“Hey Sansy, how do I look?”
Hearing the familiar pet name, Sans opened an eyesocket and tipped the brim of his hat away from his face. He’d been sneaking a few winks before showtime, the rest of the band used to his habitual snoozing in the backroom of the restaurant. There, standing with dainty little hands perched on her hips and her hair fluffed up nice, was Frisk Dreemur, the prettiest dame this side of Ebott. She was just a few years younger than his brother and practically a little sister to him. It was a real shame what happened to her Ma. Toriel was a real fine and funny lady. She deserved seeing her adopted daughter all grown up...Though, she probably wouldn’t be too happy about her singing for pennies in bars, but a living’s a living, and Frisk had a real instrument in her throat.
“like a hundred bucks, kid,” Sans said, giving her a slow wink and a whistle. “spin ‘round for me. that a new dress?”
Frisk laughed and twirled, “Gift from a secret admirer.” Sadness intermingled with brief joy. She deserved beautiful things. If only the fellas that gave her those things could be trusted further than Sans could throw’em. He let his eyelight trace her form and face. Red. From the shoes to the lipstick, she was in all red. Suited that Determined soul that beat within her chest. She was a radiant beam of humanity, a rare sight in the monster district, and Sans was thankful everyday that most monsters tended towards compassion. Humans didn’t often come to the monster district, and when they did, it often got loud and messy. ‘Monster Lovers’ like Frisk were likely victims of any crossfire for being race traitors. Didn’t matter if it was a human that abandoned her and a monster that saved her life.
“No smart remarks? You’re being awfully quiet today.”
Sans dared to meet those dark as chocolate eyes, “what can i say, ya knocked me dead.”
She shook her head, a huff of amusement toying high in her chest, “Well I’ll have to resuscitate you then, we’ve got a show in ten and aint nobody here gonna play that trombone solo if you’re in an early grave.” Frisk sauntered over and Sans wagged his browbones.
“gonna gimmie the kiss o’ life, doll?”
Frisk fluttered her lashes and pecked him on the cheekbone, “I have no idea how you said that with a straight face.”
Sans pried himself up out of the chair and straightened his hopelessly rumpled tie, “helps bein’ a skeleton without a face to start with.”
“True, now hurry up. You’ve got lipstick on your skull.”
As she flounced off, Sans pulled out a handkerchief and rubbed where Frisk laid the smooch on him, “wonder who’s fault that is?” He sighed and picked up his trombone case that rested against the wall. It was cracked in places and the handle creaked like the wooden floor in your granny’s house when you wanted to sneak a sweet after she sent you to bed. But it was trusty and true, and kept his baby safe from dents and dings. Sans unclipped the latches and took a minute to just admire the piece of brass that was putting food on the table for him and his brother. It was a gift from their old man before the market crashed and he took a swan dive into the Core. Hardly an original tale to hear from folks, except Sans was the only one he knew whose pops decided scattering his dust across the plane of existence, by way of the central core of the power plant he helped build, was a grand way to go.
He checked the instrument over, to make sure she was all oiled up, and let his magic seep into the metal, warming it. Grillby’s wasn’t a cool place, given the owner was a fire elemental, but Sans didn’t want to risk playing sour tunes on a cold trombone. She was a masterful piece of craftsmanship and the only material possession he had left of any significant value.
“Sans! Get your lazybones up on stage,” Felix, a cat monster who could work a piano like she was his lady love, hissed through the door, before stalking off back to the front. Whelp. That was his cue. Sans lifted the trombone over a shoulder and headed out for warm ups.
Frisk was a star.
She had the men enraptured as she belted out tunes with a passion that made her Soul shine. At one point she slipped off stage to sit by Felix at the piano, and their voices rang in a harmonious duet. Felix was practically a canary himself, if only he was a broad instead of a gent and didn't have the smoking habits of an industrial chimney. The night was winding down when she whispered something to the feline and shimmied over to Sans. Girlie was scheming again.
“Can I persuade a fine mister like yourself to sing a little tune with a songbird?” She did this now and then, knowing Sans couldn’t find the power to say no to her request. He didn't have the pipes Frisk did but folks never booed him off the stage when they let their voices mingle. Felix was already starting those early measures of a worn but true tune. He laid the trombone to the side. Who was he to deny her?
