For His Sake

In the Snow

It's cold. The snow is crunching under your feet. Your sneakers, annoyingly enough, are not waterproof, and icy water has already slipped into the gap between the tongue and the laces and has been sloshing around for some time now. Your breath creates steam on the biting, gnawing air. And yet, for all this cold, you don't shiver at all. You understand that this is probably weird, but all the feelings of your sensations fade into the background, leaving only the simple fact: It's cold. And that's all.

You're filthy. The wind doesn't blow away the dust; it seems to cling, bleaching your clothes as though they were left in the sun. Your eyes sting a little. You sniffle often. There is a constant feeling of grit behind your teeth.

You don't mind the dust so much. You already knew what happens when monsters die. None of what you're feeling is anything you didn't knowingly and willingly sign up for. To you, the dust is a proof of your victory, all of your victories. Your corpse would be clean; you're alive and dirty like every other living thing. The only thing you really mind is all the walking. You've paced up and down, trying to sniff out every possible adversary. Snowdrake. Doggo. Gyftrot. It's tedious, takes a long time, and is a little boring. You wish there was a faster way to get to the good part. You feel your legs throbbing, but you keep moving ahead, without stopping to rest. You've already wasted enough time. You're determined to win this game.

And now…

And now you've passed through the empty town, where only a single soul stood, oblivious to the swarm of footprints all around them, all pointing in one direction: down the path you're now walking. And now the fog is getting thicker, so thick that the path vanishes into milky haze, and you can only hear the sounds of your shoes with your wet socks inside them crunching, and the empty river rushing nearby, and the sound of your breath sawing in and out with a steam cloud that seems (perhaps) just a little too thin.

Suddenly, ahead of you, you see a shadow, slowly assembling out of the fog as you approach. You stop walking. He isn't saying anything. You can only see his silhouette. But… Doesn't it seem… That this shadow is a bit too short? In fact, it looks like it's the same height as you.

You've never done this before, but you know how the game goes. You know who's supposed to be waiting for you at the end of the path. You've seen others do it, over and over. You did it to prepare, to brace yourself. This path you've chosen isn't easy. But at this point, it's almost like acting out a play, standing on your mark, awaiting the cue, saying your lines. You knew everything that was going to happen, and you were ready.

But the shadow is walking up to you now, and the fog is starting to thin. You squint and rub your eyes (they're starting to water again). No, it's isn't Papyrus. It's…

"yup. it's me," says Sans. "how's it going?"

You freeze on the spot. Sans chuckles.

"hey. what's with that face? were you expecting somebody else?"

He's close enough to you now that you can see his grin. You tense, clenching your gloved left hand tight. This is wrong. This is wrong. It's too soon. You're not ready. Dust cracks in your teeth.

Sans keeps talking as though he hasn't noticed. "i kid. i know you were expecting my brother," he says, "because i told you, didn't i? that he's a human-hunting fanatic? so, you expected him to come and capture you, since i so helpfully told you. that's why, right?"

He winks at you. You wish you'd had more time to grind. More monsters. You had walked around and around for so long, looking for anyone who could boost your stats. But eventually, nobody came.

"well, whatever the reason, you were right. papyrus did want to come, but i convinced him people would appreciate it more if he helped with the evacuation effort. it wasn't easy. he was, uh, pretty adamant about wanting to meet you here. he seemed to think he'd be letting you down if he didn't show up. wasn't that nice of him?"

It would be nice. Papyrus would be easier to kill. How nice, how kind, to paint a target on himself. You know Sans will do no such thing.

"so," Sans continues, "you're probably wondering why i'm here." He shrugs and rubs the back of his head with his hand. "well, the truth is," he says sheepishly, "i'm actually here to stall you. to give everyone else more time to get away." He nods. "yup. you heard right. i said stall, not beat. i'm not here to fight you, kid."

You can hardly believe your ears. In fact, you can't believe your ears. Your left hand stays clenched. Sans eyes flick towards it. The rest of him doesn't move.

"jeez, kid. you sure are jumpy. are you scared of me or something? why would you be? i haven't done anything bad to you, have i?"

He looks off toward the river, his face pensive. Suddenly, he jerks violently toward you, stomping his left foot in the snow. The hands hooked in his pockets make his jacket flap like the wings of a bat.

"boo," he says.

You jump back. He laughs uproariously. You scowl in anger.

"wow. that much, huh?" he says, the mirth still in his voice. "i don't suppose i could threaten you into not murdering everybody?"

He waits. Then he sighs. "no, i guess not."

You wish he'd get to the point. Get it over with. Maybe later you could look for an alternate route. A way around him.

"listen, kid," he says, "i'm not going to sugarcoat anything. considering what you've done, it's my opinion that everybody would be better off if you weren't here. if you didn't exist, in fact. whether you were dead or had never been born at all, the world would be a much safer place without you in it."

His tone is conversational. The cliche "as if talking about the weather" comes into your head.

"but, here's the thing," he says. He's looking down at the snow in front of your feet. "there's this… person that i made a promise to. i won't bore you with all the details, but she really wanted me to watch out for you. not watch out as in 'be wary of' because everybody else has got that covered. no, she meant, like, protect."

Sans looks up at your face.

"hey," he says, "did you know that already?" Sans's smile broadens. His tone sounds almost as if he's scolding a child who did something mildly naughty. "You mean you knew something like that and you still did everything you did?"

His eye sockets have gone empty. He begins to laugh. It's not the same teary-eyed chuckle he did before. It's low and hollow and echoes like the ringing of a brass bell. You feel each hair standing up on your neck.

