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Postcards From Waterfall

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The stool swayed dangerously as Sans leaned against the bar, swivelling it and daring it to tip over. He was hunched over the counter, lidless sockets blanked as he tilted his bottle. It made a hollow noise, a faint, depressing song of a ketchup bottle long since emptied. He gave another half-hearted sigh.

It had been the fourth such sigh that evening, and the bartender was not giving in. That had been perhaps Sans’ eighth bottle, and his reserves were already becoming lean. Don’t think that the fire monster had let the increase in condiment intake get past him; Grillby caught on to a lot more than his empirical demeanour let on.

He’d allowed Sans to precariously seat himself at the bar hours ago. While other monsters were seemingly oblivious to the small skeleton’s mood, Grillby had known Sans far too long to know the silence was more than his usual quiet self. His visage was masked by flame, an ethereal crackle sparked in quiet reverence as the skeleton stayed silent in turn. When Sans finally let all four legs of the stool hit the floor, his shoulders were hunched, the weight of the entire mountain on them.

And yet, the skeleton would not speak.

This was new. Usually after a few hours and drinks there would be words. But now? Nothing.

Concerned, the bartender tapped the counter with one digit. Lazily, those lightless sockets would turn to him, a weary tug at the ever-present grin on Sans’ face. When the skeleton shrugged, he seemed almost listless. It was heart-wrenching to see an old friend so down in spirits, but unless Sans made the initiative, Grillby thought it better not to pry, but to confirm he was there for him until the skeleton relented.

It was not as though he hadn’t tried before; it was just that Sans was a flight risk when confronted. Grillby knew that his friend had inner demons more dangerous than any of the beings lurking above the mountain. Pure conjecture, considering it had been centuries since any monster had seen it last. But Sans had a way with bending a conversation away from himself; however clumsy he appeared to be on the outside, his mind had showed the fire monster how clever and adept he really was, over time.

 

While his posture was not receptive, Sans stayed. The bartender’s company - hell, everyone’s company gave his life meaning in what felt like crushing darkness. And, if truth be told, he didn’t want to conjure up the memory of some of his more horrid night terrors of late. He was already avoiding his brother, shirking his duties more than usual… He was tired, and even his puns didn’t have the same appeal anymore. Sure, they were still bad; they just didn’t ring with his own personal brand of humour anymore. He’d slipped into the habit of leaving others out of the loop, and back into the cycle of misery he’d go.

Left behind in more ways than one, the skeleton’s thoughts whirled in his skull for the fortieth time that evening. No one left. Following a small creature through the entire Underground. Everything becoming ‘empty’ as he helplessly followed, scared for what was happening and what was to come.

And then, there would be… skips?

Sans would wrestle with it in his mind. He wasn’t sure about them at first, but he knew that pieces of his memory were missing. There would be an instance or two where he would attempt to remember something in order, but it would all be flashes, nonlinear pieces belonging to a recollection of a dream that he’d once told someone, long ago.

If Sans was being honest with himself, that was the reason he didn’t open up to anyone. His worries, his nightmares, his hopes and dreams. Because somehow, in what amounted to another life, he already had. And Sans was not someone who easily revealed his worries, over and over…

 Over and over…

    Over and over and over…

 

He snapped out of his pitch-dark reverie when the stool next to him scuffed against the floorboards, the noise loud and jarring enough to make Sans jump. The ketchup bottle lost its balance as his finger slipped and it rolled away, stopping against a nearby salt shaker.

“oh. heya, grillbz,” he muttered, his tone oddly neutral as he settled his skull into his crossed arms on the countertop. The waft of heat from the bartender shone on his pale bones, the patient virtue of his friend’s composure oddly comforting. Sans had joked, once upon a time, that Grillby was at least forty times more relaxing than a hearth. Now, the skeleton just watched the flames lick languidly around his old friend’s hands, obscuring their true shape.

“welp. i should get goin’.”

The skeleton huffed one more sigh, leaning further down into his arms so his face was out of view. He really didn’t want to leave. It was more and more difficult to even leave the house each day; that is, if he ever went home in the first place. This was probably the third day Grillby had graciously allowed him to stay, and the morose skeleton was starting to feel like he was becoming a bit of a burden.

Another tap to the countertop and Sans lifted his skull again, just peering out from the corner of his socket to Grillby’s hand. Yeah, he knew he had to talk sooner or later. Half of him wanted to, and the other half vehemently objected. What would be the point if this happened to be another offshoot, and one day everyone conveniently decided to forget about what had happened? He’d bare his soul for whatever temporary relief it offered, only for the action to be rendered pointless.

Something akin to a cold tendril of guilt coiled at the pit of his spine despite Grillby’s presence. His mind wandered once more to the ‘alternate’ route, pieces flickering in his memory like a deep chasm. Of Grillby’s entirely empty - Snowdin in a dark light, no life, no wind, only a whisper of dust and deep, unsatiated hunger.

And that knife.

Sans winced inwardly, instinctively going for an old wound he felt he always had, yet wasn’t there at all. No wound, no dust and no scar. There was just a phantom pain that wrecked his soul from time to time, causing him to crumple into weakness, especially on dark evenings like these.

 

The monster beside him pulsed, his flames crackling like kindling and with the faint hum of an ever-lasting blaze. Cautiously, Grillby leaned against the bar too, closing the distance between them. He was careful not to spook Sans; the skeleton had a habit of leaving and disappearing, after all.

“Talk to me, old friend,”  was the ethereal, low gravel.

Sans moved his arm up slightly, cradling the back of his skull in something akin to self-comfort. The look on his face was almost pained but familiar. Grillby had been seeing it a lot lately. Defeated, the skeleton raised his eye lights to the bartender’s visage, defaulting to his usual excuse in previous lives that would always more or less explain things, “just… bad nights. not so great dreams lately.”

Grillby knew that wasn’t all to it and patiently watched from behind glowing spectacles, waiting for more while keeping his silence.

“…they just seem so vivid,” Sans muttered into his sleeve as he turned his skull away. It was almost rehearsed, as though he’d said it so many times before.

Grillby knew about his issues - sleeping damn near anywhere, tormented by night terrors. It was something that he knew Sans had grown to dislike about himself; it wasn’t the kind of joke he wanted to be, Sans said once or twice.

 

Absently, Sans would scratch the back of his skull, as though unsure how to proceed, but at the same time knowing full well what to say. Being forced to play along with fate’s plan for him always dulled his willingness to participate.

That, and he already knew what advice Grillby would offer. In different ways, but it was always the same. Take care of himself. Try something, every day, even if he didn’t feel like it. Take time for himself. Spend time with the people he loved. Grillby’s advice, while seemingly simple, struck with deeper meaning, every time. Sans knew Grillby’s therapeutic touch on a more personal level than anyone else. It was an endearing little quirk that causality kept in its reserves, as if just to placate him. Perhaps that is why the fire monster’s company was so soothing to his soul…

“…spoken to Papyrus about it?”

Sans’ eye lights flicked back into focus from his reverie, catching the tail end of the fire monster’s soft spoken, carefully chosen words. He made a gesture of frustration; running bony fingers down his face and stopping over his sockets briefly, pinching the surface between them. Every so often, he just wanted to talk with his brother, to let him know everything that kept him uneasy. However, Papyrus’ boisterous attitude and clamorous worry had always been a hurdle Sans just never had the energy for.

“i’ve tried. he worries. and i don't wanna make him worry…” the skeleton replied in hushed undertones. It was all very exhausting, actually. Sometimes, he wondered if his brother had gotten his share of energy by some cosmic mistake.

A seemingly impermeable silence dropped over him, threatening to hitch his voice as he attempted to sort through the words. Every time was a damned train wreck. Sans realised his gaze had shifted back to the fire monster’s hands, clasped over themselves in a calm and respectful manner. It was just another one of Grillby’s refined qualities that Sans had taken a liking to.

Sans realised that he’d been lost in thought again and groaned inwardly. Grillby had just asked something more and he was debating even replying, since he hadn’t heard the question. Like every time, he supposed he could’ve just guessed or shrugged indifferently, but the bartender’s expectant gaze shone through him, putting him on the spot.

“…sorry. didn’t get that.”

Grillby tentatively reached over and settled a gentle hand on Sans’ shoulder when he didn’t move. The gesture was kind and comfortable, and somehow made Sans feel worse. Guilt bubbled inside of him.

“Go home tonight and rest, friend,”   came the quiet crackle of fire once more.

“i know, i know,” the skeleton sighed; the fifth one. He made no effort to move, his eye lights dimming until the hollows were bare. Rest meant sleep and sleep meant more trouble than it was inherently worth. Sans supposed he could always nap later in Waterfall, after he attempted to man one of his posts. If he actually got a full night’s rest, maybe he’d have more than one hope left to cling to.

It was all in wishful thinking, though.

 

Eventually he would exit the bar, if for nothing else than to stop worrying the fire monster. He played it off as though he’d had too much to drink, his weary grin tightening as he stumbled out the door - a show for the other patrons. They all called after Sans, telling him to be careful on his way home and to have a good night. It was nice for them to treat him with such kindness. But it was also another one of those things that made the skeleton feel so hopelessly guilty for.

Stubbornly, Sans dragged his slippered feet in the snow, preparing himself for that one spot of ice that always got him just before the library. He skidded to one side, lost balance, and unceremoniously landed on his back. He huffed indignantly, staring up at the vaulted cavernous ceiling looming above as though it was its fault.

Why this time? Why in every single goddamn…

As the universe seemed to unload unrelenting heaps of misfortune and reasons to despise himself, Sans simply lay there, reluctant to get up. It was partially the reason he didn’t want to fall in the first place. Moving was so much effort. Talking, keeping up the facade… after a while, hurting just felt like an annoying burden.

With a grunt of effort, Sans sat up, rubbing at the back of his spine in mild irritation and dusting off the slush from his clothes. He was absolutely drenched and even if he didn’t feel the cold, ice water between the joints was enough to impede movement and get painful if it happened to freeze. It was what ultimately motivated him to get up, his pace a little quicker than usual, if only to get back home and maybe get changed.

When he arrived at the steps to his house, Sans stopped. An eerie feeling crept into his soul. Something was different, so severely different that he was surprised he didn’t notice it when he had passed it earlier. His magic coiled around his bones, making him shiver as he turned to face the street towards the library. Apart from his own, there were no footsteps, but… His eye lights settled on his stuffed mailbox. Or at least, it would’ve been stuffed, had the months’ worth of mail been there.

The unsettling feeling returned as he approached, his skull craned in that direction, his left eye socket starting to wisp and sear cyan with a touch of gold. There were no footprints in the snow at all, yet… he was sure his mail was there before he left, even if it had been days ago. It was always there, like his pet rock. It was a universal constant!

His soul was thrumming hard in his chest, fear coiling around in his bones. With every cautious step he took towards the porch, something within him jerked and cried out that something was wrong. So, not as dead on the inside as he thought, but scared enough to not want to find out, he bitterly thought.

He took in a gulp of air, his erratic and paranoid magic throwing a hue of bright colours and mayhem onto the front door. He was halfway to reaching for the doorknob when the wood nearly flew off the hinges, startling the skeleton so much he lost his footing.

“SANS! YOU HAD ME WORRIED SICK!” came the familiar tone, cadence, and impenetrable volume level. Sans clung up the rail with something of a grimace, gingerly stooping to pick up the slipper that had fell off in his rush to regain his balance. It hurt so badly that Sans felt as though his ankle bone had twisted in the joint when he slipped.

Papyrus leaned over him, helping him to regain footing on their as-per-usual slippery steps. He’d always said Sans’ footwear needed more traction, would have loved to tell Sans off about it, but something in his brother’s stature just felt like it would be too much. His outings of late had been plenty and Sans only seemed to come home after several days. When he was home, it was to wash up, have some dinner, and somehow be very bad at sleeping.

“sorry, bro,” Sans replied, wagging his injured foot as he entered the house with a series of hops. He bent down with a grimace, leaning against the door jamb for balance as he sorted things out, audible clicks of bones settling into place. Then he tossed his slipper onto the floor, returning it to his foot with a sloppy squish.

“WHERE WERE YOU?”

“grillby’s.” Sans shrugged as he unzipped his hoodie jacket, fighting with the toggle at the end where it was always impossible to unhook. Dejectedly, he just sighed and dropped it on the floor in a sopping pile, leaving it there. Without missing a beat, his brother picked it up and hung it on the coat rack where it could drip dry.

“FOR THREE DAYS?” The tone was lower and highly suspicious as he rounded on Sans, ready to give him a proper scolding.

 

Then again, his brother seemed smaller, his eye lights gone and hollowed. His own narrowed slightly, uneasy about the crackle of magic he’d sensed just outside the door. It had been worrying - with his brother’s meandering around at all hours of the night, leaving without telling him, and just… not being around? Well! The Great Papyrus would certainly have to get Sans to tell him about all his brotherly troubles!

The grin at Sans’ mouth tightened artificially as he attempted a softer, lazier demeanour. His little brother already looked like he was going to interrogate him, and he didn’t want to invoke any questions about his panic attack on their doorstep. Thinking on it, Sans sauntered into the living room, his one foot clicking due to his fall. It would sort itself out. Always did.

He stopped in front of the blaring television, eyeing the sizeable pile of letters, postcards and bills on the floor. It looked like Papyrus had been sorting them into smaller piles with more yellow sticky notes decorated in spidery cursive. In big capital letters, the notes marked each pile: DUE, FOR SANS, FLYERS, ???. Sans had to let out a soft laugh at that. Trust his brother to be scrutinizing, even with this.

But this wasn’t right. He hummed thoughtfully, rubbing his jaw with his bony digits as Papyrus unsuccessfully tried to gain his attention by stepping in full view of him. Sans gave him a feeble grin when he snapped out of his thoughts, hands going into his shorts’ pockets in lieu of his jacket. Papyrus was puffing his chest out and crossing his arms impatiently. 

“oh, uh… you just… never have bothered with my mail before, paps,” he offered a little meekly, still looking at the closest pile.

Papyrus made a grandiose speech, whirling in place and gesturing to the huge pile of papers on the floor; about how if he ever did give in and did all the things Sans should be doing, he’d never have any time for himself or for training to get into the Royal Guard.

The smaller skeleton nodded absently, still scratching. “no, i mean, you’ve… never done it.” Not ever, not in any memory he had…

Something in his expression must’ve betrayed him, since Papyrus was about a foot away from him again, eyeing him with suspicion. His brother always closed in on his personal space whenever he knew something was up, and today was no different. “THEY’RE PUTTING YOUR MAIL IN MY BOX NOW! IT WAS TIME!” It was the most cordial way for his brother to tell him.

With everything being the same to the point of predictability, for one or two things out of place in the loop just made Sans feel uncomfortable, as though something had to have gone wrong. Hell, maybe this would be the offshoot where he’d pick up his sock next to the TV? Taking a quick glance to it, he scoffed. It wasn’t likely; in fact, there was a brand new yellow note attached to the one he’d left weeks ago. He’d have to see to his reply later.

The uneasiness in his soul made Sans quiet, and instead of walking away to his room like he’d normally do with a shrug, he side-stepped Papyrus and took a seat on the floor next to the heap of papers, his movements punctuated by the sound of popping bones. More of his brother’s worries concerning sore bones and exercising regularly barely even reached Sans as he picked up one of the postcards, flipping to the back of it to study the picture. Its glossy texture had been weathered from its life in his mailbox, the subjects a couple of impressively drawn echo flowers from Waterfall. It was addressed from Papyrus, on one of his first trips to Undyne’s cooking and training exercises.

Something like nostalgia passing through him, Sans’ smile eased into something calmer, something forgotten. Why had he never looked through these? If he had to be honest with himself again, it just never passed his mind. It always seemed like something that could probably be done later. Yet here he was. It was kind of nice.

 

Papyrus had seated himself across from Sans, making a show of sorting more bills and scoffing at how overdue they were. But on the inside, he knew something was eating away at his brother. The fact that this was their first actual conversation in what was probably a week both excited and worried him. Sans had always been the reclusive type, and he had wracked his memory if he had done anything to upset Sans in the past while. Nothing out of the ordinary - his nagging about his laziness (the usual), silly arguments about the best puzzles, his sock, his frequent trips to greasy food establishments… entirely acceptable, brotherly correspondence!

Which brought him to another thought; of his brother’s constant sleepiness. He looked worse for it. Even now, he saw Sans’ frame teetering, his eye lights faded in fatigue and as small as pinpoints. Papyrus watched Sans wrestle with the urge to sleep, his skull nodding slightly before he roused himself and reached for another postcard, blatantly ignoring the ever-increasing pile of overdue bills. It was a good thing the CORE’s power reached Snowdin, otherwise he could only imagine how astronomical the cost would be to light the town! Still though, the capital would wait only so long before sending another, politely worded letter requesting their owed forty gold payment for setting them up on power from Hotland… before they resent it. As they had, fourteen times already.

Papyrus sighed in exasperation, watching as Sans jerked his skull up once more at the noise. He was fighting sleep, which meant he hadn’t been resting for all of the time he had left. The living room was warm and quiet, save for a commercial that blared something MTT-Brand related. The taller skeleton promptly stood and turned off the TV in one fell motion. Then he unceremoniously reached under his brother’s shoulders and hoisted him up as though he were a child.

 

Sans buckled out of his dazy, sleepy spell and jerked against Papyrus’ arms, in time to fall directly on the couch. One of the springs in it dug against his femur and his spine spasmed where he’d landed on it earlier. Grumpily, Sans rubbed the spot, looking up to his younger brother with a hurt expression.

“NOW! ARE YOU GOING TO TELL YOUR ADORING AND PERHAPS A LITTLE DISTRESSED BROTHER YOUR TROUBLES? OR ARE YOU GOING TO NAP?”

If he had to pick, Sans wouldn’t. They were both choices he didn’t want to commit to. He shuffled back against the couch, at inner turmoil with Papyrus’ worry gnawing at his soul. It was like at the bar, but instead of warm, patient silence, his brother was quickly chipping away at his resolve to ignore his feelings.

“WAS IT… ME??? DID I DO SOMETHING, SANS?”

Sans dropped the postcard he’d been looking at, eye lights flicking up to his brother’s face. He noted the unsure posture, the way his gaze shifted about but didn’t look at him directly. Papyrus’ hands tugged on his gloves, as though the fit wasn’t quite right. He was uneasy, but he had no reason to be. The smaller skeleton felt even smaller, so laden with guilt that he didn’t say anything for awhile. Instead, he wanted to hide in his room. He lowered his eye lights to Papyrus’ red boots, searching for something he could say to make him not worry so much.

“I… SEE.” And there it was; decided for him. He couldn’t not say anything to that voice. Sans’ eye lights snapped up back to his brother’s face, horrified that Papyrus didn’t wait.

“paps… i’m just tired, i’m sorry,” he offered, giving a menial shrug. “it’s nothin’ you did, honest.” He felt trapped, his mind racing, trying to find that one sentence that wouldn’t plunge his brother into self doubt on his account. Nervously, he gripped the edge of the couch’s cushion, his fingertips digging into the worn corduroy for comfort.

Papyrus continued to stand in front of him as Sans struggled with his inner turmoil, before giving in. So, he was going to bare his soul once more. Sans gave an experimental breath, the sound almost hollow as he tried not to make it sound as pathetic as he felt inside.

“ok. just… bear with me, `cause it’s a doozy of a dream.” Sans rubbed his hands over his face, the action only somewhat soothing. “mrs snowdrake is gone,” he started, his tone neutral. This was no different than any other offshoot, as she had Fallen Down a while ago, her body sent to Hotland Labs. It was no secret, since her son and husband were waiting hopefully for her promised return. “then… the canine squad… doggo, lesser, greater, dogamy and dogaressa… all of them.”

His voice was even but slow, as though every name and word stung. Magic recoiled from the memories within his soul and he tensed just as Papyrus’ stance eased, then moved to drape his brother with the old blanket from over the back of the couch. Appreciatively, Sans held the worn fabric close to him, thumbing the folds anxiously.

“undyne, s-she’s next… shyren, mettaton, guards, citizens, monsters - just, everyone, they all just-”

He gestured vaguely. The Underground goes empty. Sans cut himself off, realising he left out the most important loss. His fingers gripped the blanket against his arm, breath hitching as what he had all pent up became too much. Sans’ sockets hollowed out again and he lowered his skull, trying to gain his bearings. His whole frame was shaking, of guilt, anger and unfathomable helplessness.

“WHAT ABOUT ME?”

Oh god. Sans did not want to hear that. He tensed further, wanting to crumble into a ball or pile of dust. Sans nodded, the action painful as his arms flew up to his skull, interlocking behind his neck and pulling down so Papyrus could not jerk his head up like so many times before. He couldn’t let him see the emptiness of his sockets. Sans knew it would only hurt him.

“y-you too, paps. you’re gone too.” His voice felt and sounded lifeless as it echoed out from his body, as though being repeated from a wistful echo flower planted behind his sternum.

He shuddered at the silence, hating himself that he couldn’t keep it all inside. He regretted not going directly to Waterfall, or even Hotland, to one of his posts. But the kind suggestion from his old friend at the bar had warmed his soul like a haunting melody, wanting to soothe and stop its fearful grip inside him.

The couch dipped beside him and he let out something of a startled gasp when his brother’s arm encircled him. While tense, the hug was comforting in its own way; skeleton hugs were always closer than any other monster’s, after all. For a moment, Papyrus didn’t say anything and just gently patted Sans’ shoulder, glad to get at least something out of him.

“GONE, YOU SAY?” His brother’s register had lowered and tone softened. The taller skeleton gave him another pat on the shoulder as Sans nodded morosely between his forearms. “WOWIE… THAT IS A LOT! WHYEVER DID YOU NOT SAY ANYTHING TO ME, SANS! YOU MUST BE SO CONFUSED!”

Sans’ soul lurched sickeningly behind his rib cage at those last words. He’d heard them before. A twisted, cynical, horrifyingly deep feeling shuddered his frame, the soft clatter of his bones jostling against Papyrus’ gloved hand. He pushed the thought away, echoing another useless, but calming breath.

“WE’RE NOT GONE, SANS! WE’RE ALL HERE! WELL, EXCEPT MRS SNOWDRAKE, YOU KNOW SHE’S IN HOTLAND… BUT! STILL!! THE GREAT PAPYRUS WILL NOT TOLERATE ANY MORE SLACKING OFF!”

Horror eventually melded into confusion as his older brother loosened his grip at the back of his skull. He turned to face Papyrus, the barest of pinpricks lighting Sans’ sockets and a twinge of a disdain crooking his grin.

“wha…?”

“YOU HAVE BEEN NEGLECTING YOUR SLEEP… FOR ONCE,” Papyrus started again at full volume and nodded his skull as though in full agreement with himself. One of his hands cupped the square of his jaw as though pensive. “YES… I THINK! THAT! A SLEEPOVER IS IN ORDER!!!”

Sans’ shoulders hunched in defeat as he gave Papyrus something of a skeptical look. “bro… it’s just nightmares. they’ll pass.” He said it in a convincing way, though Sans knew full well that it was damn near any time he closed his sockets. He didn’t see how waking up in a cold sweat in the middle of Papyrus’ room would help him any, really.

But Papyrus was already planning out the rest of their evening - listing off how he’d prepare his specialty signature dish, how Sans would take a bath (for once), and how he’d make sure everything was to his dear brother’s liking before heading to bed. After, of course, a bedtime story.

The smaller skeleton found no use in arguing with him. It did seem nice, and Sans knew it was his brother’s way of trying to calm him down. Guilt continued to swim in a dark pool of heavy emotion at the pit of his soul. It echoed an utter weakness that refused to dissipate, tugging him blindly into the past.

 

He would play along, though. If anything, Papyrus was the kindest monster he knew and he didn’t deserve to be brushed aside as often as he was. Sans gave in to Papyrus’ brotherly affectations, complimenting him on dinner with a lazy grin and thumbs up. He only protested when Papyrus forced him into the bathroom to strip his remaining clothes, still wet and cold from his earlier fall in the street. When the bath was run, Sans realised that his brother had successfully japed him and took his dirty clothes. Papyrus had replaced them with Sans’ own neglected pyjama set, neatly folded and on top of the sink’s counter.

He muttered a few thankful words as he slipped into the tub, allowing the hot water to pool into his nasal cavity and eye sockets, suspended in more comfort than he felt he really deserved. The water sloshed around the cavity of his skull, lulling him into a doze. It was part of the reason he visited Waterfall so much. While a marsh, it was beautiful scenery, with lights much like his own magic’s hue took on. It was peaceful, and when it wasn’t, it didn’t change much at all. He could just get lost in the serene waters for hours… 

Sans dozed for a moment as he tuned out the world around him. He reclined, languidly stretching out with the hue of his magic whispering around the subtle disturbances in the water. So much like Waterfall. It was almost peaceful, he noted soundly.

Sans raised himself up a little more and stared down at his wavering reflection as it rippled. As it settled, a half-cocked grin with hollowed eyes mockingly stared back at him. There were dark circles more pronounced than usually, bare signs of stress for his kind and his grin dropped a little more, not liking how he was looking just then.

He rotated his clicking foot in the joint. Every movement a twinge of pain plucked at his soul like a taut string. He gave a soft sigh as he tilted his skull to one side to drain the water from it and leaned forward to remove his leg at the knee cap to inspect the injury. There was a miniscule fracture line at the head of the talus and he rubbed angrily at the spot. He’d be quicker if he had the energy, but if anything did happen this sure wasn't going to help…

Papyrus’ voice called him from down the hall and Sans moved to reattach his leg, the joint connecting underwater with a faint clack and a painful pinch. He moved his foot again, experimentally, before calling his brother’s name back in turn. He chuckled softly at Papyrus’ pause, then flinched when the door burst open in his orange and bone printed pyjamas, the monster’s primary form of entrance. It was a good thing skeletons had no reason to be shy when it came down to their bodies. Or perhaps it was just due to the face that they were family.

“I WAS MERELY WONDERING, DEAR BROTHER, IF YOU HAD A STORY IN MIND FOR THIS EVENING?” Papyrus charmingly suggested, holding up a handful of worn and well-loved books in both hands.

Sans idly rubbed his elbow, forcing a grin as he itched between his joints, finding a rock of all things. He studied it for a moment before giving an answer, flicking the pebble outside of the tub where it skittered across the checkerboard tiles towards Papyrus.

“you pick one, pap. you know i like `em all.”

His brother gave him a rather flat expression at his noncommittal answer - well, as much as he could. Sans was well-versed in the way Papyrus expressed his irritation, being the subject of his nerves so often. With another one of Papyrus’ exasperated sighs, Sans chuckled to himself, scratching absentmindedly at his jawbone as he gave a halfhearted shrug.

“fluffy bunny. yeah, why not.”

His brother stood there for a moment in silence before Sans made the motion to get out of the tub. His baths never did last that long, enough to soak some dirt off, much to Papyrus’ disgust.

 

He handed Sans a towel and turned to leave the bathroom, cradling his books in his arms and allowing his expression to drop into one of worry. Sans was… not ok. He sure played along with him, acted like things were fine, but the presence of his brother’s magic, all the time, while he was home… it didn’t feel right. A person’s home was where one could relax and didn’t have to be on guard. If Sans was really fine, he wouldn’t be on the defensive, even while in the bath - even around him, his own brother!

But the nightmares of everyone leaving had no doubt left Sans rather jumpy. Papyrus couldn’t understand why, not entirely. Was it not to be a good thing if everyone left the Underground?? Not unless… Sans was afraid of being left behind! Papyrus was astonished he didn’t think of it before. What a careless blunder on his part! He would have to admonish his dear brother for ever thinking he’d leave his own family behind, to return to the surface without dragging or carrying him there, post-haste!

It was then that Sans left the bathroom, fully clothed in his blue pinstripe pyjamas, buttons done up but askew. The legs and arms were admittedly still too long, even after Papyrus’ valiant effort to hem them. He doubted Sans took much time to dry himself off properly, his skull still glistening with water and dripping down his neck. With a sigh, Papyrus shuffled his books into the crook of his arm and went back into the bathroom to grab Sans’ towel off the floor and bring it back out.

“HERE-” He all but shoved the collection into Sans’ arms as he stared at him, dumbfounded, as he proceeded to rub the towel onto his brother’s thick skull. “THERE, MUCH BETTER, DON’T YOU SEE?” He looked at his work with scrutiny as Sans stared at him in silence, not entirely sure how to take his brother’s admittedly, more thorough-than-usual pampering.

“sure is, bro,” was all he could respond before attempting a forced grin.

Without further ado, and only pausing long enough to hang the damp towel on the back of the door where it belonged, Papyrus led him to his room. He gestured placidly towards the interior as Sans gave a light chuckle, heel clicking as he approached the bed. He took his usual seat beside the bed on the floor, allowing the collection of books to tumble out of his arms and onto the neatly made comforter. Papyrus closed the door and all but rushed up to the bed, giving pause for a moment before hitching his older brother up under his arms again and depositing him on the mattress, where he sat next.

Sans gave him a more genuine grin, although it looked more like a grimace as a snicker escaped him.

“jeez, paps,” he mumbled, scooting back a touch as Papyrus collected the other books. He then pulled back the covers and looked at him expectantly, the childlike whimsy of his demeanour oddly infectious.

Well, it had been quite awhile since he’d been home, and his brother really enjoyed his reading. He scooted out of the comforter’s way so Papyrus could arrange it to his liking, and soon they were huddled close together. Sans sat cross-legged, leaned over the large paperback laid out in front of them both while Papyrus sat next to him, the comforter draped across both of their shoulders and around them like a blanket fort.

 

As Sans read the story for what had to be the eighteenth time that month, he really did feel a small stirring of peace in Papyrus’ company. He relaxed, shoulders hunched and his tone even and warm as the glow of the nightstand’s lamp bathed them both in orange. Not as comforting a sight as his brother’s magic, but the resemblance was there and for the first time in weeks, Sans felt just a little more at ease.

During the course of the story, Sans had paused only for a moment to get more comfortable, laying down with his arms propping him up beside his brother, who followed suit. It wasn’t long before the warm glow and comfort of his brother’s presence had lulled him into such a relaxed state that his words were getting slower, more hushed. Sometimes he’d read the same sentence twice or even three times, before his skull nodded, losing his battle against sleep. As his sockets finally drifted closed, Sans very nearly dropped onto the last few pages with a tired grunt of surrender.

 

Papyrus thought it best to leave the story unfinished, for once. Poor Sans was, unfortunately, too tired to even protest when he slid the book out from his lazy grasp and closed it, returning it to the nightstand with the others and to where he carefully inched up to turn out the light. The hue of Sans’ magic was more subdued as he gave in to sleep, curled next to his younger brother and using his forearm as a pillow.

“Lazybones,” Papyrus whispered at a fraction of his normal volume as he pulled the covers up to their skulls, and then gently patted Sans’ hand. “Like I could ever leave you in the Underground on your own.”

Chapter Text

It was difficult to place the feeling. An enveloping comfort cocooned Sans’ soul as he slipped into that in-between world where monsters went when they dreamt. It was something he didn't feel often lately, like being suspended in cloudy marshy water with shafts of light breaking through. Was it the sun? Had it always been this bright, this concentrated on him?

In some corner of his subconscious, Sans was aware that something was shielding him, handling him with so much care that he drifted by whatever that was below him, elevated in safety. He had a fleeting vision of bricks from a wall that had long since tumbled down, stresses in the granite and in the distance, the long thin noise of metal dragging on rock.

Did the sun always look that way? Pictures from magazines that landed in the Underground from the surface showed a speck of incandescent light, flooding the ceiling of the world with all manner of orange, pink, red, and gold. Maybe if he was seeing it, Sans thought it was the same place the sun went to sleep in too.

Even if he’d never seen it personally, he was sure this wasn’t how it worked. More lucid, he turned to look above him, the flood of light bathing him in that sweet, healing glow. He could detect faint traces of magic familiar to him. His grin tugged a little in embarrassment as affection flooded his soul.

Man, Papyrus was really coddling him.

It was with good reason; there was a shifting mass below him where he was suspended, kept at bay by the shower of brilliant orange magic. Sans’ grin fell as a tightening fear coiled around him, more than a few familiar distant and unpleasant memories threatening him, making his soul pound.

The sound from the bottom of the chasm was long and raspy. He would’ve disregarded it any other night, if it hadn't become one of his recurring weaknesses over time. It started out low, then heightened sharply, the slick scraping sound of metal on stone echoing from the deep.

No.

Metal on bone.

His breath quickened as Sans scrambled in place to escape it, the noise approaching with vicious delight. The knife he was far too familiar with whet itself on his crumbling resolve as more wisps of darkness coiled around him, pulling at his bones to drag him further in. The noises shifted, ebbed and slashed, filling the skeleton’s skull with the errant whisper and rushing air of sharp steel.

He managed to jerk to the side, unable to see the enemy in the darkness. His brother’s magic had all but faded all into a tiny constellation far above him, leaving Sans to wrestle the demon on his own.

He huffed, the only way to pinpoint the demon’s attack was the flicker of his brother’s light on that dusty blade as he ducked again, using the stresses in reality to sidestep another swing. His injured heel cracked as Sans settled on it, enough to force him to wince as another flurry of slashes flew at him. He automatically threw his arms in front of him to block, knowing full well he didn’t have nearly enough defense or stamina to stand up to it should any hit find its mark. The air around their struggle grew thicker and denser and for a wild moment, Sans thought he was being subjected to Blue magic.

But that was impossible. In fact, the idea brought to mind some choice attacks he’d normally keep in reserve. He was getting better at throwing them off, attempting to break the sick and twisted grin off their pale, red-eyed face hidden in the shadows. Sans’ body was trembling in both effort and fatigue as he summoned a symphony of glowing bones, the hollow and cavernous space around them filling with a literal graveyard of his attacks.

Sans had to get rid of it. If he could stop them now, then Papyrus wouldn’t have to-

Wouldn’t have to…?

Sans gave his head a shake, pushing the jarring thoughts away. He considered looking up to draw strength and courage from his brother’s magic. He couldn’t see it out of his peripheral vision , not as he danced around the wildly swinging demon. They were getting faster. Their swings were more precise, as if through practise. His eye lights faded to hollow shells as he realised… this thing was already dead.

Then that was it. Sans tried to escape, seeing the futility of fighting when the odds were so heavily stacked against him. The terror in his soul had built up to that moment, layering on multitudes of timelines of different reasons, reactions and guides. Imploringly, he raised his bony hands upwards, his soul shuddering when he realised that Papyrus’ magic was gone.

And there was nothing.

Nothing; no protection, only darkness - and it wouldn’t leave him, wouldn’t stop from swallowing him whole. The soulless, chilly laughter of a being with a child’s face and voice echoed as his fear paralysed him, toying with gnarled, spidery fingers. Then at long last, there was the gouge of the knife. The only betrayal of its mark was the reflection of his magic flooding his left eye in its blade.

Sans lurched backwards, clutching at his sternum and the gash that erupted into a sticky flare of red. His magic was flailing wildly as he attempted to save himself or any part of him to persist beyond just a memory. But he was falling, barely believing his eyes as his fingertips chipped and started to crumble away.

He agonised the thought of leaving Papyrus alone, feeling himself twist and lurch down into the limitless depths…

Thud.

…Wait, what?

 

“SANS!”

Sans’ eye lights returned to their sockets. He jerked himself upright with a panicked sound of fright and confusion. His left eye was still blazing with magic, restless and wild as he covered it in distress, while the other hand clutched at his sternum. He eventually realised that they’d landed on the floor next to Papyrus’ bed. His brother was under him, half tangled in the puffy comforter they’d been wrapped in. Papyrus gave him a rather exhausted and sour look.

The darkness was gone, holed up inside Sans’ soul and only the magical rays of enchanted moonlight shone through Papyrus’ window to light them.

It figures his brother’s love would get him only so far into sleep before his mind would warp it. Sans looked down at Papyrus and huffed softly, his breaths still hitched and panicked from his nightmare.

“welp. that was… probably the least bad one this week, bro.” He gave a shaky and crooked smile, moving to get up and help Papyrus stand. His bones were rattling, his figurative nerves shot. “i appreciate you lookin’ out for me.”

“OF COURSE, SANS! WHAT KIND OF BROTHER WOULD I BE IF I DID NOT??” was the drowsy reply from the taller skeleton as he followed Sans back onto the bed, effectively wrapping them both in a bundle of bones and blankets. “EVEN IN YOUR SLEEP, YOU SHIRK YOUR DUTIES,” he added wryly. “NIGHT TIME IS FOR SLEEPING! NOT KICKBOXING YOUR BROTHER OFF HIS BED! OR I WILL HOLD YOU ALL NIGHT LIKE BABYBONES! I SWEAR… I DON'T KNOW WHAT'S GOTTEN YOU ALL RILED UP!” It was a subtle jab at Sans’ earlier secrecy and Sans knew it. He felt the twinge of regret.

“sorry, bro. nightmares, right?” Sans exhaled against the thick blanket as he attempted to calm down.

“OH, PUT THAT AWAY!” Papyrus replied sourly and tapped above his left eye socket. “IF ANYONE IS GOING TO BE USING MAGIC TONIGHT? IT SHALL BE ME, PAPYRUS - AND ONLY TO SHIELD YOU. SINCE OBVIOUSLY, MY DEAR BROTHER, YOU'VE BEEN SO OUT OF PRACTISE THAT YOU CANNOT EVEN NAP WITHOUT PUTTING SOME… BACKBONE INTO IT.”

Sans shrunk under the blanket in shame, dispelling his glowing sclera in the process. “you don't gotta do that. m’not babybones.” He heard the sigh of exasperation in response, then Papyrus’ arms found their way around him and pulled him close.

“NONSENSE, SANS. I DO WISH YOU WOULD ACCEPT MY AID. AFTER ALL! WHAT WOULD YOU DO WITHOUT A CARING AND COOL BROTHER SUCH AS MYSELF?”

Sans poked his head out from under the blankets, almost squinting in the darkness. Though his own magic had subdued from his fright, he saw the glow of Papyrus’ hue, soothing and mellow.

His grin tugged a little and he nodded his head in agreement. “so cool.”

It was Papyrus’ turn to nod, thoughtfully this time. “I WILL GIVE YOU A NICE DREAM,” he proposed, the glow of his magic drifting from him and encircling them both.

Sans tensed briefly as another rush of embarrassment flooded him. Papyrus really was treating him like a child; coddling him, wrapping him in his soothing aura to lull him to sleep. Like a little kid with bad dreams, Sans thought bitterly.

“IT WILL HAVE BUNNIES! MEADOWS! ALL THE SPAGHETTI THE WORLD CAN OFFER! AND YOU! YOU WILL BE HAPPY! AND NOT TRY TO SABOTAGE… UNDERSTOOD?” Papyrus’ eye sockets narrowed daringly as his brother squirmed at his tone.

“m’not babybones,” Sans objected again, half-heartedly. The lulling sensation from before eased over him again; just as in before the world between things turned so very wrong. Sans’ soul fluttered restlessly at the memory and his hand went instinctively towards the imaginary wound at his chest.

“I KNOW! YOU ARE A PERFECTLY HEALTHY, WELL-ADJUSTED ADULT.” Papyrus’ tone could have been taken as sarcastic, if Sans thought of him that way. “HOWEVER… ADULTS NEED REPRIEVE TOO. I BELIEVE IN YOU!”

“i know y’do,” the smaller skeleton murmured, allowing the steady and even pulses of magic to flood his bones and soul, lulling him back to sleep. Soon, Sans was wrapped in a warm cocoon of light, sheltered from the terrors of his psyche as Papyrus did as he promised.

And he actually slept.

 

He didn’t know for how long, but when Sans next regained consciousness, it wasn’t abruptly nor in a panic. It was peaceful, sublimely content, and as gentle as the magic daylight filtering through the window. His brother still held him loosely in his arms and he noted in surprise that Papyrus wasn’t awake.

Sans’ smile tugged down a little as he looked to his brother’s face, the twinge of guilt already knocking at his soul. Had he really stayed up all night just to make sure Sans slept…?

“DON’T YOU DARE,” came his brother’s voice in a groggy and warning tone. Sans nearly exhaled in relief, then had to laugh, the sound oddly distant and jovial. The thought that Papyrus had kept still enough to make Sans think he was sleeping was somehow suddenly hilarious.

“what happened, paps? you not used to sleepin’ in?”

As though jinxed, his younger brother rose like a shot, as though he only just then realised it. He nearly threw Sans from the bed in his haste to get ready. Then Papyrus danced around the room, gesticulating at his alarm clock in frustration, which he admittedly didn’t need. He hopped on one foot as he got changed into his battle body and dialed out on his cellphone, balancing the device between his jaw and shoulder.

“CAPTAIN - YES. NOT TO WORRY! THE GREAT PAPYRUS WAS MERELY… DELAYED! - YES…” Papyrus’ eye sockets narrowed as he paused, noticing Sans' inquisitive sleepiness. “YES - I WILL PASS ON THE MESSAGE, UNDYNE.”

Sans sat cross-legged on the bed amongst the bunched covers. It was difficult to stay awake, his head propped on his knee as he watched the entertaining display of Papyrus panicking. All because he thought he was ‘late’. Sans let out a snicker, then a laugh when Papyrus rounded on him, picked him up and held him under one arm to adjust the sheets.

“UNDYNE SAYS YOU ARE TO PATROL BY THE RUINS TODAY!”

“ok.”

“REMEMBER; NO LOLLYGAGGING.”

“ok.”

“NO MORE THAN EXACTLY THREE BREAKS, SANS!”

“ok.”

“AND PLEASE. RECALIBRATE. YOUR. PUZZLES!”

“ok.”

Sans huffed when Papyrus dropped him back onto the bed, giving his brother a sheepish grin. He sure seemed to be picked up a lot lately. He actually felt a little better with a night of sleep under his belt. He supposed he would have to do something nice for Papyrus, with all the trouble he went through lately.

“AND!” his brother continued as he strapped his boots on, “TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF.”

“sure thing, paps.” Sans suppressed an audible yawn and stretched, bones popping in the sockets. He waited for another lecture from Papyrus for it, but it didn’t happen. Perplexed, he blinked when Papyrus waved goodbye to him and ran out of the room. The footfalls thundered down the stairs, then another audible slam of the door sounded when his brother left the house.

“jeez,” he muttered to himself and scratched his jaw, twisting his skull from left to right to sort out several kinks in his neck.

He never thought he’d see the day when Papyrus would lie in bed all morning. Clearly he’s been a bad influence. Then Sans moved to go to his own room. It was as he’d left it - socks, towels, tornado… everything where it should be.

He strolled along to his dresser where he’d left his cellphone and lamp on. It seemed that Papyrus hadn’t touched it, even though his clothes from the previous night had been cleaned and properly folded atop of it.

Wait, when did he have the time to do that…?

Sans gave his ankle an experimental rotation, noting the click with a sigh. Apparently, it was just going to be one of those days.

 

After changing, he pocketed a few items from his dresser; phone, keys, and some random sample packets of ketchup Grillby had given him. He took his time, checking his text messages as he strolled along the hallway. It seemed as though Undyne had tried calling a few times, then settled for texts. It was likely due to the fact that Sans’ voicemail was always full.

fsh (Last message received last Thursday: 4:06pm);

- Your brother is worried! You better get home, punk!

- This sucks! Why aren’t you answering!

- YOU BETTER BE AT YOUR POST!!!

- Hey, Paps said he hasn’t seen you for a few days… you ok? YOU BETTER NOT BE SLACKING OFF!!!

- DON’T MAKE ME COME OVER THERE!!!

- Seriously, what the HELL, Sans!!

 

Sans scratched at his jaw as he shuffled downstairs to grab his hoodie, tapping the keys in to submit a little play on words and assure the rambunctious fish lady that he was fine. Thankfully, the hoodie had dried overnight and he slipped it on with a sigh.

Snowdin Forest, eh? Well, ok then.

His phone beeped, signalling a new incoming message.

bro (Last message received: 12:01pm);

- SANS! THERE IS LEFTOVER SPAGHETTI IN THE MICROWAVE. PLEASE ENJOY MY HEARTFELT CREATION! I’VE ALSO LEFT SOMETHING FOR YOU AT THE DOOR. DON’T! NOT! WEAR THEM!!!

 

The skeleton glanced down to his feet, curious. In place of his well-loved slippers were a pair of black and white runners, looking quite well-off for being a used pair. It wasn’t often that ‘new’ things fell into the Underground, and usually they’d end up in New Home where the majority of monsters lived. Snowdin was so far out in the sticks that they made do with what they had most of the time. He whistled lowly, stooping down to inspect them.

This was different, too.

“what’re you doin’, universe?” he muttered suspiciously. Was this another event that deviated from the timeline? He had to admit things were really bleary, even for his memory.

Sans decided to go with it, slipping on the worn shoes and bunching the laces behind the tongue. They seemed to fit snugly and as he walked around, they kept his ankle from clicking. An adequate deviation, he supposed.

 

After having his breakfast pasta, he meandered around doing what was required of him. He read the last yellow note on the abandoned sock in the living room and snickered while scrawling ‘ok’ just under Papyrus’ writing, then ever-so-slightly moved the sock a few inches from the television. Then he turned to the pile of letters and junk mail on the floor to grab the remaining postcards before heading out, flipping through each one.

He had to admit, it was unsettling when he saw his empty mailbox again. Sans couldn’t help the inner struggle that urged him to push all the letters back inside of it - hell, even put the fallen letter back on the snow just below it. But, seeing as the universe had other plans, he just rolled with the punches and decided to take his time and check up on his little side project.

 

The back of the house was always slippery, and even with new footwear Sans was leery about having another fall. He carefully manoeuvred around the ice and down the steps to his basement, then produced the key and walked inside.

The hum of electronics filled his head as he kicked the snow off his shoes and leaned against the door. It still felt like something so foreign, to look back on simple events that he should’ve known, and yet… due to laziness or apathy, just didn’t care to do before now.

As he poked through the postcards, Sans realised that most of them were from Papyrus, from dates spanning over the few years since they’d settled in Snowdin. There were excitedly written notes from different stations around the Underground, detailing his brother’s hopes and dreams, thoughts and wishes. Sans’ smile tugged; the simple reminder that his brother was always thinking of him lightened his mood.

He decided to write it down in an old and worn journal he kept at his workstation that had definitely seen better days. Spilled ketchup, grease and coffee stained its cover but the inside was far worse. Nearly all of its pages were covered in small bubbly letters, equations and diagrams; it was almost unintelligible. Sans picked up a pen, tapping it between his bony fingers in thought, and then ultimately decided to make a list.

Different things…

- slipped & fell by library. no injury/affliction to health.

- mailbox emptied. paps did it. never done that before. postcards from bro from all over.

- slipped on porch, hairline fracture; right talus head: -.02

- mild paranoia, triggered panic attack from previous offshoot? - “you must be so confused”. sorry, paps. guess i am.

- slept with paps in his room. recovered, might have a buffer, can’t be sure; ankle still clicking from fall.

- pap late to his post. never happened before.

- pap gave me shoes. never happened bef…

 

Sans tapped the pen against his teeth as though the noise was supposed to help him think.

“i think that’s all,” he muttered, then he shoved the journal and pen back into the drawer, eye lights settling on the postcards. “hopefully, that’s all.” Worried, he rubbed at his sternum; the odd echo of the nightmare wound still bothered him.

It’d be better not to dwell on it, he supposed. He cast a reproachful glance at his covered machine; it couldn’t be fixed anyway, and Papyrus was expecting him to eventually be at his post. All things considered, life in Snowdin was pretty much uneventful compared to the capital. He wondered why he had brought that machine with him at all. For the most part, it just served as a bleak reminder of his past.

For now Sans ignored it, as he always did. It was time for him to get going. After he stuffed the postcards into his pocket, he locked up and left, making his way around the house and down the street. The shoes offered far better traction than his slippers ever could, and he was relieved he didn’t slip again in front of the library. The ice patch seemed to be gone though, along with everyone’s footprints.

As he passed Grillby’s, he stopped and looked up at the dimmed sign. Sans felt that he should at least apologise for the previous evening and tell the fire monster he was ok. It was then that his phone beeped again, signalling another message. He pulled it out of his pocket to read it, slowly wandering off to the side of the building.

bro (Last message received: 12:32pm);

- SO! HOW ARE THE NEW KICKS?

 

His grin tugged lightly as he punched in his response;

*p cool bro can rly sneak around in em

Heh, classic.

It wasn’t long before his brother sent another one;

- THAT ONE WAS BAD AND YOU KNOW IT!

 

He snickered to himself, just hearing his brother’s irritation in his mind, and he paced around to walk back out front. As Sans rounded the corner, preoccupied with his phone, he didn’t see the fire monster hauling a rather heavy looking crate out of the bar, bottles clinking, then ultimately rattling loudly when Sans bumped into him.

It was quick thinking on Sans’ part. He dropped his phone in the process, but reached out to grab the other side of the crate so it wouldn’t fall.

“woops! heya, grillbz,” he offered lamely. “didn’t mean to…” He trailed off when he noted the other crates stacked outside the front door.

He raised a figurative brow at the fire monster, helping him to shuffle over and set the crate down by the other piles. With a grimace, Sans stooped down and grabbed his phone from the slush puddle. Well, damn. He rubbed it against his hoodie to try and dry it off.

“…Sans. You’re looking lively,”   the fire monster greeted warmly, patting down the front of his vest.

Sans idly scuffed his shoe against the back of his leg and shrugged. “had a talk. had a nap. i wanted to tell you… m’sorry about last night.” Grillby merely shook his head as if dismissing the apology, flames crackling in the subtle breeze. Sans’ gaze settled on the crates. “so, uh… what’s all this?”

The bartender absently rubbed a forearm, looking at his handiwork. “…Supplies running low. Travelling to New Home soon. Thought it best to prepare,”   his ethereal voice crackled. “Are you on break?”

“nah,” the skeleton replied, scratching at his jaw, “actually… just settin’ out for the ruins.” His grin fell when the thought occurred to him; “how’re you gettin’ all this to new home? river person?”

“Ferry has been booked for weeks. Likely will have to utilise the boxes while I make the journey.”  The bartender didn’t seem satisfied with his own plans, as though deliberating them even then.

“walkin’ it? what, through waterfall and hotland and the core…?”

Sans was more than a little concerned at this. He knew the initial move for Grillby had been a hardship - Waterfall especially, which wasn’t too far away. It was such an expansive marsh and the water flows always moved the bridges and pathways, making it difficult for most anyone. Traversing it alone would be just more than a little daunting for the fire monster.

“Suppose I have no other choice. Have not heard back from any of the couriers, either.”  He seemed rather put out at that as he shook his head and rolled his shoulder. Sans let out something of a sympathetic sigh, unsure what to say.

“i dunno… maybe i can help you out. y’know. for all the trouble i’ve caused you.” The fire monster seemed taken aback. His ember eyes were bright behind his glasses as he stared at the skeleton. Sans shifted in the snow, unsure how to take the look and feeling Grillby’s penetrating gaze. “i mean, i got patrol today, but… at least you’ll have help, right? n’fuku is too young to make the trip to help either. it’s better than goin’ alone.”

“…Would not want to put you out, friend.”  Grillby’s tone was gentle and grateful, though. Sans could tell he was worried about the journey through the marsh.

“can’t put out what you don’t put in, big g,” Sans joked and snickered, then quickly sobered up when he realised the horrible thing he’d said. The fire monster chuckled heartily as Sans covered his eye sockets as though to hide, feeling an odd pulling twinge behind his rib cage, embarrass. “nevermind that. a-anyways, grillbz, i gotta… gotta get goin’…”

“…At a later time, then.”

 

With that awkward encounter finished, Sans was off before he was subjected to any more mirth at his expense. Man, why’d he have to go and say something stupid like that? If skeletons could blush, Sans would be blue in the face. Instead, he rubbed absently at his temple as he strolled away towards the outskirts of town.

Normally Sans would’ve taken a shortcut, but he felt he should conserve energy so early in the day. And by ‘early in the day’, he supposed early afternoon was as early as he’d be able to wake up without Papyrus hounding him. So instead, Sans actually did as he was told: looking over both his and his brother’s puzzles to make sure they were still set as he passed them.

It was a long walk and he was still lamenting his blunder by the time he arrived at his station. He leaned against the shelter and peered into the tall birches and spruces in the surrounding area. Nothing would happen. Nothing really ever did happen. It would be a long day with no one to talk to.

Sans idly drummed his fingertips against the counter top as he sat perched at his station. His other hand propped his chin while he hunched over the desk. White, white, and white. More snow. He threw his hood up to keep the snowflakes from landing in his eye sockets, exhaling long and loudly in his boredom.

 

Hours passed and he still worried over his bad joke and how Grillby took it. He couldn’t even call Grillby to apologise to him thanks to dunking his phone in the slush. Was he overreacting? Grillby seemed as though he’d appreciated the laugh. Sans felt a nervous chuckle rise in him, fidgeting with his phone, trying to make the buttons work to no avail.

“oh boy,” Sans muttered, running a hand over his face, attempting to stay awake. It would’ve been prime shut-eye time if he’d allowed himself to drift off.

It had been awhile, right? No one would notice if he even took a walk. He could play it off as actual patrolling - and when was the last time a human came from the Ruins? Decades? Centuries? Why only from that area?

A wisp of steam left Sans’ teeth as he exhaled in frustration, then he left his phone on the stool; it was useless carrying it around with him if it was fried anyway. He shuffled through the snow and around old worn pathways, eventually making his way to the Ruins’ entrance.

The large looming door was always locked, a great obsidian gate that reflected the snow and took on a nearly purple hue. It loomed far above Sans’ height, the vaulted walls melding into the rockface, preventing exploration by any kids in the area.

Sans scanned the environment, listening for any telltale signs that the universe was plotting something.

But nobody came.

He trudged further, pressing his hands against the heavy gate. Its doors looked as though they were sealed shut with magic, as always. Experimentally, he gave it a knock, his digits rapping an echo throughout the surrounding trees and valley, up into the caverns above.

No answer, of course. In the back of his mind, something told Sans it was probably too early for a voice to come forward… whatever that meant. Bits and pieces of memories fluttered to him as quickly as they disappeared again. One time, he thought he would’ve liked to pry the door open and see what was beyond.

But, he was lazy, and whatever curiosity Sans had was abruptly shrugged off as unmotivated to put any effort into. He decided to sit, leaning his back against the heavy gate as he pulled his head down further. His hands found their way back into his pockets and pulled out a few postcards. Waterfall… Hotlands… the then-recently renovated MTT Resort. He studied them, trying to find a hidden meaning behind each one. But they were from Papyrus, and the guy was so straightforward that nothing could very well be hidden, even in his texts.

Soon after, Sans stretched out his legs, severe boredom lulling him into a relaxed state. Maybe he’d try to get a little shuteye, as long as he kept it short. After all, this counted as break number one, right? He let out a soft chuckle at the memory of his brother’s message and Sans eventually dozed off.

 

For once, a nap was nice to have. He didn’t have any dreams, bad or otherwise; when he eventually woke up, Sans jostled the pile of snow that had settled on his hoodie and legs in a quiet daze. He just shrugged, figuring it was the remnants of his brother’s magic that allowed him to rest so peacefully.

After wandering back to his post, Sans sat back down and decided to wait out the rest of his shift, taking another handful of breaks at his discretion. At least only one had been directly in front of Alphys’ many cameras. He knew she wouldn’t snitch on him, though.

In the distance, Sans heard the familiar sound of crunching snow and the even tempo of footsteps. Unconcerned, he opened an eye socket and watched his younger brother approach with something of a smirk on his face.

“SANS!! YOU’D BETTER NOT BE NAPPING!” came the boisterous yell from across the field. Papyrus’ shrill voice echoed around the area, and Sans couldn’t help but snicker the closer his brother came into view.

“haven’t napped for at least twenty minutes now. sup?” The smaller skeleton lounged and stretched over the counter, bones popping. Sans grinned up at Papyrus as he approached. He knew the sound irritated him and Sans was feeling a little more like his old self, for once. Mostly irritating.

“YOUR PHONE…?”

“oh. yeah, it got dunked on.” Lamely, Sans pulled it out of his pocket and attempted to push buttons, a feeble attempt to try to get his phone to turn on again. “stopped workin’… i dunno. maybe five hours ago?”

Papyrus grabbed it out of Sans’ grasp and meticulously went over it in his hands, as though surveying an inscrutable puzzle. Then he eyed Sans, who looked up to him from his slouch with a slight droop to his ever-present grin.

“YOU RECALIBRATED YOUR PUZZLES.” It was more of a statement than a question, and Sans just shrugged, using one digit to scratch the inside of his nasal cavity with disinterest. “YOU ALSO ADJUSTED MY ORB PUZZLE.”

“mhm.”

“AND THERE ARE… FOOTPRINTS EVERYWHERE???”

Sans soon realised where this was going, hearing both the concerned and excited tone in Papyrus’ voice. He sheepishly looked to his brother’s face, embarrassed. He wasn’t quite sure what to say or how to explain himself. Normally Sans wasn’t so productive. He tore his gaze away from Papyrus long enough to look at his own tracks through the snow in veiled surprise. Man, he had wandered around quite a bit…

“figured i’d do my job, for once,” was all he cared to admit with a shrug. Sans gave Papyrus a wink, watching as his brother’s posture stiffened and his expression bloomed into something intense and unquestionably proud.

 

Papyrus knew there had to be something more to Sans’ behaviour than that. He was acting very peculiar, but at the same time, not. It was an unsettling feeling that his ego just wasn’t accustomed to, and he tossed Sans’ broken phone into the air before snatching it mid-fall.

“THAT IS… FINE,” Papyrus finally said with a nod of approval. “I THINK THAT! ALL THINGS CONSIDERED… YOU DID YOUR BEST. WHICH IS MORE THAN I COULD EVER HOPE FOR! I AM PROUD OF YOU!” He gave his brother a flashy smile and Sans pulled the strings on his hoodie to hide his face as though embarrassed. “OH, STOP THAT! A JOB WELL DONE! I KNOW YOU’VE BEEN FEELING UNDER THE WEATHER LATELY…”

 

The reaffirmation of Papyrus’ encouragement bolstered Sans, and he couldn’t help but let out a puff of cold air, starting to get up in a long and exaggerated movement.

“y’could say i’ve been… snowdin?”  Sans drawled, and then heard his phone loudly crunch in Papyrus’ grasp. He grimaced; well, if it hadn’t worked then, it sure wouldn’t now. But Papyrus was right, and far be it from him to overlook his moodiness lately. “sorry.”

For once, Papyrus let it slide. He returned Sans’ broken phone and then turned away from him. “DON’T DAWDLE ON YOUR WAY HOME!” he added as he stomped off.

“sure thing, paps.”

 

Once out of view, Sans huffed out another sigh, deciding he didn’t really want to trudge back through all the freshly fallen snow. Sans’ left eye socket flared as he gathered in energy, walking out of habit into the opposite direction to take advantage of the stressed atmosphere nearby. Then he warped with a quiet shift, landing just outside the bridge leading into Snowdin, marked by the colourfully decorated sign.

His feet landed with a soft crunch and Sans continued walking with a huff of exertion, the strain of fast-travel always a bit much for him, even if he never truly expressed it. He idly wondered if Papyrus realised he had this kind of power. He’d been careful to hide it since discovering it earlier in life. Experimentally, he summoned a small bone the length of his forearm, twirling it between his phalanges as he strolled past the shop and inn, humming a quiet tune as he went.

He noticed that Grillby was still loading crates outside of the restaurant, shutters drawn and lights out. Sans guessed he’d stayed closed for that day, much to his disappointment. He’d been looking forward to an order of burg after such a long shift. Maybe partake in some choice condiments, just to see Grillby’s reaction. The crates were scattered in a haphazard manner in front of Grillby’s and Sans could see the fire monster resting against the barrel outside the front door.

Wait, was he smoking?

Sans would’ve made a joke about it, being a fire elemental and all, but as he approached, he noted the exhausted way the bartender held himself, however refined it was. Grillby looked just tired.

“didn’t know you smoked,” the skeleton pointed out as he stepped into Grillby’s line of sight. Grillby ran a hand over his face and over the top of the flames on his head in a gesture that was both captivating and weary.

“…Burning things soothes me,”  was all Grillby said in reply, even the dry crackle of his voice rumbly and low. Sans definitely picked up on the tone, his grin shifting downwards as he leaned against the building beside the fire monster.

“something puttin’ you out?” Ahh, good old fire puns. His specialty. Sans had always liked them, much like the bartender.

Grillby turned to face him, his expression blankly inscrutable as Sans quirked his grin, just for him. A thin waft of smoke left Grillby’s face, embers glowing between his fingers from the dry twig.

“Not looking forward to this trip, I suppose.”

“i don’t doubt it. waterfall is huge and it’s always changin’.” Sans idly tapped the conjured bone against his shoes to remove the built up snow and slush. “when’re you headin’ out?”

“No later than tomorrow morning,”  the fire monster replied bitterly.

“tried callin’ the river person again?”

“Their stop here isn’t for weeks yet.”  Grillby’s demeanour popped in irritation, giving Sans an excuse to watch his visage. “Already put this off for far too long.”  There was a hint of resignation as Grillby sighed.

“never thought you’d be one for procrastination!” The skeleton gently prodded him, amused. He elbowed Grillby, grinning wide. “clearly m’rubbin’ off on you.” Something at the back of Sans’ mind nagged at him but he kept the flustered thought away.

 

Sans’ grin was a little nervous now and Grillby noticed it, the flames arranging on his visage in a less irritated way and he kindled gently, unable to hide a subtle smirk in turn. He appreciated it when the skeleton went out of his way to talk to him. No one really bothered Grillby when he was off shift, unless he was behind the bar. If Grillby was honest, he still felt out of place in Snowdin. Most fire monsters would, he supposed.

But Sans was different. He was so easy to get along with. Sans’ humour, while normally bad, took on a different endearing charm when around him. Grillby had learned to enjoy the subtle and not-so-subtle wordplay Sans would sneak into their conversations, even if they were blunderous half the time, lately. The puns now eased the fire monster’s worry about his friend, who had been less and less like himself lately. It was a start, at least.

It gave him an idea. One that he’d been entertaining since meeting with Sans earlier that afternoon.

“Why not join me?”  the fire monster asked suddenly, gesturing with his hands in a way that Sans hadn’t anticipated, as though beckoning him. The only thing that gave away Sans’ surprise was the sudden absence of his conjured bone, which disappeared mid-tap on his shoe with a wisp of cyan.

“huh?”

“Come with me. You know Waterfall, correct? Admittedly…”  The fire monster rolled his shoulder, the gesture precise and elegant without much thought put into it. “I don’t much care for strolls through humid terrain. Takes a lot out of me,”  he revealed after a pause, his voice a quiet hum of fire that Sans only just made out. “…Be doing me a grand favour.”

“oh.”

 

Sans blinked, straightening his back against the building in thought. His soul trembled beneath his ribs and he had to push the feeling down again. He felt the bartender’s gaze on him, the heat from his flames flickering onto his skull as he paused to give it some thought. Or at least, Sans made the effort to look like he was. Of course, he’d do anything for such a long-time friend and he found himself nodding in agreement.

Besides, it could be interesting.

“yeah. sure, why not.”

Sans turned his gaze towards the fire monster in time to see a grateful flicker pass through Grillby’s form, making that gentle coiling, knotting sensation creep back into Sans’ soul. Grillby genuinely looked relieved, and Sans felt a little silly that a short escort through Waterfall would elicit such an endearing response.

“d.. don’t mention it, grillbz.”

Chapter Text

It had admittedly taken longer to convince Papyrus to be at ease with his absence than Sans thought. It took the better part of dinner prep, all of dinner, and half-way through MTT Celebration Hour Extravaganza for his brother to stop laying it on quite so thick.

“YOUR HEALTH IS NOT GOOD ENOUGH FOR SUCH A JOURNEY!” he kept repeating at almost every commercial break. Sans couldn’t help but flinch at the jab despite knowing Papyrus never meant any offense. Papyrus didn’t seem to notice, thank god. “BESIDES! WHO WOULD TAKE OVER FOR YOU? WHEN WILL THIS BE? WHEN WILL YOU GET BACK?”

“paps, i already told you. i’ll be fine, grillby’s decently strong and i got a buffer.” Sans slumped back into the couch cushions, his body sinking lower and lower with every protest. He knew Papyrus was worried, but Sans shrugged lamely as though to excuse it. “`sides. i already promised.”

Wait, that might’ve been the wrong thing to say. He saw Papyrus’ skull whirl around and fix him with an astonished look, and Sans couldn’t hide the flinch nor the discomfort on his face. He slunk lower, holding out his hands in an effort to placate his brother.

“please don’t.”

“PROMISED??? YOU DON’T PROMISE! IT’S THE ONE SINGLE THING YOU EVER DO. WITHOUT FAIL.” Papyrus’ eye sockets narrowed in suspicion. “WHY?”

For once, Sans didn’t shrug. Not really knowing what to say, Sans faltered, but he at least had the sense to appear to be searching for words. They didn’t form as quickly as he would’ve liked. He wanted to say that he liked Grillby and wanted to do him a favour for a favour’s sake. He felt a tensile shortness creep into his soul, of an oddly gushy and warm sensation that flooded outwards with the idea, and Sans actually thought that he’d admit that he liked Grillby.

His brother’s gaze drilled into him expectantly, then Papyrus threw his hands up, throwing his back against the couch almost theatrically. “WELL… I SUPPOSE! SINCE YOU’VE ALREADY PROMISED.”

Sans’ soul felt like it was erratically flip-flopping around with the little white lie. Papyrus did have a point; Sans had said time and time again that he hated making promises. But the thing was, while he hadn’t actually promised Grillby, Sans still wanted to help him out. He even looked forward to the morning. It was an almost exhilarating feeling when he realised it, having never looked forward to mornings or doing things. Sans chalked it up to another deviation and just rolled with things as they came.

“YOU’LL HAVE TO SEND MY REGARDS TO UNDYNE WHEN YOU PASS THROUGH,” Papyrus added thoughtfully, then asked, “AND JUST HOW ARE YOU CARRYING ALL THAT JUNK ACROSS WATERFALL, ANYWAY? YOU’D BETTER NOT BE PLANNING TO USE MAGIC THE ENTIRE TIME!”

“think grillbz mentioned something about item boxes,” the smaller skeleton said quietly, attempting to calm his excited soul’s pulse. Idly, he fidgeted.

“OH.” Papyrus paused, eye sockets narrowing at his brother’s more-than-usual silence. “YOU KNOW HOW I FEEL ABOUT THOSE. THEY MAKE THINGS ENTIRELY TOO EASY! I DON'T LIKE THEM!”

“yeah, not a lotta people do. it comes in handy, though. `specially now.” Sans shrugged, not wanting to get into another argument about boxes. “just call me another box lover.”

“YOU’RE JUST BIASED.”

 

Papyrus sighed with that, and they spent the rest of the evening in more or less comfortable silence until it was time for bed. Sans had a difficult time convincing Papyrus that he’d be fine to sleep on his own. After all, Sans was a ‘well-adjusted adult’, and he still felt a little chagrined with Papyrus’ concern. Still, he’d managed to let Papyrus think that he was fine to sleep on his own. Not bothering to change out of his clothes, he dropped onto the old mattress in his room.

Sans addressed his worn psyche, thinking bitterly with a quiet plea in his soul. He silently begged for no horror-terror things that night, no fights to the death with an unknown creature, no weapons that tore him shoulder to hip.

Admittedly, he was restless for the better half of the evening, but eventually fell asleep.

 

His dreams weren’t anything special. The familiar scenes of darkness were there, but he resisted them. The shallow echo of wind through an endless expanse was deafening as his soul shivered, ready to flee at any hint of a downturn. Yet the endless night eventually eased, allowing him some semblance of restful sleep as his innermost demons kept their distance.

Perhaps it was the excitement for something new and better that was keeping it at bay? Sans couldn’t overthink it, only groggily pulling himself from slumber with the faintest of noises crackling outside of his consciousness.

Was that fire?

 

Sans pushed a hand over his face, eye lights scanning the room as his window pooled with the first magical beams of morning. It was way too early; his mind was playing tricks on him. He would’ve loved nothing more than to lay in bed for a few more hours, but… he had promised. Not Grillby, but to himself. Sans reluctantly pushed himself up, joints popping as he swung his legs over the side of the bed. It was difficult to keep his eye sockets open, barely stifling a yawn.

He sat for a few minutes longer, pensively looking inward as he scratched the crest of his hip and under his shirt. He was rested. Hell, the buffer he wasn’t sure about yesterday was definitely there today. Huh. Guess the bunny kid at the inn was right about a good night’s sleep. He could probably fall four to eight times that day and not have to worry about Falling Down. He snorted derisively at his own joke of a mortality and moved to get up and go downstairs.

Today would be a big day.

Of course, Papyrus was already up; the guy felt that sleeping any longer than four hours to be an utter waste of time. Yet he was always energetic, milling around the house to clean or to prepare breakfast as Sans slept the morning away.

Sans gave a low yawn again as he made his way into the kitchen, where his brother was fixing their usual food and he slumped into his chair, propping himself on the table while still in a doze.

If Papyrus was shocked by his brother’s early rising, he hid it well. “HAD A GOOD NIGHT?” Sans only nodded subtly, eye sockets still closed but smiling all the same.

Papyrus wasted no time in giving him a lecture while dishing out a plateful each of spaghetti for breakfast. For some reason Sans felt that it was a little peculiar, but he couldn’t put his finger on why. At least, not until much later, when Sans realised that Papyrus only made his spaghetti for others, never trying it for himself.

 

After a listful of warnings, precautions and reminders, Sans was finally allowed to leave. He’d left his phone in his room; the screen was cracked and it refused to turn on no matter the charge, so it was pointless carrying it around. He’d also left the postcards on his dresser, not wanting to lose them. He shuffled out the door with one last goodbye to Papyrus.

Plodding down the street towards Grillby’s, Sans saw that the crates were still everywhere, but in neater stacks. Some had even gone missing earlier on. The skeleton tilted his head at the fresh puddles of melted snow and slush around the entrance and around the piles as he came to the conclusion that Grillby had probably already gotten started.

As if summoned, the fire monster trudged through the snow behind him, beaming with a short gesture as salutation. Sans found himself grinning despite himself and their precarious journey ahead.

Grillby was dressed in more clothing than he did in day-to-day life and was looking quite sharp. He had donned a large, double-breasted black jacket with a collar, sleek black trousers, high boots as they’d no doubt encounter puddles, and gloves for this hands.

“you ready for this?” It was more to himself than to Grillby, but the bartender nodded gently in response.

“The path is wetter than usual,”  the fire monster reported with distaste.

“it’s waterfall,”   the skeleton reminded gently. “i’ll keep you safe. y’don’t even gotta worry about it.”

And with that, they began the trek through the streets, crates in hand to offload into the first box in Waterfall. It would’ve been easier if the box by the shop wasn’t constantly being utilised by the shopkeeper and her kids, but neither of them could bring themselves to impose on her.

Grillby had been right about the humidity, but Sans felt he liked Waterfall just a little more than Snowdin. It was his favourite place, after all. Snowdin had the potential for ice, whereas Waterfall was easy walking the whole way through. Well, provided he didn’t cheat.

 

It had been a few hours before the two of them had finished unloading the crates into the box, watching each one disappear to its destination in the void. Sans laughed as a thought came to him, his chuckles bouncing and echoing off the glittering caves and stalactites above.

“it’s a good thing we have more sense than to hop in, eh?” He jabbed a thumb over his shoulder at the box as Grillby closed it, missing the sputter of flames as the fire monster chuckled wistfully.

“…Would certainly make things easier,”  he agreed as he followed the skeleton a short distance away to the first bridge, then stopped short. “…Oh.”

“oh. yeah, this’s a problem…”

The skeleton scratched the back of his head, his grin tugging a little nervously. The path was out just after his second sentry station and large rocks would occasionally fall into the water from above, creating huge splashes. He inspected the flow, the cool water lapping at the sides of the pool as it threatened to breach the soft ground. Definitely too dangerous for Grillby to chance.

“yeah… stay here a sec, grillbz.”

The fire monster didn’t argue as Sans strolled around the pool to the sequence of bridges, old wood and metal creaking softly as the roar of rushing water filled his head. It was a little slippery, the area being so close to Snowdin’s cold, but it was manageable with his shoes, at least. Sans inspected the falling water and poked around the pathway before he returned to where Grillby was standing, waiting for him.

“bridge’s out,” he reported with a shrug and an audible sigh. When the fire monster’s demeanour shrank and his colour reddened visibly, something behind his ribs twinged. “i mean…” Sans deliberated, scratching his neck, thoughts whirling in his head. “i could still get us across, though.”

At the fire monster’s inquisitive look, Sans hunched his shoulders, then jerked his skull into the direction of his abandoned outpost. At least no one but Grillby was around to see. It was a lot easier to explain one-on-one, and the less chances that Papyrus would find out, the better.

“…Apologies, friend. I don’t think I can allow you to carry me across. I have my reputation to consider, after all.”

Sans started at that, then laughed, the sound louder than he’d intended. “wha…? no, i mean i know a shortcut.”

At the confused glance, he beckoned Grillby over, Sans’ eye lights seeking out the telltale whisper in the air that revealed the points he could exploit. He’d done it before, multiple times, but… never with witnesses, and never with a passenger. He was actually feeling something akin to stage fright with Grillby looking at him curiously, expectantly.

Sans nervously fidgeted as he saw a pathway crease and open up, strolling up towards the wall where the telltale waver shifted in place, for him and no one else.

“don’t tell paps, eh? he thinks i’m lazy enough as it is.”

Without glancing back to the fire monster, Sans held out his hand in a beckoning gesture, his soul thumping harder with every approaching footstep.

Grillby didn’t seem to fully comprehend; at least, not entirely. A shortcut to others meant an alternate path, not an ultimate skip through reality. Becoming increasingly flustered, the skeleton turned to grab the bartender’s gloved hand, then turned and pulled Grillby along through the tear in the gridline.

Thump, thump, thump-thump.

What the hell even was that sensation?

On the other side of the water-filled gully, Sans abruptly unhanded Grillby. In one fell swoop, Sans shoved his hands so far into his pockets that his hoodie threatened to take his skull clear off at the neck. He watched as his friend’s flames whipped around, as though he wasn’t sure just what exactly had happened. But they were on the other side, and he wasn’t extinguished. It was starting off alright, and Grillby had to admit for a moment that he was excited.

His bright eyes landed on the skeleton, who appeared to be cowering from his praise. “Sans! That was amazing! And extremely useful. Though, why such a short distance…?”

Sans shuffled in place, still avoiding the bartender’s striking eyes. “d-don’t got much stamina for longer stints, heh,” he apologised quietly. His magic restlessly coiled around his soul at the compliment. Uneasy, he rubbed his heel with his shoe as though it would dispel the sweet ache. “i’ve never had to take anyone else with me, either.”

Grillby adjusted his jacket, then tightened the fit of his gloves. “Then I am your first.”   He noted the way Sans tensed at his choice of words, and he couldn’t help the delight that he felt at the idea of a bashful skeleton. It seemed that Sans was not confident, didn’t receive compliments much, or both. “…I believe I think I made a correct choice by asking you to join me. Thank you.”

“sure thing,” Sans replied dumbly, his fingertips rubbing against themselves in his pockets.

He followed behind the flame monster, watching the crystals and moisture glisten as they passed. A rich warm light bathed the two through the tight corridor and into the next cavern, where Sans strolled up to the small packages in a row while Grillby contemplated another knocked out bridge that once more impeded their progress.

“comin’ through,” Sans grunted with all four pods in tow, tossing each one with practised ease into the water, where they drifted to the opposite side and blossomed into a viny pathway.

The fire monster hummed in concentration as he cautiously stepped across the exact middle of the bridge, flames flickering erratically with the unsure surface. When he was safely on the other side, Sans followed into the larger room.

“…These weren’t here last I came through,”  the fire monster observed while stooping to inspect the bridge seeds.

“yeah. they’re the captain’s, i think. likes her puzzles. or maybe someone else who likes `er.”

“Do you not?”

Sans shrugged slightly, the gesture noncommittal. “too much effort. but i did add to this one.”

Sans grinned, jabbing his thumb to the eastern-most side of the room. There in the corner stood a lonely little isle in the marsh surrounded by murky water, and at its centre stood a small sign. It certainly looked haphazardly put together and askew, and very likely something that Sans had created.

“congratulations. you failed the puzzle.”

Grillby gave Sans a withering look at the ensuing burst of laughter. “…Seems like a waste of time,”   he noted, his voice crackling with irritation.

“aw, relax. the puzzles reset every so often, and no one can really get trapped…”

Regardless, Sans felt reprimanded by the fire monster’s tone. Even Grillby’s stance was rigid, hands holding his arms as though the threatening moisture was something unfathomably dire. Grillby’s flames lowered, then gradually pulsed. His expression was unreadable, as always.

Concerned, the skeleton walked forward to inspect his visage. “how y’holdin’ up, big g?” His eye lights settled on the lightly flickering flames wafting from Grillby’s head. “you don’t look so hot.” He watched as the bartender’s fires lowered, then pulsed again, as though in a shudder.

“It is wetter than I anticipated.”   There was the low hiss of steam through Grillby’s voice and Sans’ eye sockets hollowed, eye lights shrinking to pinpricks as realisation dawned on him.

“jeez, grillbz. don’t force yourself! c’mon, i know a dry place where you can rest.”

 

It took only a few moments, but Sans’ mind was racing while he fumbled through another puzzle with Grillby keeping a steady lean against the cave wall. He knew that the journey would be difficult for the fire monster by himself, but Sans hadn’t realised to what extent Waterfall had been affecting his friend.

The moisture crackled against Grillby’s heat and evaporated, releasing wisps and columns of steam where he stood. Grillby continued to watch as Sans released the last seed into the water, forming a bridge around a sharp corner and out of view.

“steady-”

Sans moved forward first. His phalanges itched with magic as he prepared himself in case Grillby slipped or worse. His soul was doing that strange noise again, clamouring in his rib cage; the fire monster didn’t appear to notice it, or he was too polite to acknowledge the disturbance as he safely crossed.

Sans led Grillby to sit at his favourite spot, helping him down beside the lone echo flower. He snapped his fingers near the flower’s head, erasing its previous message when it clicked back mockingly. No one needed to hear that, after all.

“You know all manner of hiding spots,”  the fire monster observed dryly as another pulse flared, easier now without being so close to pools of water.

“and you hate gettin’ wet.” Sans shrugged, leaning forward against the back of the bench beside the bartender.

Grillby’s ember eyes narrowed, and he turned his head to glower at Sans.

“sorry. thought we were pointin’ out the obvious,” the skeleton elaborated with a soft chuckle. Then Sans scratched his skull in thought when Grillby hummed disapprovingly in response. “i thought you were ok with water? i mean… y’say fire elemental, but that’s not really what you are?”

Grillby’s gloved hand passed through the flames on his head again, then he waved the offending steam away with a grimace. “…Would be fine,”  he agreed after a suspicious pause, as though in thought. “Should I fall into it, the water would turn to vapour instantly and aggressively. Call it more of a… constant worry for others.”

Sans nodded slowly, understanding. His deal was physics though, not so much xeno-biology. “you’re worried you’d hurt someone. i getcha.” He rounded the bench and sat down beside Grillby, ignoring the echo from the flower next to them, still imitating his snap. “welp, y’don’t gotta worry with me around. if you need a shortcut, i’m your guy. we can stay here as long as you need to coo-”

“Please, Sans.”

“…ool… down,” the skeleton finished, his tone dropping and his words stuttering to a halt.

Had he gone too far? Sans’ soul lurched uncomfortably behind his ribs and he shrunk down into his hoodie. While he waited, his eye lights picked out every spot of quartz and ore in the carved walls and floor of the room for a distraction.

He stayed quiet, allowing the fire monster to calm down enough that his flames returned to their normal splendour. The heat from him filled the room, drying out the bench they sat on, along with dispelling any steam that had accumulated. The fire monster’s presence was admittedly pretty relaxing. The warmth was enough to send Sans into a light doze as he waited for Grillby.

It was only until he felt the easement of the bench unbuckle that Sans stirred, cracking an eye socket open. He took a moment to look at his travelling companion; it seemed as though the fire monster had gathered his bearings and was adjusting his jacket with something akin to an apologetic look. Sans took the cue to get up, and soon they found themselves back in the adjacent room, solving more puzzles to continue their journey.

 

As they walked, Sans’ tension eventually melted away, falling in step behind the taller monster. Now that he knew that Grillby couldn’t really get hurt, Sans moved without a care in the world. He likened Grillby’s need to rest with his old paranoia and panic attacks; something he was familiar with.

The next room after the ‘star’-viewing room was another that Grillby had anticipated the least. He scowled at the tangled shadows of typha reeds and vines sticking out from the marshy expanse, his footsteps slowing to a stop. Drowsing while he aimlessly walked along, Sans hadn’t noticed and ended up bumping into him.

He blinked up at the fire monster, looking around to get his bearings. Grillby’s flames were jutting around again, and he reassuringly patted Grillby’s arm. “c’mon, boss. this path’s easy-peasy.” The skeleton kept his voice calm and he stepped out in front of Grillby, giving him a flashy smile.

Steam rose from Grillby’s heat as he continued, following Sans this time. He kept his bright eyes trained on the sleek wooden path, untrusting. The platforms swayed with their combined weight as the water lapped around the murky depths around them. Grillby’s breaths released in short puffs of smoke, the crack and simmer of the air drying around him as they progressed down the long winding docks.

 

For a time, Sans turned and walked backwards, hands folded and resting behind his head. Having taken the route so often, he knew precisely where to step and he told Grillby short stories to keep his attention on him instead of the wide open lake around them.

It would’ve been all good. His slippers would’ve been sufficient, but Sans didn’t notice that his laces had wriggled loose from where he’d lazily tucked them in behind the tongue. Nor did Sans see the tangled ropes of vegetation that had grown over the boards. He was mid-sentence before he realised what had happened, immediately lost his footing, and lurched backwards with a strangled noise all in the same moment.

He saw Grillby’s eyes widen and his flames react in alarm before Sans cursed loudly. Then he hit the dark waters, soaking him to the bone and filling every emptiness in his body. The weight of the water started to drag him down.

With little care for his own safety, the fire monster scrambled to the side of the dock and thrust his arm into the water to grab ahold of the front of his hoodie, just as Sans started to sink. Upon contact, steam rose and water started to boil in startling swiftness, forming a dense fog around them both. Hastily, the fire monster pulled Sans onto the dock and away from the edge, his breaths shaking.

Not that Sans could see anything, but there hadn’t been any high-density vapour explosion; likely due to Grillby’s protective clothes and fast thinking; at any rate, Grillby wasn’t nursing his arm, so Sans figured that he was ok. Distracted, Sans realised that his skull had filled with marshy water and he groaned in disgust, tilting it to one side to drain it.

“…re you alright!?”

One of Sans’ eye lights focused and settled on the fire monster, who looked fired up and agitated all at once. He was held, each of Grillby’s gloved hands on his upper arms. Flames licked around Grillby’s face in concern, and admittedly the way the fire monster’s voice was in such panic for him was oddly endearing… but he was also rather close.

The fleeting notion of ‘good thing I can’t blush’ passed through the skeleton’s head and he gave Grillby an awkward thumbs-up to assure him that he was ok. Still in his grasp, Sans leaned to the other side and gave his skull a tap to drain the remaining water.

“i owe you one,” the skeleton groaned as his soul thrummed hard in his chest. The water wasn’t quite gone and added an echo to his voice. He drew up a leg to get up before he paused, looking between them as his eye lights faded in slow realisation, then gradual panic. “shit. h-hold on-”

He tore himself from Grillby’s grasp, lunging over the side of the dock with a grunt while the fire monster exclaimed loudly and moved to grab him again beneath his ribs.

“i-said-hold-on-my-leg’s-”

Sans grunted desperately between huffs as he outreached his hand toward the reeds, giving the water a helpless paddle to get his detached limb to drift over. Of course, the limb was just as stubborn as he was and bobbed mockingly in place. Sans couldn’t believe how embarrassing the day was turning out to be with just this one folly, alongside many other cringe-worthy moments that he was trying desperately not to linger on.

Sans strained in effort with Grillby’s arms locked around his middle to prevent him from falling in again. The steam was making it incredibly difficult to see, and if Sans didn’t get his leg back, well… suffice to say, they’d have to go looking for it.

The leg drifted out of reach and the fog was a nightmare. Sans couldn’t even grab the appendage with his magic before it slipped between the reeds and out of view.

“no-” The skeleton hung there for a moment, paralysed with horror and abject mortification. He couldn’t have possibly let that happen. Sans allowed Grillby to pull him up again and he hung back in his arms, a low groan of despair echoing from him. “damn it!”

“Where does it lead? Will you be alright?”   Grillby’s aura was still crackling wildly, steam coming off from his arms where his clothes had gotten wet.

Sans gingerly eased back on his remaining leg, glaring at the empty right kneecap with distaste. This happened way too often for him to admit, but never had he actually lost an appendage, and never his leg.

“i’ll be fine,” he finally answered with a frustrated huff. He knocked his skull again to drain the last dregs of the water. “it’ll… probably turn up at the dump.”

Irritation settled into him when Grillby moved to stand, holding out his hand for Sans to take. Suddenly, Sans realised just how big of a problem his condition was going to be as he pulled himself up with no small effort, teetering like a goddamn fool on one leg and soaked to the bone.

“Sans, please don’t make a joke of this,”  the fire monster pleaded, his tone actually concerned. The skeleton stared at him, having fleetingly considered it, grinning crookedly. Sans redoubled his hold on the fire monster’s arms as a pathetic laugh rippled through him, nearly losing his balance as a result.

“actually… i was gonna say i’m not gonna be able to walk `til we find it.” It was a defeatist way of acknowledging that he needed help. Sans wasn’t one easily swayed into asking, and the thought of doing so now… he wasn’t really up for it. It was entirely humiliating.

Sans avoided the fire monster’s gaze, his eye lights turned downcast at the rippling waters with disgust.

Grillby then gently removed one of Sans’ hands from him, turning in place to hunch over, exposing his back and beckoning him to hop up. The skeleton’s soul trembled as realisation dawned on him that even Grillby offering to carry him made shame bloom inside of Sans like a bruise. It seemed like he really would be useless the rest of the way - or until they found his missing leg.

Cautiously, since his hoodie and clothes were dripping wet, Sans wrapped his arms around the fire monster’s neck, bones rattling uneasily as Grillby secured his hold under his femurs. The contact with flame steamed the remaining marshy water within his skull as the fire monster started to walk, his body oddly tense.

“sorry, boss,” Sans said quietly, truly embarrassed.

“There is nothing to apologise for,”   Grillby replied, his tone gentle as he shifted the skeleton more comfortably against his back. “Relax. Direct where we go from here.”

“east after the thicket,” Sans supplied, his voice sounding a little nervous as he felt the fire monster’s perpetual warmth seep into his clothes and bones. He’d never felt heat before. “there’s another dry room up ahead.”

Chapter Text

Brooding over the loss of his leg, Sans preferred not to talk any more than he had to. There was a worming, unwholesome lurch when his soul responded to each phantom movement. It was as though it knew that the appendage was floating along murky currents and blindly knocking against unmentionables in the marsh.

He ignored the questioning glances the few local monsters shot them on their way by, echo flowers up ahead sniggering and whispering as Grillby silently passed. An hour or two, perhaps longer had already passed since the start of their journey, longer still since Grillby had started carrying him. Sans noted the calm yet careful stride. Grillby stepped around puddles despite wearing boots, and walked around streams of water that fell in piddling currents from the stalactites above.

He shuddered a time or two even with Grillby’s heat, which caressed the side of his skull as he hunched over the fire monster’s shoulder. He gave directions and pointed to pathways until Grillby approached the room Sans had previously indicated.

Though the dry room was empty, it looked like some other monster was starting to set something up. They weren’t there now, which was all Sans could ask for as Grillby set him down by the eastern wall, seating himself beside him.

“You rattle, friend.”

Sans gave a dismissive grin, rubbing the dry socket of his kneecap with a huff. It had started to ache, but that wasn’t necessarily the only reason his bones were jittery.

“you wouldn’t get it,” he murmured, almost flinching as something in his soul felt like a lurching drop, like vertigo. “it’s not a fun experience, to say the least.”

“…No, I imagine not,”  the fire monster replied thoughtfully, watching him. “Can you tell when it’s nearby?”

“it just fell a long way down,” the skeleton explained sourly. Anxiety twisted his grin into more of a grimace. “i can’t exactly pinpoint it, no.”

Sans huffed out a sigh and listened to the crackle of Grillby’s flames, shutting his eye sockets to revel in the peaceful moment. Eventually, the ebb and flow settled inside of Sans, whispers and coercion for him to go find his missing piece tugging at him to leave. In a minute, he irritably thought, although he didn’t exactly enjoy the experience of Grillby carrying him. At the same time, Sans wasn’t particularly opposed to the idea.

It seemed as though it was all too often lately that people were picking him up like it was a thing to do.

“Is the junkyard easy to get to?”   Grillby asked, having watched Sans for a while. As with most other people, he didn’t know much about a skeleton’s make up. To his knowledge, there were only two in the entire Underground, and Papyrus and Sans never really got hurt.

“we can take another shortcut once we’re ready.”

Sans shrugged but deep inside he knew he was pushing it. While the dump wasn’t too far from their current position, the shoals - if they walked them - were filled with great glowing pools and falling water. He didn’t want to subject the fire monster to that kind of panic again. His soul still felt all twisted up inside of him because of it.

Even though Grillby didn’t say anything to that, he was still worried. So he waited while Sans rested slumped against the wall. He looked, for lack of a better term, worse for wear. Grillby was certain that Sans might’ve been putting on a strong front for him, to keep him distracted and optimistic. With the constant rattling, however, Grillby acknowledged that Sans was having a bad time.

The silence stretched on as the two remained quiet during their rest.

 

When Grillby next stood up, Sans reopened his eye sockets to watch him, a fleeting self-consciousness passing over his face when he was hoisted up again.

“are you sure you don’t need more time?”

“Do you?”

“nah, you’re the only one movin’ at this point…”

Sans’ body tensed when Grillby moved his hands under his femurs again, the heat and a prickling sensation spreading through his bones and upward. Shaking just a little more, Sans tightened his hold on his whole side and grabbed Grillby’s hand from it, guiding it in front of him.

Grillby’s hand was warm through the glove.

“o-ok. so again, keep it to yourself-”

He reached over the fire monster’s shoulder, avoiding the sidelong glance Grillby gave him in askance. He gripped the fire monster’s hand, this time forcing a vortex to reveal itself to him. Sans knew that the gesture wasn’t entirely necessary, but it bolstered him to have the actual physicality pulling at him. It took a lot more effort than simply looking for a rift.

“walk `up`,” Sans ordered, his voice strained and taut.

And Grillby did.

In a blink, they were in another place, looking around to survey their surroundings. If Grillby had noticed the tear in reality, he didn’t mention it. He only tapped the toe of his boot against the very real platform under him while taking in the scenery around them. It was likely that he didn’t, Sans observed; maybe it was something only he could see or he knew what to look for.

There were piles of garbage around, haphazardly sorted into smaller organised plots by whomever lived there. They littered a shallow river, where tattered plastic bags and pieces of old newspaper bobbed and circled in the currents. With Grillby lingering, the vapour had started to wisp around them and Sans lowered his arm over Grillby’s shoulder again, holding back a wheeze of utter exhaustion.

That had taken a lot out of him and it had only been a little more than two hundred yards from the first gap. It was the depth that was the breaking point, the hesitating slowness in which Grillby passed through with his magic, and the effort of hauling them both through to their current placement without leaving either of them behind.

Sans lowered his jaw against Grillby’s warm shoulder, his bones drinking in the heat as Grillby nervously adjusted his hold on him. Sans would’ve given it a lot more thought if he wasn’t so damned tired.

“Are you alright, Sans?”

His soul pulsed gently at the sound of his name before Sans realised that he’d fallen silent, ready to doze on Grillby’s back, emanating heat like a constant furnace. He was exhausted and comfortable, all shame soothed away by the radiating protection he felt from Grillby.

“all good,” Sans lied, his voice croaky and almost threadbare. “we’ll - you’ll have to walk around… to look for it.”

Grillby turned his head slightly as if to scrutinise the skeleton’s face, but then seemed to think against it and walked to the edge of the platform. He stared down at his reflection and the shallow water, and how the light rippled and chopped on the waves. The water reached only up to the ankles of his boots, by his estimate.

Cautiously, Grillby settled his right foot into the eddying pool, cool air mixing with his body’s heat in long arcing tendrils along the surface. Grillby’s body flared and pulsed again as he worried for his friend’s safety, each step through the water calculated and agonised.

“you’re doin’ great,” Sans murmured quietly. His hands were barely even holding onto Grillby’s jacket, precautiously perched as though he’d slip right off if the fire monster wasn’t careful. “nothin’ bad’ll happen. don’t worry.”

“…Cannot help but feel you’re falling asleep on me,”  Grillby said mildly in an effort to make light of their situation. He had developed an exceptional read of how Sans’ mind worked and he knew the skeleton didn’t respond well to being fretted over. He was always up for jokes, though.

“would i do that?” The skeleton’s grin was sardonic, amused despite his disposition. He heard the soft hiss of an unsure chuckle and made an effort to lift his head from Grillby’s shoulder. “i think it’s down there.” He gestured vaguely down the path where more lumbering piles of trash were scattered about. Grillby continued at a slow pace, careful not to kick up any water while he lit their way.

Sans felt the way Grillby tensed, holding onto his femurs as they passed through the murky glade. The mist from the falling water on either side of the fire monster quickly evaporated and masked the area. Although Sans was trying his best to keep awake, Grillby’s pace was precise and measured like a pendulum as he searched their surroundings for any sign of his missing leg. Even if Sans felt any semblance of trust and ease on the inside, his bones still trembled with strain as he kept his hold around Grillby’s neck, fighting the urge to sleep.

Man, he could really do with a nap at the next resting point.

 

Sans idly mused that the search would’ve been difficult without Grillby, as the guy functioned much like a living light source. The fire reflected off the moist walls and rippled over the water’s surface, throwing tranquil reflections all around them in wavy flickers. Sans found it hypnotic in a way, his head lolling to one side as he briefly dozed, arms hanging limply over Grillby’s shoulders.

Grillby cast another sidelong glance to Sans’ face, pausing to fix his glasses so he could scan the area. They were approaching a bend in the corridor and the footing was becoming less sure. The piles of refuse were hard to look through at a single glance, and they’d need to pay attention to ensure that they didn’t overlook anything.

When he continued, Grillby noted the peculiar shudder that wracked the skeletal body against him and the slight movement against his back. The gentle tug at his jacket’s right lapel was the indication to look over. Sans’ grip slipped, but he gestured towards the corner. The subtle hollow knocking they’d been hearing since entering the corridor and the gurgle of a bony leg stuck in an eddy struck out over the fluid echoes of the cavern.

Upon seeing Sans’ missing leg, Grillby puffed out a breath of steam and smoke in relief.

