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Lessons in Burying Skeletons

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It was hard, maybe even impossible, to sneak up on a monster like Sans. He was frail as they come, so if he didn’t want to end up a pile of dust, he had to teach himself to always be alert even when it looked like he was only lazing about. He never shared this little fact about himself with anyone, mostly because his hyper-awareness gave him a leg up over anyone who’d try to mess with him. It was a skill that was great for pranks, and even better for when certain anomalous individuals had murder on their minds.

So needless to say, he knew a monster had snuck into his apartment long before he actually turned around to face the intruder, despite the pitch-darkness of the room and the groggy half-sleep he was still shaking off.

He could even tell you that the monster was much taller than he was(based on the shadow they cast), that they smelled like dirt and fire magic(he was blessed with a remarkable sense of smell for a monster with no nose), and that their soul was one of exceptional power(reading souls was child’s play). This boiled down the intruder to one of two monsters, and he was pretty damn sure that one of those two monsters would never be gracing his doorstep ever again, which left only one possible option. Smirking despite himself, he let slip a casual “sup, fluffybuns” as he flipped the lightswitch and turned around, hoping to get a spook out of the former king before he figured out what in the hell he was doing visiting Sans uninvited at such an ungodly hour.

The monster in his doorframe was not Asgore. Not any variation of Asgore he was familiar with, anyway. Maybe if he lost a couple hundred pounds and shaved his beard off, but no, this monster was scowling at Sans like he was annoyed at the attempted prank, clearly not cheery old Asgore. Which, considering it was three in the morning and they had just been caught breaking into his house, immediately put Sans on edge.

“who the fuck are-?”

“Smiley trashbag.” He still didn’t recognize this stranger, but something horrible struck Sans to his very soul with those words. Memories of choking vines around his throat flashed in his mind. Never one to question his intuition, he thrust a mass of sharp bone attacks around the stranger, cornering them on all sides like a trap.

“name’s sans, dude. sans the skeleton.” He turned the stranger’s soul blue with a snap of his phalanges. Some small nagging thought at the back of his mind was surprised there was a soul inside for him to turn blue at all. Which, while he never doubted his intuitions, was very strange a feeling to have. What kind of monster didn’t have a soul? “now not to be rude or anything, but you did kind of break into my house. mind tellin me who the fuck you are?”

The monster scrunched up its snout at the question and wow, looking close at them, they really did look exactly like a fitter, younger Asgore. Or Tori, maybe, if her horns had grown out. They had this same sort of softness to their face as her. Worrying, considering his nagging intuition told him this monster had done some very, very bad things.

“I’m…” Their face fell, those warm red eyes so disturbingly like Toriel’s. “It’s not important.”

He shrugged, still trying to piece together what he could about this monster from their appearances if only to gauge the amount of danger he was in. “‘not important’ huh? weird name.” He smiled, winked. Prodding to see if this half-assed attempt to pretend to let his guard down would work on them. “well, mr. important. how ‘bout an easier question? what the hell are you doing in my house?”

The monster looked at the bones on either side of him and bowed their head. Nothing about this situation was right at all and it made the bones in Sans’s wrists rattle with tension.

“I…” A tiny little choking sob came out of the creature’s snout. He withdrew the bones but kept his grip on the stranger’s soul. “I want you to kill me.” Their voice was quiet, wracked with hesitation. He locked eyes with the monster. There they were, Toriel’s gentle red eyes, crying at him. A sight he was all too familiar with, like the gods were mocking him.

Sans didn’t believe in coincidences, not when they were this obvious. The universe had a way of setting up special little ironic hells just for him.

“hey pal,” He stuck his hand out in front of him as he slowly let his grip on the monster’s soul go, whoopie cushion wedged in his palm. “dunno what part of the underground you were from, but back in snowdin we at least take a new friend out for a ‘burg before we go askin them to murder us.”

The monster’s weepy eyes narrowed at his outstretched hand.

“Golly, a new friend?” Tired, bitter sarcasm dripped from the words so familiar it made Sans’s head ache trying to place a solid memory to the ominous feeling they gave him. They didn’t return the handshake, choosing to keep glaring at his hand instead.

Not one for looking like a chump, he shoved the hand back in his pocket and sighed.

“had a feeling that prank wouldn’t work on you, mr. important. takes something a little cleverer to get your goat, huh?” Not so much as a pity laugh. They might have her eyes, but they sure as hell didn't share Toriel's sense of humor. “well, come on in, at least.” Nagging intuition be damned, his brother would never forgive him if he found out there was a crying monster in need and he left them outside. Plus, it would royally piss off whatever cruel ironic god had sent this phantom-monster to punish him.

The stranger finally conceded something to him, crossing the threshold and slumping down on his crappy couch in a way so melodramatic that he couldn't help chuckling quietly to himself. They crumpled in on themselves, paws running up to cover their eyes.

“You must think I’m some kind of idiot.” came the tiny whimpering voice from in between those paws.

He laughed reflexively, taking in the sight of this massive beast of a creature dwarfing his couch with its crumpled sobbing form. It was more familiar than funny, reminding him of the old days of comforting Asgore in New Home, or the more recent days of comforting Toriel.

“nah, pal.” He stroked the fur between the monster’s horns, something Tori had always been fond of. They leaned into the petting for a just a moment before snorting and sitting up too high for his stubby little arms to reach their head. “wanna know what i do think you are?”

The monster tensed up. Sans’s fake ass grin got wider, anticipation gnawing at his soul.

“i think you’re a boss monster.” He turned their soul blue again, seeing the sudden fear gripping their face. Not letting something this bizarre get away without an explanation, oh no. “and that’s weird, because as every monster alive knows, there’s only two of those. so, ‘not important’, you gonna tell me who you are, or are you gonna make me guess?”

They sighed deeply, shoulders heaving like they were winded. “Sounds like you already know.” Not exactly, but it wasn’t like there were many options. His primary guess was kind of impossible, but even more impossible for it not to be true. Working off a hunch was second nature to Sans, anyway.

He bowed in an exaggerated fashion to the massive fuzzy beast.

“your majesty. prince asriel dreemurr. you sure got tall.” Their fur stood on end at the name, gross snarl plastered on their face. All the proof Sans needed that his hunch was correct. “dead for a couple hundred years, and your first act following this miracle is apparently to come to my house, call me a trashbag, and ask me to kill you. why?” They looked at the ground, sniffling. “i mean, my main theory is that you’re some kind of ironic ghost sent to haunt me for my sins, but that sounds really stupid now that i say it out loud. so what is it, really?”

They mumbled something to themselves, sobs wracking their voice.

“didn’t catch that, fluffybuns jr.”

“I said, because you’re w-wrong. I’m not Asriel.” Their sobs dissolved into dark laughter, rumbling, wicked. It gave Sans another nasty flashback, more vines wriggling down his throat, squeezing his bones, threatening to turn him to dust at any moment. “I’m your best friend.”

Sans laughed, even as something about the prince’s words struck him to his soul.

“my best friend currently hates me right down to my lack of guts, jr. you ain’t her. got her eyes, though.” Uneasiness seeped into Sans’s bones yet again. Asriel was staring through him like he wasn’t even there. “maybe you ought to be telling her you’re back from the dead instead of harassing her ex-boyfriend to bury you again.” The look on Asriel’s face shifted to one of immense discomfort. “or hell, go see your dad. dude’s always so lonely nowadays. he-”

Asriel cut him off by growling loudly, showing off all his sharp teeth. He dug his claws into the couch Sans’s blue magic was keeping him grounded to. “I told you, I’m not Asriel!”

Sans felt a strong tug on his blue magic, the monster finally fighting it to try and stand up. They stared at him again. Toriel’s warm red eyes were gone from their face. In their place were two tiny coal black flecks as emotionless as a doll’s.

“I’m Flowey! Flowey the flower!” That name…

His hold on their soul faltered just enough for them to force their way up. They stood towering above him, claws crackling alight with a burst of fire magic. “Do you know how many times I’ve killed you, smiley trashbag? Your brother?” Sans couldn’t get a grip on their soul this now that they were making an effort to fight it. He settled for a quick jump backwards to put space between them instead. “My idiot dad? My useless mom?”

Flashes of memories of resets long buried made Sans dizzy as they smashed around the insides of his skull. Vines wrapping, strangling, choking, burying their way deep into every recess of Sans’s bones. Squeezing, squeezing, until he crumpled under their pressure into powder. Those beady little doll eyes, boring a hole through him as they pulled him apart like a curious child ripping legs off an insect.

Again and again and again.

“you…” Sans’s voice was a wheeze, mind still being assaulted with wave after wave of freshly unsuppressed horror. God, the flower. How could he forget?

He felt carpeting under his hands. He must’ve fallen at some point, but he couldn’t be sure; his eyelights refused to focus and all he could see were wriggling, crushing vines and so much dust. He scrambled on the floor helplessly, arms weakened to uselessness beneath him.

Somewhere far away he could hear someone crying. The stranger. Shit, they were going to kill him, those beady doll-eyes dripping tears as they gored him one final time. Flowey the flower, the first anomaly, finishing the job they started so many resets ago. Took a form it knew he would let his guard down under, played up some stupid pity angle, and now he was going to die for it.

Well, not like he didn’t have this coming. Karma’s a bitch, and all.

His vision finally regained focus, just in time to see the monster kneeling before him on the ground. He braced for the worst, his limbs and his magic still too shaken to be of any use. The monster reached out its arms over him and…picked him up? He felt himself tremble as Flowey-Asriel hoisted his head over their shoulder. The smell of char and earth was even stronger nuzzled in the fur of their neck.

“I’m not-I’m not going to hurt you, trashbag.” He hated how safe the gentle voice and magical warmth coming from this hell-creature made him feel. How try as he might, he couldn’t stop himself from thinking of Toriel, snuggling him through his night terrors and day flashbacks every single time, right up until the day he told her where they came from. “I’m done hurting people.” God, he wished they would just kill him and get it over with instead of having to torture him first, too.

Instead of killing him, they lowered him on the couch and lay him down with the same impossible gentleness that the entire Dreemurr family had apparently been bred into.

His voice was the next thing to come back to him.

“what do you want from me, weed?”

“Judgement. What’s coming for me.” Asriel-Flowey reached an arm over him, red eyes back as if they’d never left and wide with what looked like genuine concern. One big white thumb paw ran its way slowly down the middle of his skull, like it was checking him for a fever or something. “For you not to fall down, I guess. Your soul’s even weaker than how pathetically weak it usually is.”

Sans laughed, because what else could he do? His body refused to move, joints stiff like they were welded together. “yeah, my soul just does this sometimes. too lazy to work properly.” It sure picked the worst times to ‘just do that’.

“I know, Sans.” The lights dropped from his sockets as realization hit. Of course, that thing knew. It knew everything about him. Every weakness, every quirk, every blind spot in his intuition, laid out bare to the most dangerous creature to have that knowledge, discovered through countless repeating interactions. Heh, no wonder they didn’t fall for the whoopie cushion prank. Probably seen it a thousand times before.