As the first verses escaped Frisk, sweet and flirty, Sans gazed out over the audience, taking in the crowd properly for the first time that evening. There were a number of suits out there amongst the ragtag normal customers, which wasn't exactly comforting. Suits usually meant guns and exp. Though just as he assured himself that the night would be routine despite the suits, and let his voice join Frisk's, the front door opened.
And in walked trouble.
Sleek black attire contrasted with the white of bone, and the gold glittering on his hands and in his mouth. Through the smoky haze of the bar, eyelights like burning embers danced in sockets darker than tar. The sheer LV he possessed chilled the room, almost making Sans go from sweating to shivering. Anyone with any sense didn't stare as the large skeleton meandered through to the middle of the room, a table conveniently emptying by the time he reached it to take a seat. A pair of monsters that came into the establishment with him took up position as he dropped into a chair and promptly lit up a fancy cigar. The kind with a shiny wrapper and the intoxicating scent of tightly packed magic.
It was Red. The current head to the Fell family operation. The only crime lord of the monster district. He made sure of that when he took up the reigns of the business a couple years ago. Sans remembered his take over. Hard to forget when the monster you'd been paying dues to is shot right outside your ramshackle box of an apartment. He'd never forget that day or Red's face. The way dust painted his suit and bones grey, his sharkish grin broad and manic. The way he loomed, grinding his heel in the remains as his men started knocking on doors to make sure everybody knew where to drop of their protection fee. The way his gaze burned like ice when it met Sans’ through the window, having been fool enough to peek outside when the commotion started, instead of pulling the curtains shut and pretending he didn’t see or hear a thing.
He considered himself lucky he still had his skull safely sitting between his shoulder blades.
Suddenly, there was raucous applause, and Frisk returned the hat she apparently stole off him while he was too busy paying attention to the mobsters. She plopped it on his skull and feigned a kiss to his smile, her voice low as she asked, “You alright there, Sansy? I know you’re a skeleton, but right now you’re looking like a ghost.”
“more like i saw one.”
Frisk knew the gig. Never let on to the fat cats that you’re talking about them. They tended to get less than friendly if the mice got too gossipy. So she propped an elbow on top of his skull (cheeky dame, taking advantage of him being a short stack even amongst monsters) and blew kisses to the audience, buttering them up as she promised her return to the stage the next evening. Sans played the familiar role of laid back gent, his permanent smile never budging as he shrugged and rolled his eyelights, as if to say, ‘Women, can’t ever understand them, can you?’ After a moment, he let his gaze pass over the Don, nearly startling when their eyelights connected. Red was staring. Not at the dolled up human and her soul brimming with alluring determination, but at Sans.
Short, tired, wearing a secondhand suit with more wrinkles than an old lady in a bathtub—Sans.
This was the day he dusted. He had a good run. Not many 1hp monsters kept walking for as long as he did, some might even say he’d been on borrowed time all his life.
Red’s skeleton grin widened and scarlet smoke streamed from every hole in his skull like he was some kind of beast from the pits of Hades. Sans forced their gazes apart, looping an arm around Frisk and escorting her off the stage, grabbing up his trombone on the way. Felix was out front gathering up tips and other sundry items that the crowd took to throwing their way as thanks, which meant they could vanish into the back room with minimal issue. “i’m fine, kiddo, just a lil unprepared to see the boss bones himself in this joint. grillbz’s place aint got the razzle dazzle his type usually like to patronize.”
“You think Grillby’s gotten into the booze business?” Human alcohol didn’t do much for monsters, so speakeasies were a rare sight to behold in this side of town. It was the worst kept secret around that the Fell Family got their riches in smuggling booze around the city, using magic to help aid their activities. Sans shook his head, not wanting to believe his friend made a deal with gangsters to make some extra green. Booze meant humans, and humans meant more money...but both meant more violence. More coppers poking their fat noses into monster business. “Sans?”
“let burgerpants walk you home tonight, kitten.”
She rolled her eyes, “Don’t call Felix that, it’s mean.” Sans’ eyelights softened around the edges, bright with humor. She hadn’t been there when Felix made a fool of himself for some dames, but he could rightfully say that the cat monster rightfully deserved that nickname they gave him. Most folks let the incident fade, but somebody had to keep his ego in check. Remind him that just a few years ago he was all grease stains and no clue how to talk to a girl without making himself the fool.