As he approached it, the slippery rocks underfoot suddenly steepened and Grillby’s leg plunged into a deeper pool. He started, flames bouncing off his body in great licks as he backed away in panic as though stung.

He felt Sans stir against him, leaning forward slightly with his phalanges outreached towards his missing leg. It was a feeble attempt, one accentuated by an unfathomable fatigue as tiny coils of magic looped around Sans’ fingers. Grillby felt Sans adjust himself again, holding onto his left side as Sans panted with effort by his face.

The stream of magic missed.

Grillby certainly hadn’t expected that. “Perhaps you shouldn’t,”  he suggested cautiously, craning his head to see Sans’ face, locked in concentration. “It appears that… you’ve expended a fair amount of magical energy throughout all this.”

“i… really haven’t.” The skeleton’s tone was short and accusing as he tried once more. Sans swore as he demonstrated such a miraculous blunder for the second time in a row. Mentally, he berated his own weakness. “dammit. lemme down, i’ll just get it the old fashioned way.”

“I don’t believe that’s-”  Grillby grunted in surprise when Sans’ grip tugged him backward, the skeleton’s lightweight frame threatening to put him off balance with the slippery footing. But Grillby yielded, hunching down carefully to give Sans what he wanted.

It was a valiant effort on Sans’ part. He lasted all of five seconds upright before he fell straight onto his rear. He grimaced when Grillby offered a hand, all wounded pride when he accepted the gesture. Stabilising himself, he reached for his leg.

Reunited at last, Sans huffed in exertion as he was pulled back by his companion. He sat in the water while he inspected his leg for damage. Amusingly enough, the shoe was still on the foot and the laces were a tangled mess from their journey into the junkyard. Sans glowered at the stupid thing, finding no scrapes or nicks but a tangle of old fishing line wrapped all around and in between the parallel bones. It was going to take him forever to untangle it.

“thanks for helpin’ to put me back together,” he finally said, inspecting the head of the limb before attempting to detangle the mess. His movements were slow and it was difficult for Sans to keep upright with the running current.

A piteous look flashed through Grillby’s flames when he saw Sans struggle with the line, then he held out his hand again next to Sans’ head. When Sans looked up, his eye lights flickered; he truly did look exhausted.

Wounded pride or not, Grillby gestured for Sans to climb back up, noting the way his companion’s bones rattled softer now, as if the worrying tick was taking up precious energy reserves.

“…At least, until we reach another spot to rest,”  he offered kindly. A worried smile passed through Grillby’s flames before it disappeared again.

Quietly, as he had no other choice, Sans nodded, the effort unmatched as he resumed his place on Grillby’s back. Sans draped his arms over Grillby's shoulders and fidgeted with the fishing wire with jerky, frustrated movements.

He was tired, he was humiliated, and he needed food to keep his energy levels up. Sans didn’t have the foresight to bring any food, shame on him, nor did the notion pass his mind. It was only supposed to be an easy walk through Waterfall. Nothing bad was supposed to happen. Sans idly wondered if the ketchup packets in his pockets had survived his plunge into the lake. Or if they’d be enough to sustain him. Somehow, he doubted it.

The corridor was long, thinning out to a single channel where the garbage from everywhere piled up into a huge mass atop of what looked like the only stairway leading out, clogging the end of their path. Sans lifted his head when Grillby suddenly stopped, a quiet puzzled rasp drawing his gaze to their current predicament.

 

Something inside of Sans lurched uncomfortably and vertigo made his head throb when two and two were put together. “oh fuckin’ hell.”

“Language, Sans,”  the fire monster chided softly, though he seemed distracted. Carefully, he manoeuvred around a large orange chest freezer that was overgrown with glowing whitecap mushrooms.

Sans slumped against him, letting the detached leg hang in front of Grillby like a grotesque marionette. He waited, just knowing and preparing his magic for what he’d have to do to get them untrapped. Sans’ left eye socket wisped with a cyan flare as he accumulated it within, life force coursing through his marrow. When Grillby’s head suddenly turned towards him, the lash of his fire was sudden enough to make Sans flinch.

“Don’t!”

“what?” The question could’ve been construed as innocent, but Sans’ glowing eye dispelled with the fire monster’s warning anyway.

Grillby’s fire flickered in a peculiar way until he calmed down. His gaze left Sans’ face as he searched for some way to traverse the pile. Sans didn’t know what to think about Grillby’s outburst, but decided to carefully disperse the energy he had stored up back to his pinching soul. Idly, Sans wriggled his phalanges to put on a mock leg-puppet show.

“…Instruct me how to do it.”

Sans arched a brow bone at that, his fingers coming to an abrupt stop. He lifted his jaw from the fire monster’s shoulder, his mind searching for an excuse - any excuse.

When he couldn’t think of anything, he decided the answer was; “no?”

Grillby fixed him with another withering look and dead silence.

“it’s not that i don’t think you can, just…” When Sans shrugged it was more like a twitch, the effort enormous. Ah, the sacrifices he made to keep up the facade that he was stronger than he really was. “i just think it’s a bit convoluted to explain, is all.”

And pretty dangerous, his thoughts added bitterly.

“Says the physics major.”

“i resent that statement,” the skeleton responded archly. “`sides, too much can go wrong if you don’t got starts and stops.”

“Then how does one start and stop?”  the fire monster drilled, still watching him.

Sans picked at the fishing wire thoughtfully, deliberately belabouring it in his head. “stress points, cracks, rifts, warps… in my old line of work, we studied `access lattice balance`. the world’s flow is basically a giant grid with about forty different spatial plains, `specially in the underground. due to its instability, rifts pop up from time to time.”

“I believe I recall a condiment-fuelled tirade about quantum vortex exploits,”  the fire monster added thoughtfully, his tone amused. He hinted at a more relaxed and humoured state to diffuse Sans’ frustration.

Sans couldn’t help but turn a grin at Grillby, a small delight welling up in his soul that the fire monster had actually remembered. “oh yeah? well, then. it was some… secret something-or-other that we were doin’ at the core before the project was shut down. i’m sure i’ve rambled about it at some point or another before. it tied in with a certain kinda magnetism with magic. one can exploit the gridline - uh, for lack of a better term - to travel long distances in short periods, mostly instantaneous! these kinds of magnetotransport experiments were carried out by myself and some coworkers-”

Sans paused as though still debating it in his head. Grillby gave him a look, thrown off and confused. But then Sans continued;

“first of all, while you have to be able to see these stress points, you also must be able to interact with them on a quantum scale. bending the shape of the vortices’ lattice between the array points, which can get… tricky, since there’s so much you gotta keep track of on both sides, plus you or whoever else you want to tag along. normally, the magnetic permeability is a bit convoluted, but competing the unstable vortex configurations that appear lead to a more divergent shift, as they preclude transition. this behaviour emerges as the dynamics’ molecular structure shifts to accommodate a monster’s energy flux and physicality. the end behavioural result pushes `em through, uh, in a… i dunno.”

Sans paused his tangent again, this time as though searching for the correct term.

“blink.”

“…Blink?”

“yeah. you’ve been… staring at me this whole time, grillbz.” He felt his soul make that odd pulse, like it had second wind enough to taunt him. Again, Sans couldn’t quite fathom Grillby’s expression, but his flames appeared paler and felt just a little warmer.

That was definitely new.

Grillby’s movements seemed to scream hesitation, his composure ruffled. Maybe Sans had laid on the techno-babble too hard; his goal had been to divert, not to make Grillby uncomfortable. Oops.

Carefully, he answered; “I don’t think I can muster the clarity to follow your explanation this time, professor.”

Sans exuded vague smugness regardless and he hunched his spine, picking at the tangled fishing line again and looping the tight knots over themselves to get rid of a larger chunk.

“sorry `bout the word boner,” the skeleton snickered. Then his brow creased with a scowl, as he quickly became more exhausted and irritated with the line. Sans debated just reattaching it and having Alphys fix it up on their way through Hotland, but that was at least another few hours away, if he didn’t cheat.

Which, Sans realised, he had to. He had no other choice; not unless they found another monster lurking around that could help clear the debris - which was probably less than likely. They hadn’t seen anyone since the star-watching room.

He felt Grillby adjust him, uneasily, as he was forced to watch the lithe bony digits move in front of him, then Sans gestured vaguely to their right. Grillby puffed out another jet of smoke as if in resignation.

“Can I do nothing to change your mind?”

Sans ignored the fire monster’s question, but he didn’t quite feel like he had anything left to give after that last shortcut. Desperate, he pulled his right hand up and behind Grillby to search in his hoodie’s pockets, but as he’d suspected, there was nothing. He only pulled out withered marsh plants and small squiggly pieces of vines.

No ketchup packets, nothing to top him off. Sans glowered at his hand and dropped the vegetation with distaste, hoping that he wouldn’t find any surprises in his skull later. The chances were more likely that he would, though.

Sans decided that he would at least have to make it count. His soul’s flux was already drawn quite thin as he allowed his magic to manifest again. It pulsed like an ache in his head, running a river drier than the scorched earth near the CORE. There was a vague sort of crackle in the air, and then a shift in the world appeared like an awning gate. Grillby didn’t seem to detect it. Otherwise, he probably would’ve had more questions - or turned his head to its direction, at the very least.

“Sans..?”

Ignoring the inquiry, Sans reached over the fire monster’s shoulder and once more grabbed his gloved hand, putting every bit of soul and magic he could muster into one last skip. He could always crash after, when they were safe and out of Waterfall.

“be quick through this one, boss-” Sans’ voice was more strained than before, barely a harsh whisper against Grillby’s flames. His magic wreathed around them both and Grillby tensed under him, ready to sprint at his command. “gonna be a doozy.”

Sans drew in a shuddering breath, his left eye socket flaring with the thrush of magic, sending wisps of cyan and yellow in a cascade of colour. He projected his all, clinging to Grillby as he barked out; “go!”

Then Grillby darted forward, keeping his grip steadfast.

 

He hadn’t jumped that far before.

It was almost the end of the biome. Sans figured they’d travelled maybe… a few kilometres or so, by his estimate.

Yeah, that sounded right.

A hum of passing conversations from days past surrounded them from the field of echo flowers they’d ended up in. They’d jumped straight past where Undyne’s house was, Blook Estates, the ferry stop, the hidden village of Tem. The mushroom caverns were behind them, the crystal marshes, even the twin waterfalls leading up to where they were now, sheltered in a small grassy bank.

Sans’ hold was loose. He couldn’t feel his fingers, his limbs as detached as his leg, tangled up around his hands. Sans’ body didn’t even have the energy to rattle anymore, slumped against Grillby’s back as his eye’s magic faded and ceased. Both sockets were hollow as he dragged in shallow breaths, flames catching in the subtle shift and his arms hung uselessly over Grillby’s shoulders.

He felt as though he was going to fall from Grillby’s back, he was so heavy.

Yeah, he’d definitely overdone it.

As if from far away, Sans heard a panicked voice and felt how his body moved. He was oddly detached from the world, his sight a blur as things faded in and out. He would’ve been amused if he wasn’t so damned tired. The way the fishing line actually prevented him from dropping his leg was pretty funny, after all. Consciousness lapped at his mind like a settling pond. The more time that passed between seconds, the more the black spots bled into his awareness.

It looked like he’d get his wish for a nap, at least.

Flames entered his left socket, a slight blindingness that eventually went away. Sans made a fleeting educated guess as to how his companion was carrying him with a bite at his pride. Two arms enclosed around him, held against his back, pushing him against a warm body.

Footfalls thudded in a hurry, into the distance, small glimmers of ore dotting Sans’ sight before he gave up the ghost and closed his eye sockets. He thought he heard a sound, one that pinched at his soul, but he couldn’t give clarity to it. He could only trust in Grillby, yielding as everything went black.

Chapter Text

If anyone asked, Grillby would always be referred to as a pretty chill guy, disregarding the fact that he was a being entirely consisting of fire. He never lost his temper, was respectful and polite. He had an aura around him that was strong, collected and accommodating. He could quell a worry with a whisper, stop self-consciousness in its tracks and leave one feeling like the world cared about them, even in their darkest moments. He was a difficult monster to uproot.

But now? He was explosive.

He had allowed panic to strike his soul like a shot when the skeleton against his back didn’t answer him. Sans had been barely holding on before, forcing himself. Grillby should’ve been more adamant on searching for an alternative exit. It wasn’t Sans’ duty to ensure that they escaped the dump.

Self-deprecating thoughts whirled around in his head as Grillby felt the magical pulse of energy Sans’ soul weakly resonated against him. It was his fault Sans was hurt. His fault for asking him.

He carefully turned to adjust his hold, noticing the way Sans’ body leaned off balance as he did so. Panicked, Grillby scrambled to regain purchase on Sans and nearly dropped him. There was not even the barest form of grip on his jacket anymore. No joke offered for his stumble. It made Grillby’s soul sink with creeping dread.

“…Sans!?”

It was too quiet, save for the echoes of his voice from the flowers around them. A sliver of fright slipped down to Grillby’s core as he stooped and carefully pulled Sans off his back, the skeleton’s limbs lax and heavy. He cradled Sans, his bright eyes searching, his soul racing as he held the skeleton in front of him, holding Sans’ shoulders to look at his face. His eye sockets were hollow, dark and empty, with not even a pinprick of light to signal consciousness. 

Gently, Grillby gave him a shake, stunned into silence.

He was entirely unresponsive.

You fool, Grillby thought angrily, both at Sans and himself. His gloved hand brushed at Sans’ temple, tracing a gentle curve around the right socket, his own flux attempting to kindle the eye, to wake him - anything.

He had to hold on.

He had to find something to help Sans regain strength.

Grillby’s soul pinched with worry. He had to continue alone, on his own.

He manoeuvred Sans into his arms, cradling him against his chest as his flames whispered and whipped in barely suppressed agitation. Fog rose up from the wet grassy area, blinding in its thickness the longer Grillby hesitated. He doubled-checked, ensuring that Sans’ leg was still with them. It was unfortunately still tangled around Sans’ poor hand, but it was at least secure.

Grillby couldn’t help but feel a snakelike guilt coil at the centre of his being; it had been at his invitation that Sans agreed to come along, after all - even if Sans had previously offered. He struggled as his blaze darkened, self-criticising every selfish action he had just to be near Sans, anger and hurt that his poor decisions had led to Sans being hurt. He stalked through the environment to make his way through the rest of the wetlands, wavering between fear for his friend and disgust with himself.

There were a number of deep pools with no bridges from the grassy fields between them and the exit. Grillby hesitated, unable to gauge the depth nor reach of the pond ahead. He should’ve done it before, he agonised internally, biting the side of his mouth indecisively.

The flicker of his flames lowered to a dull, red glow and haze as he lowered his core temperature, every part of him shuddering with the lack of heat. It had to be this way, to lower it just enough so that it wouldn’t cause an instant-deadly underground vapour explosion when he stepped into harm’s way. The very core of his being shuddered at the suppression as his heart swelled with heat, writhing with building nuclear fusion.

Grillby knew that he wouldn’t be able to hold it for long. He couldn’t help the way he pressed Sans against his body, protectively, frightened for him as he moved unnervingly through the waist-high waters. As he did, waves and bubbles formed, his residual heat slowly boiling the water as he moved.

Overstrung, the fire monster pressed Sans against him while attempting not to tremble with effort through to the other side. He felt claustrophobic. Aquaphobic. He shook, making the bones in his arms rattle.

It was the most undesirable sensation he’d ever felt and it left Grillby feeling vulnerable and wholly unstable. Not only had he relied on Sans emotionally throughout Waterfall, Grillby felt responsible for what had happened.

The thoughts rushed through his head as he lifted Sans from his arms and onto the rock embankment. His movements were slow, not wanting to splash, but he could feel the lack of heat start to seep into his protective clothing. Quickly, Grillby hauled himself up and out of the water with an audible groan of relief, exhaling hotly like a spent kettle as his core’s temperature spiked when he hit the shale surface. The water shed from his efforts sizzled on the precipice, droplets dancing as if on a hot pan before shivering away from him.

He drew a few breaths to calm himself, waiting for his temperature to regulate again. Grillby’s soul was racing and he passed his hands through the flames of his head in an attempt to soothe his soul. He had to keep going. He had to push himself and get Sans to safety. Those thoughts spouted from him in a constant murmur, just under the hiss of protesting fire. He pulled his companion back into his arms and rose. The journey down the last corridor and over the weather-worn bridges would be all too quiet without Sans’ company.

He swallowed, a drop in his soul. He really detested going through Waterfall.

 

 

The next time Sans awoke, it was definitely Hotland. As he came back to consciousness, he heard a voice. Someone was in the middle of an argument, chastising words crackling and snapping in rasps of agitation that were only getting worse. He couldn’t make out the words through the blaze and gurgle of magma nearby, though. His spine creaked as Sans made an effort to lift his head when he suddenly stopped, a plunge of vertigo hitting him like a landslide.

His eye lights gradually focused on the ceiling far ahead. It stretched up for miles, the red heat of the lava below throwing long shadows along the cave walls. Sans eventually recognised the area, picking out one of his Hotland sentry stations close by. His grin tugged wearily when he attempted to sit up again.

The roar of the kindling voice abruptly stopped and he heard a shuffle come closer. Hands settled on his shoulders, a firm grasp that pushed heat into his already warm clothes.

“cool it,” he mumbled irritably as he tried to slap the hands away. The gesture was useless as he didn’t have much strength in him to begin with. All of Sans’ energy was reserved to keep himself in a half-upright position. “just… missed nap time.” He tried to push himself up further, arms strained and trembling.

“Sans.”

Oh, there he was. Grillby’s tone was warningly sharp and Sans noted the peculiar way his flames were arranged and coloured, albeit blearily. It was difficult to focus and Sans decided it was better to close one socket in a makeshift wink. Focusing one eye instead of both was much easier, even if it made him a little dizzy.

“h-heya.”

Sans looked inward, realising that the buffer he’d gained the previous night was entirely gone - and then some. His magic felt thin and raw as though torn at the edges. He let out a soft wheezy chuckle despite his disposition.

Something was offered to his mouth. “Drink!”

“wha..?”

He was supported by something, or Grillby, his phalanges wrapped around a container that smelled vaguely familiar and pleasing. Not his absolute favourite if he was honest, but Sans cautiously ingested the sea tea. He drew it in that peculiar way monsters without mouths could absorb sustenance, with a little help from whom he now realised was his travelling companion.

Once the tea was half-finished, Sans’ skull nodded forward. He tested the hand that supported his spine, finding it strong and soothing. Thankfully, the energy from the tea converted quickly enough to magic, which circulated throughout him, slowly replenishing. Sans let out a quiet hum of appreciation. That was better. Not great, but better.

Wearily, Sans looked to the fire monster’s face for the first time since he’d opened his eye sockets. He was very close, so much that the flames from Grillby’s body closed the gap between them and flooded Sans with a comfortable heat. They were so unlike Hotland’s scorched climate, soft and oddly protective. Awkwardly, Sans gave in to a soft laugh.

When he had found the energy to, he clutched the tea with both hands and consumed the rest, his soul reverberating in his bones with that peculiar lurch and inaudible sound.

Grillby seemed to relax a little more with Sans’ voluntary reaction and he breathed out a plume of smoke in relief. He then bent down to sit on the rock face in front of Sans, whose bones jittered like he was about to fall apart. It was concerning, but at the same time Grillby preferred it to the stark silence from before.

“You’re rattling again.”

“y.. yeah, we tend to do that.” It looked as though Sans had made a conscious effort to stop, however meagre the effort was. “sorry.”

Sans tried to suppress the surprised jolt that thundered through his soul when the fire monster’s hand slipped from his spine, only to stop at his shoulder. It was a comforting gesture, but at the same time it felt intense as Grillby’s face flickered, flames arranged into something distressed.

The two sat in silence as Grillby fixed him with that gaze, bright eyes burning behind his glasses, apparently mulling something over. As the quiet extended, Sans observed the tension in Grillby’s shoulders, his flames paler and hotter than he’d ever seen before. Grillby’s demeanour was actually so foreign to him that Sans didn’t know what to say - or even if he should attempt to make a joke to ease the tension.

“Don’t,”   Grillby finally said, his voice low and resonating. It was as though he was expecting the skeleton to make light of the situation. He squeezed Sans’ shoulder; not enough to worry, but to portray the emphatic regret that he felt. “Don’t ever do that again.”

Sans stared at him, the thread of guilt hooking into him as realisation dawned upon him. “…i’m fine, grillby,” he muttered after a pause, finding that he couldn’t meet Grillby’s burning eyes. It was probably the second time since he and his brother had moved to Snowdin that he’d ever used the fire monster’s actual name, a subtle hint at his resolve to placate Grillby’s apprehension.

Still, something else inside of him twisted with the fire monster’s concern. It was a fluttering little feeling that both grabbed at his soul with promise and possibility, but also with blame. Sans supposed he hadn’t taken into consideration just how Grillby felt, having passed out like that.

He definitely should’ve brought food or snacks. Sans lamented that internally as his fingers idly stroked the empty container of sea tea. At least his sentry station had leftovers from his last shift. That was his only saving grace.

“You’re impossible,”   Grillby finally said after a prolonged silence.

Sans wasn’t quite sure how to respond to that, so he let it slide. A phantom ache tugged at him when Grillby released his shoulder and took the empty container to hide around the back of the station. Meanwhile, Sans took the time to concentrate on his tangled bones. He remarked on how the fire monster didn’t say anything more; Sans dwelt on it as his movements with the line clattered his bones together noisily.

He quickly became agitated, tugging irritably at the wire and hissing softly as the loops tightened around his fibula when Sans pulled too much. The bitter thought came to mind that if he could open his mouth, Sans could at least attempt to break the line with his teeth.

“remind me to never go swimmin’ with the fishes again.”

Even his tone showed signs of annoyance. Sans paused when he heard Grillby hum in sombre agreement, the sound of movement coming from the other side of his station.

“sorry. i don’t remember if i got any tools here-”

Sans listened as a few objects were listed off as Grillby rummaged through his stash: various empty condiment bottles, typha pods (for `dogs), a little bit of pocket change, and a bent fork. Sans gave up his struggle, leaning against the front panel of the station with a defeated sigh.

“hate to ask, but can you just… burn it off?”

Grillby peered over the top of the station, leaning over the edge. Sans looked up with the movement and his smile wavered at the fire monster’s pensive stature. The familiar sound echoed in Sans’ soul again like a low drum.

Sans found that he rather enjoyed the view and the way Grillby hung over the ledge with one gloved hand cupping his face, as though in consideration. Sans let out a nervous laugh, the sound cut short as he raised the tangled mess hanging from his trembling fingers, almost imploringly.

“i’d hate to string you along, but i’m kinda tied up at the moment.”

He watched as his joke made the fire monster chuckle in amusement, even if it was bad. However threadbare his magic was, it tickled against his ribs as Sans averted his gaze, not quite sure why he reacted that way. Sans quickly forced the feeling down again, his rib cage shaking with barely suppressed chuckles.

“…Would not want to cause you further harm, Sans,”  Grillby replied as he moved from around the station, though he knelt down in front of him anyway.

“wh… no, you didn’t-” the skeleton all but stammered back, agitated again while Grillby ungloved a hand.

The fire against his form crackled free and sent glowing embers into the hot air. Had Sans possessed a stomach, it’d be doing nervous little flip flops as the bartender took his tangled hand by the carpals, searing away the synthetic wire with his other hand as if it was made of wax. It was as though each touch was deliberately slow and careful as the small lines melted under his ministrations and licked Sans’ bony digits.

It was captivating.

Sans found himself staring, unable to shake whatever feelings were coming over him. His soul was thrumming hard at the tender display, making him oddly nervous.

He had to make a joke.

It had to be quick.

He couldn’t entertain thoughts like these, he…

“d-doubt you’d hurt me.”

Wrong thing, Sans!

His mind vaulted the message almost at full volume in his head, horrified at the near-flirt, “er, muster the intent to harm, anyway.” Smooth.

One of his fingers twitched at the way the fire monster released him and Sans quickly disguised the reaction by clumsily rubbing his hands together, finally free. That was when Grillby pointed the heel of his footwear towards him, presenting a different problem.

Those shoes. A rotten thought formed in Sans’ head and he almost scowled at the proffered limb. While he would never blame his brother, Papyrus’ gift had over-complicated things. Much like his brother would likely do upon hearing the news of what had happened in Waterfall. Sans would have to make sure he tuned the story a bit if it was ever brought up - to spare his brother from feeling at fault.

“Very true. Could you remove this? Would be a shame if it burned up.”   The fire monster watched Sans’ movements with curiosity. Sans hoped that Grillby would chalk it up to him being so utterly spent as he did as was requested.

It certainly felt odd for the fire monster to be handling his bones in that way. Even though Grillby’s actions were reserved and quite professional, Sans couldn’t help the hot sensation that crept through his body at the sight of Grillby holding his leg while he removed the offending shoe and sock. Sans didn’t know what to make of the ridiculous thoughts that were assailing him, nor how desperate he felt. He was stupid for considering it, to ruin a great friendship in that way…

His soul resounded like a struck bell, ringing throughout him at an almost deafening level. Grillby carefully turned the limb in his grasp, scrutinising a few old marks in the ivory surface as the fishing line was burned away.

Sans concentrated very hard on not jumping at every brush, all the while feeling extremely embarrassed as the fire monster’s fingertips brushed against the cracked ankle bone. A shuddered exhale escaped him with the heat and his opposite leg hiked up slightly, shoe dragging in the red earth.

Grillby noted it, concern on his face as he also realised that Sans was averting his eye lights away from him. “Pain?”   Another twist of guilt came over the fire monster and he laid his palm over the injured bone.

Sans stammered to deny it, unable to find words for what felt like an eternity. No, it wasn’t because of pain that he’d reacted that way, Sans quickly realised. He sat tensely, trying to find a good excuse.

Clumsily, he settled on muttering, “i.. i just slipped a couple days ago.”

The fire monster leaned forward, catching Sans off guard. Grillby was much closer now and Sans was starting to panic, his eye lights flicking to his eyes, then to the centre of his face. It allowed Grillby to see just how unsure Sans was, the complexity betrayed in Sans’ eye sockets so profound that Grillby knew that wasn’t right.

“You never slip, Sans.”

“s-sure i do, it’s not a big deal. it always hap-”

It was that strange universal constant. Sans realised it too late and now he’d gone and made Grillby worried. Dread clung to the inside of his ribs and Sans had to prevent himself from clutching at his chest to rub away the feeling.

Patiently, Grillby watched as Sans stubbornly waved away the injury, firmly believing the excuse to be false. Time and time again, no matter the skeleton’s sobriety, Sans would leave his bar and Grillby would watch Sans leave until he was out of view. It was only just down the street, but he wondered after Sans, and wanted for him to be safe.

Every time, Grillby would watch and he’d never seen Sans slip, fall or trip before; Grillby couldn’t help but wonder why Sans was hiding the true reason behind the injury. Embarrassment? No… Perhaps something else. Then again, Grillby had failed to watch after him after his previous melancholy visit. It nagged at the fire monster’s resolve and he decided rather pointedly that he would heal the crack. It was the least he could do.

“grillbz, y’don’t gotta do tha-hah!”

The skeleton’s shoulders raised as he felt the peculiar tingle ebb from Grillby’s hands and into bone, the hairline of exposed marrow signalling pricks up his leg and jumping across the phantom connection to his body. Although it wasn’t necessarily an unwelcome gesture, Sans had been caught off guard again and he found himself pressing his spine against the front of the station with a stuttered gasp. He was only used to Papyrus healing him, and Grillby’s heat was all-encompassing.

It was only a small injury, but it was healed in no time. The gentle flow of Grillby’s magic welled up in the scarred bone like a glowing white cast, making the marrow just underneath throb. Sans sucked in a slow breath to calm himself, finding that his own magic had curled up defensively. Grillby’s bright eyes settled on him suspiciously, holding his limb out for him to take.

Dumbly, Sans outreached his trembling hand, meaning to introduce the head of the bone to his vacant knee’s socket. He knew he was weak, but Sans thought he would’ve at least something to spare to affix it. Sans’ eye lights flicked down as he attempted the connection again, his magic feeling both frayed and paper-thin as it uselessly coiled at the joint.

It didn’t work.

His soul sunk with that fact.

He chalked it up to being stretched thin enough already. Sans would’ve loved to walk on his own, had he the energy. Stubbornly, Sans tried a third time, this time flinching when something inside of him sputtered painfully in protest. A dizzy spell came over him and he hunched his shoulders with a quiet hum of resignation.

“We can rest at the resort,”   Grillby decided, having watched Sans with growing bemusement. “Don’t force yourself.”

That only made Sans feel worse. He tugged the sock and shoe back onto his foot in silence, shame coiling around his soul like a snake. Being useless wasn’t something Sans felt unaccustomed to, but becoming a burden when he was supposed to be helping was another trial altogether.

Without another word, Grillby stood and patted the red dirt from his trousers. He helped Sans climb onto his back again and Sans kept his limb in hand, his thin finger bones just small enough to fit through the space between the parallel bones. He found that he was still struggling to keep focus, but he still noticed the way the fire monster’s pace seemed hurried now as they made their way north to the elevator.

 

While Grillby waited for the long ride to ascend to the second level, the skeleton’s tension on his back had eased somewhat. Grillby turned his head and listened. The only noise that broke the silence was the soft crackling of his flames and the small breaths taken by his companion. Sans’ eye sockets were closed and he seemed almost… peaceful.

Nonetheless, Grillby was still concerned. It was still a long walk between the quarry pits, and that was with hope that no one had activated any puzzles along the way. As a fire monster, Grillby knew shortcuts of his own through them, but they were nowhere near as drastic as Sans’. Essentially, he knew which maintenance levers to trip and he’d use that to his advantage throughout the next area if need be.

Grillby kept to himself but formally nodded to the people he passed on the way through, not normally one for idle chitchat. That is, unless it was Sans, who could carry a conversation for the both of them more than half the time.

It struck Grillby that he’d been more open with Sans lately, not at all resorting to vague gestures or using body language to aid their talks. Perhaps it was because he’d charged himself with the responsibility to carry him more than half the way? Or simply, maybe it was that Sans made him more comfortable in general…?

It was a lengthy walk to the other side of the quarry. It took the better part of two hours to reach the easternmost elevator tower through the winding conveyor platforms. The hike had been long, and Grillby was desperate for a moment of reprieve.

The fire monster stopped to rest at another empty sentry station and sat down, positioning Sans in his lap, who remained in deep slumber. Grillby had checked briefly before doing so; this station didn’t have anything to consume, either. It appeared he’d have to wait until they arrived at the resort to get some proper food. He was starting to feel fatigued and hungry, too.

The fact that Sans wasn’t disturbed while Grillby carried him all this time was worrying, to say the least. Grillby paused for a moment, and although normally courteous to others’ boundaries, he wanted to ensure the skeleton was actually alright.

It was a horrible breach of privacy… but he had to make sure. He wouldn’t be able to live with himself if Sans was on the verge of Falling Down.

 [ * SANS  1 ATK 1 DEF

   * not dead, just bone-tired. ]

Grillby sighed in near-exasperation at the internal joke and lowered his head, focusing to see further.

 [ * 0.7 HP ]

Grillby’s head snapped up like a shot; suddenly his soul was thrumming hard in alarm. It was worse than he’d thought. Grillby’s body flooded with tension, flames heightening and flickering madly. His fires plumed pale with dread as he pushed Sans against his chest to brace himself and Grillby lurched to his feet.

He didn’t have time to rest. He had to continue. He had to find help, food, shelter - anyone!

Grillby darted towards the elevator shaft, his breaths rasping, crackling and loud. He jammed his finger at the button mercilessly, as though it’d make the elevator descend faster.

His thoughts screamed; Falling Down, all your fault, he trusted you, hold on!

The doors stuttered open and he dashed inside, pushing the button to go up to the third level of the quarry with more force than was probably necessary. He didn’t care. All that mattered to Grillby was getting Sans to help, panic welling up inside of him, just waiting to explode in an emotional heat.

Grillby’s mind was a blur all throughout the ride upward until the elevator stopped. Even the doors took too long to open and Grillby impatiently sidestepped through them, rounding the corner. He didn’t even acknowledge the Royal Guards posted within stone’s throw of the resort, who gave him a second look when he passed.

He had to get Sans to safety-

He had to tell Papyrus. To ask what he could do-

He-

This was all wrong. He had to save him-

The fire monster repeated the train of thought over and over like a mantra. It was the only thing that prevented Grillby from falling into an outright inconsolable state when he entered the double glass doors. The promise of safety flooded his core and it took everything for him not to bring attention to Sans.

Sans, who was Falling Down-

If he could get him to safety, he could heal him. He’d dropped out of medical school, but… he could try.

He stalked to the front desk as if on automatic and adjusted Sans in his arms to remove some coins from his pockets. Then Grillby slid them across the counter to the receptionist without a word; he didn’t trust himself to say anything.

Wordlessly, Grillby took the room key provided and left the desk after reading the number on it - past the fountain and down the hall. Others around him had stopped their amicable chatter to watch, but Grillby tuned it all out. All that mattered was getting to the room, entering, and locking it behind him. He managed with some difficulty.

Inside of him, Grillby’s soul shrouded with guilt and responsibility, so much that for a moment he could barely move. With Sans’ body pressed against him, he leaned against the door to gather his bearings before his bright eyes studiously flicked about the room. He took an inventory; a large bed, a table, some lights and a chair beside the desk with a phone on it.

He exhaled, smoke trailing behind him in a wisp as he carried forward to carefully rest Sans on the bed’s plush surface. He checked Sans over once more, to make sure there was no damage to his handling. Then he checked Sans’ severed limb to ensure there were no cracks or breakage before placing it next to him.

Suddenly his jovial friend seemed much more fragile than he’d ever seen him before.

 

It took him several moments before Grillby was calm enough to pull the chair away from the desk and sit down, staring at his friend. He looked peaceful enough. Was he really only just sleeping? But he’d Fallen Down… It was a deep sleep, one that Grillby wasn’t sure about. On edge and barely keeping himself together, Grillby pulled the chair closer so he was right against the mattress.

He would have to give an attempt at healing Sans. If he couldn’t, he’d call for someone else to and deal with it then. As his magic flowed through him and gathered in his hands, Grillby pulled off his gloves again and tossed them to the side without care. He scanned the skeleton once more, Grillby’s hands hesitantly shaking just above Sans’ breastbone before he drew in a breath and rested both palm down.

The soothing flux flowed downward into Sans’ bones and intermingled with his own magic, which Grillby now recognised as a decent level lower than his own. It appeared to accept his readily enough, as though painfully yearning, starving. He could detect a hint of something charred, but it disappeared the longer he pushed magic into Sans’ rib cage.

Minutes passed in effort and Grillby was beginning to feel like it was taking too long. He attempted another cursory scan.

[ * 0.8 HP ]

Even though Grillby was trying his best, his own magic struggled to help Sans, having only healed him a bare fraction.

It wasn’t right, though - it shouldn’t have been this difficult. Grillby was nowhere near his maximum limit, but maybe… it was because Sans really had Fallen Down. By his estimation, Sans should’ve had much more hope than this. But the struggle to direct Sans back into the positives was great, almost draining him to the point that he thought perhaps Sans had given up.

That it was too late… and any attempt to pull Sans Up again was a wasted effort.

Grillby’s soul wrenched at the thought, a threat of hot prickling behind his eyes. No, he had to continue! His brow furrowed in concentration, Grillby’s chest rising and falling in quiet but deep rhythm as he forced his magic to heal.

Twenty minutes passed. The time spent healing Sans was taking its toll when it really shouldn’t have.

Yet, he persisted.

[ * 1 HP ]

He forced himself, but Grillby couldn’t do it anymore. Whether he was worn out from the journey or wasn’t strong enough to pull Sans Up, Grillby just stopped. His shoulders drooped noticeably and he hung his head in his hands, silently lamenting his ineptitude. His body was beginning to shake as a thought came crashing down on him, agony crushing his heart and soul.

Sans had Fallen Down because of him.

The fire monster turned towards the desk to dial out. The large receiver felt as heavy as lead. He dialled the same sequence he would punch in night after night to tell Papyrus to get his brother from the bar when it had gotten too late, the rotary clicking with each dreaded number.

Grillby paused at the last digit, noticing that his hands were trembling uncontrollably.

What would he say…?

Plunging ahead, Grillby punched in the last number, his breath shuddering with a sufferance he’d never felt in his entire existence. He blinked back the feeling of tears, mentally preparing himself to admit his fault to his friend’s family.

It only took a couple of rings for the other skeleton to pick up and for a shockingly still moment, Grillby froze. 

The words stuck in his throat.

How could he even begin…?

“Papyrus…?”

Papyrus’ jovial greeting blared through the phone and Grillby reached over to turn down the volume. It gave him a few precious moments to go over his thoughts. He struggled with them, trying to keep himself from just apologising over and over.

“WOWIE! IS THAT YOU, MISTER GRILLBY? I HOPE MY LAZYBONES OF A BROTHER ISN’T HOLDING YOU UP!”

Grillby’s gaze lifted from the phone to Sans on the bed, who hadn’t moved an inch from where he put him. His soul twisted again, painfully, as he searched for the right words to delicately break the news to Papyrus.

“……No, he’s resting. We’re at MTT Resort, for the moment, er…”

“THAT-! I SWEAR HE’LL FALL ASLEEP JUST ABOUT ANYWHERE!”

Grillby idly stoked the side of his face, recalling what Sans had warned him of when they began their journey.

‘don’t tell paps, eh?’

“…He won’t wake up,”  Grillby offered carefully, nervously tapping the edge of his chair as his flames flickered in the same manner. He was relieved that his voice didn’t crack - no more than usual, his flames covering up his distress as best as they could. He listened to the other side and stared at his boots, waiting for the accusation.

“OH! WELL. SANS IS A DEEP SLEEPER. IT’S ABOUT THE ONLY THING HE’S COMMITTED TO, REALLY…”

The way Papyrus replied made guilt broil inside and Grillby was beginning to know less about how to tactfully broach the subject. He stayed quiet, the dead air a painful experience to listen to and participate in.

“IS… IS EVERYTHING ALRIGHT? YOU’VE BEEN QUIET - EVEN FOR YOU!”

“We were… trapped in the depths of Waterfall, and he… used a fair amount of magic to get us to safety,”   he explained carefully; vague enough to not reveal particulars, but enough that he wasn’t lying. His voice broke enough that Grillby could feel it crumble in his chest like dust; “I can’t heal him, Papyrus.”

“OH MY GOD!!” the other skeleton’s voice boomed from the receiver and Grillby nearly jerked it away from his face; “I SPECIFICALLY INSTRUCTED HIM NOT TO! HOW LOW IS HE??”

Grillby drew in a shuddering breath and lifted his gaze to Sans to scan him again; there was still no change.

“One.”

A pause.

Then a quiet, albeit hysterical, laugh. Did Grillby detect a tone of… relief?

Was… that right?

Anger and confusion suddenly flared within his core and Grillby leaned forward, trying to figure out the joke when he heard Papyrus laugh.

“OH! NO… DON’T WORRY ABOUT THAT.”

“……Seem to misunderstand-”   the fire monster hissed through the line, his free hand forming a tight fist. “He’s… only at `one`! Other monsters…  would have Fallen at this point, I… I can’t heal him, I-”

Papyrus’ good-natured chuckle cut him off and he seemed unworried, confusing Grillby further. His tone was softer when Papyrus next spoke, as though the jig was finally up; “YOU WON’T BE ABLE TO HEAL HIM PAST THAT. ONE’S ALL HE’S GOT. IT’S BEEN-… I MEAN, HE’S A BIT OF A WEIRDO THAT WAY.” There was something in his response that indicated that wasn’t all there was to it, though.

Stunned, Grillby remained silent. He stared at his companion on the bed, at how peaceful he looked. Had he… really panicked that much? Had he known Sans for all this time and he didn’t have the slightest clue of his friend’s limits?

“HE’S NAPPING NOW, ISN'T HE,” Papyrus asked primly, as though displeased with the notion. “ARE HIS ORBITS CLOSED, OR OPEN?”

“…Orbits?”

“HIS EYE SOCKETS.”

Grillby inspected Sans’ face with gentle recognition, a tentative hope kindling in his soul.

“…Closed,”   he finally reported. He heard the insurmountable sound of a relieved sigh from the other end of the line and it seemed to melt all the tension out of Grillby’s body, like a signal that it was safe to breathe. That Sans was more fine than he’d originally thought.

“OH GOOD! HE’S JUST BEING LAZY, THEN. IF HIS ORBITS WERE OPEN BUT HOLLOW, THEN WE’D HAVE CAUSE FOR WORRY!” The younger brother chuckled again, wholeheartedly. Grillby realised this had happened earlier and felt himself shrink down, flames darkening, low and shuddering. “BEST TO LET HIM REST, I SUPPOSE. HE WON’T OBJECT TO ANY FOOD YOU BRING HIM WHEN HE WAKES UP!! THE SOONER, THE BETTER!”

Grillby smiled softly despite his lingering worry. He felt exhausted after everything that had happened and was relieved for the assurance. He rubbed at the side of his face.

“I overreacted,”  he murmured, his tone soft and apologetic.

“NYEH! BETTER TO ASK THAN NOT AT ALL. JUST, ER… DON’T TELL SANS I TOLD YOU ABOUT HIS, ERR…”

This was beginning to sound familiar, the fire monster realised. He nodded to himself before flitting his gaze back to Sans’ face.

“…Naturally. ”  After a pause, he exhaled a low sigh. “How to wake him…?”

“EASY!” Grillby grimaced and pulled the receiver away from his face, then a little closer with caution as Papyrus lowered his voice again. “PUT YOUR HAND ON HIS CERVICAL VERTEBRAE-”

Grillby paused, eyeing the skeleton on the bed. He was unsure, not parsed in the literal terms for skeletal anatomy. He felt hotter for the implications, as well - touching any unknown part of Sans, well… His flames kindled a little brighter with the mere thought.

“NOT THE LUMBAR DISCS - THOSE WILL MAKE HIM JUMP. THORACIC… WELL, HE TENDS TO NAP EVEN MORE!” There was an irritating bite to Papyrus’ tone and Grillby was admittedly bewildered with all the terms being thrown around.

“Cervical is… lower spine?”

Grillby had his hand poised for a long time, it seemed, and he was beginning to feel self-conscious for it. Even if Sans was in a deep sleep, Grillby wasn’t quite sure how he’d be able to explain it if Sans chose that exact moment to wake up.

“NO! THE ONES UNDER HIS SKULL!!” Papyrus seemed irritated by the blunder and Grillby immediately felt a rush of embarrassment creep up to his face.

Another long silence drew on and Grillby relaxed a little. Then Papyrus added in a hushed voice with a sigh; “THANK YOU FOR TAKING CARE OF SANS. HE HASN’T REALLY… BEEN HIMSELF, LATELY. BUT! I REALLY DO BELIEVE HE ENJOYS BEING WITH YOU!”

The fire monster couldn’t help but smile at that sentiment, since Sans’ visits to his establishment had been far more frequent than before. A warm feeling concentrated at the centre of his being and Grillby turned his head toward Sans on the bed, who still snoozed away his troubles, unaware.

Lucky.

“……I enjoy his company as well.”

“YOU SOUND UTTERLY EXHAUSTED! SO! I DO BELIEVE OUR CONVERSATION HAS REACHED ITS CLOSURE,” Papyrus boomed suddenly, and Grillby released a soft laugh, another released tension flooding out of him. “GOODBYE!”

Ever-enthusiastic, Papyrus hung up first and the fire monster gently settled the phone back onto the hook. Exhausted after everything that had happened, Grillby got up to remove his boots and jacket, deciding to turn the chair around. He sat on it again, using the back of the chair as a rest to put his arms and head up for support. That way he’d be able to watch for any adverse signs of recovery. Regardless of what Papyrus had said, Grillby was still worried.

Eventually, since he had expended a lot of energy, Grillby would fall asleep like that.

Chapter Text

Grillby found that he didn’t sleep for very long. His dreams had coalesced into some form of horrifying amalgamate that he’d wake to find his dear friend just a pile of clothes and dust. That Papyrus’ gentle reassurance would turn into unfathomable grief and withdrawal from his usual peppy self. That every monster in Snowdin would look to him for answers as to why the shining beacon of their town was now gone forever.

But most importantly, every night normally spent in Sans’ company would be a distant memory. Grillby wouldn’t hear his voice, wouldn’t be able to chide his jokes, listen to his laughter… The one person he looked forward to visiting him day in and day out would suddenly vanish. It’d be an extreme loss of light in Grillby’s life and it’d leave an immeasurable black hole in its wake.

His dreams focused on that torment, shifting his perceptive reality into a twisted nightmare through different scenarios. Every time he started awake, Grillby looked to Sans on the bed for reassurance. Then he would drift off again into the same kinds of dreams. Every end action was the same, and every action led to the dusting of his dear friend in wholly new and horrendous ways.

The very core of his being shuddered when he opened his eyes one final time, and for a startling moment Grillby thought Sans had. It took a heart-stopping moment before he realised that his glasses had merely fallen off his face and onto the floor. Mercifully, Sans still slept, though he’d turned at some point so they faced each other.

Grillby stooped over to retrieve his glasses and wiped them on his sleeve before restoring them to their former glory. He took a moment to look at the skeleton sleeping somewhat fretfully on the bed. A fiery brow arched as he watched. Sans’ phalanges had curled under him and he was bunched inwards on his side, as though doubled in pain. His entire body was tense and trembling, and with it the soft noise of bones scraped against each other as Sans’ arms shifted in his troubled rest. It looked like Sans subconsciously attempted to look smaller, moving to encircle himself.

Small, barely audible and unintelligible noises passed his teeth alongside quick shallow breaths. His magic curled defensively and erratically, streaming from one of his sockets. Sympathetic, Grillby leaned forward to touch Sans’ shoulder, knowing this was likely one of Sans’ ‘bad nights’. He hated to see him like this, so he attempted a light shake to snap him out of it.

It didn’t do any good; it only made a heart-wrenching noise escape Sans, a soft sob that threaded Grillby’s soul with distress and resound with pity.

“Sans,”   he called, then got off the chair to kneel next to the bed as the skeleton whimpered, trapped in his nightmare. “Wake up - you’re alright.”

Grillby attempted to shake Sans again, only to be met with a pathetic cry. He noticed the way Sans clutched at his breastbone, a desperate action that clawed and shook Sans where he lay.

“p..papyrus, no-” the skeleton pleaded helplessly. His voice sounded strangled and Sans suddenly jerked, his fingers searching for something in front of him, anguished. “no… no, don’t… don’t go, don’t…”

Grillby attempted another shake to rouse his friend.

“Sans!”

“don’t leave - don’t… no- you can’t- ”  Half-formed bone constructs started to splinter into existence around him, forming a clumsy makeshift cage. Grillby started, eyeing each one warily.

“Sans, wake up!”   the fire monster’s voice rose, flames crackling noisily at Sans’ distress.

He outreached his hand to the vertebrae at Sans’ neck, attempting what Papyrus had advised in hopes of waking him. Grillby’s heat fluttered at the joints and Sans’ body tensed in response. The conjured bone constructs evaporated into the air as his eye sockets snapped open, the lights inside small pinpricks highlighted with fear, one burning alive with a wisp of cyan.

Sans held his breath for a moment before covering his skull with his arms, then he let out a harsh exhale. Unable to keep his body from trembling, he swore. The fire monster didn’t admonish him for it; he only rested his hand against Sans’ nape and waited for him to calm down.

“Relax, friend. You’re safe,”   the bartender offered gently, watching as Sans attempted deep breaths; each one was punctuated with a shudder.

For once, the silence between them was uneasy. As Sans eventually settled, Grillby speculated that Sans had to be worried over his brother’s wellbeing, hence the nightmare. He supposed it was only natural, after all; the two were nigh inseparable in all the time he’d known them. He moved his fingers against the skeleton’s cervical vertebrae in an attempt to soothe him, until Sans unbundled himself to look at him, rumpled and sheepish.

“paps does that,” he mumbled ruefully and dropped his gaze. “since we were small.”

“He’s safe, too,”   Grillby consoled, removing his hand but letting it linger at Sans’ shoulder, where he softly gave it a pat. “One of your terrors, I assume?”

 

Sans rolled onto his back away from the gesture and inhaled deeply, idly rubbing at his sternum through his shirt. “…a recurring one, yeah,” he murmured in agreement after a moment of reflection.

Grillby didn’t verbally offer to listen; his demeanour did it for him. Sans cast a sidelong glance to him, an awkward tightness forming behind his rib cage when his mind replayed the nightmare like a skipping disc.

“i don’t… really wanna talk about it.”

“Perhaps another time, then,”   the fire monster replied and sat down again, putting his arms up on the back of the chair. “How are you feeling?”

Sans looked inward, an obscure yet bemused expression on his face as though the result surprised him. Was he healed? He had to admit, the first bit of sleep had been rough, but he hadn’t expected such results from just a nap . Yet, there he was with his singular HP, which was more than he could ever hope for. Inquisitively, he looked at his friend.

Grillby looked worse for wear; his flames were low, auburn and languidly wisped into a wave of heat than actual flame. The innermost core of his head was deep orange and subdued. His normally bright eyes looked more dimly cast, allowing Sans to pinpoint the fine line between his sclera and face.

“how’re you feelin’?” the skeleton shot back. He propped himself up onto his elbows, finding that he actually had much more strength than before.

Grillby gave him a weary smirk. “Been better.”

“you look like shit, is what,” Sans muttered with a frown, unable to quell the guilt that writhed inside. He ignored the way the fire monster bristled almost defensively and Sans narrowed his eyes at him. “did you heal me?”

When Grillby didn’t answer, Sans exhaled a deep sigh through his nasal cavity and stared up at the ceiling, searching it for answers. A worry nagged at him, but Sans refused to acknowledge it. Hopefully, he thought, Grillby didn’t pry. It wasn’t like he did any other time before, but Sans felt a well of anxiousness spring up with the thought.

“how embarrassing.”

Something inside of him fluttered with the notion, though, and he irritably knocked against his chest. Sans chided himself in the privacy of his thoughts in self-reprimand.

“I was… worried,”   Grillby objected cautiously, resting his head on his arms with the barest of shrugs.

Sans was astonished, but it was a nice feeling. He turned to face Grillby again, unable to place the look on his visage. Sans idly wondered if the fire monster did that intentionally to mask what he was thinking.

He hadn’t felt that anyone else had worried too much about him in the past - save for only his brother, who fretted over his health to the point of aggravation. Sans wasn’t sure if the gratitude he felt was for the fire monster’s concern or simply because it felt like… Grillby actually cared .

Sans’ smile was a little easier with that thought. It was endearing, somehow. His soul took that feeling as a sign to surge inside of him, filling his bones with a now familiar and tender warmth. Distractedly, Sans pushed his phalanges against the spot on his spine where Grillby had touched, bones clattering together as he idly rubbed it. Before he could dwell too much on it, Sans decided to push himself upright.

It took him a moment, but he finally got his bearings enough to shuffle to the side of the bed, in search of his leg. It had fallen off the side in his troubled sleep and Sans awkwardly reached for it, hoping he had replenished enough energy to affix it. If the ticking clock on the wall was correct, it’d been a solid ten hours since they’d left Snowdin.

“we’re not late to get your order, are we?” Sans inquired and pulled himself back up to sit on the edge of the bed, inspecting the limb. “i didn’t mean to delay you, grillbz.”

Grillby only hummed softly, exhaustion in his voice. Then offered with a soft chuckle, “De-leg?”   He was a little surprised that Sans hadn’t paid attention to his attempt at a joke, but he seemed distracted. “We aren’t… and you didn’t, friend. Would have stopped here regardless. Your shortcuts have… actually put us a little earlier than scheduled.”

Sans stopped fumbling with his leg for a moment and glanced at Grillby. It looked as though Sans was about to say something but then thought better of it, returning his focus to his limb. Grillby watched in relieved silence as the joint latched and snapped back into place. Giving the knee a few testing bends, Sans shuffled off the side of the bed.

“why don’t you take the bed, big g. i’ll grab us some grub,” the skeleton offered, who still looked distracted as he shifted his leg in place. The clicking noises of the joint settling filled the air, much to Grillby’s sympathies.

While Sans hadn’t entirely recovered, the sea tea from before and the short rest had done him some good, nightmare aside. The joint’s magic was holding and his weight was supported. It was all he could’ve asked for, really.

He’d intended to leave to get some burgers or whatever food the resort offered. He turned away but didn’t get very far with Grillby’s hand grasping the sleeve of his jacket. Inquisitively, Sans turned back to the fire monster, his soul thumping hard.

He watched in dumbed silence as Grillby took his phalanges with one hand and pulled him closer for a moment. Fire licked through his carpals as Grillby’s other hand folded something onto them. The bare scrape of heated metal brushed against him and Sans felt a particular welling spring up inside of him along with dawning embarrassment.

He hadn’t brought any money with him.

“My treat, Sans. A starfait for me… if they have any left at this hour?”

Sans gulped quietly, pulling his hand away from Grillby to clutch the glinting coins. He stood in a moment of barely suppressed unease before he murmured, “oh. yeah. sure thing, boss.”

Nice.

Sans then awkwardly left the room. His kneecap clicked faintly as he strolled down the hall, looking inwardly to his HP and the deep-rooted fear that was buried there. He’d been healed - so did that mean Grillby had learned of it? Learned about what he was? What he wasn’t? Grillby didn’t indicate that he did, and yet… Sans was bothered by it. It was one of his attributes that he would have rather kept to himself and his brother - no one else. But Grillby didn’t seem to treat him any differently, so Sans kept his worries to himself.

The thought of his brother stopped Sans in his tracks, not too far from the fountain. His shoes skidded on the clean linoleum tiles and his grin dropped.

That nightmare had been intense, to say the least. Hell, he had conjured attacks in his sleep it’d been so bad. But… it was a recurring terror that insisted on pursuing his sleeping consciousness. Of Papyrus, confronting a creature that came from the Ruins while Sans warned everyone in Snowdin to flee.

And when he had returned after realising that Papyrus hadn’t escaped, what Sans found… All that was left was…

Trapped in thought, Sans rubbed at the back of his neck, faint clicking echoing in his head as he felt the gentle warmth that lingered after his friend’s touch. He had to call his brother, time of night be damned.

He went to the front desk to the handy receptionist there, flashing a grin at them. “mind if i make a short call?” he drawled as he leaned against the counter, all ridiculous flirtation that no one could refuse. Courteously - although with a bit of a full-bodied shudder - the hand monster pulled a phone from under the counter and set it beside their reservation book with a silent, accommodating gesture. “thanks.”

A little quicker than he’d intended to, Sans punched his brother’s cell number into the phone and waited, idly tapping his foot. When the other side picked up, his soul did a relieved flip and Sans sighed when his brother groggily greeted him.

“heya, pap,” he mumbled into the phone; at the same time, Sans attempted to sound cheery. “guess where i am.”

His brother groaned loudly. “ALLOW ME TO GUESS… IS IT A DIMENSION WHEREIN IT’S NOT AN UNACCEPTABLE HOUR TO BE MAKING PHONE CALLS?”

Sans shifted in place, glancing at the time on the ticking clock on the wall. 11:54pm. Oops.

“oh. well… no, i, uh. just… wanted to see how you were doin’,” he offered warily and cringed at the not-so-subtle way his voice betrayed his unease. At any rate, it was good to hear his brother’s voice, especially after such a soul-shattering nightmare.

Silence came from the other end, then a soft sigh of resignation. “YOUR NIGHTMARES ARE BECOMING ALL TOO FREQUENT LATELY, BROTHER.” Papyrus’ tone softened but he wasn’t admonishing, at least. Sans absently nodded in agreement, even though Papyrus couldn’t see it.

“just needed to hear your voice. sorry i called so late, pap.”

“SANS, REALLY… I’M WORRIED - ARE YOU ALRIGHT? GRILLBY CALLED EARLIER!”

Sans’ sockets widened slightly and his grip on the receiver tightened. “he…?” He stopped, feeling a pang of regret. Of slight panic - of ‘what if?’ hanging in his head like a dark curtain. Then it rebooted to save Papyrus from worrying about him, so Sans did what he did best and deflected. “oh. yeah, i’m good. don’t worry. i was just tired, you know me… heheh.”

There was a scrutinising pause and Sans restlessly shuffled in place, eye lights settling on the hand monster before turning away from them in embarrassment. He knew his brother was in all likelihood glaring at the phone, tapping his foot, just waiting for an explanation.

“eh, we just got stuck, is all. and i unstuck us. so, it’s good. i’m good. just gettin’ some grub, so i better get going. can’t dela-”

He stopped dead and smacked his brow with one hand, sending a loud clack through the receiver. He’d just registered the pun from earlier and he was shaking, holding back a sudden explosion of laughter.

“SANS? WHAT WAS THAT!” was Papyrus’ stricken demand.

“grillbz made a pun and i just now got it.”

An exasperated sigh echoed through the receiver alongside the prolonged fuzz of static, resulting in a doubling of Sans’ wheezing laughter.

“GOODNIGHT, BROTHER.”

“g’night, broski.”

Sans let his chuckles die off as he returned the receiver to the hook and shrugged to the receptionist before turning away. Oddly enough, he couldn’t help but feel a little betrayed by his brother; although if not betrayal, then perhaps a needling paranoia. What had Papyrus said to Grillby, and what had Grillby called for? On the other hand, if the fire monster had worried about him that much…

He turned on his heel towards the food stand at the opposite side of the lobby, relieved that it was still open. Well, that was good for them, at least. The clerk inside was a harrowed, world-weary feline that all but slumped over the polished yellow countertop. His cat-like eyes slid in a sidelong glance as a stream of smoke pushed out of his nose. He then butted out his cigarette into a crushed soda can. It was as though the entire day had been long enough without the addition of Sans’ visit.

The cat seemed on the verge of both attempting and avoiding conversation, so he barely made eye contact with the skeleton. He took Sans’ order and went about preparing it as Sans idled in place.

Soon after he’d paid, Sans took the burger and starfait back to the room with a small wave. Poor kid, probably overworked. Sans knew exactly how he felt, holding down four jobs himself. Four jobs that he realised with a pang of guilt, Papyrus was covering for.

When he got back to the room, he hadn’t expected to see Grillby asleep. Sans’ grin dropped a little as he approached. Grillby didn’t even budge when he’d entered the room. In the time he’d been gone, his friend had unslung his suspenders and hung his arms over the back of the chair to rest.

Maybe Grillby hadn’t intended to sleep that way? His glasses were set on the desk next to him, so it was possible that Grillby decided to ignore his advice altogether.

Sans gently nudged his shoulder with a bony finger, watching the languid motion of the flames from Grillby’s head grow a little brighter with the disturbance.

“grillbz,” Sans called quietly, then tossed his wrapped burger onto the bed without too much care.

He tapped the fire monster’s shoulder again, then settled his hand onto his back, as though the action would rouse him. All it did was make the nervous titillating feeling return. Luckily Grillby was a lighter sleeper than Sans was and he turned his head to face him, looking blearily rumpled.

“c’mon, man. eat somethin’ first, then take the bed. don’t want you to go out on me,” Sans offered quietly. He withdrew his hand to allow Grillby to sit up, who sighed as though the disturbance was unmerited. Encouragingly, Sans held out the starfait.

When Grillby accepted it, Sans couldn’t help the thought that his friend could still look so refined in addition to fatigued. Grillby did as he requested, though - after all, he was very cooperative. Sans very obviously kept his eye lights to himself as he took a seat beside the bed to eat his burger.

If he hadn’t known better, Sans could’ve sworn that he tasted something, but he knew that was just impossible. Skeletons didn’t have tongues, taste buds, stomachs or anything to taste food with; he’d never heard such a thing.

Obviously, Sans had come to the conclusion that his brother’s reportedly ‘inedible’ cooking was because of this. So… maybe it was just the texture of the glitter? He mentally shrugged off the curiosity and finished it, feeling much better for it. Content for the moment, Sans slouched against the bed’s side and balled up the foil wrapping.

His eye lights searched out Grillby’s face, who looked as though he was about to fall asleep again. His grasp on his half-eaten starfait was tilted and his posture was once more slumped against the back of the chair. With an exhale, Sans pulled himself up off the floor and took the glass mug to set it aside.

“c’mon, sleepyhead. i’ll tuck you in.”

Sans was sure he hadn’t seen the fire monster look so exhausted before. A handful of times he’d been tired after a week-long holiday. Mostly it’d been after a rush that flooded into Snowdin for Gyftmas a couple years ago, but nothing quite so serious.

So Sans helped Grillby to stand, led him to the bed where he could rest and promptly took the chair for himself so there’d be no arguments. Sans turned it so it could easily be tilted against the wall and he leaned back on it, his skull nestled into the fur lining of his jacket. Sans decided to keep watch over his friend until sleep claimed him too.

 

 

They were far better off after some rest. As usual, Sans rose late, though earlier than most days as Grillby had woken him with some rather unpleasant news. The elevator that led to the capital was out of order and apart from some main security features, electric magic to the generators was delayed. They would have to make the journey through the CORE on foot.

Sans sighed, groggily following the fire monster through to the lobby, then aimlessly paced around while Grillby purchased breakfast for the road. His thoughts that morning were all erratic and he’d been distracted ever since Grillby informed him of the easier route’s closure.

Suffice to say, he wasn’t a fan of the CORE. The air always gave Sans the feeling that he was missing something important in his life. That, and the area was a little too sterile and mechanical for his liking. He preferred his sleepy little town of Snowdin, off in the sticks in the middle of the forest, a long way from the capital. It was always difficult to be reminded of his old job, his old life, and passing through the area when he could’ve avoided it altogether didn’t sit well with Sans.

Still, he promised himself. And in a way, he’d done the same with Grillby. Sans noticed that he was beginning to promise more and more lately.

It pulled him from his pensive mood when Grillby stood before him, caught off guard. How long had the fire monster been waiting for him to snap out of it? It meant that he was slipping, and Sans knew it.

His grin tugged apologetically and Sans stuck his hands into his pockets as he regarded his friend. Grillby looked a lot better than the previous night, flames all aglow with their usual splendour, eyes bright and full of energy. He found himself grinning more and winked at Grillby’s expectant pose.

“sorry, spaced out.” Sans caught the way Grillby seemed to pause, but he thought nothing of it.

“We’ll have to walk there, I was saying. Are you fit to ? We can stay here awhile longer… if you require more time to rest.”

Sans pulled a hand out of his jacket to scratch at his jaw then gave a half shrug. “nah. we gotta get goin’ and i’m feeling ok.”

Grillby seemed to regard the skeleton for a moment, his posture betraying any uncertainty he might’ve felt before strolling away from the crowded lobby and towards the alternate path. Noticing, Sans hummed to himself and blindly followed Grillby through the heavy steel doors north of the resort.

As they walked across the bridge, Sans distracted himself by cycling through his thoughts to mentally prepare himself for the next part of their journey.

He could just barely detect the crisp smell of ozone, metal and fibreglass from beyond the corridor when Grillby stopped him. Inquiringly, the skeleton looked at him then down to the hand against his sternum, radiating a gentle heat. He ignored the fluttering that jump-started in that moment and tilted his skull questioningly. He was all too aware of Grillby’s permeative heat and how it was not at all unwelcome, he realised.

“Your shoes, Sans.” A leisurely smirk tugged Sans’ permanent grin and he shuffled his feet a little, the sound of scuffed wood underfoot echoing off the cavern walls. “Would not do to trip again.”

“ok,” Sans murmured automatically and stooped down to stuff the laces back behind the tongues of his shoes again. He glanced up with the fire monster’s patient sigh and had to prevent himself from jumping when Grillby knelt down on one knee to fix the laces himself, looping each one in a perfect, tight bow.

Sans wasn’t quite sure how to process that, so he kept quiet, his soul trembling as the fire monster helped him to rise. He had to get ahold of himself; Sans chastised himself internally at the simple little joy he felt with the attention. It was ridiculous. Fortunately, Grillby didn’t comment on his pause, he only led the way to the next area.

The mix of odours hit Sans’ senses and he grimaced, hunching his skull further into his hoodie while his eye lights darted around the walls and floors. The smooth surfaces of cobaltite and polished steel threw Grillby’s incandescent light around them like a kaleidoscope. It intermingled and shrouded the corridor’s usual azure glow from the many wires and fixtures in neat coils and tubes along the walls. It littered the floor, faint refractions of light illuminating the pathways like flecks of chipped opal.

It wasn’t just the atmosphere that unnerved Sans about this place, nor the missing part of his past either. It was, if he probed deep enough, a stifling and sickening half-memory that tugged at him, of something that had gone so wrong there…

He’d been employed during its development, yet vital pieces were missing as to who was involved. It had been strange, considering that Sans and a handful of other scientists and engineers couldn’t recollect what had transpired, but felt they all felt the same malaise. In addition to that, there were no records of any accidents or disappearances. Eventually, it was dismissed as a magic hiccup - a setback that affected those close to the CORE’s development and architecture at the time.

It was unnerving. It wasn’t like the invasion of strange memories from past or future offshoots; it was as though something was just gone, and everything that pointed to it was missing too. As he did as he always had while in the CORE, Sans mulled it over, bothered.

He stayed a half-step behind Grillby as he walked and attempted to focus on his light - and not the azure glow around them that brought up this encompassing dread. The intensity of this particular shade of blue made his bones quiver and his soul lurch uncomfortably, as though something from the colour was going to reach out and grab him.

“Been rather quiet,”   Grillby suddenly interrupted the silence after they’d passed into the next room. He turned his head to look at his companion over his shoulder.

Sans stopped, his eye lights focusing on Grillby’s face. He didn’t quite know what to say to that. Evasively, he shrugged, dragging his gaze away to the tubes of fuchsia wires poking out from the walls and leading down the corridor. Far away, he could see a couple maintenance workers fixing a dimly lit passage over a gaping black chasm.

“Anything on your mind, friend?”   Grillby spoke kindly, fully turning so they were facing each other.

Sans avoided his direct look, something hidden in his features. After a moment, he finally spoke, the following words sounding hollow yet somehow light-hearted at the same time.

“nah. i used to work here for a bit, just… don’t like the vibe.”

Grillby released a thoughtful hum as Sans stepped forward to continue walking, this time side by side. Occasionally, he’d steal glances at Sans as they walked down the metal grate floors, and noticed how Sans had shouldered into his jacket with his eye lights shrunken down to pinpoints. Sans would flinch and look away from the path at distant noises, searching around erratically as though spooked.

“Hold any superstitions of this place?”

Sans was caught off guard by the question and turned his head to look at Grillby. “what?”

The fire monster shrugged, the rolling of his shoulders discreet and relaxed; it was obvious he didn’t share the skeleton’s ominous discomfort. “I only ask because you’ve become quite sombre and agitated,” he added hesitatingly. “Perhaps we could chat along the way.”

Sans chuckled half-heartedly, burrowing his hands a little further into his pockets and thoughtfully picked at the linty crumbs in the corners. “yeah… i dunno about that , but the place definitely gives me the creeps.”

Anything happened that would… result in such an ominous impression?”

They continued into the next corridor. The blast of iron white energy from the CORE’s mechanics far below flooded the area with a dense, blinding light; at least, blinding to any monster unaccustomed to such intensity.

“nothing really comes to mind. there weren’t really any accidents or trip-ups during development, but…”

Sans stopped and idly scratched at his breastbone in thought, watching the flicker of viridian light settle in an arch of electricity over one of the paths to their immediate right. It was too high to jump and too low to stoop under. Defeated, he sighed as Grillby approached the beam to inspect it. He would’ve waited for it to power down on its own - they had the time, nothing was pressing - but Sans just felt they had to leave.

“don’t get too close, g.”

“Have traversed this road before. This was never an issue…”   the fire monster supplied candidly as he gestured to the electric blockade.

Sans watched him, his form highlighted by the fierce light source from below the platforms. It cast Grillby in a spectacular aura as his flames flickered when he moved. Sans stood captivated for a moment, then snapped out of it with a vague grin. He hesitated before deciding on his own that he’d deal with it.

Easier now that he wasn’t taking Grillby with him, magic coursed through Sans’ bones from his reserves. With the pull, Sans’ body still felt frayed and over-used, but he was committed. He saw the distressed expression spoil Grillby’s face and gave him a small wave and a grin.

As his body phased through the fissure in reality, Sans called out, “one sec, buddo,” just as he disappeared from view.

“Sans, don’t-!”   Grillby was already too late.

It was much easier to travel via shortcut by himself. Sans huffed a small relieved breath when he appeared a few feet away from the maintenance panel on the wall, several rooms and hallways away. He shrugged as he walked along, murmuring a quiet apology to Grillby in his absence and humming nonsensically as he approached the panel.

For a moment, Sans thought he’d heard a creak in the distance, but put the distressed thought away, focused on the current task. And that was deactivating the security beam so they could get the hell out of this damned place without doubling up on shortcuts. He just didn’t have it in him right now.

Sans pulled his left hand from the safety of his pocket and he raised it to meet the security clearance panel. It registered with a dull mechanical whirr and a few computerised blips - then static. Sans gestured in front of it, relieved that his old code still worked even after all these years. He was a little rusty, but Sans got used to the small flicks and signals as if it were second nature. Something tugged at the back of his mind that he felt didn’t seem right.

At the end of the last gesture, something dark flashed at the back of his wrist and Sans quickly withdrew his hand, as though he’d been burned. He snapped his head around and whirled backwards as his magic sparked defensively, his breath hitching in a start. It added an eerie cast and shadow to the surroundings as cyan and deep blue coiled restlessly around the room.

No one there.

“heh… heheh-” Nervous and breathy laughter escaped him without control and Sans’ eye lights warily scanned the area for anything out of place, “very funny, grillbz.” But he didn’t see anyone - none of his friend’s flames, no workers or sentries. No one. His bones clattered a little despite the tension in Sans’ body and he gave the area another cursory glance. Cautiously, he gave his hand a rub and tried to steel his nerves.

Sans tried again, his breath shuddering as he attempted the same sequence, this time ending with a punctuated flick of the wrist for good measure. The panel clicked and made a soft grating noise as the metal covering slid to the side and revealed the PIN pad - a sequence of four rows and three columns.

The shiny buttons were scratched from years of daily use, enamelled numbers all worn down except for the upper middle, second left and second right row - 2, 6, and 4. Sans pointedly ignored those digits, focusing on his own: 017

The glow of the cerulean lights briefly fluttered overhead. He heard another thrum of mechanics and magic, then sighed in relief once more as he readied himself to zip back to Grillby. As Sans drew in from his reserves again, the flow hiccupped and hitched. Something caught inside of him and his magic abruptly seized, sending Sans down to one knee with a dizzied grunt.

Usually he was able to use his shortcuts in quick succession, though it appeared that the area’s support magic seemed off, almost unstable - and it affected him. Sans chalked it up to being exhausted, as he always did, but he just couldn’t shake the feeling of… someone else in the room.

Nervously, he looked around but still saw no one there. No other shadows except for his, no magic apart from the CORE and Sans’ in the immediate area. There was only a small register of Grillby and other maintenance crews further inside. Uneasily, Sans lurched to his feet again to pull the panel closed and lock it.

Maybe… maybe he’d walk instead, he thought. It wasn’t too far but he hurried nonetheless, keeping an anxious glance over his shoulder as his shoes fell heavily against the ore’s surface. Sans trudged down to the opposite side of where Grillby was waiting, trying to shake the feeling of being followed.

At Grillby’s pointed glare, Sans shrunk down into his hoodie, offering him a carefree smile and wink despite how difficult it was to keep himself loose and easy.

“had to trip the panel.”

“Told you-”   Grillby started, although he stopped and let the sentence hang when he saw that Sans was acting somewhat skittishly. “Did something happen?”

“nah, everything’s cool. let’s just get going.”

Evasively, Sans shrugged and turned on his heel to lead the way down the last few corridors. Grillby noticed the tension in Sans’ shoulders and hurried to follow, but he didn’t press the issue. Even though Sans occasionally threw troubled glances behind them, Grillby knew not to agitate him. He just assumed that it had something to do with Sans’ old line of work and the resulting uneasiness he felt at the CORE. Perhaps he’d be told later, if Sans felt the need to open up. Grillby certainly wouldn’t press the matter.

As they approached the last corridor that would lead to the outskirts of New Home, Grillby could tell that Sans was a lot more relaxed than before. He’d fallen back in stride beside the fire monster and Sans’ head was nodding gently as he walked.

 

They’d made good time; they exited the CORE, blue lights and cold steel transformed to beautifully warm and intricately carved spires, steeples and high rising houses, shops and restaurants.

The air was different here, filled with the warm thrum of colour and monster life as they went about their daily routines. Smaller monsters in striped shirts ran and flew through the streets and around vendor stalls, puncturing the din of chatter with laughter as hundreds of people wove through in simple day to day life.

In the centuries that followed their banishment to the Underground, the caverns were carved deeper to accommodate the ever-increasing population. The cave system sprawled throughout Mount Ebott, down as far as the barrier would reach. Monsterkind would’ve continued digging, had the barrier not held them back. This had been before the skeleton brothers had came to be, so all they had to go on were history texts and stories from a certain old turtle in Waterfall.

It’d been years since Sans had visited New Home. The air was the same, but this time there was a dark terror that tugged at his soul when his thoughts wandered. It was different than before - of following that morally-destitute creature through the Underground to this place. Every face of every monster that he looked at now, he saw their counterpart in fear and horror - and the grave of dust they left behind.

And he’d be too weak to stop any of it.

Sans shivered and hunched into his hood, avoiding Grillby’s troubled look as they pushed forward. He provided no reason for his discomfort, but Sans’ soul gave a nervous and grateful flutter when the fire monster rested his hand upon his back in gentle reassurance. It was as though Grillby knew what he was feeling and wanted to soothe him; but that was impossible, wasn’t it?

He had to keep himself in check.

Chapter Text

Weaving throughout the crowds into the centre downtown core of New Home had been a challenge, even with Grillby’s keen sense of direction. Sans had to admit, he’d never once thought he would return to it, and the capital had changed so much since he and his brother had lived there. There were old familiar places, buildings that were once cafes or shops he used to frequent that took on new names and appearances.

It made him homesick in a way. At the same time, he knew the people never changed.

Still, there wasn’t much time to be wandering aimlessly around the streets in the early afternoon. Grillby led him through the crowds, straight to the warehousing district.

Admittedly, Sans was curious about the contents of the item box and watched Grillby retrieve his stacks of crates one by one from the dimensional tool. He never had to think about it after development, and after the testing stages were complete and it was ready for the public’s use, Sans just simply forgot about it. Quantum engineering just had too many projects on the go to keep track of after completion, after all. It was one of those small things in his old line of work that actually helped people’s quality of life, opposed to the rest of it…

Sans snapped out of his reverie when Grillby asked for help to carry the crates into the warehouse next to them. He grinned despite himself. If Papyrus learned of this new helpful nature of his, he’d never hear the end of it. And working on his day off? Well, Papyrus would question what happened to his real brother then. 

The interior was a noisy hub of monsters of all kinds and their respective patrons. Grillby’s distributor was the stout Diamond Head wearing a worn pair of green overalls that held a clipboard with a mess of papers attached to it. Their face blinked and shifted different hues of blue and grey as opposed to using a voice. It wasn’t anything unusual, as most monsters did not have any conventional mouths with which to communicate, the trio being amongst them.

Regardless, Sans didn’t pay much attention to the conversation. He just lazily leaned against a stack of crates with his eye sockets closed and his hands buried in his pockets until Grillby approached him again. Then the two of them started on the trade, the haul of exchanged stock much heavier than their counterparts as they hoisted the load outside to the dimensional box. Some boxes were so heavy the three of them had to carry them out, and even then it was a challenge. Suddenly, Sans wasn’t looking forward to unloading it on the other end.

 

“I must remember to compensate you for aiding me with all this,”   the fire monster was saying as Sans watched the last small crate slip out of view and into the box’s domain. Sans made an interrogative grunt as he turned, realising the fire monster had been talking to him.

“what? no way. m’not doing this for any kind of reward-” Sans shook his hands and grinned despite himself. “`sides, i like hangin’ with ya.” He watched as Grillby chuckled heartily as he dusted wood chips and dirt from his jacket and straightened his clothes.

“Am rather fond of your company as well, my friend,”   the fire monster replied jovially. The flames of his face arranged into a shy smile in turn.

Sans had to hold back the thought - to dismiss it altogether before he read too much into it, but his grin broadened at Grillby’s tone anyway. His soul betrayed him again by thudding dully and he rubbed at his chest to ease it away again, averting his eye lights.

“i’d appreciate it, y’know… if we didn’t tell paps what happened,” Sans said after a moment’s pause and shuffled his shoes against the gravelly shale road. “he knows i have my shortcuts, but i don’t think he knows what’s involved. i’d like to keep things pretty much… simple, y’know? he’s already got enough on his plate with the whole undyne and royal guard thing.”

Sans eyed Grillby as he leaned against the closed dimensional box next him, as though to studiously watch him. Sans shrunk down with the look, giving another half-hearted shrug as though to avoid the untold advice.

He’d heard it many times before; that his brother cared about him and anything he felt, should be shared with Papyrus. They were family, but somehow Sans felt that it was more of a closed boundary, especially considering what had led to what was definitely irregular skeletal powers…

“Should not hide from him, especially… the things that affect your health,”   his friend chided, although his tone was quiet and gentle.

Sans scanned Grillby’s face, wishing that the thread of guilt wasn’t so easily woven into him like that. He laughed, the sound forced and aching in his ribs.

“nah, i’m fine. always have been. never better, in fact.”

“Continue to say that as though you’re attempting to convince yourself, not me,”   Grillby pointedly stated as his flames flickered with mild agitation. “Should you think this is the best you can afford to be… your brother and I will continue to worry.”

Put on the spot, Sans absently scratched his jawbone as he looked around them. He looked to escape the frown he was given, all concern and sincerity that tugged at his soul just so. Sans’ soul shuddered at those two simple words ‘and I’, and the compassion with which his friend spoke.

He only knew that his desperate little heart was grasping at straws and searching for anything to cling to in a hope for affection. Sans stayed quiet for a time, unsure of what to say, feeling flushed behind the ribs. He muttered something under his breath.

Grillby hummed softly, the noise a questioned punctuation to Sans’ thoughts and he rose his voice, embarrassed; “didn’t know you cared so much.” His laugh had a bitter quaver and Sans hated the sound of it immediately.

Grillby sighed, the sound kind yet admonishing at the same time. “Would make a poor excuse for both a monster and companion if I did not,”   was his careful reply. Then he exhaled deeply, smoke pluming from his face in a steady stream. It was as though the action soothed him and Grillby crossed his arms over his chest. “Suppose that is why I… got angry.”

The skeleton blinked and looked back to his friend, suddenly not liking where the conversation was headed. “what, you?”

It was the fire monster’s turn to shuffle uneasily, the movement so distinct yet uncommon, Sans couldn’t help but stare. “Had… thought you had Fallen.”

The lights of Sans’ sockets shrunk noticeably and his entire body tensed, shoes scuffing the road. He immediately adjusted himself to something that didn’t betray his shock. The rise of shame and alarm swirled inside of his soul like a torrent, erasing any fluttering feelings he’d felt before.

He forced his bones to still from their subtle clattering. He was so obsessed with how he appeared that Sans didn’t register that Grillby moved - until he was quite literally inches away from him. His eye sockets hollowed and his arms were frozen with the sudden swell of fear.

“oh.”

Sans stole a glance through dark eye sockets, his grin artificially tugged high as he attempted to keep himself reserved.

So that was it, then. Grillby knew about his vastly underwhelming health. He’d tiptoe around him from now on, pity him, treat him like glass like any others did when he used to live in the capital. He wouldn’t be invited anywhere, would be treated as an invalid, like a sick person so close to Falling Down that he’d eventually be forgotten about.

The last thought punctuated his fears like a knife in the chest. Sans gripped each of his sleeves, still grinning wide and hating the way his breath hitched when he finally spoke, lower than before.

“th.. that’s dumb. i’m perfectly ok. absolutely. just tired, heh… just-”

Could he not keep himself together, even for one day? He couldn’t help but grimace, but he remained rooted on the spot.

 

Grillby had stayed quiet throughout the skeleton’s mental anguish, concern upon his face, clear as crystal. For once, he’d said the wrong thing and Grillby wasn’t sure how to fix it. Sans was so tense, so agitated, so put on guard. He’d never seen him this way before. If he was honest, Grillby was more than a little concerned that Sans would flee his company rather than talk about it.

So even though he had his reservations, the bartender gave him a way out; “Been more tired lately than I’ve ever seen you before. You’ve been working hard,”   his voice was an emphatic and resounding lull of fire, “I’m sure your bad nights haven’t made things any easier, either. Why don’t we stay here for the day?”

“can’t stay. gotta go.” Sans’ voice was stilted and quick, his mind running a mile a minute. “your stock-”

Grillby straightened and he set both of his hands on Sans’ shoulders, pouring every essence of his being into a soothing presence. “-Can wait. Please, I insist.”

He noticed the way Sans flinched and he looked down at his skull, his blaze highlighting the smooth bone and small hairline cracks. After a moment, Sans shifted his weight onto one side, hesitant. A beat of silence passed between them and Sans finally sighed, shoulders slumping in resignation. Then, as though he had no other choice, he gave a short nod of submission.

It was foolish for him to rely on Grillby for comfort the way he did, and Sans knew he was only setting himself up for disappointment. His soul was stressed with such restraint and shame that he’d nearly pushed Grillby away. Instead, he stayed silent as the soothing hands stayed upon his shoulders, spreading that velvet-smooth, comforting warmth through his clothes. It seeped into his body, settling straight into his bones’ marrow.

Warm.

Pushing the thought away, Sans cracked a rueful grin. “if you’re insisting… then ok.”

“I am.”

Sans’ eye lights flickered back into their sockets but he didn’t look up. His soul felt heavy with a weight he’d never quite experienced before. Sans stared at the neatly tied black bow tie, all but avoiding his friend’s face.

“i owe ya one, for luggin’ my sleeping corpse from waterfall to kingdom come,” he offered as a joke to dispel the tension, but there was truth to it too. Grillby’s expression was withering but gentle at Sans’ self-deprecating tone. Sans winced. “i dunno if i’ve said it yet, but… thanks.”

Grillby chuckled softly as his hands left Sans’ shoulders and turned towards the street. Sans found that he’d grown accustomed to Grillby’s warmth, having it radiate through him all the way from Waterfall to the hotel in Hotland. It elicited conflicted emotions and pulled him into two separate directions like a tug of war.

So when Grillby’s arm encircled his shoulders to guide him along, for a moment Sans froze, his soul’s pulse thundering through his skull to taunt him. As the fire monster walked, he found himself automatically moving, so close to his body that it was difficult to keep from trembling.

Maybe he could indulge himself. Just a little. Just enough so every damned touch wasn’t such a shock to his starved system. Distracted, Sans kept his hands buried in his pockets as Grillby led them around, their conversation quiet and eventually becoming more relaxed as time passed.

 

They wandered down the streets and through side alleys where various vendor stalls were sprawled out with trinkets, treats and souvenirs for sale or trade. The bustle of city life had its appeal, but it wasn’t the same as home, ironically enough.

As they made their way closer to where the skeleton brothers used to live, Sans pointed out a few areas of interest. Gardens and stone gullies full of yellow flowers in bloom, statues they’d played on in their striped shirt days, little hiding spots that still had a few scratches from their fun there, long ago.

As he showed Grillby around, Sans became more relaxed and his smile was easier and more tender. Such an ordinary place brought up the more pleasant memories of his childhood with Papyrus.

“-and this is the infamous stump that defeated the great papyrus,” he was saying, gesturing languidly with both hands to a half-dead tree in the middle of a courtyard. Almost theatrically, he turned on his heel. “broke his radius on that one.”

Grillby had been watching with glittering eyes Sans strolled around. Sans’ body language revealed the simple reverie of the place as he chuckled amongst his memories. The area they were in was sparse of other monsters so it was just the two of them, with Sans’ carefree drawl echoing against the edifices that were carved into shapes of ancient fallen war heroes.

“Though not you, right?”

Sans stopped and rubbed at his jaw in thought, eye lights searching out the ceiling high above where small shafts of light broke through the natural crevices in the mountain.

“i think… i probably did. don’t really remember, tibia- honest, but i’m always crackin’ up in a few places,” he chuckled, shrugging his shoulders with a grin.

Grillby’s visage twisted in a wry smile as he approached Sans. “Don’t think I didn’t notice that,”   he retorted, his tone teasing.

“notice what?”

“You’re joking again.”   Grillby gestured towards him and all Sans could do was stare at him, dumbstruck. Then something clicked, and his expression softened a little bashfully with a brief shake of his head. “No… it’s good. I rather enjoy your puns.”

Sans hunched into his hood again, unable to conceal the reaction as well as he would have liked. “…n’me yours.” At the fire monster’s inquisitive glance, Sans straightened and nervously patted his hands in his pockets. Idly, he scratched the back of his leg with a shoe. “de-leg? really , grillbz?” His tone was humoured regardless and he laughed at Grillby’s rather pained expression.

“Thought it was humerus.”

Sans burst into cackles in response.

 

 

“i got one more!”

“Sans, please, it’s been two hours-”

The two had been wandering around the downtown core as Sans assaulted the fire monster with a series of increasingly bad jokes. It impressed Grillby that Sans had committed so many jokes to memory, but then there was rarely anything Grillby wasn’t impressed by what Sans was capable of. He rolled his eyes in response to Sans, whom had giddily half-skipped in front of him, but Grillby much preferred this to the tense, practically morose state that Sans had been in hours before.

“what’s it called when a skeleton has trouble with his house?” Sans’ grin widened while he waited for an answer, and Grillby couldn’t help but cover his face with a hand and sigh theatrically. Sans’ smile was infectious, after all. “a grave problem.”

“That’s morbid.”   The fire monster chuckled despite himself, and Sans joined in. “Where did you say you acquired such material?”

“the trash.” Sans shrugged as though it was a perfectly acceptable answer. He was still recovering from his laughing fit. “can’t imagine why; it’s all grade-A material! covered end to end with pictures of little pumpkins with faces and all about skeletons and ghosts, and stuff. pretty spiffy.”

“Appears to be a peculiar topic. Was a skeleton the one who had authored it?”

“i.. i’m pretty sure it’s just me ‘n paps, unless the book is super-ancient,” Sans remarked thoughtfully. “at least, i don’t recall any more skeles..?”

“Perhaps it’s something to ask Sir Gerson about, the next time you find yourself that way,”   the fire monster suggested, then hummed quietly. …… I think I have one.”

“oh?” Sans braced himself, eyeing Grillby with a ready grin.

“A skeleton walks into a bar and asks the bartender for a shot and a mop.”

“uh. i don’t think i’ve heard this one.”

Grillby’s smirk quirked slightly at Sans’ anticipation. “He was a responsible drinker, after all.”

Sans’ peals of laughter echoed through the street, causing a few in the crowd to look after them as they passed. Grillby chuckled at the reaction until Sans finally recovered from his boisterous and wheezing laugh.

“jokes about skeletons and bars? you’re an ace, a guy after my own heart!”

The words breezed past Sans’ teeth before he even had time to think about it and his soul did another nervous flip with his friend’s gentle hum of agreement.

Sans realised that it’d probably be the closest he’d ever get to a confession, so he played it off as a joke. After all, it really was. No one else would know and the sad gag was a conspiracy between his heart and soul.

Grillby noticed his friend’s subtle shift in attitude and although he suspected something, it was a vague estimate as to what Sans was feeling. Sans obviously wrestled with a lot of things in his mind, and Grillby took it as his duty to keep his friend from lingering on them too much. In consideration, he opted for a distraction, gesturing to a line of shop fronts down another street.

Sans took the distraction readily, his soul quivering as he looked above to the old sign. Cobwebs were scattered in the windows, although much more than simple desertion would merit. It was as though the intricate signs were woven and spun into the shop’s name, which had deteriorated with age. He recognised the violet sign and sighed quietly, jabbing a thumb at the door.

“muffet’s used to be here. was my old stompin’ ground,” he offered quietly. “kinda miss the spider cider.” He laughed, the sound hollow as he gestured with both hands to describe what he was thinking of. “for awhile she had these… ringed orange things - sprinkled with sweets and some other sticky stuff, with a batter over it. ringed pumpkins, i think? if y’think pap doesn’t like grease, you should’ve seen him with the sticky stuff.” Then Sans gave an honest laugh. “i guess she doesn’t make `em anymore, though. wonder where she went?”

Grillby inspected the door, leaning close to make out the makeshift note spun on the other side of the glass pane. “`Family emergency`, it says,”   he read aloud. …… Do you think it’s serious?”

“well, it’s vague. and her family’s kinda huge.” Sans shrugged nonchalantly. “she’d put it on there if it was bad. she’s the eccentric type.”

 

As they wandered it got later in the afternoon until the small shafts of light overhead of the city dimmed, a signal to the fall of evening over the large capital. The streets had begun to clear as they decided to turn back, lanterns and lights flickering on as the nightlife started.

Grillby insisted upon getting a bite to eat from a street vendor on their way, then ultimately decided that it would be best to spend the night at the capital. When Sans gave him an incredulous look from the middle of enjoying his stuffed dinner roll - which he could’ve sworn he could taste something of - the fire monster offered a nonchalant shrug, citing that it was “too late to be wandering the CORE and Hotland, anyway.”

Since he’d been suddenly aware of his friend’s spending so frivolously during their trip, Sans at least had the sense to talk Grillby into getting only one room. He noted the way Grillby seemed to freeze, put on the spot, but Sans shook his hands excusingly.

“i can fall asleep anywhere. i don’t need no fancy bed,” he said as the moment passed and Grillby got the key to their room, still tinged a little paler than usual. Saying nothing, Grillby started down the hall, where Sans followed side by side, oblivious. “`sides, i’m easy. if anything, you wouldn’t mind me in bed.”

Sans realised what he’d said the moment the words came out of his mouth, then caught the surprised look on Grillby’s face shortly before the flames obscured it, paler yellow like it had flustered Grillby. Inwardly, Sans groaned and covered his face.

“word boner - er, b-blunder,” he quickly excused in an attempt to laugh it off.

Fuck.

Grillby, as polite as always, gave in to an embarrassed chuckle, running his hand through the flames on his head to stoke them. The movement was more than a little captivating.

“Your remarks lately have been rather incendiary.”   His voice had lowered to a quiet murmur as they walked to their room, as though he was embarrassed. Sans shrank into his hoodie, feeling that he couldn’t feel any more bothered than he did in his entire life, at that very moment.

“f-fire jokes, grillbz? really? ”  He tried to laugh it off again as Grillby unlocked the door and held it open for him. Sans hesitated for a moment until he finally turned into the room, feeling hot under the collar and embarrassed for all the stupid little blunders that day.

“Thought you’d appreciate the effort.”

“i.. i do, and… y’know - a-actually, i should call papyrus,” Sans said dumbly, trying to save face. Desperately, he scanned the room for the complementary phone. Once his eye lights found the old rotary on the wall, Sans all but darted towards it. Meanwhile, Grillby removed his shoes and jacket, and moved to sit at one of the plush comfortable chairs by the inlay hearth. “tell him i’ll be longer than i thought-”

Sans’ hands trembled a little as he dialled in his brother’s phone number, looking directly at the receiver hook and absolutely not at Grillby. It took a couple rings longer than usual for Papyrus to answer.

His soul thrumming hard like a drum, Sans tried to recover from his horrifying slip-up. “heyyyy!!” he all but yelled into the phone. Sans’ voice sounded raw and nervous. “baby bro! we made it to new home and just thought i’d tell you that, uh, i’m gonna be later than i thought… what? no, no, i’m great! awesome. perfect. fantastic. peachy. cool as a cucumber. pick a synonym. so-”

Grillby quietly watched and listened as the call took place, noticing how Sans was so obviously agitated during his conversation with his brother. From the receiver, Papyrus’ voice was crystal clear at times, then it would lower to barely anything at all. Grillby idly wondered if this was the longest the two had been separate, and if Sans’ discomfort throughout their travels had anything to do with it. Or at the very least, perhaps it had contributed to his unease.

Sans had said some intriguing things, whether he’d intended to or not. Although he didn't address it, this didn't mean that Grillby wasn’t developing an insight as to Sans’ thoughts. The nervous behaviour, the conversational slips, the awkward and almost bashful demeanour - the fire monster had thought as much.

He couldn’t help but smile inwardly at the fragile tenderness that had been developing during their time together. But, in case he misread Sans, Grillby didn’t want to assume. It would hurt him far too much if he was wrong, and it’d wound Sans’ pride.

It was something that Sans was taking care to hide. It wasn’t often that Grillby misread people, but he didn’t want to risk it. Not with Sans.

His flames fluttered at the sensation in his soul and he looked away as Sans wrapped up his conversation with his brother. Grillby realised that he knew how to make this a little easier.

When Sans was asleep, Grillby would make a call of his own.

Chapter Text

It’d been awhile since Sans had slept without interruption - to feel that blissful state of unawareness that lulled him into a sense of security and peace. It was a deep sleep too, one that lingered and lightened the longer it went on, more than his usual dreams did. He remarked somewhere in the corner of his sleeping mind, that not even Papyrus was able to push away the darkness, as it had been banished those couple nights ago.

So had it been because of the lingering fire in the corners of his subconscious, or was he going crazy?

 

When Sans woke on his own volition the following morning, he felt that the war within himself had finally gone to rest. He had more than one HP to cling to, the buffer full and stronger than it had ever been by a sizeable fourteen points. It was almost as though he was a kid again, regaining HP overnight only to eventually whittle down…

Still in a lulled state, Sans rolled over, then blinked in confusion at the give in the carpet. He groaned to himself and huddled into it, content and comfortable.

No…

Wait, not carpet.

Bed.

His eye sockets snapping open, Sans identified the unmistakable feel of heavy cloth over his body and the sink of the mattress under him. His mind fluctuated between groggy confusion and searing embarrassment.

No, he had been sleeping on the floor… he was sure of that.

So did that mean Grillby…?

Sans scanned the bed as he pushed himself up. It was certainly larger than anything he’d slept in before, but Grillby wasn’t on the opposite side (laying down with him), so Sans exhaled loudly in relief. In fact, the fire monster wasn’t even in the room.

Puzzled, Sans sat up, the first thing that drew his attention was that his hoodie was missing and a precursory glance around told him that it wasn’t anywhere in the room, either.

But, he’d fallen asleep wearing his hoodie. He rarely took it off; he felt naked without it. Sans slouched in thought, idly scratching at his lower spine through his plain white shirt as he attempted to figure it out and replay the previous night in his mind.

Apart from his idiotic slip-ups, the evening had been fairly pleasant and without much drama. Grillby was reserved after his pale flames died down - whatever that meant. They’d played a few games with a pen and paper to pass the time until Sans ultimately got tired enough to doze where he sat.

Oh, so he had voluntarily removed his hoodie. Sans tapped his jaw, the soft clack a soothing sound that emphasised his pensive mood. So where had it gone? Where had Grillby gone?

What was the reason he took it off again?