“so, then you already know i ain’t exactly got the strength left in me to do the whole judge-y thing anymore. no promises on the falling down front, either. same reason.”

They knelt in front of him, their paws lighting up green.

“I’m gonna try healing you, ok? I uh, I don’t know if the karma on my soul will even let me, but if I don’t at least try, things are gonna get bad.”

Not like he had much choice in the matter, considering his whole body felt like it was made of lead. He could either try and coast this soul murmur out, which frequent prior experience told him could take hours, or he could let this strange monster who spoke death in the same breath they offered to heal him try and ease it.

He refused to acknowledge the little voice in his head thinking about how much he missed the warm powerful magic surge from being healed by a Boss Monster.

“do your worst, weed.”

He felt the pressure of those big paws colliding with his ribcage through the fabric of his hoodie, saw the look of intent worry and focus scrunched up on Asriel-Flowey’s face as they stared at his chest. Green light coming from Flowey’s hands bathed both monsters, leaving Sans half-blind.

Warm, cleansing heat engulfed him down to his marrow, scrubbing what felt like years of pain and anguish from Sans. Intent was everything with magic, and if Flowey could produce this much pure healing magic, their soul must’ve been as clean as new fallen snow.

When at last the warm heat flow stopped and the green light was only flecks of tinted afterimage in Sans’s vision, he patted his chest assuredly and clambered into an upright sitting position on the couch.

“consider that your judgement, weed. you have no KR, no LOVE, no hateful intent. you healed me with no problem. i don’t fucking know how, mind you, but whatever.” Flowey was staring at his own paws in surprise. “looks like you don’t have a clue either, heh.” He put a hand on the shoulder of the kneeling monster. “you know everything about me, so you probably know what i’m about to say next.” It was practically his catchphrase back when he still did have the strength to do ‘the judge-y thing’. He always asked it after judging a soul that was particularly difficult, and very few souls weren’t. Most people aren’t cut and dry evil or good, after all.

The monster nodded, then mouthed along with Sans as he asked of him what he asked of every monster he judged. “do you think that even the worst person can change?” He stood on top of the couch, trying to gain some height over the massive kneeling beast to give a better illusion of having any idea what the hell he was doing letting someone with that much lingering evil go when they literally presented themselves to him with a death wish. “now, i ain’t a superstitious sort. used to be a scientist a thousand lifetimes ago. but right now, i’m lookin at a monster who shoulda had enough KR around him to die himself tryin to heal me, with a soul pure enough it would make my brother jealous, walkin around in a body shaped like someone who used to be our peoples’ main source of hope. i think that if there was anyone handin out second chances up above, yours just came to you wrapped up like a gyftmas present.” Sans was a judge, not an avenger, and no one was beyond redemption if judged to be so. Even if he kind of really wanted to turn one of his blasters on this goat-weed and wipe them off the face of the earth.

They bowed their head all the way down to the floor, horns tapping Sans’s bare feet. He heard sniffling. Man, this dude was a real crybaby. “as very much former and in no way official judge to the kingdom of monsterkind, i herby judge your soul innocent and acquit you to life.”

And with that, he stepped away into the kitchen to let Flowey cry it out for a little. Wandering around, he tried to figure out what to do with the stranger crying on his floor. His eyelights lingered on a kettle sitting on his stovetop, completely unused since it had been gifted to him as a housewarming present months ago. Tea, that was what Asgore used to make when they would talk late into the night about philosophy or gardening or whatever. He used to say it helped ‘heal an aching soul’, or something cheesy like that. Well, there was one hell of an aching soul just a room over.

He filled the kettle with water and started up the stovetop. This was going to be one long night.

“can i ask you something?” Sans asked, filling the two mugs with water. They nodded, looking as exhausted as he felt. “you say you’re not asriel, but…” His voice trailed off, so he replaced words with a sweeping hand gesture towards their undeniably Boss Monster body, no vines or petals or pollen.

“I’m not. I haven’t been Asriel for a long, long time.” They looked into their mug. “But I don’t think I’m Flowey anymore, either. I guess I don’t know who I am.”

Sans wasn’t sure what to do with this information. It was a whole lot to unpack. “Can I uh, ask you something, too?” Casually, not letting slip how fast his mind was spinning thinking about everything he could remember that horrible little weed doing, knowing it was somehow the dead prince of the Underground, he shrugged.

“You’re dying, Sans.” He sipped his tea, nodded. Robotic. No one had said it aloud until now. Hearing it said back to him for the first time suddenly made him deeply aware how true it was. He was dying. His own stupid weak ass soul was finally going to be the thing to do him in for good, not a demon with red eyes and a knife, not an emotionless flower.

“that wasn’t a question.” No one was ever supposed to find out, least of all a thrice-dead prince he still wasn’t sure what to make of.

“No one else lives here with you? Papyrus?”

“just me.” He didn’t like where not-Asriel not-Flowey’s train of thought was heading. “my bro’s been on the road doin ambassador things with frisk for almost a year now.”

“I don’t care how mad you made her, Mom would never leave you alone in the state you’re in.” They drummed their claws on the table, looking Sans in the eye accusatorily. “That means you haven’t told her.”

“haven’t told anyone. there’s nothin to tell. ‘skeleton who was already slated to die is now gonna die a little faster’ ain’t exactly newsworthy.”

“Sans.” God that tone of voice really did sound just like Toriel’s nagging. Sans wasn’t going to take it from someone as sniveling as this weed in goat’s clothing when it was barely tolerable coming from a monster he loved.

“got a deal for you then, jr. you go tell her you’re alive and i’ll go tell her i won’t be for much longer.” They winced. “thought so. you stay out of my problems and i’ll stay out of yours. capiche?”

That shut them up good, though Sans suspected not for long. Their eyebrows were knit gazing down at their tea.

“Have you been to a doctor, at least? Maybe there’s something they can do to…” They looked at him, all helpless and sad. This was exactly what he had been trying to avoid by keeping his little ‘condition’ to himself. To die with a tiny fragment of dignity. To know that if Toriel was going to hate him forever, that she wouldn’t let pity for a dying lazy idiot get in the way of that. And now her son, who was supposed to be long dead, was going to deny him that dignity. It would’ve been hilarious, if it wasn’t for the fact that it wasn’t funny in the slightest.

“it’s terminal, weed, like anything else. i’m just happy it’s my shitty soul finally catching up with me, and not some sicko flower pullin me apart.” There, that ought to guilt them into keeping their goat snout shut and out of his business.

They reached one of their paws across the table, and it took every shred of his self-control for him not to run through it with a surprise bone attack. It found its way atop his own shaking hand and he found himself forcing back the urge even stronger, his tired intuition not liking the physical contact one bit. He was trembling horribly, sweating. Asriel-Flowey didn’t seem bothered by this.

“I can heal you. I-if you won’t tell anyone that you’re dying, I can at least make it hurt less until you go. Couple hours a night, no problem, just like today. I have plenty of magic.” They looked at him, face soft as Toriel’s ever was. How the hell was this the same monster that tortured him time and time again? “I know you don’t like me. I uh, don’t like me so much, either. I owe you a lot more than just some stupid healing magic.” Sans couldn’t decide if he wanted to throw up or scream. He settled for a low fake laugh instead, yanking his hand out from under Asriel’s paw with all the malicious intent he could put in the action.

“don’t you have somewhere else to be?”

They smiled sadly. That fucking face, that one that made him want to do everything in his ever-dwindling power to make go away. Asgore wore it as he spoke of his lost family, his two children taken from him by a war they didn’t even understand. Toriel wore it as she spoke to him of her lost family, seven beautiful children, and five of them killed by the man she’d once loved more than anyone else. And now this asshole wore it, too. And despite everything, it made him feel exactly the same way when worn on their face.

“I didn’t think I was going to leave this house alive, Sans. I don’t have anything.” No, not this time. He wasn’t letting down three Dreemurrs.

“let me reword that. asriel, or flowey, or whoever the fuck you are, get the hell out of my house and go home.” He let the blue magic pool in his pupil, staring a hole into them. “go see your mom and tell her you’re alive and everything is just hunky fuckin dory. you guys can bake a nice celebratory back from the dead snail pie, and i can go back to dyin alone in peace.”

Asriel-Flowey was quiet, snout pointed at the table. Sans considered that maybe he hadn’t been pushy enough. Maybe a couple Gaster Blasters pointed at them would be enough to finally shoo them off. They probably didn’t know he didn’t actually have enough magic anymore to fire them.

Of course, considering how hopeful they had been that he was going to kill them, maybe they would accidentally call his bluff.

“You think I can go back there? After what I’ve done?” They snorted, slamming their fist on his table. “She won’t see Flowey, even once I tell her what I did when I was him. She’s not like you, trashbag. She won’t remember.” Their temper subsided as quickly as it flared up, and they were back to sniveling, horns stooped low. “She’ll only see Asriel, no matter what I say.”

They stood up, turning away from Sans. “I came here because I knew you were the only one who would see Flowey. I’m not Flowey, anymore either, though. You would’ve sentenced him to death. He didn’t care about anything. Didn’t have a soul to care with.” No soul? Holy shit. It suddenly made perfect sense how such a pushover of a monster could’ve done such horrible things. Sans himself would’ve probably done things just as bad had he been soulless. Hell, Sans had done some pretty horrible things, and that was with a soul. “So I guess I don’t even have that. I’m not Chara’s wimpy crybaby brother. I’m not the God of Hyperdeath. I’m not even a bored soulless flower. Who am I, Sans?”

Like it or not, that struck a chord deep inside him. He looked across the room at the monster that only he would ever see as anything but the innocent prince brought back from the dead. And they only asked one thing of him; to be seen for who they were, and not who they weren’t.

“hey.” Sans’s voice surprised himself. “you’re not flowey, and you’re not asriel.” What the hell was he doing? God, he wasn’t really about to do this again, was he? “that’s fine. know who you are, then?” Not-Asriel turned around and faced him, mouth open with an answer. Sans didn’t give them a chance to reply. “my new roommate and personal healer, that’s who.”

Looks like he was going to let down three Dreemurrs, after all.

Chapter Text

Sunk deep in the mass of sheets and blankets that was his dirty bed, Sans peeked his eyes open. He wiggled the distal phalanx of his left pinky, testing to see if his body was actually feeling up to the increasingly difficult task of getting up out of bed. He’d always been a lazy guy; even before his sickness got as bad as it was it wasn’t uncommon for him to sleep in well past noon for no reason other than no one was around to tell him not to. Now, with no brother around to push him out of bed with nagging reminders of uncalibrated puzzles and promises of breakfast spaghetti, no Toriel gently encouraging him to join the waking world with plans for the day, and an always worsening condition that occasionally left him completely paralyzed for entire days, the struggle to pull himself out of bed was a fight he lost more often than he won. Sometimes he’d lose entire days just staring blankly and hazily at the dingy walls of his bedroom, watching the shadows grow as the sun slowly crept back underneath the world from his window to let him know that any time had passed at all.

