Dedicated to Toby Fox’s Undertale. Warning: there be Spoilers here. Reader’s discretion is advised.
You are at Lesser Dog’s sentry post. You’re tired now: resting your back against the crumbling shack, your legs covered in a thin blanket of snow. It almost matches the long grey hair that’s covered your gaunt, exhausted face.
A faint smile flickers at the corners of your mouth and eyes when you look at the toppled snow sculptures of the long-necked dog. It’s been a while since he was here, you think to yourself. If his kind have the same lifespans as their cousins on the Surface, then he hasn’t been here for a long time and any successor he had probably had a post somewhere else that you must have somehow missed on the way here. It’d certainly explain why no one touched the sculptures: out of a sense of love and respect. You somehow know they spread his dust around his creations. It’s sad, somehow it fills you with a rosy sense of sentimental Determination … just for a little while longer.
Your arms are wrapped around your upper body: enveloping the frayed and tattered blue and purple sweater on your body with warmth. You hold an object against you, huddling it into your chest.
And you wait.
“hey.” a voice says, waking you up from another longer blink. “ice to see you.”
So he is still alive. Somehow, this doesn’t surprise you. In fact, you were hoping for it.
“heh.” Sans walks out of the snowfall with his hands in his jumper pockets. “wasn’t my best, i gotta say. but i’m still on human-watching duty, so … freeze!”
You chuckle, but it comes out as a coughing fit. Still the same old Sans … in all the ways that mattered. The snow crunches under his feet as he comes closer to you. Somehow, those empty eye-sockets seem to squint down at you. Sans always said that he’d learned how to read people’s faces, but it’s you that sees it takes him a while to realize who he is looking at.
“kid.” He says, simply. “so this is what you’ve been doing these past couple of years? i mean, uh, pap and i could’ve shown you how to make snow angels.”
You see some lights in his eye sockets and, if you didn’t know any better, you’d think the blue glow lifting you slightly off the ground, warming you, was another hallucination brought on by the cold.
You laugh again. It crackles a bit, but you aren’t doubled over this time. Even though Sans smiles, because he can’t do anything else, you can sense his intended frown.
“you leaving and not phoning us. i’ll admit: that was cold.” He says as he lowers you to the ground. “and it’s just, uh, icing on the cake to find you like this.”
If you didn’t already know that many of his puns and jokes were defense mechanisms more potent than what he really kept in reserve, the bead of sweat on his skull would have given away the fact that Sans is worried about you. As you feel your back gently land back in the snow, you know it’s time. Slowly, and with some effort, you uncurl your arms. Now that you’re trying to move again, they scream like a Nice Cream headache.
“hey.” Sans holds your arms and helps you move them apart. “what’s … that you got there, kid?”
Sans looks down and slowly pries the object out of your arms. You remember now. It’s an old, battered notebook. It’s ripped at the edges. Some of the papers had been ripped out but you’d found the missing pages and added new ones. Through the receding pain in your limbs, you manage to nod at Sans. The skeleton doesn’t ask if you if you want him to read it. You were never really much for small talk anyway. In fact, you were not much for any kind of talk at all. You know what you wrote in there. You’d written in it so much … and so many times that you know it all off by heart. You watch as Sans scans the first page of the notebook.
It’s not really a way to start off a diary. But this was never a diary to begin with. It was a Torn Notebook got it at Waterfall, from Gerson’s shop. It belonged to one of the humans that came here before me. They recorded some observations about the Underground and other things that I missed the first couple of times around.
I’ve had a long time to think about this. I’ve had too much time to think about it, and do a lot about it. I think you know exactly what I mean. “let’s get to the point.” Right.
I’m a stupid doodoo butt.
I’m the legendary fartmaster.
Sans looks up at you as he found that passage. His eyes pierce your own. You now know that there is no turning back. He looks down, somehow closing his eyes, and he continues to read the pieced together notebook.
