Red Light District
Chapter 14: Some traces of you
Sans could already see the way his tone affected Onion, getting a rush of clarity with the way the other monster’s brows stitched up, the way tentacles unfolded in front of him like a blooming flower, waiting for him. Even with a touch of the practiced lilt to his voice the octopus himself had taught Sans, it wasn’t enough to prevent Onion from treating Sans like a wounded sheep come back to the fold.
“Please kill me.”
Onion abruptly drew back.
This was the single most important request to convince Onion of. He absolutely had to make sure he listened to him.
Sans went as close to the edge of the platform as possible and got down on his knees, bending over so his forehead almost touched the floor.
“I…need this, Onion. More than anything. I need it to end.” Sans kept bending down as low as he could crouch without sinking into the floor and disappearing. “I did my…b-best, but it’s, it’s not enough, and I can’t…take any more. I really can’t take any more. You’ve g-gotta know that. Have some…pity.”
Onion didn’t give any answer. Sans trembled with the effort of holding together, with the fear of having to go back. He made the mistake of looking up to see Onion’s blank look of shock, and he couldn’t manage anymore. He felt a constriction in his throat.
“oh god please Onion, haven’t I done enough for you? Haven’t I fucking done enough that I don’t have to be s-screwed by some fucking…some fucking umbrella, used like a toy until I…”
Until he lost his mind.
Sans gripped desperately at his chest, over the spot where his soul was enclosed. “I know that you, that Muffet did something…I can’t crush it, but you could—”
Onion picked Sans up and held onto him, but it wasn’t to honor his plea. Tentacles were wrapping around his body affectionately, going nowhere near his soul. Sans fought against the embrace.
“Don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t make me give up, please, I need this, I need it, you don’t understand-”
The tentacles squeezed at him, nudging all the right places to get Sans relaxed and calm, to soothe him into sleep. Slip him back into the warm bath that was Red City, nevermind the bubbling water and hiss of steam, nevermind the boiled frogs all around him like canaries at the end of a fucking coal mine-
His voice was so fucking tender, held all the promise of a peaceful life. If only Sans obeyed. He could be—
Sans thrashed in the hold, voice breaking in hysterics.
“You don’t—” he took a heaving breath. “you don’t know what it’s like!” He finally managed to wrench his soul out of his chest, although he could still feel the magnetic push it exerted on his grip from the spell, making it so his fingers couldn’t fully come in contact with the surface.
Holding it out meant putting on display just what had been done to it—the greenish tint still running through it like gaseous fumes under the surface. He didn’t even know if this was what was supposed to happen when another monster…
Sans could barely breath.
“He fucking m-melded with—I can still feel his—”
Sans crumpled under the admission actually coming out of his mouth. Letting himself realize for the first time since coming out of the room what this meant for him if he kept going.
“This is permanent. It’s fucking permanent. You can’t leave me like this?”
Onion gently plucked up the soul, giving Sans the faintest glow of hope before the soul was placed back inside his chest. Sans convulsed at its return, feeling the slimy magic settling in him like it was physically sloshing around. The last of his restraint fell apart as sobs overtook his pleas.
“No, oh god, oh god please, don’t make me live like—” Sans’ hands went back for his chest, just to clutch the outside, but Onion peeled them away anyway. Sans’ ragged cries tore at his throat. “Please! Please, you don’t know, it won’t go away, it feels like he’s still— I wanna fucking die, please, please, I wanna die, I don’t wanna live anymore!”
All Onion had to do was wait until Sans wore himself out, and his sobbing softened into whimpers. He was still stroking him as he spoke, so gentle it was like he thought Sans might dust at a raised voice alone.
“Shh, you’re taking a long break, Sans. I’ll take care of you.” The tentacles kept rubbing Sans’ shoulders and down his arms. “You don’t have to be afraid.”
Sans choked and shook his head.
“I don’t care. Why won’t you kill me? I tried…so hard…why won’t you d…do that for me? I thought I was d-d-doing a good job. Haven’t I been good?”
The tentacles wrapped tighter around him, and Onion was silent.
Sans’ return to Red City saw more time with Muffet than he’d probably ever spent in his whole stay there. She had his head tucked in her lap most of the time, which suited Sans just fine, because it was a cozy way to nap and never wake up.
Except he did wake up, several times, enough to know she’d gotten his pussy to form a few of those times to check on it. The first time he really noticed his pussy since getting out, it had already been fixed up. It was like all of it had been a bad dream, and he almost could have convinced himself of that if he hadn’t seen what his soul looked like now.
Sans had his arms around Muffet’s waist, his head cushioned in her lap and the rest of him curled up close around her legs when Cecil visited him. Sans didn’t look up, but heard their voice, uncertain and quiet.
