Actions

Work Header

Ashes to Dust

Chapter Text

“AND WITH THAT, WE HAVE OFFICIALLY MOVED IN!” The youngest skeleton brother declared loudly, dropping a cardboard box on the ground with a satisfying thud. He dusted off his mittens and smiled, looking quite pleased with himself.
He surveyed their new living room, which looked less like an actual living space and more like a storage unit. Aside from a path to the kitchen and the stairs to their second floor bedrooms, the room was covered in boxes from their old house. Papyrus huffed, a shudder running through him just looking at the unsightly mess. No doubt he’d have to unpack it alone, knowing his brother’s lazy habits.

That reminded him, he hadn’t actually seen Sans at all since he had started getting the boxes from their place back in Snowdin. His slacker of a brother had made some sort of excuse about his ‘legally required breaks’ and had run off without another word.
Papyrus sighed, rubbing his eye sockets with exasperation. He wasn’t necessarily surprised that Sans had decided to ditch at even the mention of work, just… disappointed. Since Frisk had arrived, Sans had actually been slightly more productive than back underground, and Papyrus had already resolved to ensure that change was permanent.

“MINOR SETBACK…” He mumbled under his breath, surveying the room one final time before moving for the front door. He pulled on his jacket and hastily worked at the buttons, already certain where his brother would be. He pulled on his signature red boots and, without another word, left their house in search of Grillby’s new apartment.

Perhaps his older brother was already homesick after only weeks of being on the surface, but Papyrus found that more often than not his brother was off visiting his childhood friend rather than occupying their own house. Deep down, Papyrus was grateful for this- it meant less time pestering his brother to do his work as well as that Sans was actually putting some effort into a friendship.

And while Papyrus was all for effort, he couldn’t help but feel that Sans was directing it in the wrong place. As amazing as the gift of friendship was, his brother needed a job. A real one, one that could help sustain them both now that they were fending for themselves on the surface. Things weren’t the same here. You couldn’t just take breaks at random intervals and expect to keep your job. You couldn’t just slack off all day and still get paid. Basic survival required tough work and dedication, and deep down Papyrus was scared that his brother might not be up for the tasks ahead.

Shaking away his worries and concerns, he walked purposefully down the suburban streets, the chilly autumn air stinging his cheekbones as he huddled for warmth. Already autumn had begun on the surface, and it wouldn’t be long before winter was upon them.

More snow. More slush. More dirt.

Papyrus was positively thrilled.

-
Meanwhile, Sans was leaning on Grillby’s balcony, watching the clouds drift lazily by. It was still a marvel to him, how people just… lived with this. Got to spend each waking moment basking under the sun’s calming light. He smiled, almost content, staring into the gorgeous glowing star above.

He heard the screen door behind him slide open and turned around to see Grillby’s daughter, Fuku. Her emerald flames covered everything in a faint green glow as she leaned against the door frame, amused.

“You just going to stare out there forever, then?”

Sans smiled, a little embarrassed at being caught in one of his rare moments of sentimentality.

“sure would if i could, kid. your dad home yet?”

Fuku’s smirk deepened as she ignored the question.

“You know most people consider it rude for you to just barge into their houses uninvited, right?”

Sans chuckled good naturedly.

“kid, i don’t need an invitation. i practically live here.”

Fuku rolled her eyes. “Hurray,” she said sarcastically, shaking her head. There was a pause before she added reluctantly, “Dad’ll be here in a few. He’s probably heading back from Snowdin with his restaurant supplies right now.”

“sweet,” Sans said, glancing back at the sky. He hadn’t been lying: he really would stay out there forever if he could. Fuku seemed to sense his sentimentality and her smirk morphed into more of a friendly smile. She got up from her place against the door frame and went to join him, sinking into the balcony railing.

“Really is something, eh?” She stared into her sunlight, her eyes completely unaffected by its harsh rays. “Can’t believe we actually made it up here.”

Sans glanced at her, his forced smile becoming a little more genuine. “i guess so,” He said, looking out over the city below them. As he stared out across the city, he noticed a figure below, easily recognizable by his amber- orange complexion. He appeared to just be entering the complex, and was struggling with a large amount of cardboard boxes in his arms.

Fuku noticed him as well and sighed. “Figures he’d try to get all the boxes in one go,” She muttered, turning away from the balcony to face the inside of the admittedly small apartment. She glanced back at Sans over her shoulder.

“I take it you aren’t gonna help me, then?” The teen said drily.

Sans chuckled, and was about to shrug off his lack of effort with a cheesy pun, but faltered. That was what he would have done back underground. He would have draped himself across his old friend’s couch and would have never attempted to get up. When Grillby would have arrived in the apartment, slightly irritated with his apathy, Sans would have changed the topic or made another cheesy joke.

That was the Sans that he was trying to avoid. The one that had given up.

Sans closed his eyes and huffed, already tensing himself for the surprised response that he knew was coming.

“eh, why not? beats sittin’ around like a loser.”

Fuku visibly recoiled, suspicion almost immediately flickering across her face.

“Since when did you get all proactive?”

“since never. just figured your dad would probably lose his cool on me if i let his teenage daughter do his work without me.”

Fuku rolled her eyes, snorting at the lame joke, and strolled back into the apartment. “Alright then, Muscle Man, but if you just sit around like a loser while we’re down there I will end you.”

“that’s fair.”

Sans followed her back into the apartment, closing the screen door behind him and breathing out in relief. Thankfully, she hadn’t asked too many questions, though he knew more would be on the way from Grillby. He was always a little too perceptive for Sans’ liking.

Just as Sans was about to head out into the hallway, he felt an odd chill travel down his spine and glanced over his shoulder into the lackluster apartment.

For a second, he swore he saw a shadow moving along the wall.

Sans paused, paranoia creeping along his back, as he stared into the apartment for what felt like hours. He was about to go investigate when he heard Fuku’s voice ringing out from the complex’s hallway.

