It never got any easier.
Sans would’ve thought after about the millionth time it happened, he’d have gotten used to it, jolting awake in a cold sweat, his magic flaring as his soul was crushed by the overwhelming weight of panicked despair—fight-or-flight instincts sharpened by the horrible knowledge that it was all completely, utterly, terribly…
He scrubbed a hand over his face, taking deep breaths and trying to quell his own rattling.
This had to stop.
It was over now…wasn’t it?
……His insistent nightmares disagreed.
Sans sighed, checking the clock next to the window—shades open, always open to the sky above the surface and its proof of an intact timeline—and he slumped in disappointment.
Too early for Grillby’s, too late to try going back to sleep, even for him.
There was only one thing to do.
Nothing calmed the nerves like a good, old-fashioned midnight snack, whether it was midnight or not…or whether any actual nerves were involved.
Sans was used to taking a quick shortcut down to kitchen for leftovers. It was a route he knew all the way down to his bones.
Silently digging through the fridge and cutlery drawer was old-hat, ignoring the lights and the microwave for stealth reasons easy and familiar.
The taste of the cold spaghetti he shoveled into his mouth with shaking hands, though…
That was different.
It was edible, for one thing, with barely any glitter in it. It actually tasted…pretty good, a triumph of all the hours Papyrus had spent up here watching cooking shows and stalking recipe blogs.
Hours that haven’t all been RESET back to nothing by a world-bending power a kid should’ve never had.
Sans was grateful for it.
He was happy for the way things had turned out, really, he was.
But he couldn’t stop thinking about what it took to get it, either.
All the failed attempts, the do-overs, the ‘what would happen if I…’s
(The times Sans had to watch his world fall apart because of a child swinging a little plastic knife.)
They swore it was over, all of it, never to happen again.
No more RESETs. This is the best ending.
So…why couldn’t Sans just…believe that?
After a year up top, free of the Underground, it seemed like the truth. Life was finally moving forward, linearly, after stars only knew how long it had looped and weaved and stopped dead before starting over somewhere else.
Everyone else was diving right into surface life, vacations, new jobs, new hobbies, new lives—and it felt like Sans was the only one who couldn’t trust it.
He’d spent so long wanting this exact thing but now that he had it, it didn’t even seem real.
Why bother with anything? It was all just going to…
Sans buried his face in his hands and shuddered.
He hated this. All of it.
He wanted it to be over. He wanted to trust it was over.
But he just felt…hopeless.
He didn’t even notice at first when the kitchen light flicked on.
That, he noticed.
Sans straightened, scrambling to put an easy grin on his skull for his brother, who was frowning at him in the doorway.
“hey, Pap.” Good, that sounded casual. “what’re you doin’ up?”
Papyrus just scoffed. “YOU KNOW I DON’T SLEEP MUCH. I’M NOT A LAZYBONES LIKE YOU.” He narrowed his eye-sockets, suspiciously demanding, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING UP? THE SUN HASN’T EVEN RISEN YET!”
Oh, stars, the sun.
Sans was gonna miss that the most when everything got RESET again.
The thought was unexpectedly painful and Sans rushed to cover it.
“ah, y’know, thought maybe the sun had the light idea, gettin’ an early start to the day.”
Expectedly, Papyrus’ frown deepened at the barrage of jokes.
Unexpectedly…he didn’t take the bait.
“YOU LOOK TERRIBLE,” he said instead. “ARE YOU ALRIGHT?”
Sans laughed a little, hoping the nervous edge to it was only so noticeable to him.
He should’ve known a half-assed lie wouldn’t work on his bro—he was just too cool to fall for that.
A whole-assed lie, on the other hand…
Sans sighed, a little dramatically.
“alright,” he said, “alright, ya’ caught me. guess i am a little upset this mornin’…”
Papyrus finally came all the way into the room, browbones knit in concern. “CAN I HELP?”
“don’t worry about it, you already are.”
That just earned Sans a confused look.
Sans grinned, as infuriatingly wide as he could, waggling his forkful of pasta at his brother. “how can i be upsetti when i got your spaghetti?”
…But instead of throwing his arms up and stomping off in exasperation like he was supposed to, he pulled out a chair and sat down at the table.
“YOU’RE OBVIOUSLY TRYING TO GET RID OF ME,” Papyrus deduced, “SO YOU MUST REALLY BE OUT OF SORTS AND TRYING TO HIDE IT FOR SOME STUPID REASON.”
Sans’ eye-sockets went wide. “what? no, i—”
“AND NOW YOU THINK DOUBLING DOWN IS GOING TO WORK LIKE I HAVEN’T KNOWN YOU LITERALLY MY ENTIRE LIFE AND CAN’T SEE YOU SWEATING.”