He wondered how long he could keep doing this for. Not forever, surely. Some night he’d sink into that mass of dirty sheets, the same as any other, and never come back out. Some night he’d lose the fight against pulling himself out of bed for good. Between laziness, sickness, and depression it was an inevitability. No one would even find him until his brother had a chance to come back to Ebott Town from his ambassador work. No one would bother looking. He was a flake, after all. Regulars at the bar would just assume he was being his usual flaky self, the illegal hotdog market wasn’t exactly one with a close clientele, and he’d long since stopped regularly visiting Asgore for tea. Hard to hold a conversation with him now that they had entirely too much in common.

Smelling some kind of warm food nearby, he rolled over. Sitting on his bedside table were two slices of peanut butter toast and a glass of juice, with a folded piece of paper tucked underneath it.

Oh, right. Somebody would find him. His new roommate.

The fucking flower.

The Boss Monster.

He opened the note.

“Hi Sans!

Please make sure you get some food in you. That means something with vitamins, not just ketchup! Went to the store on the human side of town to pick up supplies. I want to talk to you when I get home.”

The bottom of the note was signed with a pawprint instead of a name, though there was a mess of scribbling before it. Sans looked from the note to the food, sighed, and waddled into the kitchen to get a breakfast more befitting himself. Something without vitamins, just to spite this asshole. The only thing in his fridge was a half-drank bottle of ketchup. Perfect.

There was a knock at the door. Whoever was outside had one hell of a powerful soul; Sans could feel its fiery crackle from across the house. Not-Flowey must’ve gotten home early and locked themselves out.

“comin, weed.”

He took a gulp of ketchup and opened his front door.

Toriel was staring back at him, her shadow looming over him like a ghost. He choked on his ketchup.

An oppressive silence threatened to swallow them both whole.

“Hello, Sans.” Her voice was liquid ice underneath the forced practiced pleasantry of former royalty. Their time apart had not made her any less menacing.

Air rattled through the holes in his grin as he tried to force himself to reply.

“heya, tori.” She sneered at him.

“Do not ‘heya tori’ me.” His arms went limp and his eyelights drifted to her feet, unwilling to keep meeting her stare. “You do not look well.”

‘yeah, tori, that’ll be because i’m dyin.’ he thought to himself. “short guys like me are always under the weather.” He heard her repress a snort. God, he missed that sound. “what brings you to my house, missed my legendary comedy?” He silently prayed she hadn’t somehow found out just how sick he was and came to check in on him.

“I did not come here by my own choice.” In the same instant he felt relief, the selfish pain of disregard stung him. “Frisk called me late last night and insisted there was something important I needed to see here.”

Yeah, they probably didn’t mean Sans’s legendary comedy. He had a sneaking suspicion that ‘something important’ had a big pair of horns and a penchant for crying.

“nothin to see here but me. how’s the squirt doin, anyway?” Maybe if he deflected enough, she’d leave. It wouldn’t take too much to piss her off, not anymore. She already looked like it was physically injuring her to stay in his presence.

She nudged her way into his house, ignoring him.

“Very far away from you.” Ah, so better. Got it. “Papyrus says hello, by the way.”

She peeked around the corner, into the guest bedroom Papyrus stayed in when he was home. Sans followed close behind her, hoping that Flowey-Asriel hadn’t left anything behind to identify themselves.

The bed was neatly made besides a few chunks of shed white fur stuck to the blankets. Thank god they weren’t as much a slob as Sans was. He watched her survey the room intently for a handful of seconds.

“uh, do you have any idea what it is you’re lookin for here?”

He noticed she was staring at the clumps of fur on the blankets. Shit. His mind ran through a thousand excuses, but none came out of his mouth. He found himself just staring at her staring at the bed.

He has been spending the night with you.” She turned her snout, disgustedly, speaking of the only he that she ever used that bitter tone of voice to describe. “I am happy for you both. Pitiful creatures like you belong together.”

Sans coughed down a laugh for letting his guilt get the best of him. Of course, no one’s first guess would be ‘formerly dead prince with a death wish hiding out from his responsibilities in your guest room’. Not when ‘secret relationship with her ex-husband who you were always pretty close with beforehand’ was much more plausible.

“so, the kid just wanted to send you here to kinkshame me. cool, i guess.” Let her think what she wanted to about him, sure. He could play the role of lonely fool chasing an equally vulnerable rebound. He didn’t care anymore, not when she’d still hate him either way.

Not to mention that it was miles better than the truth. Better for her, and better for the monster the lie was concealing.

She turned to leave the room, facing him. He looked away, nervously. His permanently empty eyes and forced grin meant he had a reputation for being hard to read face-wise, but Toriel always had a way of sensing what he was feeling right down to his soul. Mother’s intuition, or something. Did she know he was lying?

“I mean it, Sans. You have both done terrible things that I cannot forgive, but I hope you can find happiness.” One of her paws rested on his shoulder. Had he a stomach, it would have dropped straight to the floor.

His voice came out like a tiny pained whisper.

“we killed your fuckin kids, tori.” She flinched. “you’re allowed to hope we never find happiness.”

Her eyes met his, a deep and gentle sadness behind them. It made him feel sick knowing that even hating him as much as she no doubt did, she also loved him just as much as ever.

“That is for me to decide, I think.”

He laughed, shrugged, stuffed his grubby little hands in his hoodie pockets. Tilted his head all the way down so she was looking at the top of his skull instead of anything even near his eyes.

“well, i, for one, hope i die of some horrible soul condition all alone for what i did.”

She was quiet for a long while. He didn’t move.

“You will get no pity from me.” Good. He didn’t want any. He wanted to die of some horrible soul condition all alone. “I am leaving.”

He felt relieved, disgusted at himself for pushing a monster as gentle and loving as her away. Guilty like a thousand bricks tied to his ribs that he was denying her a living child even as he shouldered the self-inflicted punishment for her dead ones.

“did ya find what you were lookin for?” As if some half-hearted sarcastic reminder would absolve him of his guilt.

Nothing ever did.

Her claws lingered on the handle to his front door.

“Frisk swore I would find something I thought I lost for good, something that would make me happier than I’ve been in years.” She smiled, eyebrows pinched up in a grimace. “And to think, I almost let my foolish self believe that I would find the monster who used to fill my life with so much laughter from behind the Ruins door. Where is he, Sans?”

His eye sockets emptied of light. Somewhere out there, in that infinite expanse of parallel universes, there was a Sans who talked candidly and honestly to Toriel, who reminded her of the stranger she’d fallen in love with enough that maybe, maybe they’d worked something out. A Sans who told her of the one he saved; the one child of hers he walked off of the ledge instead of shoving them over it. A Sans who faced himself and admitted to her that he was scared to die alone.

He sure as hell wasn’t that Sans, though. That Sans was long gone, killed sometime around when he found out who those human children he’d slaughtered had belonged to.

“he’s dead, tori. i killed him.”

She nodded, slowly. Confirming what she already knew.

“I am sorry to have bothered you. Frisk probably meant well, but I-“ Her voice hitched, then came back with strength and resolve doubled; the royal decree sentencing a lowly skeletal peasant to death. “I think I might hate you. If you ever come near me or my family again, I will not hesitate to send you to hell myself.”

She threw open the door with monstrous strength, ducking her head out before he could react.

“tori, wait…!”

The door slammed in his face.

For one split second, he was horrified, angry, anguished. He felt his fingers tense and reach for the door, wanting nothing more than to call her back and try his damndest to bring the best thing that’d ever happened to him back into his life.

By the next one, he felt nothing. He was a dying man with nothing to gain, nothing to lose, by chasing after her. It would all be over soon enough. What was left for him? Pity? The dregs of something he knew down to his marrow he didn’t deserve?

He stood there, gaping at the door dully until he lost the will to do even that.

 

Not-Asriel found him hours later, scrunched up in his bed, all motionless and barely conscious.

“the kid knows you’re alive.” He wasn’t sure if that came out clearly or not with the tired haze of the soul murmur hovering over him. Only the power of their soul even let him know it was Not-Asriel standing over his bed. His vision sure wasn’t giving him any hints, blurred to total uselessness as it was.

The warmth of their healing magic seeped into his bones, coaxing him back to the world of the living like a gentle hug, even as he tried to fight it.

“Yeah, duh. Who do you think brought me back?” His eyes came back into focus and he could see them looking down at him while their paws pressed glowing green light into his sternum. Their eyes looked bloodshot from crying. Typical. “You uh, gotta take it easy while I’m not home. Soul conditions like this one get worse from emotional distress.” He rolled his eyes at the sniveling demon.

“no prob. i’ll be sure to schedule my future mental breakdowns around your errand runs.” The guilty look on their face almost made him regret that jab.

“What happened?”

“your mom showed up here lookin for you.” They gasped.

“S-she doesn’t-?”

Sans laughed. “yeah, of course i told her you’re alive and i’m keepin you hidden here. i love dying and bein dead.” They pouted at him. No sense of humor at all. “she don’t know anything, weed. doesn’t even know why frisk sent her here. and trust me, i don’t think she’ll be comin back.”

The look on their face told him they were filling in the blanks on how that delightful little meeting had went. He wondered if they knew why she was so angry with him. Probably, considering everything else they were privy to. Hell, they might’ve even known the kids he’d killed better than she herself had.

“I’m really really sorry I was gone so long. The human library doesn’t have many books on monster illnesses, and, well, I obviously can’t go to the monster one…”

Heh, good thing humans are racist. Couldn’t tell a prince who should’ve been dead hundreds of years ago from a random Whimsum on the street, despite the fact one is ten feet tall and the other could fit in someone’s pocket.

Wait a second…

“you were looking up my condition? after i already told you to stay the fuck out of my business?”

The harshness in his voice made them stop healing him. They wrung their paws together.

“I’m not just gonna let you die in pain, Sans. Not if there’s something I can do to stop it. I’m not…” Oh god, not the waterworks again. “I’m not like that anymore.”

The way they hung their head, resigned to always be the hell-weed they once were, reminded him of Toriel’s words about pitiful creatures. This monster, regardless of what they’d done in the past, wasn’t the pitiful creature he was. They were doing more than he was, more than he ever could.

They were trying. Even now, with everything they’d ever known and loved either long dead or forever barred from them, they were trying. Even now, when their only companion in the entire world was someone who wanted them dead just as badly as he wanted himself dead, they were trying.

He scrambled up and pulled their paws back over his ribcage.

“so prove it, weed.”

They looked at their sandwiched together hands, and then at him.

“I’ll try,” The stream of healing warmth snaked its way into his aching bones once again. “But you have to trust me, Sans.”

Ha, fat chance. He couldn’t promise that. He hated promises, after all.

Maybe something smaller, for now. Just a little proof he was willing to bury Flowey and keep Asriel buried, too.

“so, i’ve been thinkin, what do you want to be called now? can’t keep callin you ‘weed’ now that you’re all fur and tears.”

They scrunched up their snout, not at all oblivious to his commitment dodging.

“Uh, I dunno…”

“azzy?”

They grimaced.

“No, Chara used to call me that, and I uh… don’t want to get reminded of them.”

Shit, way to wreck that chance of putting their mind to ease, thinking about their maybe-not-totally-dead sibling. Lucky thing his legendary fallback hadn’t yet crumbled: good ol’ reliable jokes.