“Hey. Thought you might wanna play cards for a bit.”
Sans nuzzled further into the folds of Muffet’s puffy dress.
Muffet’s hands stroked his head and down his shoulder affectionately, like a prized pet. Sans just about fell back asleep, but Cecil was still talking.
“You could maybe use it, y’know, talking to us…getting out of the room.”
Muffet’s petting went uninterrupted. Cecil took on a joking tone.
“Afraid I’ll wipe the floor with you?”
Some fingers scratched at Sans’ neck, and Cecil was saying something more, but Sans drifted off without catching any of it.
Sans hadn’t intended to ever see the human child again. How could he possibly justify being around them after what was done to him? He felt dirty just existing. Inflicting that on the inhabitants of Red City was one thing, but a child…even one as unsettlingly familiar with the brothel as Frisk was…was bordering on an unthinkable act.
Here he was doing it anyway— but only because they’d come along with his brother.
His brother seeing him now was a horror he wasn’t sure he could even put into words. But he couldn’t just not do what Papyrus wanted.
Sans went to the kitchen himself to pick up snacks for their visit. He caught one of the other workers closing a drawer of knives and standing in front of it as they saw Sans enter— so his plea to Onion had been passed around, it seemed.
He was getting some funny looks besides, from here and on the way to the room. It suddenly occurred to him to wonder exactly how much everyone had seen of him when he was wandering the halls still under the slug’s influence. What he’d said with that crazy goop fresh in his system.
Opening the door to see his visitors today approached the level of dread and anticipation of opening the door to the slug itself. Sans stood there for a minute or two, hand on the knob and tray balanced on the other hand. Hey, that was one thing he’d finally managed. Wouldn’t Muffet be proud.
When Sans got through the door and saw his brother’s face, though—regally dignified but with a look of touched earnestness of which Sans was pretty sure he was the only recipient— what Sans felt was even worse than the minute or so of suffocating anxiety he’d suffered while standing outside.
He felt nothing.
Stepping in and carefully, smoothly setting down the tray on the table between them, Sans reminded himself that Papyrus was the only thing left that mattered. That no matter how he felt, or didn’t, he had to remember that, and keep fighting for it. It was exhausting. But something about the need to remind himself to care was strangely nostalgic.
The human was unusually quiet, which Sans could be thankful for. So long as Papyrus talked enough for the three of them, and Sans knew he could, maybe Sans could get through this.
Papyrus had laid his hands in front of him on the table, almost perpendicular to his straight upright spine. The stiff, grim pose put Sans in an odd flashback to his meeting so many years ago with the royal mortician, who’d been charged as a matter of course with helping the family manage Gaster’s affairs. Sans hadn’t thought about the ominous monster with a hand for a face since that meeting. Sans had hardly been mentally present for it, anyway.
“Sans. I thought we’d start with business first. Christmas is coming up.”
Sans had forgot about it entirely. Something as ordinary as Christmas didn’t seem like it belonged on the same planet as him.
…wait, had his brother just told a joke?
Sans’ face did something, and he wasn’t able to check if it was a smirk or even remotely mirthful.
“I, uh, didn’t think about it Boss. Sorry.”
“Will you have time off for it?”
“I dunno, bro. I gotta see.”
Not if he could help it.
Papyrus’ face grew more stern. There, that was familiar.
“Even the guard has reserves take over for Christmas. I think it’s important that you come home for the holiday. You have a duty to your family.” Papyrus glanced at Frisk. “I imagine you would at least want to come home around then…for the anniversary, to visit where you sprinkled our father’s dust. You always spent a lot of time down there, but it’s such a mess…you could finally get your affairs in order.”
“We gotta talk about this now…? It’ll work itself out.”
Plans for the future, as much as observing a death date could be called that, weren’t something Sans was at all interested in hashing out, even to appease Papyrus.
Sans saw Frisk’s arms wrap around Papyrus’ elbow. The gesture ticked him off with the dampest bit of feeling he could muster. Other people having feelings in front of him when he couldn’t remember what he felt about his own brother was extra tiring.
The resulting silence was starting to become an irritant in and of itself. Sans reached.
“So…how was training with Undyne?”
“Asgore did this to you on purpose.”
Sans’ claws dug a shallow groove into the table.
“Uh, yeah, I told you he got me the job. But call him the King, don’t use his first name bro, come on, are you a baby bones?”
“He suggested that I kill you.”
There was a pause. A too generous pause, like a reaction was expected. Sans probably should be reacting to that. Papyrus clenched and unclenched his gloved fingers to the tune of creaking old leather.