He grated his knuckles against his sternum, agitation rising in Sans as he had no idea what possessed Grillby to leave with his hoodie. Papyrus had given it to him in their youth, assuring him that he’d grow into it. Sans never did, but that’s what he loved about it. It was big and cosy, had just the right amount of fur in the hood, the pockets were deep and comforting. He’d had it for ages, damn it, and it was his favourite.

Flustered, he rubbed his hands over his face and groaned, having looked at the desk and night table for a note.

Nothing.

He groaned again, louder this time. How long had Grillby been gone? Sans glanced at the old-fashioned clock on the wall next to the rotary phone and rose a figurative brow at the time.

9:23AM.

AM? He didn’t wake up in the morning by himself.

This was turning out to be a weird day, he noted thoughtfully and swung his legs over the side of the bed. It took him a moment to register why it looked so off. It was probably due to the fact that he’d been wearing the sneakers Papyrus gave him for the past three days, but Sans removed them the night before. He carefully wriggled his toe, then curled the rest of them on the same foot. Then he pulled up his leg to inspect the ankle.

There was a noticeable mark where it had healed, lighter than the rest of the bone like it was new, but it was secure and welded shut. He grazed his fingertips against the slight raised surface and gave the foot a careful rotation. It didn’t even hurt anymore, he realised. His grin tugged into more of a grateful smile. He didn’t know Grillby was a healer.

Sans got out of bed and went through a few drawers for some courtesy utensils until he found a fork, and then made his way to the bathroom where he hoped to find a mirror. Fortunately there was one, lit with a row of white bulbs, though the counter was a bit higher than he was used to. Sans had to pull a stool from the wall to get a better look at himself.

He looked better than he’d expected to. Sans surveyed his reflection in the mirror, noting the stress marks below his eye sockets had diminished, though he was definitely more scruffed up than when he’d left Snowdin. He grimaced into the mirror as he leaned in close, hollowing out an eye and looking into the reflection to peer into his skull.

He shuddered, finding small bits of tattered garbage and vegetation in the cavity and huffed an aggravated sigh in preparation. If he’d been home, Papyrus would have given him a long and stern lecture about taking better care of himself while helping him with such a task.

Instead, he removed most of the debris himself. The grating of the utensil in his right socket jarred his senses as he dislodged some dried grass and seeds. It would’ve definitely been easier if his mandible wasn’t fused, Sans groused internally yet in full concentration. He let the dislodged pieces fall into the sink after appraising them with a glare.

He was so wrapped up in the chore that Sans didn’t hear the door close in the other room. Soon after, he was caught with a fork in his eye socket and feeling like an idiot. Sans gave the bemused bartender a rationalised gesture to his skull, then leaned forward again, determined, to pick at a stubborn piece of… what was that? More typha pods?

Sans made a disgruntled noise when he realised there was a tangle of more fishing line wound around the pod. He glanced at Grillby through the mirror, who remained leaning against the frame of the door in stunned silence.

“i guess there was a reason i felt like garbage yesterday, eh?” Sans joked. He then dropped the fork into the sink with a clatter and resumed digging around in his orbit for the end of the line with his fingers, finally ending with a merciless tug. He saw Grillby’s flames shudder in a cringe. “don’t worry, buddy. it doesn’t hurt.”

“Was not my concern,”   the fire monster countered hotly. He stiffened after he’d pushed himself away from the door jamb. Then Grillby made a sound of disgust when Sans finally freed the line from his skull in a spray of dried clay and leaves. The typha pods, clay and dried sediment dusted all over the bathroom sink and counter.

“y’know, your heat dried it up real good,” Sans commented as though it’d been the most natural thing in the world. To Grillby, Sans looked entirely unaffected. Sans continued his work, glaring into his skull cavity again and tilting his head from side to side to ensure he’d gotten at least most of it. The last thing he needed was for anything to start sprouting in there. “made it easier to get out.”

Grillby turned his face away from the gruesome sight and idly adjusted his glasses - anything to keep himself from staring in utmost horror.

“Glad to be of assistance.”

Sans sent him a mirrored grin as he collected the debris from the sink in a half-hearted effort to clean up. He chucked what he could into the wastebasket and ran the tap so he could scrub some of the dirtier marks from his jaw and around his forehead.

“you didn’t wake me?”

The fire monster shifted in place as he watched Sans wash up, scrutinising the water with something like curiosity in his blaze. “You looked peaceful. Besides, I… wanted to do you a favour.”

Sans stopped and turned his skull to fully regard him, feeling a taunting warmth rekindle beneath his ribs. Water droplets ran down his jaw and he awkwardly wiped them away with the back of his forearm. The look he sent Grillby was inquisitive, to say the least.

Grillby offered him a secretive smirk, then he nodded out of the room as he turned. “After you’ve finished, come see.”

Well, who could argue with that?

Sans’ thoughts raced as he hastily scrubbed at the more stubborn marks on his skull and fingers. When he was suitably clean, he turned off the water and haphazardly towelled off to meet Grillby in the other room.

He wasn’t sure what he was expecting, but nothing had really changed. In fact, Sans had to stand still in order to figure out just what Grillby had done. His eye lights automatically sought out the familiar cornflower blue of his hoodie and when he found it, Sans couldn’t help but grin with relief. He hesitated for a brief moment at the way the fire monster gestured towards the bed, where it lay neatly folded over the covers.

“what’s this…” Sans murmured, anticipation and disbelief in his tone as he cautiously approached the bed.

No, it… was his hoodie. The same yet different, and clean. Old condiment and grease stains had been scrubbed from the worn fabric despite Papyrus’ best efforts to get them out. Sans held it up by the top of the shoulders, taking in each detail. The lining had been brushed out, the thick mats at the nape gone and the fur puffed up so much it looked newer than when he’d first gotten it. Sans’ grin tugged a little more as he pulled it over his head without hesitation, exhaling in appreciation. Even some of the more prominent rips at the seams had been repaired too.

It was still warm from Grillby handling it and Sans’ bones tingled at the nearly intimate touch. He hunched into it, having never felt the warmth of a hot blanket before. It just felt like it cocooned him, comforting and right.

He let himself fall back onto the bed with a satisfied sigh. His hands found the pockets and he tested how soft and puffy they were, no trace of dried vegetation or lint to be felt. It was like being wrapped in sunlight - or at least, how he would’ve imagined such a sensation to feel like.

“papyrus is gonna be furious,” he chuckled after a few blissful minutes.

“You may inform him that nobody out-cleans a city-dwelling Woshua,”   Grillby replied with a bit of a shy smile. Once he’d seen that the gift had been well-received, he busied himself with the breakfast he’d brought with him. “Are you content?”

Grinning, Sans slowly sat up to regard him. Now he adored his jacket, a collaborative gift from the two people he cared about the most. Honestly, Sans nodded, his soul feeling quite at peace for once. He liked the smile the fire monster offered him, and how it warmed his soul even from the distance between them.

Grillby looked content himself, voicing his appreciation; “Then I am glad.”

The tone flooded Sans with warmth and he buried his skull into the fuzzy lining of his hood, grin unbearably awkward and flustered from such a kind response.

 

The morning was leisurely and slow. There was no real rush and they ate breakfast in amiable silence. After relaxing for most of the morning, they checked out of the hotel and set off again, as it was time to head back to Snowdin.

Sans’ elated mood didn’t show on his face, but he felt lighter and better than he had in weeks. If anything, he would’ve guessed it had something to do with both Grillby’s kindness and his own generous buffer.

Fortunately, the CORE’s system was back online; the lights overhead fully operational and their path unbarred and brightly lit. The strange sensation Sans initially felt throughout had disappeared into a small worry. He couldn’t help but idly wonder if the CORE had become unstable during their previous way through. It had been a concern, but he tried not to think about it.

Their conversations were easier through Hotland, insofar as Sans’ previous contributions had been absent. He huffed through the area behind Grillby, who took smaller steps, basking in the heat like it was a walk in the park.

It had never really registered with Sans just how huge Hotland was, when he never needed to traverse the entire quarry himself. He always preferred his shortcuts, but he’d be damned if he took one now with how Grillby reacted when he’d zipped away before. Sans still felt guilty for making him worry, after all.

Grillby started to walk a little slower as they approached the caverns that led into Waterfall. Assuredly, Sans walked ahead of him by a couple steps, pausing to check his shoelaces. It’d be pretty horrible to be carried all the way to Snowdin this time and would make for a peculiar scene to explain to Papyrus.

“how’re you holding up?” Sans inquired after they’d travelled through to a large pool that blocked their way.

Someone had erected a makeshift bridge of floating boxes and used vines to secure it - then promptly left the mess behind for someone else to deal with. Sans carefully tested it to ensure that it was safe, then turned to the fire monster, who gave him an uneasy grimace.

“Bringing up panic, I’ll admit,”   was the careful reply, his body language all but relaxed. Sans shrugged as though to infer to Grillby that everything would be ok. “And you?”

“weirdly gung-ho,” Sans mused thoughtfully as he scratched the side of his head. “it’s gonna throw paps for a loop, for sure.”

He started across the bridge first, finding it more secure than it looked. Sans hopped on it a couple of times for good measure to prove that it was sound, then turned to give Grillby the all-clear with a thumbs-up.

 

The walk was long, if only because Grillby’s pace had slowed considerably. Sans knew it was due to his fear of falling into any of the water. He was sympathetic for Grillby and offered him a helping hand or arm whenever the ground underfoot was unsure.

Despite his soul echoing that strange little thump when Grillby held onto him tightly, Sans gave the fire monster reassuring grins and told jokes to him. Overall, he tried to make the experience at least a little better than the previous one.

When they’d finally reached the ‘star’-gazing cavern, they stopped to sit and rest against the wall, legs drawn up and arms hanging over their knees in tandem. They both took a moment to look up at the glittering crystals high above. For once, no one else was around and they could do so in relative peace.

Having lived underground his entire life, Sans had never seen any true constellations apart from charts and old junky magazines. He was one of the many that looked up to see if there were any he could pick out, for the crystals to line up in just the right way that Sans could convince himself they were on the surface. There had even been a deep-seated obsession for awhile where Sans couldn’t get enough of anything remotely ‘spacey’, as Papyrus so appropriately called it.

After a silent reprieve, he finally spoke; “hey, boss?” Grillby looked over from looking ceiling-ward to the skeleton’s face. “call this a bit of a silly question, but humour me.” Grillby smirked a little but remained silent, patiently waiting. “what do you think stars are made of, anyway, if not wishes?”

Out of the corner of his eye, Sans saw the paling flames again and turned his head in time to witness Grillby’s pause, then his slitted jagged mouth part with a sudden burst of laughter. Involuntarily, Sans grinned, although he wasn’t sure if he’d made a joke or not to elicit such a reaction.

He watched as Grillby removed his glasses with one hand and covered his eyes, his shoulders shaking with the laughter that would just not pass. Amused with the outburst, Sans joined in, although he didn’t get it when his companion gestured vaguely and pointed to his flaming face.

“you’re gonna have to be more specific than that, bud,” Sans teased as he leaned forward to get a better look at his friend’s expression. “don’t think i like you crackling up at my super-serious and ultra-important question like that.”

Sans found that he did though; he’d never seen Grillby so enraptured in laughter like this before and his soul danced giddily in response.

Grillby’s laughter subsided into a low hearty chuckle as he turned his head in his hands. He rested the brunt of his chin in his palm after he replaced his glasses.

“You’re not serious…”   he rebuked kindly, still fighting small interruptions of laughter.

“i was being dead serious,” Sans objected, and watched every movement Grillby made. “now i’m just confused.” Regardless, Sans moved so that he could rest his skull into his hands, supported by his knees.

“Oh… Suppose I had thought that you were… already aware.”

Sans sent Grillby a questioning look. “…well, they exist, anyway.”

That only redoubled Grillby’s laughter, a sound so clear and resonant that it echoed down the corridor and was picked up by the bright blue flowers at the end of the room. It took Grillby a few moments more to recover, removing his glasses again to rub at an eye. Sans openly stared at him with a bemused, half-cocked smirk, as Grillby grinned back at him, unable to help himself.

Sans had never seen Grillby cut loose and really crack up about something. It was certainly a refreshing outlook, a polar opposite to the calm demeanour he’d grown accustomed to. Sans found that he appreciated the levity in response to his question if this was the result.

“I’m not making fun, honestly-”   Grillby finally said, all apologies. He replaced his glasses once more and gave in to an amused hum. “It was just… charming.”

Sans huffed softly, turning his skull away. To hide the bashful grin that he couldn’t keep off his face, Sans flipped his hood up so it obscured his face. “heh. jeez.”

His soul hammered again and he felt warmer than before. How peculiar. Sans hoped it was just embarrassment or Grillby’s residual heat that triggered it. He desperately hoped that it wasn’t an addition to the punchline for his heart’s ever-increasing pranks.

Grillby settled his face on his palm again and watched as the skeleton shrank into his jacket, all flustered. His smile broadened a little more and he leaned closer as though to test his boundaries, the movement catching Sans so off-guard that the skeleton threatened to topple over in surprise.

“Can you keep a secret?”   was the gentle whisper of fire, Grillby’s eyes bright and intense.

Sans quickly pulled down his hood and took mental purchase of what the fire monster could’ve meant by that. There was an impish and almost wildly inappropriate way that Grillby’s heat seemed to pervade the space between them. His bones began to rattle softly and Sans tensed apprehensively, suddenly unsure about everything he knew about the other monster.

Grillby leaned against the wall and out of Sans’ personal space as though to give him a break. Sans appreciated it, drawing in a slow breath when Grillby tilted his fiery head up, his flames licking the moisture from the wall and air above him with pops and snaps.

“You’ve made me self-conscious, friend. Should like to think that you’d be familiar with a star’s incandescence by now.”

Sans dwelled on it for longer than he maybe should’ve, feeling oddly disappointed in himself despite Grillby’s shy grin. That is, until it finally clicked and Sans smirked to himself, a giddy little excitement flooding into him.

Grillby’s flames arranged peculiarly again, paler and with a gentle flutter of yellow and orange, but it was very bright. Sans watched them in stunned silence until Grillby moved as if uncomfortable, a small yet uneasy smile on his face. Sans caught the way the fire monster chanced a sidelong glance at him then looked back to the glowing crystals above.

“heh. always knew i took a shining to you for a reason, grillbz,” Sans finally murmured, meaning it with his entire heart and soul, even though he’d turned his face away in a gamble.

The flames burned a little brighter, more golden with a touch of white, and Sans curiously looked back, drawn to the colours. It wasn’t anything that he’d ever really seen before. Grillby half-cowered behind his hand, the crack of a smile barely hidden by his fingers. The fire monster chuckled despite himself.

Sans stared, curious and amazed by the flames’ arrangement and Grillby’s charming nature. He then let out a quiet chuckle and hid his skull against the fuzzy lining of his jacket, sighing softly. Sans didn’t know what to make of the shift in fire colour. It wasn’t as though Grillby was exhausted, but it was bright and almost erratic. Sans wondered if maybe it was something Grillby inadvertently did whilst embarrassed or flustered.

It was definitely something he’d never seen the fire monster do before.

 

Ultimately, it was time to continue. While the bridge seeds were reset on the way back, the gap was small enough for the two to hop over near the southernmost tip of the main landmass. They took their time, somehow words just falling silent as Sans’ last comment resonated in his mind.

If truth be told, Sans had really taken to Grillby. It was no doubt a deep-rooted affection for his long-time friend, though Sans wasn’t sure just when it had started. He supposed that he’d always liked Grillby in one way or another.

And with that, Sans realised he was silently admitting to himself that there was no getting away from this feeling. He couldn’t bury it, couldn’t let it out. He’d trapped himself in a sappy state of yearning, where he could never have what he wanted or things would change forever.

It was both heart-wrenching and glorious in its own way.

Chapter Text

The path back to Snowdin led them up to Sans’ sentry station, where Papyrus was covering for him. Sans caught him drumming his gloved fingers against the desk of the station, poured over a thick book and hunched with barely pent-up, agitated boredom. Papyrus all but jumped off the stool he was sitting on when the pair got close enough to the glade separating the path back to Snowdin.

Sans knew damn well that he couldn’t use a shortcut with Papyrus right there; at least not without a whole lot of explaining, and there weren’t any more bridge seeds to form a crossing. The only saving grace was that there weren’t any boulders falling that afternoon, but the area was slick with black ice and Sans could feel the stark chill from the other side of the cavern.

Peculiar, since he hadn’t noticed it before. Perhaps he’d gotten too used to Hotland, or a certain heat in general…

“hey, bro, look lively!” he called across the gap to where Papyrus met up with him, who crossed his arms defiantly.

“SANS! THANK GOD YOU’RE BACK!” Papyrus belted over the clamour of rushing water. Sans grinned over at him, giving a relaxed shrug and wink.

“looks like we’re stuck again,” he murmured to Grillby, who carefully eyed the deep rushing waters nearby. Sans lowered the register of his voice; “you distract him. tell him to go to storage and get a toboggan or something. then when he’s gone, i’ll just… zoop us over there.”

Zoop?”   Well, by the look Grillby gave Sans, he got the idea.

Grillby fixed him with a disapproving glare, to which Sans just passively shrugged. He watched his brother prowl around the opposite side of the bank to puzzle out a solution, mumbling all the while.

The longer they idled, the more steam wisped off the fire monster, who rigidly called out to Papyrus to offer Sans’ idea. Pumped for direction, Papyrus whirled on the spot and trotted off in a hurry.

Once out of view, Sans focused on the magic that coursed through his body. It no longer felt raw and frayed and he felt like a new monster - even with the long walk from New Home. He sent an innocent smile to Grillby as he held out his hand, waiting for a fissure to open up nearby. Sans’ soul then did a happy little skip when Grillby slipped his hand into his and he led the fire monster backward through the crack in reality.

It wasn’t as much of a drain on Sans as it first was. It still expended a decent amount of energy as opposed to when Sans took a shortcut alone, but he felt ok. Maybe it was the buffer, or the generous amount of rest he had. Regardless, when they stepped out in front of Sans’ sentry post, Sans was able to restrain the soft breath of exertion when Grillby turned to look at him, still gripping his hand.

He looked down at their joined hands for a moment. Grillby seemed to realise the same, hesitance and embarrassment evident as he let go with a pale flicker. The skeleton tilted his head a bit at the peculiarity. He wondered if this time if it was an uncomfortable reflex the bartender had.

He’d have to remember that for the future. After all, he didn’t want to step on any toes.

Sans meandered around to the back of the station and stole his brother’s seat as he flipped through a few pages in the manual. As they waited for Papyrus to return, he thumbed through it; it was an advanced puzzle and entrapment catalogue, one his brother had been ruthlessly marking up the pages with his own ideas and equations, or ‘fixing’ the ones in the book.

He hummed quietly, not even lifting his gaze when he heard the rush of wood sliding on hard earth and his brother’s thundering footfalls.

A sudden skid to a stop marked Papyrus’ arrival and Sans lifted his head to regard him. Now upon closer inspection, Sans felt a twinge of guilt for making him run all the way. It’s not like he had any choice in the matter, since his brother had always been active enough for the both of them.

However, over seventy-two hours’ worth of four-shift days and his brother looked… well, ragged . He didn’t have the luxury of Sans’ shortcuts after all, and Sans couldn’t help but envision his brother sprinting full force across the Underground to make his three o’clock shift in Hotland after finishing in Waterfall at the same time. He guiltily grinned up at him as Papyrus let the toboggan fall beside the booth and sat down against the wall to catch his breath.

“thanks, bro. that’ll help loads with the crates,” Sans said appreciatively as he started to rummage through his station.

“WHAT WAS-” Papyrus stopped as it then dawned on him that Sans was on the same side as him. He looked over and saw Grillby a short distance away, who gave him a shy wave. “DID YOU JUST USE MAGIC?”

“how else could we cross?” Sans responded to his brother’s suspicious tone with a noncommittal shrug, still searching. “what, no snacks? don’t tell me the great and mighty papyrus deserted his station for even one moment to take a lunch break?

He was only teasing, inching under his brother’s figurative skin to get a rise out of him. It’d been awhile and he’d missed it. Like he was the one to talk, with Sans having been so ill-prepared for the journey to New Home. He hoped that his brother wouldn’t put two and two together - at least, not immediately.

True to form, Papyrus bristled defensively and vaulted himself to his feet to stomp over and berate him. Meanwhile, Grillby smirked at the brotherly quarrel and approached the dimensional box to start to unpack.

 

Papyrus studied his brother for a moment. Everything about how Sans carried himself to even his clothes seemed off. Sans grinned up at him from his station, then paused to look down and turn a page in the book Papyrus had previously been engrossed in.

“YOU REALLY ARE… OK?” Papyrus said quietly as he leaned over the station, both gloved hands braced against the edge of the counter top. He saw the pleasant look vanish from his brother’s eye sockets and the lights inside them nervously flick in Grillby’s direction, whom had started to unload stock without him.

Papyrus’ gaze never left him. Sans’ eye movements had been so slight yet so clear, when Sans was normally much more careful not to give away something that he took care to hide.

His hoodie was spotless, far cleaner than he’d ever gotten it. Additionally, Sans’ skull and phalanges were scrubbed white as though he’d bothered to take care of himself. His sockets were less hollowed and distressed, his posture more relaxed than he’d been in months. Sans was rested, and if Papyrus had peeked then, he would’ve seen the solid twelve points his older brother sported and a subtle, healthy, cyan glow around his soul.

So everything boiled down in his mind that something had happened, and Sans took steps to hide it from him. Papyrus’ eye sockets narrowed suspiciously and he patiently drummed his fingers on the wooden counter just as Sans calmly looked back.

“never better, bro,” came the predictable reply.

Papyrus leaned forward, his glare scrutinising and he saw again, the faint flick of Sans avoiding him in favour of looking into the fire monster’s direction. Yes, something had definitely happened, and that something had to do with that grease-peddling bartender!

“ARE YOU GOING TO TELL ME WHAT HAPPENED, SANS?” Papyrus’ voice dropped a little more and he kept his tone even and mellow with just a hint of concern.

Sans uncomfortably shifted on the stool and only moved to scratch at his jaw. Papyrus knew the nervous tic. He knew that his brother was going to evade him and he’d more than likely try to change the subject.

“not now, pap.” There it was! He could always detect it.

“YES `NOW`, BROTHER.”

“i’m fine.”

“OF COURSE YOU ARE!! YOU ALWAYS SAY THAT! BUT RIGHT NOW I NEED FOR YOU TO BE A LESS NEEDLESSLY STUBBORN BROTHER FOR ONCE,” Papyrus interjected, though he mercifully kept his voice down. “I DON’T SEE YOU FOR DAYS WITH ONLY A HANDFUL OF CALLS - THE FIRST ONE RATHER WORRYING, BY THE WAY - AND IT BRINGS UP A LOT OF QUESTIONS! THESE ARE NOT THE KINDS OF PUZZLES I LIKE PARTAKING IN, SANS!”

Sans’ eye lights darted towards the fire monster again, this time his grin dropped in response to his brother’s lecture before he brought his attention back to Papyrus.

Helplessly, he started; “i know you told me to take it easy-”

“-AND YOU DIDN’T! USED SO MUCH MAGIC YOU PASSED OUT THAT HE CALLED ME IN A PANIC-”

Sans froze, eye lights seized to the size of pinpricks. He stared at his brother for a beat, then his body automatically moved on its own and vaulted up right off the stool. Yet Sans forced himself to stay still, no matter how badly his body wanted to shake, no matter how much he wanted to flee to escape further scrutiny. This wasn’t the time to talk about this. This wasn’t even the place for them to have this conversation, right in the open where anyone - especially Grillby - could overhear.

Papyrus had stopped, but he still leaned over the counter to look him straight in the face, his expression a melange of austerity and concern.

Sans remained stock-still, unable to think for a moment. All his worries ground in his head, chewing it up and jamming any further escape attempts. This wasn’t the best time to have this kind of heart-to-heart chat, even if his brother was concerned. Grillby was right there. He couldn’t chance even the slightest possibility that he didn’t know about his low health.

It took everything in him, Sans’ chest shuddering as he leaned forward in turn. He whispered, his voice almost strained with the two insistent words; “i’m. fine.”

It looked like Papyrus wasn’t about to drop it, so Sans flung out his arms in frustration, every inch of him burning defensively. Fed up with the coddling, he hissed, “just check, then.”

 

Grillby stopped what he was doing to look over, their harsh whispers grating and echoing until he very clearly heard an upset tone. Like magnetism, he knew who it was and saw in time for Sans to hop up and, aggravated, spread his arms as though for Papyrus to see for himself.

‘One’s all he’s got’ , he recalled Papyrus’ words as a Check was obviously performed on Sans. Ashamed, the fire monster turned his head from them when Papyrus gasped as though astonished - or scandalised. Grillby wasn’t quite sure.

There’d been no internal joke for once, but Papyrus’ internal view caught a surprising number.

[ * 12 HP ]

Elated, Papyrus let out a triumphant laugh as though he’d expected otherwise. It’d been a tense few moments for Sans as he was Checked, never quite at ease with the intrusion. He was grateful that there’d been no indication of his most recent magic usage on his soul; with any other monster, it would’ve registered negatively by three points.

Sans’ shoulders slumped with his brother’s reaction, and he was about to sit back down when Papyrus rounded the station and threw his arms around his head, pulling Sans into a rough embrace.

Sans chuckled despite himself, making an awkward attempt to outmanoeuvre the display of affection before an audience and he discreetly pointed to Grillby, who was loading the toboggan with heavy crates. He hoped that the fire monster hadn’t taken his invitation as well, but it appeared that Grillby was too preoccupied with his stock to pay any attention to their exchange. That was a relief.

“now that that’s over, do you mind giving us a hand?”

 

With Papyrus’ enthusiastic assistance, Sans and Grillby were able to load more than half the freight onto the toboggan to pull into the fresh powdery snow of their hometown. The sharp scent of winter and home reached Sans’ senses and he sighed appreciatively, giving his friend a bashful smile when Grillby looked over.

At the end of their first trip, Sans went back alone with the sled to fetch the rest; Grillby stayed behind to unload into the storage shed behind the bar. Papyrus had already gone back to his post, having cited that he needed to be on high alert should the captain of the Royal Guard stop by. He didn’t want to be mistaken for Sans, after all.

“IT OCCURS TO ME THAT YOU HAVEN’T AT ALL EXPLAINED WHAT HAPPENED IN WATERFALL YET, BROTHER,” Papyrus murmured with a hint of disapproval.

He said it without looking up from his book as Sans passed him on his way to the item box. Sans looked over his shoulder, his grin dropping just a bit as he hoisted the lid of the box open to pull out more waiting crates.

“went fishing.” There. It wasn’t a lie, and it wasn’t not the truth either. He grinned despite himself and grunted with effort as a rather noisy box was thrown up next, filled with clinking bottles. Out of the corner of his eye, Papyrus leaned out over the front of the station to watch him.

“THAT SEEMS… INNOCUOUS ENOUGH. BUT! IT’S YOU. I KNOW YOU’RE DOWN-PLAYING WHAT REALLY HAPPENED!”

Sans rolled his eye lights as he turned to face his brother with a crate in his hands. Then he set it down on the wooden toboggan with a bit more force than what was probably necessary. Sans recognised his reaction as a bit more peevish than he wanted to let on and corrected himself, uncomfortably gesturing to beckon Papyrus over.

In a rush of footsteps, Papyrus sprinted up to him expectantly, his chest puffed out and body drawn up straight like a bow.

“ok, well. you can’t be looking like that,” Sans groused and moved his hands into his pockets. Papyrus deflated somewhat - a feat, considering his confident and overzealous nature. It looked as though it took every bit of Papyrus not to launch a volley of questions at Sans; demanding who, what, when, how, and why.

“so, yeah… i messed up.” Papyrus’ shoulders slumped in disappointment at his brother’s lacklustre beginning. Sans chuckled softly and hopped onto a crate to sit down. “ok, but don’t freak out. if i hear any echo flowers harpin’ on `cause you repeat everything i say-”

“OH, OUT WITH IT!”

“heh…” Sans hunched his jaw into the fur of his hood’s lining, taking comfort in the feel of it. “i kinda… tripped. lost my leg… and it kinda wound up at the dump.”

He shot a glance at his brother, who stared him down with incredulity. In addition to that, it was possible that Papyrus figured out which leg just by looking at him. Sans commended him; generally there would’ve been an outburst of some kind, but Papyrus kept quiet, as though puzzling something out. Hopefully, he didn’t draw a connection between the laces and Sans’ stumble, though.

Knowing Papyrus, it wouldn’t be long before his little brother put two and two together to know he’d overdone it.

“i used magic to avoid water,” Sans evasively added, dancing around the subject of what kind of magic.

“YOU’RE RATHER PROFICIENT AT BLUE…” Papyrus interjected at his brother’s pause, then visibly grimaced at Sans’ reproachful look. “I MEAN…” There, he was being quieter now.

“waterfall’s a big place, `lil bro,” Sans muttered excusingly. “lots of water. and i dunno if you’ve noticed, but grillbz is made of fire.” He grinned at Papyrus’ scathing look and waved his hand at him dismissively.

“SO YOU FLOATED AROUND ON ONE LEG, AND-”

Sans felt the warmth return to the spot beneath his ribs and he slouched further into his hoodie, staying quiet, and rather pointedly ignored his brother’s look. It took Papyrus only a moment to realise that his brother’s discomfort was for an entirely different reason - and that he could very clearly see a subtle glow peek out from under Sans’ collar.

Oh. Well, that certainly was different. Much different than the night with the sleepover.

“I SEE! SO HE CARRIED YOU.” The glow brightened considerably and Papyrus cocked his head to one side, interest making his grin brighter. “AND YOU USED MAGIC UP TO THE POINT THAT YOU IGNORED YOUR BODY’S SIGNALS? PUSHED YOURSELF BEYOND YOUR LIMITS, DID YOU? I WOULDN’T HAVE THOUGHT YOU’D NEGLECTED TO BRING ANY EMERGENCY PROVISIONS, NOR FORGET YOUR WALLET AT HOME, FOR THAT MATTER…” He sighed in exasperation and shook his skull disparagingly, a hand finding its usual place at his hip.

Papyrus decided that, for once, he wouldn’t cut into his brother quite as much about this kind of thing. At least, not now, when Sans looked at him like he was about to scream. After all, he was a great brother, as was Sans - as aggravating as he was. And for whatever reason, Sans was hiding something that was a lot more personal than what Papyrus had initially thought.

While Papyrus came off as a bonehead to many, he knew quite a bit about the world around him. But then at the same time, there were still things he had to rush to the old turtle about.

This would probably be one of those times, he gathered.

He watched as Sans dumbly nodded and reach for his sternum, clutching the cornflower blue hoodie reflexively.

“REALLY, SANS! I PICK YOU UP ALL THE TIME. IT’S HARDLY WORTH MENTIONING AT THIS POINT.” He saw the exaggerated pained expression Sans sent him and Papyrus frowned. “OH, KNOCK THAT OFF! - HE… WASN’T RUDE ABOUT IT, WAS HE?” If he had to be honest, Papyrus didn’t know a whole lot about the bartender either, now that he thought about it…

Sans seemed to consider it for a moment, then eventually shrugged in that irritating and noncommittal way of his. “didn’t complain once,” he admitted as though the thought was a revelation. Sans sighed, the action small yet heavy. “sorry. i checked out just before the end of waterfall. he carried me the rest of the way, i guess.”

Papyrus stood quietly for a half a beat as though turning over the thought in his head. He stroked at his jaw with one hand and nodded to himself.

“so what did you tell him, papyrus?”

“NYEH-?” Papyrus turned to regard his brother, who looked much more defeated than usual. His mind raced, recollecting the phone conversation with the fire monster before Papyrus answered candidly; “WELL OF COURSE HE WAS WORRIED!! SO I, PAPYRUS, HAD TO CONSOLE HIM!”

“does he know?”

“KNOW WHAT?”

Sans seemed to wither even more and Papyrus understood immediately. He fidgeted, gloved fingers plucking at the sleeves. While technically he lied quite a bit to Sans, they were all silly and insignificant. It’d be a rotten thing to do so now, especially to his brother, whom Papyrus cared about very much. But it always struck him that Sans was being overly self-conscious about other monsters finding out about something as silly as his HP. He did understand, all things considered…

“NO,” he said firmly, then watched as Sans visibly relaxed with a relieved huff. This was too difficult. No, he supposed he could, just this one time, come clean, “BUT, MAYBE… KIND OF? NOW, HOLD ON-” He saw the panic and distress suddenly flare in his brother’s eye sockets, so Papyrus gently waved at him to remain seated. “ALLOW ME TO EXPLAIN!”

Sans’ voice was quiet, wavering in disbelief; “you told him..?”

“SANS, I SAID KIND OF! HE KNEW THAT AT THE TIME, YOU HAD ‘ONE’. HE TOLD ME, BECAUSE NATURALLY HE FELT SO GUILTY THAT HE THOUGHT YOU HAD FALLEN DOWN!” Papyrus spoke quickly and candidly, leaning over his brother with a pleasant, if not careful smile. It was a stark contrast to the horror Sans felt culminating inside of his soul at the very thought of being found out. “HE PROBABLY THOUGHT IT WAS HIS FAULT! HE WAS SO DISTRESSED - AND THAT I TOLD HIM, YES. BUT! THAT YOU WOULD BE BETTER AFTER SOME REST. SO, HOW HE INTERPRETED THAT IS UP TO HIM!”

Somehow Papyrus’ explanation made fear redouble within Sans’ soul. Sans cowered were he sat, hands buried in his pockets as he restlessly pulled at the seams. He stayed quiet as guilt joined in on the action, his heart aching and his mind skimming through memories of the journey.

What if all those moments had been out of pity? What if Grillby’s kindness hadn’t been kindness at all?

What if-

His soul pinched, hurt - betrayed.

He let out a bitter laugh, cut off as soon as it was released as Sans moved to stand. “that’s what you told him, huh?” His mind raced and Sans knew deep down that he couldn’t yell at Papyrus for trying to calm Grillby down in his time of need.

Grillby had been that concerned for him that… he’d Checked him, maybe?

Something twinged inside and Sans laughed again, defensively. He slid off the edge of the crate and started to unload the dimensional box again, slowly this time. He paused when he realised that Papyrus was staring at him, his expression twisted in guilt so much that he had that kicked puppy look.

Grimacing, Sans forced himself to pay attention to the task at hand. “i’m not mad, bro,” Sans murmured after a beat of silence, then he shifted the crate in his hands. “he was that worried, huh?”

Papyrus took the crate from him and loaded it onto the toboggan. “WELL… HE’S THE QUIET TYPE, RIGHT? IT WAS SO BIZARRE! TO HEAR HIM SO PANICKED, THAT I… I FELT BAD FOR HIM? IMAGINE IF OUR ROLES WERE REVERSED, DEAR BROTHER. AND YOU HAD TO CONSOLE SOMEONE WHO CARED FOR ME, THAT I WASN’T DYING? WHEN THEY THOUGHT THAT I WAS?”

Sans considered it for awhile in silence, still moving to unload the boxes. He didn’t like the casual way that his brother brought up his own demise, even if it was hypothetical. At least in this timeline, so far.

Don’t think about that.

“AND HE… JUST MAYBE, FELT RESPONSIBLE?”

“i messed up,” Sans agreed with a soft sigh. He turned to face his brother, who offered him uneasy smile - like Papyrus was afraid that he had sincerely messed up. “i know you meant well. i just… i panicked, y’know? i don’t want anything to change between us like that.”

“WELL! HAS HE TREATED YOU ANY DIFFERENTLY SINCE THEN?”

Sans shifted his weight to one side, his negativity attempting to unearth some glimmer of hope from what his mind had already twisted. He examined everything that had transpired between him and the fire monster once more, the brief flashes of laughter and light-heartedness in his memory blemishing his pessimism.

Then, with a bit of a rueful grin, Sans shook his head. Quietly, he decided, “yeah… no, he hasn’t.”

Papyrus smiled a little easier, then grabbed the next crate from his brother. “THEN! I SUBMIT TO YOU, THAT YOU’RE WORRYING OVER ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! AS USUAL.”

God, Sans hoped that he was right.

Chapter Text

 

The days that followed their return were uneventful. Sans’ dreams were the same, insofar as they were nonexistent. Sans made up the time spent away from the Ruins’ outpost by visiting it daily and working double shifts at Waterfall. It was like any other day before the journey, with one major difference.

He hadn’t been to Grillby’s since he’d helped him unload the stock.

It wasn’t as though he didn’t want to go; Sans just feared what the fire monster would have to say. Grillby would have questions and Sans knew he wouldn’t be able to dodge them forever.

So he stayed away, opting for Papyrus’ home cooked meals instead; even though, if he was honest with himself, they seemed worse than usual. Sans had even evaded Grillby’s entirely, using the igloo to bypass the cosy atmosphere when he could or even just taking one of his shortcuts on one of his better days.

It’d been eight days. Eight long days since Sans last saw his friend, more since his last ketchup fix, and he was beginning to feel bitter about it. He busied himself around the entrance to the Ruins, knocking against the looming doors and sizing up the rock face that blocked off the area to the locals.

A thick heap of fresh snow had fallen overnight, covering his and Papyrus’ footprints from earlier that week. Even then, the snow still fell from the ceiling of the mountain far above, littering the town and surrounding forest in a haze of mist and white.

Sans knocked again before ultimately deciding to go back to his post. A hollow knock, thudding in the forest all alone. It was bittersweet.

Before everything had shook down, he actually enjoyed his time with Grillby. Not only did Sans miss his company, but everything seemed chillier. It wasn’t like a skeleton could ever feel the capacity for either heat or cold, though.

Admittedly, this confounded him.

At his post, Sans actually shivered, bones rattling in a subtle way that he just couldn’t shake no matter how hard he tried to stop it. It was beyond bizarre. Not even rubbing his hands together (as he’d witnessed fleshy monsters do), or huddling his skull into his jacket did Sans any good to stave off the deep freeze that he felt.

Thinking about the fire monster just made him hurt. He’d long since come to terms that his little infatuation with Grillby was silly and it was likely that it’d never work out. Especially since denying himself that bit of happiness was appropriate as far as the timelines were concerned.

That and ruining a perfectly good friendship over such baseless and selfish desires was just tawdry at best. Sans groaned awkwardly into his arms, hunched over the counter of the station. The chill settled into him just as much as he’d been used to the warmth. Disgruntled, Sans flipped his hood over his skull.

Maybe he should just take a nap.

However cold he ‘felt’, Sans ultimately ended up falling asleep. The nap was eventually cut short when the sound of unfamiliar footsteps approached and Sans reopened his eye sockets, then moved to lift his skull. He trembled more than before, the subtle clatter of bones together unmistakable as the snow fell thickly around him, insulating the sound.

He dusted snow off his clothes and the counter when his visitor finally came into view from between the dense thicket. Sans felt the intense urge to teleport away, but he managed to repress the feeling. Instead, he sat upright on his stool as a small flicker of warmth kindled inside of him at Grillby’s arrival. At the same time, Sans eyed the fire monster warily. It wasn’t like the fire monster to go into the forest at all.

Dressed in a long sharp overcoat and a thickly wrapped green scarf, Sans couldn’t tell if it was because of the weather or simply because Grillby was a stylish person in general. As he approached, Sans tapped his fingertips against the desktop, agitated, realising that Grillby hid something behind his back.

Sans offered him a nervous smile as a greeting. “oh. heya, stranger.”

The fire monster strolled up to the station, his face once more a mask of flame and none of the peculiar lightness that he’d shown that day in Waterfall’s caverns. For some reason, Sans felt his heart sink, not really knowing the reason why.

“If I didn’t know any better…  would say you were taking steps to avoid me, friend.”   Grillby’s voice was measured and collected, but Sans saw the genuine, kind smile. With the fire monster’s subtle jab, Sans couldn’t help but inwardly cringe. The smile was all gentleness and reassurance, just like its owner. Sans couldn’t help but indulge returning one of his own, a little uneasily.

“nah, just been working overtime.” His bones still clattered as he lied through his teeth. He felt silly for it. “you came out all this way just to say that?”

The bartender shifted his weight to one side, betraying his own restlessness. “…Wanted to give you something earlier. To show my appreciation. However… you were never around.”

“aw, grillbz. i told ya. you don’t gotta do that-”

“Nevertheless,”   the fire monster interrupted, one hand raised as though to stave off any further protest. He set a small green bag atop of the counter and gestured, the motion hypnotically fluid. “I would like to express my… deepest gratitude.”

Sans stared at Grillby for a moment, then his eye lights flitted down to the bag. Grillby’s voice made that tensile little warmth inside of him bloom with affection and, awkwardly, Sans grinned despite himself. Sans found himself at a loss for words when he carefully pulled the gift from it: a stout but heavy lavender decanter bottle with chiselled sides to make it look like an intricate web. Sans knew the design immediately and looked up sharply, dumbfounded and put on the spot.

“Spider Cider, correct? Did I misremember?”

Sans’ grin tugged a little more, genuinely touched. It actually made a small glimmer of happiness stir in his soul that Grillby had remembered the passing thought during their time in New Home. But seeing as Muffet had moved elsewhere, he couldn’t see how the fire monster had obtained such an elusive liquor. Sans had attempted to find it shortly after moving to Snowdin but after years of fruitless searching, he’d simply given up.

“how?”

Grillby motioned a single finger to his face, as though sharing a secret between just the two of them. Sans noted the lack of gloves with a disruptive abruptness, unable to peel his eye lights away from the steady glow of Grillby’s hands.

“A bartender always saves his private reserves for… someone special.”

Modestly, Sans shrank down. His soul had stayed relatively sombre the week over since he’d been absent from his friend’s company. Of course, it resounded with a clear thrum behind his ribs at the words echoing in his skull. Like a bell, like a drum, anything that could be struck by stupid infatuation to make him flustered on the spot. It rang loud and clear in his head.

Unable to form a cohesive train of thought, Sans carefully tucked the glass bottle back into the bag, grinning like a damned fool.

“that’s, uh… very thoughtful of you,” he finally said, unable to properly express his gratitude. God, he felt stupid if that’s all he could say.

 

Grillby saw his reaction, knowing full well how much Sans liked it. The slit of his mouth curled into a smile of his own, just visible through the mask of fire. Grillby leaned forward as he noted the subtle clattering the skeleton continued to make, his head’s flames just barely caressing the shelter’s rooftop.

“Still rattling, I see,”   he softly teased.

Sans gave in to an embarrassed laugh, his chest feeling tight in response. He resisted the urge to rub at his ribs, resorting to drumming his fingers on the desk again. Then he abruptly stopped, all too aware of how he must look.

“yeah… maybe i got too used to your company. uh, or hotland, i guess…”

Grillby tilted his head slightly in askance, curiosity burning in his eyes. “Do skeletons normally feel the cold?”

Sans shrugged slightly, unsure how to answer the question. “sure as hell can feel heat lately, though,” he muttered more to himself, just barely above a whisper.

At Grillby’s inquisitive hum, Sans snickered at the private joke as his fingertips itched to nervously drum again. But he resisted, instead attempting to quell the shivering sensation that had settled into his bones.

He was so caught up with trying to repress his actions that Sans was caught off guard by Grillby’s movement. Both of his fiery hands grasped his own and Sans stared down at them, dumbfounded. The small gentle wisps of flame then started to spread a flooding heat throughout his finger bones and into his marrow, slowly travelling up his hands.

Before he could get a handle on himself, Sans exhaled a sharp and startled breath, the heat inching up his metacarpals, his wrist bones and arms. It seeped throughout his body, encircling him like a comforting embrace.

He melted as the feeling passed into him and Sans sunk against the counter top with an appreciative groan. The heat lingered even after Grillby released his hands. Small wafts of steam coiled off his exposed bones and skull in the chilly air.

Experimentally, Sans exhaled. A pronounced steamy breath escaped his teeth and nasal aperture with the temperature change and he chuckled despite himself.

Seemingly pleased with his work, the fire monster leaned over the counter again. His smile had changed into something more. If Sans didn’t know any better, it looked more amused than usual, like an alluring smirk.

“Better?”

Sans slouched a little more as the heat continued to travel through his bones and all the way down his spine, filling every vertebrae with warmth. He had to fight what would’ve been an embarrassing noise and his toes curled in his shoes as the heat found its way further south. He huffed a little softly, moving inwards on himself to revel in the warmth.

“got me all hot… hot under the collar, here.”

The will to fight was sapped from Sans if this was the reward for indulging his desires. Something at the back of his mind nagged at him but he pushed the thought away, for once just wanting to enjoy the moment without guilt.

“Should make the remainder of your shift a little more… pleasant, at least,”   Grillby remarked carefully. He rather enjoyed the way Sans looked so contented by the touch of his flames.

As the skeleton wasn’t much for conversation nor intelligible words after that, Grillby left him there. He resisted the urge to reach for Sans’ skull but hung around a little closer, testing his boundaries.

“Well, then… Until later.”   And then he gave a wave goodbye after Sans merely nodded, the ache in his chest soothed beyond all measure of a doubt.

 

Sans found that he’d stayed like that for quite awhile; hours passed in silence as he relished the feeling that eventually started to fade. His bones had cooled in the wintry air, but snowflakes drifting down still melted before they could land on him. He hummed appreciatively, the unmistakable feeling of warm marrow giving him such a throbbing and comfortable ache that he didn’t care to move from.

He had barely budged since Grillby parted, almost drunk on the immeasurably befuddling heat that lingered around his soul like a lingering hug. Papyrus approached him like clockwork, brandishing a small purse with the monster kingdom’s insignia. Sans hadn’t even seen him cross the field.

“SANS, YOU LAZY BONES! YOU MISSED UNDYNE AND I FIND YOU HERE, ONLY FOR YOU TO BE… OH.” Papyrus stopped and looked at him, perplexed.

Sans didn’t get up, wasn’t asleep, and had a peculiar expression on his face. His arms were stretched out in front of him on the desk and his skull was settled upon them. Papyrus could very distinctly see the pulsing glow of his soul through Sans’ hoodie.

Papyrus was confounded. He’d never seen Sans like this before. He strolled over with purpose, setting his brother’s pay next to his arm and he leaned over him. He watched as his brother’s eye lights slowly dragged up from staring off into the trees, daydreaming no less.

“WHATEVER IS THE MATTER, BROTHER?” Papyrus inquired, moving to look Sans directly in the face. “YOU’RE ACTING RATHER… WEIRD LATELY??”

“weird?”

“OK, FINE. WEIRDER. ARE YOU ILL? …INJURED?”

Sans gave in to a slight shrug and felt the wave of heat subside, escaping his ribs with the motion. He sighed softly, shaking his skull. Sans supposed that he’d been acting strangely, if outright refusing Papyrus’ routine checkups on him the past week was anything to go by. Everything else had been more or less the same.

“THEN WHAT IS IT, SANS? YOU’VE BEEN QUIETER… AND HIDING MORE THAN USUAL-ER.” Papyrus waited patiently for an answer and watched his brother’s face for any hint as to what might be bothering Sans. “DID YOU SEE THE BARTENDER?” Sans shrunk down but didn’t look at him. Papyrus doubled down. “I SENT HIM OVER… DID YOU TWO TALK?”

“a bit.”

“A BIT? SANS, PLEASE. YOU’VE BEEN ACTING STRANGELY EVER SINCE YOU RETURNED. NAPPING ALL NIGHT. RISING EARLY. WORKING… AVOIDING THAT GREASE-TRAP?”

“i’m not avoiding it. i don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“OH, COME OFF IT! YOU PRACTICALLY LIVE THERE! DON’T TRY TO TELL ME OTHERWISE. NOT TO MENTION SOMETHING ELSE THAT I, THE GREAT PAPYRUS, HAVE NOTICED LATELY-”

Sans moved his skull to the side so he could better look up at his brother. He couldn’t quite decipher the look he got from Papyrus, so he waited. The echoing pulse behind his ribs thumped at the eventual loss of heat as it grew chiller, as though disappointed.

“HOW DO I SAY THIS…” his brother deliberated, moving to scratch at his jaw. Sans reluctantly pulled himself off the counter and crossed his arms over the wood to guard himself from the building cold. “BROTHER, I COULD NOT HELP BUT NOTICE YOUR SOUL-”

Sans couldn’t hide the flinch.

“-AND, WHILE I MIGHT NOT BE VERSED IN SUCH EMOTION, AS GREAT AS I AM, IT OCCURS TO ME THAT YOU MIGHT HAVE WAXED SACCHARINE FOR A CERTAIN… SPECIAL SOMEONE?” Papyrus’ sockets narrowed in suspicion when he saw his brother’s fingers grasp over his hoodie where his soul hid underneath, as though he hadn’t considered it could be seen. “ROMANTICALLY, I MEAN.”

“i.. i know what you mean, pap-” Sans interrupted indignantly. His voice was low and his eye lights scanned the thicket leading from his post to town.

“HONESTLY, SANS! YOU SURE SEEM ANTSY!! YOU’RE BLUSHING LIKE THE NUMBER ONE NOSE-NUZZLE CHAMPS OF ALL TIME!”

“what?? c-c’mon, keep your voice down. and stop saying dumb things.”

Papyrus deemed to consider it for a moment before he conceded, then he knelt in front of the station so he was more or less eye to eye with his older brother.

“SO… IF YOU WANT ME TO BE QUIETER, THIS MUST SURELY MEAN THAT THEY LIVE IN SNOWDIN!” He watched Sans shift on the stool, his gaze still avoidant. The blue pulse under his shirt grew a little more and nervously, Sans picked at his zipper toggle. “SANS, YOU MUST CONFIDE IN ME, AS YOUR BROTHER. TELL ME THE NAME OF THE PERSON THAT STOLE YOUR AFFECTION!!”

“absolutely not. you’re bad at keeping secrets, papyrus,” Sans groused, embarrassed to the point where he visibly started to shrink into his hoodie as a means of escape. “also, i’m not. and `sides, it’s uh… kinda one-sided, i guess,” he relented, his resolve crumbling quickly under Papyrus’ inquisitive glower.

Papyrus’ shoulders slumped in disappointment, not at all thrilled with the explanation, but at the same time he was relieved that Sans was actually talking and had admitted that something was bothering him. Perhaps he was finally getting through to him?

His grin mischievous, Papyrus realised that he could very well be a matchmaker in all of this. He could find out his brother’s secret love! He was very good at puzzles; this would be the greatest one yet! After all, what kind of brother would he be if he allowed Sans’ soul to wilt away inside, coughing up petals and flowers just like Undyne had told him about with unrequited love!

He had to take measures to ensure that this didn’t happen to his brother!

“SO, WHAT DID YOU TWO TALK ABOUT THEN?”

Sans’ gaze returned to Papyrus with a hint of wariness and he stayed quiet for a moment. Then he gestured lamely at the green bag on the desk next to him. Papyrus took a peek inside and sighed in exasperation.

“I THOUGHT YOU’D QUIT DRINKING!”

“i quit drinking that,”   Sans objected a little tersely. “he gave it to me for helping him out.”

“IT OCCURS TO ME, BROTHER, THAT YOU WERE LESS OF A HELP ON THE WAY THERE THAN THE WAY BACK,” Papyrus replied mildly, sending Sans another wry grin.

Something in his eye sockets flashed knowingly and Sans immediately didn’t like it. Sans shrugged and idly rubbed at his sternum, then he grabbed his bag of coins, fishing around inside to figure out the exact amount.

He watched as Papyrus vaulted up to his feet with a cry of eureka, slamming his hands on the counter hard enough to make Sans jump in his seat. It wasn’t often he could give him a start like that, but Sans recovered quickly enough.

“WHAT IF-” Papyrus started to say, then he lowered his volume considerably, though it didn’t hide the amount of excitedness in his voice, “-THAT GREASE-PEDDLER LIKES YOU?” He surveyed Sans’ reaction. Then, laughing comically, Papyrus grabbed the bag of liquor, turning on his heel to leave. “WHY DON’T YOU PAY HIM A VISIT FOR ONCE, DEAR BROTHER? AFTER ALL, IT’S PAYDAY! AND YOU NEED TO RELAX AND SETTLE YOUR TAB. I CAN THINK OF NO BETTER OPPORTUNITY!”

And with that, he left, feeling rather accomplished and leaving Sans flustered at the station.

 

Sans stared after him, flabbergasted. His soul had lurched with those words. Once again, Papyrus had caught him off guard with something so deviant from his usual tone that it rooted Sans in place.

Had that conversation really happened? Was this really real? Self-conscious, Sans unzipped his hoodie to look down at his soul through his ribs, a nimbus of cyan encircled around the organ like a hearth.

If Papyrus saw it when he felt like this, did Grillby also…?

He cut his thoughts off there. His bones started to clatter again, fear and excitement bubbling inside of him with the mere mention of the bartender’s name. It was silly. It was just in his thoughts, but Sans could almost recall the warmth that had cocooned around him.

Papyrus was right, he did have to settle his tab, but at the same time, Sans didn’t know if he had the courage to go to Grillby’s just then.

But, his shift was over.

Pocketing his money, the skeleton exhaled a shuddering sigh. He hoped to god he’d be able to find the courage inside to confront the bartender as he started the long walk back to town.

 

Even as he entered Snowdin, he wasn’t feeling up to visiting Grillby’s. Sans cowered as he walked, hunched against the cold snow falling ceaselessly upon the little hamlet. As Sans passed the inn, he took faster steps, his bones shaking, shivering, as he continued walking directly past the warm entrance of Grillby’s. He could hear happy chatter and the clinking of silverware on plates, of smooth yet fun music inside.

He did miss it, he knew that much. Sans stopped a short distance away, as though he’d changed his mind. Then with a short exhale, he continued past. He needed to clear his head first.

Since Papyrus would be home before him, he bypassed their house altogether. Using a shortcut, Sans reappeared at the cave entrance to Waterfall. A creeping shiver passed through Sans’ bones as he shrugged off the snow and he continued to walk, not skipping a beat as his shoes met with the gravelly path into the dank environment.

The humidity had always agreed with the two skeletons. Upon their arrival, Papyrus had taken a scholarly interest in the marsh, while Sans’ was purely cathartic. The area was peaceful, the subtle blues shifting as mushroom gnats carried flower seeds from cavern to cavern. The way the typha pods blossomed when the waters receded and ebbed was like the world’s pensive thoughts, allowing him to lose himself in its swaying. As with his tangled thoughts, they drifted away in the area, leaving thick trails of mossy coverings against the swaying rafts secured amongst their roots.

It was peaceful and allowed Sans the perfect scenery in which to lose himself. He went to his favourite spot, where he and Grillby had first rested a little more than a week prior. As far as Sans knew, it was rarely used, so it was a prime area for just letting loose and relaxing. So he did.

Chapter Text

 “watch it!”

“HOLD STILL-”

“i am, just-” Sans winced noticeably and restrained himself from smacking Papyrus’ hands away from his face.

He sat on the edge of the tub in nothing but his shorts, feeling quite bare and exposed as his brother went through every hairline scrape and scar on his body. Everytime Papyrus came across something abnormal, he tutted in that peculiar way he did as though disappointed. Sans rolled his eye lights, then grimaced when Papyrus hooked his finger into the void of his right orbit. It didn’t hurt, but it was still unpleasant.

“YOU’VE CHIPPED YOUR SPHENOID, SANS! HOW ON EARTH?”

Sans grimaced as the prodding fingertips then grazed around the outside of his right eye socket. He regretted every ounce of his decision to give in to Papyrus’ checkup. It’d been two weeks since the last, and his brother’s analytical observances about his health had been so aggravating that it was just easier to let him check. As often as the checkups were, Sans could never get used to the invasion of his skull and he sat quite tensely with his phalanges gripping the towel he was sitting on.

“fork.”

“FORK!?”

“yes, papyrus. fork.”  He was getting testy.

“WHY. A FORK.”

“y’know, the more you say `fork`, the more it sounds like a word you made up,” Sans interjected, his willingness to cooperate quickly dwindling.

“EXPLAIN THE FOLIAGE, SANS.”

“used a fork to get most of it out…” Sans revealed rather unremarkably, his hand inching up with a grimace as his brother’s fingers probed further into his skull. “you can’t understand how this feel-hey!”

Papyrus stopped and examined the short tangle of fishing line he’d just pulled from Sans’ skull cavity with nothing short of disgust on his face. It was a twisted and hard, tangled mess that had plant matter and small seeds sprouting in it.

It was just as he’d feared!

“SANS!” he bellowed, each of his hands gripping his brother’s shoulders. He was so emphatic that Papyrus started to shake him. “IT’S NOT TOO LATE! YOU CAN STILL CONFESS!”

Sans gave him a blank look, agitation quickly melding into confusion with his brother’s more than usual peculiarity. Papyrus gave him another shake. He sure was excitable lately.

“what.”

“CONFESS! IT’S NOT TOO LATE. SEE? THEY HAVEN’T BLOOMED YET-”

“pap, you’re my brother and you know i love you, but what the hell are you talking about?”

Papyrus almost growled at him in frustration. How could he be any clearer than that!? Even with his sleuthing over the past few days, Sans had been unrelenting to his interrogations as to who his secret love could be.

“A BLOOM THAT SPROUTS FROM THE HEART WILL MOST CERTAINLY TURN TO SICKNESS. UNLESS YOU CONFESS.” Papyrus paused when Sans started to erupt into uncontrolled laughter. “SANS! THIS IS SERIOUS!”

“no, it’s not! it’s anime, dude, you’ve been japed.” Sans couldn’t help but continue to laugh, the wheezing noises escaping his teeth as he hunched and ducked away from his brother’s reach.

“BUT! UNDYNE SAID-”

Papyrus stopped as Sans’ howls became louder and he folded his arms over his chest, waiting for his brother’s fit to subside. Sans felt like he had little control over himself, the notion just so hilarious that Papyrus’ glare just kindled more of the same. Sans doubled over, his arms circling under his ribs and his bones clattered merrily with his chuckles.

“i’m sorry. i’m… i’m sorry, stop skull-king, pap-” he wheezed, moving to straighten himself after the more violent of his guffaws died down.

“IF YOU’VE JUST. ABOUT. FINISHED…” There was a hint of warning in Papyrus’ voice and his eye sockets narrowed daringly. Sans finally let up, interrupted only a couple more times by a laugh that just couldn’t be held back as his brother continued to check him over.

 

Sans had been in worse shape. The only thing that Papyrus really found wrong with him was one of his kneecaps, which had a small scuff, and the chip in his right orbit that was easily healed.

It took several painstakingly slow hours for Papyrus to get the last of the marshy vegetal matter remaining in his skull, after a bit more explaining from Sans. He’d relented and Sans admitted that he’d fallen into the water, and Papyrus finally got the ‘fishing’ joke with an irritated groan.

He hadn’t given in to Papyrus’ demands to tell him about his crush though, as adamant and persistent as Papyrus was about paying off his tab. Papyrus hinted at different prospects around Snowdin, pointing out their day to day lives as though hoping to get a reaction from Sans. Sans was predictably ruthlessly stubborn.

Papyrus supposed that there was one more option he could try. Now that Sans wasn’t home, he wouldn’t be suspicious of his actions if Papyrus decided to go out. He knew exactly where his brooding brother was, and it wasn’t at the location he’d intended to go.

Papyrus stomped down the porch with gusto, adamant that he’d continue his sleuthing as he rounded to his right and straight past the library.

As peculiar as it was to enter Grillby’s when Sans wasn’t there, Papyrus didn’t allow the sudden confused atmosphere to deter him when he opened the door. He strolled right up to the bar with purpose, relieved that Sans hadn’t ended up there, for once. Of course he wouldn’t be there. He was in Waterfall to ‘think’; about what, Papyrus had a sure guess. He was very observant, after all.

He avoided taking a seat and apart from the door, Papyrus opted to avoid touching any of the surfaces in the establishment. The grease in the air clung to his bones in the worst possible way, but he had to speak with someone.

Perhaps Grillby would know, since the bartender and Sans had spent a considerable amount of time together? Papyrus had mostly been teasing Sans about the bartender liking him, after all. There couldn’t be a connection. Unless there was - then Papyrus would have to think of another plan.

The bar was busy with the fire monster serving all manner of fast foods to the crowd. As Papyrus waited for Grillby to become available, Papyrus surveyed the extensive wall of alcohol behind the bar with something like distaste. That’s when one of the two monsters by the counter decided to address him.

“Your brother’s not here, `Pyrus,” they said in a raspy, throaty kind of drawl.

Politely, the skeleton nodded, attempting to conceal his revulsion for the lingering scent of smoke and frying oil. The bartender moved from the other side of the bar and Papyrus gave him a determined smile, watching as Grillby gestured to the bird for silence.

…… How is he?”   came the concerned crackle of fire; it took awhile for Grillby to say that one question, like he wasn’t used to speaking in general. An oddity, considering he owned a popular establishment, but Papyrus allowed it to slide. Papyrus never understood how to fathom the fire monster’s words as clearly as Sans made him out to be, but he supposed it was due to his brother’s overly familiar terms with the establishment and its owner.

“I THOUGHT YOU COULD TELL ME,” the skeleton quipped, eyeing a sticky spill on the countertop directly in front of him. With a cringe, Papyrus continued, “IF YOU HAVE A MOMENT TO SPARE, I’D LIKE TO SPEAK WITH YOU.”

The fire monster gestured to one of the empty seats at the end of the bar, which the skeleton approached with regretful acceptance. Ah, the things he did for his brother.

It took the bartender a few minutes more to join him and Papyrus had used a couple of strategically placed coasters to rest his elbows on. It wasn’t entirely comfortable, but it was more so than if he’d opted to actually touch the counter top. Grillby came forward, bar rag and a thick glass tumbler in hand as he polished it with an inquisitive air.

“I’LL BE DIRECT,” Papyrus spoke, lowering his voice. While he was breaking his brotherly code for offering Sans’ privacy to Grillby, he didn’t exactly want the entire bar to overhear. “HE’S BEEN MOPING AROUND THE FOREST AND WATERFALL SINCE YOU TWO CAME BACK!”

Grillby shifted a little, the flames arranged in a way that gave the skeleton the impression that he was concerned. He raised a hand to sign, but seemed to think better of it. Still, Grillby was hesitant in his reply.

“…Has not come around lately.”   He paused as though he was wrestling with an unpleasant thought. “Mentioned he was working… overtime.”

Papyrus’ eye sockets narrowed considerably at that. He’d told Sans to pay his tab six days ago, so what was his problem? He scanned the bar as he scrutinised the patrons there: a couple of canine guards, a hapless blob of a bunny in the corner well into her drinks, another large monster with grotesque mammoth teeth that had baskets of fries littered all over the table in their booth.

Somehow, he didn’t believe he’d find Sans’ crush here. Sans was a slob but he was his brother - there had to be some kind of set standard!

“HE TOLD ME SOMETHING PECULIAR THE OTHER DAY,” the skeleton continued, tenting his gloved fingers in thought as he turned to face the bartender again. “AND I DON’T WANT YOU TO TELL HIM THAT I REPEATED THIS TO YOU.”

Grillby gave him a nod of agreement in silence, having stayed quiet apart from his piece. He was unaccustomed with prolonged conversations with Sans’ brother, after all.

Papyrus drummed his fingertips together shortly before seeming to struggle with the notion, a few beads of sweat glistening on his skull. “WOWIE, IS IT HOT IN HERE, OR..?” He caught the look from Grillby and tensed defensively at his unintended joke. “DON’T ANSWER THAT. ANYWAY, THE SECRET! IS! - OH, SOMEONE NEEDS YOU OVER THERE-”

A slight flutter marked an odd irritation and Grillby turned his head to the direction Papyrus had vaguely gestured in. Unfortunately, someone was waving him down, menu in hand and gesturing wildly. Grillby sighed, the crackle of his flames snapping as he quickly stalked away to help his customers.

When he got back to Papyrus, he pulled the stool he kept behind the bar to directly in front of him. Once seated, Grillby folded his arms over the counter top expectantly, patiently waiting for the continuation of their conversation.

“THIS IS. A DIFFICULT SUBJECT TO BROACH,” Papyrus began almost stutteringly, his fingertips idly tapping against each other. “BUT, I BELIEVE SANS MIGHT HAVE A `THING` FOR SOMEONE IN SNOWDIN.”

He noted the way the bartender’s posture straightened slightly, as though he hadn’t been expecting that. His flames sparked briefly before returning to its usual glow and Papyrus’ eye sockets narrowed at the reaction.

So perhaps the fire monster knew something, after all.

“DO YOU HAPPEN TO KNOW OR NOTICE ANY LOVE-BUGGERY GOING ON WITH HIM AND SOME OTHER? HAS HE CONFIDED IN YOU?”

Papyrus noted yellow flames start to flicker, then subtly shift back to red and orange as his questions remained unanswered. Interestingly enough, the skeleton hadn’t factored this into his quest to find Sans’ crush and play matchmaker.

Ruthlessly, he continued; “HIS REACTIONS TO MY INTERROGATIONS REMAIN UNCHANGED. HE REFUSES TO SPEAK CANDIDLY ABOUT HIS FEELINGS AND HE’S ACTING RATHER… STRANGE-” Papyrus considered his choice of words before offering, “-STRANGER? FOR INSTANCE, HIS SOUL. - I’M NOT SURE IF YOU’VE NOTICED IT OR NOT… OR IF IT’S A SKELETON THING AND ONLY I CAN, BUT IT’S ALWAYS SHROUDED IN HIS MAGIC. REGARDLESS, SANS’ HABITS LATELY ARE SO DIFFERENT THAT I THOUGHT I’D SEEK YOU OUT FOR ADVICE.”

Grillby remained silent, unable to really understand exactly what Papyrus was getting at, although something inside of him was wary about how to reply.

As it turned out, Grillby was right to stay quiet. He heard the door chime and a gust of cold air entered with another customer. A chorus of “hi, Sans!” and other greetings echoing from the other patrons like a sudden jolt through the Underground.

 

And true to the greetings, Sans stood in the doorway, his eye sockets hollowed to pitch as he regarded the familiar sight of the bar. It took everything in him to push the door open, to walk up the steps to the warm glow of heat and comfort, to even stop himself outside of the establishment altogether.

He had the courage before then. But now all Sans felt was horror beyond any measure of doubt when he saw his brother and Grillby, at one side of the bar speaking in hushed tones. There was absolutely no reason for Papyrus to be here; Sans had told him where he was going.

Immediately, Sans came to the conclusion that their conversation was likely about him, seeing as they abruptly stopped when they noticed him.

Sans drew in every little scrap of bravery he had left, shifting his weight on the spot. Then, like nothing had happened at all, he slouched into his usual, casual gait towards the bar. He summoned his eye lights again, assuming the laid back character of his previous self, before all this love-struck junk had come and made a mess of his life.

Sans hopped onto his usual seat, giving an absent yet jovial wave to the bird at the other end with an artificially tugged grin. He pointedly ignored Papyrus, feeling too betrayed and hurt.

“heya, grillbz,” Sans greeted the fire monster. The tightness under his ribs was like a knife as he leaned against the counter in a slouch. As his ribs pressed against the edge of the marble slab, it felt like the imaginary knife plunged deeper. “long time no see. guess i got a tab to settle, huh?”

Papyrus on the other hand, sat frozen in place when Grillby moved to stand and address his new customer. Papyrus paid such attention and with such concentration that if he hadn’t looked at just the right moment, he would’ve missed it.

There, just under Sans’ collar. He could see it. Papyrus could sense the magic of such incredible pain and longing - one that he couldn’t address. Not directly, not in public.

He could tell that Sans was giving it his all to seem perfectly ok with things as they were, like Papyrus hadn’t just trespassed. Sans cracked a joke at the bartender’s expense, chuckling at his response and giving that same noncommittal shrug as if the world was fine to pass him by. And Sans didn’t even seem to care.

But Papyrus knew the sad answer to the puzzle he’d involved himself in. He knew that his brother cared more than he would ever admit. He was ignored, sitting alone at the end of the bar, but Papyrus could still see the veiled yet hurt expression in Sans’ eye sockets, and how his brother’s shoulders were tense. Years of living with that silly pile of bones had afforded Papyrus his every tell and mannerism, after all.

It broke his heart that Sans would deny himself happiness. And yet, dare he think it, Papyrus could see a spark between the two of them.

Chapter Text

As much as it pained him, Sans asked Grillby if he could spend the night in one of his booths as he had a few weeks earlier. This time, the excuse wasn’t bad night terrors, only that he needed time alone to think. After all, Sans admitted that sleeping in Waterfall might’ve been a bad idea.

Papyrus had crossed the line and Sans couldn’t help the leaden panic he felt in what he thought might’ve been discussed between the two before he showed up.

But as always, he knew that Papyrus ultimately had good intentions. He always did. It was just so damned frustrating that Papyrus would go so far as to talk behind his back - and to the one place and one person Sans thought he’d never go. Papyrus had always been full of surprises, but lately Sans was unsure what to expect from him.

So when Papyrus came to get him the following morning, Sans saw no alternative but to go along with things as they were. He thought it strange that Papyrus would shirk his morning rituals to pull him along, though. Whatever. He’d continue his day as though what Papyrus had done didn’t feel like such a massive betrayal.

Sans could tell that Papyrus had ulterior motives when he declared that they needed to go to Waterfall; not had to, but needed. It was an ultimatum that Sans couldn’t argue with. When Sans only grunted in acceptance, Papyrus didn’t attempt further conversation, though he did look troubled for a split second. Sans just eyed him warily, drawing in how his brother looked, his walking speed and the way Papyrus solved the puzzles along the way. It was loud and clear that Papyrus took careful consideration into holding himself in his usual manner; boisterous, floundering at all the right moments…

But Sans wasn’t born yesterday. He could tell it was a farce. One that was badly hidden, at any rate. Sans uneasily followed his brother through the marsh, walking quickly to keep up with him.

He couldn’t help but notice that the deviances this time around were so strikingly different than what Sans felt he was used to. Even though Papyrus was still Papyrus, he just wasn’t comfortable with what felt like contradiction; and that everything was so starkly different from the usual.

On the other hand, Sans could just be losing his goddamn mind.

 

Their footsteps echoed in the moist grassy knolls and some pathways had shifted from when Sans last visited. The laughter the echo flowers repeated from his time with Grillby in the ‘star’-gazing room had long since been spoken over. The reminder now gone, it instead left Sans with an echoing despondency as they passed.

There were no mishaps during their walk, and finally he and Papyrus stopped at the whispering corridor a couple hours later. Hundreds of subtly shifting, glowing blue flowers pickled the water; some fully submerged and others growing tall and broad over the surface. They whispered back and forth, the mingling of clear and anonymous voices sending an eerie message to anyone who would listen. Bits of conversation could be picked out amongst the din, but it made no sense at all.

Sans saw the subtle shiver that passed through his brother. He knew Papyrus disliked this part of Waterfall and he actually wondered if it was his intention to pass through or just simply stand there in silence.

Sans himself was fine with the place. The ceaseless whispers blotted out a lot of his dark thoughts and he felt it soothing that the cavern was filled with enough chatter to simulate the lively Underground. In his nightmares they would be chilly and silent, unmoving.

No, he definitely liked the chattier ones better.

“everything ok, pap?”

“EVERYTHING-” The echo of the flowers immediately picked up his brother’s boisterous voice and Papyrus clapped his hand over his mouth to stop himself. Sans had to chuckle at that, despite his mood. Papyrus waited for the echoes to die down before he tried again; “EVERYTHING IS FINE, SANS.”

“you sure? it’s not like you to stay quiet on the way through. got something on your mind, buddy?”

Papyrus turned to regard Sans with a thoughtful look, his gloved hand still covering his mouth as though the interruption from the echo fields would cut him off again.

“ACTUALLY, YES.”

Sans leaned against the carved tablet dais erected along the path and exhaled softly, bracing himself for another heart-to-heart with the only subject Papyrus was fixated on lately.

“welp. y’got me out here. what’s the deal?”

“WELL…” Papyrus deliberated. He shuffled to the side of the path to where the dark waters lapped with the whispers of his first word hovering over the surface. He seemed to be sizing up the pond, then gestured for Sans to come over. Then, as though it was a suitable spot, Papyrus crouched down.

Hesitant, Sans strolled over, his footsteps careful as he wasn’t quite sure what his brother was up to. Still, he stooped next to Papyrus, hands on his knees to brace himself as Sans looked at the faintly luminous sprouts floating in the pond.

“I HAVE AN IDEA, IF YOU’LL INDULGE ME.” Papyrus looked to his brother with a soft smile, and Sans couldn’t help but warily tug his smile back in return. It must have looked more like a grimace, since his brother’s smile fell shortly after. “DON’T GIVE ME THAT LOOK! I’M NOT UP TO ANYTHING AT ALL. JUST… I’VE BEEN THINKING. IF YOU WON’T CONFESS, AND YOU WON’T TELL ME … THEN IT IS UP TO ME, YOUR BROTHER, TO AT LEAST HELP IN SOME SMALL WAY. TO, AT LEAST, HELP YOU ADMIT IT TO YOURSELF. - SO PICK ONE OF THESE THINGIES UP.”

“thingies?”

“ONE OF THE SPROUTS. NOT TOO BIG. NOT TOO SMALL…”

“…just the size of judgement hall?” Sans couldn’t resist himself, and laughed quietly at the withering look it earned him. “ok, ok. i dunno what’s gotten into you lately… you at least gimme a bit of a smile.”

“I’M MERELY… SMILING ON THE INSIDE!” Papyrus interjected, sounding appalled at his brother’s rebuke.

He watched as Sans did as he requested, plucking indifferently at one of the sprouts that had a small bud growing from a thick stalk. Sans gave it a precursory glance, until he figured it was good enough for whatever it was needed for.

“THAT ONE WILL DO. NOW, DON’T SAY ANYTHING JUST YET. OTHERWISE, IT’LL BE SPOILED.”

Sans kept quiet but his smile slowly tugged down with dawning suspicion.

“REMEMBER WHEN WE FIRST CAME HERE?” Papyrus started, nostalgia in his voice. “I REALLY LIKED THESE FLOWERS. WE DIDN’T HAVE THEM BACK HOME! I LEARNED A LOT ABOUT THEM. EVERYTHING I COULD! AND A LOT FROM THEM, AND FROM MISTER GERSON-TURTLE.”

Sans waited patiently, giving the dripping, wilted-looking echo bud in his hand another once-over.

“I LEARNED,” Papyrus continued excitedly, “THAT YOU CAN GIVE ONE A SECRET AND IT WILL HOLD ONTO IT IF IT’S YOUNG ENOUGH.” He noticed that Sans was about to object and quickly put up both his hands to stop him. “I KNOW WHAT YOU MUST BE THINKING. BUT PAPYRUS! WHATEVER WOULD I DO WITH SUCH AN AUSPICIOUS FLOWER??”

Sans sent him a flat stare but remained silent, as though he definitely didn’t trust himself to speak now.

“SO, I THINK THAT, DEAR BROTHER… YOU SHOULD TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THIS OPPORTUNITY. THE YOUNG FLOWERS DON’T HOLD ONTO THE TONE OR CADENCE OF THEIR SECRET-GIVERS. SO! YOU WON’T HAVE TO FEAR ANYONE ELSE FINDING OUT.”

Perhaps the thought of ‘only you’ bitterly passed through Sans’ head, or maybe he was just being resentful. It didn’t keep him from staring at the flower as he idly turned it between his bony fingers.

“I HAVE AN IDEA. AND DON’T BE ANGRY IF MY GUESS IS INCORRECT, BUT-” Papyrus hesitated and wrung his hands, then he finally moved to sit on the ground. “I CAN’T HELP BUT FEEL THAT YOU’RE… TEARING YOURSELF UP INSIDE OVER THIS. WHEN YOU REALLY SHOULDN’T BE! YOU SHOULD TREAT YOURSELF BETTER. EVEN IF YOU THINK, FOR WHATEVER REASON, THAT YOU SHOULDN’T. BECAUSE YOU SHOULD, AND YOU MATTER!”

Sans drew in a deep breath, the action soothing and cathartic as he twirled the stem again. He hesitated. Papyrus had a point; he was beating himself up about this. It’d been a troubling realisation when Sans knew that if word got out that he had a silly little crush, and it got back to Grillby…

But this was safe. He knew that there was truth to Papyrus’ explanation, but it’d been an age and a half ago since Sans had paid attention to it. It felt like several lifetimes, spanning centuries…

Echo flowers and their silly little mythos. What if it was just a fable? Another universal joke? What if it was a prank, a joke, or-

…He had to stop thinking this way.

“I BELIEVE IN YOU, AFTER ALL.”

Ultimately, Sans decided that Papyrus wouldn’t play around about this kind of thing. Sans’ grin tugged genuinely at that and he looked to his brother’s face, heartfelt admiration there for him to see.

While normally reacting with irritation at Sans’ listless phases throughout their lives, Papyrus really did have his interests at heart, didn’t he? Sans felt that he’d been wrong to doubt him and to be angry when all his little brother wanted to do was to help him. He wanted just as much as Sans did to stop hurting every day.

A short exhale left him, caught in between a chuckle and a pained scoff. Sans only admitted to himself in his thoughts that he was nervous, stuck in between being too scared to admit it out loud and to say the wrong thing entirely. Then, it’d be trapped in the flower forever, like a regrettable mistake, repeating his idiocy over and over and over.

Regardless, Sans’ soul fluttered a little with the pep talk. He thought about his friend; caring, gentle and welcoming. He thought about Grillby’s unabashed way to ask after him, to accommodate and listen to him in his darkest moments.

Grillby’s voice had become something of a prized treasure to Sans. He stayed late to keep him company even after the bar was closed. Sans saved his best jokes for him, often telling them to the fire monster first before anyone else just to see Grillby’s warm smile or hopeless grimace. He ordered the worst things on the menu because Sans knew the guy got tired of serving the same popular items every day.

As cheesy as it sounded, Grillby was his light in the darkness, and every time Sans thought of him it was with both love and affection; with hesitation and shame.

If he could move on with his life after this, Sans supposed that it was worth a shot. He took a calming breath, shakily, realising that he had started to tremble. Feeling a small burst of trepidation and conflicting courage, Sans stared at the small, faintly glowing blossom in his hand.

“i’ve…” he started in a bare whisper, stagefright creeping up on him. His voice felt tight and he quickly glanced at Papyrus, his soul thundering excitedly in his chest. At his brother’s urging nod, Sans gave in to a nervous shiver, bones clattering softly. “i… i’ve fallen for my best friend.”

There.

He’d done it.

Sans’s body shook so badly as he stared at the flower with everything he had, as though he was waiting for something to happen. The silence between the two was long - and suddenly Sans let out a strained hoot of laughter. The tight yet liberating feeling coiled at the centre of his being, threatening to ease and strangle him all at once.

Meanwhile, Papyrus groaned, straightening his spine and gesturing to the flowery fields with resounding disapproval. “BROTHER! YOU COULD’VE PHRASED THAT MUCH BETTER! IT SOUNDS LIKE SOMEONE MADE YOU FALL IN THE OTHER WAY.” He grinned though, now able to see the weight quite literally lifted from his brother’s shoulders. “BUT! I BET I KNOW WHO THAT SPECIAL SOMEONE MIGHT BE…” His tone was teasing and he leaned closer to Sans, who grinned and pushed his skull away in exaggerated irritation.

Sans huffed and sat down, then flung himself back onto the path with both arms stretched out. It had taken all that he was and more to go through with, but the grin persisted and the feeling in his chest was considerably lighter.

He did it.

“so, pap. what do i do with this thing now?”

Papyrus hummed thoughtfully, casually sending a look over his shoulder to his brother’s face, then to the delicate echo blossom in Sans’ left hand. Cautiously, he got up and rounded Sans to inspect it, remaining deathly silent to listen. When Sans looked like he was about to speak, Papyrus quickly raised a hand to silence him.

‘I’ve fallen for my best friend.’

Sans’ soul fluttered again and he instinctively grasped the front of his hoodie, another short, fragile and embarrassed laugh escaping him. The voice from the flower was a soft and almost infantile whisper that thankfully didn’t sound like him at all. It affected him just the same as his own voice would have, a thumping behind his ribs making his bones nervously quiver with the twinkling sound.

“I THINK IT SOUNDS RATHER ADORABLE COMING FROM IT!” Papyrus offered kindly as Sans carefully pocketed the flower. “YOU KEEP IT. AND DARE I SAY, YOU SEEM A LOT HAPPIER NOW!”

Sans grunted as he sat up again. He did feel better, as though his soul was made of air instead of lead. Abashed, he rubbed the front of his sternum and nodded as though to himself.

“thanks, bro. i think i am.”

 

The walk back to Snowdin was slower, but more comfortable than their way to the whispering corridor. Sans fell into a more relaxed state, walking with his eye sockets closed behind Papyrus, trusting him beyond all shadow of a doubt.

His footsteps were light. His soul was soaring, tentative and like new. It was simply amazing. Papyrus had been right to bring him there, and now echo flowers held much more meaning to him than ever before.

They went their separate ways upon their arrival. Papyrus continued down the main road to the other side of town and towards the forest, while Sans found himself outside of Grillby’s. It felt chillier that afternoon, so after a few calming breaths, he pushed the door open, yearning for the warm interior that he was so fond of.

It was a lot sparser than what he was used to. The only monster that greeted him was on the way out with a drunk swagger. Perplexed by the empty eatery, Sans stood in the doorway, his eye lights drawn to the fire monster. Grillby stood behind the bar, putting away glasses under the countertop until he noticed Sans.

Sans gave the bartender a sheepish grin and strolled towards his usual seat, the nervous yet light thrum of his soul beating like a slow eruption. As he mounted the stool, Sans gently pressed the pocket with the echo blossom for comfort. To bolster him.

“everyone’s home early today, eh?” Grillby seemed to regard him for a moment, giving him a careful yet welcome smile. Sans decided to take that as permission to continue and leaned over the bar counter, cradling his skull in the cups of his hands. “well, i was gonna go to the moon for supper. the food’s good, but there’s just no atmosphere. `sides, i’d rather be in your stellar company.”

The fire monster offered a soft crackling chuckle in response and Sans joined him. Almost shyly, Grillby murmured, “Must I endure such jokes now?”

“i thought you’d have space in your heart for it, but i guess i gotta planet better.” Sans shrugged with a cheesy grin, then he threw a sidelong glance to the left side of the bar. It was where most of the canine squad would’ve been assembled at this time of day, begging him for bones and attention. “you’re not closing early today, are you?”

The bartender shook his head, flames wisping with an amused yet wistful look.

“stellar.”   Sans grinned, unable to stop himself. Idly, he rubbed at his chest. “i kinda feel like a drink.”

Wordlessly, the fire monster took a glass bottle from under the counter, filled with the good red stuff. Sans put up his hand to stop him from opening it and Grillby paused, his flames inquisitive.

“actually, make that a whiskey.”

“Unlike you to indulge lately,”   Grillby observed, but put away the ketchup and turned towards the shelves behind him, filled with tall bottles. Carefully and with much consideration, he selected one of his better liquors, then a sparkling clean glass. “Neat?”

The skeleton tilted his chair forward with practised ease, scooting closer to the bar so his ribs pressed against the edge of the counter. “dirty.”

The corners of the bartender’s mouth curled with a smirk and he set the glass and bottle to the side, leaning over the bar to join Sans.

“Really?”   he breathed, his flames popping subtly with roguish interest.

Bathed in the heat from the fire monster, Sans closed his eye sockets and his grin tugged with the silly little flirt. Grillby noticed Sans’ composure; still oddly titillating, yet with none of the previous nervousness and avoidance. Sans actually seemed rather calm and more like his old self. Grillby couldn’t help but smile warmly at that. It’d been awhile since Grillby had seen such a sight.

Sans hummed in the affirmative.

“Then… how would you suggest I make it `dirty`?”

That was when the fire monster saw the flush of magic: a subtle hint of cyan blue peek out from under Sans’ collar. Ever since Papyrus had revealed the nature of his brother’s soul, Sans had been avoiding him. His departure the previous morning had been so quick that they didn’t even get a chance to discuss what they’d been talking about. Nor did Grillby get the opportunity to apologise, and it weighed heavily on his mind. Sans had looked upset upon entering the bar the previous night, but now he seemed… content, which was all Grillby ever hoped for.

He’d noted the pulse several occasions before as well, and it made his core’s temperature rise in response, as though echoing the untold sentiment. He’d never act on it apart from harmless flirts. He cared too much to make Sans uncomfortable.

 

“caramel… maybe. yeah. sounds good,” Sans decided quietly, finding his voice lulling and smooth. He realised that he could’ve said ‘sugar’ with the same effect, but he wanted to hint at something that would add the bartender’s personal touch.

He never once moved while Grillby lingered in front of him, just content to bathe in that soothing glow. But Sans did move a little and opened an eye socket when the fire monster regrettably moved away to start his drink. Idly, he watched as Grillby pulled out a couple of tall silver mugs from under the counter to start.

Sans thought he’d seen a flicker of yellow, but he couldn’t be sure. He’d definitely seen it the previous night when Papyrus was at the bar. It occurred to him that they’d never really brought it up, having sorted out his tab instead.

Sans watched the bartender in silence. A glove was removed to ignite the liquor and sugar mixture, rendering the dancing flames a bright blue between the two mugs as the drink was then expertly poured from each one with flair.

Transfixed, Sans sat as he watched the arcs of blue travel from each cup, feeling like the room was void of air, pinching his soul, trapping his voice. As the bartender pushed the glass in front of Sans, the drink was poured with ease, Grillby not spilling a single drop. The alcohol simmered gently as the bare-blue flames licked around the inside of the glass, still burning.

Sans smiled and sat up a little, stuffing his right hand into his pocket and against the flower. “still something to see, even after all this time,” he finally murmured in appreciation. The bartender gave him another easy smile at the compliment and he set about pulling the mugs away, then he moved to the other end of the bar to set them to the side for later cleaning.

Having no real breath meant that Sans couldn’t extinguish the flames himself, or at least not as forcefully as he would’ve liked. So he lifted the glass with his free hand, the heat from it seeping into his bony digits with the warmth that he craved.

It wasn’t the real way to drink a Blazing Blue and he knew that. That, and Sans felt a little scandalised for the thought that came to mind of ingesting Grillby’s fire. So instead, Sans set the glass down again and attempted to wave at it to extinguish the flame.

Unfortunately in his eagerness, his fingers hit the glass and tipped it towards him and Sans jolted backward with a quiet exclamation. At the same time, he misjudged his balance and the stool swivelled out from under him, throwing him to the floor just as Grillby gave a warning shout.

It would’ve been better if that had been it. Distracted by the flames, Sans quickly patted his hoodie with a swear, then heard a short roll of glass on the countertop. He winced at the loud crack as the tumbler crashed on top of him, both hands shooting up to cradle his skull. Sans rubbed at the top of his head as a shower of glass fragments rained down on his shoulders, his face screwed up in pain.

Legs stretched out and all akimbo, Sans felt that he could’ve handled it a little better. He grunted lowly as he saw Grillby round the bar with a towel and a fierce blaze, dropping down in front of him to help Sans clean up the burning alcohol. Sans grimaced apologetically, shifting to sit upright so he could shake the shards of glass out of his hood.

“Are you alright?”   Grillby demanded, his tone stricken.

“heh. welp, not exactly the fire i was gunning for,” the skeleton replied automatically as he gingerly rubbed his skull. At the same time, he took the towel from Grillby to wipe off. It wouldn’t do to reek of alcohol when he got home, after all.

He thought he saw the pale flicker travel through his friend’s face and Sans paused when his soul seemed to sigh.

It suddenly dawned on him what he’d just said.

And there was silence.

Tight, painful silence.

A short laugh escaped Sans and distractedly, he flicked the shards of glass off his hoodie and pushed his back up against the bar. He kept the towel against the side of his head as he quickly tried to search for excuses to change the subject.

“s-say, grillbz,” he floundered desperately, “you’ve been, uh… kindling bright lately.”

It was a wild attempt to keep his head above water, so to speak, but it’d have to do. Grillby’s reaction was interesting to behold; his blaze flickered the same pale yellow as before and an almost embarrassed smile fell across his fiery features.

The bartender didn’t respond. He only moved to pick up some of the larger shards out of the fur lining of Sans’ hood.

Sans pressed on, curious. “never saw you glint like gold before,” he murmured quieter still, his voice just a little teasing.

“It’s… due to a strong emotional response,”   Grillby supplied, his voice faltering and far quieter than before. Sans shrunk down, averting his gaze while he absent-mindedly continued to wipe the spilled drink from the side of his face.

“oh. i didn’t mean to make you upset, boss. just, uh… put the drink and glass on my tab,” Sans said quickly, his thoughts racing in an internal struggle to keep calm. “the stool too.”

Grillby gently shook his head. “I don’t care about those. I’m not angry; not to worry.”

Hesitantly, both of his hands went for Sans’ skull, an agony of time between when Grillby was touching him and when he wasn’t, cradling each side of Sans’ face. The skeleton sat stunned, his thoughts coming to a standstill. His breath came in a shudder as heat flooded down the vertebrae under his jaw and the towel fell from his grip.

He stared at Grillby’s face, the silence stretching on until Sans’ mind finally kicked into a panicked overdrive, as though he didn’t trust himself. This was stupid, Grillby was just worried that he’d been injured, he…

He was a fool.

“oh. well. ok, then.”

Smooth.

Damn it, he was fine. Sans knew that he’d be fine, but his soul lamented to convince him otherwise. It was painful the way his heart twisted Grillby’s words into the things he wanted to hear.

“Quite the opposite, actually

The joke wasn’t the least bit funny, but Sans found himself quietly snickering, the well of desperation and vulnerability inside of him high enough to taint his laughter with a bittersweet ache. Yet he didn’t flinch from Grillby’s touch, whose hands remained on either side of his head, sending that fiery heat and conflicting feelings through him again. Amongst them, there was a hope, a kindling of care and tenderness that he wanted to feel lost in.

Sans noted the golden flicker again and the unsure way Grillby held himself. The subtle shift of fire against his skull was like a hesitant caress. He was close enough that Sans could see the glowing sclerae clearly behind the frames of Grillby’s glasses, and how the innermost irises dragged to the side, thoughtful. Then they narrowed slightly, as though twinged with pain and with it, Sans paused.

A flare of hesitance went through Sans’ soul, suddenly unsure of himself and the silent worry that he was able to decipher from Grillby’s fiery expression.

“You laugh defensively, Sans,”   the fire monster breathed, the words carefully selected throughout the skeleton’s stunned silence, crisp and clear. “Or… perhaps I was too forward.”

That was a definite hint of disappointment, Sans just knew it. It spoke of an untold ache that pulled at his soul, beckoning him to do something that he was so frightened of coming to light.

Sans’ grin tugged downward and he straightened his spine, shifting as his soul fluttered nervously and sent waves of excitement and trepidation through his body. His eye lights remained fixed on the fire monster, afraid that if he glanced away for even one moment, that it’d turn out to be a desperate dream of a fool in love and nothing else.

“you know nothing can get through this thick skull o’ mine,” the skeleton offered, his voice dropping in register.

He wanted to urge Grillby on, to have him continue talking as his bones trembled with the filling heat, sensitive and warm as though he was thawing out. He wanted to hear something to latch onto, to keep in his heart so that Sans could save it for himself in his most loathing moments of self-defeat.

Maybe it’d be different, like he could be all the better for it.

But it was hard, so difficult to think through the fog of flame from Grillby’s touch. With his deliberate silence, Sans was slowly gathering the courage inside to speak next.

“i… i can tell you a secret. if you tell me one first.”

 

The bartender considered it, watching Sans’ bashful expression and how it made him kindle in turn. Flames crackled between them, the arched tips billowing a subtle shade of yellow and gold, then fluttered back to their normal shades and splendour. In response, he noticed how Sans shifted again, subtly. It was as though he was attempting to shrink, to hide and to conceal the gentle clatter of shaking bones.

Grillby’s mouth parted slightly as he again, carefully chose the best thing to say. “Burning pale…”   he trailed off, his flames reacting to the words in kind, “means a hotter flame.”

There was something to the way he spoke that told Sans that there was more to it than that. Absently, his hand found the front of his hoodie, his soul’s desire for closeness silently pleading with him, clearly reacting to Grillby’s proximity.

“i like your heat,” Sans admitted, the confession startling even to him. He watched as the fire pulsed and Grillby withdrew his hands, somewhat startled. Sans couldn’t help but grin at the reaction despite the lost touch. “and… i think that means you’re blushing.”

At Grillby’s bashful but agreeing hum, Sans sat up a little more, an outrageous idea forming. If he was wrong, well… maybe he could hope for a retry?

“don’t worry.”

Sans’ soul thundered as he boldly moved, taking one of Grillby’s hands to pull it towards him. His eye lights never left the fire monster’s face as he pressed the warm heat of Grillby’s hand against his ribs, gauging Grillby’s reactions in case he’d read wrong. Palm flat against his sternum, Grillby didn’t pull away, more pleasurable warmth flooding his core. His eyes were bright but soft.

Sans sighed with the tangled, pillowy feeling behind his ribs, his soul pulsing with a dizzying echo and with the clarity of unspoken emotions hidden inside of him.

“me too.”

As though to prove his point, his soul emitted a gentler glow, peeking out from under the collar of his charred hoodie.

Sans held the fire monster’s hand to his chest, his grasp gentle yet firm as he took a deep breath. It felt so right, and Grillby wasn’t moving away. Sans stole a minute to close his eye sockets, to just drown in the moment without his negative thoughts to ruin it all. Even if Grillby didn’t reciprocate, he felt comfort in the touch.

Heat reached all the way to the tips of his finger bones before Sans realised that his arm had been pulled up. Reopening his eye sockets, Sans watched as Grillby lifted his other hand in the same manner, placing it at the centre of his torso and against his pristine vest, mirroring the gesture in silent admiration as though it was treasured.

A comfortable silence passed between the two and in that singular moment, Sans could feel his fears melt away. His smile was genuine as his eye lights finally pulled down from Grillby’s face to his own hand, witnessing another pulse. This time it was white and soft, thrumming behind his fingers like a silent song. The feeling reverberated throughout his bones, travelled up his arm and glowed around his own soul, amplifying every blessed emotion tenderly.

Grillby felt the same.

It was beautiful. It was perfection. Sans gave in to another laugh; this time not defensively, but because he truly felt happy for the first time in what felt like years. It was clear and held no bittersweet undertones, no fear or worry.

He felt light, and bolstered with new courage he let go of Grillby’s hand at his chest. He didn’t want to, but at the same time Sans didn’t want to remove his other hand from over Grillby’s soul. He wanted to remain linked for that moment and he gave Grillby a genuine smile, slowly searching in his pocket for something.

“it’s a little shy,” he quietly admitted as he pulled out the small blossom. It looked rumpled from being there, having maybe been bruised from his fall, but it still glowed with the luminescent telltale blue from the marsh. “like me,” he added, feeling flush with the gesture as the fire monster took it from him with his free hand.

Gently and gingerly, as though afraid to burn it should he get too close, Grillby held it between the two of them, waiting as their souls’ pulses gradually synced. The flower was beaten up, lopsided and heavy on one end. It was quiet, but the words were there, tiny and anonymous. He knew whose words they belonged to immediately.

‘I’ve fallen for my best friend.’

