Grillby knew there was no point in keeping the bar open any longer. All the patrons had already left for their own homes. The small flickering of the candle lights along the walls were the only source of movement in the room. Grillby gave a final wipe to the glass he had probably cleaned a hundred times already, before putting it onto one of the shelves behind him. He stared out the front windows as he walked over to the door with the keys, fully aware of how ridiculous it was to believe he might see the one patron who hadn’t shown that day standing outside. With a sigh, he locked the front door, and began to make his rounds from table to table, removing the stains and leftover food from the day.
Grillby always liked the end-of-the-day cleaning. It took little effort, and the rhythm to it was almost relaxing. Today, it also helped keep his mind from dwelling on Sans’ absence. He moved to the corner booth, the last of the tables, and startled at the sight he was met with. There was a small ball of blue pressed between the seat the wall. Sans was motionless, possibly asleep in the booth, his face hidden behind folded arms. Had he been there the whole time? The fact that he hadn’t noticed him there was baffling. Then again, it was very unlike Sans to sit anywhere besides his usual seat at the bar. None of the other monsters had said anything either. He... would have expected Papyrus to come by now as well, looking for his brother. It was quite odd, and it didn’t sit right with Grillby.
A few awkward seconds passed as he struggled to think of the best thing he could do. Grillby wasn’t sure if he should try waking Sans up right then and there, or that he liked the idea of shaking him awake. So instead, the fire elemental pushed down the internal battle and headed back over to the bar, throwing the rag he had been cleaning with haphazardly onto the counter. He retrieved one of the many ketchup bottles he kept at ready under the bar.
Sans was still in the same withdrawn position when he made his way back over with the bottle. Grillby placed it onto the wooden table, hoping the small noise might be enough to wake the skeleton. Sans’ shoulders moved ever so slightly, and moments later his head did indeed rise from his arms to look at the new object that was on the table.
It wasn’t unusual for Grillby to see Sans tired, the skeleton had stayed after closing a number of other times, practically falling asleep on his feet by the time he finally decided to head home. But this was something else entirely. The lights in his eyes were dark and unfocused, and Grillby wondered if he was really seeing what his eyes were currently staring at. His constant, lazy smile was gone, replaced by a small but deep frown. This was a kind of exhaustion he had never seen on Sans before, or anyone for that matter.
Grillby’s fire gave a few worried pops, and Sans’ head turned towards the sound. “Oh... Heeeya Grillbz.” He closed his eyes in a wide grin that was clearly forced, words slurring tiredly.
‘Is everything alright, Sans?’ Grillby signed.
Sans blinked, and his eyes focused a little more than they had been. “Yeah, everything’s fine. The day’s just… left me bone tired is all.” He chuckled a little at his own joke, trying to lighten the mood.
Grillby frowned, displeased with Sans’ pathetic attempt to shrug off the current situation, as if it was nothing. He left the topic be though… for now. ‘Why sit all the way over here?’ Grillby signed, ‘I didn’t even see you come in.’
Sans shrugged, “The bar’s just a little too far, ya know?”
‘No, I can’t say that I do.’
Grillby couldn’t help but notice Sans hadn’t even given the bottle another glance, let alone touch it.
“I guess that makes sense, fire elementals never have to worry about feeling bone-tired do they?” He gave another empty laugh, but Grillby still failed to find it remotely funny.
Sans just used the same joke back-to-back. Dark red rolled through his flames, irritated. ‘This is unusually tired even for you, Sans. What happened?’
“Nothing unusual. Just a ton of work at the sentry post today. It left me bone-tired.”
Grillby’s hands flew to his head, flaring in frustration. Sans jumped at the sudden change in brightness.
Grillby struggled to even form the words clearly with his hands as the angry fire of his hands kept warping the form of his hands. ‘Do you even realize you’re doing it?! That’s three times Sans. You used that pun three times in the span of a minute.”
Sans put his hands up in light-hearted defence, but beads of sweat were forming on the side of his skull. ”Aww, come on. So the puns are a little ‘bone-dry’ tonight. Give a man a break, wontcha?”
