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The Mathematics of Love and Loss

Chapter Text

You know you're in trouble the second your aching feet hit the ground.

For one thing, the rest of your group is nowhere to be seen. They should be right behind you - they were supposed to be right on your tail. But instead you find yourself standing alone, panting for breath in an alley that smells faintly of rotten cabbage, ankle deep in the trash of decades past. 

Before you can turn to ask what the hold up is, you hear someone gasp - a low whine that hisses out of the broken window you just vaulted. It's a sound of such unadulterated terror, it makes your pounding heart stop cold, veins thrumming with icy dread.

That serves as your second clue.

Your third and final indication that serious shit's a-brewing is the sudden, unnatural heaviness in your limbs. Like gravity just went into overdrive.

Blue magic, your tired mind supplies. And isn't that just your luck?

It's the icing on one seriously lousy cake, the final nail in the coffin that has been your day. All at once you wish, with a ferocity that surprises a nervous chuckle from your dry lips, that you'd had the foresight to stay in bed this morning.

“this isn't really the time to be laughing, is it kid?” an obscenely cheerful voice calls out, startling you from your ruminations. It's a strong voice, low and resonant – you might even have found it pleasant, in any other setting. Right now though, it sends an involuntary shiver up your spine.

Biting your lip, you try to stifle the inexplicable bubble of hysteria that expands in your chest. The voice is right. This really isn't funny, and the last thing you want to do is antagonise them - whoever they are. Any magic is dangerous, but the blue variety in particular is not something to be trifled with... You've heard stories. It wouldn't make for a clean death, nor an especially quick one.

“up here, pal.”

Gulping, you make yourself look up.

And instantly feel the colour – what little of it was there to begin with – drain from your face.

Across the alley, on the roof of a three story apartment building, stands a monster. That much, at least, you expected - who else but a monster could wield magic like this? The problem - the reason you can no longer feel your legs - is that this monster happens to be one of the most identifiable in all the free world (not that there's much of a 'free' world left anymore, but still). There isn't a human alive who doesn't know this particular creature's face and name; not a single man, woman or child who doesn't know his reputation...

With a wartime kill count numbering somewhere in the thousands, he is known to the resistance simply as 'The Judge'. 

You are so screwed.

Very deliberately, you resist looking back at the building you came from - the one where your friends are, presumably, still cowering out of sight. It's all over for you; you're as good as dead. But the others still have a fighting chance so long as you don't draw attention to them. They can backtrack to a different exit, maybe hide out for a while. With any luck, the dog monsters chasing you before will have already lost the trail to the amalgamation of foul odours clogging the city. If they can just avoid detection by the Judge...

You know what you have to do. You have to create a diversion. If he has his hands full dealing with you, he won't have time to consider the possibility of others. Of course, distracting him won't do any good at all if he already heard the gasp that alerted you to his presence in the first place...

You'll just have to pray that isn't the case.

Heavy as your limbs are, you force them to move. Slowly, disguising the minute shifts as a natural consequence of your laboured breathing, you inch your fingers to the gun shoved in the back of your jeans. From his lofty vantage point, you calculate the Judge shouldn't be able to see much. If the casual grin on his skeletal face is anything to go by, he isn't overly concerned even if he can see.

Good.

As fast as you're able – which isn't nearly as fast as you'd like – you whip the gun from your waistband and fire three consecutive shots in his general direction. You don't know if they hit, and honestly you don't care - the instant you feel the magic release it's hold, you're off. You run out the mouth of the alley, legs working harder than they ever have before, lungs dragging great burning breaths of stagnant air through your lips. You don't look back. You know he's going to follow.

You're counting on it.

It takes perhaps an ego-withering ten seconds for him to catch up, and that's if you're being generous. While you hastily hit the breaks – you don't want to run into him, don't want to touch him – you think numbly that 'catch up' is probably the wrong phrase. Because despite the fact that he was behind you (on a goddamn rooftop no less) he's now in front of you, displaying a blatant disregard for the laws of physics.

You swallow noisily. Your palms are slick with sweat, your heart beating out a frightened rhythm against your rib cage. You remember – far too late – that the Judge can teleport, and curse yourself for both your carelessness and your appalling misfortune. The magic takes hold again, heavier this time, an unshakable coldness seeping into your very soul. Unable to stand the pressure, you sink to the ground, knees hitting the concrete jarringly. It takes all the determination you can muster not to lie down right there in the filth.

“damn, kid. shots fired.”

Was that... a joke? He doesn't seem angry, so that's... something, you suppose. On the contrary, he appears amused. Impressed, even. He favours you with a grin that, on any other face, might have been friendly.

In this lighting, in this place, it's downright sinister.

“got a name, kiddo?”

You don't answer. You like to think it's because you're being brave, but really your tongue is just too thick with fear to speak.

As it turns out, your lack of a response doesn't matter. The dogs - the two that have been hounding your team for the better part of two hours - have caught up, as evidenced by the scraping of claws on concrete and the chorus of excited barking. You note, with no small amount of relief, that they come unburdened by captives. It may be too early to assume your team has gotten away safely, but at least there's hope.

You'll take it. 

“Sans,” one of the Mutts greets solemnly. There's a beat of uncomfortable silence. The moment passes and the dog clears it's throat. “Were there others? With this one?”

Tensing, you peek at the Judge from behind your sweaty, tangled hair. This is it; the moment of truth. You fight the urge to cross your fingers. Does he know? Does he suspect?

Apparently not, because he doesn't miss a beat before saying, “nope. sorry, dogamy, not that i saw.”

“Damn!” You're not facing them, but you can tell it's the second dog who speaks by the more feminine lilt to their voice. “Well. Thank you, for your help. We can take it from here.”

Almost happy with this outcome, you let your shoulders droop with relief. Sure, you're still all kinds of dead... But the rest of the team will get out safe; the mission was – if not a complete success – at least not a total failure. And when push comes to shove, being mauled by dogs is a lot more attractive an option than facing the infamous wrath of the Judge.

You're counting this one as a win.

That is until, “actually, i think i'll fang on to this one.”

What?

Stunned silence all round.

What?!

Chapter Text

"actually, i think i'll fang on to this one."

Such a stupid pun... And yet it continues to ring loud in your ears, long after the actual syllables have been swallowed by silence. You want to ask the Judge what he means – if he means what you think he does – but the words get stuck in your throat. An entirely new brand of dread crawls over your skin.

This cannot be happening.

“... you want to take on a ward?” the female dog asks dubiously at last.

The word 'ward' bounces around the inside of your skull like a trapped wasp, making you feel faint. You know what that means and frankly, you'd rather die. 'Ward' is just a pretty way of saying 'slave', and you've heard enough stories to know that's a fate you want no part of.

Your mind races. You have to do something.

“might come in handy,” the Judge shrugs. He's watching you now, studying you down his nasal cavity like a particularly interesting bug. You feel sick. “this one's very determined.”

Oh, these monsters have no idea - you're determined all right. Determined not to become some monster's pet.

You start fidgeting while they continue to talk like you're not even there, testing the limits of your strength and trying to fight the gravity holding you in place. It's hard, but you can move. You're tired, but with the right combination of determination and courage, you could probably stand. Staring deliberately at the Judge's feet (pink house slippers... interesting choice), you focus your will. You can do this.

You will do this.

You manage to twitch one leg.

“I see.” The male dog, the one called Dogamy, sounds faintly disgusted. “And what about Papyrus?”

You won't give up.

“what about him?”

Was it just you, or had the atmosphere between your captors just chilled considerably? 

No time to analyse that. With a grunt, you try once more to move your uncooperative limbs. This time your leg drags sluggishly along the pavement beneath you. Progress, but it's still not enough.

“What will he think about this? You know how he feels about-,”

“how 'bout you let me worry about Paps?” Though the Judge's tone is still jovial on the surface, you have little problem detecting the very distinct warning underneath.

Unimportant.

With a small huff, you use your shaking hands to help pull your left knee up, muscles bunching painfully along your thighs and biceps. By the time you manhandle it into the position you want, you're ridiculously out of breath, exhaustion disproportionate to the amount of work you've done. Planting your foot firmly on the ground, you pause a moment to recover.

“And what of the girl?” the female demanded, not bothering to hide the animosity layering her words. “What will become of her?”

A good question. One you're not sure you want answered. If even the dogs – who, ten minutes prior, had been baying for your blood – were worried, you're sure it's something you're better off not knowing.

“nuthin'.”

Yeah. Right.

Nothing that anyone would ever hear about, you're sure.

“You make me sick!”

A pregnant pause.

“... you got somethin' to say to me, dogaressa?”

“Only that I think what you're doing is a disgrace! You should be ashamed of yourself!”

It takes several seconds for the Judge to respond to that accusation, during which you begin mustering the energy for one final push. If that ominous outburst isn't enough to get you moving, nothing will.

“this isn't the place.” He sounds strained. Almost winded.

“It never is!”

“Dogaressa,” Dogamy intervenes. “Sans is just doing what he thinks is right.”

“If that were true, he wouldn't look so damn guilty!” Dogaressa snarls. “It's wrong and he knows it!”

At this point you are thoroughly confused. And afraid. What is the Judge planning to do to you that's so awful, even his own kind don't approve?

You really don't want to find out.

As the three monsters continue to argue among themselves, you marshal your determination and slowly begin to rise. It's a laborious process, to say the least. Your body is so heavy, so uncooperative, it's like trying lift a building all by yourself. Sweat erupts on your forehead. Your heart throbs, not with fear but with exertion. You feel something tear in the back of your right leg.

“Sans!” one of the dogs gasps suddenly, noticing your efforts and effectively closing the argument. The sound of blood rushing in your ears is too loud – you can't tell which dog spoke.

Doesn't matter. Keep going.

“kid, you should probably stop that.”

No. You can't. You won't. You'll stand and fight, or die in the attempt. There are no other options here.

“seriously – you're gonna hurt yourself.”

“Sans, turn it off!” The two dogs come into your line of sight. One, the female you think, grabs the Judge's arm, giving him a shake. Dogamy is watching you with an expression akin to horror. “Turn it off or she'll die!”

You begin the agonising process of straightening your knees. Something cracks and you scream, but you don't stop. You breathe through the torment, counting your heart beats, glaring at the Judge through the sweat pouring down your face. He looks dazed.

Sans! Stop it right now!” Dogaressa roars, and all at once the magic is gone.

You stumble. If you thought you'd been in pain before, it's nothing compared to the torrent that hits you now. You recognise the burn of torn muscle, the stab of broken bone under your skin – your left knee crumples and you know it's probably fractured or worse. But none of that matters, because your chest is ablaze. Every breath scalds your lungs, and the area over your heart feels tight and... wrong.

Dimly, you realise you're having an honest-to-God heart attack.

Blackness eats in around the edges of your vision. You welcome it.

Your last clear image is of the dogs surging towards you, no doubt to catch your body as it falls.

Heh.

You still consider this a win.

 

Chapter Text

You wake to the sound of beeping and distant chatter.

For a handful of panicked minutes, you can't remember... anything. All you know is that you hurt. A lot. You hurt everywhere. You want to cry, but your mouth is too dry to make sounds. Your eyes are stuck together. The best you can manage is a muffled groan, which turns to a whine when you feel a pinching sensation in your throat.

There's a... an obstruction there. You can feel it... a tube of some kind, running down your throat and rubbing uncomfortably against the delicate tissue of your oesophagus. The urge to scream rises like bile, but you can't do so around the invasive rubber. You feel like you're choking.

“hey pal. just... uh, i'll get someone to take that out for you.”

Despite your mounting distress, your brow wrinkles in confusion. Who was that? That's not a voice you recognise...

Until suddenly, it is.

Horror, like icy water, rushes through your veins. Your eyes snap open and, whilst blurry, you can make out an all too familiar silhouette hovering above you. Maybe it should be your last concern at a time like this, but you try to bring your hands up to rub the sleep-glue from your vision – as though the action will rub away the unpleasantness of reality as well. You're stopped short by something cool and metallic around your wrists. The restraints bite deeper, the harder you try to escape.

With a sinking feeling, you come to the conclusion that you're cuffed to... whatever it is you're lying on. A hospital bed, you assume.

Great.

The Judge leaves, and returns with a human nurse in tow. Human, you can tell, because your sight is gradually coming back into focus and you can make out little details now – black hair pinned messily atop a roundish face; skin a nice mocha brown... By the time she reaches your cot, you can even see the pleasant honey hue of her eyes.

“There we are, sweetie.” Her voice is warm and motherly. She doesn't sound afraid at all, which strikes you as bizarre – why isn't she terrified? Doesn't she see the Judge standing right there? “I'm going to take care of this nasty ventilator for you, okay? You may feel some discomfort – if you need me to stop at any point, just raise your hand. Understand?”

Quite frankly, you're not sure you do. What kind of strange abomination of a world have you woken up in?

But she's waiting for your answer and you do want the tube taken out, so you nod shortly.

You end up having to get her to stop a lot of times. She pulls the tube out as slowly as possible, but every couple of inches you feel it snag, sending roiling waves of nausea and pain through your chest. It is not a pleasant experience, made all the less enjoyable by the Judge's curious gaze throughout the process. By the time the tube is fully removed, your eyes are filled with tears – half from the discomfort, half from the shame.

“Good girl,” the nurse soothes, rubbing one of your pinioned arms. “Your throat is going to be quite sore for a while. Try not to talk too much, okay?”

Ha, that's a laugh. What would you say, even if you wanted to? You have nothing to discuss with a monster, and even less to say to one of their pets.

Pointedly, you look away. Let her make of that what she will.

“Oh dear.” The nurse sounds wistful. “Someone's not a happy bunny, are they?”

“don't worry about her. she's just ventilating her frustrations.”

… Are you fucking kidding?

While the nurse giggles prettily, you whip your head around to glare at the Judge directly. Was that supposed to be funny? Because you're not fucking laughing. What part of any of this situation was a fucking joke to him? If you could move, you swear you'd dust him where he stood.

“Oh Sans,” the nurse smiles, giving him a playful shove. “you get me every time!”

You roll your eyes. Kill me, please.

“could say i tickle your funny bone.”

Ha and ha. Skeleton. Funny bone. Fucking hilarious.

When she's finished laughing, the nurse turns back to you with a soft smile. “Well dear, I'll be off now. You'll still have your nasogastric tube for a few days, so I'm afraid you can't eat or drink until then. If you need me, just give your buzzer a push – I've left it under your left hand, okay?”

Refusing to look at her, you instead scowl out the window. There's no way you're asking for anybody's help around this joint – you'd rather suffer.

She sighs and exits the room, leaving you alone with the Judge. You fully expect him to leave too, but to your surprise – and disgust – he takes a seat in the patient chair next to your bed. From the corner of your eye you see him examining you, and it takes every ounce of willpower you have not to bark at him to take a photo or something. You won't give him the satisfaction, you secretly vow. Supposing it's the last mistake you ever make, you'll never breathe a single word to this despicable creature.

“glad you're finally awake,” he says at last, sounding amused. You clench your fists in the blanket draped loosely over your lower half. “you've been out for days. guess i owe you an apology. i didn't mean to hurt you that bad. so... sorry kid.”

Well that's... surprising.

You quickly push your astonishment aside. Who cares if he says he's sorry? He's still a monster – he's still one of the beasts responsible for the subjugation of your entire species. Vile creature probably doesn't even know the meaning of the word.

And anyway, apologies won't help you now.

You haven't forgotten – he's taking you as a ward. No amount of 'sorry's' are going to make that okay. You'll never see your loved ones again, and that... that is not okay.

There's no hope of escape either. It's already too late for that. You were distracted by the discomfort of the ventilator before, but now that it's out you're starting to notice other pains. First and foremost, you can feel the dull ache of your shattered kneecap (although since it is just a dull ache and not a raging inferno, you guess they must have healed it up with magic). But beneath that, there's something else. A certain tenderness in your left arm.

The healing of stitches.

You've been chipped.

Even if you tried to run now, they would find you. The chip is a tracking device, implanted into any human unfortunate enough to fall under the monsters' control. If you could somehow make it home, you know one of the field surgeons could cut it out... But there might not be enough time to do that before the monsters caught up.

You can't risk that. You can't lead the enemy right into the heart of humanity's last hope.

Even if it means...

You slump against the pillows, all the fight draining out of you in one fell swoop.

Even if it means you have to live the rest of your life as a slave. You won't put the resistance in danger.

The Judge is still watching you. If he notices the change in your demeanour, he doesn't mention it. You get the impression he's waiting for you to talk – he'll wait long enough. What's he about, acting all buddy-buddy anyway? Does he think you'll be fooled? That he can trick you into giving away resistance secrets just because he doesn't act like the demon you know he is? He'll find you're made of tougher stuff than that.

You let the silence stretch, hoping he'll get uncomfortable and go away.

He doesn't.

Fine. You don't care. He can sit there and rot for all the fucks you give.

You're starting to drift off when he speaks again, thoroughly exhausted despite having allegedly slept for days.

“welp. i'm headin' out. behave yourself, sweetheart.”

The endearment makes your skin crawl, as does friendly wink he gives you. If you weren't so tired you'd flip him the bird. As it is, you're practically asleep before he even leaves the room.

 

Chapter Text

It's weeks before you're well enough to leave the hospital, and in all that time you say not a single word.

Not to the Judge, who visits every day and tries to draw you in with inane chatter and awful puns.

Not to the nurses and doctors – some human, some not – who come in to check up on you regularly.

And especially not to the two dogs, Dogamy and Dogaressa, who wander in one drizzly afternoon to ask after your still-missing comrades. They only visit the once, and even then they're not particularly forceful in their interrogation, leading you to chalk the whole thing up to a mere formality. The trail had probably gone cold long before they walked through that door, a fact that brought you some measure comfort in your otherwise helpless anger.

It's a small consolation, you guess, but hey – you have to take what you can get.

And speaking of consolation; it doesn't take long before you find a very cathartic way indeed to occupy your time.

You'd resolved yourself - almost immediately upon returning to consciousness - to being as uncooperative as humanly possible. And boy, have you delivered on that front. From refusing all forms of sustenance, to attacking the medical team whenever they got too close, you've made a point of being a complete nuisance at every opportunity. You'd even taken to yanking out the various feeding tubes and intravenous lines, thrashing around unhelpfully when anyone tried to put them back in... Painful, and a hard thing to accomplish when you're cuffed at the wrists, but all the more satisfying for it. 

Put simply, you've been a living nightmare to these people. And you're glad. They fucking deserve it, every last bit of it.

But like all good things, your little vendetta wasn't built to last. Entertaining at first, it soon grew stale, and between the feeding tubes rubbing your nostrils raw, the discomfort of being stuck constantly in the same position (thanks to the handcuffs)and sheer boredom... Well, even you have limits.

You saw the sense in getting out of the hospital at least, if nothing else. Acts of petty revenge are all fine and well, but you couldn't exactly spend the rest of your life like that. Besides, the faintest beginnings of an idea – the idea of an idea, really – had started to form in your mind during the more idle hours of your incarceration.

And you couldn't pull it off from a hospital bed.

So reluctantly, you resumed eating. You took your medicine without complaint, and submitted to a physiotherapy program for your knee. You still didn't talk – you couldn't bring yourself to be civil to these heathens – but you did everything else asked of you without question.

That was two weeks ago, and just look at you now – as fit and healthy as you'd ever been, playing the part of the docile ward with (if you do say so yourself) award-winning authenticity. Seriously, you've got this shit down. Dressed in a pretty blue sun-dress and matching plimsolls – donated to you by the Judge, of course – your hands are clasped meekly in front of your body, head angled downward with the prefect mixture of deference and humility.

You look, in short, like the most subdued of slaves.

Following your 'guardian' past the main reception – where a host of both monster and non-monster staff smile and wave him a hearty goodbye – you dare to peek at his back past the clean, freshly-cut curtains of hair falling over your face.

Such cunning creatures, these monsters. If you hadn't already known what he was capable of, you might not even classify the Judge as an actual threat. His appearance is, all things considered, relatively benign. Nobody wearing that outfit – basketball shorts, a worn blue hoodie and fluffy pink slippers – was going to win any awards for intimidation factor. Sure, the fact that he's a literal skeleton is kind of unsettling, but his glowing eye sockets and default grin don't come off as sinister to you anymore so much as damn goofy.

And he's short, you notice. The top of his skull is just level with your eyes, and you're barely topping five feet yourself...

None of that fools you though. This is still the monster who put you in hospital without so much as breaking a sweat. You won't let yourself forget what he is.

“Ah, leaving us so soon, Virago?”

The first nurse, the one who removed your ventilator all those weeks ago, beams at you from behind the desk as you pass.

You can't help but raise an eyebrow. Virago?

The Judge stops, turning to watch your exchange with a cheerful grin. “it means 'woman of strength or spirit',” he informs you, shrugging. “had to call you somethin', right? since you won't talk to us an' all.”

You fix him with your most deadpan stare. He could address you as 'Wendy the Wonder Bitch' for all the difference it makes. Sometimes you wonder – in the midst of his friendly drivel – if he forgets the nature of this twisted relationship between you. If he really, truly believes the two of you can be anything other than what you are.

You are not pals. You're enemies – monster and human, captor and captive... master and slave.

He'd do well to remember that. Because if the opportunity ever arises, you won't hesitate to crucify him with that truth. If he drops his guard, if he ever shows the slightest hint of weakness... you'll destroy him with it.

A long moment passes in silence. He must eventually come to the conclusion that you're not going to respond, because he sighs and raises both hands in a placating gesture.

“alright. virago it is. but that's a big word an' i'm lazy so... vira, for short.”

“Vira,” the nurse muses, tapping a contemplative finger against her chin. “I like it. It suits you.”

Hmph. Personally, you think your own name suits better. But even if you weren't on a self-imposed Mauna, there's no way you'd tell them what it is. You don't want these people to have any small part of you. Not even something so trivial as your name.

“welp vira,” says the Judge, stuffing his hands in his pockets and continuing towards the doors. He gives the nurse a wink on the way past, making her titter like a school girl – you glower at her, disgusted. “let's get goin'. there's somebody at home i want you to meet.”

It rankles, but with no other option you dip your head and follow his lead, walking with your eyes firmly glued to your feet.

The first breath of fresh air when you step outside is... indescribable. It's been so long since you've felt the wind in your hair, or felt direct sunlight on your skin. So long since you've tasted freedom. The sky is overcast and it's honestly a little chilly, but you can't remember anything ever feeling quite so glorious.

Without intending to, you let out a hum of pure delight.

“yeah... fresh air's pretty great, huh?”

The Judge's voice ruins your moment of elation, reminding you that even though you're free from the hospital, you're not really free. You're a prisoner still, as surely as if you were still shackled to that bed. The thought makes you scowl.

Failing to read the irritation rippling off of you, he continues, “so, this someone i want you to meet... he's a swell guy. really cool. it wouldn't be a stretch to say he's pretty damn important to me.” He stops walking, forcing you to do the same. “so vira, pal, i'm gonna have lay a few ground rules.”

The atmosphere between the two of you changes so abruptly, you're left with a feeling of whiplash. Your skin prickles, tiny hairs all over your body standing on end. You're suddenly so afraid – so blindly terrified – that you scarcely dare breathe.

“rule number one: don't mess with papyrus.” He starts to turn around, each movement agonisingly precise. You can't look away. You want to, but your muscles are frozen stiff. “rule number two...”

He's facing you now, and you blanch at the sight. His eye sockets are empty, devoid of any light they once had, and his grin is so wide it's manic. This... this is how you'd always pictured the infamous Judge; malevolent, unforgiving... unhinged. In this moment, he looks every bit as dangerous as he's rumoured to be.

Something primal deep within your soul screams for you to run, to get away as fast and as far as you can. But you're rooted to the spot, held there by fear as inexorably as if he'd used his magic.

For the first time, it occurs to you how awful a situation you're really in. How hopeless, if your crazy, half-formed plan doesn't work out.

d o n ' t  b r e a k  r u l e  o n e . . .  u n l e s s  y o u  w a n n a  h a v e  a  b a d  t i m e.”

Chapter Text

The skeleton household is almost the exact opposite of everything you imagined it would be. Far from looking like a medieval dungeon, the exterior is pretty and unassuming while the inside radiates a homeliness you've only ever read about. The décor is simple, if loud, and a pleasant smell of tomatoes permeates the air. You eye the sitting room speculatively, more surprised by the solitary abandoned sock on the floor than you would have been by a dead body.

And are those... post-it notes attached to it?

After his little episode, the Judge... Sans... had led you back to the house in silence.

Sans... The name sounds funny in your head. You have no choice but to refer to him by it now, but it still feels strange. Wrong, somehow. Nevertheless, the disparity between his current persona and the one you caught a glimpse of earlier is so polar, it makes differentiating the two – even in your own head – a necessity. You just can't think of them as being the same monster anymore; it's too disturbing.

So. Now Sans is just Sans, and the Judge is...

Someone you hope never to meet again.

With a shudder, you force thoughts of the Judge from your mind. Those are nightmares you can definitely be doing without.

There's noise coming from the little kitchen off to the right, an enthusiastic clattering that can only be the 'Papyrus' Sans spoke of. Sans heads straight for the source of the commotion without a word, signalling for you to stay put. You do so with great displeasure, part of you annoyed at his casual ordering you around, another part petrified of what he might do if you disobey.

“BROTHER! WELCOME HOME! I TRUST YOUR ERRAND WENT WELL?”

You wince. Christ. Indoor voice – have you heard of it? The small, observant region of your brain (the only portion that isn't grumbling about this Papyrus guy's lack of volume control) starts taking notes. So, they're brothers. Interesting. You file the information away for later perusal.

“yeah bro. actually...” Sans seems to hesitate. That, for so many reasons, makes you unbelievably nervous. “you remember when i started... er, running these errands? remember how i said i'd tell you 'bout it some day and that when i did i'd need you to trust me?”

“YES... I REMEMBER, SANS. IT WAS A VERY ODD CONVERSATION.”

“well... that day's today, pap. you're... well, you're not gonna like it. but trust me when i say this is somethin' i have to do.”

Oh god. You feel the blood drain from your face as Papyrus – obviously suspicious of his brother's behaviour – asks Sans to wait for him to turn off the stove. Anyone who can make Sans sound that anxious is someone you would rather not meet. Certainly not under these circumstances. Papyrus is clearly some kind of human-hater, he's plainly not expecting you, and his brother is apparently well under the thumb.

The situation is less than ideal, to say the least.

But the tall skeleton who walks through the door is... quite possibly the least intimidating monster you've ever seen. He towers over you by at least a foot – probably two – and is dressed in a ridiculously frilly apron over the top of what appears to be... yes, that is in fact a hula skirt.

The two of you stare at each other. Papyrus, from what you can gather, doesn't seem particularly offended by your presence, and in fact just studies you with mild bemusement. Sans, on the other hand, appears to be sweating behind him.

“GREETINGS, HUMAN. WHAT BRINGS YOU TO OUR HUMBLE ABODE?”

You look at Sans. He meets your stare and waits a moment, but when it becomes clear that you're still not going to talk he finally sighs.

“paps, this is virago. vira, for short.” He fiddles with the sleeve of his hoodie for a second, stalling. “she's... she doesn't talk much. she is – was – a rebel...” If you weren't currently not talking, you'd haughtily point out that you still are. “and she's also... my ward.”

The change in Papyrus is immediate. He jerks like he just got zapped by lightning, facial expression tightening into something altogether less affable. You get the sense he generally doesn't do angry, but if he did, this is what it would look like. Shoulders stiff, his dark, light-less eye sockets – so unlike his brother's – narrow, and his jaw clenches hard enough that you can hear the creak of his teeth.

But perhaps the scariest thing of all, is how quiet his voice goes. “Human, would you excuse us for a moment.” He points at the couch across the room. You're so nervous, it doesn't even occur to you to refuse. “Sans. Kitchen. Now.”

What follows is the most awkward twenty minutes of your entire life. The brothers are obviously arguing, and they evidently don't want you to overhear them because it's all done in low, hissing voices that you – despite your proximity – can't decipher with any kind of confidence. Every now and then you catch a few words, but nothing that makes even a lick of sense without context.

“... unacceptable... have you lost...”

“... know what i'm doing...”

“... they would not...”

“... the only way.”

For all of half a second you consider creeping closer to listen in, but ultimately decide you don't want to risk it. What if they come out and catch you trying to eavesdrop? You don't know what they'd do, and frankly you want to keep it that way.

When they eventually return you're still sitting on the couch where they left you, back stiff with your hands in your lap. Papyrus looks extremely unhappy still, and Sans just looks tired. Both brothers stand before you, ignoring the way you automatically lean away from them.

“Human, I would like to apologise for my earlier behaviour. Please, make yourself at home. Dinner will be ready in an hour.” His voice is still eerily level, and even though you've just met him you instinctively know this is not normal for Papyrus. It sends chills up your spine.

He nods thoughtfully when you make no effort to reply, turning away to re-enter the kitchen and leaving you and Sans alone.

You wait.

“welp, that coulda gone better,” he says wearily, stuffing his hands in his hoodie pockets. You've noticed he does that often – a comfort thing, maybe? “c'mon. guess i better give you the grand tour.”

He points absently towards the kitchen but doesn't take you in, then heads upstairs and shows you the bathroom on the left of the staircase. He gestures towards the door beside the bathroom, facing the stairs, and tells you it's Papyrus' room. Then he stops in front of a second door further down the landing and opens it, revealing the messiest bedroom you've ever laid eyes on.

“this is my room,” he says, kicking absently at the carpet with a frown. “you'll be stayin' in here.”

You freeze, a sickening feeling uncurling in the pit of your stomach as an entirely new thought occurs to you. It's so repellent, so vile, you don't even want to entertain the notion. You look at Sans with what you can only imagine is an expression of utmost horror.

He sees your appalled face and laughs. “calm down. i'm not stayin' with you. i'll be... elsewhere.”

Relief makes your legs feel like jelly. For a second you thought... Well, you'd heard stories that sometimes monsters took wards for... recreational purposes. You can't even begin to describe how ill that possibility makes you feel.

“go on, kiddo.” He moves aside, giving you access to the bedroom. “go ahead an' make yourself comfy. i'll, uh, holler when dinner's ready.”

You shuffle over and sit on the unmade bed. Not until the door closes softly behind you do you dare to lie down, folding your arms behind your head and letting out a heavy sigh. It's been a trying day; you're tired and confused.

You've avoided thinking about it practically since this whole business began, but meeting Papyrus has brought an irritatingly persistent idea to the forefront of your mind again... None of the monsters – apart from the Judge that one instance outside the hospital – are acting like they should; like you thought they would. They almost seem...

Human. The word echoes around your head, unbidden. You immediately recoil.

No. It's all a trick. A ploy to lure you in and gain your trust. Maybe they think you'll give up resistance secrets if they treat you nice enough. Perhaps they even think you'll lead them to the others...

Well, it won't work. You know where you stand; you know how things are. The monsters may have their human pets good and brainwashed, but you were born a free human. You know better.

Still...

Papyrus troubles you. You're generally a good judge of character, and he seemed so... genuine. You honestly don't think he's capable of that kind of subterfuge. And if that's true...

You roll over to face the wall.

Your entire life may have been built on lies.

 

Chapter Text

Dinner is an awkward affair.

Quite apart from the fact that the spaghetti laid before you is barely edible, the brothers hardly say a word throughout the entire meal – to each other or to you. Not that you would answer if they did attempt conversation, but you find yourself wishing they would at least take a stab at small talk, for the sake of filling the stiff silence if nothing else.

When the plates are cleared – or in your case, artfully rearranged to look like you've eaten something – Papyrus wordlessly tidies the table and sets about the dishes. You watch him do so with a mask of indifference, all the while wondering just what your role as 'ward' is even supposed to be. Clearly you aren't needed for household chores, and Sans doesn't want you for sexual reasons (at least you assume – you're all too aware that he hasn't said so in so many words). Sans, for all his... quirks, doesn't seem like the type to do something without reason. You know he didn't bring you here just to have something pretty to look at...

You remain at the table until directed otherwise, Sans warily inviting you to join him in front of the TV. Keeping your posture as rigid as possible, you reluctantly take a seat as far from him as you can get on the – admittedly quite large – sofa. Even being this close to him makes your skin crawl, but you have to admit it's better than the alternative. You've already explored every square inch of 'your' bedroom, and while it has some... interesting features, there's not much to do in it.

Sans says nothing about your blatant display of distrust, making himself comfortable and flipping through the channels absently before settling on the news.

In other news, preparations for the forty year anniversary of the Queen and Ambassador's untimely deaths are well under way. King Asgore is reported as having said: 'This year's ceremony will be the grandest yet. Let us remember them, always, as they deserve to be remembered.' There is some speculation as to whether the use of experimental pyrotechnics for display purposes will be approved by the board of-,”

Your eyes slip away from the chattering reporters to the carpet beneath your feet.

King Asgore... If there's one monster you hate above all others, that monster is Asgore Dreemurr, without a doubt. King of Lies, your people call him, and for good reason – he plays the friendly old man facade well, but he's a villain of the vilest sort. You know what he did. You were weaned on stories of The Great Betrayal. You and all the children of the resistance.

The news cuts to a pre-recorded interview with the King, his gentle face filling up the screen as he talks to his people about the pain of loss and the importance of looking to the future. Stay determined, he tells his loyal subjects. Peace will prevail.

You want to laugh at such brazen hypocrisy.

Everyone in the resistance knows what he really is. Everyone knows he killed the Queen and Ambassador.

With a suddenness that makes Sans jump, you stand. It sickens you to watch that... that barbarian sit there, acting like this isn't exactly the outcome he wanted. Like he didn't orchestrate this whole fucked up future. It makes you so angry, especially when you think of how things could have been. If he hadn't killed those two; if he hadn't pinned the blame on humans...

Your blood feels like it's boiling in your veins. It's almost a relief when Sans interrupts your silent fuming.

“hard to believe it's been forty years already.”

You glance at him. There's real sadness in his expression, in the dark circles around his eye sockets and the down-turned corners of his grin... It surprises you enough to cool your temper by mere degrees, but it's enough. You sit back down, trying not to look too interested in his words.

“not a day goes by when i don't miss tori's jokes... or frisk's smile,” he says wistfully, rubbing a weary hand over his face. “you remind me of them, y'know. of frisk.” A humourless chuckle. “so determined.”

Your brows beetle. Is that why you're here? Simple nostalgia? That doesn't seem like a rational reason to keep a slave at all. Surely he realises that all the similarities in the world won't make you Frisk.

“things would be different – better – if the two of them were still alive.” This he says almost to himself, eerily echoing your own sentiments. When he looks up, his eyes are dark. Your heart thrums frightfully in your chest, remembering the one other time you'd seen that sight. “i'd do anything to go back and set things right. anything.

An uncontrollable shiver creeps over you, setting your skin alight with goosebumps. Why do you get the feeling that was some kind of warning? Or even an... apology?

Before you have time to decipher the meaning in that one ominous sentence, he's back to normal. His eyes re-ignite, his grin settles into something less tense, and – with suspiciously convenient timing – Papyrus exits the kitchen and plops himself on the couch between you.

You spend the rest of the evening watching (or rather, pretending to watch) TV with the brothers. The atmosphere is still strained – you think, judging by the grim set of his jaw, that it'll be a long time before Papyrus is ready to accept his brother's decision. But you hardly notice, wrapped up as you are in your own ponderous thoughts.

What had Sans meant, he'd 'do anything to set things right'...? And the way he'd said it... man, it gave you the creeps like nothing else. You get the feeling he was trying to communicate something to you, but... what?

You weren't going to feign an understanding of the situation you didn't possess. You had no idea what manner of crazy you'd stumbled upon, but what you did know was this: you had to get out of here. Whatever Sans was doing, or planned on doing... you're sure it had something to do with you. Something potentially unpleasant.

At half past ten, Papyrus announces he's going to bed. Sans asks him if he wants his bedtime story, and seems upset when the taller brother very politely tells him no thanks. He turns to you with a sombre little smile, and quietly suggests you head on up to bed too – it's getting late, and he wants to take you shopping tomorrow for suitable clothing. Apparently he hadn't really thought this far ahead, so the only clothes you have are the ones already on your back.

How oddly... considerate of him.

Too bad you don't plan on still being here tomorrow.

Chapter Text

You force yourself to wait two whole hours after retreating to Sans' bedroom, before carefully tiptoeing back onto the landing.

The house is silent. You hover near the bedroom door, ready to slip back in at a moment's notice, straining your ears to the absolute limits of your hearing. Barely audible snores sound from down the hall, and your shoulders sag in relief – Papyrus, at the very least, is asleep. You're not sure where Sans is. Hopefully asleep on the couch. Or out – out would be better. You don't know what you'll do if he's still roaming about the house, but...

It's just a risk you'll have to take.

With exaggerated care, you creep past Papyrus' bedroom, taking the stairs one at a time. Every tiny creak sends your heart into a panic, fluttering like a trapped bird inside your chest. When you reach the bottom you cast an anxious glance at the couch, letting out a deep sigh of relief when you discern that Sans is nowhere in sight. You wait, counting to one hundred in your head as you once again listen for any signs of life, before finally allowing yourself to relax and moving with purpose towards the kitchen.

Your plan is at best ill-considered, and at worst the height of stupidity. The potential for it to go horribly, disastrously wrong is... frighteningly high. And if it does you know you won't get another shot. It's do or die.

Literally.

The worst part is, it all depends on factors totally beyond your control. If you're going to survive this ordeal, you'll need an extraordinary amount of luck on your side. Which is unfortunate, since recent events dictate that luck isn't exactly on speaking terms with you these days.

Still, you rate your chances somewhere in the region of 50-50. Perhaps that's overly optimistic, but you've always been a 'glass half-full' kind of girl. And if you fail, well... dying isn't so bad either. Certainly better than hanging around to find out what Sans plans to do with you. At least this way you get to go out a damn hero.

That'll have to be enough.

You step into the kitchen and pause, giving your eyes a second to adjust before padding over to the cabinets.

Now. Where are the knives?

“heya pal. can't sleep?”

You jump, whirling on the spot to face none other than Sans. He's standing casually by the kitchen door, leaning against the frame with a nonchalant grin and watching you with bright, curious eyes. He definitely wasn't there before – you know he wasn't – but if you didn't know any better, you'd say he was waiting for you. Like he'd expected you to try something.

Mind blank with a mixture of embarrassment, guilt and – if you're being completely honest – the tiniest shred of fear, you thank the fucking stars he's probably not expecting you to answer him. God only knows how you'd play this off if you actually had to explain yourself – spontaneous lies were not your forte.

You stare at each other. His eye lights are disconcerting in the dark, bright enough to cast an eerie glow around the room but not enough to actually see by. They make you nervous, not least because – much like human eyes – they're so... expressive. After a valiant attempt to out-stare him, you have to drop your gaze to your feet.

He sighs, and you flinch.

Your palms are sweaty; your arms are trembling. With a scowl, you angrily clench your hands into fists. What would your father say if he could see you like this? Cowering like a frightened child, and in front of a monster no less? 'Straighten your spine, girl,' he'd say with disgust. 'Show some pride.'

So you do.

And if you still can't bring yourself to look directly at at him, well... It's only because you don't want him to read your intentions on your face. Right?

“so... i kinda figured you'd try somethin' like this.” Of course he did. You're starting to get the sense that not much escapes Sans. “i get the feelin' it won't be the last either. i gotta warn you though, pal – whatever you're plannin', it's not gonna work.”

He lets you think about that for a second, before you hear him shuffle into the sitting room. After a moment's hesitation, you sullenly follow. You find him sitting at the dining table, an expectant tilt to his eye... ridges. When you do nothing but stare, he chuckles and gestures for you to join him.

“c'mon bud, let's talk.” You reluctantly take the chair opposite him, folding your hands in your lap to disguise the minute shaking. Get a grip, you tell yourself. It doesn't work. “let's shed some light on your situation.”

Sans clicks his fingers in synchronisation with his words, and suddenly the light comes on. You jolt in your seat – it's the first time he's used his magic since the night he captured you, and you were entirely unprepared for it. The pun, such as it is, flies right over your head.

Silence. Sans starts to tap his fingers on the table, the click of bones on wood deafening in the quiet. You struggle not to fidget – he's probably trying to nudge you into speech through the power of sheer awkwardness. You feel it working and bite your tongue.

“not yet, huh?” he chortles. Not ever, you want to correct him, before realising that would be playing right into his hands. You raise your head to narrow your eyes at him. He smirks.

Clever bastard.

Like flipping a switch, the playful moment passes and suddenly he's all business. Not 'Judge' business – his eyes are still very much present – but close enough to it that you feel your stomach twist.

That can't be good.

“i bet you're probably wonderin' why i took you on as a ward.” Your mouth goes dry. What you wouldn't give to be literally anywhere else right now. “welp, i can't tell ya. not yet... heh, you wouldn't believe me even if i did.”

That doesn't fill you with confidence. Like, at all.

Sans seems to consider something, a pensive frown on his face, before uttering his next words so softly they're almost a whisper.

“vira... what if i told you... the world was different to how you thought? that we monsters aren't as bad as you think we are? would you believe me?” No. You don't even have to think about that one. You see him read the vehemence in your eyes but strangely, all he does is nod sadly. “that's what i thought. the things you've been taught... they're drummed in there pretty hard.” He taps the side of his skull for emphasis.

Because they're true! You don't say it, but you think it with as much force as you can. Everything you were taught, it's all true – you know it is. The Great Betrayal, the war, everything! The proof is all around you, every single day. Is he trying to say none of that happened? Resistance groups don't just grow from nothing!

“that's why we don't usually ward ex-rebels. too unpredictable. too volatile. normally we send 'em to the rehab facility underground.”

That is... honestly, that's news to you. You try not to show how surprised you are by this information, but it's hard to keep a straight face. The monsters didn't kill rebel captives? Did that mean... You think of all the people you'd lost over the years. The ones selected for missions that ended in failure, or who were lost on ambushed supply runs.

Were they all still alive somewhere?

“you though,” Sans continues, either not noticing or politely ignoring your reaction to that last little titbit. “you're an exception. an anomaly.” He laughs quietly, as though at a private joke. “i doubt the rehab centre's methods would even work on someone as determined as you.”

Brainwashing, you decide. That's what he's talking about. They take the captives and imprison them underground to be brainwashed. And he's right. Something like that would never work on you.

“i can't tell you why you're here... but i can tell you why you're not, if it will make things easier.”

He stands, putting his hands in his hoodie pockets and treating you to the gentlest smile you've seen him wear. It's such a far cry from his usual lazy grin that your breath catches in your throat for a second.

“we aren't gonna hurt you or make you do anythin' you don't want to. i promise.” He gives you a meaningful look, no doubt recalling – as you are – your reaction when he showed you his bedroom. “the only thing i will force you to do is stay. okay?”

You eye him dubiously. Would it matter if you said it's not?

Still. All things considered, that's... a strange and unexpected, but undeniably generous deal. Sure, you'd rather not be here at all, but if you have to be... Better some unusual brand of house guest (the word 'pet' comes to mind, making you bristle) than a thrall.

Sans guides you back to bed and tells you – in no uncertain terms – to actually go to sleep this time. You know better than to try for a second attempt so soon, so you lie in bed and think on his cryptic words.

we aren't gonna hurt you or make you do anythin' you don't want to. i promise.”

That's what he said. No matter how many angles you examine it from, you can't find a loophole. There's no way to twist those words, no way around them. Of course, he could just be lying, and if he is you suppose you'll find that out soon enough.

Surprisingly though, you find that his promise – empty or otherwise – does help.

You sleep dreamlessly that night.

Chapter Text

Like most monsters, the skeleton brothers live on the edge of Ebott city, in a peculiar sort of shanty town that is both mismatched and picturesque at the same time. Buildings of all shapes, sizes, colours and designs scatter over an area as large as the city itself, each one unique to the monster that owns it – there's a house shaped like an angry fish, with sharp teeth for a door and windows for eyes; another that looks like a tall blob, all wonky and sad-looking; there's even what appears to be a bakery, modelled after a cupcake (if cupcakes had jagged mouths and spider legs growing out of them).

Before the war there had been some movement towards integration - monsters had spread far and wide after the barrier broke, mingling with their human neighbours freely. It had been an uneasy arrangement – on both sides – but with time it could have been the start of something better, something like true peace. 

That, of course, all changed after The Great Betrayal. When hostilities started in earnest, the majority of monsters had converged on their ancient prison and eventually built this place – New New Home. Even after they won the war, decimating the human race and leaving much of the planet uninhabited, they'd never made any attempts to branch out again.

Too few of them left, you guess. Humans may have ultimately lost - a result of having lost all their own magic in the eons before the monsters resurfaced - but they gave as good as they got.

The skeleton abode is one of the more 'normal' houses and is situated closer to the city outskirts than most monsters dare to get – meaning it's more secluded than the others. You were distracted the first time you saw it, but it looks like it would be more at home in a ski resort than in the temperate climes of Ebott. There's even a layer of snow on the roof you notice as you and Sans leave that morning. And Christmas lights.

Charming.

Sans guides you through the town at a relaxed pace. He hasn't mentioned your little chat – in fact he's hardly spoken to you at all this morning – but so far he's been as good as his word on the whole 'not making you do stuff' thing. He didn't even make you get up this morning; just knocked on the bedroom door and politely informed you that there was breakfast downstairs if you wanted it.

As you make your way down what can only be New New Home's 'high street' – lined as it is with an array of odd shops and boutiques, selling everything from dog treats, to nice cream, to puzzle supplies (whatever that means) – you allow your eyes to roam. No member of the resistance has been this far into monster territory and come back again to tell of it. An innate sense of duty – and yes, perhaps plain curiosity – drives you to absorb as much of the sights as you can.

Following Sans at a respectable distance, you note that the majority of the foot traffic is – unsurprisingly – monsters. They come in all manner of configurations, from tiny bat-like creatures that barely skim your ankles, to great lurching gorilla shaped things that tower four and five feet above you. There are rabbit monsters, and slimes, monsters that look like vegetables and – of all things – planes... So much variety.

It's with a frown, however, that you observe the crowd is not strictly comprised of monsters. There are humans here and there too, wandering amongst the throng with nary an iota of worry between them. Some wear bright smiles, others harried frowns, but all of them look absurdly... normal. Like this is completely natural to them.

You goggle as Sans leads you past a monster-human couple(!?), the pair whispering softly to each other under the awning of a flower shop. The human, a woman with short blonde hair and a laughing face, has her arms wrapped snugly around a serpentine monster of indeterminate gender. Even as you watch, she presses a fond kiss to the snake creature's flattened nose. The sight makes you shudder.

That, you think, to your infinite horror and disgust, didn't look remotely like a kiss between slave and master. That looked more like a lover's embrace, if you're any judge.

“c'mon kid – it's rude to stare.”

You jerk to attention. Sans is several paces ahead, holding open the door to a shop that looks like a crayon factory exploded all over it. 'Bunny's Boutique', the sign over the entrance proclaims – you can see a display of weird and wonderfully shaped mannequins in the window, flaunting outfits as bizarre as any you've ever seen.

Obediently, you trot to catch up, slipping through the door and into a cosy, oak-wooded interior. It's not cold out, exactly – it's mid-autumn and the weather has been fairly mild thus far – but you rub your hands gratefully nonetheless. You're only wearing a thin dress, after all, and you're used to wearing more protective layers.

“Hello there,” calls a voice, soft and delicate like the tinkling of bells. “How may I help you to- Oh!” A rabbit monster in a bright yellow sun dress and sandals comes into sight around one of the many racks. "Why hello, Sans! It's been a while.”

“heya bunny. sew good to see you.” Sans winks at the bunny lady cheekily. You grumble internally at his stupid pun, wondering if there's anything this skeleton can't make a joke out of. “'m surprised all this work hasn't attired you out yet.”

“Oh you!” Bunny pouts, shoving his arm playfully. “Isn't it too early for jokes?”

“'s never too early fur a good laugh.”

The two chat warmly as only old friends can for a while, leaving you with the very distinct and unwanted feeling of being left out. Not that you want them to involve you or anything – please – but you're not exactly at ease in this city of monsters, and being left to dither about like a third-wheel isn't helping.

“Oh my, we're being terribly rude aren't we?” Bunny says at last. She turns to you and holds out a furred hand for you to shake – you're so stunned for a minute that, without thinking, you go ahead and take it. Her hand feels nice. “I'm Bunny Leporidae, owner of this lovely establishment and co-owner of the Snowed Inn.” You raise an eyebrow – is everything with these monsters a play on words? “And you are...?”

You glance at Sans. He looks... pleased about something. With a frown, you extricate your hand from Bunny's grip and cross your arms, but it's too late. He saw, and the damage has been done – his grin widens, the saucy expression reaching his eyes for once.

“she, uh, doesn't talk much, bunny,” Sans interjects, still watching you. “this here's virago – vira for short.”

“Oh my. That's a shame.” Bunny smiles at you sweetly – you wish she'd stop. It's hard to hate someone so sincere. “I'll bet your voice is as lovely as your face.”

Despite everything, you blush, then immediately get angry at yourself for doing so. What the hell is this? Amateur hour? These people are monsters – they're your enemies! Sans, Papyrus, this rabbit woman, all of them... You can't let yourself be drawn in by pretty words.

“so anyway,” Sans continues, putting a hand on your back and gently propelling you forward. “vira here doesn't have any clothes 'cept the ones she has on. we were hopin' you could fix that?”

“Of course!” Immediately Bunny's mood brightens by a thousand gigawatts. Impressive, considering she was quite enthusiastic enough to begin with. “You've come to just the place. Follow me my dear – the human sizes are this way.”

Almost two whole hours later, and you and Sans are walking back to the brothers' house with entirely too many bags looped through your arms. Bunny had been – to put it mildly – most helpful, and had insisted on a number of purchases that neither you (nor Sans for that matter) would even have thought of otherwise.

You'd been pleased to discover the boutique stocked styles similar to your usual fare – leggings, combats, tanks, loose-fitting t-shirts and a selection of hoodies... Stuff designed for comfort and manoeuvrability, rather than looks. You'd been allowed to pick out a bunch of these yourself, as well as a decent lightweight jacket and a good pair of boots – all while Sans looked on with a knowing little smirk on his face.

Then Bunny had intervened.

Bemused by your less than feminine tastes, she'd insisted you should have prettier clothes to change with too. Deaf to any objections (which, since you're determined to maintain your silence, weren't forthcoming anyway) she had bundled you into the changing room with several dresses, skirts, jeans and tight-fitting shirts to try on, until at last – reluctantly – you'd given the nod to a few items just to get the ordeal over with. Of course you'd needed shoes to match these nicer outfits, so Bunny made sure you ended up with a pair of heels (that you had zero intention of wearing), some flats and a pair of sandals as well.

And then she'd asked if you needed underwear.

Sans' reaction to that had been interesting, for a guy made entirely of bones...

All in all, it had been an eventful morning. By unspoken agreement, you and Sans part ways when you reach the house. You didn't get much sleep last night, and that shopping trip took more out of you than you're prepared to admit.

 

Chapter Text

The weeks drag by slowly, living with Sans and Papyrus. Sans has been as good as his word, and so far you haven't been forced to do... well, anything. No chores, no sexual favours – you don't even have to spend time with the brothers if you don't want to. Which, for the first few weeks at least, you don't.

Ha. Like you had time to spare in the first place, given how much of it you spent coming up with various escape plans...

Since you're still here almost a month later, it goes without saying that none of them quite worked out. It became abundantly clear, very quickly, that any delusions of escape you harboured were... ill placed. To put it mildly.

The reason? You were never left alone. Like, ever.

That's not to say you were being hovered over all the time. No, quite the contrary; you had all the privacy you could ever want or need. It's just that one or other of the brothers was always home with you, always close enough to make attempting anything too much of a risk, no matter what hour of the day it was. You'd tried twice more when everyone was – theoretically – asleep, but Sans had appeared both times with damn near supernatural timing to stop you.

So that, as they say, was that. You hadn't given up – not by a long shot – but you at least resolved to wait until a better opportunity presented itself. They couldn't babysit you forever, you reasoned. One day they'd slip up, forget how obstinate you really were, and when they did... that's when you'd strike.

But to be perfectly honest, the waiting sucked.

At first you just spent whatever time you weren't eating, sleeping or using the facilities in your – er, Sans' – room. There were a surprising number of books hidden throughout the shorter skeleton's cave, and as the days crawled by you slowly but surely read through all of them. He didn't have any novels (God, what you wouldn't do for one of those), but the joke books were enjoyable enough, if lacking in subtlety. Some of the more basic sciencey stuff was interesting too, but the quantum physics tomes were utter gibberish – you barely skim-read those.

You had even – during a period of particularly restless ennui – tidied Sans' disaster of a bedroom. It was an eyesore, and you were the one who had to live in it after all. You still had no idea how to get rid of the trash tornado – everything you tried only seemed to make it worse – but at least you weren't tripping over odd socks, discarded fast-food wrappers, and empty ketchup bottles anymore.

With the few opportunities for entertainment (to use the term loosely) in Sans' room thoroughly exploited, you eventually began venturing out to explore the rest of the house. It started very small at first; a pause to glance at the TV, sitting a little bit longer after meals, lingering a few seconds to listen in on the brothers' banter (all while trying to look as uninterested as possible). Gradually – very gradually – you found yourself sticking around longer and longer, until the time you spent alone and the time you spent with the skeletons was roughly equal.

Most days, you try not to think about the significance of that.

Papyrus, who had been cold and distant for some time after your first meeting, warmed to you easily. It wasn't exactly a comfortable arrangement by any stretch of the imagination, but you would sometimes watch TV with him (he liked one actor in particular, a robot called Mettaton who – in your opinion – lacked any actual skill), or sat with him while he cooked up an inedible storm in the kitchen. He liked to talk a lot, especially in lieu of the fact that you steadfastly refused to answer, and often told you quirky little stories about his friends and family to fill the long stretches of silence. Nothing you could use to your advantage, but it killed some time and some of his tales were actually pretty funny.

You'd never admit it, not even to yourself, but sometimes – when you weren't as guarded as you should be – you found yourself almost... liking Papyrus. He was a font of relentless enthusiasm, so cheerily naive that even you found it hard to resist his optimism on occasion.

And then there was Sans.

Sans was... difficult to pin down, honestly. He told a lot of jokes and played a lot of pranks (he seemed particularly fond of whoopee cushions), but nothing made him happier than doing things just to get a rise out of people.

Like one time, when you'd came downstairs to get a drink of water and found Sans already in the kitchen, raking through the fridge. When he spotted you he'd casually pulled out a bottle of ketchup and drained the whole thing right in front of you! Ugh. Then he'd laughed at the revulsion on your face, and gulped down a second just for the hell of it!

Seriously, who fucking does that?!

But there are other times too. Rare instances when Sans is – dare you say it – almost serious. Times when, like Papyrus, he'll tell you stories – stuff about the past, about the Underground... about the war. His stories aren't at all light-hearted like Papyrus' are. Sometimes they could be very dark, and he didn't believe in sparing you the less pleasant details. Again, nothing you can actually put to use – and even less you can make sense of – but interesting all the same.

There are days – infrequent though they are – when you wonder what you would say, if you could answer the brothers back. Strange as it sounds, you almost wish you could sometimes... Actually, that's not quite accurate. You know you could talk, if you wanted to. There's nothing physically stopping you. It's just that your stupid pride won't allow it.

At this point, the passive-aggressive rage that had originally fuelled your vow of silence has all but burned out – especially in light of the fact that, aside from holding you here, the monsters really haven't done anything worthy of such passionate anger. They haven't hurt you, have in fact been the perfect hosts (again, except for the fact that you were here against your will). You still hate them, but it's less a personal thing now and more the mindless hatred you grew up with.

Maintaining even that much was hard work sometimes.

Something else you try not to dwell on.


 

Today it's just you and Papyrus. Sans left early that morning to do... whatever it is he does when he's not keeping an eye socket on you, giving you and his brother some rare time to yourselves.

It's unusual, Sans going out by himself like this – in all the time you've been his ward, he's only done it maybe three times. Four, max. He never tells you where he's going, or why (and really, why would he?) but Papyrus gets a funny look on his face whenever he goes. A sort of half-scowl, half-frown that makes you distinctly uneasy for some reason...

Still, you're not complaining. Papyrus is, by far, the easier of the two to be around. At least you don't have to watch out for stray whoopee cushions with him.

You're watching TV together – a quiz show hosted by none other than Mettaton – when Papyrus' phone lets out a shrill series of tuneless wails. You wince at what you now recognise as the opening notes of Mettaton's hit single, 'Meta Stun'. Papyrus answers absently, never averting his eyes from the robot himself on screen.

“HELLO, YOU HAVE REACHED THE PHONE OF THE GREAT PAPYRUS, HOW CAN I... UNDYNE?”

Watching from the corner of your eye, you see his brow (somehow) wrinkle in a worried-looking frown. You've made note of it before, but the skeletons – both of them – are exceptionally expressive for being made of bone. Whoever this 'Undyne' character is, she's not calling with good news.

“I... I SEE. WELL, I WOULD LOVE TO ASSIST BUT...” His gaze flicks to you and back again so quickly you almost miss it.

You hear yelling on the other end of the phone. You can't make out the words, but from the increasingly harried expression on Papyrus' face, you guess it must be something unpleasant.

Hope swells in your chest like a balloon. You continue to stare blandly at the television set, trying not to look as excited as you suddenly feel. Could this be it? The one in a million chance you've been waiting for?

“O-OKAY. YES, I UNDERSTAND. I SHALL BE THERE PRESENTLY. YES. YES... GOODBYE.”

He hangs up looking torn. You turn to him and dare to raise an eyebrow, managing to keep the anticipation off your face by sheer force of will alone. Patience, you tell yourself. You can't let him think you're up to anything.

“THAT WAS CAPTAIN UNDYNE OF THE ROYAL GUARD.” He fiddles with the handset, anxiety plain in his voice. “THERE IS A... A SITUATION. SHE REQUIRES ALL GUARD MEMBERS TO ATTEND THE SITE IMMEDIATELY. BUT...”

Go, you think. Go, and leave me here. Part of you wonders exactly what he means by 'a situation' – there's no doubt in your mind it's something resistance related. It has to be, if they're sending the whole guard to deal with it. But most of you is mentally crossing your fingers, silently invoking the powers that be to just please be on your side for once.

“SANS DOESN'T WANT YOU LEFT ALONE,” Papyrus admits at last. “HE THINKS YOU MIGHT TRY SOMETHING... FOOLISH.”

Damn Sans...

He's not wrong though – what you plan on doing could well be the single stupidest thing anybody has ever done. Or the bravest. It rather depends on how things pan out. Either way, you have to try.

Carefully, slowing your movements to what you hope is a convincing level of nonchalance, you offer the nervous skeleton a shrug.

It works. Papyrus doesn't look relieved, exactly, but he does stand after wringing his hands for a second.

“I... SHALL NOT BE GONE LONG,” he reasons with himself, eyes darting between you and the front door. “I'LL LOCK THE DOOR AND... YOU STILL HAVE YOUR CHIP. YOU CAN'T GO ANYWHERE WITH THE CHIP STILL INSIDE YOU.”

You watch as he edges towards the front door, every muscle taut with excitement. Go. Go, go, go, go, go...

He looks at you one last time, gloved hand on the door handle. There's still hesitance there, but after a minute he turns the knob. You shiver as the chill late-autumn air breezes into the house, fingers tightening reflexively against the fabric of the couch.

“PLEASE,” he implores, even as he's stepping outside. “DO NOT DO ANYTHING RECKLESS. I WILL RETURN AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE.”

And then he's gone. You can scarcely believe your luck. For the first time ever, you're alone in the house with no one to stop you.

You wait three minutes just to be sure, before getting up and rushing to the kitchen.

Today, one way or the other, you were going to be free

 

Chapter Text

It doesn't take long to find what you're looking for. The kitchen isn't especially large or complicated, and even if it were, you'd scoped the place out long ago. You hadn't spent the last few weeks watching Papyrus massacre your meals in here for the fun of it after all (although you'd be lying if you said that wasn't part of it).

The knife you pick isn't particularly big, but it's clean and wicked sharp – that's important for what you have in mind. It feels good in your hand. After so long being unarmed, it's almost like the handshake of an old friend. Even if your own hand is shaking so bad you almost drop it.

Studying your reflection in the metal, you note how wide your eyes are. As well they might be, you suppose – what you're about to attempt (what you're about to do – there is no room for half-measures here) is nothing short of terrifying. A normal human being wouldn't even consider it. You wouldn't either, if there was another way.

But there isn't. It's this, or give in – and you weren't built for giving in.

You wander into the sitting room, knife clutched tightly in your sweaty palm, before changing your mind and walking back to the kitchen. Part of you thinks you should do it over the sink – save on the mess for when poor Papyrus gets home. The rest of you snorts at that sentiment, aghast that you would factor a monster's feelings into the equation at all.

In the end, you compromise. You decide on the kitchen, but not over the sink – just in the middle of the floor. It's linoleum, you reason. Easily cleaned, for Papyrus' sake, but still sending a very vivid message.

With a deep steadying breath, you press the blade to the soft flesh of your left arm. The scar where they inserted your chip is silvery and faded – it looks much older than it should at this stage, probably thanks to all the magic-infused food you've been eating. You swallow noisily, mouth dry. There's no way of knowing how deep it is, not until you start looking for it. What you do know is there's a network of arteries in there, and if you so much as nicked one...

Well, suffice to say you wouldn't need to worry about Sans' plans at least.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in...

You press a little more firmly with the knife. You're right on the precipice, dancing the fine line between piercing skin and not. You try to still your trembling fingers – the last thing you want is to accidentally cut something you shouldn't. God, could you even do this? One wrong move and you'd bleed to death.

This was a stupid idea. You should just...

No. No, you have to do this. What else can you do? You can't leave with it still in you, and you definitely can't stay – not if there's even the slightest chance of escape. The resistance needs you. Humanity needs you. You owe it to them to try.

Right?

Right.

No more stalling. Papyrus or – God forbid – Sans could come home any second. If they caught you like this you would never get another shot at it. Hell, Sans would probably put you under 24-hour surveillance.

Now or never.

Now.

The first cut is too shallow by far. You know it the instant you make it, gritting your teeth against the fiery feeling of skin parting like butter. Blood wells immediately, bright and red and – oh God, it's running down the crease of your elbow... You feel sick, you can't breathe, what the fuck have you done?!

Nope.

No.

No time for that. Get it together now, come on. You can do this.

You draw in air through your nose and hold it, using the influx of oxygen and the sudden burst of adrenaline to calm yourself. It's barely a scratch, you tell yourself. You've managed worse than this before.

Again.

You bring the knife down with more precision this time, pressing in with the point determinedly even as your eyes begin to water with pain. Deeper it goes, then deeper still – you blanch at the feeling as it slices through fat and muscle, your whole arm throbbing in time with your heartbeat. The blood is pouring fast now, staining your whole arm a bright, nausea-inducing red. You're wearing one of your nicer t-shirts today too, a white one with some long-forgotten band on the front – distantly you note that it's ruined.

At last, after what feels like entirely too long, the tip of the knife grazes something solid. There's a dizzy moment when you think it might be your bone, but no – you're not deep enough for it to be bone, even though it feels like you are. You would sigh in relief, but you know the hardest part is still to come.

Screwing your eyes shut you start to wiggle the knife around. You feel it catch the edge of the chip and slip off again, but you keep at it, twisting this way and that to get better purchase. After several failed attempts you start to cry – it's not working, it's just not working! It hurts so Goddamn much, and one of the brothers will be back soon, you just know it, and you know what you have to do now but you can't, you can't...

Shaking in earnest, you drop your weapon and sink to your knees. The floor is covered in blood; it's soaking into your leggings, ruining them too, but you're too queasy and weak to care.

One more push, you tell yourself. Is that ringing in your ears, or is it the TV you left on? Just one last try.

Horrified by your actions before you can even execute them, you pause long enough throw up every last bit of your stomach. Even when you know there's nothing left to come out, you can't help retching for a span of what feels like hours.

You can't believe what you're about to do next.

Chest heaving, cold sweat running into your eyes, you press the fingers of your right hand into the messy wound you made with the knife. You know you're probably signing your own death warrant – if you haven't already damaged an artery, you're damn certain this will do the trick. Not to mention the risk of infection from your unsterilised fingertips.

Something tells you that latter issue isn't going to be a problem though. You'll be lucky to live long enough for it to matter.

You fumble around, stopping every few seconds to dry heave when you remember that you have your fingers buried in your arm. But your recklessness pays off and at last you find the damn thing. It takes a while to get a grip of it, slick with blood as pretty much everything is at this point, but when you do you give it a rough yank.

It comes away with a ripping sensation that you swear makes you black out for a minute.

Gruesome task finally accomplished, you allow yourself to slump in the unexpected ecstasy of your success. You must look a fine sight – covered in blood and vomit, face pale and slick with tears and sweat. With a weak laugh you realise your earlier indecision on where to do this unpleasant deed was pointless – there's no possible way you could have kept all this over the sink. And the mess you've made... Yikes.

Heh, at least it's not on the carpet.

You know you should get going right away – you've already wasted so much time trying to get the stupid chip out your arm, there's no telling how long you have left before someone comes back and finds you like this. You need to be as far from here as you can get before that happens...

In a minute, you decide.

You just need a moment to rest.

 

Chapter Text

After clumsily tying off the wound with a dish rag you found on the counter, you blearily make your way to the sitting room to face your next problem.

The front door.

Papyrus apparently wasn't kidding when he said he'd lock you in, and honestly, you should have expected that. He was naïve and overzealous, but he wasn't stupid. Even so, you stare at the door for a span of several dumbfounded seconds before the reality finally sinks in.

You're going to blame that on the blood loss.

With a groan, you force yourself away from the door and over to the living room window. Every step is brutal, a study in suffering like nothing you've ever endured before. You feel sick, even though there's nothing left to bring up. Your limbs are weak and shaky, your head is pounding... You're tired and weak and cold... A vague, disjointed voice in the back of your mind tells you that isn't a good sign, but you seriously have no fucks left to give.

Using your good hand, you fiddle with the handle of the nearest window.

Ah, God bless that lanky skeleton and his charming innocence.

Just as you'd hoped, the windows are not locked. Papyrus is obviously unused to being suspicious of people, and in his haste to be away he has inadvertently left you an escape route. Though, to be entirely fair to him, he probably didn't think you'd be desperate enough to cut yourself up and climb out a damn window. If you don't get out of here before he comes back though, you muse, casting a fatigued glance at the mess you've left in the kitchen, it's not a mistake he's likely to make twice.

With a grunt, you push the window as wide as it will go with your shoulder, stumbling over your own numb feet and knocking a vase of blue flowers from the windowsill in your daze. Annoyingly the windows are of the auto-lock variety, and while you think you have just enough room to squeeze through the gap without doing too much damage – either to the window or to yourself – you know it's not going to be a pleasant experience.

Pulse pounding in your ears, you heave your top half onto the sill and edge closer to the gap. The frigid breeze is soothing against your feverish skin, gentle as a mother's touch as it tangles your hair and dries your wet face. What you wouldn't give for a moment to just breathe it in. What you wouldn't give to revel in this brief taste of freedom a while longer.

But you don't have much time left, and so, with eyes screwed tight against the pain, you topple your weight forward and force yourself through the tight space head first.

You land badly – as one might expect, given the stupid manner in which you'd made your exit – and the fire that shoots up your maimed arm is enough to tear a scream from your lungs. The arm collapses beneath you immediately, unable to support your weight, and you tumble face first into the grass with a sickening thud, legs getting tangled in the window behind you. Blackness eats away at your peripheral vision, even as you struggle to right yourself. It would be easy – so easy – to just lie there.

So easy to give in.

But of course you don't, and when you're reasonably sure you won't pass out by doing so, you twist in place to lie on your back. Your legs free themselves easily from this new position, scratched and bruised from the fall but still serviceable. Rolling once more onto your front, you use your right hand to stabilise yourself as you raise onto your knees, cradling the throbbing left one close to your body for protection.

A bead of blood drips from somewhere on your face to the grass below. Ha... On top of everything else, you've probably broken your nose as well.

It's an effort, but at last you make it to your feet. You sway, momentarily dizzy, before taking an uncoordinated step forward. Then another. And another. It gets easier the more steps you take, and before long you've worked yourself up to a strange sort of half-jog.

You can do this. You're going to make it.

You're going to live.

It occurs to you just how lucky you are that the skeleton brothers live so far out of the way. What would you have done if someone had seen your mismanaged escape? Or if you'd had to walk through New New Home in order to get out of dodge? As it is, their house is backed by a belt of woodland that separates monster territory from the ghost city of Ebott – if you look closely enough, you can even see the first buildings of the city limits.

Unfortunately, even though the city is – at least in technical terms – close by, your group is situated far on the other side of it. Like, next-town-over far.

For the first time you wonder how you'll make such a journey in your condition. It's half a day on foot, at least, and that's if you keep a decent pace the whole time. You'll definitely need to stop for breaks, so that's another hour or two on top of that... And what about food and water? You can't travel that kind of distance on an empty stomach, never mind being dehydrated. Not to mention you've lost a ridiculous amount of blood already...

No. That kind of talk just won't do.

As Sans so often likes to remind you, you're determined. All you need to do is keep moving. As long as you can keep putting one foot in front of the other... well, then that's what you'll do.

You don't know how long passes before you breach the other side of the wood – it could be minutes or it could be hours. Hell, it could be days, for all the difference it makes to you. You're too exhausted to care.

Beat or otherwise, it is still a relief to be back on neutral ground again. How long has it been since you set foot in the city? Too long, probably. You'd almost forgotten the eeriness of it – the unsettling aura of a civilisation dead and buried. You can't even imagine what this place must have looked like in it's prime. What would all these buildings have looked like without the broken windows and ruined framework and tasteless graffiti?

And to think; there were once enough human beings to fill all these places!

The area you've emerged in is – or used to be – a park of some kind. A children's swing set creaks ominously in the wind, setting your teeth on edge and raising goosebumps along your bare arms. Belatedly, stupidly, you remember your state of dress; blood soaked, wearing nothing but a loose t-shirt and leggings. You should have grabbed a hoodie. It's going to be a long walk, and now that the cool air has taken the edge off your fever, you're starting to feel uncomfortably chilly.

Well, no sense worrying about that now. It's too late to go back, after all.

You shamble forward. You shouldn't have paused, even for the brief second it had taken to take in your surroundings; it's harder to get going again than you want to admit, and every step is starting to feel heavier than the last.

Has Papyrus returned yet? Has Sans? You wonder what they'll think when they see all the blood. Will they just assume you couldn't possibly have survived, and leave it at that? Or will they go looking for a body to confirm it? Knowing Sans, he'll want cold hard facts – he'll be after you the instant he discovers what you've done, no mistake.

Time loses all meaning as you stumble alone through the broken city, but you think it's almost an hour before your weary body demands rest. You stop outside the gutted remains of an old coffee shop – it's not ideal, but it's certainly better than sitting on the street. And besides, this close to monster central, maybe there'll be some food left? Raiding parties didn't dare get this close.