An excited flush filled Sans again at hearing the words, coupled with a measured beat he was positive was resonating from Grillby, like a skip in his soul’s beat. He found that he just couldn’t meet his eyes now, but he continued smiling, hunched into his jacket and coveting that heated touch against his chest. He wanted to keep it there for as long as he was able to.

 

Grillby stayed silent, his smile broader and more tender as he watched Sans’ reaction to the echoed words.

It was a pure confession, one Sans had been wrestling with for some time, he bet. He met with Sans’ affections, yet the words were easy to come to mind, having already been said.

“Don’t worry,”   came the echoed whisper of Sans’ own reassurance, and he carefully set the echo blossom beside them. Grillby saw the fleeting glance and flushed cyan pulse behind his hand as he leaned forward, closing the gap between them with agonising slowness. “Me too.”

Sans’ soul hammered excitedly, his mind blocking out everything apart from the shrinking distance between them and the subtle rush of fire. He moved in turn, pushing himself off the back of the bar to shift closer to Grillby’s body. His own magic pulsed as he felt the heated echo of Grillby’s soul thrum warmly against his palm. It felt like such intimacy, one that matched his own, and it tickled pleasantly between his joints.

Sans no longer feared the answer that his heart and soul questioned and agonised over for all this time. He hadn’t meant to confess this way - nor so quickly - but Sans was glad in a silently exuberant way, that he did.

The affection he craved was matched as their bodies inched closer, their faces bare movements away from a shared moment that soon felt electrifying and right in all the best possible ways.

Flames licked at his teeth with an age old yearning and he drew them in a ready breath, the fire monster’s scent crisp yet sharp and addictive. The heat flooded his bones and between his teeth, mingling with his magic and sparking along his jaw, pressing against him in a blissful slowness to echo his deepest sentiments. It was like something was unlocked and unbolted, three keys used all at once.

In turn, Grillby’s fingers bunched against Sans’ chest, curling into the fabric of Sans’ shirt through the kiss as though it’d been an ache that after years of hunger was finally satiated. Sans’ body shuddered pleasantly with the heated sigh that escaped Grillby and Sans moved one of his arms over the bartender’s shoulder, seeking to just be close.

Sans felt Grillby’s arms encircle him in turn, warm and tender, pulling him against his body. He sighed contentedly against the chaste end of the kiss, both of his hands slipping over Grillby’s warm shoulders to hold him like he’d always wanted to, like he’d never known he needed to until then.

Moments passed, Grillby’s chin resting against Sans’ shoulder, making the spot throb with heat. Occasionally, the fire monster’s embrace would tighten a little more, then ease, and Sans felt the urge to do it back. The quiet was soothing in its own regard as their souls danced in such intimate proximity, and Sans’ heart and soul felt full.

After long last, everything finally felt right in the world.

Chapter Text

At the sound of approaching dogs, they bashfully separated, and for a moment Sans couldn’t keep his gaze from Grillby’s face. He couldn’t stop smiling, couldn’t help the bright hopefulness that welled up in his soul and how the fire monster’s did in turn. So it was with great reluctance that Sans parted and stood, just as the door chimed. A little behind schedule, the dogs bounded inside for their nightly gathering. Quietly grinning to himself, Sans drifted to the door, staying idly by to watch Grillby. Then he gave a short wave goodbye and turned to leave.

Sans felt as though his entire soul was filled to bursting, incapable of containing the wellspring of giddiness that overflowed from deep inside of him. On the outside, Sans appeared his usual self to anyone that knew him, but on the inside he was punch-drunk. His soul swam with mushy feelings and a new appreciation for life, one full of promise. He would’ve liked to stay in Grillby’s company for just awhile longer, but the canine squad’s excited barks for bones and attention made the skeleton feel overwhelmed enough to excuse himself, promising to come back later.

Promising Grillby. It’d been easy to do and, Sans realised, with very little reluctance on his part.

The fire monster hadn’t said much after that. Grillby only gave him a warm glowing smile as the dogs began listing off their favourite snacks to order. He continued to smile to himself even as his customers seated themselves and he started on the mess of shattered glass.

And a little later on, he’d realise that Sans left the flower behind in the bar.

 

He hadn’t asked for how long Sans felt this way, so Sans wondered if somehow Grillby had known. Maybe he had all this time, and Sans had been a damned fool for trying to hide it.

Sans grinned to himself as he walked down the street and back to his house, going over the confession in his mind over and over. The twinkling small voice repeated in his head like a hymn, like he’d remembered how to dream after years of nightmares. His soul thrummed behind his ribcage as though he could scarcely believe that it was all real.

And the colour Grillby’s fire took on. Its blaze had started out amber and bronze, but then had turned so white with small embers of gold and even tiny flecks of violet and blue. Sans hadn’t stuck around long when the dogs came around to see how the bartender would have pardoned them.

Unable to help it, Sans laughed to himself. He didn’t care how he looked to anyone else if he was being watched. He was drenched in alcohol with smears of soot all over his face and hands, burns on his jacket, and he probably smelled like a drunk.

But he was the happiest he’d ever been in a long time and he loved it.

Before he entered the house, Sans took off his hoodie to shake out the remaining glass shards around the side, feeling a brisk chill. Comparatively, he held his jacket close to him with a pause.

Warmth still clung to the fabric, penetrated deep and lingering even then. A little caught off guard, Sans let out another soft laugh. He could detect the scent from Grillby too, the soft hint of charcoal and spice of fire, of hearth and home. Sans felt his soul flush at that and he rounded the side of the house to go inside, resisting the urge to outright hug the garment so he could press the feeling into his bones.

It occurred to him that he hadn’t eaten for most of the day; excited jubilation of his revealed feelings aside, Sans felt hungry. So after depositing his hoodie on the counter, he dug around the ‘food museum’ - as Papyrus had so aptly named their fridge - to grab some leftovers.

Sans’ grin dropped a little when he realised it was the previous night’s spaghetti, but that was really all that was left in the house. The taste had been mainly… indescribable, with his limited knowledge of the phenomenon, but Sans just knew that it wasn’t at all pleasant. He was still getting used to tasting things, after all.

Hesitant, but given very little choice in options without cooking something for himself, Sans grabbed a fork from the drawer and leaned against the counter to eat, as usual.

That’s when he realised something peculiar. A click, followed by a jarring grind and he dropped his fork to the dish with a clatter and ran his digits around his teeth. He didn’t feel any cracks, and yet… he could have sworn…

A suspicion along with a nagging worry bothered him enough to walk to the living room with his plate, then upstairs to the washroom. He would just check. It certainly wasn’t anything to panic about. It was probably just a loose tooth from when he fell off the stool at Grillby’s. Sans would simply get Papyrus to inspect and heal it when he got back.

But still… he had to check.

As concern gripped at him, Sans balanced the plate in one hand and scrutinised himself in the bathroom mirror. There was a scuff on the top of his skull where the glass had landed, but other than that, things looked fine. Maybe a smudge of ash from when Grillby got very close, but nothing too out of the ordinary. Puzzled, Sans brought another forkful of noodles to his mouth, eyeing his reflection warily as though he expected something terrible to happen.

Instantly, he felt dread. Unable to help himself, the plate slipped from Sans’ hand and landed into the sink with a loud shatter.

His mandible had opened.

The forkful of food followed the rest of it into the sink with the screech of metal on porcelain. With a surge of energy, Sans hiked onto his tiptoes, sockets hollowed and wide as he desperately patted at his face, his mouth, his teeth, trying to find a crack, an injury, anything. He searched along his jaw for a hidden crack, something blindingly spreading as he fumbled to get it under control.

His soul jackhammered in his chest, panicked now instead of elated. He didn’t find anything save for a small sliver, a hairline groove that spread from one end to the other.

It had parted.

Despite his shakes, the bone was smooth as Sans traced his finger along the bottom of where his teeth should’ve been fused. But they weren’t. They had always been together, so unlike his brother’s, whose teeth could chew, clatter and move as he spoke. They just weren’t, and Sans was beginning to panic more, digits deftly prying in their search for any kind of hint as to why as his breaths picked up.

A desperate thought jolted through his mind. Had Grillby’s heat done this?

No, that was asinine to think.

Sans had wondered about his brother’s odd saying: that skeletons were soft and cuddly. He’d always chalked it up to Papyrus’ weird ways with words and how he habitually chose the more awkward path to say something.

Sans squinted - squinted! - closer, the part of his teeth revealing a second row, and Sans drew back, a cold fear slipping down his spine at the same time. He slapped at his cheeks, his breathing coming in hitched and panicked.

What the hell was happening to him!?

 

Sans took a moment to recover, turning his face away from the mirror. It took several moments to even breathe properly again. Another thought came to mind that maybe this was another dream. With that, there was a sharp twist in his soul when Sans realised that would’ve meant that he hadn’t confessed his feelings to the fire monster after all. That everything leading up to that moment would be false and had never happened.

He clutched at his shirt and shrunk down to the floor, squatting down with a pained exhale.

He didn’t want to think that. It had taken so much to even go back-

No, something else had to have happened. Besides, his face was smudged with ash. Telltale signs that it’d been real. Grillby reciprocated and even kissed him-

Sans paused for a moment, heat touching his face as though the fire monster was there with him.

Abruptly, Sans gave his head a shake to dispel that delusion.

He wondered if Papyrus knew; Sans couldn’t ask him now even if he wanted to, not with his cell phone broken. But leaving the house now was impossible with how he looked, and using a shortcut when he didn’t know his brother’s exact location was risky. Somehow, Sans felt as though he had very little choice in the matter.

Cautiously, Sans slowly stood up, eyeing his reflection in the mirror. Then, resigned to give in to scientific curiosity, he leaned forward again.

Experimentally, he tugged his mandible down with one of his fingers, another unnerving grind echoing in his skull as the two rows of teeth slid over themselves, finally resting in an overbite when he stopped the movement. Then he pushed his jaw bone up to close it again, his eye lights the size of pinpricks.

This felt wrong.

Sans attempted to clench his jaw together as he’d seen Papyrus do so many times before and flinched at the subtle noise it produced. He certainly hoped it wasn’t anything he’d have to get used to anytime soon.

Sans stood in front of the mirror as he pondered it, then finally worked up the courage to open his mouth without any aid from his fingers. It took awhile, the movement unpractised and foreign, feeling tight where his jaw had become dislocated and connected with his skull. The row of bottom teeth curved inward out of view, unlike his brother’s, his cheekbones a flat mass on either side to hide them.

Then, as his face rested, eye lights still shot and wavering, the seam disappeared and Sans appeared his normal self.

“so weird…” Sans muttered absently, then clapped his hands over his mouth in surprise at the movement.

No, maybe this happened to skeletons, he wondered? And perhaps it was something that happened with him so late since his development - at least physically - was stunted in comparison to his younger brother? Exasperated, Sans sighed, his mandible parting with the action. A shudder racked through him at the shoulders with the sensation.

No, this was definitely weird.

Ultimately, Sans decided that he didn’t have time to wait around for Papyrus to get home. He left the broken dish and spaghetti in the sink as he rounded the corner of the hall and thundered downstairs. It was probably the fastest he’d ever moved outside of nightmares. He darted to the kitchen to grab his hoodie and threw it on, then simply teleported out of the house, not caring that he left all the lights on and the bathroom a more than unusual mess.

Sans reappeared seconds later at the entrance to Waterfall, still running before he made another shortcut deeper into the caves.

Bridge seed room - off he went.

Then again - wishing room.

Once more - the glowing river en route to Undyne’s house.

And one more time. He landed with a wheezed huff outside the river person’s ferry stop, slightly off-kilter as his feet trained on the mossy ground.

Sans bent over to calm down, his soul shuddering in achy protest as he took a few moments for the wave of dizziness to pass. Usually he concentrated when he took successive shortcuts, but this time Sans’ mind was all over the place, and thus so was his aim.

As casually as he could muster, he strolled down the corridor and up to the old turtle’s shop. Apprehensive, Sans idled in front of the hole carved out like a door, then knocked against the old rock surface. Sans had one hand covering his teeth as his eye lights darted around the shop, picking out a few items here and there before they settled on the ancient thick-skinned turtle.

Old Gerson was the oldest monster in their neck of the Underground, old enough to have lived and fought in the war against humans it was said, centuries past. He’d been the legendary Hammer of Justice, a nomenclature Undyne was inspired to take up to honour his bravery, or something like that. Now he was a shopkeeper and excavator of sorts, shuffling through letters he forwarded to Snowdin and whom would sell ’neat junk’ that he found on his strolls through Waterfall to anyone that passed through.

So when Sans turned up without his brother, the old turtle guffawed, never serious when speaking to either of the skeletons.

“y’know, i, uh-” Sans had to stop himself, his mandible biting on every word. He would have to keep himself in check until this was sorted out, he realised in a barely restrained panic.

“Whoa there!” Gerson greeted, his worn feet shuffling against the ground below in a spunky swagger. “Been awhile, wahah! Papyrus’ brother, right?”

Dumbly, Sans nodded, still covering his teeth. His eye lights were still small, on the verge of guttering out so no one could see how petrified he was.

“i, uh, i got questions? about… skeletons. if you’re not busy? heh,” Sans tried speaking calmly, but his soul thrummed with dread and terror, and his voice sounded strained.

“C’mon in, kiddo, take up a chair. We’ll have ourselves a chat,” Gerson replied, his voice croaky yet loud and gritty. He fixed his good eye on Sans’ skull as the skeleton passed inside to sit on one of a few old lawn chairs that had been fixed with a bent coat hanger. “Questions about skeletons, eh? Been awhile, yes, a long time since then, I suppose. Anything you wanna know in particular?”

“uh,” Sans started, not really knowing what to say. “i guess… you tell me, pops?” He removed his hand from his face and gave his teeth a few embarrassing clacks when his jaw moved up and down. Then he gave a half-hearted and shamed shrug.

“Eh? Isn’t this something you should be asking your parents about?”

The turtle took a seat across from him on a sturdy-looking bench that supported his weight and thick shell. His single yellow eye remained fixed on the skeleton and he leaned closer, head cocked to one side as though it made it easier to listen.

Sans took a breath as though to answer that, but he found that he really didn’t have an excuse. To his recollection, it’d always just been him and Papyrus. In fact, he couldn’t really remember if they were raised with guardians or not, come to think of it…

“no parents. no other skeletons in the capital either, so, uh… i gotta go off your memory, if that’s ok.”

Gerson’s good-natured laugh made him smile a little uneasily. Normally Sans wasn’t the one to ask him questions; it had always been Papyrus’ blistering curiosity that allowed him to drill the old turtle with reckless abandon. Sans was the reserved one of the two, after all. Either reserved or moody.

“It really should’ve been something you’d been taught in your stripes,” the old monster responded, but in his voice there was a subtle jab at him. “Unless you’re just wearing big boy clothes to hide you’re still a kid yourself! Wah ha ha!”

Sans felt himself frown defensively at that, the feeling of the downward tug strange, but definitely recognisable. He definitely wasn’t a kid anymore, even if half the offspring in Snowdin outgrew Sans on a yearly basis.

“Well, maybe not so much anymore! Hah!”

Sans bristled at that, already regretting coming here in a panic. But he huffed out a patient sigh and decided he might as well, since he was already here.

 

The conversation had been long - too long. Sans feared that if it had taken any longer, Papyrus would be calling the entire Underground to look for him. He’d learned a lot; mainly, that the old turtle was ancient, and with it came the susceptibility that the older a monster was, the more memories they hung onto. And with the plethora or knowledge or memories, came mixed information.

Gerson didn’t remember a lot from his time with any skeletons, but the information Sans was rewarded with for his patience was enough to go on for now.

Skeletons, from what the old monster recalled, could have ‘frozen’ expressions, pliable, or a mix of the two. Papyrus was a prime example of pliable, and Sans was evidently a mix. It would change dynamics as a skeleton approached maturation, of when either stripes were shed or when the skeleton was ready for more intimate relationships with a mate.

Or, in layman’s terms… dating.

Tastes were a way of signalling a skeleton’s body that these changes were taking place, since there was little else to change with bone structure. Maybe physical density was affected? Magic surges? He wasn’t sure. There were apparently other signals, but Old Gerson seemed to have conveniently forgotten them.

The way the old turtle explained had been scholarly and condescending, but at the same time Sans couldn’t help but be starkly embarrassed by the entire conversation. He spent the majority of the time cowering with his face buried in his hands.

Sans had always been smaller than the general populace, maybe a head or two shorter than most adults of similar makeup to him. But to think he was so late in maturing that Gerson felt the need to crack jokes at his expense. He felt embarrassed and flushed, but it would explain so much, especially since the experimental treatment he endured as a child-

Don’t think about that-

 

Like a switch flipping from a horror show to an educational tutelage, Sans pushed the last thought away. While he knew about all manners of other things, biology was admittedly not his strong suit. It’d be something to talk with Alphys about. She knew a good deal more than he did, even if she specialised in robotics.

Sans decided to walk home instead of teleport. The ferry wasn’t idling where it normally was and he felt exhausted from the emotions of the day; so much, he didn’t realise a voice calling after him until they’d caught and yanked on his hood.

Jerked back, Sans whirled on the spot, nearly losing his balance. His magic flared in a defensive spurt and he caught himself as he was met eye to eye with the resident fish lady. Her sharp teeth gleamed with the glow of illuminated water around them in something that could only be described as a snarl, the gills of her neck flaring.

Sans withdrew his magic and went to offer a nonchalant greeting, but he was cut off by Undyne’s raucous voice.

“Sans! I’ve been trying to contact you for DAYS!!! What gives!”

“my phone’s no longer of this world,” he drawled without missing a beat and feigned utmost sorrow almost theatrically. “no longer do i hear its sweet cries during the night-”

“Cut the crap, boney boy! You missed-” Undyne counted off on her scarred, webbed fingers, “four shifts in Hotland since Papyrus told me about that!”

“hotland bites,” he tried again, citing Undyne’s sentiments for the sweltering quarry perfectly.

“It SUCKS!!”

“i had an… escort mission, kinda. had to, uh, get cover. on short-notice,” the skeleton replied lamely, avoiding her look as thoughts of his time with Grillby snuck up on him. It had been an unofficial leave, after all.

She stared at him plainly, then just shook her head with a frustrated snarl. “You could’ve stopped by on the way!” Her tone was bitingly accusatory and concerned. “What if something happened? What if a HUMAN showed up?”

“i don’t think they’d make it that far past the canine unit. papyrus can hold his own, too, at least `til you showed up. `sides, we kinda sidestepped this area, going through,” Sans explained carefully; he knew that he was treading on thin ice with Undyne enough as it is. “anyway, what’s up? can it wait until morning? i’m kinda tired and i still got a long walk.”

She leaned in close to him suspiciously and sniffed, the slits in her face flaring in disgust when she detected the burn of alcohol on Sans’ hoodie.

“Have you been DRINKING!?”

“nah. long story. still reeling from it.”

Her eye flattened at the poor attempt at a joke and he shrugged. “Fine! I got a few messages from Alphys in the lab and she wants to talk to you,” she groused, but her glance softened and skewed to one side as Undyne mentioned her name. “Said to come as soon as you got the message. Something about weird `readings`.”

Sans shuffled his shoes on the ground, tapping the toe idly with a distasteful grunt. “what, now?”

“Or tomorrow! Whatever. She said she’s been digging into it for the last couple weeks and wants your opinion on something. Maybe bring your phone so she can fix it. She’s awesome at that!” Her eye narrowed as she regarded his face with scrutiny, noticing the shift of expression. “Erm…?”

“since you’re so concerned about missed shifts,” he drawled, scratching at his nasal cavity with feigned disinterest and pointedly ignoring her look. It may have been to hide the fact he could feel his teeth moving, still. “why not ask my bro?”

She paused, eye widened at the prospect, then her expression shifted into a bizarre mix of uneasiness and gutsy bravado. “You know I can’t do that…”

“and why not? it’s all he ever talks about. royal guard this, training that…” Sans huffed and gave her a wink, “ok well, maybe not officially. maybe like a temp? just `til i get back. he’ll be good. scout’s honour.”

Undyne growled lowly as if the decision being made then was a bad idea. She stared him down, as though she was mentally weighing the pros and cons of the entire situation and how it would play out in the future.

Then, finally, she relented; “I guess as long as it’s temporary-”

“sure.”

“I just don’t want him to get hurt, y’know? Guy’s got spunk, but… I dunno,” she snarled indecisively again and shrugged, her gills flaring at her neck again. “I guess! Whatever!! Temporary shifts, just this one time - seeing as he’s already done it for you. As a favour to Alphys, since you bein’ there would help her out.”

“ok,” Sans automatically replied through a sigh. Admittedly, he was just grateful the renowned Spear of Justice didn’t press her curiosity of his new ‘look’. He watched as Undyne stalked off in the direction of her house, shaking her head as she went. Then she rounded to face him again and pointed at him with a heroic flair.

“Oh yeah!! She said bring your old notes!”

Sans paused with the addition. Then he realised that other than Alphys, no one else really knew the details of his assistant work at the lab in Hotland - and sequentially, the CORE. The built up tension in his body slowly drained away and he let out an inaudible sigh of relief.

Shrugging, he replied, “ok.”

Chapter Text

He didn’t want to, but Sans forced himself. In fact, in order to ensure that he’d be well-rested, Sans retired as soon as he got home after mumbling to Papyrus to wake him a little earlier than usual. This was of course after his brother’s predictable overreaction to his mandible, a bit of reheated supper, and Papyrus’ disgust at the whiskey-soaked hoodie.

Papyrus made a big show about the state of his clothes, which had been rendered to a sooty mess, singed patches and fur. Then he gave a suspicious glance Sans’ way, ending up looking fairly smug about something. Sans decided to ignore the look, feeling his soul flood with the memory of what happened at the bar.

Reluctantly and not without an extended argument, Sans surrendered his clothes so that they could be properly laundered. Something inside of him twinged when he realised a little too late that the scent from Grillby’s would be lost in the wash.

The brief checkup Papyrus subjected him to was painful, to say the least. The barrage of questions and banter back and forth about the mess in the washroom, along with the discovery of Sans’ unfused mandible was admittedly, a weary interaction. It took far longer for Papyrus to be satisfied that Sans truly hadn’t injured himself, but he had a bunch of questions that Sans felt he just couldn’t answer. At least, not immediately; he felt far too embarrassed and ashamed for even the most cursory of explanations.

So even after he evaded the questions about his evening, Sans retired to his bedroom and quietly closed the door. It felt like ages since he’d been there last; every dirty sock was in its same place, the whirling dervish as whimsically pointless as ever… The only difference now was that Papyrus had put his slippers in his room, just next to his dresser.

It felt so long since he’d slept in his own bed. The day had been long and tiring and he’d gotten back late. It had been so full of emotion, of fears Sans thought he’d never confront. The interrogation had eaten up a few hours as well. He barely had the energy to kick off his shoes, but he managed to before sinking back against the bare mattress. Without his hoodie, he definitely could see the glow under his shirt, subtle yet there.

Sans’ grin tugged slightly at the memory of the lulling heat against his sternum and sat up to summon his soul. It was small, more fragile and paler than it used to be. As always, there were small, barely visible stress marks, like scars. It wasn’t what he was focused on, as much as it discomforted him to have it out in the first place.

However uneasy he felt, the glow it produced every time Sans thought of his friend soothed him. It pulsed radiantly with his growing sentiments and Sans pressed it back to his breastbone, returning it home where it could safely rest.

He’d have to remember to visit the bar in the morning before he left. With pleasant feelings nestled inside, the skeleton actually slept deeply and well.

 

True to form, his brother woke him with the first light, brandishing his freshly laundered hoodie. Sans groaned sleepily as the garment was flung on top of him. Absently, he pawed at the air when Papyrus opened the window to let the first beams of magical dawn hit over Sans’ head.

“five-mur-mins…”

“SANS, YOU LAZYBONES!! GET UP.”

“dun wanna go to school…”

“OH, FOR STARS-… SANS, PLEASE. YOU’VE BEEN OUT OF SCHOOL FOR 97 YEARS. YOU REQUESTED FOR ME TO WAKE YOU. SO THAT IS WHAT I, YOUR BROTHER, AM GOING TO DO! AND AM NOW PRESENTLY DOING!!”

The smaller skeleton groaned as though in pain, knowing it to be true. Why did he do this to himself? After a moment of sleepy consideration, Sans heaved himself up off the mattress, his clothes rumpled and mind barely registering as awake.

“m’up.”

“YOU KNOW…” Papyrus moved to sit beside his brother on the bed and patted his shoulder. Perhaps a little rougher than warranted, but he wanted to ensure Sans would stay awake. “THIS HAS PROBABLY BEEN THE LONGEST YOU’VE EVER WENT WITHOUT BAD DREAMS?”

Sans dozed on the spot, then tilted his head back to rouse himself. His posture remained slouched with his hoodie hanging off one of his arms. Cradling his chin in one hand, Sans hummed softly.

“that so..?”

“YES. RIGHTLY SO!  OR, AT THE VERY LEAST, YOU HAVEN’T BEEN COMPLAINING ABOUT THEM!! WHICH MEANS, I HOPE, THAT THEY’VE BEEN ABSENT!! AND IT’S GREAT TO HEAR! I COULD NOT BE MORE RELIEVED! I HAVE BREAKFAST ON DOWNSTAIRS. SO HURRY UP AND GET READY.”

“ok.”

“SANS! I SAID WAKE UP!!”

 

When Sans finally pulled himself out of bed, it was done groggily and as if on automatic. Every movement was a chore as he shifted his feet into the slippers by his bed and he pulled on his hoodie, leaving it open for once. It slouched off his shoulders as Sans dragged himself downstairs, bones creaking and protesting with every step. Once he reached the kitchen, Sans was pulled from the doorway to his usual seat and forcibly sat down, still half-asleep.

Though Papyrus was typically an early-riser, that morning he seemed more energetic than usual. Sans regarded him in his drowsy stupor and finally yawned, his jawbone doing that odd little click with the unpractised movement and he arched his spine with a series of pops and satisfying snaps.

“sup, bro.”

It took all of three seconds for his younger brother to exclaim excitedly, slamming his fists down on the kitchen table and making the silverware rattle in the bowls. Sans didn’t jump, but he cracked open an eye with the reaction.

“UNDYNE! SHE CALLED ME!! I, THE GREAT PAPYRUS, AM NOW AN UNOFFICIAL, TEMPORARY, HONORARY SENTRY… OFFICIALLY!!”

Sans grinned, slumping onto the table. Go figure that Papyrus would get so excited over something as trivial as a cover shift; one orchestrated by Sans, since Undyne hadn’t exactly granted him official leave. Still, it wasn’t as though anything would happen. Sans didn’t have the same eerie premonitions lately that he had weeks ago. He supposed it had probably been his depressive mood that affected him.

Regardless of his thoughts, Sans made an effort to send a supportive yet sleepy grin at Papyrus.

“congrats, bro. where’s your station?”

“SNOWDIN FOREST! NATURALLY, SINCE I’M SO COOL.”

“of course. snow where better suited for you. you’re the best for the job,” Sans agreed candidly as he pushed himself from off the table. “my cool bro, you’ve done it. i’m super prouda ya.”

“FINALLY, SOME RECOGNITION…” His brother theatrically imposed a fist to the ceiling, cackling with glee. “PERHAPS - DARE I SAY IT - IT WILL BE THE DAY A HUMAN ARRIVES!”

“that’d be right up your alley,” Sans replied with another yawn. Then with a bit of an internal struggle, he looked down to the noodly breakfast his brother had lovingly concocted.

 

Throughout breakfast, Papyrus made subtle jabs at his eating habits, urging Sans along and giving humorous demonstrations with his oatmeal on how to properly chew with teeth. Sans felt more than a little injured at the infantile way his brother was treating him, but he wouldn’t have to deal with it for long. Soon, Sans left the house with a rucksack full of his old notes, some snacks, and his broken cell phone.

Admittedly, he was hesitant to go to Grillby’s in the morning. Usually the bar was closed this early, but Sans had a feeling that he couldn’t just leave for a few days without trying to say something. So, despite being anxious with everything, Sans approached the door to Grillby’s, finding it locked. It took an insurmountable amount of time for him to finally get ahold of himself enough to bring up his hand and rap his fist on the frame.

He noticed how stupidly nervous he’d become during the wait and idly shuffled on the spot. Sans had opted to keep to his slippers from now on; the shoes were nice, but he preferred to be comfortable. The slippers provided that satisfying squish in the snow wherever he stood.

He waited awhile longer until he realised that there wouldn’t be an answer to the door at this ungodly hour. His soul gave in to a harsh, dejected little thud and Sans turned his back to the door. It was just as well, since he didn’t quite know what to say to Grillby in the end.

That’s when he heard the door open, the subtle jingle of chimes sounding clamorous in the early morning. The fire monster came into view and peered from around the door, something in his expression shifting from groggy to rapt when he saw Sans. For a moment his flames seemed to arrange into a warm greeting, his mouth parted in a glowing smile that reached his bright eyes.

Grillby didn’t utter a word, but he silently watched as Sans stared and then stumbled over the beginning of several sentences like a precious fool.

“i’m, uh,” Sans started, idly digging into one pocket with one hand while he shouldered his bag with the other. It took a conscious effort to keep his mandible carefully closed while he spoke, so much that it distracted him from arranging his thoughts. “i’m… i’m gonna be gone for a few days. i just wanna… wanted to say. i mean,” he faltered, eye lights settling on the fire monster’s face, then down to Grillby’s mouth. Abruptly, he tore away his gaze, remembering the intimate moment they’d shared the previous evening, the thought intrusive.

“Didn’t realise that… you were so articulate in the morning,”   Grillby breathed, a hint of a tease in his voice as he pulled open the door wider to lean against the frame.

Sans felt embarrassment flood through his body at that. Grinning awkwardly, he pulled the hood of his jacket a little over his eyes when his soul started to thunder wildly.

“…maybe, when i get back… me n’you-” he mumbled the trail end of his thoughts into something hopelessly inaudible.

Grillby stayed silent, although his demeanour shifted in subtle surprise at the implication. Sans peeked from under his hood and caught the way the flames at the bartender’s face fluttered a soft gold. He felt a little more nervous, if that was even possible.

“when i get back…” the skeleton started again, his courage tentatively building. “we… i mean-” He stopped, realising how flushed he felt and how Grillby’s smile had spread the more he spoke. “…maybe…”

He let the sentence hang; he couldn’t do it. Sans was pretty positive that if he pushed himself a little more, his soul was just shudder and come to an abrupt stop.

 

Despite himself, Grillby couldn’t help but grin more as he watched the way Sans shuffled from one foot to the other. He liked the way Sans was flustered and how he hid and bashfully grinned to himself. That was perhaps the reason why Grillby chose to lean forward, boldly taking hold of the hoodie’s drawstrings with one hand and pulling him closer, leading Sans so he could whisper against the side of his skull.

Before he did so, Grillby paused, his smile curling with delight when he began to hear the subtle clatter of bones and a startled inhale. Excitedly, his flames fluttered against Sans, the fire monster’s soul trembling in response.

Then he murmured, a breath’s sigh away from Sans’ face; “Take your time, Sans.”

It was as much as Sans could handle. Before he could get another stuttered word out and only after Grillby had let go of the drawstrings, Sans fled. He didn’t even know exactly why, apart from being so hopelessly worked up by the gesture that his magic immediately pooled inside of his ribcage and itched to break out.

Without thinking, he’d teleported away, leaving the fire monster to quietly laugh in triumph. He rather liked that reaction, although he speculated that he’d likely have to coax Sans into staying longer next time.

 

It took Sans several moments to calm down, his soul fluttering and his face beaming. After he was able to think straight, he then attempted to figure out where he was.

Though starts and stops were important, he’d broken his cardinal rule and acted out of impulse. Now he wasn’t quite sure where he’d ended up. Apart from a bare knoll that stretched on for several yards, it was significantly darker than what was normal. Even though the cave’s glistening walls were faintly illuminated by small glowing mushroom caps and gnats, a pressing darkness seemed to seep down from the ceiling to coat everything around him.

The clearing beyond was a little out of place, a dull glow drifting up from his feet. Sans groped around in the darkness until he was able to regain his bearings, the cool humidity of the corridor conflicting with the gentle ache of warmth in his face.

Sans looked around, his soul still thundering wildly with Grillby’s tease, though he felt like something wasn’t right.

He didn’t know where this was. The cave system looked like Waterfall. The plants were the same. The echoing sighs of water that sloshed in the distance were familiar enough, yet something gave Sans the impression that he wasn’t supposed to be here.

Uncomfortable, Sans shouldered his bag, his eye lights scanning the corridor as the flustered feeling in his soul melted away into a lingering, familiar malaise. He attempted to collect himself, to gather an influx of magic so he could attempt another shortcut.

The same creeping sensation rocked into him, the same as he’d felt at the CORE. Much to his confusion, his attempt faltered again, magic fizzing and sputtering out like a flame in a gust of wind.

A sudden chill slipped down his spine and Sans shuddered, warily looking around. It was peculiar, but it didn’t quite feel cold either; a better term for it would’ve been the exact polar opposite to heat. His legs felt weakened as though strained, but he pushed himself to walk down the corridor.

Unless he could figure out where he was, Sans doubted that he’d be able to continue. It twisted a horrible thread of dread into his mind, one that extinguished any lingering heat and happiness that he’d experienced earlier.

What exactly was this place?

 

He had to be walking for what felt like hours. Unable to repress it, Sans had begun to shake. His breaths were hitched between gasps and he started to panic the longer he couldn’t find his way. His footsteps were uneven as his hand brushed against the corridor’s walls, the familiar glide and jutt of ore and crystals grounding him as he passed. The sound of water in the distance steadily became quieter the more he walked, signalling that Sans had been wandering further away from the starting point.

Waterfall always had water. It was its namesake, so when he couldn’t hear it anymore, something clicked in his skull. Like a light that went off and he was surrounded by darkness.

Eventually, Sans stopped, his bones having rattled the entire way. He felt exhaustion sink into his body, enough that he couldn’t push himself any further. Giving in, needing a sound, a noise, a shape in front of him, Sans sat against the wall. He slipped the rest of the way down, drew up his knees against his chest and bowed his skull into his arms with a strangled swear.

The darkness was closing in.

“just… just a bad dream,” he breathed softly, trying to fill himself with confidence and not the overwhelming anxiety pressing inward from all around him. “c’mon, sans. pull yourself together.”

He hated the way he was becoming unravelled over a bit of darkness and unfamiliarity, but this was nothing like his normal Waterfall. In all the time he’d spent here, Sans hadn’t heard even a whisper of any other soul. There weren’t any echoes from flowers that normally littered Waterfall.

It was like the place was dead.

After a few moments, Sans blindingly picked through his bag. Papyrus had packed him some snacks, wrapped in kerchiefs and napkins with a pattern he couldn’t quite make out, even with the glow of his magic. Although his brother seemed to enjoy giving him nothing but pasta lately, Sans was relieved to find some kind of granola slab. It wasn’t unpleasant, but he couldn’t understand the taste with what limited experience he had with the new sensation. He just hoped it was enough to get him through whatever was happening.

After his admittedly nerve wracking meal, Sans pushed himself up and turned around. He couldn’t shake the feeling of something lingering close by, of the clearcut dread that persisted him as he walked. Unable to help himself, Sans’ steps became faster as the sensation pressed against him from all sides. To keep them from chattering from the dark and the cold, Sans clenched his teeth, his soul’s magic twisting and flicking subtle shades of cyan around him.

Despite his agitation, it helped to illuminate the path. The corridor was familiar and yet not, but as he continued on, something in the distance caught his attention. The closer he got to it, the more hesitant he grew, finally realising what it was.

A door.

A simple, granite door that looked as though it was sealed shut. Old and dead moss covered the seams and everything in his body screamed at him to run away. Yet at the same time as he approached it, Sans couldn’t help the overpowering urge to go for the doorknob.

He resisted, the sensation conflicting with his innermost desires. But he should open it. Had to, even. He had to run. Whatever was beyond the door pulled at his existence like something lost, wanting to be found.

He didn’t want to. He wanted to run.

But… he had to open the door.

“stars help me,”   Sans shakily whispered even as he leaned forward.

His eye lights shrank to pinpricks as tension flooded over him; he felt like he couldn’t control himself. His phalanges trembled as they reached for the knob. The old worn metal was again oddly familiar as his bones grazed against its surface.

A warbling noise was echoing from beyond the door and Sans felt an immediate sickness as something akin to static electricity filled the air, heavy and hard. His magic continued to arc and erratically bubble around him, throwing gold and cyan against the grey door in a flicker of terrified, uncontrolled surges. He stared in horror as his fingers clasped over the door knob and when his wrist turned slowly, Sans felt a scream lodge itself, stuck in his chest.

He shook, every bone in his body trembling as the door swung inward without a sound. The disgusting noise of what he could only imagine had to be thousands of warped, twisted and imploring voices continued, sending another chill through him.

Finally, he was able to withdraw his hand. Immediately it went to his chest, shoulders hunched up in fear as his wide eyes sought out anything in the darkness. The glow from his magic was engulfed by whatever was behind the door like a black hole, as though an insatiable thirst longed to pluck every speck of light from the area.

The feeling that something or someone was watching him persisted, and Sans took a fearful step back, away from the door. His magic twisted painfully along his spine and he couldn’t help the strangled gasp that escaped him as he took another step backward. It creaked up his back, forcing him forward, urging and repugnant. A tightness welled up inside of him when he tried to resist, a thousand plying fingers pushing him forward.

Cautiously, he allowed himself a step forward. The pain subsided by a substantial amount, though it wasn’t what Sans had wanted at all. He chanced a glance behind him, but he couldn’t see anything.

It seemed like going forward was the only option.

Inhaling another shuddering breath, Sans stepped forward once more. His arm reached out in front of him to brace against the open door. As soon as his fingers brushed the old granite surface, he felt his soul give a sickening lurch.

He hunched over, dizziness flooding his senses, pouring out of his eye sockets like black ink. It brought him down to his knees and he panted, something welling up in his mouth. Desperately, he braced himself against the frame of the door as it swung open, without a single creak to break the silence, Sans could only feel nauseated with the sensation.

「 ░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░

      ░ ▓▙▛▓▌▞▟▓▓▚▖▉░▙▀▖▉ ░

      ░░░░░ ・░ ・░・ ░ �  ░░░

░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░ 」

Wildly, Sans stared into the unforgiving darkness, the cut of voices sudden and shrill with no sound of an echo. His magic’s light had been snuffed out and he couldn’t see a thing, but the sudden scrape of static filled the inside of his skull.

His hands abruptly flew to each side of his head as the long tendrils of scattered sound etched into the innermost sides of his mind. More pain welled up inside of him, blinding and black as his scream was choked off.

Fall.  Lost. Found.

Bid.  Curl. Meld.

Absorb.  Bone. Break.

Consume. 

Sans inhaled sharply, willing everything in him to move. It took everything he had to vault to his feet again, blindly turning back into what he prayed was the exit. The overwhelming ache in his soul pinched at him, extracting a pained shudder and fearful whimper from Sans. As fast as his legs could carry him, he located the door and passed through.

Then he dropped out of the dark room that threatened to swallow him whole.

In an instant, he landed in a trembling heap; every fibre of him felt suffocated. At some point, he must’ve covered his eyes with his hands, the haunting burn of a scored white face in the shadows of his skull accompanied by the haunting key of static.

Sans trembled, silent, bones clattering together in a twisted, ugly symphony of terror and utmost revulsion. He couldn’t help it. He just sank lower and lower, inching to the cold moist ground with a shuddered cough, his breaths catching on every exhale.

Thankfully, the infinite darkness stayed behind the door.

Eventually it became easier to breathe and when he brought his sleeve up to wipe over his eyes, they were dry. His magic manifested in a rush like a bursting dam and he clutched at his bag in a deathlike grip, very clearly envisioning where he wanted to go. If he could, Sans didn’t want to appear anywhere in Waterfall anymore.

No, he’d had enough.

It took awhile to find a fissure in reality, for Sans to run the fingers of his mind over the seamless landscape around him in his desperation to flee. It took so long that he’d started to doubt if this really was reality.

Choking noiselessly and trembling, Sans dragged himself to the opposite side of the corridor to calm down, furthest from the door. As it became easier to get ahold of himself, Sans finally found a crack to exploit and stumbled through, his slippers landing clumsily in the red, dusty earth.

Uneasily, he waited next to a gurgling ravine. One eye socket hesitantly cracked open, afraid of what he’d find. With a surge of relief, Sans recognised the ferry stop and the area surrounding it. He huffed loudly and leaned back against the quarry wall, all the anxiousness and fear flooding out of him in a powerful crash. He shrank down against the wall to sit, using its solidity as an anchor. Suddenly every particle that composed him felt weakened, the adrenaline finally running dry.

He’d rest there. Get his bearings again. He pulled his knees towards his chest and buried his skull in his arms, soaking in the glow of the lava floes and the heavy sounds of magma. Somewhere in the distance, he could hear the chatter from random passersby.

What the hell was that?

 

At some point, Sans had succumbed to exhaustion. He awoke some time later, disorientated and sore, but at least it was still in Hotland. The rolling heat from being so close to the earth’s core made him feel a little better. It reminded him of his friend, and he was almost loathe to leave it as he headed towards the lab, where it was likely to be air conditioned.

It appeared that it was either too early for him to be expected, or the royal scientist was enraptured in cartoons again. Expectantly, Sans stood outside the large building and stared up at one of the cameras posted on the building, aimed down to where he waited. A little curiously, Sans noticed that the red LED indicator wasn’t lit and idly wondered if it was broken.

Tired of waiting, he released a heavy sigh and rapped his bony digits against the metal door.

Several moments passed and Sans began to grow restless, but he didn’t want to attempt using a shortcut again. He was still rattled from the earlier encounter, not fully understanding it. Maybe it was something that Alphys could help him figure out?

Even more time passed and while Sans found he now liked the heat, he disliked standing for very long. Even though he’d napped, he didn’t feel truly rested. He still felt on edge. The words that had chanted in his head didn’t make sense, so he went over them in his mind, repeating them like an odd jumble solution.

Fall. Lost. Found…

Then a recollection; that cracked face. He thought he’d seen it before, but it was as mysterious and foreboding as the area that he’d been trapped in. He couldn’t connect any memories in his past as to why it was familiar, though.

Maybe it was better if he didn’t try to.

Sans didn’t like the implication that his mind was trying to wrestle the thought that he knew of it, or had at one time. It was both familiar, yet hauntingly foreign. As he waited, he parsed his memory for the vague disturbing smile, coming up blank.

Sans soon grew agitated enough to rap his fingers against the solid steel door once more, this time hearing the approaching flurry of footsteps and a voice echo from just inside. With the hiss of mechanics and the door finally opened, Sans stepped inside, giving his buddy an uneasy, wide grin.

“heya, alph. long time.”

“Sure… has,” she replied, matching the discomfort more readily than Sans ever could. “Made the trip ok?”

“piece `o cake,” Sans lied automatically as he followed his former colleague through the hall to the computer room. There wasn’t any reason to delve into his anxiety so quickly, and he needed somewhere secluded to rest.

It was just as he remembered… well, maybe not. In truth, it was a hell of a lot messier than he last recalled, not that he minded. Needing a distraction from the chilling experience, Sans turned to face her.

“so what’s the hubbub, bub?”

Alphys started to speak, the sentence then aborted. She tried again, her claws nervously skittering over each other. Sans didn’t point it out, but she seemed more agitated than usual. He approached the other side of the workspace and set his bag down with his notes, then sat on the floor next to it, content to rest for awhile in a place he considered safe.

“must’ve been important, to get fishie to order me here.”

“U-Undyne,” Alphys corrected, then she took the chair next to him from in front of the large computer screen. Papers were scattered everywhere; maps, blueprints and graphs made a haphazard blanket across the floor in seemingly unorganised piles. “And… and yes, there might have been a, uh. An… eensie tiny little problem?”

“like what.”

“Your… your security code, a couple weeks ago,” she replied, flipping through a few stray papers that had red circles drawn over it. “h-here-” She handed them over for Sans to parse through with a frown. “I mean, you worked there! At the Central Origins Resource-”

“just say `core`, alph. no one calls it that anymore,” Sans interrupted, pouring over the graphs.

She stopped abruptly, clearly avoidant, but she stared openly at him. Sans was used to getting the odd look here and there, and he tried to ignore it. The girl was in fact one of the reasons why he was so late in maturing, and the entire reason that he still existed, for that matter.

Uncomfortable as his mind threw up cyan, yellow and a flash of white, Sans rubbed at his face. “what’s up.”

“When… when did you-?”

She gasped, as though whatever had passed through her head was either scandalised or a earth-shattering breakthrough. Sans shrank down, dismissing the reaction and tapping on the graph with a single digit. It was a gridline layout of Waterfall, and on another larger paper, the CORE. Certain areas were circled in red marker and he could reckon what they were immediately. The Waterfall ones, anyway.

“i had to move around a bit. had a tag-along,” he evasively explained and took a moment to scratch the side of his head. Then he felt the tentative, curious prying poke of magic against his soul. Scandalised and aggravated by the Check, Sans whirled his head around to shoot a pointed glare Alphys’ way. In response, she looked at him sheepishly. “do you mind?”

Her laugh was excusing, yet still nervous. She was the only one who he’d allowed to Check him, but only since she was one of the very few who knew about his low HP. She also was more than aware of the circumstances of his soul, since it’d taken a nosedive ages ago.

More patiently than he would’ve been in the past, Sans sighed in resignation, burying his chin in one hand.

“so… everything in order?”

“You’re… h-healthy!” Alphys reported a little too eagerly. Something in her eyes just didn’t match up, though.

Sans looked inward at the singular digit and hid a grimace. It was lower than before; that… thing, whatever it was, had lowered his resistance and shaved him back down to his singular HP.

“No, I mean… after you quit, you stop.. stopped coming around, so I, um-” She stopped and tapped her claws together, going over what she wanted to say in her mind. “I never really knew if you were… you know. Ok?”

“the only reason i’m here is `cause of you.” Sans shrugged, a twinge like a shot from the memory bruising inside of him - or what remained of it. “don’t think too much about it, alph. i don’t. i just hate travelling and i like to complain. - so, about this stuff-”

He pointed to the graphs and grids as he started to explain what had led to the analmolic reports, without mentioning just who had tagged along. Sans was acutely aware of Alphys’ staring whenever he spoke and the way her eyes would catch his movements. Scientific curiosity and friendly excitement was a dangerous combination.

As he reasoned through it, Sans noticed that a circle corresponded with every time he had to warp with Grillby. Every time, except at the CORE, where he’d first felt something. Something he could only describe as a hiccup.

Conveniently, Sans decided to leave that part out; additionally, Alphys seemed more of an anxious wreck than usual, and telling her about the strange area in Waterfall would just make her more nervous. At least, he reasoned, not now. He needed to figure it out for himself before he made Alphys worry or panic.

After awhile, they both poured over the combined research papers and after hours passed, gradually Sans introduced his old notes too.

 

“O-oh!” Alphys exclaimed as she picked up a paper that admittedly looked as though it’d been balled up and smoothed out about forty times or so. “Wow, that’s… it’s been awhile since I’ve had to read cipher!”

“lemme see.” Sans gestured for the paper and squinted at it. “oh. wow, me too. what is this, college stuff?” Bemused, he scratched his jaw again as he read over the paper, not making sense of the odd symbols that were scrawled across it. Alphys stared at him again and Sans caught it. He caught the look and sighed in resignation. “welp. you might as well go ahead and ask, buddy.”

A flush of crimson spread across Alphys’ face and she awkwardly gestured to, well, all of him. Sans lofted a brow ridge, then grew conscious of the movement and clapped a hand over his face, exasperated.

“seems when you said the, uh, `treatment`… delayed some stuff? maybe it wasn’t as permanent as we thought. and maybe that stuff is coming up now.”

“I knew that!” she huffed and rocked back on the chair, her tail flicking thoughtfully. “I could have… told you that.”

“if i’d come back. yeah, i know.”   Idly, Sans tapped a pen against his teeth, then opened the part to test the lid between them. It was still weird.

“From… from a purely scientific standpoint-”

Sans paused and his eye lights dragged over to watch Alphys as she spoke.

“Do you think… do you think maybe…?” She grinned and spread her claws out questioningly, to the area where all monsters housed their souls, his chest. His eye lights fixed on them, hesitant.

“oh.”

Sans let the pen drop from his mouth and he sighed. She was right; it was something he’d been avoiding. But, if there was anyone he could trust most, it was definitely Alphys.

As uncomfortable as it was for him to be so open with his fragile soul, Sans pulled down the toggle of his hoodie and shrugged off one sleeve. Then, a little self-conscious and wary, Sans coaxed it out of hiding.

“it didn’t change much since the last you’ve seen it, i guess.”

Alphys’ eyes were glinting and she suddenly straightened in her chair. Her glasses nearly tumbled from her snout and her toothy grin was wide as she released a nasally cackle.

“Are… are you kidding!! Look at it! It’s…” She trailed off, but she couldn’t repress the reverence and excitement in her voice even as Sans gave her an inquisitive look. “I-I mean, look at it!”

Though he didn’t particularly want to, Sans did. Apart from the cyan nimbus that had to have been there for the past few weeks (or had it been months..?), everything looked the same to him.

“Oh… oh boy! Sans, you lucky guy!”

The cyan flush pulsed brighter as realisation dawned on him and Sans faltered, covering his soul and pressing it back behind his ribs. He grew embarrassed at the attention and was at a complete loss for words when Alphys slapped both of his shoulders excitedly, unable to hide her obvious glee. Ecstatic, she hopped off from her chair and danced around him.

“You HAVE to tell me, Sans! How long has it..? Oh gosh… This is… this is so exciting. I’m so happy for you!!”

He attempted to dodge anything remotely particular, but he found that since Old Gerson’s memory on skeletons had dark pockets, he had no choice but to relent. Alphys was the brains behind monster physicality, biology and the soul, after all.

He didn’t name Grillby, but every time he said ‘someone’, Sans felt himself flush considerably. Alphys’ reactions to his observances about his body made him feel extremely anxious, but she reassured him that it was from a purely friendly biological standpoint. She was a little jittery when she patiently explained different things to him, considering it was all pretty mundane.

 

“This… this is great news, I… I didn’t think that, I mean-” She couldn’t resist a series of happy claps when Sans relented and gave her an encouraging grin. He was well past embarrassment at this point, and seeing the lizard lady so excited for things other than anime was a pleasant change.

That’s when Sans decided to bring up something else entirely; “so, i guess i’ve developed a sense for taste with this whole-” He stopped, gesturing to his mouth with an almost florid motion. “-i mean, i’m not used to the whole `chewing` thing, either.”

“That’s incredibly interesting!” Alphys agreed, her eyes piercing as she studied his face. “U-usually monsters don’t bother with that, since we just turn what we eat into, um, energy. Wait… one, one second! I’ll try to find something-”

Sans was left alone with the mess of reports while she hobbled away to her fridge, pulling select items from it in a hurry, then she rushed back. There were a few things he recognised: premade instant noodles in a styrofoam cup, sliced vegetables, some individually wrapped candies and something squishy-looking wrapped in plastic.

Curious, the skeleton watched as she prepared the items over the reports, not caring that crumbs scattered everywhere. They’d read over the majority of them, and the papers would be stored later and never looked at again until people started to eat garbage. The two were in their element, after all.

“Try this,” Alphys unwrapped one of the treats and offered it to her guest with a giddy grin. “That is, tastes are different. Chewing might be a reflex of some sort, since it’s so… so late? But if you’re only just starting, then… then maybe you’re still? Learning? Maybe? It should probably stop once you get used to things.”

“`maybe` is definitely the most scientific word you could’ve used there, alph.” Grimacing, Sans tested the hard candy between his teeth with an audible grunt, then he pulled it away. He didn’t like the hard things, he realised, but he couldn’t taste anything from it.

“Oh, hush,” she replied, sounding almost confident as she waved at him to stop. Then, Alphys continued; “How… how about this, then?” She stuck out her tongue, the appendage thin and long and pink with a fork at the end. Sans stared at her, perplexed at the display. “Try it!”

“don’t got one.”

Alphys rolled her eyes and sucked her tongue back into her mouth. “Make one, then, mister `anything is possible` physics guy!”

Sans hunched into his hood with a sigh, not really knowing where to start. He supposed it was kind of like his bone attacks, in theory. Summoning one, he watched the progression of magic build up and coil into small particles of matter, calcium and structure. Alphys remained quiet, but kept a watchful eye as he experimented with his magic, only to dispel the bone again with the flick of his wrist.

Then Sans focused again, unsure, his expression fixed on the floor between them as the wellspring of magic flooded into the empty space of his mouth. It felt peculiar; a soft, thicker substance than what his body was made of. It swirled aimlessly behind his teeth as he didn’t really know how to handle it - nor where to place it so that it lay comfortably in his mouth. With Alphys’ expectant look, he yielded the tongue forward; the same cyan of his magic, warm, and a little wet.

It was definitely a new sensation, he noted. As the royal scientist gave him an anxious thumbs up of approval, Sans prodded the tongue between his teeth with his fingers, like a child just discovering their hands. He then recognised the action and flushed in embarrassment, Alphys then giving in to a giggle.

“this is weird.”

“You.. you’ve never even tried before??” Alphys was aghast.

Sans pulled his tongue back into his mouth, his fingertips catching the tip with a tug and he hummed slightly in concentration. “nah. when you said my health would be affected due to the, uh… `treatment`.” He spat it out, hating to say the word, but it was easier than saying ‘DETERMINATION’, like it was a boil ready to burst. “i kinda put it aside and focused on other things, y’know? so what if i wouldn’t be able to breed later. always seemed like too much work, and i’m no good with kids. `sides, i had other projects to keep busy with.”

He saw the register of guilt on Alphys’ face as the magnitude settled over them. It remained unspoken between them but he knew she felt like a lot of things went wrong back then. When it was speculated that his soul was too unstable to mate, Sans at the time had merely shrugged.

With a soft sigh, Sans reached over to pat her scaly hands, which she’d started to wring in front of her. He knew she hid a lot of the grief of the whole mess that started after the initial injection took place, which was why he imagined it was why she holed herself up in Hotland ever since. The girl really needed a confidence boost, or at the very least some comfort.

“hey. i mean it. if not for you, i wouldn’t even be alive right now.” Sans gave her an assuring grin with a gentle shrug, “so… whatever this is that’s happening now? just means it’s progress, and there’s still hope. i’m… just gonna need help studying up, since i skipped those courses.” His grin turned into an awkward grimace when she went to protest. “y’got something that doesn’t make me feel like i’m sporting stripes? or do i gotta run to the library on the way home and hope no one notices that i’m checkin’ out books meant for toddlers?”

She seemed to cheer up with that, at least.

Chapter Text

The different ways of viewing his body were making Sans less comfortable with the idea that it was changing. Alphys had explained the notions of ectobiology and how most non-fleshy monsters just conjured any necessary parts that they were missing. That, and she’d given him a few satisfactory college-level books on monster biology. Since he’d been unable to for the longest time and simply absorbed food as a means of replenishment, Sans found that food had turned into a whole new daunting experience.

He’d tried a few things since he wasn’t necessarily hungry, but Sans knew right away that he didn't particularly like the sensation of things that crunched or tested the strength of his jaw, namely anything that was hard. As it was regarded as juvenile, he outright stopped himself from chewing, as difficult as it was to suppress the action. He seemed to enjoy sweet things and even something called a ‘chilli bun’, described as ‘spicy’. Alphys had explained the terms to him in relation to his reactions on the different tastes, much to her excitement.

Later, Sans went down to the basement for some vending machine chips just to try ‘salty’. It was darker than he remembered, but Alphys sadly assured him that it was only the result of a CORE flare earlier that month. With a twinge, Sans realised that it was likely around the time he and Grillby passed through.

Deeper into the lab, he consoled her about her failures after the dogs made their appearance, the long drone of at least six canines echoing through the dripping mass as it eventually retreated. Even with how hesitant she was for him to go down there, Sans already knew about the experiments. Her Determination notes and her research into making an artificial soul were everywhere. Even a few things that Sans had left behind after his treatment still hung around here and there, remnants of a past he’d give anything to forget.

The place gave him an unsettling feeling, as it reminded him of his own weakness, and no doubt Alphys hers. The place hadn’t changed at all since the visit after his accident; he could even pick out the equipment used and the bed he’d rested in during the lizard’s frantic search to stop his health from rolling down. It was an uncomfortable assessment, confronting his past.

“i kinda need a minute, alph,” Sans revealed after wandering further into the lab with Alphys on his heels. He’d grown more sombre than before, every footfall kicking up grit and grime.

“I… I understand. If anyone else visits… don’t be afraid of them. They… they won’t hurt you.”

“i know.”

Alphys lingered for a moment longer and watched as Sans shuffled into the cold darkness.

Sans felt smaller the further into the lab he went. He just needed a moment to think, to go over what had happened to him. It’d been so long since he had allowed himself to reach into just why he closed himself off from people, playing the cheery jokester so people would like him well enough not to pry. It ended up making him recall some devilish moments, of people hurling callous statements at him and his brother-

His soul squeezed painfully, the memory hurting more when he opened himself up to it.

Being in the basement alone turned out to be more emotionally draining than he’d expected it to be. It wasn’t long before Sans deserted the idea of inward reflection and he started back.

That was when he saw it. A small pocket book, green in colour and worn from time’s hand. It had gathered the grit and grime of the lab’s basement and he shook it off, the cover and contents full of more cipher code. He frowned at it and flipped through a few pages before he realised it was filled with old notes, but in a hand he didn’t recognise. Did Alphys avoid coming down here so often that she wouldn’t have noticed that this was here? That couldn’t be right…

He pocketed it and went back upstairs, hunched in on himself and tense. He supposed that he’d have to figure it out later.

When he arrived sooner than she expected, Alphys gave him a worried smile and a  look as though she was on the verge of posing a question. She didn’t, much to Sans’ relief. He went to his bag and pulled out his broken phone for Alphys to fix while he went over the reports himself.

 

“I have a… a request, since you’re here,” Alphys said after a couple hours of silence between them. Sans’ movements eventually slowed over time. He looked groggier the longer he tried to puzzle things together in his mind, and had started to fall asleep as a result. “Some of my cam.. cameras aren’t working. There are a few that I can’t easily get at to repair.”

Sans opened an eye and shifted his jaw in his hand to glance at her. He didn’t look very focused or awake.

“When I’m, um, done fixing your phone, maybe you could… do your engineering magic on them?” She sent him an anxious toothy grin. “I can’t monitor the Ruins’ doors, Snowdin, or most of Waterfall now. If a human came, they’d… they’d catch us all off guard. That surge really did a number on, um, my equipment. But I have all the coordinates.”

“sure. i can check `em out,” Sans replied after a stifled yawn.

“You look… tired.”

“it’s just my face, alph.”

“It’s also getting late,” she pointed out. Her eyes dropped to the disassembled phone on the desk in front of her. “I’ll bring up a futon for you to, um, sleep on.”

“it’s ok. i can sleep here just fine.”

“At… at least a pillow then?”

Sans only hummed indifferently. Both of his eyes were closed now and his breathing had regulated. That told Alphys that he was done resisting sleep, and any noises he made from then on were mindless and not to be taken seriously.

He slept somewhat restlessly throughout the night. Not because of the amalgamates he knew were in the basement under them; the area brought to surface memories he’d long since put away. It interrupted his sleep like a drop of water echoing in a large empty room, the creep of memory seeping into his subconscious via dream-lengths.

Carried, Sans’ body jostled against a stronger, taller person. He was sapped of strength and clutched so tightly against their torso that he felt as though his ribs would snap under the pressure.

A high pitched whine echoed throughout his bones and in his head, and the majority of his right arm felt as though the magic inside was dead and gone. With the creep of memory, Sans felt a sting when he distantly recalled that it had made contact with the magic-matrix of the CORE.

[ * .9/758 HP ]

It felt like he was sinking.

Hold on, brother!

Sans heard Papyrus’ desperate voice somewhere above his head, lingering between the edge of consciousness and crackling magical interference.

We’re almost there! Just stay awake, Sans, you can do it. You’re doing great-

[ * .8/576 HP ]

He’d been folding in and out of awareness after having been pulled onto the scaffolding by his fellow coworkers. He barely recalled the hasty phone call made on his behalf to his brother in New Home. He didn’t remember what had struck him with the notion to lean forward and attempt to retrieve what had fallen.

All he knew was the emotion of panic, of impenetrable loss and fright as he lurched forward into the glowing mass below.

He’d reached out his arm and into the volatile energy to attempt to bring something back.

[ * .7/439 HP ]

(It must’ve been important…)

Something in him fuzzed over again like static, muffling Papyrus’ shuddering, panicked breaths and the haze of Hotland’s climate around them. He could still feel it, but it was fleeting and corroded. All Sans could really focus on was whenever his brother jostled him as his heavy footsteps kicked up the red dirt behind him.

[ * .6/369 HP ]

(…important enough for him to care about losing it, whatever it was.)

He came back to consciousness after a brief lull. He was someplace definitely drier than before. The arm which had its magic stripped away by the CORE was as heavy as stone, and every part of him felt loose as though the energy keeping him together had started to crumble apart. His breaths came in soft jerking gasps as he heard Papyrus snivel over him.

He’d always been a bit of a crybaby growing up. Sans only wished that he had the strength enough to push words past his teeth instead of each laboured breath that threatened to consume his life. He just felt so heavy and knew that whatever it was, got him good. And he couldn’t even tell his brother that he loved him and that he should stay strong for him, one last time.

[ * .5/242 HP ]

(He wondered why he couldn’t remember what fell…)

He felt Papyrus tremble, bones clattering through Sans’ lab coat as he tipped his skull against his own. The sounds he was making broke Sans’ heart. He wanted to tell him to be strong, that… Papyrus would be ok without him. He would learn to. He had to.

Sans didn’t want to think these things, but he knew that he was Falling Down. Dying. It was a far more laborious process than what he could’ve ever imagined. It took all his effort to remain conscious and to focus on his brother’s orange magic that flooded into him. He was starting to lose his grip on the words that pleaded with him to stay with them.

[ * .4/199 HP ]

(It… had to be something that he cared about… right?)

Them? Who was ‘them’? Where had Papyrus taken him? It took everything in him to summon sight, knowing the fading flicker in his eye sockets would only hurt his brother further. The room around them was brightly lit in a cool light, blurred with his failing magic.

[ * .3/148 HP ]

(Something had grabbed him… maybe. Something so hungry that it burned through his magic and still consumed him, even now.)

The colours were familiar: teal on cream. Perhaps he’d been brought to Alphys. He could hear Papyrus’ teeth chatter and his entire frame shake with sobs and pleas for Sans not to give up, for a ‘doctor’ to save his brother. To save him.

papyrus.

The whisper left him, its sound hollow and more distant than how he had meant it to come out. But he tried to draw strength from the way his brother squeezed him tightly against his body, fighting back sobs.

He was a good brother. A kind brother. His best friend, through thick and thin. His… only family. 

(That didn’t seem right… wasn’t there another…?)

Something twisted painfully inside of him and Sans gasped, the action sapping him of precious reserves.

i’m sorry, pap…

[ * .14/103 HP ]

The sinking, heavy feeling continued.

You’re going to be ok! was his brother’s response. You’re going to get through this! And we’re going to go home! Both of us, Sans…

Sans remembered the shaky words and how they sounded so sure, like their bond could never be broken. But Papyrus also sounded scared, his words strained into a rough hiccup when someone else gave him hasty instructions in a small voice.

Papyrus’ magic had enveloped Sans’ soul as his vision swam, teetering on the brink. It was as though his brother was attempting to hold him together to prevent him from crumbling into dust. To hold him in a tight embrace full of hope and love.

[ * .09/39 HP]

(Someone… fell? Was that it?)

Sans was laid down on something flat. Papyrus was still near but didn’t hold him as tight; or if he was, Sans didn’t feel it as keenly as before. He heard clicks of equipment being plugged in. Squeaky wheels on a tiled floor that made his soul clench with a trickle of unbridled fear. Monitors ran with a mechanical hum, buzzing in his marrow like a shot of adrenaline.

The magic in his eye sockets crumbled away as Sans dipped into unconsciousness for what he thought would be the last time. It’d be to the tune of beeps and circuitry laced with magic, with his brother’s despairing sobs and vehement encouragement that he could do it. That he couldn’t give up yet. He was the strongest monster Papyrus knew.

(…It was a ‘someone’, wasn’t it..?)

He believed in him. He could do it. Sans just had to try to hold on. Even if he didn’t think he could. He heard Papyrus telling him he could do his best and he was so, so proud of him.

[ * .04/8 HP ]

(Now that someone was… gone.)

His soul was pierced with something. Papyrus’ voice reeled against his blurry thoughts, rushing in to shield him from whatever was happening. Sans heard the repetitions that Papyrus believed in him.

He could do it. He was going to be fine.

He just had to hold on.

[ * .01/1 HP ]

He came back to as his whole body lurched with the sensation, accompanied by the rush of Papyrus’ soothing magic around his bones. A filling spike of energy flooded him and a whiplike crack resounded through the large room.

Then everything went dark.

 

Sans huffed shortly as he bolted upright, his breaths coming in shallow, frantic gasps as he stared with wide eyes into the darkness. It took several minutes until he calmed down enough to realise that he was still at the lab.

Of course he was. He wasn’t Falling Down; it had been a horribly vivid dream.

A dream that regrettably, had happened.

He cupped his hands over his eyes and lay down on his back. Apparently during some time that night while he was asleep, Alphys had draped a fluffy yellow blanket over him and gave him a pillow.

His gaze dropped to it, then he flung off the covers. After such a gruesome reminder of his accident, it’d been a nice gesture. Though it was a strange one, considering he normally didn’t feel chilly. But Alphys was a lizard monster, and he knew that regulating body heat was important for her kind, so he didn’t belabour it too much.

Sans looked inward.

[ * 5 HP ]

Thoughtfully, Sans sighed softly and gave in to a bitter laugh as he rubbed at his breastbone. It’d been awhile since he allowed himself to remember any of that. The accident, coupled with the state he was in when he returned, and the fact that he had to come to terms with new limitations…

His entire body had been a mess the months following his near-miss with death. It took Sans even longer to feel comfortable in his own body again. No one at the CORE site remembered if anyone had fallen into the magic-matrix, apart from himself.

As a result, people started to treat him differently. Papyrus became protective of him and Sans secluded himself from others to avoid the pain of pity. It was part of the reason he didn’t want to live in New Home anymore, where everyone knew it’d take only one hit and he’d be dust. So after a few decades of rehabilitation and working with the teams to tie up a few projects, Papyrus and Sans left New Home for a quieter life.

 

He groaned to himself, the itch just behind his ribs worrying enough for Sans to pull his soul out of hiding. Nothing had changed between then and the previous night save for a small HP buffer.

Determination was complicated in that it didn’t leave any visible traits on the soul; otherwise it’d have a golden hue instead of its usual cyan-white. It simply anchored Sans to the world at the point when it was injected into him, and since his physicality was comprised in the fibres of his bones, and bones was all he was really made of, Sans would be the only success amongst Alphys’ experiments.

Everyone else that followed… was a different story.

The clock showed that it was still incredibly early, but he could hear faint rustlings upstairs. Deciding that it was probably best for him not to fall asleep again, Sans pushed himself up and headed to the kitchenette for coffee.

The assessment: sour and bitter. Alphys gave him sugar for ‘sweet’. Much better. It was quickly becoming one of his favourites.

He didn’t mention his dream to Alphys; instead, he ignored it and slung the pack of tools required for repairs over his shoulder. Then he was supplied with the first coordinates for the camera that had glitched out in Waterfall. Alphys had returned his phone with some minor upgrades, which included the ability to capture video and sported improved waterproofing, since he lived in a snowy climate.

Alphys was used to his shortcuts, but she would marvel at it every time. The two kept tabs while on the phone and Sans reappeared in Waterfall.

He exhaled a sigh of relief when he didn’t arrive in that corridor again. Instead, his slippers hit the familiar wet surface of the docks beneath the first waterfall, where he had first revealed to Grillby the nature of his shortcuts.

Sans couldn’t help but smile and flush at the reminder of Grillby’s amazement. He realised that it had been one of the few times that he’d allowed himself to feel a little proud of himself, rather than ashamed.

He continued on and peered behind the rushing water until he found a camera just out of view. Cautiously, Sans took off his hoodie and dropped it onto the bridge before he attempted to cross the narrow gap. He sputtered briefly and ducked away from the fall of water, entirely inched between the space beside the fried camera with his toolbag.

It didn’t take long for Alphys to call him; it had been their plan. She would give instructions on where to go and help him troubleshoot, then give the ok when she had the video feed back on her end. When his phone rang, Sans opened his mouth, relieved that he could now do so and he let the marsh water out of his skull. That was a plus, at least.

“yo,” Sans answered, suspending the phone midair with his magic as he worked.

“I just… wanted to say, how very thankful I am that you’re helping me! And also, I have another negative report from yesterday, i-if you’ll allow me to, um-”

Sans grabbed a screwdriver out of the bag and shimmied his body to the side, the narrow ledge not quite wide enough for him to turn comfortably despite his small size. He could only imagine how difficult it would’ve been for Alphys to get here, let alone do repairs.

“really. where abouts?”

“From, actually, uh, just inside Snowdin? Looks like it’s pretty close to one of your boxes.”

“oh,” Sans murmured, using his teeth to hold a small pair of pliers. He felt himself flush at the memory of Grillby’s tease and how close he’d gotten. That, and also how desperately nervous he became over the prospect of asking him out. That was an embarrassing scenario, he recalled. “yeah, uh… that was me.”

“The thing is? Where did you go? I… I mean, usually there isn’t much time in between jumps? But… the corresponding end-gap by the ferry stop didn’t appear until… almost three hours later?”

Sans paused when he recognised the worried tone in her voice. Her sentences always aborted prematurely or restarted as though her thoughts tumbled in her mind faster than she could process.

“uh.” It was Sans’ turn to struggle but he found it easier knowing that she couldn’t see him hesitate. “i might’ve gotten stuck.”

“Stuck!? Oh… oh my god???”

“alph. hey, i’m ok. i got unstuck.” Pressing his teeth together, Sans realised that he’d spoken without thinking it through. He hesitated and while he could hear Alphys’ breathing, he felt like he shouldn’t take too long. “ok. lemme explain.” More hesitation. Frustrated, Sans rubbed at his neck in thought. “well… starting out, i had a buffer. nine points, maybe. don’t remember. anyway, i found a door.”

“I… I, I don’t, uh, have coordinates for-”

“it’s cool, alph, i don’t ever wanna go back there,” Sans replied dryly, the revulsion of the place echoing in his memory.

“Why? Wh-why didn’t you tell me when you got here!! I… I asked, and… when I checked, you… you didn’t have nine points, Sans!”

“i know,” Sans repeated, beginning to sound a little testy. He adjusted himself and sighed, flipping the side panel of the camera open to inspect it. “whatever it was, i couldn’t not open that door. like it was some kinda weird compulsion that i couldn’t shake. have you ever heard anything like that?”

“No… no, I don’t think so…”

“then,” Sans hesitated, thinking quickly, “what about monsters that feed off of magic?” He paused, then added with a grimace, “other monsters’ magic.”

There was a long silence that accompanied Alphys’ stuttered breathing. Sans allowed her to mull it over while he worked, prying wires free and lighting the area with his magic to see better.

“I… don’t think I’ve ever, ever heard of that?”

Sans hummed thoughtfully, flicking a digit against the panel inside the camera irritably. It sparked in protest until it produced a quiet blip.

“ok, well. how about this: do any monsters you know feed on light?”

“On… on light?”

“yeah, like… when i opened the door, i thought i saw someone. not like any monster i’ve ever seen, not out where i live now nor at the capital.” Sans shrugged, as though the action emphasised his internal discomfort. “and… i guess i could feel it. like, they were trapped, and whatever magic i could muster, just kinda…” Fizzed out? Dropped?

Consumed.

Sans stopped with the invasive thought. He recalled the disquieting mantra that had repeated in his head in the room beyond the door. Thinking about it made a finger of pain trace the inside of his skull like a papercut. It was better not to bring it up, then.

“That… that sounds worrying. I’ll… have to run some scans. But… why talk about it now? Why not when I asked? Or? May.. maybe, I-”

“eh, alphys. it’s not you, i just… can’t really talk to people face to face with this kinda stuff, ok?” Sans’ voice softened. His mind started to whirl into two different directions: one of his scare in the place that looked like Waterfall, and the other of the connection he was drawing from his accident. “and, y’know, i kinda needed to think it over. it doesn’t make a lotta sense, now that i’m talking it out.”

“I… I understand. I’m sorry.”

“it’s ok. you don’t gotta be.” He decided to come clean. “the truth is, uh… i had a dream last night.”

“Oh..?”

“got me thinking that it felt really familiar, being behind that door with some unknown monster absorbing my magic like it’s friday night wings,” he groused. It was a feeble attempt to make light of the feeling, when it really it felt dark, cold and foreboding.

She ignored the joke. “Fam.. iliar? How?”

Sans stopped adjusting the camera and took a hasty glance at the hovering cellphone by the cave wall. “uh… when papyrus brought me by.” Silence from the other end. He took a calming breath, trying to sound as though it didn’t bother him at all. “when i was falling down.”

“Sans…”

“i know i’ve never talked about it. i’m kinda garbage that way. it’s just easier this way. when i got eyes on me, i freeze up, right? you know me. i’d rather hide and joke until shit like this blows over, but, turns out that i, uh…” He paused and shrank back against the rock face, then tipped his head up and watched the water rush down from overhead. “i… i can’t talk to pap about this kinda stuff. i’ve tried. he assures me i’m ok and everything is the same as it was before, but i know he worries. so i end up not talking, and i really hate lumping this crap on you-”

“Y-you can always talk to me, Sans! Even… even if you just need to sort out your thoughts, or get something off your chest, or vent… a-anything!”

Feeling a twinge of remorse, Sans muted a sigh. “do you have the feed?”

“Huh?” There was a pause, then a shuffle from Alphys’ end of the line. “Oh yeah, yes we do! Thank you so, so much!”

Sans stayed quiet as he manoeuvred over the gap with his bag of tools, then picked up his hoodie. Even though the crossing had been brief, he was soaked to the bone.

“ok, next coordinates.”

“We… we can still talk? That is? If you need to. There isn’t any rush, Sans.”

“one sec, alph.”

Sans shouldered his bag as he looked around, relieved that there wasn’t anyone nearby to eavesdrop. In fact, he hadn’t considered the echo flower that grew at the opposite side of the bridge and whether or not his voice could’ve been picked up by it. So as carefully as he could without making a sound, Sans walked over to listen.

‘I swore I saw something… Behind that rushing water…’

He was safe. After all, he didn’t need a repeat of the morose realisation monsters had at New Home when he came back from Falling Down. Quickly, he walked up the bridge to the side of the eddying pool and took the phone in hand, preparing for another warp when he saw that no one else was nearby.

“coords, alph?”

“Wha--oh. Right.”

 

Tactfully, Sans glossed over the reason why he shouldn’t go to the Snowdin sentry station right away, where another camera was broken. He didn’t need a run-in with his brother right then. Instead, he was given the coordinates for the one by the Ruins’ door, hidden out of sight in a withered and snow-covered shrub. It would certainly be easier than the waterfall-hidden device.

“Did… did you still want to talk?” Through the speaker, Alphys’ voice was inquiring and quiet as he got to work. Nonchalantly, he dumped the toolbag onto a snow pile at his feet and inspected the camera through the brambles.

“kinda chilly,” he remarked, voice muffled by the end of a screwdriver. Oddly enough, his teeth spasmed tighter around the handle, trying to bite by themselves. To chatter and shake with the cold. Weird.

“I guess this whole…” Alphys faltered for the word before settling on, “…puberty thing must be throwing you for a… for a loop, huh!”

“was really hoping you wouldn’t say that word.”

“Ok! Well? Maturation? Genesis? Sexual awakening?”

Sans sputtered, dropping the screwdriver and pliers into the snow. “alphys!”

Sans heard her incessant giggles through the crackling phone line, long enough for his thoughts to wander to warmer things. ‘Warmer things’ being a certain fire monster and the heat he brought. Sans’ mind then went to the memory of him at his station, feeling cold under snow before Grillby filled his bones with fire. It moved on to the kiss, of the fire monster’s hand against the bones at his chest as he touched him in kind. He felt flush, then he made a coughing sound to indicate his discomfort at Alphys’ laughter.

“Eh, I’m… I’m sorry, Sans. I know I shouldn’t be laughing…”

“y’know, after paps finished puberty, i thought we weren’t gonna have to deal with this again.” Sans rubbed idly at the side of his skull, his thoughts still wandering off the project at hand. “i, uh, might… take a break after this one. i’m kinda soaked, and i’m freezin’ up here.”

“Of course! Managing your temperature is extremely important!”

He stooped over to retrieve the fallen tools, feeling his wet clothes start to harden and the water in his joints start to ache as it froze. Carefully, he bent his knees to keep them from locking up with ice. It seemed colder than usual today.

“Hey… wait? Skeletons don’t have skin!”

“nope.”

“Then..?”

“got waterlogged. and it’s cold.”

“How can you, um, even tell?”

“my joints hurt when water freezes in `em.”

Sans shrugged to himself as he pulled the wires from the camera. Then he thought better of it and tugged the whole mechanical housing right out of the bushes. Unfortunately, it got snagged and Sans had to give it a hefty tug with a bit more force, which sent him onto his back in a heap of snow with a surprised grunt.

The heavy camera landed square on his rib cage and he hissed softly, pulling it away from him and rubbing the spot of pain through his hoodie.

“Sans!? Are you, are you ok??”

“not gonna lie this time, but i think i lost a point and my carpals and tarsals are freezing up.”

Shuddering, Sans brushed the snow off the device and gathered his tools. It took him awhile to find the screwdriver, the cold settling into his joints and making him still. He rattled to shake out the ice that had formed.

“m’gonna head off to get dried out.”

“Out?”

“off. i meant off,”   he chattered, embarrassed over the blunder. “i’m goin’ to grillby’s and taking the cam, so i’ll text you when i’m done.”

That done, Sans hung up without further explanation and stuffed the phone into his pocket. Then he trudged a few agonising steps towards the nearest rift before reappearing around the corner from the bar in Snowdin. His bones continued to shiver as he climbed onto the stoop, his soul thundering behind his ribs when he pushed the door open.

Sans knew he had told Grillby that he’d be gone for a few days and it had only been one. It was nearly lunch time so the bar wasn’t filled to capacity, but a few regulars were there. Red Bird, Ugly Fish, Doggo, the two crooning dog sentries, and the tipsy bunny. Sans waved with a crooked grin as a couple greeted him, but he stayed near the door when his gaze found the owner behind the bar.

It took him a few moments before his feet were sure enough to walk to the counter without Sans feeling like a fool. He attempted to keep the rattling to a minimum, but he couldn’t help the way his hands shook as he climbed onto his usual seat, though the stool had been replaced. He swung his bag and the camera onto the bar top out of the way, then Sans leaned over the counter, his bones tingling as heat gradually sunk into them.

Grillby put a towel to the side before leaning over the bar himself, the curl of his mouth forming a pleased smile. “Didn’t scare you away?”   His tone was softer with an audience around them.

Sans hummed quietly, tilting his stool forward to get closer. One would think he would’ve learned after his previous tumble, but old habits die hard.

“couldn’t keep away.” His reply was a murmur as he folded his arms over the counter, but he remained upright. Sans’ gaze lingered on the fire monster’s face and he grinned. Then something caught his attention behind Grillby, at the row of glasses and under all the bottles of liquor. Anxiously, his soul began to thrum behind his ribs when he caught the familiar sight of Waterfall blue.

His gaze then darted back when Grillby’s hands inched towards his own, the moment spent at his sentry station replaying in his head. Sans felt himself flush at the reminder and a shiver passed through him. As one of Grillby’s hands brushed against the side of his face and traced a warm line down his jawline, Sans inhaled a little sharply, bowing his head.

“You look absolutely… chilled?”   Grillby sounded amused as Sans leaned against his warm gloved hand, delighted with the skeleton’s reaction. He was vaguely aware of a few other patrons watching and Grillby smirked to himself, his other hand against Sans’ fingers itching to encircle them.

The skeleton hummed softly as the heat flooded into his skull, enraptured by the affectionate gesture. In turn, his own fingers automatically clasped Grillby’s, the sensation of holding hands oddly titillating. Sans realised that beyond the confession, he didn’t really know how to progress into the next stage of their relationship, whatever that meant.

Something under the rows upon rows of alcohol drew Sans’ gaze again. Behind the bar he found a small blue vase, filled to the rim with glowing water. Something inside of him sighed when he recognised the small, beaten up little echo blossom suspended within it.

Sans had forgotten about it, left behind and out of sight. It looked as though the fire monster had taken it upon himself to preserve it. Sans would’ve imagined how the fire monster looked; careful not to burn it, cautiously funnelling water into the jar, perhaps focused intently to keep his temperature down so its contents wouldn’t boil.

Grillby took notice of Sans’ stunned silence and looked over his shoulder to where he was staring, his warm hands withdrawing as he turned.

“you kept it.”

“Naturally. It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever received,”   the bartender replied, his expression beaming when he turned back. Every word was accentuated calmly and every hidden detail crisp as he leaned forward to close the distance between them.

When Grillby drew nearer, Sans felt his warm breath against the side of his face, words lowering in register so only he could hear.

“To serve as a reminder for… when I get to hear it directly from you.”

The smooth tone and just the right amount of tease had Sans disarmed and leaning forward, silently yearning for more. His mind was focused solely on the bartender so much that it barely registered that the stool was at jeopardy of swivelling out from under him again.

Grillby laughed softly in his throat as he mercifully caught him. Each hand grasped Sans’ upper arms and Grillby allowed him to settle once the stool stopped its skidding against the floor.

“Why don’t you take a booth, Sans.”

Suddenly, the sounds of the restaurant came flooding back to Sans, reminding him that they were very much not alone. He felt a peculiar kind of apprehension then when he heard the soft gasps and croons from the dog couple with their little display, enough to make him turn his head.

“I’ll have what he’s havin’, Grills,” the red bird drawled as he spread his wings over the bar top and gestured plainly to the skeleton.

With an insurmountable ebb of mortification, Sans shrunk down away from Grillby’s touch, his eyes resolutely fixed on the marble bar top.

“……Sloppy Joe,”   the fire monster replied after a beat of hesitation, like he’d forgotten where he was too. He threw the bird a knowing glance, a subtle flutter of warmth coming off from him with a wink as he moved away from behind the bar.

 

Bravely, Sans looked around them and bore witness to the doting and encouraging way Dogamy and Dogaressa applauded them, even as Doggo bumped elbows with Red. The buff canine puffed a long breath from the lit treat before giving the bird a smug grin, elbowing again. Then again, insistently. Red didn’t look too upset at the implication, but it left Sans feeling a little uneasy.

That is, until Grillby rounded the bar and gestured him towards the closest empty booth. Sans couldn’t help but awkwardly grin, still feeling bashful at the fire monster’s rather public display of affection.

“is it, uh… ok if i tinker here a bit?”

Grillby rolled his shoulder as he took his place beside the booth once Sans had sat down and slid his bag and the broken camera across the tabletop.

“Would not bother me in the slightest.”   He tilted his head then as Sans reached for the menu. With how often the skeleton came for meals and drinks, he found it peculiar how Sans went for a menu now of all times.

“thanks, g. funny how, uh…” Sans faltered, not really knowing what to say nor where that sentence was leading to. He used the tall menu to cover his face and hide from Grillby’s perplexed look, making a show of perusing the drink section. His face was burning. “what, uh. what drinks do you recommend to a guy who’s… taken a liking to sweet things?”

The fire monster didn’t reply, but when Sans finally had the courage to look up at him, Grillby was smiling pleasantly. Sans couldn’t help but return it, his own grin feeling out of practise and off-kilter. After a moment, Sans felt as though Grillby’s smile intensified, then the bartender left him be.

Sans watched as Grillby retreated, lowering the menu so his eyes could follow him back to the bar. As Grillby passed the two suspicious monsters, Sans could’ve sworn he heard the subtle rasp of coins sliding across the marble counter top. Doggo’s grin became smugger as he tossed and caught the moving gold mid air, much to the bird’s apparent chagrin.

Chapter Text

True to his request, Sans started his work at Grillby’s. The fire monster had brought him something called ‘crackle soda’ and waited on him to try it. Sans did, holding the drink in his mouth while it fizzed; then his magic absorbed it.

“How do you find it?”   the fire monster inquired, having watched with curiosity. He had gathered rather quickly that there was something about Sans that had changed, and not necessarily for the worse, either. The part in his teeth was new, and it took every particle of his reserves not to outright drop what he was holding in shock when he noticed upon Sans’ arrival.

“sweet,” Sans reported, then he attempted another sip from the straw. Curiously, his brow scrunched in thought as he felt the fizz of bubbles against his tongue. When it absorbed into his body, he added, “i like sweet.”

As he continued to watch, Grillby thought that it was a particular assessment to observe. It was interesting to view Sans in such a light. There were subtleties that by all means should’ve been normal, yet it had been so long without them that it simply didn’t seem out of the ordinary, until now. Sans remarked on tastes with an almost childlike wonder and even asked for recommendations as though every meal he’d ever consumed had been forgotten. Grillby was hesitant at first, but became encouraging when he sensed Sans’ unease and self-consciousness.

“Perhaps try an old favourite?”   he offered, leaning against the side of the booth to reach over the skeleton’s shoulder. He then turned a page of the menu and pointed down the row of selections. What could only be described as a nervous chuckle escaped his friend, caught at the end. Sans shifted on the cushioned bench and Grillby caught the fleeting glance up at him before Sans’ gaze shot right back down again.

“maybe… pick something you think i’d like,” the skeleton replied hesitantly, his tone quiet.

Grillby’s mouth curled into a soft smile as he leaned down. “Indecisive,”   he whispered beside Sans’ skull, a hint of amusement to his voice hanging between them. “That’s not like you.”

He watched as a subtle shudder passed through Sans’ shoulders and Grillby could feel his temperature rise at the reaction. His smile broadened slightly, but he remained courteous and awaited Sans’ response.

“still kinda new to all… this,” Sans finally murmured. His bony digits snuck up to tug at one side of his hood as if to hide. Grillby caught the way his glance darted up to him again and he gave Sans a gentle smile of reassurance. “…maybe i’ll stick with the sloppy joe.”

“Honestly…”   the fire monster breathed as he leaned up and away from Sans. It was as though Sans went out of his way to be noncommittal and hesitant about every choice that he encountered. “You speak as though you’ve never eaten here before.”

A creep of cyan flush settled into the skeleton’s face with that, and although he liked the reaction, Grillby couldn’t help but feel a twinge of regret for making him uncomfortable.

“i, uh,” Sans mumbled, then his voice dipped in register as the words tumbled out inaudibly. Grillby blinked and leaned down again, his face closer to the skeleton’s head so he could better hear him. “your food’s always been great, grillbz, just… i’ve just come about actually, y’know… tasting stuff lately.”

The bartender tilted his head; he hadn’t expected for Sans to be so forthright with the information, but it certainly explained a lot.

“In general, or..?”

“yeah. better late than never, eh?”

“You have… never tasted before,”   Grillby repeated quietly. Though his tone was mildly amused, he couldn’t help but feel pity for Sans. He knew how old Sans was and all, so it surprised him to know that for all this time, Sans was missing out on such a thing. Something that other monsters took for granted, at that. “However did you reach the conclusion that my food is good then?”

He watched as Sans shifted on the bench again; this time not looking up at him but towards the long-broken jukebox at the other end of the room.

“i guess… absorbing it always went down easy, so in some way i always knew. and everything smells great, i never really questioned it. just figured it had to match. you put so much effort into how stuff looks on a plate, how everything is arranged perfectly. i can honestly tell you love doin’ what you do. and everyone looks so happy eating it.” Sans gave a slight shrug at the revelation, then slowly turned his skull to look up at him. “i guess i’m just… kinda intimidated now. heh.”

Grillby couldn’t help but chuckle at that and even moved to pull his hand over the flames atop his head. It was a fluid motion, hand settling at the base of his neck. It was encouraging and flattering hearing Sans praise him right to his face.

“Surprised you hadn’t considered ketchup, to be honest,”   Grillby teased through a soft laugh. He met Sans’ gaze, whose eye sockets had widened slightly as though, no, he hadn’t considered it.

“i’ve been drinking it this whole time `cause people’s reactions are hilarious,” Sans replied candidly, though he shrugged off his slight shock. “what if it’s… not actually that great?”

“Would not be missing out on much, my friend,”   the bartender responded through another ethereal chuckle. Without missing a beat, he leaned over the skeleton again to fold up the menu and return it to the side of the booth since it was no longer needed. The perfect surprise had just come to mind.

At Sans’ questioning glance, Grillby gave him a wink. “At any rate, forget about what’s regarded as the `least popular` menu item. Will create something more palatable… just for you.”

Before Sans could object, the fire monster turned and left, his heels clacking on the hardwood floors. Grillby couldn’t help but notice how his patrons had fallen silent throughout their exchange. There were one or two more pairs of eyes that followed him, and there were new customers waiting to flag him down.

Quickly, he took their orders and sent a quick glance to the skeleton off in the corner of the bar. He caught the look he was given in return and smirked to himself when Sans turned his head, more of that delightful cyan flushing his friend’s face until he was out of view.

Grillby couldn’t help but dare to think that Sans was rather charming just then.

“(He’s obviously sweet on you, Grillby-darling,)” Dogaressa said as he passed, causing him to stop at the couple’s table.

The attention brought his temperature up a couple degrees with the startling realisation that all his patrons likely knew by now of his and Sans’ tender little moment. After all, the Dogi had walked in on them that evening and Snowdin was a small community with little else to talk about. They had probably mentioned something. At the same time, Grillby was nothing if not forward with his affections when Sans had arrived earlier on.

He didn’t give a response to such an observation; like many of his exchanges with his patrons, they tended to be one-sided. There just didn’t seem like any addition he could muster for their consideration. Instead, Grillby beamed brightly at them both before taking Dogamy’s order, then retreated to the back kitchen to put his culinary arts to the test.

With so many orders on the go, Grillby rushed to get the other patron’s food out first. He wanted to savour Sans’ reaction once more, this time to a hearty bowl of cinnamon-spiced squash soup. He recalled that Sans liked sweets, and while it wasn’t necessarily his own favourite, he wanted Sans’ first experience to be special.

Grillby put extra care into it, the bouillon lightly caramelised with his fire magic and he seasoned it just right. As he added a sprig of clove and rosemary to garnish the soup and a milk bun with melted butter to the tray, he scrutinized over every last detail until he was sure it was perfect.

Admittedly, he was concerned about what Sans’ reaction would be. He said all of his food was good, and yet Grillby felt the need to make a great first impression now more than ever. It was as though the King himself was coming to visit, but somehow, this seemed like a greater deal to him.

He loved him, after all. If his affections were enough to make Sans tremble and shy away, perhaps this would ease his worries? Grillby knew that fire monsters were widely regarded as bold, so he secretly hoped not to scare Sans off again.

There was a lull in customers by the time he exited the kitchen with his dish; Grillby almost breathed a sigh of relief. He could feel every eye on him as he calmly walked from behind the bar with the tray of food and towards Sans’ booth.

The skeleton had absorbed himself in his work, occupied with a disassembled device that once looked like it had been a camera. Sans’ brow scrunched up in concentration, a small screwdriver held between his teeth as he attempted to fiddle with the innards behind a panel. Then Grillby saw a spark and a muffled swear escaped Sans, bony digits flicking as though to shake away the pain of a shock.

The bartender lingered a small distance away to watch, as it didn’t appear that Sans had noticed him. That was a feat, considering Grillby was a natural light source. He merely stood by, gradually inching forward step by quiet step until he lingered next to Sans, following his precise movements with burning curiosity.

It was the first time that he ever really saw Sans concentrated, hard at work. While Grillby knew that he was a sentry in Snowdin and areas nearby, Sans had alluded to his past work at the CORE with infuriating vagueness. An engineer of sorts, Grillby recalled. It was just so perfectly endearing to see the skeleton wrapped up in his own little world. Occasionally, Sans would be pulled from that world, pausing only once or twice to check his buzzing cell phone.

Then Sans looked up, having noticed him. Ah, that was short-lived. Quickly, the screwdriver was taken out of his mouth and Sans gave an excusing grin to the mess on the tabletop. He rushed to pluck away bits of wire, screws and film over to one side so that there was a place for him to eat. Grillby had a vague feeling that Sans normally just ate over his work. The action made him feel a little special.

“didn’t see you,” Sans pardoned himself a little hastily, then looked at his phone again. Distracted, he turned off the screen and shoved it into his pocket.

“Wasn’t sure if I should interrupt,”   Grillby replied, setting the bowl in front of Sans along with the small plated bun. He watched as the smaller monster looked at it, unsure. Then Sans glanced up to him, as though asking permission. “…Go on.”

A shy but excited grin tugged at Sans’ teeth and Grillby couldn’t keep himself from returning it, even when Sans turned his attention away to the meal. Sans just stared at it, both of his hands relaxed on either side of the bowl in silent appreciation.

Carefully, Grillby sat at the opposite side of the table, his flames flickering in a peculiar way. Sans mulled something over, but he quickly recovered when he saw Grillby’s movements.

Grillby agonised internally, hiding his expression behind a veil of fire. Perhaps Sans didn’t like what he saw? It wasn’t his usual method of cooking, after all.

“Sans?”

Sans couldn’t help a snicker, then he let out a full out laugh. “i’ve been stewing on it, but i can’t come up with any soupreme puns,” he chortled, and Grillby exhaled hotly, visibly relaxing where he sat. He couldn’t help but chuckle.

As Sans looked rather pleased with himself, he grabbed a spoon and dug in.

It was interesting to behold; Grillby was 100-percent certain that a tongue was definitely something he would’ve noticed before. Considering that it was the first time he’d seen Sans even open his mouth, Grillby corrected his thoughts on that. No, he wouldn’t have noticed; it simply wasn’t logical for him to know. His flames danced around his face with the first mouthful of soup and the heat of Grillby’s core spiked when Sans quietly hummed after a moment to savour it.

Grillby waited as Sans had a bit more, almost holding his breath every time the tip of a magic, cyan-coloured tongue inched from Sans’ mouth to meet with the spoon. Grillby couldn’t help the searing heat that scalded through the flames of his face and neck at another one of Sans’ appreciative hums, pleased with his reaction.

“…How do you like it?”   It took everything in him not to immediately demand an answer to calm his excited fire. Grillby gripped the tray on his lap tightly as he waited with bated breath, his soul pounding anxiously for a response.

Sans smiled after another mouthful with an amused chuckle. Once his magic had absorbed it, his smile tugged into a wider grin and his posture became more relaxed.

“s’really good,” he admitted. “sweet… kinda spicy. feels warm, too, right here.” He patted his chest and with the audible thump, the cyan flush returned.

Grillby leaned onto the table with one arm, a content smile curling at his mouth. He was glad to hear it. Intent was everything. He had put a lot of care into his cooking, as it was made especially for Sans. So if Sans could feel it in his soul, it kindled a tenderness in Grillby in response, pleased that his efforts could affect the monster he cared so much about.