“Hey, Muscle Man! You coming, or are you just gonna stand there checking out the wall forever?”

Sans forced a chuckle. “eh, I dunno. seemed pretty hot if you ask me.”

He heard only a groan from the young fire monster and laughed again, heading through the apartment doorway.

He glanced once more into the room, but only once, before stepping out into the hallway and shutting the door behind him firmly.

No more paranoia. No more fear. No more apathy.

He followed Fuku down the hall, leaving the incident behind him.

Chapter Text

The ride in the elevator seemed to last forever. Both the skeleton and the young flame were silently acknowledging the absurdity of Sans voluntarily doing work, but neither had the (literal) guts to confront the other. When the elevator doors finally opened to the main floor, Sans was greeted with what looked like a rather disgruntled looking amber flame collapsed over a pile of cardboard boxes in a sad defeat.

Fuku let out a short burst of laughter, causing the flame to startle and pick himself up rather quickly (the same, however, could not be said for his cargo).

“Good morning, my little flame,” He said, striding over to his daughter in an attempt to regain his dignity. He embraced his daughter softly, which she pulled out of within a matter of seconds.

“Need a little help, eh, pops?” She said, looking around her father’s figure to examine the pile of boxes. Grillby’s flame sparked for a moment- perhaps out of embarrassment, perhaps out of amusement- before he sighed and shrugged reluctantly.
Fuku stared at her father for another long moment before adding, “And it’s, like, three in the afternoon. I get how you can lose track of time up here, but this is a little bit ridiculous.”

Sans stood back, watching the exchange with amusement. The two’s interactions had always been something of a show for Grillby’s patrons back underground; Fuku was always able to tear away at her father’s dignity only seconds into a conversation. It was refreshing to see through all of the changes Sans had undergone, the pair remained just as dynamic and energetic as ever.

Fuku stepped around her father, mimicking his dignified walk, and gave him a mischievous smirk. Grillby glanced at Sans, exasperation written across his face, as his daughter began to pick up the boxes. She stacked at least half of them in her arms with seemingly no effort and winked at her dad.

“Glad to see your age isn’t getting to ya,” She giggled, and then added as she strode by him, “Though, if I were you, I’d lose the ‘power walk.’ You can practically hear your bones cracking.”

Grillby stared at Fuku in dismay. “I don’t even have bones,” he whispered softly, as the elevator doors closed behind his daughter.

Sans snorted into his fist, earning a glare from Grillby. “Glad to see at least one of us is having a good time,” Grillby muttered, amusement lining his voice, as he began picking up a few of the remaining boxes. Sans felt his smile ease a bit at the mere presence of his childhood friend. Something about him just tended to make everything a little easier to handle.

“You have the last few boxes, then?” Grillby asked, clearly trying to distract from the no doubt humiliating encounter. Sans chuckled good naturedly.

“sure thing, grillbz.” He winked, attempting to heave the last box into his own arms.

It went about as well as Grillby’s attempt to salvage his dignity. As he lifted the box into his arms, he found himself nearly toppling under the sheer weight of it. He grunted, desperately trying to tuck it under his arm or hold it a way he could deem comfortable, but this only resulted in one half of his body becoming heavily imbalanced and him nearly collapsing. He set down the box with a defeated grunt, much to Grillby’s amusement.

“figures you’d save me the heaviest box,” He panted, only seconds away from giving in and sprawling across the floor in defeat.

Grillby chuckled good naturedly, a mischievous twinkle in his eye. “What, you expect me to take it? At least this way I get some amusement out of it.”

Sans stared at his old friend with helpless amusement. “okay cool but… you do realize there’s no physical way for me to lift this box right?”

“Anytime, Sans,” Grillby laughed, turning around and walking into the elevator.

As his friend left, Sans felt the urge to call him back. This was going to be hard enough with Grillby there- but removing him was another kind of weight entirely. Sans had been waiting for hours for Grillby to show up at the apartment, and now instead of getting to spend time with him, he was being forced to do actual work.

Before he could open his mouth and say anything, however, the elevator doors closed behind his friend, and the fire monster could hear him no longer.

Sans looked back down at the box. He was determined to lift it, though he knew Grillby would probably be back to help him anyways. He’d promised to help, dammit, and he was going to stick with his commitments.

He squatted beside the cardboard indignity. Upon further inspection, he saw that the top hadn’t even been sealed- perhaps the weight of the other boxes had given it the appearance of such, but after having the weight removed, the cardboard flaps had slowly began to pop back up again. Perhaps he could use this as some sort of grip, or…?

Sans placed his hand on one of the flaps, prying it open ever so slightly to examine the contents of the box, and was immediately hit with that familiar feeling of dread he felt in the apartment. The kind that made you feel like something was seeping into your soul, looming eerily behind you without notice.

He glanced behind him, careful to make sure whatever the shadow in the apartment had been hadn’t followed him here. Not that it would have, of course- it hadn’t even really been there in the first place, right? But his old sense of paranoia was creeping up on him, and he couldn’t help but shake the feeling he was being watched.

After a moment, Sans turned back to the box, which was now noticeably exposed to the outside atmosphere. He hesitantly pulled the top off further, somewhat nervous to examine the contents. His smile close to slipping, Sans pulled open the rest of the box.
At first glance, he felt relieved- the contents appeared practically normal. A few award trophies collected from both fire monsters over time; miscellaneous, unused sports equipment; a stuffed animal left over from Fuku’s childhood. For a brief moment, Sans let his guard down.

Until he saw the photograph in the dead center of the box.

Perhaps it was a little out of place- it wasn’t inside a photo album, or even laminated- hell, it was sitting loosely and somehow ended up top of all the other contents of the box, even after Sans had no doubt shaken the contents to no end during his attempt to pick up the box. But it wasn’t the photo’s existence that had Sans shaken. It was the contents.