“He wasn’t interested in having me kill Undyne. He does want me to gain LV…but by proving that I am willing to sever ties with you.”
Sans also supposed it would be proper to look away at least, give the barest of affectation, but he just stared straight ahead at his brother without bothering to mold his face into anything.
“So do it. You got an order from the King.”
Papyrus banged a fist on the table.
“I will not let him play with us like this!”
He reached a hand out, indicating Sans in a manner dramatic enough to belong on one of Mettaton’s TV serials.
“We can free ourselves from this wretched situation. We can end this on our terms.” The hand swept outward in a grand gesture. “I will fight. I will fight him, Sans.”
“…don’t say that, Boss. You don’t mean it.”
“How dare you! As my own brother, you know my honor is unimpeachable!”
At this point if Papyrus really wanted to preserve honor, he should deny their relation and be done with it, but Sans’ brother clearly had an inconvenient, stupid personal code that held family and name above all, regardless of the degenerates that might include.
Frisk suddenly slapped their tiny hands on the table, jostling a glass.
“Sans, let your brother take you home! Let him help you!”
Sans bristled at the human’s intrusion. He faced Papyrus when he answered, like they hadn’t spoken.
“Just forget about it, Boss. You can walk away.”
It hardly mattered anymore anyway. Why waste the effort when there was nothing left to save?
“You can’t expect me to do that. I’ve let this go on long enough. We can fight together, brother.”
“Come on, Boss, you’d rather do that than grow in the ranks? You’d give up all your dreams for the sake of a whore? What’d we raise you for?”
Papyrus lifted his hand like he was going to strike Sans across the face, the way he might an underling in the guard. But he held back, his hand hovering in the air and curling into a fist.
“You don’t…you don’t get to call yourself…this is not our fate.”
“Just callin’ a spade a spade, Boss.”
Some of the air drained out of Papyrus’ emphatic declarations. He sank back down in his seat like he really was losing oxygen, popped like a balloon.
“Sans. I know I…I once told you I liked when you called me that. ‘Boss.’ I thought it suited. But I don’t know anymore if it’s…” He waved one hand aimlessly, his gaze drifting away. “I was younger then. And you’re my brother. I’ll always think of you as…we will always be partners.”
A little extra slice of empty anger stabbed through the murk of nothingness, that Papyrus had to go and say something like that when Sans couldn’t feel anything about it.
“You…you and our father raised me to be honorable. To have integrity.”
He had entirely too much. Finally Sans had a chance to be more like a proper big brother to him, and he was using it to insist Papyrus go against his personal code.
“I can’t let you throw everything you’ve got away for this. You gotta be stronger than that.”
The world was falling apart, because Papyrus was wilting before Sans’ eyes.
“How strong do you expect me to be? Do you think those things will mean anything to me, built on your suffering?”
Papyrus’ hands cupped the back of his skull as he bent forward, the practiced duck and cover reflex to a bomb drop, performed by someone who knew it was already too late.
“I would give it all away to free you.”
Thank god Papyrus hadn’t been able to come before the slug. Sans would have crumbled at the offer of salvation.
Sans double-checked the slip of paper with his client’s room assignment as he pulled on his work jacket. So it was back to business as usual already. Not that it surprised him Muffet would turn around on her word like that. But it did surprise him just a little that he didn’t care at all.
What was one more?
In the kitchen, he was eyeballed once again as he set up a tray with drinks and made off with it. Even without the excuse of being busy, Sans wasn’t in the mood to hear empty pity, or worse, cheerful small talk.
He opened the door to the private room, and Clarence the bunny was waiting there, kicked back on one of two facing loveseats. Sans fell back against the door, his tray clattering. He miraculously managed to balance it, but after thinking for a moment, he dropped it on purpose. The bunny gave him an amused look.
“Lovely to see you too, my dear.”
The dreamlike stupor Sans had been wading through since the slug was finally somewhat broken through by the pure absurdity of the situation, his voice coming out with more life than he’d felt in himself for the past few days.
“How the fuck did you get in here. Didn’t Muffet lifetime ban you, or something?”
Even before Clarence answered, Sans found himself walking over and sitting down on the loveseat across from him, like he was joining an old friend for tea. Clarence waved a hand in the air.
“Nothing so dramatic as all that. We still talk, even. As for the how…the monster watching this room is currently taking a little nap.”
Sans’ thoughts went to Cecil in the monitor rooms, and his soul stuttered.
“A, uh…forever nap?”
“Oh please, Sans, I haven’t been that sloppy in years.” Clarence swung his feet over the edge of the cushion, landing them on the floor so his long legs jut up in a sitting position. “No innocents were harmed in the making of this visitation. Now, as for the ‘why’…”
The bunny leaned forward, cradling his chin in a hammock of laced fingers. “Muffet let slip that you were…not feeling yourself. And I thought it might be time that you really needed me. I couldn’t keep myself away.”