A buzz from Sans’ pocket interrupted him from continuing his meal and Sans sighed softly, putting another spoonful into his mouth. He left it there as he took the cell phone from his pocket with a veiled glare, tapping out a response.

“Papyrus?”   Grillby couldn’t help but quietly wonder.

Sans pulled the spoon from his teeth, absent-mindedly licking the remnants as he read the reply that came seconds later. Grillby felt another hotter flush pass through him and his eyes darted to the side as Sans set the utensil away without a second thought. Willing himself to calm down, Grillby swallowed thickly; Sans didn’t appear to notice.

“nah. alphys - the royal scientist. i’m helping her with some repairs. she’s getting antsy. should probably call her in a bit…” Sans replied, then his gaze found Grillby and his paler flames. The bartender sensed his curiosity and shifted his gaze back, offering him a pardoning smile.

“Have you spoken with him, though?”   That piqued Grillby’s curiosity now. With Sans’ inquisitive look, which then shifted to sudden realisation, the fire monster couldn’t help but laugh softly.

“uh… no,” the skeleton replied, his voice dropping in volume. “i think he kinda suspects something’s happened though.”

“Between us?”

Sans’ flush broadened deeply, as though the memory had crept up on him. Grillby took a moment to reflect on it as well, curling his fingers under his flaming chin. Yellow flames started to peak along his face and he almost preened.

“Bashful skeleton,”   Grillby murmured after the moment passed. He couldn’t help but delight in the way Sans shrunk down, every inch of him the perfect picture the fire monster had described. “You really haven’t breathed a word?”

Sans drummed his fingers on the tabletop before stopping abruptly and he looked down to his phone. Then he shrugged. “i dunno how, to be honest. he kinda helped.” Sans stopped as though to reconsider his words, then he seemed to come to a realisation. “he doesn’t know it, but he, uh… it was his idea. the, um, the flower.” His eye lights flicked over to the bar, where the echo flower was safely kept behind the counter.

“Matchmaker Papyrus,”   the fire monster breathed, feeling a blossoming appreciation for the brother’s interference. “Long is the list of titles bestowed upon him as of late.”

Sans had to chuckle at that. “he’d strut around and gloat to know he had a hand in it,” he agreed. “i can’t let him have that satisfaction after all the badgering.”

“Satisfaction?”

Sans shrugged somewhat bashfully, raising his hand to scratch at his jaw. “i told you, i’m new to this. he just… convinced me i had to say it for myself. then it went from there.”

“Found the courage.”   The bartender then hummed, feeling his soul fluttering with the thought. “I’m so very glad you fell off that stool.”

Sans held back an embarrassed laugh that ended up sounding more like a giggle. He cradled his skull in one hand, his gaze drifting to the bar again in a sidelong glance.

“me too.”

 

The extended lull in activity in the restaurant provided them with enough time to chat amongst themselves, mainly occupied with the idea that Papyrus would eventually find out about what had happened. Grillby came up with an idea.

“Could always subject him to a prank,”   he suggested with a shrug as Sans polished off the rest of the soup and bun.

Sans sighed and leaned back against the polished wood of the booth, seemingly sated from his meal and a sleepy smile on his face. He closed his eyes and relaxed, his voice dipping in register, “a prank, huh? been a hot minute since i’ve done that.”

Grillby noted the subtle glow poking from Sans’ collar and leaned forward, examining him as he considered it. It appeared that Sans had recovered from his anxious state earlier and was much more like his usual self. The conversation was no longer quite so hesitant or quiet.

“what do you got in mind?”

Grillby thoughtfully tapped a single digit against the tabletop. “Pretend to have lost the flower. Pretend that you’re worried who might find it. Tear up the house `looking` for it.”

Sans opened an eye to regard Grillby, whom was giving him a devious smile. “that’s laying it on kinda thick.” He snickered. “you’re such a devil.”

Grillby offered a shrug, a bloom of heat rushing through his flames. “Fire monsters are known to be hellish.”

“and here i thought you fell from heaven,” Sans automatically drawled, tapping his fingertips against the top of the table again. Then his grin dropped briefly as another flush flooded his face, realising what he’d said.

Grillby kindled noticeably paler; had Sans really meant to say that? It was flattering and ridiculous, and… so Sans.

“Well… stars produce fire, so not far from the mark, I suppose,”   Grillby murmured through a crackle, his flames returning to their normal shades.

“i keep forgetting to freak out about that. is that a thing i can do now, or would that be weird?”

Grillby was at a loss for words, but he managed to hide it well. Instead, his eyes flitted briefly to the other end of the bar and he couldn’t resist a shy smile. That’s when he became quiet and contemplative. Speaking of stars in the Underground always made him feel a little uneasy, even if he hid it well. Apart from a select few, he’d kept the nature of his exact existence a secret since he moved to Snowdin.

That is, until he chose to tell Sans.

“i, uh. i didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable,” Sans murmured as he raised his hand to his skull and scratched his temple.

“As long as it doesn’t reach Waterfall,”   the bartender admitted with a slow nod, though he concealed the threatening grimace. Sans must’ve recognised it, as his expression gradually softened. After a moment’s pause, Grillby added, “People there get, ah…”

“worshippy. i gotcha. not my first stroll through the place.” Sans gave him a knowing grin as he settled both of his elbows on the table. He pointedly ignored his phone, which buzzed intermittently throughout their conversation.

It was Grillby’s turn to lightly tap his fingers against the tabletop. He saw Sans follow his movements and Grillby found himself gesturing in a way to shrug it off.

“Before you ask…  the wish thing is a fable.”

“i’m not really interested in that,” Sans immediately replied. Grillby couldn’t help his reaction; a startled jerk as his back straightened where he sat, openly staring across the table.

Well, that was a first. He certainly hadn’t expected that; but lately Sans had started to open up to him in new and interesting ways. Indeed, even now, the conversation was along the same vein as before. Easy words exchanged, poking fun at each other. Only now it was more fun and flirtatious, and the fleeting touches shy and unsure. Their friendship had started to become something deeper and more meaningful with every interaction.

“i’m more interested in…” Sans trailed off and paused to carefully consider his next words. “are you technically a fire monster?”

Amused, Grillby gestured to his torso as though it spoke for himself, the movement lithe and smooth despite his crackling noises. It wasn’t a question he had prepared himself for, so far, and he didn’t exactly know how to respond.

“ok, fair point.”

Somehow, the scalding flush across Sans’ face made Grillby smirk in silent victory, even if it had likely been due to embarrassment. He felt the melodic ebb of the skeleton’s soul, achingly distant through the short space between them. It reminded the fire monster of their tender little moment and he relaxed, head held on one hand again. Grillby propped an elbow on the table, awaiting Sans’ next question.

“ok… so what does a star eat?”

Grillby hummed softly, “Asking in such a way…”   He paused in consideration, then gave in to a slight shrug. “Suppose… hydrogen for most. Though, I personally enjoy curries and sours.”

Sans’ eye lights grew brighter with interest and he leaned over the table, blatantly ignoring another notification from his pocket. “what about composition?”

The bartender gave him a quizzical look and didn’t answer, but he felt something flush just under his flames.

“i mean, magic and fire, sure. but you gotta have a little physicality like the rest of us, right? with me, a bit o’ bone, bit o’ dust, maybe some pebbles…” Sans grinned openly, making Grillby’s flames pique and tinge a shade or two of gold.

“…Sans.”

The skeleton grunted inquisitively, still grinning wide. He looked so pleased with his question that Grillby almost regretted the words that came out of his mouth next;

“That’s… such a… personal thing to ask. Haven’t even had our first date.”

He couldn’t resist. He couldn’t even stop the words from coming out, but there they were, lingering in the air as the heat came off his body like waves. Grillby paused as he saw a subtle shift in Sans’ body language. His confidence seemed to peel away in the seconds that passed, and Sans grew tense.

He had embarrassed Sans, and now his gaze was met with avoidance. Grillby released a soft sigh, wondering if an apology would make Sans more uncomfortable or just make things awkward. He offered an apologetic smile anyway and patted Sans’ hand before he got up to clear the table of dishes.

While Grillby was certain that he’d embarrassed his friend to the point that Sans remained in awkward silence, he was caught somewhat off guard when he felt a tug on his apron just as he intended to leave. Inquiringly, he looked over his shoulder to see Sans nervously grinning up at him.

“sh-should… probably fix that, huh?”

The bartender returned the grin as he reached to pat Sans’ shoulder in agreement, his hand trailing down his arm as Grillby left in a silent and playful manner.

 

Over the course of the afternoon, Sans eventually pulled all the components and tools back in front of him again. It didn’t take long for him to become immersed in the repairs, creating a small mess of crumpled napkins as he wiped the moisture from each piece before inspection.

Grillby caught brief glances as the afternoon steadily grew busier. Soon, Sans stopped looking out of his booth so much and remained concentrated on his work, only taking breaks to answer his phone. At some point, the fire monster noticed that the cell phone hovered in air, near Sans’ skull, while an assortment of delicate-looking tools poked out from Sans’ teeth. It appeared to be the only way that the skeleton could keep his hands free to fiddle with the mess of wires.

The earlier regulars eventually paid and left, and more customers arrived. Sans stayed for the entire afternoon. Intermittently, Grillby wandered from the other booths after taking away payments and dirty dishes, taking the route past Sans’ table.

After deliberating on it on a few passes by, the fire monster quickly stooped and deposited a soft kiss against the preoccupied monster’s skull. He couldn’t resist; he was surprised he had for this long. Grillby didn’t even turn to see the wreckage when he heard something drop and roll off the table as he continued towards the kitchen. If the other patrons’ expressions and hoots were anything to go by, the kiss had its intended effect on Sans and Grillby had difficulty repressing his grin until out of sight.

If truth be told, Grillby wanted to do a little more every time, just to see how flustered he could make Sans. Just a gentle push, to test his boundaries. The second time, he found Sans hunched so far into his hood that Grillby was sure he’d suffocate.

So instead of a kiss, Grillby tugged off his right glove and flicked his index finger over the topmost vertebrae peeking out, moving away just as he witnessed a jolt of surprise shudder through Sans’ shoulders. His head whirled around, flooded with the hue of his magic. The sudden movement caused a few select tools and screws to skitter and roll off the table, and Grillby heard a soft gasp of protest as he walked away.

It was a satisfying exchange, if only a bit one-sided. He knew he shouldn’t, but Grillby relished the teasing. Every time he stole a glance the skeleton’s way, Sans was more or less avoiding his look, though his soul glowed so brightly that Sans was sure to draw attention to himself if Grillby kept it up.

 

Sans eventually finished with his repairs. He’d been in the middle of carefully packing away his tools when Grillby found an excuse to meet up with him again, smiling a pleasant smile as though Grillby hadn’t spent the entire afternoon ambushing him with fleeting touches and stolen kisses.

The subtle clatter of bones was muffled under Sans’ jacket as he approached, leaving Sans much more aware as the minutes stretched on from the last sneak-attack. If Grillby had to guess, his actions left the skeleton more flustered than he’d originally thought. Grillby carefully suppressed a grin, presenting a slight smirk as a peace-offering instead.

“g-gotta-” Sans started, then immediately ended what he was going to say. He swung his legs out from under the table, turning on the bench and shouldering his bag. He took strides not to look like he’d been avoiding Grillby’s face the entire time.

Grillby couldn’t help the tug at the side of his mouth; it was beyond adorable.

One last time. Then he’d stop.

“Leaving so early?”

Dumbly, the skeleton nodded, his eye lights focused at the other end of the bar. He then seemed to realise something and the hue of magic in his face grew bolder. Sans’ gaze dropped to his knees.

“And without paying.”

Grillby noted the way Sans’ grimace tried to force itself into a grin and Sans’ hand automatically went to his pocket, likely in search of coins. When he predictably came up with nothing, the bartender closed the distance between them. Sans had no choice but to apologetically look up from his seat.

“wow, uh. may.. maybe put it on-”

Grillby carefully rested a gloved hand on both the table and the top of the booth’s bench, effectively trapping Sans where he sat with his body. His gaze flicked down to where Sans’ phalanges idly tugged at the drawstring of his hood, plucking at the eyelets as he continued to grin uneasily.

“grillbz…?”

“Afraid payment is required upon service this time.”   Grillby’s voice came out with a faint snap at the end like dry kindling popping, every word measured and slow. It was almost sensual.

“i’m good for it, g,” Sans shyly countered, looking far more frazzled for the implication. “if you let me go home, i can raid the couch-”

Grillby’s movement cut him off and Sans sat stark still. The fire monster leaned down, his face bare inches away and giving off even more heat as Sans attempted to continue;

“-and… come… back…” The last words died off rather abruptly, his voice soft and confused.

Another buzz sounded from Sans’ pocket, but they both ignored it. Sans didn’t move. His nervous trembling made it impossible for Grillby to hold back his grin for any longer. Seeing it, the tension in Sans’ shoulders eased and he even allowed himself to laugh.

Bzz-bzzt!

“you’re teasing me.”

“Perhaps not.”

Sans released a shaky breath, but he still hadn’t moved away. Grillby found that it had proved to be a little too much fun to stop just yet.

Bzz-bzzt!

“you’re really close, g,” Sans murmured, his voice lower.

Grillby moved his hands from the table and bench top to cup each side of Sans’ jaw, flooding the bone with warmth. He relished the way that Sans sighed in appreciation and his eyes seemed to automatically close in submission. Grillby was sure that any lingering cold that clung to him from when Sans came in, evaporated on contact and in his company.

Bzz-bzzt! Bzz-bzzt!

“Worried that others will stare?”

He lightly caressed Sans’ right cheekbone, his smirk quirking a little more when Sans let him. There were a couple of giggles from the other side of the restaurant. Happy subdued yipping came from the canines until they were stopped, hushed by another regular. They probably wanted to see where this was going.

“th-they’ve been staring all day, boss, c’mon. you’ve been givin’ `em a free show,” was Sans’ attempt at humour. His voice sounded shakier the longer Grillby stayed close, and he kept his eyes closed. The fire monster idly wondered how long it would take for Sans to give in and zip away again, rewarding him with another victory.

Bzz-bzzt!

He appeared to be holding his own, though; not like that infernal phone, which kept buzzing in Sans’ pocket like a wind-up toy. Grillby ignored it, since Sans was content to do the same.

“Suppose I should let you go. However, not before I collect what’s due,”   the bartender murmured as he leaned forward a little more.

Sans didn’t shrink away as his mouth brushed against the bridge between his eye sockets, softly caressing Sans’ face. The bone heated under his breath and furrowed slightly until Grillby left a kiss, feeling the oddly malleable bone relax under his mouth. Sans instinctively sucked in a surprised breath and his hands lay uselessly in his lap, but Sans’ mouth fell open with the lingering touch.

Then Grillby gave two more kisses on each cheekbone, one after the other. Grillby lingered long enough to feel a subtle quiver pass through the smaller monster.

Much to his regret, Grillby let him go, leaving Sans to dopily smiling wide like a stupefied fool. Grillby thought that would be the end of anything else - until he heard a contented mumble from Sans.

“…should really pay all my meals that way.”

 

When Sans left Grillby’s, his footsteps were sure, light and springy. His face burned with a flustered glow from all the hoots, good-natured laughter and teasing from the regulars on his way out the door. He’d even pulled his hood up to hide his furiously blushing face. It then dawned upon him that it was apparently a thing that mature skeletons could do; after all, Papyrus had displayed the phenomenon a time or two before.

He checked over his phone to see what all the notifications were for; three missed phone calls from Alphys. That was weird; normally she didn’t call.

Though the thirty waiting text messages were nothing new.

Alphys (Last message received: 3:09pm);

- Oh! We got the feed!! Nice job! (☆`・ω・´)b
- I was a little worried since you were taking so long
- Not to say that I’m impatient! Just remember to keep warm. Snowdin’s cold, right? I don’t work well in the cold so you must be so miserable (╯︵╰,)
- Thanks again for helping me. It really means a lot! orz
- Um… Σ(゜ロ゜;)
- (*〇□〇)……!
- Hey, that fire monster?
- He’s pretty close
- I think he might,
- Σ (  Д )ﻌﻌﻌﻌ⊙-⊙
- SANS
- SANS THE FEED
- OMG I CAN’T WATCH THIS??? ヽ(*>∇<)ノ
- SANS THAT FIRE MONSTER MIGHT *LIKE* YOU
- WHOA HOLD ON BACK UP
- WAIT IS ~*~*THIS*~*~ THE ‘SOMEONE’??????? (///º 艸º///)
- SANS, YOU OMG I don’t know what to say!!
- THIS is the guy!??! WHAT A CHOICE FOR A FIRST CRUSH LOLLL
- A fire monster! OMG. SANS. I’M SORRY BUT THIS IS TOO CUTE!! ♥
- HE REALLY LIKES YOU
- ~*~*REALLY*~*~ LIKES!!!!!! 
- OH WOW OH GEE OH BOY (ペ◇゚)」♥ ~
- Hey, quick note Hotland monsters are VERY bold
- Like, incredibly. He is going to be M E R C I L E S S once he finds out you like him omg
- But I um… guess you know this by now???? HAHA oh man… AND I got a front row seat to you two dorks flirting!? XD
- I ship it!! Sans!!! I’m not going to lie!! This is too perfect and cute and SAJKHDFG!!!!!
- AAAAAAA MY HEARRRRRT THIS IS SO SWEET
- HE KISSED YOUUUU
- OMGGGG~ ・:*(〃∇〃人)*:・
- SANS!!!! You’re such a dork lmao I’m sorry (∗ᵕ̴᷄◡ᵕ̴᷅∗)՞ answer your phone~~~

 

Sans stood as still as a rock as he glanced down to the camera under his arm. The little red light on the side of the lens shined brightly, indicating that it was live. In complete abject mortification, he felt his magic spike and flood throughout his bones.

Without thinking twice, Sans quickly found a rift and put the peak in energy to good use, made a shortcut to the bush outside of the Ruins’ door and hastily stuffed the camera inside. All the while Sans glared into the lens and desperately hoped that he didn’t look as embarrassed as he felt.

Chapter Text

Alphys (Last message received: 1:23pm);
- SPILL THE BEANS 八(^□^*)

*no way aint a thing gimme the coords

- Sans, this is kind of a big deal!! I’m sorry!

*nah how bout we get 2 work like what u asked bc this convo is suddenly terrible

- WHO IS HE o(*>ω<*)o

*how bout we talk bout literally anythin else
*im kinda bushed tbh
*heh

- I NEED DETAILS (#´艸`)

*dont
*gdi alph u dont gotta make this a huge deal
*sides im not givin u the deets 4 ur shippin charts
*ys that even a thing
*nvm dont ansr that dont wanna know

- YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND
- THIS IS A ~*~*VERY*~*~ BIG DEAL!!!? ಠﭛಠ

*ok
*well sure but lets get n ur thing then

- My thing? o_o

*sure
*u know
*ur big obvs af n love w/
*u know

- 49°21'12.2"N 2°11'26.5"E

He couldn’t help it. He laughed outright. Sans went over the coordinates for the next stop in his head. Sentry station in the forest: Lesser Dog’s. Since Papyrus was patrolling the area, Sans came to the conclusion that he’d have to warp to the other end of the forest in order to not get caught. If only his brother could see the amount of effort he put into this, then he wouldn’t harp on him for taking as many breaks as he did. It was a pretty decent job.

He trudged along, finding a rift point that brought him directly into the thicket just before his brother’s tile and ice puzzle. He hummed nonsensically as he slid safely across, then went over to the station. It took him a few moments to realise it was hidden under the roof, just out of sight. He also noticed that Lesser Dog was nowhere to be seen, but saw a mess of scampering footsteps in the snow leading into a nearby field. It must’ve been break time.

A few minutes after he had pulled the camera down and set about repairing it on the sentry’s desk, his phone rang. Suspiciously, Sans pulled it out of his pocket and glowered at the screen. It was Alphys. He ignored it, knowing it would probably be more needling questions, and continued his work.

His phone buzzed a few times with some text messages and he waited until he was finished his repairs before taking a look. Four different messages, all with some variation of a smarmy text emoji with raised eyebrows. No further questions about his crush, though.

He messaged her back, asking for the next coordinates. It looked like that was the last of the cameras that needed repairs, apart from the one outside of the lab in Hotland. The mortification he’d felt earlier had died down to just plain embarrassment by the time he resituated the camera back in its proper place.

“BROTHER!”

Sans nearly dropped his bag in surprise. He turned his skull to see his brother darting up to him from up the field, in the exact location he’d come from.

Crap.

He hoped Papyrus wouldn’t have noticed where his footsteps suddenly started in the trees, but by the time his younger brother marched up to him, he looked far too elated to have noticed. Sans silently wished he didn’t, in any case.

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING OUT HERE? THIS IS DEFINITELY NOT HOTLAND.”

“ice to see you too,” Sans drawled, giving his brother a big grin. “alph said it was snow problem if i took a few to see my best bro.”

Papyrus’ expression shifted to one of mild surprise - that is, until the puns dropped. Then he scowled, his teeth grating together. Sans grimaced at the sensation it likely made and unconsciously took a step back when his brother stomped closer.

“LOOK AT YOU! WHAT HAP-” he stopped, then glowered when he caught the unmistakable scent of grease and fast food, “I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN! GRILLBY’S. ALTHOUGH I DON’T KNOW WHY YOU THOUGHT A UNIBROW WOULD SUIT YOU. IT OBVIOUSLY DOESN’T.”

Admittedly, it took a moment for Sans to put two and two together before a fresh wave of embarrassment shot through him and he used his sleeve to wipe at his face. The fabric came back with soot on it and he felt flush at the reminder of the kisses.

It would appear to be the wrong thing to do, but he wasn’t thinking clearly. Papyrus was even more interested by the fact his assumption was different to what Sans thought, apparently.

“just went for lunch.”

“OH?” His younger brother’s sockets narrowed daringly, looking smug. Sans didn’t like it. “AND HOW WAS IT.”

“it tasted-” He should have known it was a trap, since Papyrus’ disdain for the dive was well-known; why would he ask how it was? His sentence came to a full stop; “it tasted. paps, did y’know we can make tongues?”

“WHAT AN UNUSUAL OBSERVANCE TO MAKE, SANS.”

“i’m not hearin’ a ‘no’.”

“AND YOU WON’T HEAR ONE! OF COURSE WE CAN, WE-” Papyrus stopped again, then grabbed his brother’s shoulders and pulled him forward to look at him clear in the face. Sans attempted to give him an innocent look but his reaction was delayed and he looked somewhat pained instead. A dawning realisation came over the taller monster’s face and Sans sucked in a breath to mentally prepare himself for the next outburst. “OH. MY. GOD!!”

“pap, no.”

“NYEH HEH HEH! ‘PAP’, YES! COULD IT BE??” Papyrus gave him a knowing grin and Sans squirmed out of his grasp, hands going straight for his pockets.

“cool it.”

Papyrus continued laughing, the noise bouncing around the area as his volume heightened. Sans shrunk away, attempting to find an escape from the already fully humiliating day; he did not need an addition to it. Papyrus caught his hood as he made to slink off with his bag before he could get anywhere near a couple of feet away, however.

“MY DEAR BROTHER. IT SEEMS YOU ARE LACKING IN SOME EXTREMELY IMPORTANT LIFE LESSONS. ALLOW ME, THE GREAT PAPYRUS, TO SOOTHE YOUR WOEFUL CONUNDRUMS!”

“we can literally do this anytime but now, bro,” Sans immediately retorted, feeling his magic tinge his face in horror, “i dunno why you’re makin’ out like it’s a big deal.” It really wasn’t a big deal - not anyone else’s, anyway.

“OF COURSE. BUT INSTEAD OF YOU HIDING AND DANCING AROUND THE SUBJECT AT HAND-” Papyrus tugged him so Sans stepped beside him, before letting go of him once he was sure he wasn’t going to leave. “TELL ME.”

“tell you what?”  the older of the two countered, genuinely confused now. What subject? He really hoped Papyrus wasn’t going to badger him now of all times about confessing. Because that had already happened, it was just a matter of time before he got the nerves, so to speak, to bring it up on his own. When he was ready.

“WHAT’S SO INTERESTING ABOUT THAT GREASE HOLE?”

Ah. Yeah, that. Sans groaned inwardly as he realised that Papyrus must have also seen him go the complete opposite way of Waterfall the previous morning. He coughed awkwardly.

“i, uh,” he looked everywhere but his brother’s face. “c-can’t find, um…” His glance flicked upward, still grimacing. Even though Grillby had suggested the prank and this was the perfect opportunity to carry it out, he was tired, and at least Alphys would let up on the questions if he was falling asleep. He had to get away, as ridiculous as it sounded. “c-can’t find my whoopee cushion, y’know? thought i might’ve left it there.”

Papyrus’ expression went flat and he sighed loudly. “I KNEW THERE WAS A LACK OF FLATULENT NOISES LATELY!” He pressed a gloved hand against his face and shook his skull. He really thought he was on to something then!

Sans allowed himself to relax a little. “uh, alph’s waitin’, so…” Idly he made a check for his phone, which had a few messages waiting. That was lucky - or was it predictable? “still got another day with her, i think. she’s gonna check over some stats and we still got some variables to look through.”

Papyrus was still shaking his head as Sans made another attempt to leave. He was again, jerked back by his hood and he had to restrain himself from swearing in frustration.

“WHERE IS…” Sans hunched down into his hood, knowing what was coming, “…the echo blossom?”

“dunno,” the older said, tugging at his jacket with one hand while avoiding Papyrus’ look.

“YOU DIDN’T THROW IT AWAY, DID YOU!?” Papyrus sounded aghast and Sans looked at him helplessly. Then he simply shrugged.

“maybe left it somewhere.”

“SANS!! THAT WAS… SUCH A CARELESS THING TO DO!” His brother sounded extremely disappointed and Sans couldn’t help but flinch at his tone.

“yeah, my bad,” he played along, his eye lights shrinking in his sockets and settling to the snow at his brother’s boots. “listen… text me later? i, uh… i gotta go. keep a lookout for humans, ok baby bro? keep safe. love ya.”

 

Whether it was because his brother was stunned over his little white lie or because he’d been quick, Sans was able to get away. He made his way back through the field to the tile and ice puzzle and rounded the corner, readying his magic for a shortcut. Slipping through a rift, he twirled on one foot to regain his balance on the other end, nearly tripping over a large red rock along the path to Alphys’ lab. Either his emotional state was unstable, or he had simply used too much magic in one day; he was beginning to feel it.

His phalanges barely rapped against the metal door of the building when the hiss of mechanics stopped him and the royal scientist reached past the door and pulled him inside. For a moment, the glare of Hotland’s climate had made the reflection off her glasses a bright orange and if Sans didn’t know her any better, he would have pegged the expression as devious.

“i need a nap. i’m exhausted,” the skeleton muttered, sounding genuinely fatigued. He’d done more in a day physically than he had all last week, and he was mentally drained as well. He sighed and let Alphys drag him by the arm further into the lab, where she had set up a sleeping area for him out of the blanket and pillow he’d used before.

Gratefully, he sunk down on the sleeping pile, ignoring her excited and bouncy stance as though he would open up to her. Instead, he dropped back against the pillow, intent to sleep.

“Um… th-thanks again, for helping me with the… the cameras, Sans,” she said after a long moment of hesitation. It seemed like she’d lost her nerve, or it was reserved for online social interactions only. When the other only replied with the quiet drone of snores, she sighed and went through the bag to put her tools away.

For the majority of the evening, Sans slept dreamlessly. He woke briefly when the air conditioning turned off and the place heated up fairly quickly. His mind roamed to earlier that afternoon and Sans couldn’t help but grin to himself, curled up under the blanket in the warmth of pleasant and awkward memories. He felt his phone buzz in his pocket and pulled it out to look at it. The current time was 11:46pm.

A few from Alphys, from a couple hours ago. Two from an unknown number, and several worrying messages from his brother.

Papyrus (Last message received: 7:34pm);
- IT OCCURS TO ME THAT I MAY HAVE UPSET YOU.
- WHILE IT IS NOT MY INTENTION, MY DEAR BROTHER, YOU HAVE TO USE THAT ROBUST BACKBONE OF YOURS AND CONFRONT YOUR FEELINGS.
- FEELINGS THAT, I ADMIT, ARE A LITTLE CONFUSING. AND POSSIBLY TO YOU, TOO.
- SO I HAVE TAKEN SOME LIBERTIES.
- YOU MAY FIND SOON, A CERTAIN SOMEONE MAY BE CONTACTING YOU.
- YOU ARE WELCOME.
- (LEGIBLE WINK)

 

Alphys (Last message received: 9:58pm);
- Hey there, not sure how long you’re going to be sleeping! So! I just wanted to say if you’re hungry you can have whatever garbage that’s in the fridge (∗ᵕ̴᷄◡ᵕ̴᷅∗)
- ? Not saying it’s GARBAGE but um? Maybe you’d want something
- There’s still some cookies and some monster candy. You know where the chip machine is too…
- Oh! The code for it is 4827 if you want. I forgot to mention it before (*´∀`*)ノ’’
- The variables came back negative again. If what you’re saying is true, your ‘shortcuts’ tend to dip the grid line inward and shift things around until you get on the other end
- I still don’t know what the 3 hour break was… or how you got stuck ♒((⇀‸↼))♒
- I’m glad you’re ok though! ♥
- Hope these don’t wake you… anyway, it’s late and I’ll probably be passed out at my computer upstairs by the time you read these ԅ(¯﹃¯ԅ)  lmao

 

Unknown (Last message received: 11:42pm);
- Hello. I’m unsure if I should be messaging so late. Is this Sans?
- Perhaps it is one of Papyrus’ pranks. I do apologise if you are an unintended participant in this joke. Good night.

 

Sending the phone a confused look and scrolling back to his brother’s messages, Sans felt unsure about the unknown sender. After a few minutes, he exhaled softly against the quiet hum of the lab.

*this is a sans whats shakin

The skeleton waited a few minutes until the backlight dimmed on his phone, then eventually turned off. He wondered what the heck that was all about. He came to the conclusion that Papyrus had probably come up with his own ideas as to what had happened at the bar, and secretly hoped said bar’s top gossips wouldn’t reach his non-existent ears.

He sighed again, deeply, and rolled onto his back, pulling the blanket up to his face and stared up at the high ceiling. The fans in the tiles moved slowly, pulling him back to sleep. He felt his phone slip from his fingers and rest against his chest as he dozed. The sudden vibration against his sternum rattled him enough to jolt him awake, however.

He brought the phone up to his face, cracking one socket open as he flicked it on.

Unknown (Last message received: 12:04am);
 - If this is a Sans I know, that is definitely the exact response I’d expect to receive. One can practically hear your mumble through the words.

*ur slow @ typin u know that
*sides im a v busy skele if u knew me like ur insinuatin ud know this by now
*how many sansses u know bucko
*whos the imposter
*i gotta know whos tarnishin my good name

- Now I know for certain this is Sans.

*ay cheers u done good next round @grillbz on me
*yknow if i ever run in2 u

- I’m certain we’ll see each other again. Especially if you come to Grillby’s.

Sans’ sockets narrowed at that and he shifted a little to get more comfortable, scowling at the messages as he held the phone over his face. He scrolled up to read them once more before he received another.

- Let’s play a game to see how long it takes for you to decipher who I am.

*ur layin it on thick bud thats the thing w/ txts u cant know unless they say
*this telecom sys is gr8 n all but its got drawbacks

- You haven’t made a joke once and seem very agitated. I wonder if I’m the one being pranked?

*idk bro kinda sounds like u werent even sure who u were msgin
*sides i just woke up
*gimme a break the ol engines still turnin over

- You use a lot of shorthand in your messages. I admit, I’m having a difficult time deciphering it.

*ya i get that
*so who r u
*are+you^ just fyi
*ugh

- I live in Snowdin.

*ok not the ansr 2 my q but
*me 2

- You are not here, however.

*nah
*hotland
*all hot n toasty @lab

- Careful.

*nah its cool
*n by cool i mean hot af i love it
*its basically the best temp not gonna lie

There wasn’t any immediate reply to that, so Sans snickered to himself and got up. He stretched until his spine popped and all the worst kinks were out, then got up to visit the fridge. He squinted inside, reading over a few containers; plum halves, ichi… something, some kind of candy he didn’t like, and some more puffy-looking buns. He grabbed one and read over the cooking instructions before just unwrapping it and taking off half of it in a large bite.

Spicy. Then unbearably spicy and even hot. His magic absorbed it before he could spit it out, and he covered his mouth with a soft hiss. Once the initial burn was gone and he could detect the lingering taste, he shrugged and took another bite, this time smaller. It was a bit better to manage.

He checked his phone and another message had come in;

Unknown (Last message received: 12:24am);
 - You have my envy.

*u like hot so much y dont u come here
*you+why^
*u know what ur gonna have 2 learn the lingo
*esp if ur wantin 2 msg me in the wee hrs

- Suppose I should, but I have ties here.
- And an intriguing arrangement.

*well that doesnt sound suspicious @ all

- Would you like a hint as to my identity?

*idk how coy u bein w/ me
*wait is this red
*cuz i told u b4 sorry bout the wing
*was accident

- This only brings more questions. No, this isn’t Red.

*…………doggo?

- Sans, please.

*well ok u got me hint pls

- HIP 24436.

 

Sans blinked at the screen. In whatever context this was, he had to admit… he had no clue what it meant. It wasn’t an engineering term or anything he normally came across. Nor did he think it was a Boss Monster, as being so forthright about HP levels was deemed unclassy in monster culture. He must have taken a while to think about it, since the person on the other end deaned to clarify;

Unknown (Last message received: 12:46am);
- I apologise. It’s difficult to parse the language through the phone. Is this better?
- β
- If you need further clarification, I may be suitably obliged to offer further hints.

*wth thats not even a hint thats a gd fancy b
*wait thats beta gdi
*its like u like 2 see me squirm
*reminds me of a guy i know

- Ori.

*beta ori?
*that an anime?
*wait is this alphys
*thought u were sleepin i can hear u down here girl
*w/ ur betta ori himes

- Sans. This is not Alphys. Should I offer another hint?

*aw she woulda liked that
*2 jokes n 1
*ok ya gimme another im just warmin up

- Possibly the most flirtatious thing you’ve said so far.

 

Sans nearly dropped his phone but managed to catch it in time, yet lost the bun in the process. He realised with that last message who the unknown number was and felt a whole new jumble of emotions flood over him. First was the strain of nervousness. Then horror, as he had said quite a few callous and even compromising things about heat. Thirdly, irritation that Papyrus had gotten the right guess as to whom his crush was, when he’d meant to keep it from him.

*u srs
*pap took this 2 far
*ur not jokin

Help, Sans’ thoughts internally screamed.

- I can say I’m honestly flattered.
- Not everyday someone tells you they love an aspect of yourself when everyone else shies away from being burned.

He stood stock still, staring at his phone. If he had flesh, the blood it would be draining from his face. Instead, staying quiet, he shook his phone and grunted, pretending with all his might to fling it across the lab. Of course he didn’t, but it relieved some pent up tension.

It was Grillby. Papyrus had given Grillby his goddamn cell phone number!

Unknown (Last message received: 1:14am);
- I didn’t mean to be so forward. I’m unable to help myself at times.
- If you were serious this afternoon, I would be inclined to take you up on your offer.
- To fix our issue of not having gone out.
- If your reaction right now is anything like the other day, well…
- Do make sure to take care of yourself.
- After all, it would be a shame for you to come back to Snowdin not the least bit worked up.
- I’m at dangerous risk of jealousy.
- Heat is the best temperature, by far.
- Sans, did I scare you off again?
- Another point for me. Have a pleasant evening.

Sans found himself flustered, just imagining the other’s tone and the accompanying smirk. He scrolled up through the past messages, internally lamenting the things he’d sent. He should have known. Perhaps texting an unknown number in the middle of the night wasn’t exactly the best idea, in hindsight. Irritably, he brought up his brother’s contact information and typed out a response before deleting it immediately.

No, he couldn’t do it, namely because Papyrus would know Grillby did message him, and that his anger would only confirm his brother’s suspicions. Sans wandered back over to the sleeping area and flopped down again, wondering if he could settle down enough to try another extended nap.

Eventually he did.

 

The following pre-noon ambling by both Alphys and himself was mostly quiet, if not a little awkward. Sans made no mention of Grillby’s messages over sweetened coffee and jam toast. He was very proud of himself in that he managed to kick the chewing habit early enough. So far, two hours into the day, it was going well.

Alphys eventually brought out the books she had promised him, along with gathering his old notes together. They hadn’t helped much, being in a cipher neither of them remembered, and her cursory scan of his soul still felt intrusive, despite his efforts to remain calm. She noted how his bones seemed thin, but it was only natural. Determination made monster physicality dodgy, at best.

The hours that passed was spent repairing the camera stationed outside of Alphys’ lab. If the one by the Ruins had been bad, Sans cursed the one now. It would’ve been easier to construct a whole new one, but Alphys was adamant that she couldn’t find the necessary parts on such short notice. It took the better half of the afternoon to finally get it working again.

Soon enough, it was time for him to go. She thanked him and told him to keep better care of his phone and that she wanted updates as soon as anything else happened. He didn’t quite know how to address that, so shrugged indifferently and waved goodbye on his way out.

Although travel was quick via his shortcuts, Sans felt apprehensive about Waterfall. The malaise he felt as he bypassed the entire area almost seemed to tug at him when his slippers met with the icy patch on the outskirts of Snowdin. He set his jaw as he peered down the cavern, but just shrugged it off, burying his worry until he got back to his house.

By the lights’ glow inside, Sans figured his brother was home. He inhaled sharply, allowing the crisp cold air to whirl about his bones before he crept up the step to the door. His bag slipped from his shoulder as he was yanked inside with a startled grunt, pulled into an energetic and tight hug.

“missed you too,” he said, muffled against the other’s clothes. He gave a couple of awkward pats to his brother’s back, then was released, almost shook as Papyrus took him by the shoulders and looked at him up and down.

“WELL?” His tone was expectant and Sans could only stare up at him with thinly veiled confusion. When he didn’t reply, Papyrus sighed quietly. “OH SANS, WHAT AM I GOING TO DO WITH YOU?”

Sans shrugged noncommittally and dumped his bag onto the floor by the coat rack and wandered inside. “dunno what you mean, bro.”

Irritation momentarily flicked over his brother’s face with the desertion of the rucksack and its partially spilled contents. Papyrus bent to retrieve the items and stopped shortly, eyeing the titles of some very peculiar books.

Books that admittedly Papyrus hadn’t read himself, but he could guess the content to:

     - Fathomable Resonances - An Inward Reflection to Maturation & Genesis by E. S. MadHob
     - Biology of Magic by E. Creeper
     - Magical Bodies & The Housed Soul by Mathers
     - E/M FLUX BIOLOGY - New Home Collegiate 19xx Comprehensive Edition

He shot a sidelong glance to his diminutive brother and shouldered the bag as Sans got comfortable on the couch to watch some television. He followed suit and sat down, dropping the bag in between them.

“I’M AFRAID I MIGHT HAVE…” Papyrus grimaced, not caring to admit his mistakes to the point this would likely be regarded as suspicious behaviour, but he soldiered on, “…NOT CLEARLY UNDERSTOOD YOUR PREDICAMENT, LATELY.”

Sans turned his skull the barest fraction to indicate he was listening, but his eye lights never left the TV screen. He was bunched up on his end of the couch with his hands firmly resting in each pocket.

“SO… WHAT I WOULD LIKE TO OFFER IS-” Papyrus grimaced again, straightening his spine. “-AN APOLOGY. FOR I WAS INCREDIBLY RUDE.”

That got Sans’ full attention. He turned on the spot, perplexed as Papyrus stared him down. Then he considered it, looking conflicted as he rolled a shoulder uneasily.

“nah. i was. sorry, guess i just got excited.”

“YOU SHOULD BE!! EXCITED, THAT IS, NOT SORRY.” Sans gave him a pained expression and the younger brother groused at him further, “DO YOU KNOW WHAT THIS MEANS??”

Sans had a feeling he knew what Papyrus was getting at, but it didn’t make him any more prepared for the contents of his bag to be completely upturned on the couch between them.

Sans watched all this relatively calmly, biting any gnawing suspicions away as the other read the books’ titles aloud.

“REALLY, SANS. THESE ARE TOO… WORDY,” his brother squinted through a bit of the text of E/M FLUX BIOLOGY before setting it aside, “I KNOW WHAT YOU HAVE BEEN GOING THROUGH! IT IS SOMETHING THAT YOUR GREAT BROTHER IS NO STRANGER TO.”

“pap, no.”

“AGAIN, TO THAT I SAY YES! ALLOW ME TO INSTRUCT YOU ON THE FINER POINTS OF MONSTER BIOLOGY AND INTIMACY.”

The older of the two was mortified and his face was frozen in a state of shock.

“AFTER ALL, I AM VERY GREAT. AND A SUBJECT LIKE THIS MUST BE BROACHED CAREFULLY TO AVOID EMBARRASSMENT!”

Oh no. This was not happening.

“IF YOU PREFER, I CAN INTRODUCE YOU TO A FEW BOOKS AT THE LIBRARY. I HAVE A GREAT DEAL OF THEM MEMORISED. I ALSO REMEMBER THAT SONG ABOUT THE GNATS AND THE SEEDS THAT YOU PICKED UP!”

Sans sputtered incoherently, his confusion and horror only building to a full crescendo at a rapid rate. It left him repeating what Papyrus said like a half-brained idiot. “gnats… and seeds?” He probably shouldn’t have repeated that - in fact, it came to him quickly enough where this terrible conversation was headed. “no-”

“YES!! AFTER ALL. I HAVE A VERY GREAT MEMORY. AHEM-”

Sans got up as quickly as he could and tackled his brother off the couch, interrupting the first word of the lyric with a startled exclamation. The song was along the lines of maturation and mating, drawing parallels between mushroom gnats bringing echo flower seeds to different areas of Waterfall to propagate. Only it was meant for children, which Sans definitely was not.

“SANS!! THAT WAS ENTIRELY UNNECESSARY!!”

“don’t you dare sing that-” his older brother huffed indignantly, letting the rest of the sentence hang. Papyrus gave him a playful shove and pushed him to the floor, as payback for upturning them both from the couch. Sans attempted to crawl to his feet, but the other kept him arrested.

“WHAT? ARE YOU HAVING A ‘BAD TIME’, BROTHER? THINK YOU ARE TOO ‘COOL’ TO BE SUBJECT TO ONE OF THE GREAT PAPYRUS’ MASTERFUL LECTURES ON MONSTER BIOLOGY? JUST BECAUSE YOU’VE IGNORED YOUR BODY FOR YEARS, AND IT’S FINALLY HAPPENED-”

Sans groaned as though in pain and struggled to get out of Papyrus’ grasp. He laughed defensively and tried elbowing him in the ribs to let him go, desperate.

“get the hell offa me, pap, i swear-”

“YOU SWEAR ENTIRELY TOO MUCH!” Papyrus thundered, unable to suppress his grin. “BUT NO, YOU’RE NOT GOING ANYWHERE! YOU’RE NOT HIDING IN YOUR ROOM! YOU’RE NOT GOING TO GRILLBY’S! YOU’RE GOING TO SIT HERE MANO-A-MANO WITH ME AND HAVE A MEANINGFUL, SCHOLARLY CONVERSATION ABOUT FEELINGS-”

“oh my god, pap! no!”

“-AND CANOODLING-”

“argh!” Sans attempted another kick to crawl out of his brother’s grasp, desperate to get away from the conversation.

Papyrus strengthened his grasp around his brother and pulled him close, wrapping his arms around his rib cage and straining as Sans forcibly pushed his skull away with both of his hands. “-AND COITUS! AND COPULATING! AND COURTSHIP!! NYEH HEH!!”

“stop saying those words!” Sans had started making strangulated noises.

“WHY? THEY AREN’T BAD. JUST LIKE THE WORDS ‘MATING’ AND ‘BREEDING’! UNLESS YOU’RE THINKING OF THEM IN RELATION TO THE WOOING OF A CERTAIN--OOF!”

Sans had successfully managed to shove his brother onto his back and wriggle free of the torturous word attacks. His face was flushed a bold cyan hue at the implications. It was just so awkward, so increasingly embarrassing that he just had to escape. He only realised it then that the words made him uncomfortable because it was likely that he was associating it with a certain other monster.

Shit!

“`FORNICATE` IS NOT A BAD WORD EITHER, BROTHER!” Papyrus called up from the carpet with a laugh.

Sans pulled on his drawstrings of his hood to hide his face with another pained groan, as though every embarrassing word was chiseling away at his health. He got up and huffed through the exertion of the struggle, flopping down onto the couch next to all of his books. Even though he had wanted to escape, he didn’t want Papyrus to think this kind of jape was funny.

“fine,” Sans huffed, adjusting his hoodie and glowering at his younger brother. “but only `cause you’re right.”

“NYEH HEH HEH!! OF COURSE I AM! THERE WAS REALLY NO DOUBTING THAT.” His younger brother beamed and scrambled off the floor so he could instruct with a little more care and a little less volume. All the while, Sans was curled up with his face covered by his hands on the other end of the couch and regretting his only chance to escape.

It was his own fault, he supposed. All those years - hell, even during the time teaching Papyrus about what he didn’t quite know or care about, would have been easier than this.

This was just humiliating. Papyrus’ lesson admittedly was only a couple of hours long and very limited, but the whole thing felt like he had reverted to his stripe-wearing days. Lamentably, he could only slowly shake his skull in his hands after a brief explanation of his brother’s take on how monster babies were formed. It made him utterly speechless.

There were just no words.

Chapter Text

Sans was staring into the fridge.

His gaze was hard, grin set rigidly and going over one or two things in his mind. One; his brother’s obsession with spaghetti was getting out of hand, and two; it was becoming increasingly difficult since his development to hold off on eating any of it. It was a good thing Papyrus wasn’t home while he agonised over the decision to even try.

Those long noodles. The thin sauce. The peppering of oregano that smelled good at first, but then just simply overpowered anything it touched. Sans had a feeling Papyrus would one day accomplish something edible, but that time clearly wasn’t now. He drew himself up and closed the fridge door with a little too much force and perused the cupboards instead. Noodles of every variety, glass jars of sauce, dried herbs and spices that his brother just didn’t know how to use. Idly, he wondered if Papyrus’ taste was just shot. It was a mean thought, one he felt guilty for immediately.

He had been avoiding Grillby’s - not that his food didn’t taste good; it tasted amazing. But he was overly petrified after his friend’s first covert messages. A time or two, his phone buzzed in his pocket and Sans had to correct himself whenever he jolted in surprise.

He found the messages were a little strange; it appeared like a kind of way to keep a running tally. 1/0. 2/0. 2/1. 3/1. The question mark he sent back wasn’t met with any clarification. Somehow, it made him a little uneasy. The unknown always did that to him, although this was for an entirely different reason altogether. He had quickly added the number to his contacts so it said ‘Grillby’ instead.

The second reason why he avoided the bar and its owner was because he was feeling irritated lately. It spurred an impromptu sparring session with Papyrus that left him more exhausted than he’d ever felt before. His magic was going haywire and after his nap, it felt like he needed to burn the extra accumulation off. Yet after he did, he regretted it.

Today was one such day. He left his house into the snowy street and bypassed the restaurant once more, making that a total of 4 days since Grillby’s last personal encounter. He beelined straight to the cosy little shop beyond the trees and his neighbours, taken to the sweet little thing waiting for him inside.

The door chimed as he pushed it open, grinning so wide it looked almost painful. The shopkeeper was behind the desk in a large blue corduroy chair while knitting and simply waved to Sans when he stamped off his feet on the mat.

“hey, sweetbuns.” The skeleton produced an odd little sound similar to a whistle as he shuffled over to the display counter. “missed ya.”

The shopkeeper’s brow arched sardonically at the greeting and simply held out her furry hand expectantly over the counter. Sans tisked quietly, rummaging in one pocket for the required denomination before carefully dropping two larger coins and a smaller one onto her palm.

“You two, some days, I do swear,” the lady sighed as she put her knitting to the side and got up. “Startled me half to Home with that ruckus the other day!”

“my bad,” Sans replied automatically, his grin tightening and his tone not at all apologetic. His gaze settled on the bunny as she pulled out a cinnamon confection from behind the case, still oozing with warm icing and the complete embodiment of indulgence. With practised ease, she slid it onto a plate, as Sans never strayed far enough to merit wrapping it up. He always ate it on the spot.

“I’m still wedging bones out of the roof tiles,” she revealed, her voice prim as she slid the plate over the counter and sunk back into her chair. “Completely decimated the dimensional box out front! Whose are they?”

Sans gave a halfhearted shrug as he took a big bite of the gooey bun, instantly gratified for coming here. “probably mine.”

“Reminds me of my oldest. They can’t manage their magic yet either. I’m still finding pine nuts and swathes of half-constructed fluffs ‘round the woods out back,” she sighed, the sound a heavy tone of motherhood with children-in-training.

Sans stopped mid-bite to regard her and analyse the sentence. Her assumption was.. he was still learning to control his magic? He wasn’t sure how to respond to that, but caught her curious look regardless. He kept his expression as neutral as he could, even though something twisted inside of him at the notion.

“It’s good of your brother to help you, at any rate.” Her tone was not judgmental, a saving grace considering how uncomfortable Sans suddenly became during the small talk.

A thought came to him as the conversation came to a close and he left the shop, looking at the evidence of their mini-quarrel a couple days past.

 

He thought back to their little skirmish in the street, of Papyrus laughing triumphantly while showing off a bullet pattern he had been practising. Sans was actually making an effort to dodge, regardless of how precise and careful his brother’s attacks were when it came to him. His magic was restless and unheeding lately and the movements felt like it helped somewhat. It wanted to branch out and he could see the wisp of cyan and yellow streaming from the left side of his vision as he moved.

“SANS! YOU’RE GETTING SLOPPY!!” It was meant more as encouragement than criticism, but during the strife parallels between certain dream sequences were becoming distracting and the ice was doing its fair share of fighting, too. “THIS IS WHY NO ONE BELIEVES YOU’RE THE OLDER BROTHER! NYEH HEH HEH!!”

“think fast, babybones!” Sans hollered over the thrum of crackling magic, conjured bones spiralling around his fist in unison. He rose his left hand above his skull, his eye flickering briefly as he sent out two bones in a boomerang arc into Papyrus’ path. In retaliation, the other swung a femur-shaped mace, the crack of bones echoing through the street. Sans’ attack lurched off course and wedged itself into the side of the shop’s roof with a loud thunk, snow sliding off in a miniature avalanche. Sans had been pretty impressed by the deflection.

A small crowd was forming. As normal as it was to have sparring between kids, the two skeleton brothers were anything but children. Sans was panting as his slippers skid to one side, knowing he dodged Papyrus’ attack only because of the other’s restraint. He was focused on his brother’s turn, his grin tight and sweat beading off his skull. Papyrus was cool, showing all the bravado of a confident sparring partner as he conjured another set of bones, this time tinted cyan.

Dramatically, the taller brother aimed one at Sans. The older skidded as he felt the sudden familiar weight of Blue magic pull him downward with a grunt of resistance. He landed in the snow and a couple of kids laughed and cheered his brother on.

“cheater!” he huffed over the whooping of the crowd.

“NYEH HEH!! YOU’RE BLUE NOW!” his brother revealed, his fingers twitching in a waved arc that closed in a fist. Some kids in striped shirts were looking up at him star-struck while he summoned more bones.

Pulling through with more effort, now that a small crowd was egging them on, Sans grinned tightly through the pressure around his soul. It had done a little to soothe his recoiling magic, but the lashing and flares were still present, wanting to kick back. He was tired, but he knew he needed to expend a little more energy. Just a few more moments of Papyrus’ choreographed attacks and he could take it easy.

Keeping traction in the snow was the difficult part. Papyrus’ attacks burst out of the icy street in two jagged lines towards him. Sans grabbed a hold of a pair closest to him and they immediately stopped. He pushed his weight against the bones and lurched upward; an easement was there, just lingering enough for him to clear the manifests. He knew that was Papyrus’ doing but it still felt good to clear it.

He twisted his body in the air, his gaze flicking around him to make sure no one would get hurt through the steady crackle of energy when he dropped to his feet. The landing had hurt him a little more than he thought it would. He grimaced as he was sent to one knee, but no points had inched downward. That was another plus to sparring with his brother; he was always extremely careful. He was just that cool.

“POOR LANDING, SANS!” his brother taunted loudly, twirling a long bone in each gloved hand for show. Sans slipped and had landed on his back with a pained swear. He was huffing in short gasps, his flux heated around him enough to produce steam like true breaths. “GET UP. LET’S TRY IT ONE MORE TIME!!”

The other grunted as he did what he was told. He slid again as he attempted traction through the Blue hold on his soul. He gathered and controlled the outpour of his wild energy, the slick cyan hue dripping from his bony digits as he gestured in front of him. For a moment, everything seemed to still.

He only used his left hand for attacks, pouring everything he had outwards. His right hand did nothing and hadn’t for the longest time, so he kept it stuffed into his jacket’s pocket. It was at least easier this way.

Every pinpoint of magic that fell to the ground erupted into a wall of bone, calcium towers of varying heights and distances heading his brother’s way. It closed in on him in a singular path, like a tight maze that Papyrus would have to dance through in order not to be pummelled. His attacks never could hurt him. Papyrus was strong and sturdy, and Sans’ damage output was extremely weak, not like he would ever muster any intent to harm him, anyway.

After the snow stopped flying, the smaller of the two skeletons panted against his sleeve, feeling the heavy density around his soul ease once more. It was thrumming hard, excited and active with the strain of magical adrenaline. He heard Papyrus make a soft coughing noise and Sans trudged over to help pull him out of the snowbank he was buried in. All the other monsters had backed off during Sans’ attack, but were now looking at each other and discussing techniques. A couple others were inspecting what was left of the dimensional box between the shop and inn, reduced to an empty vessel of splintered wood and broken hinges.

It was only when Sans collapsed in the snow with a tired laugh that they decided to disperse and his brother tugged at his arm. It had gone well, apart from some building damage, and Sans looked and felt a lot less agitated. Brushing the snow off himself, Papyrus pulled his brother up and over his back to carry him home. Overall, he had lasted 9 turns. Not great, but he’d beaten his previous record.

A pinpoint of light had brought Sans out of his brief doze. Upon closer inspection, he realised half the bar had emptied out into the street to watch from a distance, and that Grillby was amongst them. The flicker of his flames seemed curious but it obscured his expression. There was something else there, but Sans found he couldn’t quite look at him for too long. It made his magic spur up again and there was absolutely no chance that Papyrus would drop him off.

Much later, he received a text from Grillby: 3/2.

 

Now, after having settled down and had a good cinnamon bunny, Sans felt the need to not draw attention to himself in the streets and wandered off towards the forest. He was still feeling peevish and the further out he went, he could see the reflection of his hue bouncing off the snow and ice.

As he walked, he reigned in the near-chaotic flow of energy, focused on the task as he maneuvered around his brother’s puzzles. He heard said monster in the distance, giving a full-on speech about puzzle etiquette to some passerby he didn’t quite recognise. Since he was distracted, Sans decided to take a shortcut directly past them and further into the woods.

He found that using his shortcuts eased him a little more. His magic coiled restlessly around his bones as he found rifts and exploited his travels to get far away. He was probably miles out of town, far from the entrance to the Ruins, and out in the dense thicket. It would be the perfect area to let off some steam.

He heard his phone buzz in his pocket and quickly checked it. A message from Alphys;
     - Jumping around? (〃ー〃)

*ya been antsy lately need 2 burn off a few
*this is rly weird not gonna lie

     - That’s ok!! I thought maybe something happened and wanted to make sure you were fine~
     - You’re out pretty far (ノ′Дヾ)

*thx 4 lookin out 4 me just got some buildup
*so weird

     - You haven’t read any of those textbooks I lent you yet??

*im a p busy guy
*also no but also ya kinda flipped thru maybe 3 pgs
*got a crash course from pap fisticuffs mightve been involved
*mightve broke a few things will have 2 fix a dm box

     - Sounds like you “might’ve” caused some destruction.. Honestly! You MUST keep a better hold on your magic and try to control it!!
     - Now that ~*PUBERTY*~ is your deal now!! LOL (ღ˘⌣˘ღ)
     - ✧・゚: ✧・゚: ・゚゚・:.。..。.:゚::✼✿ [ Puberty Start !! ] ✿✼:*゚:.。..。.:・゚゚・ :・゚✧:・゚✧

*gdi w/ the p word ur a real stand up chameleon

     - ( ̄︶ ̄;) Wow...

*like its flarin up somethin horrible dont remember pap bein this bad
*just gonna blast the side of the mtn til im tired nbd

     - Sans, maybe you should actually try bringing a book with you next time???
     - Reckless magical expenditures will only make it WORSE!! Ignoring it will too of course but you really REALLy ought to brush up on your bio lessons (꒵꜅꒵)
     - Otherwise I will come over there and school you myself!!! (*´∇`;*)

*girl u cant even stay here 4 more than 2hrs w/o turnin in2 a unicicle

     - I can probably manage… a few hours, yeah. I’m 60/20/12/8 so I wouldn’t dust, but Snowdin is TOO cold~ (¤﹏¤;)

*o great composition #s i love those
*can u tell im rly excited bout learnin those

     - READ. THE BOOKS. SANS. ༼ ༎ຶ ෴ ༎ຶ༽

*i mean 60s magic i got that but
*hey i resent that i read 3 whole pgs

     - After your pew pew parade I mean!! GOSH………

*ok better geckoin then

     - (;一ω一||)

 

The better half of the afternoon was spent summoning every attack he could muster. The bone constructs were denser than what he normally formed against Papyrus, but his damage output was so low the snow merely nudged off the inner side of the mountain into heaps in front of him. It made a lot of noise, echoing around until he was sure his eventual harsh breathing would give him away more than his actual barrage.

Sans later found a shallow field of snow to lie down on, shrugged up into his hoodie. It was cold, but it was a dry cold, one that didn’t stick to his bones or attempt to hide in his joints. For a while he napped, unable to help it. Napping had become such a quintessential part of his life that he barely had to think about it anymore. At least there were no dreams lately.

The way back through the forest was longer, using shortcuts to only keep himself alert until he reached his sentry station by the Ruins’ entrance. He wandered over, his own footprints the only pair leading up to the massive doors since his last visit. He knocked. There was no answer, naturally, but it didn’t hurt to check periodically. It just felt like something he had to do.

 

Eventually he found his way back to Snowdin. It had looked like the mail had been delivered, and the red flag on his mailbox was standing tall. He stared at it for a moment before peeking inside, feeling oddly apprehensive. Checking the mail wasn’t something he normally did, after all.

A postcard. Its front was an old glossy polaroid with creases throughout. The image was blurred with water damage and faded to the point where only a few vague orange lines were visible. Curiously, Sans turned it over, only to have his grin drop.

More cipher. He was running across it more and more lately. He didn’t really remember the symbols, and quite a few of his notes were in the same script. Nothing came to mind looking at it apart from an unsettling feeling. Was this even meant for him..?

Regardless, he took out his phone to message Alphys if she could help him decipher it. They had gotten nowhere with his old notes and attempting transliteration made his skull ache.

*hey alph need u 2 translate

[              ]

     - I’m not seeing anything? (꒵꜅꒵)

[              ]

*ok now?

     - You’re not sending anything!! ლಠ益ಠ)ლ

*its a gd postcard

     - What does it say?

*idk its in dings
*wait i mean cipher idk y i typed dings

     - It’s honestly not showing up for me (┳◇┳;)

She sent a screenshot of his messages and there were blank spaces where the photo should have been. Sans scowled at his phone, then to the postcard, then held it in front of his face for a ridiculous selfie and sent it her way.

*whaddabout now

     - That is…. probably a photo!! (-、-)

*gdi maybe the camera fried
*thought u fixed it

     - I only added video feed??? The camera worked fine when I checked!!

*lemme try somethin hold on

Unsure why he thought it would help, Sans snapped a photo of his front door and sent it away.

     - Nice wreath LOL
     - Guess your camera works?? ???

*ok now lemme try again

This time he lined up the shot with only half of the postcard in view.

     - Uhhhhhhhhhhhhh

*ok hows it look

     - Uhhhhhhh…. ┐(´~`)┌

*brilliant dr alphys great deduction knew i could count on u

     - It’s… glitchy? Like some broken VHS tracking bleed? I can’t make anything out though (´ж`;)

*ok well thx 4 the help

     - Sorry (; ̄︶ ̄)

 

Sans huffed a frustrated sigh and shoved his phone back into his pocket before heading back inside. He briefly went to his room to grab his key so he could go behind the house and downstairs where he kept most of his college and CORE notes. He rifled through the drawers and cupboards for a few bursting binders and spread the information on the floor to study.

It occupied him enough that he lost track of time. It had to be hours before he got another message from Alphys, just reminding him to read over his biology books. Sans didn’t answer, but rubbed at his face. His skull felt as though someone was scratching at a chalkboard inside of it and he couldn’t focus anymore. He didn’t get any headway into understanding the cipher, either.

Dings.

Why did that come to mind? He tapped his pen between his teeth in thought, sockets closed as he went over it for the thousandth time. There was a piece of his memory missing, although when he looked deep enough, he could see holes everywhere. Why he went to college. Why he understood Hands. Who had raised him from infancy. What had happened to their parents. Why was he alone to raise Papyrus, although his soul felt a little heavy at that last one.

The silence of Sans’ lab was getting to him and it was freezing, having no heat. It was an uncomfortable notion to be able to distinguish between temperatures now, to say the least. He gathered up what he could along with a notebook that had more than half the pages blank, and left for Grillby’s. That should clear his head. Besides, after his outlet in the woods he was feeling a little better.

Unfortunately, when he got there Sans found Grillby’s filled to capacity. He glanced around the bar; his usual seat was occupied, all the canine unit’s tables filled and only one booth left in the very corner of the bar looked recently vacated, near the jukebox. The whole place was loud with chatter and filled with a comfortable heat from all the monsters inside.

He sighed softly and moved past all the bodies and toward the only space left. His notepad, the postcard and the small green pocketbook were dumped atop of the table as Sans took a seat.

The skeleton stole a glance at Grillby. He looked busy and had his back turned to him; it was possible he didn’t see him come in. So Sans shrugged to himself and pulled open his notes, working his mind and sketchy memory over to figure things out. The other monster’s voices were a constant hum, punctuated by silverware, barking and laughter. The atmosphere was soothing and Sans was able to focus better than in his basement.

 

It had been quite a while. Maybe a couple of hours since he sat down, and Sans had tried copying a few of the symbols down. He was glaring at the postcard, studying the worn glossy front, before sighing heavily and examining the back of it.

“Here,”  a familiar voice whispered from over his shoulder. Sans nearly jumped on the bench and turned his skull, realising he had tuned everything out. The fire monster was smirking at him and Sans felt an aching throb in his soul when he looked down to the other’s hand. He was pointing to one of the symbols in the green notebook. “This one looks like-”  He made a sound that Sans didn’t quite understand; a hum with an ethereal snap that echoed like a musical note, but not quite.

“uh,” he started quietly, staring at the other’s hand quite close to his own. “didn’t catch that, boss.”

A quiet chuckle came from the other and Grillby leaned down so his body was hanging over him. He gently took the pen from Sans’ grasp then pulled a paper from Sans’ other side and carefully drew out a symbol. “It looks like this?”

Sans leaned forward to peer at it. It looked like a small circle with three rods sticking out of one side, all angled perfectly: ☄ It actually looked quite similar to one of the symbols he was studying, only the one in the pocketbook had 8 lines around the entire circle equally spaced apart.

“you know dings?” There was another odd familiarity when Sans spoke the word, something he couldn’t put his finger on. He looked up at his friend, a little confused.

Grillby’s head tilted and his fire crackled along his brow as though in curiosity. “...Who is dings?”

Something twinged inside of Sans’ soul at the inquiry and he grew silent as he mulled it over. “yeah… who..?”  the skeleton muttered, not really sure what to ask. Was it a ‘who’, and why did Sans feel like that might be it? It was peculiar and a little distressing.

“Someone you know?”  Grillby drew back and watched the other. He appeared extremely distracted.

“is it a someone..?” Sans stopped when he realised he was echoing like a flower and rubbed over his face with both of his hands.

“...Only assumed. You don’t appear to be sure.”

“memory’s not so great,” the skeleton replied quietly after a pause.

Grillby shifted where he stood, recognising the other’s discomfort. There was something else hidden there, but he wasn’t sure as to what. “...Known you far too long to think that true, Sans,”  he offered quietly. Sans only nodded slightly, not looking at him. He wondered if his absence had anything to do with the skeleton’s current mood.

Grillby was unable to probe further before he noticed a few patrons were looking at him, even more gesturing for him to come over. With a quiet sigh, he patted Sans’ shoulder with a murmur that he would return after the dinner rush.

Sans was still poured over his work when Grillby came back. He had an exhausted look on his face that made his soul twinge with pity. Sans had copied a few more symbols down and drew out some diagrams that involved a lot of straight angles and calculations. The margins were covered in quite a few frustrated scribbles as well.

“....No luck?”  Grillby inquired, taking a seat directly beside Sans this time. The skeleton shifted so the bench could accomodate the both of them and the fire monster could see a subtle flutter of the other’s magic. It was a little more energetic, despite how tired Sans looked.

“dunno where to start with this, but that letter you wrote does look familiar.”

“Is it helpful?”  Grillby couldn’t help but be pleased at that. He leaned an arm over the tabletop and propped his hand against his face as he watched the other turn to him.

Sans looked thoughtful, then he seemed to relax a little. “yeah, actually,” he revealed. He gave the other a slight grin. “what are they?”

Grillby leaned in a little closer, unable to help himself. His fire fluttered briefly as Sans seemed to just then come to notice his proximity and he was able to witness the subtle bloom of cyan under the other’s hoodie. As if Sans realised it, the bloom faded as he pulled his magic together, resulting in an awkward grin.

The other smirked silently in triumph as his arm brushed against the other’s left, using the pen to draw a few other symbols in a horizontal line. He heard the subtle sound of bones rattling.

“Star signs.”

Sans was staring at the paper. Then he gave Grillby a pointed look, his grin widening. “say that again?”

Grillby’s mouth twitched but was nonetheless amused. He was writing a few more symbols down, playing with the idea while Sans watched him. He repeated the two words, this time quieter.

The skeleton watched him with interest; the way the other had revealed it was so mesmerising, a soft “wow” escaped him in a bare whisper. He recognised the numerous symbols Grillby drew were from astronomy texts, others were foreign-looking and looked nothing like the script he was attempting to decipher. He looked back to Grillby, up to his face, his left hand moving to reach to him.

The other’s fire flickered briefly, the subtle hue of orange and red light changing into an almost opalescent amber. Enthralled by the shift in Grillby’s colouring, Sans twisted so he faced him and carefully rested a two digits on either side of the fire monster’s face, one on each frame of his glasses.

“What are you planning?”  the other murmured, the corner of his mouth twitching again into a wry smile.

Sans felt himself flush but didn’t move his hands away, instead tipped the other’s glasses down, his gaze never leaving the other’s. The flames’ colours lightened again into paler yellows and he could see a wisp of white before they quickly rolled away.

“just want a better view,” the skeleton replied, grinning. He kind of appreciated the way he was able to get Grillby all fired up, when it had been almost completely one-sided lately. Slowly, he took the glasses away and the other squinted noticeably.

“...Cannot see you like this, friend.”  Grillby leaned a little towards him and Sans felt his soul shudder in excitement. There was a peculiar little spike in energy as their faces drew nearer, but Sans somehow kept himself together. The other seemed content to let him do what he wanted, so far.

“that’s cool,” he replied indifferently as he put the glasses onto the table and brought his hands back to the other’s face, mirroring all the times Grillby had held his own. His fire rolled down his carpals and heated the joints. It was a pleasant warmth that had him sighing.

He was close enough to see directly into the other’s eyes. He didn’t know what sprung it, but knew he had to see for himself. Sans had taken in the other’s stature the night he confessed, but the dark-framed glasses muted the true reflection of Grillby’s gaze. Wisps appeared to attempt to hide Grillby’s expression, but Sans was too close for them to do any good. He knew his staring was having an affect on him and he couldn’t help but grin.

With that, Grillby’s flames kindled a little higher and flecked with white embers. “What are-”

Sans shook his skull, something he didn’t know if Grillby could recognise without his glasses, but the other stopped talking regardless. “just wanna see.” His soul was hammering hard behind his rib cage, but he was keeping calm for once. Sans couldn’t help the snicker that escaped him when he saw the bright irises dart to the side and the heat of the other kick up a little hotter.

It felt kind of nice to be able to do this back - to have the fire monster feel the same as he did days ago and get him flustered. While the feeling was still there, Sans was becoming increasingly bold the more he thought about it. He brushed his bony fingers against the other’s face and watched as small pinpoints of light and colour filled the other’s eyes, cascading around fiery clouds of cobalt, magenta and green. The points of light were white, small specks of red and blue. Reminded him of the pictures of galaxies from when he was younger, or the fiery opals embedded in the cave walls between Waterfall and Hotland.

Grillby flushed again, brighter, small embers drifting around them in different colours of white and blue. Sans couldn’t help but grin more as the bright flames obscured his eyes.

“...I think you’re enjoying this.”  The other finally murmured, his voice quiet. There was almost a waver to it that made Sans’ soul thunder loudly in his skull. Sans noticed his gloved hands had grasped the edge of the table and on the cushion by his leg.

“`course i am. just doin’ a little star-gazin’...” Sans teased, feeling himself flush when he heard the words out loud. He witnessed another bright reaction and chuckled. Grillby had shrunk down despite himself and laughed quietly. “how.. how else am i gonna get up close an’ personal with the universe like this?”

It must have been something that Grillby hadn’t expected, since his flames seemed to entirely immolate his face explosively. Instinctively, Sans pulled his hands away, searching for any hint that he should apologise for what he said. Maybe he’d gone too far? He felt a twist inside of him when Grillby covered his face, the pale yellow and white flames thrumming around his head as he kept quiet.

Sans leaned back and scratched at his jawbone, unsure if he embarrassed the other or not. He had a feeling he messed something up. When the other seemed to calm down, his fire returning to a softer shade of orange, Grillby fumbled for his glasses. Sans held them out for him to take, his own magic’s flush apparent on his face.

“sorry,” he muttered with a shrug when the other finally looked at him. The glasses obscured his view of the opaline gaze and made it look fiery again.

The silence stretched on and Sans’ figurative nerves finally gave out. He began to fidget and drum his fingertips on the tabletop, picking up his pen and setting it down, then picking it back up again to scribble in the margin of his notes.

He figured Grillby must have been uncomfortable enough to want to leave, since he had slid out from beside him once he had calmed down. Disappointed in himself, the skeleton turned his skull to watch the bartender go back to work, just as he heard something under the other’s breath.

“Point for you.”

 

Sans only stared in stunned silence as Grillby went back to work. He would stay away, but smirk when he caught the skeleton watching him, causing Sans to turn his skull back to his own project.

Sans hesitated for the longest time before sending Alphys a few texts; namely along the lines of;

*whats it mean when a guys keepin score
*n by keepin score i mean hes givin out points
*is this normally how datin works??

     - One sec! I’ll ask Undyne! Σd(゚∀゚)

*o what no
*no way
*alph pls
*dont
*gdi u already did
*……

 

Around twenty minutes later, his phone rang. The call was from Undyne, so Sans ignored it, feeling a fresh wave of embarrassment pour over him as though he was standing under a waterfall.

His phone rang again.

Then again.

Alphys texted him asking why he wasn’t answering and that apparently Undyne had some very good advice. He ignored those too and covered his face with both hands, rubbing at his sockets with his palms until his phone stopped buzzing. When he checked it, he had over 40 messages from Alphys, 12 from Undyne.

And one from Grillby: 3/3.

Sans guessed it was the other’s way of keeping score, although he wasn’t sure why it was necessary. He sure as hell knew he didn’t want to be badgered by prying questions though. He shot the other a shy grin from across the bar and turned off his phone so he could concentrate without further interruptions. Eventually, Sans ended up resting his skull in his arms and took a nap.

 

It was a lot quieter when next he woke up, but it was to a light thunk of knocking on the table. Grillby sat across from him as he sat up only a bare fraction, turning his skull to regard the other. His flames were back to normal and Grillby’s expression was neutral.

“pap didn’t come by yet, did he?” Sans yawned, his jaw clicking. Several of his vertebrae popped when he stretched.

“...Closed. Should not be long now.”

Sans rubbed at one of his sockets before looking around the bar; it was definitely empty, no one else there and the lamps on the walls were turned down low so Grillby remained the primary light source.

Knowing that Sans would ask why he wasn’t kicked out, Grillby added; “You seemed.. tired, today.”

“day off’s allowed to be tired.” Sans rolled his shoulder before resting his skull back down into his arms. “can’t remember cipher, so i guess the dimensional box is gonna stay broken for a bit.”

Grillby’s back straightened slightly at that and he looked inquiringly at Sans until the skeleton looked over at him, his expression exhausted and indifferent.

“what.”

The other pulled the notebook with the diagrams drawn out in it towards him. There were many calculations added to it than previously, and even a detailed schematic. It looked extremely convoluted and didn’t make a great deal of sense.

Grillby stayed silent for a while, until he finally decided on; “...Can repair them?”

“make `em,” Sans revealed with a vague shrug, closing his eye sockets. He hoped it would be a little longer before Papyrus arrived. “been a few years since the last one, though.”

“......Make them?”  The startling disbelief in Grillby’s tone was enough to pull Sans from another impromptu nap and he cracked a socket open. “You make them?”

“simmer down, grillbz. it’s no biggie.”

“You fail to acknowledge the magnitude of this,”  the other retorted, his flames hiking up and dancing. He spoke quickly and with a hard edge, something that Sans thought a little peculiar.

“you’re gettin’ too excited over somethin’ like this.”

“They are used all over the Underground, Sans. They are the reason I was able to leave Hotland, I-”

Sans pushed himself off the tabletop, feeling like he was being given too much attention and as a result, was a little sheepish. “oh.” He scratched the back of his skull awkwardly. “and here pap tells me it’s the laziest thing i’ve done, makin’ everyone reliant on `em.”

“...Must confront him about this. It is truly a revolutionary and indispensable part of our lives now. However did you think of it?”

Sans flushed at the attention and quietly drummed his fingertips on the tabletop. His glance settled to his right arm briefly, remembering his recovery time in New Home after his fall at the CORE. The boxes made it easier for him to move things around then. He realised he was frowning and adjusted himself, tightening his grin before looking back up to Grillby’s face. “oh.. y’know. core stuff.”

Grillby had caught the expression and looked suspicious, but concealed it when Sans looked back at him. “CORE ‘stuff’? More infuriating vagueness about past works.”

“infuriatin’..?” Sans shrugged, toeing the line between leaving and flipping the subject around. Somehow, he didn’t think Grillby would drop it so easily. “nah. i mean, i already said i worked there. this was just a side project while my group was…” He paused and shifted slightly while the little white lie formed, “fixin’ things. it was a part of the research i helped develop, so it, uh...” He let the rest of it hang. Suddenly he felt extremely awkward.

Grillby relaxed a little, but Sans could still notice his excitement. His flames flickered and even looped around the surface of his exposed neck, kindling brightly. He scratched the side of his skull absently.

“Interesting.”

Sans flushed at that, trying to find an excuse to drop the subject. “i mean.. it ties in with my shortcuts, so…”

“No need to be modest. It’s very impressive.”  Grillby smirked at the other’s reaction, “Is it something your brother can achieve as well?”

The skeleton shrugged evasively, “he can’t, no...” There were other weird things Papyrus could do, but his shortcuts were his alone. “i’d make one from scratch, but all i remember is it takes a lot outta me.”

“Did something happen?”

Sans fell silent, then quietly sighed. “it’s just been a while. i gotta remember how to stabilise the grid line and affix it to a vessel. all my notes as you can see are in cipher, so it’s gonna take a bit. maybe you can help me.”

Grillby’s curiosity was piqued. “...I can?”

Sans shrugged and spread out his hands to the notes. “you said a few ciphers looked like star signs?” he paused, then got an idea. “you use hands too.” Except with me, he added internally.

The other nodded in the affirmative and watched as Sans turned to a page in his notes that had swathes of symbols, drawn in thick black ink. A lot of them appeared to be legible representation of gestures, and the pages were stained and looked old and crisp.

Sans turned the notebook around so Grillby could easily read it and watched as the other gestured with each symbol. Every time, Sans paused and something clicked into place. It was peculiar and arose in him a confused sense of nostalgia. Grillby rarely used signs to communicate with him; to his knowledge, Sans was the only monster Grillby took the effort to actually talk to - it was endearing in its own little way.

Yet, they weren’t words as regular signs were. ☼︎ was ‘R’, ✌︎ was ‘A’, and so on. Sans frowned in concentration as he drew out a glossary for future reference. A lot of the gestures he recognised using himself to access the panel at the CORE on their way through. So why didn’t any of this make sense when he viewed them on his own?

He sighed, doodling a few of them out. He was tired, but he wanted to try one more thing. Sans felt another peculiar spike in his energy as his soul trembled. When he finished the sentence in Hands, he flipped and pushed it across the table for Grillby to translate.

He kept his eye lights fixed on the fire monster’s face, his grin twitching shyly as each symbol was flicked by the other’s hand. He flushed as realisation dawned on the other and his hand suddenly stilled at the last notation, seeing Grillby’s gaze settle on him in mild surprise.

“`Go on a date with me`,”  the other recited Sans’ note. He grinned, then laughed good-naturedly at the proposal, which had the other monster blushing furiously. Grillby was himself, but waved at Sans to gain his attention. When the skeleton turned his skull to face him again, he gestured, every notation precise so it was unmistakable.

‘Pick a time and place. I would not miss it for the world.’

Chapter Text

Alphys (Last message sent: 07:06am):

*omg u told her
*cant believe it
*the whole ugs gonna know now
*between undyne n pap
*omg papyrus
*what if she told pap
*alph what have u done

     - Okay so maybe don’t panic!! ( ̄□ ̄)

*how
*u basically went from bff 2 foe in 1 fell swoop

     - You’re being overly dramatic!! (  ̄^ ̄)

*no u dont understand pap has been hintin
*ugh he already knows
*ugh he just said audible wink he definitely knows
*fuck

     - Stop freaking out LOL you’re going to be fiiiiiine (´∀`;)

*omg hes givin me tips bout datin
*how dare u

     - And by fine I mean take some time off!!! Undyne’s already approved it ☆=(ゝω・)/
     - I don’t know why the heck you’re not studying up on the bio textbooks you asked for?
     - YOU ASKED FOR THEM
     - READ THEM, SANS!!

*alph u know ur my bff n all but i could literally blast a hole in the barrier rn

     - Trust me, if that’s all it took I would have pissed you off YEARS AGO
     - Hahaha…. Just kidding (ノ﹏ヽ) That wasn’t funny

*im goin @grillbz pap is bein distractin so ttyl

 

Undyne (Last message received: 07:43am):
     - YOU!! HEARD THE BIG NEWS YA GOOBER!! Can’t say I’m surprised! You’ve been spacy for WEEKS!
     - So who’s the flame? Papyrus doesn’t know ANYTHING. I can’t get ANY DETAILS!
     - IS THIS SOMETHING YOU’VE BEEN HIDING FROM HIM??
     - Maybe not… y’know, do that anymore? Kid worries enough as it is about ya.
     - PS: In case Alphys hasn’t told you yet you’re TOTALLY FIRED.

*what

     - HAHA gotcha! I’m only joking, of course. You got the next couple of days OFF!
     - I’M GOING TO QUIZ YOU SO YOU BETTER STUDY HARD LIKE THE HUGE NERD YOU ARE.

 

He was irritable, aggravated, and a little pissed off. Sans shoved as many textbooks as he could into his bag, ignoring Papyrus’ continuous knocking on his bedroom door. His voice had reached its ultimate crescendo on dating, a lot of it not making sense or making Sans so flustered he just didn’t have the words to tell his brother to shut up any longer.

“i’m leavin’!” he hollered over the informative lecture from beyond the door. Then with a burst of over-accumulated energy from overnight, Sans simply teleported out of his room, reappearing behind Grillby’s. It would be less of a distraction than at home. As he rounded the corner, he heard his phone buzz in his pocket and weighed the pros and cons of throwing it onto the roof.

He didn’t end up doing it, but a series of vibrations told him he received quite a few texts in quick succession. Wordlessly, he pushed the door open and chose a booth nearer to the door. With all his books laid out, Sans went about reading E/M FLUX BIOLOGY first. It was hundreds of pages long and had an informative introduction with an index so he could flip through different parts at his leisure.

Since it was early, Grillby was still setting up. The soft scuffs of chairs on the hardwood floors and the gentle clinks of glasses knocking together filled the quiet air. Generally, Sans didn’t come in until after noon, but his lack of greeting to the other wasn’t abnormal. The seat towards the front of the bar was, however.

Idly, as Grillby moved about the floorspace to set up, Sans moved and took out his phone, looking far more irritable than he’d ever felt before. He ignored more messages from Alphys about him studying and went to Papyrus’.

Papyrus (Last message received 08:23am):
     - OH MY GOD!
     - DID YOU JUST USE THE WINDOW TO ESCAPE?
     - HOW INCREDIBLY IMMATURE AND WILY OF YOU, SANS.
     - BUT NO MATTER, THE GREAT PAPYRUS WILL ‘SCHOOL’ YOU WITH YET MORE BROTHERLY UNDERSTANDING.
     - WHILE I KNOW YOU HAVE BEEN NEGLECTING PROPER EATING HABITS LATELY, I DON’T BELIEVE YOU ARE GOING HUNGRY.
     - QUITE THE CONTRARY!! AFTER ALL, YOU HAVE A HOT NEW BOYFRIEND WHO COOKS. OF COURSE YOU WOULD FEEL OBLIGATED TO EAT HIS DISGUSTING GREASE-LADEN FOOD!
     - WHAT KIND OF BROTHER WOULD I BE TO STAND IN THE WAY OF TRUE LOVE? NOT THE KIND OF BROTHER I AM WELL-KNOWN FOR BEING!
     - THE GREAT PAPYRUS WILLINGLY ACKNOWLEDGES THIS TURN OF EVENTS. BUT! IF YOU ARE EVER IN NEED OF SOMETHING TO REFRESH YOUR PALATE, THERE WILL ALWAYS BE A DELICIOUS MEAL WAITING FOR YOU AT HOME!
     - HAVE FUN STUDYING!!

 

News got around in his circle of friends fast, Sans groused internally. He glared at the phone, tapping out a response, but then ended up deleting it. Replying would only invite more messages, so he pocketed the phone and dropped his skull against the open tome with an audible thunk.

“...Roused early this morning,”  Grillby’s voice called to him gently from above. Sans moved his skull to the side and flicked his eye lights upward to regard him, his mood instantly easing a little at the quiet hum and crackle of fire. He saw the peculiar way the other examined his books and pushed himself off the table.

“studyin’.”

“...Had breakfast?”

Sans shook his head slowly, rubbing at a socket with one hand. He didn’t say anything, but Grillby had already left before he had a chance to think about what he wanted. Sans forced himself to read a little more until the other returned with a plate, almost a full hour later. He supposed the time taken was simply because Grillby didn’t normally offer breakfast foods.

The dish was deep-fried, a waffle of fluffy yet crisp consistency with a thin red peppered sauce in a square ramekin. He grinned down at it in anticipation before sectioning off a portion and dipping it into the sauce.

“s’not ketchup, is it?” he muttered, suddenly hesitant. Grillby laughed quietly and patted his shoulder empathically. Sans grinned a little more nervously. “this isn’t on the menu either, huh.”

“...Have not recreated it for years. It’s never been on the menu here.”

Sans shrugged, the niggling feeling was not lost on him that Grillby was going out of his way to give him dishes he normally didn’t serve to his other patrons. He took a bite from the piece to taste. It was sticky, sharp, peppery and ungodly spicy. Reflectively, he covered his mouth to mute the soft hiss he couldn’t repress. It had the same effect as the curry bun from Alphys’, but had a more energetic kick to it.

“Hotland speciality,”  the fire monster chuckled wryly, giving Sans’ shoulder another pat. “How does it find you?”

Sans made a soft coughing sound before his magic absorbed it. It tingled a little, branching throughout his bones and settling in his chest. He couldn’t help but take another bite though, still grinning. “think you’re tryin’ to burn my tongue.”

Grillby stayed quiet as he watched, his expression unreadable as though he was taking great pains to hide it. “...Perhaps.”  There was a playfulness to his voice that made Sans pause mid-lick to his sticky fingers. Quizzically, he looked to Grillby’s face, searching for any hints, but the other didn’t give him anything.

Suspicious of the other’s reply, Sans popped the rest of the piece into his mouth, exhaling hotly as the spicy sauce kicked around his tongue. It was almost too much. The stickiness made it a little sweet after a while, which he could appreciate. Since the other hadn’t said anything further, Sans turned the page of the open book with his other hand while his tongue curled against his index finger, lapping up the mess.

It occurred to him that he maybe should’ve used a fork. That is, he would have if Grillby hadn’t taken his left hand, catching his attention. Sans’ gaze flicked to the other’s face, still obscured, but he could see the glowing crack of his smile. He grinned despite himself, apologetically.

“sorry, i’ll use a nap-” he was cut off as the other slowly drew closer, resounding an audible thump in his rib cage when the other’s mouth touched his own. His soul shuddered with it as flames danced over his teeth, automatically parting ever so slightly to drink in the heat. Grillby’s proximity had him reeling as the other sunk down beside him, his grip on his hand more gentle.

He sighed against the kiss, pushing forward slightly and closing his sockets. He felt the unmistakable warmth, of something like spice trace against the part of his mouth. His bones shuddered and experimentally Sans pushed his tongue forward to meet with it. There was a gentle hiss as the wetness touched the intense heat that sent a pulse throughout him. A surprised jolt settled down his spine when Grillby’s hand braced against his back and for a moment, Sans thought he could see a brief flash of light behind his sockets that accompanied the spread of flames.

A noise escaped him before he even realised what was happening, only that it felt amazing. His moan punctuated his pleasure and he attempted to lean forward, hesitantly. Heat and spice entered his mouth and mingled with his tongue, slow and gentle. Sans settled his right hand between them, not really knowing what else to do with it, but knowing he definitely wanted more of this.

He kissed back, his soul feeling like it was doing small flips as he attempted to mimic Grillby’s tongue. Slow curling movements that left him aching, small circles that had his toes raising in his slippers. Grillby’s hand found the back of his neck and was leading him, the flood of fire both soothing and passionate. His fingers interlaced Sans’ own and lightly tugged him forward with a soft hum. Sans instantly melted into it and he felt his magic swell with need when the other pulled away much too soon for his liking.

It had left him gasping for air, even for a monster that didn’t really need to breathe. Sans panted and leaned his skull against Grillby’s forehead, unable to hold back the soft moan of protest that passed between them. Grillby was of a similar composure but he was grinning, tracing a line of heat against the bones of the other’s neck and around to his jaw with his finger.

“Been wanting to do that.. for a while.”

The skeleton huffed, unable to contain a quiet laugh. If there was any doubt that their friendship had changed, it was long gone now.

“...spicy,” he murmured, still half stunned as he looked at Grillby. He wanted to continue and felt his face flush at the thought. He twisted his body so that he was more comfortable and inched his right arm up and around Grillby’s shoulder to pull himself closer. “wanna do that again..?”

Sans dipped his skull a little so their mouths were barely apart and he witnessed the flames flicker gold. He wanted to try putting his tongue on the fire to see what would happen, but the thought was extinguished when Grillby chuckled softly and regretfully pulled away. Sans felt the loss immediately.

“Someone is waiting.”

For the first time in a long time, the skeleton felt his soul drop and he became deathly silent. Cautiously, he peered over the other’s shoulder and saw Doggo, surveying the restaurant which likely appeared open to him, but empty. Sans breathed a quiet sigh of relief and slowly sat back. It was then that Grillby brought his left hand up to his mouth and left a kiss, giving him a knowing wink.

The skeleton was attempting not to scowl at the intruder when Grillby moved away from him. He felt more irritated than when he left his house and impatiently waited while the fire monster addressed the canine with a series of lively gestures. An order to go. Good, Sans thought a little bitterly. There wasn’t exactly any animosity between him and Doggo, but the bet he found out about earlier along with this now made him a little peeved.

When Grillby went back to the kitchen, Sans conjured a small bone the length of his hand and produced a low whistle, beckoning the unwelcome guest’s attention. Doggo’s ears cocked at the noise and the skeleton grinned impishly.

“think fast,” he called out, flicking the bone towards the other’s muzzle with magic. It would’ve connected had he not said anything, but it was also moving. Doggo caught it after looking to his direction, eyes shifting suspiciously. His fangs sunk into the bone with a veiled snarl and Sans sunk back onto the bench, keeping still as he read over the next page.

The glow of his magic was more of an aggravated flicker now and he tried desperately to hold it at bay when the bartender came back into view. Sans watched out of the corner of his vision, making a mental note to pull a prank or two on the guard dog later on when Doggo finally left.

His magic flickered a little more. It felt like an itch that needed to be scratched and Sans absently rubbed at his sternum as he read, trying to keep calm. He spent hours poured over the textbook and Grillby offered him a drink a time or two, but Sans quietly refused. It was as though the interruption had soured his whole mood.

 

After a while, he took a break. Monsters were starting to trickle in as the day progressed and the skeleton was ready to leave to blow off some excess energy. Alphys had warned him against doing so, and the textbook informed him of the reason why.

Chapter 14: ‘Magical Fluctuations & Aggression’. Marked with skirmishes, spikes in energy flux and irritability, Sans was a prime example and he hated it. His digits tapped against the page as his gaze wandered over the restaurant, eye lights dimmed until they found the owner at the other side of the bar, watching.

He flushed; it was another thing that marked development but was unique usually to certain species. Chapter 18 dealt with more literal ways to contend with amassing magic levels and in relation to HP. Sans glared at the acronym and shifted his hoodie so it covered the sides of his skull. There was another passage that pretty much told him he was screwed; that parental figures could calm an adolescent’s magic if they were irritated or out of control. He was feeling a little bitter about it lately, he realised. It was the reason why he felt so tired, yet had so much built-up energy.

He vaguely remembered a few puzzles that Papyrus had come up with during his days experimenting with magic. Sans recalled it was the only time his brother actually slept more than a few hours each night. He’d have to speak with him about it later. He really wasn’t looking forward to it.

Reading the textbook made Sans bewildered. There was so much information that he passed on just because his body was in permanent stasis and he’d been given a great excuse to ignore it. But as for Papyrus, Sans felt a little ashamed and even angry at himself. He should have known all this for Papyrus’ sake. It was a horrible negligence; as his older brother he should have at least tried a little better. He should have been the one to teach him about these kinds of things...

Sans mentally berated himself for it as he continued reading. At least there was a saving grace with Papyrus’ unquenchable thirst for knowledge; the kid had pestered every adult he could find for the information he needed. He idly wondered if Papyrus got any relevant information from Old Gerson about skeletons, before his memory got too bad.

Three more chapters that covered attraction and mating rituals by different monster cultures had him briefly skimming the topic, his soul thundering inside of him. He took frequent glances to Grillby, who was kept busy by his customers and never appeared to be looking when he chose to spy on him.

It occurred to Sans that he hadn’t chosen a day or place for their first date. His magic pulsed again and he grabbed the front of his hoodie, trying not to attract too much attention and cursing the damned light show. It was a good thing he was more or less out of direct sight. If he was at his usual seat or by the back of the bar, no doubt others would try to talk to him about it.

He turned a page. Something was stuck to it on the back: old, creased and severely water-damaged. It took a moment for Sans to recognise what he was looking at before his eye sockets widened in shock.

It was… a skeleton. Not him, nor was it Papyrus. It wasn’t anyone he would have known, but he quickly decided it couldn’t be. It was drawn out with thin lines with lettered print so ruined it was impossible to make out. He squinted at the picture, confusion overcoming him as he traced over the image, picking out flecks of red and faded orange stuck to its bones.

It really did look like some kind of skeleton.. but it was too old to really tell. Sans stared at it for what seemed like an eternity. Femur, radius, skull, pelvis and ribs… a strong spine, resembling his brother’s, but oddly different. The swatches of faded colour made it look kind of lumpy, which only added to Sans’ puzzlement.

“the hell’s this…” he muttered to himself quietly. He carefully peeled the stuck paper from the page and turned it over. More diagrams showing metacarpals and phalanges, seemingly labeled and coloured to show the different bone segments, but the print was still illegible. He compared his own hand to that on the back of the loose page, his brow bone furrowing in thought. For a moment he wondered how old it was. It had to be older than he was, as he’d never seen another skeleton monster besides his own brother.

Something twinged in his skull that sounded like a rush of static and he put his hand on his face to soothe the ache. He had tried to think of what his parents were like, but grasping for memories that were just not there caused him pain lately. It was as though it was a punishment, almost.

If anything, it was just a drawn monster. Sans wondered why Alphys would have included it in the textbook and quickly shot off a few messages inquiring about it. She answered back soon enough, only mentioning that she had found it earlier that year during one of her searches through the dump. She thought it would have been helpful to him. She also apologised, like she always did.

That explained it then. It wasn’t helpful, as it was just a naked skeleton with what looked like either meaty bits or clothes, possibly ecto-parts. It didn’t have any information that he needed, and Gerson had very limited knowledge that he could recall. He sighed and texted her back his thanks anyway.

 

For a while, he had tunnel vision only for the drawing. It was weird. They were naked. Their sockets looked distressed and a cursory glance told Sans they weren’t at all like him and Papyrus. They were drawn so stiff-looking that Sans wondered if the reference was someone who was on the verge of Falling Down, and that it possibly was meant as some kind of memorial. It was just so unearthly and creepy. As opposed to other drawings of monsters, there was no representation of the soul either. They were just… empty.

It took him several moments before he noticed that Grillby had snuck up on him. Sans flicked his eye lights forward and up, realising that the fire monster seemed very interested in his reading material. He also appeared to be waiting for an answer, the question Sans hadn’t even heard during his confusion at the weird skeleton-like monster... thing.

He grinned apologetically and set the page down, shrugging in the way he always did when he didn’t catch whatever the bartender said.

It took Grillby a moment longer to repeat himself, shifting in place with his head tilted slightly. He seemed a little brighter than that morning, Sans noted.

“...Working hard?”  he attempted, and for some reason Sans felt like it wasn’t his initial question.

“sure. learnin’ some stuff not in my field.” The skeleton leaned back against the booth and sighed while he arched his spine. “kinda outta my element.”

“...And what is?”  Grillby inquired. Something about him seemed preoccupied. “...Your element?”

The other regarded the bartender for a moment, unsure if he should be literal and say ‘physics’ or not. Then he grinned, leaning forward. “calcium.” Pretty clever, he thought.

The fire monster repeated the word, not fully understanding if there was a joke, but then went quiet.