“so you’ll let’em walk you home?”
“Yes, yes, stop fussin’. You’re worse than mama was when she got it in her head that I was a delicate little daisy,” Frisk patted his arm. “I’m not stupid. When there’s suits about, it’s best to make sure I’m not a lonesome little human wandering in the dark.”
“never said you were…”
When Felix came into the back, their payment in paw, the trio split up the money and went their separate ways for the evening. Felix left with Frisk, and Sans, not liking the feeling in his proverbial gut, lingered, deciding that he wanted a word with Grillby. See if the Fells were guests or if he was indeed dipping his toes into the dangerous waters of doing business with the mafia. He stepped into the main room, curious if he’d find Grillby shooing out stragglers or possibly cleaning. But the fire elemental was nowhere in sight.
Nobody was in sight.
A shiver ran down his spine.
Trusting his instincts, Sans decided now was a bad time to be asking questions and back peddled his way towards the exit. He’d talk to Grillby in the morning. As he pushed into the back alley behind the restaurant, trombone case clutched in his phalanges, the sound of footsteps made him glance towards the mouth where street lamps glowed with the promise of freedom. There, haloed by their hazy luminance, was a large, looming figure with tiny pinpricks of crimson for eyes.
Sans swallowed down the urge to run. He wasn’t sure he was fast enough to reach one of his shortcuts before the other skeleton caught him—if Sans made it past him at all. Time-space-tomfoolery was handy magic to have in one’s arsenal, but unfortunately, he couldn’t go around ripping holes in the fabric of reality to escape a mob boss he mistakenly looked in the eyesockets...twice! There was a weak spot, a rift he frequently used to ‘teleport’, a street over. Real useful for getting to work on time. Not so useful for quick exits.
Tucking his free hand into a pocket, Sans feigned nonchalance, “you enjoy t’night’s show, sir?”
Red took a step forward, giving Sans a clear view of his skull and the false tooth that gleamed in the corner of his smile. His aura was like ice. Intent was a powerful thing for monsters—how one presented and projected their magic told others a thousand things without speaking a single word or taking a single action. Sans was the private sort. He kept his aura close to his bones, his intentions and feelings all but hidden. Made some monsters twitchy around him, distrusting of a funny guy who acted like he had a dirty secret. Papyrus? His brother was a walking bubble of positivity and kindly intentions. Meant he was a prime target for numbskulls that thought he was weak or too innocent to defend himself. Unlucky for them Paps not only knew how to fight, but found beating opponent’s to a pulp rather fun, especially since it meant he could patch them up after in a show of mercy and friendship. The guy in front of him now? He was projecting his intent further than Papyrus normally would, and with none of the warmth. It was like standing in an empty doorway during a blizzard.
It was the aura of a killer. Cold, blistering and territorial.
Passive magic whisked its way across Sans’ bones, creeping between joints in a horribly intimate manner.
“i enjoyed it verrah much,” Red rasped, his voice caught between a rumble and a growl. “sans, right?”
“musta enjoyed the show if someone of your class remembered the name of a nobody like me,” Sans flicked his eyelights towards the street beyond Red’s form. Gangsters liked having their egos stroked. Right? Aside from paying his dues and occasionally needing to duck-and-cover when trouble cropped up during a gig, Sans didn’t have that much experience with mobsters. Given their propensity for poppin’ holes in folks with the bean shooters kept under their jackets instead of starting encounters with magic, it was best to avoid even the monster mafia if a guy wanted to keep in one piece.
A bead of sweat dripped down the back of his neck.
Red was far too close for comfort now, “course i know yer name. yer and yer little human filly are hard to forget.” Ah shoot. Why was he bringing Frisk into this conversation? “how’d yer like her all dolled up in that color? picked it out m’self.” He was the one that bought Frisk the dress? Sans felt his smile twitch. “that look on yer face...yer wanna say something, dont’cha? yet here yer are, all quiet.” A clawed hand slipped from the pockets of that jacket, the tip of a thumb skating beneath Sans’ left socket. No doubt the other monster could sense it—where mana naturally pooled when he was distressed, swelling the eyelight with flickering magic—a warning. Sans wasn’t a fighter. But he had an immense mana reserve despite his pitiful stats. There was something folks called a glass cannon, he was more of a glass grenade. A big flash, a bang, and he’d be dust alongside whatever got too close. Least that’s what his old man warned when Sans was young and nearly blew himself up learning to form bullets.