Because unmistakably, without a doubt, that photo was of his family.

He didn’t know how to react other than to stare. Sans had no memories of his family, or anyone inside of it. He could barely remember most of his childhood, as a matter of fact- Grillby was the only exception to this. Sans had even led himself to believe that he had no family before meeting Grillby, if only for some form of closure.

Sans picked it up hesitantly, hands shaking, smile only seconds from completely dissipating. Upon further inspection, he noticed several details- for one, he and Papyrus were about equal height, so this had to be at some point during his teenage years. Another; this one more shocking; was the fact that the adult in the photograph’s face had been completely blurred out. Not that Sans would recognize him anyway- his family had been essentially blocked from his memory.

The final detail, and the one that filled his stomach with dread, was the caption scratched into the bottom of the photograph.

"DON’T FORGET."

It rang in his head, echoing over and over. Don’t forget.

Had… he written this? Had Papyrus? He couldn’t imagine his brother’s innocent face being burdened by such words.

God above, how the hell had Grillby gotten possession of this?

Sans let his eye sockets fall closed, and he sighed, trying to clear his mind. He removed the photo from the box and tucked it into his hoodie’s pocket. He’d dwell on this later, he was sure, but he couldn’t be caught so vulnerable like this out in the open. Plastering on his smile and willing his hands to stop shaking, he looked back to the box in an attempt to regain his focus.

Sans closed the box as well as he could, trying to regulate his breathing. How was he supposed to lift such a heavy box in this state?

Sans nudged it with his foot, and was surprised to find it slid easily across the floor. Hadn't this been almost impossible to carry nearly moments before...?

He picked it up.

Weightless.

He didn’t know how, or why, it had suddenly become so easy to pick up, and no matter how hard he thought about it on the way back, he couldn't make up an answer.

The photograph seemed to grow heavier and heavier within his pocket with every passing second.

Chapter Text

Grillby Flame had known Sans for as long as he could remember. He could remember without hesitation the first time they met, some time ago in middle school, and could perfectly recollect nearly all of their early encounters. Grillby had always been a very observational person- perhaps this helped cater to his inevitable fate of being the silent bartender type. Something he took great pride in (though he would never dare to admit it) was his ability to read people based on expression and mannerisms alone.
It was the reason why he’d grown so attached to Sans in their first encounters. Everything about him- from his ever present smile, his lack of any natural-feeling emotion, and the way his confident stride was laced with something he could only describe as ‘uneasiness’- had fascinated Grillby, if only out of the desire to assist the tiny skeleton through whatever was so clearly plaguing his thoughts at the time.

What had made Sans especially interesting was how little he appeared to care about anything, and how that made it all the more obvious that he did.

Over their years of growing up side by side together, Grillby had seen this façade trickle away only twice. TWICE. They’d known each other for well over a decade, and Grillby had only been able to even ATTEMPT to help him with his inner turmoil on two different occasions. Even when they had been over emotional teenagers, for Christ’s sake, Sans had only actually ‘vented’ once- and the buildup to his eventual opening up had been shattering on both ends.

Grillby had come to terms with the fact that Sans was not going to let him help with his issues long ago, and had since resorted to using clues from his demeanor to try and piece together how he might be feeling. Sans may not want his help, but goddammit, that wasn’t going to stop him from trying.

Because of this, Grillby knew how to read him fairly well. Even the slightest strain in a smile meant that he ought to be more kind and forgiving than usual. Less speaking than usual almost always meant that something was tearing into him. A slight tremor in his hands, slightly stiff posture… his warning signs were more subtle than most.

So when Sans returned to the apartment practically shaking, Grillby knew that he needed to be careful.

Eye lights ever so slightly dimmed, smile noticeably strained, even to an untrained eye- he had seemed fine just a second ago. Never had Grillby seen Sans change moods so quickly and with such noticeable changes in tone.
Had it been something he’d done…? The prospect of hurting him filled Grillby with an overwhelming sense of dread. Perhaps he should have stayed and helped him. He really hadn’t meant to be rude- he’d sworn Sans had been in on the joke.

Should he apologize? Would Sans even want him to apologize?

Grillby walked over to Sans and graciously took the box from the skeleton’s shaking arms. He was surprised to find it one of the lightest, especially after Sans’s struggle downstairs. He’d known Sans wasn’t the most physically fit monster he’d ever met, but even someone still in their stripes would could carry this.

Sans’ eyes met Grillby’s, and the skeleton attempted to give a reassuring smile.

“eh, thanks for giving me a hand there, grillbz. it’s real up-lifting of ya,” He said with a wink.

Grillby smiled knowingly and sighed, rolling his eyes slightly at the obvious and terrible joke.

“Please. I was getting card-bored watching you try and lift that thing.”

Sans groaned, but not without a small giggle. “c’mon, grillbz. even i can tell that joke wasn’t exactly crate.”

Grillby actually laughed at that one, and motioned for Sans to follow him to the sizeable stack of boxes stacked in the corner of the bare living room. Glancing behind him, he saw the tension ever so slightly eased out of Sans’ posture. It was a relief, for sure.

“So,” he said, setting the box down, “May I ask why you decided to come to my house all of a sudden?”

Sans shrugged, burying his hands in his pockets and seeming to fiddle with the contents. He looked almost uncomfortable. Grillby winced. Perhaps it really had been his fault that the small skeleton was so distraught. Grillby promptly decided to fix this, in whatever way he could- he refused to have his best friend suffering as long as he was in the vicinity.

Glancing back at the cardboard boxes, Grillby smiled ever so slightly. He had begun to formulate a plan to help ease his friend’s troubles.

“Well, never mind that, then. You’re here now, aren’t you?” Grillby smiled reassuringly, to which Sans shrugged awkwardly and looked down at the floor. “…I have to say, for one, that I’m rather glad for that.”