“az.” They smiled. “short for az-hole, of course. because you’re a big pain in my az.”

Why were they the least fun person in the world to rib on? They looked completely heartbroken over such a toothless joke.

“Suits me, doesn’t it?” He saw the corners of a grin peaking out of their frown. “Not many monsters can claim their Az smells like flowers.”

They giggled, hands still pressed into his ribs.

That little shit.

“absolute complete pain in my az.”

Chapter Text

The tension that always seemed to hover in the air whenever Sans and Az were in the same room together never quite completely vanished, but as the days dragged on the two settled into a sort of uneven truce built upon a collection of unspoken rules. Sans knew not to ask questions about Az’s life as Flowey. Az knew better than to ask Sans what drove his mother away. Both probably knew more about the other’s sore subject than they let on, but neither were going to open the can of worms confirming that knowledge would lead to.

 

Sans knew enough about Az’s troubling past without saying a word. It was kind of hard to forget being killed and tortured in increasingly horrific ways, even if the details were hazy and only getting hazier with each passing day. It was painfully obvious that the monster in his house bared only technical resemblance to the one who had done that, anyway. Az was meek and cowardly, often to the point of driving Sans bonkers with frustration when his timid nature would ruin an otherwise perfectly good prank. The only times he ever saw a glimpse of the hell-weed Az once was were in the times where it looked like the massive beast was staring through Sans instead of at him, when he could see the wicked cunning behind those innocent red eyes. He’d politely ask Sans to do something to take care of himself, and when Sans would snarkily blow him off, he’d get this look on his face like he was figuring out which dialogue option in a video game would lead to Sans actually eating a vegetable. It was more than a little unnerving.

 

Bastard usually chose right, too.

 

Besides that, life with Az was easy enough for Sans to get used to. It was like living with the unholy nag spawn of his brother and Toriel, which, while annoying as all hell, was also the sort of annoying Sans might’ve found charming if it didn’t fly in the face of the grim half-goal Sans had set up for himself. For better or worse, living with someone invested in his survival made just laying down and giving up all the more difficult on him.

 

Nah, just worse. Always just worse.

 

 

“I’ve been researching the causes for sudden drops in magic…” Sans stared even more intently at the TV, doing his best to ignore whatever was going to come out of Az’s mouth next. He didn’t care. He really, really, really didn’t care.

 

Mettaton had made it big in the human world. Production values for his shows had skyrocketed. Sometimes, even actors who weren’t just Mettaton in a different wig made appearances. Currently, he was dancing on stage to some upbeat pop song with a human woman in a bright red dress on his arm.

 

“Sans, I know you’re listening. You make that face when you’re pretending to not pay attention.” The couple twirled in loops, spotlights flashing on them to the beat of the music. Sans shoved a handful of poptato chisps into his mouth and squinted at them. “You don’t even like Mettaton. You just watch it because it reminds you of your brother.”

 

Sans shuddered involuntarily.

 

“you creep me out sometimes, az.”

 

They responded to this by tutting and standing in front of the screen. He could still see part of Mettaton’s face in between the spaces of Az’s massive legs.

 

“may i help you?”

 

Az looked down at him, that twinge of sadness in their red eyes that made his soul ache.

 

“There’s procedures to help stabilize the magic drops. They can add whole years to a patient’s life.”

 

“cool.” He craned his neck to try and get a better view at the TV. Naggy the goat was having none of this, moving his big head to follow Sans’s.

 

“Don’t you get what that means?” Yeah, it means that somebody is way too invested in something that ain’t going to end the way either party wants it to.

 

Sans didn’t say that, of course. That was way too close to crossing the other set of silent unspoken rules, the ones he made for himself.

 

 “It’ll ease the pain, and the extra magic will even give you more energy. You can have your life back, Sans!”

 

Hearing it said so cheerfully by someone who didn’t understand at all stung more than Sans was willing to deal with. Maybe it was finally time to set things straight, clear up one of Az’s cheery naïve little misconceptions about himself, if only to prevent this from ever happening again. Current Sans might hate facing it, but future Sans would get to watch a lot more uninterrupted MTTV.

 

He quietly put down the bowl of chisps and pressed the power button on the remote. The void left by the TV’s sudden silence made the Boss Monster’s eyes snap onto Sans’s face. He took advantage of the jarring situation, steadying himself and lowering his voice down to its Bad Time timbre.

 

“what life?” He let the words crash to the ground, averting his gaze so as not to see that horrible look he knew was crossing Az’s face. “pap’s happy off on his own now, all the admirers he could ever ask for. tori’s got her school and the kid, and with me gone she’s doin better every day. the kid brought you back, so the timeline anomalies are probably finally done. all my loose ends are tied up.” He felt his soul twinge with stabs of paralyzing pain. He ignored them, pushing them as deep down as he could under layers of practiced apathy. He reminded his soul that this was not the time to falter, not with eyes looking on him with pity and hope. “now it’s just waitin on the inevitable.”

 

“Sans…” The pain was sharper now, radiating out through him in waves even harder to ignore.

 

“you might be lookin for redemption, but i’m just lookin for it to all be over. you ain’t helping me for my sake.”

 

“Sans.” Another nail into his skull, begging him to care about a life he’d already given up on.

 

He let himself slump down deep into the cushions of the couch, partially a conscious decision to muffle any future nagging and partially because his body was starting to come unraveled from the effects of the soul murmur.

 

Before he could even close his eyesockets, Az’s hands were already reaching over him and pressing warm healing into him until pain was replaced by nausea.

 

He looked up pitifully with glazed over eye lights at the gentle giant. Az had all the patience of his father and all the kindness of his mother coupled with the tired, dark wisdom of a monster who’d seen horrors beyond comprehension; tending to him with a level of care that were the situations reversed, Sans knew he wouldn’t return.

 

“why me, az?” He held back the urge to retch, saved by a lack of stomach. “i saw the tapes in the lab. i know how close you and the first human were.”

 

The monster said nothing, deeply focused on his task.

 

“i killed kids, kids just like your best friend. doesn’t that mean something to you?”

 

Az snorted.

 

“It’d be pretty hypocritical of me to get on you for that, wouldn’t it? You gave me a second chance. I want to give you one.”

 

“the difference between you and me,” Sans growled, mustering up what little strength the healing had provided him. “is that despite what you’ve done, you’re still tryin. i’ve judged myself, seen what’s living deep in my soul. i can’t change what i am. i can only…” He gasped for a breath he didn’t need. Despite the magic coursing through him, his grip on consciousness was fading fast. He was slipping, being drained faster than Az could heal him. He could only choke out his last words. “let it kill me.”

 

The world seemed to sink farther and farther away, blurring to a vague nothingness.

 

Through the fog, a brilliant white light shone over him. He relaxed, grinning despite himself. This was always how it happened in the movies, wasn’t it? Even though he’d apparently died many times before, he couldn’t remember what dying felt like. Had it always felt so warm, so comforting? It felt like the hugs his brother had given him back when they were kids, their souls so light and close, free from so much heaviness adulthood would bring. It was like the way he always imagined the stars looked when he’d read about them in astronomy books, brighter than the brightest lightbulb, warmer than the hottest bonfire. It felt like eating a whole cinnamon butterscotch pie without the guilt of having not shared any. If this was what dying felt like, he should’ve tried it sooner. The warmth, the light, the feeling, the smell…!        

 

The smell. Animal dander and daisies, undercut with char. The afterlife probably didn’t smell like a petting zoo, huh.

 

He could see the light taking a solid form, an inverted heart. And then the crying.

 

Always with the waterworks, this one.

 

“N-not on my watch.”

 

Sans listened dully to the monster’s voice as he drifted into unconsciousness, ready for death, slumber, or whatever was coming for him.

 

For the first time in a very long time, he dreamed.

 

It was a dream he’d had frequently as a child after many a long night of staying up way too late sneaking astronomy books underneath his blankets. As it had been all those years ago, he sat on a mountaintop overlooking a vast, empty desert at night, copied straight from a photograph in some travel magazine he’d found in the dump. Above him hung a mishmash of every star chart he’d ever fallen asleep studying, amended now to be just a bit more realistic after he’d seen real stars firsthand.

 

It occurred to him, as he looked up at his subconscious mind’s distorted idea of the cosmos, that he’d never taken his telescope out of storage since he’d moved aboveground. It had seemed pointless. Hollow. Doomed to be forgotten with the next reset, like so many other dreams he’d found to be empty after achieving them.

 

But, of course, there wasn’t going to be a next reset. Not this time. If one good thing could be said about the presence of the nagging demon goat haunting his life, it was that they ensured Sans’s existential hell was finally over. When he died, he would stay dead. This was it.

 

Maybe it wouldn’t hurt him to make this last time count, just a little.

 

----

 

The view from the top of Mount Ebbot was breathtaking.

Monsters rarely travelled up that way anymore, too many bad memories and superstitions about the place for their liking. Humans, however, had a renewed interest in the mountain after, despite how far-fetched it seemed, the urban legend of a kingdom of monsters living underneath it turned out to be correct. It had become something of a tourist destination, and even though Sans and Az had been climbing the mountain at sundown, they’d had to sidestep more than a handful of excited hikers shoving cameras at them, looking to get a photo with ‘a real live monster!’.

 

A view like that one, though, was worth dodging a hundred tourists.

 

Az set up the telescope behind him while Sans plopped down in his lawn chair and looked down at the city below. Houses were turning on their lights. Streetlights were flickering on. Cars drove home on the highway, hissing by in a blur. The city was coming to life like the circulatory system of some great animal.

 

“what do ya think about the surface? is it how you remember it?”

 

“Don’t remember much from my first time up here. I took Chara to where they told me their village was. I was bleeding pretty bad by the time we got there, so I was kinda out of it…” He heard a sniffle. “Only thing I do remember is all the vegetables growing around us and thinking about how much I wanted to show Dad. This whole city must’ve been farmland back then.”

 

Sans had barely paid the poking shards of proof of human life any mind when he’d first laid eyesocket on the surface, caught up in the vastness of the sky. Now they seemed more important than ever.

 

“can’t imagine how much worse of a prison the underground must’ve felt after seeing all this.”

 

Az awkwardly sat down next to him, legs jutting out weirdly, their giant figure trying to make the best of his tiny chair. Sans somehow had trouble grinning at the sight.

 

A giant forced into a tiny, tiny hole.

 

“I sure do like the surface better than the Underground.” Sans nodded grimly and chuckled. That wasn’t exactly an unpopular opinion, he supposed.

 

“you never got to see past ebbott. not even hundreds of years ago.”

 

Az only shrugged.

 

The view of the city below had been nice and all, but the stars were all blocked out by light pollution. The only things Sans could make out with the telescope were the moon and a couple of helicopters that even Az’s most insistent claims couldn’t convince him were shooting stars.

The night hadn’t been a total bust, though. He and Az had entertained the humans brave enough to camp out atop the mountain with some magic, and it turns out a few of the humans were even pretty chill. They were a lot more impressed by Az’s dazzling bright fire magic than by the meager bones Sans still had the extra magic left to summon, but, well, Boss Monster magic is a sight to behold, especially compared to the last pallor tricks of a dying skeleton.