He was sorta fond of living.
“ah, the kid looked real nice, yer have good taste, sir.”
“call me red. we’re gettin’ to know each other, yeah?”
Sans stood still, frozen, as that hand kept creeping along his cheek, “be a shame if such a pretty little canary stopped singing.” Red smelled of smoke and blood. As if his sins had saturated porous bone. Sans felt his soul numb at the idle threat. Frisk hadn’t done nothing! She was like most folk, just trying to get by in this shitty city the best she could. “y’know, rumor has it yer once was spotted lookin’ at rings fer a lady at a pawn shop, but that lil looker of yers got bare fingers.”
“heh. ah, funny rumor, that. we’re associates, but she aint...we’re not…” Angel above, Toriel, I’m sorry. He promised Frisk’s ma that he’d protect her anyway he could. When they were a little younger, times a little tougher, and the kid, well, wasn’t a kid no more, he got it into his head for a little bit that the best thing to do was to offer Frisk a friendly arrangement. Men older than him courted dames her age, and she was a family friend, nobody would think twice of about it...if he was human. Or she a monster. He abandoned that idea when he remembered that he was just as good as painting a ‘kill me please’ sign on her back if the wrong sorts thought they were involved, even in a marriage of convenience. Sure, he probably could have learned to love her as a woman instead of a friend, but a ring wouldn’t have bought them time or happiness. So he did what he could to keep his promise to the late Mrs. Dreemur.
Seemed he failed.
“no?” Red took another step, forcing Sans to move backwards. His back hit a wall, the trombone case thumping dully against brick. “not just sayin’ that, are yer, sans?”
He loathed the way the mobster said his name, bitter sweetness and mockery, “nope. she’s a free agent.”
“can’t say the gals are lining up for a poor joe like me.”
Red huffed, sounding amused. Humored was good, right? The guy that thought you were funny was less likely to wanna punch holes in your skull. Three was enough for a skeleton like him. Didn’t need any extras. “then yer have no reason to turn down a little invite for dinner.” Wait, what? Sans’ eyelights shrank into pinpricks. Red chuckled, deeper, lower in his ribcage. “course i could always ask a certain songbird…” He leaned back, hand falling away.
Sans reacted on desperate instinct, grabbing Red’s wrist, loathing the victory he saw in the mobster’s face, “i don’t have nuthin’ fancier than this to wear...red.”
A giant arm wrapped around Sans’ shoulders reminding him of their difference in both height and mass. Next thing he knew, he was led towards the mouth of the alleyway, and to a sleek, dark car. A suit stood alert by the door, opening it upon spotting their approach. Sans swallowed. If this was how he died, then at least maybe, just maybe, he bought Frisk a little time. Papyrus knew what to do if Sans didn’t come back home after 48 hours.
Red pulled him to sit next to him on the leather seats. The door shut behind them like the lid of a coffin. But instead of the cold press of steel against his temple, a hand settled on his iliac crest. “now sans, how about we talk business, hm?”
“Sans! Where were you? Your brother was worried sick.”
It was almost noon. Sans was usually home before dawn. There for his little brother to find passed out in his worn little mattress in the corner of their shared room, to fuss over by plying him with breakfast before he headed out to whichever temporary job he managed to scrounge up for the day. If he managed to find anything at all. Today was one of the days he had work, it seemed, since it was Frisk standing in his apartment instead of Papyrus, glaring at him when he pushed open the front door.
His hand tightened on the handle of his trombone case. It creaked. It always creaked.
Sans kicked the door shut behind him, shoulders dropping, letting the aches in his body overcome the facade he had prepared for his vivacious sibling. Frisk reached out to touch his skull and he found himself flinching away. She curled her hand to her chest, her eyes wide with confusion and hurt. She ran her gaze over him from top-to-toe, taking in the suit that wasn’t the same color as the one he performed in last night, and the ginger way he held his form. He reeked of smoke and they both knew cigarettes weren’t a vice of his. Wrinkles crinkled around her brow and mouth. Like she was on the precipice of understanding but didn’t quite have the last piece of the puzzle.