That got a reaction. Sans looked back up at him, flattery etched in the edges of his smile.

“eh. y’don have to be.”

“Which should make it all the more notable that I am, Sans,” Grillby said softly, placing a hand delicately on his friend’s shoulder.

Sans chuckled and his eyes flashed with recognition. The two had done this song and dance numerous times before. Grillby would notice something askew in his typical front and do everything in his power to shower his friend in reassurance. Sans, however, would do everything in his power not to be affected by the kindness. This, of course, resulted in yet more positivity, until the fire monster could safely say that Sans’s mood had been restored.

After a moment passed, Grillby smiled softly and looked around the room, surveying the boxes for anything that could be used as a distraction for the poor skeleton. His eyes fell on a box that had been fairly difficult to carry, loaded with fragile electronics. It brought back memories of the two playing together as teenagers; a world that had been so much simpler than the one they now lived in. Was Sans’s emotional trouble rooted in a longing for their old home? Grillby severely doubted it: Sans had always been one of the more star-struck monsters back home, and he doubted his friend would trade the sky for any of the mediocrity in the underground.

After a moment of deliberation, Grillby chuckled. “You remember that old N64?”

Sans looked startled, if only for a moment. “wait, like, the one from the dump? you still actually… have it?”

“How could I ever let go of it?” Grillby smiled, looking down at Sans warmly. He added impulsively; “I got to spend time with you.”

Sans’s shoulders stiffened, his eye lights flashing curiously as his gaze fell to the floor. Grillby watched the skeleton’s mouth open, but no words found their way out. For a second, Grillby swore he saw a flash of colour… bloom… across Sans’s face. But not even he could get a good look before it had faded away and Sans laughed awkwardly to dismiss the compliment.

“yeah, yeah, whatever, ya big dork,” He said, still avoiding Grillby’s gaze. The pit of concern in Grillby’s stomach only deepened. Had he really been the one to cause his friend’s unease? Clearly Sans had reacted negatively to positive treatment- or at very least, not the way Grillby had been hoping.

“wanna play or somethin’? ya know, before pap gets here and spoils our fun.”

Grillby laughed, still noting the… difference in Sans’s tone, but dismissing it as something to analyze later. Right now he had to be here for his friend, and if that meant playing old 8-bit games over open communication then dammit, he’d just have to survive. But even as Sans wandered over to the boxes to dig out the console, he still felt just a tad… strange. Not uneasy, but strange.

Analyze later.

Right now, it was time for a distraction.

Chapter Text

Maybe playing Mario Kart with Grillby would have been more relaxing if Sans hadn’t been grappling with his emotions the entire time.

Now, the skeleton was very experienced in blocking out his thoughts; he’d spent the greater amount of his time in the underground doing exactly that. But when said thoughts were sitting right beside you, they were a little hard to ignore. No matter how hard Sans tried to keep his focus on the game, his eyes always wandered back to his friend. His childhood friend, who was doing everything in his power to try and keep him captivated, keep him happy.

Perhaps he was accomplishing his goal more than he intended.

…shit.

“So much for being ‘The King of the Kart’ then, Sans,” Grillby prodded, laughing as Sans’s place steadily slipped from 9th to 11th place, and then to 12th.

Sans winced at the terrible self-asserted nickname from his youth. “oh, jeez, grillbz, don’t bring that up!”

He shook his head in an attempt to get his head back into the game, silently chastising himself for thinking like that about his childhood friend. Because that was exactly what Grillby was to him: a childhood friend. Someone who was willing to spend time with him just to make him feel comfortable. Who was willing to sacrifice his own temporary wellbeing in order to lift Sans back up on his feet. Hell, someone who actually cared about him.

That was a crazy thought. Somebody caring about you. Of course, Sans knew that his brother was always there for him, and cared about him more than he could ever imagine. But there was a part of him that told himself that love was out of obligation: he was his brother, after all.

“I’ll bring up what I want to,” Grillby chuckled, disrupting Sans’s train of thought. It figured that his attempt to focus on the game only lead him back into a spiral of self-doubt.

“shut up,” Sans muttered, realizing that any attempt to play the game was hopeless at this point. He was so far behind the rest of the competition that not even a miracle could bring him back.

A moment of silence passed between the two as the game finished. Grillby set down his controller quietly. He’d won, of course- the console had always been his, and he’d been in love with it since the day he and Sans had discovered it in the dump. Sans wouldn’t have been surprised if Grillby still played it regularly, even accounting for his usual ‘oh-so-serious’ demeanor.

The silence drew on longer. San s noticed the tension in Grillby’s shoulders, and realized that the fire monster may have very well had something on his mind during the game as well.

“…You alright, Sans?” The fire monster sighed.

It was so unlike him to actually confront Sans that he had to do a double take. “i- wh- yeah, grillbz, ‘course i am.”

The response was instinctive. It always had been.

Grillby looked like he wanted to elaborate, but quickly shut his mouth in defeat. Sans wasn’t sure how to act in this scenario. Under any other circumstances, he would change the subject, or brush it off and make some lame joke, but… this was Grillby. Grillby knew him better than anyone else, maybe even including his own brother.

Sans almost wanted to tell him what was on his mind. Almost. But not today.

“c’mon. how ‘bout another game? this time, i promise i won’t letcha win.”

Grillby scoffed, rolling his eyes. Sans noted how the tension in his friend’s shoulders remained very present, even as they picked up the controllers for another game. In truth, Sans really hadn’t wanted to play again, but the alternative could very well be talking about his emotions, and that was more terrifying than any amount of Grillby’s potential gloating.

It was at that moment that Fuku walked into the room, clearly distressed. Her emerald green flames were an unusual pine colour, and although they flickered quickly, they were fairly low. Sans wasn’t necessarily an expert at understanding fire monster’s body language, but he was pretty sure this meant something was up.