A defeated sigh of smoke drifted from him, his light dimming with it. ‘It’s rather late. Won’t Papyrus be looking for you?’
Sans rested his chin on his arms, staring blankly at the cushioned seats from the opposite side of the booth, “Nah, I took the shortcut here after he left for his ‘night patrol’. He won’t notice I’m not home for a few more hours.”
Shortcut? What did he mean by... Ah, that would explain why he hadn’t seen Sans come in. It still left everything else unexplained, however.
Grillby’s took a seat besides Sans at the booth, “....Sans.”
Sans twitched at the sound of Grillby’s voice. His brow bones furrowed and he lowered his face back into his arms, a pained groan coming from within the nest of fabric. “I can’t do this.” Sans said, though his voice was so muffled that Grillby hardly heard it.
“I... apologize. It was not my intention to cause you any more distress.” He went to stand back up.
Sans snapped his head back up, looking genuinely taken aback, “What? No, G! You didn’t! I just--”
He let out a frustrated noise, his hands grabbing his skull, “Ugggh! This. This is what I meant! I just… can’t do this! I can’t do the whole spill your problems out thing. What am I even supposed to say?”
’You don’t have to say anything if you don’t wish to. I only ask that you be honest in what you say. I don’t want to hear you try to cover it up with puns.’
Grillby clasped his hands together on the table in thought, consciously raising his temperature a small margin so that heat would be extended in comfort to Sans. The skeletal hands slid from rubbing his skull, to resting at the back of his neck, and maybe it was just Grillby’s imagination, but Sans seemed to lean ever so slightly towards him.
Silence fell between the two of them. Grillby stared at his hands as he moved his thumbs in circles around each other. He was more than willing to sit in Sans’ company, especially when the short skeleton seemed to need it as much as he did in that moment. He wished he could think of something more to do. Grillby couldn’t even begin to guess what might have put Sans in this state. He had always been so carefree and cheerful. Not cheerful in the way his brother was, but it was still a calm sort of happiness. He never showed any signs of being anything but satisfied with the slow, peaceful life he had in Snowdin.
He glanced at Sans. The lights in his eyes had dimmed again, focusing on nothing that was in the room. A trembling spasm rippled through the bones of his hands, and Grillby watched as Sans face tightened and creased. In mere seconds, Sans suddenly grew increasingly more distraught, the comfort of Grillby’s presence quickly losing it’s effect.
A tearful gasp of a breath came from him unexpectedly, racking his hooded shoulders. Grillby immediately straightened in startle, caught completely off guard. He stiffened when he realized he had unconsciously put his hands on Sans’ back and arm out of worry. Any wrong or sudden movement could easily trigger Sans into teleporting away, if Sans suddenly decided that he couldn’t accept the concerned intimacy. However, Sans didn’t seem to be aware of Grillby, the only movement from him was the continued trembles that were now constantly running through the skeleton’s body.
With extreme caution Grillby started rubbing slow circles in his back with his one hand, trickling just enough heat into his flames to press warmth into the blue jacket. Much to Grillby’s relief, he eventually succeeded in calming the tremors. The already dim lights of Sans’ eyes began flickering, and his sockets threatened to fall over his eyes as sleep urged him to relax his shoulders.
But before Sans fell asleep, another light intermingled with the glow of Grillby’s fire that reflected against the surface of the booth. A soft blue light. Grillby peered at the space it seemed to come from, between the arms that supported Sans’ head and his chest. Grillby’s eyes widened, the surprise causing him to unintentionally withdraw his touch from Sans.
Sans blinked, only half awake, and his eyes too were drawn in by the strange new light. He looked down at the peaceful light of his exposed soul.
He was fully awake instantly. He slid to the wall in a jump, his eyes snapping up to look at Grillby’s equally stunned face. His breathing became panicked and the light of his soul was replaced with the charged crackle of Sans’ magic preparing to get him the heck out of there. The magic pulled Grillby out of his shock and he scrambled to move himself across the cushioned bench of the booth to Sans. The walls of his bar fell away around them, Grillby had brought his arms around Sans in time.