“i’d put it on the table but it’s not somethin’ i’d fire up periodically,”  the skeleton sniggered to himself. It was a bad joke. The worse they were, the better the reactions.

Grillby remained silent a while longer until he finally exhaled a small plume of smoke, rubbing a hand over his flames. “That was a stretch.”

“m’feelin’ burnt out.” It was true, but the joke also had a double meaning, thanks to the kiss. Sans winked a socket at Grillby, who only shook his head in response. “sup, grillbz?” He looked around; the bar was still full of customers and he soon began to notice the fire monster often took breaks while he was around. And others watched, curious. He flushed a little, reigning in his magic so the flicker under his hoodie was subdued.

“...Seem agitated.”

“me?” Sans scratched the side of his skull, looking down to the textbook and drumming his fingertips on the table in idle thought.

“Perhaps I was too forward this morning.”

The other could detect a trace of regret in Grillby’s tone and quickly looked up. His flames were a little lower and he wasn’t looking at him. His gaze remained transfixed on Sans’ reading material.

Sans thought back to the toe-curling kiss and leaned forward, unable to keep himself from grinning. “nah.” In fact, now that the fire monster had time to visit, he wanted another. But… there were people around, and suddenly Sans felt very conscious of the fact that every eye was watching them. And those who didn’t have eyes were keeping tabs, too.

Grillby nodded, but it looked like it was more to himself than to what Sans had said. Carefully, he leaned against the table, picking up the old page to examine it. Unsure why, Sans felt his magic pulse at the peculiar way the other seemed interested in it.

“Your magic…”  he started quietly. Sans saw his eyes move and settle on him before he dropped his own to his hoodie. He grabbed the front of it, muting another annoyingly bright flicker. “...resembled lightning, just now.”

“just a, uh… skeleton thing,” Sans excused it, chancing another glance to the other’s face, “no need to grill me on it.”

That earned him a small smile, at least. Sans sighed quietly in relief; for a moment, he thought something had gone wrong without even realising he was feeling it in the first place.

“Why are you studying such.. provocative material at my restaurant, Sans..?”

It was the longest three seconds Sans had ever had to suffer through. He felt another spike of energy and he darted his hand out to grab the page from Grillby’s grasp, nearly tearing it in the process. He realised what it must’ve looked like only after the other had taken a rather studious glance over the table, then at the page. Sans covered his face with both hands after cramming the loose diagram of the not-skeleton into a different textbook, his face feeling hot without any flames touching it.

“re.. research,” was all he could offer as an excuse. His reaction had been incriminating though.

He only heard a soft hum from the other, but knew the tone immediately; it was playful and amused and Sans knew he had only given Grillby ammunition for his next attack. He froze when the other leaned in closer and Sans could hear every flutter of flame and his soul shudder in his rib cage. He lowered his hands to the tabletop.

“...Could instruct you,”  Grillby breathed below the hum of his fire. His mouth was a jagged line of light, curved into a teasing smile as he snuck his fingers over to touch Sans’ hand. Sans didn’t know why, but he jerked at the reaction when his soul did an excited little flip. “Why look at a stranger’s anatomy when yours is bound to be much more interesting..?”

The skeleton continued to be frozen in place, but a subtle anticipated shiver snuck down his shoulders and through his spine with those final words. His face honestly couldn’t feel any hotter, even if he dunked his skull into the lava in Hotland.

It was an… interesting proposal, if Grillby was serious. Something akin to shell-shock settled over the skeleton as the thought entered his skull, of the section he’d skimmed over and its related subjects… Of the other’s interest in touching him, hot hands running over his bones and kissing him. So many kisses. So many touches… His mind fuzzed into a muted sound of static and silence, effectively blanking whatever thoughts that sprung up.

He attempted to stammer something out, but the barely-formed sentences dropped like flies. Jokes failed him when he tried to be clever and dispel his flustered state. Grillby only grinned at him teasingly and gently patted the side of his skull as if to say ‘there, there’, but he lingered.

“You know…”  Grillby paused as though in consideration and withdrew his hand from the other’s. His fingers echoed the warm line over Sans’ jawbone as the other stared at him, agog. “...Cannot decide if this counts as one point for me, or two.”

Sans closed his mouth and opened it again as though to respond, but no noise came forward.

Grillby smirked triumphantly. “Two it is, then.”

It was harder to concentrate after that. Even if the patrons didn’t know what had transpired between the two new lovebirds, Sans’ reactions were proving to be priceless. He had put up his hood during the rest of his studies, keeping his replies brief whenever others passed by on their way out. Occasionally he would see others still looking at him when he peeked across the bar to see where the bartender was, much to his embarrassment.

The next time Grillby looked over to his booth, Sans’ books remained, but the monster was absent. He grinned in silent victory.

 

It seemed like Sans’ break was enough to calm him down. He re-entered through the door instead of warping in, as he’d done on his way out. The last couple of hours were spent agonising over intrusive thoughts and attempting to blast a hole in the side of the mountain at the usual spot. On the way back, he pranked Doggo a few times as a little harmless payback for the earlier interruption. He felt a little fried, but at least the irritation had simmered down and he felt composed enough to answer a few text messages from Undyne.

Her messages skipped from topic to topic in quick succession, but one in particular he was interested in was Grillby’s score keeping. Since Undyne was a monster that lived in Waterfall, Sans wasn’t sure why she would know as opposed to Alphys. She figured it was a competition of sorts, and told Sans he had to win at all costs. He couldn’t help but scowl at that, scrolling through the fire monster’s score updates.

They were up to 5/3, with Grillby in the lead.

Was it a game? He wasn’t quite sure if his own points were given through merit or not, but he looked back to the previous evening when he’d gone ‘stargazing’ and grinned to himself. Ok, then. He had a plan. He’ll try some tactics, to see what it was all about.

He walked to the bar where the bartender was listening to Red Bird talk about his day. The other paused when he took his regular seat, but Red continued talking. Sans grinned and swivelled on the stool.

“hey, grillbz,” he said lowly. He had the other’s full attention, but the fire monster didn’t speak. “got one for ya.” The other regarded him with something of suspicion in his gaze, his fire wisping languidly as he waited patiently. “you must be the north star, since your light guided me here.”

Sans watched as his flames kindled briefly and Grillby smirked, but said nothing. Ok, maybe not his best, but Red had at least stopped talking to watch the free entertainment.

“how `bout this then. two stars walk into a bar,” the fire monster was already covering his face, hiding a smile as though he knew what was coming. Sans grinned fully and continued, “one star bragged that they’re the brightest in the sky. the other asked, ‘are you sirius?`”

Red didn’t seem to get it, but it earned a chuckle from Grillby. It was encouraging. He continued a few more jokes, many bad, but that was the point. He was testing the waters, as it were, and the more he joked around, the easier Sans felt about it. Red finally grew disinterested enough to turn and have a deep, meaningful conversation about fishing to the monster next to him.

Sans struggled with it for a moment before muttering once Grillby drew nearer, “the rumble rows in hotland. this saturday… afternoon ok?” For a date, he wanted to add, but wasn’t sure if Red was still listening or not. Grillby appeared to understand what he was saying if the smile was anything to go by. The skeleton grinned shyly, bolstered in confidence when the other nodded in silent agreement.

He decided to skip towards some more jokes before he got too embarrassed and stopped talking altogether. Grillby appeared to be the sort to take advantage if he seemed too flustered, after all.

 

“ok, so i gotta ask,” Sans said finally, still chuckling after another planetary pun involving posteriors and a certain gas giant. The bartender was watching him with a small smirk, but stayed quiet as he wiped down the counter. “did you add extra spice to the food today? `cause you’re makin’ my heartburn!”

That did something; Grillby’s flames paled and throttled against his face, catching everyone’s attention. Sans stopped swivelling and marvelled at the sight. Grillby had stilled as a few snappy embers flew around him, glowing amber. The skeleton made a soft noise of appreciation, his brow bone lofting in a suggestive way.

“that was bright,” Sans commented, leaning against the bartop. “you must be from heaven, `cause you’re outta this world-”

“Actually, Orion.”  It was the first time Grillby had spoken since Sans came back.

Sans tilted his stool, mindful of its sway. “so you’re not sirius,”  he teased, leaning over the bartop. Grillby’s flames eventually returned to their regular shades during his silence. He knew he’d used something like that before and felt a little awkward for it. “uh, gimme a break. i’m wingin’ these. not used to interstellar flight.”

The bartender set aside the cloth he was using to wipe the counter and leaned forward so their conversation couldn’t be overheard. “Perhaps I could assist you with piloting,”  he replied quietly, a hint of playfulness coming back to him after Sans had carried their conversation.

The skeleton grinned in response, folding his arms over each other and slouching. “you sayin’ i don’t know the controls?” He couldn’t help but feel a little awkward at the other’s offer.

“...Handle the joystick?”

Sans felt himself flush, although wasn’t quite sure why. “throttle the engine,” he shot back with a wink and a little too much enthusiasm.

The resulting reaction was captivating, although he couldn’t really understand why, unless it was a euphemism for something else. Grillby covered his face as his flames flickered white before they rolled away into yellow and amber. Even when his colouring went to normal, he kept his hand on his face. Sans couldn’t help the hot feeling that flooded his bones. He was trying to stay bold, but Grillby’s reaction made him almost wilt.

During the pause, Sans realised they had an audience again. “...tie?” he offered, unsure.

“Tie,”  the bartender agreed quietly.

Chapter Text

‘WE HAVE NOT FINISHED OUR CONVERSATION’

 

If Sans was made awkward and unsure by the looming date that afternoon, it was additionally made worse when he decoded the cipher on the back of the old postcard he’d received nearly a week prior. Apprehension built up, discomfort and obscurity, mingling with his excitement. The words were familiar again and the cipher made sense now. All of it.

On top of everything else, Sans had made yet another mistake and was subject to the aftermath. He stood awkwardly in his sneakers, a ribbed cream turtleneck pullover and dark red trousers pilfered from the depths of his brother’s wardrobe. It had been after a drawn out argument and was the last resort after Papyrus had insisted on ‘secret clothes’. All of his brother’s clothes chosen for dating were… a little more ridiculous. But not by much.

He would’ve worn the trousers without a fight, but he felt naked without his hoodie, which Papyrus had stolen and hidden from him. Apart from the slip up that he had a date, Sans wasn’t able to get a word in edgewise when his brother took over his preparations that Saturday afternoon.

At least the trousers had been modified to fit him and had pockets, he reasoned. Each hand was firmly thrust into them. He’d taken care to bring money and a small snack, along with this cell phone. His magic had spiked again in the morning, which his brother had instructed him to do something ‘constructive’ with; he was subjected to intricate little puzzles that gradually filtered out the overflow, but not by much. He also learned it was a better way to outlet, as expending everything at once was not only dangerous, but could be damaging and lead to bad habits. He didn’t like it, preferred to get it all over with so he could be on his way. He had enough bad habits, what was the harm in adding one more to the pile?

Sans shuffled in the snow near the ferry stop north of town, waiting for Grillby. He was agitated - god, he was nervous. The looks he received when he left his house and went down the street did not go unnoticed. He was glad Papyrus had something other than his own personal ‘secret clothes’, but this somehow seemed like overkill. He didn’t feel comfortable. They weren’t his clothes and he had no idea what Grillby was wearing, or if he would be dressing up either.

Should he have dressed up? It was the Rumble Rows - a racing arena in Hotland. It wasn’t exactly the classiest of places to go on a first date, and he wondered if Grillby would even have a good time. God, he hoped so. Was it an appropriate place for a date? Was it a little... much? Maybe they should have just gone for a walk through the forest, watched TV, or literally anything else. It all suddenly seemed like too much, and Sans was drawing close to a panic.

His face flushed at that and he covered it with his hand, turning his back on the path leading from Snowdin. He felt so incredibly awkward and embarrassed. Papyrus knew this and had been teasing him - ‘boyfriend’ this, and ‘boyfriend’ that. He had learned from Undyne, who had learned from Alphys. Briefly, he’d wondered if he should out those two, but they were a different story altogether. They’d get together eventually. Someone else would bring them together, maybe.

He heard crunches in the snow and inhaled sharply, freezing in place. He scratched the back of his skull and slowly turned when he heard the unmistakable fiery aura of his date. His soul was thundering in his chest again, doing that peculiar little flicker that the textbooks he read had no information on. At least the turtleneck hid the majority of the light, he groused internally.

Grillby was dressed casually yet snappy, but instead of the vest, his sharp-looking jacket took its place. Instead of the white button down chemise, it was dark crimson and he wore a matching black tie with a clip. Sans admittedly felt a little better for dressing up, as uncomfortable as he was. He reasoned that he would’ve been even more awkward if he had to quickly warp home to change.

He’d paid the river person in advance and they were waiting. Sans plucked the collar of his sweater and nodded towards the ferry, unable to speak. He couldn’t stop staring.

“Looking sharp,”  the fire monster complimented him, stepping to his side. The other felt a tremor go through him and concentrated instead on crossing the small gap between the ferry and the mainland.

The silence made Grillby smirk, but there was an air of nervousness to him as well. Whether or not it was due to either the date or the river, Sans couldn’t say for sure. Courteously, once the skeleton had mounted the craft, he held out his hand for Grillby to take and offered him a shy grin in return.

No gloves, Sans noted in mild surprise.

Grillby huddled on the bench near the exact centre of the vessel and Sans sat next to him. Soon after, they were on their way. The river person whistled lowly as the ferry picked up speed towards Waterfall, singing a little tune with various lyrics that were whimsical and nonsensical at the same time.

Since his pockets were too high for him to comfortably sit with his hands inside, Sans sat hunched with his hands resting on either side of him on the bench. He was concentrating very hard on not panicking, glancing at Grillby frequently to show his support. The other’s flames were lowered as the craft carried them into the marsh, the distant glow of mushroom gnats and their larvae on the far ceiling sending the telltale blue glow around them.

“Nervous?”  It seemed more like a statement than a question and Sans turned to face Grillby, still grinning.

Steam began to rise from the other’s fluttering fire and Sans felt the other’s hand brush against his. Looking down, the other had just barely grazed his pinky against the skeleton’s, sending a gentle waft of warmth up Sans’ left arm.

“kinda,” Sans fibbed quietly, nudging his pinky towards the other in return. It was silly how such a small movement shot excitement throughout him. He couldn’t help but laugh against the rush of water around them as the ferry whisked through to the next stop.

Thankfully, no one boarded at the Waterfall stop and their privacy continued. For a moment, Sans thought he could see a blur and a red glow in the wall as the craft started again.

“Tra la la~ Beware of the man who came from the other world.”

Sans snapped his gaze to the hooded figure in front of them warily. His brow creased slightly, thinking the comment strange, even from the river person - who was commonly known to be strange in the first place. He decided not to overthink it for once and gave Grillby’s inquiring look a slight smile.

“Tre le le~ The water is very wet today.”

Sans noticed the subtle flutter of flames next to him become a little more anxious. Encouragingly, he nudged the other’s shoulder with his arm and Grillby turned his head to look at him.

“think we’re ‘bout halfway there,” Sans reported, taking a moment to look around. The other’s heat was rolling off him and creating a dense fog. “maybe next time.. we’ll just take a quicker route.”

The fire monster seemed to scowl at him and Sans remembered the other being upset over his shortcuts. At least, he figured, he only meant with a carry-on, which was likely less than rarely. Considering he had a buffer, Sans figured he would be fine, but gave Grillby a slight dismissive shrug. He reasoned it was perhaps that his friend felt uncomfortable travelling such a distance in such a short amount of time.

“suit yourself.” He inched his pinky a little closer though, to show his support. He could tell Grillby relaxed at that, if only by a little bit.

 

While it was a fair distance away, it didn’t take long to reach Hotland. Gratefully, Grillby left the craft first, anxious to get away from the canal and stepping out into the dry heat. His fire seemed to crackle and spread out evenly as he waited for Sans to come ashore, embers igniting in its more natural environment. The constant movement made him look well-groomed and filled out. For a moment, Sans appreciated the sight. He whistled lowly before he realised he was staring again.

He dropped his gaze just as Grillby grinned. It was different, dating a friend. They already knew each other, and yet they were still learning things. For one, Grillby noticed that since the shift in their dynamics, Sans was easy to get worked up and flustered. And for Sans, Grillby was a little more interesting and flirtatious. Not mutually exclusive, but endearing all the same. Sans couldn’t help but smirk to himself with that thought.

The walk to the Rumble Rows was a little out of the way, but worth it. It hid in an extended quarry past the elevators and deep into the pits where the city was. Fire elementals, rock-types, some ghosts and their ilk clogged the streets. The stadium was loud and could be heard clear across the lake of lava separating it from the CORE.

Once paid for and inside, the skeleton shrugged, not really having planned all that much ahead of time. He settled for a joke as an excuse, trying to shake off his nerves.

“guess i kinda just wanted to see ya gussied up.” His voice was low enough for Grillby to hear, but no one else. The arena was packed and the announcer blared a never-ceasing roll of play-by-plays overhead for whichever race was going on further inside.

Grillby rolled his shoulder and took control over their date at that point. While he considered himself shy, it was by Hotland monsters’ standards. Most others would be forward even amongst strangers, whereas he preferred areas where he could be alone with the one he liked. His restaurant admittedly didn’t count, as it was his home. He wrapped an arm around the other’s shoulders and led them further inside towards the bleachers.

“Shy guy,”  Grillby teased despite himself. He couldn’t hear the sound of bones clattering together, but the fire monster could certainly feel them. Sans looked extremely nervous, almost petrified. “Play it cool?”

Sans couldn’t help but laugh at that. “i’ve honestly never done this before.” Grillby saved this interesting piece of information for later consideration.

They both went up the stairs onto the metal platforms, pushing past other monsters who didn’t care about the couple from out of town. Sans was flustered, as Grillby had moved his arm from around his shoulders and taken him by the hand. His fire looked as though it was trying to sneak up his arm under his long sleeves.

“...Should just continue counting up to twenty and beyond. I will get all the points anyway.”

The skeleton hoped that was a joke. It didn’t really feel all too serious, and the other’s composure in such a place made his expression difficult to see through the blaze. His nervousness did dissipate somewhat when they found a secluded little area towards the middle and top. A great view to the arena below, not that they would watch much of what was going on.

“and what happens when i get more points than you?”

Grillby sat, gently pulling the skeleton down with him. He nearly landed on his thigh and Sans made sure to scoot over, lest his magic boil over in total mortification of overstepping any boundaries. He regarded that an odd thought, considering what they had done at the bar earlier that week.

The other seemed to take the question seriously, “Perhaps… fill you with fire.”

The heat around them made the air hazy and move, pushed by so many fire monsters in one place. Sans realised he was perspiring a little and absently wiped the side of his skull - another peculiarity for skeletons, he noted.

“and what if you win?”

Grillby’s composure seemed to stiffen slightly, then there was a lull in his flames as though something else passed through his mind. Curiously, the skeleton stared at him.

“What would you say,”  he started, voice smooth, “if I won, and wanted that anyway?”

“that you were blowin’ a lotta hot air, probably.”

“And… what would you do?”

“if you did..? burn.”

The fire monster hunched slightly as though he was unsatisfied with the answer, but didn’t make it immediately apparent. Sans was avoiding his look now, his grin sheepish. When the other looked to his hands, they were shaking slightly, clasped over themselves.

Going over something in his mind, the fire monster leaned forward a little, turning his head so his was closer to Sans’. “No need to be so nervous.”

“m’not.”

“...Can tell you’re lying, when you’re anxious. It is obvious. You’re supposed to have fun.”

Sans exhaled sharply, his eye lights flicking to the side to watch Grillby’s obscured expression. “ok?” he automatically replied, then inhaled slowly to calm himself.

“Perhaps if you made a bad joke.”

The skeleton grinned awkwardly, rubbing the side of his skull and hunched over, unable to repress his laughter. “no fair, tryin’ to light a match under me like that. my jokes are great.”

“I wonder,”  the other mused, shifting slightly as something in the arena caught his attention. Sans looked up, curious when he saw the other move. He saw the way Grillby’s smile spread a little more. “Where did your bravado go off to?”

The skeleton flushed a little more at that. “no need to gimme the third degree.”

“I also wonder how many fire jokes you’ll go through until you resort to space ones.”

“wow. careful, grillbz, someone might hear you an’ arrest you.” Grillby gave him a perplexed look at the warning tone, and suddenly Sans felt his confidence bolster. “`cause you’re a shooting star.”

Grillby’s flames burst shortly at that and he gave in to a laugh. That was better, Sans thought. Nothing like a little playfulness to ease the tension. He shot the other finger-guns and winked.

 

The duration of their time spent together was much of the same. Quiet banter back and forth, with the fire monster’s curiosity burning over Sans’ reactions to his own teases and Sans making a few relentless jokes. The race below was a wild ride of wheels and commotion with little direction, but it was fun to watch for a time. Sans still felt uncomfortable in the clothes, more so that it seemed to make it hotter compared to his regular outfit. A time or two he felt his phone go off in his pocket, but instead of checking it, he simply turned it off.

“I believe I know what the issue is,”  Grillby offered after a time. He had snuck his hand around one of the skeleton’s and was tracing small circles down one of his phalanges. His expression was muted but studious as he went over the fine segments of bone. Sans was trying very hard not to rattle in response, but looked at him questioningly. “We’re both shy.”

Sans chuckled lowly, nodding in agreement. “yeah, too many people.” He stilled when Grillby leaned forward, his flames languidly hopping the distance between them as though attempting to land on his bones. He sucked in a startled breath with the accompanying heat, much different than the climate.

“Entirely right. We should walk around,”  the fire monster agreed, then stood, still holding the other’s hand. Sans’ breath hitched when a small flame licked up his carpals and slipped under his sleeve. Questioningly, he stared at Grillby’s face as the heat went up, curling along his bones and filling him with a comfortable warmth.

He sighed at it, rubbing his sternum distractedly when Grillby tugged his arm to have him stand. He did with little difficulty, the small wisp of fire moving along one of his clavicles. It made him rattle, unsure what its purpose was. Blindly, he was led back down the stairs off the bleachers, his mind a little confused and distracted.

A pause near the end of the stairs had stolen a breath and he nearly stumbled, but he caught himself in time. Whatever the flame was doing had him so preoccupied that he didn’t even mind a few monsters they passed making kissy noises or whistling, muted by the loud crowd.

Grillby led him down towards the streets between venues, holding his hand the entire way. Their talks were idle, Sans replying only a few times, concentrated on the flame that decided to move into his rib cage. His breaths had started to come in short huffs as the warmth flitted from side to side, jumping over his ribs and slipping between them.

Out of the way, he finally had to stop; Sans was becoming increasingly sensitive and confused because of it. His magic at that point had started to react with the flame’s exploration and he felt hotter than he’d ever been before. In blurred thoughts, the skeleton silently admitted that he liked the heat and didn’t mind this at all. Grillby looked at him, smirking to himself, but led him over to a uncrowded area out of view.

“i, uh...” the skeleton started haltingly. He closed his orbits and tightened his hold on the other’s hand. His mind blanked when the flame fluttered up his spine and he nearly let out an embarrassing noise. He caught it, but his back went rigid. “grillbz, the, uh...” Sans trailed off, not exactly knowing what he wanted to say as the flame slowly started downward in a spiral around every vertebrae.

“They’ve been wanting to get acquainted with you,”  the fire monster said plainly, feigning disinterest with a mild shrug. It was almost convincing. He kept his hand grasping Sans’, but was watching intently. The way the other was hunched and shuddered as the small flame grazed his bones was very enthralling. He could see the telltale light of the other’s soul flicker like lightning when the smaller yellow one moved. It was such an impish little hellion and had pestered him to visit ever since the ferry ride.

“they...” Sans was rattling louder now and clutching at his sternum through his shirt, trying to stop himself. He was trying to reign in his magic, but he was obviously getting worked up about the hot touches hidden underneath. “...hot.”

“They aren’t causing you distress, are they?”  The other’s tone was both concerned with a hint of a tease. It appeared Sans still had the capacity to move, since he pulled Grillby around the corner and leaned against the wall, shaking his skull.

“nnh… hah, nope-” he replied breathily, but had hunched over, still clutching at the other’s hand that tightened every time the flame slipped lower. In fact, it was the polar opposite of pain, he thought blearily. “act… active `lil bugger, isn’t it?”

Grillby couldn’t hide his grin when Sans made an effort to look to his face. The skeleton grimaced inwardly, unsure of himself when the other spoke next, “Fira has always been curious.”

“you… ya named `em?”

“They have names,”  Grillby corrected as a matter of fact, his flames fluttering as though they were separate entities from him and were excited for the attention. They rolled around his visage, pluming different paler shades of orange and amber.

“i… i can’t move.”

“...Think you’re being over-dramatic,”  the fire monster almost purred. Sans huffed again with a soft laugh; the flame slipped lower and seated itself into the space between the next disc in his spine, towards the middle. It was all he could do not to cling to the other to hide. Everything felt hot in the best way, but his vision was also clouding, which made him a little worried.

He trembled as ‘Fira’ stayed still, the licking of heat inside his spine making him almost whine and pant with effort.

“i.. think they’re d.. done.”

His soul was trembling, flickering like a storm, and he could barely repress any noises that threatened to leave him, let alone the peculiar way his magic was amassing inside of him. Sans remained hunched as Grillby drew closer and he unconsciously grasped at the other’s jacket. A hand on his hip had him biting back sounds yet his entire frame was craving something… anything, any touch.

“Pardon my reach,”  Grillby murmured, having leaned in close to whisper against the side of his skull. Sans absently nodded, his body tensing when the other pushed past the sweater and into the free space between his ribs and pelvic area.

It wasn’t invasive as he thought it might be, but the light touch against his spine had made Sans jolt in surprise with an accompanying gasp.

“they have names t-too,” he said suddenly, just above a whisper. He felt like he needed to say something or tell a joke before things got too handsy in the public place. Not that anyone else really appeared to pay attention or seemed bothered by it - they were in the mouth of an alley on a side street that saw very little traffic. Sans hummed lowly when he felt the unmistakable touch from the other, flooding his bones with more fire. “my, uh.. my bones, i mean.”

The other pulled away gently, appearing interested. Sans gave him a slight grin, still clutching at Grillby’s jacket lapel.

“Really,”  the other seemed to chuckle at that, “mind introducing us..?”

Another strange craving for touch accompanied Sans’ next inhale, his body shuddering as he felt the solitary flame slip from between his discs and he all but melted from the sensation.

“god, yeah,” he muttered, feeling the other’s hand brush against one of his bottom most ribs. His rib cage was heaving with each gasp at the touch and his legs felt as though he were at risk of melting, “jeez, louise-”

“Peculiar names,”  the other noted, amused. Regrettably, he pulled his hand away from under the others’ sweater but stayed close.

Sans nodded almost absently, grinning as he pulled the other close to him. Grillby obliged him, dipping his head to caress his jaw with his mouth with a low chuckle.

“wow,” the skeleton shuddered, his phalanges tugging the other’s jacket a little more when Grillby’s hot mouth found the crook of his neck and settled against the third vertebra. The accompanying warmth made his mind swim and he sucked in a sharp breath with the tingling sear of fire against bone. The heat seeped down to the marrow, making his soul thunder and his phalanges push up to hang around the back of Grillby’s neck. “wow, martha-”

He felt the other’s mouth curl into a smile against his neck and he tilted his skull, inviting more dizzying touches. Grillby finally let go of his other hand and it crept up Sans’ side, leaving tingling pulses that had his mouth hanging open and gasping. Grillby pulled one side of his collar down for better access and turned his head to press against him.

The skeleton leaned forward, unable to mute an appreciative moan as he felt the other’s hot tongue evaporate any lingering moisture in that spot and flood into the cracks. It ignited him and he traced his fingers experimentally along the other’s neck, eliciting a subtle shiver through Grillby’s body as a reward.

“holy mary-”

It appeared that Grillby favoured the spot and Sans leaned towards him, his teeth pressing together with another sharp inhale. “jehoshaphat-”

Sans felt Grillby grin against his neck again and laugh awkwardly, his mouth moving back up an inch, sighing against the singed bone.

“...Think I like ‘Mary’ best,”  he breathed, feeling another anticipated shudder run through Sans’ bones as his mouth moved against him.

“thought you liked me,”  the skeleton joked, his breathing more hitched and still fighting back a moan that he couldn’t quite mask.

Cupping one side of his skull in his hand and gently butting him with his face, Grillby smirked, silently notching another point in his favour. “I think I can tolerate you,”  he agreed a little playfully, and witnessed the other’s grin tighten with a laugh. “Besides… those aren’t even real names.”

Sans’ vision was still cloudy but he was grinning at the other. That’s when he realised a little dimly that it was smoke, and it was coming from his left side where Grillby had kissed his neck. He blinked at the other, then locked his arms around his shoulders so he couldn’t escape.

“who says,” he asked daringly.

“Perhaps we can ask that picture of a skeleton that you were so invested in days ago.”  With that, Sans flushed at the memory. Grillby appeared even more amused. “What? That’s what makes you blush?”

“if we kiss-” Sans’ mind almost flat-lined at the proposition, but he managed to continue, “-can you drop it..?”

Grillby looked like he was weighing his options but his mouth was curled into a sly smirk. “...Believe there are some labels absent that require clarification.”

Sans’ skull fell forward in resignation against Grillby’s chest while the other took advantage and dropped a gentle kiss atop of it.

Chapter Text

They ended up wandering around the venues for a while before running out of things to do that didn’t involve finding a secluded area out of sight again. There were booths that they could play games, some small shops to poke through and a live performance featuring some Waterfall monsters doing an interpretive dance. After it got late and the races had ended, they decided to head back.

On the ferry, Sans had eventually calmed down and was recounting what had happened in his mind. The date had gone well; Grillby seemed to enjoy the area and himself, and Sans had too. His thoughts wandered a little, the rush of water around them making the fire monster inch his hand towards his own again. Less hesitant than before, Sans rested his hand over the other’s with a tired smile. The day had been long but fun.

Sans had been stealing glances at Grillby the entire time. Through the winding river from Hotland to Waterfall, he tensed and seemed to be scanning the ceiling far above. His fire was shuddering and close to his body, making him appear dimmer.

“somethin’ on your mind, g?” the skeleton eventually inquired, watching the space above them. He didn’t see anything, but it was likely the other just felt nervous. The ferry ride was slower than their previous trip.

The fire monster’s flames plumed suddenly, then dimmed again. Sans knew it was a nervous tic of sorts, so gently patted his hand.

“...Something is moving.”

“tremors?”

Grillby stayed silent and adjusted his glasses, his expression unreadable. It was several moments since he remained quiet that Sans thought he simply didn’t want to talk about it. Small pebbles were falling from above, along with a faint dribble of dust and water.

Frowning, the skeleton looked up again, trying to see. There was nothing, but there was a faint rumble in the distance.

“...Not tremors,”  the fire monster finally said. His voice had a raspy note as though he was on edge. Small flecks of red embers popped away from his body and floated away before extinguishing in the humidity.

“can’t see through this. you gonna be ok?”

‘Tra la la~ The waters are wild today. That's bad luck…’

Sans shot the river person a dirty look, but the figure remained turned away from them, blocking the immediate view of their destination. A few more pebbles fell from the ceiling, accompanying a low rumble that made the waters shudder around the craft. It was moving slower.

“hey, uh, can we go faster?” he called to them, trying not to feel nervous. With Waterfall recently notching last on his most favourite places in the Underground and with Grillby’s added apprehension about falling into the water, he really didn’t want to linger any longer than they had to.

‘Tra la la. Tri li li. Tre le le.’   The ferry’s speed remained the same.

The skeleton groaned softly, hooking his arm over Grillby’s shoulders. He was very  tense, but appreciated the effort. Sans looked inward. His buffer was there, however small that it was, but he would only be able to warp them once and not for that big a distance. Sans looked down the canal, shifting slightly so he didn’t pull Grillby towards the side of the boat.

He still didn’t see anything, but the other’s mild panic was enough for him to decide that warping them was the best option. Surreptitiously, he gathered his magic and slipped his hand into Grillby’s, hoping he wouldn’t get suspicious. As luck would have it he wasn’t, and Sans was able to reign in a lot more energy than he had their previous trip through. His eye lights scanned ahead of them; there were no familiar outcrops to land on, so he figured the wishing room had to be the safest and driest area as a landing point.

The wisp of cyan and gold flickered in his left eye, betraying his intent. Grillby’s entire body stiffened, a protest forming when he felt the surge of wild energy next to him flare up. Then it suddenly sputtered out, punctuated with a shaky breath from Sans. He felt his soul clench in fear.

They hadn’t gone anywhere and now Sans leaned against him, his breathing harsh as though the effort had been painful.

“Why did you..?”  There was an added panic to Grillby’s voice along with anger. Sans huffed shortly, not immediately answering but managed to shakily push himself upright. Why hadn’t it worked? The buffer was almost gone, with four points remaining. His magic felt torn again, but they hadn’t budged an inch. It had been a gamble and he lost.

‘Tra la la~ Refrain from spatial and temporal manipulation during the ride.’

Sans paused with the river person’s words, staring at their back as they continued armlessly steering through the pitch darkness of the canals. He was purposefully avoiding Grillby’s face, knowing if he saw the oblique concern there that he’d push him away. It would be a horrible end to the day after such a date, after all.

He settled a little more next to Grillby, keeping his arm around his shoulders and his other hand clasping the other’s. He heard the puzzled repetition of “temporal..?”  but didn’t give it an answer, only concentrated on regulating his breathing so it he didn’t look as bad as he felt.

The waterways were beginning to become a little wilder. First the craft bobbed as though something had disturbed the river’s flow further ahead, then it cut up into choppy waves. The river person remained as nonchalant as ever, humming an eerie tune while Sans went to stand up, keeping a hand on Grillby’s shoulder to steady himself.

‘Dancing on a boat is dangerous. But good exercise…’

Sans took that as a warning to sit down again and did, offering the fire monster a reassuring smile. It must have looked more like a grimace, since the other returned something of an agitated scowl, obscured by his low flames.

“can’t fault me for tryin’,” the skeleton shrugged, digging into his pocket for the piece of jerky, hoping it would ease his exhaustion. He tore off a piece and offered it to Grillby, who slowly shook his head in silence.

The sinking awkwardness came back with full force, although for different reasons. Sans held his skull in one hand after finishing his jerky and glared off into the distance where larger, choppier waves were forming. He could feel his soul sink with building worry.

He paid attention to the river person a little more now, as their singing usually picked up with a particularly nasty set of waves. Grillby kept a hand on his and with every rock of the craft, his grip tightened noticeably.

A few larger rocks fell from the ceiling and landed in the water next to him, splashing him. The fire monster grew considerably agitated by that, even if he assured Sans he was unharmed, it still threw a spray of evaporation as steam filled the tunnel. He only let go of the skeleton’s hand to rub his own together with a hiss, his left having been briefly extinguished until the small flames from his other hand jumped over to rekindle it. The flames remained low, however.

The next wave was considerably taller. It crashed against the side of the ferry and Sans swore loudly. Even if he was a head shorter than Grillby, he made a valiant effort to block the other from the crashing wave. In a sense it worked, with Sans taking the full brunt of the splash and Grillby lowering his temperature quickly enough.

“that’s it-”  the skeleton sputtered angrily as the river person hummed idly through another wave. Marsh water had filled his skull and he parted his teeth to allow it to drain with a disgusted shudder. He witnessed a few sparks come off Grillby, then a high red plume jettison around him, scorching the ferry’s floor and brightening the area considerably. The temperature hiked up noticeably around them and soon the entire craft was covered in a dense fog that slowly passed over them as it moved ahead.

‘Tra la la~ Another waterfall. Be careful.’

Sans’ sockets hollowed out when he saw the deluge arcing before them. He had little time to think as he automatically drew up his magic, gripping Grillby’s hand tightly to keep him close. In a roar like thunder, more rocks fell from the ceiling and onto the ferry and around it, kicking up more water as the wave crashed closer.

Grillby was breathing quickly, his eyes bright and wide and his fire whipping around him, claustrophobic in the small area. Both of his hands seized the skeleton when he saw the wave crash over them and he was able to see the crackle of the other’s hue whip into place just in time.

It would have been close. Sans was panting harshly with his left arm raised above his skull, but he’d managed to conjure a huge cage of bones in quick succession to block most of the water from hitting them. It wrapped around them, leaving little space between the craft and their bodies. The calcium-based constructs were woven so tightly that barely any water seeped through.

“shoulda.. saved that jerky, heh,” Sans gasped. His bones were rattling and he settled back down to the bench, his hands just as shaky as the rest of him, if not more. He took a few more calming breaths before he added, “what a way to end a day.”

 

The rest of the ride was nerve-wracking, but once they made it past Waterfall, it appeared all was clear. They couldn’t have left the ferry faster even if Sans warped them off of it. Grillby kept quiet and Sans bit his figurative tongue in order not to cuss out the river person entirely. It could have been worse; it could have been much worse. But still, Sans watched as the craft drifted away, leaving them in the snowbank north of Snowdin.

Grillby was still holding onto his left arm, but it looked like his colouring and flames were back to normal. Sans watched them for a moment before he realised he was staring and gave an apologetic smile.

“...Look tired,”  the fire monster finally said.

Sans noted the concern and rolled his shoulder nonchalantly. “m’always tired,” he paused, then glanced at Grillby’s left side, “how’s the hand?”

The fire monster rose his hand to inspect it; the fire was low, to a mere shimmer close to his form. He was grimacing slightly, at least Sans thought it was one. Sometimes it was difficult to tell. The skeleton gestured for him to hold it out. Hesitant, Grillby did and Sans held it in both of his hands.

The embers were low and fluttered slowly like a waning fire. It was spotted with the colour of dying coals and Sans couldn’t help the ebb of regret that hung in his soul as he held the hand.

“It will rekindle,”  Grillby reassured him quietly, sensing the other’s distress. “It only looks bad.”

Sans turned over his hand in his grasp and noted the pained twitch the other couldn’t repress when he brushed his fingers against what was apparently water-burns, as odd of a thought that was. The injured hand wasn’t as warm as he remembered, either.

“looks painful though,” he muttered, clasping both of his hands over it. Even though it wasn’t one of his strengths, he intended to alleviate the pain and heal it as best as he could. He stepped closer to the other so Grillby would relax. Sans felt his gaze on him and smirked apologetically in return. “i’m kinda bad at this. but i’ll try. in the meantime, you tell me what you saw.”

Grillby shifted in place, then turned his head towards the river in thought. It was a prolonged period of time before he said anything, until he felt the gentle tingle of Sans’ magic flow through into his fingers and palm with its healing touch.

“Thought I saw… roots.”

Sans frowned, his orbits closed in concentration as he willed more of his magic to manifest. It was a good thing his flux levels were all over the place lately, but drawing on it now felt like it was unravelling something deep inside of him.

“Could be… tremors. And in my panic, perhaps I imagined it.”  Grillby sighed, bringing his other hand to cover the lower half of his face. For a fire monster, Sans’ way of healing was peculiar, tingling and soft. It was gentle and slow and while not painful, reminded him of being doused. For some reason ‘cold’ came to mind, even if the chilly climate around them had little effect on him and he never really could associate it with the word.

Sans nodded in understanding, knowing it was his job as a sentry to report any suspicious activity to Undyne - even if it was likely she already knew. Now there was a conversation he didn’t want to have; it would likely turn into a whole different one, knowing her. He exhaled softly as his magic regrettably began to wane.

“guess that’s it,” he muttered in agreement, cracking an eye socket open to look at his attempt. His vision was blurry for a moment, but he powered through, “looks like my handiwork really got through here.” He smirked when he heard the other sigh in resignation and carefully unclasped his hands from around the other’s. It looked a little brighter at least, although he wasn’t sure it that was a good thing or not. Grillby didn’t appear to be in any pain, unless the guy had a high tolerance for it.

He watched as Grillby flexed his fingers, his hand shaking slightly. Sans let his own drop to his sides, his arms feeling weak after putting forth so much effort. It almost felt as though his legs were making him lean too much to one side, too. He gave the fire monster another apologetic grin with a shrug. With the date at its close, he wasn’t quite sure how to say goodbye.

“...One for the road?”  the other suggested after a pause, having watched Sans shuffle where he stood. His grin twisted into a slight flustered grimace and his magic gave off that delightful subtle glow again when Grillby stepped closer, closing the distance between them.

Sans was sure whatever strength he had left was bolstered by the soft kiss against his mouth. He closed his orbits and leaned forward, his soul starting to flip nervously. It was much too short, but it was sweet and he hummed softly, unable to help the pleasant feeling that crept back into his rib cage with the gesture. Sans fought back a protest when the kiss ended, opening his sockets again.

Grillby’s visage cleared somewhat so he could see a vague smirk while the other patted the side of his skull with his good hand. Then he sighed softly, a light trail of steam catching in the air with his heat, “...Here I thought I was winning.”  He seemed almost disappointed and Sans shot him a perplexed look. Grillby’s smile broadened a little more, “7 to 6, Sans. You’re in the lead.”

Sans made a sound as though he was clearing his nonexistent throat and scratched the side of his jaw absently. “mind.. runnin’ the rules by me again?”

Grillby didn’t hold back his chuckle. “To what advantage would that be?”  The other’s bemused expression was adorable, so he left it at that, giving the other’s face another gentle pat of reassurance. “...Had a good time.”

Sans’ blush broadened despite himself, his voice dying when he wanted to say ‘me too’. He watched as Grillby left with a slight wave, sticking his hands in his pockets until the fire monster was well on his way. He then slouched his shoulders with a deep exhale, wanting nothing more to lie down and possibly nap for a few days.

He pulled out his phone to check his messages. With the device being left off the entire time, Sans had actually forgotten he had brought it with him. It was a good thing Alphys had waterproofed it; no doubt it wouldn’t have survived the torrent of water. It booted up and several more messages popped up, along with five missed calls from different people.

He sighed again and pulled up the messages from Papyrus.

Papyrus (Last message received 3:52pm):
     - OH MY GOD
     - APPARENTLY I MERIT A PAYCHEQUE?
     - ALSO, APPARENTLY WHETHER OR NOT WE CATCH A HUMAN DOES NOT AFFECT OUR PAYROLL. WOWIE!!
     - AND… FOR SOME REASON, UNDYNE’S HERE?? WHEN YOU GET BACK, COME HOME RIGHT AWAY!
     - SHE MENTIONED THERE HAS BEEN EARTHQUAKES LATELY IN WATERFALL. BE CAREFUL ON THE FERRY!

 

Sans scratched his skull in thought. The last two messages had been sent a few hours ago and he groaned softly, wishing he didn’t have to socialise after such a full day.

Without thinking, he pulled together his magic to warp home. It was an odd sensation to miss the landing, as though there was a shock to the end. He ended up grasping the air for a moment and lunging to the nearest building to stabilize himself as something inside of him twisted painfully.

Ok... maybe he’d used up more magic than he thought. Sans looked around his current location hazily, taking in the familiar setting. He’d missed his landing by a few feet and was right by the shed Papyrus kept locked up in case he caught a human. He weighed the pros and cons of going inside it to nap instead, but ended up dragging his feet through the freshly fallen snow to the doorstep.

For a moment, it felt as though he couldn’t manifest breaths and the resulting confusion made his mind swim dizzyingly. Sans grasped at the porch column, nearly taking off half of the faerie lights in the process. Papyrus was going to get mad, he thought dimly as he tried to keep himself upright. He didn’t even realise that he had sunk to the ground and the door had opened explosively.

For the most part, he was able to clarify things eventually. He recognised his brother by the colours he commonly wore, but little else. It would have surprised him to see him out of his battle body, had he considered thinking about anything else besides wanting to sleep.

Yeah, he definitely pushed himself to the limit.

“OH MY GOD! SANS!” his brother boomed and stooped low to pull him off the porch. He slung an arm around his shoulders to keep himself upright, but thought better of it and pulled him close to carry him through the front door instead. “YOU’RE SOAKED! WHAT HAPPENED?”

Sans muttered something inaudible against his shoulder, barely aware of the question.

“CLEAR THE COUCH, UNDYNE,” Papyrus called inside, his footfalls quick after he slammed the door shut. It roused Sans, but not by much.

Undyne stayed sitting but scooted over, a bowl of chips in her lap and covered with blankets. Her good eye widened slightly when Papyrus carried his brother into the living room and sat him down next to her, then peeled off upstairs.

“Geez, you’re looking lively,” Undyne muttered to Sans, who was unresponsive, sockets half-closed. “You didn’t get into any trouble, didja?”

The smaller skeleton shifted slightly when he heard the familiar voice and his eye lights faded out shortly. Undyne drew herself up with a grimace and gave his shoulder a shake.

“HEY!! Sans, keep awake for a sec, Pap’s comin’ back.”

“I’M HERE!!” the younger brother barrelled down the stairs with an assortment of towels and blankets folded in his arms. Sans shifted a little more when Papyrus moved him to wrap towels around and underneath him, essentially transforming him into a bony cocoon. “I WARNED YOU, BROTHER. I TOLD YOU.”

“HEY!! What the HELL is going on?” Undyne demanded, eye flicking between the two brothers in confusion.

“m’tired,” Sans muttered, closing his sockets.

“YOU BURNED OUT,” Papyrus scolded him, his voice raising half an octave higher than usual and in a matter-of-fact tone, “COMPLETELY FRIED!”

Sans couldn’t help but laugh softly at that, cracking an eye socket open to look blearily at his brother. “heh, good one.”

Papyrus twitched at what he thought was his brother’s evasive behaviour, then he realised the other was struggling to keep awake. “Oh. Oh dear.”

Undyne shot her glance to the taller skeleton, still not comprehending the situation. Papyrus sighed and knelt in front of Sans, resting each of his bony fingers on his blanketed shoulders. “Tell me everything, brother,” he said, his voice softer. Undyne’s brow arched skeptically with the plactitude in which he spoke, “every instance where you expended magic.”

Sans shifted again, uneasy. His eye lights dimmed as he raised his skull to look at his brother’s face. If he were of half a mind to bother, he wouldn’t have said half the things he did. “...mornin’.. shortcut.”

Papyrus frowned, not fully understanding. But then again, Sans never alluded to how he managed his ‘shortcuts’, only that it took a bit of magic to do. It had been so long since Sans was able to do it that he had stopped asking about them, even forgot they were a thing until recently.

It took Sans several moments before he spoke again, his voice dropping. “date stuff. tossin’ game. lost a bunch. it was.. fun.” He paused again, his skull nodding forward. “sleep now..?”

Papyrus shook him slightly and Sans exhaled as though in pain. His brow furrowed. “Tell me what else!” the younger brother demanded, his voice earnest. “That cannot be all!”

The older brother attempted to look at him dead on, but he realised he had little energy for anything else. “..back home.”

“Yes?”

“shortcut,” Sans mumbled thickly, his words feeling difficult as though he was attempting to remember how to speak in an entirely separate language, “..tried takin’ g with.”

“G?” Undyne inquired, hanging on to every word.

“He means Grillby,” Papyrus said absently, ignoring her surprised look.

“THAT’S the date??” she said suddenly, grinning wide and showing off her fangs. “Wait.. that flame guy??” She had been told about the date, but not whom it was with.

“..didn’t work,” the smaller skeleton finally finished. He felt the peculiar probe of magic against his soul and instinctively tried to push out against Papyrus, but his arms were buried in the blankets. “don’t.”

“You seem ok, at any rate,” his younger brother muttered, then sighed heavily and pinched the bridge of bone between his sockets in thought. Sans’ HP rested at 3, much lower than that afternoon. Had it been 8, or maybe 6? After the commotion with Undyne coming to Snowdin and her barraging him with questions, Papyrus found he couldn’t remember. “Is that all?” He gently nudged Sans’ shoulder, whose skull had fallen forward, sockets closed.

He didn’t reply for another few minutes, to which Papyrus exhaled in trepidation. Undyne looked as though she was going to ask something, but stopped when Sans spoke up;

“earthquake, i think..? g said.. he saw roots moving. tell undyne, ok, bro..”

“I’m right HERE, Sans?” The fish lady nudged his shoulder from his other side, her eye narrowing suspiciously. She watched Papyrus, who looked concerned before he gently tapped the side of Sans’ skull to rouse him again.

“Is that all, brother?” Papyrus asked again, watching the subtle movements of his brother’s rib cage moving against the fabric.

Sans couldn’t help a small smirk at the memory, although it was difficult to keep awake now. “saved `im.”

“How?”

“bone zone.”

Undyne pressed her hand against her face with an audible smack. Even exhausted to the point of falling asleep, the guy could still make jokes. She held her tongue for once, since Papyrus looked worried for him.

Sans seemed to notice it. A little, at least. “lotta bones,” he clarified dimly. “lotta, lotta bones.” Papyrus waited, as he seemed to know Sans still had more to say. He wasn’t disappointed. “g got hurt… healed `im.” He paused again, his face contorting into a vague grimace of self-criticism. “suck at healin’.”

“You definitely need more stamina for it,” Papyrus chided him softly. “Is he ok? Should I go over and check on him?”

“`e’s fine,” his brother whispered. “...one more.. shortcut.. missed.” He inhaled sharply, fighting a wave of dizziness. “...feelin’ it.”

“As you would! I don’t know the circumstances or even the wherewithal to pay for all that magical expenditure today, but confound it, Sans! I warned you this morning and I’ll warn you again. Especially with all this-”  Papyrus stopped and gestured pointedly and vaguely around his brother, his movements agitated. “-going on, I expected you to take care of yourself! I expected you to heed my advice! Recklessly blowing through your reserves like you’re a Boss Monster! HONESTLY! You’re not going to learn your limits if you barrel through it like nobody’s business! IT’S FOR YOUR OWN DAMN GOOD, SANS, IT’S-”

Papyrus stopped when he realised that Sans had given up on staying awake. His skull was tilted offside and his teeth were parted and orbits closed. The bone around his sockets looked stressed again and even a little darkened, and Papyrus knew Sans probably felt worse than he appeared. He always put up a strong front, even when he didn’t need to.

It was several moments before Undyne thought to speak, her head reeling. “You got backbone!”

The younger brother straightened his spine, pulled from inward thoughts when he heard the other’s voice. He stammered apologetically while Undyne laughed at his reaction, harsh and raucous. Papyrus made excuses but she shook her head with a shrug. “Far be it from me to lecture ya, Papyrus. Is this doofus gonna be ok, or should I call Alphys, or a healer, or..?”

Papyrus sat on the floor next to the couch and stared at Sans, then gave her an upbeat smile. It was difficult to do, but he somehow even managed to give her a thumbs up. “HE’LL BE JUST FINE! MY SWEATER, HOWEVER...” his sockets narrowed with exasperation, as he’d noticed a few burned areas around the collar and back panel. “...WILL NOT BE. I EXPECT THE DATE ITSELF WENT WELL! VERY WELL.”

Chapter Text

He would’ve been more concerned if he had been dreaming lately, but Sans wasn’t entirely sure if this was a dream or not. It wasn’t a nightmare. This situation didn’t seem very dreamlike, but he was sure it hadn’t happened before. It was perfectly mundane while being completely baffling at the same time.

He was back home; at a university, to be more accurate. Papyrus wasn’t with him, he was too young to go to school just yet. Sans was following someone - an older, taller monster whose head was obscured simply by shadow or because he couldn't care to look.

His voice was familiar as he talked, and when he did it was quickly and precisely. He was curt and to the point, didn’t pull his punches. There was also an accent that was opposite his own, and had a particular drag between words and a lilt against the hard vowels. It almost sounded stilted - that is, if the monster wasn’t so self-assured and pragmatic. It was as though multiple tones were housed in his voice.

Sans only knew he hated him beyond any measure of a doubt.

“We have not finished our conversation,” the other had been saying. Sans kept quiet but fell into step behind him, knowing he had to follow closely, otherwise be subject to some kind of reprimand. “You recall.”

“sure,” he automatically replied. Something twisted in his ribcage and he idly rubbed the spot, dimly recognising a thin horizontal pinstripe across his shirt under his lab coat, just in view.

“Stop your fidgeting.”

“m’not.” He scratched again.

“And stand upright.”

“ok.” He made sure to slouch his shoulders a little more.

“It’s either ‘yes’ or ‘alright’,” the older monster chastised him. He stopped and whirled around, but something prevented Sans from viewing his face. He felt as though he already knew it, though. “If you are going to intrude yourself onto my work this way, I expect you to conduct yourself in a less shameful manner.”

Sans felt the twist of pain again, coupled with disappointment and anger. The only reason he was doing this was for Papyrus, whom he had to leave at home with a neighbour. He forcibly corrected his posture, although he was sure the other would subject him to more criticisms as soon as he saw something out of place. He always did that.

At the back of his mind he was a little confused. It had been a passing thought, but it was correct nonetheless. The adult monster approached him and he automatically took a step back as though expecting to be struck.

Instead, the other fixed his coat and shirt with firm and harsh movements, while Sans scowled at him and tried not to jerk forward with the tugging. A set of hands rested on his shoulders, the gesture oddly gentle. Another pair adjusted the safety pins keeping his rolled up sleeves in place with an equally baffling amount of care.

“Don’t give me that look.”

“can’t say i got any choice, pops.”

“`Have’. And no, I suppose not.” The adult paused, and for that moment Sans knew he was being glared at. “Additionally, you will not address me as such any longer. It’s either ‘Sir’, or Doctor ▟▓▒st▚r while you study here. You should consider yourself privileged.”

Sans’ permanent grin tugged slightly in a sneer as he looked up at the other’s obscured visage towering above him. The bright lights above the corridor shrouded his face in shadow, making him appear almost menacing. “oh, do i ever.”

“We can do without the sarcasm for at least one day, boy.” There was the hint of warning that Sans knew all too well and he couldn’t help but shrink down at the tone. He felt another set of hands gently push at his back when the other turned to continue down the corridor. “Now come with me. I expect you to heed my warnings. Today the King will be gracing us with his presence. I expect you to behave favourably; which means no swearing-”

“well, fuck.”

“-or fidgeting, or staring, and certainly none of your obstinate pranks. He is an incredibly powerful Boss Monster whom I hold in high regard and I will not tolerate you embarrassing me in front of him. We will be discussing the CORE’s development and your integral role in it.”

It was the only amount of praise he received from him; veiled through disappointment and condescension. At least Sans knew he was smart enough for the other to tolerate him.

 

The ticking of a familiar clock pulled him back to consciousness, coupled with the static of an untuned television. Sans blearily looked around, confused for a moment as to where he was, only that he was using the couch’s arm as a pillow and he was wrapped comfortably in a mountain of blankets.

It was late at night, and alongside Undyne’s snoring from the other side of the couch there was a little noise from the direction of the kitchen. A soft glow of light was pouring into the dark living room from it. It took quite a bit of effort to untangle himself from the blankets Papyrus had heaped upon him while he slept.

Inside he still felt raw and unstable, but at least he could string together coherent thoughts and shuffle his way to the kitchen without wobbling too much. His brother was busy dishing out containers of dinner for the next few days, his expression grave as he worked. He looked so out of place without his battle body, Sans thought, although he supposed they were now a matching set. He looked up when he saw Sans enter the doorway and lean against the entrance wordlessly.

“You’re awake,” Papyrus said lowly. He had long since learned to keep his voice quiet whenever Undyne came and ended up spending the night. “I expected you to sleep clear through to morning.” Sans’ nonexistent gut twisted when the other dropped a ladleful of sauce over each portion with a little more force than what was perhaps necessary. Bits of sauce splattered everywhere.

Sans could tell his brother was attempting to hide that he was upset. With the dreamlike memory still in his mind, he watched his brother move around to the sink to rinse off the ladle and put it neatly in the drying rack. “you sound like him.”

Papyrus paused, then sent Sans an odd look. “I don’t think I sound anything like Grillby.”

“not him,” the other clarified, then decided it was probably best if he didn’t bring him up. Even if ‘him’ referred to a collection of vague, unpleasant memories that made him feel small and worthless.

It was too late, since his brother appeared interested in what he had to say. Calmly, he manoeuvred around the counter and pulled out a chair, beckoning him over. His gestures seemed a little calmer as Sans shuffled over, still in the process of both waking up and recovering. He slouched over the table, waiting for the inevitable scolding he would receive.

Instead, the taller skeleton moved back to the counter, grabbed a notebook and pushed it in front of Sans on the table. He opened it to a page where he had made a list, and Sans’ felt the ebb of guilt when he realised it was a list of magical expenditures from the previous day. Papyrus left it there for him and went to the cupboard and poured a bowl of cereal and set it in front of him, without milk. Sans winced as he grabbed a small handful and popped it into his mouth. Crunchy, but it was better than being offered spaghetti, he reasoned.

“I want you to list out, on a scale from one to ten,” his younger brother gestured to the page and took a pen from the counter, “of how much magic each action took. With ten being the highest expenditure, and one being the lowest.”

Sans stayed quiet, eyeing each item in the list with a growing discomfort. The way Papyrus phrased his request made him feel bitter and smaller than before. But he complied, knowing his brother was only concerned. He started with the ones he knew, scrawling his unkempt, bulbous handwriting next to his brother’s righteous, spidery script.

He didn’t immediately address the shortcuts, but figured… maybe eighty bones to the cage? He was terrible at healing and rarely did it, since Papyrus never got injured. He tapped the pen against his teeth in thought, staring at the remaining choices after writing ‘negligible’ next to the tossing game at the arena’s arcade.

Shortcuts.

He rubbed at his skull, drawing a blank on how to quantify the expenditure. It wasn’t quite magic, but at the same time, it wasn’t not  magic. He hummed softly and stopped the tapping when Papyrus looked over his shoulder. It reminded him of a much taller monster looking over his work when he was a lot younger, only with less hands.

Less hands. Well, that was a strange thought.

“whatcha think, teach?”

Papyrus ignored the nickname and frowned as best as he could. Sans offered him a coy smile in return. Maybe he wouldn’t ask too much about the shortcuts after all.

“What kind of construct did you make?” His brother pointed to his not-so-serious answer of ‘80 boners on a boat’ with a single digit, ignoring the childish joke. “And what was it for?”

“g-man was gonna get splashed big time, so…” Sans shrugged, scratching the back of his neck under his sweater collar. With a frown, he pulled out a leaf that had stuck to his spine, then let it drop to the floor unceremoniously. “...cage-bundle?”

“You could have set it up more like this and wasted less energy-” Papyrus took the pen from him and sketched out a ring of twelve bones with arrows indicating motion in a rotation. It appeared to be a kind of shield. Leave it to his brother to come up with something so ostentatious. “It would’ve been more efficient!”

“i literally had no time to think,” Sans replied lamely.

“You didn’t answer the shortcut levels.”

“nope.” Sans was avoiding his look and decided to grab another handful of cereal. He chewed them deliberately, making crunchy noises just to mess with him. Papyrus knew what he was doing and glowered down at him, fighting every urge to take the cereal away.

“ok, fine. say… one shortcut, just me, is… usually a ‘one’, lowest. easy-peasy,” Sans shrugged, still avoiding his brother’s look. “and takin’ someone with… maybe thirteen?” He chewed more cereal, crumbs dropping onto the page.

Papyrus’ sockets narrowed in suspicion, while Sans ignored the look. “Thirteen.” There was a challenge to it.

“sure.”

“I only made the scale out of ten, Sans,” the taller of the two indicated irritably, but he drew out a new graph for the overestimation anyway. He was suddenly more serious than before and paused, watching his brother eat. “how many times did you do that today?”

“once,” the other replied with another shrug.

While Papyrus stayed quiet, he quickly realised the three point discrepancy between what he was sure his brother’s health was compared to when he got back. If pressed on it, Sans would simply stop talking. But the nature of the shortcuts worried him - if it took HP away with Sans’ poor health, how long would he push himself until he came back to him as a dust-covered jacket?

Papyrus didn’t want to think of that. He had to broach the subject another time. It had been the most information he’d gotten out of him about his shortcuts and Papyrus knew his brother was still exhausted. He was surprised when Sans made it to the kitchen, after all.

Meanwhile, Sans was fine with him not asking. Eventually he started to doze again, still tired from the day. He leaned against the table with his arms folded and his skull buried in them before Papyrus urged him to get to bed. He groaned in protest, but eventually dragged himself back to the couch amongst the pile of blankets and Undyne, who remained a loud, snoring pile of limbs.

 

It was morning when he woke again, bleary-eyed and feeling hazy. He didn’t dream again and vaguely remembered what he and Papyrus had discussed in the middle of the night. Undyne was awake and had even managed to make a pot of coffee without starting any fires. That was awfully kind of her.

She leaned against the wall next to the television, watching him as he pushed himself up and looked around, trying to locate his brother. Papyrus would have prevented him from oversleeping.

“Pap’s on patrol. Just you and me, so,” she started, her tone peppy and with an accompanying smarmy grin as she swirled the contents of her mug. “Grillby, huh? How’d the date go?”

Sans at least was awake enough to conceal the irritation he felt at the inquiry, but not enough to stifle the flush that it brought to his face. “fine,” he answered simply.

“Aww, C’MON! A date that’s ‘fine’ is a failed date!”

The skeleton shrunk back against the back of the couch and grimaced when an errant spring nicked at his spine. He jerked and rubbed at the spot, then stretched a little to sort out the various kinks in his joints.

“hey, i finished those books alph lent me, so-”

“DAMN IT,” the other sighed exasperatedly, then lurched herself off the wall and chugged back the rest of her coffee before landing besides Sans. She pointed a finger directly in his face, still holding the empty mug. “I’m IGNORING the subject change! It’s time for YOU to come clean, bony boy!”

Sans made a grab for some more blankets to wrap himself in - and over his skull. Undyne backed off a bit and lounged at the opposite side of the couch from him. “the date went good,” he said quietly, “just really… really great.” His grin tugged a little sheepishly with the words and he was unable to suppress a laugh. “just thought it gotta bit.. hot to handle.”

“Ohhhh?”  Ok, that might have been the wrong thing to say considering who he was talking to. He pulled the blanket over his orbits so he couldn’t see the ludicrous toothy grin leering at him from the other side of the couch. “Why are you being such a shy DORK about this!? Did you two even KISS yet?”

Sans whipped the blankets off his skull and regarded the other with a bit of a glare, a spike of energy bringing up his agitated state.

“If you ask ME, I say you go over to Grillby’s right now and suplex him onto a table!” Her voluminous voice boomed so loudly, Sans was concerned the occupants of the library down the street would hear. He also grew deathly silent over the implications, but she continued, “Give him a big ol’ smoocheroo! Tackle him to the floor and make your feelings abundantly clear! Straight on through to MAKE OUT CITY!! - At least, that’s what I’d say if Papyrus didn’t ask me to watch over ya today.”

“oh, is that all that’s keepin’ ya,” the skeleton groused, rubbing at his skull irritably. He was still reeling from the mental imagery conjured by such a proposition and made a conscious effort not to react immediately to Undyne’s words. So far, it was working.

“It’s going to be BORING.” The fish lady drawled while stretching her back against the couch cushion. “Sans needs a bath, Sans needs to do this, Sans needs to do that, make sure he does this…” She groaned, the noise loud enough to carry throughout the house.

Irritably, Sans flinched at the words. She backed off a little when she recognised his agitation, her single eye flicking to his sweater then back to his face. It appeared she noticed something, but Sans was more than willing to pretend it didn’t happen.

Bathtime then, he lamented internally. He pushed himself off the couch, lurched to his feet and kicked away his shoes on the way upstairs. Socks came off next and he left them where they dropped down the hall to the bathroom. He let the tub fill before he closed the door and got undressed, yawning the entire time.

It was far too early to be awake just yet. The thought lingered as he sunk into the tub reluctantly until he was submersed clear to his jaw. Maybe he could stay in here to escape Undyne and just think about the date. Or maybe the next one.

It turns out that the resident fish lady had other plans. Her knock was as loud as her voice and very nearly jolted the skeleton clear out of the tub. His irritability kicked in again with her proclamation: “QUIZ TIME!”

“does it really have to be now?”

Undyne ignored his protest, “OK! First things first - name the three constituents of the soul!”

Sans groaned, sinking further into the tub. His voice reverberated over the water, adding an echo to it, “love, compassion, hope.”

“Well that one was so easy a BABY could answer it!” She made a drawled out noise as though she were thinking. Sans speculated she was less prepared for the quiz than Papyrus would have been. “Ok, speakin’ of babies, how ‘bout this then? Practical HP values for an infant are in what range?”

Sans scowled at the door. “usually, between 10 an’ 20.” His was lower; much lower. He was getting agitated again. Idly, he rubbed at his right arm. “higher if they’re Boss lineage.”

“Two points!” Sans groused at that. Just great - another score to keep track of. “On cyclical nature: aggression in monsters starts at what stage?”

“which species.”

“Ohhhh. Tough guy. Alright, alright… uh, let’s say,” she paused to think about it, “Hotland crowd.”

Sans narrowed his sockets in suspicion at that. He wasn’t sure if it would be obvious of him to point out what she was doing, or to pretend it didn’t happen. As usual.

“pinstripe.” It didn't vary too much between areas, but each culture had its differences.

“Uh-huh. Uh-huh. And what does that mean?”

“goddammit,” he whispered, his voice echoing in the water. He slid down a little more. “last stripe before adulthood,” he called out louder, just a little warbling.

 

It went back and forth like that for some time longer, trapping Sans in the bathroom until he realised he hadn’t brought any other clothes with him. He certainly didn’t want to wear his brother’s clothing again, so sat up in the tub. His magic was arcing around him, made irritable by the pop quiz and the skeleton had been battling the overwhelming need to vent out the excess energy.

He didn’t want a repeat of the previous day, so decided against shortcuts. He coughed quietly to catch Undyne’s attention on the other side of the door. She laughed when he asked for clothes, then simply walked off. Hopefully she wouldn’t go into Papyrus’ room. He’d have a fit.

With water all over the floor and towelling off, Sans hid behind the door when it opened a crack. “Don’t worry. I don’t WANT to see your bony ass!” she called in, waving clothes that looked like his own. He grabbed them from her flailing grip and promptly closed the door to change.

She had selected a dark blue tee that had the elements ‘barium’, ‘cobalt’, and ‘nitrogen’ on the front in shorthand and a pair of black snap-side track pants. Apparently Undyne didn’t get the memo that he didn’t have skin and was a great deal younger when he last wore the pants in particular. He shrugged and ditched his towel in the sink and opened the door.

“HA! Much better!”

Sans shrugged and plucked at the shirt. “how far into my drawers did ya have to dig to unearth this thing?”

“Dunno, I just grabbed whatever,” she shook her head with a grin, then seemed to notice something again. Sans avoided her look and attempted to walk past her.

Instead of successfully managing that, she grabbed the front of his shirt and dragged him back to study him. He lifted his hands in a placating gesture, unsure of her intentions. Her eye wasn’t focused on his face, but a little lower.

“Oh. My. GOD!” She let go and the other frowned in confusion. She giggled quietly at first, then broke out into a fit of laughter.

“jeez. rude.”

It was several moments before she could recover enough to point to him, slapping her leg with her other hand and shaking her head. “He MARKED you?”

Sans clapped a hand over the spot but it was already too late. He hadn’t checked the mirror - in fact, it didn’t occur to him that the affection Grillby gave his neck would’ve left any marks. He remained quiet and glowered at her.

“Oh my god, that is… too cute! FIRE HICKIES!! Date number one and he’s all OVER you?” Sans swatted her hand away when she reached to see better, his magic flicking aggressively. “Did I piss you off? Shit, I’m sorry-” She stopped laughing and blinked at the agitated stance; it was much different than being embarrassed over a little friendly teasing. “Hey, you ok?”

“could say i’m twenty points into needin’ an outlet,” the skeleton grumbled, referencing one of her quiz questions about monster aggression. He sighed quietly and attempted to calm down, pushing a hand against his face and pinching the bone between his orbits in frustration.

“Great! Let’s SPAR!”

Sans shifted uncomfortably, but his magic flicked around him like a nervous cat’s tail. He swore softly; sparring with Undyne would likely dust him. She was hyperactive and pushed Papyrus, but his brother had a great deal more stamina than he did. Everyone did. He stayed quiet, but grew angry the more he thought about it and he knew Undyne was waiting for an answer.

“can’t,” he lied, “pap said ‘no’.”

She nodded her head suspiciously and folded her arms over her chest. “Well, in any case… What if I block, and just you attack?” She appeared to be pretending she hadn’t heard him.

“what?”

“I won’t attack.”

“that doesn’t seem like a thing i’ve ever heard ya say. `sides-”

Her eye and grin grew wider; “Hey! I’m trying to HELP!”

He grimaced and shrugged apologetically just as Undyne grabbed him by the arm to lead him downstairs and out the front door.

 

Sans was kept on the defensive, a little ways between Waterfall and Snowdin. It was strange to be outside without footwear or his hoodie, but for once the chill didn’t phase him. Undyne, meanwhile, had ran back inside for her coat, scarf and boots, but she still remained shivering in front of him, breaths huffing in the wintry air.

“cold goes right through me,” he said, offering her a grin while selectively hiding a few stats. It was a little trick he’d learned on his and Papyrus’ first days in Snowdin, when some of the older kids were curious about the skeleton brothers. She snorted in response and held out her arms. A line of blue-tinged magic sliced through the air as she summoned a spear and held it out in front of her challengingly.

“Ok, lay it on me! Hit me with all ya got!” She pounded her chest with a fist.

She seemed pumped to help, at least. Sans humoured her, conjuring a small bone and flicking at her as a test. It was quick and bounced off her head faster than she could move. She looked pretty upset about it, but looked at the attack in the snow where it clattered to the ground.

“What the HELL was THAT?” She checked and her HP hadn’t even nudged.

“ya got a bone to pick with me?”

“That was HORRIBLE! A WHIMSUN can hit harder than that??”

Sans shrugged evasively, knowing it to be true - if said monster could even muster the courage around others. With his stats taking a plunge after the accident, even toddlers seemed powerful in comparison. He’d learned not to care too much. It would be enough to drive him nuts, otherwise.

He sighed in resignation, raising his left hand and summoning more attacks. Sans saw the way his partner grinned, anticipating a good exercise. It was a shame, considering he still felt so exhausted.

 

It had been probably not longer than a half hour or more before Undyne finally called for quits. She had drilled him to make smaller attacks, which peppered the snow around them like bony icicles before slowly dematerialising in their idle state. Sans was breathing hard, but not with as much difficulty as the night before, nor after his and Papyrus’ skirmish earlier that week.

He felt oddly better for it, if a little wobbly. She had taunted him about his damage output but he ended up chipping away five points from her by the end. After the first test attack, she was quicker to block.

“I’m FREEZING,” she announced, dispelling her spear with a flash and rubbing at her arms against the chill. She hopped in place a couple of times before she stalked over to Sans in the snow, still catching his breath. “Ok, we need something to stuff our faces. Pap’s got food ready, right?”

Sans couldn’t help the shudder that passed through him at the mention of food. Undyne unceremoniously tugged at his arm to pull him up from the snow and led him back to his house. She helped him brush the snow off his clothes and shoved him into the kitchen for food. He reluctantly sat while she went about heating up two containers worth of spaghetti while humming.

Then it was the moment of truth: Sans stared at the steaming container in front of him while Undyne waited for her own to heat up. If he didn’t eat it… Undyne would tell his brother. And if he didn’t eat it, Papyrus would become upset. His nonexistent gut twisted when he twirled a small portion onto his fork and brought it to his mouth.

For the most part it was sweet, but in a separate and completely unappetising way. Then salty, way too salty, enough to make him choke. The oregano was overpowering and bitter to all his senses to the point where the noodles would have been a blessing if they hadn’t been drenched in garlic paste. In a word, it was disgusting.

Wrestling with it to try and absorb it, Sans stayed quiet but let his fork drop into the container. He didn’t feel well, before or after this. He couldn’t help it - his magic was rejecting it. He’d never thought it would be something that anyone without a stomach could do, but he made a retching noise and attempted to cover his mouth and turn from the table.

What little pasta Sans had absorbed came back up as tainted magic, effluvial cyan hue masking what the food once was over his hand. Undyne was at his side within seconds, ignoring the microwave chimes as she settled her hands on his trembling shoulders.

“Jeez! Maybe that sparring session was a bad idea,” she offered guiltily, her voice a register lower in worry. “Clearly you’re really not feeling well.”

Once sure he wasn’t going to fall off the chair, she went to find a towel for him to clean up. Sans swore softly while he did, feeling the twist of disgust against his magic’s flux and he half-leaned over the side of the chair, just in case.

“You should take it easy today,” Undyne suggested, her expression unsure, “You overexerted yourself yesterday and you’re still weak! Park your ass in front of the TV and watch it with me!”

Not sure of the exact reason why his body rejected the food but knowing the taste had likely contributed, Sans only nodded, feeling worse than before. After a couple of reality shows with Undyne bravely attempting Papyrus’ spaghetti, he was in and out of sleep, thanks to the comfortable pile of blankets and pillows they had surrounded themselves with. His body rejecting sustenance had taken a toll on him and he felt more worn out than before.

 

Undyne had waited until he was in a deep sleep before looking him over; he was in rough shape and if she had known how exhausted Sans was, she wouldn’t have insisted on the sparring session. She felt guilty for that, but at the same time the guy always seemed to be hiding how he truly was feeling. While Papyrus’ cooking wasn’t… great, it certainly wasn’t poison, so she attuned Sans’ reaction to overexertion.

For the most part, she updated his brother on how he was doing through texts and a quiet phone call in the kitchen. Papyrus was fretting on the other line so badly that she had to toy with him a bit - that Sans wouldn’t feel right if the Great Papyrus missed even one day of patrol on account of him. It seemed to do the trick, however temporary a fix it was. She sighed after ending the call.

After another hour of mindless variety prime time television, Undyne slipped off the edge of the couch and towards the door. As much as she hated MTT-TV, she left it on to keep her eye on Sans, who likely chose the channel to bug her. He hadn’t moved apart from a slight restlessness as he fell sleep, but he’d quickly settled soon after.

He would be ok, she thought, if she just left for a few minutes to get something she’d been aching to have since she got to Snowdin.

For someone so rambunctious, she could also be deadly silent. She pulled her boots on while making sure Sans kept sleeping, pulled on her warm jacket and scarf before leaving on tiptoes. It was a good thing the skeleton brothers both harped on about not feeling the cold, otherwise she would have been worried about the draft waking Sans when she left.

She ended up at Grillby’s, grinning up at the warm neon sign of the restaurant and pushing the door. It looked like it was only half full with some chairs still turned over tables, but that was fine with her; her plan had been to grab something to go from the start.

The heat was incredible compared to outside. It was cosy, warm, and the closer she got to the bar, the better it was. Red Bird turned from his story to the bartender as she approached, giving them her most winning smile.

“PLEASE tell me you have cheese fries!”

The bartender carefully rolled his shoulder, his fire looking a little dimmer than when she had seen him last. Maybe he wasn’t feeling well? It seemed like a lot of that was going around lately, she thought.

He remained quiet as he always did, but gestured to a menu board behind the bar next to the shelves of liquor: ‘Limited service. Sorry for any inconvenience.’

“Oh wow,” Undyne remarked after reading the orange chalk scrawl. “You not feeling well either?”

The other gestured in response - or would have, but his left arm jerked slightly and he stopped short. He released a soft rasp of a noise and rubbed the arm as though in pain.

“Grills’ fishin’ with the other hand today,” Red Bird supplied easily. Grillby turned his head to the other and seemed to glower as though irritated by his translation, flames flickering hotter and even crackling loudly. Red sighed in resignation and leaned one wing over the bar. “Fine. He said ‘either?’”

“What?” It occurred to Undyne a little too late that Grillby had been the date, and what she said would have worried the mass of living fire. “Don’t worry about it! Sans is just cranky and overworked, hah!”

Grillby attempted to sign again, but couldn’t form half the words with only one hand; ‘....my fault… he… out… protect me.’

“I’d say if he heard you were thinking that way, it would kind of upset him, y’know? Guy’s got pride and obviously cares about you. If he overtired himself, it’s because HE wanted YOU to be safe!” Undyne shrugged uncomfortably. “I think he’d be MORE upset if he found out you’re trying to work through the pain instead of taking it easy!”

The fire monster seemed to consider it for a moment before signing again; ‘... arm… fire. Nothing to-’  He flinched when he automatically attempted to use his left hand and sighed in frustration. “.........worry about.”  His voice was quiet, barely a whisper and a crackling hum of fire so rarely heard by the patrons that Undyne had to lean forward to hear him.

She grinned knowingly at him. “Especially if you can’t communicate as well as you’d like, you shouldn’t force yourself.” Undyne sighed and idly scratched above the gills under her scarf, leaning back. It would smell less like sushi and more like shioyaki if she stayed any closer. “Take the day off, Grillby!”

The bartender gestured towards the floor with his good hand; many people were still eating and another monster had just entered. Her gills flared as Grillby made to move to take their order, but she slammed her fists down on the marble countertop, threatening to make it crack. He stopped, watching her warily in silence.

Undyne turned, still grinning; the entire patronage was staring at her in abrupt shock. “Listen up, guys! Shop’s closed! Pack up and go! Get the HELL OUTTA HERE!!” Red Bird slunk away from her craziness, sending an apologetic look to the bartender. “CAPTAIN’S ORDERS!”

“.........Not necessary,”  Grillby protested, stock still and sounding aghast.

“I’m MAKING it my business that you recover in good health, which means NO WORK, PUNK!” Undyne ordered, shoving a finger in the fire monster’s direction. Then she whirled around with a battle cry and set about telling what little clientele there was left to hit the road while carrying a stool over her head threateningly. The restaurant cleared out pretty quickly through the confused commotion.

Chapter Text

When Undyne returned, Sans was sleeping at the opposite side of the couch, but had acquired a bowl of cereal that had spilled onto the floor. She inspected the area and didn’t find any evidence of him being ill again, so cleaned it up and went about passing the time on the UnderNet on her phone until Papyrus came home.

He made sure to stay quiet, but frowned in concern when he saw his brother balled up in the same area as the previous evening. Undyne nodded at him, half in greeting and in reassurance. At least he had changed, which meant his brother felt well enough to get up and do something.

Undyne took him into the kitchen and kept her voice low. “It’s like he doesn’t know what to DO?” she started, sounding appalled. “Don’t freak out - we sparred a little. HEY! I’m being HONEST here with you. Don’t worry, it was just a little test.”

Papyrus had been hushed by her hand; she had quite literally grabbed his mandible to stop him from talking. He shot her a distressed look and she made a shushing noise.

“I dunno what’s going on with him, but it looks like he has all this pent up energy and he… doesn’t know how to FOCUS it?” Papyrus gave her a hesitant nod, still quiet as she figured out things as she spoke. “It’s like he’s a kid, but… that’s just WEIRD.”

She unhooked her fingers from Papyrus’ jaw and hummed to herself in thought, leaning against the kitchen table.

“At any rate,” she continued, keeping her voice down to a harsh whisper, “I got some kids I help in Waterfall with this kind of thing? It’s actually pretty common. I’ll take a day tomorrow and help him through it. Gah, it’s like he WANTS to make us worry.”

“WILL… Will he be alright?” Papyrus adjusted himself, fidgeting worryingly.

She shot him a big grin and he tried his best to return a smile. He looked even more concerned so she threw her arm around his shoulders and gave him a noogie. “Your weenie brother’s gonna be just FINE, Papyrus!”

 

She spent the night again and woke shortly after Papyrus, who had taken it upon himself to catch up on some housework while she set about making another pot of coffee. The vacuum cleaner blared noisily and she glared at it as she yawned, mug in hand. Sans didn’t budge from his side of the couch at the noise, but grunted in protest when Undyne gave him a kick - as gently as she could.

Groggily, Sans rubbed at an eye socket. He felt… marginally better. Not great, but it was a start. With his brother sucking up the crumbs from when he attempted food the previous evening, he yawned and pushed himself up to a sitting position.

“TODAY, LAZYBONES, UNDYNE IS GOING TO BE YOUR MENTOR.”

Sans laughed quietly at that. “what.”

Papyrus finished vacuuming around the couch before continuing, all the while Sans giving him the most perplexed look as Undyne patiently sipped her coffee. He realised this was going to be a real thing; she was dressed warmly and already had her boots on. She was also holding his hoodie in her free arm, waiting for him to get up.

“I HAVE UTMOST FAITH IN YOU THAT YOU WILL HAVE A SUCCESS!” Papyrus proclaimed, strutting away to the door to pull on his boots. Sans made a move to spring up from the couch, but Undyne kicked up her foot on him and it kept him down. “I’M GOING ON PATROL, SANS! I HAVE NO DOUBT THAT UNDYNE IS BEST SUITED FOR YOUR TUTELAGE. HAVE FUN!”

The smaller skeleton flinched when the door slammed, confused to the point of feeling mildly upset. It was entirely too early for this. “are you serious??”

“Boy, is he EVER!” Undyne laughed, her teeth showing off in a grin to the point of lunacy. “He was VERY adamant!”

Sans groaned and pressed his face into his hands. “he’s gettin’ back at me.” He shook his skull and exhaled in resignation. “fine. whatever. whaddaya got planned..?”

Undyne took another sip of coffee, then paused, looking down at him. Her brow arched sardonically and she leaned down, barely putting any weight behind her foot but it still pinned him in place. “Get your jacket on, bony boy,” she leered ominously, holding out his hoodie, “We’re takin’ a walk!”

 

When he grumbled about breakfast, Undyne fixed him a bowl of colourful cereal and impatiently waited for him to eat it. It was easier than the previous day, but Sans still felt cautious enough that he ended up not eating very much of it. At least it was sweet, so it went down easy. He tried to take his time to wake up as he ate, but she wasn’t having it. He wanted to wear his slippers and grew quite agitated when she insisted on his sneakers. If there was any need for an outlet, now was the time.

Instead, she led him a little away from Grillby’s, just in front of the crossroads where there was a lot of room, but they were out of the way. Sans became distracted, eyeing a white sign on the door of the bar from a distance, noticing the bar’s shutters were closed. His brow furrowed slightly as he pushed past Undyne, ignoring her preamble about her plans for him alongside her sudden protest.

“HEY! Hold up!” she called after him, indignant.

Sans scowled at the sign on the door; ‘Closed by local authority until further notice.’  He sent an accusing look Undyne’s way, expecting an answer.

Undyne provided no explanation, but grabbed his shoulder and moved him back to her selected area, the opposite side of Grillby’s. She then rather forcibly pushed him down so his knees buckled and he ended up on his back in the snow with a sharp curse and a scowl up at her.

“mind explainin’ what the hell you’re doin’?”

She said nothing, but to her credit she looked as though she was holding something back rather fiercely. She flopped down in front of him, long limbs akimbo before drawing herself up while clearing her throat.

“You fucked up.”

Sans pushed himself onto his elbows and glared at her. “what?”

She leaned forward, “YOU SCREWED UP, FUNNY MAN!!” Sans nearly barreled over and noticed how the kids running around nearby veered off-course into the exact opposite direction of them. He shrunk down into his hood and stayed quiet. She watched him, her yellow eye gleaming as every single faux pas of his posture was taken in. Then she exhaled long and hard, as though coming to terms with something.

She pulled him forward by one arm and the skeleton grimaced, on guard now. If she was anything like she was with Papyrus, he was willing to bet she’d be yelling ‘snow-wrestling’ at any moment and would have to get his spine readjusted as a result.

But it didn’t happen, which made it all the more peculiar. She sighed again, leaning an elbow against one crossed knee and stared at him. “Let’s skip the lecture, ok? I know what’s up.”

Sans stayed quiet, but he remained in the fight-or-flight mentality, his magic arcing in defensive waves throughout his body.

“We don’t have to put a name to it. Just know I’m here to help, ok? I deal with this kind of stuff… pretty consistently. And you’re being a huge baby about it.”

“i don’t-” Sans stopped himself short, his mind racing to and fro. Did Undyne know about the whole delayed puberty ordeal, or was she merely concerned for him? It was admittedly difficult to tell.

To her credit, she waited a few moments for him to continue before pressing on. “I’m not insinuating anything. Hell, I don’t even WANT to know? I just know that your brother worried about you all last night and the night before. You HAVE to start taking better care of yourself!”

“so that’s why you dragged me out into the snow for. thanks, chief. it’s really liftin’ my spirits.”

“Don’t be cute,” she grabbed a fistful of snow; light, powdery and barely packing at all. In fact, it would be perfect for her exercise. “As a sentry, you’re smart and can get around quickly, but you’re USELESS when it comes to actual fighting. I figured it out during our sparring session yesterday. Instead of using your reserves like any regular person would, you’ve gotten into the habit of pushing yourself. It’s stupid and DANGEROUS!”

The skeleton remained silent, but slouched in feigned disinterest, idly drawing a line in the snow with a bony digit. His magic was coursing harsher in anger at the truth, however.

“And as a result, you’re cranky like a teenager and have SCORES to blow through, but you’re not.” Her gills flared with his noncommittal shrug. “Ok, so to my point-” she continued almost sweetly, her wide grin betraying her tone, “-is that-you need-to ACCESS it. Which is why we’re sitting in the goddamn freezing snow. So I would APPRECIATE IT, if you at least TRIED?”

Sans sighed, one socket open while the other remained closed in disinterest. She had a point, but the more she pressed it, the more hassle he felt it would be. Undyne scooped up a pile of snow in front of them and gestured to it. Her explanation dealt with how she used seeds or spores in Waterfall, but snowflakes would work just the same. He would filter his energy to move the tiny flecks with his magic to create a separate pile.

It was infantile and degrading and Sans wanted nothing more than to walk away at that moment. She was trying to help, but he wanted to escape. When Sans moved in a way to suggest he was intending to get up, she reached over the small pile between him, her expression pleading as her hand rested on his shoulder. It threw the smaller monster off, sockets widened slightly and not knowing what to expect next.

“Please. For Papyrus and everyone you care about - AND yourself.” He flinched. It was several moments before he resettled and nodded his head slowly.

 

Most of the morning was spent in practise, with Undyne giving instructions and Sans making attempts. He earned a few light smacks that thankfully didn’t hurt when he automatically drew from his stamina. Switching between the two forces was something he had to get used to, now that he’d learned there was a difference. There seemed to be an unlimited font stored, replenished while he slept, itching to get loose - yet he had the habit of drawing from his stamina first.

So however mundane and trivial it seemed, flake by tiny snowflake, Sans moved snow from one side between them to the other. It was admittedly more difficult than he initially thought and just as tedious.

Pretty soon it was easier to adjust to, but the effort of switching last moment to his reserves was making him tired. A time or two, he simply let his skull rest atop of his right hand while his other was raised between them, poised with a larger clump of snowflakes surrounded in his cyan hue. He ended up nearly falling asleep that way, his flux holding onto it midair.

“Hey, blue boy!” Undyne snapped, then clapped her hands in front of his skull to wake him. When Sans opened his sockets again, it was to Undyne shivering violently in front of him. The pile was larger on the right than on the left. He’d made progress. “I th-think y-you got it-t!!”

“oh. huh.” The skeleton looked at his left hand, then to Undyne, trying her damnedest to keep warm. “you’re kinda…”

“D-DON’T?”

“...flash-frozen, heh.”

“M-makin’ him close up really b-bit me in the ass,” she sighed and got up, her body trembling, “C-could REALLY use the heat! Y-your stupid house isn’t c-cold, but it’s n-not warm EITHER!”

Sans got up and brushed himself off, not entirely bothered by the cold, but looked up to the second floor of Grillby’s building. “ok… but why did you?”

“F-freakin’.. he was t-trying to wo-work with a b-bum hand!” Undyne shot back irritably, then abruptly sneezed. Sans stared at her as she encircled her arms around herself to try and keep warm. “I-I told him, h-he better get b-better soon! H-he couldn’t eve… even S-SIGN, it was so b-bad!!”

Sans looked up and walked around to the front of the establishment to where he could see a dim light upstairs. After watching the muted glow, he went into his pocket and fished out his phone, quickly scrolling down his contacts list.

“What are you d-doing?”

The skeleton raised a single digit to his teeth while he was on the phone, waiting for the other end to pick up. His soul was hammering hard behind his ribs with worry and he paced around outside of the bar, waiting impatiently.

Then a click as the call disconnected. Grillby didn’t answer, nor did he have voicemail. Confused and mildly alarmed, Sans stared at his phone, then went up to the door and started beating on it with his fist.

“WHOA! E-easy, Sans! He’s f-fine, he-”

He tried the door, but it was locked. Sans clenched his teeth to bite back the worry, stopping his knocking and stepping backwards into the street so he could look up at the window again. He could still see the fire monster’s glow upstairs, but it hadn’t moved.

He quickly started tapping out a message and immediately sent it;

*im comin up

“go back to our place an’ get warm,” he told Undyne, stalking away towards the opposite side of the bar and towards the rear. Sans heard her footsteps behind him and a protest, but he was already drawing on his reserves to make a quick shortcut. He was several feet away from her by the time she thought to follow. When he rounded the corner, he immediately warped inside the dark bar.

He heard a startled exclamation from outside, coupled with a few choice swears and his name amongst them. He waited for Undyne to give up her search as he kept quiet, his breath shaking as he tried to remain calm. While he had stayed behind at Grillby’s quite a few times overnight in the past, he’d never been upstairs, but knew that’s where the fire monster’s suite was.

The large room was cooler, with no trace of the resident fire monster’s pervasive heat. He slowly walked towards the back of the bar, the light of his magic’s hue guiding the way. He was trying to keep calm, checking his phone as he rounded the corner of the kitchen to explore.

“hey, grillbz..?” Sans cautiously called out. His voice sounded oddly thick with trepidation with no one else to hear it but himself. The fire monster didn’t respond from the darkness, so he pressed onwards. He tried to phone again but the call disconnected once more.

Grillby’s seemed like an entirely different place when it was empty now. It brought up a sick, lonely and fearful feeling in his soul while he carefully walked through the pitch. He grasped the fabric in his pocket and checked his phone again, in case he missed a message.

He hadn’t.

“this isn’t funny, man…”

The stone oven in the kitchen hadn’t even been lit that day and remained cool. Everything looked in disarray - dirty pans, pots and dishes stacked in one area of the counterspace, half-dished plates of food left out to dematerialise with age. Sans sucked in a calming breath, his entire being feeling the chill of dread of “what if?’.

“....grillbz?” he called out again, a little louder.

Eventually Sans found a flight of stone stairs leading up and he drew in shuddering breath to calm himself. At the top he could see light, however dim it was. His bony fingers trailed up the iron bannister, lightly grating as he crept over the worn steps.

At the top of the stairs, it opened into a wide corridor with the walls covered in shelves holding books and odd peripherals he didn’t care to look at just then. Light from the room beyond was spilling into the hall and Sans suddenly felt his soul shudder apprehensively. What if Grillby was more seriously injured than he’d let on..?

He pushed the intrusive thought away and started towards the end of the hall, his teeth grinding in his panic. The door was ajar only a little bit and carefully, he knocked twice, hoping for an answer.

There was none.

The skeleton drew in another breath, trying to calm his anxiety before he gently pushed the door further inwards. It creaked softly in the silence of the room. He was shocked not to hear any crackle of flame, but there was still light coming from the other’s bed.

“...grillby?” Sans’ voice was hushed now, unsure.

The other’s form lay on the bed, flames so low he could make out every detail of the other’s body. He wore a plain, loose button down grey shirt that was open and black shorts, sprawled on his bed with very little blankets. His entire form was glowing, but there was only a wisp or two of fire that Sans could see. His left arm was bare and was blemished up to the elbow, embers quietly floating off his hand.

God, Sans hoped he was only sleeping.

The skeleton suddenly felt extremely doubtful of what he could do to help, but walked closer still, taking care to be quiet in case he would startle the other. He heard a soft jingling tone from the desk to his right, where he could see Grillby’s phone light up with a reminder. When he peeked, it was his own message, labelled ‘Funny Bone’.

Sans exhaled through his nasal cavity, unable to help the soft laugh at the bad nickname. He heard the other shift on the bed with a soft raspy noise and the room got a touch brighter. When Sans turned back to check, Grillby had hung his right forearm over his eyes with a deep sigh, then seemed to settle again.

Sans drew nearer, his fingers fidgeting in his hoodie’s pockets, eye lights searching for any betrayal of pain. The embers floating off the other’s left hand and arm extinguished after drifting a ways and the limb was hanging off the side of the bed. Grillby didn’t appear to be in pain, but the boards beneath were scorched as fire trickled down like liquid and dripped to the floor.

As he was able to get closer without disturbing the other, Sans knelt beside the bed, taking in the sight with growing concern. Even when he recalled Grillby sleeping at the resort on their way through to New Home, he hadn’t ever seen the other’s flames so low.

The other’s torso was exposed and Sans couldn’t help the pang of guilt he felt with what looked like burns similar to Grillby’s injured arm, faded but still there, from when he supposed he was carried through the rest of Waterfall. They had to be deep pools in order to reach the heights on Grillby’s body and Sans felt a twist of anger at himself for being so weak.

He would make it up to him this time, at least. There was little sense Grillby suffering if he could kind of manage his reserves to heal him more. He drew in a soft breath, the gentle warmth from the other catching over his teeth as he cautiously reached to cradle his left hand in both of his own.

Grillby’s fingers twitched slightly and Sans stayed completely still, watching the other’s form as he drew in his reserves and set about healing. The cyan from his own digits mingled with the dark orange of the other’s form and presented it an icy green before it brightened a little more.

Grillby shifted, another sleepy sigh escaping him. “...Sans?”

The skeleton offered him a grin - until he realised the fire monster likely couldn’t see it without his glasses. Since the other was waking up, it didn’t seem as important to be quiet or as careful, so pulsed more magic to heal with a soft chuckle.

“how’d you figure?”

Grillby turned his head slightly, rubbing over his visage with his free hand and shifting on the bed. His fire and heat kicked up a little, like a small campfire starting up. Sans watched in curiosity as flames kindled anew, obscuring the mystery of the other’s body and the vague little fissures, barbs and crags that covered it.

“...Heat sink. And who else would have the audacity to break into my restaurant..?”

The skeleton adjusted his grip on the bartender, moving his left hand to place over the water burn on Grillby’s forearm to heal it next. The odd weeping flames had disappeared over time, but there were still small hairline cracks that glowed brightly against orange and red.

“heard you were ordered to keep your hands to yourself. aren’t you supposed to tell your neighbours about that kinda thing?”

The fire monster had uncovered his face to turn and look at the window by the bed, then turned to face where he heard Sans’ voice. “What time is it..?”  His voice crackled thickly with sleep; Sans told him and he seemed to groan in protest. “...Too early…”

“i think i’m rubbin’ off on ya, grillbz,” the skeleton couldn’t help but chuckle. The other must have been thinking of something else, since another fiery flare-up caught his attention. It looked like Grillby was attempting not to smirk. “what’s the joke?”

The other merely shook his head dismissively and pushed himself up a little to grab his glasses from the nearby nightstand. He fiddled with them for a moment before he put them on and drew in a deep breath, eyeing Sans wearily.

“Don’t feel obligated,”  he said after a few moments, watching the coil of magic wafting from the other’s bony fingers. It mingled with his fire and sunk into his arm with a subtle ache, interfering with his natural temperature. His own fingers twitched again at the gentlest of touches, healing the searing injury to a dull throb. Grillby couldn’t contain a grimace as the tingling and heat-void became too much and he gingerly pulled his hand away.