“everything okay there, kiddo?” Sans asked, relieved he didn’t have to stew in his thoughts any longer.

Fuku sighed, flames flickering in annoyance. “I got a text,” She said, clearly directed at her father.

“…A text?” Grillby said, practically on edge at this point.

“From mom.”

Sans let out an involuntary grunt of displeasure, unable to help himself. He’d never liked Grillby’s girlfriend back in high school, for one reason or another. The crowd she’d hung out with had always just been shockingly rowdy, a stark contrast to any trait Grillby had ever displayed. It had just seen so unlike him to date such a person, and of course when she was revealed to be just as shallow as he had anticipated her being, Sans’s distaste for her had only intensified tenfold.

Grillby’s flames flickered with distaste and he crossed his arms. “…What is she…”

“Money. Again. I just wanted to know how the fuck she got my number.”

Grillby shrugged absently, clearly lost in his thoughts. Sans carefully placed a hand on his friend’s shoulder, trying not to further agitate the situation. Grillby started, but flashed him a weak smile.

“I’m not sure,” He finally answered, defeat etched into his voice. When Fuku’s flames flared, he added, “I didn’t give her your number, if that’s what you’re asking. I didn’t think she even… associated with us.”

Of course she wouldn’t. Sans hadn’t heard from her since their graduation, and he couldn’t say he was displeased. She’d been so quick to abandon Grillby with their child that it was infuriating. As much as this was better than having such a person as a part of the family, it made Sans’s stomach lurch that she would move on after something so major, especially after how much Grillby had needed her back in the early stages of Fuku’s life. He’d had to take on the role of father along with his friend, and often spent countless hours outside of school babysitting Fuku as an infant.

Fuku sighed, clearly fed up. “Can you, like… do something about it?”

“…are you… able to block her number?”

“I mean, yeah, but like…” Fuku sighed, her foot tapping against the ground anxiously as she avoided her father’s gaze. She shuffled backwards, suddenly very eager to leave the conversation she’d started.

“Fuku, what’s going on?”

“Hmm? Oh, nothing, dad, don’t even worry, ‘k? I was just thinking, I guess.”

Grillby’s spine straightened, and he stared at his daughter intensely. “Fuku Flame, I’m not an idiot. If she’s doing something to you, I want to be able to protect you, alright?”

“Dad. For real. It’s nothing. Just got lost in thought, and all.”

“Fuku.”

“I gotta go. Fuchsia’s calling. Thanks for the advice n’ all, dad.”

Grillby opened his mouth to protest, but his daughter had already hurried away. She was clearly too distraught to notice that her father didn’t quite seem done with her yet. For a second, Sans thought that his friend was going to chase after her, but he only collapsed defeated into the couch, sighing with exhaustion. Perhaps Sans’s instincts had been right, and he really did have something on his mind this whole time.

“I’m… sorry about that, Sans.”

“don’ apologize. i’m just as angry at her as you are.” Sans paused. “…like, at your ex, i mean. not fuku.”

Grillby chuckled, but there was no humor in his voice when he spoke. “You’d think with how fast she left, she might want to stay away…”

Sans laughed too, but it was dry, to fill up the tension brought forth by the unpleasant reminder of this woman. “yeah, i know, man.” He kept his voice soft and low, clearly aware of the change in tone. The conversation was no longer about him.
He felt Grillby’s hand rest on his shoulder, and his stomach involuntarily fluttered. Since when had his touch been so warm, so comforting? It distressed Sans that he couldn’t help the thoughts even at a time like this.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever formally… thanked you.”

“thanked me?”

“For all you’ve done for me,” Grillby whispered, voice hushed. “Everything you’ve done, for as long as I’ve known you… it means more than I think I can say.”

“heh,” Sans had to fight to keep the blush from creeping back into his cheeks. This, of all times, was not a good time for his feelings creep up on him.

“i mean, y’ don’t hafta thank me,” He muttered, fiddling with his hoodie pocket in his bashfulness.

“It doesn’t mean I shouldn’t,” Grillby stated. He wrapped one of his arms around Sans’s shoulder, and Sans felt his heart leap into his throat. Though his friend’s grip was still tensed, he hesitantly wrapped his own arm around Grillby’s middle and exhaling lightly. He’d always thought that Grillby gave the best hugs in the world. He was so warm and inviting, and folding into him was like curling up into a giant pillow; that is, if the pillow hugged you back.

He could have stayed there like that forever, just he and his friend, finally having a moment to rest after the dreary, consuming atmosphere of the underground.

“…can’t believe we made it out,” Sans muttered, without really thinking.

“Of that situation, or the underground?”

Sans laughed. “both, i guess.”

“Mmh.” Grillby’s voice was distant. “Yes, I suppose so.”

Something was still off, Sans could feel it. For a moment, he debated pressing into the matter further. It would have clearly been none of his business; that is, if he hadn’t practically raised Fuku. He wanted so desperately to be able to help his friend, but at the same time, he wasn’t sure he would even have the energy for it…

No. His friend was worth it. Grillby would always be worth it.

“hey, if she’s… giving you problems, y’know you can always talk to me, right, g?”

Grillby sighed, holding Sans closer. God, did he even know how cute he was being? Sans felt his cheeks go hot and was grateful that his head now rested on Grillby’s shoulder, out of the flame monster’s view.

“Thank you, Sans. Again. For… everything.” The fire monster paused, and then added softly, “I’m… not sure it would be best to discuss it just yet, but… I will be sure to keep you posted, alright?”

Sans chuckled. “’k, grillbz.”

They stayed like that for a moment longer, before Grillby finally released Sans and he had to conceal his face once more.

The room was silent, but only for a moment, before Sans heard Grillby picking up the controller again.

“Perhaps one more game before you go? It is getting rather late, after all.”

Sans smiled, the fluttering in his chest finally dying down. Hopefully for good- though, knowing him, this was surely not the end of it.