Ah, jeez, was he? “look, Pap, seriously, it’s—”
“‘NOT THAT BAD’?” Papyrus guessed, folding his arms over his chest. “IS THAT WHAT YOU WERE GOING TO SAY TO ME, EVEN THOUGH YOU’RE OUT OF BED BEFORE NOON AND I COULD HEAR YOU RATTLING EARLIER ALL THE WAY FROM MY ROOM?”
Papyrus cut him off again. “THIS ISN’T THE FIRST TIME YOU HAD A BAD NIGHT, SANS. WE’RE GOING TO HAVE A CONVERSATION AND JOKES AREN’T GOING TO GET YOU OUT OF IT.”
Sans doesn’t even get his mouth all the way open before yet another warning.
“MEMES AREN’T GOING TO GET YOU OUT OF IT, EITHER.”
Papyrus was just way too good.
Sans never stood a chance.
He wilted a little in his chair, rubbing awkwardly at the back of his neck.
Pap obviously wasn’t about to be dissuaded now, but…where to even begin with the bullshit plaguing him now? For years at least, if his data on the RESETs had been even marginally accurate.
It was… It was a lot, but…
Sans had to start somewhere.
“alright. okay. rhetorical question, then.”
“FINE,” Papyrus agreed. “A COMPLETELY RHETORICALLY, DEFINITELY NOT ABOUT YOU AT ALL SORT OF QUESTION.”
“…really not makin’ this easier, bro.”
Papyrus had the grace to look a teensy bit chastened. “YES, OF COURSE. PURELY RHETORICAL.”
Sans took a breath, a long moment to weigh his words.
“have ya’ ever just felt…stuck?” he wondered slowly. “like…like nothin’ matters an’ there’s no point doin’…anything ‘cause it’s just…nothin’s gonna change anyway, no matter what ya’ do?”
Sans’ head shot up in surprise. “wh… for…for real?”
Papyrus just looked at him, like he’d be rolling his eyes if he had any. “STARS, SANS, OF COURSE I HAVE. WE WERE TRAPPED UNDERGROUND FOR THE ENTIRETY OF OUR LIVES WITH MINIMAL HOPE OF ESCAPE, BARRING THE EXTREMELY RANDOM CHANCE THAT THE LAST HUMAN MIGHT FALL SOMETIME BEFORE WE DUSTED OF OLD AGE.”
Funny how easily he’d just…forgotten about that.
(…Maybe not easily.)
“WE ALL FELT STUCK, SANS,” Papyrus continued, not unempathetically. “PROBABLY BECAUSE WE WERE. IT WAS SO…LIMITING DOWN THERE! I HAD SO MANY THINGS I WANTED TO DO THAT I THOUGHT WERE IMPOSSIBLE FOR THE LONGEST TIME… UNTIL THEY WEREN’T ANYMORE! I CAN LIVE ALL OF MY DREAMS, NOW!”
Sans followed the logic—they were free now, and if Papyrus could live his dreams, he could too!
Sans remembered some of those dreams Pap had mentioned: getting to drive down an open road for miles with no end in sight, fresh breezes, real sunlight…
Sure, he had all of those things now…but for how long?
“what if…what if you couldn’t, though?” Sans asked, fiddling with his fork. “what if one day, it was all just…gone? we were back underground, trapped all over again, an’…an’ nothin’ we did would make any difference?”
“THAT SOUNDS LIKE IT WOULD BE A HUGE BUMMER.”
The glib delivery startled a laugh out of Sans. For all that he was the comedian of the two of them, he’d never seen a better Straight Man than his brother.
Papyrus knew it, too, if the smug look he wore was any indication.
“WELL, IT’S OBVIOUS TO ME,” he proclaimed, “THAT YOU, DEAR BROTHER, ARE IN THE MIDDLE OF SOME VERY EXISTENTIAL PROFUNDITY.”
Sans couldn’t deny that. “yeah, pretty much.”
“IN THAT CASE! I WOULD LIKE TO OFFER YOU SOME ADVICE!”
“YES!” Papyrus exclaimed. “I KNOW A THING OR TWO ABOUT KEEPING MY SPIRITS UP, EVEN WHEN PRETTY MUCH EVERYTHING ELSE IS TERRIBLE. THERE’S A TRICK TO IT, SO YOU WON’T EVEN HAVE TO WORK VERY HARD—I KNOW HOW MUCH YOU HATE THAT. WOULD YOU LIKE TO HEAR IT?”
“okay. lay it on me. what’s the trick?”
“MY AMAZING, FOOLPROOF, NEVER-FAIL TRICK TO STAYING POSITIVE……” Sans struggled to hold back a snicker at Papyrus’ suitably dramatic pause. “…IS REMEMBERING THAT NO MATTER WHAT, MY REALLY COOL BROTHER IS GOING TO BE THERE WITH ME! SO EVEN WHEN LIFE ISN’T PERFECT, IT’S STILL PRETTY DARN GOOD!”