Sans leaned forward as well. Before he knew what he was doing, he’d taken his soul out of his chest and held it out for Clarence to see. Clarence took it delicately in a leather gloved hand. His eyes raked calmly over the surface, taking in the odd coloring.
“This is truly vile.”
For once the bunny didn’t sound cold. And he’d chosen to voice the one thing nobody had acknowledged since the session with the slug. Sans felt a lump form in his throat as he was flooded with longing.
All that came out of him as he opened his mouth was a small, watery whimper.
“Oh my poor dear, look what they’ve done to you.”
Sans gasped, tears overflowing from some well of emotion he’d thought was gone. His whole body shuddered with them as he struggled to get something out other than wordless wet noise.
“Shh, shh, yes, that about sums it up.”
Clarence drummed over the surface of the soul with his fingers. A sickly green bloomed at each point of contact.
“Too much of it in here…he must be carrying some of you with him, or you’d be gone, losing that amount.”
Sans closed his eyes at the confirmation of what he already knew, hot tears squeezing out.
Clarence was thoughtful.
“Well…there’s always the option for measures of desperation.” He turned the soul over in one hand, his other hand patting something under his coat in a meaningful gesture. “It would probably be a temporary relief to drain it out, but after that, of course, you would…”
Sans got ahold of himself at last, leaning in so much that he almost touched the bunny’s face. Clarence was the only one who would understand.
The bunny reached a hand out to Sans and brushed some of the tears from his face.
“I know, my dear.”
Sans’ eyes were glued to the spot Clarence had indicated in his coat.
“Clarence, would you…” There was a moment where Sans took in their positions, like he was looking in at them from outside his own body: the room they were in, the full situation. “I mean, I could. I could make it worth it to you. You could…” He glanced at his soul, squeezing the couch cushion under him with both hands. “…experiment on it or, whatever you…just so long as after, you…kill me.”
Clarence leaned back, spreading his arms out.
“Sans. We’re friends, aren’t we? And you must imagine I don’t have many of those.”
“Ha. No, you? Must be a hit at parties.”
With his free hand, Clarence pushed his coat open at the chest and unsheathed a knife from a holster under his ribs, the metal gliding out to the tune of a ringing scrape. Sans’ mouth fell partway open at the sound, and he watched the flat of the blade brush over the surface of his soul with a sense of heartache. Clarence spoke with his eyes down, like he was talking to the soul.
“But no, no, none of that. I’ll do right by you.”
The soul was held up between them, the tip of the knife pointed right at a cloud of discolored magic. Clarence’s eyes glanced up at Sans.
Sans’ breath hitched.
“Then this is goodbye for good, love.”
The knife pinched on the way in, slowly penetrating until the pierce gave way to a grazing sensation, like a deep itch being scratched. A tight feeling bloomed into a warm release, and Sans convulsed, reaching across the gap to grip Clarence’s sleeves.
“That feels alright?”
Clarence tilted his head, a playful grin twisting up his face.
“On the bright side, I’m reasonably certain this will kill him, too.”
Sans couldn’t answer. Something was leaking. The soul was tipped forward, oozing from the wound, the color from the inside going clear. It almost looked pure. Sans was on the verge of crying again just at the thought, but he was too tired, a seductive sedation calling him deep.
Clarence was putting him down. Or, he was putting the soul down. Sans’ body was shifted and he was lowered onto his back, Clarence supporting his head in one hand. Sans hadn’t noticed he wasn’t holding his own weight up anymore.
Sans shivered, a chill pricking up his bones. Everything else was getting pleasantly hazy.
The smell of burning tires and a sense of vertigo cut through the comfortable somnolence.
A sudden unwelcome thought flashed in like a movie projecting on a screen before him: his brother supporting him to a couch as Sans hobbled on a cane, Papyrus slapping him on the back like he was congratulating a good soldier. The human, with their stupid, heartbreaking, hopeful smile, running up to him and leaping into his lap, their weight squeezing a curse out of him that got a reproachful glare from his brother.
Dire yearning shot straight through Sans’ emptying soul. It hadn’t even been long since he’d seen both of them, but it felt like years upon years, like he’d been separated until he was as old as the feeble version of him in this vision, this charade of ordinary family life playing out in front of him, and he missed them so much he could die.
The knife pulled out of his soul. Clarence’s voice came softly through a fog.
“It’s a touch too late for that, my dear. You’re already dusting. But you got what you wanted, didn’t you?”