He stared at her, aware that his eyelights were gone, guttered out as soon as he secured himself in frail sanctuary of home. Sans shambled past Frisk into the bedroom and laid the case down on his bed. He stared at it. Long and hard. He could feel Frisk’s eyes from the doorframe. He didn’t—couldn’t—look back at her.
“you should go home, kid. i made it home alright. i’ll apologize to paps when i see him.”
He soul thrummed in indignant protest. Bright and willful. But she relented, leaving the apartment in a click of kitten heels. When the tumblers of the front lock turned, Sans leaned against a wall and slid to the floor.
He didn’t move for a long, long time.
Frisk knew there was something amiss the moment Papyrus showed up at her door for the second morning in a row. Her worry turned into fear when he didn’t show up for the evening gig at Grillby’s. Sans apparently told Grillby about the change in plans but not her and Felix. The fire elemental knew something, Frisk could tell, but as a whole, his species was near impossible to read unless you were intimately familiar with the nuances of their body language. “I thought you were Sans’ friend,” she snapped at him as a parting shot. His flames seemed to dim at that.
The third morning she wasn’t woken up by Papyrus knocking. She was awake and haggard. She met those normally bright sockets with flagging hope, but he merely ushered her across the hall to where the brothers stayed. Sitting in the middle of Sans’ bed with a note on top was Sans’ trombone case. He never went anywhere without that instrument.
She picked up the note, scanned the scribbled words once...twice...thrice, before ripping open the case.
Inside was more green than she’d seen in her life.
“THERE’S MORE,” Papyrus said, the quietest she heard him, holding a lock box. “I DON’T KNOW WHERE HE GOT THE REST, BUT THIS IS OUR SAVINGS. THAT...PUNNY INSTRUMENT OF HIS WASN’T WORTH...THAT MUCH…” He clutched the box to his chest as he stared at the case. Frisk shook her head.
“Did he leave any other notes?”
Frisk glanced down at the now crumpled paper in her sweating palms. Just two words:
Papyrus laid a hand on her shoulder, “WE NEED TO GO.”
He motioned to the case, “MY BROTHER ISN’T COMING BACK. HE...HE ASKED ME TO TAKE CARE OF YOU IF...IF SOMETHING HAPPENED. I...I DON’T WANT TO MAKE ANY ASSUMPTIONS, BUT I THINK, HE MAY HAVE, MAYBE, GOTTEN MIXED INTO SOMETHING. AND SINCE THAT MAKES US THE TWO INDIVIDUALS CLOSEST TO HIM, WE ARE POSSIBLY UNSAFE REMAINING HERE. IN EBOTT.”
Frisk spun around, “You just want to leave?!”
Papyrus gave a single, solemn nod, “I AM AWARE IT GOES AGAINST YOUR NATURE, MISS FRISK, BUT I DO BELIEVE THIS IS THE BEST PATH.”
Angry tears crept into her eyes, burning like cinders, “I hate this.”
“...SO DO I.”
Into the night, a tall skeleton and his small human companion slipped away, quick to be forgotten by all but a dismal few.
As is the nature of time, it passed. The world turned and with it came both war and peace, and the rise of a new era. But it would be nearly fifty years before Frisk returned to Ebott, coming back to the city of her youth not for herself, but for her grandson. He was graduating college tomorrow, and he sent her a ticket to attend. She wasn’t about to say no. Perhaps this was just the universe's way of telling her to confront the past.
Ebott changed a great deal since she lived here. Monsters and humans roamed the streets peaceably, though hints of the city’s dark past still lingered in the shadowy corners. Her grandson insisted that she not wander alone, but Frisk, of course, ignored his plea. Just because her husband passed on didn’t mean she was a helpless little old lady. She still knew how to kick a man where it hurt.
Brown eyes danced over no longer familiar buildings, ghosts of the past casting foggy shells overtop—an ice cream parlor once stood there, the dance hall was over there...oh, and Grillby’s...Her shoulders dropped at the sight of chipped and faded paint, and the boarded windows. Lined up to be demolished alongside much of the city she did remember. Frisk kept walking, ignoring the ache in her hip, only stopping when she came upon a line of antique shops and pawn shops. She smiled and spent a couple hours roaming the little stores, picking up a couple odds-and-ends to add to her shelves back home.