Sans’ grin dropped.
It wasn’t often that he was rendered completely speechless.
But of course, if anyone could do it, it would be Papyrus.
And he wasn’t even done yet.
“YOU’RE ENOUGH, SANS,” he said, brooking no argument. “EVEN IF EVERYTHING SUCKS AND YOU CAN’T DO ANYTHING TO FIX IT, YOU STILL MATTER. TO A LOT OF PEOPLE…BUT ESPECIALLY TO ME! SO IF YOU EVER NEED A PEP TALK…OR…OR JUST A REGULAR TALK…I’M HERE.”
Papyrus was always there.
Even when the entire timeline uprooted and went back to the start, Papyrus was the very first thing Sans woke up to, kicking down his door for sleeping late instead of being at his sentry-post.
Even through the bad runs, Papyrus was there to hold things together when monsters were being dusted or spared all over the place and Sans drove himself crazy trying to guess a reason for which.
(And even…even when he wasn’t there, on the really bad runs…he kind of was still there, giving Sans something to focus on long enough to reach the judgment hall.)
Sans was dumbfounded for a few long moments.
How could he ever have forgotten that there was at least one constant, no matter how many RESETs there were?
Papyrus was always a real star, bright and shining.
Maybe Sans couldn’t believe yet that the RESETs were over, or that this peace on the surface world was something that could actually last.
Maybe he could believe in something else.
Sans shortcutted himself to the other side of the table and tugged Papyrus into a hug. His eye-sockets started to feel suspiciously wet, but he ignored it.
“bro…you’re the coolest.”
“NYEH-HEH-HEH, I KNOW!” Papyrus squeezed him back, standing and pulling him right up off the kitchen tile with the force of his hugging. “YOU RAISED ME THAT WAY! SO BY THE TRANSITIVE PROPERTY OF COOLNESS, YOU’RE PRETTY COOL, TOO!”
“not as cool as you.”
Papyrus scoffed. “OBVIOUSLY, BUT THAT’S AN IMPOSSIBLE STANDARD! OUR INTENSE, COMBINED RADICALNESS IS BLINDING NONETHELESS!”
Sans started to chuckle. “hey, maybe i oughta start sellin’ sunglasses. y’know, for the poor, unsuspecting saps we pass on the street.”
Papyrus pulled back, squinting at him. “YOU’RE NOT GOING TO START THAT UNLICENSED VENDORING STUFF UP AGAIN, ARE YOU?” he asked. “THAT’S ILLEGAL, YOU KNOW!”
“nah, i won’t, you’re right,” Sans relented. “that’d be pretty…shady of me, wouldn’t it?”
Sans was unceremoniously dropped to the floor.
“I TAKE IT BACK,” Papyrus said, a surly look on his skull. “YOU’RE NOT COOL AT ALL—YOU’RE ACTUALLY THE WORST AND I’M DISOWNING YOU.”
Sans laughed, louder and more genuine than he had in…
Stars, how long had it been?
He didn’t think he could say for sure, but it felt good.
The kitchen was getting a little brighter, more light coming in from the window as the sun started to come up outside.
It gave Sans an impulsive thought, and for once, he actually felt like chasing it.
“hey, if i’m disowned, can i still hang out on your porch to watch the sunrise?”
Papyrus, already turning on his heel and feigning aloofness, replied, “TAKE A SCARF, IT’S CHILLY—AND NOT A WORD ABOUT THE COLD ‘GOING RIGHT THROUGH YOU,’ SANS, THAT’S NOT EVEN A JOKE, IT’S A FACTUAL STATEMENT! HAVE SOME PRIDE, PUT SOME EFFORT INTO YOUR WITTICISMS FOR ONCE!”
Sans headed to the coat-rack by the front door, tugging down a skull-print scarf—human fashion, go figure—and putting it on.
“pride?” he echoed in disbelief. “effort? jeez, Pap, who do you think you’re havin’ a conversation wit here?”
Sans didn’t have to wonder if Papyrus heard him all the way from the kitchen, because he heard exactly the sound he’d been hoping for in response: distant and begrudging laughter.
“…NYEH-HEH-HEH, DAMN IT, THAT ONE WAS ACTUALLY PRETTY GOOD. GO, ALREADY, OR YOU’RE GOING TO MISS THE PINK CLOUDS! THOSE ARE THE BEST PART!”
It wasn’t until Sans was actually outside, watching the winter sky light up like a watercolor painting, that he realized he had to disagree with Papyrus.
The pink clouds were pretty cool…but when his brother came out to bring him a fresh mug of coffee, dressed in his own signature scarf, Sans couldn’t help but think that the scarlet-orange streaks were way cooler.
Seeing that color up there in the sky…Sans was really starting to feel like he could do anything he wanted up here.
Like it might actually stick.
Watching the sun come up with his brother by his side, Sans was filled with hope.