“Y-yeah. Yeah. Thank you.”
His face must have still been there for a moment at least, because he felt Clarence lean over and kiss his closed teeth.
The darkness closed on him like a whisper.
“This is goodbye for good, love.”
The door slammed open. Muffet and Cecil ran in, and Clarence quickly slid the knife back into his coat.
“Clarence, what on earth do you think you’re doing.” Muffet stormed up to the bunny, while Cecil stepped in front of Sans. Clarence got up quickly, before Muffet could touch him, holding his hands up in surrender.
“Why, availing myself of the facilities of course. Very charming companions you keep here.”
“Out. Out! Out out out now, and never again!”
Clarence allowed himself to be shooed to the door.
“No!” Sans leapt forward. The little mouse grabbed him around the middle and held him to the loveseat. Sans threw a hand desperately over Cecil’s shoulder, reaching for the retreating bunny. “Don’t let them—!”
Clarence looked over his shoulder at Sans, his expression apologetic. “I’m sorry, my dear, but it seems our little tryst is over.”
Muffet escorted Clarence out.
No no no, he was so close, he was so close
Sans sagged in Cecil’s arms, silent tears rolling down his face.
“How did you know?”
Cecil looked uncertain. “Muffet and I…we both got this weird déjà vu at the same time. When we met in the hall, we just came straight here.”
Sans wasn’t sure how, but he strongly felt that this was somehow Frisk’s fault.
“Hey uh. Sans. I think you might need to see who’s at the door.”
Cecil had caught Sans between naps, in one of those times when Sans couldn’t manage to even shut his eyes he was so tired of napping. After Clarence’s offer was snatched away, Sans had slipped right back into what wasn’t so much despair as a wretchedly mundane boredom. Sans was so listless, he supposed he would have gone along with whoever had caught him next and told him to follow, just to see if whatever they took him to would wake him up. It was probably good it was Cecil who found Sans when he was like this, but Sans couldn’t even find gratitude in his meager store of feelings.
Despite what Cecil said, they didn’t take Sans to Red City’s entrance. They led him into one of the hidden compartments that opened to a monitor room. One of the other workers, a little fairy-like creature, was waiting in the room, fidgeting until Cecil took up a seat in front of the screens. It seemed the other monster was only keeping watch while Cecil stepped out, which meant that Cecil had come to get Sans during one of their shifts as monitor. A creeping feeling of unease tingled up Sans’ spine. Maybe whatever this was would wake him up after all.
Sans looked around at the different video feeds, other workers in various stages of undress and feigned ecstasy, until he saw what Cecil called him in for.
Papyrus and King Asgore were in the foyer.
Cecil toggled the input, and they heard the audio feed from the room.
“—been spotted coming here quite a lot recently. Have you found something you like?”
“That isn’t funny, Asgore.”
The king raised an eyebrow, and Sans got a queasy feeling in his soul.
“If you’ll excuse me, your highness.”
Papyrus moved toward the inner door. Asgore swept in front of it, his cape flowing out after him.
“Have you considered my offer, Lieutenant?”
Sans saw Papyrus twitch almost imperceptibly, doing his best as always not to betray emotion.
“Your ridiculous offer is not worth considering, my liege. With respect.”
“Papyrus. Face me.”
Sans’ soul pounded as he watched Papyrus turn with automatic obedience, just as any monster in the Underground would and must have done at those words from that mouth.
The king stretched out a hand from underneath his cape, palm up and empty of any weapon.
“You’re young. You’re angry. You have potential. Think through this.”
Papyrus stood stalk still.
“A person in your position has no family in a place like this. Even your brother has been asking for a mercy killing. I am merely allowing you to show a last kindness and fulfil your duty to him, to leave with closure. Most monsters don’t get to see even that much in matters so low.”
“You did this. You did this to him. You put him here!”
King Asgore’s expression didn’t change.
“A monster with stronger moral character would have killed himself as soon as he was ordered to go here.”
A sharpened bone attack manifested in Papyrus’ fist, and a threatening step forward with the killing end of the attack pointed at the king launched Papyrus from insubordination to high treason. The king’s face somehow remained impassive.
“Do you realize what you are doing now, Lieutenant?”
“Spare me, your highness.”
Asgore finally moved the hand with his trident, but it remained upright with a tap on the floor, like a cane. The king’s eyes narrowed.
“This is your last chance. I have tried to share a difficult lesson with you, but I’ll admit I would not have bet on you to fail it.” The bottom of the trident scraped the ground as it enscribed a quarter circle across the floor. “These attachments…the useless monsters who attempt to shower you in their unworthy love…if you allow yourself to love them in return, they will only poison you. And that will be the end of you. I learned that for myself long ago, and I knew I could not spare you from that hard truth, too.”