The shop is musty and damp – not exactly the warmth you could be doing with, but it's sheltered from the wind so that's something. You drop onto the mouldy upholstered bench lining the wall on the left, intent on catching your breath for just a minute before looting the place.

You've been sitting for ten minutes, pitching heavily to one side and listening to the dull thud of your heart in your ears, when you realise just how bad a state you're in.

The rag tied around your wound is drenched – maybe it came loose when you were running, or maybe you didn't tie it hard enough in the first place, but either way it's not doing the job you meant it to. Your limbs feel so heavy, your head so full of cotton wool... You can hardly see straight and the urge to fall asleep is getting stronger by the second. Such a welcoming thought – sleep would be soooo good right now.

...

Ah, who are you kidding?

You're dying.

There's none of the panic or denial you might expect from such a realisation – just calm acceptance. Maybe even relief.

You're dying and that's okay.

Perversely, your last thought before the darkness claims you is Sans. Heh, he's going to be so mad. You've royally messed up his plans now, whatever they are... were. It's almost funny, imagining the lazy skeleton all pissed off. At least you have that warm image to accompany you to the grave.

 

Chapter Text

For a minute, all Sans can do is stare.

He was home a little early – okay, a lot early – because halfway through running his latest batch of subjects through the preliminary tests, he'd been struck with the most uncomfortable sensation of... wrongness. Not to blow his own trombone or anything, but Sans liked to think he was a pretty intuitive guy; his instincts had saved his metaphorical ass enough times by now that he'd learned to trust stuff like that.

Reluctant to leave his work for anything less than a confirmed Code Blue, Sans had quickly checked the device he kept in his hoodie pocket – a monitor he and Alphys had built to detect and monitor spikes in Determination. Worryingly, the largest spike – the one that corresponded to your Determination – had been dropping. Rapidly. Almost as if...

But maybe the thing was busted, he'd reasoned. Alphys kept telling him to stop taking it through the void; said all that compressed nothingness couldn't be good for it.

So he called Paps.

When his brother hadn't answered (and Papyrus always answered, why wouldn't he answer, where the hell was he?!) he'd hastily informed Alphys that he was ducking out for the day before teleporting, amidst her stuttered protests, back to the house.

And now here he was. Wide-eyed and queasy and horrified, but grateful – so unbelievably grateful – because for as bad as it was, it's still not the worst.

Papyrus is on his hands and knees in the kitchen, making breathless, agitated little whines, occasionally giving a great shuddering sob. He's kneeling in a puddle of blood and vomit, trying to mop the mess up with a cloth that – by the looks of it – is already saturated. Every few seconds he has to pause, hunching over and breathing heavily through his mouth, gulping down air he doesn't need to steady a stomach he doesn't have...

Plainly, his little brother is traumatised.

But he's still alive, and so Sans – weak-kneed from such overwhelming relief – immediately shifts from terror to fury in the blink of an eye.

w h a t   h a p p e n e d?

Papyrus visibly flinches, and for a moment Sans feels awful. Very rarely does he use that tone with his brother – he can count the times on one hand, and still have fingers left over. But he's filled with nervous magic right now, the initial panic wearing off too slowly, and the sight of so much blood is doing something funny to his head.

He can't help but notice that there's no sign of you anywhere.

that's a whole lotta blood...

“BROTHER. THE HUMAN IS GONE.” And although Papyrus says it so weakly, voice trembling with barely concealed revulsion, Sans' doesn't miss the underlying accusation in his voice. “UNDYNE CALLED REQUESTING BACK-UP – THERE WAS AN... ALTERCATION AT THE REHAB FACILITY.” The shaken skeleton pauses, wiping his damp forehead with the back of one gloved hand. The action leaves a ghastly smear of red, stark against the white bone.

Sans feels his expression stiffen. Papyrus had left you alone? You, an unreformed ex-rebel who had been at best standoffish, and at worst outright hostile? Papyrus was by no means stupid – perhaps a bit too quick to believe the best of people, but definitely not lacking in intellect. Understandably then, Sans was having real difficulty in fathoming the precise point at which Papyrus had lost his damn mind.

“I HAD NO CHOICE BUT TO GO,” Papyrus all but snaps, reading the aghast look on his face. “UNDYNE COMMANDED IT. WHEN I RETURNED I... SHE...” He makes a vague, flailing motion at the mess congealing under his knees. “THIS IS A LOT OF BLOOD, BROTHER. I HAVE ASCERTAINED SHE CLIMBED OUT THE WINDOW, BUT THE TRAIL GOES COLD AFTER A FEW FEET. IT MIGHT ALREADY BE TOO LATE.”

Sans' mind is already whirring, using what little he knows about you to try and understand your thought processes. Your destination, at least, is obvious – you'll be heading toward the city, hoping to rejoin the insurgents. He can't let that happen, and he can't let you die either. You're the one, he's sure of it – the answer to all his problems. He can't lose you now, not when it took this long to find you...

You might be his last chance.

“I told you this was a bad idea,” Papyrus mutters, standing and wiping his bloodied knees – all he manages to do is spread the stuff around a bit. “This is not the work of a well adjusted human, Sans. Are you certain you want to risk it, with such an unstable individual? Perhaps it would be best if she were sent to the facility...”

Already half way out the house, Sans freezes in place. His soul seems to sink in his chest, and he grips the door frame wearily.

This again.

You wouldn't know it – Sans had taken great pains to make sure you didn't know it – but the brothers had been arguing a lot more often since you dropped into their lives. Papyrus had made no secret of his feelings where Sans' research was concerned in the past, but until you arrived he had been largely able to ignore it. Now you were a constant reminder, and worse, Paps had already grown strangely fond (and therefore protective) of you.

At this point, Sans doesn't know who Papyrus is more worried about – you or him.

“we've been over this, bro.” So many times. “the end-,”

“JUSTIFIES THE MEANS,” Papyrus finishes, returning to his usual volume and crossing his arms over his bony chest. “YOU HAVE SAID THAT BEFORE. WELL I DISAGREE, BROTHER, I TRULY DO. THIS EXPERIMENT OF YOURS-,”

“it's not just an 'experiment', paps,” Sans objects, turning fully to face the taller skeleton. “i told you, me and alphys have got the science bit down – we just need a human with enough determination to make it work.”

“WHY? EVEN IF IT SUCCEEDS-,”

“it will.”

“IT WON'T CHANGE THE AWFUL THINGS YOU DO TO MAKE IT SO,” Papyrus continues sadly. “AN ACT LIKE THAT LEAVES SCARS ON THE SOUL, BROTHER. THIS ELABORATE PLAN OF YOURS IS DANGEROUS... AND IT SEEMS SO NEEDLESSLY CRUEL.”

That... really hurt, to be honest. Sans isn't sure if it's because of the implication itself, or if it's because Papyrus – of all people – is the one to point it out to him. He wants to deny it, to claim he's only doing what's necessary, but the words stick in his throat. Necessary or not, it is cruel – even Sans can't, in good conscience, argue with that.

“sacrifices have to be made, paps... an' you know i won't make her do anything she doesn't want to.” A weak consolation, but comforting – to Sans at least – nonetheless.

“NO. BUT YOU'LL MANIPULATE HER INTO BELIEVING SHE DOES WANT TO, AND THAT IS WORSE. YOU REALISE YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT-,”

“don't say it!” He can't stand to hear it said out loud, can't stomach the sound of his plan – his sin – in Papyrus' voice.

“FINE. BUT IF VIRAGO SUCCEEDS WHERE THOSE OTHERS FAILED... CAN YOU PROMISE HER A HAPPY ENDING TOO?”

He really wishes he could. But the fact of the matter is, Sans isn't entirely sure what will happen to you if this all pans out as he hopes. He's not even sure what will happen to himself. There's a very real chance he'll do some irrevocable damage...

But even so, it's still worth it. It is.

It has to be.

“... you know i can't,” he says at last, because they both know that much is true. Whatever happens when the plan has run it's course is pot luck.

“BUT YOU WILL DO THIS ANYWAY?”

Sans nods. He'll do it because it has to be done. Because it's the only way.

Because if he doesn't do it... he'll have to live with the choices he's made.

He can't let it all be for nothing.

Papyrus studies him for a long, silent moment. If Sans hadn't gotten used to it years ago, he would have been hurt by the jaded look in those eyes.

So beyond done with fighting about this, Sans looks away first. Maybe what hurts the most is the fact that his brother – his one reason to continue living, to continue trying – just doesn't understand. Nobody does; not even Alphys really, when it comes down to it. Nobody gets why this is so important, and Sans can't really blame them. What he's trying to do... it flies in the face of all logic.

But then, none of them know the things he does.

“'m goin' to find her,” he mumbles, shoving his hands in the pockets of his hoodie.

Behind him he hears Papyrus sigh. “I HOPE YOU KNOW WHAT YOU'RE DOING, SANS”

That makes two of them.

 

Chapter Text

Sans hangs an immediate right upon leaving the house, not even bothering to look for a trail. Instead he heads straight for the city, cutting through the sparse wood bordering his and Papyrus' cottage on a more or less direct vector. If his meagre knowledge of human physiology is up to standard – and he's pretty sure it is – you're probably not thinking very clearly, or going very fast. In your current state, he seriously doubts you're fit to do much more than walk in a straight line. At a brisk pace, he's sure to catch up in no time.

Hypothetically.

He still can't believe how reckless you are. Talk about Determination... To think you'd go so far. Deliberately cutting up your own arm, all for the sake of removing your chip – now that's a level of crazy even the kid had never accomplished. Oh true, they hadn't actually found the chip yet, but Sans knows that's what you'd done as surely as if he'd watched the whole thing unfold before his very eyes. It's the only explanation that makes any kind of sense, and he can't decide if you're very brave or ridiculously stupid. Probably both.

At the very least, it's bitterly cold out – the vasoconstriction should stop you from bleeding to death before he finds you...

The thought makes him nauseous, guilt rising like bile, twisting his soul painfully in his chest. He didn't think you'd grown so desperate – didn't think you were that unhappy...

But no, that's no excuse. He knows what he's doing, keeping you caged like this, and he did – and will continue to do – so willingly.

As he so often has since taking you in that day, Sans wishes to God there was another way.

It doesn't take him long to navigate the thin strip of woodland, and when he emerges, he finds himself in an old human play park. The rusted remains of a climbing frame poke out of the earth like broken ribs, deadly and jagged. Heh, he remembers this place. Back before... before... he used to bring Frisk here sometimes. They never showed much interest in playing on the equipment, instead preferring to sit on the fringes, eating Nice Cream and exchanging shitty jokes with him under the trees...

…God, he misses them.

It's safe to say things had gotten out of hand fast after Frisk and Toriel died. They had both been well respected within the monster community – well loved – and the reality of their untimely deaths (their murders) had not been an easy pill to swallow for anyone.

Least of all the King.

What started out as a cry for justice turned to the howls of war in the blink of and eye, and before anyone really understood what was happening, the world descended into utter chaos.

Ironically, the monsters had held the advantage this time round. Humans, having long forgotten how to wield their own magic, were pitifully under-prepared for the particulars of magical warfare. It was – put quite simply – a woefully one-sided affair.

And like many, Sans had played his part with gusto.

He'd been so angry. So blindly furious in a way he'd only ever experienced in timelines now dead and best forgotten. Angry with the human-supremacists who'd started the whole mess with their bilious ideals; angry with humans in general for their natural inclination towards selfishness and hatred in the first place... But perhaps he'd been most angry with himself. For his part in breathing life into this putrid timeline.

Could he ever forgive himself for making Frisk swear not to mess with time again? For damn near threatening them not to? Probably not. It had been forty years and he still couldn't look at himself in the mirror.

He should have specified...

Shaking his head loose of such dark thoughts, Sans makes his way smoothly through the park towards the city proper. He can't afford to get sidetracked at a time like this, not when your life hangs in the balance. All these regrets... they won't mean anything for much longer anyway – not if his hard work pays off the way he hopes it will.

If he can successfully force a RESET, using your Determination as a starting point...

It'll be like none of this ever happened.


 

In the end he finds you by sheer coincidence.

He'd been walking for almost twenty minutes, no sign of you anywhere, when he spotted the coffee shop and decided to take a small detour. He's starving. Thanks to all this drama, he'd skipped both breakfast and lunch today, and figures maybe it's a smart idea to see if there's anything edible left in the shop. He plans to short-cut to the hospital with you the instant he finds you, but he might not be able to do so if he loses much more stamina.

In any case, Sans doesn't notice you as he steps through the ajar door. He's too busy reliving the memories, breathing in the not-quite-faded smell of coffee and remembering a time when he might have told jokes in a place just like this.

It's not until you let out a tiny, involuntary whimper – a muffled vocalisation of pain from the depths of your sleep – that he spins in place to find you collapsed on a padded bench. His eye lights brighten in relief.

Finally; he's found you.

Teleporting to your side in an instant, Sans presses two cold, bony fingers to the side of your neck. Yes, there it is – your pulse, faint and thready, but there. You don't look good by any stretch of the imagination – there's blood all over your face and clothes, and you're almost as white as he is – but you're still alive, still breathing, and that's something he can work with.

“alright pal,” he whispers, more to himself than to you. “i gotcha. let's get you to the hospital, yeah?”

Carefully, Sans slides one arm around your back and the other under your legs. He picks you up bridal style, frowning when your head lolls onto his chest – he can feel the clamminess of your skin through his shirt, can see the dark circles under your eyes and the shallowness of every breath. He's extremely lucky, he thinks, that he came across you when he did. It looks like you don't have a lot of time left to spare.

“jeez kid... you really did a number on yourself...”

A tiny moan, barely audible through lips stained red with your own blood, is his only reply.

That damn guilt sweeps over him again, hot and acidic. He knows what he's doing is for the best – that it's necessary, to secure a better future for everyone – but he's not blind to the awfulness of your situation either. He does feel bad, putting you through all this. Worse than bad. He can't sleep for thinking about it most nights. If there was any other way...

But there's not.

With the ease of practice, Sans shoves his doubts aside, locking them in the deepest, darkest corner of his mind. He has to, if he's going to have the strength to do what needs to be done.

the end justifies the means.

 

Chapter Text

Your dreams are full of skeletons.

Sans is grinning at you, cracking joke after joke after joke, and you – for some bizarre reason – are giggling prettily like the nurse from the hospital, all coy and sweet and adoring. He takes your hand and intertwines his skeletal fingers with your plump fleshy ones, and you let him, blushing when he presses his teeth to the back of your hand in a mock kiss.

Then suddenly it's not Sans holding your hand, but Papyrus – and it's still strange, stranger still for the abrupt change, but you don't really mind because he's laughing loudly and his smile is so sincere. He produces a plate of spaghetti from nowhere, holding it out to you with a beam of pure delight, and lo' and behold, it's actually good. You eat the whole thing while he puffs his chest proudly.

Again the scene changes.

It's darker now, and cold, and you can hear the frightened staccato of your heartbeat in your chest. Sans is there, and Papyrus too, but they're wrong somehow – all jagged teeth, and cracked skulls, and red glowing eyes full of ill-intent. They're not alone either. On every side you're surrounded by skeletons, human skeletons, still with bits of decaying flesh clinging to their bones, each one familiar some how, each one baying for your blood...

Sans moves, the slightest twitch of his sinister grin, and then he's in front of you, axe in one hand, your left arm clutched in his other, held high, high above your head. His phalanges dig in painfully, piercing the flesh – it burns, and you scream, but he just laughs cruelly and tightens his grip, blood spurting and painting his white skull red.

i  g o t c h a...”

You struggle uselessly as he brings the axe up, eyes screwing shut as you wait for it to land.

j e e z  k i d...  y a  r e a l l y  d i d  a  n u m b e r  o n  y o u r s e l f...”

The axe falls. You try to speak, to beg for mercy, but you black out before the first syllable passes your lips...

Your slumber afterwards is dreamless.


 

When you finally wake, it's to the smell of tomatoes and the sound of snoring.

You feel awful. Your mouth is dry, your left arm's throbbing, and there's a dull ache on the inside of your skull that pulses in time with your rasping breaths. When you crack your eyes open all you can see is blinding white. The smell of disinfectant fills your nostrils, mingling unpleasantly with the odour of tomatoes. For a second, you experience the most uncanny sense of deja vu...

And then you remember, bolting upright with a wince.

Sure enough you appear to be back in hospital, dressed in a thin theatre gown with intravenous tubes in your chest and the back of your right hand. One, the one in your hand, leads to a bag of clear fluid, and could be anything from basic saline to antibiotics. There's only one thing the other bag could be however, bright red as it is, and makes your stomach roil queasily just looking at it.

You quickly turn away.

Thankfully, this time you're unventilated and seem to be unrestrained – you try to lift your arms experimentally just to be sure, and are pleased when they obey without resistance. A needle of pain shoots through your left arm with the movement, and you glance over to see neat stitches in the angry red skin there. Gently, you stroke the fingers of your other hand over the still-healing wound, shivering when even that light touch sends tiny sparks of fire dancing over your sensitive flesh.

All things considered, it doesn't look nearly as bad as you might have expected. These doctors clearly know their trade – sure, you'll still scar, but at least it'll be tidy considering the damage you did. Your heart sinks as you consider the sutures with a frown. You suppose they put the chip back while they were at it...

A short, humourless puff of laughter bubbles past your lips, and you slump back on your pillows.

All of that for nothing. You're back in exactly the same position you started in, only this time with the benefit of miserable experience to hold you back from another attempt. What a fucking waste...

“mornin', kiddo... 'bout time you woke up.”

You turn to regard Sans balefully, taking note of his presence for the first time since coming to. He's sitting by your bedside in the padded patient chair, rubbing his eyes sleepily as though just waking up himself. That explains the snoring and the smell of tomatoes, you suppose – he always has a faint ketchup-y aroma about him, probably because he fucking drinks the stuff. He chuckles softly at your huffy expression, and you briefly wonder why he's not pissed off. You did just almost kill yourself in a bid to escape from him – shouldn't he be furious?

“you sleep like the dead, buddy.” He laughs half-heartedly at his own joke, filling you with a bitter irritation that makes you grind your teeth.

Without really thinking you fire back, “fuck... off.”

And just like that, your months-long silence is broken.

The words are barely comprehensible, your voice so hoarse with disuse and whatever drugs they've got you on that it sounds more like a frog's croak than human speech. Regardless, it has the desired effect.

Sans looks shocked for a minute, eye lights bright with – you assume – awe. Then his grin widens, and suddenly he looks victorious. Belatedly you realise your mistake and slap an appalled hand over your mouth, but the damage is done and he's already basking in it. You slowly remove the hand with a scowl and – trying to salvage what's left of your pride – pointedly look away.

“heh, so you can talk,” he smiles, leaning back in the chair and resting his chin on one hand. The look on his face is a bizarre mixture of relief, exhaustion and amusement. “i was startin' to wonder.”

In for a penny, in for a pound you guess. You're just about to tartly inform him of several things he can do with his 'wonder' when – with an air of such sincere concern that your vitriol turns to ash in your mouth – Papyrus sweeps into the room. He's as loud as ever, announcing his presence with an exclamation of, “THE GREAT PAPYRUS HAS RETURNED!”, face hidden behind an assortment of foil balloons all bearing variances of the phrase 'get well soon'.

“heya bro,” Sans greets, with a wink in your direction. “how was work?”

“MERCIFULLY QUIET, THANK YOU BROTHER. HAS THE HUMAN'S CONDITION IMPROVED?”

Papyrus turns away from the bed and struggles for a moment with the balloons, tying them to something you can't see before putting whatever it is on the floor beside – now that you're looking – quite the impressive collection of... stuff. Cards stand in regimented rows like paper soldiers while boxes of sweets make towers that come up to Papyrus's kneecaps. There are vases of flowers of varying freshness, brightly coloured and artfully arranged, and off to the right you spot a giant wicker basket with more fruit than you've ever seen in one place before.

You peer around him as he gingerly backs away from the hoard. He'd tied the balloons to a bone.

A bone.

You stare at it blankly, just letting that sink in for a minute.

“why dontcha ask her yourself?” you hear Sans say. With an effort you raise your eyes to the skeletons again – Papyrus spins in place and regards you with shock, neon-orange tears gathering in his eye sockets. Inexplicably, you feel guilt as the tears start to fall and offer a meek little wave before you can think better of it.

“go on. say hello, vira.” Your gaze slides to Sans. He smiles back guilelessly, eyebrow bone ever so slightly raised – you get the distinct impression you're being challenged.

Puffing up angrily at the obvious dare, you turn to the silently weeping Papyrus and clear your throat.

“H-hello...” you whisper, forcing the words past parched lips and wincing at the grating sound your own voice makes.

Before you can try again – with more dignity, you think – you find yourself wrapped up in a very tight, very bony hug. Surprise robs you of further speech, and you sit there frozen as Papyrus holds you to his chest.

“I AM SORRY, HUMAN. I AM SO. VERY. SORRY!”

 

Chapter Text

Papyrus hugging you doesn't take very long at all to become incredibly awkward. You hear Sans give an amused snort and glare at him ineffectually over Papyrus' shoulder, but for some reason you can't find it in yourself to push the taller skeleton off. It's unthinkable to consider returning the embrace either however, so instead you stare stiffly into the middle-distance and wait for it to be over.

When he pulls back with a sniffle – still crying those toxic-looking tears – you can't help the flush of embarrassment spreading over your cheeks. You are not, generally speaking, a very touchy-feely person to begin with; Papyrus' display of affection leaves you feeling very off-kilter.

“I'M SORRY!” he says again, wiping at his eyes with his gloved hands. “I, THE GREAT PAPYRUS, SHOULD HAVE NEVER LEFT YOU ALONE IN YOUR FRAGILE MENTAL STATE!”

You feel your expression deadpan. 'Fragile mental state'? He's making it sound like you're insane – like you wouldn't make the same choice over and over if you had to. Curiously, you don't feel as offended as you probably should. How can you, when his apology is so earnest? Misplaced, perhaps, but still earnest.

“TO THINK YOU ALMOST DIED FOR MY NEGLIGENCE!” Papyrus wails. “WELL, NEVER AGAIN, HUMAN. I WILL NOT FAIL YOU TWICE!”

Oh the irony. He's essentially telling you you're stuck with them for life, that you'll never get another opportunity to flee (not that you thought for one second you would anyway), but he's doing it in such a way that makes you almost feel... Remorseful? Guilty? Something like that. You stifle a bitter laugh – you can't believe you actually feel bad for trying to escape.

That's so twisted, it's not even funny.

It takes Papyrus a little while to calm down, and even when he does you still catch him sending you worried glances when he thinks you're not looking. The brothers stay for hours, bantering in that same easy way they do back at the house. Despite the revelation that you can talk, you don't actually contribute much to the conversation – your voice is too weak and sore just yet. Even if it weren't, you have nothing to add to a debate on whether Mettaton's newest movie 'Glambot VII' is better than the previous six instalments of the series (you'd been subjected to the first four over the course of the past few weeks; frankly, you doubt it could get any worse).

Eventually, Papyrus announces his departure. You'll be getting discharged in a week's time, and he wants to prepare and freeze as much 'Papyrus' Get-Welly Super Special Spaghetti' as he possibly can to aid in your recovery (it takes an extra concentrated effort on your part not to retch at the thought).

Sans opts to stay a bit longer, triggering a look from his brother that holds more than you're ever likely to understand. Papyrus doesn't say anything however, and bids you both farewell with a wave that almost manages to convey the same level of cheer as always. To your surprise – and Sans' too, you think – you automatically wave back.

As soon as he's gone, you turn to Sans expectantly. You're not stupid. You know he stayed behind for a reason, and you want this over with as quickly as possible so you can get some painkiller-addled sleep.

“what?” he asks innocently, making you raise a skeptical eyebrow.

You are so not in the mood for this bullshit.

“Cut the crap,” you try to choke out. Unfortunately, what actually comes out sounds like a cat bringing up a hairball. He seems to get the message nevertheless.

“heh, y' got me,” he surrenders with a shrug, grinning that stupid grin of his. “we need to have a lil chat. but first... what d'you want me to call you?”

It's a simple question, but you're disproportionately puzzled by it. He's been calling you Virago for almost two months at this point, and now he wants your opinion on the matter?

“Virago's fine,” you eventually mutter. It's not like it matters anyway; the brothers have made it abundantly clear that you can't go back to your old life. For all intents and purposes you are Virago now; who you were before might as well have died in that cafe.

Sans studies you gravely, managing to be serious for the first time since you opened your eyes. You rub a hand over your stitches restlessly, discomfited by the attention, wondering what he sees in your rigid posture – a rebel still full to the brim with senseless defiance, or a pathetic little girl on the brink of defeat? Even you're not sure which one applies anymore.

“fine by me,” he says at last. “vira it is. just seems rude not to ask now that i know y' can talk an' all.”

… Whatever.

“anyway,” he continues, when it becomes plain you have nothing further to say on the subject. “that was a close one, huh? not gonna lie to you, pal, 'm not thrilled with your life choices at the minute...”

You squint at him. Was that a pun? If it was, it was an exceptionally dark one. He notices your look and grimaces apologetically.

“sorry. force of habit.” He rubs the vertebrae in his neck with a clacking sound, then sighs and sits forward a bit on the chair. “let's just get to the point. you probably already figured they put the chip back in, yeah?” You can't help it; your feel the expression on your face curdle at the reminder. “welp, i'll save you the trouble and tell you it's not in your arm – 's in your back.”

Stunned, you reflexively reach over your shoulder for the wound you didn't realise you had; all you feel is smooth skin.

“bit further down than that,” he chuckles, the sound utterly humourless. “you won't be able to reach it.” The way he says it makes you think maybe that was the point. “sorry, kid. i know ya don't like it, but the chips are mandatory; we're just tryin' to keep everyone safe. can't have you runnin' off and bringing back trouble.”

You can't exactly argue with that, you suppose. It's not like that's not exactly what you'd do, given half a chance. You still hate it, but that doesn't mean you don't get it.

“so,” he continues after a brief pause. “since y' can't pull this little stunt again, paps and me were thinking... maybe it would be good for you to get outta the house?”

That grabs your attention; you stare with what you hope is an appropriate level of aloof interest, but your hands have clenched into eager fists in your lap. Frankly, any degree of freedom is a welcome development at this point. Even though you know it's likely your every move will be watched, you're still excited by the prospect of spending time somewhere – anywhere – that isn't the skeleton household.

“obviously you'd have to tell me where you're goin' so i could check up on you... make sure you're not hurtin' yourself or anybody else,” he says, picking at a piece of lint on his hoodie. “but, if you promise not to do anything stupid...”

“I promise.”

The words are out of your mouth before you even have time to think it over. Not that the answer would be any different if you did ponder it for a bit – what Sans is offering is a better deal than you dared hope for, a better deal than you yourself would have given if the roles were reversed. You'd be a fool not to take it, even at the cost of what essentially amounts your unconditional surrender.

Plan A was a bust, and there is no Plan B - if this is the best you can get, you'll take it.

Sans seems surprised by your easy cooperation, but recovers quickly with a pleased grin. “heh. well alright then. we've got ourselves a deal.”

 

Chapter Text

Even after you're released from the hospital, it's a few weeks before you're strong enough to put you and Sans' deal to good use. Or any use really – you're still so weak from your brush with death, you can't even traverse the stairs without having to take a break. More than once you've made it to the couch and had to lie down, only to find yourself back in your (Sans') bed hours later.

But time passes, and gradually your health improves. God knows how – you've eaten more of Papyrus' spaghetti than is probably advisable. You suppose that, irrespective of how disgusting it tastes, the magic naturally contained in the monster-brand food is enough to mend and sustain you. Even so, you try to eat as little of it as you can get away with, explaining away your lack of appetite as natural for a human of your size.

Something that had changed since returning to the skeleton abode – you continued to talk. Not often, and usually with a subtle bite to your tone when you did, but the brothers seemed pleased with the development nonetheless. Papyrus in particular, with his unassailable zest for life, took any and every opportunity to engage you in – admittedly mostly one-sided – conversation. He asked plenty of questions, now that he knew you could answer, and never seemed put off when you replied with snippy one-word statements or even (for some of the more personal or annoying queries) not at all.

Not surprisingly, your voice had gotten a lot stronger over the weeks.

Today, after many weeks of not being able to go much further than the front door, you're heading out for Ebott City. Autumn has set in proper now, the ground crunchy with frost and the air frigid as it nips at your face. Your breath plumes out in front of you, clouding your vision as you pick your way through the woods to the park you'd fled through before.

When you'd informed Sans of your intentions – as per your agreement – he'd raised a meaningful eyebrow, warning clear in his tone as he responded, “okay. stay safe.” Other than that, he hadn't put up any kind of resistance. You know for a fact that it's probably because he's following you, but so far he's doing a good job of staying out of sight and so you let the illusion of being completely alone lull you into a calm stupor.

You'd been waiting for this for a long time, and you were determined to enjoy every second of it.

You're not sure what Sans expected anyway. Did he think you'd use the longer range on your leash to explore New New Home? Maybe get to know the monsters you so despised, make some new friends? Ha. Just because you were – reluctantly – warming to Papyrus (in your defense, it's hard to hate or even dislike someone so charismatic), didn't mean you were turning into some kind of New Age monster-loving hippy. Papyrus was an exception.

Besides, you promised you wouldn't hurt anyone – that didn't mean you had to mingle with them.

You break the edge of the trees and take in, for the second time, the sight of the abandoned park. Much of the equipment is covered in frost and rust, the grass surrounding the bouncy Wet Pour surfacing overgrown and riddled with nettles. You try to imagine children playing here, laughing and carefree, their parents sitting on this very grass, basking in the sun as they watched. It's not an easy scene to picture – all you've ever known is this ceaseless war. The children you grew up with were troubled and grim-faced things, adults long before their time...

Picking your way over the tangled greenery, you step up to the toppled remains of a slide and run your fingers over the pitted surface. It's a dull corroded orange now, flecks of green here and there where it's old paint job hasn't quite given up the ghost. You move away and give the roundabout an experimental push, wincing when it screams in protest. The see-saw teeters when you touch it, bouncing delicately on a base that looks too damaged to support it but somehow does. Finally you come to the swings.

They sway in the wind, damp with melting ice. They too are rusty with age, battered nigh to death by years weathering the elements and no one to maintain them. Your take the chains of one swing in your numb hands and give a rough yank, testing their strength. When they hold, you perch on the seat and let yourself rock with the gentle motions.

Well... What should you do now, you wonder? You haven't had much time to think about it – either being asleep or distracted by your skeleton jailers – but now that you're alone for the first time in forever, your mind inevitably wanders to the situation you find yourself in. Your promise with Sans, while necessary for your captivity to approach anything resembling tolerable, has all but eliminated you from the fight. And honestly, you don't know how to feel about that.

You suppose you could renege. Maybe try again with the escape plan (though hell only knows how you'd get the chip out now, with it being embedded in your back); or attempt to take out one of the bigwigs in town; or fuck, even just kill yourself and be done with this whole messy ordeal. Words are wind – there's nothing physical stopping you, and any one of those acts would at the very least belay whatever plans the enemy has. If you were lucky, you could even give the resistance an advantage. But...

None of those ideas appeal to you somehow. You know it's ridiculous, but you've always had a bit of an honour complex – to go back on a promise you made willingly is just... deplorable. Even if it is with a monster. Plus, for as willing as you thought you were to make the ultimate sacrifice, you really don't want to die. You don't think there's a creature out there who does. Maybe you'd feel different if the skeletons treated you poorly, or if you weren't so Goddamn soft on Papyrus, or if you knew exactly what Sans had in store for you (he still won't tell you, and it's hard to be particularly afraid when all he keeps telling you is he's not going to hurt you). But they don't, you are, and you don't; so for now, you want to live.

The distinct whisper of footsteps through grass reaches your ears, and you twist on your swing, expecting to see Sans walking towards you. When you see nothing but empty air as far as the eye can see, you sigh. So much for alone time.

“I know you're there,” you call out waspishly. You don't know what's worse – him following you in the first place, or pretending he's not and thinking you're dumb enough to fall for it.

No reply. Fine, you think. Let him skulk back there.

You turn back to face the city...

… and are greeted by a familiar skull grinning back at you.

“Oh shit!” you yelp, and to your complete and utter horror you tumble backwards off the swing.

Sans laughs, full-bellied guffaws that echo around the deserted park like thunder, while you try to reclaim the breath stolen from your lungs by the impact. Fucking teleporting asshole skeleton! Struggling to your knees, you cough fitfully and glare when he offers a hand to help you up. Smug bastard – you take it grudgingly, seriously considering throwing a punch at his stupid smiling face. Hell, if you thought for one second it would actually land, maybe you would.

“thought you said you knew i was there?” he smirks, taking the swing next to you when you sit back down.

For one vicious second, you envisage flipping him the bird and walking away without a word. But what's the point? He'd follow you anyway. And besides, you've used up most of your still-limited energy reserves just walking this far.

“I did,” you snap, jerking a thumb over your shoulder to emphasise the 'there' you were referring to. Then, as if he wasn't aware, you add, “You teleported.” It takes every ounce of self-restraint you possess to keep from adding 'dick' to the end of that sentence.

Sans shrugs, though he still looks much too pleased with himself. You get the impression this isn't the first time he's used his spacial-manipulation magic to fuck with someone. For a guy who has such a formidable reputation, he sure likes to joke around a lot... Disturbingly, you find his playful streak actually subverts a lot of the threat and rancour you might otherwise associate him with. You hate yourself for thinking it, but it almost makes him seem more approachable... likeable, even.

When he's not being an obnoxious asshat with it.

And when you let yourself forget you're his prisoner.

God... what the fuck is wrong with you? Why do you insist on humanizing these beasts? They've taken everything from you. Your home, your pride, your freedom... Why is it so hard for you to keep the fires of hatred alive these days?

The pair of you sit in silence for what feels like hours. If Sans notices your puzzled expression he makes no mention of it; equally you say nothing of his contemplative one. At one point you briefly entertain asking him why he's here, why he followed you, but you know the answer to that already so you don't bother.

Eventually you rise, sufficiently rested to make the journey back to the house. Sans does the same, hands deep in his pockets as he keeps pace with you. And still, neither of you speaks.

You spend much of that night awake in bed, trying to fathom how such a loaded silence could feel so tranquil at the same time.

 

Chapter Text

After that first trip to the park, life settles into a somewhat comfortable pattern.

Every day you wake around eleven, choke down your share of the breakfast spaghetti left by Papyrus – spoiler warning; it never tastes any better, no matter how much you eat – before showering, changing, and finally leaving the house with a perfunctory yell of, “Goin' to Ebott!”

From there you head into the city, whiling away the long hours exploring or even just wandering, occasionally picking up the odd item of interest from amongst the pitiful remains of a society you never knew (your latest find was a huge tin of something known as 'Spam' – hell if you know what that is, but as soon as you get your hands on a means of opening it you have every intention of finding out). Typically, you don't return to the skeleton home until late-afternoon, early evening.

That's not to say you spend the whole day alone – Sans, true to his word, checks in on you every now and then. Sometimes he'll walk openly by your side, cracking the odd joke; other times he keeps his distance, letting you have your space. He's gotten rather good at reading your moods lately, adjusting his approach to your disposition accordingly...

And perhaps it's because of this that, almost a month after your escape attempt – despite your best efforts – you find yourself periodically lowering your guard around him. Not much, and certainly never for long, but enough to give you pause whenever you catch yourself doing it. A sarcastic quip here, an almost-smile there... Far from being overtures of friendship, true, but not exactly behaviour befitting an enemy either.

What can you say? Holding a grudge takes a surprising amount of energy. Besides, what's the point? It won't change anything. You're stuck here now, for better or worse – might as well get comfortable. If – by some miracle – an opportunity arises, there's no question you'll still take it. But in the mean time, you've made your peace... more or less.

And anyway, it's not all bad. Sure, you're still wary of Sans – who wouldn't be, in your position? And true, you've stayed far from New New Home, because no matter how much you grow to accept your situation, you're still a rebel at heart. But – and you're loathe to admit this, even to yourself – you have become quite fond of Papyrus. Maybe not to the point where you'd consider yourselves friends, but he's certainly the closest thing to it around here.

Honestly, he's the only thing standing between you and soul-crushing loneliness most days.

In any case, your evenings are usually spent with Papyrus, either in the kitchen trying – and failing, mostly – to save the spaghetti from the worst of his abuse, or watching truly awful Mettaton brand TV.

Tonight, it's 'Pasta Protection' duty.

It's not going well.

“Papyrus?” you ask idly, perched on a kitchen counter while the skeleton in question goes about murdering yet another culinary concoction.

It's dark outside already, despite the hour being barely past six. Right cheek cupped in one hand, you angle your head slightly, straining to spot the telltale twinkle of stars through the window over the sink. No such luck. Thick black clouds, as far as the eye can see – you lean back again, disappointed. Ah well. On the bright side, it looks like New New Home will finally get that snow the forecaster promised last week.

“YES, HUMAN VIRAGO?” Papyrus responds cheerfully, delivering a particularly zealous punch to the unfortunate vegetables selected for today's 'sauce' (massive air quotes... to liken the atrocity Papyrus uses in his cooking to a sauce is the same as suggesting a brick is in any way a suitable alternative to a stick of butter).

You pause, thrown off from your original line of questioning by his childlike exuberance. It continues to surprise you just how optimistic the towering skeleton is. How innocent. That's not to say he's stupid – far from it, you suspect, judging by the brief phone calls you've overheard between him and his boss – just that he has a kindness and a compassion about him rarely seen in these troubled times.

Papyrus, you had long since ascertained, is a very special kind of soul. A ray of sunshine in an otherwise desolate tundra. Something in you can't help but feel the need to protect that light of his, even if he is a monster.

So instead of asking if he can cook something other than pasta – and run the risk of even hinting that you don't like his 'speciality dish' – you opt to make a more neutral inquiry.

“Who taught you how to cook?”

It's such an asinine thing to ask, but Papyrus – bless his non-existent heart – seems overjoyed by your feigned interest in his culinary skills. You feel your chest fill with warmth at the delighted smile he sends you (and then immediately feel it recoil in cold dread when he throws a box of uncooked pasta, cardboard and all, into the pot with more vigour than usual).

“SANS, OF COURSE!” Papyrus chirps proudly, planting his fists on his bony hips with dramatic flourish. “MY BROTHER TAUGHT ME EVERYTHING I KNOW!”

An image of Sans, pristine white toque balanced precariously on his skull and a frilly pink apron about his waist, pops into your head with stunning clarity. It's such an obscure picture, you can't help but snort.

Papyrus grins even wider.

“Seriously?” More than the notion of him all dressed up in chef regalia, the idea of Sans doing anything remotely resembling work is laughable.

“NYEH-HEH-HEH, OF COURSE NOT!” Papyrus crows. “JAPED AGAIN BY THE GREAT PAPYRUS! SANS ISN'T ALLOWED TO COOK.”

Interesting choice of words, you think, cocking an eyebrow. Not 'can't'. Just 'isn't allowed'.

“Why?”

“BECAUSE HE ADDS TOO MUCH KETCHUP. EVEN WHEN THE RECIPE DOES NOT REQUIRE KETCHUP.” You roll your eyes. Figures. “And also because the kitchen has too many opportunities for awful puns,” you hear him add under his breath, stirring the pot on the stove furiously.

In the moment of silence that follows, you spy a wayward tendril of smoke start to rise from the depths of the battered pot. Briefly – very briefly – you consider pointing it out to Papyrus, who is clearly too distracted by the thought of Sans in the kitchen to take note of it himself. You change your mind quickly when you remember that the pan's contents are, for better or worse, supposed to be your dinner this evening.

Let it burn.

“So who taught you then?” you press, bringing Papyrus back to the present.

“UNDYNE, NATURALLY.” Of course. As if it were the most obvious thing in the world. “A LONG TIME AGO – LONG BEFORE WE MET, HUMAN – CAPTAIN UNDYNE RECOGNISED THE PASSIONATE SOUL OF A GREAT CHEF IN ME. SHE INSISTED ON HONING MY CULINARY GIFT, AND TRAINED ME HERSELF IN THE FINE ART OF THE SPAGHETTORE!”

“Ah,” you respond with a wry chuckle. “What a... uh, talented Captain you have.”

You know of the mighty Captain Undyne already, of course. Who didn't? She was almost as infamous a monster as Sans was, falling just slightly behind only by virtue of her... less impressive technique. At the end of the day, people tended to remember demonic hell-cannons a damn sight better than glowing spears – even if she could summon enough of them to literally level a city in one blow.

Still, for all her (relatively) simplistic battle magic, Undyne was a force to be reckoned with. The image of the fearsome Fish Wife – as she was only half-jokingly nicknamed – teaching dear, sweet Papyrus to 'cook' was frankly hilarious.

And also a little frightening.

“INDEED SHE IS, HUMAN VIRAGO!” Papyrus beamed, turning fully to face you and striking a dramatic pose that, you're certain, you saw Mettaton do in his film 'The Mett-arix' (you'd reluctantly watched it last night; as expected, it was utter garbage). “UNDYNE IS VERY GREAT – NOT AS GREAT AS ME, BUT STILL PRETTY GREAT, I THINK.”

Sometimes you think Papyrus is just too precious for this world. How does someone like him continue to exist when the world around him is – to put it bluntly – absolute shit? Did he even know the half of what Captain Undyne had done during the war? Or his brother for that matter? You're beginning to doubt it. There's no way he can know those things and still have so much faith in them...

You file that conundrum away for another day.

“WOULD YOU LIKE TO MEET HER, HUMAN?” Papyrus asks eagerly. “PERHAPS SHE CAN GIVE YOU SOME TIPS ON BECOMING GREAT TOO!”

You want to say 'no'. Honestly, meeting the Judge was enough for you, and look how that turned out – you don't want to get into the habit of acquainting yourself with all your childhood nightmares.

But there's something in Papyrus' hopeful expression that stills your tongue. You're annoyed to discover you can't quite bring yourself to refuse him.

“Maybe... someday,” you mutter guardedly – the closest you can come to rejecting the idea. With a bit of luck, that should buy some time at least.

“YES, I UNDERSTAND YOUR HESITANCE.” Papyrus nods sagely at you, though you can detect the undercurrent of excitement to his voice. “IT MUST BE TERRIBLY DAUNTING TO MEET THE PERSON RESPONSIBLE FOR TEACHING THE GREAT CHEF PAPYRUS HIS CRAFT! YOU OBVIOUSLY NEED SOME TIME TO PREPARE FOR SUCH AN HONOUR! NYEH-HEH-HEH! FEAR NOT, HUMAN! I, THE GREAT PAPYRUS, SHALL ALLOW YOU AMPLE TIME TO READY YOURSELF.”

Somehow, you don't think time is going to be the issue.

 

Chapter Text

“so, uh... what happened again?”

Beside you Papyrus clears his throat, obviously embarrassed. “WE TOLD YOU THE STORY, SANS... DON'T MAKE ME REPEAT IT PLEASE.”

You must cut quite the macabre figures, standing there on the brothers' front lawn – bedraggled, soaked to the bone and smeared from head to foot with soot, you both look like you just walked through the pits of hell. After the raging inferno Papyrus had turned the kitchen into, that analogy is amusingly accurate.

Sans turns to you, eye lights bright with – you suspect – amusement. He'd returned from... work, you suppose, to find the pair of you wheezing out front and seemed to be taking the whole thing in stride. If you didn't know any better, you'd think he wasn't in the least surprised.

“i tell you to stay out of trouble... and you set fire to the kitchen?”

“It wasn't fuckin' me!” you snap, indignant. You resist pointing out that he didn't actually tell you anything of the sort – his only stipulations were no hurting yourself, and no hurting anyone else, and thus far you had been more than accommodating of those conditions.

“VIRA!” Papyrus scolds, crossing his arms over his chest and giving you what can only be described as a disapproving glare.

Automatically, and without really knowing why, you correct yourself.

“Sorry. It wasn't frickin' me.” Papyrus nods his blessing of your adjustment. “If anything you should be thanking me! I'm the one who put it out.”

“that true bro?” Sans asks. You can still see his shoulders shaking with silent mirth, the grin on his face wider than you've ever seen it. Asshole. This is not funny. You and Papyrus could have died!

“YES.” Despite his lingering chagrin, Papyrus slaps a proud hand on your shoulder, nearly knocking you to the ground. “VIRAGO WAS VERY BRAVE AND VERY FAST – SHE SAVED OUR HOUSE FROM BURNING TO THE GROUND! AND THE SMOKE DAMAGE IS NEGLIGIBLE. PROBABLY.”

You wouldn't call it negligible. Fixable, certainly, but not negligible. The entirety of the small kitchen was black, the stove swimming from where you'd thrown the basin of dishwater over it, and the widow over the sink – the one you'd peered out earlier in search of stars – was broken thanks to Papyrus' unnecessary dynamic exit from the house.

Idly, you wonder what you'll eat now that the kitchen is out of commission.

Almost as if he read your mind, Sans slants a wink in your direction. “huh. welp, i guess we'll be havin' dinner out tonight – you must be burnt out after all that drama.”

“SANS! NO PUNS!” Papyrus screeches. He seems to pause a second, then frowns. “DINNER OUT? YOU CAN'T MEAN-,”

“yup. grillbz.”

“ABSOLUTELY NOT! I REFUSE TO CONSUME THAT GREASE-SODDEN GARBAGE!”

“suit yourself pap,” Sans says with a shrug. He turns to you. “what about you, vira? you wanna grab a burg with me?”

Your stomach grumbles traitorously before you can even open your mouth. The thought of a meal that isn't spaghetti would be tempting enough in it's own right, but the fact that it'll be from a restaurant of some kind (you assume anyway, given the context) and therefore theoretically edible is just too enticing an invitation to pass up.

“Gimmie a minute,” you grumble, trying not to look as excited as you feel.

You slouch into the house and up to Sans' bedroom to get changed.

In what has to be record timing, you're cleaned up and back in the yard; ready and eager and trying your best to appear indifferent. Sans gives you a nod and you both say your goodbyes to Papyrus before heading off. The taller skeleton plans to eat with Undyne tonight, and makes the generous offer to take you with him – you manage to dodge that bullet smoothly, claiming you're not quite ready for the 'honour' of meeting her.

“I SEE. UNDERSTANDABLE,” Papyrus sighs, and you subtly uncross your fingers again. “FEAR NOT HUMAN! I SHALL ENLIST THE ASSISTANCE OF CAPTAIN UNDYNE IN REPAIRING OUR KITCHEN – YOU WON'T HAVE TO STOMACH THAT SLOP FOR LONG!”

God, you hope he's wrong about that. You definitely wouldn't mind a few weeks of non-spaghetti fare for a change. Quickly reassuring him that you'll be just fine, you jog to catch up to Sans, who is already half-way down the path.

The two of you walk together in silence. It's late enough by now that there's little foot traffic, most monsters (and their warded humans) having already settled in for the night. Walking side by side like this, you can almost trick yourself into forgetting Sans is still technically your kidnapper.

Mind drifting, you wonder idly – because it's not something you've had much cause to think about before – if all pet humans stay with their monsters like you do. It seems only logical, you suppose. Then again, you'd heard some monsters have more wards than they could possibly house in one place – Mettaton, for example, liked to crow in his interviews that he had over two hundred... Unless he had a mansion the size of Mt. Ebott itself, there's no way he could keep that many with him all the time.

You make a mental note to ask Sans about it sometime.

Then you try to imagine how that conversation would actually go and quickly change your mind. The subjugation of your species is still a sore point for you, and not one you particularly want to bring up with the monster responsible for your own captivity.

At a pointed cough from Sans, you glance up. You're standing outside a quaint little building, squat and built entirely of red brick, emblazoned with the legend 'Grillby's Bar and Grill' in pink neon tube-lights – a quick look around reveals that you have somehow walked all the way to the commerce district, despite the fact that you're sure you'd only been on the move for about a minute or so.

Weird... You shoot Sans a look, brow wrinkled in clear bewilderment.

“shortcut.” he says by way of explanation, one skeletal hand on the door. “ready?”

You shrug. As you'll ever be, you guess.

You're waiting for him to lead the way when a glance through the front window gives you pause. Through it, you can see an interesting assortment of monsters and humans both, all chatting, laughing and playing at cards, carrying on like the very best of buddies. A girl behind the bar is serving drinks with a smile, one hand on her very round belly as she jokes around with the patrons. When a fire-man (a literal man on fire) walks by, she gives him a cheeky slap on the behind and laughs when he spins to blow her an equally saucy kiss.

It's all very... cosy.

And it goes against just about everything you'd ever been taught.

You'd forgotten things were like this in New New Home – humans acting like monsters are just... just people. Monsters acting like humans are anything other than pets. It's jarring.

The question is past your lips before you can stop it, thoughts tumbling off your tongue without your permission. “Why are they acting like that?!” you blurt.

The baffled look Sans gives you makes you wish you'd kept your trap shut.

“like what?” he frowns, following your gaze. He takes his hand off the door and deposits it back in his pocket, turning again to regard you cautiously. “like friends? maybe 'cause they are, kiddo. 's that really so hard to believe?”

You know you should probably just shut up now, but you can't help it. This is... it's wrong. All wrong. Monsters and humans can't be friends. Not really. You can't build a bridge over that much water.

Right?

“You can't be friends with someone who owns you,” you mutter, glaring at the ground beneath your boots. “You can't be friends with your oppressors.”

“'own'? vira, nobody 'owns' anybody around here.” You feel the intensity of his gaze like a physical weight on your skin. “is that what you think? that I own you?”

“Don't you?” you challenge, raising your head to look him full in the face.

To your astonishment, his expression seems... sad. Sad, and maybe a little offended.

“i don't own you, vira. never have.”

Your brow creases. “But... I'm your ward. Right?”

“jeez, pal... what exactly do you think a ward is?” Sans rubs a hand over his face, looking somewhere between amused and weary. “come on – let's get some food. looks like i've got some explaining to do.”

 

Chapter Text

The people at the bar greet Sans like an old friend. Raucous shouts and enthusiastic grins follow him across the room, and it doesn't take you long to get the idea that 'Sansy' (to quote one particularly inebriated rabbit monster) is quite the hit around these parts. They pepper him with jokes about his eating habits and his 'paunch' (which even you have to snigger at because come on – the dude's a skeleton), and ask after his brother, and finally – when they spot you hovering awkwardly by his shoulder – tease him about his 'pretty lady friend'.

Now that's a sentence with so much wrong going on, you don't even know where to start.

None greet him with so much vigour as the flaming bartender though, who leaps the counter with the grace of a gazelle and pulls your skeletal companion into a bone-crushing hug.

“heya, grillbz,” Sans laughs, slippered feet dangling in the air. The fire elemental emits a sound a lot like the popping and crackling of a camp fire – it's not until Sans responds that you realise the sound is speech. “heh, it was no problem pal. any time. now, can you – uh – put me down? got somebody i want ya to meet.”

'Grillbz' does as he's asked and turns to you with a polite nod. He makes that crackling noise again, and you raise an eyebrow – he's not expecting you to understand that, is he?

“yeah, this is the one,” Sans grins, nudging you forward. “vira, grillby. grillbz, vira.”

You're almost too busy trying to digest the fact that Sans obviously talks about you here – what does he mean 'this is the one'? – to notice the loaded glance Grillby gives him. It's gone again before you can even begin to decipher it's meaning, and in the next second you're too distracted to care.

“A pleasure, Vira,” Grillby says, in actual words this time, taking your left hand and pressing a gentlemanly kiss over your knuckles. At least, you think it's a kiss – he doesn't seem to have a discernible mouth... “Make yourselves at home. Can I get you anything?”

Too stunned to do anything other than gape like a landed fish, you fumble for words that won't come. How are you supposed to react to something like that? Part of you feels like you should be maintaining your anti-monster propensity with a biting retort, but the other eighty percent is too busy blushing like a damn fool.

In your defence, you'd never dealt with anything even remotely like this in your entire life. Such ostentatious displays of chivalry had – you thought – been relegated to books and fairy tales long before you'd been born.

Sans smoothly takes over with a snort of barely suppressed laughter.

“i'll have the usual. vira, d'you want a burger? some fries? a cold shower, maybe?”

“F-fuck you!”

Your cheeks are scarlet. You want to die.

“woah... slow down there, kid.” His shit-eating grin gets wider. “i usually like to be wined and dined first.”

Your brain short circuits for a minute, trying first of all to puzzle out how a skeleton does that, and then trying to eradicate the mental image conjured by said puzzling. Worse, you're sure it shows on your face – Sans and Grillby aren't the only ones laughing by the time your train of thought has run it's course.

“I'm leaving,” you choke out, when you eventually regain control of your tongue.

“heheheh, aww c'mon pal, i was just kidding!”

Sans waits until you're both sitting comfortably in a booth near the back, two plates of delicious-smelling fries on the table, before he addresses the topic of wards again – a subject all but forgotten in the preceding madness. Your cheeks are still bright with shame as you begin to demolish your plate, taking three and four fries at a time and stuffing them all in at once. Only the lure of food that isn't Papyrus-brand pasta has kept you here, and the second the first fry graces your taste-buds, you know it was the right decision.

“so. maybe you should tell me what you think you know about warding first, and we'll take it from there,” Sans starts, taking a long swig from (surprise, surprise) a bottle of ketchup.

Chewing thoughtfully – God, these fries are heaven; literal, tangible heaven – you take moment to mull over your words. There aren't many delicate ways to put it.

“Wards are... humans,” you mumble after due consideration – that much you can say without a shadow of a doubt. Sans nods, gesturing for you to go on. “Humans from the Underground. Bred humans... The descendants of the ones who gave up the fight.”

That's what you'd been taught, anyway. During the war, not all humans had been willing to see things through to the bitter end – some had given in; some had even fought on the monster's side, if you could credit it. Those people had been extradited to the caverns of the Underground when open hostilities finally ended. They weren't sealed there, not like the monsters had been, but they certainly weren't allowed to leave either.

Not unless they became a ward – complete with their very own tracker chip. Just in case.

“well... you're, uh, half right i suppose.” He looks vaguely horrified. “wards do usually come from the underground colonies... but pal, we don't breed 'em. that's just...” He rubs a bony hand down his face. “guess i get why you're always so... ugh, never mind. go on.”

You scowl. “I know that.” Or you do now at any rate – honestly, the thought had never occurred to you before. It didn't bear thinking about. “That's just what we call them – bred humans. Or domestics. Humans that submit to monster rule.”

“uh-huh... moving on.”

“Right. Well...” Screw it. All in. “I was taught that wards are basically slaves. Or... or pets.”

You peek around at all the happy humans mingling easily with the monsters around the bar. You think about the couple you saw that time you went shopping with Sans, how loved-up they'd both looked. You think of Grillby, and his more than gracious welcome earlier (and consequently start blushing all over again).

“I'll admit those teachings might've been... somewhat exaggerated,” you reluctantly allow. You're stubborn, but you're not blind. Or stupid. There comes a point when even you have to concede that things are obviously not what you thought they were.

“i'll say. jeez. that explains… quite a bit, actually.”

You have nothing to say to that. Instead, you reach across the table and steal a fry from Sans' untouched plate – they really are just too good, and you've already finished your own. He watches you do so and raises an amused eyebrow, which you return with a perfectly straight poker-face. As far as you're concerned, he owes you. You've been eating Papyrus' spaghetti for months; he could have been feeding your real food this entire time.

Sans pushes the full plate over, affecting a 'go ahead' gesture with his other hand. You have to fight to keep your expression blank – the tiny surge of warmth in your chest is just hunger, you're sure.

“welp, i reckon you're a smart enough girl to have figured it out yourself, but i'm gonna go ahead and say it anyway – monsters don't keep humans as slaves. or-,” he coughs. “pets.”

He studies you speculatively, fingers tapping out a restless rhythm on the tabletop. He's probably waiting for you to argue – and hell, maybe you should. These are the foundations your whole life was built upon, after all. Could you handle being told it was all a lie? Would you believe it?

Honestly, you can't say. All you know is, so long as you have these fries in front of you, Sans has your undivided attention.

“wards are... huh.”

“What?” you mumble round a mouthful of fries.

“nothing. just... 've never had to explain this before. 's not as easy as i thought it would be.” He sighs, dragging a hand over his skull. “right. warding is... it's... it's an agreement, i guess. there are these places underground called 'warding centres', where humans and monsters go to... essentially, they... i dunno, become friends?”

You wait for the punchline.

None comes.

“'Become friends'?” you deadpan.

Riiiight. Why didn't you think of that?

“yeah, kinda. a monster who wards a human is basically sayin' they trust 'em not to make trouble. like they're vouchin' for 'em or something.”

That sounds ridiculous. You'd have an easier time believing... well, literally anything else.

Sans must see it on your face, because he holds up his hands before you can say anything.

“i know it sounds stupid, but it's the god's honest truth. it was asgore's idea.”

Now that you really can't believe. There's no way that lying, cold-hearted murderer came up with something so... so benign. There's simply no way.

“Alright,” you say at last, laying aside your – considerable – doubts for the time being. “Suppose I buy all this.” You don't. “What happened with us? We're not friends.” Not even close, you refrain from adding.

“aww, vira! we're friends.” He winks. “you just don't know it yet.”

 

Chapter Text

Grillby's for dinner becomes a regular thing after that first night. Partly because the kitchen remains quite unusable for a period of several days, but also because you demand it. Now that you'd tasted the majesty of the fire elemental's home-cooked fries, you simply refuse to return to full-time spaghetti carnage for sustenance. To your surprise (and delight), Sans agrees to indulge you readily enough... on the condition that you tell him at least one good joke per meal.

It's a dumb stipulation if there ever was one, but for decent food there's not much you won't do. Thank God for the copious number of joke books lying all over his bedroom...

Neither of you make any mention of the ward thing again.

For your part, you're still not sure whether you believe him or not – his explanation is the exact opposite of everything you'd been brought up to believe, and even if it does make a twisted kind of sense given what you've seen with your own two eyes, you can't just... just switch tracks on a whim like that. Your brain is hard-wired from years of stories, histories passed down by word of mouth from people who – for the most part – you trust.

You can't undo a whole lifetime of prejudice in a single night.

Besides, the concept itself is just plain absurd! You'd heard the phrase 'keep your friends close and your enemies closer', but this was insane. The Ward Program even had it's own slogan, apparently. 'Peace through the power of friendship' – it sounds like something only Papyrus would say.

And speaking of Papyrus...

“HUMAN!” His loud cry precedes his clumsy footsteps, and you glance up to see him trotting over with a hammer in one hand and a battered-looking toolbox in the other. Why isn't the hammer in the toolbox? Just another of the many mysteries surrounding the tall skeleton that you choose not question. “I AM GLAD YOU AGREED TO ASSIST IN THE REPARATIONS TODAY! YOU MUST BE SICK OF FAST FOOD AND EAGER TO EAT SOME OF MY DELICIOUS SPAGHETTI AGAIN, YES?”

Yeah, sure. Let's go with that.

“Absolutely,” you tell him, straight-faced. “I can't wait to get to work.”

“EXCELLENT! UNDYNE WILL BE HERE TO ASSIST US SHORTLY.” His face lights up at the mere mention of Undyne's name, and you feel your solemnity melt into something a bit more sincere. He clearly thinks very highly of this woman. “I'M SURE YOU TWO WILL BE THE VERY BEST OF FRIENDS!” Not likely, but you'll be damned if you're the one to burst his bubble. “OH, I SHOULD GO MAKE SURE WE HAVE SUFFICIENT LUMBER FOR OUR TASK!”

You watch the lanky skeleton march away, tools still in hand, with an ironic smile. You'd deny it vehemently if confronted, but you were really developing something of a soft spot for that lovable goof. It was one of the reasons you'd agreed to help out today, forgoing your usual excursion to the city to lend what assistance you could...

The other reason being that Sans – who'd already promised Papyrus his own dubious aid for the day – had slyly suggested that he might not have time to take you to Grillby's tonight if the kitchen repairs didn't get finished in a timely fashion. Given that a.) you had no money of your own, and b.) there was no frickin' way you were going into a monster bar alone, you'd wisely decided to follow suit.

… Even if it meant making the questionable acquaintance of the Fish Wife.

You won't lie, you're pretty nervous about finally meeting this Undyne character. The records available on her back at resistance headquarters didn't paint the most mollifying of pictures. Then again, Sans' records were every bit as terrifying and look how that turned out. Reclining comfortably on the frosty grass, his dozing presence gives off about as much threat as a sack of kittens.

Looking down at his sleeping face, you find it hard to believe you were ever afraid of this slacker.

we're friends. you just don't know it yet.”

Unbidden, Sans' words from that first night at Grillby's echo through your head. They get more and more confusing every time you think about them (and you've been thinking about them a lot). You still haven't figured out what he meant and – true to form – he hasn't been precisely forthcoming with the information himself. It's possible he didn't mean anything at all – maybe he really was just teasing you? Somehow, though, you doubt it.

You scowl.

You know what you saw.

The words themselves were innocent enough, but the way he'd looked at you... The way his voice had softened – just for an instant... It belied a deeper meaning you could only guess at. He'd sounded rueful. Even the tacked on wink hadn't been enough to dispel that fleeting sense of remorse – like he regrets something he hasn't even done yet.

To be blunt, it scares the ever living crap out of you.

Even if he's being adamantly tight-lipped (er... jawed?) about it, you haven't forgotten that Sans has plans for you. The few times you've mustered up the nerve to ask outright, he's fobbed you off with meaningless platitudes, gentle admonitions of 'don't worry 'bout it'; 'i'm not gonna make you do anythin' against your will'; and your personal favourite, 'it's gonna be okay'.

Oddly enough, none of those answers have made you feel any better.

Worse than your absolute conviction that Sans is up to no good, however, is that despite this, you still feel your guard slipping a little more every day – already your hatred feels like a mere puddle, instead of the great seething lake it had been at the start. And it's dangerous to let it happen, you know that, but you're just... too tired to keep it up anymore.

If Sans is leading you into a trap of some kind, it's working.

“somethin' on your mind?”

You jump, startled out of your musings by Sans' sonorous voice. He's peeking up at you from beneath one bony eyelid, an amused tilt to his... non-lips. He seems utterly relaxed, reclining there in the ice-encrusted foliage.

You, on the other hand, are chilled to the bone just from leaning against the side of the house. Isn't he freezing? Can skeletons feel the elements like you do? Can they feel them at all? He doesn't have any fleshy bits so...

You catch yourself studying at him inquisitively and abruptly shake your head free of it's meanderings. Why do you care?!

A wicked cackle informs you that he knows you were staring.

Embarrassed – you'd been thinking about stuff like that a lot lately, your contempt slowly giving way to base curiosity – you word-vomit the first thing that pops into your head.

“Kn-knock, knock!”

Well, that got his attention.

Sitting up, Sans turns the fullness of his heavy-lidded gaze on you. The slight quirk of his chalky brow tells you that he knows you're trying to distract him, but for whatever reason he decides not to call you out on it. If there's one thing you have learned about Sans, it's that he can't resist a knock-knock joke – good or otherwise.

“alright. i'll bite. who's there?”

Of course, for a joke to actually work you have to have a punchline. You didn't think this far ahead, and it shows. You fumble for a minute, straining to think of something (anything) on the fly, but what actually tumbles from your mouth is more cringe-inducing word-vomit.

“Er... beats.”

Sans leans over, propping a cheek on one hand. He knows you're digging yourself a hole, and you get the distinct impression that he's more than happy to watch as you make it deeper.

“beats who~?” he sing-songs dutifully.

“... beats me...” You mutter the line into the collar of your jacket, feeling your cheeks warm with shame – that one was so bad, even Sans couldn't possibly find it funny.

There's a beat of silence (ha).

“that was awful, pal,” he chuckles, breaking the tension. “i hope you've got some better material for later, or dinner will beat-errible.”

“Please,” you snort insolently. “like that pun was any beater.”

The words are out before you can stop them. Shit! You didn't mean to say that. Horrified (a bad sense of humour isn't contagious, is it?) you gasp and promptly slap a hand over your big, stupid mouth.

Sans, however, positively beams. He looks like the skeletal cat that got the canary.

“Not a word,” you warn him, even though – peculiarly – you can feel a small, answering smile forming beneath your palm. You try to straighten it out before he can see, but you get the feeling it shows in your eyes. “Not one fucking word.”

“nice one,” he smirks, blatantly ignoring your threat. “you really beat me to the punch there!”

You groan. “God, just... just stop.

Sans' grin grows a few more inches, and you know – you know – he's about to fire out another 'beat' themed one-liner. You even have a sassy comeback taking shape on the tip of your tongue – something about giving him a beat down if he doesn't lay off the shitty jokes. It'll probably prolong the battle by several puns – Sans has a particularly annoying penchant for keeping a joke alive long after normal people would have let it die – but curiously, you don't really mind.

Neither of you get the chance to utter so much as a single syllable.

It happens without any kind of warning. One minute you're sharing a moment of friendliness with Sans (of all people), the next a blur of blue and red is interrupting your impromptu pun-off in truly spectacular fashion.

The thing – whatever it is – leaps from the roof of the skeleton brothers' house with a wordless battle cry, startling a family of rabbits from a nearby bush and sending a legion of roosting birds into the sky in a panic. Quite what it was doing on the roof in the first place, you can't even begin to fathom – nor do you have the time to do so. You're given a window of about three seconds to register that the thing is vaguely humanoid in shape, before it lands with an earth-shattering crash, leaving a small but impressive crater in it's wake.

A tiny shriek squeezes it's way past your startled lips, and you jump closer to Sans in involuntary fright – who, by the way, seems completely unaffected by all the commotion. Your hand reflexively itches to grab onto him, to take what meagre shelter his short body can offer, but you resist the urge when you notice him hiding a snigger behind the sleeve of his hoodie. Glaring, you take a pointed step away again, blushing furiously.

Not your proudest moment, it has to be said.

Sans – still laughing at your expense – heaves himself to his feet, absently brushing away a few stray blades of grass from his shorts. He stuffs his hands in his pockets, turning his fixed grin on the slowly settling cloud of dirt and miscellaneous garden debris. When you glance at him with a questioning tilt to your eyebrows, he shrugs.

“HELLOOOOO SKELE-NERDS!!!”

The dust settles, revealing quite possibly the most intimidating creature you've ever laid eyes upon.

Roughly the size and shape of a particularly buff human woman, the first thing you notice about the newcomer is her startlingly blue complexion. Even from this distance, you can see the shimmer of fish-like scales in place of skin, and if you're not mistaken – you're probably not – you can see the criss-cross of silvery scars up her arms and on her face. The red you recall seeing is her hair, long and straight, tied back in a severe ponytail with a black ribbon. She has no ears, you notice, just delicate-looking fins where they should be. No nose either, by the looks of it. The one eye that isn't covered over by an eyepatch is predatory and yellow – and, now that you're looking, trained on you.

“The muscle,” she grins, flashing a set of chillingly jagged teeth, “has arrived!”

Chapter Text

“morning bass,” Sans says cheerfully. “ray-ring to go, as always.”

You hear a groan and swivel in time to see Papyrus round the corner, rubbing his skull sheepishly. He looks vaguely disoriented, swaying a little as he makes his way over to join you. For all that, he still manages to shoot Sans a disapproving scowl at the insipid fish jokes.

“SANS! NO FISH PUNS!”

Sans grins. “aww, but they're so humerus!”

“NO SKELETON PUNS EITHER!”

“fine. i know when i'm beat-en.” He winks at you, causing you to give a little snort of laughter that you immediately try to turn into a cough.

Okay, you'll admit it – that one was well-timed.

Innocent he may be, but you sometimes forget how sharp Papyrus is too. He catches the covert pun and shrieks his displeasure, startling yet another small furry creature from it's hiding place.

“... I DO NOT UNDERSTAND THAT ONE, BUT YOUR TONE SAYS IT WAS ANOTHER PUN! NO PUNS!”

Sans shrugs easily. For all that he loves to rile his younger brother up, he seems to have an uncanny sense of when to stop.

“'kay.” There's a brief pause, during which Papyrus continues to rub a gloved hand over his scalp, noticeably wincing every time he grazes the area above his right eye socket. Sans cocks his head curiously. His voice, when he asks, is full of concern. “'s the matter with your head, bro?”

Papyrus hesitates, a peculiar orange glow lighting his cheekbones. It takes you a puzzled minute to figure out what the influx of colour is – you've never seen anything like it before – but once you do you can't help being inordinately fascinated. Aww, he's blushing! Impossible as that seems. You didn't know skeletons could do that. Briefly (and inexplicably) your mind wanders to Sans – what colour is his blush, you wonder? Orange, like Papyrus'? Or is it unique to each skeleton? Why does your mind automatically want to think blue?

Skeleton blushes... Now there's a topic you never thought you'd come up against. It keeps you distracted far longer than you're proud to admit.

“ER... I... THAT IS, UNDYNE'S METHOD OF GREETING-,” Papyrus says haltingly. His cheeks burn brighter with every word.

“I noogied the dweeb!” Undyne announces proudly, puffing her chest out and crossing her lean arms with a grin – you can't help but notice that, while slender enough at first glance, her guns are all hard muscle. They flex subtly beneath the fabric of the – surprisingly cute – shirt she's wearing. “Shoulda been payin' attention nerd! What have I told ya about keepin' your guard up?!”

“YES, WELL...” Papyrus apparently has nothing to add to that and glances away huffily.

Throughout this exchange, you notice Undyne's one good eye continually flickering back to regard you with no small amount of interest. There's nothing overtly threatening in the way she runs her gaze up and down your – admittedly inferior – form, but it does make you uncomfortable. You feel like she's sizing you up for a meal. Which, you suspect, isn't too far from the truth.

Initial greetings out of the way, no one seems to know how quite how to proceed. For your part, you're too busy trying not to squirm under Undyne's intense stare. Sans appears to be totally at ease, but is obviously in no rush to make any introductions (or do anything at all, really), and Papyrus is still blushing furiously and smoothing his palm over his frontal bone – or what would be his frontal bone, were he a normal human skeleton.

It's all very... awkward.

“So,” Undyne says, when the silence stretches on to almost painful degrees. “who's the beansprout?”

The question, though innocuous enough on the surface, makes Sans take a tiny step closer to you. At this distance you can actually feel the hum of his magic, all but imperceptible in the air between you, and oddly, you find it kind of soothing. You let yourself unwind a little, confident that – if worst comes to the worst – he can protect you. It's perhaps not the best idea to entrust your safety to someone who obviously has dubious ulterior motives, but, well... options are limited.

For good measure, you inch a little bit closer as well, closing the gap until you're almost brushing shoulders.

You'll take your chances with the shady skeleton.

“this is virago.” Sans makes the introduction smoothly, casual smile still very much in place despite the strain you can feel rolling off him. His next words hold an almost-imperceptible trace of warning. “she's my ward.”

You're not sure what you – or Sans for that matter – were expecting. Anger. Violence. Disgust maybe. You haven't met many of Sans' friends, but the ones you have all seem to take some kind of exception to your unofficial title.

Undyne exhibits none of those things, and in fact surprises you by laughing – a great guffawing sound that rends the air like a gunshot. As far as reactions to your situation go, you quickly decide that this is by far strangest.