 

Sans was pretty okay with just sitting back and watching Az do his thing, anyway.

 

What with his laziness, and all.

 

“Humans are different than I remember them.” Az admitted.

 

Sans grinned, both at the monster speaking to him and at the pair of humans holding hands and sharing loving glances at each other as a bonfire circled through the color spectrum in front of them.

 

“Frisk was right to give them a second chance.” They snapped their paw and the bonfire got high and bright, obscuring Sans’s vision of the couple and earning an enthusiastic “Ooooh” from them. The extra light cast hard shadows on the goat’s face, making them look as ancient as they truly were. Their voice got low. “Humans killed me, Sans. I was just a kid. All I wanted to do was to bring my best friend home.”

 

They lowered the flame. The humans were embracing with a closeness as if the two monsters weren’t even there. “A human saved us. Farmland turns to cities. Nothing is forever.”

 

Sans looked down, embarrassed, disgusted. He felt something catch in his throat before he remembered he didn’t have one. The words stumbled from him.

 

“get out of here, az-hole. leave this place, this damn mountain that buried you three times.” His soul twinged. Not with the common pain he’d learned to associate with a soul murmur, but certainly not with the kind of twinge he was willing to put the word to. “go see the world.”

 

Az wrapped their paws around Sans, and he didn't even try to fight it.

 

“Only if you'll come with me.”

Chapter Text

…and in the choir I saw our sad Messiah.

He was bored and tired of my laments.

Said, "I died for you one time, but never again"

Never again.

-Brand New, ‘Limousine (MS Rebridge)’

 

“What are you doing?”

“Don’t just stand there, kill them!”

“If you don’t kill them, they’ll kill us!”

 

They whimpered pathetically, shrugging off a volley of razor-sharp arrows with one swipe of their massive paw.

 

They tried not to wince at the blood dripping down their fur, or the stabbing pain coursing through their body with every wobbling step they took.

 

“They think you killed me. They don’t care you’re the biggest crybaby in the entire world, they want you dead!”

 

Bleeding was a new experience. He’d seen blood before, Chara bled like a stuck pig from what seemed to him like very little injury, but he’d never seen his own. It made him feel queasy, unnatural. Monsters didn’t bleed.

 

“Yeah, idiot. That’s because it’s my blood! You aren’t just you anymore, so stop acting so selfish!”

 

He heard more shouting, and then the sound of bowstring snapping. They braced for impact, summoning a magical shield to cover the softest meat of their back.

 

He hadn’t done that. It must’ve been them.

 

“You can’t keep blocking forever!”

 

He wasn’t sure if they had said that, or if it had been the humans. A dark, heavy thought struck him like one of the humans’ arrows, one he hadn’t considered until it was staring him in the face.

 

Ultimately, was there really a difference?

 

“The difference between me and them is that I want you to live!”

 

Their pace, despite the humans’ best attempts to halt them, had been unsure but unfaltering. Now, they stopped dead in their tracks, looking down on the fields below, foot paws dug deep into the soft earth of the mountain.

 

…Why?

 

“What do you mean, ‘why’? This is our destiny! We have to do this, and you can’t if you die here.”

 

They turned to face the crowd of humans, getting a good look at them for the first time. Their faces were sharp with anger, the muscles of their arms gripped pitchforks and pulled bowstrings tight. Looking amongst the faces with his keen godlike senses, he noticed ones with a familiar red glint to their eyes, or dimples in their cheeks, or that strong eyebrow, or that pale skin tone.

 

Their eyes shone with that same familiar fear, crying for help at the bottom of a dark abyss, face to face with a literal monster.

 

…What if I can’t?

 

“They’re bad people, Azzy. I promise. They’re bad.” Their voice trembled with a childish pleading so unlike Chara. “We have to kill them.”

 

At least a hundred Charas looked at him, snarled at him, steadied their weapons at his head. Kill them? No, he would have stooped down to pick them a flower, had his arms not been full with his one Chara.

 

“Stop crying! They don’t care about tears, or giving out flowers, or niceness. Humans aren’t like Mom and Dad; they’ll kill you if you’re too weak to fight back!”

 

The crowd of humans tightened around them, blocking the only exit down the mountain path with their bodies.

 

“Humans are evil. All humans, even me.”

 

Chara didn’t cry. Not when they got scraped up playing rough with him, bleeding that horrible red liquid humans did. Not when they found out they would be stuck Underground forever, trapped under the same barrier that held his entire species. Not even when their mom did, whispering teary prayers when she thought they were asleep that their father wouldn’t succumb to the poisoned buttercup pie.

 

“Especially me. Humans don’t deserve the surface; humans all deserve to die.”

 

Chara was nothing like himself, always wearing his heart on his sleeve, prone to tears over the slightest problem. A weak crybaby, like they always said.

 

“C-Chara, I want to go home…” He heard his own voice, gnarled with uncontrolled power.

 

He was afraid.

 

“Kill or be killed, Azzy. It’s the only thing us humans understand.” Chara replied, their voice also his.

 

But, he recalled, when the buttercups’ poison seeped through their tiny body, and they had looked shriveled as a corpse, they had pulled on the sleeve of his striped shirt and whispered to him: “I’m scared to die, Azzy.” They had that same smirk they always had on their face, but pure panic in their weak voice.

 

The humans seemed to be horrified by the god-beast talking to itself. The circle drew back, then doubled in even closer. He could see the whites of their eyes, the shiny tips of their makeshift spears. Humans were afraid, too. Afraid to die, afraid of the monsters hiding in their storybooks and under their beds, afraid of losing their children to a horrible cursed mountain.

                                                          

“Kill them.” Chara’s voice was a roar inside his skull. They opened his maw wide and forced a snarl from it, pushed out magic from back of his spine until it crackled bright white with energy. The humans responded by jamming their weapons into his body from all sides. Some sunk deep, making him cry out in pain, but some were simply dissolved by the magic engulfing him. His body shook like a trapped animal as the humans dove on him en masse, his only tether to the world the child’s corpse he held tight in his claws.

 

The magic spewing from his back finally took solid form: a pair of prismatic wings, wrapping around his body like a cape. With impossible strength he leapt into the air, shaking the humans off him with his ascent.

 

Free from the humans and their weapons, the open air bathed him in cool moonlight. He spent the only moment he would get this lifetime taking in the sight of the countryside below.

 

Rice fields, stretching as far as the eye could see like black scratch marks on the landscape. Stone huts tiny as dollhouses clustered together in lumpy chunks, the piping smoke from their chimneys tickling his nostrils from even the sky. Trees, so many trees he could barely believe it, in varieties he’d only ever seen in books. And all of it so vast, no walls or ceilings, stretching from one end of forever to the other. It was so beautiful it made him gasp out.

 

The moment of peace was killed as he felt the sting of an arrow puncturing deep into his stomach. He lurched involuntarily towards the ground, eyes looking up at the twinkling stars rather than the mob waiting for him underneath. Chara didn’t give him a chance to hit the ground, pulling control from him and opening his wings. They forced him to swoop up over the heads of the humans.

 

He felt energy crackle around them. Below, the humans dropped their weapons, staring up at them in complete fear, voices screaming indiscriminate words of horror as the ball of energy grew brighter and stronger. They had become aware they weren’t fighting a monster, but a god.

 

He knew what the humans, both the one in his head and the ones cowering beneath him, wanted. But who was he to pass judgement, to decide which humans deserved their vengeance more? Chara, with their dark sense of humor and their love of chocolate and their scary smile, his best friend forever, but what of these people?

 

They were scared to die, too, weren’t they?

 

…Was he?

 

“Chara, I…I want to go home.” He looked down at the arrow stuck deep in his stomach and realized that god or not, he was going to die. “I d-don’t want to do this. I want to go home.”

 

Chara laughed bitterly. “…I’m never going to get to see home again, Azzy. I’m already dead. There’s no going home for me.”

 

The ball of energy dissipated. Whatever Chara wanted him to do, it was still his body to control. He flapped his wings, catching the night air on them.

 

“I’ll take you home. J-just like you wanted. Just like you asked for.” He bobbed over the terrified humans, through the trees heading towards the cluster of tiny stone dollhouses. “The flowers, right?”

 

Blood loss made his flight crooked, but he tried his best to keep his path sure. He would sometimes feel the snag of a tree claw into him and force himself to flap harder to stay afloat.

 

“I died for nothing.”

 

The trees he could barely keep above pointed their branches at him accusingly. He could feel himself getting woozy, eyes struggling to stay open. He could feel his wounds leaking wet sand. Blood was starting to give way to dust. He didn’t have much time left.

 

“You really are an idiot.”

 

He nodded. He was. A dumb idiot kid crybaby.

 

“I hate you.”

 

He nodded.

 

“I hate you!”

 

He crashed face-first into the side of a stone building, only numbly aware of the sensation of pain. Humans must’ve been inside, because now they were out, and they were prodding at him, and poking his snout, and messing with the corpse in his arms, turning it over. He heard their talking change from confused whispers to angry shouting.

 

“-Our son…this thing, killed…baby boy…killer…damn mountain…monsters…” Their accents were strong, and their voices miles away and mixing with Chara’s raging temper inside his head. They beat him with their fists and their words again and again, and he let go his weakening grip of Chara’s body.

 

“F-flowers.” He choked. Orange ones, he remembered. Chrysanthemums, was that what Dad had called them? They liked to make crayon drawings of them. He couldn’t make his mouth say any of those words, though. His whole body was so tired. Would they understand what he meant by that?

 

They pulled Chara’s remains away from him. He closed his eyes, praying they would know what to do. He didn’t have enough strength left to carry them to the flowers himself, anyway.

 

And then he forced himself to stand up.

 

He wanted to go home, too, after all.

 

 

He only made it as far as the floor of the throne room.

Chapter Text

Obviously, Sans said no.

 

I’m too lazy, he said. My health gets worse every day, he said. I mostly just want to get rid of you, if we’re being honest, he said. You’re not helping me, he said.

 

The two monsters sat alone, the humans having gone off back to their own tents. The fire had died down to tiny magical embers. Its creator was more preoccupied with conversation than with keeping it lit, and it wasn’t like either monster needed it for heat; one being covered in thick fur and the other nothing but a pile of unfeeling bones.

 

“You’re a very good liar. You’ve fooled everyone.” He laughed. They were a walking cliché machine.

 

“but, lemme guess, not you?” Toriel had given him a very similar speech, right before she’d left his life forever. She’d been wrong. He’d fooled her, too.

 

“I can see right through you.”

 

“that’ll be because of the holes in my ribcage.” No laugh, forever a killjoy.

 

“Flowey didn’t always kill you, did you know that? He wanted to do the kinds of things Asriel would have wanted to do, for a while. Helping people. Being good and nice.”

 

He found that pretty hard to believe, judging by the number of notes he’d found in his workshop with the phrase ‘don’t trust the flower’ scribbled hastily on them. But then again, his memory for things that hadn’t actually happened wasn’t what it used to be.