First, I’m going to tell you what happened this time around. After I met you in the great hall, I went to Asgore. I went to Asgore as I had many times before. I went there and he killed me. I went there and I killed him. I went there and Flowey betrayed and killed him. Sometimes he just killed himself. I went there and all of you interceded on my behalf. Toriel, the woman you trade puns with through the door to the Ruins — my Mom — saved me.
But this time, I was going to do something different. I did my research in other Loads and Resets. I tried to find out as much about the other Souls — the other humans — as I could. I wanted to see how they died. Who killed them. I wanted to know if any of them just gave themselves up.
Maybe you knew that. Maybe you even asked me about it and followed me. Perhaps you even helped me. But I can’t remember. There are too many variables and I can’t take items with me. Or Save them.
Sans, I was going to give myself up. I’d do it myself and make sure that you didn’t break your promise to Toriel. I was going to give Asgore my Soul.
But I didn’t. I couldn’t.
Asgore let me go: to take care of any business I left unfinished. I think we both hoped I would never come back. I was surprised that you didn’t stop me or ask me what was going on. Everyone else thought I got past him somehow. No one ever came looking for me in any case. But I thought you, of all people, would have seen me.
Perhaps you did.
Sans briefly glances at you again and it is all the confirmation that you need. You incline your neck. You want him to keep reading.
So I ran away. I hid like a coward. I went back to the Ruins and Mom took me back. She never asked me what happened this time around. Maybe she thought the responsibility was too much for me. It makes sense. No matter what I was capable of doing, I was still a child Sans. I was scared. Still, it’s no excuse for …
She taught me things, Sans. Mom taught me more than how to survive in the Ruins. In addition to collecting and cooking snails, I managed to learn a little more about the humans that came before me. What each of them did. You know, a little more than the impressions I had when I had to face them, or free them so many times before. More than the objects they left behind.
Mom also taught me some magic. I’ll never be as skilled as the rest of you, of course, but I know how it works now: just enough for when it counts. Between her and the encounters I’ve had I’ve learned how to bare my Soul. I’ve read the murals and spent time in the Library, Sans. I talked with Alphys. I even saw the True Lab and what she made with good intentions.
Good intentions … Souls … They say that a human soul can survive without love. A being can even survive without a Soul. But that’s not true, Sans. A Soul can exist without love. A being can function without a Soul. But that’s not the same as living. Trust me, Sans. I should know.
You see Sans stop turning the pages as something catches itself between them. The large petal is still golden yellow after all this time. You avert your eyes from it, even as you remember why you put in there this time around. It is to remind you. You are so much older now, and he was still there taunting you, threatening you and your loved ones, waiting for you to die … You couldn’t risk that happening again. Not to them. Not to him. Even so, Flowey hadn’t resisted when you came that last time. But even his relief will never wash that guilt away.
There was another being who could utilize Determination. He was a being that could Reset. In almost every timeline Flowey took advantage of Asgore and stole the Souls away from him. It was one of the reasons I left. If I had died and Flowey had gained all Seven Souls himself … But it was not ever about the power, even with him. He was lonely, and soulless. He didn’t deserve what happened to him. We knew each other too well, Sans.
The problem talking with you about any of this is that, every time I try, I never know just how much you know or remember. At one point you showed me your workshop and its drawers. I know that you can keep items and notes in there from other timelines. Maybe that is how you remember. Perhaps you have some psychic ability, or you just read faces well in addition to that sense of deja vu that a few other people get when I come around again. I just don’t know.
And it’s not really important. As for why I came back to the Ruins, many of the above reasons are true. But there is one more thing.
I was afraid.
Again, I don’t know how much you know. You and Papyrus came to Snowdin a while ago and that is all the information I could get on you. But maybe you were working in the Hotlands then. I still don’t know much about Gaster: aside that I am aware that you had some association with him, or some of the … inventions that he created. Even finding the scraps and echoes of his presence — in the “Fun Values” of existence itself — it took every inch of discipline that Toriel ingrained into me in other timelines in addition to my Determination.
I don’t even know if he was involved with Alphys’ studies into the Human Soul but I know enough to realize that he could study timelines, perhaps much like you if you examine the graphs I pasted next to this entry.
