to eat spices before a certain age. Fussy little shits. He decided to leave them for now, if the baby didn’t like the bland mashed potatoes he could still salt them.
That sorted, he finally pulled the baby down from the air, let go of its soul, and cradled it in his arms again, rocking back and forth.
“shh, it’s fine, see? food’s cooking and you’re not floating anymore.”
The baby didn’t seem impressed by the positive development of events. It kept screaming at full volume.
“what do you want from me,” he asked the baby, despite knowing that he wasn’t going to get an answer. “i’m doin’ what i can.”
The baby kept screaming the entire time until the potatoes were done. He felt sorely tempted to just call it a day as soon as the potatoes started to soften even slightly, but then even he didn’t like to eat half-raw potatoes, so he didn’t. The baby went up for another brief stint in the air while he drained the water from the pot and mashed the potatoes. Armed with a teaspoon, he attempted to feed the infernally loud creature in his arms.
“here you little devil. feeding time.”
The baby screamed more.
He blew some air on the spoonful of mashed potato in his hand, tested the temperature, and held the spoon against the mouth of the baby. A few hiccuping sobs, and then the screaming subsided.
The baby closed its toothless mouth (so weird) around the spoon.
“Mmmmmh,” made the baby.
“finally,” Sans grumbled. His ear canals felt like they were ringing from the earlier assault on them.
“Ah,” made the baby, opening its mouth again now that it had swallowed the first spoonful of mashed potato. Sans gave it another one, and then another one, until he had slowly shovelled a decent portion of mashed potato from the pot into the baby’s mouth. When the baby didn’t open its mouth for him anymore, he put the spoon into the pot and just left the entire thing on the stove. He didn’t feel like taking care of that right now.
The baby was back to emitting small huffing sounds.
“think i can leave ya alone for a bit?” He asked the floppy little creature in his arms.
The baby yawned.
“yeah, sounds good.”
Sans made his way back through the living room and the hallway, and from there to the bedroom with the large, queen-sized bed. He was about to just plop the baby on the bed and be done with it, but then he eyed the edge and wondered it the baby wouldn’t fall if he did that. Why did everything have to be so complicated? He tugged the cover down from the bed and spread it on the floor, surrounded the centre of it with several pillows, and then placed the baby in the middle of that little nest. That looked good. Comfy and not dangerous, so it was good enough for a baby, right?
The baby seemed to agree, yawning again.
Sans took the opportunity and took a closer look at the bedroom. The queen sized bed, a desk with a chair, a book shelf, an armoire, some plants, the furniture in soft shades of pale blue. He carefully approached the desk, eyeing the open book lying on its surface. It looked like a diary which made him hesitate, but the format on the penultimate page looked familiar from his own joke book, so he ended up reading that bit anyway.
“why did the skeleton want a friend? because he was bonely.”
The silence in the room, only interrupted by the faint breathing of the baby, suddenly felt oppressive.
“heh. good one.”
Sans felt oddly heavy and light headed at the same time.
It was a good joke. Right up his alley.
She was dead.
His eye lights sputtered out, leaving his vision dark and fuzzy.
A pile of dust. She would never make jokes again.
Sans took a deep breath and despite his initial reservations looked at earlier pages, skimming the rest of the diary. Most were covered in descriptions of everyday life. Errants, conversations with monsters, little observations about the ruins. The diary dated back a year or so and he found the entry the lady must have made after meeting him.
‘There is a voice on the other side on the door. They tell knock knock jokes. I could not help myself and laughed. This voice… for some reason, I felt drawn to it. I must be getting lonely. I have told them a joke too. Tomorrow I will return.’
He flipped the pages. Descriptions of meetings and conversations and jokes. A new joke every day.
‘My friend at the door is very good. He has a show at a hotel I have never heard of. I missed so much since I left New Home… speaking to my friend, I am learning much of what I missed, even though this is not the reason for our conversations.’
More pages. More jokes, more conversations, deepening in seriousness and honesty. The development of their friendship.
‘I have asked him. I was not sure if I could, but this person has a humour and patience that is impossible to distrust. He made the promise to protect any humans that may come from the ruins. Even though there is no human here at the moment and I do not intend to let them leave if another one should fall, with this promise I can rest a little easier.’
Sans sighed. He still wasn't sure if making that promise wouldn't bite him in the tailbone somewhere down the timeline, but reading this he couldn't blame himself for making it anymore.