Both skeleton brothers seem to relax though, so you take that as a good sign.

“THIS is the chick who stood up to your blue magic?!” Undyne exclaims, disbelief making her tone high pitched and grating. You don't know why it stuns you to discover that she knows about that, but it does. “PLEASE! She looks like a stiff breeze would knock her over!”

You frown at that, uncertain as to what – precisely – she's trying to say. Is she straight up calling you weak? Or is it a dig at your lack of visible musculature? It's not like she's exactly wrong on either count... Next to Undyne, who has the physique of an Amazonian Goddess (albeit a very fish-like one), you make for a pitifully inadequate specimen. There's no doubt in your mind that she could pummel you right into the ground if she wanted to. And while you're not weak, not by human standards at least, you are short and soft where she's tall and solid.

You're caught for a second, torn between wanting to defend your easily-bruised pride and not wanting to have to put your money (or in this case, your fists) where your mouth is. Undyne, judging by the speculative look she's giving you, is definitely the type to pick fights, and you don't want to give her an excuse. You want to live long enough to eat at Grillby's again, thank you very much.

In retrospect, maybe it wouldn't have mattered what you said or didn't say.

Eventually, her laughter tapers off into a contemplative silence, yellow eye sweeping you expansively one last time before – with a nonchalant shrug – she abruptly starts loosening the muscles in her shoulders, circling them at the joint. You watch blankly as she jerks her head to either side – the resulting crack making the skeleton brothers visibly flinch – distinctly feeling the situation spiralling out of control.

Did you miss something?

“ah, undyne? what are ya doin'?” Sans finally asks, voicing the question you're all thinking.

“What does it look like? I'm warming up, duh.” She's doing press ups now. Press ups. One after another after another, not even breaking a sweat.

You can't even do one without your arms turning to noodles.

“you're not fighting her,” Sans says with absolute finality. “not happenin'.”

“Why?” Undyne, worryingly, doesn't seem deterred. “Isn't that her choice?”

You don't want to fight this crazy fish lady. You don't. But she does bring up a good point and you find yourself studying Sans from the corner of your eye, waiting for his verdict. This is the first time his 'wards aren't slaves' schtick has been put to the test – the first time an opportunity has arisen for you to exercise a bit of your supposed freewill. What started out as an attempt to spare you from Undyne's tender mercies has suddenly become a crucial turning point. The delicate balance between you, the fragile understanding the two of you had built over the weeks... It all hinges on his next sentence.

Sans seems to sense this too and, to his credit, hesitates only briefly.

“well, yeah, of course it's vira's decision...” He slants you a look, one that is clearly trying to communicate... something. “but-,”

“Well then!” Undyne interrupts, turning her fierce gaze your way, effectively dismissing Sans from the conversation. “How about about it, dork? You up for a little sparring session?”

Did she just... call you a dork?

You're struggling to come up with a suitable excuse – one that doesn't get you pummelled regardless or worse, labelled a coward – when she starts toward you with a casual air. She stops within arms reach, studying you with a knowing grin, before slapping a heavy hand on your shoulder that very nearly buckles your knees. Clearly, Undyne is not used to pulling punches.

“Unless you're afraid,” she suggests mockingly. “Hey, if you wanna chicken out that's fine with me. I don't fight weenies.”

Oh God, you're going to die today aren't you?

Because there's no way you can back down after trash talk like that. And have her think you're – to coin her description – a 'weenie'? No. Absolutely not. You still have some pride.

Squaring up to the fish woman, you take a deep breath through your nose. This is – you realise – the dumbest thing you've ever done. And also quite possibly the last mistake you'll ever make.

There's no question that Undyne is stronger than you. She's got physical prowess (as evidenced by the fucking crater left by her dynamic entrance) and she's got as yet uncategorised magic. You are – not to put too fine a point on it – outclassed, in every sense of the word. You take a moment to appreciate that fact, to marvel at the indisputable truth of it.

And then you toss logic completely out the window.

“I'm not scared of an overgrown tuna.”

As far as last words go, you don't think those are half bad.

Chapter Text

You're not sure what you expected, really, but Undyne reacts to your attempted insult as though you'd just told a particularly bawdy joke.

“Big words!” she booms, golden eye bright with mirth and – unless you're much mistaken – admiration. “You've got guts.”

Abruptly, the smell of ozone permeates the frigid winter air. A feeling like static – or maybe not static, so much as pins and needles? – washes over your skin, setting every hair from the nape of your neck to the base of your spine standing on end. Your stomach knots with dread as Undyne summons a glowing blue spear, the ethereal magic particles coalescing into what, you have little doubt, is a fully corporeal weapon. She spins it with deadly flourish, obviously showing off, before tossing it to you without warning.

Barely managing to dodge the business end, your right hand clumsily catches the haft, brow wrinkling in confusion.

She's... arming you?

“I'll try not spill those guts all over the grass,” she smirks.

And then she's on you.

Undyne is – as you fully expected she would be – a beast on the battlefield. She strikes at you fast and hard, merciless in her onslaught as she drives you further and further back towards the house. It's all you can do to keep from being utterly destroyed within the first minute.

She's... this is... unreal! You can't keep up!

Every strike you somehow catch against the length of your own glowing weapon sends a shudder up your arms, and is the herald of five or six more hits you can't block. The only positive note is that her spear doesn't cut – it seems to be blunted, either by natural design or intent, you can't honestly tell. Then again, it doesn't really need to cut to do considerable damage; each connection she makes leaves a trail of tender bruises.

You're tired and aching in no time at all.

“Weak!” Undyne shouts with bloodthirsty zeal when a particularly jarring overhead smash sends you to your knees. “YOU'RE SO WEAK!”

You roll aside as she brings the lance down a second time, and then a third. From the corner of your eye you catch Sans and Papyrus watching with twin expressions of horror – it looks like they're arguing, Papyrus gesticulating wildly in your direction while Sans shakes his head unhappily. With a shock, it dawns on you that you are – for all intents and purposes – on your own here. Sans won't risk stepping in, lest he undermine his own promises, and Papyrus is torn for the same reasons.

Heh. What a time to be proven wrong.

You don't have time to ponder this long, however, because Undyne's coming at you again, sweeping the spear in a horizontal arc at your painfully unprotected ribs.

Shit! Your eyes widen. You don't have time to dodge this one!

Too slow to veer out of the way, distracted as you are by the unhelpful skeletons on the sidelines, the attack catches you full in the side. There's a moment of confusion, the calm before the storm. And then...

Agony.

It rips through you like a burst of lightning, hot and bright and raw, stealing the breath from your lungs in a scream that sets your own ears ringing. Hot tears spill over your eyelids unchecked, reducing your vision to a blur of colours. You have just enough presence of mind to hold on to your spear, dodging backwards with a graceless flop and using the brief interlude the desperate move buys you to quickly scramble to your feet. Your side, aflame with torment, shrieks in protest with every shallow breath.

“undyne! that's enough!” Sans shouts, apparently abandoning his laissez-faire attitude.

Oh sure, you think, gasping. Now he intervenes.

“Heh,” Undyne sneers, halting her pursuit. “That all you got? I'm kinda disappointed – I thought you were tough, nerd?”

May the Gods save you from your own stupidity one of these days.

“Not... done yet!” you wheeze. It's a lie. You are so beyond done, it's not even funny at this point. You're tender pretty much across the board, and one of your ribs may or may not be broken.

But you can't give up. Not won't – physically can't.

What can you say? You're determined.

Sans sighs from somewhere beyond your field of vision. Papyrus tries to say something, no doubt to try and talk some self-preservation into you, but he's drowned out by Undyne's raucous laugh.

“THAT'S MORE LIKE IT!” She flips the spear in her hand and points it at you.

You heft your spear with much less grace than she does, saying nothing.

This is probably going to take a while – you're better off saving your breath.


 In the end, the battle doesn't last long at all. Ten minutes, if that. Less, if you discount all the time you spend dodging (which cuts the overall duration by an embarrassing amount, actually, so you quickly decide not to do that).

It's Undyne who calls the halt, to your surprise, laughing rowdily as you try – and fail – to strike at her with the butt of your spear. You're so tired that your attack goes shamefully wide, missing by a margin of several meters, the momentum carrying you a considerable distance before you trip over your own feet, landing face-first in the grass. You lie there motionless for a span of several seconds, letting the icy ground cool your sweaty skin.

Just as you're contemplating the pros and cons of never moving again, the halberd disintegrates, tickling your palm with magical residue. Undyne's booted feet appear suddenly in your line of sight, all black leather and metal studs, and you reluctantly glance up. Too exhausted to move any more, you wait for the blow that's sure to come – the one that will end the fight and, quite possibly, your life.

It doesn't happen.

Instead, Undyne bends over, offering you a surprisingly delicate clawed hand. You take it, too drained to even consider refusing.

“Not bad, short-stack!” she grins, pulling you to your feet and wrapping a sturdy arm around your torso to steady you. Any reservations you might have had about leaning on a monster for help are far from your mind as, groaning, you rest your tender side against her solid one for support. “You're weak as hell, but you've got passion – I can respect that.”

“Glad to hear it,” you mutter. You've succeeded in proving you're no coward, but you have to wonder – as Undyne helps you hobble over to the skeletal peanut gallery – if the price was really worth it.

You're going to be sore for weeks.

“I can train you if you want?” she offers, mistaking your grumbling for irritation at your loss.

The smart thing to do, obviously, is decline. You are at least ninety percent sure that training with this woman would end in death or disfigurement – and the other ten percent is just you being optimistic.

But her words – you're weak as hell – keep replaying in your ears, and despite the various complaints all over your beaten-to-hell body (heh... beaten... you'll have to remember that one for Grillby's later) you feel the self-destructive urge to prove her wrong. Or at least change her mind in the long run...

There's one thing, anyway – if you survive her training, you'll definitely be stronger for it.

“Sure,” you mumble at last. “Why not?”

“Awesome!” Undyne crows.

At the same time, Sans groans, rubbing the area between his eye sockets wearily. “you really do have a death wish, don't ya kid?”

Much as you'd love to argue, you don't have the breath for it. Besides, he's not exactly wrong – not that you'd ever tell him that. Instead you scowl and stick your tongue out. It's about the only muscle you can move right now without wanting to cry.

Carefully, Undyne transfers your clumsy weight onto Sans' shoulder. Despite you both being about the same height, he manages to hold you just fine on his own, one arm wrapping around your waist while the other steadies your hand about his neck. It's the closest you've ever been to him while conscious, and if you weren't exhausted past the point of caring your face would probably be burning in shame.

“heh,” Sans chuckles, “guess this means you won't be helping out with the kitchen?”

You give him a look. “Gee, ya think?”

“Pffft! Who said anythin' about needing you losers' help?” Undyne snorts, throwing an arm around Papyrus' neck and dragging him down to her level. “Me and Paps can handle this by ourselves! Right Pap?”

Papyrus looks less than enthused by this prospect. “THE WORK MIGHT BE MORE MANAGEABLE IF WE HAD MORE HELP...”

“We've got all the help we need right here!” Undyne jabs a thumb at herself proudly. “I've rebuilt my own house so many times I could do it with my eyes shut!”

She drags Papyrus away, boasting all the while about how she can make repairs much faster and stronger and all around better than he can, leaving you and Sans staring after them in amusement.

A quiet moment passes.

“welp, i'm starved,” Sans says, adjusting your weight on his shoulders. “'m wastin' away to bone here.” He grins at your weak groan. “grillbz?”

“Grillbz,” you agree. 

Chapter Text

Undyne waits until you and Sans have hobbled through one of the skeleton's infamous 'shortcuts' before she releases Papyrus from the headlock, peering around the corner at the spot you'd occupied moments before with a pensive frown.

Papyrus splutters, gasping for air he doesn't need and complaining loudly about Undyne's complete lack of respect for his cranium's personal space. Not that she's listening. He's just launching into a full-blown tirade about her costing them both valuable (semi-valuable?) assistance when she heaves a sigh, effectively silencing his protests.

“So,” she says, leaning back against the house and crossing her arms over her gently rising and falling chest – sparring with you was fun, but she's not even winded. She tucks one leg behind the other, staring at the ground beneath her boots contemplatively. “she's the one, huh?”

Papyrus sobers immediately, his usual energetic demeanour falling away to something much more subdued.

“SANS THINKS SO...” he murmurs, reluctant. “I... HAVE MY DOUBTS.”

“Doubts?”

“SHE'S... I...” He frowns, rubbing his left humerus absently and glancing away. You were Determined enough, no one could deny that. If it could be done at all, you were definitely the human for the job. It wasn't your suitability Papyrus had issue with. “MAYBE NOT DOUBTS... SO MUCH AS... RESERVATIONS?”

“Still not on board with the whole 'Reset' thing then?”

“NO... I JUST-,”

“Hey, no need to explain it to me.” Undyne waves away his explanation, expression uncharacteristically sombre. “I'm not cool with any of this either, remember?”

Undyne was skeptical of Sans' hypothesis – theory, the skeleton himself would correct vehemently – at the best of times. And who could blame her? It sounded absurd. Worse, it sounded insane. The mad ramblings of a guy with too many sins on his back, too many regrets all whispering in his metaphorical ear about second chances and false hope. All whispering of redemption, for the irredeemable.

From a logical standpoint, it just didn't seem feasible.

But Undyne's distaste for the idea was two-fold, because even if she accepted that it might be possible, she still struggled with whether or not it was justifiable. Forty years was a long time – a lifetime, for many. Sure, the world was a shitty place right now. Both races had been reduced to a pool of mere thousands; the peace between them was – let's face it – more than a little unequal despite King Asgore's most sincere efforts; and all the industry and creativity and variety that had made surface life so great in the beginning had been reduced to a fraction of it's former glory.

Mistakes had been made on both sides, good people had been lost, and maybe – maybe – things would have been better if none of it had ever happened.

But everyone had come so far since then. Things weren't perfect, but they were getting better, slowly. The past was the past and Undyne, for one, believed in looking to the future.

It didn't seem right to undo so many people's choices, so many people's lives, when there was no guarantee that things wouldn't end up this way anyway.

“I JUST... I COULD ACCEPT IT – THE RESET – IF... IF THAT'S ALL THERE WAS TO IT.”

Papyrus, Undyne knows, is more worried about what the method might do to his brother than any ethical quandaries surrounding the deed itself. She doesn't know the finer details – she deliberately avoids talking about the whole thing in general, to avoid starting any arguments – but she knows it could spell big trouble for the little skeleton. You don't mess around with that kind of stuff and come out unscathed...

It would be an apt punishment for fucking with the timeline, she'll say that much.

“It's a shame,” Undyne says conversationally, when several minutes pass without further input from Papyrus. “I kinda like that chick. She's got spunk.”

“YES. VIRAGO IS VERY PASSIONATE. SHE REMINDS ME OF FRISK,” Papyrus agrees fondly.

“If Frisk were a bit angrier,” Undyne nods.

A moment of reflection passes between the two, each lost in their own nostalgia.

“She deserves better,” Papyrus says at last, voice uncommonly quiet. “What Sans is doing... it isn't right.”

Undyne can't think of anything to say to that. She feels like she's just been kicked in the stomach. She hadn't thought of any of this from your perspective before – why would she? She hadn't even met you until today. Before you were just some nameless, faceless human; a means to an end. But now...

God.

She feels herself pale a little.

If it was going to be bad for Sans, it would be downright brutal for you. Christ. Make that three reasons she was against the 'Reset'.

“Are we so sure his idea is even gonna work?” she asks dubiously. “I mean Vira, she... she doesn't seem... y'know...”

“IT'S ALREADY WORKING. IF YOU COULD SEE ALL THE PROGRESS HE'S MADE IN SUCH A SHORT TIME...”

“... Shouldn't someone... I dunno, warn her? Or something?”

“IF WE DID THAT, WE'D BE IN DIRECT CONFLICT WITH THE KING'S WISHES.” He says it with the miserable air of someone who'd already thought that far ahead. “THE KING PERSONALLY APPROVED THE RESET PROJECT, REMEMBER? IF WE WARNED VIRAGO WE WOULD ALMOST CERTAINLY CRIPPLE IT'S CHANCES OF SUCCESS.”

Undyne winces. “So what? We wait?”

“WE WAIT.”

Though neither says so, the notion doesn't sit well with either of them.

“WELL NERD!” Undyne shouts at last, startling Papyrus out of his reverie and breaking the melancholy atmosphere with her own special brand of determination. “That kitchen won't fix itself!”

She charges into the house with insurmountable vigour, leaving Papyrus to one last moment of rumination by himself.

Papyrus wouldn't tell Undyne or his brother – especially not his brother – but he thinks the saddest thing in all this is that, when all is said and done, you'll still think it was all your own choice.

 

Chapter Text

As it turns out, when Undyne made the offer to train you, she meant it both solemnly and enthusiastically.

Your bruises have hardly had time to heal before she's back for your first 'official' session, and that's a pattern that continues well into the depths of winter. Every morning, come hell or high water (or snow – there's been a lot more of that lately, and unlike before when it all melted in a day or so, it looks to be here for the long haul this time) Undyne takes you out to the brother's 'garden' and beats the ever-living shit out of you. It's less training, really, than an ass-whooping you get just a little better at handling each time.

If spending less time scrambling about on the ground can be considered 'better', that is.

The funny thing, though? Despite having enough bruises that it's almost impossible to tell what your original skin colour is, and despite the various sprains, pulled muscles and – on the rare occasion – breaks Undyne's brutal workouts leave you with, you're actually almost... happy. Certainly happier than you'd been since being captured. Maybe even happier than you were before that, some days...

The fact is, Undyne's training gives you so much more than just a host of new injuries. It gives you purpose, a focus for your pent up energy – a goal to work toward, even if that goal is just to eventually outlast the battle on your feet the whole time. You feel like you're finally doing something, like your life has meaning beyond just being Sans' ward.

Whether that's actually true or not... well, it hardly matters, does it?

With the return of some form of direction to your life, everything else seems to just... slip into place. Things aren't prefect, but they're comfortable. Training in the morning, followed – more often than not – by healing and breakfast with Papyrus, before heading into the city for your usual aimless wander (usually accompanied by Sans – he's started just joining you from the offset, rather than following at a distance or dropping in unannounced. You don't mind the change half as much as you probably should either.)

Most days, you scarcely remember you're supposed to be a rebel.

Ow!” you yelp, flinching, torn from your idle thoughts by Papyrus' skeletal fingers probing at the latest in a long line of fractures. This one is on your 'trapezium', one of the small carpal bones that makes up your wrist... Apparently.

Hey, you'll take the skeleton's word for it.

“HOLD STILL!” Papyrus scolds, pressing again at your swollen wrist. You bite your lip against the pain, involuntary tears filling your eyes. “I NEED TO KNOW EXACTLY WHERE THE BREAK IS IN ORDER TO DIRECT THE MAGIC!”

“Sorry,” you mumble.

Across the table Sans watches the proceedings with amusement, eye lights bright with glee, grin wide and smug. Watching you get told off by his brother – something that had been occurring with more and more regularity since you agreed to Undyne's training – had fast become one of his favourite pastimes. Perhaps because he was so often on the receiving end of it himself.

Or maybe, you think, watching him try to hide a snigger behind his hand, it's because he's a dick.

Papyrus finally hums, satisfied he knows where the break is, and starts directing warm healing magic to the site with a placid concentration you have trouble associating with his usual demeanour. You wait a second, until you're certain his attention is thoroughly absorbed in his task, before turning narrowed eyes on the shorter brother and flipping him a very inelegant gesture with your free hand.

Sans, of course, mimes catching your one fingered salute and stuffing it in his pocket with a cheeky wink.

“VIRA!” You freeze, eyes darting back to Papyrus, worried you'd been caught. His own gaze is glued to your wrist, eye sockets glowing orange with the power of his magic. “KINDLY STOP MOVING – THIS IS DELICATE WORK.”

Phew. He didn't see.

Papyrus, for whatever reason, strongly disapproved of – as he put it – profanity and vulgarity. You really didn't feel up to a lecture on decorum, on top of everything else that had already happened today... It was only eleven, after all.

Sans chuckles aloud this time, not even bothering to hide the smirk.

You dare not so much as twitch, lest you incite Papyrus' adorable – but no less effective – wrath, but since you're facing Sans' anyway, you throw him a sour look and stick out your tongue. To your mild horror, he responds in kind. His jaws part ever so slightly, something you'd been convinced he couldn't actually do until this point, and a blue... appendage slithers out from his mouth in a clear taunt.

What. The. Fuck?!

You're so shocked by the... well, you suppose it's a tongue... anyway, you're so shocked by it's sudden appearance that you reflexively jerk in your chair. Which naturally provokes another round of annoyed tutting from the skeleton currently trying to mend your arm.

“REALLY VIRAGO! YOU'RE SO TWITCHY TODAY!”

You glare at Sans. He did that on purpose.

“S-sorry, Pap.” The nickname rolls off your tongue smoothly. You forget to even be irritated with yourself at the slip up – it had been happening more and more often, and you'd been caring less and less lately. “I just... thought I saw something.”

“oh? an' what would that be?” Sans drawls. He's got one elbow propped on the table, cheek cradled in the palm of his ivory hand. The grin he sends you is wicked.

Asshole.

Not one to be mocked without a fight, you – perhaps unwisely – snap back with the most scathing retort you can think of offhand.

“Nothing impressive.”

Sans raises an eyebrow languidly, grin growing by several teeth.

“a lick-ly story.” He says it lowly, with enough of a rumble in his voice that Papyrus completely misses the pun, so focused is he on his magic.

You don't though, and you pointedly look away. Great, you think. See what you did now?

You'll be lucky to hear the last of this before Christmas.

“what's the matter, pal?” he says, louder this time. “cat got your tongue?”

The inflection he normally uses for punning is still there, but barely. You glance at Papyrus, but his brow is still furrowed in concentration – clearly the timbre is too subtle for him to catch in his distracted state. You've half a mind to tellon the jokester, but worry it might get you yelled at again.

“heh, guess whatever it was has got you tongue-tied.”

God, this could go on forever.

Luckily, at that precise moment Papyrus lets out a sigh and pats your wrist. You flinch automatically, even though there's no actual pain, and immediately scowl when Sans lets out a snort of laughter.

Geez, he's gotten fucking bold lately. You blame it on your trips to Grillby's – he wouldn't tease you like this if you weren't spending so much time with him. Small price to pay, you suppose, for edible food.

“YOU'RE DONE,” Papyrus announces wearily, swaying slightly in his seat.

Healing magic always tired the tall skeleton out a little, but he insisted – it's really thanks to him that you're able to keep training at all. If you had to let your injuries fix themselves the natural way, you'd have been put out of commission a thousand times over by now.

As usual, your skin tingles where the bones beneath have been mended. You heave yourself up from the table and wander to the newly-repaired kitchen to run it under the cold faucet. When you return, neither skeleton is at the table. A clicking sound from upstairs draws your attention, and you glance up in time to see Sans tip-toe out of Papyrus' room.

“Sleeping?” you ask. It's unusual for him to take a nap after a healing, but not unheard of. The break must have been worse than your thought. Or maybe it was just because it was such a small, delicate bone to work with.

“yeah. musta really took it outta him today.” Sans joins you in the living room and you half expect him to pick up with the puns where he left off. He surprises you by nodding towards the front door. “ready to head out?”

It's a bit earlier than usual, but you shrug anyway. “Yeah, sure.”

You leave the house together like it's the most natural thing in the world.

 

Chapter Text

“knock, knock.”

“Seriously?” You shoot Sans a side glance as the pair of you make your way through the spooky park, picking a familiar path through the snow into the city. “Can't we go one day without the crummy jokes?”

It had to be some kind of record, actually. Normally you barely made it through the front door before he was knocking them out (ha) like they hadn't already gone out of fashion. You don't mind – not really – but you like making him think you do. It's part of the routine now, and though you can't put your finger on why, you feel like you shouldn't break it.

“i think the answer you're lookin' for is, 'who's there?'” he prompts with a sly grin.

“Jesus Christ...” you mumble. Despite the show you're putting on, you have to fight to maintain a straight face.

“nope. sans, remember?” He nudges you with his shoulder. “let's try this again bud. knock, knock.”

“Fine. Who's there?”

“snow.”

“Snow who?”

snowbody – they left 'cause ya took too long to answer the door.”

You choke on a surprised snort of laughter. Okay, even you can't deny that one was pretty good. Sans grins smugly beside you – it's not often he catches you off-guard like that, but when he does he's been known to gloat over it for days.

icy you liked that one.”

“Shut up.”

“wow. that's cold.”

“Sans, I swear...”

“alright, alright. chill out.” At your sharp look he lifts his hands, palm out, in a gesture of peace. “last one, i promise!”

True to his word, he stuffs his hands back in his pockets and the two of you continue your walk in amicable silence.

It's funny, how things have changed between the two of you since the start of all this. There was a time – not so long ago, as you recall it – when even being in Sans' presence was unbearable. A time when you couldn't look at him, let alone chat with him like this; a time when you'd have dusted him without a second thought, given the opportunity. Now though...

Now you found yourself almost enjoying his company.

Christ, how was that for Stockholm Syndrome?

And you know it's fucked up. Disarmingly charming as Sans could be at times, he's still the guy who captured you and had you chipped like some kind of animal. To regard him with anything other than absolute revulsion is... well it's twisted, in more ways than one.

And then there's his 'plans' – which, for the record, he still wasn't parting with.

But for all that...

God, you don't know. Maybe you're just tired of fighting. Who knew holding onto a grudge took so much energy? All you know is, you're slowly but surely warming up to the skeleton. Sure, maybe you wouldn't consider yourselves friends or anything of the sort, but at the very least you're civil.

And considering where you started off, that was kind of a big deal.

“so,” Sans says, drawing your attention once more. You glance at him questioningly. “i found this place the other day. really cool, full of old human stuff. you wanna check it out?”

Was it weird that you kinda did?

Probably.

“Sure,” you shrug. “Lead the way.”


 

“Okay,” you admit, looking around the place in wide-eyed awe. You'd been trying for casual, but clearly that wasn't an option at this point. “This is pretty amazing.”

It's an arcade – like the ones you'd seen in movies and read about in pop-culture books pilfered on supply runs. Dusty and dilapidated though it is now, it's still one of the single coolest sights you've ever seen. Like a museum to a forgotten golden age or something. What you wouldn't give to have seen a place like this in it's heyday!

“thought ya might like it.” Sans steps up next to you, looking far too pleased with himself. “you ever play one of these?” He raps his knuckles against the nearest game, a unit that proclaims itself to be 'Time Crisis 4' – something about that strikes you as ironic, but you can't put your finger on why.

You slant Sans a look, trying to decide if he's being serious or not. Because of course you haven't played one. That much should be obvious. These babies have been out of commission for forty years, at least – you're not even close to being that age.

“No. Bit before my time,” you say, a bitter twist to your lips. “Y'know, with the war and everything...”

Well, at least he has the decency to look abashed at that. He looks away awkwardly, and if you didn't know any better you'd think that was... shame?

You blink and it's gone.

Huh. Trick of the light.

“right. you, uh, didn't have electricity where you're from?”

You freeze, turning to face him slowly from the claw machine you'd been busy admiring. It's the first time he's brought up anything to do with your past, and even though the question seems innocent on the surface you're instantly wary. You study him suspiciously, silently debating whether the information he's asking for could be considered sensitive or not. Probably not, you think, but this is Sans and if anyone could use such inane knowledge to some advantage it's him.

When his guileless expression doesn't so much as twitch, you decide to answer honestly. Honestly, but with caution.

“We had generators, yeah,” you say carefully, choosing your words with the delicacy of a surgeon. “Some petrol... some solar... Petrol's been runnin' out for years though, so we've had to be sparing with the juice we use. Essentials only.” A memory flashes through your head, filling you with an unexpected sense of nostalgia. “And movie nights, once a month,” you add with a smile.

Sans seems to think this over. You worry, for a moment, that you've said more than you meant to – that you've given away something you didn't mean for him to have. He shakes himself out of it a second later, turning to you with a cheeky grin.

To your relief, he doesn't pry any further.

“so,what you're sayin' is you probably suck at video games?”

It galls you to admit you suck at anything, but you can't exactly argue the point with your complete lack of experience already out in the open.

“Probably...” you say through gritted teeth.

“awesome.”

He places his hand against the 'Time Crisis' unit and closes his bony eyelids, a look of utmost concentration on his face. You're about to ask him what the hell he's doing when a burst of pure energy erupts from his fingertips, enveloping the game in a bluish aura and sending tingling waves of magical discharge throughout the room. Goosebumps crawl over your skin in response, making you shiver despite the layers you have on.

To your amazement, the screen flares to life, blaring gunshots and grungy-sounding music into the empty arcade.

“best two outta three?” Sans asks, picking up the closest gun and pointing it at you with a playful wink.

You blink. An excited grin splits your face, despite all efforts to hold it back.

Aw, hell yeah!

 

Chapter Text

“Are you... fucking... kidding me?”

Frustrated and out of breath, you lean heavily on the metal backrest of your 'Dance Dance Revolution' panel. Sans is standing on the other pad, smug and barely winded, grinning from ear to ear as he watches you recover.

“you sound surprised.”

You are.

Somehow – and fucked if you know how – Sans has managed to whip you soundly at a game involving physical movement. Sans, the lazy-ass skeleton, out-danced you, Undyne's human protégée (her words, not yours). This must be what it's like to hit rock bottom, you think, wiping the sweat from your brow with a rough swipe of your hoodie sleeve. You're not sure your ego will ever recover.

To be fair, this is far from your first loss today. Sans has beaten you at just about every game you've tried your hand at, from shooters, to fighters, to racers and even – much to your eternal chagrin – a funny table game called 'air hockey'. You're inexperienced, slow to learn the controls for these complicated machines, and honestly still quite stiff from your training that morning. Plus, contrary to all expectation, Sans has the reflexes of a God. You were plainly at a disadvantage here...

But you had thought – of all things – you could best him at dancing.

“You're cheating,” you pant, bringing a hand to your chest, feeling your heart thrum with exertion beneath it. “I don't know how, but you are.”

“i'm offended, madam,” he says, putting his own hand to his chest in mock hurt. “waltz your evidence?”

“Dancing puns?” you grimace. “Really?”

jig-uessed it.” Your groan only seems to egg him on. “sway more fun this way.

Oh God. You have neither the energy nor the inclination to enter into another pun war right now.

Anyway,” you say pointedly, trying to get back on track. “how are you doing it?”

“Doing what?” Sans asks innocently.

He steps down off the DDR machine and directs your attention to a colourful looking game across the room. You narrow your eyes, taking a second to decipher the wonky letters on the overhead sign – 'Mario Kart' it says.

Sure, you think with a shrug. Why the hell not?

You pick your way across the room and drop into one of the bright red seats. Sans dissipates the magic running DDR and joins you a second later.

“How are you cheating?” you say when he slumps into the seat next to you.

You eye him as he places his hand on the screen of his contraption, magic flaring in a by now practised performance. Both screens flare to life, and – following a couple of brand logos – a picture of several cartoonesque characters in little cars appears. Accompanied, it must be said, by the most hokey and ridiculous music you've ever heard.

“That's it, isn't it?” you grumble. “You're using your magic to make sure you win!”

Sans glances over at you with a confused frown. He nods towards the now live cabinets. “you mean that little trick there?”

You give him a look. Obviously.

“heh, that's not how it works pal.” He hands you a coin – one of many pilfered from the change machine – and you insert it into the slot accordingly. “all i'm doing is turnin' 'em on. i can't mess about with the circuits or anythin'. at least, not with that much precision.”

You pause in jostling your steering wheel, tearing your eyes from the roster of characters to regard Sans dubiously. “... What?”

“mm... put it this way; have you heard of the first law of thermodynamics?” At your blank expression, he chuckles. “well basically, it's the idea that energy can't be created or destroyed – only changed. all i'm doin' is changin' some of my energy – uh, that is my magic – into electrical energy.”

Huh. “You can do that?”

“sure.” He shrugs. “that's all magic is at the end of the day – just energy. it's all about how ya channel it.”

Interesting. You'd never really thought of it like that. Kinda made the whole concept of magic a bit less... well, magical.

Turning your attention back to the screen, you survey your options. Sans had already chosen the mushroom-capped character called 'Toad', and had some how changed the little guy's colour scheme to blue instead of red. After a moment's deliberation, you make your selection – the biggest, beefiest, most intimidating-looking character in the line up, 'Bowser'.

“interesting choice,” Sans comments. “had you pegged as more of a 'Yoshi' kind of girl.”

“And why is that?” you ask absently, trying to get to grips with the controls before the race loads.

“'cause you're still too green ta stand a chance of beating me.”

You narrow your eyes at him. That was awful – worse than his standard fare even. You decide then and there, you're going to win for that terrible joke alone.

“Oh, it's on.”

Naturally, you lose the first race in spectacular fashion. You stay in fifth place, pretty much the whole three laps, while Sans goads you from his position in first. There is one brief moment when you manage to pull into forth, but that achievement is quickly stolen from you by a wayward banana skin that you don't see in your premature elation.

The second match goes better. You have a fairly good grasp on the workings of the game by this point, and use your new-found competence to creep into third just before one of the computer players.

By the time you reach the final match, you've got it all figured out. It takes some doing, but you eventually claw your way into first on the last lap. Unlike the previous races, Sans doesn't seem to be doing too hot this time – he's barely maintaining forth, and keeps slipping into fifth periodically. You'd make mention of it, but honestly you're just too pleased with your own progress.

In hindsight, maybe that should have struck you as suspicious.

You're on the final stretch, foot to the floor and grinning wildly. This is your race – there's no one between you and the finish line, no dropped items as far as you can tell, and while the other racers are close, they're not close enough. You notice Sans tap his item button, but ignore it as you speed towards the end. Then suddenly-

Blue !

Blue as far as the eye can see.

You hear your character give an unhappy roar as he's knocked from his kart with the force of the blast. You watch in horror as, in the time it takes for your car to right itself, every other character crosses the finish before you – Sans now a respectable second. And you groan in agony as – without you even needing to cross the line – the results screen flashes up, proclaiming you the loser.

So absorbed in the shock of your abrupt downfall are you, that it takes a while to register that Sans is laughing his proverbial ass off.

“You... that...” Words fail you. Half of you wants to hunch over your steering wheel and cry. The other half wants to take a swing at the skeleton choking on his non-existent lungs beside you. “You bony bastard,” you spit at last.

“'s not cheating,” he wheezes, trying – and failing to compose himself. Your wrath only seems to make him laugh harder.

“Well it wasn't fucking fair!” you exclaim, scowling.

“all's f-fair-,” Sans bursts into another fit of giggles. You glare at him, totally unamused. “all's fair in love and war. isn't that what you humans say?”

“I hate you.”

“hey – hey vira!” He wipes an imaginary tear from his eye, ignoring your announcement. “what do ya call a bee when it's a sore loser?” He doesn't give you time to answer. “a cryba-bee!”

“That's it.” You stand and make your way over to the exit. “I'm goin' to Grilby's.”

“alone?” Sans laughs. You hear him undo the magic sustaining the 'Mario Kart' game before jogging to catch up.

“Yes, alone.” You don't even break stride. “I don't eat with dirty cheaters!”

“heh, how you gonna pay then?”

“I'll just tell Grillbz to put it on your tab,” you reply smartly.

Sans just snorts.

 

Chapter Text

Trips to the arcade become a regular thing, much the same as Grillby's. Though you and Sans don't go every day – you don't think your pride could take that much defeat – you both make a point of dropping in at least two or three times a week. Sometimes, Papyrus even joins you.

Those days are especially good. Miraculously, the taller skelebro sucks worse than you do.

In any case, as the weeks go by your skills slowly but steadily improve. By the time the Christmas period rears it's jolly head, you're good enough at most of the games that Sans' victories are hard won.

Occasionally – very occasionally – you actually beat him.

Things are going well. Your training with Undyne is coming along swimmingly (ugh – you're clearly spending too much time with Sans...) and Papyrus has recently taken to – you quote – “BAMBOOZLING AND AMAZING YOU WITH HIS FABULOUS PUZZLE SKILLS”, which has led to some surprisingly fun-filled afternoons as well. And as for Sans, well...

Heh. Shocking as it sounds, you think you've progressed from civility to some weird, cautious kind of friendship with the guy. But then, what did you expect? You do spend an awful lot of time with him – between the gaming sessions, dinner at Grillby's and your still-frequent expeditions into the city, you hardly spend any time apart any more (with the exception of those rare days he goes to 'work').

It's actually sorta funny. Who'd have thought it? You're friends – however tenuous that connection still is – with the monster who kidnapped you.

Oh sure, you still struggle with it sometimes. You still lie awake in bed some nights, going over the events that led to this point with a fine-tooth comb and trying to figure out just what the hell is wrong with you. But in the end it doesn't matter – you're in too deep to turn back now, and you're not sure you would even if you could.

That's so messed up it's damn near hysterical.

But you know what's even more fucked up?

This.

You're sitting in Grillby's, picking at a burger (which – you had discovered some time ago – is just as heavenly as the fries) while Sans hustles some of the bar's patrons at a game of poker. The atmosphere is warm and jovial – several of the regulars have already been over to chat with you, human and monster alike, and you're feeling pleasantly buzzed both from the complimentary beer (Grillbz insisted) and from the socialising. The jukebox is on, playing a jazzy little number that you're absently tapping your feet to as you watch other people milling about.

You are, for lack of a better description, completely and utterly at peace.

And it's so right and so wrong it makes your head hurt.

You remember Sans asking you, a long time ago now it seems, if you would've believed him if he told you things weren't how you'd been raised thinking they were. At the time, you hadn't even wanted to entertain the idea. Your life at that point had been a series of inalienable truths.

Monsters bad.

Humans good.

The two were – or had been, before all this – opposite sides of a coin that did not meet.

But what you're witnessing right now – what you've been witnessing for months now – not only calls all of that into question, but outright blasts it to smithereens.

Take Josie, for example – the flirty, heavily pregnant bar girl, whom you can recall slapping Grillbz ass on your very first foray. You've been talking to her recently, and have discovered that she's actually expecting her third child...

Her third, completely human, child.

Grillby, as it turns out, is just her warden – not, as you had first anticipated, her lover. In fact her husband is the ward of another monster, a seahorse-looking guy who comes in on a Friday occasionally, called Aaron. Despite this, the two live together in a cosy little house, rented at an extremely reasonable rate from Grillby himself, and funded by both of their – very legitimate – jobs.

Each of her children, having been born above ground and raised in New New Home from the start, have official monster citizenship. That means no tracker chips.

Whatever doubts you still had about the monsters' intentions are slowly but surely drying up. Every human you talk to is happy, and largely free to go about their business however they please – mandatory tracker chip notwithstanding. Equally, the monsters you talk to are polite and – while a little leery of your reputation as an ex-rebel – friendly to a fault.

Which presents you with a serious problem. A problem rapidly deteriorating from bad to worse, the more established you become in your new environment.

Your gaze darts to Sans as the table he's playing at erupts into a chorus of groans. No doubt he just told another one of his shitty jokes, you think, smiling crookedly.

He looks in your direction a second later – as though alerted by weight of your stare alone – and raises one bony hand in a cocky salute. You pointedly roll your eyes and turn back to your burger, but despite yourself you feel a tinge of warmth in your cheeks. Embarrassment at being caught gawking, you're sure.

Frowning at your plate, you return to your earlier thought process reluctantly.

That day – the day Sans took you as a ward – your group had been in the city for a reason. It was no mere supply run that had brought you so close to monster territory that fateful night; no random patrol that had dropped you into the skeleton's waiting lap. You'd had an important mission, one that had been set to play a vital role in the unfolding of history – one that still might, depending on if what your team had managed to take back was actually viable.

The mission itself had been simple – sneak into the ruins of the old monster embassy (specifically the more or less intact right wing, where all their books and records were kept), and bring back anything that might help humans relearn their magic.

The reason?

Well, apart from the fact that the resistance had been trying for years to regain their magic anyway, there was an attack planned for Mourning Day – a last stand type affair. An all guns blazing, full throttle kind of attack. Everyone was going in, with or without magic.

But the magic would definitely be an asset – hence the incredibly risky decision to pilfer anything remotely useful from the embassy (which your leaders had known was well-guarded before sending you in).

The objective had been met with debatable success. What few tomes and scripts you and the others had been able to gather before being interrupted by Dogamy and Dogaressa had seemed, to you at least, minimally helpful – though admittedly you'd only skimmed them, in your rush to distribute them amongst the group for transport.

You remember, in the beginning, wishing fervently for your friends' safe return to base. You recall praying that they had something useful with them. Most of the reason you'd wanted to escape, most of the determination that had led to you cutting yourself open for that purpose, had been directly because you wanted to be a part of it – a part of 'The Great Salvation', as your fellow rebels had pretentiously taken to calling it.

Now though?

Looking around the bar at Grillby's, at all the happy faces... Thinking about Papyrus and Undyne and – yes – even Sans...

Now you're not sure what you want.

You know you don't want the attack to go ahead. But the only way to definitively stop it is to tell the monsters where your people are hiding, and you can't bring yourself to do that either – it would be a bloodbath either way. Should you warn them? Keep your mouth shut? Try to contact the resistance and tell them what a huge mistake they're making, and hope they see sense on their own?

Ha. That last one makes your lip curl in a half-sneer.

Like they would even listen. You didn't.

“hey, vira – ready to head back yet?”

Sans voice snaps you out of your tangled thoughts. You eye your half-finished burger and find that you've lost your appetite – pity; it really was rather delicious. With a nod, you stand and slide out of the booth smoothly.

“Lead the way, bonehead.” Your tone is light, but your heart feels heavy.

This is a dilemma that's going to give you a fuck-ton of sleepless nights, you can already tell.

 

Chapter Text

“YOU'RE STILL TOO SLOW!” Undyne yells, swinging at you with her spear. She misses by a narrow margin – too narrow after all these weeks of training in her opinion. “IT'S LIKE YOU'RE NOT EVEN TRYING, PUNK!”

“I am trying!” you shout back, looking affronted. “'S not my fault you're in a bad mood today!”

Well, you're not wrong there.

Undyne is in a seriously foul temper today. And that's not, strictly speaking, your fault, but damn if you aren't a convenient outlet. Even if you are a pathetic excuse for a challenge.

It's a mix of things, really. Partly her job – because as if keeping the whole of the Royal Guard in line and dealing with the day-to-day crap wasn't enough, now she's got to worry about Asgore insisting everyone gets the holiday period off. She loved the guy, and it was a nice thought, but seriously?! Who was supposed to protect his royal butt if everyone was off-duty? It just wasn't practical.

And then, of course there was the whole matter of Christmas itself to contend with. She was naturally planning on spending the day with the skelebros – unless Asgore went ahead with this stupid mass holiday plan of his; then she'd likely spend it staking out the palace – which would be fine, except...

Except Alphys would be there too.

Like she was last year.

Like she was every year.

And while on some level Undyne liked seeing her – liked knowing that she was okay and stuff – most of her hated the awkwardness of it all. The stilted conversation, the very careful skirting of anything even remotely Reset-related... The unspoken regret and longing.

Aaaargh! It pissed her off!

She takes her renewed flare of irritation out on you, striking at you with fresh vigour, forcing you to retreat ever further. By the time she's done with you, you're both panting for a change, and she may or may not have broken your left shin – she can't tell for certain, but if she has, you're handling it like a champ.

You're both taking a much needed breather, a brief interlude before the scolding that will no doubt befall you when you head inside for breakfast and healing, when – in a bid to banish her own troubles from her mind – Undyne decides to get reckless. Or, more reckless than usual anyway.

“So,” she starts. Already this feels like a bad idea – like a really stupid, borderline treasonous idea. “What's the story with you and Sans, huh?”

You give her a funny look. “There is no story.”

“Pfft. Right. And I'm the tooth fairy!” Whatever that was. “Paps tells me you two have been spendin' a lot of time together.”

“So? Why does that mean there's gotta be a story?” You fold your arms, and that serves as her first clue – defensive body language; sure sign that you're feeling cornered. “He feeds me, and keeps me from dying of boredom. I think I'm owed that much.”

“Oh sure, sure.” She should stop now – she knows it. She's not sure whether she's trying to warn you, or encourage you, and frankly she doesn't know which is worse. “That's what he's doin'.”

“Shut the hell up.” Maybe it's just because she's looking for it, but Undyne notices the slightest hint of colour, high on your cheekbones.

Oh God, Papyrus was right.

“Alright, alright. Calm down, dork.”

She loops an arm under your shoulders and starts the process of helping you limp toward the house – no easy feat, considering you're a Goddamn midget.

She makes you stop at the door, and looks down at your quizzical face seriously. She's already said enough, already danced the fine line quite enough for one day. But looking at you, bruised and exhausted, looking up at her so clueless... She can't help it.

It's out before she can even consider trying to stop it.

“Be careful, nerd.”

As vague and indistinct a warning it is, Undyne knows she's crossed a line. You raise a confused eyebrow, and she wishes – she wishes – she could spill it all. But that really would be treason, and so she just grins and shrugs and hauls you through the door into the kitchen.

She leaves feeling more aggravated than ever.

Chapter Text

Christmas morning dawns bright and early in the skeleton household.

Very bright, and very early.

Though you of course know about the holiday, you can't say that it holds any particular significance for you. Much to Papyrus' despair this past month and a half, you've been very hands off with the whole business – you were mildly interested in the decorations, but that was about it. The so-called 'specials' on TV were just more shitty Mettaton movies as far as you were concerned, his holiday-themed food was the same level of awful now with added glitter, and the whole concept of 'Santa' utterly flew over your head.

It's not like your lack of enthusiasm was precisely your fault. Christmas in the resistance had always been a subdued affair, coming and going without much in the way of fanfare. An extra ration and no drills for the day, that was about all that marked the occasion back home.

So when Papyrus bursts into your – dammit, Sans' – bedroom before sunrise on Christmas morning, you're more than a little nonplussed. In fact, your first instinct is that he's somehow burnt the kitchen down again.

“WAKE UP VIRAGO! YOU MUST DRAG YOURSELF FROM BED, QUICKLY!”

Jolting into wakefulness with a gasp, you struggle up onto one arm, using the other to hastily wipe the grit from your eyes. It's pitch black outside. The alarm clock on the bedside table says it's scarcely past five a.m., and the combination of Papyrus' loud voice and the bright light from the hall has you feeling dizzy and disoriented. You take a moment to squint blearily at the tall skeleton's silhouette – half convinced you must be dreaming – before beginning the arduous process of disentangling yourself from the sheets.

“Mm, Papyrus?” you mumble, mouth dry and thick with sleep. “Where's th' fire?”

You mean that literally.

“FIRE?” He sounds confused. “THERE'S NO FIRE. COME, IT IS TIME TO GET UP!”

You pause, narrowing your eyes at him suspiciously. “Why?”

“SANTA HAS BEEN!” he exclaims, gleefully.

Groaning, you flop back into bed. Frankly, you don't care who's been – it's way too early to be awake, and definitely too early for all Papyrus' shouting. You briefly contemplate telling him to go on without you but... well, you're awake now. And the look on his face is just too precious to say no to.

You allow him to drag you down stairs and are mildly surprised to discover Sans already at the tree – a small evergreen, resplendent with more shiny baubles and trinkets than needles at this point – cross-legged in a plain t-shirt and shorts. On closer inspection he's actually dozing, but he opens one eye and greets you with a grin as you take a seat next to him with a huff.

“mornin'.”

“OH NO! I FORGOT MY CAMERA!”

You both watch Papyrus scramble back to his room, excitable as a puppy. Honestly, if you weren't already used to his passions running so close to the surface, you might find his hyperactivity unsettling.

“Is it?” you grumble, casting a baleful glance out the living room window. The snow is thick out there, more having fallen during the night – you can see it shimmer prettily in the light cast through the window, but beyond that there's only shadow.

“guess so...” he yawns. Well, at least Sans is suffering too you suppose – that makes you feel a bit better. He nods sleepily at the impressive pile of gaudily-wrapped packages under the boughs of the dying tree. “santa came.”

“So I see.”

Papyrus returns a second later, an old polaroid camera swinging from a strap around his wrist. His enthusiasm is contagious and you can't help the grin that spreads over your face as he fiddles with the device, his long clumsy phalanges clacking against the plastic.

“TIME FOR A CHRISTMAS MORNING GROUP PHOTO!” he beams, kneeling behind and between you and Sans. The two of you share a glance and then shrug, shuffling slightly closer as Papyrus tries to angle the old-fashioned camera 'selfie-style' to fit you all in the frame. “SAY CHEESE!”

“Cheese,” you say dutifully, Sans following suit.

There's a flash and the camera spews a small square photograph from the slot at the bottom. It's actually not half-bad, you think, once Papyrus has finished waving it about like a madman. Though you and Sans both look like lukewarm death, eyes dark and smiles strained, the skeleton between you is eager and endearingly childlike. Sans has sneakily given him a set of bunny ears which Papyrus duly scolds him for, though not very forcefully and not for long.

“ALRIGHT! TIME FOR PRESENTS!”

Much like the rest of the holiday, you take a very disinterested approach to the gift giving aspect of Christmas. Back in the resistance, close relatives and friends would sometimes give each other presents in keeping with the tradition – practical stuff usually, like soap rations they'd saved for the occasion, or weapons they'd found in the city – but you'd never had anyone like that in your life. Oh sure, you had your dad - though it was up for debate if you could even technically call him that - and you were pretty friendly with a few people here and there, but...

Well, you weren't that close to them.

So when Papyrus promptly grabs the first package from under the tree and hands it to you with a gleeful flourish, you almost don't know how to react. You hold it awkwardly in your hands, certain there's been some kind of mistake, looking between the brothers with a confused frown.

“GO ON, VIRAGO!” Papyrus encourages, pushing the parcel further into your grasp. “DO NOT BE SHY – OPEN IT!”

A glance at the ribbon-tied label reveals it is indeed addressed to you – from 'THE GREAT PAPYRUS', with many little crosses taking up what space was left to be written on. For a moment, your heart relocates to somewhere in the vicinity of your throat. Your eyes start to feel warm, and – to distract yourself from the tears that want to fall – you hastily tear into the paper.

Inside is a dark green jumper, handmade if you're any judge, with a pattern of bows picked out in bright red sequins. It won't be winning any fashion awards, and it's a far cry from your typical style, but in that moment you would swear you'd never seen anything half so beautiful.

Nope. You try to wipe your eyes subtly with the sleeve of your pyjama top, refusing to cry.

Clearing your throat, you try for a grateful smile. It comes out wobbly, a little fragile around the edges, but Papyrus doesn't seem to notice.

“Thanks... It's... This is...” You sigh – it's difficult to articulate yourself properly when it's so early and you're so overwhelmed. “Thank you,” you say instead, injecting your voice with as much of what you're feeling as you can.

It seems to get the message across. With a contented “NYEH-HEH-HEH!”, Papyrus reaches for another parcel and hands it off to Sans.

You pull the jumper on when you think nobody's looking, relishing in the warmth of the wool against the skin of your face. It's a little big for you, and you notice there are some stitches missing on the left sleeve, but for some reason that only makes you love it all the more.

You think it might be your new favourite item of clothing.

 

Chapter Text

By the time all the presents have been opened, you feel like utter shit.

As if the jumper wasn't enough – and to you, who had never received a Christmas gift before in your life, it would have been – you were now also the proud owner of a box set of Mettaton's latest TV series ('A Game of Circuits'), courtesy of Papyrus; a punch-bag and matching boxing gloves from Undyne; a whole crate of that beer you'd grown so fond of from Grillby; and – get this – a fucking game console with six games from (and you quote) 'Sans-ta'.

You had to quietly to excuse yourself when all the unwrapping was done, so that you could sift through your emotions in private. Overwhelmed doesn't begin to cover it at this stage. You're not sure whether you're ecstatically happy or kinda sad, or if it's some confusing amalgamation of the two – all you know is that this is the best Christmas you've ever had.

You should probably feel guilty about that, but you don't.

What you do feel guilty about, however, is not having anything to return the favour with. You reckon they all probably knew that would be the case in advance – after all, you're not earning any money of your own and you're too proud to ask for a loan. Even if funds hadn't been an issue, it probably wouldn't have occurred to you to get presents anyway - you'd never had to do it before...

Nevertheless, you still feel bad. You silently vow to pay each of them back, somehow.

When you re-emerge from Sans' room, fully dressed (and of course, still donning the hand-knitted jumper Papyrus gave you), you discover the skelebros are already in the kitchen preparing what promises to be a monumentally disastrous Christmas lunch. More accurately, Papyrus is cooking lunch – Sans is hovering nearby, sipping from a mug of coffee and looking more and more worried by the second.

You see why when you dare to look over Papyrus' shoulder.

Contrary to your expectations, the lunch he's making isn't spaghetti. That's not to say it doesn't involve spaghetti – he's currently stuffing a raw turkey with it, and you don't know whether to laugh or weep. You'll probably be expected to eat some of that... It's not exactly a small turkey either...

“That's... a really big bird.” You turn to Sans as you say this and share an anxious look. If you're expected to split that beast three ways, this might very well be your last Christmas. “Planning on saving some for later?” You don't quite manage to disguise the plea in your voice.

“OF COURSE NOT! A MASTERPIECE LIKE THIS MUST BE SAVOURED WHILE IT'S FRESH!”

You were afraid of that.

Sans sees the dismay on your face and pats your shoulder sympathetically.

“undyne and alphys are comin' for lunch too,” he says. Then, under his breath he adds, “don't worry... it'll probably taste better than last year's concoction.”

“What did he make last year?” you can't help but ask, equally quiet. It's difficult to imagine a dish more disgusting than spaghetti-stuffed turkey.

“... you don't wanna know.”


 

The rest of the morning goes in quickly.

Sans helps you set up your new games console at the TV while Papyrus creates chaos in the kitchen, informing you blithely as he does so that he'd actually procured the system from an old friend of his – a self-proclaimed collector and distributor of genuine human curios. Which was an interesting title, considering this friend was – as it turns out – as human as you were.

“he runs his own business,” Sans was telling you, rummaging about behind the brothers' TV set. “selling old human crap to 'enthusiasts' for a cosy profit margin. a guy after my own heart!”

It's as close to criminal activity as you've seen in New New Home thus far, and you're somewhat surprised Sans is so accepting of it. Isn't he supposed to be some kind of judge?

When you point this out he just shrugs.

“guy's got a family to feed too... 'sides he's not hurtin' anyone.” He removes himself from the back of the TV and grins in your direction. “'s not his fault some folk are willing to pay top dollar for junk.”

Handing you one of the two controllers, Sans sinks into the couch beside you. Of the six games he bought you, four have multiplayer aspects – one of those actually brags about being 'the definitive online multiplayer experience'. But although the internet is still a thing thanks to the monsters maintaining it, you're probably the only person who actually owns a console, never mind that particular game.

The disc he put in just now boots up quickly on the screen, and you almost squeal with delight.

It's 'Mortal Kombat' – a much cleaner, sharper and all-round better version than the one you're used to at the arcade, but there's no mistaking it. Your favourite character, Sub-Zero, flashes across the screen, soon followed by Sans' favourite, Raiden. After fiddling about for a minute, you figure out how to start a versus match...

Let the games begin.


 

You're losing twelve to seven when Undyne finally arrives.

Glad for the distraction – Sans had switched to Scorpion for a bit of variety and was spamming the fuck out of the 'Get Over Here' move – you stand to greet her, intent on thanking her for the gift. You've scarcely taken two steps when you suddenly find yourself lifted from your feet, wrapped in the bone-crushing embrace you've come to know so well.

“MERRY CHRISTMAS NERD!” she shouts, squeezing ever tighter with every word. “Did ya like what I got ya?”

Anything more than a wheeze is utterly beyond you at the moment, though you make a valiant effort to force something out regardless. Struggling – you've learned from past experience – is futile when in the grip of one of Undyne's deadly hugs. It's far better to play dead. Sometimes it makes her let go faster.

This time, mercifully, it works.

“Oops!” She drops you and you land hard on your ass, gasping for breath. “Sorry, dork. So? What did ya think?”

You struggle to your feet. “It's,” you pause to cough, “great. I-,”

“FUHUHUHU! I knew you'd like it!” she yells, clapping you on the shoulder and almost knocking you over again. “I expect you to use it every day! You hear me, punk? EVERY DAY! It'll help bulk up those puny sticks you call arms!”

You're about to make some retort in defence your perfectly non-stick-like arms, when there's another knock at the door – this one much more timid and reserved than Undyne's resounding boom had been.

Without thinking you reach out and open the door, revealing a short yellow lizard-like creature in a black and white polka dot dress and matching cardigan on the step. She – at least, you assume it's a she – jumps at the sight of you and nervously adjusts her glasses on her face.

“H-hello,” she squeaks shyly, wringing her clawed hands. “I'm... not l-late, am I?”

 

Chapter Text

Lunch was... awkward, to say the least.

Undyne's reaction to the newcomer – who, you learn from Sans, is none other than his friend and colleague, Dr. Alphys – was immediate and startling. Used to seeing her brash and full of ferocious fire, the sight of the Fish Wife suddenly coming over all apprehensive and uncertain was... somewhat unnerving. It would probably be less jarring if Sans suddenly started doing cartwheels around the room, or if Papyrus took to quoting the works of Edgar Allen Poe.

“Hi...” Undyne had said, somewhat breathlessly, as though she'd been punched in the stomach.

“H-h-hi...” Alphys stuttered in return, reddening and looking everywhere but at Undyne. Until her eyes alighted on you, that is – then she seemed very interested in Undyne indeed.

Weird.

A lengthy silence had followed, one broken only by the sounds of Papyrus still pottering about in the kitchen. You could have cut the atmosphere with a knife.

“You look good,” Undyne eventually muttered.

“You too...”

Just when you were thinking about escaping to Sans' room – there was clearly a history between the two, something deep and uncomfortable that you wanted no part of – Undyne spun on her heel, rounding on you and gnashing her teeth in frustration.

“Changed my mind, punk. Training. Outside. NOW!”

You'd gone without complaint.

Which is how you ended up where you are now, battered and bruised at the dining table between Undyne and Papyrus (who, having healed four fractured ribs and a broken clavicle for you, looks more than a little drowsy), picking carefully at a generous portion of spaghetti-stuffed turkey. The fact that Undyne and Alphys are sitting as far from each other as physically possible is hard to miss, though everyone does their best to pretend it was unintentional. You can't help but notice that you're seated far from Alphys as well, and judging by the anxious looks she keeps sending you, you think it might have been deliberate. You can't begin to imagine why – this is the first time you've met the woman.

You would, of course, ask about all of this, but the phantom pains left over from Papyrus' impromptu healing had you feeling a little disorientated. Undyne really hadn't held anything back today – you were probably lucky she hadn't accidentally killed you.

That said, getting pummelled had brought you an unexpected boon. Your body was so desperately in need of nutrients that it didn't put up too much of a fight when you started to eat Papyrus' lovingly-crafted lunch. You could hardly even taste it, really.

Thank God for small miracles.

“Th-this is... it's, um... thank you for the food, P-Papyrus,” Alphys says quietly, when the conversation at the table inevitably dies. Not that there had been much of it to start with; Sans told a few jokes, Papyrus responded with his obligatory groans, and Undyne and Alphys had exchanged some incredibly stiff pleasantries, but that was about it.

“YOU ARE WELCOME, DR. ALPHYS.”

And again silence; oppressive, suffocating silence.

It's not – you decide, after observing the scene quietly for a while – that the two don't like one another. On the contrary, you suspect there might be feelings involved. Though you'll be damned if you can figure out how that corresponds to the ambience of general discomfort between them.

You don't have to wait long to find out.

Thinking that perhaps striking up a conversation with the nervous doctor might ease some of the tension in the room, you turn to her and say the first thing that pops into your head.

“So, Alphys... What is it you said you do?”

Now, to be entirely fair to you, you weren't really thinking straight thanks to the numbing effect of Papyrus' curative magic. Of course that would be a bad question to ask, because you kind of already knew what the answer would be – or rather, you didn't know, but you were aware that she worked with Sans, whose work was generally regarded as a taboo subject. Hence, what was to you an innocent attempt at small talk, made everyone else at the table physically flinch.

Papyrus covers his face with his gloved hands. Sans shoots you a pained look that you promptly return with a defensively mouthed, 'What?'. Undyne sits back and crosses her arms, managing to look both weary and furious at the same time. The most interesting reaction however, is from Alphys herself, who jumps and begins to fiddle restlessly with her claws.

“I-I... that is... er, I'm...” If you thought she was a flustered mess before, she's a nervous wreck now. “I-it's c-c-classified... so, uh...”

You hold up your hands palm out, fully prepared to take the question back, but before you can Undyne gives an angry grunt.

“She didn't say. And she won't either.”

Even to you, that sounds like an accusation. Clearly, this is a very old point of contention for them.

And like an idiot you've only gone and poked the beast with a stick.

Alphys looks like she's going cry, staring down at her plate with an expression of such profound grief that your heart aches just looking at her. At the same time, Sans abruptly stands, looking angry himself, which catalyses Undyne to rise from her chair as well – they glare at each other across the table.

“is now really the time for this?” Despite the scowl on his face, Sans manages to sound reasonably calm.

“What? Afraid I'll say something you don't wanna hear?” Undyne sneers.

Sans shoots a glance your way. “vira, could ya maybe go upstairs for a bit? this is an old argument an' you don't need to hear it.”

“Why?” You and Undyne say this at the same time. You blink. Undyne smirks, but doesn't look at you – she has eyes only for Sans right now. “You heard the lady, Sans – why?”

There's subtext missing here, you're sure of it. It's obvious this is becoming less about Alphys and more about you – or rather, more about whatever it is she and Sans are up to that involves you. The dreaded 'master plan', as you'd come to think of it. Suddenly your interest in the proceedings ratchets up by several degrees.

“don't do this undyne,” Sans sighs. He sounds tired. “it's christmas – can't we just have a nice lunch together?”

Undyne steps away from the table, a dark look on her face. She looks like she wants to say so much more, but for whatever reason she restrains herself.

“You guys go ahead – I've suddenly lost my appetite.” With that, she storms out of the house, slamming the door behind her.

Papyrus speaks up a moment later, sounding exhausted beyond words. “I BELIEVE I'LL EXCUSE MYSELF AS WELL. I THINK SOME REST IS IN ORDER.”

He goes to his room, leaving you at the table with Sans and Alphys.

Well, that certainly escalated quickly.

Confused, you glance between the two of them, Alphys trembling minutely with suppressed sobs, Sans looking drained and embarrassed and anxious. He meets your gaze, a pleading slant to his eyes, and you know he doesn't want you to ask but you have to say something.

“You're not gonna tell me what any of that was about, are you?”

“vira...”

You sigh, and slip away from the table too. It's actually kind of funny – you thought you wanted to know what Sans was up to, but part of you is... relieved. At having an excuse to stay in the dark, that is. The two of you had just started to get along after all...

… Or maybe you're just scared.

Still, you imbue your voice with as much disapproval as possible – regardless of your confusing personal feelings, it seems like the right thing to do. “Thought so.”

You go to your room, filled with such an immense cocktail of emotions, you can't even begin to tease them apart.

 

Chapter Text

After the disaster that was Christmas lunch, Sans maintains a cautious distance for a few days. You think he thinks you're mad at him, and maybe you should be – you're still no closer to learning what it is he wants from you, and the mass disapproval of pretty much everyone you've come into contact with so far is... concerning, to say the least.

However despite these disconcerting facts, you find that you're actually not that angry at all. Worried? Yes. Annoyed? Definitely. But angry? Not so much. Sans said he wouldn't hurt you – has made that very promise several times – and for some reason you're more inclined to believe him these days. Whether that's a wise decision or not on your part remains to be seen, but at the very least you're confident he's not planning to sacrifice you to Satan or something...

So no, not mad.

That said, you're happy to let him think it for a while. Partly because, as already stated, you feel like you probably should be. But mostly it makes for a convenient excuse to go to Ebott City alone in search of belated Christmas gifts.

Though not a one of them had made anything of it – had, in fact, went to great lengths to assure you it wasn't an issue – you can't shake the guilt of having been given so many wonderful presents, and not having anything to give in return. Which is hilarious, if you stop to think about it for too long. To think just seven short months ago you were quite prepared to dust these people. Now look at you! Trawling the forgotten innards of long ransacked shopping malls, looking for the perfect gift for each of them.

Maybe it was just a pride thing? A sense of owing them.

Right.

Ironically, Undyne is the easiest to find something for. You locate a suitable present on the very first day, though it takes forever to figure out how to move the damn thing without putting your back out. It's a fancy weight training gizmo, with all manner of pulleys and various doodads. The label says it's a 'Bodymax CF380 Multi-gym', which means nothing to you except that it was probably – once upon a time – really expensive.

You spend hours racking your brain, trying to come up with a way to shift it to the skelebros house without taking it apart (chances are you would never get it back together again). You consider a number of options, including – but not limited to – putting together a big makeshift wagon of some kind to roll it back... Eventually you came up with the perfect solution.

The following day, you escorted Undyne to the dilapidated sports store after training. Pointing it out, you laughingly informed her that it was her Christmas present... if she could find a way to get it home. Naturally, she took to the challenge with great aplomb, transporting the thing (and you) all the way there on her back. Afterwards, the hug you'd received had almost killed you.

As you understand it, she'd returned to the store several times over the past few days to pick up other pieces of equipment too. At this point, you suppose your gift to her was less the 'Bodymax' thingy itself than introducing her to the store it came from.

Whatever. Still a win.

Papyrus' present was almost as easy as Undyne's, though perhaps a little more self-serving on your part. With a pilfered rucksack from a nearby mountaineering shop, you'd dragged home as many more-or-less intact cookbooks as you could physically carry – everything from beginners books, to student ones, to one particularly nice (and possibly delusional, on your part) Cordon Bleu tome.

The tall skeleton had loved the books, being literally moved to tears by your 'thoughtfulness'. That, of course, left you feeling just a mite guilty, and so to balance out the inherent selfishness of your 'purchase', you'd presented him with an ornate spice-rack obtained from a department store the very next day.

Dried herbs and spices don't go bad, do they?

You suppose you'll be finding out soon enough.

Grillby is a lot harder to 'shop' for, mainly because – despite spending an extraordinary amount of time in his bar – you don't actually know the elemental all that well. His place is still closed for the holidays and won't open for another week, so you guess you still have time, but... somehow, you don't think it's going to get any easier, no matter how long you've got.

And then there's Sans.

Sitting on a bench in the middle of your favourite mall ('favourite', only because it has the most amazing view from the cafe on the top floor) you sigh and kick your legs, toes scuffing the tiles beneath your boots. There's a bracing chill in the air today; a fresh, crisp wind that finds you even hidden away in here. Shivering just a little, you draw your jacket tighter around your shoulders and scowl.

Sans was proving to be the most difficult of all.

What do you get a guy who doesn't have any discernible hobbies? Unless drinking ketchup and telling God awful jokes counted as hobbies...? But no, you don't want to encourage either of those things, and you're sure Papyrus wouldn't want you to either. And yeah, he seems to like video games, but, well, you can't get him a game-themed present because that's what he got you...

You're completely stumped. At least with Grillby, worst comes to the worst, you could always get him something for his bar – some nice artwork maybe, or a snooker table, or hell, maybe a jukebox that actually works (not a bad idea actually... you file that away for later). But with Sans there's nothing. You live in the guy's house, sleep in his Goddamn room, and you still don't know him that well.

That should probably concern you more than it does, come to think of it.

“I fucking give up,” you groan, throwing your head back to look at the glass ceiling three floors above. “Maybe I should just ask...”

“ask what?”

Startled, you shoot to your feet in a panic, head snapping around to see Sans standing sheepishly by the faded kiddy carousel. His hands are deep in his pockets – as usual – and his grin is nowhere to be seen, replaced by a miserable-looking grimace. You get the feeling he's been watching you for a while, and honestly, you don't know what to make of that.

“Fucking hell, Sans!” you shriek. “You need to start wearing a bell or... or something!”

He doesn't react to your outburst at all, except to glance off to the side.

“ask what?” he asks again, shifting his weight a little.

He looks like a man awaiting execution – resigned and despondent. Belatedly, you realise what this must look like from his perspective. Alone in the mall, talking to yourself about giving up and asking questions... Obviously he thinks this is still about Christmas day.

Curiously, you wonder what would happen if you asked one of the 'big questions'. Would he answer this time? Or would he just fill you with more aversions? Which would be worse at this stage? You really don't want to have to go back to hating him...

After remembering what it feels like to connect with other people, you don't want to be alone again.

“What do you want for Christmas?” you blurt, before you have time to consider your actions. You immediately hate yourself for your cowardice, for not taking charge and demanding answers. But it's out there now so you'll just have to roll with it. “I... haven't a clue. What to get you, I mean. S-so... uh...”

Sans just looks at you as if you've lost your marbles.

 

Chapter Text

Sans is frowning at you oddly, brow bones pulled down in a mixture of surprise and bemusement. It's a good look on him, you think. So rarely do you get to see him looking anything other than lazy and unflappable – the fact that you've managed to genuinely stun him is, honestly, something of a proud achievement for you.

“christmas is over...” he says carefully.

You roll your eyes. As if you didn't know that.

“Yeah, well... I felt bad for not getting you guys anything,” you mutter. You're not sure why you feel so embarrassed over that admission, but you do.

Sans still looks baffled. “we told you not to worry about it.”

“And I'm telling you to bite me,” you grumble. “I'm getting you a present and that's that.”

“alright, alright. jeez.”

He comes over to join you on the bench, casually lifting your left hand and studying it as he does. You're about to ask him what the hell he's doing – cheeks slightly warm – when suddenly-,

Ow!” You snatch your hand back, rubbing at the small sore spot vigorously. “What the hell was that for?”

“y' told me to bite you,” he winks.

“You know that's not what I meant!”

“heh, shoulda been more specific.” His jaws are still parted – something he hardly ever does outside of eating – bright blue tongue peeking out cheekily from between his surprisingly pointed fangs.

What an asshole. Why did you want to get him a present again?

Despite your scathing thoughts though, you're smiling – just a little. You quickly duck your head into the collar of your jacket to hide it, knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that Sans will become insufferable if he sees.

“so, hey,” Sans says after several minutes of companionable silence. He sounds serious – another rarity where the laid-back skeleton is concerned – and your good humour dries up immediately in the face of it. “about what happened...”

A large part of you wants to cut him off. Hold up a hand and say, 'no big; let's just move on already'. But apart from the fact that you know you would never forgive yourself if you did, you instinctively know that this isn't something the two of you can avoid forever. It's so much bigger than just a botched meal; this is something that's going to come up over and over and over again, until some indefinite endpoint is finally reached.

To be honest, you can't help but feel a little bitter towards Sans for that. For making things have to be this way.

“i've been thinkin'...” He seems as reluctant to have this conversation as you are. “maybe it's... i think you're ready to... f-for me to... answer some questions...?”

Your stomach clenches. A burst of nervous energy makes your left knee twitch and you use your hand – the bitten one – to still it. There has to be a catch, right? You'd hounded him for answers in the beginning and got next to nothing. What had changed? Why was it suddenly okay to tell you this stuff now?