Papyrus’ voice came out tight and hardened.
“How very charitable of you.”
The bone was pulled back for a jabbing thrust, and the trident was lifted from the floor at last, and Sans’ feet were scuttling out of the monitor room, tripping through the hidden door like an idiot and propelling him in frustrating slow motion down the hall like he was stuck in a bad dream.
Why had Sans stood there watching so long, gaping like a moron, when he could have left as soon as he saw them in the entrance and gotten to Papyrus early enough to—
He was so, so, so, so stupid, he was going to be too late to do squat, he was moving too late the stupid, stupid, stupid fucking toadstool.
Sans fell apart in the hallway midstep, raw and flayed like the peel dropping away from spoiled fruit. He couldn’t make it the rest of the way just to see the inevitable aftermath. He knew what he was heading towards.
How could he have thought Papyrus, of all monsters, could be dissuaded with mere words, could be told to sit back and let his only family die miserable in a whorehouse. It was like Sans didn’t know Papyrus at all. If this was going to happen, Sans could have at least been there to stand with him, could have fought together like he’d wanted. Sans was plagued by an unfair fantasy image of the two of them dropping on Asgore from the ceiling, spinning from a tangled rope and firing guns crazily in every direction, like that human movie with the Irish brothers Papyrus had them watch every Christmas.
It had ‘saints’ in the title, so Papyrus insisted it was about Santa.
Sans buried his face in his hands and sobbed hard— deep, breathtaking sobs that rocked him and paralyzed his body, shutting down everything else.
There was the pitter patter of footsteps coming up behind Sans, Cecil stopped and gently grabbed his shoulders, they were going to say something to him, he didn’t want to hear it—
Sans threw his arms over his head to muffle any sound from reaching him. He screamed the human child’s name— he didn’t know why, but he knew that they could do something about this. That they were his only hope. That Papyrus needed them…
“Sans, why won’t you just accept Papyrus’ help?”
A flash of a nightmare image, of Papyrus falling to his knees and Asgore standing over him, his trident streaked with first dust, brought a burst of new anger into Sans’s soul. His voice came out through clenched teeth.
“Because it wouldn’t end well.”
Maybe Sans imagined it, but something in the child’s face spoke of remorse.
Here they were again, in the long hall with some of the least traffic in Red City, sitting in with Sans just to run their tape recorder mouth on their oldest and most annoying song.
“It wouldn’t have to be bad…if you really talked to him. He said he’d end this! If you didn’t lie anymore, if you tell him what they’re really doing to you— he’d understand, he’s your brother, you could work it out together if you just—!”
Sans snapped, grabbing Frisk by the shoulders and shaking them.
“Don’t you get it, you stupid spoiled surface brat! He fucking knows what happened to me! How the fuck could he not?” Sans’ eyes lit up, unable to hold back. “You know what that promise really is? What it means for a monster with his LV to challenge the king? It’s a fucking suicide pact, get it?!”
Sans let go, allowing the human to dip back in stiff shock. Sans huffed.
“To die for honor. To restore the family name. That’s the kind of monster the Bo— …Papyrus really is.”
Suddenly Sans felt extremely, deathly tired.
“You don’t know him at all. I know he’d. I know he’d do anything at all to get me out…if that were something he could do.”
The human finally spoke in a small squeak.
They looked up into Sans’ eyes.
“…you mean, afterwards…he would expect you to…”
“Yeah. That follows.”
A gust came through the far door, and it felt like the hallway was breathing on them, the only noise for at least a minute. The human gripped the sleeves of their sweater.
Sans didn’t meet their eye again.
“Cause this ain’t a fuckin’ spy game. Cause where would he take me? Home to Snowdin, where all the dog guards are? Out of town, what…to Hotland, where there are even more cameras than the capital? To Waterfall, where Onion works, has his little posse roaming the dump? If the King doesn’t want him to do it, then we’re outta options, kiddo.”
Sans set his hands behind him on the bench and leaned back, watching the ceiling.
“Without any kinda plausible deniability left…a monster in his position would really only have two choices. Disown me, or…die for me. A last stick in the eye, yeah?”
He finally turned back to look at the child. They were hugging themselves even tighter, lower lip pouting and chin tight, holding back angry tears. Sans tapped a claw on the bench.
“The king, giving us a third option…for Boss to kill me and move on…that’s a mercy.”
Frisk took a sharp breath, one little tear escaping as their mouth trembled.
“I…Papyrus told me…he was coming today.”
Sans’ idle tapping stopped. The child went on.