If you didn’t have Sans’ attention before, you know that you got it now. His eyes are definitely glowing and you can see his bony fingers shaking. And you know what’s coming next. You know what might happen.
Darkness. Darker and darker still … I didn’t want to admit it. It all began one day, after Mom kept me from leaving the Ruins. I ran upstairs, terrified from our first encounter, and lay down in my bed. That was when the memories started. But that’s not true. They started before, right after I fell. I saw the tapes in the True Lab. I heard about them at the Capital. I saw their clothes and their toys.
I heard their voice in some isolated Echo Flowers. We even wore similar striped shirts. And we both fell through Mount Ebott. We even have … had the same colour Soul. And how could I read the Monster language on the murals and in the Library without having learned it from somewhere? There were times, Sans. It’s not so much a voice, at least not anymore. But it was a series of feelings and memories that weren’t my own. Most of the time they were impulses. I was so scared when I first came here. It seemed like everything was trying to kill me: to take my Soul. I thought everyone was like Flowey. Pretending to be nice, but biding their time …
“It’s kill or be killed …”
“kid.” Sans is shaking more than you are now. “that’s not possible. it can’t be …”
You shake your head violently. He needs to see this. He needs to understand and read on.
Sans puts the book down and his eye sockets are dark. “no.”
You look up at him. Your eyes start to blur. Your eyes are wide and pleading silently with him. You’re begging him to keep going. Sans regards you for a few moments, judging you much in the way that he did back in that palace hallway so many decades ago, so many different timelines ago. Your friend, your judge, your enemy continues to read the direction where your thoughts are headed.
Alphys never determined, if you’ll pardon the pun, what happens to a Human Soul when a Monster doesn’t claim it. She also didn’t determine what happens when a Monster carrying that Soul dies. Where does that Soul go, Sans? What does it do? Does it linger on the Earth forever? Does it move on? Or is it a cycle? Like a Reset. When Asriel died so many years ago, when he turned into dust, just what happened to Chara’s Soul?
How is it possible to have two sets of memories? How it is possible for one set and its feelings and impulses to grow over your own? I thought they were a parasite or a demon. Perhaps a vengeful ghost buried in the flowers. I thought they were outside of me. But those early days, when I was first here, I fed them. I gave them what they wanted so I could survive.
And when I was done, when they were done, I Reset and … the darkness, Sans. That’s why I really left. No matter how many times I Reset, or Load it’s there. Waiting for me. It eats at me, Sans. It chips away at what experience, what life I had, and I just couldn’t … I didn’t know if I could keep it at bay. I still don’t know … if I can keep it, from keeping myself, from killing everyone. Again.
You can’t even look at him. Tears flow down your withered cheeks. Sans is glaring into you now. And you can see it. Even through your blurry eyes what you’ve been building up to has finally happened. Sans has dropped the notebook completely. Only one of his eyes is glowing now. It glows with a luminescent cyan and baleful yellow. You remember that energy well. It haunted your nightmares for years. And now he remembers … now he knows too …
Sans glares down at you. “you dirty brother killer.”
You squeeze your eyes shut and turn away from him in shame. Those four words hurt you more than any bone, or Gaster Blaster ever could. But maybe now it will be easier. Perhaps now you can do what you set out to this time. Maybe you can finish what you’ve started.
“i should kill you.” Sans says. “i always felt something was off, with you. to think everyone, to think pap misses something like you. i can’t believe i didn’t see it at the palace. you looked so innocent. so determined. you’re disgusting. i wish didn’t make the old lady that promise.”
“Please.” You manage to say.
Sans pauses for a few moments. “please? please what?” Then you see understanding dawn in his expression. “you mean, you want to die?”
The skeleton is silent. He is looking at you, looking right into you. It is his judgment in the palace all over again: except this time with all of the facts. Just as suddenly, however, Sans’ eyes are back. He shakes his head, slowly, and then shrugs his shoulders.
“you know what? no.” He says. “i’m not going to do it. you know why, buddy? you’re just going to reset anyway, right?”
“No.” You say, quietly. “I …” your voice is hoarse and quiet from disuse. “I don’t want to Reset anymore.”