“yeah. ‘k, grillbz. one more for the road.”

Chapter Text

It was late. Far too late for any sane monster to be awake. It only figured Sans would be up, then, at least in the metaphorical sense.

He’d been staring at the ceiling for hours now. There was only a single question on his mind, but he had no way to answer it. It had been much easier to dodge thinking about it during the day, when he had so many other things to think about, but in the darkness of night it was unavoidable. His hands were folded on his chest, not even daring to go into the pockets of his hoodie.

Oh, yeah.

He’d forgotten to take it off again.

Another thing for Papyrus to chastise him for, he guessed.

He let out a long breath of exhaustion, shutting his eyes tight and attempting to find sleep. Papyrus was right, though. It really would be so much easier for him to rest if he’d only take the darn thing off, though for all the wrong reasons. Still.
He could still feel… it… in his pocket. Like an ankle weight for his mind. He wanted nothing more than to throw it out and forget about it, but for some reason he just couldn’t bring himself to do it. Every time he contemplated it, he felt it press harder against his middle. Like the worst kind of stomach ache.

More than anything else he just didn’t want to look at it. He hadn’t even glanced at it since discovering it in the box at Grillby’s apartment complex, and the mere thought of it was bad enough. He’d- he’d always done his best to avoid thinking about things like this, things he couldn’t do anything about, and now here he was, at three in the mcfuckin’ morning, dwelling on a stupid photograph that didn’t even mean anything, and all he wanted to do was go to bed, but no matter how hard he tried he couldn’t, he just couldn’t, he was so stupid, so useless, so-

No.

Another sigh. Sans shuddered, opening his eyelids. He couldn’t do this now. Not when there was no one around to pull him out of it. He ran a hand over his skull, trying to shake the tension from his shoulders and wishing nothing more than to drift into unconsciousness. No, there was no way he could throw it out. He’d never be able to get it out of his head then.

Not like he could get it out of his head at the moment, either, but whatever.

Maybe he should have told Grillby about it earlier. That was half of the problem at this point; dwelling over how on earth Grillby had gotten it in his possession. Surely he hadn’t just been hiding it from him… after all this time? He’d known Grillby since what felt like the dawn of time, and while the guy did seem relatively secluded, he’d never seemed the type to have secrets as monumental as this. Sans trusted him. Sans… trusted him, and he had to put a little faith him.

He’d talk about it with him tomorrow. Or eventually. Or he’d be typical and keep it bottled up until the end of time.

This was stupid. Thinking about it was getting him nowhere.

Dread sinking in, Sans sat up, carefully as to not disturb his (hopefully) sleeping brother. He needed to see it. All of this- all of what he’d been doing was exactly what he’d spent 28 years doing in the underground, and none of it was healthy. It didn’t feel any more right to him, but he needed to look at the photo again, and he needed to think his way through this like a normal, functioning individual.

Carefully, the skeleton inched his way along the bed, wincing with every creak. His brother was infamous for being a horrible sleeper, and Sans didn’t want to wake him now. Seeing the photo had already done enough for one of them.

Sans reached for the reading lamp on his nightstand and cautiously flicked it on, hesitating to listen for his brother’s footsteps in the hallway. When the silence drew on, he let go of the tension in his shoulders and drew back into a sitting position, dangling his feet off the edge of the bed. He stared at the ground.

He needed to see it again, preferably before he chickened out.

Closing his eyes and cursing under his breath, Sans felt his hand slip into his pocket and fold around the photo. With the all too familiar feeling of being watched, Sans pulled it out and opened his eyes.

He had to do his best not to close them again, god, it was like being in the lobby all over again. He could swear the room had gotten several degrees colder. The photo felt like it was digging into him, like the eyes were coming directly from the image itself. Or, rather, from the man standing coldly in the center.

With his free hand, Sans dug into his leg. He had to remain calm. There was a logical explanation somewhere in here, hidden amongst all of this confusion, and goddammit he was gonna find it.

He took the time to analyze the photo. He couldn’t be older than sixteen here, and he was already dressed in an oversized lab coat. Had his scientific career really started so early? Perhaps the man had purchased it for him, but he wasn’t getting the most… ‘friendly dad’ vibes, from the man in the photo or from the expression Sans himself donned in it.

“this is fucked,” Sans whispered, half-groaning.

Further examining the photograph, he noticed a hand placed stiffly on his own shoulder, obviously belonging to the man beside him. Sans squinted. There was something… off about it, but he couldn’t make it out. Like… a patch of colour in the middle of it. But skeletons couldn’t even get birthmarks, as far as Sans or any kind of logic was concerned, so what…?

A hole.

There was a perfectly shaped, cut hole in the middle of his hand.

Yeah, no. This was definitely fucked.

And also didn’t make any sense, because whatever would even lead a person, much less a father, to do such a thing was probably nothing less than insanity.

Great. Go figure he psyches himself up for answers and only comes up with about a million more questions.

He needed to keep tabs on this, bring some sort of order to the chaos that was this forsaken photo. Scanning his room (difficult, considering the amount of nonsense scattered around it) his eyes landed on a pen and pad of paper sprawled unceremoniously across a pile of laundry. Might’ve fallen out of the clothes, but Sans couldn’t remember the last time he’d actually tried to write something down. He made his way over to the pile and picked them up, noticing the horrific folded state of the paper inside of the flipbook and wincing. Truly, one of the worst inconveniences of life.

He creeped back to his bed and sat himself down, staring down at the notebook and then at the photograph. He’d almost begun to hate the thing.

Just… write stuff down. He could get his thoughts out of his stupid skull, and then he could go to bed and avoid this like the plague for the rest of time.

He stared at the photograph, trying not to tremble. It… It made no sense. The man didn’t even… have a face, there was no way it could be watching him right now, and yet he just couldn’t shake the feeling.