Every light around them was blue now, specifically a blur of blue, as Grillby was thrown painfully across the wet floor of Waterfall. The cold dampness of the mud ate away at the exposed fire below his sleeves, forcing it into a kindle much smaller than it should be. He groaned and drew his knees beneath as much as he could, and wiped at his face to shove off the uprooted dirt off his face. With a grunt he planted his hands on the ground. His fingers stung with biting pain as he pushed desperately to lift himself off the ground, but his smothered arms failed him. Behind, Sans made a pained noise of his own, but he only had slight difficulty in pulling himself into a sitting position. He held a hand to his skull, hissing at the touch. He opened his eyes, and saw Grillby collapsed on the ground before him. He gasped, “Shit! Grillby!”
He was up in an instant, hands immediately giving Grillby the support his arms couldn’t give him to pull his face out of the dirt. “Grillby, Are you okay?!”
Grillby went to sign but pain erupted in his hands when he tried. Grillby wasn’t as comfortable with using his voice so much, but he’d make do.
“I’m fine.” He said, though it wasn’t too convincing as he was currently completely reliant on Sans to keep him upright.
“And here I thought you were the sensible one! It could have been raining, or you could have slid into a river, into a pile of snow! Literally anywhere I was transporting to could have killed you!”
“I… didn’t realize the landing would be so rough?”
“Well, it normally isn’t,” Sans said with a sigh, sitting back on his knees. “but it’s a little harder to do a jump when sitting... and a fire elemental jumping on you. Why’d you do that?”
“It was clear you were feeling emotionally unstable and I wasn’t going to let you isolate yourself just because you unintentionally showed your soul to me.”
A long, embarrassed noise came from Sans. He buried his face into his hands, “I was kind of hoping that didn’t actually happen.” He groaned.
Grillby chuckled softly, placing the hand that wasn’t currently slung over Sans’ shoulder reassuringly on his lap. “For what it’s worth, I’m glad you felt that way.”
Sans froze and dropped his hands. He stared at Grillby. “What?”
Grillby stared back, a smile coming to his face. “Well, why wouldn’t I be?”
Sans’ mouth moved but he struggled to say anything, completely baffled.
Grillby steadied himself and slowly took his weight off of Sans, careful to make sure he was stayed upright. He stared at his hands, idly examining the crumbling rock-like texture where his fire had been snuffed by the fall, “I’m made of fire, Sans.”
Sans threw his head back with a laugh, “You’re kidding.”
Grillby brought a hand over his face, ignoring the pain from the molten patches on both. He continued with an irritated puff of smoke, shooting a look at Sans, “My point is, monsters don’t usually seek solace in someone they think is capable of severely burning them.”
Sans snorted, raising an eyebrow, “Grillbz, I don’t think I’ve seen you burn a single thing in the time I’ve known you.”
“The fact still stands that I could, and receiving that extent of trust is… not likely to happen.”
Sans fell quiet for a moment, looking at Grillby like he was searching his face for something. His head then lowered, and he ran a hand over his skull. “I appreciate you trying to comfort me back there. I just… don’t understand what’s going on.” He looked up at Grillby, “And I’m scared.”
His body shook again with a tearless sob. “I’m terrified.”
A chill ran down Grillby’s spine, unable to come up with anything that would scare Sans. Especially to this extent. He went to ask him, but stopped himself. Grillby changed the question, “Are you still unable to talk about it?”
San hesitated, “I… don’t know.”
He locked eyes with Grillby, “Just promise me you’ll stay at the bar tomorrow? Don’t go anywhere else.”
“...why?” Worry creased Grillby’s mouth into a frown and caused his fire to flicker, “Sans, what happens tomorrow?”
He stared blankly back at Grillby, “I don’t know.”
Suddenly, Sans looked so tired again. It was the same terrible combination of exhaustion and despair that had taken over him in the bar. “I promise I won’t go anywhere tomorrow.” Grillby reassured him, taking Sans’ hand in his.