“…he said that…he knew King Asgore was planning to come here…”
Sans shot up from the bench, panic setting in deep in his bones.
“They’re both— and they’re gonna— no, he can’t, he—”
“I got Papyrus to stay at home instead.”
Everything flew out of Sans in a flurry, like the wind in the corridor took his panic with it. He sat back down in a daze, coming down too fast.
“What’s…but…? How’d…how’d you get him to back off?”
“…I asked him not to fight my father.”
“So…the heir to the throne. Wouldn’t happen to be considering Klingon Promotion, would you? Heh…”
Frisk stayed silent and awkward. It was possible they hadn’t caught Sans’ meaning, which was just as well.
They sat across the table of snacks Muffet had set up for them in the private room. It had been getting late, and the human had ended up literally buying more time from Sans. The spread of cucumber sandwiches and tea cakes was pretty handsome, and Sans didn’t let himself think too hard about how much Frisk had spent on him. The idea made him queasy.
The human responded between sandwiches.
“I’m not…heir to the throne. King Asgore just likes to keep me around.”
“The guy you call your father ‘just likes to keep you around,’ huh? That’s harsh.”
“Sans, if your brother was counting on both of you dying, then why does he say he’s afraid you’ll be like your dad?”
Sans dropped the finger food he’d picked up into his cup of tea.
He sat watching the crumbs start to dissolve in his drink and stirred it with a disinterested finger.
“I…those’re different things. Dad had a dangerous job. Messed with stuff you’re not supposed to mess with…I learned a thing or two from him before he died, so I could see Papyrus thinking I might’ve gone down that route, if I’d had the chance before—”
“Your dad was a time traveler, right?”
Sans dropped his bite into the tea again in the midst of fishing it out.
Frisk looked down at their lap, shuffling their hands in it.
“…Alphys told me.”
“Yeah…” The child looked to the side, putting down their next sandwich without biting it. “So, but, uh— she, um, said that you could do some time magic too. I was wondering if maybe that had something to do with…”
“Ah…yeah.” Sans gave up on his tea and soggy snack, pushing them away. “I used to be able to. Shortcuts— you just take a ride on a CTC and trade places with a different place you’ve been; it’s barely time magic except for cheating your way out of waiting in the same spot for weeks, or however long it’s been since you’d been there.”
Frisk gave Sans a long stare.
In spite of their confusion, or maybe because of it, Sans found himself getting more excited about explaining. He hadn’t talked to anyone about this kind of thing in years.
“Closed timelike curve— it means you can’t do anything except what was already going to happen, or what already happened. It’s like…spacetime’s watchdog to prevent people from killing their own grandfather and not being born. That’s why shortcuts don’t do anything but make you stand still in a different spot from where you were standing still a second ago. Lazy time travel…just my type.”
Maybe he felt freer to talk about this since Frisk already knew so much, or maybe it felt so thoroughly like the end times that Sans had given up on caring about discretion. But it did feel good, somehow, to talk about something in an area he didn’t feel totally hopeless in. To talk about Gaster.
“Dad’s type was…whaddya call it, Deutschian time travel. You need Determination to do any kinda time magic that changes the outcomes of the past, and the labs used to extract the stuff. Dad said time magic wasn’t worth messing around with. Said it was always too tempting to use it for personal reasons, and that it never really works out.” Sans was almost out of breath before the end. “That, and it’s super unstable.”
“Was your dad the one who found out that time’s stuck in a loop?”
“You really got Alphys to trust you, huh? I can’t imagine the king wanting that kind of information being given out willy nilly, even to…well.”
“Alph— ? Oh. Yeah, she…told me about the time loops…”
Frisk put their tea cup down with a clink. Sans looked over their remorseful expression.
“Depressing, huh? I dunno if I like her telling you that stuff anyway…being stuck here in the Underground is enough of a ‘downer’ without knowing it’s gonna keep going again and again.”
“It’s not…so bad, though…is it…? It’s…almost like this is the first time it all happened, since no one remembers. All that’s left of the previous timelines is déjà vu.”
“Heh. Yeah. I guess so. No telling when we reach the end as far as time’ll be allowed to go, but I guess we won’t notice that either.”
“So your…so Alphys never figured out…who was looping time after your dad died?”
“Oh. Oh, no, time travelers don’t make time loop.”
“…what? But didn’t you say time’s in a loop now?”
“Well…” Sans tapped his fingers on one knee, thinking it out. “I mean, Alphys’ best running theory now is that the repeats are caused by time distortion from the barrier. That would mean that the ‘loop’ is just the shape spacetime’s taken up. No paradoxes, because there’s no active agent changing things that shoulda been, and any differences caused by déjà vu carrying over would just become what’d always been.