“i won't be able to answer everythin'...” Are those beads of sweat on his forehead? Do skeletons sweat? “but i'll tell ya as much as i can.”

God... where do you start? How many times had you daydreamed of this moment, pondering what you'd ask if only Sans could be relied upon to give you an honest answer? Now that the floor is – allegedly – open, you suddenly have no idea what you want to know any more. Or, ironically, if you want to know anything at all.

Sans waits patiently while you mull it over, hands buried in the pockets of his trademark blue hoodie. Even from here, you can tell his fingers are clenched into tight fists, the grin on his face equally strained.

At last, after a long , painful minute of deliberation, you choose your opening inquiry. Something innocuous, less a query, really, and more a confirmation of what you already think you know. You release it into the air delicately, voice soft and measured. Whatever happens, you silently vow, you have to stay calm.

“This... plan you have for me... it's my choice, right?” You stare steadfastly at your hands, limp and useless in your lap. You wish you had the courage to look him in the eye for this, but alas... Not yet. “You said you wouldn't make me do anything I don't want to... Is that true?”

“absolutely.” There's no hesitation in his voice, no hint of a lie. If anything he sounds relieved – you guess that must have been an easy one. “the final decision is all you.”

Which means...

“But you still think there's a good chance I'll do what you want?”

You can't help the edge of accusation in your voice. He obviously thinks he can convince you, somehow, and given your budding friendship(?) you could maybe understand that. But this isn't a recent thing. Sans' plan had been in motion, you suspect, long before you came on the scene. Which means he had always believed he could bring you round, even when you were going out of your way to defy him... Even when you almost killed yourself trying to get away. Otherwise, what would've been the point of keeping you here?

Oh, he won't force you, you can believe that readily enough – he'll just manipulate you into doing it willingly.

A thought, painful as a kick in the stomach, crosses your mind. Is that what he's been working towards all along? All the time he spends with you at Grillby's, at the arcade, all the jokes and banter... buying you the game system for Christmas... Was that all an act – an attempt to win you over so he can eventually coerce you into doing... whatever?

You don't want to believe it... but it makes a scary amount of sense.

There's an uncomfortable pause. He's obviously caught on to your mood – not surprising, it's not like you're trying to hide it – and is debating how best to approach the situation. After a minute he takes his right hand out of his pocket and reaches over, laying it carefully on your shoulder.

For the first time in a long time, you can't stand to be near him.

You shrug his hand away, disgusted.

“vira... i'm not gonna lie... i did hope that maybe some day y' might be persuaded...”

Well, you think, as your heart plummets to somewhere in the vicinity of your boots – at least he's not trying to lie about it.

“b-but,” he hastens to add. “if you think that's the only reason i'm good to ya, you'd be wrong. i really do want us to be friends.”

He says it fiercely, and with absolute conviction; like he's offended you'd ever think any different. And maybe it's just the fear of being lonely again – the way you were in the beginning, when you had only Papyrus for solace – but a large part of you wants to believe him so, so bad...

You glance up at last to find his eye lights bright and focused, trained on your face with such determination as you'd never seen from him before. It sends a chill down your spine for no reason you can comprehend.

“you believe me, right?” Sans envelopes your closest hand in one of his bony ones, giving it a reassuring squeeze – this time, you don't pull away. “you're more than just a project. maybe it started that way, but now... heh. 'm kinda fond of ya, kid. an' i need you to believe that.”

God, you want to. You really do. You want to believe your fragile connection with this monster isn't just orchestrated lies and falsehoods... But you're no fool, and it just doesn't seem likely at this point.

“What is it you want me to do?” you ask dubiously, frowning as you search his expressive face for answers. “And why me, for that matter?”

He doesn't hesitate.

“it's a long story, but... basically i'm tryin' to, er... turn back time, i guess?” He rubs the base of his skull absently as he tries to wrangle the words to explain. “to do it i'll need determination, and a lot of it and... wait, you don't know anything about determination, do ya? hm. what about souls? d'you know anythin' about those?”

At your blank look he chuckles and heaves to his feet, turning and offering you a hand to get to yours.

“c'mon. this is some heavy stuff – 'm gonna need somethin' to eat for a discussion this big.”

You narrow your eyes at him suspiciously. “I thought Grillby's was closed?”

“it is.” He winks. “but i know another place that's almost as good.”

 

Chapter Text

'Muffet's Muffins' is – as bakeries go – quite nice. A little creepy, what with the spider motif (and surplus of real spiders), but otherwise very quaint. The walls are a pale lilac, the floor a gleaming off-white, and despite the spiderwebs in every available corner, the place gives off a very pristine and homely vibe.

You eye the delicious-looking (and smelling) pastries behind the acrylic display case indecisively, surprised and overwhelmed by the ridiculous amount of variety. There are buns with swirls of icing and fruit garnish, tarts filled with every conceivable colour and decorated with delicately arranged royal icing, cupcakes and tray bakes and loaves and cookies in all manner of shapes and sizes and shades... The list goes on and on and on.

“What would you like, dearie~?” asks the arachnid monster behind the counter with – your anxious mind interprets – a predatory smile.

Muffet herself is... she's nice too, you suppose. Polite, well-spoken... As gracious a hostess as you've ever met. Even if she does look like something ripped straight from one of your own personal nightmares.

You'd never been fond of spiders, something Sans had recommended you not mention to the owner of the establishment. Now you know why. The only other creature in here with less than eight limbs is a rather rotund human guy manning the oven in the back – Muffet's fiancé, you figure, judging by the pictures all over the bakery walls and the glinting engagement rock on the left ring finger of Muffet's second set of hands.

“I... uh...” There's so much choice, and it all looks so good... You glance at Sans for help, but he just shrugs. You wonder how he'd react if you asked for one of everything? “Can you recommend anything?”

Muffet smiles, laughing prettily behind one of her many hands. “Ahuhuhuhu~! All of it, dear one – I can recommend all of it.”

Great. Helpful.

In the end you shut your eyes and jab a finger at random, ending up with a nice chocolate orange brownie, complete with mandarin compote. And of course, a tall glass of the house special 'spider cider' to wash it down.

You really hope the 'spider' in 'spider cider' is being used ironically. You decide not to ask.

“So,” you begin once you and Sans are sitting comfortably in the back corner of the shop, your respective treats in front of you. “Time travel, huh?” It comes out more skeptical than you intend.

“yeah, i know – it sounds crazy. but let me explain.”

Sans immediately launches into a detailed summary of souls, Determination (with a capital 'D' – because apparently there is a difference) and the basic premise surrounding time travel. By the time he's finished, you feel like you've been given a crash course in quantum physics; and you would know – you had tried to read those textbooks littering his bedroom floor once upon a time. He may as well have recited his explanation in an alien language for all the sense it made to you.

“Okay... Let me see if I've got this straight.” You rub your temples wearily, head buzzing with the sheer volume of new information. “Humans and monsters both have souls, right?”

Sans seems amused. He takes a swig of spider cider before drawling a lazy, “mmhm.”

“Right. That's the easy bit,” you confirm, folding your arms on the table in front of you. “So, human and monster souls are different because...?”

“human souls are concentrated magic – they have a colour based on the owner's dominant personality trait, and the magic they can potentially use is determined by that colour.” He says this with a grin, and you get the distinct impression that he's rather enjoying playing teacher. “monsters are mostly made of magic, which has a dilutin' effect on the magic in our souls – think of it like molecular diffusion.” Yeah, because you know what that is. “we've got a pretty even level of magic across the board, rather than havin' it all in one place like humans. 's why our souls look white.”

Okay. You can follow that much – it makes sense, in a nonsensical kind of way. Now for the tricky bit.

“Alright. I get that.” Mostly. “What I don't get is where this... this Determination stuff factors in. You said any human has the potential for magic, right? Why do you need a red soul, specifically?”

potentially, yeah, any human can use magic – if they have enough determination. y' see, just because a soul is, say green – for kindness – doesn't mean that's all that's in there. they'll have other traits too, in varyin' amounts, and the ability to use magic depends specifically on how much determination they have.”

“Why Determination though? Why not... I dunno, Bravery or something?” you ask, tapping your fingers rhythmically on the table.

Sans thinks about this for a moment. Eventually, he answers you by posing another question. “what do you think determination is? describe it to me.”

Confused, you nonetheless obey. You find it a surprisingly difficult concept to put into words. “It's... willpower, I guess? The... the drive to do something... no matter what...”

“exactly!” he beams, pleased with your description. “it's pure resolve – the conviction to make something you want a reality through whatever means necessary. that, coupled with the high concentration of magic present in human souls, makes for a powerful combination. a kind soul might be able to muster the determination to... i dunno, heal someone in pain, or form a shield to protect them... but they could never make themselves want to hurt someone enough to summon lightning or something.”

You nod along, starting to see the shape of things. “But a Determined soul isn't restricted by the limitations of another trait – they could do anything they set their mind to.”

“yep. got it in one, kid.”

“I'm guessing I've got a red soul then,” you ask shrewdly.

He shuffles awkwardly. “right again.”

“Hm. And you want me to... what, send you back in time?”

“uh... something like that.” He fiddles with a napkin, folding and unfolding it nervously as he tries to organise his thoughts into words. “'m tryin' to go back so i can keep frisk and tori from dying,” he admits at last, voice low.

You blink, honestly a little startled. Naturally, you're already well aware of the skeleton brothers' friendship with both the Queen and Ambassador – even if it hadn't been common knowledge, you'd have easily guessed from the photographs around their house. Still, the fact that Sans still cares about them enough to go to these lengths is... a little surprising.

He must read your thoughts on your face, because before you can say anything he's talking again, words rushing out of him like air escaping a balloon – you get the feeling he's been keeping this bottled up for a long time.

“it's not just 'cause i miss them – i mean i do, but that's not the only reason. it's just that... everything would be so much better if they had lived, y'know? the war probably wouldn't have happened for a start...” He says this wistfully, and it so echoes your own sentiments that for a moment all you can do is stare. How many times had you had those exact same thoughts?

Still... something doesn't feel right.

“If that's all you're trying to do, why do Papyrus and Undyne – and hell, even Grillby – hate it?” you ask, frowning. “Wouldn't things be better for them too if you succeeded?”

“that's... uh...” He looks up, expression sombre. “i'm not gonna lie to ya, vira... it's because they're worried about you.”

Me?”

“yeah. the truth is, goin' back that far just isn't possible with one person's determination alone. we're talkin' forty years here – determined as you are, you'd be lucky if you could manage just one year. so,” he says at length, “me an' alphys built a machine that can fix that. we've been extracting determination from compatible volunteers for years now – enough to get us to the forty year mark for sure – but we need a determined soul to channel it. someone with enough determination of their own to direct the flow and make it do what they want.”

“Someone like me?” you guess.

“someone like you,” Sans agrees. “but... we've tried before. with volunteers. and... it didn't end well. some lost their minds. others disappeared, scattered across the aether by the magic they couldn't control. that's why pap and undyne don't like what i'm doin' – they don't want you to end up the same way.”

Explanation complete, a pregnant silence falls between the two of you. You need time to absorb all this, and Sans happily obliges, holding his peace as you work through the information at your own pace. You drag one finger through the smears of chocolate left over from your long-demolished brownie, licking the delicious sweetness from your fingertip almost idly as you try to sort through a plethora of conflicting emotions.

You almost can't believe it. Months spent imagining the worst kinds of torture, envisaging ghastly experiments and the like, when all along Sans' intentions were, if not pure, then at the very least decent.

The question is – will you do it?

On the one hand, this is clearly an undertaking that comes with serious risks. If you fail – and all previous evidence seems to dictate that you will – you're opening yourself to the possibility of not just death, but existential dissolution. Even if you managed to avoid that grizzly fate, you'd probably be driven insane instead. Neither option particularly appeals, truthfully.

But on the other hand... Success would mean a better future for everyone. No war. No rebels struggling to survive on the outskirts of civilization, no ward-less humans trapped beneath Mount Ebott... And the sheer number of lives that could be saved was staggering.

“I'll do it,” you say, feeling (ironically enough) determined. “I'll try.”

“you will?” Sans seems pleasantly surprised. “even knowing what might happen?”

“Sure. How could I not? It's worth the risk, right?” He nods uncertainly and you grin. “Great. Now there's just one little question left...”

“wh-what's that?” Sans asks, still in a daze.

“What do you want for Christmas?”

 

Chapter Text

In the end, the only thing Sans wants for Christmas is – oddly enough – your company at the Mourning Day celebrations. With Christmas and New Year good and over, it's the next major event on the calendar, and arguably the biggest.

Back in the resistance, Mourning Day is marked as a solemn occurrence. A day of grand, rambling speeches interspersed with long silences, ostensibly as a mark of respect for the dead and to grieve for a future than never was... Though even before you'd fallen into Sans' care, you had recognised the assemblies for what they were – an opportunity to dredge up old grudges and inflame the masses.

This year would be different however. This year could change everything.

Even now, preparations for the big attack would be well underway. Given what Sans had told you of human magic – what little he actually knew – you very much doubt anyone back home will have figured out how to wield the mysterious power. You know more than most at this stage, and even you can't figure out how to make it work.

But that wouldn't matter. They would come regardless. Which left you with a heavy choice.

Should you warn the monsters what was coming? Or... not?

It was something you'd been debating for a while now. A dilemma that had kept you awake at night, squirming with worry and guilt. The last thing you want is to see countless people – monsters, humans, children; people just trying to live out their lives – swept up in another meaningless crusade. But at the same time...

The resistance was... had been your home. You may not have a family or friends – at least, not in the traditional sense of the words – but for a long time your ex-comrades were the closest thing you had to it. And while you may not agree with their ideals any more, you can't bring yourself to just sell them out like that. Moving on to a new chapter in your life doesn't make the one that came before any less important.

What would telling achieve anyway? At least this way it was almost fair. Or... not fair, but... less one-sided? Worst come to the worst, the monsters had their magic to protect them. If you warned them the attack was coming, the rebels would still come – right into the jaws of a trap. They'd be hopelessly outmatched, rounded up like cattle and locked away, sent to this... rehab centre you'd heard about.

You can't do that to them.

You won't.

Sans inviting you along to the festivities actually provides a semi-satisfying middle ground. One where you don't have to say anything, but where – rather – you can do something instead. All you need is a second, a single moment of the rebels' attention. You can convince them this isn't the way – you can tell them what you've learned. Maybe then you can all work together to make Sans' plan a reality...

It's a long shot, you know that, but it's all you've got.

Aaaarggh!”

Blinking, you glance up at the screen just in time to see your character get turned into a smouldering pile of charcoal. Immediately, your expression curdles. As if it wasn't humiliating enough just losing the match, Sans likes to make a point of rubbing his victory right in your face. Last time it had been a head-shot from clear across the map. This time, apparently, he had opted for death by flame thrower.

You get the feeling he did it for the puns.

“heh, you're really crashing and burning tonight vira!” Sans crows, giving you a gleeful nudge. And there it is. You grimace, tempted to bounce your controller off his stupid skull. “'course, might just be i'm too hot to handle.”

“Pfft. As if,” you snort, shoving him away forcefully. “I was just warming up.”

“and the other eight rounds we've played?” he asks with smug grin.

“Practice. Obviously.”

“obviously.”

He sets up another round while you glance out the living room window. The snow outside is thick as ever – it comes up to your ankles now, easily, but despite that you've felt the change in the air. It's getting warmer; slowly but surely. Mourning Day is in early spring, March 2nd to be exact – the anniversary of the monster Queen and little Ambassador's deaths. Despite the consistent snow and frost, the long nights and fleeting days, there's no denying it's getting closer.

You wish you had more time to prepare.

On another – not altogether unrelated – note, the weather isn't the only thing gradually changing around here.

Without the massive road block that had been his (until recently) unknown plans for you, your relationship with Sans was slowly going from strength to strength. Though in all fairness, the same could be said for your relationships with Papyrus and Undyne and – yes – even Grillby. You now ate and drank at the monster bar pretty much free of charge (Sans' seemingly endless tab notwithstanding), and in addition to cooking sessions with Papyrus and training with Undyne, you are frequently invited to 'slumber parties' with the vibrant pair. These parties typically involve more rough housing and kitchen pyrotechnics, but there are anime marathons too, and long discussions on the pros and cons of giant weaponry.

Which was great!

But with Sans it was... different.

Something subtle had shifted that day in Muffet's bakery, something you couldn't put name to and didn't like to think about too often. You found yourself becoming more indulgent of Sans' jokes, more accepting of his annoying quirks – like the ketchup drinking, and the teleportation pranks – and just.... more attentive to him in general.

You could now tell, at a glance, what kind of a mood he was in. More than that, when he was in a bad mood (rare though those were) you instinctively felt the need to cheer him up. To that end, you'd memorised a truly disturbing array of bad jokes off by heart...

Heh. If you didn't know any better, you'd think...

Nah. No way.

Shaking your head vigorously to clear away the cobwebs, you grip the controller tighter in your hands. Time to get serious. The match is starting and you need to get your game face on – whatever else may or may not be going on here, eight losses in a row is simply unacceptable.

“hey, you okay pal? you look a little frustrated,” Sans chuckles.

“Don't you worry about me, bone boy. Prepare yourself for a skele-ton of ass-whooping!” His eyes light up at your use of his favourite skeleton pun, and you can't help but feel inordinately pleased by that.

“oh? heh. funny. here i was just thinking that's the expression of someone who's died eight times in a row.” He grins widely in your direction, and it does something funny to your insides. You ignore it, smirking back. “that's the number of fingers on a spider,” he adds with a wink.

“Nut up, or shut up,” you quip, pointedly turning to the screen. It's a testament to how flustered you are that you're quoting another of Mettaton's atrocious movies – 'Mettatonland'. You hope Sans doesn't see the light blush on your cheeks.

You don't win a single match that whole afternoon.

 

Chapter Text

When Mourning Day finally rolls around – much sooner than you'd have liked – your morning starts off much the same as any other. Undyne still arrives at a barbaric hour to beat the snot out of you (though that said, you have been doing better lately – broken bones are now the exception, not the rule, and Papyrus doesn't need to heal you up quite so often), and the two of you still join Papyrus and Sans for a hearty helping of breakfast spaghetti.

It's still awful, for the record.

It's during this particular morning's breakfast, however, that Undyne discovers your appalling fashion sense – or rather, lack thereof. A seemingly innocent inquiry into your intended outfit for the evening quickly turns into a full-blown debate when you reveal that the clothes you're wearing (which are only a little bloodstained) are the very ones you intend to don to the festivities. As it turns out, both Papyrus and Undyne do have a sense of style – your choice is quickly and effectively vetoed.

“You can't wear THAT!” Undyne exclaims, scandalized. “You'll stick out like a sore thumb!”

“INDEED,” Papyrus agrees, narrowing his eye sockets at your attire in distaste. “A SHODDILY-DRESSED SORE THUMB!”

And of course, you can't tell them that was kind of the point. You want to be recognised by the rebels right away, so that you can (hopefully) stop them before they do anything drastic. More so, you want full range of movement in case... Well, just in case.

But for all your determination, you can't say no when Papyrus turns on the puppy-dog eyes (how a skeleton manages puppy-dog eyes is something you'll never understand), and so when breakfast is over you find yourself swept into Sans' room without preamble. There, you sit demurely on the bed while your two closest friends (and no, the irony of that statement does not elude you) hold court over your meagre wardrobe.

What is THIS?” Undyne demands, holding up one of the three dresses you own. It's the sun-dress Sans brought you home in. You haven't worn it since. She tosses it aside, face twisted in a mien of disgust. “I'm embarrassed to know you dude!”

“WHAT ABOUT SOMETHING LIKE THIS?” Papyrus asks, holding up...

“No,” you deadpan.

Absolutely not.

He couldn't have picked out two more mismatched items of clothing if he tried – a bright red skirt you remember Bunny foisting on you as a 'promotional extra', and a green plaid shirt you're not even convinced is yours.

“Vira's right!” Undyne is digging through your clothes, holding up various items and tossing them into one of three piles accordingly. “This is a dressy occasion – gotta be classy and sophisticated. Right, nerd?!”

After almost a whole hour of this, they finally agree on one of your dresses – the little black skater number, midi-length with a bardot neckline. At least that's what Undyne calls it. Personally, you'd simply been identifying it as 'that dress you'll probably never wear'.

Famous last words, and all that.

The main event doesn't actually start until eight so, after promising to return to help you get ready (like, and you quote, 'the besties you are'), both Papyrus and Undyne take their leave – apparently there's still some work to be done in setting up for this shindig. You wave them off with a tight smile, collapsing onto the couch beside a dozing Sans the second the door closes behind them.

“Thanks for the help,” you scowl.

Just as you suspect, he's not actually asleep. Immediately he opens one bony eyelid to peer over at you. “hey, you brought that on yourself. honestly – what madness possessed ya to get into the topic of clothes with those two?”

“Oh, I don't know,” you drawl, voice heavy with sarcasm. “Lack of prior warning, probably.”

“i warned you,” he says defensively. “didn't you see me do this?”

He casually drags a hand under his neck, scratching absently at his opposite clavicle before returning the hand to his lap. And now that you think about it, you had seen him do something similar at the breakfast table – you'd thought he was just itchy though.

That was my warning?” You shake your head. “It's a good thing you're not a secret agent, Sans – that sucked.”

Sans shrugs easily. “i'm better at puns than puntomime, i guess.”

“Hmph.”

You swipe the remote from where it's balanced on his nearest leg, flicking through channels idly until you come across some reruns of your favourite soap opera starring none other than Mettaton (favourite being a relative term in this case). You see Sans give you a strange look from the corner of your eye and shrug. What can you say? As awful as the guy's acting is, there's a certain guilty pleasure in some of his shows.

… Or you've watched so much bad TV with Papyrus that your taste has been thoroughly eroded.

As the two of you sit in companionable silence, listening to the woes of Ton-Ton (who's father has forbidden her from marrying her one true love, Mett), your mind begins to wander to the party tonight, and the attack you know is coming. Not for the first time, you wonder if you should warn someone...

Right. Like that's actually a viable option.

No, the only way to do this without the majority of the resistance getting imprisoned (or worse, killed) is for you to talk the rebels into standing down and the monsters into letting them go.

A shaky plan at best, you're aware. But you owe it to them to try.

“somethin' on your mind, buddy?”

You jump at the sound of Sans' voice. He's studying you carefully from his end of the couch, elbow on the arm rest, cheek resting in his hand as his head tilts in your direction. For a moment his expression is so concerned, so open and approachable, that you almost blurt it out right then and there.

With an effort you bite your tongue, forcing your mind's eye to conjure an image you hadn't thought of in months; Sans, in Judge form. Deliberately, you recall the way his eyes emptied of all light – all pity – and the way his magic crackled frighteningly in the air around him. You make yourself recount, with excruciating clarity, the details listed in his file back at the resistance – the death count, the unfathomable power... the utter lack of mercy.

You imagine that Sans, unleashed upon your comrades – the people you'd grown up with, broke bread with, fought with. In many ways, you owe the resistance your life. If you can't give them your loyalty, you reason, then you should at least offer your meagre protection.

You swallow the words before they ever reach your tongue.

It doesn't matter how fond of Sans you've become. It doesn't matter how fond of anyone you've become. They are, all of them, still monsters – they will fight to protect what's theirs. And you respect that.

After all, isn't that what you're trying to do too?

“Tell me more about tonight,” you say instead, hoping to pass off your misgivings as nerves. “What can I expect at this thing?”

Sans eyes you for a second longer. You don't think he's convinced, but to your relief he doesn't mention it.

“honestly? 's kinda borin'. there's a big feast to start, which is cool, but after that it's long speeches an' a five minute silence an' then more speeches.” He shoots you a crooked grin. “i'll be glad to have somebody to appreciate my side jokes this year – might keep me awake for a change.”

“Oh? So that's why you invited me?” you say with mocking disdain. “You plan to torture me to keep yourself entertained?”

He doesn't even try to deny it. “pretty much the long and short of it, yeah.”

You sigh heavily. “I'm not sure this qualifies as a fair exchange. I mean you only got me one game console – this is worth at least three.”

Sans laughs and nods at the TV. “there's a more traditional party afterwards – how 'bout i get mettaton to offer ya a dance? that's gotta be worth a couple hours of punishment, right? and i know he'll be thrilled to meet such a big fan...”

You grimace. If Mettaton is anything in real life like how he is on TV, you think you'd rather suffer through the disaster that was Christmas dinner again. “You wouldn't dare...” you scowl, narrowing your eyes.

“oh, but i would!”

You and Sans slip easily into a playful back and forth that somehow culminates in a Mortal Kombat tournament with the loser owing the winner a dare of their choice.

You lose. Sans makes you drink a bottle of his ketchup from the fridge, and yes – it's every bit as disgusting as you imagined it would be.

It's a while before you remember your anxiety.

 

Chapter Text

Boring doesn't even begin to cover it, you think, half-asleep at the table you're sharing with Sans, Papyrus, Undyne and – strangely, considering your last less-than-amicable meeting – Alphys. You've packed away more food than you thought physically possible, stomach distended and uncomfortable beneath your too tight dress (it may or may not be a fact that, after surviving on nothing but bad spaghetti and junk food for the past few months, you've put on a few pounds). Your hand comes up to pat your food-baby as the speeches go on (and on and on and on) in the background, smoothing over the rounded bulge beneath the table fondly.

You regret nothing.

That had been quite a spread. You'd think, anxious as you are about the whole impending attack business, that you'd have been too nervous to eat. And in fact, when the first courses were brought out – soups and fresh breads, seafood platters and salads – you had only picked, stomach too full of nervous knots as your eyes darted fearfully around hedgerows and topiaries, seeing sinister shapes where the multicoloured fairy lights strung over the courtyard cast shadows.

But when the mains were carted out... Man. You'd been unstoppable.

Beef and pork and lamb and chicken, marinaded in a delicious array of sauces and gravies; roasted vegetables and risottos, baked fish and deep-filled pies; spaghetti that didn't taste like feet... And the desserts! Heh, you thought Muffet's had had variety.

Needless to say, you'd eaten your fill. And then some.

The monster version of Mourning Day might be every bit as boring as the resistance brand – although, you had noted early on, with a damn sight less venom – but damn, did they eat well. Of course they would. Monsters had the monopoly on what viable livestock, fertile land and fishable water was left around these parts, and the resistance couldn't move on without giving up 'the fight'. No, your old faction had to make do with what could be gleaned from the wilderness and picked from the bowels of the city – which was admittedly a lot, if you knew what to look for and where to find it.

Still, you can't help feeling a little bitter. Compared to this, the rebels were living it rough indeed. Such unnecessary extravagance...

True to his word, Sans had made the experience even more uncomfortable by whispering God-awful puns and shitty jokes under his breath the whole time. While what seemed like the entirety of the guestlist took their turns on the specially erected wooden stage in front of the palace, Sans tortured you with ever deteriorating punchlines and quips.

In fact, he was still doing it now.

“psst. vira.” You glance in his direction, eyebrows raised expectantly. He nods at the current speaker, a bear-like monster whose name and occupation you forgot almost the second he started talking. “how many bears does it take to screw in a light bulb?”

“How many?” you sigh, because you know by now that telling him to shut up is completely ineffective.

“the bear minimum.”

You let a beat pass in silence.

“That was bad, and you should feel bad.”

“don't lie – you're smiling.”

“I am, and I hate it.”

Sans' jesting aside, things are going surprisingly well. So far there's no sign of the rebels, Alphys is, if not friendly, then at least not as standoffish as she had been on Christmas, and between Sans doing his thing and Undyne and Papyrus running a commentary on the fashion choices of the other attendees, you're actually kind of enjoying yourself.

That is, right up until King Asgore sweeps onto the stage amid a raucous round of applause, looking regal and robust in his violet robes of office.

You feel yourself stiffen immediately, even though – logically speaking – there's every chance you're as wrong about him as you had been about almost everything else. You're not stupid. You know it's foolish to assume the story of the Great Betrayal is true when so much of what you thought you knew turned out to be so drastically wrong...

But you can't unlearn the reflexive hatred instilled in you through years of childhood nightmares.

Eyes riveted on the huge bulk of the goat King as he takes his place before the microphone, you almost miss the perplexed look Sans directs at you from the side. You refuse to meet his gaze – for some reason, you don't want him to see whatever expression is on your face.


 

When the King finishes his speech – a long and heartfelt piece about the importance of appreciating one another, looking to the future, and staying determined – the band (a motley assortment of monsters and humans both) start to form up on stage. There are tables around the edges of the courtyard, stacked high with assorted party foods and glittering punch bowls. If you weren't already so damn full, you'd be seriously tempted by some of the items on display.

When the music starts up you find yourself swaying in your seat, watching absently as people vacate their own perches for the makeshift dance floor in front of the stage – you chuckle as Undyne leaps to her feet, grabbing Papyrus round the neck and dragging him to the front amidst cries of, “CAREFUL WITH MY CRANIUM!”. Alphys quietly excuses herself as well, citing a need for some fresh air. Neither you nor Sans point out that, as the whole party is being held in the courtyard, you were technically surrounded by fresh air.

Content to remain at the table, your eyes do another nervous sweep of the surrounding area. By your estimation, it's somewhere between nine and ten o'clock. If you know the resistance – and you do – they'll probably wait until eleven or maybe even midnight (cliché as it sounds) to do anything. By then everyone will be starting to wind down, tired from the plentiful food and the dancing (and yes, probably from all the boring speeches too). They'll be sluggish, and easily taken off guard.

You're not sure, precisely, what you're going to do when that time comes. Jump on the table and scream until everyone pays attention to you? Maybe make a mad dash for the stage, and the microphone currently being cooed into by a pretty human girl?

You're entertaining yourself with the mental image of somehow convincing Sans to set off some kind of magical flare beacon type thing when the feeling of something warm and solid grabbing hold of your right hand jerks you back to reality.

“Huh? Wha-?” You glance down. It's Sans' hand.

It occurs to you, in a vague kind of way, that this is the first time he's touched you – at least, it's the first time you've felt his bone directly against your skin. It's... warmer than you thought it would be. And smoother too.

It's kinda nice...

He tugs gently, pulling you to your feet, and for one crazy moment you think he's inviting you to dance. You almost pull away, panicked by the prospect, certain you'll trip in these ridiculous heels (yeah, those heels – the ones you vowed never to wear) and make a fool of yourself.

“c'mon pal,” he insists. “there's somebody i want ya ta meet.”

 

Chapter Text

King Asgore is much bigger in person than he is on TV, you think. Like much, much bigger. Seated in what can only be described as a throne – not for the formality of it, you suspect, but rather because it's the only chair capable of housing his impressive frame – his friendly, booming voice reaches you long before Sans drags you into his presence.

“'s up, your majesty?” Sans grins, releasing your hand to give the King a jaunty wave, other hand stuffed in the pocket of his suit jacket.

You miss the contact right away – his hand was comfortable in yours, dry and warm and soothing. You try not to examine the feeling too closely, distracting yourself by marvelling over the fact that Sans just greeted his ruler the way one might hail a gardener or a janitor or something.

Far more surprising, however, is the old monarch's response to this less than deferential greeting. He lets out a warm, gravelly laugh, heaving himself to his feet and grabbing the skeleton up in a hug that – in your expert opinion – looks like it should have cracked something.

Sans bears Asgore's exuberance with a lazy smile.

“Sans! It's so good to see you! How have you been?”

“heh, you know me – same old, same old.” Still bundled up in the goat monster's zealous embrace, he glances towards you and winks. You keep your expression studiously blank. "anyway, i got somebody i wanna introduce ya to.”

“Oh?” Amazingly gentle, considering his girth, Asgore lowers the skeleton back to the ground and beams. “A friend of yours?”

“could say that,” Sans chuckles, returning to your side and giving you an encouraging nudge forward. “this here's virago. vira for short. she's, uh... my ward.” Is it just you, or did that last part come off sounding weird? “vira – meet asgore dreemurr, king of all monsters.”

A strange looks passes over the King's face, but it's gone again before you can decipher it. He holds out a huge paw for you to shake. “A pleasure, Miss Virago.”

You eye the proffered hand cautiously. It could probably crush your head like a grape, if the mood took him.

You don't take it.

Beside you, Sans sighs. Asgore, far from being offended and erupting in a psychotic rage like you half expect, lowers the appendage and nods once, a sad smile on his face.

“I see. Perhaps we'd best do this inside then.” He tilts his head in Sans' direction. “Will you be joining us?”

“nah. 'm gonna catch up with alph.” Sans turns to you, eye lights searching your face. “i'll see ya in a bit, 'kay?”

Frozen in place, you can't do anything but stare back for a startled second. He's leaving you? Here? With Asgore, of all monsters?

Then, as he starts to walk away, patting your shoulder on the way past, a worse thought occurs.

What if the rebels attack while you're inside with Asgore? How will you be able to protect him, or Undyne, or Papyrus – hell, anyone – if you're not there when it goes down?

Panicked, you grab his sleeve, but when he turns to you – eyebrow raised questioningly – you realise there's nothing you can say. You still can't tell him about the attack, and if you refuse to go inside he's going to want to know why.

“hey,” he says softly, low enough that only you can hear. “it's gonna be alright. asgore's not the villain you think he is. trust me, okay?”

“I... I do,” you reply, just as quietly. “Trust you, that is.” You've never really had to think about it before, but you're not surprised to discover it's true – you do trust him. Somehow, in a relatively short period of time, you've grown to trust the skeleton who kidnapped you more than you had ever trusted anyone you knew back in the resistance.

That says more about the resistance, you think, than it does about anything else.

With one last reassuring nod, Sans disappears into the crowd, weaving between the dancers in his search for Alphys.

Slowly, you turn to face Asgore, schooling your features into something you hope resembles calm and collected.

“Come, Miss Virago,” he says, leading the way to the palace's main entrance – a set of heavy double doors built, quite literally, for a giant. “We have much to discuss.”


 

Asgore leads you inside the palace – which, for all it's size, is less a palace than it is a cottage on steroids – taking an immediate right and ushering you into a big cosy room that might once have been a study. There are bookshelves lining two of the four walls (including the one housing the door) and a huge ornamental fireplace taking up the third. The forth wall has a large window, looking out onto the wood at the base of Mt. Ebott, with the mountain itself dominating the landscape in the distance. A massive desk that looks like it was intended for paperwork and other business-related affairs has been pushed in front of one of the bookcase-walls, a dainty tea service the sole occupant of the space. The floor is taken up by a finely upholstered chintz-style chair and matching couch (both Asgore-sized).

Huh. Classy, you think, looking around the area. It's stylish, without being overdone. Very tasteful.

“Please,” Asgore says, gesturing to the couch. “Take a seat.”

You eye said piece of furniture dubiously. The base alone comes up to your hip... Nevertheless, you climb aboard, sinking into the couch cushions like they're made of clouds. It's actually pretty comfortable, though it gives you the weirdest feeling of dissociation. Like Alice in Wonderland or something.

“Would you like some tea?” He taps a single claw against the side of the teapot and immediately steam starts pouring from the spout – you're so amazed you forget to answer his question. Not that he gives you much room to reply anyway. “I dislike doing that – it's bad for the china, but... well, I always find tea helps in difficult situations and the kitchen staff are already so busy this evening...”

He clears his throat, clearly realising that he's rambling. In the ensuing silence he pours you some tea, regardless of whether or not you wanted any, handing it over smoothly before seating himself in the chair with his own comically tiny teacup.

“So,” he begins. “I'm told you were a rebel before Sans found you. Is that correct?”

Cautiously, you nod. You lick your dry lips, ready to correct him on his use of the past tense - more out of habit than anything else - when it occurs to you that you might not actually be a rebel any more. You had spent most of this evening waiting to act on the monsters' behalves after all, ready to shut down an attack that would literally make or break the resistance. Can you say you still belong to the rebels when your goals and theirs obviously no longer align?

You take a disquieted sip of tea, burning your tongue in the process.

Asgore rubs his tired eyes with his free paw. “Sans tells me you've made excellent progress, integrating into our community. He believes you've already untangled many of the insurgents'... inaccuracies for yourself. He thinks,” he says at length, studying you over the rim of his cup. “that you're ready to hear the truth.”

There's a pregnant pause. When Asgore next speaks, it's soft – like he's trying to coax a frightened animal.

“Will you hear me out, child?”

Well there's really only one answer to that, isn't there?

 

Chapter Text

By Asgore's own admission, he had never been the most level-headed when it came to dealing with a crisis. That, he would often laughingly tell people, was his wife's job. Or ex-wife, as was the case by the time the monsters emerged from Mt. Ebott...

Toriel had always been the rational one, the one who could separate emotion from the responsibility of office. She was firm, but fair. Patient, but assertive. She was, in a word, magnificent; everything a good Queen should be.

For that reason, and so many others, Asgore made the executive decision to leave much of the integration and resettlement process in her far more capable hands.

It was Toriel who set up the monster embassy in Ebott City. Toriel who talked with the human leaders, fighting for the monsters' basic rights and reassuring the often clueless politicians of their peaceful intentions. And it was Toriel who – with the help of their adoptive child (and monsterkind's official Ambassador), Frisk – learned how to navigate the minefield that was parliament.

Now historically, humans have never been very receptive to change, nor very accepting of those who are different – not even amongst themselves. There were... challenges. Humans who were afraid of the unknown, people whose ignorance and misplaced pride led them down regrettable paths... The most enthusiastic of these people eventually formed hate groups – clusters of so-called human supremacists, dedicated to the death or re-imprisonment of monsters.

And of those groups, none were as well-known or well-connected as 'Humans Against Hell' (or HAH, for short).

HAH started out as little more than a nuisance. Countering the monsters' attempts at integration and equality with protests and rallies; pestering government officials; boycotting monster-owned businesses... Annoying and supremely unhelpful, yes, but not truly damaging as far as acts go.

Over time, however, they grew bolder. Soon they began assaulting monsters in the streets, targeting anyone foolish enough to travel alone in quiet areas or at night. Sometimes – whether by accident or design – those monsters were killed, and through a combination of them being unregistered and turning to dust after death, it was often quite difficult to prove anything. Monsters themselves weren't the only targets. Humans who associated with them in any way, shape or form were harassed, bullied and sometimes attacked and beaten too...

Law enforcement services were... less than helpful, in most cases.

Then, on the morning of March 2nd 20XX, things finally came to a head.

A bomb with enough kick to destroy half the monster embassy went off, killing both Toriel and Frisk – who'd been working on a new Bill that would have given monsters the same rights as a human being – instantly. Several other monsters had been injured in the blast as well, with one other dying a short time later in hospital.

HAH hadn't been shy in taking responsibility for the attack.

And so began the downward spiral.

Attempts to track down the culprits by local police were token at best. A front and no more. In fairness to them, it was an extremely difficult situation. HAH had supporters everywhere, some in very influential places, and many humans who had taken a stand against them in the lead up to the attack had gone missing.

In such a time of turmoil, with no one else to turn to, Asgore had been left with little choice but to take control.

Perhaps... perhaps things could have been different. If Asgore were a better ruler; if he'd had the foresight his wife had always had, and her gift for politics and self-control. But he did not, and so – devastated by the loss of the woman he'd loved, even despite their estrangement, and the child he had come to dote upon as his own – he had made some very hasty and ill-considered decisions.

He told his people to fight back. To defend themselves whenever and however necessary.

They did.

He took the law into his own hands, enlisting the willing aid of his most trusted subjects to track down the killers and bring them to justice.

They did.

And as the bodies slowly mounted up, the human race became ever more united against them. It didn't matter that the monsters were only defending themselves, only looking for the retribution they were due. What mattered was that humans were dying by monsters' hands. What mattered was that – intentional or not – Asgore had made it a case of 'us' and 'them'.

Even now, he has to admire the way the humans banded together against a common enemy.

When the humans finally declared war – a courtesy Asgore had not expected, given the state of relations at the time – it didn't take him long to figure out that he could no longer afford to be purely reactive. If he wanted his people to be safe, he would have to take the helm. He would have to strike first, and he would have to do so decisively.

So began what essentially became a systematic purging of the entire planet, one threat at a time. It was true that humans had developed an impressive array of weapons and technology in the time the monsters had been trapped under the earth. But superior tech and numbers meant little when pitted against magic.

In Asgore's defence, his targets were always given a chance to surrender first. And many did, opting to gather in pre-determined 'safe zones', where they were then transferred to the Underground for safety until the war was finally over.

Sadly, many others didn't.

To this day, he still has nightmares about that.


 

Asgore takes a break from his story to take another sip of – by now, lukewarm – tea. You suspect, judging by the morose expression on his face, that this sudden break has more to do with his feelings of horror and shame than any real thirst.

For your part, all you can think of is your friends.

You try to imagine Sans or Undyne, fresh from the grief of losing Toriel and Frisk, issuing their ultimatum to a city of largely uncooperative humans. You picture them pleading, begging people to evacuate before it's too late. You can almost see their faces – grim, determined, shuttered – as they 'dealt' with those who wouldn't heed the warnings. Committing mass genocide at the behest of their King...

It's horrifying.

If the goal here was to endear you to Asgore, or otherwise convince you of his innocence, it's not working. There had to have been a better way – claiming incompetence is no excuse. If that's truly the way of it, then maybe he shouldn't be a King.

He may be innocent of murdering the Queen and Ambassador – you're prepared to believe that, given the tenderness in his voice when he spoke of them – but he's guilty of much worse. The fact that he lead everyone to this future through sheer ineptitude makes it all the worse.

In that moment, you hate Asgore more than you ever did as a rebel.

“So you see,” he sighs, eyes closed, the very picture of anguish. “your stories are not completely wrong. I am the architect of this dystopia – I alone bear the weight of those countless sins, by virtue of my own inadequacy. But,” his eyes open, a certain fierceness in those grey depths, “it was not I who started this story. I did not kill my own wife and child.”

He waits a moment to see if you have anything to say to that. When you make no reply, staring into the middle-distance as you process the information, he continues.

“Of course, while I set about... er, bringing the humans to heel... HAH and other anti-monster factions were not idle either. They gathered in great numbers, striking back at the more isolated monsters where they could, harrying us from the shadows and destroying our supplies. Eventually I had no choice but call everyone here to the base of Mt. Ebott, for their own protection – such was the birth of New New Home.”

He stands suddenly, crossing to the window to look upon the mountain under it's blanket of stars. His broad hands clasp behind his back, and his voice dips to a more sombre timbre.

“Here we are still. And in the shadows, our enemy continues to nip at our heels.” He glances over his shoulder at you, a meaningful look in his eye. “'The resistance', or so they call themselves these days.”

It's too much. You feel the words burning up your oesophagus before you have time to check them.

“Are you trying to tell me the rebels are just... just remnants of this vile hate group?” you demand, furious. “Are you telling me I lived my whole life fighting for a fascist vendetta?”

“Of course not,” Asgore says soothingly, turning back to survey the scenery beyond the window. “Many rebels are humans who got caught up in anti-monster sentiment after the start of the war... and that is entirely my fault. Though often embellished, the insurgents' reasons for fighting aren't exactly unfounded.”

You fall silent. There are still so many unanswered questions... You don't even know where to start.

“You said you sent the humans to the Underground 'until the end of the war'...” you say slowly, after several minutes of silence have passed. “Why are so many of them still there? Why can they only come out if they're warded? Why do they need to be chipped if they do get warded? Why-,”

“Patience, child.” Asgore finally turns away from the window and comes back over to his chair, resting his ponderous paws on the backrest. “I will answer your questions, but please – one at a time.”

There's a pause while he gathers his wits, great shaggy head bent in contemplation.

“When the war finally drew to a close we – that is, I – tried to do things properly,” he rumbles at length. “The humans were released from the Underground and permitted to live among us as our neighbours – as equals. And things were good, for a time. Working together, we cultivated what land we could, retrieved wandering livestock, set up energy and communication networks... built New New Home into what you see before you today. I had hoped that, despite the unpleasantness of our past, it could be the beginning of a bright and glorious future...

“It was not to be. Two months after their release, a small group of humans revolted, and they did not do so quietly. They attacked in the night, slaughtered many innocent monsters in their beds... when they fled, long before the alarm could be raised, they took many valuable resources with them. I suspect they went to join the insurgents, though of course I have no proof...”

He lets out a heavy sigh – you can feel his weariness, his sorrow, in every tiny movement.

“At the time, I was willing to write it off as a one time thing. Perhaps they had been holding grudges for family members or friends who hadn't surrendered in time? I, of all people, could well understand that anger. So I let it go. But then it happened again. And again. It couldn't be allowed to continue. After the third instance, I was left little choice. I ordered the humans be confined to the Underground, and decreed that any who wanted to leave again would require both a monster to vouch for them, and a simple tracking device besides. I reasoned that someone harbouring ill-will towards monsters was unlikely to become friends with one. The chips are to impede those who are that determined...

“There haven't been any more incidents since the Ward Programme was put in place,” he finishes gently.

His soft, repentant tone disgusts you. For someone who made all these decisions in order to protect his people, he sounds awfully apologetic. Where's his sense of dignity? You may not like or agree with the things he's done – even if (and you hate to admit this) you can kind of understand why – but surely a King should take more ownership over his decisions than this?

This meek and mournful routine isn't doing it for you. Bad enough he made the decisions when he was clearly unqualified to do so, but to make them and then shy from them like a child... It's reprehensible. You suddenly know – with absolute certainty – that you can't stand another second in Asgore's presence. Not without dire consequences.

Standing abruptly, you feel a blank mask overtake your features. “I have to go.”

Spinning on your heel, you leave the room in a swish of fine fabric, dress flaring with your movement in a way that makes the moment more melodramatic than you intended.

Asgore doesn't try to stop you.

 

Chapter Text

Your first thought, when you storm through the front doors of the palace and back into the teeming courtyard, is that you need to find Sans. You need to punch him. Or hug him. Honestly, you're not sure which – your mind is so full, a million conflicting thoughts and emotions buzzing around like flies, that it could seriously go either way.

All you know for certain is that you want...

No.

You need him.

Sans is, for all intents and purposes, your closest friend in this place. Your closest friend ever, even, ironic as that is. And after what you were just told, you could really use a sounding board to bounce your frustrations off of.

Coming around the side of the stage – which is empty, the band probably off taking a break somewhere – your eyes automatically scan the crowd of revellers for a familiar white skull. It doesn't take long to find one either. Just not – sadly – the one you were looking for.

Papyrus and Undyne are – as you might have guessed – commanding everybody's attention on the dance floor. They appear to have somehow set up an impromptu game of limbo, using what looks to be two spines for the posts and one of Undyne's spears as a pole. A large gathering of onlookers cheer as the two go head-to-head, challenging each other's flexibility to the absolute limits. Already the pole is scarcely a foot off the floor, and you can tell poor Pap is sweating as he tries to carefully manoeuvre himself underneath it.

Absorbed in the proceedings, you momentarily forget your inner turmoil, and when Papyrus suddenly looses his balance and topples completely onto his back – dislodging the pole in the process – you can't help but giggle along with the others.

You don't notice Grillby approach from the buffet tables to your left until he's already upon you.

“Good evening, Vira,” he says as he draws near, startling your attention from the limbo game (which seems to quickly be turning into a sparring match). He hands you a plastic cup with a nod, adding by way of explanation, “You looked like you could use this.”

A cursory sniff reveals the contents to be some kind of wine – fruity, but with a darker undertone. You're not a particular fan of wine, but you take a sip anyway to be polite. Strangely, it does actually make you feel better.

Magic, you decide.

“Thanks,” you sigh.

“Hard night?”

You feel your nose wrinkle, a wry smile stretching your lips. “That obvious, huh?”

“Not really,” he smiles (er... you think). “I'm just very perceptive.”

“Liar.”

He shrugs. “You want to talk about it?”

“Not really.” You offer him a crooked grin. “No offence.”

Grillby is an alright guy, really. You've gotten to know him a little, in the copious amount of time you've spent at his bar. Polite to a fault, chivalrous, prone to quietness, but kind – so kind... A real good apple. A good friend even, you might venture to say. You know you could probably tell him anything, and he would listen with an open mind.

But this is something you simply don't want to get into with him. There is only one guy you want to talk to about any of this shit, and unfortunately for you, he's currently M.I.A.

“None taken,” Grillby assures you smoothly. Subtly changing the subject, he makes a show of looking you up and down briefly. “May I say, you're looking exceptionally lovely this evening.”

Immediately, your cheeks start to burn with embarrassment – though you'd be lying if you said you weren't just a little bit pleased too.

“Th-thanks,” you stutter, feeling like a damn fool for getting so worked up over a simple compliment. “You too.”

And he does as well. You hadn't noticed at first, because you were so used to seeing Grillby dressed smartly all the time anyway, but now that you're paying attention you see that he's switched things up a little. Instead of his white shirt and black trousers, with matching waistcoat, sleeve-holders and bow-tie ensemble – which is the standard outfit he wears around the bar – he'd donned a black shirt and red dress tie, with grey trousers and suit jacket. A red pocket square completes the look, and you have to admit the final result is aesthetically pleasing.

“Red's a good colour on you,” you add in a self-conscious murmur.

He chuckles good-naturedly. “Thank you.”

You clear your throat awkwardly, glancing away to watch the band file back on stage at last – in the middle of the courtyard, Undyne appears to have captured Papyrus in a headlock. She sheepishly lets go when the instruments start up, laying down an upbeat rhythm for the singer who quickly launches into an enthusiastic song about the joy of dancing.

You turn back to Grillby slowly, thinking perhaps it's time you made your excuses before you humiliate yourself further, but stop short when he holds out one blazing palm.

“Would you honour me with a dance?” he asks in that typical charming way of his.

Stunned, you almost forget to respond.

 

“I-I... er, that is... I, uh, don't... know how to dance...” Not properly at least. Oh, you can certainly hold your own at DDR these days – though Sans still consistently beats you for some reason – but that was different. That was real dancing about as much as Mario Kart was real kart racing.

You drain the last of your wine, desperate to avoid Grillby's gaze.

“That won't be a problem.” He plucks the empty cup from you and incinerates it to nothingness, then gently takes your hand in his and starts guiding you towards the dance floor. “I'm an excellent lead.”

You try to resist – leaning away and making some garbled excuse about wanting to find Sans – but these damn heels! It's a challenge to even walk in them, let alone run, and you're so afraid of tripping and making a complete fool of yourself that even Grillby's light tugging is more than enough leverage to steer you.

Once he's got you where he wants you, Grillby releases his grip and motions for you watch him. You do so, feeling out of place among the other dancers and rubbing your right arm awkwardly with your left hand as he taps out a few simple steps for you to follow. You notice how he balances on the balls of his feet, how his arms sway gracefully in time with his light movements – forward then back, again and again, the whole motion appearing fluid and springy and really quite beautiful.

It doesn't take long at all for you to become entranced.

It's not until he clears his throat (does he even have one of those?) that you realise he wants you to copy.

Stiffly, feeling completely stupid, you try to mimic Grillby's smooth movements. As was only to be expected, you're clumsy and inelegant, fumbling through the basic steps with all the poise of a three-legged elephant. You feel your cheeks warm and you abruptly give up, turning to slink off to the sidelines.

Grillby, however, has other plans.

He grabs at your fingers before you can get too far and tugs you back over, never breaking tempo, guiding you now with both hands. His hips sway smoothly with the rhythm, and – figuring it would draw more unwanted attention at this point to struggle than to simply go along with it – you try once more to imitate the steps he makes look so natural.

It's easier with him directing you like this, and while your moves are still unpolished and amateurish compared with his, you slowly begin to relax. Before you know it you're actually having fun, feet naturally finding the patterns in the music and following them of their own accord. Again, still crude next to the fire elemental, but the longer you dance the less it feels like it matters.

The song ends, and when it does you realise you're smiling. You think Grillby might be smiling too, but of course you can't tell for certain.

“That was... I, uh... ah, thanks.” You stare at your feet, a little bashful.

“My pleasure,” Grillbz responds, amusement in his voice. “You know, I never did thank you for that new jukebox.”

You can't help but chuckle wryly. “That's what this was about? Thanking me for a present I gave you months ago?”

“Not at all. The dance was more for my sake,” he says, tilting his head in what you think might be his version of a wink. “Dancing with such a pretty young lady has made me the envy of everyone here.”

God, if your cheeks got any hotter they might burst into flame. Which would be quite amusing, considering present company.

“Geez Grillbz...” You swear he's doing this just to embarrass you.

“This,” he cuts you off. “is thanks for the gift.”

Much in the same way as he had when you first met him, he takes your hand and presses a delicate kiss over the knuckles.

Feeling like you're about to implode, you stammer out a flustered, “N-no problem!”

 

Chapter Text

Dancing with Grillby was – as it turns out – exactly what the doctor ordered. You walk away from the experience feeling buoyant, flushed from both the exercise and his light-hearted teasing, much of your anger over you and Asgore's little heart-to-heart greatly – for the moment at least – diminished.

After parting ways with the flaming bartender, you go about the business of locating Sans with a much cooler head. And although your search bears little fruit – something tells you he'll only be found when he feels like it – you do get into an interesting arm-wrestling competition with Papyrus and Undyne (which you lose. Spectacularly).

You're just thinking about perhaps sampling some of the food at the buffet tables (purely out of boredom), when the lights dim dramatically and none other than Mettaton sweeps on stage. Unlike his earlier appearance, when he managed to turn a heartfelt speech about Mourning Day into a shameless plug for his latest movie, he doesn't look like a calculator. This time he's in the body you're more accustomed to – sleek and humanoid, all shiny chrome and hot pink fibreglass.

“Good evening, my lovelies!” he exclaims, taking a deep and – in your opinion – totally unnecessary bow. “Let's have another round of applause for our fabulous opening act, Marni and the Sapphires!”

Opening act? Does that mean he's the main attraction? Jeez, who's bright idea was that?

And are those... rose petals?

Mettaton gives the barest of pauses for said applause, before immediately filling the night air with his grating voice once more. You notice the band – Marni and the Sapphires, you suppose – exchange meaningful looks as they filter off stage. They don't seem angry or put out, but rather vaguely fond and tolerant – you guess they must be used to the robot's eccentricities.

“Yes, yes, they were wonderful. I expect no less from my wards.” Ah. That explains that then. Strange as it seems, the humans of the group must (somehow) be Mettaton's friends. “Now, before I dazzle you all with my set, I'd like to take the opportunity to get real here for a moment.”

Aaaand that's your cue to leave, you think, rolling your eyes. You'd already endured one of his speeches today – you've no intention of suffering a second.

While Mettaton settles into his groove - one thing you've learned about the irritating actor is that he has a particular penchant for monologues - you edge your way carefully around perimeter of the courtyard, making for the rose-decorated trellis to the east. If memory serves, it leads to the King's private garden – or so Paps told you earlier in the evening, eager as he was to impress you with his extensive knowledge of the castle grounds – and while you're not absolutely certain you're allowed in there, you know it'll at least be quiet.

After all the excitement so far, you could definitely use a little down time.

What you find when you finally pass through the floral archway – unimpeded, much to your surprise – stuns you.

The garden beyond is larger than you were expecting. Messier too – nothing like the immaculately groomed courtyard, with it's trimmed hedges and shapely topiaries and huge paved patio. There are more varieties of flower here, all growing in multiple disorganised plots, than you think you've ever seen before in your life. Many of which, you suspect, aren't even in season. From large, vibrant roses to tiny, delicate sweet-pea, exotic-looking orchids and elegant lilies, pansies, tulips, chrysanthemums...

And golden flowers. Bright yellow blooms you don't recognise and can't name, everywhere.

If there's a rhyme or reason to the design of the garden, you honestly don't see it. You'd be the first to admit you have an untrained eye when it comes to horticulture, but it looks to you as if someone has simply planted whatever has taken their fancy, wherever they've found the space. Little cobblestone paths wind away in several different directions through the blossoms, and past the brightly-coloured foliage you spy a marble fountain bubbling quietly in the centre.

Well, you have a destination now at least.

Recovering from the shock of seeing so many different flowers all in one place, you pick a path at random and walk along it slowly, marvelling every step of the way at the barely controlled chaos all around you.

It's not just flowers either, you realise after a few random turns on your chosen route. There are vegetable patches as well – again, with no conceivable logic to their arrangement that you can deduce, and some that, by all accounts, shouldn't be nearly as developed as they are. Carrots and lettuce, onions, leeks and potatoes...

And there are pumpkins.

Pumpkins. In March.

You feel your eyes glaze over in blank disbelief as you pass a patch full of the orange fruits, some larger than King Asgore's head.

Magic, you think. Has to be.

Approaching the fountain, you carefully fold the skirt of your dress underneath you and take a seat on the smooth stone rim. There are fish in the water, you see, large shimmering carp twisting around each other and making the basin look like it's lined with silver and gold. After a second of hesitation you gently run your fingers through the pool, smiling as the fish dart away from the ripples.

Heh. Cute.

Feeling strangely content, you sit there by the fountain for several long minutes, teasing the fish and admiring the blooms and thinking about not much of anything at all.

And that - this single moment of peace – proves to be the first in a long list of mistakes you would make before the evening was over.

Disgraceful.”

A voice, sharp and unkind, like the crack of a whip, breaks whatever spell had settled over you. Stunned, your head jerks up hard enough to hurt your neck – and not just because you had thought you were alone.

You know that voice. In the blink of an eye, it all comes flooding back.

The rebels.

The attack.

It's finally happening – must be unfolding at this very instant, even as you sit here playing with a bunch of fish like a fucking idiot... And with growing horror, you realise you're too far away to do anything.

In all the commotion, you had somehow forgotten – had allowed yourself to forget – the main reason you were here. Remembering feels like being doused in icy water, your chest tightening with guilt and shame and dread.

You stand, vague ideas of making a dash for the courtyard to at least scream out a warning (too little, too late, you think with a sickening twist in your gut) flooding your panicked brain.

But you know you're not going anywhere. Not if the figure before you has anything to say on the matter.

Eyes falling upon the speaker at last, you swallow, mouth suddenly dry. “D-dad.”

“Wrong,” your father replies dispassionately. “You're no daughter of mine.”

That should hurt more than it does, probably.

You hear the gunfire seconds later, followed by a cacophony of frightened screams. It takes every ounce of self-control you posses not to run towards it – you know that if you do, you'll likely find yourself with a bullet in your back. Your father is a man of few scruples; his one and only loyalty is to the cause. Being his blood will afford you no mercy.

And so, with countless terrified cries ringing in your ears, you stand your ground and bitterly think about how you should have warned Sans when you had the chance.

 

Chapter Text

For a man whose only daughter had been missing for several months, your father looks remarkably hale, you think. Clean shaven, well-fed – or as well-fed as any rebel ever got, anyway – rested and alert... The very picture of health, standing there in his immaculate black cargoes and matching Duke jacket. There's nothing of his outwards appearance to suggest he'd experienced any emotional turmoil whatsoever.

Not that you expected any different, honestly.

Your old man was a lot of things – strong, brave, a natural leader... But a devoted father, he was not. To even associate the word with him was, quite frankly, a bit of a stretch.

Ivan – or Stony as he was known by most, for his complete lack of anything resembling a sense of humour – was married to 'the cause'. It was his purpose; his whole reason for living. He needed the resistance the same way most people needed air, and as such, parenting took – had always taken – a back seat in his book. His only interest in you, growing up, had been as a tool; a pawn to be shaped and exploited to further his own agenda.

And that was... it was fine.

Really.

He'd always been this way, for as long as you can remember – you didn't need his love, or even his acceptance. Life in the resistance was hard, and often short. It didn't pay to get too close to anyone, because it was all but certain you would some day lose them – or they would lose you. It was easier to maintain a distance, even (perhaps especially) between family.

So it didn't bother you, Ivan being so cold and unloving. It's not like you could miss something you'd never had.

Until now, that is.

Right now, you could use a little sense of familial loyalty. Because now, you have to somehow convince this man to leave the monsters in peace. You have to persuade him to turn his back on everything he's ever worked towards, on everything he believes in, and you have to do it in the next five minutes.

… Who are you kidding?

You'd have better luck convincing Papyrus to eat at Grillby's.

“Dad,” you repeat softly, because it's still the only bargaining chip you have at this point. “I've got... something important to tell you...” You're sweating – you can feel it running down your back and pooling in your palms. “And I need you to listen to me.”

If he hears you at all, he does a fantastic job of pretending otherwise. His cold grey eyes bore right through you, as though he's not really seeing you at all, his muscled frame taut and alert, ready to spring into action at a moment's notice. Though undeniably weathered, his face is still moderately handsome despite the sixty-odd years to his name – the expression on it, however, is slack with something you might have mistaken for indifference, if not for the angry fists clenched at his sides.

When he makes no attempt to respond, nor even acknowledge your plea, the words start to spill past your lips of their own accord. There's so much that needs to be said, and you know you have a limited window in which to say it. You need him to listen – more than that, you need him to hear. Even as you speak, the words tripping themselves over in their bid to leave your tongue, you're acutely aware of the gunfire and shouting coming from the courtyard.

People are already fighting.

May already be dying.

If your father is ever going to understand, he has to do it quickly. You have to stop this madness.

“The monsters are people, dad. Just ordinary, flawed people – like us. The humans living with them? They're friends with them. I mean, not all of them, obviously but... Look, the warding system is just a way of making sure the humans can be trusted to live on the surface.” That sounded better in your head. You're not shocked when he continues to look unmoved. “Th-they can live however they want once they're up here though – they have jobs and families and... I'm – I'm not explaining this very well... b-b-but trust me! The monsters... they're not like how we thought they were.”

You're rambling now. It's impossible to tell if your words are having any impact at all. You kind of doubt it. Even to your own ears it sounds so ridiculous – a childish fantasy, or the mumblings of a madman. You remember Sans telling you the exact same thing, a lifetime ago now it seems – unfortunately, it doesn't sound any less crazy for all that it's true.

Abruptly, your heart sinks with the realisation that this probably isn't going to work. Your arguments are weak in the face of such hatred, your evidence paltry (or, to be more precise, non-existent). There's nothing you can offer that will so much as put a dent in your father's unflinching resolve.

You've got nothing.

But...

You can't give up. You won't. Not when the lives of so many people – the lives of your friends – are at stake. You have to stay determined – you have to give this everything you've got, no matter how hopeless it seems.

“I know how this sounds,” you say, clenching and unclenching your fingers anxiously. Looking him directly in the eyes, you infuse your voice with as much sincerity as you can. Believe me, you silently will. Please, believe me. “I didn't want to accept it at first either, but it's true. All of it. I-,”

“You've been brainwashed,” Ivan spits at last, startling you with the sheer venom in his tone. “Living with these vile creatures has robbed you of your senses!”

“No, that's-,” you try, but it's no use. He's not listening. He talks right over the top of you, drowning your reasoning with his vitriol.

“I've seen the way you act around them. Smiling. Laughing. Dancing.” He spits that last one like it tastes foul, and you realise he must have been watching for a while – waiting for some undetermined signal to launch his attack. “You've been corrupted. My own blood, a thrall – a – a plaything of the monsters! Your mother would be disgusted.”

That one... hurt more than you're willing to admit.

All things considered, you're not even that surprised when – without further preamble – Ivan pulls a gun on you. Part of you expected this – had been expecting it, from the very first instant you heard his voice. If there's any shock to be had here, it's that he didn't do it sooner.

Good ol' Stony. If you weren't on his side, you were in his way.

“She'd be turning in her grave!” You want to think that's a lie, but who knows? Maybe she would – you'd never met the woman. “You're a dishonour to her, a blemish on your species, and worst of all, a disappointment to me.”

You watch as he raises the weapon – a simple handgun, small calibre – lining it up with the centre of your chest. Your heart is pounding and you're sweating profusely – you know you have to move, run or duck or something, but you just can't make your body respond the way you want it to. You feel numb.

You...

You're going to die.

“As such,” your father continues. You see his finger slowly start to squeeze the trigger, and your mind buzzes. You feel like you might faint, fear crawling over your skin like an army of spiders. “you are mine to dispose of.”

This is it.

There's... really no way to stop this.

Instinctively, you squeeze your eyes shut tight. You feel like this moment should be more... more something. Like you should be praying, or repenting your sins, or just saying private goodbyes to your loved ones... And your mind does jump between a multitude of faces, like a montage of the things that mattered in your life. Martha and Juke and Benny and Helena, fleeting glimpses of the people you'd once thought friends before you learned what true friendship was. Papyrus and Undyne and Grillby, who'd been so good to you in spite of everything...

But always, your mind keeps returning to Sans.

In a flash you remember days spent in the arcade, or just messing about in Ebott City. Evenings eating at Grillby's, nights playing video games on the system he bought for you. Watching God-awful Mettaton movies on the couch, exchanging despairing looks when Papyrus wasn't looking and having secret popcorn-throwing wars behind the taller skeleton's back. The jokes were bad, but the laughs were good and you...

Heh.

To think you were going to die without him even knowing how much that really meant to you...

You feel hot tears pressing against your eyelids.

Then...

“vira!”

BANG!

 

Chapter Text

Several things happen in such quick succession, that they seem to occur almost simultaneously.

First, Sans simply... appears in front of you. One minute it's just you and your father and the gun, and the next – even as your eyes are opening, your body turning towards the source of that panicked cry – Sans is there. There's one skeletal hand on your shoulder, his bony phalanges strangely warm and smooth against your bare skin, while the other is thrown out behind him in your father's direction, palm splayed wide.

You hear, rather than see, your father get thrown across the garden, his heavy body crashing through the foliage and his surprised shout echoing even over the reverberations of the gunshot.

The next thing you're aware of is blood.

Blood everywhere.

It's spattered all over the front of your dress, painting vibrant roses against your clammy flesh and congealing in your hair. It's on Sans too, stark against the white of his skull and staining his nice suit...

In a moment of numb disbelief, you worry about how Papyrus is going to react when he sees what a mess you've made of Sans' good clothes.

Then you realise you've been shot.

Your father shot you.

It takes a second for that simple fact to sink in. When it does, you still have difficulty believing it.

Oddly enough, there's no pain – not yet, anyway – but you grip the front of Sans' shirt regardless, using him to steady legs that no longer feel like they can support you. You can hear your erratic heartbeat throbbing in your ears, can feel yourself beginning to shake already with fear and blood loss.

All you can think about is how you have to tell him. He needs to know how much his friendship meant to you, now, before it's too late.

“S-S-Sa-ns...” you stutter. Your lips feel big and clumsy, your tongue thick and useless in your mouth.

Sans, head still twisted in the direction he'd tossed your dad, turns back to you slowly. You notice absently that his chest is heaving, and there's sweat running down his skull, leaving tracks through the spots of blood. As ever, he's grinning, but it seems strained – tight around the edges. His eye sockets look sunken, his pupils small and dim in their depths.

At the same time you become aware of him leaning on you – heavily – transferring more and more of his weight to your shoulder, dragging you both down.

He closes one bony eyelid sluggishly. The effect is... unsettling.

“h-heh... that was... close... huh, k-kid?”

Close? What does he mean close?

There isn't time to ponder this, however, because in the next moment he collapses. Confused, you struggle under his bulk – he's not particularly heavy, really, but you're so weak yourself you can't hold him up. His dead-weight pulls you both to the ground, and as you sit there – you on your knees and Sans all but cradled in your lap – you make two important discoveries.

One, the blood covering you both is curiously un-blood-like. Too thick, too sticky, and accompanied by the tangy and distinct smell of ketchup.

And two, you still don't feel... well, anything. It doesn't hurt, doesn't even twinge, and you're no expert, but that just doesn't seem right.

A sudden suspicion grabs you, and – with mounting horror – your trembling hands skitter over Sans' limp form, patting and prodding, searching frantically.

His body feels curiously solid under your fingers. You can feel the shape of his ribs against the fabric of his clothing, but it feels like there's more... Like there's something substantial where you'd expect there to be nothing but empty space.

Your search doesn't take long.

Sure enough. Right there, just to the left of his sternum – a small... well, a small hole, you suppose, steadily leaking that viscous, ketchup-like substance.

It can't be.

Skeletons don't bleed.

… do they?

Given the wound's location – and, after probing blindly around his back for a second, the corresponding exit site – the part of your brain that isn't drowning in panic replays the event in slow motion. His toss must have thrown your father's aim slightly, you surmise; enough to change the trajectory at any rate, the bullet appearing to have entered him at a slight angle. With a surge of overwhelming nausea, you realise that's probably the only thing that saved you, since his body obviously wasn't physical enough to stop the the slug passing all the way through.

“Y-you...” you whisper, fingers reflexively burying themselves deeper in the fine cotton of his ruined shirt. “You idiot!”

“you're welcome...” he chuckles, the gesture appearing to require some effort on his part. He coughs, spraying more red across your face.

Automatically wiping your face with your hand, you blanch when your fingers come away coated in the sticky ooze.

Oh God...

You... you have to do something! You don't know if it's possible for a skeleton to bleed out, but you suppose it must be if he can bleed at all. What was it you were supposed to do with bullet wounds again? Something about pressure and elevation? Or wait, was that knife wounds?

How does one elevate a whole torso anyway?

In the end you decide that laying him flat seems like a good start, and so you do, as gently as you can. Sans grimaces at the sudden movement, a moan escaping through his gritted teeth. You apologise hastily, but don't stop. Once he's prostrate, you place both hands over the wound and press, trying to stem the flow.

When the 'blood' continues to leak out around your hands you press harder.

Sans winces. “ah-hah-hah! c-careful there... buddy.” Something occurs to him and he lets out a weak laugh. “don't... put so much... pressure... on me.”

“Stop it!” you scold, though there's no fire to your reprimand. “This isn't funny!” Then softly, because if he's well enough to joke that must mean he's going to be alright, you add, “and that joke was terrible...”

“c-can't... win 'em all...”

After a few silent seconds, you lift your hands to see if your ministrations are having any effect at all.

They come away dusty.

It takes a full minute for the significance of what you're seeing to register. Once it does, you have to try very, very hard not to immediately throw up.

“No.” Eyes wide, you feel the blood draining from your face. “No, no, no, no, no...”

This isn't happening.

Seeing your distress, Sans follows your line of sight. He doesn't seem all that surprised.

“'s just... my luck... h-heh, heh...” Sans' wheezes. “jus' when... i thought... 'n... now...”

No!” you hear yourself shout, grabbing his shoulders and giving him an angry shake. There's a tinny ringing in your ears – you have to yell your next words to be heard over the top of it. “Don't you dare, Sans – you hear me?! Don't you fucking dare!”

But it's already too late. His body is disintegrating beneath your palms even as you watch, bones crumbling into a fine powder as his life begins to drain away. If there's a way to stop this, you don't know how. Your heart thuds painfully with the knowledge that he's dying, and the ringing gets louder.

Sans is going to die.

And there is nothing you can do about it.

All the spontaneous fury burning in your chest ebbs away, replaced by cold dread and a feeling of utter helplessness. Dimly, you're aware of your father dragging himself to his feet somewhere past the fountain. Once he's gathered himself, he'll be coming back to finish what he started.

You don't care. Right now, Sans is the only thing that matters.