He closes his lids over their empty gaps. "well," he says, "however much it was forced out of me, a promise is a promise. i ask you, what kind of person would i be if i went back on my word?" He opens his eyes and beams at you. "listen to me, kid. nobody had to die today. and from this point on, nobody else has to die, either. it's not too late to stop. you have so many people lookin' out for ya. the old lady. my brother. even me. yeah. i don't want you to be a killer, kid. it'd be a real waste. a waste of a promise and a waste of a kid who could've been something better. so that's why, for both our sakes, i'm askin' you: could you maybe just walk past me? without killing me? that's all. easy, right? all you gotta do is walk."

He tilts his head, looking you over. "from the looks of things, you've gotten plenty of exercise already. so this oughtta be easy for you. just a few little steps, and you'll be on your way. you have… no idea how grateful i'll be if you manage this. so… do me a solid?"

He waits a moment.

"um…" he says, after a while, "if it'll help to some kind of symbolic action, you could take off your glove there…" His eyes flick pointedly toward your hand. "and just throw it on the ground. you know? like a 'sheathe your sword' kind of thing? uh, i know normally throwing a glove is a sign that you want to fight, but in this case i'll understand what you're really trying to say."

It's a trick. It's a trick. It has to be a trick. This is your only coherent thought. As you soon as you walk right past him, as soon as you take "just a few little steps," your back will be to him and then that'll be it. It would be a march to the gallows. Nothing less. But, on other hand, if you reject his offer of mercy, this second chance, then what? Then Sans is your enemy, and you are also lost. It's way too early. Your LOVE is not enough. The Guillotine or the Gladiator. Either way, it's an execution.

Knowing this, you become furious. Who does he think he is, anyway, jerking you around like this? You may be about to die, you may have no idea what to do, but if he thinks you're going to walk docilely into the good night, he must think you're an idiot. on your way to the grave, you resolve yourself to defy him, to spite him, to throw one final insult into his face.

You ball up your fist, grit your teeth, strike with all your might…

And punch a hole in Sans's chest.

You blink and look down. Your entire hand is submerged in Sans; his shirt flaps against your wrist. You had felt the bone crunch against your knuckles as you shattered his ribcage. It was so much more brittle than you imagined, almost like the shell of a peanut. As you watch, a thick yellow liquid oozes out around your forearm, making dots in the ice, and for a crazy instant, you think you've popped Sans like an abscess, like a pounding boil. But then you realize it's mustard.

You don't feel much of anything anymore, no wonder or shock or awe. But your warped mind does manage a tiny stir of surprise. It's true. He really didn't want to fight you. You can't believe your luck.

Sans hasn't moved an inch. It was like punching a hole in drywall. He grins.

"i see," he says. He reaches up and pats your filthy arm affectionately. "i guess this is really what you want, huh?" He sighs and shakes his head. "not gonna lie, kid. i was really hoping today wouldn't go this way."

His breathing is getting shallow. You can't feel any lungs inside, and there are no muscles to shake and tremble. So what is the reason for these gasping sounds? You note the oddness briefly and then decide you don't care.

Sans steps back. Your glove, which is not pink anymore, slides out of him, trailing ooze. He raises his hand, which you only now notice is covered by a fuzzy, white mitten, and cups the liquid flowing out before splaying it over the hole. His hand is not much bigger than yours.

"yikes," he says, "that's gonna stain. papyrus'll have my head." He giggles to himself, as though he's just thought of a joke he heard the other day, then shrugs. "still, i did my job. snowdin ought to be empty by now. heck, with my brother helping, they probably finished a while ago." He sighs and shudders. The leak begins to trickle. "best of all for you, i kept my promise. you're still alive. congratulations."

He turns from you and slowly begins to shuffle away, back into the fog. You can only just see the gleaming curve of his skull over his hood and trembling shoulders. Just as the blue of his jack is starting to fade, he turns back over his sleeve.

"boy," he says, "Am I a swell person or what?"

And the widest smile of all slides across his face like the glide of a knife through a pumpkin, all yellow gore and empty eyes. You shiver. He keeps walking.

Even after he fades into the crystalline air, you can still hear him, shuffling crookedly. Dragging hit foot behind him through the slush, like a sled led by a string. Then you hear it. A puff of air, a whirling and whipping of effluvium, and he's gone. The wind blows a sandy gust that lands in your hair with a soft rustling. Your eyes are rimmed with red. You can taste it laying on your tongue. There is a tingle that fizzes then slowly grows still. It's like champagne gone flat.

You don't move right away. Something about that grin was disturbing to you. Slipped to you casually as he was trudging away, like a business card. Thrown over his shoulder to you like a sop. If you didn't know any better, you'd say it seems almost like a sneer. A look of triumph. It's inexplicable. Nonsensical. And because of that, you're afraid. Or are you just paranoid?

You reason with yourself firmly. Yes, Sans's appearance was unexpected, but ultimately, didn't it work out in your favor? Even though the events had been messed up, Sans was your greatest obstacle. No one was more dangerous than him. Now, you have nothing left to fear.

You keep going. The fog clears as you move ahead, toward the caverns. Beneath you, you see Sans's footprints, dragging on, getting deeper and longer, before they halt altogether. There's nothing else to see. Sans's dust is the same color as the snow. He's there at your feet and in your hair and in your teeth and coating the corners of your eyes and in the wind and trees and sinking into the river. There is nothing left of him. Not even his jacket.