“quit jossing me.” Sans’ grin is manic, angry. “what? you think this elderly shtick is going to make me feel sorry for you? you think letting yourself get all wrinkled and grey is going to get me into your sick little routine? no. i’m not giving you what you want.”
Sans picks up your notebook. “you chose the darkness. you even said it’s a part of you. you’re the one that dropped the ball, buddy. the moment you gave into it, you deserved everything you got. the only reason you’re pulling this guilt and remorse thing is so that you can save yourself. so i can put you out of your misery. and even if i wanted to, and i don’t, it won’t even work. you’ll just come back. but that’s fine. i’ll tell you what buddy.
“i’m going to take this here notebook and, uh, put it in my drawer. i’m going to read it. and when that darkness takes you again, because you’re weak and you’ll do it, i’ll be ready for you. i’ll use what i find in here to give you a bad time. i’ll use it to hurt you. but death? nah, kid. that’s too good for a brother killer like you.”
“… you’re right.” You say. “I am a brother killer.” You let the sins of other timelines and other lives crawl down your back. “I killed mine too. I’m glad you will never have to know what that feels like.”
Sans’ eye burns into you. “live with it or just don’t come back. it’s not our problem.” He starts to turn away.
“You can stop me from Resetting.”
Sans stops. You start coughing again. They are hard, raucous spasms. A minute of the sound goes by before you get your breath back.
“You can stop me from using the Reset. Forever.” You repeat. “You’ve read this far.” You tell him. “I know you want to stop me. Please. Finish reading. I … it will save us … save you time.”
Sans stands there with your notebook in his hands. Finally, he shrugs his shoulders again. “well, i guess we both, uh, got some time to kill, huh.”
You watch as Sans flips through more pages. They are diagrams of the different coloured hearts, the Souls currently in Asgore’s collection. You placed it right next to your findings and theories about Souls and your current predicament.
I’ve realized that the Reset is not always a conscious force on my part. I’m not even sure that Chara themselves is responsible for it. I recall Flowey’s observations, when he told me about how close to death he was once. There was a will, a struggle to survive, to live, to exist. I think that Determination is just another aspect of self-preservation. It’s inherent in everyone: Human, Monster … Plant.
I could die, I have died a thousand times, but something, sheer animal instinct perhaps, will always bring me back: and specifically bring me back here to the Underground. I can’t end myself. I can’t stay dead. I’m too weak, Sans.
But I think I know what I have to do now. It has, ironically, taken time Sans. I gathered all the information here into this book: taken from the Purple Soul who had it before me, the murals, the Library, Alphys’ notes, transcripts of your timeline graphs, my own recollections and interactions. All of it.
The final reason that I ran from Asgore was partly for this purpose, and also out of pure selfishness. It never occurred to me before to live out my life down here. I needed more lived experience, more knowledge, and a sturdier sense of reality. But I also wanted to spend more time with my Mom, before … She doesn’t know Sans. I mean, she knew I had to leave again. I’ve lived a long life, for someone of my kind. I sharpened my mind and my will, and I let my body age. I robbed that other part of me of almost any other tool or weapon to get to this point.
But I am getting older and Mom doesn’t age like most people. I just couldn’t do that to her. I don’t want her to see me like this. But I’ve had my time, Sans. I’ve had more than my time. I took all of yours. I mentioned good intentions earlier. And even in staying away from Asgore, I’ve only allowed the Underground to suffer. I can see the decline in birthrates and the stagnation setting in. I abandoned you. But I won’t turn away from this final task.
I regret what I’ve done with my Resets, with all the people I’ve hurt through my actions and inaction. There is one thing I need you to do now. I think you already know what it is. I still can’t surrender myself to Asgore. We both know that he can’t handle this burden. No one else can. I’ve seen what that kind of power does to a Monster, or something close to it.
I know you don’t like to work Sans. You pride yourself on your laziness if I can still say so. But you know, or you can view the timelines. You are aware of the SAVE state, of LOADING, of the RESET and the TRUE RESET. You are already a master of spatial travel. And you have the will. All you need is time now. And I have honed myself to the point where I can help you do what needs to be done.