 

“I bet I know exactly what you’re thinking right now. You’re a skeptic, it’s in your nature. You used to be a scientist, and you’re jaded. Anybody would be after what you’ve seen.” They paused, calculating red eyes looking him up and down in the darkness. He shivered, feeling like a specimen in a petri dish moments before dissection. “Still, like most monsters, you’re full of love. You only hate two people, one who doesn’t exist anymore…” Their eyes went soft, and the tears started. “And yourself.”

 

“that’s creepy, dude.” The self-loathing thing was an easy thing to guess if someone knew what to look for, but how did they know about him? He couldn’t imagine any alternate version of himself letting that slip, even under the worst torture.

 

…Maybe they weren’t bullshitting him.

 

“I know it scares you pretty bad, how well I can know you. You want to believe that despite everything pointing to the contrary, you still have some control over your own destiny. Your pranks, your jokes, the way you push people who could help you away…” They put a paw on his shoulder. “All attempts to put fate back in your hands, if only a little bit. And it eats you up inside that you can’t, because you’re pretty sure you’re the only one who even knows how scripted their life is. So, you hate yourself.”

 

They were dead on the money.

 

He tried, did everything in his power to fight it, but he still wound up being just another puppet in the great cosmic farce. Even now, with the entire world open to him and the anomalies put to rest, he was still bound by some cruel unseen god’s plan for him; either forced to turn to dust alone by the time bomb that was his soul, or forced to live against his will by a well-meaning abomination. The surface wasn’t freedom, the end of the unstable time loops wasn’t freedom. In the end, he couldn’t change anything.

 

All he could do was let it kill him.

 

He’d fooled Asgore, who ate up the little white lie that he wanted to become his judge and kill those kids ‘for the good of monsterkind’ when he’d looked at the charts showing the holes those kids were going to punch in spacetime, because killing kids ‘for the good of monsterkind’ sounded a lot better than the ‘because it’s your destiny, Sans’ that the old doctor had given him. He fooled those kids, letting them think he was a bad evil monster, because telling them that their only sin was the sin of their fathers sounded a little too much like prophecy for his taste. He fooled his brother, who thought he was lazy and told corny jokes because that’s just who he was, instead of because that’s who fate had shaped him to be. And he’d fooled Toriel worst of all; the only non-fabricated bond they’d ever shared was over the one real decision he’d ever made, a decision that were he not just fate’s slave would have taken him exactly zero seconds to make.

 

But this punk, this weirdo, this blank slate with a head full of eldritch knowledge, saw him for what he really was: nothing. Just a puppet who accidentally got a view of the hand up his ass, still saying the same lines of dialogue even as he rolls his eyes at them.

 

…Fuck, he was crying too, now. He kept his head low, hoping to hide his weakness.

 

“just who the hell are you, anyway?” His voice came out tiny and broken, lacking the bite he’d hoped would be in it.

 

“…We were friends, sometimes. You and Flowey, I mean.” They brought their thumbpaw up to his chin, and upon feeling the wetness pooling there, yanked their hand away. “You never fully trusted him; I don’t think. You always knew you were being manipulated. If I wanted to get close to you, I had to tell you the truth, even the parts I really didn’t want to tell anyone.”

 

“you told me about your powers.” They nodded, wincing.

 

“And only ever you. I was getting very bored of them, at that point. We bonded over that, hating the life we were both forced to live again and again. Or you bonded with Flowey, anyway. He didn’t feel anything.”

 

A memory forced its way into his skull like a massive blob of thorny vines.

 

A confession, crocodile tears running down an overexaggerated frowny face, so obviously fake it made anger well up in him; those ‘golly’s and ‘howdy’s coming from its mouth a parody of the ones it might’ve said in earnest in life. A puppet master, but one he could kill without the nightmares, because this one needed to be put down for its own sake. His destiny and his desire could be the same thing, for once, and it made his bones jostle with renewed thirst for life. He could kill it, and not even feel bad. It bowed its petals low like it hadn’t been watered, still thought it was tricking him, ‘just an innocent little sad flower’, what a joke. One bone attack piercing through its phony face and it would be dust, or whatever abominations turned into when they died.

 

…And he’d broken down and cried to them. The first and last time he’d done it. The first time he’d had to scribble ‘don’t trust the flower’ on a note, and the last time he’d let himself trust.

 

The very, very last time.

 

“you’re still manipulating me. right at this very moment.” He pointed his bony finger at them, and with it he could feel that moment of weakness dissipating behind him. “not so fuckin easy now that you only got one shot to get the response you’re lookin for, but you’re still trying your best, eh?”

 

“Do you really want to die, Sans?”

 

“yes.” That was a lie; they knew it was a lie, he knew it was a lie. “if you’re really different now, prove it. fuck off and leave me to die. flowey would never have done that. asriel would have never done that. pull your conniving little vines out of my life, because i am tired of being the universe’s plaything.”

 

They went silent, staring off into the distance at the darkness around them. The final embers of the fire went out.

 

“You’re right.” They stood up. “I’ll leave tomorrow.”

 

Was that really it? After all those days of nagging, all it took was a little guilt-tripping of his own for them to give up on him, too? He wanted to feel good about it, that he could finally die on his own terms, but he found himself unable to.

 

“…and just where are you planning on goin?”

 

“I can’t stay here much longer. Humans are pretty oblivious, but it’ll only take one blabbing to a monster about me before every monster in the whole world knows I’m alive. Especially staying this close to the mountain.” They nodded to themself. “Maybe I’ll settle someplace far away from here, or maybe I’ll just wander forever.” They turned their snout down towards the city below, where all but a few streetlights had gone out, like they were looking to it for an answer. “We Boss Monsters are practically immortal, and I have my whole life to decide.  Maybe I’ll even come back here someday way, way, in the future. See how many great-grandchildren your brother had.” They laughed, but it was a sad kind of laugh. “He’s very popular, you know. I see interviews with him on the news all the time.”

 

“…and i can die alone and bitter here underneath the shadow of my former prison.” Long before he got to see any of his brother’s first-generation offspring.

 

“But at least you chose it, right? There are things worse than death.” They smiled at him. “Take it from someone who’s died three times and lived through some of those ‘things worse than death’.”

 

The sky was turning a bruised purple color down at the horizon line, dawn threatening to burst out and scorch the world with daylight once more.

 

They would have to leave, obviously. It was true they wouldn’t be able to stay a secret for long, not when they were ten feet tall and radiated enough magic that even humans could detect it.

 

“...i’ll still die, even if i come with you. there’s no cure for my condition.”

 

“Everyone dies. It’s the stuff that happens before they die that’s important.”

 

He looked out past the skyscrapers, past the mountain range surrounding the city, forward towards continents and oceans and mountaintops he’d only ever read about. Out to the moon, the Milky Way, the infinite spanning cosmos that had enthralled his imagination as a child. And back down, towards the sickly unkempt bones of a dying man who once dreamed of seeing the stars, who only now dreamed of dying with his ass up so the universe could kiss it.

 

“….who am i, az?” Bitter, spiteful, and willing to die over it. Tired, jaded, depressed, forever at the mercy of gods who didn’t care. But that wasn’t what he was, not really.

 

And Az knew it, too. They might be the only one who did.

 

“Would you like to find out?”

 

What did he have to lose, even if he didn't like the answer? Another couple months, at most, staring at the ceiling of his bedroom, waiting to croak? The smug satisfaction that he proved everyone right about himself?

"yeah, i think i would."

Chapter Text

The ship's captain, an elderly human man with skin like shoe leather and a long greying beard, looked at the two monsters with some mix of confusion and thinly veiled fear.

 

"I don't think I'll ever be used to seein' yer kind wandering around up here."

 

Sans was beginning to wonder if this was a good idea. If worst came to worst they could just steal a boat, or something. There had to be a safer way to get across the ocean than hoping they could trust some random human not to be literally the worst. Most humans, despite officially as a species being at peace with monsters, were still more than willing to be bigoted and terrible to anything that looked different than themselves.

 

"No 'fence, a' course. It's just that one of ya..." He pointed a finger at Az.  "Looks just like ol' Lucifer hisself, and one of ya…" He moved his finger to point at Sans. "Is the spittin image a' Mr. Reaper." He laughed, a nervous smile on his wrinkled face. "Makes a superstitious ol' sinner like me a bit jumpy, yannow?"

 

It was Sans's turn to laugh nervously. He found himself exceptionally thankful that studying constellations had given him an encyclopedic knowledge of human mythology, or else he might have lost the nuance of this conversation. Az followed suit, giving Sans a concerned look out of the corner of his eye. He tugged their ear playfully, hoping they’d catch on to his con.

 

"well, don’t worry. this big lug ain't much of a devil. he cries at cat videos."

 

"I do not!" They mock-frowned at Sans, who grinned back at them. "...And the only thing this bony midget will reap is your patience with him."

 

The pair gave their best “we’re completely harmless monster vagabonds” improv routine, but the old captain didn’t seem to be falling for it. His eyes never left Sans. Did this human somehow know how far from harmless he really was? He knew humans couldn't read LOVE like he could. It was impossible without very well trained magic, and humans didn’t know how to use even the most basic magic.

 

But the way this sailor was glaring daggers into him, he wondered if some humans had an intuition about that kind of thing. Did the stench of murder stain his soul enough that a grizzled old man with a nose for the supernatural could sense it?

 

"Hmm, yer lookin mighty familiar, Mr. Reaper, but I can't put my finger on it…" He ran his fingers through his beard, cocking his head slightly.

 

Sans laughed, easing back into his facade of innocence while masking the intent in his soul enough that he could feel it making Az's soul quiver with unrest. He was just being paranoid, there was no way a human could figure out something he’d learned to hide from all but the most perceptive monsters. "i get that a lot. people usually know me from my famous role as the anatomy dummy in their middle school biology classroom."

 

The human slapped his knee and yelled. "Ah, that's it! Ain't ya that monster I always see on the TV givin' speeches? Some kinda ambassador?"

 

Sans let his intent loose with a tiny sigh of relief. Just paranoia on his part, and a smidge of racism on the human’s.

 

"close, but no cigar. that's my baby brother." He winked at the human. "surprised you got us confused. he inherited all the looks, while i got a face fit for radio."

 

The captain barked with the first genuine laughter Sans had heard out of him.

 

"Baby brother, eh? Well, I see which one of ya got the funny bone." He looked over his shoulder at the boat tied to the docks behind him. "Ain't they got somethin nicer for y'all political types to travel in than some ol' coot's pontoon?"

 

He couldn't very well tell the old man that his massive furry companion was technically not supposed to be alive, and that any of the more legal methods of ditching town would leave a paper trail Az couldn't afford to deal with. The human was just starting to warm up to them; a bombshell like that would probably end with police involvement, at best. Humans out in the boonies like this tended to carry shotguns.

 

"my bro might be a political figurehead, but i'm just a simple hotdog salesman." He shrugged, hoping that would do. “or i was, anyway. retired now.”

 

He nodded.

 

“…And yer hellish bodyguard there?”

 

“I’m his uh, n-nurse.” Sans didn’t like that word. It reminded him too much that he was nothing but a burden on what should have been Az’s first taste of real freedom.