Sans sighed in relief, but his eyes fell to the dark blue ground, “I wish it was that easy to convince Papyrus to do the same. Paps puts himself in too much danger.” A tremor cut him off momentarily, and the tears finally began to show themselves in his eye sockets, “And he does it willingly too. Can you believe that?”
Sans laughed. Even as it brought more tears to his eyes, he laughed. Grillby’s light dimmed in concern. He leaned in so that his glasses touched Sans’ shoulder, a hand around to the small of his back while the other still held Sans’ hand. “I can.” He said sadly.
Sans welcomed the gesture, bringing his own free hand behind Grillby’s neck in response. “I want to tell you.” Sans admitted, “Or even just anybody really. Hell, I’d shout it to everyone in the Underground if I could. But there’s just.. so much, Grillby. I don’t know where to even start so that it’d all make sense. I don’t know how to put it all to words. Words don’t feel enough…” A quiet laugh came again, “Not that that makes sense either."
Grillby fell silent, and thought carefully. He wanted to know what was going on. No, he needed to know. He couldn’t leave Sans and have him go on his way without knowing what broke him down like this. Not in good conscience. Still, he hesitated to ask what had come to mind. Sans’ hand tightened around his as another tremor coursed through him. Grillby hated it. He hated that Sans, who he had always known to been a carefree soul, was in so many pieces “Sans… Tell me.” He began slowly, trying to figure out how to say it.
Sans didn’t pull away from their embrace, but Grillby still saw Sans frown, just at the edge of his peripheral. “Grillby--”
“It’s alright if you can’t put it to words, but you should know that’s not your only option... If you’re okay with it, that is.”
Sans stiffened, shocked. He didn’t answer. Grillby understood. He was asking Sans to do something that was rather intimate, and he certainly didn’t want Sans to feel he was obligated to be comfortable with it just because he had subconsciously done it while half-asleep. He simply continued to hold Sans as he had been. He didn’t even risk moving to rub circles into Sans’ back or the hand he was holding.
So they stayed like that. The only thing Grillby could see was the rise and fall of Sans’ jacket, illuminated in the darkness by Waterfall’s neon glow. He vaguely wondered how long they had sat there.
It didn’t matter. It didn’t matter how far away he was from his house, or even Snowdin. It didn’t matter how late it was getting. It didn’t matter that the wet ground was starting to soak into his pants and bite at the flames that silently crackled under the fabric. It didn’t matter that the patches of smothered flames were starting to itch. Sans wasn’t shaking so much anymore, his breathing was a little more even than before. That did matter. Sans mattered.
There was a sigh at his shoulder from Sans. He spoke in hushed voice, “Okay.”
“Are you sure?”
He felt Sans nod, and the beginnings of blue light was slowly pulled to existence only a few inches below where Grillby’s head was resting on his shoulder. Grillby internally reached for his own soul in response.
It was an odd sensation, bringing his soul out, certainly not anything Grillby was used to. A shiver tousled his flames a little as his soul met the outside air. He hesitated, waiting a moment’s pause in case Sans had second thoughts. When he said nothing Grillby moved his soul ever so carefully, willing a few threads of magic to extend towards Sans’ soul. A startled gasp escaped Sans when the two souls touched.
Flashes of images rained through his head, his vision blurring as it flooded into him. Bringing his soul out might have been an odd sensation, but it was nothing compared to seeing someone else’s memories. He saw Snowdin forest through Sans’ eyes. There was a path before him, and Grillby realized Sans was following someone. A child. A human child.
A series of other images raced over top of that one. One after another came, never dwelling on a single image for half a second. In one, the child was giggling, dancing through a puzzle as Sans’ brother was shouting something in surprise. In another, the child was sitting in his own bar. He saw himself, placing two burgers on the table. Another came. Through an open door he saw the child standing in Papyrus’ room. Papyrus was wearing some strange get up Grillby had never seen him wear before. Both he and the human were smiling and talking excitedly with each other. In the next, Sans was standing in a huge hall that glittered in gold light. He looked proudly at the child in front of him. They beamed back at him, a smile that stretched from ear to ear.