You know what to do, Sans. You know how to end this.
You can’t afford not to care.
Sans closes the notebook. You look up at him, silently pleading, knowing that he has now seen everything. You await his decision. Sans shakes his head.
“it’s not fair.” He says. “taking your time travel and using my own jibes back at me before i even make ’em. heh, you really are a class act. you know that?” His shoulders slump. “the sad thing is, i can tell you really mean it. you did some shitty things, killing us and taking our future away, but i can see it. you’re tired. but i’m tired too. and, uh, no offense, but after everything i really don’t want that soul of yours in me.”
You know this is your last chance. Sans is on that brink. You just need to hit home your point now. You dive deep into what strength you have left.
“Think of the timelines.” You say, your voice quavering. “Think about Monsterkind.
“Think about Papyrus.”
You lay your head back in the snow. That’s it. That is everything you can say to him now. The pain in your limbs is becoming more distant: just another set of memories that aren’t your own. You hear Sans’ footsteps crunch near your head. You focus your eyes and look up at him.
“you really want to die, don’t you.”
“This …” you cough for a long time. “This was never … about me … Sans. I read.” You force the cold air into your lungs. “I know the Prophecy. I was just a kid that never even knew how to make a snow angel.”
“… dammit.” Sans crouches down near you. “kid …”
You start shaking. Sans’ hand is on your head. “kid!”
It’s almost time now. The feeling is almost unbearable. You moan and writhe as you will the sensation out. You can feel Sans’ blue magic enveloping you.
“it’s ok, buddy. i’ll get us to snowdin and …”
You push up your sleeves. The pinpricks that are Sans’ eyes seem to shrink in horror. “kid, what did you do …”
“Too late. I … prepared. Before this.” The red through your cut wrists contrasts against the white around you. “I had years of practice …”
“no.” You can feel Sans’ magic attempting to knit your flesh together, but your body is too old and it would take Sans time to move you and potentially cause you more injury. “don’t do this …”
“Don’t worry.” You say, trying to lighten the mood. “It’s all right. If it makes you feel any better … it’s like my Soul … it tastes just like ketchup.”
“… t h a t ‘ s n o t f u n n y.”
“No.” You shudder. “I don’t … suppose it is. I’m … sorry. I’m sorry for everything.”
You can’t make out Sans’ face now, but there seems to be something running out of his blurry sockets. “it’s … it’s ok buddy. just hold on … no …”
You feel the warmth of your Soul rise up. Everything is red. It’s redder than your own blood. It is bathing the white around you in vitality. Your pain is gone now. The darkness of lifetimes is finally gone. You feel at peace.
“Sans …” You say. You find his finger bones clutching your hands. “Promise me … please … take my Soul. Take the others that Asgore has. End this. I … I believe in you.”
You look up and see the dog sculptures: some spiraling out of themselves, or deep into the ground. Others broken and crumbling. Still more are left unfinished. It’s somehow fitting: that it would all end here. Another thought occurs to you.
“Hey … Sans …”
The bony hands hold yours tighter. “what is it, kid?”
“… I have a joke for you.” The crimson of the floating heart of your Soul envelops the both of you now, but you are still looking at the sculptures. “What do you become when you spell a dog backwards?”
Sans pauses, tears coursing down his eye sockets. “i don’t know, kid. what do you become?”
But you are already gone.
Sans looks at the old human, who had once been a child, lying there in front of him. All that is left of them is their Soul … and a smile on their face. Slowly, tenderly, the skeleton closes their eyes.
He stares at the human Soul floating above their chest. He thinks about the timelines, and his friends. And Papyrus. He thinks about himself. Sans exhales the invisible knot of grief and pain that had somehow been in the centre of his fleshless rib cage.
And then: Sans understands.
“heh.” he says. “i get it now.” He regards the red Soul. “still not funny.”
Then he slowly shakes his head.
“eh.” he sighs, reaching one hand towards the Soul. “just how much can i still afford to care.”