 

The old man’s face went soft. Sans didn’t like that, either. It reminded him too much of pity.

 

“I won’t ask too many questions, ‘cause I got the feelin’ I don’t want the answers. But...” He gestured to the monsters. “Ya two are packin’ mighty light fer sailin’ cross-country.” He turned to Az, that soft look still carved into the wrinkles of his face. “It ain’t contagious, issit?”

 

Sans felt his soul tremble.

 

“W-what do you…?” Az stuttered.

 

“I ain’t know a damn thing about monsters, but if there’s one thing I know plenty ‘bout, it’s death. Nobody sneaks outta the only private port in Ebbot with only his nurse and a bag a’ clothes unless he ain’t plannin’ on returnin’. Ya smell like sickness, too. Sailors get a nose for that kinda stuff.”

 

Az opened their mouth to answer, and Sans dismissed them with a wave.

 

“not contagious. genetic. had it my whole life.”

 

“Yer baby brother know?” This human had no right to know that, no right to even ask. Still, they needed a way out of town and this man seemed willing to help them.

 

He swallowed his pride.

 

“…knows i have it. doesn’t know i’m dyin’ of it.” He felt Az’s eyes on him. “he’s healthy.”

 

The captain laughed, shaking his head. “Hotdog sellin’ reaper fit ta’ be reaped up hisself, and his devil nurse. Whadda pair.” He climbed up the boarding plank to his boat, beckoning with his hand to the monsters still on the dock. “Are all ya monsters this strange?”

 

Mt. Ebbot loomed overhead even from the docks, its familiar peak a constant sight in the skyline since the day monsterkind had descended it. Generations of monsters had lived underneath it, and even now most monsters chose to live nearby. It was a massive stone relic to everything Sans had ever known and loved, known and hated, and he realized this was the last time he would ever see it. It didn’t sting as much as he thought it would.

 

He was going to die free. He wasn’t a judge, or a sentry, or a comedian, or a scientist, or the guardian of spacetime, or a goddamn hotdog salesman. He was just Sans, Sans the skeleton. And just Sans was all he ever wanted to be. He looked over to the new constant in his life, grinning like it was their birthday as they scampered up on the boat. Not Asriel Dreemurr, not Azzy, not Flowey the Flower, not the God of Hyperdeath. Just Az. The old sailor was right. What a pair.

 

Sans took one last look at his old prison and walked the first steps into his new life.

 

“name’s sans.” He stuck out his hand to the sailor, before remembering he hadn’t packed his whoopee cushion. The old man shook it to only the sound of rattling arm bones.

 

“Franklin.”

 

The Boss Monster reached their paw hesitantly towards Franklin. “I’m uh...” They looked from human to skeleton. “You can call me Az.”

 

“Yer funnier than yer patient, I think.” He shook Az’s hand. “Dunno I believe he’s harmless, but I’d bet my beard you act’lly wouldn’t hurt a fly; and yer the one who’s not lookin like he’s gonna keel over any minute.”

 

Sans realized he still had no clue how much about himself Franklin had figured out. Humans were always tricky, hard to read and predict.

 

Franklin paused a moment, scratching his beard again, like he was working through something in his mind. Whatever it was, he seemed to have found a solution, because he knelt down and pulled the boarding plank away from the dock.

 

“Ya got yer sea legs, reaper? First stop’s ‘bout three days away and I’m not lookin’ ta’ explain ta’ port authority why I got a fully stripped a’ meat corpse stashed on my vessel if ya croak.”

 

“we dust when we die. you’re gonna have to explain why you tipped over five ashtrays worth of soot if i croak.” That joke would’ve been a lot funnier if it wasn’t an actual possibility. “besides, i don’t got the stomach to get seasick.”

 

The old man laughed, pulling open the sails on the boat. “Hope so, cus if ya ralph, I’m makin’ yer sweetheart nurse clean it.”

 

 

Sans discovered the only thing worse than waking up to a particularly bad soul murmur was waking up to a particularly bad soul murmur while on choppy waters. His body slapped roughly against the wall of the ship’s cabin, forcing him awake, if not properly conscious. Outside, he could hear the thunderous roar of a storm.

 

“az!” His voice was barely above a whisper, completely inaudible in the great tempest. “az!”

 

The boat rocked again, smashing his skull on the wall he was now stuck to. Without any strength in his body, he was completely at the waves’ mercy. He couldn’t even tell what direction he was laying in, robbed of his vision by the murmur and disoriented by the repeated blows to his head. Another wave crashed into the boat, slamming Sans into what he could only assume was the door to the cabin, judging by the doorknob-shaped chunk of metal now lodged painfully in his ribs.

 

“az-...aw shit.” His ribs had hooked him on the doorknob, keeping him dangling, stuck in place. He reached his soul out, trying to feel for the presence of the Boss Monster. He could feel the faint tingle of a human soul, and farther away the even fainter pulse of a Boss Monster’s.

 

Neither felt close enough to be on the boat.

 

They’d fallen overboard. Oh god, could Az swim? He could feel their soul sinking and bobbing up repeatedly, and Franklin’s wasn’t faring much better. They were tossed out on the water. He could feel ticks of hope coming off Az’s soul. Drowning. Dying.

 

…And he was stuck on a doorknob rattling around like some kind of pathetic Halloween decoration. Completely useless. He couldn’t even get his eyes to come into focus, let alone perform anything resembling a rescue. His mind raced.

 

Bones were buoyant, he remembered. He’d seen his brother float gleefully down the rivers of Waterfall on a homemade bone raft enough times to know that. But any magic he spent while his soul was as weak as the murmur was making it would almost surely kill him. He probably didn’t have enough magic to summon more than one bone, anyway. It’d have to be a perfect shot. A perfect blind shot, he reminded himself. His eyes still weren’t working.

 

But he’d been a physicist, once. He knew how to plan trajectory arcs, how to accommodate for fluid resistance. He had a general idea of where the two were from where their souls were struggling. The rest was just a bit of calculation. Calculation, and luck. No margin of error whatsoever, because he’d be dust before he got a second chance.

 

Az deserved that second chance more than he did, anyway. Their soul wasn’t stained with LOVE.

 

He focused on summoning the bone, rather than anything else. Bone magic had once been second nature to him, just layers of calcium, simple. Just layers of calcium, much easier than ad hoc physics calculations. The waters seemed intent on mocking him for that notion, thrashing him against the door yet again. He felt the searing pain of his left femur popping out of its hip socket and clattering to the floor from the force. The sensation gave him a horrible idea: he didn’t need to make a magical bone from scratch.

 

He was made of magical bones.

 

He focused all of his magic into his left leg, now floundering about on the floor with nothing to control it besides the surging ocean. Layers of calcium, one after the other, fusing the bones together, making it large and marrowy. His soul burned in agonizing protest, but he pushed through the pain. He fused the toes into one, sharpened it to a point. Bits of dust chipped off of him. He let careful measuring of angles and guesses about bone mass keep him from noticing.

 

He was losing consciousness, but he had to figure out where he could pierce the hull without damaging the boat too badly; and god, he wished he could see where the boat sat on the water, or feel where the ground was.  He could feel himself getting delirious, but he could feel Az’s soul lose hope in bigger chunks now, feel both souls’ struggles growing weaker. He felt himself drowning, his own soul like a wet candle in a dark cave, but he couldn’t wait any longer.

 

He used the last bit of his magic to fling the bone out to the two drowning souls, wild and guessing as much as it was delicately planned.

 

Everything went dark. He’d never find out if it saved them.

 

 

The boy had to have been four or five years old, wandering through the snowdrifts with no obvious direction, judging by the tiny staggering footprints he’d left in the snow. He didn’t actually have to kill the kid, per se; frostbite would almost certainly take him before he’d make it to town.

 

He couldn’t know what freezing to death felt like, lacking the circulatory system needed to die such a way, or even skin to feel the cold on. Anecdotes from books and stories from his reptile and mammal friends said it wasn’t a terrible way to die, barring how long it took. Towards the end, it supposedly just kind of felt like falling asleep. That’s how he’d like to go, if he had a choice. Just conk down for a nice long nap, and then never wake up. He was already great at napping; he’d be a natural fit for death by nap.

 

But no, he couldn’t just let nature take its course with his target. Even little five-year-old humans had the power to warp spacetime, and he couldn’t risk giving the kid a chance to use that power. He might be lazy, but there were certain things one couldn’t afford to be lazy with.

 

Besides, there was his target.

 

“hey, kid.” His voice scared himself, sometimes, so different these days from its once light-hearted slurring, sharp and cold as the snow falling around them. “you lost?”

 

The boy turned around pretty fast for someone who was half frozen alive. Looks like he scared the kid as bad as he had spooked himself.

 

“F-fr-fr…?” Their little lips were purple, their teeth chattering too bad for him to figure out what they were trying to say. “A…a….”

 

“nope, it’s me. the grim reaper.” He blink-stepped towards them, eye lit blue. “take it easy, kid. i’ll make it over fast. promise.”

 

That was one promise he was having less and less trouble keeping. Kid didn’t even have enough sense left in him to be alarmed. Three bones through the chest, and the snow was stained bright red. Hands stained red, too. Ruined another hoodie, blood seeped right through to his ribs underneath. He was going to have a tough time convincing his brother this one was a ketchup stain.

 

One last thing; always the worst part. He pulled his soul out of his bloodstained chest. LV 6.

 

Just a number, he tried to reassure himself. There was no going back, no difference between LV 6 and LV 2, not really. Killing one kid is hard. Killing three? Not so much.

 

LV 6.

 

His brother would notice. That was a full two LV jump. He probably reeked of murderous intent.

 

LV 6.

 

…He should probably just burn the hoodie and make up some excuse as to why it went missing. Stains that deep wouldn’t come out.

 

LV 6.

 

He was disgusting.

Chapter Text

He stood in the snow, unmoving. The blood would be covered by the blizzard soon enough, not a trace of the murderous act he’d just performed left behind. Maybe the dogs would smell it, but they wouldn’t know what it was, anyway. None of them had ever seen a human to know how they bled.

 

He’d have to slink away to the castle for a few days until he could train himself to muffle the extra LOVE on his soul. Asgore never asked any questions, not on that first night. It was impolite, both to his judge and to the child he’d slain. “Stay as long as you need to, Sans.” his big gentle voice would say, and nothing else. The “I wish you would stay forever.” was only ever implied through the lonely look on his face. He’d drop the human’s soul at his feet like a good royal subject. He’d take their body down to where the others had been laid to rest, seven stone coffins, all but two empty. All but one, now. He knew very well the last one would never be filled.

 

Timelines stopping right and left, until reality just ends.

 

Confess your sins, reaper.

 

Asgore never asked anything of him. A co-conspirator, through and through. As far as anyone would ever learn, he’d killed all six children himself. His kingdom would only ever see the gentle old king, not the demon ruler in the mountain that killing six children would have turned him into. A secret between king and judge, serving both to push the two together as much as keep them at arm’s length. Was that love? Was it self-loathing? ...Well, Sans never asked anything of him, either.