“Please...” you say, voice thick with emotion. You're crying now, warm tears rolling down your cheeks and dripping onto his face. You're not sure when it started. “Please don't do this... th-think of Papyrus... he needs you...” You rest your forehead against his skull, ignoring how fragile it suddenly feels – like the slightest increase in pressure could crack him wide open. “I need you...” you whisper.

And it's true. You don't know how it happened, or when, but you need him. You need him to keep taking you to Grillby's and kicking your ass at video games. You need him to tell you awful jokes, and to drink ketchup like the heathen he is, and to rile up Papyrus, and, and...

You just need him to live. The thought of losing him... especially like this...

It's unbearable.

Your breath hitches as a broken sob claws its way up your throat. Openly weeping, you wrap as much of him in your arms as you can without being too rough – as if you can hold him to the mortal plane by sheer force of will alone. “Don't go, Sans. Please...”

“s-sorry... kiddo...” His words are so faint, you almost don't catch them. “go... to... alphys...”

And then...

His body evaporates in a cloud of ketchup-scented dust.

 

Chapter Text

There's dust everywhere.

It's in your hair, your eyes, all over your tear-stained face and ketchup-coated hands. For as long as you live – and it doesn't look like that's going to be too much longer, your father having recovered his wits enough to start making his way over to you, full of purpose – you don't think you'll ever forget the silky feel of monster dust (Sans' dust) sliding through your fingers.

He's gone.

He's really gone.

Or rather, mostly gone.

The process of Sans' – perhaps unavoidable – death hasn't quite drawn to a close just yet. For there, above the empty clothes that once housed his skeletal body, a white, inverted heart hovers serenely in place. His soul, you presume. It casts an ethereal light over your puffy face, warm and somehow soothing. Like a hand caressing your cheek.

So beautiful.

Absently, without really knowing why, you reach out to touch it. The instant your fingers brush it's surface – gently, oh-so gently – you're infused with a feeling that is so familiar, so absolutely, tangibly Sans, that your eyes start to fill all over again. The urge to grab the delicate little heart and pull it close, to cradle it in your palms and never let go, is overwhelming.

Then it too shatters into a million tiny pieces.

Your hands, cold and trembling, drop limply back to your sides.

What are you supposed to do now?

As you stare at the ashy remains of your kidnapper and friend – already blowing away in the breeze even as you sit there, numb with shock – you become distantly aware of your father shouting. His face is a mask of fury, his pristine clothing now smeared with mud and garden debris. It sounds like he's at the other end of a long tunnel, his words dull and tinny; meaningless. So much white noise, compared to the roaring in your ears.

From your peripheral vision you see him raise the gun, moonlight glinting off the cold metal menacingly. It occurs to you, once more, that you should probably move out of the way – but then, if you had done that in the first place instead of standing there like a moron...

Sans would still be alive.

The thought sends a sharp pain through your chest, and you feel the determination drain right out of you. God, this is your fault, isn't it? If you had dodged, Sans wouldn't have needed to... But no, this goes way beyond a mere lack of basic survival instinct. Your inaction had started well before Mourning Day, hadn't it?

With the gun now trained somewhere in the vicinity of your forehead, you give up all pretence of escape. Even if you'd had enough will left to try, your limbs feel heavy and useless. And where would you go, anyway, that a bullet couldn't follow?

This time, you don't even shut your eyes.

But the gunshot never comes.

Just when you think you're about to draw your last breath, Ivan's eyes flick over your shoulder. He has precisely one millisecond, enough to time to widen his eyes in panic, before a familiar blue spear arcs across the garden from somewhere behind you. Attention caught by the flash of colour, your eyes follow it's journey as it pierces Ivan's right calf. It dissipates immediately upon contact, leaving a ragged wound that spurts bright, nauseating red all over the delicate petals of the snowdrops he's standing in.

The scream that issues from his mouth is blood-curdling.

“DROP YOUR WEAPON!” Undyne roars, somewhat pointlessly – the gun had slipped from his grip almost the same instant her attack found it's mark.

Things happen quickly after that – a blur of sound and colour that sweeps over and around you, like water parting around a stone. Ivan is, in due course, taken away by a couple of armoured dogs from the Royal Guard, though in your daze you'd be hard pressed to say which ones. He shouts and swears, struggling and fighting every step of the way, but eventually he's herded out into the courtyard with his arms secured behind his back.

Where he'll be taken from there... you don't bother to ask.

Undyne, once she notices the dust everywhere and Sans' empty clothes, tries to pry you away from the scene with what, for her, is probably considerable tact. She grips your upper arms with enough force to bruise and shakes you gently (though 'gently' in her case is still hard enough to rattle your teeth in your mouth), murmuring awkward words of reassurance and comfort. But every time she tries to get you to your feet you steadfastly refuse.

You can't leave.

Not yet.

If you leave this place, you'll have to wake up – return to reality and face the future, a future that, thanks to you, won't have Sans in it. That's a terrible enough thought all by itself – you and Sans had grown close (closer, perhaps, than you had even realised) and you feel the pain and guilt of his loss as acutely as a knife in the heart – but the very idea of going out there, of leaving him behind, is unendurable. In here, there's still something left of him, even if it's just the clinging ash and ketchup-y blood.

If you leave, all of this becomes real. And you're not ready for it to be real just yet.

In the end, it's Papyrus who convinces you to get up.

The expression on his face when he approaches you is... unspeakable. He's clearly been crying, the faded orange stains on his cheekbones as obvious as they are awful, though by the time he kneels in front of you his eye sockets are more or less dry and his voice – barring a slight hoarseness – is even and calm.

“Vira.” He's so quiet. Why do you get the feeling he'll never be the same after this? “I think we should go home now.”

Holding Sans' ruined clothing tight to your chest, you stare at the taller skeleton brother uncomprehendingly. 'Go home'? The thought makes you feel sick.

“Sans would not...” Papyrus pauses, a look of such pain twisting his features that you almost burst into tears again right there. “My brother would not want us to linger here.”

What Sans would have wanted hardly matters any more, does it?

But you resist saying so, and instead take his proffered hand, allowing him to help you to your feet. You haven't let go of the clothes, and Papyrus doesn't try to make you – you're grateful for that.

Following him past the sympathetic faces of several Royal Guards, you try to imagine what life is going to be like now. How it's going to feel, walking into that house where Sans' presence still very much persists – his smile peering down at you from the photos on the walls, his jokes in your head every time you open the fridge to see his stash of ketchup untouched... You'll probably never be able to play the game console he got you again – you know without having to try that it'll hurt to much. And his room... will you even be able to go to sleep, surrounded by his remnants?

And what to the future?

He'd told you, with his last breath, to go to Alphys. Probably so his dream of changing the future could still be realised. That would probably bring him back too, right? Which was great, but...

You're not stupid. You know setting back the clock forty years will change things – especially if Sans achieves his goal and manages to keep the Queen and Ambassador alive. It would be years before you were even born again, and when you were, you might not remember any of this. You'd never get the chance to tell him you were sorry, to tell him...

No.

Stopping short, you curl your hands into fists at your sides. Papyrus looks back at you, confused and tired and so, so sad, but that just makes your anger burn brighter.

This was unacceptable. All of it. Sans being dead, Papyrus being ruined – you, having to face such an enormous undertaking alone.

It was wrong.

Closing your eyes tight, you muster every scrap of determination you have left and you refuse it.

You refuse.

 

Chapter Text

When you open your eyes again, it's to an achingly familiar scene.

Once more you find yourself beside the fountain, in the exact same spot where you had held Sans as he died. The distant sounds of gunfire and panic fill your ears, and your dad – unfettered and uninjured – stands opposite you with that cold, pitiless expression on his face. There's something expectant about the dead air between you, and you suddenly feel like an actress who's forgotten her lines – like there's something you're supposed to say, but the words just won't come. A fleeting glance at your feet reveals clean cobbles, unmarred by dust or ketchup – your hands, when you shakily raise them to your face, are spotless too.

It's like none of it ever happened.

To your credit, you catch on quickly. You remember Sans telling you, a long time ago now it seems, that human magic had the potential to turn back time. You recall him saying that, while you were the most Determined human he had come across in a while, you would still be lucky to manage resetting just one year – never mind forty.

An hour, on the other hand...

That, apparently, you could do.

It's like none of it ever happened because – as of this precise moment – none of it has.

Or had.

Or will...?

Whatever.

The point is, you have – somehow – undone Sans' death.

You're just coming to this giddy conclusion when Ivan – tired of waiting for you to take your turn in a conversation you know, quite literally, to be futile – speaks up, abruptly snapping your attention back to him. And perhaps it's just because the memory of Sans' dust slipping through your fingers is still so fresh, but you fancy you can see the killing-intent as plain as the light of day on his face.

How? you wonder, studying him with narrow-eyed caution. How had you ever thought it possible to reason with him?

“Nothing to say, monster-lover?” The slur, such as it is, barely registers – you're too focused on his hand, watching as he reaches into the back of his cargoes for the gun you now know he has. “Then die. Die with dignity.”

There's no hesitation this time. Knowing what's at stake, what could – and already did – happen, you take off full pelt in the opposite direction, back towards the courtyard and (you hope) relative safety. Unfortunately, in all the ensuing chaos of that first timeline you've forgotten one very important detail – that being that heels are woefully unsuited to running, in any sense of the word.

Thus impeded, your progress is slow and precarious. You try to compensate by throwing in a few erratic zigzags, but it's largely a token gesture – it becomes quickly apparent that, unless a miracle transpires (and quickly) you're probably going to get shot for real this time.

It's as you're dodging around a plot of particularly vibrant begonias that Sans – alive and, for the moment at least, well – appears, popping into existence about thirty yards ahead and to the right. The sight fills you with such relief that, were you not currently running for your life, you're sure you would collapse from the joy of it. Unable to help yourself, you let out a little cry of delight and immediately change course to head straight for him.

BANG!

“Oh, f-fuck!” You force your feet to go double time, even despite how awkward it is with the heels on. The bullet didn't hit you, but you know you won't be so lucky next time. “Get down!” you yell at Sans, because you'll be fucking damned if you let him die this time.

It would seem he doesn't hear you, however, as he continues to stand there like a deer in the headlights. His sockets are wide – wider than usual, you think – and his eye lights are bright and afraid as he takes in the scene before him. Where normally you'd expect to see a wide, roguish grin, there's an anxious grimace, and despite being made of bone, you think he looks a little pale...

For all that, you don't think you've ever seen a more welcome sight in all your life.

“vira...?” He sounds shaken.

“Sans!” you scream. “Get down!”

Still running, you bodily throw yourself at him. Then-,

BANG!

Something else to wonder at: how could you possibly have thought, for even a second, that you'd been shot last time?

The pain of actually getting shot, you quickly discover, is something no amount of shock could hope to mitigate. It's like being struck with a red-hot sledgehammer, the sheer force of the impact enough to rip the breath from your lungs, oxygen expelling from you like air from a burst balloon. Blinding agony erupts across your shoulder, burning and throbbing and stabbing and nauseating all at once. Already mid-dive, you're thrown into Sans, both of you slamming into the ground hard enough to rattle your brains in your respective skulls.

Dazed and winded, you nonetheless waste not a moment in wrapping your arms around Sans' scrawny neck, shifting until you're covering as much of his small frame with your own body as you can. He feels so fragile, you think through the gut-churning torment quickly spreading over your entire left side. Was he always this delicate? Or is it just because you now know what he feels like crumbling away beneath your hands?

Automatically tightening your grip, you cradle his cranium protectively against your chest. Eyes screwed shut against the warmth of tears, you pant a fierce promise to yourself through gritted teeth.

“N-not... this... t-time!”

Sans wriggles beneath you, jostling your wound and sending angry red stars across your vision. It's frankly a miracle you don't vomit then and there. You squeeze him harder, partly to halt his movement and partly because you're just so glad he's alive – your cheeks feel wet.

“Stop it,” you wheeze. “Gonna hurl...”

“get off me!” You almost laugh – if only he knew what would happen if you did.

“Over my... d-dead... body!”

God, you really hope that's not going to be literal. Behind you, the distinct sound of heavy boots stomping through plant life signals Ivan's approach – it's entirely possible he's talking, but you can't discern the words over the roaring in your ears and Sans' frantic protests beneath you.

A little longer. You just need to stall him a little longer, and then Undyne will come and save you like before.

She'll save you both this time.

“seriously vira, let go!” Sans protests. His hands are on your arms, trying to tug them free from around his neck. “let go or we're both dead!”

You're pretty sure that, even at point blank range, there's next to no chance Sans will get hurt with you covering him like this. Not with a calibre as small as the one Ivan has. There's more substance to you, with all your fleshy bits, than there is to a skeleton after all – the bullet will probably get lodged... somewhere.

Oh man... Another wave of nausea sweeps you at the thought.

“... won't... let you... die...” you moan, sucking in deep breaths of earthy air through your nose.

You're determined. You'll keep him alive no matter what, because the alternative (a snapshot image of Papyrus, sombre and quiet and broken, flickers through your head) is intolerable.

“i can't teleport like this!” Sans cries, still struggling to hoist you off him. “you need to get up!”

Oh. Heh. Teleporting away would be a useful thing to do, wouldn't it?

At this point, however, getting up is utterly beyond you. The only thing still anchoring you to consciousness at all is your hold on Sans' neck, and even then, you note, ears ringing and vision going black around the edges, not very securely at that.

Strangely, you're not afraid. Not even a little.

Turning your head slightly so that your cheek is resting against the top of his skull, you summon the last of your strength.

“H-hey... Sans...?” He stills and you know he's listening. If these are going to be your final moments, there's something important you have to tell him before you go. “I'm... s-so-rry...”

And then, almost as if it were waiting politely for you to finish up that little bit of business, the darkness swarms in to claim you. The last thing you register, before completely surrendering to it's comforting embrace, is a flash of blue and a familiar voice.

“DROP YOUR WEAPON!”

 

Chapter Text

Your first awakening is not actually that unpleasant, all things considered. A quick 'in and out' affair, awareness returning just long enough to catch a snippet of conversation that – out of context – makes absolutely zero sense.

“... surgery... get to keep...”

“that's... any idea how...”

“... days...”

While the words are just that – random words – the deep timbre of that second voice soothes your soul like a balm. As confused and disoriented as you are, you feel an underlying sense of peace, of safety, and when you sink back into the depths of slumber it's like relaxing into the embrace of an old friend.


 

Your second foray into consciousness is much less tranquil.

It's a gradual thing, like floating to the top of a very deep pool. Sound comes first – a familiar beeping; gentle snores; the quiet tap, tap, tap of feet passing somewhere nearby – followed quickly by scent – antiseptic, iron, stale sick... ketchup? The last to return is sight, and that's where everything goes horribly wrong.

The light streaming into the room turns the back of your eyelids a bright, head-ache inducing orange, and it's for this reason alone that you bother to open your eyes at all. You regret it instantly. What little you can discern beyond your heavy lids is fuzzy and indistinct, a sickening blur of shapes and colour. You immediately close them again, tightly.

Ugh...

“kid?”

Sans? You turn towards his voice blindly.

“hey kiddo... i'm here.” A skeletal hand comes to rest on your clammy forehead – it's so cool and comforting, you can't help but lean into it. “you're alright...”

Are you? The longer you're awake, the more aware you become of the various complaints across your body. Your head is pounding, your mouth and throat are dry as paper, and there's a heavy, biting ache spreading across your back from your left shoulder.

'Alright' is the very last thing you feel.

Gradually, your ears pick up on a high pitched whine, a weak but shrill sound that stabs at your already splitting headache. You only realise it's you when Sans calls for assistance.

“hey! hey, somebody – can we get some help in here?”

Hurried feet, followed by a soft, saccharine voice – you can't hear their words over the wail of your own distress, but you feel it when they lay their plump hands on you. A second later you feel the scratch of a needle enter your arm.

Whatever they inject you with pulls you back into the abyss so quickly and efficiently, you don't even notice.


 

Third time's the charm, as they say, and while you wake up feeling groggy and sore pretty much across the board, your thoughts are moderately coherent.

You're in hospital – as well you might have guessed – and while you slowly struggle into something resembling an upright position, you reflect idly that you've spent more time getting medical treatment since meeting Sans than in the last four years of your life combined.

That observation naturally leads to thoughts of the skeleton himself, and it's with chilling clarity that you abruptly recall being covered in his dust. Shivering, you absently rub your hands together – in your mind's eye it's like the grains are still there, clinging to your skin and getting in between your fingers.

Dust... so insubstantial, to be the only remains of someone you had once believed so durable.

“oh, hey. you're awake.”

You turn in time to see the object of your dark meanderings enter via the open door. Outside, the corridor is full of bustling medical staff and visitors – the nurse's station, by no accident you're sure, is right across the hall, and there seems to be a meeting of some kind taking place. Now that your attention has been drawn to it, you realise it's actually quite noisy out there.

Sans kicks the door shut with his foot.

“how're ya doin' bud?” he asks, approaching the bed and taking a sip from the coffee cup clutched in his right hand. His other hand is buried in the pocket of his trademark blue hoodie, which looks strange to you for a second since the last time you saw him he was dressed in full party regalia. “feelin' up to shootin' the breeze with me?”

Despite how sensitive you feel, how tender both physically and emotionally, you manage a weak scowl. Trust Sans to make puns at a time like this.

“Too soon.” God, your voice is hoarse. You sound like you've swallowed a frog.

“heh, sorry.” He drains the last of his coffee and tosses the empty cup in the bin labelled 'domestic waste'. “guess that one misfired.”

“Stop, please,” you groan. You're smiling a little regardless, though you try to hide the expression in the neckline of your theatre gown. “I can't escape like this.”

Sans winks. “exactly.”

The pair of you share a chuckle, and while he's distracted you take the opportunity to give him a quick once over. He seems to be in good health, from what you can tell. There are bags under his eye sockets, and his laughter is a little forced, but otherwise he appears to be fine.

He's fine, you reiterate to yourself.

Too late.

You feel the tears sliding down your cheeks before you hear the sob wrench itself free of your chest, and when Sans looks up – alarmed – his concerned expression only makes you wail harder.

“hey! hey, hey, hey, hey, hey – what's wrong?” He's by your side in three quick strides, bony fingers reaching for your limp hand. “my jokes aren't that bad!”

“N-no... 's not th-that...” This is ridiculous. You're crying so hard you've started hiccuping. “'s j-just... 's just...!”

Nope.

The words won't come. How do you tell someone that you watched them die? Held their ketchup-soaked ash as their soul shattered into nothingness? How do you even begin to explain that it was your fault? The whole business of Resetting and bringing him back... that was the easy bit. You know he'll have no trouble believing that – understanding it – because after all, he was the one who told you about it in the first place.

It's everything else you're worried about.

Mostly though, you're just... relieved.

Okay yes, you've got some serious explaining to do, and you're under no illusions – Sans is probably gonna be pissed. Plus there's still the little matter of what happened to the rest of the Mourning Day revellers to consider – somehow you doubt you're the only one who got hurt in all the pandemonium. And no matter who ultimately won the skirmish, you're in the unique position of having lost either way...

But still, you're so glad. Because whatever else happens, Sans is alive.

On a whim, you grab hold of his hand – still awkwardly patting your own – and pull. Startled, he follows the movement without objection, and when he gets close enough, you tangle your other hand (which is heavy and achy and difficult to manoeuvre, being attached to the shoulder you got shot in) in the front of his hoodie.

You yank him onto the bed beside you in short order, and are just as surprised as he is when you manage to do so without much difficulty – you'd never noticed before, but Sans (despite his apparent girth) is actually astoundingly light. Which of course reminds you of just how fragile he is and sets you to blubbering all over again.

“uh...”

Seemingly at a loss for words, he lays limp in your arms – which you now have secured around him as best as you're able – stiff and uncertain how to react. You tighten your hold in response, pressing your cheek to the top of his head fiercely as the tears continue to fall.

After a while he adjusts his weight, settling beside you more comfortably. He doesn't say anything, and neither do you, and eventually you fall into a deep dreamless sleep, safe in the knowledge that Sans will be there – alive – when you awaken.

 

Chapter Text

Surprisingly – or perhaps not so surprisingly, given who you're dealing with – Sans is still curled up in your arms when next you open your eyes. As a matter of fact, not only is he still there, he has actually fallen asleep; his soft snores tickle your collarbone and his arms (mercifully padded by the thickness of his hoodie) are wrapped around your middle with startling strength.

While you know you have no right, considering it was you who instigated this impromptu... session, you rapidly trip through a whole spectrum of emotions before abruptly landing on embarrassed.

God, he must think you're nuts.

For all that you and Sans were close these days, there had never been much physical contact between the two of you. Not because your friendship didn't allow for that kind of thing – you're sure he wouldn't have complained if you'd suddenly expressed the desire for a hug one day – but rather because neither of you were the touchy-feely type to begin with.

Or at least, you weren't. You suppose you're not really qualified to say whether Sans is or not. Maybe he did like some physical affection, but was too shy or (more likely) lazy to initiate it?

A thought occurs and you redden in abject humiliation. What if it wasn't a matter of being 'too lazy' at all, but rather he just didn't want to? Had you actually made him uncomfortable with your psychotic meltdown? Did he fall asleep to escape the awkwardness?

Mind in overdrive, you feel yourself start to stiffen in panic. Carefully, you loosen your arms from around his torso, trying to think of a way extricate yourself and spare the both of you further mortification before he inevitably wakes up.

Short of shoving him off the bed, nothing comes to mind.

“hey.” A sleepy mumble interrupts your cresting anxiety. “'s hard t' sleep when your thoughts are so loud...”

“H-huh?”

“mm...” Propping his chin on your chest so he can look you in the eye, he treats you to an amused grin. “i can practically hear you overthinking there. stop it. y' had a hard day an' ya needed a hug – nothin' to be ashamed of.”

“Th-thanks?” You feel the need to apologise for your behaviour anyway, and rush to do so while looking everywhere but directly at him. “Listen, I'm uh... I'm sorry I... y'know... accosted you like that. I just-,”

“i said it's fine,” he interrupts – you can hear the laughter in his voice and impossibly, your cheeks burn brighter. “you're actually pretty comfy – all soft an' squishy. best nap i've had in years.”

That makes you snort a little, which you think was probably the point.

Jeez. What a dork.

“Glad I could be of service.”

He chuckles and a companionable silence falls between you. Embarrassment aside, you really are glad he stuck around – stupid as it sounds, part of you worries that if you let him out of your sight, you might just find yourself back in that first timeline. It's a sobering thought.

“hey, so, uh... you gonna let go any time soon?” He nudges your arms for emphasis, still loosely draped around his small form. “not that i'm complainin', but visitin' hour's soon and we got a few things to... um... address first.”

“Oh, uh... s-sure.” You flinch away from him as though burned. “Sorry!”

“heh, it's cool.” He climbs down from the bed and situates himself in the chair beside you, before meeting your gaze with a speculative smile. “so. i died, huh?”

He says it so candidly, the way he might comment on the weather or something – smooth and indifferent. You recoil as though you've been punched in the stomach, and for a second it feels like you have. There's something so inherently wrong with hearing Sans talk about his own death like that, in the same manner someone asks about the results of a sports game. The weird disconnect makes your stomach churn.

“You... remember?” you ask, somewhat breathlessly.

Now it's his turn to look embarrassed. “um... no. not exactly. it was kind of a... a lucky guess?”

Nope. You're so not buying that bullshit. When you tell him so, he rubs at the vertebrae in his neck sheepishly.

“well... apart from your sudden clinginess-,” You have the decency to grimace at that. “i kinda got this... uh...” He studies you seriously for a second, then lets out a heavy sigh. “okay, full disclosure? i don't remember time shifts so much as i... sense them, i guess? kinda like deja vu.” You stare at him as the gears in your head turn slowly, rusted with sleep and pain medication. “it's stronger and more obvious if there's a big difference between consecutive timelines – like me dying and then not dying,” he adds helpfully.

“Wait, wait, wait.” This had the potential to get really confusing, really fast. You wanted to check all your bases before you fell down the rabbit hole any further. “Time shifts? You mean this has happened before?”

“more times than you can even begin to imagine, sweetheart,” he says darkly. You blink. Sweetheart? “the ambassador – that is, frisk – had all but mastered the ability by the time they died.”

“Going by your tone,” you mull perceptively, “that wasn't a good thing?”

“not all the time, no,” he allows.

“Why not?”

Sans raises a non-existent eyebrow. “y' mean apart from being trapped in a never ending time loop? let's just say the kid made some... interesting choices at times.”

That sounded like a subject you really didn't want to broach.

“Point taken.” You realise the two of you have gotten away from the original subject and, reluctantly, you try to get the conversation back on track. “To answer your question – yes, you died.”

“wanna talk about it?”

You give him a look. “About as much as I want to be clubbed to death, thanks,” you say sarcastically.

“hey, you train with undyne – sometimes i wonder.”

You'll give him that one.

The two of you lapse, once more, into silence. You're thinking things over, filing away what little information you've gained today for later perusal. You'd kinda figured Sans didn't remember the first timeline when he came barrelling into the King's garden for round two, despite having been murdered there before. No one who remembered that kind of thing was that eager to take another crack at it.

A thought occurs, one that stops your distracted pondering in it's tracks.

“Sans?”

“mm?”

“If you can't properly remember when time has been tampered with... how, exactly, do you plan on changing the future if I manage to set it back forty years?”

A beat.

“ah, that's-,”

“HUMAN! THE GREAT PAPYRUS IS FOREVER IN YOUR DEBT!”

“Welcome back to the land of the living, nerd!”

Whatever Sans was going to say is lost to the whirlwind of chaos that is Papyrus and Undyne.

 

Chapter Text

Thank God Paps and Undyne came in when they did.

Your question, released into the sterile air like a suspicious bird, had taken Sans quite by surprise – so damn perceptive, and always at the least opportune moments too. Then again, that was one of the things he liked best about you. Such a sharp mind hidden behind those pretty eyes. You were nothing like the insipid zealot he'd been expecting when he first took you on as a ward.

Then again, maybe it would make all of this easier if you were.

With Papyrus and Undyne thoroughly monopolizing your attention, Sans takes some much needed down time to come up with a suitable response. He'd known it was only a matter of time before you touched on something big – something he can't tell you. He only wishes he'd been a little more prepared for it.

Sighing into the collar of his hoodie, he allows himself to fade into the background as you're buried beneath a veritable avalanche of boisterous – but well-meaning – hugs.

It's been... a rough few days, honestly. Dying always took it out of him – which was, when he thought about it, a really depressing thing to have to admit. And then with you getting injured and needing surgery... It was safe to say his nerves were (heh) shot.

Sans had, of course, known right away that a Load had occurred – while he hadn't lied about his ability (or lack there of) to remember Resets and the like, he had underplayed things a bit. It was true that he 'remembered' mostly via deja vu (and nightmares) but he'd neglected to impress upon you the actual strength of the feeling. It was less deja vu, really, than the absolute conviction that he had done this before.

But he hadn't – wouldn't – mention that, because he didn't want you asking searching questions about why he in particular was so attuned to time shifts.

Sans chuckles lowly to himself. In trying to dodge one landmine, he'd led you into another. His whole life was starting to feel like that these days. Things he'd thought were decided a long time ago were coming back to haunt him – choices that had once seemed so black and white, slowly becoming a million different shades of grey. It was all a matter of which 'landmine' he wanted to throw himself on at this point.

It was maddening.

It was exhilarating.

But above all, it was dangerous.

Despite what Undyne and – to a degree – Papyrus like to think, Sans isn't the only one with something to gain from a Reset. He isn't the only one whose hopes and dreams are tied up in the past. Many monsters – more than either of them realise – are consumed with sorrow, with guilt. Sans knows what barely contained hopelessness looks like, and he's seen it on more faces than he can count.

The fact of the matter is, not everyone is capable of owning their mistakes like Undyne does. Not everyone can face the future head on.

Resetting would be worth it for that alone, but for Sans it goes deeper. For Sans it's about making good on promises - promises he made to all the humans who donated their Determination to make this Reset happen. Good people who wanted to see their friends and families again, who wanted a shot at peace and a real future. It was about cleansing the blood from his friends' hands (and yes, his own) and building a better life for Papyrus. It was about Alphys, who had sacrificed everything for the chance to do it all better.

He'd be lying if he said Frisk and Tori weren't a part of it – he missed them both so much, after all – but that wasn't all of it. Wasn't even the most of it.

And with the way things were developing, he needed to remember that.

Sans couldn't deny he was genuinely fond of you. That was probably putting it mildly, but he dare not take the time to explore and label the sentiment properly. You're shrewd and often unintentionally funny, brave and strong-willed, passionate in your beliefs, competitive, kind (even if you don't want to admit it)... You are, in a word, amazing. Someone he is proud to call 'friend'. And perhaps, in another life, the two of you could have had something real. Something pure, something untainted by lies and secrecy and guilt.

But no. That's another place he's better off not going.

If this were only about him, Sans would give up the Reset Program in a heartbeat. Part of him – a part that grew a little larger and got a little harder to ignore every day – still wanted to, despite all the reasons he had to keep going.

But he'd known what he was doing when he started all this. He wouldn't let feelings cloud his judgement now.

Sacrifices have to be made.

 

Chapter Text

By the time visiting hours are over, you're exhausted.

Not that you didn't enjoy seeing Undyne and Papyrus – you love to watch them bicker, their playful banter raising your spirits considerably even in such a short amount of time. It's just that... well, you are still recovering from a shooting, not to mention the death of a friend that no one but you can remember. You're beat. Physically and emotionally drained.

So when the two of them make to leave, you don't put up much of a fuss. You wave and smile sleepily, promising Undyne that as soon as the doctor gives the go-ahead, you'll train twice as hard to make up for lost time. You're already girding your loins for the spaghetti Paps has promised to bring next visit, and laugh uneasily when he reminds you of the fact. It's a very comfortable goodbye, all things considered.

But when Sans tries to leave, you simply won't have it.

“i gotta go, pal,” he says helplessly, disarmed by your watery-eyed plea. “i'll be back first thing in the mornin'.”

But the thought of being here in this sterile environment all alone, left to the tender mercy of your imagination (or, rather, the brutal quality of your memory), makes your very soul tremble in horror, and the dam breaks whether you want it to or not. After a solid ten minutes trying to talk you down from your hysterical fit of sobbing, Sans concedes defeat and settles into his seat once more.

Papyrus and Undyne share a loaded glance that you deliberately ignore, and leave with a final wave.

In the silence left by their departure, you hastily scrub at your raw cheeks with the heel of your good hand. God, you feel like such an idiot. What in the hell had that been all about? Had Sans' death really affected you that badly?

“'m s-s-so-rry,” you mumble. Great. Now you have the hiccups. “I j-just... I... ju-ust...”

“'s alright kiddo.” He appears unruffled by the whole business. That makes you feel better, you think. “you've had a hard few days.”

As if that excuses anything, you think. Grateful for his seemingly boundless patience, you offer a wry smile and begin the arduous process of getting your shit together. Honestly... You hope this isn't a permanent thing. Maybe you should talk to a doctor about it?

To distract yourself, your mind wanders back over everything that's happened since you woke up. It's... a lot to sift through.

Papyrus and Undyne had been eager to inform you that the rebel's attack had ultimately been unsuccessful, and that a sizeable portion of their forces had been... neutralised. You'd winced at that, but hadn't dared ask what they meant – there were only two options, really, and you were no where near stable enough to deal with either of them.

They'd then gone on to give you some happier news. Casualties, apparently, had been minimal, with no deaths (so far) and only six injured enough to threaten that statistic. Many others had been wounded – the rebels had basically fired into an unprepared crowd after all – but most of them would be just fine with the proper care.

That's... good news, you suppose. Better than you could have hoped for. Though you're all too aware those stats only apply to the residents of New New Home – there's no telling how the rebels fared at this point. You're also acutely conscious of the fact that you've yet to inform Sans of your prior knowledge of the attack... You really wish you could just not mention it, but all it takes is for your name to come up while they interrogate the surviving rebels and...

No. Better to be honest and tell him yourself – leave no room for misunderstandings.

You open your mouth to do just that, but shy away at the last second. He's probably going to be furious... What if he gets so mad that he leaves? You're not ready for that just yet.

Instead, your harried thoughts flit back to the conversation the two of you had been having before Paps and Undyne came in, and you remember the question he never got to answer.

“S-so... how are you...” Your voice is small, weighed down by guilt and fatigue – you clear your throat and try again. “How are you going to... y'know, remember? The... the Reset?”

“hm?” Sans, who'd been dosing off, startles awake. “oh, uh. that's not somethin' you need to worry about.” At your unimpressed look (or as unimpressed as a look can be on a face that's puffy and tear-stained) he chuckles and tries to elaborate. “it's kinda complicated but... basically i have this theory that i can send myself a... a message of sorts i suppose. i won't bore ya with the details – ya wouldn't understand 'em anyway.”

You're a little insulted, but let the matter drop – he's probably right. Besides, something else he said has caught your attention.

“A theory? You're gambling everyone's future on a theory?”

He shrugs. “it's a very sound theory – i'm at least fifty percent sure it'll work.”

Fifty percent?! I'm not sure I like those odds, Sans.”

“hey, even if my 'message' doesn't work, there's still a chance i'll feel weird enough on my own ta do somethin'.” He looks you in the eyes, expression serious for once. “isn't it worth the risk?”

You think about it, that bright future you'd imagined in quieter moments. A place where your comrades from the resistance were not hardened, grim-faced (and possibly dead at this point, for all you know) soldiers, but rather happy and vibrant people with loving families and warm memories and something meaningful to live for. You imagine a world where humans and monsters set aside their differences, a world with places to see and things to do. In that world, your father would be loving and supportive. Your mother would still be alive, having had access to the life-saving technology that could have spared her when she was birthing you. Papyrus would learn how to cook, and have a slick car just like his much-beloved bed. Undyne and Alphys would be together. And Sans...

Sans would apply his intellect to the betterment of that future, instead of always looking to the past.

Or maybe not. He was unpredictable like that.

It takes you only a second to answer him.

“Yes. It's worth it.”

A future like that is worth any risk.

After a few minutes of companionable silence, you feel yourself starting to drift off again.

“tired, huh?”

“Nothing escapes you, does it?” you mumble, though your sass lacks bite.

A chuckle. “nope. heh. get some sleep - i'll be here when ya wake up.”

Tempting as that suggestion is, there's one more bit of business to deal with before you can rest easy. Your stomach knots with pre-emptive dread, but you forge ahead anyway – he has to know, and you have to be the one to tell him.

“Actually...” There's a tremor in your voice already. “I have... something I, uh... need to tell you.”

 

Chapter Text

Sans takes the news better than you expect him to. Certainly, he's not happy about it – you can tell by the stony expression on his face – but he lets you explain yourself without interrupting, and doesn't immediately tear into you when you're done (or worse, leave).

Frankly, you're chalking that up to a win.

Afterwards, he considers your confession for a span of several minutes, during which time you fiddle nervously with the hem of your blanket, awaiting judgement.

Truth be told, while you are sorry for the way your inaction panned out – getting many people on both sides hurt and, in a timeline best forgotten about, Sans himself killed – you can't bring yourself to say you'd have done any different given a second chance. The reasons you had for not telling him in the first place are no less valid now than they were then.

No, you don't regret not telling anyone. What you do regret is letting your guard down at the most crucial moment – if you'd been there, in the thick of things when you were supposed to be...

Well, maybe the outcome would have been different.

Finally, just when you're starting to think you can't take the silence a second longer, Sans speaks.

“i get it.”

And that's it. He doesn't try to lecture you, doesn't give you the silent treatment... He simply acknowledges his understanding of your words and moves on, knocking out puns left and right and telling jokes as if it were the most natural thing in the world (and for him, you suppose, it is).

Maybe it's just your own sense of guilt talking, but you can't help waiting for the other shoe to drop.

By the time dinner arrives – a toxic green soup that you immediately decide you're not touching with a barge pole – your nerves are shot and you just have to ask.

“Sans... is this really alright?”

He's preparing to teleport to Grillby's (for some real food) and pauses to regard you with a confused frown. “huh?”

This.” You gesture between the two of you and at the room in general. “Laughing and... and messing about when...” You can't even finish that sentence – it's impossible to frame all the complex and conflicting feelings clawing at your insides with mere words.

Sans seems to get it though because he sighs and comes to stand beside you, hands in his pockets.

“you want me to be mad at ya?”

“No,” you immediately deny. Then, “Yes... I – I dunno. I just... I feel like you are mad but you're not... showing it. And I'd rather you just came out and said it instead of... y'know, pretending we're fine when we're not. Does that make sense?”

“not in the least, buddy.” He grins and you know he's teasing you. You wish he'd take this seriously, and you're about to tell him so when he beats you to it. “i'm not. mad, i mean. i really do get it – y' did what you thought you had to do. you were tryin' to protect everybody. can't fault ya for that.”

Abruptly, you're struck with a flash of understanding. “Kinda like you and this Reset business?” you say softly. “Doing what you think is best even when other people don't agree.”

He suddenly seems uncomfortable. “heh, yeah. somethin' like that.”

Surprisingly enough, that actually makes you feel better.


You're released from hospital after just three days. The nurse in charge of filing your discharge admits that, under normal circumstances, they'd have kept you for at least another week. But with so many people injured after the Mourning Day attack, beds are in rather short supply – anyone who isn't on the cusp of death or losing a limb is being fast tracked to outpatients with minimum delay.

After suffering through more medical-themed puns than you thought possible, you're far from complaining.

The nurse - “call me Tony,” he says – performs one final dressing change before releasing you into Sans' dubious care with antibiotics, painkillers and a typed sheet of instructions on how to clean and dress the wound for the next few days.

“If there's any problems, don't hesitate to come in to the Minor Injuries Clinic to have someone take a look at it, alright?” He beams at you as you leave the treatment room to rejoin Sans – who, as it turns out, is in the middle of entertaining the masses in the waiting area with another joke about hospitals.

“did ya hear about the guy who lost his whole left side?” A pause. “he's all right now!”

“Ugh,” you grunt, turning back to Tony. “Anything you can give me for that?” You jerk your thumb at the skeleton for emphasis.

The nurse shrugs helplessly. “Some ear plugs?” he suggests with an amused smile.

Sans shuffles up beside you, grin wide, eyes bright. “hey, i'll have you know this stuff is pure a-grade comedy.”

“It's A-grade something, but I don't think it's comedy,” you mutter. “Anyway, I'm ready to go now. So if you think you can pry yourself away from your adoring fans...?”

“... there's a pun about surgery in there somewhere, but-,”

“Don't you dare!”

“- that's not how i operate.”

“... that's it. I'm telling Papyrus.”

“aww, c'mon – you're smiling.”

You are, despite all efforts to keep a straight face.

“Still telling.”

Together you leave the hospital and head for home. Sans offers to take a shortcut, but honestly you're in no rush – it's a mild day, the painkillers are working nicely, and after spending yet another stint more or less bed-bound, you're eager for the opportunity to stretch your legs.

Sans is less than enthralled with the idea.

“you want me to walk?

You roll your eyes – he makes it sound like you just asked him to run a marathon.

“Technically all I said is that I wanna walk – you can do whatever the hell you like.”

The instant the words leave your tongue, you know you don't mean them. The thought of Sans being too far away still makes you really nervous for some reason, even though you've had plenty of time to get over it – whatever it is. You're beginning to suspect you might have post-traumatic stress or something, and briefly wonder if you should have mentioned it to a doctor...

Luckily, Sans decides to stick around, albeit grudgingly.

“and risk paps' wrath for leavin' ya alone?” He makes a face. “nah, think i'll pass.”

“Well quit whining then,” you say primly. “It's a beautiful day for a walk.”

“it's cold,” he grumbles.

Mild,” you correct. “Anyway, what do you care?” You eye him slyly. “Doesn't the cold go... right through you?”

You remember him telling you that joke once – a long time ago now, on one of your many excursions to Ebott City together. And by 'together', you mean you were there alone and he'd been checking in. That was back when you were still barely tolerant of him and of monsters in general.

Funny how quickly things had changed, in retrospect.

Sans seems stunned by your re-use of his joke, but quickly covers it with a chuckle.

“well played.”

 

Chapter Text

The next few weeks are... interesting, to say the least. If by 'interesting' one means a confusing amalgamation of both what passes for normal, and a healthy dose of very much not normal.

The normal is pretty self-explanatory. Training with Undyne? Normal (though admittedly she has been conducting the sessions at a drastically reduced intensity, which is arguably a display of abnormal restraint for her). Papyrus fussing over you and all but force-feeding you a surplus of 'healing spaghetti'? Adorably, horribly, endearingly normal. Sans knocking out a truly astounding number of shitty jokes and puns? Annoying as all hell, but also – sadly – normal.

Not so normal? Being plagued with recurring nightmares featuring – but not necessarily limited to – every last excruciating detail of Sans' death. Also not normal? Having panic attacks every time Sans leaves the house – and, on one memorable occasion, merely the room – without warning you first. Even when he does take the time to give you a heads up, you spend most of the time he's gone distracted to the point of madness. What if all of it – everything that had happened since the shooting – was just a fever dream? What if being too far away from him undoes the Reset?

Stupid, you know, but you can't help it. Even when you get past worrying about the Reset being real or not – because it is, you tell yourself firmly – other, arguably even more ridiculous fears take it's place. What if he doesn't come back? What if he gets himself killed while you're not there to protect him? What if you need to Reset again and can't?

These are the themes that fuel your nightmares, and while you're more or less dealing with them, some nights are worse than others. They almost always wake you – sometimes you thrash around so much you fall out of bed or bump against the wall, other times your heart beats so fast it wakes you with the pain. A few times your eyes have just popped open and you've lain there stiff with unspeakable terror. Thankfully, there have only been three instances where you actually screamed yourself awake (and consequently, your house mates as well). That said, all three of those cases were in the last week alone... There's no denying the dreams are getting worse, and it's getting harder and harder to come up with excuses – both to the skeleton brothers (who have noticed your nightly unrest and corresponding irritability during the day) and to yourself – that don't make you sound completely cracked.

That, however, is a cakewalk when compared to your other problem.

The whole 'not letting Sans out of your sight' thing started out fairly benign. You didn't even realise there was an actual issue at first, given the amount of time you naturally spent with him anyway. And if you hovered in the living room a bit longer before going to bed, or sat through his awful comedy show on TV instead of cooking with Papyrus... Well, what of it?

Then one morning you woke and he wasn't there.

Normally Sans met you in the kitchen before your sparring sessions – neither of you were morning people, to put it mildly, so you'd gotten into the habit of sharing a coffee together before facing the day. However when you'd shambled downstairs that particular morning, sleepy and grumpy and fresh off the back of yet another nightmare, there had been no trace of the short skeleton or – indeed – any evidence to suggest he'd ever been there at all...

You don't know what happened. It's like your mind went from zero to sixty in a split-second. Suddenly you were hyperventilating, trying desperately to Reset again and failing because you still don't know how it works. Your ears started ringing, your vision narrowing until there was nothing but grey fog. You were sick right there on the kitchen floor, and that's where Papyrus found you God knows how long later – clammy and tearful and trembling in a pool of your own vomit.

Sans came home from work early that day, summoned by a very concerned Papyrus, and in the weeks since it's only gotten worse. You follow him from room to room now like a lost puppy, not even bothering to disguise the fact that that's what you're doing any more. It's pathetic. And God help him if he so much as suggests he might be going somewhere without you...

You think you might need help.

“HUMAN?”

The dulcet tones of none other than Papyrus rouse you from your brooding with a jolt. It takes a second to remember where you are and what you're doing – when you do, you're instantly reminded of why you'd zoned out in the first place.

With a herculean effort, you try to keep your expression neutral as the too rich, sickly sweet flavour of the pasta fills your mouth once more. This particular batch isn't as awful as others have been – those books you got him for Christmas have had some effect – but it is still by no means enjoyable. It's less about the taste than the texture these days, really. How Papyrus manages to simultaneously under- and overcook his food, you'll never fathom.

You've been mechanically slogging through a heaped plate of the stuff in your distraction – it's a lot easier to stomach if you let your mind skip out on the experience altogether. With Sans usually manning the fort, so to speak, in terms of conversation (and by that, you mean he puns Papyrus to within an inch of his breaking point) your daydreaming is seldom noticed.

Not so today, it would seem.

“HUMAN VIRAGO, ARE YOU ALRIGHT?” No. You think you might be suffering the early stages of mental illness. But of course, you're not going freely admit that. “YOU HAVE BEEN STARING SOLEMNLY AT YOUR PLATE FOR THE LAST TWENTY MINUTES. IS IT BECAUSE YOU ARE ALMOST DONE? DO YOU WANT SOME MORE?”

Panic grips you. You start to sweat. Oh shit, oh shit!

“N-no! No, no, I'm fine Paps,” you hasten to assure him. “I'm actually full. Very full! And, uh...”

“she's probably jus' been wonderin' how to tell you that without hurtin' your feelings bro.”

You throw a grateful glance in Sans' direction. He winks back. You can't help but notice his own plate is already empty, and probably has been for a while – he always finishes first, which leads you to believe he either a) has no taste buds, or b) magicked his share away when no one was looking.

“IS THIS TRUE?” Papyrus asks. You nod, not really trusting yourself to lie right to his face. “HUMAN, YOU MUST NEVER FEAR FOR THE GREAT PAPYRUS' FEELINGS! THEY, LIKE ME, ARE VERY GREAT, AND NOT SO EASY TO WOUND AS THAT! HOWEVER! YOUR CONSIDERATION IS QUITE TOUCHING. THANK YOU!”

“Don't mention it,” you mutter. You feel vaguely ashamed of yourself.

Sans looks between the two of you with a smirk before heaving himself to his feet. Immediately, your eyes are on him – drawn to his stocky frame like a magnet, wide with alertness and poorly concealed anxiety. Inwardly you curse yourself for such an obvious overreaction, furiously reminding yourself for the millionth time that letting him out of your sight isn't going to reverse your Reset or whatever it was.

And for the millionth time, the admonition has no effect.

It's like some part of you is rejecting the legitimacy of it all – refusing to believe the Reset had happened without tangible proof of Sans' continued existence at all times.

That probably says more about your mental state than anything else honestly

“welp. 'm gonna watch some tv. wanna come, vira?” he asks nonchalantly. You know he's only asking for your sake – to give you an easy out, as it were. An excuse to follow him, as if that weren't precisely what you intended to do anyway.

Humiliated, not by the offer itself but by the reason Sans had to make it, you accept his invitation nonetheless.

The choice between your pride and your sanity is an easy one to make at the end of the day.

 

Chapter Text

Sleep paralysis. A condition categorised by the inability to move, speak or otherwise react while in the process of waking up or falling asleep.

Often accompanied by frightening hallucinations and restricted breathing, many sufferers have described the phenomenon as feeling like there's a demon sitting on their chest ('demon', mind, because 'monster' is considered racially insensitive). Episodes of sleep paralysis can be triggered in a number of ways, including: as a side-effect of another condition called 'narcolepsy'; having a genetic predisposition; having irregular sleep patterns; and last but not least, sleep deprivation.

Like in the case of prolonged, nightmare-based insomnia.

How do you know all this?

Simple. You looked up the symptoms on Sans' phone. After four harrowing nights of it, you had to do something. Though in hindsight, maybe you'd have been better off not bothering – knowing what's happening to you is all fine and well, but discovering that there's absolutely nothing you can do about it...

Well, let's just say it hasn't done you any favours.

Assuming the cause is sleep deprivation – and you're at least ninety-nine percent sure that it is – the only way to get rid of it is, shocker, to get more sleep. Easier said than done with the persistent nightmares, and you can't get rid of those because you don't know exactly what's causing them.

Oh, you have your suspicions. But outright admitting you may have PTSD feels kind of... pathetic, honestly. It smacks of weakness – of defeat. The only thing worse, in your eyes, than feeling that way is for your friends to think it, too. You don't want to disappoint anyone. You want to be strong. You need to be – no one has time for a wimp.

And so here you are – the picture of strength – crying silently in bed after waking yet again in the throes of 'Old Hag Syndrome' (which is an amusing nickname for a very un-amusing situation, in your opinion). It usually only lasts a few minutes, if that, but it's funny how even a single second can feel like an eternity when you're in the grip of mind-melting terror.

The whole 'demon on your chest' thing is an apt description, you think.

Heart still hammering away in your chest, hard enough to almost be painful, you carefully sit up and survey the still-dark room. The display on the alarm clock reads 02:34, which isn't really a surprise – God fucking forbid you get a full night's rest first – but you groan nonetheless. Going back to sleep now, you know from experience, will be next to impossible. Meaning the whole three hours and twenty-six minutes left before you need to get up for training are going to be wasted.

Wonderful.

You're already slipping in training as it is – several times now Undyne's made the observation that your heart just doesn't seem to be in it. And she's right. You're exhausted, physically and mentally. What energy you have to spare is mostly spent trying to stay awake, and marginally avoiding getting the shit kicked completely out of you.

And keeping an eye on Sans.

Yep, that's still going on too.

It's been almost a month, and instead of getting better, your fixation is only getting worse. At first you thought it was part of the post traumatic stress – and hey, you're no expert, so maybe it really is. But according to the site you'd found (again, using Sans' generously donated phone), symptoms varied and could include a whole host of things, none of which included - as far as you could tell - developing borderline obsessive attachments to people.

The nightmares, the irritability and general lack of concentration, even the increased anxiety and panic attacks... Those all fit nicely into the PTSD description box.

This thing with Sans however...

Not so easily categorised.

You do have a working theory that kind of fits. The site said something about 'avoidance', which normally meant avoiding reminders of the traumatic event in question – people associated with it, for example, or the place where it happened. Well, by your reckoning it's possible that what you're avoiding is the pseudo-loss you feel when Sans isn't near. Avoiding the reminder of him not being there, as it were.

You didn't say it was a good theory.

“Ugh...” you grunt, swinging your feet over the edge of the bed and scrubbing at your damp eyes with the heel of your hand. “'s way too early for this...”

Gingerly, you tiptoe across the floor and slip through the slightly ajar door onto the landing. The house is – mercifully – quiet, the only sounds being the muffled snores from Papyrus' room and the obnoxious ticking of the clock on the wall by the stairs. That's good. Unexpected, considering the number of times you've gotten up for a glass of water and found Sans still awake in front of the TV, but good.

The last thing you want at this hour is to field searching questions from a nosy – but well-meaning – skeleton.

Creeping down the stairs, you catch yourself automatically straining your ears for any sign of Sans' huffing little breaths. Unlike Papyrus, he doesn't snore so much as he kind of... purrs. Like a skeletal cat or something. It's kind of adorable actually, although you feel vaguely ashamed of yourself for thinking so.

It suggests you've paid way more than the average amount of attention.

The short burst of shame is quickly extinguished, however, when you reach the bottom of the stairs and realise you can't hear him at all. Sad as it sounds, you've done this – ninja-ing your way downstairs in the middle of the night – enough times in the past month to know, with absolute certainty, that you should have been able to hear him by the third step from the bottom. You're all the way at the bottom now, and the only thing you can hear is the clock back up on the landing and the humming of the fridge.

Panic.

Immediate and with the shock of a bucket of icy water being thrown over you, a new and entirely familiar dread knocks the air clean out of your lungs.

Oh no.

In a rush of unsubstantiated distress, you round the corner and head straight for couch, hands trembling and sweaty already. All you can think about is how he wouldn't do this – he wouldn't just get up and wander away in the middle of the night, not when he knows what it does to you. Sure, the two of you have never actually talked about your... condition... but you know he knows you like to be certain of where he is.

Which, in your fear-addled mind, can only mean he didn't leave by choice.

Meaning something bad happened to him.

The thought makes your knees go weak as you grip the back of the couch and peer over the cushions.

“S-sans?” you whisper, rising terror stealing much of the volume from your voice.

The distinct lack of a sleeping Sans – or indeed, any sign that there had ever been one – makes you instantly want to vomit.

“Sans?!” you call, a bit louder.

No one answers.

 

Chapter Text

How long you stay there, clinging to the back of the couch while you hyperventilate, is anyone's guess. Your panic attacks have always messed with your perception of time – it's like being frozen in a single perfect moment of absolute terror, an unending purgatory of the awfullest kind. When they strike, time might as well cease to exist. A minute, an hour, a day, it's all the same to you.

Thus, when you feel a bony hand settle on your shoulder, the only indication that any significant period has passed is the abrupt awareness of how stiff and achy your body has become.

It's like waking up in some ways. The last thing you remember – before everything became tainted with irrational fear that is – is standing with your hands clenched on the back of the couch. Now, despite having no recollection of moving, you're on your knees, pressing your clammy forehead to the upholstery as your heave and cry and shiver helplessly.

“hey, pal... you okay?” a blessedly familiar voice asks, oozing concern.

Oh, thank God! Your eyes, red and itchy already, fill with yet more tears. Sans.

A great, shuddering sigh bursts free of your lips, punctuated at the end with a grateful sob. Relief, warm as sunlight, thaws your limbs in an instant – slumping against the couch, your fingers release their death hold in a flurry of pins and needles.

“vira?”

In a motion so quick it surprises a yelp from him, you turn and grab Sans round the middle, holding him as tightly as your numb arms will allow. It's a bit uncomfortable, given that he's shed his fluffy hoodie and has only a ratty white tee now for padding, but the contact helps settle your mind nonetheless.

“Where the fuck were you?” you whisper harshly, voice dry and hoarse.

Confused, Sans hesitantly pats your head. “uh... in the basement?”

Of course. Like that's so fucking obvious.

“Why were you in the Goddamn basement? And why didn't you-,” you try to hold it back, but another sob breaks from you anyway, “t-tell me?”

With a huff, Sans helps you back to your feet. The expression on his face is a mixture of irritated and baffled, and even though you know it's perfectly justified – you are being a major pain in the ass, even you can see that – you can't help shrinking away in hurt.

And now he looks guilty. Somehow, that suits him even less.

“i am telling you. right now,” he says, entirely too gentle. “i couldn't sleep so i went down there to work on... some stuff.” At your frown – because doesn't that just sound ominous as all hell – he quickly elaborates. “old projects from before the war. time tracker, handheld dt extractor... nothin' important.”

By which you take to mean 'nothing particularly shady', so you drop it.

What you don't drop, however, is his disappearing act. For the sake of the fragile grasp you still have on your sanity, that shit has to stop.

“I hate it when you go off without telling me,” you mumble, pressing your face into his pointy shoulder. Your cheeks feel warm. God, this is so stupid. You're so stupid. You press on regardless, well aware that your mind will know no peace unless you do. “At least leave a damn note or something...”

A pause. “... i was literally less than three feet away. if you'd called for me, i'd have heard ya.”

“Yeah, well, I didn't know that, did I?” you snap. You feel him stiffen in your arms and automatically tighten your grip in response. With a sigh, you apologise. “Look, I'm sorry. I didn't... I don't mean to be...” a bitch, you finish silently.

For one awful minute, Sans continues to stand rigid. When he finally relaxes a second later, you feel your own muscles loosen too. “'s fine. i think we should talk about this though. you've been awful... clingy, recently. an' i think we both know why.”

You swallow hard but say nothing, mouth suddenly too dry to form words. You knew this day would come eventually – the day when Sans was no longer happy to just sit back and indulge your stupid idiosyncrasies – but it still manages to stun you somehow. And it's not like you think he doesn't deserve an explanation, it's just...

You don't know if you can give him one. You don't want him to start looking at you differently, treating you differently...

It's just about the worst thing you can imagine.

“listen,” he says softly, taking hold of your shoulders and moving so he can look you in the eyes. Your gaze darts away skittishly, but he keeps talking. “i saw what you searched on the undernet.”

Oh great, you think bitterly, closing your eyes. He already knows.

“'s nothin' to be ashamed of,” he continues, rubbing your upper arms soothingly. “sometimes you can't control what goes on in your own head...” He gives the tiniest puff of a laugh before muttering, “trust me on that one.” Then, louder again, “but keepin' it all to yourself isn't gonna help. you need to let someone in.”

And he's right, you know he's right, but it's so hard when the voice in your head keeps telling you how pitiful you are.

Look at you – snivelling little wimp. That timeline never happened. Sans is right here, alive and kicking, and you're acting like he's gonna explode into dust the second you let your guard down.

Get over yourself already.

Abruptly, Sans starts guiding you back upstairs. You follow without complaint, too drained from the night's excitement to put up anything resembling a fight.

“c'mon pal. if you really don't wanna talk, i won't make ya.” He glances over his shoulder at you and winks. “but at the very least i think i have an idea on how we can get you some proper shut eye."

 

Chapter Text

This is your idea?” you ask irately, shifting a little to make yourself more comfortable. You're back in bed, curled up snugly under the quilt, and if you weren't so tired you'd probably be madder than you are. “I know you like to call me one, but you're aware I'm not actually a kid, right?”

Perched on a stool (that had appeared from God-knows-where), Sans' grin widens just a little – enough to piss you off, but not enough to make getting up and throttling him seem like a particularly attractive option. If only because that would require much more energy than you're willing to exert at the moment.

“hey, this always works for papyrus,” he says with feigned innocence, holding up the book in his hands so you can read the cover – 'Peekaboo With Fluffy Bunny'.

Well, look at that... You may just be getting a second wind.

“Sans.”

“yeah?”

“If you don't put that book away, I'm going to brain you with it,” you state, expression absolutely deadpan.

You're only half joking too.

“heh, calm down pal. i'm just pullin' your tail.” His index finger clacks against the hardback cover with a wink you know only too well. “didn't think you'd be so hopping mad.”

You narrow your eyes dangerously at him. Hell no – that shit ain't happening. If he plans to start in with the puns, you're definitely going to kick him out. Frankly, you think you've suffered enough for one night.

“Okay, one – those were awful. Like Mettaton levels of crap.”

“meh, it's late.” He shrugs, still grinning. “can't be on top of my game all the time.”

“And two,” you say, ignoring his interruption, “did you seriously bring that book in here just to pun at me?”

“... maybe.”

You roll your eyes. Figures. Still, you can't find it in yourself to be mad. He's only trying to cheer you up – it's not his fault he was clearly born with no innate sense of tact.

“So what's the plan then?” you ask dubiously. “You just gonna stare me to sleep?”

Sans drops the book to the floor and rests his elbows on his knees. With a yawn – the open-mouthed kind that lets you see the endless blackness down the back of his not-throat – he drops his chin into his hands and gazes at you with drowsy half-lidded eyes.

“nah. figured we could just talk. til' you fall asleep, y'know?”

Tensing immediately – you're not ready to talk about it, any of it – you study him warily over the brim of your covers. “Talk about what?”

“anythin' you want.” And none of the things you don't, is the implicit, unspoken end to that sentence.

The caution drains away, leaving you limp with relief. You will talk about it with him someday – that night, his death, and the effect it had (is still having) on you. You figure he deserves to know, considering he's the one suffering the brunt of your crazy all the time. Just...

Not yet.

“Thanks,” you mumble, because it needs to be said. And it's not just for his unvoiced promise not to make you talk, although that's certainly part of it. It's for his patience, his understanding, his concern and his friendship. It's for giving a fuck when he really doesn't have to.

There's no need to elaborate any of this out loud. You both know what's up, even if you don't say it – so you don't. Sans gives a sleepy wink in response.

“'s no problem.” His white pupils shift lazily to the side, falling on some object you can't see from your position. “say, did i ever tell you 'bout the time i stacked hot dogs on the ambassador's head?”

 

In the end, it doesn't take you very long to fall asleep at all.

Sans tells you stories about life before the war – funny little anecdotes involving himself and his friends and all the amusing scrapes they used to get into together. Some tales you'd heard already, back in the early days, when both brothers had endeavoured to fill your stubborn silences with innocuous chatter of their own. A lifetime ago now, it seems.

Amazing how much more sense they make now that you know about the Reset business.

You wake up late the next morning with a skeleton drooling on your arm, still perched precariously on the stool as he sleeps. Miraculously, you don't remember having any more nightmares through the night. Perhaps even more miraculously, Undyne hadn't barged in to drag you out of bed for training – which you had missed by a margin of three hours.

You suspect Papyrus had a hand in that.


 

And thus was the beginning of yet another tradition for you and Sans.

Every night thereafter, Sans situated himself on the stool by your bed and the two of you talked until you eventually fell asleep. Nine times out of ten you'd wake with some part of him draped over you. As the weeks crawled by, more and more often you startled out of slumber to find him simply curled up beside you. He never seemed embarrassed about it either – he'd just offer you a sheepish smile and make a cheeky observation on how squishy and comfortable you apparently were.

Strangely, you found you didn't mind it. That could be because, within a matter of days, the nightmares all but stopped – you only rarely had them now, and even when you did it was a comfort to wake with Sans' warmth by your side and his soft snores in your ear. Or it could be...

Something else.

In any case, you'd have thought sleeping with a skeleton would be disagreeable. And in many ways it is. You may not be having night terrors any more – and frankly that's worth any cost – but being roused by a sudden jab from one of Sans' pokey limbs, or worse, getting your limbs caught in awkward places (such as his rib cage, or the gap between his tibia and fibula) is almost as unpleasant. Especially when Sans then makes it worse by telling jokes.

“you're bein' ver' cagey,” he mumbled once, sleepily dislodging your trapped arm from between two ribs where his t-shirt had ridden up. “ribspect m' pers'nal space.”

But for all that, you actually don't think you've ever slept better in your whole life. You wake up each morning feeling utterly refreshed, so much so that your performance in training has improved exponentially. You still come away with plenty of bruises – there'll probably never come a time when you don't – but at least Undyne leaves with a few of her own these days.

Things are getting better. The PTSD is – if not cured – then at least under control, and even if you still can't bring yourself to talk about the big things quite yet, you're content in the knowledge that some day you will. There's no need to rush. You've got time.

And you've got Sans.

Somehow, that counts for more than you ever thought it would.

 

Chapter Text

“HUMAN VIRAGO.”

“Mm?”

Reluctantly, you glance up from the book you're currently absorbed in – a novel Sans had generously picked up the last time he went to 'work'. The hope was that having something to command your attention while he was gone might make his infrequent absences easier to bear. 'Distraction Therapy', Sans called it. And to a degree, it worked, though there was still an occasional pang whenever you let your mind wander. Staying on task required a surprising amount of mental fortitude, you were discovering.

Being dragged back to reality like this wasn't really helping either. But then if there was one distraction in this house better than your book, it was Papyrus.

Curiously, you note the anxious way Papyrus holds himself as he studies you from the kitchen door. His arms are folded awkwardly over his chest, and though it's harder to tell due to the lack of eye lights in his sockets, he seems to be occasionally looking away, as though nervous.

Huh. That's not very Papyrus-like behaviour.

Cautiously, you set aside your book after folding down the page and untuck your legs from beneath you. Using the remote you mute the TV, which had been tuned to a music station called 'Blooky 24' for the purpose of providing some ambient background noise, before patting the cushion next to you in invitation. Whatever's bugging him, you want him to know he has your full attention and support.

“Yeah? What's up, Paps?”

“IT HAS COME TO MY ATTENTION THAT YOU HAVE BEEN GOING THROUGH SOME... CHANGES.” He clears his throat – the one he doesn't have – and if you didn't know him any better you would think there was a note of sadness there. “IN RELATION TO SANS, THAT IS.”

You blink, unreasonably stunned by the remark. Really, you should have expected something like this sooner – Papyrus is neither blind nor stupid, so of course he was going to notice sooner or later.

You just hadn't counted on having to explain yourself.

“YOU FOLLOW HIM FROM ROOM TO ROOM, AND APPEAR TO BECOME QUITE UPSET WHEN HE LEAVES. EVEN WHEN YOU ARE IN THE SAME ROOM, YOUR EYES FOLLOW HIM VERY CLOSELY. YOU'VE BEEN NEGLECTING YOUR KITCHEN DUTIES IN FAVOUR OF WATCHING HIS COMEDY SHOW WITH HIM, EVEN THOUGH I KNOW YOU HATE IT AS MUCH AS I DO.”

You wince. That's true – both that you hate that stupid show, and that you'd been remiss in your self-assigned duty of trying to temper Papyrus' enthusiasm in the kitchen. Even so, you wonder where he's going with this. Is he trying to warn you off stalking his brother? Or is he just as concerned for your mental state as you are?

“AND RECENTLY, I'VE NOTICED THAT YOU HAVE TAKEN TO SHARING A BED.”

Ah hell. That clinches it. He's about to give you the 'big brother' speech. Cute, considering you're sure he's the younger brother – cute, and potentially terrifying.

“Ah,” you begin haltingly. “Y-yeah... I, uh...”

“HAVE NO FEAR – THE GREAT PAPYRUS UNDERSTANDS.”

You pause. “He does? I mean, you do?”

“OF COURSE. HUMAN! IT IS MY EXPERT OPINION THAT YOU... HAVE A CRUSH! ON SANS!”

“Hghh!” You choke a little, abruptly horrified. Whatever you had been expecting, it wasn't that.

“NOW, YOU MAY BE UNAWARE OF THIS BUT THERE ARE CERTAIN STEPS TO BE FOLLOWED IN THE PURSUIT OF A ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIP, AND YOU SEEM TO HAVE SKIPPED A NUMBER OF THEM.”

Oh God. Somebody kill me, you think, still too shocked to do much but stare in strangled silence.

“BED SHARING IS QUITE AN ADVANCED STEP, AND YOU AND SANS HAVE NOT EVEN SUCCESSFULLY COMPLETED STEP ONE – THE FIRST DATE.” What you wouldn't give for him to just stop talking now. “FORTUNATELY, IN ADDITION TO BEING A MASTER CHEF AND A LEGENDARY GUARDSMAN, I AM ALSO A DATING GURU!”

And there it goes – your last shred of dignity. In it's wake it leaves a sputtering mess, a red-cheeked fool utterly incapable of comprehensible speech.

If Papyrus notices your mental flailing, he conveniently makes no mention of it.

“AS YOUR FRIEND AND FUTURE BROTHER-IN-LAW-,” You pale a little at that. Paps is clearly getting way, way ahead of himself. While you continue to struggle for control of your tongue, all you can think is how incredibly lucky you are that Sans is working today. “- IT WOULD BE IRRESPONSIBLE OF ME TO ALLOW YOU TO CONTINUE DOWN THIS INDECENT PATH.”

“P-Pap.” Finally, something makes it past the humiliation clogging your throat. Barely more than a whisper, it's still much too quiet to actually grab the skeleton's attention. Licking your dry lips, you try again with gusto. “Pap, no... it's not-,”

“THEREFORE,” Papyrus continues, steam-rolling your weak protests. “I, THE GREAT PAPYRUS, AM GOING TO DO YOU THE HONOR OF ORGANISING A SPECTACULAR FIRST DATE!”

The silence following this exclamation is full of keen expectation. For a moment, you're too stunned to react appropriately – or indeed, at all. It feels like the situation has gotten away from you entirely, all in the space of just a few seconds... Truth be told, you're not certain you ever had it under control to begin with.

“Paps, I... uh, that is... I d-don't...” have a crush on Sans.

For some reason, the latter part of that statement is harder to voice than you thought it would be. Certainly harder than it has any right to be, since it's true (is it? … what am I saying, of course it is! Shut up, brain!). After a few helpless seconds spent trying to force the words out, you abruptly give up and try a different approach.

“Sans doesn't like me like that,” you say instead, ignoring the dull ache in your chest as you do so. “We're just friends.”

“WHAT MAKES YOU THINK THAT?” Papyrus asks. Is it just you, or is there something about the look he's giving you that seems almost... sly? “HAVE YOU ASKED HIM FOR CONFIRMATION OF HIS FEELINGS?”

Blinking owlishly, you try to form a solid answer in your head. It's actually not as simple as it should be – Sans treats you very well, after all, and the conviction that he only sees you as a friend is more one of instinct than anything else. Surely you'd sense it if he felt anything stronger towards you? You're with the guy practically twenty-four/seven – you would notice something like that, right?

And on a not altogether unrelated note, how did an afternoon reading on the couch suddenly transform into dating therapy?

“Well, no...” you admit reluctantly. “But I-,”

“WELL THEN! HOW CAN YOU BE CERTAIN UNLESS YOU DISCUSS IT?” Papyrus – very reasonably – points out.

Why does that sound so final? “Uh...”

“AND DO YOU KNOW THE PERFECT SETTING FOR A DISCUSSION OF YOUR ULTIMATE FEELINGS?”

“Anywhere that isn't here?”

“A DATE!” Of course. “WORRY NOT, HUMAN VIRAGO! THE GREAT PAPYRUS HAS EVERYTHING COVERED! IN FACT, I'M GOING TO CALL SANS AND TELL HIM OF YOUR IMPENDING DATE RIGHT NOW!”

“Wait!” you cry, shooting up from the couch and starting after him with an outstretched hand. Sans finding out about this... this whatever-this-is is the very last thing you want – the thought makes you shrivel with embarrassment, especially when you try to imagine how his inevitable rejection might sound. “Th-that won't be necessary! Sans and I, er, date all the time – what about all our dinners at Grillby's?”

Papyrus recoils with disgust. He looks at you like you just handed him one of Sans' home-made hot-dogs, and if the current situation had been anything other than what it is, you might have laughed.

“HUMAN, YOU ARE YOUNG AND NAIVE, AND FOR THAT, THE GREAT PAPYRUS FORGIVES YOU. BUT TO SUGGEST THAT GRILLBY'S IS IN ANY WAY A SUITABLE DATE VENUE IS BLASPHEMY OF THE HIGHEST ORDER!”

 

Chapter Text

You're already in bed when Sans eventually makes it home that night. He's late – very late – and that may or may not be because your recent difficulties have already cost him several days worth of work. Several projects were now severely behind schedule, a detail Alphys made sure to point out with irritating regularity.

“Y-you're getting too attached, S-S-Sans!” she fretted, wringing her hands while he recalibrated the DT containment vessels. “You're losing sight of the b-bigger picture!”

And even though he's still following the plan, even though he's still determined to go through with it, he can't deny it's getting harder.

Especially after what Paps said on the phone during his lunch break.

“BROTHER, I AM ORGANISING A DATE FOR YOU AND VIRAGO.”

No greeting, no preamble – just straight into the crux of the matter. Another of the many things that made his brother the coolest guy Sans knew.

“oh?” he'd mumbled around a mouthful of hot-cat. “why?”

“BECAUSE YOU ARE TOO LAZY TO DO SO YOURSELF?” The 'duh'-tone honestly took him by surprise – it was rare for Papyrus to be so sassy, especially with Sans. Clearly, something had gotten him all worked up.

“um, okay? but what i meant-,”

“I KNOW WHAT YOU MEANT.” A sigh, weary and long-suffering. “I BELIEVE VIRAGO IS DEVELOPING FEELINGS FOR YOU. GENUINE FEELINGS.”

Sans' soul had both soared and sunk in the same instant. It's not like he hadn't suspected the very same thing himself, but hearing Papyrus confirm it... Despite some of his more questionable beliefs about romance (like the fact that simply wearing clothes was in any way a prelude to a romantic confession), Pap really was better with this stuff than he was. He had a habit of stumbling on the correct conclusion, often via the completely wrong route.

“right. but, uh, that still doesn't explain why you want to get involved all of a sudden...”