As the daylight hours started to dwindle, she entered the final shop on the row, and was greeted by the sound of a familiar tune. Frisk stilled. It was the last song she and...She patted her chest and kept walking, humming the tune softly, recalling the way Felix played the piano and how Sans’ voice mingled with her own. They were young and so alive then. None of them aware how close they were to that happy bubble in the gloom popping. Lost in memory, she let her feet take her aimlessly through the shop, only stilling when the song came to an end. Frisk sighed, the pains of age once more reminding her that it was time to head to the hotel.
She turned, ready to leave, when she spotted it.
It...it couldn’t be...could it?
Frisk walked up to the shelf and brushed away a touch of dust from the bell with her sleeve. The trombone looked so sad and lonely. And what were the odds it was...she paused, spotting a tiny engraving on the metal. Sans Gaster. Frisk gasped and covered her mouth. Oh Angel above, it was his. After all these years…
“Find something, ma’am?”
She glanced at the elderly tortoise monster peeking out around the shelves.
“Yes,” Frisk picked up the instrument.
“It doesn’t have a case…”
Her grandson gave her an odd look when he noticed the trombone sitting on the bed in her hotel room. But he didn’t ask any questions. They simply met eyes and understanding seemed to dawn in him. He was far more patient than she. More empathetic. He had a musician’s soul but a practical mind. And all of Frisk’ determination. The business world wouldn’t know what hit it.
After the family broke apart for the evening, all taking to their beds, Frisk stepped out into the moonlight, the trombone in tow. If she couldn’t walk the city with her childhood best friend, then she’d at least have this. Unfortunately, she barely made it down the street before she stepped wrong while on a crosswalk, and found herself hobbling to lean against a bench. She clung stubbornly to the trombone, her purse slipping down her shoulder as she fought against the pain. Her children insisted she use a cane or walker like the doctor suggested. To prevent incidents like this.
Drawing in ragged breaths, she didn’t notice someone’s approach until a hand brushed her shoulder.
Frisk whipped around. Throbbing leg or no, she could still clobber some petty thief!
The figure leaned back, but slowly, stepped forward into the glow of the streetlamp that illuminated the bench. Frisk felt her grip on the trombone slip and her whole body trembled. Arms looped around her, “easy there. i don’t mean you any harm. do you need to go to the hospital?” He helped her settle onto the bench and she grabbed the front of his shirt, pulling his face closer.
If it wasn’t, this skeleton monster was his twin. The same hazy white eyelights and sad, careless smile. His browbones dipped then he dropped his gaze to her chest, then back to her face. “f-frisk?” he croaked.
Of course he had to check her soul. It’d been decades. Humans grew wrinkled with age. As a monster, he still was in his prime. No different than he was fifty years prior save for the clothes he wore. “You’re alive.” He looked away at her statement. “Your brother keeps that lockbox you squirreled your savings in all those years ago by his bed. In place of an urn of dust.” Frisk gripped the trombone, hot tears crawling down her cheeks. “We left everything behind. Everything! And here you are. Alive.”
Sans dropped his skull and started playing with something on his phalanges. A ring. Frisk couldn’t see it very well in the light, but it looked bulky, overly large and gaudy for someone like Sans. Inset was a square cut ruby. She never saw Sans wear anything red when they were younger. Said he liked it on her, but he was more of a blue gent. “i did what i had to do to protect you and paps.”
“And you never thought to find a way to tell us you were alive and well in Ebott?”
His laugh was bitter and hollow, “who says the danger’s passed?”
He twisted the ring, “guess i should consider myself lucky that such a high class fellow decided to take a fancy to me. i figured he’d throw money at me until he was bored. that’s what his type usually do. they live fast and loose. i thought to myself, i’m gonna be dust soon, might as well make sure my loved ones disappear before he makes good on his threats to do it himself. heh. funny how life works.”
Frisk felt her gut twist, “Who?”
His eyelights flickered to where a fancy black car sat curbside, “...my kids are fells instead of gasters.”
Kids? Sans stood up, his gaze drifting to the trombone, “do you have kids, frisk?”
“Yes. One of my grandchildren graduated college today. He...he played jazz band in school. Came to Ebott City on a music scholarship.”
“he’s got his gran’s good taste and talent then.” Silence drew thick between them until he began again, “your leg, it still hurting?”
“I’ll be fine.”
“you need a lift back to where you’re stayin’?”
“...no.” Frisk stood, and shakily held out the instrument. “This is yours.”