The holes in his hands. That was a good place to start.

Carefully, Sans jotted it down, writing only what he could observe from the picture.

- Holes in hands
- Lab coat
- Roughly 16 years old
- Man’s face erased
- Stiff posture
- Uncomfortable energy
- (Father?)

With that final note Sans sighed and closed the notebook. He realized with a sinking feeling that the picture made even less sense now, and he was still no closer to being able to sleep.

He let his mind wander. He’d found that picture in Grillby’s moving boxes, which alone added a whole other layer of mystery. And then there was the… shadow… that moved along his wall. The feeling that something was watching him lingering in the air. The feeling he had right now. Despite his bed being wedged in the corner of his room, he couldn’t help but glance behind himself. Nothing but the wall. Of course.

His thoughts shifted away from Grillby’s apartment. The time they’d spent talking together yesterday… his ex had been brought up at some point, but he doubted the woman had anything to do with the photograph. He’d only ever really known her well enough to be able to resent her. Hell, they’d only ever spoken on one occasion, though perhaps ‘spoken’ was glorified- it was really more of a brawl- but he hadn’t really heard from her since.

Thank the stars for that. Grillby didn’t deserve to have people like that in his life anymore. Granted, judging from the talk they’d had, she wasn’t as out of the picture as Sans would have hoped, but if need be he would be more than willing to take care of it himself.

It wasn’t fair, really. Grillby was so caring and genuine in everything he did. He’d spend hours after closing in the Underground just to talk to Sans, something that had kept him going even in his darkest hours. He was always pushing Sans to keep going, reminding him of what he stood for whenever he felt like collapsing. Hell, he’d even laugh at his jokes- sometimes even join in! And his laugh was the cutest little thing, so bubbly and yet so soft, almost wispy… the way his hand would cover his mouth out of embarrassment, trying to hide his face… it made Sans want to reach up to his face himself, brush his hand aside, just stare into the two beautiful pools of glowing yellow buried beneath his glasses… stand there, doused in his heat, close enough to hear his breathing, soft and delicate, as his face moved closer…

No.
No no no no no no no no, this was not happening, not now, not… not ever, he… he couldn’t think like this, not about Grillby… he wasn’t supposed to, this was… this was his friend, this was… someone he’d known forever, he couldn’t just do this, he, he had to stop, had to think about something else… the photo, Papyrus, something…

Sans practically slammed himself back into bed, throwing the notebook across the room in a frenzied panic. He was just tired, that was all. It was warping his thoughts, he couldn’t think straight, and that was all that this was. In the morning he wouldn’t even remember this, and if he did, he’d laugh about it.

It was funny. Funny, yes, that’s what it was! His brain was just pulling some sort of sick, elaborate prank on him. Haha, yes, good job, just… think of something else now.

Anything else.

Please.

Something awful coiled in his soul when he realized that he couldn’t.

Chapter Text

Papyrus hovered in the kitchen, his gaze sweeping the room in contemplation. It was fairly barren as of now- he hadn’t done much unpacking, since he’d been too busy dragging Sans’s lazy ass out of Grillby’s apartment.

Papyrus bristled. He was aware of how barren the counters seemed. He supposed he would have to fix this, but he wasn’t sure whether or not he should do it with Sans. It should be a no brainer. Sans wouldn’t be much of a help, and doing this with him would be more of a hassle than doing anything for their productivity. It made logical sense he do it on his own, especially since Papyrus knew his older brother wouldn’t exactly be thrilled to spend the day taking things out of boxes.

He leaned against the kitchen wall, knitting his non-existent eyebrows in contempt. He let out an uncharacteristic sigh, knowing exactly why he wanted to drag Sans down here.

He tapped a gloved hand against his ulna, deep in thought. Dammit, he missed his older brother. Perhaps this was a result of his lack of bedtime story last night, but he was in a rather cranky mood, and his brother’s continued absence wasn’t helping it much. He… really had been spending a lot of time with Grillby lately. Hell, he couldn’t even remember the last time they’d spent an entire day together. It troubled him.

Closing his eyes, Papyrus let out a sigh of exasperation and got up from the wall, fully aware of how petty and childish these kinds of thoughts were. Sans was a grown adult. Much older than him at that, and more than capable of making his own decisions without his own selfish input. If he wanted to spend his time with his friends over him, then of course Papyrus had no right to interfere- they’d spent so long just the two of them, maybe it was time for him to get out more.

Before Papyrus could quite get his thoughts in order, he heard the stairs creaking, signifying that his brother had finally woken from his slumber. The younger skeleton brother left his train of thought in the kitchen and emerged into the living room, where his eyes rested on his older brother’s hunched and fatigued body. It became obvious from the bags under his eye sockets that Sans’s ‘slumber’ hadn’t been so long after all.

There was something else, too. A glazed look in his eyes that Papyrus decided he wasn’t fond of. Puffing out his chest and regaining his composure, he strode over to his brother with feigned confidence.

“BROTHER!” He boomed, startling Sans out of his stupor. An uneasy smile crept across his face.

“oh, heya, bro. what’s up?” He rubbed his eyes and leaned against the railing, having not fully descended the stairs.

“I SHOULD ASK THE SAME TO YOU,” Papyrus retorted, looking his brother up and down. “YOU LOOK LIKE YOU HAD A RUN-IN WITH JERRY.”

“hmm?” The small skeleton paused, as if trying to process what he said. “oh, yeah, i guess i had a bit of trouble fallin’ asleep last night. it’s nothin’, really.”

“IT DOESN’T LOOK LIKE NOTHING,” Papyrus said bluntly.

“pff. harsh, man.”

“HOW LONG HAVE YOU EVEN BEEN IN THAT HOODIE FOR?”

“mmm, forever…?”