“HM. LET ME ASK YOU SOMETHING, SANS.”

“shoot.”

“WOULD IT BE ACCURATE OF ME TO SAY YOU'RE VERY FOND OF VIRAGO TOO?”

Sans had hesitated. That was a loaded question if ever he'd heard one. “it wouldn't be inaccurate...”

“SO THEN, DATING HER WOULD MAKE YOU HAPPY?”

It would. For whatever that was worth. But it was too hard to say so out loud, knowing what he knew, so Sans had simply said nothing.

“AS I THOUGHT,” Papyrus had continued. “AND I BELIEVE IT WOULD MAKE HER HAPPY TOO. I WANT YOU BOTH TO BE HAPPY, FOR HOWEVER LONG THAT IS. AND IF THERE IS SOMETHING I CAN DO TO MAKE IT HAPPEN, I WILL DO IT.”

“bro...”

“AND AFTER ALL, BROTHER, IT IS NOT TOO LATE TO CHANGE YOUR MIND. MAYBE VIRAGO HERSELF CAN CONVINCE YOU THERE ARE THINGS WORTH LIVING FOR IN THIS TIMELINE TOO.”

Those were some pretty dangerous ideas, but Sans hadn't bothered to argue. His brother was smart in many ways, but this was one of those things he just didn't get. It was pointless to get into it with him when the result would always be the same.

Shaking off such grim thoughts, Sans instead focused on the task at hand. He shucked his hoodie and tossed it into a corner of the room – with him once more taking up residence in it, the space was slowly but surely being filled with piles of dirty clothes again. You had complained about that a few times, demanding that he clean up his shit or else – he was still waiting for the 'or else' to actually materialise.

Not even bothering with the stool – what was the point when he always ended up in bed with you anyway? – he flips back the covers and snuggles in beside you, wrapping his arms around your squishy torso and pressing himself to your warm back. Ah, much better! He wasn't lying when he said you were the comfiest pillow he'd ever had.

He can tell you're awake by the muffled squeak that escapes you.

“mm, heya kid. have a good day?”

“Yeah!” you blurt, just a little too quickly. “Just great, really great! Uh, y-you?”

Sans can't help but grin into your shoulder blade. You're so cute when you're all flustered.

“yeah, just fine.” Then, seeing an opportunity to mess with you a little he adds, “had an interestin' talk with pap this afternoon...”

You stiffen immediately and groan into your hands. “Oh God...”

“no, pap,” he chuckles. “anyway, he said somethin' about a crush...”

Turning in his arms, you fix him with a scowl that is nothing short of adorable. Your face is red and Sans is fascinated for a moment by the sight – one thing he's never quite gotten over when it comes to humans is their skin. Such an amazing organ, and it comes in so many different hues! It even changes colour based on emotion, and while he and his brother can – in some capacity – blush too, it's not nearly as impressive as the human variant in his opinion.

Almost without meaning to, he pokes at one of your cheeks with a bony finger.

“heh heh, what's the matter bud? ya look rediculous.”

“Okay, cut the crap,” you mutter, giving him a light shove.

“aw, but i'm not red-y!”

“Sans, so help me...”

“alright, alright,” he laughs. “someone's in a bad mood. i'll have to be careful where i tred.

You flip the covers back, exposing him to the cold. “Get out. Don't come back.”

The slight smile on your face tells him you're not serious, and he promptly engages you in a tug-of-war with the quilt – it ends when the both of you fall out of bed in a tangle of sheets and giggles.

“So... um, this date business...” you begin shyly once you're settled back in bed together. “I swear I had nothing to do with it. Papyrus just... well, you know how he gets sometimes...”

Your face is practically glowing.

“relax pal,” Sans smirks, tapping your nose playfully. “i think it's a great idea.”

Aww, look at that – you look like a tomato! Heheheh.

“Y-you do?”

“mmhm. 'course. i won't force ya though – if ya don't wanna go, i'll talk to paps an' get him to back off.”

“No, no, it's... I mean I... That sounds...” You visibly struggle with yourself and Sans has to resist poking at your face again.

“y'know,” he drawls, “you can admit that ya wanna go on a date with me. i won't judge.” No accounting for taste though, he thinks to himself wryly.

“Sh-shut up!”

“heh.” He lets it drop. Teasing you is fun and all, but it's been a long day and Sans is totally beat.

He's just about to drift off when you speak up again, your soft voice tickling against his sternum.

“You really want to? Go on a date with me, I mean?”

Sans frowns. He's not sure why that should come as such a surprise – it's not like he's been particularly subtle. Hell, he's been openly flirting for months. He knows you're a bit on the oblivious side, but surely you're not that unaware.

“uh, yeah,” he says, because that much should be obvious.

“Th-then let's do it.” You clear your throat awkwardly. “Let's go on a date.”

“you got it, sweetheart.” He yawns and snuggles closer. “but first, let's get some sleep.”

 

Chapter Text

You're going on a date.

You're going on a date with a skeleton.

You're going on a date with Sans the skeleton, and the more you think about it the more ridiculous it sounds. Honestly. You. On a date. It's downright laughable. And with Sans no less, who – you had recently discovered – you may possibly have a teeny, tiny little crush on.

Even just thinking about it makes your stomach lurch. You can't tell if it's excitement or dread.

“Oh God,” you mumble, pressing a hand to your mouth. “I feel sick.”

“Stop moving!” Undyne gives a rough yank on your hair, making you yelp. She glares at you in the mirror for a second before returning to the onerous task of dragging a brush though your unkempt locks. “Hmph. If I were you, I'd be feelin' sick too. Goin' on a date with that doofus...”

“BE NICE, UNDYNE!” Papyrus yells through the wall. “SANS MAY NOT BE AS GREAT AS ME, BUT HE IS STILL AN EXCEPTIONAL SPECIMEN OF SKELETAL GREATNESS.”

“heh, thanks bro. ulna-t let ya down.”

“I TAKE IT BACK,” Pap groans. “HE'S AWFUL.”

Predictably, an argument breaks out. You smile a little, amused enough by their antics that you momentarily forget to be nervous.

The skelebros are currently holed up in Papyrus' room, ostensibly to help the shorter skeleton get ready. What you think is actually happening, however, is that Paps is giving his big brother some last minute dating tips – this evidenced by the occasional exclamation from Papyrus regarding so-called 'dating rules' (his first had been, quote; “DATE RULE NUMBER ONE; YOU MUST WEAR CLOTHES!” and honestly you don't know whether that's hilarious or low-key terrifying).

Attention returning to the mirror – a heavy thing in a cast-iron frame, borrowed from Undyne herself for the occasion – you wonder, not for the first time, what the hell you're even doing. Granted, you'd been a bit... er, preoccupied since the Mourning Day attack - and after what had happened (or not happened, as the case may be) you doubt anyone could blame you... But now that the dust - for lack of a better word - had begun to settle, you're becoming ever more uncomfortably aware that the fate of the resistance is still... unconfirmed. Insofar as you're aware, the monsters injured in fray are all stable at present. The rebels on the other hand... you know next to nothing on that front.

Shouldn't you be, y'know, finding out? Shouldn't you be doing something?

And your father... what became of him? Sure, the man shot you and for that – and so many other reasons – he won't exactly be winning any awards for father of the year. But, and you almost hate yourself for thinking it, he is still your dad. At the very least you should know what happened to him, right?

Instead you're sitting here, indulging a stupid crush like a silly teenager, going on dates and conveniently ignoring the bigger picture.

The funny thing is, you know how dumb it is – how self-serving and impractical – but...

You still want it.

And really, you think, scowling at your hands folded carefully in your lap, is that so bad? After everything you've been through, is it really such a crime to have just one thing you want all for yourself? Haven't you earned a little break?

With any luck you're eventually going to Reset it all anyway...

Whether that's an argument for or against any of this, you can't decide.

“So,” Undyne grumbles, breaking you out of your reverie with another tug on your hair. “You, uh... you wanna go on this date, or what?”

“Huh?”

“I mean he's not like... forcin' you to go, is he? You're doin' this 'cause you want to, right?” She steps back and admires her handiwork before meeting the gaze of your baffled reflection. “'cause if he is, I have absolutely NO problem roughin' him up for ya a bit.”

She would do it too. You can tell by the set of her jaw, the focus in her one good eye - Undyne wouldn't hesitate to lay a beat down on Sans for your sake. Even though she'd known him longer than she'd known you. Even though he was Paps' brother (which in itself spoke volumes – you know how much she dotes on Papyrus, in her own heavy-handed way).

Frankly you're touched.

“It's fine, Undyne.” You give her a nervous smile and a shaky thumbs up. “I want to go.” A thought occurs and you give a little snort of amusement. “Although I would love to see you and Sans spar someday. That would be awesome!”

A complicated expression passes over her aquiline features, something deep and sad and painful and angry all at the same. You blink in surprise and it's gone again, replaced by her usual exuberant grin. Before you can ask – you definitely saw that, right? – she's already guffawing loudly, charging onwards with almost forced enthusiasm.

“FWAHAHAHA! That puny skelepunk couldn't fight sleep!”

“Really?” you ask, eyebrows raised in amusement. “That's not what I heard... Didn't he play a big part in the war effort?”

Seeing Undyne flinch away as though burned makes you regret that question immediately. That was careless of you – it was stupid to bring up the war, even in passing. Undyne was there. She fought in those battles; committed unspeakable acts in the name of her King and her people. Win or lose, that kind of thing was bound to leave it's mark on a person...

It's just that sometimes you forget. They act so young, sometimes you forget that your monster friends were around back then. That they'd experienced first hand what you'd only ever heard about in stories.

Hastily, you try to back pedal – you didn't mean to bring up painful memories. But the Fish Wife fears nothing, not even her own sins, and before the first syllable has left your mouth her jaw is set and her expression is determined.

“Yeah,” she says stiffly. “He did. But his magic... well, it isn't exactly what I'd call 'fighting'.”

Despite yourself, you have to ask. “What would you call it?”

Undyne glowers. “Cheating.”

You can't help it – you burst out laughing. Only Undyne can make something as serious as battle magic sound like a dick-measuring contest.

“I'm serious!” She crosses her arms over her chest with a scowl. “Sans' magic is some powerful shit, don't get me wrong. And during the war...” she gives a little huff, her mouth twisting as though she'd tasted something bad, “well, every monster played their part. I'm not sayin' he could have won it for us alone or anythin'... but the things that skeleton can do just aren't fair. Y'know I watched him level a whole damn town once? Without even movin'! He just stood there and summoned these... these things...” A humourless laugh. “And to think he used to be my laziest sentry...”

It's probably a good thing you're already sitting down. You're not sure you want to hear this, moments before you're supposed to go on a date with the guy.

“Arrrgh! Anyway, my point is, Sans can't fight. If he decides to step into one, it's not a fight any more – it's a slaughter.”

It takes a few seconds for you to digest that. You don't know whether you should be flattered – she'd still been willing to get into it with him to protect your freewill, after all – or frightened.

Listening to the brothers playfully bantering in the other room, you can't help leaning toward the latter.

 

Chapter Text

“hey... you alright there pal?”

Startled, you look up from your plate into Sans' concerned face. You must have been zoning out again – you've been doing it all night. Irritated with yourself, you tuck into your steak pie with renewed vigour, deliberately humming in approval before answering his question with a smile.

“Yeah, I'm good. Just can't believe how amazing this pie is!”

A blatant lie – you've been dragging your heels on this date practically since the second it started, mind too full of what Undyne said before you left. It's a shame really. This is a nice place, with good food, good music, and a good – if somewhat straight-laced – atmosphere. Plus you're here with Sans, which is as good as company gets around here.

You should be enjoying this more than you are.

... the things that skeleton can do just aren't fair.”

Once the initial shock wore off – shock borne, you now realise, of appalling double standards and a heavily one-sided perception of an event you'd had no part in – Undyne's words got you thinking. Really thinking.

What had Sans done during the war? What had anybody done? How does a conflict ignite to such levels that even the winning side believe time travel is the more favourable option?

Admittedly, the war isn't something you'd ever thought about in great detail before. Sure, you knew the basics – how it started and how it ended, chiefly – but you'd never given much consideration to the in-between parts. Had never wondered how exactly the world got from point A to point B, because in the resistance it hadn't really mattered. The monsters' magic was just too strong – that's what you'd been taught and, good, obedient little soldier that you were, you didn't question it.

Until now.

If you were to be completely frank with yourself, you'd concede that this is something you should have been questioning ages ago. After your impromptu (and exceedingly biased) history lesson with the King, at the very least, if not well before. Granted, you had been a bit caught up in a plethora of your own issues recently – too caught up, being honest, to think about anything else – but the fact that you allowed yourself to be so mindlessly accepting for so long chagrins you.

Shouldn't you learn more about the event you're trying – or going to try – to undo? The event that shaped this future and your friends into what they are today?

Probably. Only...

Not when you're in the middle of your first date.

“i'd steak my life that you're lyin' right now,” Sans smirks.

“Puns? Now? Really?” You raise an unimpressed eyebrow.

Sans shrugs. “you knew what you were signin' up for.”

“Well, I think I want to unsign now, thanks.”

“heh. liar.” He takes a sip of wine – Papyrus threatened to disown him if he so much as glanced at a ketchup bottle this evening – and fixes you with a pointed look. “so... what's eatin' ya?”

“Nothing,” you say stubbornly, spearing another chunk of steak. “It's nothing important.”

“c'mon kid, i'm not blind.” Despite the harshness of his words, his tone is gentle. “is it about what undyne said?”

You flinch. “You... heard that?”

“yep.”

He offers nothing further, and you can't tell from his face whether he's angry or sad or something in-between. After a stretch of awkward silence, you abruptly give in.

“Look,” you sigh, putting down your knife and fork and rubbing the bridge of your nose wearily. “It's not that I'm... I dunno, scared of you now or something.” Well... maybe a little. But you're not about to tell him that. “And I'm not mad either, if that's what you think... Honestly, I...” You bite your lip, choosing your words carefully. “I get it, I guess. I mean I don't like it, but I get it. I can't blame you... for doing whatever it took to win.” Though you can – and still do – blame Asgore for letting it get that far in the first place. “If it had been the other way around...”

There's no need to finish that sentence. What little you know of human history before the war is more than enough to banish any lingering delusion that your species would have been any less brutal in their efforts. Just because you happen to be on the losing side doesn't automatically make you a paragon of virtue. The humans, you're sure, would have been just as merciless – more so even, because they wouldn't have given monsters the option of surrender.

Which raises it's own questions, now that you think about it. You've heard a lot about what the monsters did – how they levelled cities one by one and 'enslaved' the survivors – but next to nothing about what your fellow man had done in retaliation. Why is that? Surely humanity didn't just sit around waiting to be conquered?

You give yourself a mental shake. Queries for another time.

“I just... What Undyne said made me think,” you say sincerely. “I don't really know anything about... well, anything. The war is just this vague piece of history to me. Something that was done and over with long before I was even born....” You take a deep breath, letting it out through your nose. “I guess what I'm trying to say is... I want to know. I want to understand why erasing it is all so important to you.”

Sans considers your words quietly for a moment, absorbing what you said with a look of mild astonishment.

“well,” he says at last, phalanges scritching over the side of his skull absently. “not the direction i thought this conversation would go, i have ta admit.”

“Really?” You blink. “What did you think I was gonna say?”

“doesn't matter,” he dismisses. Too quickly, you think, but you let it drop. “i thought asgore already explained this stuff?”

“Some of it,” you frown. “But frankly I question his credibility. Besides, knowing the bare bones – ha, see what I did there?”

Sans grins. “good one, pal.”

Somewhat smug at your own (only half-intentional) pun, you continue.

“Anyway, knowing the bare bones of the thing really isn't good enough. I want to know it all. You say I'm supposed to use my willpower – my determination – to direct the flow of magic and change the progression of the time line, right?” You pause just long enough for him to nod cautiously. “Right. Well, how am I supposed to do that if I don't even know what it is I'm trying to change?”

Sans studies you openly for a minute, leaning back in his chair, something akin to pride in his expression.

“y'know, you're the first person to ask me that.” He sighs. “guess you've got a point.”

You say nothing, waiting patiently for him to go on.

“alright. alright, fine.” He takes another drink of wine, deeper than his last, as though preparing himself for what he's sure will be an unpleasant conversation. “better strap in, kid. this story isn't a short one.”

 

Chapter Text

When the humans finally declared war, it wasn't an immediate thing. It's not like they sent out their manifesto and that was it – 'now we're at war, please enjoy this A-bomb'. No, there was a grace period. A further month of guaranteed peace, before a returning declaration of intention had to be made.

Very different to how things were done in the old days, or so Sans had been told. Apparently, humans had... refined the art of war over the centuries. It was all about dotting the i's and crossing the t's by then. There were things like the Geneva and Hague Conventions to consider, great rambling laws on how a war was to be conducted.

“imagine,” Sans chuckles humourlessly. “rules for war.”

Of course, it wasn't like that for monsters. War wasn't about pretty words and complicated laws – it was about fighting to win, by any means necessary.

The fact that the humans gave them time to prepare was widely regarded as 'their own damn fault'.

For that whole month, while the world held it's collective breath, the monster King had his strongest minds (which basically amounted to Sans and Alphys) prepare for the coming war. There were arguments on how best to deal with the numerous threats humanity posed – nuclear weaponry, near endless numbers, special forces that could strike from the air and sea. If there was to be any hope, these would all need to be neutralised, and the monster population wasn't nearly as vast as their enemy. Magic could only account for so much.

In the end, it was Alphys that came up with the winning idea.

Simple enough in theory, she suggested using what amounted to a global scale electromagnetic pulse to knock out... well, everything. Without their advanced technology, humanity would be reduced to using what they had on hand – handheld weapons, firearms, fists. They wouldn't be able to shoot their fancy missiles, or even use their planes or boats to deliver the bombs personally. Better yet, communications would be fried too, so there would be no way to coordinate an attack with anyone who wasn't in the immediate vicinity.

Of course, in practice it was a lot harder. An EMP on that kind of scale was... improbable. Impossible, even...

Unless you had magic at your disposal.

It still took a lot of trial and error to produce something that would actually work. It was weeks – almost the entirety of the temporary ceasefire – before Sans and Alphys' combined efforts finally gave birth to Project Deus.

“i don't wanna get too bogged down with the details,” Sans tells you solemnly. “it involved some heavy duty science and magic, an' no offense, but ya probably wouldn't understand a word of it.”

“That's fair,” you nod. He's right – what you know about science couldn't fill the back of a tinderbox. What you know about magic even less so. Soldiers had no use for such things. “One question though; Project 'God'? Bit pretentious, don't you think?”

“heh, maybe.” He at least has the decency to look embarrassed. “that was my idea – y'know, like the latin phrase? deus ex machina?”

“... I only know 'deus'.” You'd picked it up from a woman called Abrielle back in the resistance. She was a very devout Catholic lady of robust build and Italian heritage, and was well-known for her habit of reciting old prayers in full-on Latin before every mission. And after. And during, sometimes. Whenever the opportunity arose, really.

“ah. well, uh... the phrase means somethin' like 'god out of the machine'... 's usually used to describe the resolution of a problem by means of absolute bullshit. which is how it probably looked to the humans, 'cause...” At your pointed look he cuts himself off. “y'know what? not important.”

Stripped back to the very simplest of terms, Project Deus used a pair of complex devices – one for either pole – to alter the planet's natural magnetism such that any non-magic-infused technologies (i.e. all human tech) became entirely dysfunctional.

It was a temporary measure, obviously. Altering a planet's magnetic field without causing huge and irreversible damage to it's ecosystem was a very precise, very dangerous undertaking – from the moment the devices were activated, the monsters had roughly two years max before they became unstable, at which point the projected wavelength would deteriorate and become deadly.

They had only needed a little over a year.

With the humans all cut off from one another, reduced to smaller groups of a more manageable size, the monsters set about dealing with them properly.

First the major cities, housing humanity's leaders.

Then the weapons bunkers, 'hidden' bases and labs.

Then the forces hiding at sea – their ships and submarines were easy to locate using Alphys' still operational tech.

Lastly, the smaller towns and villages.

And each time the process was the same. The monsters came in, gave the humans exactly one hour to surrender, and then laid waste to everything in sight before moving on to the next threat. There was little even the largest of cities could do to defend themselves against a concentrated battalion of magic wielders.

“Wait,” you frown. “What about the guns? Most guns are purely mechanical, right? No circuits or anything. So how did you avoid getting the shit shot out of you?”

Sans clears his throat, uncomfortable. “well... project deus wasn't the only thing me an' alph made...”

“I don't follow.”

“shield emitters,” he says quietly. “very expensive to make, both in terms of time and resources, with strict range and time limits. the magic needed to power one is... it's a lot. but while it's active, there's not much that can penetrate it.” He pauses, suddenly fascinated by his own bony hand against the table cloth. “we gave the handful we managed to make to our hardest hitters. Namely undyne, grillbz, asgore himself, and... me.”

“That seems... hugely unfair,” you say carefully. You're starting to recognise exactly how boned your species had been, and this before the war had even really started too.

To his credit, Sans doesn't try to justify it. “yeah.”

By the time the monsters were done, the human race was soundly beaten. Oh sure, there were probably a great many humans out there who'd escaped the monsters' judgement – it's not like they went out of their way to hunt the survivors down to a man. But without their leaders, or their weapons of mass destruction, or even any method of travel more advanced than a car, what were they going to do?

Exactly. Nothing.

Or as good as nothing anyway. The resistance may have been harrying New New Home for decades now, but what did their efforts really mean at the end of the day? They hadn't successfully taken a monster life in years.

Sans finishes his explanation and falls silent. He watches you expectantly, waiting for your reaction. Honestly though, you don't know how to feel, let alone what to say.

At the very least, you can see now why he might want to undo everything. That was a whole lot of blood on his – on everyone's – hands. The reality far outstrips even your most ambitious estimations.

By this point the place is quiet. It's getting late, and while there are still a few hours before MTT Resort's official closing time, most patrons who come at this hour are bound for the adjoining bar as opposed to the restaurant.

With a cough, you stand, unsteady on your feet despite your best efforts at calm.

“I, uh... I need to use the bathroom.”

You leave without a backwards glance.

 

Chapter Text

The ladies room at MTT Resort is, you think, unnecessarily lavish for the purpose it's meant to serve.

There's a row of sinks fashioned out of cut marble against one wall, with ornate taps that appear to be made of some kind of faux (you hope) gold. Opposite, the stalls are wide and... strange. You can't decide if the weirdness stems purely from the fact that the walls are star-shaped (and therefore peculiar and ungainly compared to what you're used to), or if it's the individual murals of Mettaton staring out at you from each one.

Probably both, in hindsight.

In the middle of the room, a giant marble statue of Mettaton in his humanoid form poses coyly, legs spread wide, hand pressed to his synthetic lips as though to blow a kiss. Mirrors in gilded silver frames, each bigger than you are, line the wall above the basins, making the bathroom all the more unsettling for the repetition.

And it's before one such mirror that you currently stand, your own grim expression staring back at you.

The faucet is still running, spraying the front of your blouse – an airy red thing, coupled with a black skirt that was much shorter than you were strictly comfortable with – and chilling the skin of your hands as you hold them under it. So far, all you've dared do is dab carefully at your neck and wrists. Much as you could do with with giving your face a splash, Undyne would suplex you into next week if you ruined her tastefully applied make-up – she was obscenely proud of her handiwork, though to your untrained eye there wasn't really that much of a difference.

“God, what am I doing?” you moan, cupping some water in one hand before rubbing the back of your neck.

Honestly, your head is all over the place. You don't even know why really. It's not like you hadn't gone into the conversation expecting it to be bad...

Just... Fucking hell, was it even right to call that a war? The word suggested the humans had put up somewhat of a fight, but from what you had just heard there'd been no such thing. There was no war – never had been.

It was simply a massacre.

Part of you actually has to admire the brilliance of it. Taking away all of humanity's greatest weapons in one fell swoop, as easily as taking toys from a child... Now that was impressive. Grossly unfair, but damn impressive...

And you still aren't mad – you really, really aren't – but you can't deny that the sheer scale of the thing, the thought and dedication that went into crushing your species into nothing...

Well, you can't deny that scares you a little.

And while most of you is more than happy to lay the blame directly at Asgore's front door – his stupidity started this mess, after all – there's a small whispering part that can't help but view Sans in a different light.

He planned this stuff.

Not on his own, granted, but still...

Sans was a significant and willing contributor to mankind's downfall. And much as you might wish it were otherwise, that didn't mean nothing.

Which made the fact that you still wanted to date him all the more fucked up.

A slightly hysterical laugh bubbles past your lips. “Oh God, what am I doing?” you moan again.

“Wish I knew.”

Stunned, you spin on your heel and come face to face with the timid waitress who'd been serving you and Sans all evening. Slim and mousy, she looks to be roughly in her early twenties, with close-set brown eyes and a small mouth and nose. When she'd taken your orders earlier, you'd noticed she had none of the warmth and exuberance of some of her fellow serving staff. There was just something muted about her – something quiet and forgettable. At the time, you'd put it down to simple shyness – she certainly looked the quiet type – though you now find yourself reassessing that conclusion.

Here, alone in the bathroom with her, she couldn't be less forgettable. Her expression is ablaze with determination. The contrast is so startling that you take an astonished step back.

“Oh! Uh... s-sorry. I didn't hear you come in.”

The waitress – Jade, her name tag says – gives you an appraising once over. “You're her, aren't you? The girl who cut her chip out?”

Of all the things you might have expected her to say, that was one of the last.

“Um...” You blink, utterly confused. “I... I guess?”

Jade's expression abruptly becomes triumphant. “Thought so.”

“O...kay?” Seriously, what the hell is going on here?

“I'm Jade,” she says unnecessarily, offering you a calloused hand to shake. “And you – you are an inspiration to us all.”

“Virago,” you respond, automatically accepting the handshake. Is it weird that it feels more natural to introduce yourself by your nickname than your birth name these days? “And I'm a what now?”

“An inspiration,” she repeats matter-of-factly. “I read all about you in the paper.” You were in the paper?! “The courage it must have taken to do what you did... It gave me chills.”

You chuckle uncomfortably at that. Yeah, courage... that's what it was.

“Never thought I'd get to meet you in real life.”

There's no way you can be understanding this chick properly. Why would anyone want to meet you? That's not a crack at your self-esteem or anything... It's just that in terms of relative renown, you're a nobody.

“Imagine my surprise when you walk in here, of all places... And with that monster too.” Jade eyes you shrewdly, crossing her arms and leaning against the sink next to yours. “You wanna tell me what that's all about?”

“Not... really?” You're getting a really bad vibe here. Jade, despite her self-professed awe of you, isn't coming across as particularly friendly. “With all due respect, it's kinda none of your business.”

“It is if we're both on the same side here,” she says carefully. “I can help you.”

“Help me what?” you ask, exasperated.

“Escape.”

There's an uncomfortable silence for a span of several seconds while you try to process that offer. Escape? To where? You live with Sans, so escaping anywhere would be an exercise in pointlessness. Why would she assume you needed rescuing anyway? Jeez, you must have been wearing a pretty intense facial expression back at the table for your waitress to decide you were in need of an out.

When you're quiet a beat too long, Jade starts talking again.

“Look, you can trust me – I'm part of a group who... well, it's kind of hard to explain. Think of us like...” She taps a finger against her chin thoughtfully. “Think of us like the resistance, only smaller. And in chains,” she adds bitterly. “We call ourselves the Freelancers.”

Dazed, you stupidly repeat, “Freelancers...?”

“That's right.” She eyes your blank look with a knowing smirk. “What? You didn't think all of us were as insanely happy to be here as we pretend to be, did you?”

Honestly, you hadn't given it much thought. The wards you'd met so far all seemed to be exactly as they appeared – ordinary people, just trying to get on with the business of living.

Clearly, that was not true for everyone.

“S-so, what?” you ask, struggling to gain a modicum of control over the situation. “You guys just... what do you even do?”

Please tell me you're not plotting an act of terrorism, you silently beg. That's all you need – another 'to tell or not to tell?' fiasco.

Jade looks a little embarrassed. “We... well, we don't do much. Yet. It's... it's kinda hard to make any bold moves when we're literally surrounded by the enemy.” Thank God for that. “Even if we did do something on a larger scale-,” she holds up her arm, the thin scar marking the location of her tracking chip, glinting in the harsh light, “we wouldn't live very long afterwards to brag about it.”

“I... see.” You have to ask. “And you're offering to help me escape because...?”

“You're one of us.”

Yeah, not buying that bullshit.

You stare her down, until eventually she cracks.

“We need your help,” she blurts. “You're the only one who's managed to cut their chip out... The only one with any experience, so to speak... We figured-,”

“What?” you laugh, appalled at the direction this conversation has taken. “That my so-called 'experience' – which, by the way, was bloody and excruciating – is an acceptable alternative to actual medical training?”

“Well,” Jade huffs defensively. “It's all we've got.”

“No,” you say, stepping away, turning towards the door. “You don't even have that much.”

“But-,”

“My answer is no.” Your hand pauses on the door handle. You keep your back to Jade, partly so she can't see the myriad emotions passing over your face – but mostly so you can't see the look on hers. “Trust me. You don't want those things taken out by anyone who isn't a qualified surgeon. It's true I got mine out, but I nearly bled to death for the trouble. It's just not worth it.”

With that, you leave the bathroom and hurry back to your table, away from Jade and all the objections she no doubt still had for you.

You're plenty aware that, all through her entire speech, not once did you try to set her straight. Not once did you hold your hands up and say, “sorry dude – ex-rebel right here”. You can't even properly justify it, can't explain why you didn't just tell her that your views are different to hers. Maybe it was just easier to let her think whatever she wants.

One thing, however, is certain; you've never been as sympathetic to Sans' Reset scheme as you are right now.

 

Chapter Text

“Can we leave now? Please?”

Sans looks up as you approach the table, his expression shuttered and unreadable. Contrary to your every expectation, he rises without complaint, nodding you towards the exit with nary a raised eyebrow. Normally, you might question such obviously peculiar behaviour – seriously, he didn't even drop a pun – but you're so freaked out by the conversation you just had with Jade that anything that gets you out of there faster is fine by you.

“go on an' wait for me outside. i'll get the bill.”

Something in Sans' tone – something heavy and resigned – gives you pause for a second. You blink, lips parting to ask what's got him so melancholy all of a sudden, but promptly seal them again when you spy Jade exiting the bathroom over his shoulder.

“R-right. Meet you outside.”

You retreat as hastily as you can without outright running.

The air outside is balmy, warm with the prospect of the coming summer. It feels good against your skin and in your lungs, refreshing after the cloying smell of roses that permeated the restaurant. Sitting on a nearby planter filled with brightly coloured blooms, you try to relax while you wait for Sans.

Easier said than done.

To distract yourself from the knot of anxiety quickly tightening in your stomach, you take your first good look around the neighbourhood – Sans had teleported you both on the way over, so you hadn't gotten a chance to scope the place out before.

Probably a blessing, you think, eyeing the gaudy cul-de-sac now.

The luxurious MTT Resort sits like a particularly vibrant jewel in a particularly ostentatious crown. Set back from what – in more prosperous times – would likely have been a turning circle for motor vehicles, the building looms over it's brethren. You get the distinct impression of a puffed up chest from the design, though you can't for the life of you pinpoint why.

The worst part – or best, depending on who you ask – has to be the pavement though. You remember finding an old magazine out on a supply run once, with a glossy picture spread in the middle, of Hollywood's 'Walk of Fame'. The path beneath your feet reminds you a lot of that magazine, only with various pictures of Mettaton instead of the names of movie stars who had actual talent.

You're eyeing one particularly mind-boggling square – seriously how does a robot even bend like that?! – when Sans strolls out of the Resort and joins you.

“hey,” he greets, voice low and and almost sombre. His hands are stuffed in his pockets, and you note with some confusion that he won't meet your gaze.

“Uh... hey?”

Silence.

“so... um. you wanna go home now, or...?”

“Not really...”

Feeling guilty, you realise what a horrible date you must be. You'd spent the first half of your meal together moping, and the second half hiding out in the bathroom. He probably thinks you're not interested, when in fact nothing could be further from the truth...

You just have a lot of other shit on your plate right now.

“Look, Sans... I'm really sorry about-,”

“'s fine. i get it.” He sighs. “guess that stuff was too heavy for a first date, huh?”

“Well... yeah, kinda,” you admit. Honestly, you think that stuff might be too heavy for any date, period. “But that's not why I wanted to leave.”

“oh?”

Hm. Now how do you explain what happened without dropping Jade right in it? Sure, you didn't exactly agree with her opinions – and her half-baked plan to have you cut the Freelancers' chips out for them was a stone's throw from utter madness – but you had to concede that she was... not entirely unjustified in her feelings.

It didn't matter what the monster's reasons were – they had still massacred most of an entire species, and imprisoned the majority of the survivors. Not everyone was going to just accept what fate had doled out to them, and you don't know why you ever assumed otherwise.

Hm. An interesting exercise in self-analysis; were you accepting it – this bastardised peace – because you know you can change it, or is it just because of how you feel about a select few monsters? Would you feel differently if you weren't as close to Sans and Papyrus and Undyne as you are?

Probably.

Abruptly, you realise how ingenious the Ward System really is. If other wards felt even half of what you felt for your monster friends... And while it clearly doesn't work for everyone – Jade being the prime example – it obviously works well enough if, nearly a year on, this is the first time you've met a rebel on the 'inside'.

Sans is still waiting for an answer. You've been quiet for a long time – almost too long – and so, cheeks warming against your will, you blurt the first thing that pops into your head.

“Our waitress was hitting on me!”

“seriously?” Sans cocks his head, puzzled. “how... uh... bold.”

May the ground swallow me where I stand.

“Y-yeah. She came into the bathroom after me, and... um...” Ironically enough, your bright red face lends a certain credence to your claim. “You know what, I really don't want to talk about it.”

Oh no. You know that smirk.

“aww, why not?” he positively purred. “can't really blame her – you are quite the dish.”

“Nope.” You spin on your heel and start walking away. “I'm out.”

“wait!”

There's a stunned pause before Sans bursts into fits of uncontrollable laughter. Despite yourself, you turn back, confused – he's doubled over, clutching his non-existent stomach and wiping imaginary tears from his eye sockets. It's a surprisingly pleasant sight, honestly, and you feel an answering rush of fondness radiate through your soul, a small smile tugging at the corners of your lips as he continues to crack up right there on the pavement.

wait!” he says again, gasping. “like waitress!”

You attempt to scowl.

It doesn't work.

“It's not that funny.”

“says you.”

Once Sans composes himself – it takes a solid two minutes – you both agree to grab some take-out (Grillby's, obviously) and head home for a video game session. For your part, you're mentally drained from... well, everything, and as far as Sans is concerned, greasy food and high stakes 'Crazy Taxi' is the ideal date anyway.

Thoughts of Jade fade quickly throughout the course of the evening, and even though the experience with her did give you newfound determination to see the Reset through – there's no way you can't do it now, seeing how volatile the situation in New New Home truly is – you make the executive decision to put it all on a back burner.

For now, all you want to do is enjoy the rest of your date with Sans.

Let tomorrow's problems be tomorrow's problems.

 

Chapter Text

“No.”

“c'mon now,” Sans scolds, giving you a pointed look. “we shook on it.”

It's somewhere past midnight (well past, if you're any judge, but you can't see the clock from here so the exact time eludes you). After thoroughly whooping your metaphorical ass at Crazy Taxi, Sans had amicably agreed to play a game you stood a bit more of a chance in – namely Mortal Kombat. After a few rounds, most of which you won, Sans had proposed a bet. In your hubris, you'd accepted.

Which is how you found yourself in your current predicament.

“You hustled me!” you accuse, crossing your arms huffily.

“i would never!” The grin in his voice, however, says different, even if his expression stays admirably straight. “now c'mere,” he says, patting the cushion next to him. “come and cuddle up to ol' uncle sansy.”

“Urgh.” You toss a cushion at him – which sails harmlessly over his head – but snuggle up anyway. “Do you have to make it sound so creepy?”

Sans snorts, but otherwise doesn't reply. He shuffles around a little, moving to accommodate your slightly taller frame beneath his left arm. It takes some doing, but eventually you find a position that works – your head rests on his clavicle, padded by the trademark hoodie he'd put back on immediately after returning from your 'date', and your knees are curled up at an angle beneath you. Once he's certain you're settled, Sans places his hand – the one behind your back – on your shoulder and nestles his lower jaw into your hair.

With his other hand he flicks through the channels, looking for something that doesn't star Mettaton. In the end he stops on a cheesy cartoon featuring a girl with cat ears – lame, but you'll take it over another re-run of 'Mettaton Alone' any day.

“so,” Sans prods, nudging you expectantly. “where were we?”

You grumble under your breath, stalling.

The terms of the bet had been simple – so simple, in fact, that you're surprised you didn't see this coming. Decided by the best two out of three (which had spiralled out of control fast after you lost twice in a row, finally becoming the best twenty-seven out of fifty-four before you admitted defeat), the loser had to answer the winner a single question. The question could be anything, and whatever it was had to be answered to the asker's satisfaction.

And if you had expected Sans to ask something easy, like the truth about the waitress or the meaning of life, you were deeply mistaken.

No, what Sans wanted to know about was your Reset. Meaning – he had been quick to clarify – everything pre- and post- his own death, right up to you tackling him and getting shot in the second timeline.

Cuddling in front of the TV was Sans' idea of a consolation prize, solace for your wounded ego and comfort for the coming conversation.

You're not complaining, exactly, but you do wish the circumstances were a bit different.

“vira...”

“I know...” you mumble. “Just... gimme a minute.” You readjust your position, wrapping your arms around his torso and pulling him closer – something tells you you're going to need to brace yourself for this.

With a deep, shuddering breath, you begin.

It's not an easy thing to put into words, the events of that night – it all happened so fast, and you were so... overwhelmed. Still are, sometimes, whenever you dare to think back on it. Which is admittedly not often, because God knows you have enough problems with nightmares without deliberately exploring their source.

But for Sans' sake, you try.

You start with what he already knows – how you'd known about the attack, and how you'd planned to put a stop to it yourself before you got... distracted. You describe Ivan's sudden appearance, the attempts you made to reason with him, and the numbness you'd felt when he pulled the gun on you.

Then, you try to explain Sans' death.

It should have been simple, considering the number of times you'd seen it replayed in your dreams, but nothing could be further from the truth. Several times you had to stop to reign your emotions in – twice you actually started to cry.

Sans, bless him, did his best to soothe you. He rubbed your shoulder, and told little jokes – not because he found the situation funny, but to serve as a reminder that he was still here. In this way you discovered that no, skeletons don't actually bleed. The stuff he'd been leaking was literally ketchup.

That got a laugh out of you, at least. And who knows? Maybe it would help, in the event of another nightmare. Kinda hard to treat ketchup with the same respect as blood.

When you finally get past the process of his bodily death – messy as it was – and begin to describe watching his soul shatter, something changes.

Sans' facial expression, for one. His cheekbones turn bright blue – a more pronounced blush than you'd ever seen on him – and he seems to have real trouble holding your gaze. A few times he coughs, awkwardly clearing a throat he doesn't possess.

Uncertain what his deal is, you continue on regardless – he asked for the whole truth, and that's exactly what he's getting. Besides, this was the one thing about that night that wasn't completely tainted with horror. Seeing his soul, feeling it's warmth and familiarity surround you in one last burst of comfort... It was the only thing you were glad to remember, and if you're honest...

Part of you really, really wants to share it with him.

“It was so... beautiful, Sans,” you say, a slightly awestruck note in your voice at the memory. “So bright and pure... and so delicate. I can't even really do it justice... It was the most wonderful thing I've ever seen.” Sans makes a sound a lot like choking, but you're too caught up in your story to really pay it much heed. “And when I touched it... it felt so-,”

“w-wait,” Sans interrupts, sounding like he might faint. “you... you touched it?”

You blink. “I, uh... yeah?” Suddenly nervous – had you unwittingly committed some horrible monster faux pas? - you pull back a little to examine his face. “I'm sorry... was that bad?”

“it's... well it's n-not... bad, exactly...” He visibly struggles for a moment, before abruptly giving up. “look, don't... just don't panic, okay? you didn't know what you were doin' and i absolutely forgive you.”

That... does not sound promising.

“Sans... What did I do?”

 

Chapter Text

“Oh my God...”

“calm down.”

“Oh my God!”

“it's fine...”

You're sitting on the other end of the couch, head between your palms as you stare at the carpet beneath your feet in abject horror. Sans kind of misses your warmth, misses the softness of your skin under his phalanges, but he understands that you might need a minute to process what he just told you.

“It's really, really not!” you wail, glancing at him and then quickly looking away with a tortured moan. “I... I molested you!”

“aw, pal... you didn't know what you were doin',” Sans hears himself repeat for the forth time. “c'mon, it's not that bad...”

And it wasn't, honestly; not from where he was standing. You may not know it, but your... er, mishap... had just given him a lot of valuable data on Resets. Vital data, even. He'd happily take a little non-consensual soul-touching for that. And besides... setting aside the initial shock of the thing, he doesn't really mind. Sure, he would have preferred to have had a bit more control over the process, but this is a perfectly acceptable alternative.

“You said it was the monster equivalent of copping a feel!” you cry.

Sans has to laugh. He had said that. It was more or less true too, but it was also something of an understatement – like the difference between a peck on the cheek and a tongue down the throat kind of understatement. Both could be considered kisses, but in terms of intimacy, one was very much not like the other.

So while you had indeed technically 'copped a feel', there was a very real difference between grabbing at someone's fleshy (or bony, in his case) bits and grabbing someone's... everything.

But of course, he isn't going to tell you that.

You might implode.

“It's not funny! You died, and I... I took advantage of you!”

Sans shrugs. He's certainly not complaining. “there's, uh, somethin' else too.”

“Oh God!” You bury your face in your hands – he can see how red you've gone from between your spread fingers, the tips of your ears bright with shame.

It's downright adorable.

But... if you thought feeling him up was bad, you were really not going to like what he had to say next. In hindsight, it makes perfect sense – the clinginess, the paranoia, the emotional instability... It's all so obvious. Practically a neon sign. Frankly, Sans doesn't know how he didn't pick up on it before.

“when you, uh... 'copped a feel',” he begins awkwardly, fiddling with the zip on his hoodie and keeping his eyes fixed steadfastly on his slippered feet. His face feels a little warm, and ridiculously, he can tell he's blushing too. “you kind of... um, that is you might've... uh, initiated a... s-soul bond with me?”

“I... what?”

“'s kind of... i dunno... the monster equivalent of marriage, i guess?” Again, an oversimplification, but Sans suspects the last thing you want right now is an in-depth lesson on soul bonding.

For a long minute, all you do is stare at him. Expressionless, slack-jawed, Sans might actually think you'd checked out altogether if not for the fact that your eyes are open. He's just debating the pros and cons of reaching over to give you a little shake when you finally come back to life.

“Tell me you're kidding,” you croak. “I did not... tell me I didn't fucking-,” you flail for a second, apparently unable to put your crime into words. “-date-marry you!”

“uh...” What the hell does 'date-marry' mean?

“Sweet Jesus, I date-married you...” you whisper, covering your mouth in horror. “I... I think I'm gonna be sick...”

“hey, calm down,” Sans insists. Still puzzling over the whole 'date-marry' thing, he nonetheless recognises all the signs of an impending panic attack and decisively sets that particular conundrum aside for now. With a fond sigh, he shuffles over and puts a comforting arm around your shoulders, pulling your quaking form close and rubbing soothing circles into your upper arm. “it's fine. 'f it makes ya feel better, i died before i could, um... reciprocate? so the only one who's really affected by any of this is you.”

“Yeah, that makes me feel loads better,” you snap, sharp and sarcastic.

Your breathing has become fast and hard – a sure sign that you're on the very cusp of losing it. For once, Sans hasn't a clue how to help you. Usually, he doesn't have to do anything but be there to bring you back to ground zero. The fact that his presence clearly isn't enough this time is more than a little alarming.

Lost and with few other options, Sans simply starts to talk. Maybe explaining the bonding process a bit will help? Even if it doesn't, he figures it's better than silence.

“it's not really a proper bond yet,” he says matter-of-factly, adopting what Alphys likes to refer to as his 'scientist voice'. “it's more like the idea of a bond at this point. see, monster bonding happens in stages. three of 'em, actually - initiation, consolidation and finalisation. initiation starts with mutual soul-touching and it... opens a channel, i guess? hm. basically it links the two souls, letting them pick up on simple emotions, general well-being... stuff like that.” He pauses, humming thoughtfully. “this actually explains why you've been so... um, possessive lately. the bond's only half done and your soul's instinctively trying to finish the job.”

Sans briefly considers delving deeper – soul bonding is a deep and well-documented topic of study within the monster community, and there are plenty of differing theories and views on the subject – but he doesn't want to freak you out with too much information at once. Besides, his strategy seems to be working already. You still have that wide-eyed, flighty look about you, but there's something else too – a certain curiosity; a contemplation that gradually overtakes the animalistic fear.

“S-so... it's not PTSD?”

“'s probably that too,” Sans says easily. “all 'm sayin' is the bond thing is makin' it worse.”

“Can it... can we undo it?”

Uh-oh.

Keeping his expression carefully neutral, Sans lies. For the first time that night, he lies right through his teeth. He hates himself for it, but there's no real choice here – things are going so well! Better than he'd planned, even. He can't afford such a setback, not at this late stage in the game. This bond business is a lucky break he never really thought he'd get... He finally has an advantage, and he'll be damned if he lets it go now.

“don't think so. if there is a way, i've never heard of it.”

You go quiet for so long after that, Sans starts to think you've fallen asleep. When you speak again you sound weary beyond words.

“I'm sorry, then” you whisper, morose. “I'm so, so sorry.”

Sans immediately feels like garbage. He barely manages to respond, his own guilt squeezing his soul in his chest. “don't be.”

Another minute passes before you give a wry little chuckle, looking up at him teasingly. “Guess I'm stuck with you now, huh?”

“is that a problem? you got some other skeleton on the side i should know about?” he jokes.

“Nah. It's just... weird. Until about a week ago I didn't know you were even interested... Hell, I didn't know I was interested. And now all of a sudden we're practically-,” you pause to swallow thickly, the word seeming to get lodged somewhere in your throat. “-m-married?” You level him a helpless grimace. “Doesn't that... I dunno, freak you out?”

“nope.”

“Seriously?” You raise your eyebrows.

“does it bother you?” he asks, genuinely curious.

“Well...” You struggle, face going beet red. “Th-there's a certain progression to these kind of things. There are rules.”

“pfft. more rules,” Sans scoffs. “you humans really cripple yourselves with all your stupid rules.”

“Yes, how silly of us,” you reply caustically. “I agree, people should definitely marry first and ask questions later.”

“that's not what i meant,” he chuckles. “i mean you all spend so much time debating the right and wrong ways to do things that you completely miss the point of doing them in the first place.” You appear to not know what to say to that. Tapping his bony fingers rhythmically against your shoulder, Sans hums. “look – do ya like me?”

Turning your face into the fluff of his hoodie, no doubt to hide the flush creeping across your cheeks, you nod. “'Course.”

“right. and i think it goes without sayin' that i like you a lot too.” He's three for three on the understatements today. At least that much is true, he supposes – he really does have a thing for you, for whatever that's worth. “so – what's the problem? we're not hurtin' anyone, 's not dangerous... maybe it is a bit soon, but what's done is done now, right? way i see it, we might as well just roll with it.”

Vaguely, Sans wonders who he's trying to convince more; you or himself?

“Right...” You pull away to look him directly in the eyes. “But you know... Just because I'm stuck with you, doesn't mean you have to be stuck with me. If you change your mind... if... i-if you ever wanted to be with someone else...”

Pausing, you frown as though the thought hadn't really occurred to you before. It's abundantly clear, just from your facial expression, that the idea of him with someone else is not a notion you're keen on. At all. But with steely determination, you shake your head and forge on regardless.

Watching the play of emotions on your face, Sans feels an unexpected rush of warmth in his soul. Heh. Stubborn fool that you are.

“If you ever decide that this-,” you point between the two of you, “- isn't for you... that's fine. I can deal with it, or whatever.” You don't sound overly confident about that. “And we don't have to... f-finish the bond either, if you don't want to. It's enough to just have you close. And-,”

“vira.”

“Yeah?”

“shut up.”

 

Chapter Text

The two of you decide, after discussing the matter at length, not to complete the Initiation phase of the bond just yet. Actually, you decide, and Sans goes along with it. Despite all that stuff he said about 'just rolling with it', you, at least, really feel like it's all happening a bit too soon. You're not ready to be 'married' yet, regardless of what your soul's telling you.

That, and you want to give Sans as much opportunity to change his mind as possible.

You want him to know he has a choice.

The fact that you started this... this freaky soul thing without his permission (or even his knowledge) makes you feel like absolute shit. He says it's okay - and hell, maybe he even believes that - but in your eyes, you still basically took advantage of him. Granted, you didn't know you were doing it, but even so...

So, despite the fact that your soul is literally pining for him – worse, you think, now that you know what's going on – you're determined to wait until he's sure. You refuse to let him irrevocably tie himself to you without really thinking about it first.

Aside from that, life is... normal.

Frustratingly so.

In fact, the only way you'd be able to tell that anything had changed at all, is by Sans' slightly reduced inhibitions. And when you say 'slightly', you mean it in the sense that the only person who would even really notice is yourself.

He's gotten... a bit handsy. If you can call it that. Not overly so, and not in a sinister or unwelcome sense – certainly, at this stage you don't think you'd mind if he were a little more so - but it's there. It's small things mostly, things like occasionally holding your hand – always discreetly – or squishing you more freely when the two of you are alone. He especially likes your stomach, poking and prodding and – once he figures out how it works – tickling it when the two of you are in bed together.

But that's as far as it goes, and while he's more than happy to give you a hug wherever and whenever the mood grabs you, he never initiates them and hasn't made any move towards anything else.

It's quite disheartening.

After weeks of this, waiting for him to make the next move – or hell, any move – you start to wonder if maybe he's having second thoughts after all. If you two are 'dating' now (and you, at least, had been under the impression that you were) then surely the two of you should be more intimate than this by now. It's been ages since your first date, and the two of you haven't even kissed...

Then again, he is a skeleton. No lips and all that.

Still. You feel like your relationship is the same as ever – a platonic connection built on Grillby's, games and God-awful puns. And while you love what the two of you have together, you keep thinking about the stupid bond and how it doesn't seem like enough any more. Sans' friendship is precious to you – you wouldn't give it up for the world – but you want more.

If the two of you are ever going to go through with this bond business, you need more.

It's with this thought in mind that you approach him, one lazy afternoon, as he's taking a nap on the couch. The two of you are alone - Papyrus is still at work and not due back for another hour or so. It's the perfect opportunity. And so – steeling your resolve – you roughly nudge him awake.

“mm?” He blinks blearily, looking up at you with a sleepy smile. “oh. s'up kiddo?”

“What are we?” you ask, not bothering to dance around it.

“uh... a skeleton an' a human?” Sans ventures, puzzled.

“No. I mean what are we? Us. Me and you.”

“well, what do ya want us to be?” he asks easily.

Like it's not a big deal.

Like it doesn't even matter.

If that's not a sign that his heart – or, er, lack thereof – isn't in it, you don't know what is.

“It doesn't matter what I want,” you mumble. “I want to know what you want.”

“hm. a bottle of ketchup would be good...” At your irritated scowl, Sans immediately backtracks, holding his hands up and righting himself on the couch. “easy! i was joking!”

“This isn't the time for jokes!” you snap. “I'm neck deep in this bond crap, and you're obviously not on the same page!”

You have to remind yourself that none of this is his fault. You started this, not Sans. After a deep, calming breath you continue, forcing the edge from your voice.

“I understand if you don't want the same thing as me, just... don't treat it so lightly, please.”

Sans raises an eyebrow. “whoa, now... where's all this coming from?”

“It's been weeks since our date, Sans.”

“yeah... and?”

And, nothing's changed.” You sit down heavily, sinking into the couch cushions with a fatigued sigh. “We're not... intimate. Like, at all. I know you're a skeleton-,” He snorts, amused by your cunning observation. You ignore him. “- so I know these things probably work different for you... And that's fine!” you hasten to add. “I'm fine with different. But... I dunno, it feels like we haven't really... progressed. Past being friends, I mean.”

Sans says nothing, examining you in thoughtful silence.

“A-and I'm not saying that like it's a bad thing, or anything,” you continue nervously, filling the dead air with your anxious rambling. “I'm happy being just friends if that's the way you want it... I just need to know if - if that's the case. I want you to give it to me straight, y'know? Instead of keeping me-,”

Sans presses a finger to your lips, halting your spiel mid-flow.

“'kay, first of all – racist, much? jus' 'cause i'm a skeleton doesn't mean 'these things' are any different for me than they are for anyone else.” He offers you a wink, subtly letting you know he's not holding any grudges. “second – if you wanted more, why didn't you ask for it?”

You give him a look. “It might surprise you to learn this, but I'm kind of new to all this. I've never dated anyone before... not – not in the traditional sense, at least.” One night stands and short-lived friends-with-benefits affairs are (were) more your style – but there's no way you're telling him that. “I'm feeling around in the dark here... Besides, you're the one stuck with the bond you didn't ask for. I figured it was only fair to let you set the pace.”

“heh. funny. i was lettin' you call the shots,” he chuckles sheepishly, scratching the bone under his left eye socket with one finger.

You stare at him, appalled. “Why would you ever do that? Haven't I more than proved myself a horrible decision-maker? I think we've established that-,”

Sans moves suddenly and you find yourself silenced. Whatever you were going to say next dies on your tongue, as his skeletal smile presses firmly against your lips.

It's not a storybook moment – there's nothing particularly magical or ethereal about the kiss. It's kind of weird actually. It's exactly how you'd expect having your lips pressed up against teeth would feel. There's a slight undercurrent of static – the natural thrum of the magic that powers his very existence – but it's so understated and subtle that you hardly even notice it at all.

Setting aside the strangeness of it, you immediately decide it's still the best kiss you've ever experienced.

Maybe it's because of the bond. Maybe it's simply because it's Sans, and you want it so much. Whatever it is, it makes your heart sing and your stomach pool with warmth. You lean in with vigour and let your eyes flutter closed, hands automatically gripping the front of his hoodie to pull him closer. Sans, for his part, hesitantly brings a hand to the back of your head, gently caressing your scalp with his fingertips.

Too soon – much too soon – he pulls away.

Dazed, you open your eyes and blink at him. “W-wow...”

“i'll say,” he agrees lightly, brushing a stray strand of hair back from your face. His cheekbones are slightly flushed, suffused with that delicate blue light you're starting to like so much. “we're definitely doin' that again.”

In lieu of words, you lean in and plant another one on him.

It's a while before either one of you gathers enough wit to separate in time for Papyrus coming home.

 

Chapter Text

Kissing Sans becomes your new favourite pastime. You do it as often as possible, and in as many different ways as you can think of – a quick peck in-between gaming sessions; a long drawn out smooch while the two of you lie in bed; a sloppy exploration of the inside of his mouth, on the rare occasion the two of you are alone for an evening in front of the TV... Really, you spend more time kissing him in the fortnight following your little chat than you'd spent kissing all of your previous trysts put together.

Sans, for his part, returns your affections with surprising zeal. Now that he knows you're happy – eager, even – for him to take the lead, he grows bolder and bolder with each passing day. His hands, already accustomed to playfully pinching and squishing your less private fleshy bits, have taken to roaming. He seems to particularly enjoy your butt, which is both embarrassing and vaguely hilarious.

“it's so soft!” he exclaims, cupping as much of one cheek in his wandering palm as he can during an especially feverish make-out session. “but kinda firm too,” he notes, giving it an experimental squeeze. He grins when you let out a startled yelp. “better than your stomach.”

You had slapped his hand away with a chagrined chuckle. “Didn't realise you were rating my body parts,” you'd joked.

However, for all that he was enthusiastic in his explorations of your body, it soon became patently obvious that he was woefully inexperienced.

Not that there was a problem with that or anything. Hell, you felt just as clumsy and awkward as he did most of the time. The two of you were just figuring each other out, learning where to touch and how... testing the waters, so to speak. And not surprisingly, it was a bit different with a skeleton than it had been with a human. In that regard, you had precious little idea what you were doing either.

You were learning though.

For example, you now know that Sans really likes having his ribs touched. You'd discovered this juicy detail one evening on the couch, when you'd absently let your hand wander up his shirt to graze over them lazily. You'd been trailing a delicate pattern of circles and spirals over his sternum, when all of a sudden he'd shivered beneath you. Glancing up curiously, you'd found him in an... interesting state.

It hadn't taken you long to decide it was a look you enjoyed on him. Sweaty, blue-cheeked, panting a little... The sight did funny things to your insides, and no joke.

So, yeah, you'd thought about it. Had been thinking about it for a while.

The next step.

You know you'll have to ask about it one day. You'll have to ask about sex, and how – or if – that was going to work for the two of you. Logically, him being a skeleton and all, it should be impossible. But every time you think you've got yourself convinced that it's never going to happen, you remember how he looked when you touched his ribs... That was arousal if you'd ever seen it, and if he can feel arousal then it stands to reason he must have a way to relieve it.

Buuut...

That's all moot at this stage anyway. You've thought about it, sure, but you know you're not ready. And you know Sans isn't either – he always stops before things get too heavy, always gently disengages when either of you start to get carried away. And sure, part of you is disappointed, but mostly you're relieved. At least one of you has the good sense to take things slowly.

God knows your situation with Sans is complicated enough without adding sex to the mixture just yet.

There's the unresolved matter of the bond, for one thing. He brings it up every now and then, usually after you've had one of your (still annoyingly frequent) 'episodes'.

“y'know, this wouldn't happen if the bond was complete,” he tells you one night, lying with his arms wrapped around you in bed. “we can finish it any time you want.”

And you appreciate the gesture, really, you do, but you're still determined to give him time to think. Time to back out.

Even if the soul bond wasn't a thing, the Reset business very much is. Part of you can't help but wonder what the point is, if you're just going to undo it in the end anyway. The only real justification you have is that you want to, and honestly, you're not sure that's a good enough excuse. Not when Sans is going to have to live with the memories (or... fuzzy impressions, you suppose? You're still a bit shady on how his knowledge of the timelines works) when it's done.

The brutal fact of the matter is, the closer the two of you get, the harder it'll be on him when you're... unborn. And yeah, maybe the two of you might meet again, eventually, but there was always the possibility that you wouldn't. Though it's hard for you to imagine, the world was once a big place filled with billions of people – even if he looked for you, it would be like trying to find a needle in a needle stack.

But that wasn't even the worst possible outcome. What if Sans did find you? Would you even remember him? You'd remembered his death in the previous timeline easily enough, but you're under no illusions – that is very different from this. And if you didn't remember...

It didn't bare thinking about. A life without him was bad enough – even despite the fact that, in that scenario, you wouldn't know the difference – but for Sans to find you, and then be forced to watch you move on with your life without him, completely unaware of... of everything...

It was too cruel.

… Was it awful of you to admit you wanted him anyway?

Probably.

Thinking about it all gives you such a headache. You feel like you're going round and round and round, circling the problem repeatedly and always arriving at the same conclusions.

What you need, you know, is a sounding board. Someone to talk to about the whole messy ordeal, someone more or less impartial who can give it to you straight.

Fortunately, you think you know just the right 'someone' for the job.

 

Chapter Text

Undyne is supremely unimpressed by your performance in training the following morning. So unimpressed, in fact, that she breaks a rib just on principal. You swear, sometimes you think she forgets you're only human – Papyrus is happy to remind her while he fixes it up in the kitchen.

“REALLY UNDYNE,” he scolds, pumping you full of warm healing magic. “HUMANS ARE FRAGILE! EXERCISE SOME RESTRAINT!”

Seeing an opportunity to win back some brownie points with her – points you'll need if you expect her to sit through your detailed rundown of you and Sans' developing relationship – you quickly intercede on her behalf.

“It's fine, Paps,” you insist, hissing when his prodding jars a particularly sensitive spot. “I should've been paying attention – I took my eyes off the ball, and I got what I deserved.” Then, after a moment of thought, you add somewhat sullenly, “and I'm not that fragile.”

Your ploy works, and Undyne's grim expression softens a little.

“Hell YEAH you shoulda been payin' attention, punk!” She punches your arm, startling a yelp out of you and earning a glare from Papyrus. She offers him a rueful grin, and he returns to his work with a sigh. “What was up with you today anyway? You haven't been that bad in ages.”

“I was um... distracted,” you evade awkwardly.

“Clearly,” Undyne snorts. She doesn't say anything else – it's an unexpected display of tact for her, and one you're extremely grateful for.

“I BELIEVE I AM DONE,” Papyrus eventually sighs, giving your rib another exploratory poke. You flinch automatically, expecting pain, but pull your shirt back down with a nod when there is none. “EXCELLENT. WELL THEN, IF THAT'S ALL, I'LL BE ON MY WAY – I'M ALREADY LATE FOR MY PATROL.”

“S-sorry, Pap,” you grimace. He smiles at you warmly, and although it's just a little weak around the edges, it's clear there are no hard feelings. Of course there aren't – this is Papyrus, after all.

“Hey, no big,” Undyne grins, giving him a slap on the back that nearly topples him over. “I'm your boss anyway, and I say it's cool.”

The two of you watch him leave together, and as soon as the door shuts behind him Undyne turns to you with an expectant look.

“So,” she says without preamble. “What's on your mind, bestie?”

Surprised, you regard her cautiously. “What makes you think anything's on my mind?”

“You're joking, right?” You shrug helplessly. “Tch. I KNOW there's something botherin' you, because you SUCKED today. Plus you keep givin' me these looks like you got something to say...” Jeez, had you been that obvious? “So. Talk.

Well. You'd been hoping for a smoother segue than that, but hey – you'll take it.

“Okay, so here's the deal...”

You fill Undyne in on everything. And by everything, you do mean everything. The good, the bad and the ugly, from your accidental Reset, to the equally accidental bond. You even confess to your more sinful thoughts – admittedly the version you give Undyne is a little (a lot) censored, but you figure if you want her honest advice, you need to be honest too. It's... ultimately not something she thanks you for.

“UGH!” she gags, looking at you like you just admitted to wanting to drink raw sewage. “Seriously dude? Too much info!”

To your astonishment, despite the embarrassment involved in laying bare your innermost thoughts and feelings, there's a certain relief to the process as well. It's nice to have someone to finally share all this with, someone who isn't the object of your turmoil in the first place. As you give Undyne a rundown of all the reasons you have for not getting involved with Sans, it feels like a weight is lifting right off your shoulders – a weight you didn't even realise was there.

When you're done, the two of you sit in silence as Undyne chews over everything you told her. She looks unhappy about something, conflicted even, and you wonder if it's something in particular you've said, or if it's just because it's Sans.

Probably both.

“NNNNRRGH! Alright, look,” she explodes at last. “I'm only gonna say this once, so listen up punk! Sans is a good guy.” She says this grudgingly, her expression twisted as though the words cause her physical pain. “Sure, he's made some choices I can't really get behind... but he's doin' what he thinks is right and even I can't fault him for that.”

“Okaaaay... But what does that have to do with-,”

“Shut up, I'm not done yet!” You do so at once, your jaw snapping closed with an audible click. “Like I was sayin' – Sans is a good guy. And it's because he's ultimately a good guy that I'm gonna say what I'm about to say next.” She pauses briefly, taking in a deep breath before letting it all out in a gust of barely contained aggravation. “I think you should go for it.”

Somehow, that surprises you. You don't know what you were expecting – an argument maybe, some dissent at the very least... The ease with which she gives you the green light is slightly disconcerting.

“B-but...” you object. “What if he bonds to me and then meets someone else? What if I'm not the one he's meant to be with?”

Undyne openly scoffs at your concerns. “Pffft! 'Meant to be with'? I dunno how it works with you humans, but us monsters don't buy into that whole 'predestined, one true love' bull crap. Love is somethin' that's built, not somethin' you just find just lyin' around. And if the two of you go ahead and bond, trust me, him findin' someone else won't ever be an issue.” She gives you a serious look. “It's kinda a one time deal.”

“Alright,” you allow, willing to take her word for it. “But then what about the Reset? Doesn't that make all of this... I dunno... kinda pointless?”

“I suppose that's one way to look at it, yeah,” she admits, stunning you with the frankness of her reply. “And if that's how you feel, then maybe you shouldn't bother... But lemme ask you this; is Sans' death pointless too? Does it hurt any less just 'cause you Reset it? Does it mean any less?”

You flinch. Just as Undyne intended, the example hits home. And she's right. The fact that Sans' death had been undone didn't make the truth of it any less awful. Reset or no Reset, memory or no memory, you didn't want something like that to happen ever again – by very definition, that meant it couldn't be meaningless.

So then in reverse...

Letting yourself get involved with Sans wouldn't be meaningless either.

… Or maybe you're just trying too hard to justify it because you really want it.

Either way, you can feel your resolve start to waver.

“What if he remembers? After, I mean. What if it hurts him?” you ask, a last ditch effort to force Undyne into talking you off the ledge.

“Well, that's his risk to take, isn't it?” She slaps a heavy hand on your shoulder. “But even if it wasn't, what would you rather live with – the memory of what was, or the regret 'cause you never took the chance?”

And when she puts it like that, well...

It all seems rather simple, doesn't it?

 

Chapter Text

“Sans?”

“nnnmmgh.”

“You awake?”

It's night time – two or three in the morning, if you're any judge – and you've been thinking about your chat with Undyne all day.

It's not that you're still agonising over whether to go through with the bond or not – frankly, that decision had been made before Undyne even left the house this morning. Whether or not you'd chosen wisely was still up for debate, but the choice was made regardless.

No, rather, you've been thinking about how best to approach Sans on the matter.

One would think it should be easy. He had said – on several separate occasions – that he was willing to complete the bond with you whenever you saw fit. Rejection, you knew, was so unlikely at this stage as to be impossible.

Still.

How do you approach your still very new boyfriend (new enough that you hesitate to even use the b-word, unable to shake the feeling that you're being horribly presumptuous) and tell him you want him to er... soul-marry you?

Apparently, you think to yourself wryly, watching Sans struggle to rouse himself enough to respond, you ambush him in the dead of night with stupid questions on his state of consciousness.

Why do you feel like you're already messing this up?

“i wasn't,” Sans grumbles, squinting in the dim light of his own pupils. “what's so 'mportant that ya gotta talk 'bout it now?”

Well. You've come this far.

“I want to finish the bond.”

That seems to wake him up. “huh. well, alright... you, uh... you sure, pal?”

Not really the answer you were expecting. Somehow, you thought he'd be more enthusiastic.

“Yeah... that is, if you still want to...” Thank God it's dark. Your face is burning, the humiliation of his imagined refusal forming a pit in your stomach. You have to remind yourself that he hasn't actually said no yet, and that it's very unlikely he's going to.

It's cold comfort from where you're sitting.

Fortunately, he answers before your mind manages to spin completely out of control.

“'course i do,” he says softly, coupling his words with a gentle caress over your warm cheek. “more than anythin'. i just wanna be sure it's what you want.”

“It is,” you assure him, catching his hand in yours and entwining your fingers. If nothing else, you can at least say that with certainty. It's definitely what you want. “If you're sure, I'm sure.” You lean forward and kiss his mouth briefly, before pulling back to rest your forehead on his. “And it would be nice to not have a heart attack every time I lose sight of you,” you add jokingly.

“heh. well, i am heart-stopping.”

You wrinkle your nose in disgust. “Really, Sans? We were having a moment!”

“sorry. was that too coronary?”

“You know what? I think I've changed my mind,” you sigh. “I don't wanna be bonded to a doofus like you.”

“you break my heart, kid.”

“...”

“ignoring me now? heartless.”

“You done yet?”

“fine. but y' can't deny those puns were heartfelt.” He chuckles over the sound of your groan. When he continues, his tone is level – serious in a way that tells you his next words are important business. “now uh... before we do this, there's a few things you'll need to know. about how the bond works.”

Grip tightening on his t-shirt, you nod determinedly. “I'm listening.”

“okay. so, first thing – a bond is basically an open channel between two souls. souls naturally exude their own aura, a kind of... i dunno, radio signal i guess? they give out a weak, general impression of who they are an' what they're feelin' at any one time. you follow?” You make an affirmative sound. “right. so all souls emit their own aura, but not every soul can read the aura of others. in order to 'hear' another soul, y' have to be one of two things – hyper empathetic, which is rare even among monsters, or a bond partner. long story short, the bond will let me know how you're feelin' and vice versa.” He pauses, giving you a moment to take that in. “at first it'll just be the more powerful emotions, but the effect gets stronger with time. some bonds have been known to get so strong, it's like the pair can read each others' minds.”

Okay, that was... kind of intimidating, actually. You were no stranger to physical intimacy, but when it came the emotional stuff... yeah, not your forte. That's not to say you were having second thoughts – far from it – it's just that the true scope of what you were about to do had somehow eluded you until now.

You take a moment to digest the information. Honestly, the idea of having someone more or less camping out in your soul is kind of daunting. But, you suppose, if it's Sans...

“What else?” you say at last.

“huh?”

“What else do I need to know about the bond?” you prod.

“well, apart from the emotional telepathy, we'll always be instinctively aware of each others' locations. not specifically – i won't be able to tell you're in the kitchen while i'm at the lab or anything.” He hums thoughtfully, absently massaging your scalp as he thinks. “think of it like... a compass. yeah, that works – it's like havin' an internal compass. mine will always point to you, and yours will always point to me.”

“That doesn't sound so bad.” Sure, it was a bit weird, not to mention cheesy as hell, but it might actually come in handy. If you always knew roughly where he was, you'd have no reason to freak out when the two of you weren't together. “So... uh, how do we do this thing?”

“hold up. there's one more thing.”

“Yeah?”

“yeah.” Abruptly, Sans sounds embarrassed – perhaps even more so than he'd been during his original lecture on soul-bonding. Instinctively, you brace yourself, experience having taught you to be wary of anything with the power to embarrass the normally unflappable skeleton. “it's um... well. in... in monster society, we only become er... viable? once we've bonded.” He laughs awkwardly. “believe it or not, overpopulation was a big problem when we were trapped underground – it's an evolutionary thing... at least we think it is. there is this one theory about the old royal scientist but, uh, no one can really remember him so-,”

Frowning, you lean back to meet his gaze. “Sans, I don't get what you're trying to say here.”

“uh basically, once we do this i'm gonna become... um. fertile.”

A pregnant silence.

Oh God.

Oh God.

Tell me we're not having this conversation.”

“uh...”

“I just got used to the idea of soul-marriage,” you state, your calm voice belying the deep and unyielding horror you feel within. “I can't even begin to tell you how much of a nope kids are right now.” Or ever, you add silently.

“n-no!” His face is so blue it practically glows. “no, i didn't mean it like that!”

An awkward atmosphere settles between you. The fact that neither of you are even remotely ready to start a family goes – in your mind at least – without saying, but even if you were, no child deserved to be brought into this awful world. If you ever had a child, you wanted it to be in that shining future you dreamed of, not here, where the future was so bleak and volatile.