 

I know what you did, reaper. The past is a zombie, and it’s lurching after you. Your body might be free, your mind. But your soul is dirty, dirty, dirty, no matter where you run.

 

Sans laughed, freefalling down backwards into the snow, because he remembered he was dead. He’d never have to drag that kid’s body to Asgore, never have to debate whether to kiss him or slap him when he’d pour two cups of tea all teary-eyed, because he’d already done it all.

 

“good luck chasing me into the afterlife, pal.” No answer, probably because he wasn’t actually laying in the bloodied snow next to a child’s corpse, talking to the disembodied gravelly voice of his own conscience. “i killed three little kids in cold blood, pap. didn’t even give them a chance to fight back. disgusting, ain’t it?”

 

Papyrus didn’t answer, probably because he was too busy meeting with the minister of some far-off country, thousands of both years and miles away from wherever Sans’s dust would wind up. Confessing now would cause more harm than good, anyway. Couldn’t have the charismatic face of human-monster relations so closely related to a child murderer. The aftermath would be catastrophic.

 

It was better for everyone, really, that he was dead now.

 

“Stay with me. P-please. Not yet.” Two consciouses, arguing with each other. Great, now he was crazy, in addition to being dead.

 

The snow around him warmed up in protest.

 

“You’re not dead, not yet.”

 

His soul tickled warm like summer heat, fire magic bubbling life into the ice surrounding him.

 

“You told me you wanted to find out who you were, didn’t you? If you die, that’s it. T-that’s the end.”

 

Tiny green sprouts pushed out of the earth, lifting him off the ground. Flowers. Daisies, white petals and bright yellow stamens, blooming around his body fast enough for him to watch it happen.

 

“You’re not this cold, dead memory, this blood on your hoodie. Not unless you die here.”

 

He closed his eyes.

 

“Not yet. Please, n-not yet.”

 

 

“Sans-“

 

He opened his eyes. Staring at him wasn’t the soft, worried expression of the Boss Monster he expected to see pulling him back from death. It was the tired, haggard face of the captain, Franklin.

 

And he looked bluntly, pissed.

 

He tried to wiggle his left toes, checking to see if his body was too weak to move, before remembering he was trying to wiggle a set of toes that didn’t exist anymore. Ah, shit. He tried his right toes, instead. Nothing out of those ones, either. Next, he tried getting his voice to say something, maybe “where’s az? is he ok?”. He got about as much as a weak “aaaaaaaaaaaazzzzzzz”.

 

At least Franklin understood, pointing behind him.

 

“Don’t worry yer empty skull ‘bout ‘im. ‘e’s fine. Fell asleep healin’ you.” Sure enough, he could see Az’s massive chest rising and falling calmly, scrunched up in the only still walled-in corner of the cabin. He felt a massive weight remove itself from the top of his ribs. “Wassn’t never in any danger, act’ly.” There was a pointed anger in the human’s tone, staring daggers into him. “Storm blew ‘im overboard, an’ I went in after ‘im. I wassn’t drownin’, ya bony idiot. I was savin’ yer friend.” Sans felt a very specific kind of anger radiating from Franklin’s soul, one that made him feel horribly naked being unable to move. Monsters in the vicinity of humans with souls like this one didn’t last long, even monsters with the ability to fight back.

 

“Imma seaman for chrissakes! Yer kinds’ the ones who were stuck inna cave fer a thousan’ goddamn years!” He looked down at Sans, and there was that horrible pity in his eyes as they drifted down at the empty left leg of his shorts, immediately killing the murder-vibes he’d been putting off. “…Az said that little stunt coulda killed ya. Shoulda killed ya. Don’t ya monsters have any sense of self-preservation?”

 

He could see the afterimages of the nightmare he’d just woken up from still carved fresh inside his skull: the blood on his hoodie, the murderous intent forever emanating from his soul. He had a sense of self-preservation, all right. More than the average monster, in fact. Five levels more.

 

He was very thankful the still-receding soul murmur meant he couldn’t manage more than a grunt of acknowledgement in response. He might’ve said some things he’d regret.

 

“…but ‘e was pretty well gone, an’ too big fer me to get a hold a’. An’ who knows, maybe I woulda got swept away myself any longer out there.” The old man’s voice got low, carefully eyeing the sleeping monster in the corner. “Look, it’s none a’ my business, but yer clearly real important to ‘im. First thing ‘e did when ‘e came to was start cryin’ an’ askin’ to see ya. Either yer payin’ ‘im real good, or…”

 

Franklin went quiet. The only sound was the gentle thwap of waves and Az’s wheezy little snores. The silence made Sans itch, praying he could fill it with some kind of terrible pun to quash the unspoken accusation. Nope, nothing this time. Not even a groan of disagreement. His soul was fluttering too rapidly.

 

“It’s easy fer sinners like us ta jus’ go lookin’ fer hills ta die on.” He chuckled and pulled up his grey eyebrows in the kind of expression one might call ‘wise elderly fondness’, or perhaps ‘senile whimsy’; Sans’s guess being the latter. “But don’t take a love like that fer granted, got it?”

 

He turned away from where Sans was laying, facing the new hole he’d made in the cabin.  The sound of wind and waves combined with no longer being able to read Franklin’s lips made it hard for him to hear whatever was being said next.

 

…Something about his brother? That was the only word he could make out.

 

He successfully gathered enough willpower to lift himself into a sitting position, his bones popping like an arthritic the whole way. That got the human’s attention, at least.

 

“Good, yer up.” He pointed out of the hole. “And what great timin’! Look!”

 

Sans’s eye lights still weren’t working perfectly, but even he could make out the beacon in the distance.

 

“Get yer nurse up and at ‘em, I gotta get us ready ta dock.”  He climbed through the hole, then paused, looking at Sans sitting on the bed. “Ah, right. No leg.”

 

“don’t worry, i got it.” His voice was weak and unconvincing, still slowly coming out of the murmur. Hopefully Franklin didn’t notice. “gonna have to get used to life sans a leg sooner or later.”

 

The human laughed and climbed out of sight, apparently satisfied with that joke answer. Good, no worrying anyone. At least until he woke Az up, anyway.  He was going to get one hell of an unmitigable grilling from them. All “You know your body is too weak to regrow that, right?” and “What if that killed you, and didn’t even save us?”. And they’d be completely right, of course. He wouldn’t even argue.

 

He sighed and pulled off his right arm, chucking it Az-ward. The arm hit them dead-on, square in the forehead. Their eyes snapped open immediately upon impact.  He smirked at his own aiming skill, batting two for two on the body part toss.

 

They took one look at the arm now writhing in their lap and shrieked, jumping to their feet.

 

“g’morning, sleepyhorns.” Their eyes darted over to him, drowsy realization hitting them. He pointed with his still attached arm to the one now laying on the floor. “mind lending me a hand?”

 

He burst out laughing at the look they gave him.

 

“T-that’s not funny.” He begged to differ, but the way their deadpan expression turned to worry made him stop.

 

The way they ran to him and wrapped him in a tight, teary hug made him regret the prank entirely.

 

“Oh g-god, you’re ok.” He could feel their soul beating hot under their chest, trembling with concern, fear, and something else entirely. He was going to pretend he didn’t know what that last one was.

 

Welp, if experience had taught him anything, now it was time for that scolding session.

 

…Except it didn’t come. They clung to him, sobbing, unable to form a coherent word. When the tears finally stopped, they pulled away from him and looked down.

 

“T-thank you.”  He waited for the “But…”. Instead, they smiled at him.

 

“…um. you’re welcome?” He let his unasked question dangle in the air.

 

“You saved us.” They carried his arm back to him, helping it back into its socket. “You didn’t get to hear Franklin, but even he admitted you made him change his mind about monsters.”

 

That didn’t answer his question at all. Were they being intentionally obtuse? Having returned his arm, their gaze immediately cast to the other missing limb, the one that wasn’t coming back.

 

“Your leg…” Ah, ok. Here it comes.

 

“it’s gonna be hard to put my best foot forward now, huh.” He was practically goading them now, anticipation gnawing at him. “i oughta change my name to eileen.”

 

“It shouldn’t be too hard to find a replacement. Something to run magic through; maybe we could find a human who’d donate a set of leg bones?” They scratched their chin, looking at his right leg. “You’re pretty stumpy. Child-sized?”

 

He laughed bitterly.

 

“yeah, that’s a great idea. ‘hey, got any dead kids laying around? my buddy, who’s going to die any day now, needs their bones because he can’t regrow his.’.”  Their expression soured, fangs scrunched against their lips. Why did he want so bad to lash out at them just for not yelling at him? Why was he so downright angry that they seemed more grateful than ready to put him down? “just say it, az. call me a reckless idiot. tell me how stupid that was, and how disappointed you are in me.”

 

“Should I?” They looked away, lost in thought like they really weren’t sure if they should or not. “I have a lot of trouble figuring out what feelings I’m having, sometimes. But I’m happy right now, I think.”

 

They paced in front of him, frown creasing their face. Not exactly looking like what they said they were feeling.

 

“You got hurt. You’re going to have trouble walking around for the rest of your life, and I’m going to know that it’s my fault, and none of those things make me feel good.” They paused their monologue. “But I’m happy?”

 

He remembered the crushing hug they’d given him minutes ago, what the captain had told him, the way their soul had pleaded with his not to leave them.

 

“you’re happy because i lived.”

 

They blushed.

 

“Oh. Yeah.” They laughed nervously, ducking their snout down. “Man, I feel like such a dummy. That should be an obvious thing, shouldn’t it?”

 

“it’s hard to be honest with our feelings.” He leaned on them, hoisting his weight onto his single foot. This one-legged balance thing was going to take some getting used to. “like me. i don’t think i really want you to tell me off. maybe i’m just happy you’re alive, too.”

 

They helped him distribute his weight, sticking an arm out for him to support himself with. He couldn’t help but stare at the big dopey grin on their face as he clung to their forearm.

 

“Hey, Sans…?” The dopey grin didn’t leave their face, but it did get a little smaller. “Do I uh…do I like you?”

 

He was lucky for his still lightning-sharp reflexes, because elsewise he might’ve ended up on his ass from whiplash.

 

“i dunno, to be honest. you could just feel sorry for me.” Why had Asgore kept him around, those teary bloodstained nights at the castle? Was it love? Self-loathing? Why had Toriel stayed with him once the shitty puns ran out, when all they shared were ghosts? “why does it matter?”

 

Their grin turned even more delicate.

 

“How would I know if I did?”

 

Nope, nope, noooope. He was not having this conversation, not while half-balanced on a rickety death boat punched full of holes, standing on one leg. Not ever, if he could help it.

 

“you don’t, dude.”

 

“But-“

 

Whatever they were going to protest with was cut off by the boat’s horn sounding off, followed by Franklin’s shout of “Land, ho! Dockin’ at Janaza’h port! Gimpy reapers an’ healin’ baphonets, get yer asses deckward!” Normally, being told he had to do something would deeply offend Sans, but at that moment it sounded like a golden trumpeting from heaven.

 

“you don’t.”

 

And that was all he was going to let either party think on the matter.