“IT SHOWS.” He marched over to the stairwell and inspected the coat further. “HONESTLY, SANS, YOU OUGHT TO WASH THIS POOR THING EVERY ONCE IN A WHILE. I CAN SMELL THE KETCHUP FROM HERE!”
“that’s just cuz of my stash,” Sans grinned, taking a hand out of one pocket to reveal a fistful of the dreaded red packets.

“YOU’RE INSUFFERABLE.”

Papyrus reached for the old garment as if to pull it off, and immediately Sans’s ketchup-free hand shot from his eye socket and into his hoodie pocket, almost in distress.

“not… not now, pap,” he stuttered. His tone was disconcerting, and the glazed look in his eyes was replaced with unease. It was so out of character that Papyrus had to take a moment, staring at him with concern.

“ARE YOU SURE YOU’RE ALRIGHT, SANS? YOU’RE ACTING LIKE YOU STAYED UP ALL NIGHT WORKING ON… ON A SCIENCE THING, OR SOMETHING.”

Sans hesitated, regaining the little composure he had. Before Papyrus could do anything to press the matter further, Sans’s trademark smile had already made its way back onto his face. “nah, pap, you know i don’ do that anymore. besides, i’m still tryin’ to ketchup with all the moving.”

“WELL, OF COURSE YOU ARE, WE ALL-” Papyrus paused, dread sinking in. “WAS… THAT A PUN?”

Sans only grinned wider.

“NYEH!” He cried, burying his face in his hands and backing away from his brother in anger. “YOU’RE TERRIBLE!”

“wow, uh, rude. thought a condiment was in order for my attempt, but I guess you couldn’t mustard one up.”

“THOSE WERE EVEN WORSE!” He crossed his arms and scowled at him furiously. “AS PUNISHMENT, YOU NOW HAVE TO HELP ME UNPACK.”

Sans stared at him in betrayal. “rude. how could you. betrayed by my own brother.”

“SORRY, SANS,” Papyrus shook his head sternly, “I DON’T MAKE THE RULES.”

“don’t lie to me,” Sans said, leaning over the railing with a hand dramatically placed over his forehead. “we both know you’re the one who’s done this to me. at least own up to your own crimes.”

“YOU’RE THE ONE WHO MADE THE AWFUL PUNS. THEY’RE PRACTICALLY A CRIME OF THEIR OWN!!”

“yeah, you got me there,” Sans chuckled, rubbing his eyes and shifting on the railing. “we got anything to eat around here?”

Papyrus noted Sans’s blatant attempt to avoid the work and shook his head in slight disapproval. “OTHER THAN YOUR DREADED KETCHUP PACKETS, NO.”

Sans pretended to shake his head in sorrow, despite his smile only widening. “well then, i guess we gotta order something. real shame.”

Papyrus scoffed. “I SEE WHAT YOU’RE DOING HERE, SANS, AND IT WILL NOT WORK! THE GREAT PAPYRUS REMAINS VIGILANT AGAINST YOUR FOOLISH ATTEMPT AT… FOOLERY!!”

“me? try to trick my own brother? surely you jest. i would never do something so heinous.”

“WE’RE STILL UNPACKING, SANS. YOU AREN’T GETTING OUT OF THIS.”

“nah,” Sans shrugged, “too hungry,”

“I’M SURE YOU CAN WAIT TO EAT UNTIL AFTER WE’RE DONE.”

“nah, pap, i can’t.” Sans said solemnly, reaching into his pocket again. “it’s impossible.”

“IT’S… REALLY NOT?”

Sans’s grin widened and he pulled out a ketchup packet from within the folds of his hoodie. He sighed, his tone deep with mock reluctance. “guess i’ll just have to eat what we got.”

Papyrus’s frustrated expression morphed into one of utter horror. “YOU ARE NOT EATING THAT, SANS!!”

“mmm, really?” He fingered the ketchup packet delicately, hands threateningly close to tearing it open. His face was etched with smug satisfaction.

“I LITERALLY REFUSE.” Papyrus said, standing his ground but unable to disguise the fear in his eyes.

Sans didn’t respond. Very slowly, he began to tear at it in an attempt to open the dreaded thing.

“STOP IT, SANS!!” Papyrus threatened, jerking forward. He didn’t come any closer, however, as Sans tore it further with a shit-eating grin on his face.

“THE GREAT PAPYRUS FORBIDS YOU FROM GOING ANY FARTHER, SANS!”

Sans closed his eyelids, as if he hadn’t heard his brother speak at all. “mmm, damn shame. if only i had something else to eat, i wouldn’t have had to resort to such drastic measures…”

“YOU DON’T HAVE TO!! SANS!! AGHH!!”

With a dramatic final sigh, Sans tore the packet open. Papyrus went still and watched his brother raise the ketchup to his mouth, trembling as the small skeleton downed the packet with a shudder.

“oh, the humanity! Or… monster… anity… i guess…” Sans trailed off for a second, then let his expression tighten. “alas, it was not enough to sustain me.”

Papyrus, who was traumatized enough after watching just one downing of ketchup, practically screeched. “NYEH! FINE! YOU WIN, SANS, WE CAN GO GET SOMETHING ELSE, I SWEAR! JUST PLEASE DON’T PUT ANY MORE OF THAT DISGUSTING FILTH IN YOUR SYSTEM!!”

Sans nodded firmly. “thank you, o lord. you have shown me mercy.”

“…WE’RE STILL UNPACKING AFTER THIS, SANS!”

“darn.”

“AND GO CHANGE! I REFUSE TO BE SEEN WITH YOU WHILE YOU’RE IN THAT GRUBBY THING.”

“double darn.”

Sans made his way back up the stairs, chuckling quietly to himself. Papyrus was unable to help the smile that crept along his features as he made his way back into the kitchen, where a large window illuminated the room in a vivid golden glow. It shone down upon his skull and he couldn’t help but close his eyes and bask in it for a moment.

Today was going to be a good day.