Eventually, Sans clears his throat and mumbles an explanation into your chest, where he'd buried his face in abject humiliation.

“i only brought it up 'cause monster fertility comes with some... behavioural shifts. i didn't wanna scare ya.”

You're not even sure you want to ask. “Like?”

“w-well... i'll probably become a bit... um, protective? your training sessions with undyne are gonna be really hard for me to watch. and harder for me not to,” he adds grimly.

“Oh, so you might actually start giving a crap when I get the snot beaten out of me?” you joke, trying to lighten the mood. It works, somewhat.

“i always gave a crap,” Sans defends, poking you in the belly. “i just know better than to interrupt one of undyne's lessons.” He pauses, and you can practically taste the tension in the air. Clearly, there's more. “the other thing is um... i'm probably gonna get really, er... amorous.”

You almost can't say it with a straight face. “Amorous?”

“yeah. y'know how i've been pretty good at stoppin' myself before things get too far?” Almost too good, you think wistfully, stomach suddenly in knots. Sans pulls away from your embrace completely to look you directly in the eyes, his expression deadly serious. “i won't be able to do that any more.”

 

Chapter Text

You and Sans talk out the details that very night and agree to do the deed this coming weekend.

Personally, you'd have been happy to finish things up then and there, but Sans insists that the two of you need absolute privacy for the event. When you ask him why, he sheepishly explains that he doesn't want to risk being interrupted. Papyrus is naturally inquisitive, with an almost supernatural sense of timing when it came to awkward situations. Unless he was otherwise occupied, it was all but certain he'd come barging in at some point.

Fortunately, the lanky skeleton was heading to Undyne's for a sleepover this Saturday anyway. Four days wasn't that long a wait...

Except that it was.

It might as well be an eternity.

Now that the decision had been made, you were eager to get down to business. For the first time in a long time, your soul, your heart and your head were all perfectly aligned – to the point where you couldn't think of anything else. Sans filled your mind pretty much constantly – he was your first thought in the morning, and your last thought at night. You even dreamed about him.

Which was kinda sad, honestly. But that was the story of your life these days, wasn't it? A helpless cliché.

To make matters worse, you'd been getting very... brave lately. Something that did little to curb your obsession, and even less to temper your impatience.

Sans' confession that he'd probably become incapable of holding himself back after you bonded had done funny things to your own inhibitions. In the days leading up to B-day (as you'd secretly taken to calling it) you had become much more daring in your explorations of his body, hands wandering brazenly into new territory, often with some interesting results.

You recall, with a delightful shiver, the evening you actually pinned him to the couch during a particularly heated make out session. Almost without thinking, you'd cheekily slipped a hand up his shirt and inside his ribcage, allowing your digits to ghost oh-so-gently over his sternum from within. Sans' reaction had been delicious. The moan he'd let out – breathless, full of heat and a longing that could almost be mistaken for pain – featured frequently in your dreams.

You almost hadn't stopped that time. Sans had been forced to use his magic to remove you when he heard Papyrus' key in the lock.

So needless to say, by the time Saturday finally rolled around, you were ready. More than ready – you were desperate. Papyrus couldn't leave fast enough, and when he did, waving to the two of you at the door and calling back reminders as he meandered down the path to New New Home (“AND REMEMBER TO EAT SOMETHING RESPECTABLE FOR DINNER! I'VE LEFT SOME SPAGHETTI IN THE FRIDGE FOR YOU BOTH!”) it took you precisely half a second to push Sans back against the closed door and kiss him until you were seeing stars.

“So, uh,” you say breathlessly, pulling away to regard his flushed cheeks with a kind of pride. “how do we... do this thing?”

“u-um...” Sans sounds just as dazed as you do, his voice shaky and hoarse. “i... i guess we, uh... take this upstairs?”

You don't need to be told twice.

Practically dragging Sans along behind you, you jog to his room and slip inside, closing the door behind you both. Releasing his hand you turn to sit on the bed, gazing up at him expectantly. There are butterflies in your stomach, and despite (or perhaps because of) your enthusiasm, you feel so nervous that you think you might puke.

This is real. This is actually happening right now. You're about to get soul-hitched to a skeleton.

“o-okay. so, uh... usually when monsters do this they... take out their souls at the same time and... and uh...” He rubs the back of his skull, glancing away shyly as his cheeks become bluer and bluer with every word. “t-touch them.”

Well... you can see one glaring problem with that right away.

“I can't...” You make a vague gesture, an imitation of pulling something out of your chest. “I mean, can humans even...?”

“no... not... not usually,” Sans admits. “i'll have to do it for ya. normally, pullin' two souls out at the same time would be... well, not difficult, not by itself... but, uh, it might make the process harder to, um... control. s-so i figure, y'know, since you've already touched mine...”

“You're cute when you're nervous,” you smile, and reaching out you take his hand, rubbing the smooth bones of his fingers encouragingly. “I'm happy to do this however you think is best. Just tell me what to do.”

Truth be told, you are a little disappointed that you're not going to see his soul tonight. That was part of the reason you were so excited in the first place – you'd been looking forward to seeing that light again, to feeling it's warmth and energy and... and Sansness flow through you. You'd wanted to touch the part of him that was him, in the truest sense of the word, and to know that you were doing it this time.

But... well, if you had to, you could wait. The important thing today was to complete the bond – to finally rid yourself of this ridiculous one-sided obsession. Sans had promised that having a full bond would make it easier. At the very least, he'd said, it would put a stop to the panic attacks, because no matter where he was physically, you'd be able to feel him in your soul.

“alright.” Sans sits on the bed by the headboard, legs crossed, and gestures for you to copy him on the other side. You do so obediently. “i need ya to stay still. very, very still. 'kay?”

Frowning, you nonetheless nod. “Okay. Can I ask why?”

“well... don't freak out or anythin', but uh... if you startle me, i could end up accidentally absorbing your soul.”

“R-right...”

That doesn't sound like something you can come back from. You make an extra concentrated effort to remain motionless.

Satisfied that you're following his instruction, Sans takes a deep, cleansing breath and closes his eyes. After a second he reaches toward you with one hand, and you swear you feel something deep within you give a little jolt in response. Then there's a tugging sensation and suddenly, the room around you is suffused in bright red light.

A red heart shape, vibrant and perfect, floats serenely above Sans' hand.

It's pretty, you decide. You've never seen your own soul before, but you immediately like the look of it. It suits you.

Sans opens his eyes. He examines your soul silently for a moment, his expression one of complete awe – you imagine that's how you looked when you saw his soul. Or how you would have looked, if he hadn't been dead at the time.

“wow...”

“Yeah,” you agree.

“okay... okay, i'm gonna...” He points with the finger of his other hand, miming a gentle caress. “it's gonna feel... well, i dunno, exactly, but uh... brace yourself anyway.”

Determined, you set your jaw. “I'm ready.”

Delicately, as though your soul were made of glass, Sans brings the digit he used to point close to the surface of the heart. You shiver, goosebumps erupting over your flesh as you feel his magic brush close to your... well, your everything, you suppose. Sans glances up one last time, a questioning tilt to his head, and when you meet his gaze steadily – silently granting him this final permission – he delicately runs the tip of his finger over the heart in a long line, trailing from one flawless curve at the top all the way to the pointed bottom, before (with an apparent effort) removing contact altogether.

You would have liked to have seen his reaction – you wonder later on, when all is said and done, if it was the same for him as it was for you.

But alas, you never find out.

Having him touch your soul is different to how it had felt touching his. It was like... comparing the sun to a cheap heat lamp. If you touching his soul was like a hand stroking lovingly over your face, then him touching yours was tantamount to a bear hug – a sensation so warm and all-encompassing, you weren't entirely sure where you ended and Sans begun. And in that embrace, you could feel... everything.

Even when he backs off and the intensity fades, you can still feel his essence all around you. His aura settles over your own like a veil, a pleasant presence where once there had been only you.

'Channel' is an apt enough description for it, you think – as the bond continues to solidify, it doesn't take long for you to start getting figments from him. Impressions of happiness, of worry and respect and fondness... and of lust.

Sans gently pushes your soul back inside your chest, watching your reaction intently. Once it's in there, his aura dissolves further, becoming little more than a tiny whisper in the core of your being, a murmur that you almost can't hear unless you're specifically looking for it.

You feel the loss acutely.

Coming to your senses, you meet Sans' gaze and are surprised by what you find there. His eye lights are brighter than you've ever seen them, intent – hungry, even – as they take in your quivering form. There's a particular reverence in that look, a kind of helpless amazement that makes your skin tingle.

You'd bet everything you own that your own expression is exactly the same.

It's like you're seeing him clearly for the very first time. The things you already liked about him are somehow even more attractive – his grin in particular hits all the right notes, and how had you never properly appreciated the curve of his jaw before? Even things you'd never particularly paid attention to seem to stand out like a beacon. You notice how perfectly all the bones of his hands fit together, how pleasantly his wardrobe fills him out, how his pupils twinkle at you like tiny stars from within his dark sockets...

He is magnificent.

You suddenly understand what Undyne meant when she said that bonding was a one time thing.

Because you know, down to the very roots of your soul, that you will never want anyone else.

 

Chapter Text

You're not sure who moves first. All you know is that one minute you're sitting cross-legged on the bed, drinking Sans in, committing him to memory with every sense at your disposal, and the next you're straddling him, kissing him hard on the mouth as though your very life depends on it.

Sans reciprocates feverishly, his bony hands clumsily grabbing at every inch of you he can reach, sliding under your loose shirt to squeeze at the soft flesh of your belly even as his tongue delves between your lips to explore the cavern of your mouth. In your excitement you hastily return the favour, running your fingers over his covered ribcage, enjoying each dip and curve, revelling in the oddness of him compared to your previous lovers.

Immediately you decide it's not enough.

Breaking away, you push insistently at his hoodie, shoving at the shoulders and letting out a little grunt of frustration when he doesn't remove it fast enough. Sans doesn't even have time to toss it aside before you're pulling at his t-shirt too.

“h-heh,” he pants once you've successfully ripped it from him. He sounds like he's run a marathon. “a little... impatient... a-aren't we?”

You sense a pun coming on. Whether that's because of the newly minted bond between you or simply because you know him so well, you don't much care to guess.

“Don't you dare,” you murmur, pressing another kiss to his teeth, shivering as his magic tingles across your lips like popping candy. Curious, you start pressing kisses over his jaw and down towards his clavicle – to your delight, the sparking and fizzing sensation follows. “Don't ruin this with your stupid puns.”

Sans huffs, then jolts as you lightly run your tongue along one of the vertebrae in his neck, hands flying to your hips and squeezing hard. You grin against him and do it again, earning a sound from him that's halfway between a squeak and a moan.

Remembering the session the two of you had on the couch – oh so long ago now it seems – you devilishly begin to wonder how long it'll take to make him sound like that again.

Belatedly, you realise Sans is trying to talk to you. “'m offended... b-by...” He stops when you absently trail your fingernails across his ribs, spine going rigid as he tries to stop himself arching into the touch.

You raise an eyebrow. Oh?

Challenge accepted.

The gauntlet has been thrown and you eagerly set to work, mercilessly employing all of your – admittedly meagre – skills to turn him into a sweating, writhing mess. As an unexpected bonus, it seems like the more you tease him, the stronger his soul resonates with yours – you can practically taste his arousal, his excitement singing in your veins as surely as your own. He groans when you nip at his clavicle, and it feels so good through the bond that you want to groan right along with him.

Just as you become aware of a firm, familiar and wholly surprising pressure against your backside – he has one of those? – the room abruptly spins. Dazed, it takes longer than it should for your mind to catch up.

The little bastard flipped you!

Sans sways above you, wheezing and flushed and triumphant all at once. The pressure has moved to your inner thigh now, tantalisingly close to your centre – there can be no doubt as to what it is. You want to ask anyway, if only to have something to say, but you're not sure there's a polite way to phrase “how come you suddenly have a dick?” so you don't bother.

Sans rests his forehead on yours, his hands encircling your wrists and pressing them into the mattress. It takes him a moment to gather himself enough to speak, during which time you wriggle beneath him, body taut with a need both familiar and foreign. You're already wet – you can feel it seeping through your leggings. You swear if he doesn't touch you somewhere – anywhere – soon, you'll start to cry.

“are you... sure?” Sans pants, his breath tickling against the bridge of your nose. You can see his blue tongue through his open mouth, and find yourself wondering what it would feel like against your skin – the thought distracts you enough that it's only when he shifts, a complicated expression of barely contained lust on his face, that you remember he's talking to you at all. “is this really what you want?”

There's no hesitation in your response.

“It is.” You shift again, making his breath catch in his throat. “I want it.” Your voice is mostly whine at this point. “Please Sans... I want you.”

That's all it takes.

Suddenly, you don't have to wonder what his tongue feels like any more.

Kissing, in the traditional sense, is obviously quite beyond Sans. Having no lips is more than a bit of a hindrance on that front. But he does a decent job compensating, you will admit, his skilful little licks and nips driving you close to the edge of insanity in no time at all. You don't know how he does it, but somehow he manages to find several sensitive areas where you'd previously thought none existed. Behind your ear, under your jaw, the crook between neck and shoulder...

By the time he gets around to actually removing your clothes, you're already so desperate that you don't think you could stand any more foreplay. It's strange – your previous trysts had generally been prolonged, unsatisfying affairs. You could count on the one hand the number of times you hadn't been forced to finish up yourself, and that was with prolonged petting, more often than not. You'd certainly never gotten this close with so little input before.

Was it because of the bond? Or is it just because it's Sans?

Not that you're complaining either way.

When he's done removing your underwear (slow, too slow!) you grab hold of his upper ribs and haul him back up so you can kiss him breathless. Without breaking contact, you let go of his ribs and move your hands down, deftly pulling his shorts down over his pelvis – just enough and no more, because at this point you haven't the patience to do things properly.

Sans startles a little, shocked at the bold move, and pulls back. His breathing is laboured, his skull slick with sweat, and if you weren't more preoccupied with what he had in his pants, you might have made a joke about such little activity having already tired him out.

Alas, your gaze is drawn downward, and your mind has much more interesting topics to entertain itself with.

It's... Well, apart from his cock being a bright cyan blue – and you're sure you'll laugh about the absurdity of that later but for now, stupefied as you are with passion, it scarcely registers – it seems to be fairly normal in size and shape. A little thicker than it is long, you think, but nothing monstrously different than what you're used to.

“Ready?” you ask hoarsely, slipping one hand down to give him a gentle squeeze.

He grunts, hips thrusting forward of their own accord. His tip brushes against your opening, barely, wrenching a tiny sigh of anticipation from your lips.

“do ya need ta ask?” he croaks.

Taking that as all the permission you need, you use the hand already wrapped around his member to guide him inside you.

“Oh-ohhhh...” you moan, soul thrilling as Sans makes a similar sound of pleasure.

He fills you beautifully, like the matching jigsaw piece you never knew you needed. There's a slight burn – it has been a while, admittedly – but the fleeting discomfort is surpassed by the feeling of rightness.

And when you've both adjusted to the sensations and Sans starts to move, thrusting his hips slowly but deliberately, setting your inner walls ablaze with the tingling of his magic – heaven. You wrap your legs around him, drawing him closer, but it's not enough. It'll never be enough, you realise quickly.

He's not as vigorous as some lovers you've known, and his technique is fairly basic, but that doesn't seem to matter. This, what's happening between the two of you right now, is something much more than just physical. No one else has ever, or will ever, compare.

Sans doesn't even really need to touch you – though, bless him, he does try, slipping a hand between you to rub inexpertly at your clit in time with his thrusts – before you're riding the highest wave of pleasure you've ever known. You spasm around him, and a moment later he finishes too, filling your insides with fizzing, tingling magic.

Chest heaving with exertion, you place a tender kiss on Sans' brow. He looks awestruck.

You fall asleep like that, tangled together in the glow of your lovemaking.

 

Chapter Text

When you wake, some time later, it's completely dark outside. Sans is still on top of you, his naked torso digging into your breasts, though his dick seems to have disappeared back to wherever it came from. You chuckle a little at that – you have to admit, a glowing detachable penis is pretty damn funny.

Still smiling, you absently stroke Sans' smooth head. He's snoring, that soft purring sound of his vibrating through you pleasantly, and though you can't see it from this angle, you're pretty sure he's drooling too – there's a damp patch on your lower neck, his even breaths sending chills through you as they brush it. That's probably what woke you in the first place.

“Hey,” you say softly, butting your head against his cheekbone gently. “Wake up sleepy head.”

“mnnnmmgh.” The noise Sans makes is unintelligible, a mixture of bliss and reluctance. You nudge him again, harder. “sssttoooop...” he moans.

“C'mon, get up dude,” you grouse, though the good humour in your tone smooths any edge your words might otherwise have had. “You're drooling on me.”

“am not,” he mumbles.

“Are too.” In a moment of daring you run your tongue along his clavicle, eliciting a surprised yelp. “I mean, you could stay where you are,” you say cheekily, trailing your fingers down his spine. “but if you do, I can't be held responsible for my actions.”

Sans rolls off you, settling onto his side with his skull balanced in one palm, regarding you through half-lidded eyes – dim as the room is, you can't tell if he's sleepy or aroused. Almost disappointed by the loss of contact, you use your increased range of movement to wipe his saliva away with the back of your hand. You hold it up for him with a scowl.

“See? Told you.”

“mm... can't blame me though. you are mouthwatering.”

Maybe it's the buoyant mood left over from the best sex you've ever had. Maybe it's the heady knowledge that this skeleton, puns and all, belongs to you. Or maybe, God forbid, you genuinely find his pun funny for once. Whatever the reason, you laugh – a real laugh, airy and warm, full of lo... fondness, and joy.

Sans' face seems to brighten, his sultry expression morphing into something brighter and more attentive.

“i like that sound,” he says, reaching over with his free hand to brush a few stray strands of sweaty hair away from your face. His phalanges linger momentarily on your lips, his thumb gently parting them before he leans in to steal a kiss. “i like it a lot.”

You catch his hand and thread your fingers together. “I like you a lot.” You could slap yourself for how cheesy that sounds, but it's true. You like him so much, it can't even rightly be called 'like' any more.

“puns and all?”

“I'll probably live to regret this,” you say wryly, “but yes – puns and all.”

Sans grins. “punderful.”

“Look at that – already regretting it.”

The two of you share a chuckle, then lapse into a companionable silence, maintaining eye contact. It should be awkward – seriously, it's like a scene ripped straight from a trashy romance novel – but for whatever reason, it's not. It feels natural. Soothing, even. The eyes are supposed to be the window to the soul after all, and Sans' soul is the part of him you lo... like the most – even this small measure of closeness is better than none at all.

“you're staring.”

“Pff. So are you, genius.”

Neither of you stop.

The white light of his pupils reminds you of the pure, untainted white of his soul. To compare it to ivory, or freshly fallen snow, or – frankly – any other choice cliché, was to do it a great disservice. Sans' soul was whiter even than that. As white as innocence itself. As white as the abyss of space was black. And even though the circumstances had been less than ideal, the privilege of seeing it, of touching it, however fleeting, was among the most cherished of your all memories.

Lying there in bed, an idea starts to form slowly.

It really was a shame that the one and only time you'd seen Sans' soul had to be marred by all the unpleasantness of the Mourning Day attack. Sans had said you couldn't touch his soul at the same time he was touching yours because it would be harder for him to control – a slip of the hand, even a small one, could have ended in unmitigated disaster. But...

He hadn't said anything about after.

“Sans...?” Almost without meaning to, the word has already slipped your tongue. You nearly want to take it back, embarrassed despite everything the two of you have already done. Only the strong desire to see his soul keeps you from shrinking away in humiliation.

“yeah?”

Throat dry, you force the question out as best you can. “I... c-can I... see it?”

Sans must pick up on your intention through the bond – or, equally likely, from your burning face – because his cheeks immediately take on a bluish tint. “uh... see what?”

Burying your face in his bony chest, you mumble back, “You know. Don't play dumb, bonehead.”

“heh. sorry. force of habit.” He considers it for a moment, then nods. “yeah. i... i guess that would be okay.”

Pulling back, Sans presses a hand to his own chest and smoothly pulls it away again. His soul – every bit as beautiful and ethereal as you remember – follows, until it's sitting there in the palm of his hand like some kind of exotic jewel between you.

“Wow...” you breathe.

Immediately, you feel that same warmth and comfort that you remember. The soft sensation of a hand on your face, tender and loving and utterly Sans. You wonder if touching it will feel different to last time, now that the two of you are bonded. You find yourself wanting to find out.

Your hand is already reaching before you remember your manners. Glancing at Sans' flushed face, you raise a hesitant eyebrow.

“May I?”

“s-sure,” he squeaks, and you smile encouragingly before closing the distance.

Huh.

It's... it's both the same and different to how you remember it. You can still feel Sans, the very essence of him, envelope your being in a reassuring bubble of familiarity and fondness – exactly like before – but this time it seems... more so. Stronger. More vivid... It's hard to pin down, but...

You're shaken from your awed musings when Sans presses a forceful kiss to your lips.

It's a long, long time before either of you leave bed.

 

Chapter Text

Sans is in trouble

Like neck deep in shit.

He knew it the instant his fingertips brushed your soul, and he still knows it now, watching you sleep after several hours of vigorous sex.

“what am i gonna do now?” he whispers, tracing the contours of your face, admiring the way the early morning light makes your skin glow, basking in the smell of sweat and magic and that scent that defies description and belongs only to you.

Inevitably, in these quiet moments, Sans' mind had turned to the Reset. This – what the two of you had done – had just made matters a thousand times more complicated than even he had imagined. He'd always known that forming a bond would result in some dissonance, had always known that no matter what precautions he took, there would arise a... a conflict of interest... He just hadn't realised how bad it would be.

And now it was too late to turn back.

Sans likes to think it would have been easier if you hadn't been you. If he didn't find you as attractive, as compatible, as likeable as you are. Maybe, if he hadn't already been in love with you... Well, maybe he wouldn't be in this position.

There's no way – no way – he can go through with the Reset now. He'd sooner the world burn to ashes. Awful as it sounds, even to himself, he would rather see the end of all existence, the obliteration of everything, before he'd contemplate a life without you in it. And if the Reset went ahead, sure, there was a chance the two of you might meet again – but, and he hadn't told you this for obvious reasons, there was a much higher probability that you wouldn't be born at all.

Sans couldn't... he couldn't bear that. Couldn't stand to even think it. He had once thought that maybe he could, back when he was making his plans and doing his caluclations – he'd thought that the desire for a better future would outweigh any pain involved in losing a (at the time, prospective) soul mate.

But he was wrong.

So, so wrong.

Heh. It was almost sickeningly ironic. The very reason he'd been so eager to bond with you in the first place had now become an extremely convincing argument against doing so.

Sans was relatively certain that, should a Reset occur, at least some of his memory would be triggered by whatever would happen to the bond (and in turn, to his soul) when you were... gone. He had your first Reset to attest to that, the partial bond you'd formed after his death proof that changes to the soul could span timelines.

So yes, he would remember. And in doing so, would – if the fates were good – be blessed with enough foresight to save Tori and Frisk.

But that was exactly the problem.

He would remember.

Whatever happened after that, whether he fixed the future or not, he would be plagued by the loss of you. Maybe it would be permanent, maybe not, but regardless, he was looking down the barrel of at least forty years without you. After tonight, Sans suspects even forty minutes would be entirely too much.

So then, the real question is, where does he go from here? Clearly Resetting is no longer an option, but what's the alternative? Just because he can no longer stand the thought of going back in time, doesn't mean any of the original reasons for doing so will simply disappear. The world is still a mess, still on a one way warpath to utter destruction – that doesn't change just because he did.

What was he going to tell all the people relying on the Reset? The ones who'd hung in there only because they had hope that it would all be undone? What would he say to all the humans who'd donated their DT? Or the monsters who'd volunteered as assistants for the project, often at great risk and expense to themselves?

God... what was he going to tell Alph?

Listening to you grumble in your sleep, Sans knows he'll think of something.

He has to.

Pulling you closer almost subconsciously, Sans silently laments his own arrogance. Why had he ever thought that this was an option? How could he have been stupid enough to believe, for even a second, that a soul bond was the answer to his memory problem? 

He should have listened to his friends. Papyrus, Undyne, they'd tried to warn him. A Reset was one thing, but messing around with bonding... Even Alphys hadn't been prepared to go that far.

Sans remembered, back when he had foolishly still thought this was a good idea, Papyrus saying that his plan would leave scars – that bonding in these circumstances would leave irreparable damage on his soul.

Well, his brother was wrong about that much.

It wouldn't just damage his soul.

Sans knows, instinctively and viscerally, that he would be fortunate to survive the aftermath at all.

 

Chapter Text

Weeks pass in a blur of sex and bliss. It's like that first night was a gateway, and now that you had stepped through it, there seemed to be no going back. You and Sans could scarcely keep your hands off each other, exchanging subtle caresses and chaste kisses whenever Papyrus was around, and spending a lot of the time he wasn't engaged in much more erotic activities.

Sans may be lazy in most things, but you were quickly coming to realise that he was quite energetic in the sack.

Or on the couch.

Or in the shower.

Or – God forgive your sinning soul – on the dining table. It had been especially difficult to eat Papyrus' lovingly crafted spaghetti that particular evening, your cheeks maintaining a rosy red hue while Sans smirked at you from the opposite seat.

No, Sans seemed to have plenty of energy to spare when it came to servicing you. So much so that some days you could scarcely keep up.

He really hadn't been kidding when he said he'd become a lot more... er, 'amorous'.

And, as if going at it like rabbits every time Papyrus left the house wasn't enough, in recent weeks he'd gotten very... daring. He'd cornered you in the kitchen during 'coffee hour' just the other day, a mere fifteen minutes before Undyne was due for training and while Papyrus had been taking a shower for his morning patrol. It had been the first time he'd dared with Pap still under the same roof, and damn had it been memorable. The sense of urgency had added a certain thrill to the occasion you hadn't known you wanted.

Still, with all the fucking the two of you were doing, certain issues had to be addressed.

“S-Sans?” you'd panted during a quickie one afternoon. You'd been pinned to his bedroom door at the time, naked as the day you were born and teetering on the edge as he pistoned three of the fingers of his right hand into your wet centre.

Probably, in hindsight, not the ideal time for such a conversation. You're not even sure how your mind fell on the topic to begin with, what with the majority of your brain cells being otherwise engaged. Maybe something to do with the blue magic leaking out of you around his bony digits...

“mmnnyes?”

“I uh... th-think... oh, oh! ...we should... ta-AH-alk... about contraception...”

“uh, why?” You remember being a little indignant at his genuinely baffled tone.

“Bec-cause... I don't wanna end up – hah, hah – p-pregnant!”

Sans had laughed. “don't worry about it,” he'd said, before picking up the pace and promptly cutting you off from all cohesive thought.

It wasn't until later, when you were sated and exhausted and lying in bed with your head tucked against his chest, that you remembered to bring it up again.

“So... uh, about the contraception thing... I know you told me not to worry, but,” you gestured to yourself, “totally worrying here. I'm too young to be a parent!” Then, quieter and with considerably less levity in your voice, “I don't want kids, Sans. Not... not here. Not with things the way they are.”

Sans had abruptly stiffened in your arms at that. He relaxed again just as quickly, leaving you to wonder what it was you'd said that warranted that reaction.

“'s okay, pal. monsters don't reproduce the same way as humans – i can't get ya pregnant like that.”

“You mean... you guys don't, uh...” You made a vague gesture with your hand, caressing an imaginary bump over your stomach.

“procreate through physical means?” Sans had asked, amused. “nah.”

Nonplussed, you'd pulled back to stare at him incredulously. “Then why bother doing it at all?”

“uh... i guess cause it's enjoyable?” He'd given you a pointed look. “you humans do it all the time for no reason too y'know. you literally just asked about ways to prevent pregnancy."

He had you there.

“Well... well, yeah, but... I mean, biologically speaking, having babies is what sex is for,” you'd pointed out reasonably. “so if that's not what your junk is good for, then why do you even have it?”

“rude. do i ask you why you have an appendix or tonsils?”

“I think there's a difference between vestigial organs and a fully functional penis...” you'd argued doubtfully.

“heh. are you complainin'?”

You weren't.

“So how do monsters have babies then? Is it even possible for a human and a monster to have kids together?”

And for as adamant as you were that you didn't want any children, the question had mattered more to you than you really wanted to admit. Not wanting them was one thing, but to find out that it plain wasn't possible... Somehow, the idea upset you.

“oh, it's possible,” Sans had confirmed. “there are a few half-human, half-monster kids around new new home. not many, but a few. monsters can't reproduce the human way, but humans can do it the monster way.”

“Which is?”

“well... uh...” Sans had made a humming sound as he tried to wrestle the concept into words. “okay, so i'm gonna assume you know how human reproduction works?” You gave him a scathing look, but he didn't give you time to make any additional response. “right. the couple combine their physical matter and create a body. the soul forms a bit later on, we think through a combination of the foetus' own genetic code, exposure to the mother's soul, and exposure to the ambient auras of the people she's closest to.”

Okay, you hadn't known that, but you'd nodded anyway. Sans had given a chuckle, like he knew you were full of shit, but generously didn't call you out on it.

“well, monsters are the opposite – they combine their magic an' create the soul first, with the body takin' shape around it later. humans have enough magic in their souls to create a new soul, but monsters don't have enough physical matter to contribute to the formation of a physical body. simple, right?”

Oh sure, you'd thought wryly. Simple.

You had mulled that over for all of two seconds before, curiosity getting the better of you and without even thinking, asking how it was done.

Sans had seemed surprised. Quickly followed by smug.

“aww, thinkin' about startin' our own little skelefam after all?”

“N-No!” You had, you recall, seriously considered shoving him off the bed. “I was just-,”

“curious, right?” he'd chuckled. “i know, kid. just messin' with ya.”

What an asshole.

“Well?” you'd demanded. “Are you gonna tell me or not?”

“we soul meld.” So matter-of-fact, so blasé – like it was obvious and simple and not at all a phrase that meant less than nothing to you. “we let our souls touch each other and... well, i'm sure you can guess.”

You could. Touching each other's souls with just your fingers had been intense enough. Though the two of you hadn't done it since that first night – because that's one thing Sans won't risk Papyrus walking in on, ever – you could still remember the raw emotion of the act. Even the gentlest of caresses had been overwhelming. Instinctively, you shivered at the thought of how much more powerful it would feel if your souls touched directly.

“it's harder than with two monsters,” Sans had continued. “y'know, 'cause of the whole soul absorbin' thing... but it is possible. if the monster doin' it is very, very careful.”

There had been no more talk after that. Sans had eventually drifted off to sleep, while you lay awake wondering.

What would a human/skeleton-monster hybrid even look like? Would they be all skeletal, like Sans, or would they look human, like you? Jeez, would the kid come out looking like some kind of half-dead cosmic horror?

It's fun to think about, in it's way. To imagine a future where you felt secure enough to have a family with Sans, to envision what your kids might look like, how they might act, what they'd be called...

You hope, one day when all this Reset business is over, that you get the chance to make those daydreams a reality.

For now though, by unwritten agreement, you both seem to be enjoying a kind of honeymoon period. Neither one of you is particularly keen to get the ball rolling, both taking turns steering the conversation into safer waters whenever the subject happens to come up. Maybe that's selfish or foolish or whatever, but what of it?

The Reset had waited this long. It would keep a while longer.

 

Chapter Text

Mid-autumn. The days are still warm with the final farewells of summer, while the nights carry the early promise of winter. All around the trees have transformed into a riot of reds, oranges and yellows, while underfoot the first fallen leaves already crunch with a pleasant sound like the crackling of flames.

You and Sans have been sleeping together for two and a half months now and, contrary to what you might have expected, your appetite for him hasn't waned in the least. Nor his for you, if you're any judge.

So then it surprises you when, one balmy afternoon, he approaches you with a request.

“i want you to come to the lab with me tomorrow.” He looks so reluctant, barely meeting your gaze as he drops on to the couch beside you.

Oddly, even though you knew this day was coming, you feel vaguely hurt. Was he growing bored with you? It that why he'd suddenly decided it was time to get the Reset back on track? Because that's obviously what this was about – why else would he need to go to the lab? Why else would he take you with him? He hadn't been there since the two of you had bonded, hadn't – in fact – gone anywhere without you for more than an hour.

Why would he need to go back now, so suddenly, but for the purpose of moving along with the Reset?

You swallow your immediate reaction, silence the probing questions about what you had done wrong, and instead nod demurely.

“Sure,” you say, and you're proud of how steady your voice sounds.

Then, without another word, you return your attention to the TV and 'The Only Way Is Mettaton'.

And that's it.

You spend the rest of the evening with your heart somewhere in the vicinity of your boots. Which is stupid, because you knew this was coming. You knew it had to happen eventually – heck, you wanted it to happen. It's just...

You thought you would have more time.

And maybe that's the real problem here. You always thought there was more time. Always thought, “hey, it can wait another day. Another week. Another month.” Because weren't you entitled to that much? Weren't you entitled to as long as you needed – as long as you wanted – when you were going to be giving up so much to make it happen?

But that was selfish. You see that now. There were people out there who'd already made their sacrifices, people for whom the Reset was their only hope.

You'd had your happiness. It was time to give them theirs.


 

Sans knows you're upset. He can sense it through the bond.

Much as he'd like to set your mind at ease, he knows he can't. You don't know he's planning on calling the whole project off tomorrow, and he's not sure you'd like it if you did. That's why he has to go to the lab tomorrow – to tell Alphys face-to-face. After everything they'd been through together, he thinks she deserves that much.

You... you he'll deal with later. Tell you he found a major fault in the machine or something. He knows, despite your knee-jerk reaction just now, that you're determined to see the project through. He'd find a way to placate you for now, until he found a more permanent solution.

Truth is, this whole situation makes him sick to his stomach.

It's not like... it's not like he doesn't believe in the Reset any more. He does. Sans knows the Reset is still the best case scenario, knows it makes the most sense. The fact that he'll be letting so many people down, breaking so many promises, and for purely selfish reasons too... It makes his non-existent insides burn with self-loathing.

But it's no longer about what's best, or even what's right. It's about what he can live with.

He had already been struggling with the Reset before he bonded to you. Now that it was done, the idea of having to live without you... It was a fate worse than death. Hell, just the thought of going to the lab without you made him nervous enough to take you with him! Now he thinks he knows how you felt after Mourning Day...

Still, Sans had hoped he would have more time. Ignoring the problem, he knows, is not going to help, but he'd thought maybe he could at least make it to the end of the year before having to do something about it.

Alphys' increasingly frantic texts had quickly absolved him of that notion.

Alph|Thur 23 Aug, 16:09|Sans? You know it's been weeks since you've been at the lab... :( I don't want to sound pushy, but maybe you should come in soon? The work is piling up around here. ^.^'

Alph| Wed 31 Aug, 18:23|Sans? Why aren't you answering? >.< I guess you're busy with... with that other thing. But seriously, lots of work here. Could really use your help – we don't want to fall behind schedule, right? Get back to me soon, okay? ^_^

Alph| Mon 5 Sept, 15:01|Okay, now I'm getting worried. It's been over two months! I need you here as soon as possible. Please. :(

Alph| Thur 8 Sept, 20:52|Are you having second thoughts? Is that why you won't answer me? You can't do this. You promised, Sans. You PROMISED.

Alph| Sat 10 Sept, 18:17|Sans, please contact me. I'm scared.

That had been the last one, the one that had forced his hand. He could practically taste her despair, the sombre tone and lack of emoticons making his gut writhe in shame. Alphys was surprisingly perceptive – she obviously knew what was up, and all his silence was doing was prolonging her suffering.

The truth was, Alph deserved better.

Sans was a horrible colleague and a worse friend. And in the unlikely event that she ever forgave him for this, for snatching away her hope, crushing her dreams and nullifying all her work of the last thirty-odd years, he would do whatever it took to fix that. He may not be able to make her happy in this awful future, but he could at least try to be the friend she deserved.

 

Chapter Text

Well.

This was... something.

Somehow, you'd expected the infamous lab to be... bigger. More impressive. Less littered with empty noodle cups, dirty dishes and... were those cat-girl plushies?

The journey to Hotland (yes, that's what this toasty little section of the Underground was called – the name fit, even if it was lacking in the imagination department) had been an informative one. You're sure Sans could have zapped the two of you in, no sweat, but for whatever reason he'd decided to give you what passed as the Grand Tour down here, whereupon you'd discovered that Asgore's utter incompetence didn't stop at ruling a Kingdom. Apparently when it came to naming things, he had all the finesse of a frying pan.

New Home was, in many ways, much the same as New New Home. Not in appearance, granted – the buildings of New Home were uniform and grey, which you suppose made a certain sense given the limited materials the monsters had had to build them. But the general atmosphere was one of normalcy bordering on manic joviality, with only the slightest undercurrent of unrest if you knew where to look.

New Home, Sans had explained, was where those who were open to becoming Wards stayed. The Warding Centre, a re-purposed school house, was there, and close enough to the surface that it allowed for some limited communication with the outside world – all in the interests of furthering a prospective Ward's friendship with their surface-dwelling Wardens, of course.

Hotland, the area beyond the sprawl of the once-royal city, was – for all intents and purposes – the science district. Most humans couldn't stand the overwhelming heat and aridity, not on a long term basis, so very few lived there. The handful who did were rarely seen, opting to stay indoors where there was at least a modicum of protection from the temperature. After seeing the overcrowding in New Home, you can well understand why anyone might choose Hotland despite it's problems. A less than favourable environment was a small price to pay for a little privacy you guess.

Aside from CORE – which was a mechanical wonder, even to a novice like you who had little concept of it's true genius – the hotel, and a few humble shanty-style huts dotted here and there, Hotland had only one other landmark of note. That being the laboratory, a huge white block of a building with no windows and only two exits, one each to the East and West.

There were other places too, Sans had explained, places further and deeper into the mountain. Waterfall, he'd told you, was humid but beautiful, rife with luminous plant-life and – surprise, surprise – natural waterfalls. Snowdin, the town from which he and Papyrus hailed (it had taken you an embarrassing amount of time to figure out why he winked at this statement), was under cover of permanent snow and ice, bordered by a deceptively large forest whose unlikely existence no one could adequately explain.

Both areas had been settled by those humans who, for whatever reason, couldn't bring themselves to enter the Ward Programme. As was to be expected, there was some underlying civil unrest, particularly in Snowdin. Riots certainly weren't uncommon, though these days they tended to be half-hearted at best – for the most part things were quiet. The monsters made sure there was enough food to go around, and short of that, the people were left to their own devices.

Sans had promised to show you around after he'd finished up at the lab.

Finally, far beyond Snowdin, in the deepest reaches of the caverns...

Home. Or, as it was now more commonly known, the Rehabilitation Centre.

Sans had told you on the way down to the lab that Home was the very first city of the underground. In fear of their lives, the monsters who built it all those centuries ago did so with the express intention of keeping out any pursuers from the surface. To this day it was protected by an enchanted door, one that could only be opened by a member of the Royal family.

The high security made Home the perfect place to keep particularly dangerous humans – there had never been a break out since the day the centre opened. There had been instances of violence, certainly, and one scary hostage situation back in 'XX, but nobody had ever escaped. There was simply no way out, except for the door, and even supposing it was possible to get past the guards stationed on that side, nobody – human or monster – had ever figured out how to override the door's ancient protection spell.

In any case, Home is one place you won't be paying a visit. You suspect you wouldn't be allowed in even if you wanted to, but the thought of glimpsing familiar faces makes the question of authorisation a complete non-issue. You have no desire to have your loyalties tested at this late stage in the game.

Not when it wouldn't matter much longer anyway.

Part of you knows that, irregardless of the Reset, you should be more concerned about the happenings on the other side of that door. Truth be told, it's not even a matter of non-concern – you are concerned. While you're relatively certain the monsters aren't doing anything horrendous to the rebels, you're acutely aware that the Rehab Centre is little more than a glorified prison. Okay, true, the rest of the underground is basically a prison too, but somehow this was worse – a cage within a cage. A jail without even the illusion of freedom.

A place like that would never rehabilitate anyone. All it would do is feed their anger. Eventually, someone determined was going to come along and use that anger. It was just a matter of time. Heck, Ivan was already in there somewhere – he could be consolidating his position even now, inflaming the masses and plotting in the shadows. Whether he could actually escape or not was irrelevant; he could do a hell of a lot of damage from right there, and monsters like Papyrus would be the ones put in the firing line.

That last thought in particular makes your stomach roil. Ivan was the one person you never wanted Papyrus to meet – he'd tear him into tiny, smiling pieces.

Tearing your gaze away from the smiling figurine of a familiar-looking cat-girl, you make for the door labelled 'bathroom' near the escalator. Sans had disappeared up there almost an hour ago, leaving you with a rather more stern than necessary warning not to wander, and the vague promise that he would be back soon.

You figure a bathroom break doesn't really count as 'wandering'. What could be the harm in going to splash your face with cold water?

 

Chapter Text

“I t-told you this would happen! I told you!”

“i know, alph.” Sans kept his gaze trained studiously on his slippers. They'd been at this for almost an hour, and in that time Sans had apologised more times than he could even count. He did so again, knowing it wasn't enough, knowing it would never be enough, but needing to do it anyway because it was all he had. “i'm sorry. if there was any other way-,”

“Th-there is another way!” Alphys cried, tail whumping against the ground in her agitation. “Stick to the p-p-plan! We're so c-close – weren't you the one wh-who said sacrifices had to be made?”

That's true – he did say that. But that was before, when he'd been too arrogant to know any better. He'd let his ego trick him into thinking he was stronger, smarter, better, than he really was, and now...

Guilty as Alphys' barb makes him feel, it changes nothing. Sure, he knows it's selfish – he knows it's hypocrisy in the first degree. But he just can't do it. Physically, emotionally, spiritually – with every fibre of his being, he simply can't.

No. He gives himself too much credit. It's not a case of can't – because he can, even if it would hurt, he can – it's a case of won't.

“i'm sorry,” he says again, feeling helpless. His hands clench where they're buried in his pockets as Alphys lets out a despairing sob. “i didn't know... when i bonded with her, i didn't know this is what it would be like... i'm sorry.”

“S-s-sorry doesn't c-cut it!” Alphys sniffed, wiping her damp cheeks with the sleeve of her lab coat. “I gave up e-everything for this R-Reset. I already m-made my sacrifices, and now you're t-telling me you won't do the same? Why do y-you get the final say anyway?”

“because she's my mate!” Sans responds fiercely, loosing his cool. He regrets it a second later when Alphys flinches. Sighing, he forces his tone to soften. “look, i know it's not fair. and trust me, this isn't a decision i've taken lightly. but alph... i can't.” Lies. “i wish i could, but i really, really can't.” Lies, because for him at least, they're sweeter than the truth. “remember how you felt when undyne broke things off?”

Alphys recoils as though he'd delivered a physical blow. Sans takes that as all the answer he needs.

“think of that, times ten. times a hundred. times a thousand... you'll still only be scratching the surface,” he says gently. “tearing my soul out and crushing it in the palm of my own hand would hurt less. and it's not like i'll forget – i'll have to live with that feeling forever. or for as long as i can, which i don't think would be long at all.” He would see to that.

“W-wouldn't... wouldn't it be worth it, th-though?” she asks tremulously. “Isn't a-anything worth a second chance?”

“i thought so.” Sans looks her right in the eyes – she needs to see his conviction, needs to understand that the depth of what he feels for you isn't something mere logic can surpass. “i was wrong.


 

The bathroom, as it turns out, isn't a bathroom at all. It's an elevator, small and box-like, with only two buttons, those being 'up' and 'down' respectively. It doesn't take you long to figure out that the 'bathroom' thing is just a front – a disguise for something far more interesting.

You suspect that might have been Sans' bright idea.

Stepping out of the elevator, your first impression is of coldness. Not that area you step into is cold of itself – actually, it's more a middling temperature, unassuming and nondescript – rather that it's very... pristine. The place is quite clearly old – the plaster walls are cracked and fading, and the floors worn in a way that only the passage of many feet over many decades could accomplish. But for all it's age, there's a certain sterility in the air; a lack of emotion, of character...

In many ways, you're reminded of hospital.

You should probably go back. Sans could come down stairs any second, and he'd probably be upset if you weren't where he left you – you know you would be, if the situation were reversed. But...

Well, you were here now, weren't you? What could be the harm in having a little look around? Might as well familiarise yourself with the place – you imagine you'll probably be spending a lot of time here from now on.

Besides, you can't stand the thought of going back upstairs only to be alone with your grim thoughts for another hour.

Picking a direction at random, you begin to explore the bowels of what you now suspect is where the real science happens. It certainly feels more professional – there's little in the way of personal effects down here, barring the occasional coffee-stained mug. Nosily, you peek into each room as you pass and are almost disappointed. It's all so... normal. You expected... you dunno, something more impressive. Most of the rooms turn out to be very average-looking offices filled with clutter; textbooks, reports, sometimes a computer. The odd beaker or test tube collection is about as exciting as it gets, and most of those are empty.

Every now and then, however, you come across something a bit more intriguing. A room full of beds, reminiscent of a hospital ward. Another with – for no reason that you can discern – a bathtub. Yet another lined with empty fridges. At one point, you come across what you think may be the Reset machine – a huge construct that looks vaguely like an animal skull, surrounded and connected on all sides to even larger tanks, all full of a bright red liquid.

Looking at it makes you nervous. You move along quickly.

Then you find the flower room.

It's more corridor than room, really, all mirrored on one side, and lined with long-wilted flowers on the other. Unlike the other rooms, it appears to be covered in a fine layer of dirt – like it hasn't been used in some time. At the far end of the room there's what appears to be a fish tank, with a single living flower inside. You're examining one of the dead flowers, wondering what the point of a room like this could possibly be, when a small voice startles you out of your reverie.

“You're new around here, aren't ya?”

Spinning on your heel, you start to apologise – you know you probably shouldn't be down here, not alone – but when you turn to face the room there's no one there. Just a row of wilted flowers, and the droopy one being kept alive (barely, by the look of it) by the harsh glare of an ultraviolet light bulb.

“H-hello?”

The droopy flower shifts slightly, drawing your attention. “Over here, idiot!”

And suddenly, a room filled with empty fridges seems like the most ordinary thing you've seen today.

 

Chapter Text

“So.”

The flower looks you up and down, it's little face appearing thoroughly unimpressed by what it sees. At some point you must have made your way over to the tank, though you can't actually recall moving at all. Standing before the creature now (is it a creature, you wonder? How does one categorise sentient plant life?) doesn't make what you think you're seeing any less crazy.

It's still a talking flower.

There's a flower pot and everything.

“So...”

You feel like you should try for something a bit more articulate than that, but the fact that a potted plant is talking to you is still kind of throwing you off. You have seen a lot of weird shit in your time, no doubt, but this... This is definitely the weirdest.

You're the dumb human they got to do their stupid Reset, huh?” the flower sneers.

You blink. It's a testament to your ongoing shock that you don't even register the 'dumb human' jibe.

Nodding slowly, you reply, “And you're... a talking flower...”

“Thank you, Captain Obvious,” the flower mutters, glancing off to the side irritably.

A sassy talking flower, your mind automatically corrects. Geez, who pruned this guy's (girl's? Thing's?) petals?

“Sorry.” You're not. There's just nothing else to say. “Just... processing.”

“Tch. Spare me.”

Rude much? You're starting to dislike this little flower dude – and considering that he (let's just go with 'he' for now) is obviously being held in some kind of solitary confinement, you suspect you're not the only one. You get the feeling his snippy attitude and abrasive personality don't win him many friends.

“Chill,” you scowl. “I was just leaving anyway.”

You turn to do just that, thinking about maybe trying out one of those beds you found, when he stops you with a cry.

“Wait!” he yells, then hastily clears his throat. When you glance back, his face is schooled into a bored mask, but you know desperation when you hear it.

You can't resist. “Aww, is someone lonely?”

“Pff. As if!” he fires back. “I just wanted to tell you something.”

Oh yeah. He's definitely one lonely little buttercup. You've half a mind to leave anyway – he did just sass the hell out of you. But even if he's a dick, you aren't. Besides, you know a thing or two about being lonely.

“I'm listening.”

“First, get me out of here.” He gestures around the tank, the look on his face one of utmost loathing. “Then we'll talk.”

“I dunno,” you muse, eyebrow raised. “I think you were put in there for a reason.”

Curiously, you expect him to snap – to shout and scream and gnash his little teeth at you through the glass. You don't know why, but it just seems like the kind of thing he'd do. When he instead cocks his head, expression stony, leaves drooping sombrely, you're actually kind of surprised.

“Oh, there's a reason,” he says seriously. “And I'll tell you all about it. But first I want out of this cage and away from those... maniacs.”

“Maniacs?” You can't help the amused tone in your voice. So melodramatic.

He nods sagely, crossing his little leaves like arms. It's adorable.

“That's right – you don't know, do you?” He gives you an exaggerated look of sympathy. “In fact I hear you're already bonded to that smiling bag of bones! Gosh. It's gonna break your heart when you find out the truth.”

Well... That's a heavy-handed (leafed?) manipulation if you ever heard it.

His attempt to get under your skin is so obvious, it's actually kind of funny. He's as transparent as the glass he sits behind, and if it weren't so pathetic you'd probably laugh. The way he talks about Sans (smiley bag of bones indeed - you'll need to remember that one) makes it painfully apparent he doesn't like the skeleton. Everything about this situation reeks of petty revenge, and you wonder, vaguely amused, what Sans had done to earn the ire of such a cute looking flower.

Knowing him, too many plant puns.

“Okay, petal. Whatever you say.” You turn and head back towards the door, shaking your head scornfully. No way you're getting dragged into whatever vendetta bullshit this is. “I'm outta here.”

“I can prove it!” he calls after you, “Trashbag is lying to you and I can prove it.”

Yeah, right. Like you're falling for that. You fully intend to ignore him and keep on walking, but...

Something makes you pause, and turn back around. Curiosity maybe. Or pity. Either way you stare him down, already half way to the door, mouth quirked in a smirk that probably looks every bit as patronising as it feels.

“And let me guess; I've gotta let you out before you'll tell me?” you ask.

“Well...” He appears to think about it. “I tell you what. I'll tell you where to find it. Trashbag's big secret – I'll tell you where it is right now – but... you have to promise you'll let me out afterwards. No matter what. What d'ya say, partner?”

“That seems fair,” you agree. “Now spill, flower boy – where's this so-called secret?”

The smile he gives you is downright sinister. Uneasiness knots in your stomach like a cold fist, and you wonder, briefly, if maybe you're being played after all. There's a distinct sense that you're suddenly embroiled in a game to which you don't know the rules.

“First thing's first. The name's Flowey, fleshbag.”


 

“Is... is it that sh-she doesn't want to?” Alphys asks. Her eyes are mostly dry now, though her crying has left them red-rimmed and narrow. She blows her snout into a cherry blossom patterned handkerchief. “Because, I mean... you're bonded with her now. S-so-,”

“i won't do that to her.” Sans' tone brooks no argument. “this isn't her choice, it's mine. i won't let her do it.”

Alphys, her anguish perhaps making her braver than she might otherwise be, dared to object. “Why n-not?! This was your id-d-dea in the first p-place! You're the one who-,”

“that was before i knew her!” Sans says heatedly. “before i-,”

He abruptly cuts himself off. That... wasn't something he meant to say. Not here, not now. He hadn't even told you yet. Besides, if anything was going to convince Alphys, it sure as hell wasn't that.

The damage, however, had been done. Alphys looks at him, disbelieving.

She knows.

“Before you what?”

Sans scowls and glances away.

“Before you what, Sans?”

“before i loved her, okay?!” he relents. “before i loved her. and that's not just the bond talkin' – i love her alph. i have for a while.”

Silence.

There it is. His guilt, his sin, laid bare before the jury. Because this... this was the worst of it. His ultimate hypocrisy. Countless others had sacrificed the people they loved on his word – monsters like Alphys, who wanted to help no matter what anyone said, humans from the anti-monster districts who were willing to go against the grain for the chance to do it all again. To do it right.

And here he stood, brazen in his betrayal of them, unwilling to do the same.

“And don't you think,” Alphys says, her voice quiet and – for once – devoid of even the slightest stutter. “that I loved Undyne? Don't you think we all loved someone before all this?”

“it's not the same-,”

“Don't you tell me it's not the same thing!” Sans is momentarily shocked. He's never heard Alphys shout before. “Don't you dare say that to me! I loved Undyne as much as any person has ever loved anyone! And I gave her up because you promised it would be worth it! Doesn't that mean something?! Doesn't my pain matter?!”

“i...i didn't mean it like that!”

But it's a lie. He meant it exactly like that, and he still means it now. It's not the same.

Sure, he's not so arrogant as to believe that his would be the only soul bond affected by the Reset – there are certainly others who've bonded sometime in the last forty years. But monsters bonded to other monsters weren't, in Sans' mind, even a consideration in this equation – natural longevity and a comparatively small population removed much of the chance involved in these things. It was practically guaranteed that monster pairs would eventually meet again post-Reset, and continue on as though nothing had happened.

Monster-human bonds provide more of a grey area though. Sans remembers how many humans there were before the war – billions, and spread all over the planet too. Assuming the same humans were fortunate enough to be born again in a future where their parents wouldn't meet under the same circumstances, they could literally end up anywhere. But again, that's not something he considered a deal breaker. He and Alphys both know he can't use that as an excuse – not when it hadn't mattered to him before.

It all comes down to one simple fact; Sans will remember. Those other couples don't matter, because at the end of the day, none of them would know any of it had ever happened. Oh, perhaps they'd go through life feeling like something was missing, feeling incomplete and inexplicably lonely at times, but at least they wouldn't have the memories to taunt them. For Sans, between his inherent ability to perceive timelines and the bond itself to strengthen the effect, he would be haunted by his loss.

And that made it different.

“Then what did you mean?” Alphys demands.

Sans is about to respond – to explain it to her, again – when suddenly...

“hhhrgh!”

Agony, sharp and bright and hot, stabs right through his hollow ribcage.

He drops to his knees, one trembling hand clutching at his chest, while a nauseating sensation – something he can only describe as feeling like a knife twisting in his soul, brings tears to his eyes. The excess magic in the liquid makes his sockets burn. He wants to scream, it hurts so bad, but there's no breath for it. The sound gets trapped somewhere between his chest and throat, his mouth twisted in a silent mien of torment.

“S-Sans?!” Alphys is beside him, her rage momentarily forgotten in all the commotion. Her hands flap anxiously by her sides, unsure what to do. “Wh-wh-what's wrong?!”

Barely able to form words, Sans wheezes something incomprehensible back.

Another wave of raw emotion crashes over him, and for an awful second all he knows is agony. It feels like he's being torn in two.

Then he blacks out.

 

Chapter Text

anomaly don't do this.doc | 20/07/20XX

hey tori.

guess what? i found 'em – the one who can make the reset happen. thought for a while there... well, i was startin' ta think maybe i never would. not as many humans around these days as there used to be, but there's still enough to make findin' the anomaly a tricky business.

there's a big problem though. she's one of the insurgents. figures, huh? just my luck.

chick's one tough customer too – she'll be a hard one to crack, i can already tell. think i'm gonna have my work cut out jus' gettin' her to talk to me, never mind bond with me. but i guess i could let that one go, if i had to. 'm sure between us, me and alph could come up with another way to jump start my memories. the main thing is gettin' her to do the reset in the first place.

i'll do whatever it takes – tell her whatever she needs ta hear. i don't like it, but it has to be done.

this is the right thing to do. it really isn't so big a price to pay when the future of the world is at stake.


 

let's cut to the chase.doc | 04/09/20XX

this girl's insane! i was right to trust my gut the other day – when i got home there was blood everywhere. turns out pap had to run (riot in the rehab centre again – they're gettin' more frequent) an' while he was out, the kid took a damn knife to her arm! cut the chip right out, and half her muscle with it! 'm surprised she had the energy left to run after that. didn't get far, but still...

geez. tori, what have i got myself into here? i dunno if this is gonna work... not with her as the anomaly. she's not budging, no matter what i say. maybe it's time ta cut my losses. we can try a dt transfer, give her power to somebody a bit more cooperative... worst case scenario, it doesn't work, she dies and we're back to lookin' for the new anomaly.

mm. maybe as a last resort.

come on... there's gotta be somethin' that'll smooth those ruffled feathers of hers...


 

friedom fighter.doc | 07/10/20XX

huh. who'da thought? vira – uh, that's what i call her since she won't tell me her name – likes junk food. i think i mighta just found the chink in her armour. even planted the idea in that hard head of hers that maybe her precious resistance isn't as infallible as she thinks.

it's not much, but it's progress, tori. i'm finally makin' some progress.


 

game me time.doc |15/11/20XX

found another weakness – she likes video games.

i think she's really warmin' up to me now. who knows? with a bit more work, maybe i can convince her to bond with me after all. it might take some time, but gimme a year or so...

i have to wonder though... is it that i'm really good at what i do, or is it that she's easily manipulated? i kinda feel bad either way...

still, doin' the right thing doesn't always feel good i guess.

not long now tori.


 

gotta console her.doc | 29/12/20XX

i think undyne might've screwed things up. there was an argument on christmas... long story short, now vira won't even look at me.

dammit. what now, t? i thought i really hit a milestone with that console i got her. now it feels like 'm back to square one. i might have to tell her the truth if i wanna keep her tamed. not all of it, obviously, but enough to make her trust me again...


 

You can't read any more.


 

Flowey had directed you back to one of the offices – specifically one you recall raising an amused eyebrow at, noting the surplus of discarded socks, empty fast food bags and whoopee cushions of miscellaneous size. There had been little doubt, even then, that the room was Sans'.

Though you couldn't possibly begin to guess how he knew such a thing, Flowey told you how to access the files on the battered desktop computer. He even told you the kind of file to look for (“He likes to name his files after dumb puns – ignore that. Just look at the date. Start with the one closest to, oh, I don't know...” His leer had given you chills. “July 20th.”) and how to change it from a bizarre series of symbols into something more legible.

You wonder now, frozen in front of the glowing screen, how a flower imprisoned in a secret lab learns of such things. The only logical answer, you guess, is that he wasn't always a prisoner. Who is Flowey the flower, really?

These thoughts come to you vaguely – tiny, unimportant meanderings, ineffective distractions from the steady thrum of pain in your chest. You didn't (couldn't) read all the files, but then, you don't really have to. You'd seen the writing on the wall by the end of the first entry.

It was planned. Every last bit of it, from before he even fucking met you – a manipulation on a scale you can scarcely even comprehend. All the times you thought you were the one in control, all the hard decisions you thought you'd made, everything you thought had meant something... all one great big carefully orchestrated lie.

Sans didn't want you – he never had. He wanted your power.

i'll do whatever it takes – tell her whatever she needs ta hear.

You're a fool.

A wetness drips from your chin, landing on your hand. You're crying. When did you start crying?

Almost as though it were waiting for you to notice the tears, a sob escapes your lips, filling the office with your anguish. It hurts. You want to be angry, to channel the pain into fury, but all you feel is crushing sorrow.

You can't even decide what's worse – the fact that your whole relationship with Sans is nothing more than a clever fabrication, or his total disregard for your autonomy. Perhaps it's neither. Maybe it's the complete lack of remorse, or the fact that, even after bonding, he was able to deceive you so thoroughly.

But no. Even as you think it, you know none of those things can even begin to compare to the true agony here.

The sudden and certain realisation that he loves – and has always loved – somebody else.

How? How had you never realised it before? Now that you're thinking about it, you recall all the pictures of her on the walls – many more than you'd expect of just a friend. And the stories, the ones he'd told when you were still having trouble sleeping – how had it never clicked just how many of them featured the Queen? Even his love of puns... Hadn't Papyrus once mentioned that her Majesty was a great lover of bad jokes as well?

These files make it all so startlingly clear. The way every entry addresses her by nickname, fond and casual, as though she were still very much here; the subtle undercurrent of longing in each and every one (not long now, tori); and, it dawns on you, as you sit there weeping messily into the palm of your hand, even the filenames are an homage to her. Some of the earliest ones seem to be about goats... You're well aware that Queen Toriel was much like Asgore in her caprine appearance.

Abruptly, you stand.

You can't... you just – just – can't...

Vision blurring as the tears brim over your eyelids, you throw yourself out of the office and into the corridor at a run. You don't know where you're going, but you know you can't stay here. You can't go back to the house either. The thought of running into him now, after everything you just read, makes you feel sick.

In this moment, you know one thing beyond the shadow of a doubt: you never want to see Sans again.

 

Chapter Text

Sans wakes up in Alphys' bed and knows one thing for certain: he's losing you.

He doesn't know how, or why, but the continuous heavy beating of his soul leaves him in little doubt that it's happening. Bright flashes of emotion, each one needle sharp and utterly nauseating, burn through his every fibre in an almost rhythmic pattern – his very own heartbeat of torment.

What's happening? Where are you?

He must move or else make some kind of sound, because in the next instant Alphys is there. She lays a clawed hand on his brow, and he thinks she might be saying his name too, though he can't hear it properly over the pounding of raw grief in his head.

“where is she?” he groans, struggling to sit up. “where's vira?”

He can barely make out Alphys' response. “I... I-I don't know. I w-went down to... b-b-but she wasn't th-there! Could she have gone h-home without-,”

“she's here.” Even as he says it, Sans knows it's true. You're still here somewhere – he can feel it. “i need to... i... need...”

He forces himself into a sitting position and almost falls right back over again. Every tiny movement sends a spasm through his chest, the sensation much like being pulled apart from the inside. It's a good thing he has no stomach to empty, or he'd have done so by now.

“D-don't move!” He can't see it, but he knows Alphys is wringing her hands. “You hit your h-head when you fell... so-,”

“have to... find her...” Whatever's happening to you is what's causing all this, he's sure of it. The only way to make it stop is to find you. “p-please, alph... help me...”

It takes a second, a brief moment of indecision, before Alphys sighs and takes one of his bony arms to wrap about her neck.

If you're still here, but not downstairs where he left you, that can only mean one thing.

Alphys voices his concern before Sans gets the chance to himself.

“Do you think... sh-she found Flowey?”

He really hopes not.

Sans knew he should have gotten rid of that vicious weed when he had the chance. Should have blasted him straight into the void the instant he knew for sure that Flowey wouldn't be any use in the Reset. But at the time he'd thought... as a back up plan, maybe...

The problem with Flowey wasn't that he couldn't do the Reset – he could, if Sans was willing to pump him with enough Determination to make it happen. The fact that the plant was soulless was actually an advantage, because it meant he could handle the vast amounts of DT required to affect such a big time-skip with relative ease. And while he was no longer the anomaly, his own stores of Determination were nothing to sneer at – enough, certainly, to suit their purposes.

No, the issue with using Flowey was one of cooperation. While just as eager, in his way, as anyone for a Reset, Flowey was – by nature – a creature of chaos. He didn't care for the struggles of those around him, wasn't fazed by the bleakness of this future at all. The destruction of the world was, to him, little more than a passing amusement. What Flowey wanted was entertainment. That made him difficult to control, and even harder to predict.

Though he couldn't exactly prove it – his awareness of those particular timelines were, for some reason, extra fuzzy – Sans already suspected Flowey had had more than enough 'fun' at the expense of this project. It was that feeling that had lead him, in this current line, to sealing the flower inside his little cage...

With Alphys' help, Sans makes it to the elevator – the one masquerading as a bathroom. He's severely out of breath already, his chest aching with every inhale. Alphys eyes him anxiously, head titled in question – at his shaky nod she shifts, shouldering more of his weight as she moves to help him inside.

They're both nearly toppled right over as you burst from within.

Dodging around them at the last possible second, you pause just long enough to glance back and meet Sans' gaze.

What he sees there is almost enough to shatter his soul where he stands.

Your eyes are red-rimmed, puffy with tears. Your face, pale and drawn and sporting a mien of unadulterated anguish, scrunches further at the sight of him – almost as though looking at him causes you physical pain. Sans is certainly in pain, your close proximity amplifying the affect of the soul bond. It feels like your soul is screaming at him.

He reaches out for you with the hand not currently anchored around Alphys' neck, and you shrinkactually physically cringe – away from him.

“w-wait!”

It's too late. You're running again, as fast as your legs will carry you, and he's too damn weak to follow. He can't even teleport in this state – not without significant risk to his already weakened soul.

He doesn't know where you're going, but after the look you just gave him... He doubts you're headed home.


 

You saw him.

Of course you did. Of Course you would.

He was there, when you got out the elevator, and it was every bit as bad as you'd thought it would be. Like a knife through the heart, in every possible interpretation of the soliloquy.

You run through Hotland, back the way the two of you had come. New Home passes under your feet in a blur of grey earth and white stone and blinking, baffled faces. The guards at the entrance recognise you, and start call out a series of baffled and worried inquiries – they make no move to impede you, however, as you shoot right past them without stopping. Before you know it you're on the Mountainside again, tripping and stumbling down the roughly hewn path at an inadvisable speed. The sun, warm with summer promise, pushes at your back as though to encourage your descent.

It's really not a surprise when your foot catches a jutting rock. You end up rolling down the steep incline, graceless as a misshapen boulder.

You land in a painful heap, still only half way down the mountain. By some miracle you've landed in a patch of soft, springy grass, and that – you suspect – is the only reason you haven't broken any bones in the fall.

You wish you had. You wish your body was as shattered and miserable as your soul feels. You wish you'd died when you cut your chip out, almost a year ago now; you wish Sans had died on Mourning Day, died and stayed dead; you wish you'd never met him, never fallen for his charming lies... never fallen in love with him.

But perhaps most of all, you wish you really felt that way at all.

With some difficulty, you get up. Much as you'd like to just lie there in the long grass forever, you know Sans will come after you. You're too valuable to let slip away, his precious anomaly – his ticket back to her.

The way you think that – with such spite, such vehemence – honestly startles you. You don't even know her.

In any case, you don't want to see him. Not now – maybe not ever.

With that singular goal in mind, you turn off the beaten path and limp into the trees. The woods lining the slopes of Mt. Ebott were treacherous things, full of wild animals and gnarled roots that made for precarious footing. There were warnings all around the base about sticking to the path.

You decide to take your chances.

 

Chapter Text

“Wh-what did you do?”

Flowey looks up with one of his stock sneers. When he sees who it is, the sneer morphs into a grin of pure malice.

Until Alphys so rudely interrupted him, Flowey had been thinking about you – your stupid smirking face, your smug, self-assured attitude... It was only right, only proper, that someone like you be hauled down a peg or two. He'd been wondering if that trash bag's files would be enough to break your tiny human brain, or if you'd be dumb enough to come back here and let him finish the job. He'd pondered, vaguely, which outcome would be more amusing.

Going by the appalled expression on Alphys' face, the former option had won out.

“Well, well. If it isn't the Royal Scientist.

Alphys flinches at the title. Flowey's grin widens. He had learned, some several hundred Resets ago, that among the lizard monster's weakest points were – curiously enough – her greatest achievements. Project Deus in particular was a button he enjoyed pushing on a regular basis. That is, whenever he wasn't making her feel guilty just by existing.

“D-Don't call me th-that! I told you, I-,” she seems to shake herself, before resuming with her earlier point, “N-never mind that. What did you d-do?!”

He shrugs, pretending at innocence. “Gee, I dunno what you're talking about, Doc.”

“Don't l-lie to me!” She steps up to the glass, her claws clenched into fists by her sides. “You did something, I kn-know you did! Wh-what did you do to her?”

“Gosh. Feeling awfully brave today, ain'tcha?” Flowey rearranges his synthetic face to imitate the appearance of raising a scornful brow. “I was only looking out for my new pal, that's all – poor girl deserved to know the truth. So, I told her.”

In a manner of speaking, anyway. Flowey doesn't bother going into detail – as far as he's aware, Dr Stutter here knows nothing about Smiley's files. There's no real advantage to telling her about them either. The bony idiot will probably tell her himself eventually anyway.

“What truth? Wh-what are you...?” Then it clicks. Her scales pale to an even more sickening shade of yellow than they already are. “You didn't... t-t-tell me you d-didn't!”

Flowey almost takes pleasure at confirming her suspicions. “I did. Figured she wouldn't like being used.”

“Oh no... oh no, no, no... Do you... d-do you have any idea wh-what you've done?!”

“I had a notion,” he drawls.

“Wh-why? Why would you d-d-do this?!” she demands. Or at least he thinks that's the tone she intended to take – one of angry authority. What comes out instead is a kind of horrified squeak. “Don't you w-want this R-Reset as much as anyone? Don't you c-care?!”

Flowey gives her a pointed look. “Uh, no.” Duh. “This future, that one – what difference does it make?”

“A-all the difference! The R-Reset would save m-millions of lives!”

“Tch. Whatever.” He refrains from pointing out that it will also claim lives – most people born after the Reset Point had a slim chance of existing again when it happened, even he knew that much. “Don't act like that's why you're doing it – we both know all you want is a second shot at that overgrown fish woman.”

“Th-that's not true!”

“Yes it is,” Flowey mocks, pitching his voice high and thin like hers. “You don't care about all the 'lives it'll save' – all you care about is getting fish breath to love you again. Am I wrong?”

Alphys wipes her eyes on her lab coat. She doesn't try to answer – what, after all, could she say? – and Flowey takes that as acknowledgement of her defeat. He's almost disappointed. Or would be, if disappointment was something he could still feel.

After a few quiet minutes, during which Alphys sniffles and cries pathetically (and even this, Flowey notes indifferently, even her obvious suffering has become stale after so many countless Resets), she poses him a question of her own.

“Wh-why do you do this?” Her voice is so soft, he almost misses it altogether. “Why do you... wh-why do you set out to hurt everyone?”

Now it's his turn not to answer.

He crosses his leaves – a cheap imitation, a memory from a time when he'd had arms – and glares sullenly at the side of the tank. But Alphys waits patiently, and eventually, grudgingly, he mutters a response.

“Because, idiot. Seeing souls in pain reminds me what it was like to have one.”

It's a concession he hadn't expected himself to make. He considers, for a moment, affecting a sadistic grin – playing it off with the malice people have come to expect of him. But then he shrugs it off, and decides to let the doc take it as she will.

Come the next Reset – and there will be a Reset in the end, one way or another; there always is – she won't remember it anyway.


 

Sans wakes up in his own bed with a pounding headache. The last thing he remembers is your face, pale and tear-stained, etched with such sorrow and betrayal that it still – even in memory – cuts him to the soul.

As he lies there, sick to his stomach with worry, dizzy with the cocktail of raw emotion crashing over him through the bond, fuzzy images return through the murk. Your back as you ran from him. Alphys' face, tight with fear, hovering over him as his vision narrowed. He thinks he remembers Papyrus picking him up, his brother's expression a mask of concern and discomfort.

Papyrus must have brought him home, Sans guesses. Alphys probably called him.

He wishes they hadn't bothered.

Sans prides himself on his intelligence. It's one of the few things he can honestly say he likes about himself.

So then, it doesn't take him long to figure out what must have happened.