“i know,” he didn’t move to take it, so she laid it down on the bench. Frisk adjusted her purse and forced down a sob. Why did this feel worse than when she thought he was dead? “...take care of yourself, frisky. i wish...i wish things could have been different.”
“I do too. I won’t tell your brother about this.”
“Don’t. Don’t you dare thank me.”
Sans didn’t look up. He stared down at his lap as she walked away.
Nobody asked where the trombone went the next morning.
Or why Frisk’s eyes were those of a woman in mourning.
Sans stayed on the bench long after Frisk walked away. Until her soul was barely a blip he could pinpoint in a sea of thousands. It wasn’t until a large, familiar form sidled up to him that he moved, tilting his skull up towards the skeleton he called husband. How lucky was he that Red was wily enough to endure the dangers of gang life back then as well as now? Not only that, but he thrived. One could even mistake him for an honest businessman these days if you didn’t know the shady dealings under the table, or how his LV still crept up now and then. Sans would call the cops on the bastard himself, but then he’d likely just get himself and his kids in a worse mess. Same with trying to kill him off (though to be honest, he didn’t have it in him to kill anyone, even someone as horrible as his husband.) And for all he hated Red, his kids were the light of his dull life.
A large, scarred hand smoothed against his skull, “yer enjoy yer little chat with the canary?”
Sans swallowed and nodded, drawing the trombone onto his lap at last. He hadn’t played in years, much to Red’s chagrin. He once thought that being obstinate and denying the mobster the music that attracted him to Sans in the first place, would make a difference. That he’d bore of him sooner. End his misery. Red was unfortunately not that shallow. He got it in his head that he loved Sans. That, sure, he’d threatened to kill his best friend on the day they met, but that came with the territory. He’d get over it with enough shiny things thrust his way.
Sans accepting his proposal the same evening he mentioned how the canary and his brother were settling nicely in a two bedroom apartment in a couple cities over was just dithering on minor details.
There weren’t that many skeleton monsters in existence anymore. It just made sense for the two of them to tie the knot. And with Sans a jazz musician without an instrument to play, well wasn’t Red just a knight in shining armor in this little fairy tale love story?
The smaller skeleton stood up, leaning in as Red pressed their teeth together.
“yer gonna start up playin’ again, sweetheart?”
“i can’t remember a thing about playin’, red. unless you’d like to suffer the poor man’s twinkle, twinkle little star.”
Red hummed, “think yer not giving yerself as much credit as yer due. i’m sure yer will be playin’ that song yer crazy ‘bout in no time. the one from that musical thing, something, somethin, jazz.”
“all that jazz.”
“yeah. y’know, i know yer don’t like to admit it, but yer got a beautiful voice. wish yer would sing fer me instead of the shower.”
Sans looked away, “you know why.”
“yeah,” Red slung an arm around Sans’ shoulders, guiding them both to the car. “can’t blame a guy fer tryin’.”
Yes he could.
The larger skeleton cleared his nonexistent throat and let the first low notes escape him, making Sans falter, “come on babe, why don’t we paint the town? and all that jazz—”
“please stop.” Red scowled and quieted, sitting beside Sans and giving the signal for the chauffeur to drive them back home.
It would be another twenty years before anyone in Frisk’s family learned of what became of the trombone that appeared and disappeared in her hotel room within 24hrs. It was a cool autumn day, everyone dressed in black as they grieved the loss of their matriarch. She was 95 when she passed. She’d gone to see the musical Chicago for her birthday, and according to the doctors, she died in her sleep. Frisk had been an incredible woman. A singer from Ebott City who was raised and lived her early twenties in the monster district before the equality acts were passed. Who went on to become a monster right’s activist and ambassador. Who, despite this, didn’t return to the city of her birth until she was far older…
Because of this, nobody questioned the great number of monsters in attendance for her funeral. Nobody thought to look to closely at any of the guests. Nobody but Frisk’s only grandson, Kris. For all that she said that he was like her, she also said he was remarkably like a dear friend of hers from her youth. A skeleton monster, like Papyrus, but shorter than her with a talent for the trombone. Poor Papyrus couldn’t hold a tune in a bucket.