“i want to.”

Yet with that, Sans stopped and rested back on his legs with a soft huff. Papyrus had been right; healing took a lot of stamina, but he was sure he could do more. With Grillby watching him, he felt like maybe he shouldn’t push it though.

The bright crack of the other’s smile widened slightly and he gestured for Sans to come closer. Once he approached the side of the bed, Grillby put his arm over Sans’ shoulder and pulled him even nearer, his hand settling at the back of Sans’ neck.

“...Look exhausted.”

Sans leaned forward a little more, urged by the gentle caressing below the back of his skull. “i could nap,” he murmured with a soft sigh. He would’ve shrugged but Grillby’s hand slipped below his hoodie and shirt, lightly rubbing at his spine. He melted into the tender touch, folding both of his arms over the side of the mattress and laying his skull down on top of it, his sockets half-closed through the attention.

Grillby leaned forward and kissed his brow, the warmth meeting from the back of his skull to the front, completely flooding him in pillowy-soft comfort. Sans hummed contentedly as Grillby’s hand stilled, then slid back up to his shoulder.

“There’s room for one more.”  The invitation was bold, so much that Grillby thought with Sans’ pause that it had been too  brazen. He relished the thought of being close, especially so if the skeleton was so willing.

Sans laughed, feeling his soul flutter nervously. He didn’t mind the offer, even bravely moved to pull off his shoes at the invitation. Soon his hoodie was left on the floor and Grillby had his arms wrapped around him, as close and as comfortable as Sans had felt in his entire existence. The fire monster sighed contentedly as he shifted closer, his flames moving languidly in a restrained effort to not fully explore now that their point of interest was so close.

It was safe, it was warm, and Sans felt more cherished than he could ever remember being. His left arm was curled between them while his other hooked under and around Grillby’s right arm, pulling him close. He inched his face towards the other’s, taking a moment to just look into the other’s eyes and he couldn’t help a bashful laugh, rubbing his hand along the back of the fire monster’s shoulder. Grillby couldn’t help the drowsy smile, curling against the other’s touch.

“i’ll keep goin’ after the nap,” Sans decided as the other rested his chin against the top of his skull. He felt Grillby’s hand rub against his bones through his clothes and sighed contently, his fingers idly grabbing the other’s shirt. He then jerked suddenly with a startled yelp when the other’s hand found his lower spine and gently flicked it.

“When you learn to stop being so jumpy…”  Grillby chuckled, giving the column of bone a soft pat. Sans resettled, but was unable to still the trembling to his satisfaction, as Grillby left his hand there and in direct contact with bone. There was a lighter pique to his flames then, as the skeleton’s reaction had been more intense than he anticipated. “...Perhaps.”

Sans was paying only half attention to the words, focused on the gradual heat that flooded his spine in both directions. He moved slightly, tilting his head up as he moved his free hand to clear the other’s throat of fabric and replace it with his mouth. He felt Grillby shift in turn, then heard a low chuckle when he conjured his tongue and pushed the appendage against the heat.

“What are you up to?”

Sans huffed against his neck, the soft sizzling sound oddly ridiculous in the quiet room, but he was determined. “gotta mark you back,” he replied simply after pushing himself upwards, inspecting the spot. There wasn’t anything there, and somehow he thought it unfair as the flames flickered at him tauntingly.

Grillby laughed in his throat at the prospect. “One can certainly try.”

“thanks,” the skeleton replied dryly, holding back a shudder in response to another wave of heat up his spine when he inched closer. He thought about it for a moment and reasoned that maybe a wet tongue wouldn’t work after all. Sans almost seemed to glare at the idea, then another thought came to mind. He hid his grin at the base of the other’s throat and tried something a little different, replacing the wetness for something else.

A startled jolt passed through the fire monster’s body along with a shudder and a surprised gasp. Sans’ soul flickered in response, raising himself to look at the other’s visage in case he’d done harm instead of.. well, whatever he was aiming to do. Grillby took care to hide his surprise behind his fire, but the brightness of his eyes betrayed him. Sans offered him a wide grin then, watching as Grillby’s torso heaved and his fire danced in paler colours, embers popping around them excitedly.

“that fire up anythin’?” the skeleton teased, unsure, then jolted again when Grillby gently tugged at his spine. He huffed softly when the warmth kicked up a little hotter.

“...What was that?”

Sans gave in to a vague shrug. “…cold?” It had been experimental, pulling his magic to mimic the other’s heat, then sent it into the complete opposite direction. He watched as the other’s breathing eventually calmed down. The reaction filled his body with something, and all Sans knew was that he wanted to try again.

Hesitantly he leaned down again to the other’s throat, Grillby stilling for a moment in quiet anticipation. There hadn’t been a mark left behind yet, and when his conjured tongue touched his fire, Grillby’s body arched slightly against him. Grillby’s right hand travelled up with a low noise in his throat, plucking every segment of bone until it hooked between Sans’ lowermost ribs. The skeleton stopped abruptly with a sharp inhale, his body shaking as the invasion felt like the rib would snap with the heated pressure.

“e-easy,” Sans murmured nervously, pushing his hand between them to create a slight distance. The skeleton carefully plied the other’s fingers from his rib cage and regrettably out from underneath his shirt. With the other’s concerned look, Sans ignored it, instead held onto the hand and inspected his handiwork at the base of Grillby’s throat. Meanwhile the other put that reaction to his touch away for future consideration.

“y’know… this isn’t fair,” he complained, tracing one digit against the area while flames licked at his fingers. It appeared that ‘cold’ didn’t do anything to mark Grillby’s body either, but it gave a rather pleasing reaction instead.

Grillby watched him, staying still, but closed his hand around Sans’ fingers and pulled him close. “That’s fine,”  he shrugged slightly, still guiding him down. The skeleton recognised the way he was being careful and leaned down to their previous position, curling up beside Grillby again. “Far too early, anyway…”  Hopefully, they would have plenty of time in the future for exploration.

Sans assumed it was because he had woken Grillby up and he still needed rest, so merely nodded, huddling close. The other’s arms encircled him again after returning his glasses to the nightstand. Sans inched as close as he could possibly get, listening to the flutter of flames peter lower as Grillby eventually fell back to sleep.

It wasn’t long before the skeleton joined him, tuning out the faint hum of his phone buried in his jacket on the floor.

Chapter Text

It was a few hours before Sans reawoke. It felt unreal, curled up to his friend like this, bathed in a gentle glow of warmth and wrapped loosely in his arms. The skeleton didn’t move immediately, still in that blissful in between world of waking and blearily looking around as his consciousness gradually returned.

Grillby was still sleeping deeply, the subtle shift of low flames curling against his form. He was more or less solid, and without those bright eyes on him nor a worry in his mind, Sans was able to peek at every detail.

There were small glowing fissures along the surface of his body where the tiniest of crag-like formations trailed in subtle changes of colour. In a sense, they looked like the brilliant geodes embedded in secluded areas of Waterfall close to Hotland’s quarries. They shifted and seemed to disappear with every breath Grillby took and the quiet flames circled around his body and under his clothes.

Sans absently wondered how the place never caught fire and burned to the ground, but it had to be a fire monster thing. As if beckoned by the thought, a few flames stuttered around Grillby’s shoulder and down to his bony hand, moving across it. He watched it all rather calmly, the gentle heat soothing while giving him very little excuse to move on his own.

Still, he shifted slightly, moving just enough to gently glide his hand from the other’s shoulder to the small space between their chests. Grillby leaned closer in his sleep with a quiet sigh, but didn’t wake. Sans couldn’t help the twitch of a smile that crossed his face with the impish thought that came to mind.

Lightly, he pressed his palm against the other’s chest, watching the flames run around his hand as he gathered more of his magic there. He heard a startled gasp from Grillby and a puff of warm air graze his temple as he gave Grillby a mild but chilly pulse of harmless magic. The other jumped back and out of sleep, blinking around in confusion as fire harried his visage. At the same time, Sans flinched, but it wasn’t because of the resulting movement.

“mornin’,” the skeleton drawled sleepily, hiding a grimace the magic usage brought on. It took a moment for the fire monster to gather his bearings, then lean closer. “never took you for a late riser, g.”

The start of Grillby’s reply resembled the rasp of popping kindling before forming coherent words; “....arely have so many mandatory days off.”  He was rubbing at his face with one hand and reaching to the nightstand for his glasses with a soft grunt.

Soon he was able to see the smaller monster curled beside him on the bed, but a frown touched his bright eyes. Sans appeared somehow more exhausted after the nap, he noted in concern.

“what’s that look for.”

Grillby made sure to conceal his expression carefully as not to raise further suspicion. Thanks to the small jolt of ‘cold’, his flames were kicking up and lively as the sensation had been confusing and foreign. “Eaten yet today?”

Sans didn’t answer, nor did he even shrug. Grillby pushed himself up to a sitting position, giving the skeleton’s shoulder a soft pat as he found little reason to withhold the ways he showed his affection anymore. The sigh the fire monster exhaled was hot and harsh as he carefully manoeuvred around Sans, then snaked his arm under his own to pull him to a sitting position.

“aww, grillbz... can’t i stay in bed?” He was joking, but Sans honestly felt like he could sleep for at least a couple hours more. He looked inwardly and couldn’t hide the grimace this time. He was down to two points - wait, no, it rolled over to his last singularity, all buffer gone despite all the rest he had. The skeleton sighed in resignation; he didn’t have all that much food lately, he realised. “guess i should eat, then.”

It took him a couple moments to get up; feeling just as weak as he was, Sans made a show of stretching as not to worry Grillby. The fire monster was looking through his phone by his desk, flames obscuring his reactions but he gave in to a pensive hum once or twice with the messages. Sans watched him for a moment as the last couple of clicks popped from his joints and the other tapped out a quick reply to whomever was on the other end. When he appeared finished, Sans pushed himself up and followed Grillby into the next room.

It was a little odd to see Grillby’s apartment. Unlike down in the restaurant, it seemed more like a place to house his belongings and to rest. The shelves he didn’t care to look at on the way up were littered with a thin layer of ash and old books, small metal instruments and even a small globe that rotated on an axis when he gave it a test spin. For a monster composed of fire, Grillby certainly kept a lot of things that burned in his suite.

The next room was a kitchen smaller than the one downstairs, but it was just as messy. Sans had something of impressionistic whiplash as he leaned against the counter with several days’ worth of dishes, which Grillby didn’t even bother to excuse. The skeleton witnessed a flare of fire magic when the other held up a few dishes, both hands engulfed in flames and incinerating any leftovers until the plates were clean before dusting off the ashes. Sans made an impressed whistling noise and the other only shook his head.

“...Don’t normally entertain.”  It was a rather poor excuse for being messy, Grillby thought, but there was only so much one could do about where ash fell as a fire monster. Wiping down the areas upstairs seemed pointless after hours of keeping his restaurant adequately clean.

Sans only laughed. “wow. if you saw my room…” His sock collection and dirty laundry would be enough to chase the fire monster away. He saw the smirk that passed over the other’s features at that, no matter how Grillby tried to hide it.

He was made to sit on a high back chair wrought with sturdy metal while Grillby fired up something to eat. Sans watched him, slouched in place and looking around, finding the most mundane items in the kitchen a little interesting.

“hey-” he started after a moment of watching the fire monster pull bins and a frying pan from overhead. The skeleton noted how the other seemed to be using his left hand just fine, even if it still looked blighted and sore. He offered a tired grin when Grillby turned to him expectantly. “...how’s the, uh..” He gestured with his own arm.

“...Would have rekindled,”  the fire monster replied simply, continuing to bring out ingredients. “It wasn’t required.”  Certainly not if it exhausted the skeleton to his current state; he felt guilty, but managed to hide it. Perhaps a little too well.

For some reason it stung, but Sans shrugged it off as though it didn’t bother him and didn’t press it. Perhaps it was premature, as Grillby turned again once the counter was loaded up with what he wanted and leaned over the small island separating the two of them.

“...It is very much appreciated, however.”  Grillby watched the subtle bloom of cyan peek out from the collar of the other’s dark shirt and gave him a reassuring smile. He liked the way the other literally glowed with appreciation. Hanging onto the thought, he then turned away to start cooking.

Sans watched as he did, his sockets half-closed through a hunger daze, silently hoping he wouldn’t make a fool of himself again. He managed to keep the cereal down, and bearing witness to how Grillby cooked was a treat in itself. He heated the frying pan with his magic, whipped eggs, milk, flour and sugar into a bowl before ladling it out into the sizzling pan.

The skeleton had folded his arms over the counter with his skull resting in them as he watched, enthralled, until the very last moments. It smelled heavenly as Grillby put the last finishing touches in front of him, two plates stacked with thick, fluffy, golden pancakes drenched with butter and syrup. There was a dusting of white sugar on top, just for good measure.

Sans was impressed and all too eager to dig in. Grillby waited until the skeleton bit into his first helping, who then visibly relaxed in apparent bliss.

“why the hell you don’t do breakfast, i’ll never know.”

The fire monster rolled his shoulder as he leaned against the counter, still standing. “No one comes in the morning.”

“i did,” Sans protested, sticking another bite of pancake into his mouth, “fftwice.”

Grillby was able to catch his smirk in time for Sans to only just see it, his brow bone raising comically.

“no seriously, grillbz, if you’re holdin’ out on some good jokes, you gotta share.”

The fire monster only grinned to himself, not giving the other satisfaction to the innermost workings of his mind just yet. He ate a little more of the brunch as Sans watched him warily - he could literally see the cogs of his mind moving.

“throw me a bone, here.”

“You recall,”  Grillby relented, his grin showing a bit more, “When you suggested at the capital, that: I wouldn’t mind you in bed?”  He delighted in the way the other snapped to attention, sockets blown wide with his magic’s hue saturating his bones in vibrant intensities. The grip on his fork stayed still, midair between his plate and his mouth, while Sans stared at Grillby. His posture tensed and he slid down, unable to meet his gaze.

Such a bashful skeleton.

“...Might have mentioned something along those words even earlier than that,”  Grillby couldn’t resist the tease, watching the skeleton shift his other hand over his shoulder - likely trying to find his hood, which was in a crumpled heap on the bedroom floor. Instead, Sans leaned against his hand, elbow on the counter, and portioned off another piece of pancake.

“Point being,”  the fire monster continued, waiting for the other to finish his mouthful, “Such a predicted event did not disappoint.”

“o-ok.” It was the skeleton’s go-to word when he didn’t know what else to say, the other found.

Grillby realised it was likely an obtuse way of saying he enjoyed the added body next to him, even wanted it to happen again. Perhaps quoting the other’s embarrassing word slip-up had been inconsiderate, but the reaction was rewarding in its own way. It was also amusing, considering the skeleton’s earlier boldness in wanting to mark him. The skeleton was becoming contradictory in his inexperience. Grillby couldn’t help his grin with the thought throughout the rest of their meal.

 

Hunger satiated, Sans went back with Grillby to the bedroom, beelining to his hoodie to grab his phone. It had been buzzing while they made their way from the kitchen and he was apprehensive about the flurry of messages that awaited him. 

Several missed calls and over fifty messages from Undyne, Alphys and a couple from Papyrus. Undyne was unhappy he’d given her the slip, but she figured out where Sans had went pretty quickly, then told him to take it easy as she had to go back to Waterfall. Alphys was simply trying to get a hold of him for Undyne’s sake, and Papyrus was checking up on him, as usual.

He decided to only text back his brother for the moment.

The fire monster seated himself on the bed after checking his own phone. Sans looked up and said nothing, then heard the other sigh, “The authorities mandate another sick day.”

Sans glowered, it directed at his phone more than to what the other said. Undyne had mentioned that in a text, coupled with how he’d failed miserably on his quiz and needed to study more. Sans hadn’t thought he did - sure, a few questions he answered rhetorically and some with jokes, but he didn’t think he failed.   He idly wondered if he could get away with getting the reading material again and coming back...

“why don’t I keep you company today? maybe you could help me study...”

The offer surprised even himself, but Sans waited for the other’s reaction. He only nodded, something about his fire made him looked pleased.

 

Feeling better for the amazing food coupled with the rest for the majority of the morning, Sans pulled on his hoodie and shoes while the fire monster moved to tidy a few wayward dishes from his bedroom. He followed Grillby downstairs and made to go to the main entrance, when the other caught his arm. 

“...Fire exit,”  his friend suggested, looking to the direction of the back of the bar. Sans gave him a crooked grin, a joke forming in his mind as he allowed the other to tug him closer. “...not made of fire, I know.”

Sans blinked at Grillby; that had been exactly the joke, but he’d been beaten to the punch. Maybe he was getting used to his puns already? Sans decided to let the odd familiarity slide and chuckled lowly when Grillby opened the door for him.

He passed a few neighbours on the way; a couple asked how the date had gone, another told him it was about time the two of them hooked up. Sans was flushed by the time he made it to the house, unable to think much apart from what went on during the date.

Distracted, he grabbed a few textbooks from his room and pushed them into his bag before strolling across the living room, tracking snow everywhere. Then he paused beside the sock, grinning as he moved it a little, his brother’s fresh note telling him to bring it back to his room. He found a marker and wrote “ok” on it before he left again.

He returned, using the fire exit again to gain entry to Grillby’s. He met with him upstairs again, the fire monster having only moved to put on a pair of dark plaid pyjama bottoms. He looked far more awake than previously and his his light was an ambient glow around him as he leaned over his desk, reading a ledger.

If Sans didn’t know better, he could have sworn Grillby looked perplexed about something - or at least, if he was sure in deciphering the other’s expressions. Even if he was curious, it wasn’t his business. Yet the other seemed to realise Sans had returned and turned to face him, closing the ledger as he did so.

“All set?”

Sans shrugged as he went back to the bed, discarding his hoodie next to it in an unceremonious heap along with his shoes once more. Apart from the desk that only had one chair, Grillby didn’t really have any other space to sit. It was cosy and did the job, at least. He upended the bag on the mattress and sat next to the pile, glaring at it while Grillby sat across from him.

“Why the need for…”  Grillby paused, taking Magical Bodies & The Housed Soul from the top of the pile. Sans saw the way his flames lowered significantly around the other’s hand, careful not to burn it. “...such interesting subjects?”  It had been a point of curiosity ever since Sans had first brought the reading material to the restaurant.

The skeleton shrugged again, this time evasively. “uh… alphys wants me to look into a couple things,” he mumbled, taking another book and opening it towards the middle with a furrow in his brow.

If he had been paying attention, he would have recognised which book Grillby had picked up - but he didn’t. So while the fire monster curiously flipped through a few pages, Sans didn’t understand the question Grillby asked, already fixated on the heaps of text.

“...skeleton monster?”  It was the tail-end of the question again, and Sans only stared at him in response. Grillby made a point to hide his smirk with fire as not to embarrass the other. He was actually very curious.

“what about-?” Sans let the rest of it hang, unsure. Then his sockets blanked when the other held up the loose page Alphys had included with the reading material. The fire monster was too quick for him to reach over and grab it from him - with Grillby holding it away from him while inspecting it, smirking a little. Sans felt the ebb of embarrassment build inside of him but held his own, waiting for the impending tease.

“I said,”  the other repeated carefully, “is this... one of you?”

There was a way to save this, Sans supposed. As awkward as he felt, he gave a soft sigh as he thought it through.

“nah.”

Grillby was still examining it but no longer held it out of reach. Sans thought he looked almost studious - if not for the obstructing flames, he would have seen Grillby’s gaze switch between the drawing and himself, as if comparing.

“It… looks the same.”

Sans tensed a little more, unsure why he felt defensive, perhaps even insulted. “it’s different,” he replied, quieter this time. Grillby was watching him now, page in hand, the hum of his blaze the only sound between them.

Sans had admittedly studied the page again by himself; mainly the hand on the reverse, but there were actual differences between his body and the one on the paper. Conversely, he had tried to find similarities, but they were just as elusive. The common factor just seemed that it shared the overall general shape and appeared to be comprised of bones.

He must have stayed silent for a bit longer than he thought, as Grillby had taken to looking at the page again, this time on the reverse. “...Hand is different, perhaps?”  It seemed like an innocent enough question.

Sans nodded carefully, unballing his left hand and holding it in the space between them. It was innocent, he kept telling himself. Apart from Papyrus, he supposed Grillby couldn’t have met any other skeletons. Additionally, he had to admit he was curious about the fire monster as well.

He bent his phalanges, each bone clicking faintly as his magic manipulated everything. The movement was so conscious that Sans felt a bit foolish for it, but Grillby was watching patiently and didn’t make fun of him for it. He wouldn’t, Sans knew. He would maybe tease, but that was all.

The other had reached over to put his own hand under Sans’ and he stopped moving his fingers, waiting for more questions. Then Grillby turned the page over, studying it carefully while he lightly moved his own hand up Sans’ radius. It seemed deliberately slow, like a caress. Sans wasn’t used to such a gesture, even with the bartender’s forward nature. Especially not on his arms, for that matter.

He couldn’t repress the subtle shudder that trickled down his spine as Grillby’s hand moved up to his elbow, giving it a light squeeze.

“...This is different,”  the fire monster added after the brief silence. Without saying much but feeling his soul tremor behind his ribs at the flood of warmth there, Sans only nodded. As though it had never occurred to either party, simply because the thought was so bizarre, they continued to explore. Grillby finally set the page down on the mattress and took Sans’ hand with his own and turned it over, watching as the bones shifted to accommodate the movement.

“...am i really that interestin’?” the skeleton couldn’t help but joke, still feeling a little awkward. It wasn’t quite the same, but the inspection made him think of his recovery time after the CORE accident, when Alphys and Papyrus would make sure there was no speck of dust to be found. But the other’s touch was more tender and didn’t remind him too much of the trauma.

“Very,”  Grillby replied without hesitation.

Sans laughed shortly, then gestured to the paper with his other hand vaguely. “i mean… i guess i could show you,” he offered, feeling oddly braver for it, “collar’s different. ribs. spine.” The skeleton waited a moment before boldly hooking his fingers behind his neck and pulling his shirt over his skull, depositing it at his side.

There really was nothing to it. It was innocent, he told himself. He didn’t feel necessarily bashful, but at the same time he was sure Grillby hadn’t been expecting him to half undress himself… that is, until he noticed the vague, orange hue tinging his fire. Sans’ grin became a little impish then.

“what?”

The other only shook his head, the attention giving rise to paler flames. Sans was grinning openly now, excited that he could fluster Grillby again - and to think it only took the sacrifice of his shirt. Sans’ shoulders were shaking with the chuckles he was trying to supress.

“ok then. see here?” He made sure Grillby was watching as he gestured to his left side, the elbow bending and the bones in his shoulder moving to glide into the new position. He then pointed to the stiff-looking creature depicted on the page, around the same area. “this thing can’t move like this.”

The fire monster seemed to consider it, even glanced up to compare Sans to the drawing again. He remained a shade or two paler than usual, but stayed calm and quiet as the skeleton continued.

“spine’s different,” Sans continued, sliding his arm out of the other’s grasp and turning slightly to show him. Every vertebrae was hooked and spread and moved as he did, whereas the drawing looked immobile, with clearly not so many bones. His ribs were wider and fewer, his sternum narrower with a few more pieces. Every bone was paler than the old, yellowed drawn figure, even looked softer.

Sans turned back to a more comfortable sitting position, watching Grillby as he seemed to take in the sight.  “whaddabout you now?” he suddenly asked, his own curiosity getting to the better of him. “feels like… i dunno. up `til recently i thought you were an elemental, kinda.”

Grillby shifted to face the other. One leg was crossed underneath him and he was slouched, but he reached for Sans’ hand again. Automatically, the skeleton offered his left, but the other took his right instead. He watched the small flames roll around the bartender’s grasp, encircling his bones.

“Close,”  Grillby agreed, his voice quiet, “...Can shift.”  He turned his hand, the form enveloped by fire subtly roiling, fingers melding together before returning to Grillby’s preferred shape after his ‘wrist’ had turned completely around. Sans was so captivated that he didn’t realise he had leaned forward for a better view.

“cool.” Sans saw the way the other reacted to his comment and splayed the fingers of his right hand against the other’s forearm, gently pushing as if to test it. It yielded a little, as Grillby’s body was semi-permeable and sank into the spaces between his bones. The flames sputtered around his digits as though they were hesitant to be close, but curious in their exploration. “is.. this ok?”

The fire monster was watching all this very closely, the flames’ reaction could have been called something along the lines of a shiver. Whatever variation of magic the skeleton was made of set off subtle little notes of nothingness, an absence of heat he’d learned from being around Sans. With closer contact still, Grillby nodded his consent and saw Sans visibly relax.

He grew a little bolder, passing his hand up the same arm to Grillby’s shoulder, just over the fabric of his shirt. Sans shoved aside the pile of books with his other hand so he could kneel in front of the other, giving him something of a sheepish grin with the other’s questioning aura.

“humour me, g.”

“Likewise.”

The tone made the skeleton flush, the bloom of his magic plain as day behind his exposed ribs. Curiously, the fire monster reached and gently brushed his sternum with his fingertips, rewarding him with a shift in the glow. Sans’ eye lights darted down with the touch and couldn’t help but lean forward, just a little. The warmth flooded his rib cage but the flames kept their respective distance to the source of the light. It felt like a soothing, fluttering ache, concentrated in his bones.

“warm,” he automatically murmured, recognising the quiet rasp from Grillby as a laugh when he moved his own hand to press over the fire monster’s torso. “really warm.”

“You’re not,”  Grillby commented, his touches gentle as they curled against the other’s bones, careful not to handle him too roughly. Sans’ poor health was always at the back of his mind ever since Papyrus had informed him of it, but if he was alive for this long, it was certain that Sans was stronger than he appeared. He didn’t have to worry too much, he figured.

“must be weird for you,” there was a calming sigh to Sans’ voice that tugged at him, coupled with his touch that went back up to his shoulder.

“It is.”  Grillby inhaled sharply with the flutter of cold against the ridges around his shoulder.

“wonder if all skeletons are like this,” was the question that passed Sans’ teeth, “or, uh, were.”

“...Do not appear to be sure.”

“still learnin’.” He sighed again, appreciation behind the breath as Grillby moved his hand upwards and lightly traced the pad of his thumb along his clavicle. “lotta ch-changes lately.”

“...Fangs,”  the fire monster listed, interest in his voice. “A tongue.”  The other’s soul flickered lightly, drawing Grillby’s gaze down again. “...And a blushing skeleton.”

“no.. no makin’ fun, grillbz. i’m just as puzzled as you.” Sans’ tone sounded distracted however, with the fire monster’s flames slowly creeping up his right arm. The spread of fire sent a hot tingling up through to his shoulders and he shuddered briefly while the heat glowed against his arm. He couldn’t believe how Grillby could remain so calm when it was taking everything he could muster to not flat-line mentally at the exploration.

“Gave me a start,”  Grillby admitted quietly, then exhaled audibly while Sans’ explorative hand found the side of his neck. His fire crackled in mild protest before resettling, while Sans’ look was suddenly unsure. “...Thought maybe I’d broken your face by accident.”

It was a funny way to phrase it, but Sans forced a grin with a joke that came to mind. “you thawed me with that hot smooch,” he murmured, then felt a little more foolish for it when he saw the crack of the other’s smile curl into a knowing smirk. That expression, coupled with the increasing butterfly feeling in the centre of his rib cage made him feel all the more nervous. “c-could give it another shot.”

Grillby’s hand curled against the base of his skull, flooding him with more fire and eliciting such a tremble from him that Sans couldn’t suppress the clatter of bones. He hummed softly, leaning into the touch.

“...Thought you were supposed to be studying?”  There was that playful teasing tone again.

“i am.” He was not. “i’m doin’ research on that.” With Grillby’s inquisitive look, Sans shifted a little closer, grazing his fingertips against the other’s back experimentally for any reaction. “gotta prove my, uh… hypothesis.”

Sans witnessed a subtle flutter pass through the fire monster’s form, shifting from orange and red, to a flare of amber and back again. Maybe Grillby took his hint, as the fire slipped from his right arm and the other’s arms encircled him. He gasped as heat flooded up and down his spine once more, giving in to a slight jerk when the fire monster’s hand found the lower vertebrae.

“...You jump,”  the other observed. His tone made it sound as though he already knew his touch would do that, even before his tease earlier that day. Sans’ mind clouded with the thought of where Grillby’s hands were, giving in to a soft huff in acknowledgment.

“y… y’know, that’s not part of the problem statement,” the skeleton stammered to continue, ignoring the observation as he ghosted his hands down the length of Grillby’s arms, stopping at his wrists.

The movement brought on another hue shift from the fire monster and Sans couldn’t help but grin in thinly veiled triumph.

“What do I need to do in order to provide assistance?”

Sans exhaled again, feeling the bubble of nervousness creep through his bones along with excitement. “uh, gatherin’... empirical data.” With the other’s look, Sans felt hot - and not just because he was in the warm embrace of a fire monster, either.

Grillby seemed to either understand or feel the need to be closer. Soon their faces were only a hair’s breadth away, the only thing keeping them from continuing was Sans’ clattering. Grillby took it as a bout of nervousness, but found the rattling wasn’t precisely exclusive to that lately.

“You’re the scientist… you’ll have to be the one to experiment.”  Another tease, Sans inwardly groaned, shifting so he could bring his arms up to encircle around the other’s shoulders.

“heh… jeez.”

“Sorry,”  Grillby pulled away slightly, “Like to make you squirm.”

“stop quotin’ my embarrassin’ texts, grillbz.”  To prevent himself from getting side-tracked, Sans settled down so they were at equal heights. His soul was pounding with nervousness, since it had been Grillby who introduced him to the concept of a kiss in the first place. He drew in a soft huff, the flames catching with the breath and he pressed their mouths together.

If he could compare the two, nothing was like the first kiss in the bar, but this one was so much more. It sparked in pillowing magic, less hesitant than the first, more exciting than the others that followed. His arms moved to bring them closer, delved under Grillby’s shirt and down the middle of his back. The fire monster inhaled again against the kiss with surprise to the touch and Sans felt something there. The other’s form trembled as though the fire monster was resisting something, while being tender and gentle with the slow kiss.

Grillby kept his own hands unusually still, had even closed his eyes as Sans kissed him, the curl of his smile still apparent as he tried his damnedest to behave. His hands twitched to return the touches, but instead curled his fingers at his ankle between them, leaning forward into the kiss. The skeleton’s magic was so absent of heat that when their bodies pressed together, it caught his flames off guard and sent them scattering around his body, excited and quick.

It had filled the two with cushiony sighs, with Sans pressed against the fire monster so closely their souls felt like they were thrumming in tandem. Both of their breaths were deep and sharing the air between them, their brows touching. Sans offered Grillby something of a charming smile, looking somewhat drunk.

“you didn’t touch back.” His tone was almost disappointed.

It took Grillby a moment to recompose himself, but opened his eyes, smirking playfully. “...Was not sure if I was permitted to interfere with very serious results.”

Sans inhaled softly, faltering against his plans. “i mean-”

“Comparative testing?”  Grillby murmured, moving to caress the other’s jaw with his mouth. “Such a fancy term for kissing.”

The skeleton leaned into it, his mouth hanging open slightly as Grillby’s trail of kisses moved down. The nip he was given sent a jolt through his spine like electricity and Sans couldn’t help the weighted gasp that escaped him.

“e-easy,” he murmured, the word both breathless and hazy. His phalanges slipped up the other’s back, gently raking through the flames that heated them. His mind was starting to blank out at the attention to his bones; he could barely form coherent thought let alone continue with whatever his original plan was.

“...Another one is mine,”  the fire monster laughed against his neck.

Sans dimly saw a small wisp of steam from the corner of his vision and tilted his skull towards Grillby in a halfhearted attempt to get him to stop, “c’mon man, i already dunno how i’m gonna explain this to my bro…”

“He’s a clever boy… he’ll know what hijinx you’ve been indulging in.”

Sans could have sworn he felt the entirety of his body flush with the thought - and with the impending teasing he’d be subjected to as a result. He bit back a moan as Grillby went lower, his hot mouth closing over his clavicle with an accompanying hiss as the moisture in the bone steamed off.

Grillby leaned back to inspect the small singe, his smirk apparent and flames flickering between amber and orange as Sans recovered and moved his bony fingers to each side of the fire monster’s neck. 

“one more,” the skeleton sighed, already leaning forward again with the need for another kiss. He caught the hitch of breath that came from Grillby’s mouth with the hesitant introduction of tongue and soon Sans’ mind was reeling with heat and passion. To his credit, the fire monster played along, allowing him to explore the hot recesses of his mouth with muffled moans of pleasure.

It did something to him, to his magic, pinging off in different directions all throughout his body. Sans couldn’t keep his fingers from sliding down from the other’s neck, aching for a little more touch that Grillby just wasn’t providing. When the kiss broke off he was panting softly, eyeing the other’s hands clamped dutifully around Grillby’s ankle.

“y... y’really.. didn’t wanna mess with my results, huh,” he couldn’t keep the bitter tone out of his voice and he grimaced awkwardly. He saw the fire monster grin wryly, then sneak a gentle caress against his knee, the circular movement slow and deliberate. “w.. what if i-” Sans decided against further explanation and pushed forward again, having gained a second wind.

Grillby was kissing back this time. Where Sans’ tongue was both hesitant and his movements excited far too quickly, the fire monster was firm and bold while still remaining gentle. Sans felt the ache build up in him, moaning softly against the kiss as he pressed forward again with Grillby’s hands finding the bends of his knees, guiding him.

Along with the spicy heat, Grillby was doing the small circular movements against his tongue again and Sans couldn’t suppress the needy whimper and the tingling shudder that accompanied it.

He dug his fingertips against the other’s form as Grillby’s palms moved up from his knees, circling to the back of his femurs with a light press that had him gasping with another successful conclusion to the ‘test’. Sans’ rib cage was heaving and he couldn’t help the soft noises he was making as he exhaled, looking dazed. 

Grillby’s own breaths were just as urgent. He gave the skeleton an appreciative look, caressing his mouth with his own as he murmured; “...Test results say?”

“um. in.. inconclusive,” was all Sans could breathe out, still panting but grinning deviously all the same. He was mildly surprised when Grillby pulled his body towards him and in the same movement leaned back a little, stealing another softer kiss as trails of flames danced around his arms.

It really was a great way to gather data, Sans hazily thought through the next kiss. He didn’t jerk in shock nearly so badly as before when Grillby’s hand settled at his spine, far too gone to actually care about where anything went, as long as they could continue like this. He gave in to another moan and pushed forward again, shifting to adjust his legs to either side of Grillby’s waist.

He really wanted to continue - was desperate to, even. It should have clicked somewhere in his mind that Grillby’s fire didn’t make the noises he vaguely heard from the floor. It had been such a constant that he’d just tuned it out, hungry for more affection.

So the hair-splitting sound of glass breaking and shattering across the room effectively startled him, enough to inhale sharply and with it a few errant flames as he darted up like a shot. Sans pushed himself up, legs straddling Grillby’s hips as he stared at the mess on the floor of snow and shards of glass in mortified silence and with blanked sockets.

Then, of course, there was his brother’s voice; “WHOOPSY DOOPSY!! MISTER GRILLBY! I HEARD YOU WERE INJURED! ARE YOU ALRIGHT? IS SANS IS UP THERE?? OF COURSE HE IS. WHY AM I EVEN ASKING?? TELL HIM TO COME DOWN!!”

Sans shrank down; whatever the mood had been, it had been extinguished entirely and abruptly. Grillby’s fire had tinged paler with his own surprise, but sparks and embers were coming off of him as he tried not to laugh too loudly. Meanwhile, the skeleton wanted to hide, feeling like his soul was going to burst it was pounding so fast. If there were a few left in Snowdin that didn’t know they were together they were sure  to know now with Papyrus’ explosive announcement.

Chapter Text

The never-ceasing banging on the front door echoed through the building as they redressed and gathered Sans’ things. Grillby led the way downstairs, Sans following closely and made sure not to trip over his shoelaces. His soul was pummelling in his ribcage when Grillby suddenly turned back to steal another kiss, knowing it would likely be their last until their next meeting. Sans tried his best to stifle the desperate moan and clutched at the other’s shirt.

Boy, if it wouldn’t spring more embarrassing arguments between him and his brother, Sans would really chastise Papyrus about his interruption.

“SANS!! I KNOW YOU’RE IN THERE!” The banging knocks continued without a hitch.

Sans tugged at Grillby’s shirt while standing on the last stair, a perfect height for another quick kiss. “take care of yourself,” he said under his breath, panting softly.

“Rest easy.”  There was an amused tone to the other’s voice and Sans swore he felt heat flood up and down his back, even with the absence of the bartender’s touch.

“ok.” Who was he to argue with such an enticing direction?

“SANS, CONFOUND IT. OPEN. THIS. DOOR!!”

Sans managed to drag himself away from his new boyfriend, taking care that he didn’t trip as he made his way over to the front door. He had his hoodie slung under one arm with his bag of textbooks and rather casually opened the door.

The knocking stopped as soon as he peeked out the crack, clearing his nonexistent throat. “excuse me, sir. but we’re closed today,” he said very seriously.

“BROTHER!!” Papyrus glared at him through the crack of the door and his brother gave him an impish grin. “SO, IT’S ‘WE’ NOW, IS IT? YOU DON’T WORK HERE. YOU BARELY WORK ELSEWHERE!”

Sans couldn’t help the flood of heat that spread over his face and he groaned awkwardly, pulling the door open to step outside. Meanwhile, Grillby had drawn in a little closer to see him off and leaned against the open door.

“MISTER GRILLBY, IF YOU TRULY ARE SERIOUS IN HIRING MY BROTHER, I’LL HAVE YOU KNOW YOU WILL PROBABLY NEED TO EMPLOY DISCIPLINE TO GET HIM MOTIVATED.”

Sans threw a mortified look over his shoulder to the fire monster, mouth agape helplessly while Grillby adjusted his glasses. He looked like he was trying very hard not to laugh.

Papyrus appeared to miss the exchange, as when Sans turned his skull and without wearing his hoodie, it made the marks on his body very apparent. The taller of the two skeletons gasped and suddenly grabbed at his brother’s shoulder, enough to make Sans flinch and turn back, wondering what was wrong.

“whoa, what’s up?” he asked quickly, not entirely sure what the theatrics were about - at least not yet. His eye lights were darting from his brother’s arm up to his face, where he was glaring at him studiously.

“WOWIE… ARE THOSE?? COULD IT BE??” Papyrus let go of his brother, positively beaming with what could only be described as glowing pride. “MISTER GRILLBY, I ONLY ASK YOU BE CAREFUL WITH MY BROTHER!”

Confused, the smaller of the two monsters stumbled out of the way to witness Grillby’s reaction, whom to his credit looked as though he was keeping his composure well enough not to embarrass either of them.

“………Will ensure handling him will be with velvet gloves,”  he promised, his fire obscuring most of his words, but Sans could make it out. Papyrus looked a little perplexed but shook it off almost immediately.

“SANS, I DO BELIEVE WE NEED TO HAVE ONE OF OUR HEART-TO-HEARTS ONCE MORE!” he declared as Sans clapped a hand over the scorch marks on his neck in a delayed reaction. “FOR YOU SEE, WHEN MONSTERS LOVE EACH OTHER-”

“o-ok pap! - great seein’ ya, grillby - g-gotta jet-” Sans forcibly started moving his brother away from the entrance to Grillby’s with a series of pushes, his entire body shaking with embarrassment, “let’s go, bro - keep walkin’ - hup-two-”

Papyrus continued talking as he shoved him down the street, "I DON'T KNOW WHY YOU'RE SO EMBARRASSED? IT'S HIGH TIME WE TALKED ABOUT THIS, ESPECIALLY IF YOU'RE, AHEM... ‘CANOODLING’ WITH YOUR NEW BOYFRIEND??? NYEH HEH HEH!!"

“oh my god, papyrus.”

“IT JUST SO HAPPENS THAT I AM AN EXTREME MASTER OF THE DATING SCIENCES, WHEREAS YOU ARE A SCIENTIST OF SLIGHTLY LOWER CALIBER. BUT NEVER FEAR! YOUR ‘DATING MASTER’ BROTHER WILL GIVE YOU ALL THE TIPS AND TRICKS TO EMPLOY TO MAXIMISE YOUR FULL DATING POTENTIAL!”

“oh my god, shut up - not here-”  Sans heaved as he shoved his brother more forcefully down the street.

Papyrus turned when he heard the very clear, horrified tone in his brother’s voice. He saw the blanked sockets and the very peculiar dusting of cyan magic suffusing Sans’ bones. He didn’t think anything was wrong with what he had said; it’s not like there were any children present. He’d said nothing wrong! Everything was natural and very frank and he didn’t even use baby words. He was being professional, as always! He should be commended for what an informative cool brother he was being!

Still, Sans shoved at him to continue walking, never once saying a word but making a very distressed hollow sound with the edge of his voice. Maybe he was still tired? His brother was always tired, Papyrus reasoned. He sighed heavily and did not put up any resistance, only took Sans’ arm when they got to their house.

Papyrus waited as Sans followed him inside, his sockets still blanked in abject mortification from his brother’s middle-of-the-town speech for all the Underground to hear.

“NOW,” Papyrus continued in the safety of their own home. Sans was quickly becoming increasingly aware of the walls closing in on him. “CONGRATULATIONS ARE IN ORDER!”

“oh.. y-yeah?” Sans replied warily. He was on the defensive and felt backed into a corner.

“YES, CONGRATULATIONS!! I ALWAYS HOPED THIS DAY WOULD COME - AND IT DID! I ALWAYS HAVE BELIEVED IN YOU AND YOU PROVED ME RIGHT!” Sans gave him the most perplexed expression his bones could muster. “SKELETON PUBERTY - THE SOARING SONG OF OUR SPECIES, STEMS FROM MILLENNIA OF CAREFUL ASPECT BREEDING AND CONSIDERATION!! SKELETONS WITH SKELETONS, I MEAN! OF COURSE WITH US BEING THE ONLY TWO LEFT..? IT STANDS TO REASON THAT WE MUST COPULATE WITH OTHER MONSTERS TO MAINTAIN OUR INTEGRAL ROLE IN MODERN CULTURE!”

Sans slid down the length of the door, arrested on the spot and dumbstruck. His coccyx hit the floor and he stared at his brother, mouth agape.

“MY FRIEND TELLS ME THIS! SINCE YOU NEGLECTED TO TELL ME IN OUR YOUTH - HONESTLY, IF YOU PUT MORE EFFORT INTO YOUR DUTIES AS THE OLDER SIBLING AS YOU DID STICKING YOUR FACE IN GREASE FIRES, WE WOULDN’T HAVE SUCH NEED FOR LENGTHY DISCUSSIONS - ALLOW ME TO… AHEM… EXPLAIN, ‘THE TALK’-”

“p-pap… you’re my bro… how could you do this to me?”

“-WHEN TWO OR THREE OR MORE MONSTERS LOVE EACH OTHER VERY, VERY MUCH-”

“augh!” Sans clapped his hands over his aural canals to dim out his brother’s voice with very little success.

“-AND DESIRE TO FURTHER THEIR INTIMACY WITH TOUCH-”

He could literally feel his soul shuddering and leaving his rib cage.

“-WELL, I WONDER, CAN YOU EVEN TOUCH FIRE? OR DOES FIRE ONLY TOUCH YOU?”

It was probably going to shatter at any moment.

“REGARDLESS, WHILE COPULATION IS MOST COUPLES’ AND TRIPLES’ GOAL ALONGSIDE COMPASSION AND LOVE IN RELATIONSHIPS, I DO NOT WANT YOU TO FEEL ANY PRESSURE FOR COITION FROM MISTER GRILLBY!”

That was it.

He was dying.

“BUT… MUTUAL EXPLORATION IS HEALTHY IN NEW RELATIONSHIPS, SANS! SO HAVE AT IT!! BUT AS FAR AS PROCREATION GOES? MAYBE… WAIT ON THAT? A LITTLE? AS MUCH AS I WOULD MAKE A GREAT UNCLE, I DO BELIEVE CHILDREN IS FAR TOO EARLY FOR THIS SWEET NEW STAGE OF YOUR RELATIONSHIP!”

Have at it?? If he was dying, why wasn’t his brother stopping his damned speech? Why was he instead, giving him his blessing?? Talking about children!?

“...oh…… o-ok, pap...”

Papyrus was still standing in front of him and Sans had dropped his bag and pulled his hoodie over him like a protective blanket. His younger brother sighed, knowing all too well Sans didn’t bother with the whole intimacy aspect of monsters due to his condition and dysphoria of his body.

He pulled the hoodie off from over the other’s skull with only a little bit of difficulty, giving Sans his biggest winning smile when those embarrassed cyan bones came into view again. “I THINK IT’S PRETTY NEAT, DON’T YOU?”

“....” Sans literally had no words to that. His body vaulted to one side a little with Papyrus’ enthusiastic slap on his shoulder, but other than that, he didn’t move. It was as though every word chiseled in the inside of his skull.

Copulate. Procreation. Exploration. Coition. Intimacy.

Those words were enough to thoroughly flat-line whatever thought processes he might’ve had about Papyrus’ lecture just then.

“I’M JUST… SO INCREDIBLY PROUD OF YOU, BROTHER!” Papyrus continued, grinning cheerfully, “MY NORMALLY DISINTERESTED BROTHER IS FINALLY BECOMING… INTERESTED IN SOMEONE, NOW.”

Sans visibly relaxed, but attempted to pull the hoodie back over his skull. He still wanted to hide.

“IF YOU EVER NEED A ‘BREAKDOWN’ OF HOW ECTOBIOLOGY WORKS-”

“p-please, for the love of asgore’s curly beard, papyrus, i’m goin’ to die if you keep this up!” came the strangled plea from under the jacket.

Papyrus sighed all too knowingly and patted his brother’s skull. “YOU MUST BE EXHAUSTED FROM…” He paused, eyeing the bag of textbooks sitting next to Sans. “...RESEARCH?”

The older brother gave in to an uncomfortable laugh. “y-yup.”

“IN ANY CASE,” Papyrus sighed and snatched Sans’ jacket away from him, rewarded with a startled flinch, “I WORRIED AFTER YOU. YOU NEVER ANSWER YOUR PHONE ANYMORE! WHAT IF YOU PASSED OUT AGAIN AND I HAD TO FIND YOU??”

Sans sighed as his brother pulled him to his feet, getting payback for pushing him down the street by poking him in the spine towards the kitchen.

“sorry.”

“I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHY YOU HAVE THAT THING! HONESTLY…” Sans sank into his usual chair and leaned onto the table, watching as Papyrus dug around in the fridge. “AT LEAST GRILLBY ANSWERS HIS TEXTS… I DON’T UNDERSTAND HIS ACCENT TOO WELL, BUT I CAN TELL HE WAS WORRIED FOR YOU TOO!”

Sans stopped himself from flinching but sunk down to lay over the table with a frown. It wasn’t lost on him now what Papyrus was saying, as he recalled Grillby checking his phone periodically during his visit.

“AND UNDYNE-” Papyrus sighed loudly, “-WELL. YOU KNOW HER… BUT SHE TOLD ME SHE TRAINED YOU THIS MORNING AND THAT YOU’VE MADE PROGRESS!”

“mhm.”

“THAT’S GREAT NEWS! I’M SO PROUD!”

“thanks.”

His brother stopped and looked at him, a container of spaghetti held in his hands. Sans looked at it with a bit of apprehension and waited for him to continue.

“SHE… ALSO TOLD ME YOU WEREN’T FEELING WELL.” He idly drummed his fingertips on the top of the container, his gaze shifting to the side in concern.

“i’m ok now,” Sans assured him. “honest. and i, uh… already ate at grillby’s, so…”

“OH!” Papyrus looked down at the container in his hands, considering it, then reopened the fridge to put it away. Sans could have sighed with relief, but didn’t. “IF YOU FEEL WELL ENOUGH TO WORK, UNDYNE SAID SHE WOULD LIKE FOR YOU TO PATROL THE RUINS TOMORROW.”

“sounds good.”

 

The rest of the day was spent lazily; the two of them crashed on the couch and watched television until late, with Papyrus taking advantage of the commercial breaks to do housework. Sans was chastised again by the errant sock, but once it got quiet enough he was soon fast asleep.

“He’s alright,” Papyrus whispered into his phone later on in the evening. Undyne had called to check up on him and the taller skeleton moved upstairs and watched Sans sleep from the railing. “He’s just tired.”

“Funny how YOU’RE the one to say that instead of him this time, eh?” Undyne sounded concerned, “I wouldn’t have let him have all these patrols if I knew how bad it was.”

“It’s not bad! I just feel like he’s overexerting himself more than usual lately. He still doesn’t tell me anything, even when he has bad dreams, but… anyway. Do we need to worry about that earthquake? No one was injured, were they?”

“Everyone’s fine, Pap. Just a bit shaken up.”

Papyrus chuckled quietly at that. Coming from Undyne, puns didn’t seem so bad.

“At any rate,” she continued, “we’re going to up patrol in the area. Something’s off and no one else seemed to notice what caused it. Your brother mentioned Grillby saw roots and there is quite a bit of foreign vegetation found in the area, but nothing else left behind. No reports of teens making a ruckus either. I’ll report it to the King, but in the meantime I need you two to really hunker down and keep your eyes peeled for any funny business around Snowdin.”

“I’m sure Sans would have a few things to say about that. Especially since we don’t have eyeballs!”

“Man, don’t EVEN with the jokes! Just keep me posted - oh, speaking of… Old Gerson has mail for Snowdin. You’re out that way tomorrow, so on your way home you can pick it up.”

 

Sans had slept all night on the couch and hated himself for it. It was unusual, since Papyrus would normally carry him upstairs and he’d wake up in bed in his room, but not this time. His spine ached as he’d slept at an odd angle and going upstairs to change made every one of his bones click.

Papyrus had left a note on the television, then the railing leading upstairs, and finally on both the doors to his room and the washroom.

DEAR BROTHER;
UNDYNE SAYS YOU ARE TO PATROL THE RUINS. I’VE CHECKED THE PUZZLES BUT YOURS WILL NEED RECALIBRATING AGAIN. I’LL BE AT WATERFALL TODAY. KEEP YOUR PHONE ON YOU. I’LL SEE YOU LATER TODAY!
- WITH LOVE,
THE GREAT PAPYRUS

He snorted softly, as his brother had taken pains to write exactly the same thing on all of the notes. It was way earlier than when he usually got up, but went about getting ready for his patrol anyway. He changed clothes into a less singed wardrobe of a green shirt and black cargo shorts, and made his way downstairs to grab his hoodie on the way out.

Once he’d gotten past the sliding tile puzzle, Sans yawned, looking around the area. The path was beaten up with small tracks and some snow had been knocked off the trees along the path. None of them looked like footprints or any kind of trails a local monster would make, so he continued towards his post and beyond.

He stared at the door to the Ruins, that telltale little familiarity tugging at his subconscious to knock again. His slippered feet crunched in the snow and if he didn’t know better, he thought he heard… crying?

Sans frowned and trudged up to the door. It sounded like it was coming from the other side. It was odd, considering almost every monster had left the Ruins and settled along the way from New Home.

The sound was heart-wrenching and mournful. A woman’s voice. Cautiously, Sans approached the door, giving it two knocks. The sobbing stopped abruptly; normally he wouldn’t care but he wasn’t heartless. Besides, if this monster was stuck behind the gate, he wanted to make sure she was ok.

“W-who is there?” was the muffled, stricken voice from beyond the door.

Her tone plucked at his emotions and he sat by the door in the snow. “banana.”

It took several moments for a reply. “...Banana who?” Then a sniff.

Sans smirked to himself and knocked on the door again, not completing the joke as he tapped out a message to Undyne about the strange tracks in the snow.

“Who is there?” Came the voice again, a little calmed down.

“banana.”

“I do not believe I understand…”

“aw c’mon, doll,” Sans insisted gently, “banana.”

“Very well. Banana who?”

Knock-knock. Then there came a sigh, loud enough to hear through the thick door.

“Who is there…”

“orange.”

“Oh,” the other voice said in surprise, “Orange who?”

“orange ya glad i didn’t say banana?”

The joke seemed to distract the person on the other side of the door if the hesitant laughter was anything to go by. The skeleton shuffled a little closer to it and spoke into the gapless seam where the two doors joined.

“you seem pretty broken up. are you stuck over there?”

There was no immediate response, but he heard her start to sob again. He frowned a little more, unsure how to offer his sympathies.

“No, I am not trapped,” she replied, her tone sullen. “I… I simply fear that… I may lose a child.” Sans felt his soul twinge in pity and rested his back against the door, not really knowing what to say. “They fell not too long ago and will not awaken. I believe that… they do not have much time left.”

A heavy subject, one Sans was uncomfortable with. He didn’t realise that there was a family just beyond the door, nor did he know how to console this poor grieving mother.

“if we can get this door open, we can find a healer?” he suggested, shuffling his slippers in the snow in front of him and making a small trench.

“I am afraid even my own expertise has its limits… Any other monster would be of little help, kind one.” He stayed quiet but sighed softly, bowing his skull in sympathy. It didn’t happen often, but when a child Fell and died in the Underground, it was mourned by everyone. “I must return to them. Perhaps later, if you are here, you can tell me more jokes..?”

“sure,” Sans answered soberly, but tried to sound a little upbeat just for her. He turned his skull to look at the doors again. “snow problem, lady.”

“I thank you, friend.” He heard her sniffle and there was a shuffle of steps. The sounds continued until he didn’t hear them anymore.

Chapter Text

He shifted at his station. It had been almost a week after Sans had heard from the other side of the door. Occasionally, he would knock at the door to the Ruins during his patrols and hope the woman on the other side would respond, but there was nothing. He hoped no tragedy had reared its ugly head and that her kid would be ok…

Eventually the need for a break arose. Instead of walking back, Sans teleported to just outside of Snowdin, humming as he walked, a little unsteady but still ok. Thanks to Undyne’s training lesson, it was much easier to move around. Almost negligible, in fact. Thanks, Undyne.

He beelined to Grillby’s, finding it open, loud with excited dogs and peppered with smells from their meals. He saw the fire monster look to him when he stepped through the door and gave him a knowing smile as the patrons called out to him.

“Hi, Sans~”

“Heya, Sansy boy!”

“(It’s Sans!)”

“Sans is here!”

The usual greeting for some reason made him feel a little better, keeping at bay his morose mood thanks to the unknown situation in the Ruins. Since it had been awhile, he conjured up a few bones and settled them on the table for the canine squad. Their yips and happy panting were thanks enough and their tails wagged excitedly as he gave each dog a pat.

“Nothing to report!”

“(No signs of humans today.)”

“hope not, or i’d be at risk of feelin’ embarrassed,” Sans commented - his sentry station being among the first out of the Ruins, where humans were rumoured to come from. The King had collected six human souls and the last human had passed through even before he and Papyrus had even known the existence of the weird beings from above.

He sidled up to the bar and took his regular place, shooting Grillby a grin. His hand looked as though it was well enough to be working, but the usual gloves hid the marr from view. Sans leaned forward, tilting his stool as always when Grillby came to greet him.

“how’s lefty?” he inquired.

Grillby took a moment to gesture, the movement smooth but slow. Then he spoke, “...Much better.”  He paused and watched Sans for a moment, making the skeleton flush slightly at the memory of all the heated kisses they shared upstairs. “....Looking better, yourself.”

“heh. i’m ok i guess,” Sans admitted truthfully, averting his gaze down to the counter. “back to work… but i’m on break now. got a hankerin’ for fries.”

Grillby didn’t say anything more, but gave the other a knowing grin. Sans swivelled on his seat to watch as the fire monster retreated towards the kitchen, catching Red Bird watching him closely.

“Did you hear `bout Waterfall?” the bird squawked, several feathers bristling as he lounged against the counter. “Weird going-ons happenin’ there! First the dump, now this…”

“the what-now?” Sans tore his eyes away from the kitchen door where Grillby had disappeared into, catching the tail end of the sentence. The wording got his attention.

Red shuffled his wings in an approximation of a shrug. “The dump’s been blocked off for awhile - either garbage or an earth slide, the Guard isn’t sayin’ much. Do you know what’s happenin’? You work there sometimes, right?”

“nah, not lately. pap usually gets those shifts now, but he’s in hotland today. i know `bout the blockade though.”

“There’re rumours `bout something crawling along the topside of the Underground!” the bird crowed, “Makin’ big waves! Earthquakes! In Hotland the steam vents are goin’ crazy! The capital is floodin’ out, all these city folk lookin’ for a better place to live!”

“what, they lookin’ to come here?” Sans didn’t know about either the vents nor the floods and his mood grew dark. He didn’t want to speculate and be wrong, so indulged Red’s gossip. He’d have to chat with Undyne about it later.

“Man, P. Bear is just beside hisself. Can’t talk one thing or another. He’s lookin’ forward to `em catchin’ off guard ‘bout the weather though!” a tweet of a whistle clipped the end of Red’s words, announcing his excitement.

“yeah, guess he’s always like that…” Sans mused quietly, but his mind was going over what he’d been told. If things were amiss in the Underground, he wondered why he hadn’t been briefed about it? He pulled out his phone and scrolled through Undyne and Alphys’ texts from earlier that week, but there had been nothing.

Nothing, really, except for interest in his love life.

He flushed at the thought of his friends being so interested in the outcome of events that they were willing to keep him out of the loop with something like this. He sighed and put his phone away, realising Grillby had come back with a large basket of fries that steamed and sizzled with hot oil.

As Sans appreciated the sight, Grillby took it upon himself to take a bottle of ketchup and preemptively squirt a portion onto the fries. It was high time the skeleton knew about the taste - he’d been dodging it ever since he came in with the broken camera, after all. Sans stared at the basket then up at Grillby, who gave him a kind smile. The fire monster then left him when he realised he was beckoned to another table.

Sans stared at it for what seemed like too long. Then he looked back to the bartender, whose back was turned to him. Now or never, he supposed, bringing a fry to his mouth with a great glob of ketchup on the end. Hesitantly, he put it in his mouth, hoping it wasn’t too bad.

It was actually fine. Sans didn’t realise how much he’d tensed up with the mere thought that ketchup would be disgusting until he relaxed with a soft sigh, then ate another. He watched as the fire monster made his rounds around the floor to various tables, before he allowed his thoughts to wander as he ate.

He didn’t even realise he had zoned out so much until he heard commentary.

“-and there he goes, off into space. His head is scrapin’ the mountain top, higher than the steams of Hotland! Maybe he’s thinking mushy thoughts, enough to make the snails in Waterfall blush? Half his fries gone, and the rest are frozen-”

He flushed and sent Red a pointed look, tearing his gaze away from the bartender for one moment. Sans idly wondered how long it had been, but it wasn’t long before he heard the door burst open along with his brother’s voice.

“SANS!! JUST WHAT ARE YOU DOING??”

The taller skeleton strut right through the restaurant, swiping snow from his shoulders as he did and approached him. Sans swivelled in his seat and gave his brother a full grin with a shrug.

“havin’ lunch.”

“IT’S ONLY 11!”

“brunch, then.”

“I SWEAR, IF NOT FOR YOUR COOL AND EVER-PATIENT BROTHER, YOU WOULD NEVER BE WHERE YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO!” Papyrus groused and folded his arms over his chest. Today he had opted for his battle body again, much to Sans’ relief. Seeing him without it for so long just felt… odd.

“aw, y’know i can’t stay away from all this steamy gossip,” Sans drawled, picking at another fry and popping it into his mouth. The ketchup taste had actually grown on him, but he didn’t think he’d want to drink it straight from the bottle again. He appreciated everyone’s hilarious reactions all the more now.

“THAT DOESN’T EVEN MAKE ANY SENSE!!”

“He’s been making dodo eyes at Grills for the past two hours,” Red reported with a crowing laugh while Sans shrunk into his hoodie. Damn it, Red.

“IS THAT SO.” Papyrus’ tone levelled out, but Sans immediately picked up on the suspicion. He just waved a hand at him.

“come for the food, stay for the hot bartender,” he joked quietly, “nothin’ new `bout that.”

At the opposite side of the bar, Grillby heard and couldn’t repress the flush at the compliment, sending a look over his shoulder to the pair of skeletons. His colouring suddenly changing drew the two’s attention to him and Grillby immediately turned, however useless it was to hide the reaction.

“HOW INCREDIBLY ADORABLE! HOWEVER, MY DEAR BROTHER, IT APPEARS I MUST PLAY HEARTBREAKER AND BE A TOTAL COCCYX-BLOCK AND SEPARATE YOU TWO LOVE BIRDS!” Papyrus then grabbed a hold of Sans’ hoodie and pulled him off the stool with barely any effort. “WHY IS IT ALWAYS ME THAT IS FORCED TO GET YOU TO BE MOTIVATED?”

“i dunno, maybe `cause you love me.”

“THAT WAS MEANT ONLY AS A RHETORICAL QUESTION AND YOU KNOW IT!” the younger brother bellowed on the way out.

“doesn’t change the truth, bro.”

Papyrus sighed harshly but his tone softened, “NO, I SUPPOSE IT DOES NOT.”

“hey, grillby!” the smaller skeleton called out as Papyrus made his way to the door, “put it on my tab!”

Grillby had started at that; he could count on one hand how many times Sans had called him by his actual name. It was subtle, but another flush of gold passed through his flames at the implication. Their friendship really had truly changed.

The entire bar laughed at the rather normal display, glad that Sans appeared to be more or less back to normal. It had been a different few months with Sans so broody, after all.

 

Sans hung under Papyrus’ arm as he was carried like luggage back out of Snowdin, watching his brother’s footprints behind them with a yawn. It was the same as any old time, but that is perhaps why it stood out to him.

“i don’t think i was there for two hours,” he cajoled as Papyrus skidded easily across a puzzle with him in tow.

“NO, IT WAS MORE LIKE THREE, BUT YOUR ULTIMATELY COOL AND ALSO EXTREMELY HELPFUL BROTHER IS WILLING TO OVERLOOK IT. JUST THIS ONCE.” He set Sans down and the other stuck his hands in his pockets, eyeing him warily.

“...who are you?”

“SANS, PLEASE.”

“no seriously… what’s up? i know you’ve been studyin’ me somethin’ careful lately, so… what’s with keepin’ tabs on me so much?” Sans shrugged, looking around the snowscape. “...what’s eatin’ at you, i mean?”

Papyrus considered the question for a moment, his arms folded over the breast of his battle body, trying very hard not to fidget. It was interesting for Sans to tell him to speak up, when it was nothing but his own demands for the other to open up to him. It was… different.

“I AM MERELY…” he started hesitantly. “...WORRIED? IT MIGHT BE THE INCORRECT TERM. CONSIDERING EVERYTHING, I AM MORE… CONCERNED.” The words were the same, yet Sans knew what he was saying.

“ok,” Sans replied cautiously. “go on.”

Papyrus gave in to the need to fidget, grabbing at the edge of his red cape and twisting it in his grasp. “YOU SAID SOMETHING VERY STRANGE THE OTHER NIGHT THAT I CANNOT SEEM TO DISMISS.”

Sans waited, frowning.

“THAT IS… AND YOU KNOW THE GREAT PAPYRUS TRIES TO FIND OPTIMISM WHEREVER HE CAN, EVEN WHEN PEOPLE ARE DOWN!” he continued as Sans watched him wring the fabric between his hands, “YOU SAID THAT… I REMINDED YOU OF… OF SOMEONE?”

“oh.” Sans suddenly didn’t like where this conversation was headed.

“I CANNOT FATHOM WHY, BUT FOR SOME REASON, I FEEL LIKE IT WAS… VERY INSULTING.”

Awkwardly, Sans shifted where he stood, unable to look at Papyrus. If he had, he would’ve noticed the injured look on his brother’s face.

“i didn’t realise. and i sure as hell didn’t mean to be. i really am sorry i made you feel like that, pap.”

“NO, I KNOW… YOU WERE ‘TIRED’-” He made the quotation gesture with his fingers, “-WHICH BRINGS ME TO MY NEXT POINT,” Papyrus paused and made a throat-clearing noise, catching Sans’ attention. “WHO IS ‘HIM’? DO I KNOW HIM? YOU SAID IT WASN’T GRILLBY, BUT THERE ARE MANY WHO IDENTIFY AS MASCULINE IN THE UNDERGROUND, SO IT’S POSSIBLE THAT I, HOWEVER GREAT THAT I AM, MAY NEED, A… GUIDANCE, OF SORTS.”

“um,” the smaller skeleton started, searching his thoughts. His mood went from good to worse suddenly, and digging at memories better left alone brought it down faster. Something inside of him was cracking, memories that were buried chipping away at his normally indifferent demeanour. “...i, uh...”

“WAS IT PERHAPS SOMETHING TO DO WITH YOUR, UH…” Papyrus stopped mid-sentence and stepped closer, then his voice dropped, “....CORE work?”

“um,” Sans said again, this time his voice was shaky. Papyrus noticed immediately and gently set his gloved hands on either side of his shoulders, looking at his face. It was bringing up horrible feelings - feelings he thought he’d long since shoved away into a small corner in his heart several years ago. For a moment, Papyrus’ face didn’t look like his brother’s anymore and he jerked reflexively.

“i-.. pap… maybe. i dunno. a lotta things from then are hazy. some days i wake up and it feels like i’m still falling.” He drew in a deep breath and inclined his skull. Maybe if he said it fast enough, it wouldn’t hurt so bad? “some… sometimes i think i remember our dad.”

Papyrus drew himself up, admittedly not expecting such a thing. In fact, there was a tugging memory that beyond childhood, there hadn’t really been anyone that cared for them, apart from a close neighbour at the capital. But even then, that was hazy at best, but a lingering fear remained.

Sans mistook Papyrus’ silence as anger and felt his heart wrench pitifully. “...how old was i when i fell?” he asked quietly, voice sounding weak. It was a long time ago, but he couldn’t recall an exact age. He always had the suspicion why he didn’t remember their father and him Falling were connected in some way, apart from the trauma.

“I believe… well, I was 23? So that would make you…” Papyrus trailed off, as if stuck on the number. Sans gave him a quick glance before hunching his shoulders into his brother’s hands. “...31, at the time.”

“so, uh… speculating now,” Sans continued, sounding at odds with himself, “but, i get the feelin’ our pops was not the greatest of parents. actually, he might’ve been the, uh.. worst.”

“Whyever would you say such a thing, brother?”

“`cause, uh…” How could he say it? Even with the textbooks’ information on monster puberty, things were still different in his own case. Little by little, things were coming together, especially now that he and his brother were finally talking about it. “...don’t… monsters generally reach maturation between 18 and 25?” The silence was damning and it was everything Sans could do not to flinch away from his brother’s touch to escape what had to be undeniably strong scrutiny. “not 120. not, uh, by a long shot.”

“I don’t understand. Are you saying something happened to you even before the CORE?”

Sans flinched, but the odd chipping and tugging at his memory persisted. As he spoke, it was almost automatic, drawing up information and memories from a bottomless well while at the same time was flooding the ground around him. “i’m just sayin’... kids are known to bounce back. now thanks to all this, i’m not… it’s takin’ longer to recover. i think he might’ve done somethin’. or let somethin’ be.. done.”

He hesitated, knowing it to be true suddenly, and he felt sick. Sicker than previously, as a chorus of bad memories slammed into the side of his skull with more force than he’d ever felt before. It was different than his body rejecting food, more horrible than when he’d exhausted his stamina protecting Grillby. The Underground spun around him and he suddenly felt Papyrus’ hands cling to him to steady him.

Had he stumbled? Or had he been pushed? Something grabbed him, but at the same time he felt pulled in several directions. He froze in terror. Too many things were lining up and the sound of static was deafening.

“i.. i didn’t.. mean it,” Sans continued haltingly.

His eye lights had blanked out of his sockets and his bones were trembling as new horror washed over him. Of suddenly a bright room with vials and instruments too grotesque to name, with words that didn’t make sense yet he knew the meaning to them all the same. He felt disgusted with the figure from his dreams and had the overwhelming urge to protect Papyrus, to make sure the same didn’t happen to him.

“y-you’re not like him. you could… you could never be like him, i’m… i’m sorry, pa-papyrus, i’m-” The stuttering breaths battled with Sans’ need to explain himself, aching and harsh and building erratically.

“Everything is fine, Sans! You’re fine, he’s not here-” Papyrus said quickly and pulled his brother into a tight embrace. It had been awhile since Sans’ last panic attack - over several years in fact.

“i’m sorry-” the smaller monster breathed imploringly. He felt trapped, drawn up against his will and shuddering. Everything in his mind was screaming at him in several voices, blaming him, degrading him, tying him down. “i’m sorry. i-i’m sorry, please-”

Papyrus stroked his skull as he felt Sans shake uncontrollably in his arms, bones rattling beneath his clothes as he clutched back. “You’re safe! I am Papyrus, and you are Sans. Whatever he did, you are recovering! And I couldn’t be more proud of you!”

That seemed to help, if only a little. Sans’ apologies eventually stopped and he drew in a breath as though he had been suffocating.

“he… he… he’s not… he’s not he-here-” Sans repeated, knowing he had to repeat it in order to get himself to believe. His breaths were hitched and he felt the bitter ache of shame as Papyrus pushed his body against him.

He felt pathetic and small again, much smaller than before. Parallels were drawn between his recovery time and now and he couldn’t stop himself from comparing. It mixed into some horrible amalgamate of a shrinking mortality and horrific infusions made to keep him ‘powerful’. So he wouldn’t be a disappointment. So he’d still be useful.

He felt sick.

“You’re alright,” his brother said, his voice soothing. His hand rubbed his back, to which Sans jolted slightly. Something in the touch made his mind blank with another horror and he couldn’t repress the choked sob. “It’s ok. I’m here.”

 

He was embarrassed for crying. He didn’t often, and he knew he’d worried his brother with the sudden breakdown. Sans huffed softly to calm himself, inhaling the crisp wintry air as Papyrus kept close but was fixing a tile that had frozen over. Sans had opted to sit in the snow with his legs drawn to his chest, watching with hollowed sockets, but nodded once or twice to Papyrus’ questions if he was ok.

He admired Papyrus’ strength. He could keep going, even when he was worried. He really was the best brother a guy could ever hope for. Papyrus didn’t have the same wild darkness haunting him that Sans did, which seemed to be bursting at the seams lately. He felt pathetic and ashamed like never before, and he was certain it had been the first time he’d even mentioned their father.

Sans thought about it; sometimes it would help to know what the causation was. Perhaps it had been a trigger of sorts to visit the Hotland lab’s basement. That’s when he truly felt it. Faced with his own mortality, at the time Sans didn’t know how to go on. He tried thinking of the bar, of his friend, of Alphys and all her hard work to get him to where he was now. He drew his arms around himself a little tighter with the thought of Grillby, hoping his thoughts wouldn’t poison what he held dear to him.

Papyrus kept speaking to Sans throughout his puzzle recalibrations, although if he was honest with himself, he was doing it to keep up the facade of normalcy. Sans didn’t respond well to sudden changes, and the thought of being treated differently, especially after a panic attack, always made him bitter. It would be a while until he shook it off, Papyrus anticipated. He would have to ease into the suggestion of going back, which meant that Papyrus would have to eke out another hour or two at best of busy work before suggesting he was ready to go.

With everything that was happening with Sans lately, he was more than worried. He was, if he was honest with himself yet again, a little scared of what might happen to Sans. He had wanted to ask about his shortcuts and its relation to his brother’s stamina, but it would be for a different time. Sans just wasn’t in the right mindspace for much drilling. It would be unconscionable to do so after such a sad state.

Sans had only nodded to his question if he was ready to leave. It had been a long day after all, but Papyrus continued to show his support for his brother in the best way that he could. He knew Sans was only humouring him when he allowed him to carry him home, this time on his back where it was infinitely more comfortable than under an arm. At least his eye lights were back. It was difficult to gauge his true emotions when Sans let them fade out.

Back home, Papyrus carried him to the couch and set him down. He could still see that his brother still felt emotionally drained so quietly set about making him comfortable. Sans appreciated it in some way, curling into the comforter on the couch as Papyrus turned on the television and handed him the remote.

Even if he had eaten not that long ago, Sans was brought food. This time, Papyrus opted for dinosaur egg oatmeal and he knew that his little brother must be worried for him then. Sans sighed at the bowl in his lap and ate a few bites to appease him, the rest of the afternoon set in bleary reverie and discomfort of his past.

Chapter Text

He tried to throw the bad memories away. But they came back. Sans started from another repeat of his old panic, this time with a rush of grinding noises and a flicker of lights. It eventually faded into reality as he saw the light of the television flickering in kind with some bright commercials. He reasoned that must have been his mind playing tricks on him and he exhaled the breath he didn’t realise he’d been holding.

Sans knew he was worrying his brother. Papyrus had stayed with him and ultimately crashed on the couch next to him overnight. He also woke him up to make sure Sans was alright before he left for Hotland. In turn, Sans told him to be careful on his way, assuring him he’d be fine.

Slowly, he unwrapped himself from the comforter and climbed the stairs up to his room to find his phone.

As usual, there were a few from Papyrus and others, even a couple from Grillby. It seemed like the score had been updated, but Sans couldn’t figure out why. It wasn’t as though anything stood out that day to merit a point in his favour. He wondered if the fire monster was just playing around with the points system in order to further confuse him about this whole ‘dating your friend’ thing.

Sans made his way over to the bed after closing the door, scrolling through messages in case it hadn’t been a blunder that he was left out of the sentry loop. But there was nothing.

For some reason, it gripped his heart in an awful way. It took several idle moments before he resorted to renaming his contacts yet again; ‘fishbones’ for Undyne, then ‘hotstuff’ for Grillby. It was a much better nickname, until he thought of something better. Or until Papyrus changed the names all back again.

Undyne didn’t respond to his messages immediately - she wasn’t glued to her phone like Papyrus or Alphys was. Idly, he scratched at his sternum through his shirt and pocketed his phone, returning downstairs.

He was restless with his forced day off, but it wasn’t the usual agitation or irritability he’d been feeling lately. Quietly, Sans shuffled into his slippers and made his way outside and around the back to the basement lab. Since he decoded the strange encrypted postcard, he had completely neglected the reason why the key had been important in the first place - apart from a sly way of asking Grillby out on their first date…

The dimensional box that the skeleton brothers destroyed had been brought to his house along with an encouraging letter from the bunnies from the shop. Its splinters and hingeware were included in the rubble, but the magitech holding it together had been completely decimated. The skeleton sighed and set about pulling out his old notes to decode them, writing the instructions out on a fresh, not-so-stained page from the back of a seldom-used but older notebook.

As much as the cipher had tugged at his bitter memories, the work was actually therapeutic in its own way. He spent countless hours in the lab until he started to grow weary, staring off into space once or twice when his phone went off.

Grunting to himself, Sans looked at his phone. It was Papyrus calling and he sighed softly, rubbing at the bridge of bone between his sockets as he tapped the answer button.

“hey.”

“SANS!! IT IS I, YOUR MOST COOL AND TOTALLY INSPIRING BROTHER, PAPYRUS!”

Sans had to laugh at that, although it was inaudible. “yeah, how’s it goin’?”

“THE GREAT PAPYRUS IS ALWAYS GREAT AND HAS NOTHING IN PARTICULAR TO COMPLAIN ABOUT! I ACTUALLY HAVE CALLED TO REMIND YOU TO EAT SOMETHING.”

“oh.”

“SANS… I WANT YOU TO TAKE BETTER CARE OF YOURSELF.” Papyrus’ tone was imploring and Sans looked up from his notes, now covered in a mix of cipher and his bulbous handwriting. “JUST A... BROTHERLY SUGGESTION!”

“`preciate it, pap,” Sans replied quietly, shuffling papers around. “i’ll get somethin’ in a bit. i’m just sortin’ through some stuff…”

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”

“got some notes together to fix that item box we busted.”

“OH… I SEE.” Papyrus didn’t sound as thrilled now. It always worried his brother when Sans had to deal with CORE mechanics.

“anyway, snowdin’s fresh out of synth materials since the last box,” Sans said as he stood up with his binders and notebooks haphazardly balanced in one arm. He deposited them onto the desk area in a mess, but at least they were all together, “m’wonderin’ if on the way back from hotland you could pick some up from alphys. enough for, uh...” He gave Papyrus the measurements, but then ended up having to text them instead.

It was important that he had enough. If he was going to make another Box after so long, he’d need all the rest and energy he could muster, so he needed the right amount so his efforts wouldn’t go to waste. That meant he should lay off the shortcuts and travelling for as long as possible until he was sure he was ready. It had been well before they’d even moved to Snowdin that he had last made one from scratch. Repairs were easier, but this one was completely toast.

This also meant he’d need food. Not just snacks. “thanks for the reminder, bro,” he said after realising he was still on the call.

“SANS, ARE YOU REALLY ALRIGHT TO DO THIS?”

“sure. it’ll be like ridin’ a bike.” A very flimsy, rusted bike with deflated tires and perhaps a sad horn, but technically it was still a bike, right? He remembered how, at least.

Papyrus sighed into the receiver with his pause. “AT LEAST WAIT A FEW DAYS. MAYBE… GET SOMETHING FROM GRILLBY’S.”

Sans could say he was honestly shocked. He stared at his phone and said nothing.

“SANS?”

“...who are you and what have you done with my brother,” Sans joked, half-serious.

Papyrus sighed again, this time in exasperation. “BELIEVE IT OR NOT, BROTHER, MY REPUGNANCY FOR THAT PARTICULAR ESTABLISHMENT IS WELL-FOUNDED. HOWEVER, IF IT MAKES YOU HAPPY, AND YOU DON’T FIND YOURSELF ILL AFTERWARDS…” he stopped himself short.

Sans grimaced, finding it hard to address the situation delicately. It was likely that his brother thought he hated his cooking. It wasn’t entirely true… he wondered if Undyne had told him. He recalled it being mentioned. “papy-”

“YOUR HORRIBLE TASTE IN FOOD ASIDE, I TRULY MEAN IT! TAKE IT EASY. ALTHOUGH TELLING YOU TO TAKE IT EASY IS LIKE SAYING IT’S WET IN WATERFALL. OR THAT IT’S HOT IN HOTLAND. OR SNOWY IN SNOWDIN!”

“...i gotcha.”

 

After the call, Sans went back to his notes. While it certainly had been a long time, he was remembering more easily thanks to the ‘dings’-key he’d made with Grillby’s help. He’d have to think of some way to repay the fire monster, since without him Sans wouldn’t have been able to decipher any of his notes. Alphys didn’t even recall, even though the two of them had definitely used it in college.

He didn’t know how long he’d been absorbed in his work again until Papyrus texted him. He looked at the message, this time his brother telling him that if he wanted, he’d get Grillby to come by with some takeout. Sans flushed at that and immediately replied “don’t”.

Before the fire monster actually did show up, Sans pulled all of his things together with him and left the lab to go back into the house. He unceremoniously dumped his armload of books onto the kitchen table and opened the fridge, his teeth clenching with the memory of being sick.

Maybe it was just because he felt exhausted and ill already, back then.

It wouldn’t do to keep Papyrus worried about his own cooking. Admittedly, Sans supposed he could’ve fixed himself with whatever was left in the fridge, but opted for a container of spaghetti instead.

As it was heating up in the microwave, he finally received a few texts from Undyne. He texted her about having studied a little more, only to find out it had been a ruse between her and Papyrus. He glared at the phone, feeling irritated at the deception. She then explained that there was no known correlations between the river flooding in the capital and Waterfall, nor the steam vent issues in Hotland. When he shot back that he hadn’t been briefed, she then - probably evasively, Sans thought - explained that he was a sentry of Snowdin from now on.

Now on.

Sans grimaced and jerked the door to the microwave open a little harder than he’d meant to. It set off a flare of anger in him. Undyne had seen that he was weak and cut him off. It was likely the correct assumption. He grabbed the container from the microwave and slammed the door of it, then sat down to eat.

It was horrible and he was angry, but at least he wasn’t sick again. It made him shudder and Sans got up to run the noodles under some running water in the sink. Maybe rinsing off the garlic paste would save the dish.

It didn’t. Now it was just limp watery noodles in a plastic container that were just as unappealing as before. Reluctantly, Sans ate them as fast as he was able, feeling horrible for his disgust.

 

True to form, when Papyrus returned later that evening, he brought back the materials Sans had requested from Alphys. She had included a note and a few snacks that she had gotten in from New Home that weren’t available out in Snowdin or Waterfall and Papyrus corralled them into the kitchen cupboards.

As Sans was laying out the materials in the middle of the living room floor, Papyrus was doing his weekly check up on him.

“YOU’RE STILL LOW…” he commented warily, and Sans shot him a distracted glance from over the stack of panels and panes with a pencil and several measuring gadgets from his lab. “DID YOU REST AT ALL TODAY?”

“had a nap earlier, sure,” Sans fibbed as he flipped through to his schematics, concentrating on the diagrams.

“YOU ARE STILL ONLY AT YOUR BASE STAT,” Papyrus sighed quietly and sat across from his brother on the floor.

“takin’ longer.” Sans agreed quietly. “m’not a kid anymore, heh,” he half-joked, but then saw his brother’s worried look and felt chagrined, “should get a buffer tonight.”

“I WILL NEVER GET USED TO THAT!” Papyrus commented as he looked over the notes curiously. “YOU NEVER HAD A BUFFER BEFORE. WHY NOW?”

“i dunno.”

“PERHAPS IT COMES WITH MATURATION,” was the speculation and Sans just shrugged, then scored a line in the fibreglass pane with another tool. He was following a pattern that followed straight lines on the schematic that ultimately started to look more rounded without using any curved lines. It smelled of ozone, both acrid and clear, and reminded him heavily of the CORE. At least he had success in edging memories away thanks to the distraction.

When Sans didn’t respond, Papyrus watched as he worked. The panes were marked with scores and with every piece that was set aside, Sans continued to look back and forth through his notebook while making adjustments. Eventually, the younger of the two got up to prepare something to eat and give his brother some peace. He was working very hard, after all!

By the time he was done, Sans was in the middle of dozing where he sat, his grip on the rotary tool slipping from his grasp. Quietly, Papyrus took it away from him and Sans stirred, looking around in confusion until his gaze settled on his brother. Then he inhaled deeply, as though attempted to ward off sleep.

“DEAR BROTHER, I DO NOT THINK YOU HAVE BEEN ENTIRELY FORTHRIGHT WITH ME TODAY.”

Sans grunted quietly in admission when Papyrus handed him a plate of toast loaded with butter and jam with a few steamed carrots he got a few times a year from the shop bunnies. It was his effort of imposing healthier eating habits on Sans between all his meals at Grillby’s and his own masterful spaghetti dishes.

He waited until Sans had a few bites of toast before continuing; “IN FACT, YOUR VERY COOL AND POSSIBLY DISTRESSED BROTHER IS ENTERTAINING THE THOUGHT THAT, PERHAPS, YOU HAVE NOT SLEPT A WINK SINCE THIS MORNING.”

Sans straightened up a little, sliding the chopped carrots on his plate idly with the tip of his fingerbone. “oh?”

“INDEED! WHILE I ENCOURAGE YOUR WAKING ENDEAVOURS, I STILL MUST REQUEST THAT YOU TAKE SOME R AND R! THAT IS, REST AND RECUPERATION!”

“aren’t you always sayin’ i need to nap less and work more though?” the older shot back quietly, reaching over his plate after popping a piece of carrot into his mouth, “`sides, if i get all the prep done now, i’ll be able to ignite it when i’m ready.”

He flinched at the word ‘ignite’ as though it meant something else entirely and Sans’ hand automatically went to his sternum, giving it a rub as though to push the memory of pain away. Papyrus saw the tic and frowned in concern, fully aware of what it meant. Igniting the CORE’s constructs had left marks of its own.

Once their light supper had finished, Papyrus left Sans to continue his work in silence. He knew that while he was concerned over his brother’s exhaustion, he couldn’t baby him. With the panic attack and Sans’ sombre mood, it was admittedly becoming difficult to retain his cheerful demeanour.

When the younger of the two came back from washing the dishes, he found Sans slumped over the pile of planks, sound asleep. This time instead of putting him on the couch, Papyrus took up his brother in his arms and carried him upstairs to his room. At least there he’d be able to get some good rest, he hoped.

 


 

“Ignite this.”

“uh…” He started to shake. It hurt when he did it, but his fath- the royal scientist would not take ‘no’ for an answer.

Sans drew in a shuddering breath, the starting ebb of magical energy enough to placate the tall monster beside him. His hands were shaking and he knew he’d be chastised for showing weakness in front of others later if he didn’t stop himself.

There was a crowd around them. Sans had been brought to one of the eighteen podiums that would serve as the starting points to fuel the base of the CORE. Four had already been lit and the heavy shafts of blue light shot from their locations like a sickening beacon up towards the ceiling of the mountain.

Sans’ eye lights were drawn to them, remembering the lurching horror of his stamina being split off and sacrificed in order for the royal scientist’s most ingenious invention to come to fruition.

His fathe- the royal scientist prattled on beside him, making a speech of how the industry would work. No longer would monsterkind stumble through the dark and be forced to live in squalor. Technology would thrive and through the use of the CORE, soon the Barrier would shatter before them! A whole new network of information would be available to them, the possibilities endless! A dawning age rife with benefits to monsters everywhere in the Underground was about to begin.

Sans just stood where he was, numb to the words as he stared at the gleaming quartz panel on the dias. His hands were still shaking, his whole being trembling with the magic constructs hidden under his clothes, ready to prop him up like some wilted tree on the verge of falling over.

He drew in another breath, the sound shuddering when he felt the scientist’s magic hand constructs flick at his spine in irritation. The doctor was becoming impatient the longer Sans took to ready himself.

“He seems nervous-” one of the other scientists noted from in the crowd, causing Sans’ superior to chuckle lightly, brushing off the concern with a wave of his cored hand.

“It is merely a case of stage-fright, my esteemed colleagues!”

He spoke with such candour and assuredness that Sans had to prevent himself from giving the other a sidelong glare. Another calming breath; inhale, hold, exhale. Monsters needed to breathe, after all. It’s how they drew in magic from their environments to sustain themselves. No matter how much Sans’ body attempted to shut down to prevent this, he took a step forward to the dias with another urging flick then squeeze to his spine beneath his shirt.

He flinched inwardly, desperately hoping no one saw the tic, and laid both of his hands on the smooth panel. The skeleton felt his soul twist in protest as he gathered the required amount; with 920 points he was considered strong for someone still in their stripes. There were calculations he needed to follow with exact precision. Perhaps the doctor was right; with so many people watching him, Sans felt a horror that with any slip-up everything would be lost.

Thankfully, he was able to shove aside his worry. The grey panel lit up with his magic’s flux, peppering the large area in a glow of cyan as he pushed outwards. The panel glowed as though heated by an impossible warmth and Sans felt his legs start to wobble, feeding the machine as four hands firmly grabbed at his spine to reinforce the column and keep him upright.

He felt disgusted with the intrusion and shut his eye sockets, cyan hue wisping from them as he poured out the required amount.

[ * 683/920 HP ]

Sans grunted against the heavy weighing feeling that crashed over him, pushing more. His hue flooded the area and concentrated into a pinpoint of concentrated light on the dias, too bright to look at directly. Several in the crowd that had eyes shielded themselves but continued to watch, while others took down notes on clipboards.

Another flood of energy left him and Sans felt another pair of constructed hands reinforce his stance.

[ * 490/920 HP ]

“Keep your output constant,” the doctor instructed sharply, suddenly at his side.

Sans was shaking, his eye sockets wrenched shut as he pushed to manage the output at a more even rate. His breaths were becoming ragged, but he was almost done. Almost done, and he could be sick like he always was, be brought home and discarded until he was well enough to ignite the next pylon.

[ * 284/920 HP ]

It hurts, Sans’ thoughts burned, reopening his sockets to stare ahead. Around him the light had grown into a large singularity and he was sure the cameras going off wouldn’t pick up anything of note. His shoulders were taut like a bow string as one more magically constructed hand found space low enough to complete the pillar of support keeping him up. Two others locked his knees to prevent him from toppling.

It was invasive. It was disgusting. Everything hurt and the magic holding him together burned.

He felt sick. He wanted to go home.

[ * 75/920 HP ]

Suddenly, everything released. As always, things were a bleary mess when the energy flew up towards the linking mechanism and connected with it. It channeled through the large tubes hung between the ignition points and fed them into the main generators. The technology within hummed to life briefly, several whines and blips and the grating of steel and machinery filled the echoing cavern. Several test lights flickered around them as the CORE drew energy from the earth’s mantle, showering everything in a deep unsettling red.

Sans drew in a shuddering breath, his phalanges sliding against the smooth lit panel as he was smoothly puppeteered away. He felt so weak. He wished he could use magic instead, but maturation just wasn’t happening for him. He’d blocked out the reason why; something about.. tubes, potions, wires and...

 

Sans jerked upwards in his bed, his breaths ragged, shallow and quick. Magic was flooding his room in distressed arcs while his left eye blazed cyan and yellow. A soft keening noise escaped him, starting low before reaching a pitch that soon turned into a terrified scream.

Not long after and Papyrus barged in, thinking something horrible had happened. Rightly so, he found his brother so upset his magic was billowing around him in coloured turmoil, disrupting everything in the room from the lamp to the floor to completely undoing the self-sustaining tornado in the corner. Papers were flying everywhere, magic was hot and wild, and the very air was alive and reeked of burning ozone.

“SANS!” Papyrus hurried to his brother’s hunched form on the bed. Sans had both of his arms wrapped around himself and he was rocking, his movements jerking and creating such a rattle that Papyrus had never heard before.

“SANS, IT’S ALRIGHT - I’M HERE! PAPYRUS IS HERE!” He sat on the edge of the bed, flinching as Sans’ magic output sliced against one of his hands. His damage output was weak, but the fact that Sans felt under threat enough to cause harm meant it was more than just one of his usual ‘bad nights’.

It took awhile to reach his brother. Papyrus continued to call his name, to attempt to soothe the vicious whirlwind of emotion and energy until Sans tired himself out. By the end of it, Papyrus’ arms were notched with small nicks and even on the side of his skull. Sans’ radical eye halted its flickering, trapped in a state of opaline blue and yellow, tears pricking at his sockets while he slowly realised where he was.

He was safe.

He was alright.

Papyrus was there, holding him in his arms, stroking his back and rocking them both slowly, assuring him that everything was ok.

Feeling raw and emotionally drained, Sans sunk into Papyrus’ arms, clutching at him. “thank you,” he whispered, his voice shaking, “i’m sorry. th-thank you, pap, i’m sorry… i’m sorry…”

“It’s alright, Sans, you’re safe. Don’t apologise... I’m glad you’re back,” his brother murmured, holding him tighter to press away the distressing rattles. “You’re home,” he said, his tone soft and soothing, “You’re safe.”

Chapter Text

When Sans had calmed down, Papyrus was able to extricate himself from his brother’s arms long enough to fix them a tea. He assured Sans he’d be up right away, to remain calm and take deep breaths. Sans had only nodded with a thin apology, his sockets blank. At least he wasn’t burning through his magic anymore.

Papyrus stood in the kitchen for awhile as the water boiled, two mismatched mugs loaded with tea bags and milk in preparation on the counter. He could then pour the water and immediately carry them upstairs, hopefully quick enough so Sans wouldn’t be alone for too long.

He went over it in his mind. His memories of Sans’ work at the CORE were dodgy at best, but he recognised the panic attacks for what they were. The bad dream Sans had was more likely than not a repressed memory. He wondered what had triggered it? He stared at the ridges in his bones where Sans’ magic had cut him, for once feeling a little lost.

Papyrus stewed on it, waiting for the kettle to boil. If these were the kinds of dreams Sans was having over the past few months, little wonder he didn’t want to talk about it! He recalled days when Sans would suddenly just appear at home, when they were living at the capital, weak and shaky. It tore him apart trying to learn what had happened, he was so worried.

Sans never told him. Not until much later, nearer to the end of the project. It came to the point where Papyrus was asking him not to go to work and Sans would give him a sad look and tell him to be good and he’d see him later that day.

He eventually would, but only after a distressing phone call.

Papyrus sighed, rubbing the heels of his palms over his eye sockets at the memory. It had been awhile since he’d thought of it. There was… admittedly, a lot of things he was remembering lately. The CORE accident, Sans’ behavioural inconsistencies, his maturation… everything was making his skull ache. He was starting to understand why Sans never spoke of their father before.

He would pull through, though! He had to! He was, after all, a very great and loving brother and would support Sans no matter the hardship. It’s just the way things were and how they’ve always been. He would listen to his troubles and be there even when Sans didn’t want to talk, but wanted someone around.

Finally the water boiled. He quickly poured the tea into the two mugs and brought them upstairs to Sans’ room, only to find his brother had gone missing.

Only one other place, if his memory served him correctly, would be where he’d find Sans. With a soft sigh, Papyrus drew himself up and returned to his own room, finding his door ajar to confirm his beliefs.

Of course Sans was not in view, but he knew where he’d find him. He closed the door once inside and turned on the nightstand lamp, then walked to the door to his closet. Papyrus waited for a moment, listening to the subtle clatter of bones from behind the door.

“Sans?” He didn’t get an answer immediately. Or at all, for that matter. He gently kicked the door with his foot in lieu of knocking. “Brother…?”

He waited a couple minutes before he heard a shuddering inhale from his brother behind the door, then it opened slowly. He greeted Sans with his best smile, full of love and caring and holding out their mugs in an offer of comfort. Sans’ sockets were still devoid of light and he seemed small again. No doubt he felt burned out, resorting to his old tactic of hiding in closets after an especially bad episode.

“I made… tea?” Papyrus offered, holding out a green and orange mug with polka dots stamped on it. His brother stayed still, holding onto the other side of the door knob in silence while looking dead ahead.

“m’sorry,” he finally mumbled after a time. His voice sounded harsh and it was quiet. His whole body was still trembling.

“You’ve done absolutely nothing wrong! There’s no need to hide, brother, come on out,” Papyrus said, attempting to sound optimistic. Sans only nodded dumbly, but he didn’t move. His brother glanced over Sans; it hurt to see him like this, but he supposed just this once he’d indulge in some therapeutic confinement. “Is it alright if I come in, too?”

Sans stood still, but after a moment he exhaled the breath he’d been holding. Then, as though suddenly given the energy to move, he took the proffered tea and turned back into Papyrus’ walk-in closet and sat on the floor underneath a few hanging clothes.

Papyrus left the closet door open a little for a sliver of light to shine in and took a seat across from Sans so he was able to survey him closely without crowding him.

“Did you want to-”

“no,” Sans cut him off, his tone quiet. Then after a moment he added, “i’m sorry.”

“Sans, you really don’t need to keep apologising.”

“sorry.”

“And you need to stop hiding whatever’s bothering you!”

“old habit.”

“One you need to break! You’re just feeding your anxiety at this rate!” Papyrus sighed after he said his piece and plucked the string out of his tea so he could steep it properly. He flicked his gaze to his brother, whose eye lights still hadn’t returned. He was bottling things up again. “What made it-? I mean… Do you know?”