The next image didn’t have the human child. Sans was staring at the ceiling of his room. There was the overwhelming feeling that something was off. The next image came, again with no human. Sans asked his brother where ‘Frisk’ was. Papyrus scowled in confusion, ‘Er...Frisk? What’s a Frisk?’.
Then suddenly the first image was back. He was looking at Snowdin forest again. The human walked along the path he had seem them on before. He could feel Sans’ confusion. The human wasn’t smiling anymore. Dust was on them. A new series of images. There were no puzzles. Sans watched the human like a hawk, becoming especially on edge whenever his brother approached them. Papyrus urged them to do the puzzles. In one, Sans saw them through a thicket of trees. They had their hand covered by an old leather glove. They rushed at a Snowdrake. The impact caused shards of ice to rain down before turning into dust. Sans stumbled, nearly falling backwards into the snow at the sight.
Snowdin was being evacuated. The royal scientist had hurried into the town. Sans was helping to get monsters out of there, teleporting monsters who couldn’t fit on the ferry on the first trip as close to the lab as Sans could. He was running low on magic, his vision was blurring from jumping so far, so many times. He was tired. He searched everywhere in town for Papyrus, but his brother wasn’t anywhere.
Snow was falling heavily. Sans couldn’t see anything. He heard Papyrus’ voice, gentle and coaxing. He was talking to the human. Then there was silence.
An image of Papyrus scarf in the snow. It was covered in dust.
And then Sans was staring at the ceiling of his room, tears blurred his vision of his bedroom. There was the overwhelming feeling that something was off. Papyrus came in and asked Sans what was wrong, he had heard a shout. Sans lied to shrug it off. This was the third time Sans had been through this day. A thought accompanied this memory: tomorrow the human would come.
Sans chose to lay in bed all day, he couldn’t convince his body to move. Every so often Papyrus yelled at him to go on the patrols with him, or to go to his sentry station. Sans told Papyrus to stay home in response. Papyrus would sputter and shot it down every time, lecturing Sans about responsibility and storming off with hands on his hips to go on patrol.
It was night. One last time Sans tried to talk Papyrus into staying home. Again, his brother refused, a little frustrated now. Sans screamed into his pillow when Papyrus left. He teleported to Grillby’s bar.
Grillby hadn’t realized he had been holding his breath until his chest burned in complaint. He took a sharp breath, trying to sort through the hundreds images, memories he suddenly had. Memories that weren’t his. Sans let out a breath of his own. His was more relaxed, “Woah…”
Grillby tightened his grip on Sans, pulling him closer. The gesture made Sans freeze, “Hey-- Grillby, you okay?”
“All that… All that was real?”
Sans nodded, pressing his face further into Grillby’s shoulder. Grillby felt his soul tremble against his soul. “What am I supposed to do? What can I do?” A sob shook Sans' voice as he continued. “What the hell is that child?! No matter what I do, will it just reset again?”
Grillby felt his own body shake. He could feel every emotion Sans was feeling. Every bit of fear, despair, hopelessness, frustration, anger. It hurt. Not physically, but like a weight on his soul. It made it feel tight and heavy. Sans lifted his hand that Grillby was holding, and Grillby followed its path up, keeping his hand gently on the back of Sans’. His hand hovered just above Grillby’s soul. Grillby slid his thumb into Sans’ palm as Sans held his hand in the air there.
The two of them watched in silence, their foreheads pressed against each other’s shoulder, gazing at the light of their intertwined souls. It had a calming effect on both of them. The overwhelming storm of emotion faded away in Sans, replaced by the sensation of being warm. And safe.
That is, until translucent tears began to fall down the sides of his face, “Y-You’re not going to remember this.” He whispered. He sounded absolutely heartbroken, “You won’t remember any of this.”
Grillby paused. He backed just enough for their eyes to meet. “But you will remember.”
More tears welled around his eyes, “Yes.” He choked out.
Grillby leaned in and rested his forehead against Sans’. “Then that’s all that matters. That makes this important.”