He lingered, staying until all of the guests trickled away. All but a single skeleton monster with a gleaming trombone in his hands. For the majority of the ceremony, he was at the back, standing beside a far larger skeleton monster who wore a hat with the brim pulled low. But eventually, the larger monster embraced the smaller before walking away, presumably to their vehicle. Kris watched from afar, curious, as the small skeleton stood over the grave for a long while, before lifting the trombone up to his teeth, and playing an vaguely familiar tune. Frisk occasionally hummed it when was cooking or cleaning. And then, it shifted to something he knew better.
Wasn’t that one of the songs from Chicago, the musical his grandmother attended?
The music cut off, and he heard what seemed to be a ragged sob, before a rich baritone cut the quiet air in song, “yeah i’m afraid so, kiddo, afraid? yeah. nobody walks out on me—” He mumbled the rest of the lyrics, the instrument slung at his side. “i wish i coulda heard you sing that, frisky. wish i coulda sang with you one more time. i wish...i wish i coulda seen you become an even better, more wonderful woman. rest in peace, kiddo.”
Kris almost approached the monster, but the large skeleton came ambling down to the grave, apparently having rethought going back to the car.
“whaddya want?” the smaller one groused, not looking at the larger.
“...jus’ listenin’,” he paused. “yer’ve been practin’ while i’ve been out on business.”
“it’s what frisk woulda wanted. me playing an’ singing again.”
“it’s always what she would have wanted.”
Kris held his breath as the smaller monster spun on the larger, “don’t you dare say a word, red.”
“why not? maybe my husband will actually be able to get over his little songbird now that she’s gone and actually be able to bond with me proper!”
“you’ve known from the start it has nuthin’ to do with her and everythin’ to do with you! because of you, and your actions, i can’t soul bond with you!”
Red loomed over the smaller, looking terrible and fierce, the air was deathly cold and it had nothing to do with the season. His husband flinched but quickly recovered, glaring up at him. It was a stare down.
“i’ve given yer everythin’ i have, sans. and yer can’t appreciate a damn bit of it all because—”
“—because i didn’t want a single cent! i was happy, red. i was happy and you took it away with death threats and...and..”
“what about the kids?”
Sans balked, “what?’
Red scoffed and looked askance, “said, what about the kids?”
“don’t bring them into this.”
“yer couldn’t have had kids wit her. yer couldn’t have tied the knot with her. there’s nuthin’ yer coulda given her that she didn’t get by yer not bein’ in her life.”
Red snorted and kicked a rock, sending it skittering across the ground, “well fuck you too. and fuck me for lovin’ you.”
“don’t say that.”
“what, that i love you? i wanna bond with you, sans. i want nothing more on this planet.”
“yeah, well, we don’t always get what we want. sorry it took you this long to learn that lesson. bribery and blackmail only get you so far.”
Red growled but didn’t move to touch the smaller monster, “i coulda killed her. i coulda killed them both.”
Sans shut his eyesockets, “i know.”
There was something manic about Red as he continued, “it woulda been easy back then. when she was young and stupid. i coulda charmed her, romanced her, made yer seem insane fer suggestin’ i was anything but a gentleman. i coulda given her a live paved in diamonds and gold.”
“and you woulda snapped her neck like the psycho you are.”
“eventually,” Red shrugged as if the notion were as light a topic as the weather. “and yer know what? i’d have still had yer. yer woulda been climbing my lap, beggin’ for me not to hurt yer little canary, just like yer did before. i still remember our first night together, sans. you sang so sweetly.”
“you threw money at me,” Sans deadpanned.
“wuz part of the deal. not anythin’ but true to my promises. bad fer business otherwise.”
Sans rubbed his face and didn’t respond. Instead he faced the grave again and laid the trombone down amongst the flowers. With a look of finality, he turned, and walked away, Red following and wrapping an arm around him. To Kris’ surprise, he didn’t shake Red away.
“if you want us to move forward, red, you have to stop caging me. no more threatening my brother. no threatening frisk’s family,” he sounded tired. So very, very tired.
Red clutched Sans tighter to his side, “you’d leave.”
They were too far away for Kris to hear the rest of their conversation. His heart was pounding. What exactly had his grandmother been involved in? When the skeletons were out of sight, Kris went to the grave and tentatively picked up the abandoned instrument.
Engraved on the inside of the bell were two names, one obviously carved by a different hand:
Sans Gaster and Frisk Dreemur
Kris brought it home and made sure the trombone never lost its shine.