Sans tilted his skull forward, regarding his mug and its milky contents. It was a moment or two before he inhaled softly, the breath catching a little. “i got angry.”

Papyrus waited for him to continue, and when he didn’t, he gave his brother’s toe a gentle nudge with his own.

“undyne thinks i’m weak.”

“WHAT!” Papyrus had never heard anything more… more WRONG in his life! “WHO WOULD TELL YOU THAT? THAT’S UTTERLY AND COMPLETELY PREPOSTEROUS!!”

Sans flinched and drew his legs close to him, still seemingly staring at the tea. It was a few more agonising moments when Papyrus sighed again before attempting to speak.

Sans did first this time; “she said in more or less ways. i’m just a snowdin sentry now.” He felt bitter about it; a demotion for a job he didn’t really care about. Yet at the same time, he did care. It was… weird.

“SNOWDIN IS AN IMPOSSIBLY LARGE AREA TO GUARD! I HAVE EVERY CONFIDENCE SHE KNOWS YOU ARE ABLE TO COVER GROUND WITH THE ATTENTION TO DETAIL AND DILIGENCE THAT EVEN I DO!” Papyrus stopped and took a sip from his mug.

Sans took it as a hint to start his own, bringing the steaming mug to his face. He took the smallest sip he could, but his body was needing the sustenance after his panic and drew in half of its contents. He sighed in resignation.

Papyrus knew better than to ask ‘that’s all’, but he knew that Sans was holding something back. Gently, he reached his arm out and patted his brother’s knee in reassurance.

“PERHAPS SHE WANTS YOU TO STAY NEARBY, BECAUSE YOU FINALLY HAVE SOMEONE.”

That got Sans’ attention. His eye lights flickered back to life and he stared at Papyrus, then snorted in derision.

“OH, COME OFF IT! YOU KNOW SHE’S A HOPELESS ROMANTIC!! SHE’D NEVER ADMIT IT, OF COURSE, BUT…” Papyrus took another sip, then shrugged. “SHE DOES HONESTLY CARE ABOUT YOU AND YOUR WELL, LOVE LIFE. IT’S QUITE EXCITING!”

“does it really need to be anyone else’s business?” Sans slouched his shoulders a little more than they already were. He decided to change the subject back. “bro, i gotta tell ya. missin’ out on briefings is one thing… you know i’ve never really paid attention to that kinda stuff. but now, it’s buggin’ me for some reason. like she’s deliberately keepin’ me out of the loop. ever since...” He struggled with the wording. He wasn’t sure if Papyrus would bring his worries to Undyne, after all. He was terrible at keeping secrets.

“YOUR FEARS ARE UNFOUNDED. I, TOO, HAVE NO IDEA WHAT’S GOING ON!” his brother assured him a little too enthusiastically, “SHE’S WAITING FOR MORE INFORMATION! HIRING MORE RECRUITS! EVERYONE’S SAFETY IS ASSURED WITH THE GREAT PAPYRUS AND HIS SLIGHTLY LESS COOL BROTHER IN TOWN. WINK!” He leaned forward for the action as he spoke the word, earning him one of Sans’ halfhearted chuckles. That was better; when Sans laughed, even if it was half-wrought, it was still something! As great as he was, Papyrus knew he could cheer him up after a bad time.

“IF FOR WHATEVER REASON, BROTHER, YOU FIND YOURSELF DOUBTING YOUR CAPABILITIES, YOU NEED TO SPEAK TO ME IMMEDIATELY! I WILL HAVE NOT ONE PERSON, NOT EVEN YOURSELF, TELL YOU THAT YOU ARE UNFIT FOR ANYTHING!”

Sans laughed again, not knowing why.

“AFTER ALL! WHAT KIND OF COOL BROTHER WOULD I BE IF I DID NOT INSTILL CONFIDENCE IN THOSE WHO NEED IT THE MOST! AND AFTER EVERYTHING YOU HAVE ACCOMPLISHED TOO!” Papyrus gave him a huge grin and Sans found himself returning it. “I’M VERY PROUD OF YOU. YOU’VE DONE SO MUCH! I WISH I COULD TELL YOU EVERY DAY!”

“m’pretty sure you do already,” Sans snickered, bringing his mug back up to drink. “thanks for the pep talk, bro.”

“YOU’LL TRY NOT TO LINGER ON IT, WON’T YOU?”

The older brother shrugged slightly, polishing off the rest of his tea. He did feel a little better. “i’ll give it the ol’ college try.”

“AND BY THAT YOU MEAN YOU’LL GRADUATE AND GET A MASTER’S IN ATTEMPTERY! I WILL HOLD YOUR DIPLOMA FOR YOU, AND TEARS WILL BE IN MY SOCKETS FOR ALL TO SEE HOW PROUD I AM!”

Sans covered his face with one hand and started to laugh, his shoulders shaking as Papyrus got up and shuffled over to sit beside him. Those same shoulders were wrapped with his brother’s arm and Sans put his own around Papyrus’ back and let his skull drop against his shoulder.

“you’re the best, bro.”

“OF COURSE I AM! AND BY PROXY, I SUPPOSE YOU ARE TOO.” Thanks to the light through the crack of the door, Sans was able to see another one of Papyrus’ inaudible winks and laughed again.

 

Thanks to the brotherly chat and the tea, Sans was able to settle down enough to venture out of the closet. Papyrus insisted upon another sleepover and Sans humoured him, this time not bothering with the story and instead huddling under the covers like they were kids again. He felt the ebbing tingle of his brother’s magic cocoon him and he playfully jabbed Papyrus in the ribs with his elbow to get him to stop.

“m’not babybones,” he grumbled through Papyrus’ protests. He sounded sleepy enough, so his brother let him be for once.

 

Papyrus’ alarm woke them both up. Sans was reluctant to leave the safe confines of the bed. He was pulled up, a low groan with a yawn escaping him as he blearily looked around. Papyrus was already getting changed and was talking to him, explaining the day. Didn’t his brother know by now he needed to wake up before thinking about doing anything?

He dozed while Papyrus got ready, only to be roused by him minutes later. Sans grunted in protest, then dimly realised his brother was waiting for him.

“wha, m’up.”

“SANS, LET’S GET GOING!”

“muh? are you in the forest today?” He wasn’t even insisting on breakfast?

“NO, LAZYBONES, WE’RE GOING OUT FOR SOME… ‘SOUL’ FOOD!”

Sans stared at him blearily, not quite awake and understanding Papyrus’ intentions until he had been forced to change, get his shoes and hoodie on, and they were out the door. It was later than usual, but not by too much. Papyrus didn’t seem too affected that he was late for anything, so Sans just followed in step behind him.

The walk was short, and if Sans hadn’t been snapped awake at that moment, he could’ve sworn Papyrus was holding the door open for him to Grillby’s.

“ok, what’s this?” the older brother inquired lowly.

Papyrus had a suspicious grin on his face, if Sans had to peg him as the sort. While not entirely double-crossing, Papyrus whistled innocently as he gestured for Sans to enter.

It was warmer inside than usual but nothing too far from what was to be expected from the fire monster’s abode. Sans shot the bartender a shy grin from across the floor, recognising the surprised way Grillby’s flames sparked. Papyrus at the restaurant was peculiar, at best.

“GOOD MORNING, MISTER GRILLBY!” said brother announced. There was no one else at the bar and Sans shuffled a little at the doorway. “SANS, PLEASE. THE DOOR. YOU’RE GOING TO LET OUT ALL THE HEAT!”

Sans immediately closed the door behind him, unsure what the hell was going on.

Grillby kept his usual quiet demeanour as the two skeleton brothers walked up to the counter. Sans was unsure if he should take his usual seat or not so remained standing, eyeing the glance the other two seemed to exchange with increasing suspicion.

“MISTER GRILLBY, IT APPEARS THAT YOU’VE HEALED WELL!” Papyrus was saying, quite obviously making small talk with his tone. He gestured around the bar to the empty seats and continued, “MY DEAR BROTHER REQUIRES SOME ‘SOUL FOOD’-” he gestured the air quotes with his fingers, “-AND I SUPPOSE THE GREAT PAPYRUS WILL HAVE A… A MILKSHAKE.” His sockets narrowed at his decision and Sans was giving him the most confused look he could muster.

Grillby appeared to be amused but at the same time he didn’t object. Customers were customers, even if it was early. He nodded and gestured for Papyrus to have a seat, sending Sans a slight smirk over his shoulder as he retreated to the kitchen.

Sans hopped up onto his regular stool, still staring at him, his sockets very slightly narrowed. “what did you do.” It was more of a challenge than a question.

“WOWIE! WOULD YOU LOOK AT THE TIME!” Papyrus looked at the back of his wrist in a show of looking at his watch - at least, he would have if he had opted to wear one. “IT’S ALREADY SO LATE! GIVE MISTER GRILLBY MY APOLOGIES! I’LL COME BACK AFTER WORK FOR THE SHAKE! TOODLES!”

Subtle. The thought was tinged with sarcasm and Sans stared at his brother as he flounced out the door. Only then did he realise that the open sign read ‘OPEN’ inwards and the shutters were closed.

“oh, you sneaky little…” the skeleton muttered, unable to hide his grin when Grillby returned from the back. It was only then that Grillby’s flames crackled and his face broke out in a grin of his own, laughter erupting. “what just happened?”

Grillby rounded the bar, effortlessly sliding onto the stool next to him. It dawned on Sans just then that the fire monster wasn’t even dressed for work. “...Matchmaking, evidently.”  He continued to laugh, the noise a happy crispness.

Sans at least felt awake enough now to flush at his brother’s grand deception. “i’ve been duped.”

“Did you think you worked today?”  Grillby was still chuckling, unable to stop himself.

“what day is it..?” Sans shook his skull, taking a moment to yawn and lean over the counter.

“Sunday. Bar’s closed.”

“time is flyin’ by,” the skeleton murmured, surprised, “the least he could’ve done was warn me.”

“...Warn you of time travel?”

Sans snorted softly. It sounded more like a snore.

“...Want to sleep?”  Grillby’s laughter had subsided, but he still sounded amused. His eyes were brighter today, Sans noticed.

“didn’t get the solid 12 hours last night.”

“Here I thought you’d want date number two.”

Sans felt his face flush with the invitation and sat upright. “aww, you know you always brighten my day, grillbz,” he grinned outright, unable to help himself, “`sides, who could say no to you?”

It was Grillby’s turn to grin, although there was something sneaky to it.

“ok, now i know you’re hidin’ jokes from me,” Sans muttered, settling down onto the counter again, skull on his arms in a mock pout, closing his sockets. “i’m offended.”

Grillby leaned in closer and Sans could feel his heat creep towards him. “...Are you?”

“yep.” He wasn’t, but he managed to hide his grin in his arms. “totally heartbroken.”

“My! And how would I be able to correct such a gross overstep of boundaries?”  Grillby teased. Sans cracked open an eye socket with the sound of the stool creaking and the hum of fire directly beside him.

The fire monster had folded his arms over the bar, mimicking Sans’ posture. His grin was apparent and he looked so bright and happy to see him. The skeleton’s soul felt as though it was spinning nervously in his rib cage. The other’s good mood was infectious.

He mumbled something into his arms.

The bartender moved a little closer with a soft hum. “....Didn’t catch that?”

Sans’ face felt hotter and he watched as the other shifted his arm down to rest on his shoulder. “maybe a kiss,” he repeated a little louder.

Grillby hummed again, this time amused. “....What if no?”

“i’ll go without, and i’ll probably feel like somethin’s missin’ the whole date.”

“So you want to, then?”

“didn’t even get one yesterday. or the day before, even before that. technically i should get at least four,” Sans found himself saying, as though bartering. At Grillby’s surprised flare, the skeleton continued, “actually, we might need to double down on that.”

The fire monster started laughing again, but moved closer and Sans sat up expectantly. “...May be obliged to take you up on that offer,”  he breathed as he leaned down to steal a few kisses.

Sans felt a shiver go through him as he pressed forward, swivelling the stool so he could snake his hands around Grillby’s shoulders and neck, linking his fingers together. While he had been mostly joking about the amount of affection due, he wasn’t about to stop if Grillby wanted to feed him tongue instead of breakfast.

The skeleton couldn’t stop the soft whimper that left him, unhooking his hands to grasp at the other’s shoulder. He decided rather quickly that if the second date was just this, he’d let go of the lost joke. He’d pester Grillby about it some other time.

He nearly swallowed his tongue when he heard the door open alongside the chime and whirled his skull around to see Papyrus come back into the restaurant. He had one of his gloved hands over his sockets and was holding out something in his other, blindly flailing around until he found a table.

“DON’T MIND ME! THE GREAT PAPYRUS HAS BORNE WITNESS TO ABSOLUTELY ZERO SLOPPY MAKEOUTS. I MERELY CAME BACK TO BRING MY BROTHER’S PHONE. I DON’T KNOW WHY, HE NEVER ANS-”

“leave!”  Sans shouted shrilly, his voice a little higher through embarrassment. Grillby’s fire had sparked at the interruption and he was trying not to laugh again, especially at Sans’ reaction. He actually found it rather endearing how Papyrus was looking out for his brother. Sans didn’t.

Grillby watched as Papyrus dropped the cell phone onto one of the nearby booth tables and stumbled out of the door before cracking up again, unable to help himself. Meanwhile, Sans had turned a concerning shade of blue and hid his face in his hands.

“he’s tryin’ to kill me, i swear,” he whispered exasperatedly. Comfortingly, the fire monster patted his shoulder and kissed the top of his skull.

“...With soul food?”

“an’ now you’re using his words against me. i can already feel the pull of the void.”

“Such cruelty,”  Grillby agreed soberly, “...Need breakfast, at any rate. Come upstairs.”  Sans uncovered his face in time to see Grillby slide off his stool. The fire monster gently gave his arm a small tug in invitation before leaving him to lock the front door and retrieve Sans’ phone.

Chapter Text

Grillby had been similarly duplicitous in the plan of getting Sans out of the house, but hadn’t expected them quite so early, hence his surprise. Papyrus had proved easy enough to get along with in that regard. The shorter skeleton remained entirely baffled by the exchange, but seemed even more confused when Grillby led him upstairs.

If he didn’t know better… he was experiencing a secondary impressionistic whiplash. Grillby had cleaned, or at least he thought he had. Sans sighed when they got to the kitchen, leaning against the now cleared and wiped down island and looking around.

“welp. i dunno what to think anymore.”

Grillby gave him something of an inquiring flicker and paused before continuing to pull things off shelves again. Pots and pans were stacked neatly by size in iron wrought shelving bolted to the walls and he grabbed one, setting it down on the counter.

“if you’re gonna be complacent in my bro’s japes, i’m gonna be needin’ a warning ahead of time.”

A grin flashed across the bartender’s face and he tossed Sans’ cell phone at him. The skeleton only just barely caught it, shrugging off the lingering dregs of sleep. With his touch the screen lit up with several notifications. Several were from Grillby.

“oh.”

“...Wouldn’t dream of betraying you,”  the fire monster said, his tone still amused as he worked. Sans watched with exhausted interest and sunk down into one of the chairs to flip through his phone. “You are really bad at answering your phone.”

“so it is known,” Sans agreed, half-joking. Several texts were also from Alphys with attachments that were taking forever to download. A couple that loaded early showed that it was some new device she was working on. He shut off the screen and twirled the phone on the counter. “date number two,” he continued, changing the subject, “whaddaya got planned?”

“....Surprise,”  the other revealed, his fire positively pluming with his good mood.

Sans gave him a grin. “you’re really, uh… glowing today.” He was also half-asleep. The cogs of his mind were still grinding to start up. “never seen you in such a good mood.”

The bartender appeared pleased that he’d noticed, at least. He looked up from slicing up a myriad of vegetables with practised ease and Sans could have sworn the fire monster grew a foot taller.

He was positively radiant.

“....ylight.”  Grillby’s blaze buried all but the last part of his sentence, but he sounded happy. When Sans only grinned at him in response, the fire monster tried again, “...Feel the sun, above.”

“oh. wow, really?” Sans’ eye lights dragged upward, as though the ceiling of Grillby’s kitchen would afford him proof. “like, on the surface?”

The fire monster made a pleased rasping noise. Sans figured it was a ‘yes’.

“that’s pretty cool, g. not gonna lie.”

Grillby’s good mood brought the temperature in the kitchen up just a little more and Sans basked in it, watching him.

“....ike an old friend paying a visit,”  the other said through another flash of fire. Sans felt his soul soaring with the other’s apparent happiness, blinding out the cold dread of his nightmare from his thoughts. He cradled his skull in both of his hands, his smile tender.

“now i’m gettin’ jealous,” Sans sighed, leaning forward to inspect the bowl of vegetables Grillby was preparing. “how’re you able to know?” He snuck a slice of something red and stuck it into his mouth, Grillby not appearing to mind. It was mildly peppery.

“High noon,”  the fire monster supplied, pointing up. Sans’ brow raised incredulously and he looked at his phone. It was a little after seven in the morning.

“think that might not be right.”

The bartender collected a few other supplies from cupboards, his ambient light flickering around the glassware and throwing reflections around the kitchen in distorted rainbows. “The Underground’s sense of time has become… inaccurate,”  he shrugged dismissively and heated a pan with some oil, making cooking look effortless.

“huh. don’t tell the chick at hotland lab that. she’d freak if she found out there was any discrepancies.”

“Doesn’t matter much, really. Just something I’ve had to endure on a personal level.”

Sans sat up a little more, curious. “oh?”

“Makes my days feel longer.”

“how so?”

Grillby seemed to pause before turning to regard the skeleton. He supposed he had never really had to explain it, since no one had thought to ask. How could they? Not many others knew his composition since he kept it secret. “It’s my midnight right now.”

Sans straightened a little more, “aren’t you tired?”

“...Always. Another reason why I don’t do breakfast.”

“hell, after you’re done not doin’ breakfast, we should go have a nap,” the skeleton murmured, barely stifling a yawn. “beginnin’ to like this date already.”

Grillby couldn’t help but laugh at that, but ultimately decided it would be for the best. Sans didn’t look like he’d had much sleep lately and his brother had cautioned him against letting Sans push himself. Seemed like Papyrus thought he was ill. He did seem more run-down than usual, so he agreed.

Sans had devoured his omelette with thickly-sliced buttered toast in a matter of seconds, now resting over the island countertop. He looked at peace, which was a good thing since Grillby took special care and poured love into everything he made for him. The fire monster watched him as he finished his own breakfast, how his sockets shifted and moved as Sans eventually fell asleep where he sat.

 

He woke a few hours later in Grillby’s bed, tucked and warm against the other’s chest. The faint sizzle of the other’s low flames echoed in his skull as his mind gradually came back to consciousness with a soft inhale. The constant heat below him had lulled him into a sense of security, feeling the tenderness of the love he felt in his soul.

He basked in it. It felt right. Grillby felt right. Sans curled against him, wrapping his arms over his shoulders and settling again. Their chests pushed against one another with each breath, souls singing in such perfected harmony that Sans was sure the dizzy feeling stemmed from its closeness.

Happiness, eh?

It had a good ring to it.

Seemed like his movement had roused the fire monster if his little flames had anything to go by. Sans watched them, half-asleep, before resting again and drowsing. If they spent all day like this, he’d call the date a success.

Grillby had other ideas. As little as Sans weighed, the fire monster was able to wrap an arm around him, pressing him close to his body as he slowly sat up. The skeleton only made a soft grunt but his sockets were closed and his breathing had evened out again. Grillby couldn’t help the soft laugh and the way his fire tingled with Sans so close.

With Sans comfortably sleeping like he didn’t have a worry in the world, the bartender was able to carefully move to the edge of the bed, his pace slower than usual to make sure he didn’t wake him. He twisted himself around so he could allow Sans to sink back against the mattress, taking a moment to appreciate the sight of him and leave a soft kiss on his forehead.

It seemed like Sans needed the sleep anyway, so he quietly got changed and pulled on his boots, his jacket and gloves. Then Grillby set about carefully pulling on the skeleton’s shoes, making sure to lace them in a way that they wouldn’t come undone before pulling on his hoodie and zipping it up.

He was out like a light.

Grillby couldn’t help the smile that crossed his vague features at that. He looked so peaceful. He hoped in a way he could surprise Sans by bringing him out to the spot he had selected for their date. Perhaps him napping the whole time would gain him that advantage.

Carefully slipping the other’s phone into Sans’ shorts pocket, he manoeuvred the skeleton onto his back, his arms lithely hanging over his shoulders and carrying him downstairs as he had all those weeks ago. The fire monster felt the gentle thrum of the other’s soul against his back, how his magic amassed in coiling comfort as Sans didn’t stir as he was shifted about.

It was easy enough to traverse down the stairs and out the fire exit. Easier still to walk out of town, nodding his head in greeting to the monsters he passed along the way. Seeing Sans being carried was such a regular thing that no one chose to address it. He didn’t venture towards Sans’ house, but west of town, passing the bridge and a few puzzles along the way.

Sans’ breathing was deep and soft, tickling the flames at his neck as he walked. At some point the skeleton shifted slightly against his back, his arms tightening ever so slightly before he settled again with a soft sigh.

It was sweet.

As he often did, Grillby completely circumvented most of the skeleton brothers’ puzzles. Growing up in Hotland instilled in him enough knowledge to figure them out easily the first few times he’d stumbled across them. With Papyrus’ earlier complaining that someone was tripping them up, Grillby had taken care to dodge them entirely. He knew a few shortcuts of his own, even with how snowy and icy the area was.

 

It was a long walk along the plateaus and through the trees. At one point Grillby left the trail entirely, following one set of icy footprints, just visible in the deep snow since his last visit a few days prior. It had been the start of his good mood and was happy to find such a place all those years ago.

Even with all the snow technically being water, he was happy to walk through it all. Soft wisps of steam were a constant presence around his boots and the snow that lightly drifted down melted before having the chance to approach him.

He actually liked Snowdin. It was peaceful and quiet, a stark contrast to the tiresome heat and clockwork of his old home. And now, skeleton in tow, he had more of a reason to be in love with the place.

“muh.”

Seemed like his date was finally coming around. Grillby turned his head slightly to regard the other’s face, half-drowsy with sleep.

“....Out like a light,”  the fire monster supplied quietly.

“s’ok. you make enough to fire up the underground,” Sans murmured drowsily and nestled his face against Grillby’s neck while hooking his hands together for a better grip. He looked around, a little puzzled. “...where are we?”

“...Surprise,”  Grillby reminded him.

The skeleton snorted softly, “you’re carryin’ me.”

The fire monster only smiled, adjusting his grip on the other’s femurs as he sidestepped a patch of ice through a few densely growing birches.

“it’s not like i lost my leg again,” Sans protested half-heartedly, but turned his head to look down at his shoes to make sure. Yep, both legs were still there. When Grillby didn’t answer him, he added, “i suppose i could just detach one. for ol’ time’s sake.”

Grillby was unable to hold back a laugh at that, “Please don’t.”

Sans chuckled and sighed softly, watching the other’s flames move. “i don’t recognise this place.”

“It is a secret.”

“y’still seem pretty stoked about the sun, huh?”

A slight kindling of fire answered his question and Sans closed one socket to prevent the fire from entering his skull. "where's my phone?"

"...Your trousers’ pocket."

Sans snorted again, this time a little louder. "wow, coulda warned me if you were gonna be stickin' your hands down my drawers, grillbz."

Grillby had to turn his head to conceal the sudden grin that spread across his features, but his chuckles betrayed him by jostling the skeleton on his back. ".....Dirty jokes."

“i like ‘em. makes you turn pretty colours.”

Grillby did at that, the complement bringing forth a dash of gold and amber along with a surprised look.

“what,” Sans muttered incredulously, his eye lights flicking to Grillby’s visage, then back to the quiet rocky field around them. It was a moment before he added a little more insistently, “you are.”

The fire monster was unsure how to handle such a prospect, certainly not knowing how to handle a compliment either. He only let out an amused hum while Sans shifted in his grasp to peer over his shoulder at him.

“you don’t believe me? ok, how `bout this then,” Sans gestured with his hands, spreading his phalanges in front of the other’s face in mock amazement, “you light up my life.”

Grillby turned his head, resisting the betraying chuckles.

“nothin’? ok, well, i have a feelin’ your eyes are the event horizon.. `cause they keep drawin’ me in.”

Grillby stumbled, unable to contain his laughter but he managed not to fall. Meanwhile, Sans had something of a deathgrip on him with the startling lurch.

“look at you, trippin’ all over. you need me to tie your laces, grillbz?” Sans was chuckling too, “wouldn’t want you to fall for anyone else.”

“Sans, you don’t even tie your own shoelaces.”  The fire monster made a peculiar motion, something like an eye roll with a sidelong glance over his shoulder. Sans was grinning at him. He honestly looked happy, happier than he’d ever seen him before. His grin, however permanent that it was, reached his eye sockets and he seemed more energetic, despite resting against his back.

“aww, c’mon, buddy. you stumbled right into that one.”

“I’ll drop you.”  He was still laughing.

Sans’ grip got tighter as he crooned, “so hot-headed.”

“...Will make you walk,”  Grillby considered it. Laughing and walking just weren’t working out for him. He slid a little in the slush gathered at his feet, since he had stopped during their exchange and the snow had melted.

“and miss this wild bangin’ ride?” Sans sighed against Grillby’s neck, drawing in just a little bit of magic to force a chill to it. The fire monster’s shoulders hunched upward with a shiver and he grinned deviously. “now i know how you felt, teasin’ me.”

Grillby started to walk, but made a show of releasing Sans’ femurs. The skeleton locked his arms around his shoulders with a startled yelp when gravity plunged him downward.

“hey, don’t play the game if you can’t take the heat, grillbz-” Sans was wriggling, trying to regain purchase as Grillby moved a few feet away from the slush with his arms folded over his chest.

Grillby wasn’t really upset, but seeing as the skeleton was awake enough to walk on his own, Sans finally agreed to let go. His hands immediately went into his pockets but he showed the bartender a big grin, knowing he’d won.

The fire monster shook his head, hiding his own smile as he led the other further out into the rocky field. Large stalactites peppered the ceiling like icicles the closer they got to the large hill, far away from Snowdin. Grillby had been walking for a couple of hours before Sans woke up, and it would take them another hour of steady travel and idle chat before they arrived.

 

Whatever Sans had expected, this… wasn’t it. A hole in the mountain that surrounded a huge outcropping cliff, grey and mottled with dark patches of black ice and crunchy snow. Old dry vines twisted against the rockface, bordering the outcropping and obscuring it from direct view.

He didn’t know how Grillby could be so excited about such a place but followed him, resisting the urge to complain about such a long walk. He almost considered warping them to their destination, but wasn’t sure about his buffer. It seemed stronger today, but not by much.

Grillby led him up to the outlying cliffside, a few scraggly looking pines with twisted roots clinging to the rocks. The path was littered with old pinecones, one of which the fire monster picked up and tossed at Sans. He caught it, but looked even more confused. He’d never been here even in his patrols, and wondered how Grillby came to find such a place.

“....Inside,”  the fire monster finally said, excitement in his crackling flames. Everything about his demeanour seemed to be dancing, embers popping off in multitudes of warm colours and vibrant intensities.

Sans indulged him while pocketing the pinecone, taking care to follow the other’s steps as Grillby led him up to the space. It was not very big; Sans figured Papyrus wouldn’t be able to fit, but Grillby and Sans could pass through the narrow crevice with a bit of effort. Inside, shards of ice gleamed against Grillby’s ambient glow and shattered amongst hundreds of splintered growths of quartz and snowy, shimmering gypsum.

Sans whistled lowly, captivated. For the most part, he stayed silent as Grillby had reached out to take his arm. Automatically, the smaller monster let himself be pulled along, the mouth of the crack in the mountain’s wall widening enough to accomodate them side-by-side. There were jagged pieces of rock that had broken off into slabs of shale and obsidian, different colours of teal, jade, cyan and gold. Every surface reflected Grillby’s fire and Sans almost had to shield his face before adjusting to the sight. It was as bright as the light below the CORE, but warmer.

“wow.” The word was small, but he was actually amazed.

Grillby was beaming, insistently tugging at Sans’ arm for him to follow. “It gets better!”

Intrigued yet feeling a little cautious, the skeleton continued behind the other. The path twisted in spaces and eventually Grillby let go of him to climb over some unsteady-looking formations that Sans scrutinised before clambering over as well. Every step of the way, Grillby made sure he was within arms’ reach, eventually settling to keep his hand locked in Sans’, fingers laced together in a firm grasp.

Every part of Sans’ being was thrumming excitedly. Grillby’s mood was infectious, filling him with curiosity as the fire monster hid the ‘ultimate surprise’. As opposed to outside, the cavern was small and dry, the only moisture around bowing to the bartender’s heat as gentle coils of mist drifted away.

The ceiling continued to plunge lower the deeper they ventured into the cavern. Eventually the gypsum took over the ceiling, hailing down like a frozen waterfall and shimmering with Grillby’s glow. They had to separate briefly to climb a rockface that led up. Sans was starting to tire and his breaths were becoming a little laboured. It was certainly a workout, whatever the other had planned. He was getting good at not complaining, at least for today.

It took longer to reach the uppermost caverns, as Sans had begun to move slower. His breathing was ragged from the climb, pushing himself when Grillby insisted it was worth it. He had to trust him, right? The best thing he could hope for was that by some miracle there was a flat enough slab at the top so he could get some shuteye.

But no, there wasn’t. In fact, the only outlying flat stretch of flooring was littered with stalagmites. Sans sent the cold, bruised-coloured spikes something of a reproachful look as he was tugged through them, until the fire monster finally stopped.

Sans looked around. Apart from the fire monster’s aura throwing light all around, it was pretty lacklustre. He didn’t understand the other’s apparent excitement but stayed quiet. The other took his arm, pulling him closer until he was nearly pressed against him. Then he was turned and before Sans knew it, his eye sockets were covered by Grillby’s gloved hands.

He inhaled sharply. “ok. this is weird. don’t freak out, grillbz, but i think i just went blind.”

Grillby made a shushing sound, clipped by a snap of embers, and carefully manoeuvred the nervously grinning skeleton around a large and jagged formation, hiding the true surprise. His flames were flickering wildly and the crack of his mouth opened in a reverent smile, soul beating fiercely at his core as he looked over the skeleton’s shoulder.

“...Are you ready?”

Sans swallowed, his hands poised at either side of him, not knowing exactly what to do with them. With Grillby covering his eyes, it was more than a little difficult to gauge depth or any looming threat that might be hiding.

But the other’s mood was infectious, no matter how cautious he felt.

He sighed, the breath stuttering as the fire monster waited.

“ok.”

Chapter Text

He didn’t know what Grillby was waiting for.

He was ready.

He gave the go-ahead.

Sans was holding his breath, not knowing why he felt so apprehensive. He felt the heat of the other’s hand leave his right socket. He didn’t see anything, but a flood of blinding light entered his skull when his left socket was uncovered.

It took several moments to adjust to it, but as though struck by an invisible blow Sans jerked backward, bumping into the other’s body with disbelief.

“wh-what-?” It was all he could stammer out after a few moments. Sans stood stock-still, staring ahead with his gaze wide and clear.

“...Only wanted to share it with someone special,”  the fire monster explained, his voice quiet as he watched the other.

It took too long to process. Something that was a shared, deep ache within every soul in the Underground had been revealed to him. A jagged exit high above, inaccessible yet so close.

The thrumming black and white tones of runic glyphs littered the seal, ancient and powerful, decorating the area alongside the broken geode rockface leading up to it. The crystals were glittering brightly in a waning glow never before seen in the Underground. Sans certainly never had, even with the beams above New Home breaking through every so often during his childhood. They had always been so out of reach.

But now… they were. Tendrils and smears of exhaustive burning colours beyond the opening, bright reds, yellows, oranges and violets streaking across a golden ceiling. No, a sky. The sky, Sans was seeing the sky!

The wisps of thick mist far above must have been clouds, so ethereal in their splendour that anything magic could produce just wouldn’t possibly compare. The mist in Waterfall was nothing like it, the steam that came from the vents in Hotland not even holding a candle to the sight.

As though every little bitterness inside of him broke at once, the skeleton jerked forward with the overwhelming thrill to get closer, only for Grillby to grab his arm and keep him back.

“The Barrier,”  he warned firmly.

Sans didn’t look at him, fully captivated by the sight. Grillby had mentioned feeling the sun, but he didn’t see it. Just a wash of brilliant colours, like burning etched crystal or slick oil across a canvas. There was a gentle breeze and even the sound of moving air.

It was indescribable. He’d never seen it before, born long after the war with humans. Sans inhaled sharply, not realising he’d been holding his breath. The sudden influx of magic in the air made him dizzy and he stumbled backwards, still staring.

“How do you find it?”

Sans was only aware of the other’s voice by the tone. He wasn’t paying attention. If he blinked or if he turned, it could be gone in an instant. He wanted to keep his sight on it. He felt everything monsterkind hoped and dreamed for throughout the ages echo in his rib cage, tugging at him to go forward and make contact with whatever was beyond.

He’d never felt such want for freedom in his entire existence.

Sans didn’t even realise he was trembling until Grillby wrapped his arms around his waist from behind, so overcome with emotions he didn’t know he had until he was experiencing them in that very moment. His breaths shuddered in his rib cage and Sans couldn’t tear his gaze away from it, excitement and wonder building up inside of him to the point where he thought he’d explode into a myriad of tiny fragments.

“that’s...”

He had absolutely no words.

Grillby watched him, keeping his flames low for the sheer thrill Sans no doubt was feeling. He was to the point of silent exaltation, watching the enraptured skeleton. Carefully, he removed his arms from around his date and stepped back, his movements silent in the small glittering cavern. It was just him, Sans, and the sunset.

“Sans?”

The skeleton didn’t move, seemingly frozen in place. Grillby chuckled to himself and pulled out his cell phone, lining up the shot.

“Sans!”  he suddenly shouted, the echo of his embers crackling at the edge of his voice and in the cave. He made ready when Sans flinched slightly, whirling his skull around as he was jerked out of his daze. In at just the right moment, the fire monster lowered his flames enough to provide only a warm glow and clicked a button.

Ka-chk!

Dumbfounded, the skeleton stared at Grillby and the plume of reignited fire around him, seeing him grin happily. He found his own grin tugging warmly, feeling a lightness in his heart and soul as though every bit of him didn’t feel quite as heavy as before. Not with his sickness, his frailty nor his self-consciousness. His smile was real and he couldn’t help but laugh when Grillby took another picture of him.

“how the hell did you find this?” It seemed like hours since Sans had last uttered a word. As if suddenly aware of his body again, the skeleton wiped a hand over his face after realising tears had been pricking at his eye sockets. He had been that moved.

Grillby merely shrugged, something evasive and shy in the gesture as he looked to the photo in his phone. The first one encapsulated the moment perfectly, even if it looked like the skeleton was about to break down. It was a little blurry, but he wouldn’t change it for the world.

“grillby-” There it was again. The fire monster couldn’t help the peculiar tingle through his body with the skeleton’s voice, so imploring and with a rush of feeling, he didn’t quite know how to react. As Sans had demonstrated so many times before, Grillby placed a hand over his chest and looked up with a gentle smile.

“...Permitted myself to vent my frustrations outside of Snowdin’s general vicinity,”  he muttered, turning off the screen of his phone and rotating it in his hands, “...Integration was not as smooth as I had hoped when I moved here. With no place of my own, I...”  He let the rest go with another vague shrug. “...Thought it cruel if anyone would find out my… hiding spot was so near.”

Sans approached him, eye lights searching the other’s visage to find any hint of a ruse or trick. Grillby wasn’t the sort, though. A tease, but certainly not a liar.

The skeleton exhaled, the breath long. Then he stuck his hands into his pockets, finding the pinecone the fire monster had tossed to him hours ago outside the cavern. “guess i can understand that,” he mumbled quietly, bringing out the seed and rolling it between his bony digits, “i hide too. sometimes. we all get that way, i think.”

“You hide in plain view,”  the bartender reminded him, “You are.. stronger than I.”

Sans smiled a little sadly, but he shrugged. “so i guess… you want this a secret.”

“Between you and I,”  the fire monster clarified, suddenly self-conscious. He was watching Sans fidget with the pinecone and avoiding the other’s look. “...Is it selfish?”

The skeleton considered it for a moment. He didn’t trust himself to look back ‘outside’, afraid he wouldn’t be able to tear himself away again. Then he just shrugged again, the gesture noncommittal. “askin’ the wrong guy. i’m a pretty selfish guy, after all.” It might have been the wrong thing to say, since Grillby didn’t have anything to add to that. Carefully, Sans murmured, “i don’t think it is, anyway. it.. it is special.”

The fire monster sighed quietly, a plume of smoke drifting away from him as he reached for Sans’ hands.

“so, uh… i guess you win,” the skeleton continued hesitantly while the other clasped his hands. “i, um… wasn’t expectin’ this.”

“Win?”

“yeah, why not. this has gotta amount to, what? fifty points?” Grillby couldn’t help but laugh at that. “seriously, if fi.. fillin’ me with fire was the goal here, uh-”

The fire monster started laughing harder, his flames spiking in different shades of orange and gold. As Sans felt heat flood his face, he removed his hands from the other’s grasp and covered it, embarrassed.

“i think it just clicked what that means,” he said weakly, a subtle shudder creeping through his bones.

“I’ll allow you your fantasies,”  the fire monster said, winking, “Just this once.”

“sorry, i’m gonna go throw myself off that rockface.” Sans made a motion as though he intended to do so, but Grillby threw an arm around him, catching him off balance. At the same time Sans grabbed ahold of the other’s jacket in surprise when Grillby lifted him fully off his feet.

“We should go,”  Grillby said between chuckles.

“we just got here,” Sans protested, the elation turning to dread with the realisation the long climb down was a very real thing. The fire monster turned his body towards the portal to outside and Sans quickly turned his face away, his grip becoming death-like. “no, no, no, i uh, i don’t think i can look at it anymore, grillbz-”

“It’s intense.”  Grillby agreed.

“like a circus fire.”

The other quietly scoffed and turned around, very easily carrying the skeleton in his arms and around the large rock formation. When ‘outside’ was out of view, Sans visibly relaxed, his hands unbunching the fabric of Grillby’s jacket. For once, he didn’t feel too horrible for being carried, watching the other’s visage and his flames scurry around before fishing into his pocket for his phone, intent on taking a photo for himself.

“i mean it, y’know.”

“The circus fire?”

Sans chuckled, unable to help himself, “no, that it’s, um. special.” He hesitated, “i’m ok with keepin’ this a secret.”

As Grillby looked down to him, Sans got an idea. Carefully, he pulled his arm over the other’s shoulder and hitched himself up to give the other a kiss. At the back of his mind he realised he was becoming more bold with touch, when before he was hesitant and even a little scared. He hummed softly when Grillby brought him up closer, the kiss ending chaste yet sweet and leaving him grinning.

It was then that he decided to take the photo. Sans was bad with photos, although that was usually intentionally done to make Papyrus frustrated with the subject matter. This time, it appeared that his photography skills were just good enough to get half of Grillby’s visage in the shot. It was a bright point of light. Coupled with his horrible shooting job and Grillby being naturally unphotogenic, the picture was bad. Sans liked it anyway.

Unable to contain himself, the skeleton ducked his skull and snorted, “can’t believe that bonehead set me up.”

“...Proving himself to be a rather adept matchmaker, after all.”

“don’t let him find out,” Sans sighed softly, resettling in Grillby’s arms, “but he’s really cool.” Grillby merely hummed in agreement, his eyes dancing.

 

Eventually Grillby had to put Sans down in order to scale the rocks back down. It proved more difficult than before and the skeleton, already exhausted by the climb up, decided to cheat a little bit. They were small jumps and Grillby vehemently denied being taken with, so Sans ended up not using too many shortcuts and waited below while the fire monster cautiously jumped down the last few outcrops.

At one point, Sans’ metaphorical heart dropped to the bottom of his rib cage when Grillby slipped. He moved faster than he cared to think about, throwing out his left arm with a shot of magic to catch the fire monster from falling from below.

“you ok?”

Grillby was huffing, brighter than before with his eyes wide in surprise as he was suspended in blue magic. Sans lowered him to the ground next to him and the fire monster leaned over with a deep breath, taking time to calm himself.

“I’m fine.”

Sans awkwardly patted him on the back, giving him a reassuring grin, “i know you said ‘me too’ when i said i fell for you, but you don’t gotta be literal about it.”

Grillby had something of a wry smirk and leaned up and kissed him. “Smart aleck.”

“no need to be so tripped up about it. it’s a slippery slope and i’d hate for you to be weighed dow-”  Another kiss ended the trail of puns and Sans mumbled something about his sediments not being taken seriously.

 

The rest of the trek through the cavern was less eventful, although Sans had to rest just before the clearing. His breaths were ragged and his bones felt sore with the shock of adjusting his shortcuts to different levels. On the plus side, he’d managed not to draw from his stamina and didn’t feel worse for wear in that sense. He just felt bone-tired.

He must have looked it, since Grillby was hovering nearby him. Sans had sat down on one of the rocky crags just outside the mouth of the cavern. He had his skull leaning on one of his hands and his sockets were closed.

“...Look exhausted,”  Grillby commented, stooping to kneel next to him. Gently, he nudged the other’s shoulder and Sans only grunted softly in response. “...Could carry you again, if you prefer.”

Sans grunted again, this time in protest, but didn’t struggle when Grillby wrapped his arms around him. Instead he leaned into the touch, the warmth from the other’s body inviting with the bitter chill around him now that they were out in the open.

“...Stay awhile longer,”  the fire monster breathed, resting his head against Sans’ skull, “I need to rest anyway.”  The skeleton merely nodded, giving it his all not to fall asleep on the spot.

He did try.

It had been an eventful day, both physically and emotionally.

Grillby had won. He had lost, but he didn’t feel as though he’d actually lost anything. Grillby winning was just a silly thing to him. Meanwhile with the skeleton’s forfeit, the fire monster seemed a little relieved. Everything was more comfortable and normal. With their friendship growing to what it was now, he appreciated every moment Sans spent with him, his jokes, his laughter. The peculiar way his smile seemed to change into something more wonderful as a result.

With the snow and water evaporated from the fire monster’s extended rest, they were able to stay out a little longer. Sans did eventually fall asleep, cradled in Grillby’s lap as he himself dozed. Coming all the way out here had been an endeavour for both of them and Grillby was thankful for a reprieve.

Soon he was on the move again. He carried Sans in his arms, since he was a deep sleeper and didn’t want to wake up when jostled. The walk was quiet and the artificial light cast on the Underground to simulate daylight was eventually fading, settling on the snow around him as he walked. Once in sight, Grillby dodged the skeleton brothers’ puzzles once again, yawning occasionally until Snowdin came into view in the distance.

Home sweet home.

It had been a long walk and the fire monster wanted nothing but to eat something quick and curl up in bed again. He’d done none of the things he should’ve done for the restaurant, but he wouldn’t have changed the day for all the time in the world. It had been a good date; he’d gotten a couple great photos and Sans’ reaction to the hole in the mountain would be emblazoned in his mind forever.

Sans grumbled in his sleep when Grillby nudged him to wake upstairs in his suite. He gave him a kiss, hoping it would rouse him, but when Sans resettled without opening his eye sockets, the fire monster insisted.

“...Need to eat, after all that,”  he reprimanded the skeleton quietly. Sans only grunted, obviously awake but having no desire to move on his on while in Grillby’s comfortable hold. “You give me no choice. Officially, I am withholding firing privileges until you get up.”

“no fair,” the skeleton muttered thickly, but made a halfhearted attempt to stand when Grillby tilted his body to the floor. Sans adjusted his hoodie over his hips and looked around, clearly not awake, “what time’s it..?”

“We were out all day. It’s just before 8 o’clock.”

Sans slumped and leaned against the island, recognising the table in Grillby’s kitchen. “think i should call it a night.”

The fire monster guided him out of the way and patted his shoulder on his way to the cupboards, “You’ve slept all this time.”

“m’always tired,” Sans said, as though it explained everything. “sorry.”

“Are you ill..?”

That got Sans’ attention, a few more cogs turning as his mind jerked into focus. “nah,” he replied, perhaps a bit too quickly, “my bro’s just tellin’ me to take it easy lately. it’s no biggie, honest.”

Grillby stood by the cupboard for a moment before pulling the door open and taking a small tin out, his expression unreadable. For a moment, he considered asking Sans to stay, but knew it was for the best if he relaxed at home after such an eventful day. Quiet in his own thoughts about what Papyrus had told him, the fire monster opened another cupboard where sealed metal canisters containing water were kept.

Sans watched him carefully, not expecting such a silent response. He shrugged and pushed himself off the island. If he got any more comfortable he’d start to drowse again. Grillby had heated the container after removing his gloves, the metal glowing a soft shade of dark red with his magic and the opening steamed after removing it.

“thought you hated water.”

“I do enjoy tea,”  the other explained, as though the sight wasn’t peculiar. He added a few spoonfuls of something powdery into the hot water and set it down, taking half a step back until the water was no longer water but a pleasant, washed out orange liquid.

The process of turning water into something the fire monster could manage and consume was interesting, to say the least. Quietly and with curiosity, Sans watched as Grillby poured the contents into two thick metal mugs and slid one across the island to him with an accommodating gesture. Sans picked it up, feeling the soothing heat from the drink seep into his bones as the fire monster took a sip.

“......You are staring.”

Sans brought the mug to his teeth, hoping the embarrassed heat in his face would be hidden behind the wafts of steam from the tea. It smelled sweet, but it was a little bitter with hints of peppery spice and sour. He didn’t like it much, but the added sustenance was a blessing after all the activity and his magic drew in most of it in an instant.

“just.. wanted to say thanks… and maybe ask if i can stay here tonight.” Sans didn’t look up as the words left him, but he saw the bright light of the other’s flames kindle on the countertop surface. He wondered if it was too bold and idly turned the mug in his hands, preparing for another sip. “s’ok if not, just-” he realised he was backpedaling and stopped, feeling awkward. Now that he had a clearer mind, the worry of night-terrors was ever present.

Grillby meanwhile was watching him, several things going through his mind at once. It wasn’t the first time Sans had asked to spend the night, but that was before they had acknowledged their feelings for each other, and Sans had spent the nights alone downstairs in a booth. Often, Grillby would find the skeleton balled up so tightly and trembling that it hurt his soul, feeling as though he was unable to provide comfort.

At the same time… he didn’t know if it was wise for this to continue when their relationship was so new.

“yeah, um. i had a great time, grillby. and a great view. i, uh... i don’t think i’ll ever be able to forget what i saw. the world’s widened up for me, that’s for sure. i never really thought about anything beyond the underground, y’know? i’d catch the morose way monsters older than me’d harp on about the surface, but…” He realised he was rambling and stiffened slightly. “sorry. i should lea-”

“You can stay,”  Grillby said quickly, not wanting Sans to feel rejected. He wanted him to stay, after all, but didn’t want to pressure him. He saw the way the tension eased from the skeleton’s shoulders and the way he exhaled, his breath sounding a little nervous.

 

After their tea, Grillby led him back towards the bedroom. With both of them feeling the exhaustion of the day, Sans slipped out of his shoes and hoodie and left them on the floor, retreating to sit on the bed. He watched as the fire monster placed his shoes out of the way and even picked up his hoodie to deposit it onto the chair by the desk. When he approached Sans, he held out his cell phone to the skeleton.

“good idea,” Sans mumbled, taking it and scrolling through his messages. He quickly sent off a few texts to his brother so he wouldn’t worry.

Papyrus (Last message sent: 8:48pm);

*dont come lookin 4 me
*spendin the night
*pls dont wink

- TOO LATE! MY WINK IS AS AUDIBLE AS THE TOWN BELL AND YOU WILL HEAR IT SHORTLY!
- THE WINK, I MEAN. NOT THE BELL. THAT WOULD BE AN UNGODLY NOISE AT THIS HOUR!
- I AM SENDING IT OFF VIA BROTHERLY CATAPULT DOWN THE STREET! WINK!!!!

*wow thx bro gnite

Then he simply put his phone away by tossing it beside the bed, shifting to accommodate Grillby who had slipped beside him. They stayed sitting for awhile in pleasant silence, with Sans recalling the magnificent sight he had seen in the cavern and the sunset, while Grillby hung his arms around him and pulled him close. A soft kiss was dropped onto the side of his skull and Sans smiled to himself, moving his own arm to grasp the other’s against his chest.

 

His dreams were soft and hazy once he’d fallen asleep, wrapped in the fire monster’s warm embrace. He dreamed of one day leaving the Underground, hand in hand with the one he loved. It didn’t matter how they got out, only that the sky stretched on forever and there were endless possibilities waiting for them. There was a small fear, but it was nothing compared to the sense of elation he felt at that moment.

Chapter Text

Grillby woke before Sans this time, thanks to his alarm. There had been a slight movement against his chest and he opened his eyes, rubbed his face and reached for his glasses. He felt it again when he was able to see clearly: Sans sprawled over his torso in a deep slumber, brow knitted with what looked like concern.

The skeleton twitched again and Grillby shifted slightly, moving his hand up to place at the base of the other’s skull, gently moving his fingers down the notches of bone in a soothing gesture. Sans jerked slightly, then resettled with a soft hum against him. The fire monster wondered if it was a peculiar dream the other was having, since his arms were wrapped around him tightly.

“Sans,”  he called softly. With his voice, the other’s brow eased slightly. It always baffled Grillby how expressive the skeleton’s face was, even if he didn’t mean to be. He gently stroked the other’s spine, giving him a soft pat. “Sans, we need to get up.”

Sans made a noise between a groan and vehement rejection, burying his face against Grillby’s chest. He didn’t move after that.

The fire monster sighed quietly, trapped under the skeleton. If he didn’t have to open the restaurant, he would’ve been content to lie in bed all day. Gently, he pulled Sans up with him, his arms and legs moving automatically to encircle him.

“You need to wake up…”  Grillby grumbled, rubbing over his face again with one hand. The other clapped against the other’s back and Sans just grunted softly in response. He gave him a few more minutes before giving the other’s lower spine a light flick.

As though given an electric shock, Sans jerked violently and his sockets flew open, pupils the size of pinpricks. All in one movement, he managed to shove at the fire monster while vaulting back, landing with a pained cry on the floor beside the bed. Grillby had landed on his back but quickly got up to witness Sans hunched over on the floor, every part of him trembling.

“Sans!”

“i’m ok,” the skeleton whispered after a moment, forcing away the disgusted feeling that had welled up in him immediately with the recalled memory. “i’m sorry, i’m.. i’m ok.”

Grillby pushed himself off the bed and settled on his knees beside him, unsure what to do to console him. “Sans, I didn’t… hurt you, did I?”  There was fear in his voice and his flames reddened in worry. Cautiously, he placed a hand on Sans’ shoulder, feeling a shudder pass through his frame.

The other shook his head, unwrapping his arms from around himself with a deep breath. “nope. i’m good. you didn’t know.”

“...What happ-”

“bad memory came back, is all,” Sans murmured hastily, allowing himself to sit upright again. He eyed the darkened flames around the other’s visage, realising he’d never seen that colour before. It provided the perfect distraction. “what’s with the, uh…”

They went back to normal, if only slightly darker. Grillby didn’t say anything, but something in his eyes looked worried.

“honest, i’m alright,” Sans insisted, raising his hands in a placating gesture, “just… gave me a start. guess that’s one way to wake up, heh. i, uh.. don’t recommend doin’ it in the future though. if you don’t mind.”

Slowly, Grillby nodded, still staying quiet. In his mind he recalled Papyrus telling him Sans’ lower spine would cause him to jump, but he didn’t realise to what extent. He felt guilty for doing it previously, even a little chagrined he would push the skeleton like that. He didn’t know the reasoning behind it, but decided it was certainly a barrier best not broken.

Meanwhile, Sans grew uncomfortable with the silence and became self-conscious, idly rubbing at his right arm in thought. The tenderness they shared seemed to be shattered in his mind as he went over it. One day, he would have to come clean. A magically dead arm. Blind in one eye. A revulsion to touch to his spine. Cripplingly low health. He bowed his head as Grillby drew near and took his hands, gently pressing his mouth against his skull and leaving a lingering kiss.

“I’m sorry.”

“me too.”

“...No. If I have overstepped any boundaries, you must let me know. We’ve known each other for far too long to be keeping secrets now,”  the other explained quietly, watching as Sans dipped his head a little lower.

Sans felt something inside of him wrench painfully at the thought, feeling guilty even if it hadn’t been the other’s intention. Oh, if Grillby only knew. His grin tugged artificially and leaned into another kiss, already missing the heat.

“i will.” Maybe eventually, but not then. He sighed softly, willing himself to calm down as he felt Grillby’s arms wrap around him and pull him close. “thanks.”

 

Breakfast was simple but hearty. Fried hash browns and tomato, eggs and a few water sausages with spice. To go with it, Sans was given freshly brewed coffee while Grillby merely popped a few beans into his mouth. The smell wasn’t unpleasant; Sans found that he didn’t mind it too much. He was far too preoccupied focusing on the previous day, feeling stiff and sore from the climbs and sleeping on what felt like warm coals all night.

Apart from the lingering self-pity, he felt remarkably ok surprisingly enough. He even had a little bit of a buffer, 12 points strong. He sighed and rubbed over his face as Grillby got things ready upstairs before following the fire monster down to the restaurant.

“hey, i had a good time,” Sans started truthfully. With the other’s vague expression, he thought he saw the worry linger, but he shrugged it away. “i mean it. it was… probably somethin’ i’ll never be able to top, heh. fifty points an’ all..”

Grillby nodded again, remaining quiet as he pulled out a few things from the bar to clear up before opening, still stuck in his self-chastising thoughts.

Sans lingered, feeling a little insecure suddenly. Grillby hadn’t talked much during breakfast and now seemed distracted. It was becoming increasingly difficult to voice his appreciation, no matter how great the date and night had been. The skeleton idly scratched at his jaw, eye lights settling on the floorboards before giving a short sigh with a forced grin.

“welp. gotta head off to work. see ya later, grillby-”

The fire monster looked up sharply but when his eyes settled on the space where Sans was, the skeleton was gone. Trapped in his thoughts, a certain kind of self-depreciation filled him with his error and he spent most of the morning in a chilly mood.

Sans reappeared not too far from his own house. Outside was infinitely colder than what he’d been used to and he gave in to a shiver, strolling up to the door. Thanks to the dust in the caves, he needed something of a change of clothes. That and dodge Papyrus’ no doubt excited questions about his date.

Papyrus wasn’t home, though. A few sticky notes in the usual places revealed his brother would be in Hotland for patrol today. Sans breathed a sigh of relief and went about going upstairs to change. Once done, he realised he still had the pinecone in his pocket and turned it over in his hands, then put it in his drawer where he left his keys for safekeeping.

He patted his pockets, realising he left his phone at Grillby’s. It was probably still by the bed. Or under it. Sans sighed heavily, not wanting to go back just yet. It felt like Grillby was upset about something - no doubt he was to blame. Maybe he’d apologise at lunch break.

 

He kept his shortcuts to a minimum, only using them to bypass the puzzles so he wouldn’t have to recalibrate them after. As he had done so many times before, Sans found himself wandering the path to the Ruins’ doors and looked up at the tall gate with another thread of trepidation in his soul.

He wondered how the lady behind it was doing lately? Awkwardly, he knocked on the door, half-hoping for a response.

“Who is there?”

Something inside of him jumped at the reply. The voice was stronger, not quite as heart-wrenching. It was nice to hear. Admittedly, he had begun to worry the mother’s absence meant her child had dusted.

He wasn’t ready with a joke, so defaulted to one he knew off hand; “lettuce.”

“Lettuce who?”

“lettuce in, it’s cold out here!” Sans had to grin a bit at the snorting, snuffling laughter from the other side. “how’ve you been, doll? everythin’ ok over there?”

There was hesitation from the other side of the door, then a lower tone, filled with relief, “My child woke yesterday… I am so grateful. I was beginning to worry they would not-” She stopped short when her voice cracked with fresh emotion.

“that’s good news,” the skeleton said expansively, leaning against the door. It wouldn’t do to have this poor mother piling on the ‘what ifs’ while their kid suddenly got better. “such a tough `lil monster, i bet. bouncin’ back like that. you must be so proud.” Laying it on thick, he thought a little bitterly, but the woman didn’t know him, and he really had no idea how to deal with this kind of thing.

“Perhaps bouncing would be the apt term… they are disoriented and mute. Admittedly, I am unsure how to proceed…”

“this your first kid?” Sans questioned curiously.

There was a pause, then a soft sob. “...There have been others.”

The skeleton wasn’t sure how to take that. A lot of emotion and sadness was behind those few words that he came to the conclusion that the monster behind the door had lost other children. Perhaps it was a weak monster line? Or bad luck?

“i’m sorry to hear that. didn’t mean to dig up bad memories.”

The silence stretched on for awhile, but there wasn’t any movement from the other side. Softly, Sans sighed and raised his hand to knock once more on the gate.

“...Who is there?”

“dishes.”

 

The rest of the day was spent much the same, the lady behind the door telling bad jokes about snails and trees while Sans did his best to tell jokes with the worst punchlines to keep things lighthearted. Once in awhile the lady said she had to leave and check on her charge, but she returned not ten minutes later, mostly in a better mood.

After awhile, Sans decided it was best for him to actually do some work. When he told the other this, her voice picked up and seemed sharper, as though excited.

“You… are a sentry, are you not?”

“sure, if you wanna call it that.” He spent more time sleeping at his station than actually doing his job, after all.

“I have a request.”

He barely knew her, yet she was asking something like this? Sans stared at the door with a lofted brow, unsure. He would have sent for a healer, but the monster beyond alluded to the fact she was at least powerful enough to manage her own. He offered to bring medicine, but she had rejected that too, saying that it wouldn’t work on her child. It was all very puzzling.

And now she was asking for a favour?

“It is… actually a little silly,” she started, sounding shy, “but if you are out by these doors so often, perhaps we could speak again.”

Oh.

So the woman was lonely?

He got it. Grinning a little, he nodded, then mentally chastised himself for the action and spoke up, “sure thing, old lady.” For some reason, agreeing seemed to be the right thing to do, even without the stranger’s grateful laughter from beyond the door.

Eventually he had to leave. Sans bade his goodbyes and left the doors to wander around on his route. With the other’s news, it made him feel a little better. Not necessarily that he had been dwelling on it, but because there was another kid out there that had Fallen Down but got back Up again. Suddenly things didn’t seem so lonely for him either. It was a little peculiar though.

The forest surrounding Snowdin was colder that day, magic winds kicking up a storm and blowing snow through the air like a true winter. Sans couldn’t help but fall back on the memory of the subtle breeze from the surface as he pushed onwards. It had been real, the soft wind a whisper through his bones. He found himself wanting to feel it again.

Man, he hoped he didn’t mess things up with Grillby. As though summoned by the thought, Sans reached into his pocket, thinking his phone was there. He sighed in aggravation when he remembered that he forgot it again. He guessed he would have to go to Grillby’s in person to apologise for leaving so abruptly that morning.

Few things in the forest stood out that day. There were still odd little tracks in the snow, like someone had been dragging a stick, but other than that there didn’t seem to be anything out of the ordinary. Sans walked back, still sticking with his original plan of keeping his magic usage to a minimum until he rebuilt the item box. It took a lot more effort than he was willing to put up with in the end, and after Papyrus’ sliding ice puzzle he warped the rest of the way, reappearing behind the restaurant.

It was later than his usual time. Grillby’s was packed, save for his usual seat, and the fire monster was flitting around, rushing to fulfil orders. Sans grinned at the chorused greeting from the regulars and gave a nod to Grillby once seated, although he was sure he was too busy to notice.

Half of Snowdin must have decided to have supper at Grillby’s. Normally he wasn’t so busy that he couldn’t drop by to say hello, but the fire monster seemed to be entirely occupied enough to merit a second waiter at least, Sans thought. The skeleton swivelled on his stool and waited for a free moment, going over his apology in his mind so things wouldn’t feel so awkward.

It took awhile, but Grillby was finally able to come to his side. Sans gave him something of an awkward grin.

“heya.”

“Good evening,”  the fire monster sounded almost out of breath, “I apologise, Sans… Are you ordering anything?”

“oh.” Sans kicked up a shoe onto one of the legs on his stool and shrugged. “whaddabout another one of those fiery whiskeys? didn’t get to try mine last time.”

“Whiskey, dirty, caramel-”  Sans heard the words listed off and chanced a look to the sealed echo blossom hidden behind the bar as Grillby went back to work. He tried to keep himself from getting nervous, especially with so many people around. Maybe he should’ve just left, seeing it this busy.

Others in the bar watched as Grillby made the drink, his flames redder than usual and flaring up as the alcohol turned it the brilliant blue. He poured it and slid it across the bar to Sans’ hand, caught effortlessly. He then noticed a pair of arms in the air from the Dogi and glanced apologetically at the skeleton, who was staring down at his drink.

The entire bar was its usual hum of conversations and clinking of dishes, something Sans could get lost in when he allowed himself to. He looked at the blue flame in the glass and swirled its contents, not wanting a repeat of nearly setting himself on fire - especially not with an audience.

He tried once or twice to get Grillby’s attention, but the bartender was too busy or simply walked by too quickly for Sans to flag him down. Irritably, once he managed to lock eyes with the fire monster, he took a large swig of his still-burning drink.

The other’s fire suddenly brightened, pluming higher with sparks firing off in a myriad of bright tonal shifts. Several of the patrons laughed as Grillby covered his face in apparent embarrassment and Sans grinned impishly. He idly wondered if there was even a merit to giving himself a point in his favour anymore, but that seemed worth it.

The whiskey had been strong, slightly sweet with a nutty taste that went down smooth. It had just a hint of smokiness, which he could appreciate. It was nearly comparable to a kiss that filled his chest cavity with warmth and he sighed, pushing a gentle plume of smoke out of his teeth and into the air.

Red had been interested with the other’s silent exchange and speculated something about Grillby’s behaviour. “Grill’s been chilly, er.. all day,” he told Sans, who managed to cough at the afterburn and pounded his sternum to clear up his agitated magic. “Thought maybe somethin’ happened `tween you two?”

“nope, not a goddamn thing,” the skeleton murmured thickly, swirling his glass again. The flame was out at least, allowing him to sip a little more carefully on the drink. “just been busy today.”

“Funny, you bein’ busy must’ve really put a damper on the ol’ rocket’s mood.”

“aw, c’mon, red. you tryin’ to steal my jokes now?” Sans couldn’t help but wink at the bird, but his gaze was seeking out Grillby, who was trying to not make eye contact. His fire was brighter and he appeared to be busy with the canine guard, excusing himself by gesturing apologetically for his actions. Sans had to laugh at that; or at least try to. He was starting to feel… weird.

“Not at all!” the bird squawked with a slight ruffle to his feathers. “Just somethin’ I’ve noticed about him. Was quiet, like usual, but I could tell somethin’ was buggin’ `im. Thought you’d know?”

Sans made an inquisitive noise from behind his glass mid-sip as he forcibly drew his attention back to Red Bird. The drink was making him warm and he stared at it, perplexed. “nah, i don’t know, um…” He shifted in his seat, feeling a dip of heat in his spine with a soft inhale. “don’t know, um, what’s up with.. with him,” he finished, his mind running over itself a few times. Why did he feel so warm?

Over Red’s speculation, the feeling eventually became worse - or was it better? He shuddered, shifting on his chair again as the heat plunged lower. Unable to peek or move too obviously to shake out what had to be a little visitor in his rib cage, Sans huffed softly over his whiskey.

“-and that’s when I decided, y’know what? Why should she get all the seed when I’m out all day, scrapin’ at trees to get the really good nu-” Red stopped, eyeing the skeleton with his droopy eyes and leaning forward over the bar to see better, “-you ok, Sans?”

 


 

 

Sans was clutching at his hoodie, trying very hard not to breathe too harshly nor betray the fact that anything was happening beneath his clothes. “yup. um. can’t seem to hold, um.. my liquor, heh. it’s, um…” He turned his head away from Red, consciously scratching at his skull to hide the fact he was grimacing with effort. “`cause i’m a skele.. ton.. goes right-” he stopped, forcing himself to inhale slowly as the heat plummeted lower and settled into his hip box, “-right through me, hah.”

Red seemed convinced enough that he didn’t press it, at least. “Well, yeah! It’s been what? Decades since you’ve tied one on?” the bird squawked, a trill marking the end of his words. “And goin’ straight for the whiskey like an ol’ boozehound.” A woof from the other end of the bar caught his attention and Red turned abruptly. “Not you, Doggo!”

While Red was preoccupied, Sans gingerly lifted a leg to rest his foot on one of the supports keeping the stool balanced. It didn’t seem to help much, only invited the flame to move. If he had lips, he’d be biting them but since he didn’t have any, he pressed his teeth together. As he pushed himself against the countertop, Sans curled tensely as the heat teased him and made his bones increasingly sensitive.

Damn, why did he have to do that? For what - a prank? And now he was paying the ultimate price. What was worse is that every time he moved the flame got bolder, travelling in slow, arching coils against his ichiums, coaxing him to move his hips ever so slightly to accommodate the movement. It felt... really nice, he realised. His soul was trembling with silent excitement and horror that someone would find out, though.

As Grillby passed by, Sans tried to get his attention again, but the fire monster darted past him, beelining for the kitchen. Sans made a dejected sound, biting back a threatening moan when the flame snaked up and licked at his coccyx. It caused him to flinch, his magic coiling restlessly in his chest where he held it at bay. He snuck his other foot up on the support to join his other, pressing his patellae together to force the feeling to disperse enough so he’d be ready to ask Grillby to get rid of it when he next passed.

It felt amazingly good though. He hummed, the sound soft and only audible to himself yet it felt like it was at full volume. Sans took another precautionary sip of his drink, pressing his other hand onto the cushion between his femurs to resituate himself. Maybe if he drank a lot, if any of the sounds he was holding back came out, he could blame being drunk. It had admittedly been a long time since he’d gotten shitfaced.

He saw the bartender’s glow from the corner of his periphery vision and leaned back, only to choke another appreciative noise back when the flame curled upwards along his ilium. He covered his mouth and coughed loudly while Red tutted him and patted his back, thinking the alcohol was to blame.

Grillby was gone again Sans realised hotly, too busy to gain his attention when he needed it the most. He swatted away Red’s wing irritably and muttered something about having another drink, sounding much too breathy for his liking.

Yeah, he definitely needed another drink.

Thankfully, Red slid his own over. “Grills always pours me two, but you can have one on me!”

“wow, uh, th.. thanks,” the skeleton repressed another shudder of warmth as he reached over and grabbed the glass. It was much stronger than whiskey and he coughed again. Maybe mixing drinks wasn’t the best idea, but it was better than voluntarily ingesting fire to gain Grillby’s attention.

He leaned over the counter again and cradled his skull in his arms, looking dead ahead to the rows and rows of liquor behind the bar. Eventually, Grillby would have to come check on him, right? Sans squirmed a little as he sat, huffing deeply in the corner of his jacket’s elbow and closing his eye sockets. It was becoming increasingly difficult not to move his hips with the flame’s explorations and gasp with every surge of heat around his bones.

Everything felt hot and wonderful, reminding him of several moments shared between him and fire monster; most of all the intimate, racy, fleeting little touches on their date. Sans shifted again as he heard the firm clicks of Grillby’s footwear approach, ready to be given the cold shoulder once more.

His legs were shaking and Sans had one arm curled against his chest, lightly tugging at the fabric, wanting something to hold onto. His hips wanted to move, he wanted to feel more, aching for touch despite being nervous and hesitant and in full view of everyone.

He didn’t even look up when the bartender stopped and stood beside him, seemingly waiting. He heard a brief exchange of how he appeared to be acting oddly, as Red explained it, and Grillby gently put a hand on his shoulder as though to console him.

God, he wanted more. Sans couldn’t help the soft, needy whine that passed his teeth when the warmth circled inside of his pelvis, making his posture jump slightly and his breath hitch. He immediately felt embarrassed for the noise and swallowed the knot in his nonexistent throat, unable to meet Grillby’s gaze.

 


 

Grillby felt the jolt, something of a concerned expression passing through the fires of his visage when he suddenly realised what was happening. His soul gave a lurch and as though magnesium caught fire in the restaurant, his flames shot up and brightened enough to light the Underground.

Grillby felt such embarrassment and horror that he actually yelled at the flame hidden under Sans’ clothes;

“MANNERS!!!”

The entire restaurant went still, watching the pair. Sans flinched and whirled around, causing the other to remove his hand from his shoulder. His sockets were devoid of light as his gaze settled on the bartender. The heat and flame had left his pelvis abruptly and he was suddenly very unsure about everything - the only thing he knew was that every eye was on him.

Was he not supposed to have liked it as much as he did? Was it wrong? Did… he maybe offend Grillby in some way? He would have told him if he’d crossed a line, drinking his fire, right? That’s why the fire monster had taken the flame away?

Shakily, Sans grinned slightly, now convinced he’d made things worse. “s.. sorry, grillbz,” he muttered, his voice sounding very small yet clear in the silence of the restaurant. Everyone was staring at them. “i, uh… p-put it on my tab.”

Grillby was about to say something more, but Sans was too mortified to stay and listen. Without thinking it through, he warped on the spot and landed a few feet behind his own house and kicked at the wooden shingles in frustration.

Chapter Text

Sans would have gone inside, but he felt too warm, too worked up to sit around. He regretted warping away, realising that half the residents of Snowdin would be asking where he went. It was likely Papyrus would know what his shortcuts meant soon enough.

Increasingly aggravated, he kicked the house again then settled to sit in the snow. The outside chill should be enough to calm him down. His breathing was still stuttered, his body still warm with the flush of want as his mind went over and over on repeat of what had happened. All the textbooks he read pinpointed to one little word.

Intimacy.

Sans covered his face, feeling both the burn of embarrassment and desire. God damn it.

He had to make things right, but he had to wait until Grillby’s was closing.

 

The wait until the eleventh hour was maddening. Sans got up, paced, sat back down. He fidgeted with his zipper toggle, tugged on his clothes. He went inside and ate something, a few snacks that Papyrus had hidden away in the cupboards that Alphys had sent along with the synth materials.

He tried working on the item box, but he couldn’t focus. He managed to score a few more details into a couple of planks before abandoning them in a mess in the living room. He kicked the sock and it landed several feet away from the TV. The hours were spent in silent, irritable impatience.

He was aware of the irony.

Papyrus wasn’t back yet, but by the time he got home Sans had already retreated to the back of the house again, smoothing out the snow with his foot by pressing zigzag lines through. When he heard the door open and close followed by his name being called, Sans warped behind Grillby’s to avoid him. He’d catch up some other time.

It had been a long wait. If his experience was anything to go by, Sans thought it was close to closing time. There were only a few people left in the bar, having checked the window briefly. Red Bird and Greater Dog were having a friendly chat, all the rest were gone for the day. Sans could have sighed in relief and retreated to the shadows to wait for the last couple patrons to leave.

His soul fluttered in apprehension when he heard the door chimes clink and two pairs of footsteps leave the wooden floors and out into the snowy street. Sans waited until they were down the road before turning the corner and pushing the door open, catching the fire monster by surprise.

It seemed like his flames were lower for that brief moment, but picked up instantly when their gaze met. Sans blundered forward and past Grillby, feeling a hot rush through his body as he quickly uttered, “we need to talk.”

Whatever Grillby had thought, it hadn’t been that. He had spent the majority of the day silently chastising the errant flame - and his work had suffered for it. Orders were messed up. Dishes were served too hot or singed. Drinks were wrong or off. He spent most of the time apologising and giving away food for his mistakes rather than simply redoing them all.

He was tired and above all else, he felt as though he had overstepped more than one boundary. The errant flame had been revealing all of Sans’ most intimate secrets to him, making his exterior hotter than usual, paler than anyone had ever seen him. A few nicknames of ‘goldy’ had passed between customers and he felt ashamed as every little salacious detail was revealed to him about Sans’ body.

He pressed his back up against the door. Sans hadn’t gone far, but he was rigid and standoffish, yet something about him was agitated. He wasn’t meeting his eyes and his gaze was fixated on the floor.

“I’m sorry,” both of them said at once. Sans perked up slightly, the first to break as he shot his glance from the floor to the bartender.

“wait… why’re you sorry? i’m the one that screwed up,” the skeleton said plaintively, looking a little confused.

Grillby looked equally concerned, if not more, “I… You.. did?”

Sans shuffled where he stood, not knowing what to make of Grillby’s question. Normally he was so careful and considerate, catching him off guard was something Sans wasn’t used to at all. All this time spent pacing and waiting, yet he hadn’t figured out what exactly he wanted to say.

So he blurted the first thing that came to mind, “yeah, i mean, that’s why you were quiet, right? mad at me? i totally get it. i, uh…”

“Sans,”  the other spoke quickly, “I wasn’t mad, not at you. I was.. at myself, for pushing. Your brother had warned me, yet I did not know to what extent-”

“heh, what a blab,” Sans muttered wryly, shifting uncomfortably on the spot, “what’d he say?”

“....Mentioned against touching your lower back. He did not give a reason, however.”

The skeleton sighed harshly, burying his hands in his pockets. “total blabbermouth,” he groused, picking at the fabric, “not exactly true, but not wrong either.”

“Oh..?”

“you’ve touched there before,” Sans shrugged evasively at the memory, “a, uh, flick… that kinda is a no-go for me.”

“...Bad times.”  Grillby guessed, his voice soft and understanding. “I’m sorry.”

“it’s fine. like i said, you didn’t know.” Sans shrugged again, then inhaled, “as for me… i got the impression you were mad `cause, um…”

Grillby watched as the skeleton fidgeted, unable to meet his gaze. Sans felt like if he stared for long enough, he’d be able to glare a hole into the floorboards at his feet. The heat he felt spread throughout his bones at the lingering memory.

“um… ‘manners’, grillbz? did i, uh… do somethin’ wrong?” It was very much a concern of his. The thought of Grillby being upset with him was crushing Sans.

The silence passed between them and he saw Grillby move out of the corner of his eye socket. When he had the courage to look at him directly, the fire monster was covering his face, flames flickering in pale golds and whitish embers and whipping in subtle, nervous arcs.

“...My fire, and by extension me,”  his voice was very low, almost a kind of hiss, “I.. I would not have permitted, not without your consent. It was so grossly out of line. I panicked. Never have I dreamed that-”

“kinda liked it,” the skeleton murmured, the memory spreading more warmth throughout his bones. Grillby stopped his sentence dead on, but his fire plumed higher around his hands. This time, Sans was able to gauge the reaction with accuracy. “...cover your face all you want, grillbz. i can still see you’re blushin’.” He couldn’t help the grin, teasing the other.

The fire monster pushed his face into his hands further, doubling down. “...So embarrassed, Sans...”

The skeleton moved closer towards Grillby until they were only a step apart. Carefully, he pulled the other’s hands away from his face and replaced them with his own. Grillby allowed him to, but his fire was skittering around, excited and nervous, shame plainly etched against the creases of his closed eyes. He pushed his back against the door, almost shrinking away as Sans drew closer and lifted his glasses off his face.

“you’re pretty shy for a fire monster,” the skeleton murmured, “here i was ready to believe `em, all my friends tellin’ me to watch out… when i can make you just as flustered as you make me.”

Hesitantly, Grillby nodded, unsure why his glasses were taken from him. Automatically, his flames stuttered when Sans’ hands drifted from the sides of his face and down his neck in a shiver.

“gotta admit, i kinda like that,” Sans grinned, watching the other’s face as he looped a finger under the other’s bow tie and gave it a light tug. “i wouldn’t’ve minded some privacy if.. your fire wanted to explore.”

There was the reaction he was craving. The bartender lit up in brilliant colours, golds and ambers racing across his body, even hiking up from his shoulders in small sparks of white and blue. Sans gave him a grin and pulled him down by his bow tie, itching for a kiss. Grillby seemed almost hesitant but he allowed it, his hands finding the other’s shoulders.

Sans whimpered into the kiss as the bartender deepened it, feeling a rush of heat curl up inside of him. It was different than Grillby’s own, building up a pushing ache as his magic coiled restlessly in his body. His phalanges twirled the silken fabric of the bow tie and gently tugged at one side, loosening it.

“did you.. wanna try?” Sans was sure he’d never heard his own voice at that level. Low and husky, sending a shudder through the other’s body. Grillby didn’t say a word, but leaned in closer to capture another kiss, this time with more feeling while keeping it slow. Sans’ ache continued as he pushed against the fire monster, needing to invite more touch as though to prove he wasn’t upset.

He hummed against the kiss, fingers bunching at Grillby’s collar and fighting with one of the buttons while the other’s hand slipped between them to pull down the zipper of his jacket. He pushed one panel of the fabric aside and grazed his fingers along the left side of Sans’ ribs through his shirt, eliciting a sharp inhale from the skeleton.

“takin’ that as a ‘yes’, huh,” he breathed harshly, the touch through even his clothes sending pinpricks of something wonderful throughout his bones. He laughed softly, sliding his own hand down the front of Grillby’s vest and around his waist, connecting with the deadbolt to lock the door. He didn’t want another untimely interruption.

Grillby had buried his face in his neck, peppering the bones of his vertebrae with soft kisses that made him tingle. The sensation was different than before, every light touch pinpointing to a growing heat inside of him. It made him feel needed, wanted, sending a shivering shock up his spine when Grillby’s hand snaked between his hoodie and his shirt to push him closer.

“...Upstairs?”  the bartender suggested, his mouth caressing the side of Sans’ neck. Feeling the knot of excitement in his rib cage, the skeleton nodded with a sharp inhale. He slid his phalanges back up the front of the other’s vest, plucking a few buttons free on the way before giving the unravelling bow tie another encouraging tug.

Grillby was going slowly, wanting Sans to feel the best he could, while at the same time still hesitant on overstepping any bounds. His core was alight and burning hotter with every urging pull against his clothes. Sans had tilted his head up, hungry for another kiss; as he did, the world dipped for a moment and they both stumbled.

They clung to each other and Grillby gently twisted his face away, squinting around the room. The door behind him was gone and it didn’t smell as much as fast food and booze. Sans was panting softly, eagerly pulling him backwards. The skeleton had just used one of his shortcuts, not wanting to part for even a moment; they were up at the top of the stairs, a few feet into Grillby’s suite.

Sans hummed into another kiss, shrugging his jacket down so it hung at his elbows. His fingertips raked against the other’s shoulder, his right hand holding onto his glasses to keep them safe.

The fire monster twisted his face again, his breathing picked up and hot. “Hasty,”  he observed, then gasped softly when the skeleton pulled up a little, burying his face against his exposed neck. He felt the chilly tongue against his form and bunched his fingers into the fabric of Sans’ shirt, giving in to a soft moan. “...Trying again?”

Sans hummed in the affirmative against the other’s neck, feeling his breaths get more ragged and quick. Another idea formed and he closed his mouth over the side of Grillby’s neck and drew in the flames, at the same time pushing his magic out. He felt a peculiar little jerk and Grillby’s hold on him tightened with a rasping grunt.

Hazily, he pulled away slightly to inspect the place. There was a little mark, sizzling and dark red against the other’s neck as Grillby’s fire attempted to cover over it. Sans laughed softly, his breath catching as he blew on the small fire to push it aside.

“bingo,” he murmured in satisfaction as he drew up closer to the fire monster. He allowed the other to slip his jacket’s sleeve from his arm, curling against him to drink in the steadily building heat and mark him again. Then again, until Grillby’s breaths were ragged like his own. His chest was heaving as Sans fumbled with more buttons, wanting more surface to cover.

Sans attempted a few more half-steps towards the bedroom, pulling Grillby with him while shedding his jacket and leaving it on the floor. He sighed as the other’s arms encircled him fully, the deft rubs of his palms on his back flooding him with even more heat, more care. He was able to pull the bow tie loose, letting it slide from around the fire monster’s neck and fall to the floor.

“i want-” he murmured before the words were consumed by another kiss, making him arch into Grillby’s touch. Sans moaned softly, using the next pause to try again, “i need-”

A few more paces, kisses and fervent touches passed between them as they moved closer to the bed. Sans’ legs were starting to feel as though they were made of gelatin, the feeling made all too real when the other’s hand briefly passed over the crest of his hip bone, causing his legs to shake. He allowed himself to exhale a shuddering breath in anticipation, once more feeling the brief heat and hesitation.

Grillby was patient; he would understand if Sans wanted to stop at any time. He had a feeling he would push himself, so the fire monster led him to the bed, sending love and tenderness through every kiss and lingering touch. The skeleton was a breathy mess, grasping at him and plucking free the buttons of his shirt. Gently, the bartender retrieved his glasses from the other, replacing them on his face with the brief pause. He wanted to see him, after all.

“We can stop anytime you wish,”  the fire monster breathed. Sans had taken another half-step backward, pulling him with him. The backs of his knees bumped against the side of the bed and buckled beneath him, so distracted in wonderful touches and new sensations that he barely knew which way was up when his tailbone met with the mattress.

“i want to-” Sans gasped, but found he couldn’t make contact with the fire monster’s bright eyes now that he could see him. “i really want this,” he added, leaning up to bury his face against the other’s neck again.

Grillby inhaled sharply with the presence of tongue, the shooting pinpoints of chill as before soon threatening to rob him of breath. He knew Sans had figured out how to mark him but he wasn’t sure how. Sans was tugging at his clothes, trying in a not-so-indiscreet way to unbutton the remaining fastenings of his shirt and push it open. He wanted to explore as much as Grillby did. The fire monster’s torso was his canvas and Sans found he wanted to mark every inch of him, craving intimate touches and sounds.

The fire monster slipped onto the mattress beside him, taking a moment to remove his gloves and discard them to the side. Where they landed didn’t matter as he heard another soft hiss from the skeleton, echoing Grillby’s touch by gliding his hand down to the fire monster’s waist. The heat in the room was rising with every movement and soon Sans was panting despite his efforts to keep calm.

“Need a break..?”  the fire monster murmured, his turn to return the little marks as his hands pushed under Sans’ shirt. He felt the ribs tremble, each and every bone heavy with anticipated and nervous breaths. “...Perhaps we should slow down, Sans.”

The skeleton couldn’t help the shudder that went through him of warm hands against his bare bones. God, Grillby was touching him and he couldn’t get enough, even with the brief pass over his ribs. He whimpered softly, loving the feel of the other’s hands on him and wanted more, only for Grillby to withdraw them just as quickly.

“n.. no way,” he protested, fumbling for the other’s hands with his own, “do that again-”

Grillby noticed the way the skeleton’s hands were shaking and carefully lifted them up to his mouth, kissing each bony finger slowly and tenderly while Sans watched with a more flustered looking expression.

“There’s no rush… we have all the time in the world.”  The fire monster couldn’t help the tease, coaxing a nervous laugh from Sans. He was avoiding his look again and Grillby laced their fingers together, holding their hands between them. “If you feel even the slightest bit uncomfortable… I want you to tell me.”

“ok,” the skeleton whispered, inhaling a little deeply to calm himself. He chanced a look to Grillby’s face, his own face feeling warmer, “kinda hard, though.”

He saw the veiled smirk and chuckled, giving the other a slight push against his hands. “not everything is innuendo, y’know-” The laughter seemed to ease some of the tension and Grillby smiled a little more, leaning in for a sweet kiss. Sans pushed forward with a soft sigh, a fluttering feeling nestling itself in his rib cage as he parted his mouth, deepening the kiss.

Through the intimacy, Sans felt another subtle shock through his system when their tongues touched. He craved more but allowed Grillby to set the pace, agonisingly slow yet sweet. However it was, it had him aching in the best way, feeling so cared for, so loved. It brought back the pillowy cushion of comfort to his heart and soul, making him sigh again when the kiss ended.

“i mean it, y’know,” he continued, hesitantly pushing against Grillby again. The fire monster had shifted so they were more comfortable on the bed and those bright eyes were watching him, half-closed and every breath deep and audible. “`bout you.. explorin’.”

Grillby hummed, releasing one of Sans’ hands to trace an aching line of heat across the skeleton’s clavicle through his shirt. It then moved up, curling around the base of his jaw with a flood of heat that sent another anticipated shudder through Sans’ shoulders.

“...Fill you with fire.”  It was barely a hint of a whisper, flames crackling with each syllable. Sans nodded against his hand gently, his teeth parting when Grillby’s thumb moved over the bone of his chin. The reaction brought up the fire monster’s temperature a little more, making the air around them a little hazy with the heat.

“Are you certain?”

Sans had closed his eye sockets, unable to meet Grillby’s adoring gaze. He was trembling, wishing the other wouldn’t tease him this way. “please,” he whispered back. He wanted to feel it again.

 


 

 

He was expecting it to be instantaneous, like a flame creeping up his arm or through his ribs just like before. Instead, the other kissed him, his tongue sending a live pulse of fire through his mouth. He inhaled sharply with the heat as it encompassed him, drawing more fire inward. It caused Sans to grasp the other’s shirt to gain purchase, to hold onto something tightly to keep himself upright.

The spice of the kiss continued as he felt the warming sensation move to the back of his mouth and slip into his rib cage, agitating the magic he had been dutifully restricting since warping them upstairs. It clung to where it could like molten rock before tracing every notch of bone in his spine.

His body jolted in surprise, unable to stop the quick succession of gasps against the kiss as everything lit up around him. His grip tightened as every bit of bone in him submitted to the wondrous enveloping sensation of being held in an embrace, making hot little stings of pleasure shoot down his spine. The feeling chased down to his pelvis quicker than before and it was all he could do not to cry out with the overwhelming feeling when the fiery kiss ended.

Grillby held him close and watched, enthralled with the sight. Sans handled his fire well, even if every movement was jerky and he was holding back the harsh gasps that threatened to turn into more vocal iterations of pleasure. The fire monster could see the buildup of magic in the other’s torso, only marginally hidden by his shirt that he’d left hitched up above a few ribs. His spine was exposed, giving Grillby a view that reminded him of a fiery blossom.

Sans clenched his teeth together, the searing heat coupled with the flames’ exploration driving his breaths deep and urgent. He had to keep quiet, he thought, otherwise Grillby might take them away. It felt too good to care, unable to help the soft whine as a small trail of fire circled against his coccyx.

“...Is it.. too intense?”  he heard Grillby ask, his own breaths just as deep as he was getting excited about seeing him this way. Sans shook his head slightly, his hips moving forward of their own accord. He wondered if it was the same flame as before, teasing his most sensitive areas but now given the go-ahead to explore on their own. It was maddening.

Sans found he couldn’t do much more than grip at Grillby’s clothes, breaths so urgent that his magic was spiking again and coiling to the point where he was unable to resist where it went. An ethereal push against his pubis was enough to wrench a desperate groan from him and Sans finally opened his sockets and looked between them to see what exactly was happening.

The entirety of his rib cage was engulfed in magical fire but there were only a few small flames settled into his hip box, flitting around as every caress undid him just a little more. His breaths became more ragged and his hips jerked when one of the bolder flames inched between the holes of his sacrum.

“g-grillby-” he moaned, his voice shaking and he slumped backward and threw his hands beside him to steady himself. His legs were spread apart and bent at the knees, pelvis twitching as his spine arched due to the increasing buildup of pleasure. He didn’t know how such a small place could feel so good.  “oh… oh god! hnn!”

Sans looked absolutely beautiful this way. The fire monster leaned over him and Sans automatically clung to him as the flame licked lower, coaxing his magic to condense. The skeleton was starting to swear, short, breathy, unintelligible little pleas cracking from his voice as his bones started to glow with heat.

“Too much?”  the fire monster inquired, making sure his lover was alright. Sans only answered with a series of breathless gasps, squeezing his eye sockets shut as both of his hands found the back of Grillby’s shirt. As much as it disappointed him to do so, he only wanted Sans to be comfortable with their growing intimacy. Burn too fast and things would be finished too soon, he found.

Grillby recalled a few of the flames that had made a home of the skeleton’s pelvis and Sans whined softly in protest at the loss.

“no, c.. c’mon, grillbz,” he panted, shifting under the fire monster. The movements seemed so needy that Grillby found the look erotic. “d-don’t light me up an’ le.. leave me hah.. hangin’-”  A flame chased out the last word from Sans’ teeth, mingling his desperate tone with the rush of fire.

Sans sounded so good this way, Grillby was unable to help himself as he guided the other down, straddling his hips. He withdrew a few more flames as the skeleton bucked his hips again, missing the movement that felt so good up until it had left. It had literally ignited a passion in him, impatient for more as he pulled Grillby down with both hands firmly grasping his collar. He crushed their mouths together and the fire monster moved against him, causing him to gasp again as another sensation built up against his sensitive bones.

Was this the intimacy he’d been depriving himself of all this time? If he had any thought processes free besides literal disbelief and ecstasy, Sans would have mentally chastised himself over it.

Sans’ grip was loosened slightly as Grillby moved down and inched up his shirt, which had started to smoke with his fire’s excitement. Sans helped to remove it and it was flung away, leaving his glowing bones open and heaving while his magic sparked under his ribs.

“Are you alright?”  Grillby asked again; he still wasn’t sure how his composition could affect anyone other than fire monsters. If he had been honest with himself, half his embarrassed and mortified state had been because of the non consensual nature his fire had coerced the skeleton to submit. But now… Sans had asked for this specifically.

“hot-”  the skeleton gasped, unable to express any level of coherency besides that. He was sweltering, beads of sweat slipping down the sides of his skull. He groaned again in protest when the fires died down, vehemently shaking his head. “no, no, no, keep… keep goin’, grillbz-”

 


 

 

The fire monster couldn’t help but smirk at that, glad that he hadn’t been harming the other. Instead he slipped one arm between the skeleton’s lower back and the mattress to lift him up and adjust their position so Sans was on top. Sans was attempting to keep himself together, blearily going along with what the fire monster had planned as every part of him was increasing in sensitivity. Every breath burned in just the right way and his body was trembling so much that he thought he was going to fall apart.

‘I love this’ he wanted to say, ‘I want you’. His breaths harsh and his mind fuddled, Sans let Grillby pull him into his lap as the last embers clung to the inside of his ribs, sensitive and hot. He exhaled, a dazed and absolutely enamoured grin on his face as he leaned forward to steal another kiss, “i love you-”

Both of them froze. Gears grinding back into place, it only clicked what he’d said when Sans heard Grillby very softly whisper back, “...You do?”

The inferno died out.

All this time and they hadn’t even said it out loud. Sans felt a warmer blossom kindle in his chest and he buried his face against the other’s shoulder to hide, clinging to him. He didn’t mean to. He really didn’t mean to, but it was too late. He’d slipped up and now he felt embarrassed and self-conscious again.

“...heat of the moment,” he murmured quietly, hoping the other would accept the excuse. He pushed himself to rest on the backs of his legs, still trembling. “i, uh, i meant to s-say, ‘i love this’ and.. and ‘i want y-you’-” If he said it quickly enough, maybe Grillby would overlook it?

The fire monster was bright though, brighter than before. Obviously, Sans thought he’d ruined things. Grillby’s mind was racing a mile a minute, flames whipping around his visage to hide his expression of surprise. The silence was going on for too long and the fire monster grew increasingly and painfully aware of it the longer Sans remained quiet.

“i’m sorry,” the skeleton said, hesitation in his voice, “i mashed those two things up good. made things, um, awkward, and i, uh-” The rest of his sentence was cut off by the other gently pushing him away to see his face and his heart sunk in fear and dread. The kiss that followed felt even more painful, if it were possible.

Arms wrapped around him and pulled him close in a comforting embrace, one he found himself trembling in. Grillby’s hands ran soothing circles against his back and Sans inhaled a shuddering breath, hiding his face again. Why did it hurt? Grillby’s hand stroked his spine and his other pulled him closer until they were curled up against each other.

“I understand,”  the fire monster murmured against his skull, his tone soothing. He continued to move his hand in calming, circling motions until Sans’s body eventually stopped trembling so much. “It’s alright.”

Chapter Text

Sans had been quiet the whole night through. Grillby kept him in his arms, firm enough to show he cared, loose enough to say ‘I’ll let you leave if you need to’. Grillby didn’t sleep much, being woke with every intrusive thought and shiver against his form. Sans didn’t sleep much either but at least he didn’t pull away.

The skeleton was quieter when they both rose. The embers from the previous night had died down and Grillby looked up from the bed to Sans pulling his shirt back over his skull. Of what he could see, the fire’s marks on his bones were subtle and had only left a gentle dusting of soot where it had touched him.

It could have been handled a bit more delicately, the fire monster chastised himself. It was a simple slip up, but at the same time his mind was going over those three words over and over. Sans had said he messed up, even looked mildly horrified at his own words.

Things had been going well. Maybe they should have continued, to leave the little blunder for what it was. Little.

He wasn’t sure what to think anymore, but Sans didn’t shy away from his embrace like he thought he would. He still leaned into the kiss against his brow and whispered his thanks for letting him spend the night. That he’d come back later, after he had cleared his head.

Grillby had a lot to think about when the skeleton left that morning and he spent the entire time before opening catching up on chores. He set down chairs, wiped down the tables and got rid of the dishware that had been left over from the night before, all while his heart was beating a mile a minute. He was unable to think of much else besides the skeleton’s excuse and those three little words.

The day went as poorly as the previous, this time his patronage was worried for him. Grillby excused himself in the usual way, gesturing that he was just having an off day. Red Bird inquired about the incident, to which he didn’t bother with an answer. He was still so embarrassed for his outburst and Red assured him Sans was a funny guy, and he probably forgave him. After all, he was a very likeable person!

It did little to lift his mood. By the end of the day, Grillby had resorted to burning things on purpose. He kept a barrel of twigs and logs, pinecones and the like for one such occasion. When he felt as though his day was too stressful, he’d pull a few pieces from the barrel and burn them to a crisp.

This time, the barrel itself fully immolated and Grillby huffed, pressing his hands to his face.

He didn’t know what to make of Sans’ absence throughout the day. He wasn’t answering his texts and the one time Grillby had a moment to call him, it went to the other’s voicemail. It was full. He hoped he was just overthinking things.

The fire monster sighed and finished his day, completely spent, both emotionally and physically. Maybe he would take a day off tomorrow, but he didn’t want to appear as though he was upset enough to close if the skeleton chanced a visit.

 

His thoughts at night taunted him. ‘He loves you’. ‘It was a mistake’. ‘He was joking’. ‘But he seemed upset’. ‘Why didn’t you say anything more?’ ‘It’s too early’. ‘It’s too late to fix it’.

Grillby turned in his restless sleep and finally awoke, earlier than his usual time, to scroll through his phone to see if Sans had messaged back. He hadn’t, which made his heart sink. Maybe he should apologise first? It could be something they were both overthinking, just as before.

He went through the two pictures he took during their date to the secret caverns. The first one pinched at his heartstrings, how captivated and moved Sans looked when he’d first called out to him to snap the photo. Then the other - a warm, true smile on his face instead of his permanent grin.

He had to talk to him.

Seeing as Sans had answered his texts at midnight before, Grillby keyed in the question ‘Are you awake?’ and sent it off. Not long after, something buzzed against the floor. It dawned on him with a strangled, frustrated sigh that Sans had left his phone behind again and he lurched over the side of the mattress to check under the bed.

He was quick enough to see his message fade away o