He skipped another couple of pages, skimming descriptions of his friendship with the lady behind the door, wistful with the knowledge that she was gone and this was all he had left of her now.
The last pages after finally contained the entries about the human and the baby.
‘A human has fallen and with them, a very young child. Only a baby. I met them fighting that miserable creature, who was trying to hurt them. Despite my attempts to help, they defeated the evil creature. The human would not trust me afterwards, and attacked me. I returned home to recuperate, but I shall try to strike out to the ruins once more to speak with them.’
‘My efforts were futile. The human was still in the cave where I left them, but upon seeing me they began screaming and initiated another fight. They do not seem to feel safe in my presence at all. I have returned home to make a pie as a peace offering. Surely if I try hard enough, I can prove my good intentions and show the human that there is nothing to fear, and that staying with me would be in their best interest, for the baby as well.’
‘I noticed I was out of cinnamon, and left to obtain more. On my trip through the ruins, I encountered piles of dust… it appears the human has not been peaceful after all. Was it my fault for not having tried harder to convince them of the goodness of monsters? I mourn for my friends. I have returned home and intend to stop them, before they pass through the door to the rest of the Underground. They cannot be allowed to hurt any other monsters.”
That was the final entry.
Just as he thought then. He turned around to watch the baby on its blanket on the floor and finds it fast asleep. So much trouble. So many monsters had already died in the name if this tiny little thing.
And now he had to prevent it from dying in turn.
What a joke.
Sans couldn't find the humour in the situation no matter how hard he tried, but he knew that he would try to keep his promise no matter what. He couldn't stop honouring it when his friend had ultimately died trying to protect him and the rest of the Underground.
With the baby now asleep though, he felt that it was safe for him to continue his investigations. He checked that the small creature was indeed not awake and that the pillows surrounding it would make sure that it wouldn't roll off in its sleep. He had no idea if that was a thing that could happen, so he felt it was better to be safe than sorry.
After that, he left the small house through the front door and began his exploration of the ruins. Past the tree in the courtyard in front of the house, a path leading to a viewing platform allowed him to look over the ruins and try to see some of what awaited him. After taking a good long look, he went down the other path and made his way into the ruins. On foot, without any shortcuts. He carefully inspected each room and corridor he found himself in and just like the lady had written, there were piles of dust everywhere, in the corners and on the path and mixed with the orange leaves and in side rooms and cellars.
His hopes of finding survivors against all odds (his hopes that she had survived despite all the evidence against it) diminished with each new pile he discovered. It was a massacre that left him feeling sick and disturbed. At one point, he found himself in a darkened room similar to the one directly behind the entrance to the ruins, where he found the baby. In the centre of the room, illuminated by a very faint shaft of what he assumed to be sunlight, there was a single golden flower. Its petals were slashed and torn, its stem bent and sap had seeped from the many gashes in it and bled into the ground.
Sans didn’t know why, but the sight was somehow worse than the piles of dust he found on the way here. The flower unsettled him and he hesitated in his approach, only daring to step closer when he had a blaster ready to fire next to him and a bone ready to wield in his hand.
His caution turned out to be unnecessary.
The flower did not stir as he approached and even when he dared to prod it with his bone, it just slumped over further, the broken stem no longer able to support its weight.
He crouched down next to it to take a closer look, wondering why this small plant had such an emotional effect on him. It wasn't anything special. Just a golden flower, similar to the ones growing in some places at the dump or in the throne room. A round centre with six evenly spaced petals surrounding it, the petals slightly darker in colour than the centre. A green stem without leaves.
Why would someone even feel the need to slash a flower? Trampling it would be the most logical action if one didn't like flowers - unless there was a reason to take more drastic measures. Considering what the lady wrote in her diary, he suspected that this was the ‘miserable creature’ the human had been fighting before the lady tried to intervene, even though he had never heard of a monster looking like a golden flower before. No, it couldn't be a monster, actually. Or else it would have turned to dust. What was it? Prodding it some more did not yield any answers.
Sans rose from his crouch and left the strange flower behind, turning to explore the rest of the ruins. He didn't find much more, a single corridor ending in a room with a rectangular patch of more golden flowers in the middle, the room illuminated by light streaming down from above, slightly less faint that what he had seen so far. This must be where the humans had fallen. He allowed himself a moment to crane his neck back and squint up at the light, and the hole it fell through. The light appeared faintly distorted - he was fairly sure he saw a flicker that must be the barrier - but it was still somehow warmer and more pleasant than the magical light illuminating the Underground. This room was more peaceful for it, despite the human murderer who had landed here.