Time travel would be a different story. If we’ve got impressions of things having been different before, then that means…somebody’s been messing around, cheating paradoxes. That’s serious shit.”
“…how is that different?”
Sans’ mouth opened and closed.
“How do I…so, I had this…this theory about my…about my dad…”
Sans squirmed. He’d never shared this with anyone.
“He was always pretty protective of me, never wanted me to go anywhere or do anything dangerous…and his definition of dangerous was pretty, uh, aggravating for a restless rugrat like me. 1 HP, y’know, it’s…it’s really a miracle I lived this long at all.”
Frisk’s expression softened.
“Yeah…it’s really lucky.”
Sans gave a dark laugh.
The child’s face went blank.
“A miracle, or…or I’m not the first ‘me’ my dad raised. One little accident…a scrape, a bad fall, roughhousing that went too far…amazing that none of those things happened to me even once. Unless they did, and my dad just…”
“What do you mean…the ‘first’ you?”
“Well, that’s what I’m getting at, I guess. Spacetime ain’t a fan of paradoxes. So you can time travel through CTC, and have fun doing the same thing over and over I guess, do absolutely nothing that changes anything so that it preserves spacetime as it always was…or you use Determination to break out the mold and give a little leap, avoid paradoxes completely. The key word in time traveler is ‘travel,’ yeah?”
Sans picked up a cookie, flourishing his other hand under it.
“This is you as a time traveler.”
Frisk’s eyes followed the cookie as Sans dipped it in his drink and held it there. He pointed to the crumbs sloughing off.
“There’s what you share of yourself wherever you are: memories of you, things you’ve done. It leaves a mark. But let’s say you decide you don’t like the way things are goin’ here…let’s say your dumbass kid got himself killed tripping over a rock.”
Sans took the cookie out of the tea and held it over the table.
“You can cheat yourself in time before that rock, stop everything you just saw from happening, but you can’t do that in your own timeline without causing a paradox. So you gotta do it in a related timeline. Basically just hop out of yours sideways and move backwards.”
He diverted the cookie’s path sideways, then backwards to hover the cookie over Frisk’s cup.
“And in your hand-crafted second chance, you move the rock, or lock your kid inside, something that makes this timeline a nicer place for you to live.”
The cookie dipped into the drink, already shedding more crumbs. Sans indicated the mess.
“There’s the déjà vu caused by time travel. Your memories and actions get disseminated into everybody in the new timeline as you arrive, except that things don’t quite match up, cause you remember things nobody else does. You remember your kid dying from a dumb rock, and you also remember him not dying cause you used lasers to blast every rock in the Underground into harmless gravel. So when you bring your creepy fake death memory with you, it’s like other people almost remember…something that never happened to them. S’why time travel’s so unstable. You warp every new place a little more each time.”
Sans took the cookie out and bit into it. Frisk looked over at Sans’ tea cup.
“And what…what happens to the timeline you…the one you—”
“The one you left?” Sans waved a hand at the goopy tea. “Keeps on chuggin’ however you left it. With some traces of you, probably.”
Frisk’s mouth hung open.
“Dad was right for once, huh? Don’t wanna mess with time travel. That kinda existential moral quandary shi— stuff could drive you totally bonkers.”
Frisk dropped their cup, and it shattered on the floor.
“You lied to me.”
“I…what? I’m pretty sure I didn’—”
“Last time, you said…you never told me this. But I…I never talked to you about time loops without telling you that I’m- were you…were you just f-fucking sugarcoating it for me?”
Sans flinched. He’d never heard the child swear before. For some reason, out of everything, that was what struck home for him once again that this wasn’t a good environment for them.
“I…I’m pretty sure I’ve never talked to you about time loops before, kiddo.” He paused as it clicked. “Unless…you mean that you’re—”
“…shit! I didn’t mean to— I can’t believe I just—”
Sans flinched. He’d never heard the child swear before. For some reason, out of everything, that was what struck home for him once again that this wasn’t a good environment for them.
Frisk put their face in their hands.
“Why did I do that…now he’s all alone!”
Sans blinked, taken aback. The child was usually a little weird, but today they were bordering on nonsensical.
The child’s face peeked through their fingers, eyes puffy and spilling tears, looking truly miserable.
The sight of them sobbing was too much. Screw the distrust and the speciel differences, whatever the fuck anger Sans had been clinging onto, this was just a kid. Sans got up and shuffled to their couch, sitting next to them and putting his arm around their shoulders.
“Hey, shh, sweetheart. You just take care of yourself, okay? Nobody’s asking anything more from you.”
“Sans I’m so…s-orry…”
“Shh. It’s okay. It’s all okay. I’m here.”