Dying was hardly the most pleasant feeling in the world, but there was still something…peaceful, about the inevitability of it. He didn’t have to fight anymore. He’d done what he could. He’d just done it much too late, and now everyone and everything was going to die. Everything was going to end. Everything that was left, at least.
But at least he wouldn’t have to see it. At least it wasn’t just a matter of not wanting to fight anymore, but not being able to. The choice was well and truly out of his hands at last. There was no point in deluding himself any longer. He just had to close his eyes and stop and maybe if there was anything on the other side he would see Papyrus there…
“i’M nOt DoNe WiTh YoU yEt.”
Sans felt a hand laid on top of his skull. It was a child’s hand, warm with his blood.
Then he felt himself wrenched forcibly back through time, along with the human – if it could even be called a human anymore.
When the world crystallized back into being, it was to find Sans standing once more at one end of the hallway, alive and in one piece. The brightly smiling child was standing once more at the other end of the hallway, clutching a knife that was free of Sans’ blood.
The only thing that was different was that Sans remembered exactly what he’d left behind, scant seconds before. He remembered exactly what the nightmarish little thing had pulled him back from, for reasons of its own.
That was unusual, to say the least. He could usually remember the fact of a time reset. He usually had a sense of what had happened or was going to happen. Sometimes he could even arrange to pass notes between his various selves. Sometimes – usually for the most horrible bits – he retained flashes of memory.
It had never been this clear before, however. Not even after Papyrus…
Had the child done something to him?
No time to wonder. No time to hesitate. It was walking down the hall once more, knife at the ready. As it passed in and out of the sunbeams slanting through the windows, Sans could see its smile. Sans could see the look in its eyes.
“that expression on your face…”
It raised its knife. No time to hesitate. He had another chance.
Time to use it.
“…well. I won’t grace it with a description.”
Once again they fought. Once again, the thing that looked like a human died at his hand. Once again, it came back, and again, and again.
Sans had lost track of how many times he’d killed it so far. He wondered, in the back of his mind, if he should start keeping track again.
Once again, it got lucky. Once again, it waited for its moment and then took it, slashing him open and leaving him to crawl away, bleeding out and dying.
Once again, it dragged him back at the very last instant, to fight again.
“You’re really kind of a freak, huh?”
He thought he saw it nod, before it lunged.
Sans killed it fifteen more times, and it killed him eight, before it actually spoke to him on the next reset.
“That expression…” the child mused, beaming at him like the angel of death it was, beaming so widely that its eyes appeared as little more than dark holes in its face. “…that’s the expression of someone who’s died ten times. Hey, congrats!” It applauded brightly for him. The light danced back and forth over the blade as it waved in the air with the motion, and Sans found that he couldn’t help but stare at it. Maybe it was his imagination. Maybe he was going insane at last. But the knife seemed to be gleaming distinctly redder, in a way that couldn’t just be explained by the ruddy light of sunset.
“The big one-oh!” the child cheered, punching the air. “Let’s invite all your friends over for a big shindig. We can have pie, and hot dogs, and…hmm. Wait. Somethings’ not right.” It tapped a finger against its cheek in mock contemplation, and then parted its lips to reveal bright, gleaming teeth.
“Oh, yeah. I killed all your friends.”
Sans found it in himself to fight a little harder, after that. But the fact still remained that it was getting harder to kill. There was no denying it – sheer and simple repetition was slowly allowing it to memorize his strategies and attacks, to predict the little skips in time that were the best he could manage to try and catch it off guard.
That left the question of why it was trying, of course. Why was it doing this to itself, when it already been victorious once?
It didn’t answer him until he’d killed it six more times, and it had killed him seven. After that, it inflicted the additional indignity of sitting down next to him and talking as he bled out.
“Here’s how this is going to work, Sans, in case you haven’t figured it out already. I’m going to kill you one more time than you’ve killed me. That’s only fair, right? That’s how it’s worked so far. No one else has been able to kill me even once, and so I killed them only once. Except for Undyne, of course. But after she brought herself back the first time, I didn’t really want to waste time with whatever other tricks she might have had.” It scoffed, as though by dragging herself back from the brink of death using nothing but the determination to save her people, Undyne had cheated at a very simple game.
Sans laughed. Or at least, he hoped it was a laugh. Either way, the sound gurgled a little, around the blood bubbling up in his mouth.
“hate to break it to you, kid…but i, uh, i lost track of how many times i killed you a while back…”
“I know,” said the child, smiling happily, and then they dragged him back again.
Sans tried to keep count, after that. It was hard, when he felt his many deaths crawling on his back at every second. He didn’t want to fight anymore, he didn’t want to care anymore, he wanted to die and he wanted to stay there.
But this was what came of people like him not caring until too late. Maybe this was what he deserved, for letting things get this far.
“Don’t worry, Sans. I counted for you, just like you asked me to. And I’ll keep counting, for as long as it takes!”
“It’ll be a surprise.”
“Hey, I bet I go through the next time without getting hit at all!”
Fifty-one…or was if fifty-two?
“Wow!” The child giggled as it danced and spun between the web of lasers, with an ease born of increasingly extensive practice. Its knife shone as red as fresh blood. “And you call me determined. But that’s the difference between you and me, Sans…”
“Just because you can keep going, you think you have to.”
“Just because I can keep going…I vErY mUcH wAnT tO.”
Ninety-nine more fights, ninety-nine more deaths between them, and Sans knew for a fact that this was what going insane felt like.
“After all,” it carried on, as it waited for him to die again. “You could make this so much easier on yourself. You must know by now that I’m not going to stop. I’m never going to stop. You must know by now that every time you kill me is one more time that I’m going to kill you.”
Time reset, and they were back at their respective ends of the hallway, and it carried on talking as though nothing had happened as it stalked towards him for another try.
“You could lay down and wait, and this would all be over much faster.” Its smile was broad and wide enough to almost seem to split its face in half, now. Its knife seemed to suck the light greedily into its blade, reflecting back only the deep black of old blood. “Me, I get to become all-powerful because of you. Again and again and again. But, hey.”
It shrugged, and then it died, and then it came back again.
“You’re the one who wanted to stand here until the end of time.”
“Yeah,” Sans agreed with a nod. “Hehehehe…I guess I am.”
If this was what it took to buy this doomed world even a little more time, if this was what it took to keep this angel of death from destroying everything…
…then this was what he would do. This was all he could do.
What else did he have left? Who else did he have left?
If Papyrus and the others were anywhere anymore, then even his own brother would doubtless be too disappointed to look him in the eyes. Sans deserved this. He knew he did. He deserved all of these deaths and more.
In the end, the child waited until it really could kill him without taking a hit on itself – as though satisfying a personal goal – before it let him die for good. The last thing he heard was its laughter, the last thing he felt was a kiss pressed to the top of his cracked skull.
“That was fun. Rest for a little while, Sans. I’ll see you later.”
Sans woke up in his own bed, miles away and days before at Snowdin. He awoke with his memories all as clear as crystal.
So Sans was forced to press both hands over his mouth, to clench his jaw until it hurt, to avoid waking Papyrus with the hysterical, despairing laughter that poured forth from him like blood. Even that was his only alternative to sobbing.