You'd seen something. He doesn't know what – God, there are a million things it could have been – but whatever it was had got you pretty bad. Bad enough, Sans suspects, to initiate a Splinter – he can feel your soul trying to pull away from his even now. Whatever you'd learned was making you reject the bond.

And it hurt.

He wishes Alph and Pap had left him in the lab. Because he's going to have to get up and find you – any other course of action is unthinkable. And he doesn't know if he can make the journey back to the mountain by himself; not when his soul feels like it's trying to burst apart at the seams.

With approximately the same level of effort it would take to move the mountain with his bare hands, Sans struggles into a sitting position. He swings his legs over the edge of the bed and – disorientated – immediately overbalances and falls flat on his face on the floor.

“SANS? ARE YOU AWAKE, BROTHER?”

There's an interlude, during which Sans hears the gentle tap-tap-tap of his brother's footsteps, before the door opens and admits an excruciating shaft of artificial light from the landing.

“SANS! WHAT ARE YOU DOING OUT OF BED-,”

“where is she?” Sans groans, forcing his weak limbs to push him to his feet. Papyrus helps him without being asked, his expression solemn.

“Undyne went to get her...” he says gently. “I'm sure she'll call when-,”

“where did she go?” Sans knows he knows. Checking your location via the chip in your back would have been Alphys' first priority – if only because she needs you alive as much as he does.

Papyrus frowns. “Ebott Woods.”

Sans' soul sinks. The woods were dangerous, even for someone armed and in their right mind. Right now, you were neither.

“help me.” Sans starts toward the door, swaying unsteadily. “i need to find her.”

Papyrus, however, didn't move. “I think it best we leave this to Undyne, brother.”

“no.”

“It...” Papyrus appears to steel himself. “IT WASN'T A QUESTION!”

“pap, i-,”

“NO! I WON'T HEAR IT! YOU CAN HARDLY MOVE, SANS!”

Well. No arguing with that one. He'd barely taken two steps and he was already exhausted. His soul felt uncomfortable and heavy in his chest – it was taking all his energy simply to stand, never mind to walk.

“UNDYNE WILL FIND HER,” Pap says firmly. “WE CAN SORT THIS MESS OUT THEN. FOR NOW, YOU NEED TO REST.” He guides Sans back to bed, tucking him in before continuing more quietly, “Your soul is under a great deal of strain, brother. If you overexert yourself, you'll fall down...”

Drained, Sans makes no argument. Eventually, the warm embrace of sleep welcomes him once more, and he falls gratefully into it's depths.

But in the back of his mind, right next to the part that's screaming all your pain at him, he thinks that maybe falling down wouldn't be so bad.

Not if this is the alternative.

 

Chapter Text

Undyne finds you in the fetal position, all but completely hidden from view by the tangled clump of blackberry bushes you'd tripped on. You think you may have twisted your ankle, and you've been staring down a dubiously coloured snake for the past twenty minutes. There's also a distinct possibility you may have concussed yourself in the fall.

Still, at least you're not crying any more. That's something.

You don't know how long you've been out here. Minutes, hours... It feels like forever, and at the same time a mere instant. Undyne offers no insight on the matter either – in fact she doesn't say anything at all. She simply picks you up, as easily as though you weighed nothing at all, and carries you back to Ebott in silence.

It should probably chafe your pride, to be carried like this. Like a child.

It doesn't.

Undyne brings you to her own house – the fish shaped one with the jagged teeth. You'd long suspected the squat, marine-inspired building of being hers, but had never really found the time (or the gall) to ask. The inside is... homely. There's actually a piano – a piano – in one corner, and only one giant sword as far as you can see.

If you weren't feeling so raw and hollowed out, that might have disappointed you.

Depositing you on the couch, Undyne immediately busies herself in the open-plan kitchen. You sit, and stare at the piano, and try not to think.

Easier said than done.

Inevitably, your mind is drawn back to the lab. Back to Flowey, back to those files... and finally, back to Sans.

The second you think his name, a heart-wrenching sob rips itself from your throat, as though it had been there all along, just waiting for it's cue. Tears you thought you didn't have start to slip down your cheeks.

Before you have a chance to really get going, Undyne thrusts a steaming mug of something under your nose. You glance up, vision watery, but she's glaring at the giant sword as though it has personally offended her. Shakily, you accept the mug and take a sip.

It tastes like flowers but, after some consideration, you decide it isn't half bad.

“Better?” Undyne grunts, flopping next to you on the couch.

You don't trust your voice, so you settle for shaking your head. The tea – if, indeed, tea is what the concoction is – is soothing, in a superficial kind of way. It warms your belly; relaxes your tense and achy muscles; takes the edge off the headache you have building in your temples. But for all that, it's still like slapping a bandage on a bullet wound – maybe it'll stem the flow for a while, but it can't possibly fix it.

“Yeah, didn't think so,” Undyne sighs. “Splinterin' is a nasty business.”

You say nothing. You've never heard of 'Splintering' before, but you don't need to ask. It's an appropriate description, you think. You certainly feel like you're one wrong move away from shattering into a million pieces.

“You can have my room,” Undyne continues, gesturing over her head at the door in the corner. “You're welcome to stay until...” She breaks off, uncertain. “Well, anyway... you can have it. I like the couch better anyway.”

You nod, grateful. There's no way you're going back to the skeleton house now, not tonight. Maybe not ever.

“You wanna, uh... take a nap?” she asks awkwardly. “I'm gonna call Papyrus – let him know you're safe.”

Another nod. Not that you think you'll be able to sleep, but you figure you should at least try. You are exhausted. Being alone for a while doesn't sound like such a bad idea either.

“Right.” Undyne hesitates. It's such an unusual gesture for her that, for a second, you almost crack a smile. “Well, uh... you know that Pap, he... he'll probably tell-,”

“Don't say his name,” you croak, your voice making it's debut at last. You don't need to hear it to know you can't bear the sound of his name right now. “Please...”

Expressionless, Undyne crosses her arms. “Okay. But you know Pap's gonna tell him, right? And they'll both probably come here when he does...”

The thought makes you feel sick. You don't want to talk to him. You don't want to see him. You know you can't avoid him forever, but it's all still too fresh right now – you need time to process. To decide where you stand, now that you know the real shape of things.

“Don't... don't let him...” you whisper. The waterworks threaten to start up again, but you know how uncomfortable it makes Undyne so you hold back. “I can't... I c-c-can't...”

She doesn't seem happy about it, but she agrees. “Got it.”

Silence.

Carefully, you set your half-empty mug of tea down on the coffee table and shuffle towards the aforementioned bedroom. You feel like you've aged thirty years in the space of a single afternoon. Before you disappear from view, Undyne calls after you one last time.

“Hey. Um... what... what did you see? What was so bad it kick-started a Splinter?”

You remember the files – snippets of Sans' thoughts in his own callous words, unmistakable in black and white. You recall the indifferent way he talked about you. The casual way he pondered how best to bend you to his will. Like you, as a person, were irrelevant. Disposable. Worthless, but for the Determination you possessed.

What you had seen, was the blueprint to you and Sans' whole relationship. The things you'd thought of as important, the milestones you'd believed so hard earned... All just another part of his plan.

Was there... had there ever been anything real between the two of you?

The manipulation was bad enough – knowing you'd been led along like a lamb to the slaughter was a blow to your confidence, to your sense of self. But to know in your heart that he'd done it out of love for another woman...

It was the very pinnacle of betrayal.

And the funny part was, even while you suffered, even as you hated him, you still loved him too. It wasn't like you could just turn it off... It was because you loved him that it hurt so bad. What the two of you had shared may well have been a lie, but it was a lie you had believed in.

You guess he trained you well.

“The truth,” you reply at last. “I saw the truth.”

 

Chapter Text

Contrary to all expectation, you sleep soundly and deeply. You dream too, if it can be called that, and in that dream there is nothing. It can only even rightly be called a dream because, unlike dreamless slumber, you're acutely aware of the nothingness. You can feel yourself floating there, alone in the darkness; a darkness so pure and absolute, there's only one word to describe it.

The essence of absence.

The Void.

For a time simultaneously long and short – both a millennium and an instant – you simply... exist. No more, no less. A consciousness, adrift in a sea of emptiness.

Then, suddenly, there's a chain – so long you can't see where it starts or ends – stretching taut across the void. It's links, each roughly about the size of your arm, are made of some kind of glowing metal – most of which are a vibrant bloody red, with the rest being a chilling ice blue. There seems to be no discernible pattern to their arrangement, no rhyme or reason; red, blue, blue, red, red, blue, red, red, red...

Somehow, the appearance of the chain only makes the blackness around you seem emptier.

As you float closer, you feel inexplicably conflicted. On the one hand, the sight of the chain fills you with something akin to pride. Aesthetically it's a mess, but it still pleases you. There's a beauty about it that goes much deeper than it's visual aspect.

But on the other hand...

There's something terrible about it too. Something that scrapes at your nerves and offends your senses. Part of you wants to tear it apart link by link and reorder it into two chains – one of red, one of blue. That, you think, would be more right.

But it would also be more wrong.

The real question is, which is worse?


 

When you wake, some indeterminate length of time later, your eyes are sore and your chest feels hollow. It takes a fuzzy moment to recognise your surroundings – though the bulky exercise frame you got Undyne for Christmas, currently dominating most of the floor space that wasn't taken up by the bed, should have made it obvious – and a moment longer to remember... everything.

The heartbreak, you're unsurprised to discover, still feels fresh – as tender as an open wound. If you weren't already spent, having mostly cried yourself dry in the woods, you might crumble under the weight of it. As it is, you scarcely have the energy to work up a whimper. Instead, you curl around the pain, dry-eyed and hollow, holding it close.

It's all you have now.

After several minutes spent just hurting silently in the darkness, you gradually become aware of raised voices. Somewhere outside there's an argument happening, getting closer and clearer with every passing second.

“please. please, undyne... i need to... t-talk to her.”

You recognise the voice instantly, and wonder if – on some level – his approach is what woke you in the first place. Did your soul sense him coming? Perhaps. It thrums even now, heavy beneath your breast, trembling with and grief and joy, love and anguish.

And anger. There's anger too, a small but powerful ball of fury burning deep beneath the layers of confusion.

How dare he...? After deceiving you, lying to you... Pulling you along like a puppet on a string. How dare he have the gall to approach you now? Is he that shameless?

“Dude, I told you – she doesn't wanna see you!” Undyne sounds both pissed and slightly awkward. “You should leave. Look at you – you can barely stand!”

“doesn't matter,” Sans says, and he even sounds exhausted. “i gotta.... gotta explain... i gotta fix this.”

You can imagine him out there with chilling clarity. A bony hand to pressed to his aching chest; his back hunched, his every step agony; a grimace of unadulterated suffering on his drawn features. You picture the pain dimming his eye lights, sweat running down his skull, misery etched into his very posture... And the rage you felt mere moments ago all but burns out.

You wish you could feel some kind of vindication – a sense of justice at his distress – but all you really feel is sorrow.

Sorrow and dread.

You can't see him. You just can't. It's too soon.

So, with an effort, you stumble out of the bed and shuffle to the door. Carefully, trying not to make any noise that might alert the others to your presence, you flick the lock. Then, task complete, you turn and sink to the carpet, drawing your knees in close. You listen. And you wait.

“Papyrus!” Undyne snaps. “DO something!”

“WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE ME TO DO?” Poor Papyrus sounds harried and put on the spot. “I TRIED TO DISSUADE HIM BEFORE WE EVEN GOT HERE – HE'S NOT LISTENING!”

“Uuraaagh! Look here, numbskull – she told me not to let you in! Whatever you did to her-,”

“i didn't do anything!” Sans shoots back, livid despite his current weakness. “i'd never hurt her.”

“Pft, yeah right. All evidence to the contrary, bonehead.”

Sans' voice, when he next speaks, is cold and measured. “you got somethin' you wanna share with the class, undyne?”

Undyne, naturally, fails to back down.

“Yeah, actually, now that you mention it.” There's a brief pause, and you can practically see her squaring up to him. “I told you this would happen. Me and Papyrus, we both tried to tell you. Why didn't ya just LISTEN to us, huh? Vira's in there right now, SUFFERIN', because you thought you were smarter than everybody else! Oh, you talk a big game, about the greater good and acceptable risk and... and fuckin' SACRIFICES. But I've got one question, Sans – WHO GAVE YOU THE AUTHORITY TO MAKE THOSE DECISIONS?!”

“UNDYNE... I THINK-,”

“NO PAP, HE NEEDS TO HEAR THIS!” Undyne is full on roaring now, her volume a rival to Papyrus' natural loudness. “THE RESET WAS NEVER ABOUT DOIN' THE RIGHT THING, WAS IT SANS?! IT WAS ABOUT YOU NOT BEIN' ABLE TO LET GO OF THE PAST! IT WAS ABOUT RUNNING AWAY FROM YOUR OWN DAMN MISTAKES!”

“UNDYNE, THAT'S ENOUGH!”

“ANSWER ME DAMMIT!”

She sounds like she wants to hit him. Honestly, you're mildly surprised she hasn't yet. Maybe Papyrus is holding her back?

“... i know,” Sans says, voice quiet. “i know, and 'm sorry. i thought i was doin' the right thing. i... i thought goin' back would fix everythin'. but i was wrong and i'm sorry.”

You half expect Undyne to chew him out some more. She surprises you by stomping off with a “Tch!” and a half-hearted “Whatever, dude”. Maybe his sincere apology had caught her off guard. Maybe she just didn't want to upset Papyrus any more. Either way, you hear her slam the door behind her.

Then, nothing.

In the ensuing silence, you wonder if the skeletons are still out there. Had they left too? Had you missed their exit somehow?

“vira? you there?” Soft and coaxing, Sans' voice startles you from the other side of the door. He's close – he must be right outside – and the sudden proximity shocks a muffled sob from you.

When you reach up to cover your mouth, you realise your eyes are wet again.

“guess so.” He sounds like he might be crying too. “we, uh... we need ta talk, kiddo.”

 

Chapter Text

How had it come to this? How could such unabashed happiness devolve into... well, this? Last week you and Sans had been all over each other – so in love, hardly a care in the world between you. Now...

Now you were hiding behind a locked door, crying softly and wishing for all the world that you'd never even met him. No – worse. You wish you'd had the courage, the selflessness, to get on with the Reset sooner. That way you could have gone on 'til the end believing in the lie – believing that he loved you too.

“i dunno... dunno what you saw,” Sans begins haltingly. “and i – i guess it doesn't really matter... what's important is that you know... whatever it was... i'm s-sorry... a-and i - i love you.” He breaks on a sob, the sound ragged and breathless. Your soul throbs in response, and you can't tell whether the desolation you feel is your own or his. “i love you so, so much. more than i've ever loved anythin'.”

“L-liar!” You didn't mean to say it – you hadn't meant to say anything – but the fact that he's trying to pull the wool over your eyes even now stirs some of that anger right back up. “Don't fucking l-lie to me!”

“i...” he sounds stunned. “i'm not! vira, i swear! if you're gonna believe anythin', believe that. i love-,”

“You love Toriel!” you snap, fury momentarily steadying your voice. “I saw your files – don't try to deny it! You used me!”

“you... saw my files?” A pregnant pause. “all of them?”

Burying your head in your arms, you mutter, “I saw enough.”

“you didn't,” is his immediate response. “vira, i promise you, you didn't. those early ones... what i wrote... i didn't know you then. i was an idiot – i didn't have a clue what i was talkin' about...”

You hate how, despite everything, part of you still wants to believe him. It would be so easy to just open the door, fall into his arms, and let all of this become a passing bad memory. But even supposing you were really prepared to do that – and you're not, not when you now know how good a liar he truly is – it changes nothing.

The fact still stands; Sans had set out, from the very beginning, with the express intention of manipulating you. He had lied to you, hid things from you, and had robbed you – in his writings – of even your most basic right as a living being. The right to life.

worst case scenario, she dies and we're back to looking for the new anomaly.

That's what he said, isn't it? Those were his words.

He had been willing to see you die, if things hadn't gone his way. Hell, he'd been willing to kill you himself! To siphon your DT into someone else, even knowing what it would mean for you, all for the sake of this 'Tori'.

So maybe he did love you. Maybe his scheming had backfired and he'd accidentally developed some genuine feelings for you. But as far as you were concerned, that was irrelevant.

“and as for that stuff about tori... m-maybe i did love her, once. a thousand resets ago.” There's a brief flurry of sound, a shuffle and then a thump. You suspect he's sitting down. “but the truth is... i haven't really felt anythin' for a long, long time. not... not until you. sure, i went through the motions – maybe i even had myself fooled for a while...

“but i've never felt for her the way i feel about you.” He says this so fiercely, his voice imbued with a passion, a determination, you'd rarely heard from him before.

Minutes creep by. You have nothing to say.

“you believe me... right?”

Still nothing.

“i went to the lab to call it off, you know,” he says softly after a while. “that's why it took so long. me and alph were arguin'.”

You sigh and lean back against the door. You're not sure what he's trying to accomplish. Doesn't he get it? This isn't about the Reset. It's about him.

There's a clack – the distinct sound of bone against the door. “i'm sorry.”

Eyes filling once more, your resolve weakens ever so slightly. Just enough to make you turn and place your own hand against the door. You imagine Sans' palm on the other side, and suddenly, powerfully, you miss the coolness of his bones against your skin.

Your fingers curl inwards. You lean forward, forehead resting against the smoothness of the wood. Tears slide down your already puffy face.

“can... can you come out?” he asks tentatively. “i know i've got no right to ask... but i want... i need to see you.” A brief pause, then he adds, “please?”

“N-no,” you sniff.

“please, vira. i'm beggin' ya... just for a sec...”

“I c-can't...” you moan.

It's too soon. You haven't had time to come to terms with your new information, haven't had a chance to process it. Even hearing his voice is a strain, a needle in your wounded heart. To actually face him, to see the lies there (or worse, the truth)... You're not ready for that yet.

Exhausted and heartbroken, you start to weep. And not the attractive, quiet kind of crying – the kind that has you sounding like an injured animal, breathless and high-pitched and messy.

“k-kid...”

“SANS? I BELIEVE WE SHOULD GO.”

“but-,”

“VIRA IS HURTING. SHE FEELS BETRAYED, AND I'M SORRY, BUT I DON'T THINK HAVING YOU HERE IS GOING TO HELP RIGHT NOW.” Papyrus' voice is so close now, you know he must be right outside the door too. “SHE NEEDS TIME, BROTHER. AND YOU NEED REST – THE SPLINTERING IS TAKING IT'S TOLL ON YOU TOO.”

After some half-hearted argument, Sans eventually goes. You feel him leave, feel the reluctance in the action, and the moment he steps outside the weight on your soul eases a fraction.

Papyrus lingers a moment longer.

“VIRAGO? I WANT YOU TO KNOW THAT I'M SORRY TOO.” He pauses, takes a breath, and continues. “AND WHATEVER YOU DECIDE, I WON'T HOLD IT AGAINST YOU.”

Then he's gone, and you're more alone than you think you've ever been in your entire life.

You crawl back to bed and cry yourself to sleep.

 

Chapter Text

Time passes. You can't say whether it passes quickly or slowly – truth be told, the only reason you know it passes at all is by the occasional break in monotony when Undyne forces you to eat. Well, that, and Sans' near daily visits... But it does pass, and it doesn't take any of the pain with it.

Apparently, time doesn't heal all wounds.

That's not unusual in the case of Splinter, or so Undyne tells you. The thing about a Soul Splinter is that it's individual to each bond – it depends entirely on the couple. What you think and feel won't be exactly the same as another couple going through Splinter. Though, that said, there are generalised stages to the process. You're in what's commonly known as 'Crisis Phase'. There are three phases – 'Inceptive', 'Crisis' and 'Full Break'. 'Crisis', as the name might suggest, is the turning point; whether you enter 'Full Break' or not depends on what your soul ultimately decides.

Only it's not deciding.

The weeks go by and nothing changes. It hurts, and keeps on hurting, and you don't know if it's ever going to stop.

Sans has tried everything, but you still won't see him – you lock yourself away whenever you sense him coming. Honestly though, you needn't bother. He's never tried to open the door, not once, and he either can't or won't shortcut his way in. He'll ask to see you, and when you inevitably say no, he leaves it at that. That's not to say he actually up and leaves – no he always hangs around for a bit. Sometimes he'll talk, sometimes he won't, but he always stays.

At first you thought he was just biding his time, hoping you'd suddenly change your mind. And hell, maybe that's true too. But mostly, you eventually realise, he just wants to be close to you. Even if that means sitting on opposite sides of a door in silence...

Papyrus visits sometimes too. You don't hide from him the way you do from Sans, and he has enough tact to avoid bringing his brother up most of the time. The rare occasion he does mention Sans, it's often in passing and almost always an accident.

“YOU'RE LOOKING PALE, VIRA. ARE YOU EATING WELL? AND I DON'T MEAN THAT GREASY GARBAGE YOU AND MY BROTHER ARE SO FOND OF!”

“STILL IN BED AT THIS HOUR? YOU'RE AS BAD AS SANS!”

“YOU'RE BOTH SO QUIET THESE DAYS... I EVEN MISS THE PUNS, SOMETIMES.”

Whether he brings Sans up or not, Papyrus' visits always leave you laced with guilt. It's obvious he's worried – he's not very subtle, even when he tries to be. Especially when he tries to be, in fact. The way he chatters on about nothing; the way he fidgets constantly, wringing his gloved hands or shifting position on the couch anxiously; he acts like you're a ticking time bomb.

You suppose you are.

Strangely, Alphys visits a few times too. By which you mean twice. Both occurrences leave you feeling very... odd. Not angry, or sad, or even bitter, just... odd.

The Doctor's visits were uncomfortable, but not for the same reasons Sans' and Papyrus' were. There was, of course, Alphys' natural awkwardness to contend with – she was every bit as ungainly in her conversation skills as she had been back when you first met her, leading you to the conclusion that it wasn't just you after all. Rather, it seemed like the social ineptitude was as much a part of her as her scales were...

But that's only part of it.

Undyne – rightly or wrongly, it doesn't matter – seems to have internally assigned a portion of the blame to the little yellow lizard monster. And it showed. The atmosphere between the two of them could be cut with a knife – you suspect Undyne almost didn't let her in to see you at all, such was her unhappiness during Alphys' short-lived stays.

Tension aside, Alphys tried her best to be friendly and understanding. For her first visit, she'd come armed with printouts – the rest of Sans' private files, or at least the ones pertaining to you, all numbered and ordered, with asterisks next to carefully highlighted phrases where she'd added, in a messy scrawl, her own take on his meaning.

we're goin' on a date. it's... i mean i always kinda wanted to, obviously, but... now i really, really wanna go. i wanna see her smile. i wanna make her smile.

“S-see? H-he doesn't mention Toriel once in this one. A-a-and he said all he wanted was to m-make you smile – if that's not real love, I... I don't know what is.”

At the time, you hadn't been certain of her goal. To convince you of Sans' sincerity, sure, but to what end? Where did that fit in with her agenda?

It wasn't until her second visit that you understood.

“Sans... h-he really did want to call it off, you know?” she'd said bitterly. “He wanted to be with you so bad... h-he was willing to sacrifice everything we'd worked for. Everybody's h-hopes and d-dreams...

“Do you know why b-bonding with you was such a big part of our p-plan?”

“He wanted to use me to jump start his memories,” you'd replied dully, ignoring the pang in your chest as you did so.

“P-partly,” Alphys had agreed. “But it was also for y-your sake.”

“Sure.”

“N-no, really.” She had adjusted her glasses then, fixing you with a look that – from Alphys – was as close to determination as she was likely to get. “You heard what happened to... to the others, right? Th-th-the ones before you?” You'd nodded. “It was because they... they didn't want it enough. H-how could they? Most of them didn't even r-remember the war. You can't want something different... wh-when this is all you've known. Not the way we needed them to... N-not with all their soul.”

“But in his files... Sans said he could let the bonding part slide if he had to...” Why would he say that, if doing so meant you'd just end up like the others?

“You're d-different. You're the anomaly – th-the true anomaly.” She'd paused, obviously choosing her next words with care. “B-but forty years is a long time... t-too long, maybe even for you. We th-thought... Bonding is more than just... just some arbitrary l-link. It's... your soul mate b-becomes your everything.” She didn't need to tell you that. “The stronger the b-bond, the closer the two of you come to being one p-person. We thought... a b-bond would allow Sans to h-help you with the Reset. You c-could channel the DT... a-and he would do most of the w-wanting for you.

“We th-thought it would reduce the risk of you shattering,” she'd finished solemnly.

So that was it. Alphys was trying to repair your bond with Sans in order to get the Reset project back on track. Maybe she thought you could convince him to go through with it after all, or maybe she was just hoping that Sans would eventually change his mind on his own. Either way, she knew it was a lost cause with things as they now stood.

That was... fair, you supposed. You couldn't really blame her for sticking to her guns. If things were different, you might even agree with her.

But she was wasting her breath. Sure, the plot to bond with you was (slightly) less appalling from that angle. They had, in a twisted way, been trying to protect you, you guess...

It didn't matter. Regardless of the reason, their plot had still been just that – a plot.

Sans had planned to do this to you. Not with you – to you. Your input had never been sought, your opinion never asked for, and your autonomy never considered. What you might have chosen had hardly even been a second thought.

And that, no matter which way you sliced it, was utterly beyond forgiveness.

 

Chapter Text

That is it!”

You startle awake as Undyne bursts through her own bedroom door, knocking it clean off it's hinges.

“I think you've moped long enough, DWEEB! It's time you got over yourself!” she yells, marching over to stand at the foot of the bed.

It's the beginning of your twelfth week staying with Undyne, as far as you can tell, and until now she's been tiptoeing around you quite carefully. Aside from periodically making sure you remember to eat, she hasn't interfered with your prolonged pity party at all – mostly, you suspect, because she hadn't really known where to start.

Something tells you she just figured it out.

“What-,” you pause to clear your throat. “what time is it?”

“One twenty.”

You glare. “In the morning?”

“In the afternoon, punk!” Undyne grabs the quilt and rips it from the bed. Some lingering sense of self-preservation prevents you from trying to hold on as she does so – it's not inconceivable that you would have flown off the bed with it. “Get the hell up and get your ass out in the yard. It's high time you got back on the horse, dork! Starting with a good training session.”

By which you take it she means a good ass-whooping.

“No thanks, Undyne,” you grumble, turning your head back into the pillow. “I'm not feeling up to training today.” Or ever.

Undyne shocks you by grabbing your ankle and hauling you out of bed as effortlessly as though you were a petulant child.

“H-hey! What the-,” you begin, but break on a yelp when she drops you heavily on the floor. Scowling, your gaze snaps up toward her face, ready to deliver a scathing rebuke for such unnecessary mistreatment.

You promptly swallow your words at the fierce look on her face.

“Did I say it was optional?” she growls.

Gulp. “N-no, m'am.”

“Well then. Yard. Five minutes.” Her tone brooks no argument. “Don't make me come back to get you.”

You wouldn't dream of it.


 

Undyne's yard is, by all accounts, little more than a drying green. It is, however, conjoined by the drying greens of five other houses, and since there are no fences, the area becomes, essentially, one big shared yard. Luckily, no one else seems to be using it at the minute – though you suppose if they had been, they'd have scattered fast under Undyne's steely glare.

You know you would, but for the fact that she would probably follow you.

As you join her on the slightly overgrown grass, there's scarcely a spare instant to prepare yourself before she's bearing down on you, jabbing at you lightning quick with a sparring-spear and conspicuously neglecting to give you one to defend yourself with.

You're severely out of practice – you land on your ass in a record breaking 2.8 seconds.

“Uh, dude!” you object, rolling out of the way just in time to avoid being impaled. “Aren't you forgetting something?!”

Undyne doesn't hesitate. “It takes will to swing a weapon, punk. If you don't have the willpower to even get outta bed in the mornin', then you don't need one.” She punctuates her sentence with a brutal horizontal slash to the side of your head. The blow knocks you clean off your feet and sets your ears ringing, but it doesn't kill you (or even knock you out), so you guess she must be holding back. “Now pay attention!”

You do. Undyne may be pulling her punches, but – and you've made this observation several times in the past – she seems to have a very skewed perception of what is and isn't enough to kill a person. It's entirely plausible that she could misjudge a strike and send you careening into the afterlife by accident if you're not careful.

After a scant three minutes, you're horrified to find yourself flagging. What the hell's happening?Didn't you used to have way more stamina than this?

“Tired, huh?” Undyne notes, catching you on the arm. You shout out in shock and pain – that... that one may have broken something. “That's what happens when you sulk in bed for weeks on end!”

Sulk?!” you repeat incredulously, bringing your arms into a defensive position. From the way your right one twinges at the movement, it's safe to assume it's good and fractured. “I wasn't sulking, I-,”

A sharp rap across your forearms morphs your answer into a roar.

“Strike one!” Undyne sneers. “Denial is weakness! Face your faults like a real warrior!”

Jesus! She's not letting up. The spear just keeps coming, battering your ever-weakening arms until you feel like there might be more bruises than skin.

Alright!” you shout. “I was sulking, okay?! But Sans, he-,”

Another blow rains down – you jump aside, but Undyne predicts the movement and thrusts the haft between your legs at the ankle, tripping you onto your backside.

“Strike two! Accept responsibility for your own actions!”

“Are you fucking serious right now?!”

“As the plague!” she snaps, dissipating her weapon and grabbing you up by the front of your t-shirt. “Are you really that weak?! HUH?! Do you honestly believe that bone idle sack of SHIT coulda made you do anythin' you didn't wanna do?!”

“Wh-,”

“So what if Sans thought he was the one callin' the shots?!” Undyne shakes you, hard enough to rattle your teeth in your mouth. “HE WAS FUCKIN' WRONG! You chose this! YOU, no one else! OWN IT!”

A tense silence fills the yard in the wake of her impassioned speech. Bruised and bloody, you dare not break it.

Panting, Undyne slowly lowers you to the ground.

“Look,” she huffs. “We both know I'm no good at this stuff, but... what I'm tryin' ta say is...” She clenches her teeth, wrestling with her own limited methods of expression. “Maybe Sans did plan it all... but – but so what? Y'know? All that means is he put more effort into gettin' ya to like him – which is a fuckin' miracle all by itself, by the way!”

You frown at the ground, unconvinced.

“It doesn't mean the guy you loved isn't real. Or that your choices weren't real. Yeah, he was tryin' harder to get ya to choose him, but you still had a choice – no matter what that bonehead might've wrote in those stupid diaries.”

“But...” you argue weakly. “He tricked me... H-he pretended-,”

“Pretend nothin' punk,” Undyne scoffs. “Ya think a soul bond would've worked if he'd acted like somebody else the whole time? Souls don't lie – whatever you felt when you touched his soul, that was him.”

Love. That's what you remember best from that second time you touched his soul – a rush of fondness, of love, so warm and pure it had been almost overwhelming. But, now that you think about it, you remember something else too. An undercurrent of something much darker.

Guilt.

At the time, you'd thought it was yours. Emotional overflow from your side of the bond, because you'd still believed in your heart that you were somehow the one trapping him. That the only reason it was happening was because of your fuck-up.

It's almost too ironic, you think, now that you finally have all the pieces.

“So... what?” you ask, uncertain. “Forgive and forget, is that it?”

Undyne crosses her arms and grunts non-committally. “Forgive, don't forgive – that's your choice, nerd. That's my whole point. Maybe Sans really did think he was guiding you along like a dog on a leash – but I say who the fuck cares what he thinks? Are you gonna let him take credit for all your decisions? Or are you gonna show him that you're a big girl who walks her own damn path?”

You stare at her in awe for a moment. When did Undyne get so... wise?

“Thanks,” you tell her, smiling a little for the first time in weeks. “That actually – that helps.”

“Pff. Damn right!”

Suddenly, you know exactly what you need to do.

 

Chapter Text

The house is quiet when you finally get there, but that in itself isn't really a surprise. You have it on good authority (by which you mean Undyne's authority) that Papyrus will be kept busy for what remains of the day on a totally mandatory, completely legit training trip in the wilderness. As for Sans...

Well.

You hover outside uncertainly, debating whether or not to knock. Technically it's your house too – you'd lived here for over a year after all, and it had been 'home' for at least half of that... Plus, you and Sans were still (again, technically) 'soul-married', so...

But that was over eleven weeks ago. If there was an expiration date on these kinds of things, yours had definitely been reached. You hadn't seen him in so long – maybe it would be politer to knock...

God, this was stupid! You hadn't knocked once in the whole time you'd been living here, you're not about to start now!

Squaring your shoulders, you pull the handle decisively and let yourself in.

The place is... pretty much the same as always. You're not sure what you expected, honestly – perhaps for your absence to show more on the surface than it clearly does. Foolish, you know, especially considering Papyrus' inclination towards cleanliness, but still... The house is immaculate. Not a single item out of place, but for the ever-present note-riddled sock that – now that you think about it – hasn't moved or been addressed at all since you'd started living with them.

Sans is nowhere to be seen, but you know he's here regardless. You can sense him – the North on your internal compass. If he's not vegetating in front of the TV, there's only one other place he could be.

And sure enough, when you tiptoe upstairs and peek around his bedroom door, there he is – sleeping fitfully on his bed, the bed the two of you had shared, the room a complete and utter disaster zone around him. You sneak closer and frown – he doesn't look much better than the room does.

Dark, bruise-like circles make his eye-sockets seem deeper than they are, and his cheekbones have a worn, scrubbed look to them that makes you imagine countless tears being wiped away. His clothes – possibly, judging from the smell, the very same clothes he'd been wearing eleven weeks ago – are filthy, stained with ketchup and grease. If it wasn't so ridiculous to think so, you could almost believe his hoodie hangs a little looser on his frame than it had the last time you'd seen him...

Put simply, he's a mess.

The sight breaks your heart. Even after everything, it still hurts you to see him like this. You honestly don't know whether that's comforting or annoying.

Both, you guess.

It had been your intention to barge in here and give Sans a stern talking to. To (ahem, quote), “set that puny skelefucker straight!”. And to start the process of forgiving him, of course, but mostly to give him the forth degree.

Seeing him like this, you can't bear to wake him. He looks like he needs rest more than he needs chewing out.

Before you have time to really register your own actions, you've slipped into bed beside him, wrapping his fragile body in your arms and gently manoeuvring him until his spine is cradled against your stomach. The thin trembling in his bones that you hadn't noticed until you touched him settles instantly, and at the same time a sense of peace that you haven't felt in too long settles over you in a heavy, sleepy cloud. Sans sighs in his sleep, and you press a chaste kiss to his temple before tucking his head under your chin.

Let the talk wait until later – you have time.


 

You wake to the sound of quiet sobbing and the distinct feeling of ribs pressing into your belly. It takes a panicked moment to remember where you are, and a further second of confusion to figure out why you can't move. Once you do, you can't help a giving a small, weary chuckle.

“Hey,” you say, wiggling a hand free so you can rub his shivering back.

“h-h-hi...” Sans sniffs. There's something wet seeping through your t-shirt where he's got his face pressed to your chest. You would comment on that, perhaps make a joke, but it hardly seems appropriate at a time like this.

“I... uh. Ha, I don't know what to say.” This irritates you a little – and after you'd spent all that time planning it out in your head, too. He looks up at you, misery etched in every shadow on his face. “I kinda had this whole speech... b-but, uh...”

But looking at Sans now, feeling him shake as he squeezes you desperately, seeing his gaunt, teary eye sockets and wretched grimace... It just seems so pointless. What could you tell him that he hasn't already told himself a thousand times over?

“'m s-sorry.” His voice is thin and hoarse – you have to lean in closer to catch it. “i love you. i'm so s-so-rry, vira.”

You don't doubt it. There's probably never been a sorrier creature anywhere. Your first knee-jerk reaction is to say that 'it's fine', but... You know it's really not. Oh, you can forgive him, sure, given time, but that doesn't make it fine. It'll never be fine, and you think – on some level – he knows that.

Instead, you utter the one thing you can say with absolute certainty. “I love you, too.” And then you kiss him, softly, on the top of his skull, because at this angle you can't reach his mouth.

The contact of your lips against him sends another shudder through his body. He grips tighter and angles his head, and when you oblige him and press another gentle kiss to his teeth, he starts to weep uncontrollably.

You wait patiently for him to calm down, peppering little kisses everywhere you can reach, partly to comfort him, but mostly, you think, because you hadn't realised just how much you missed the coolness of his bone under your lips.

The point at which your kissing goes from innocent to heated is hard to pin down. Maybe it was Sans' wandering hands that did it, squishing and pinching their way from the safety of your mid-section down to the much more sensitive skin of your thighs. Maybe it was when his messy hiccuping smoothed out into the tiniest of gasps, the sound doing funny things to your heart. Either way, when you suddenly – almost without meaning to – flip him onto his back and move to straddle his hips, you know unequivocally how this night is going to end.

“This is... my choice,” you say between kisses, stroking your fingertips over his ribs through his hoodie and swallowing the gratifying little sound he makes in response. You feel like this isn't what Undyne meant when she told you to put him in his place. “I chose you.”

You're not even sure if, out of context, that makes sense. Obviously, when you say it's your choice, you mean more than just the sex the two of you are about to have – you mean everything. Everything that lead to this point, and everything that would inevitably follow; it's the path you picked, no one else.

You're not sure if that translates well when you're trying to stick your tongue in his mouth though.

Sans doesn't reply, and it takes you longer than you want to admit to realise that it's because his tongue is otherwise occupied. You pull back sheepishly, and wait for him to catch his breath, enjoying the flush of magic in his cheekbones and the slightly dazed look on his face.

“i... just... i...”

“I know,” you mumble, cutting him off with another smooch. “You were doing what you thought was best for everyone.”

Sans nods, trapped beneath you, helpless as you smoothly work your way down to his clavicle, nipping and lapping at the vertebrae in his neck as you go. When you make it to your intended destination, you pause to suck on a particularly sensitive spot, swirling your tongue over the bumps and grooves and smiling when the sensation makes him squirm.

“I forgive you,” you whisper, the caress of your breath making him shiver.

Forgiveness, you've realised, isn't about accepting the wrongs against you. It's about moving past them. You haven't quite done that yet, but you will.

You will.

Sans looks dubious. “r-really?”

“Really.” You give him an affectionate nip and he yelps.

 

Chapter Text

Needy and impatient all of a sudden, your hands make quick work divesting him of his hoodie and t-shirt. Sans, for his part, appears to be stunned – he watches you work to disrobe him without complaint. When you start to remove your own clothing, he gives himself a shake, eyes tracing your curves with something akin to awe. His hands come up to kneed your bare breasts (you haven't worn a bra in nearly eleven weeks) almost dreamily.

“i... can't believe this is really happenin'... 'm i still asleep?”

Covering Sans' hands with your own, you arch into his touch. Between your legs, you feel his growing erection through his shorts – shifting slightly, you grind against him, creating just enough friction to encourage a little moan out of you both.

“Does that feel like a dream?” you ask, keeping eye contact as you clumsily shimmy out of your leggings and pants. You manage to get them to your knees before – with a restless huff – you abruptly give up. You'd have to get off him in order to take them off properly, and right now you really don't want to get up. Instead, you turn your attention to Sans' shorts, slipping your fingers under the waistband and pulling them down just enough to let his cock out.

“n-no...” he croaks, watching you with wide eye-sockets.

It occurs to you then that you've never done this on top before. If there were such a thing as a 'dominant' partner in you and Sans' relationship, you guess that Sans would be it – which was odd, considering his inclination towards laziness in pretty much everything else. For your part, you'd always been much too shy to take charge, and since Sans seemed to enjoy setting the pace anyway, you had been more than happy to let him take the lead.

But this time is different. This time it has to be on your terms.

Clumsy and suddenly timid, you use one hand to position him between your thighs. Angling your hips appropriately, you wriggle until you feel the tip of his dick catch on your entrance and then – half-excited, half-nervous – you thrust yourself down without preamble.

Instant regret. Sans isn't obscenely large by any means, but you hadn't considered just how long it's really been since you'd last taken him. Your walls burn with the abrupt reminder, tears of discomfort beading in the corners of your eyes. On reflection, perhaps you should have gone slower.

Sans swears as you lie there on his chest trying to catch your breath.

“f-fuck!” His phalanges dig into your flesh painfully. “n-not so rough...”

“S-sorry...” you wheeze, clinging to him and squeezing your eyes shut. “I've... never done this on top before.”

“you – you wanna switch?”

“No. No, just... gimme a minute...”

Gradually, you feel yourself adjust to having him inside you. The burn petters out into a fullness that's just this side of uncomfortable and – figuring that's probably as good as it's going to get – you tentatively lift yourself off him before (slowly) sliding back down.

“b-better,” Sans sighs, moving his hands to your hips in an attempt to influence your movement.

“Nah-ah-ah,” you smirk, regaining some confidence and grabbing him by the wrists. You lean forward, pinning them to the mattress over his head. “Hands off buster – this is my show.”

Surprised, Sans nonetheless does as he's told. Not that you're really giving him much of a choice – you casually keep his hands trapped beneath yours as you ride him, experimenting with your angle and speed, and using the minute changes in his expression to determine their effectiveness.

In the end you settle for a steady rhythm, neither fast nor particularly slow, and concentrate instead on putting more emphasis into the firmness of your thrusts and the roll of your hips. If his increasingly fervent moans are anything to go by, Sans appreciates your efforts.

“that feels... so good,” he huffs, reflexively struggling against your grip on his wrists, “you're fucking amazing... i l-luh-love you, sweetheart!”

You lean down to kiss him, gliding your tongue against his when he obediently opens his mouth for you.

It doesn't take long at all before you feel the crest of your orgasm approaching, as evidenced by your own high-pitched vocalisations of pleasure. It coils low in your belly, setting your every hair on end in anticipation. Part of you notes that you normally last a bit longer than this, but you suppose it has been a while.

“Sans, I'm-,”

“i know,” he whines – actually whines – bucking his hip up to meet you in the middle. “a-almost...”

The two of you come almost simultaneously – you first by mere seconds, and Sans crying out his own end directly behind you. Shivering in the throes of pure bliss, you lean down to kiss him deeply once more, putting your very soul into the gesture as your body clenches around him, milking his warm seed from him jealously.

Spent, you collapse on top of him, gasping. Sans seems just as wrung out, if not more so, and moves only to put his hands – now limp and sluggish – tenderly on your back in an exhausted kind of hug. The two of you are still joined, but even as you make note of this fact you feel his dick start to dissipate. It's kinda ticklish.

“Good?” you ask with a sleepy grin, tilting your head to meet his adoring gaze.

He kisses you softly, reverently, before making his response. “great.”

“Ha. Good.”

“i love you. i really, really love you, kid.”

“I love you too.”

“i don't wanna reset any more.”

“... I know.”

“stay with me?”

You place your hand on his chest, directly over his soul. “I'm yours.”

 

Chapter Text

You almost don't want to go, when the time comes.

It's early morning – two or three at most – and while Sans continues to snore his cute, purring snore, you creep around the room like a ghost, gathering your discarded clothes and slipping into them silently. The two of you had had sex four more times after that first session, and while you're fairly certain nothing short of an explosion will wake him now, you muffle your preparations just in case.

Once you're fully dressed, you take a moment to kneel by the bed and just... look at him. He's drooling a little – you wipe his jaw with a tender smile. He looks happy. This is how you want to remember him. Assuming...

No.

None of that, you tell yourself sternly.

Ignoring the weight in your chest, you lean forward and kiss him softly on the cheek. “I'm yours,” you whisper, so softly the words are barely there. “Always.”

Then you withdraw.

You pause a moment outside Papyrus' door, wondering if maybe you should say something to the taller skeleton too – he's not there, you know, but it's the thought that counts. When nothing appropriate comes to mind, you continue down the stairs and out the front door.


 

“Wh-where were you?” Alphys scolds when you finally make it to the lab. “Y-you were supposed to be here ages ago.”

You scowl. “I'm here now, aren't I?”

Okay, so maybe you went a bit overboard with your goodbye. You were supposed to be out of there by midnight at the latest, but when you'd woken at that time Sans had woken with you and, well...

Frankly, you don't think she has any room to complain either way.

Credit where it's due, she recognises her rudeness quickly and has the decency to turn red.

“S-sorry...” she mutters, before looking away sheepishly. “Um... This way. Everything's r-ready for... for you.”

Contrary to what you'd told Undyne when you left her place earlier (right after she did what she could to mend the arm she'd broken in your 'training' session), you hadn't gone directly to the skelebros house. Rather, you'd made the hour long journey up Mt Ebott and – after blustering your way past the guards, who'd looked at you funny and had no doubt taken note of the event to report to Undyne later – through the Underground to Alphys' lab.

There, you and the doctor had come to the unanimous agreement that the Reset had to happen – with or without Sans' help. What better time to act than when you're pumped up on your own sense of independence?

It was all your idea, and Alphys had of course been quick to point out the flaws – you don't know her very well, but you get the sense that it's the kind of thing she does as standard. What if Sans tried to stop you? What if it didn't work and you were scattered across time and space? What if it did work and you were never born?

Admittedly that last one was a possibility that had never occurred to you. Or perhaps, on some level, it had, and you'd just never wanted acknowledge it. Naturally you'd stumbled for a second. But just a second. In the end you'd forged ahead anyway.

At the very least you stood a better chance than your predecessors. You never know 'til you try, right?

Desperate as she herself was for the Reset, Alphys hadn't taken that much convincing, and after arranging to meet up later – once she'd had time to prime the machine and you'd had time to say your goodbyes – the two of you had parted ways.

“Sans is g-going to kill me when he finds out...” Alphys murmurs in front of you.

“Maybe he'll think I did it myself.”

“No offence, b-but you wouldn't know how to work the machine.” She let out a humourless chuckle. “H-he'll know. And unlike me, he'll remember.”

“This isn't just about him,” you say, repeating the words you'd ultimately used to convince her in the first place. “This is about everybody. We're just doing what has to be done.”

“I kn-know that.” She turns to usher you into a room – one your recognise from your first visit to the secret lab. The strange goat-skull machine dominates the room, looming over you ominously. “The question is, will S-sans?”

As you climb into the seat nestled inside the skull machine's maw, you can only hope that someday he will. You're doing this for him as much as anyone – to give him a second chance, a future where his lies and manipulations never existed. You meant it when you said you forgive him, because in less than an hour none of it will have happened anyway.

If you're fortunate enough to survive the Reset, the two of you can start afresh. If not...

Well, at least he'll have a good future to mourn in.


 

When Sans wakes, his first muddled thought is that he dreamed the whole thing up. From waking to find you curled around him in bed, to the ridiculous amount of make-up sex the two of you had had – all of it a vivid hallucination.

And to be entirely fair, the idea does have merit. You aren't in bed where he left you, despite the hour being positively ungodly, and he'd be lying if he said he hadn't fantasised a thousand similar scenarios in the weeks you'd been apart. True, it's the first time he's woken feeling sated and content instead of frustrated and lonely, but there's a first time for everything, right?

Except...

Well, Sans isn't that imaginative.

Conjuring a night of passion, that he can do. Dreaming said night so well that his soul feels at peace and he still has phantom aches in his bones upon waking? No way.

Which means it was real. Which means, you're currently M.I.A. And while it's possible you just went to the bathroom, or downstairs to get a drink, Sans instinctively knows that isn't the case. You're the North on his internal compass, the pole towards which he will always be drawn. And right now his soul is telling him his 'North' has left the building.

He's on his feet and scrabbling for his clothes before he's even made the conscious decision to do so. There's something so... final in the air tonight. He can't put his finger on it, can't put it into words, but something about this whole situation has him feeling extremely nervous.

What Sans does know is that he needs to find you. Quick.

Before it's too late.

 

Chapter Text

“Right so, uh... what do I do now?”

You're sitting in the machine, your clammy hands wrapped around the metal grips (one on either side) that Alphys had told you to hold on to. She, meanwhile, is flitting between several blinking consoles all lined up against the wall on your right, pressing buttons and flipping switches and generally looking quite busy as she gets the thing up and running.

She turns to regard you thoughtfully.

“W-well... our last... um, v-volunteer... we had them focus on what they wanted to h-happen. But... I've been thinking about it a lot a-a-and I don't think that's how it's supposed to... to work.”

“Okay...” Helpful. “So how does it work?”

Alphys must pick up on your ire, because she immediately flushes red under the yellow of her scales. “I think... I think maybe it's not about w-wanting it, as much as it's about believing it. Or... or not believing it, I guess?” She shakes her head. “I'm not explaining it very well. It's like... rejecting reality so f-fiercely, that the world has no choice but to go back to a state you c-can accept. Does... does that make sense?”

Strangely enough, it does.

Reluctantly, you cast your mind back to the one other time you'd successfully performed a Reset. Back then, it hadn't just been about wanting Sans back, though of course that had been the catalyst. It was more than that, more than mere grief. It was denial – a soul-deep refusal of his death ever having happened to begin with. You had simply not believed in a world that didn't have him in it.

And miraculously, it had worked.

“Great,” you mutter. “Now I just have to do that with the last forty-odd years and we're golden.”

“What was that?” Alphys asks, already fully absorbed in her equipment again.

“Nothing. Just... tell me when you're ready, yeah?”

“Uh-huh.”


 

Sans is growing more and more anxious by the second.

Something... just doesn't add up here. And for the life of him, he can't figure out what. Why would you leave so suddenly, in the middle of the night? It doesn't make any sense. Were you still mad at him? Is that it? Not that he'd blame you if you were, but, well... That's not the impression he'd gotten, after spending most of the evening with his dick in you.

Besides, you'd said you forgave him. You're not the type to say something you didn't mean.

So what then? What was he missing?

It doesn't help that the direction his soul is pulling him in doesn't seem to lead to anywhere in particular. He'd passed Undyne's a while back; Grillby's was on the other side of town (and closed at this hour besides); not even Muffet's is in this direction. Sans is relatively sure you don't know anyone else well enough to visit them in the dead of night like this...

Ugh, he wishes he could just shortcut straight to you – the urgency with which he began his search has only grown in the last half hour, to the point where it's getting pretty hard to think past the wall of sheer panic slowly taking over his brain. But without a precise exit point, he was as likely to end up lost in the void as find you. If it wasn't for the fact that doing so might cause more harm than good, he'd probably try it anyway.

The night air whips around him, grabbing at his clothes and running chilly fingers over the bones beneath. It's still dark out, but if he concentrates, Sans can see the slightest hint of burnished orange on the horizon. The sun will rise soon, in all it's golden glory, and though he's a bigger fan of sunsets than sunrises, he finds himself wanting to watch it with you.

Why does it feel like he's not going to get that chance?


 

How does one go about rejecting forty years worth of reality?

Jeez, where do you even start?

It would help, you think, if you had a real idea of what you were supposed to reject. The Reset you'd done before had been very clear cut in that sense – Sans had died, and that wasn't acceptable. It really was as simple and as complicated as that. But the war... God, there was so much to it. Did you have to reject the whole thing – like, every separate event? Or could you get away with just rejecting a specific part of it? And if so, what part?

Truth be told, you've been growing increasingly worried in the time Alphys has spent fiddling with the machine, wondering if this venture is even remotely possible. Even if you had the slightest clue about what to focus your efforts on, you suspect you may not have the right... experience to make it work.

Resetting Sans' death had been a personal matter, a process driven by grief and anger and pure instinct. How were you supposed to work up that level of unbridled emotion for an event you hadn't even been alive to witness? The war was – without argument – an awful part of this future's history, but it was just that; history.

You need something you can be passionate about, something specific that you can feel the injustice of all the way to your core.

Maybe... the death toll? It's not hard to feel the grievance in that.

It's as good a starting point as any you guess. Should you practice? Would trying to Reset before Alphys is ready mess the whole thing up? You doubt it. Part of you doubts your method will even work anyway, but it won't hurt to give it shot. At the very least, you might get a sense of whether or not you're on the right track...

Closing your eyes, you force yourself to think about the countless lives lost in the war. Human. Monster. Men, women, children. People – individuals with personalities, with hopes and dreams, fears and faults. Families torn to shreds in an instant. People who had done nothing wrong, other than to simply be human. Others whose only crime had been to defend their race. When you get right down to it, the ones who'd created this future, the ones who – knowingly or unknowingly – started this fight, had been relatively few in number.

Most people hadn't wanted this.

...

It's not working.

Obviously, it's not working – the machine still sits silent – but you get the feeling that it won't work either. Something about your thought process feels wrong. Ineffective. It lacks the implacability your last Reset had; it lacks that righteous fire. Where the last time you'd felt like an avenging angel – like a God – this time you feel like a child taking a tantrum.

With a nauseating twist of your stomach, you realise that you're probably going to end up scattered across time and space.

“Okay, Vira – the machine's r-ready,” Alphys says, her hand hovering over a pull-switch anxiously. “Are you... are you sure you want to do this?”

You chuckle weakly. She says that as if the choice wasn't already set in stone. Whatever your chances of success, you're still determined to try. If you'd been the kind of person who could turn back now, you wouldn't be the anomaly in the first place.

“Yeah, I'm good. Let's get this over with.”

She pulls the switch.

Nothing happens.

And then...

It does.

 

Chapter Text

Sans is fast approaching the edge of town. Up ahead, he can see the beginnings of the trail that leads up Mt. Ebott, the one that – if you'd taken it – would lead you right to the entrance of the Underground.

This is it; end of the line. There's nowhere else you could have gone.

His soul sinks in trepidation.

Then, suddenly, it seizes, clenching as though a hand had reached right through his bony chest to squeeze it.

Sans prides himself on his intellect, and he figures it out in as little time as it takes to drop to his knees. His soul is on fire, a thousand tiny needles of red-hot agony erupting across the very core of his being – and yet still it pulls him onward. On toward the mountain. To the Underground. And there's only one reason he can think of, that would draw you there.

As soon as the thought settles in his brain, he tries to work up the energy for a shortcut. He grits his teeth and pictures the lab, it's banks of control consoles and tanks of bright red Determination. He visualises the tiled floor and faded walls and musty smell. In the centre of it all, he sees the DT machine, huge and ominous, with your comparatively tiny frame cradled in it's gaping maw. He knows, in his minds eye, exactly where he wants to come out and holds the image in his head, forcing it back into focus each time another wave of agony causes it to fizzle out.

When, during a brief lull in the chaos, the vision maintains it's clarity for more than a second, Sans hastily grabs for his magic and performs the fastest, most dangerous short cut he's ever done.


 

You're going to fail.

You know this beyond the shadow of a doubt, in much the same way you know the sky is blue and the sun is hot. It's not an idle worry, not mere speculation – it is immutable fact. You're going to fail, as all the others failed. As all others will fail, because a Reset on this scale is – you discover, much too late – simply not possible.

The Determination flows through you like lava, passing from the storage tanks on your right, through your right hand and out on the left, only to return to the tanks and begin the journey anew. As it passes, it sets every cell in your body ablaze – your blood vessels feel like lines of flame, and your skin prickles and crackles with energy.

Your soul is in worse shape even than your body – it feels like it's being pulled apart at the seams, your chest aching and pounding, ready to rip open like an overripe fruit. You could give in and let go of the machine, but you instinctively know that if you do, the unchecked Determination will shatter every last bit of you across the aether.

No wonder the few survivors all went insane. No mortal could withstand such torment.

Trapped in that maelstrom of unrelenting torture – let it end, please, let it end, LET IT END, PLEASE! – you're only vaguely aware of anything going on in the lab. From what little you can see and make sense of, Alphys appears to be crouching against one of the consoles, her claws pressed desperately over her ears. That seems strange to you at first, until you realise that you're screaming at the top of your lungs.

In a burst of spite, you will yourself to scream louder.

When Sans arrives, immediately dropping to the floor like a stone, he brings with him a further dimension of horror to an already awful scenario. The tiny part of you that isn't praying for death really wishes he hadn't come. Bad enough he was going to lose you, he doesn't need to see you like this as well. He doesn't need to go through this too - just leave Sans, please leave, it'll be over soon, just go!

“without you, there's nowhere to go!”

Had you said that out loud? You hadn't realised.

“alphys! shut off the machine!”

Why had you thought you could do this? Actually, that's the wrong question – it wasn't that you'd thought you could, it was that you hadn't known you couldn't. A better question is why had you thought you had to? Resetting had sounded like such a good idea before. The perfect solution - a second chance for everyone. But now... now all you can think about – when you're thinking at all, and not just screaming endlessly into the abyss – is all the ways you could have helped fixed this future.

You could have worked things out with Sans.

You could have convinced the King to give the humans another chance.

You could have gotten the humans agree to live in peace.

alphys! shut it off!”

“I c-c-cant! You know I can't!”

But now... now you're going to die. Or as good as. And it isn't even going to mean anything.

“alphys, you-,”

“I can't, Sans! The o-only way to prematurely stop the cycle is to break the circuit. And... and the only way to do that is...”

You'll die, and the world will continue to burn, and the only real difference your existence will have made is that it'll have utterly destroyed one of the few people capable of fixing things.

“... vira."

Alphys will continue to feed people to the Reset project because her desperation won't let her do anything else - a pointless cycle of death that never stops.

“I'm s-sorry!”

This isn't right.

None of it is.

Is this your legacy? The best chance the world has had in forty years, and this is how you go out?

No.

You won't let it end like this.

Y O U   R E F U S E.

 

Chapter Text

D A R K N E S S.

Not the kind that comes with the absence of light, but an absolute inky nothingness – an absence of... well, everything. It's not unlike that dream you had, the one with the chain and the coloured links, only this time the black is uniform – uninterrupted. There is only you, alone in a vast pantheon of non-existence.

Is this what death is like?

Then, with the suddenness of a light being flicked, there's a human child with you. Oddly, you don't feel particularly surprised to see them. Their features have a pinched quality making them look slightly shifty-eyed, but they are otherwise plain – so plain in fact, that you can't tell whether they're male or female. They're wearing a purple and pink striped sweater, dark blue shorts, and scuffed brown boots, all of which defy the assignment of a gender as well. Their short brown hair sways as they look around the void, an expression first of confusion and then of panic crossing their face.

You've seen this child before you realise. It's the kid from the photos – the ambassador.

Frisk.

*What's going on?

Time to try words, you guess.

“I Reset.”

Huh. They work.

Frisk startles, and spins to face you.

You wave – the gesture feels a little silly, all things considered.

*Who are you?

Their voice is strange, you decide – it's less an actual voice, really, than a... an impression of words in your head. Certainly their mouth doesn't move while they 'speak'. You wonder, briefly, if that's a trick they learned in the real world, or if it's just the nature of this place that makes it possible.

“That's... a long story. You've been dead for over forty years, kiddo.”

They look... stunned? Maybe? It's hard to tell. It occurs to you that you should have broken that news more gently, but something about this place makes your mind feel... odd.

You think you know why.

*Why am I back?

“Another long story.” Boy, that was the truth. “And,” you add wistfully. “I don't think we have the time.”

Sluggishly, you raise your left hand to your face and... yep, just as you suspected. You're fading, your hand transparent enough already that you can see right through it. Your thoughts are beginning to dissolve too – trying to grasp them feels like wading through honey. Pretty soon you won't even have thoughts.

After all, you haven't been born yet.

“Ask Sans. When you get back, I mean. And Frisk?” They tilt their head curiously, obviously wondering how you know their name. “Don't die, okay? Whatever point you were trying to prove, it doesn't work out so well for the rest of us.”

*Wh-what about you? they ask, their voice (er... mind-voice) slightly wobbly.

“Me? I'll be fine.” Probably. “Can I get you to do me a solid though?”

They must realise, on some level, what's happening to you. There are tears in their eyes, real tears, and for a moment you're touched. That this child, who doesn't even know you, would cry for you...

In that moment, you know it was worth it. They were worth it.

If anyone could create that beautiful future you'd dreamed of, it was Frisk.

*Anything.

You nod. Or would, if you had enough physical matter left with which to nod. While you'd been talking your body had just... gone. Without you feeling it or realising it at all. You're little more than a consciousness now, and soon you won't even be that.

Before that, though, you have one last order of business.

“Tell Sans... tell him I love him. And... and I forgive him. This wasn't about... punishing him, or...”

A muddled pause. Your thoughts are slipping away too fast – it's hard to form words and harder still to remember what it was you wanted to say. It would be so easy to just let go. You can feel oblivion beckon, that vast ocean of nothing waiting to scrub away all your worries, all your fears... everything. Only the memory of Sans keeps you grounded.

He'll probably be the last thing to go.

*Hey! Are – are you still there?

“But most... most important,” you say, faintly, dreamily, like you're a moment away from sleep. You suppose you are, in a sense. “tell him I'll be back... someday.”

You think you may have meant that as a platitude, a small comfort to get him through the first few years without you. But as you say it, you think it could be true. Or maybe you just hope it is. It's hard to say for sure when your thoughts are unravelling like a ball of wool in the claws of a cat.

“I'll come back... so wait... wait for... me...”


 

Frisk shed silent tears as the woman simply... stopped existing. They didn't claim to know what was going on, couldn't guess what had happened to bring her to this place in the first place – all they know is that she was a person, and she had died so they could live.

They hadn't planned on reloading. Sans had specifically asked them not to, had made them promise on all they held dear that they would leave the timeline well enough alone. “stuff happens, kiddo. good an' bad. y' can't just rewind the clock every time somethin' doesn't go your way.” That's what he'd said, and Frisk had agreed.

They still agreed.

But maybe... maybe there could be exceptions?

Frisk took a deep breath – a largely pointless endeavour, since there was no air in this place with which to fill their lungs, and no need to do so even supposing there had been – and mentally reached for their 'save'. They rehearsed the woman's words in their mind, and resolved to find Sans as soon as possible when they got back.

Apparently, they had much to discuss.

*She loves you. She forgives you. It wasn't a punishment. She'll come back. Wait for her.

 

Chapter Text

Sans wakes with a start, and for one minute he thinks it was all a horrible dream. In that brief, beautiful moment, he convinces himself that he's going to roll over and you'll be right there, sleeping like a log. He'll put his arms around you, kiss you softly, and none of it will have happened. None of it will have been real. By breakfast, the two of you will be laughing and it'll be nothing more than an unpleasant memory.

That delusion lasts about as long as it takes him to crack open his eyes.

You're not there.

You technically never were.

And for Sans, the real nightmare has barely begun.


Year 1

Once the would-be bombers at the embassy are dealt with, Frisk comes to see him and pass on your message.

It's cold comfort honestly, but he nods anyway.

When Frisk inevitably asks, Sans tells them. Because really, who else can he tell? No one else remembers. No one else ever remembers. So he tells them, and when he's done – when Frisk knows as much as he does – they give him a look that seems grimly satisfied. See? that look says. I'm not the only one capable of terrible things.

And Sans guesses they're right, at that.


Year 2

The numbness fades, and is replaced by anger. Cold, irascible fury; at you, at himself... But poor, clueless Alphys gets it worst of all.

She helped you do this to him. She powered the machine.

At times he is needlessly cruel to her. He picks at the wounds he knows will hurt, hacks great bloody chunks out of her already fragile self-esteem, and even when his misdirected rage almost tears all their friends apart, he still can't seem to help himself.

It's only when Toriel confronts him on the matter that he finally lets up.

“Really, Sans!” she scolds, in that particular way she has. “What has Alphys done to deserve such abuse? You are being very unfair to her!”

And she's... right.

God knows he hates it, but she's right.

Alphys is scarcely the same person any more – she doesn't deserve to be punished for a decision a different her made in a different world.

Besides, although the loss of you burns more brightly with every passing day, he can't deny that in most respects this future is better. Tensions are high, politically speaking, but war is the last thought on most peoples' minds.

And Papyrus is happier, at least. That has to count for something.


 

Year 3

He has a thought one day. An awful, terrible thought, so utterly repellent he can hardly believe it came from his own mind.

Your absence is no less felt after three years than it had been the day he woke up in his and Papyrus' apartment in Ebott City. Every day is a slog, a brutal grind from start to finish – the only reason he even bothers to get out of bed is for his brother's sake. If not for Papyrus, Sans is certain he'd have fallen down long ago.

The morning he has his awful thought is no different. Papyrus rouses him in the usual way, and when he eventually drags himself to the breakfast table he finds Frisk already eating – they'd had a sleepover with Pap last night, he belatedly remembers.

The idea – less an idea, really, than a notion – hits him that there's at least one way to make sure you're born again. One method he knows of that will guarantee your existence.

As soon as the thought forms, he recoils from it as though it were a poisonous snake. It's abhorrent, absolutely repugnant – he immediately leaves the table, unable to stomach a single bite.

Apart from the fact that he could never bring himself to do such a thing, even at his most desperate, he knows that doing so would be spitting in the face of your choice. And wasn't doing just that the thing that had brought him here in the first place?

No, he would respect your sacrifice. And if – when – you returned to him, he would treat you the way you had always deserved to be treated.

This time, Sans wants to be a man worthy of your affections.


Year 5

Although you're gone and no one remembers, Sans sees traces of your influence in his friends.

Papyrus has a more pronounced interest in healing magic, despite technically having had little cause to use it before. He's been taking lessons from Gerson, and works at a hospital as an auxiliary – monsters with healing prowess are much sought after on the medical scene these days. Soon he plans on training to be a nurse; has in fact already filled out the paperwork for the local university. When Sans asked about his sudden desire for a career change, Papyrus had scratched his head and hummed.

“I... DON'T KNOW, HONESTLY. IT JUST FEELS RIGHT.”

In a move that surprises exactly no one, Undyne has opened her own gym. Maybe she would have done that anyway, but Sans likes to think it's also because part of her remembers training you. And when it came to choosing a name for her business... well, Sans suspects there was something of you in there too.

“What about 'The Fish Wife Fightery?'” Undyne had suggested.

“N-no, sweetie.”

“'Weenie Hut?'”

“Nuh-uh.”

“Grrrrah! Okay then – 'Punk Palace'!”

In the end Alphys had talked her down to 'Victory Lap Gyms Ltd'. Undyne had later admitted she really liked the 'vi' sound in victory. Oh, and who doesn't love laps?

Alphys is... less obvious in her tells, but Sans sees it nonetheless. Something about the way she tries extra hard to help the monsters integrate with humans, the way she goes out of her way (and well out of her comfort zone) to deliver speeches at peace rallies and help Frisk with their ambassadorial duties... Well, to the right nose (metaphorically speaking) it reeks of guilt.

It's... honestly, it's small consolation, at the end of the day.

But it's something.

Right?


Year 10

There's not much point. To anything.

Sans looks around and sees his friends all happy and fulfilled, but it's not enough. He wishes it was, wishes he wasn't so selfish, but it's not and he is.

Luckily, he's good at pretending. Years of Resets before you came into his life made him real good at that, and the skill has never left him. And when night falls and he doesn't have to pretend any more, he can drop the facade, drown it in a bottle, and refresh his act for the following day. It's not a perfect system, but it works.

Mostly.


 

Year 20

Frisk's wedding has an open bar. Sans wonders, for one bitter moment, if the kid did that on purpose as some kind of test...

Nah. Probably not. More likely, they just had thatmuch faith in him.

He's been dry for almost a year, but it's still a struggle sometimes. Today had been particularly hard – but then weddings always were. Sans grimaces as he remembers Undyne and Alphys' wedding two years before; also known as 'the day he acknowledged his drinking was getting out of hand'. He still can't quite look either of them in the eyes. Which is probably good, because he gets the feeling sometimes that Undyne still wants to kill him.

But hey, he's made it to the end of the night and hasn't touched a drop. That's a victory all by itself. He's been doing so well that Papyrus even let him out of his sight with minimal fuss.

“jus' goin' out for some fresh air, bro.”

“DO YOU WANT ME TO COME TOO?”

“nah. you go ahead and ask metal-buns for another dance. i'll be fine.”

“RUDE! HIS NAME IS METTATON, SANS.”

“isn't that what i said?”

He smiles at the memory. It feels good to smile again – really smile, that is. There's still a great hollow hole where you used to be, but... it doesn't hurt so bad now. He still lives in hope that you'll come back to him some day – in fact, if you're going to be born at all, it'll probably happen soon – but in the meantime he has this. His brother, his friends... His family.

He wishes he'd pulled his drunken head out of his ass sooner to see it.


Year 35

Sans worries sometimes that maybe you really don't exist in this timeline. He'd have felt it, wouldn't he? If you'd been born again? He'd have felt it through the soul bond, right?

*Maybe, maybe not, Frisk says when he visits one day. Sans is bouncing their kid – a chubby toddler with the biggest eyes he's ever seen – on one knee while they make some tea. *Who's to say the bond even survived the Reset?

“i do,” Sans says. “i can still feel it. it just feels... uh... rough around the edges?

Frisk eyes him curiously. *Did you go through a Splinter?

“no... not really. it felt like it at times, but... i dunno.” He shrugs. “i think a real splinter's supposed to be... cleaner than this. i mean, tori and fluffybuns splintered and they're both fine now.”

*Maybe she's just too far away then? Or maybe... because her soul was born brand new... maybe her side of the bond is broken?

It's possible, Sans guesses.

But it's just as possible he's grasping at straws.

What if this is just how it feels when your soulmate dies?


 

Year 42

It's a beautiful day outside.

Birds are singing.

Flower's are blooming.

And on the corner of the street where – in another world entirely – a rebel was once apprehended by monsters, Sans the Skeleton sells hot dogs from a mobile food cart.

He's been coming here for the last three years. Logically, if you're alive and there's anything left of him in your soul, he knows you'd be drawn here, to the place the two of you first met.

It's been three years of disappointment.

Today, he thinks, pretending to be asleep on the stool behind the counter, will be his last day. If you were going to appear, you'd have done it by now. He wasn't doing himself any favours by prolonging the situation – he should be out there living. Enjoying all the things that had become possible through your actions. Maybe he'd go on a trip, see a bit of what the world had to offer. He could go get his degree officiated, like Alphys had – build a career for himself. Hell, maybe he could even...

No.

He can't see himself loving anyone else. Not... not yet. Maybe not ever...

Still...

It stings – it probably always would – but it may well be time to move on.

The sun sets and Sans packs up the left over 'dogs into his pockets. He'll go home via the park today, he decides, and throw the sausages to the birds. Better than them going to waste – he'd eat them himself but he's going to Tori's for dinner with his bro later.

As he's breaking the food up for the ducks, he decides, almost absently, that he can accept this. He would rather have you – there are few things he wouldn't give to have here with him right now – but if that wasn't possible... Well, the least he could do was appreciate your legacy.

And at least he had his memories.

Funny, he thinks, brushing the last of the hot dogs off his hands. There was once a time when he thought he would rather forget. But he's glad he remembers. If that's all he can have of you... well, it would have to be enough.

“heh. welp, enough bone-doggling.”

Sans turns to face the sun.

A voice stops him before just before he shortcuts away. “I bet you've used that one a skele-ton of times!”

Startled, his head snaps round.

The speaker fidgets guiltily. “I... I'm sorry. Did I offend you? Are skeleton jokes a skeleton-only thing?”

After a moment he grins.

“nah, you're fine, pal.” He holds out a hand. It only trembles a little. “i'm sans. sans the skeleton.”

 

END