The human murderer who still lay all burned behind the door of the ruins.
It galled him, but the idea of leaving that corpse lying around somewhere felt wrong to him.
He could no longer stall.
If he wanted to keep his promise to the lady, that meant that he couldn't let anyone else into the ruins. He would have to be the one taking care of the place for now.
Sans would have to bury the human, and then think about what to do with the dust of all the monsters that had died here. And the flower. Despite the thing giving him the creeps, he didn't want to leave the flower out in the open with its gashes and broken stem. That felt wrong, too.
With a sigh, he pushed himself through a shortcut, back to the body of the human murderer. It smelled awful by now. He didn't really need to touch it to take it with him through a shortcut, which was a relief because standing in the vicinity of the corpse was enough to make his bones rattle. He brought the corpse back to the flower patch with another shortcut, and then went back to the house to look for a spade.
He began digging next to the flowers and angled his descend sideways so the human would rest underneath the flowers. Humans didn't turn to dust, instead leaving behind all of this gross biological stuff, so they couldn't really join their last remains with a meaningful object like monsters. But if he buried the body under the flowers, it would decompose and the flowers would gain nutrients from it, and that was at least coming close. It was also less wasteful than just rotting in the earth without purpose.
Digging a hole big enough for an adult human body turned out to be more work than Sans expected. He wanted to take breaks, or at least switch to taking care of the dust, but he had a feeling that if he stopped, he wouldn't be able to start up again, so he kept at it in spite of himself.
When the hole was finally long and wide and deep enough, sweat had collected on his brow bone and his phalanges, metacarpals and carpals hurt from the exertion. For a second he hesitated, not wanting to touch the corpse, but then he pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and began to push. He'd just… bury the handkerchief with the human or something. He wouldn't want to use it anymore. The corpse did not slide into the ground easily or quickly. And after that he was still not finished, having to shovel the mounds of earth back into the hole to cover it. When it was finally over, he felt even more frustrated with how cumbersome humans were when they died.
He didn't like them.
At least this one was buried now, gone and no longer his problem. No longer his responsibility. He hated that it had been his responsibility in the first place. And that there was more waiting.
Sans turned his back to the flower patch and started to walk back to the ruins. He stopped in the room with the single broken flower. It still gave him a bad feeling, he wasn't sure about leaving it here. He picked it up, a few shrivelled roots leaving the earth easily, and returned to the flower patch, joining the destroyed flower to all the healthy ones. A double grave for a human and a miserable creature. Murderer and murderer? Who knew. Sans didn't, but it felt right.
Now, the dust. He didn't know who all the monsters had been who had died here, and he didn't know what their most favoured possessions and locations had been. But he couldn't in good conscience leave their dust to sink into the ground like that, to be bound to the place where they had been murdered. The flower patch was out too, burying them together with their killer would have been a perverted action.
In the end, he spread their dust on the roots of the tree in front of the lady’s house. It was a peaceful and pretty place, good for the final rest of those who had been brutally torn from life. He needed a dustpan and many, many trips before he was sure he had found every little heap of dust there was, since there were so many, and some were hidden from sight by alcoves or leaves or the dust was in holes and cellars. He was very thorough in his search, looking in every nook and cranny again even after already feeling sure that he must have found everything.
And then he couldn't stall anymore.
He didn't want to do this.
But he had to.
He took a shortcut into the house, but he walked down the stairs on his own feet.
Passed through the corridor, turned the corner.
And came to a stop in front of the door at the end of it, where one last pile of dust lay.
He kneeled and scooped it up with the dustpan, more carefully than he had any other. He made sure he got every last grain. Another shortcut brought him back into her room, where the baby was still lying, awake by now but not screaming. He paid it no mind as he approached the desk.
When the dust hit the diary he poured a little of his magic with it, to make sure it would take. The dust vanished into the page with the last joke on it, about a skeleton being bonely, and left nothing behind but a fine sheen on the paper.
Sans stared at it and reached out with his hand, traced his fingers over the word, ‘bonely’, and closed the diary. He picked it up and put it in his pocket.
He didn't think about anything but that book when he took a shortcut straight to his own room and fell asleep.