Chapter 1: Fever

Being sick was terrible.

I'd seen it coming, too. Last night I'd felt an itch in my throat and a hint of queasiness in my stomach. I drank an entire glass of orange juice, took a dose of anti-nausea medicine, and even ate a few pieces of monster candy in the vain hope that it would help. It didn't.

I woke in the early hours to terrible aches and pains throughout my whole body. I felt cold and I bundled myself tightly in my blankets. It was summer now, but not even the heat could banish my chill or the constant shivering.

Then the nausea returned.

I managed to crawl out of bed and get to the bathroom in time. The cool tile felt nice against my legs as I threw up. I felt better afterwards and the air was refreshing against my feverish skin. But soon my previous chill returned, and I leaned against the door frame shaking uncontrollably.

I was just debating the merits of crawling back to bed or lying right here on the bathroom floor when Toriel found me. Of course Mom would have heard me and come to investigate. I felt a surge of love as she knelt down next to me and felt my forehead. I leaned into her touch and the gentle coolness of the pads on her paws.

Before the Underground, before the resets, before my new life, sickness was a weakness. No one had ever cared for me while I was ill. I was always left to myself in an empty, dark room until I was well enough to return to school.

"My dear child…come, I will take you to bed."

Toriel carried me easily, as though I weighed nothing. She brought me water and monster medicine to dull the pain. Then she bundled me in thick winter blankets and placed a cool towel on my forehead.

I fell into a fitful sleep.

When I woke, Toriel was sitting at my bedside while grading a stack of essays.

"Oh, you're awake, my child," she said, smiling.

"Not…at school?" I asked, my voice rough.

I had a sudden coughing fit, and Toriel handed me a glass of water.

"No, I'm staying here to watch over you today," she said. "Just rest. I'm here if you need anything."

I drank the water slowly and said I loved her before falling into another doze. I woke several more times, always to see Toriel sitting vigilantly beside me. She took me to the bathroom several times and sat while I tried to choke down some food. It did not stay, and she did not insist on more. Just water to keep me hydrated.

I felt bad for being such a bother, but Toriel looked at me with such kindness and love that I couldn't object to her mothering. It felt nice to be taken care of.

Then it was evening, and I could not sleep. At some point, my breathing became harder, as if my lungs were filling up. Each breath was shallow and difficult. I felt as if I was suffocating. I thought about telling Toriel, but what would she do? There were no human doctors in the monster city, and it wasn't worth going to the human city at the base of the mountain.

No, I'd rather be sick for the rest of my life than go down there.

Around supper, Papyrus arrived with a book about fluffy bunnies and demanded that he be allowed to read it to me. Toriel gave up her chair to Papyrus and said that she would be nearby if I needed her. I smiled and nodded, not trusting my voice. Papyrus was always so happy and Toriel had worked so hard to make me comfortable. I didn't want to worry them, not for something trivial like me being sick.

I listened as Papyrus talked. He read me the story twice before he fell asleep in his chair. Undyne arrived shortly after to demand that I get better soon, and then she carried Papyrus off without waking him. Alphys came too, and Monster Kid, and Mettaton. I had a whole string of visitors to occupy me until well after full dark. By then, everyone was settling in to sleep, and I could only stare out my window at the distant stars.

It was hard to catch my breath at all now. Every lift and fall of my chest felt painful, and attempting to take a deep breath resulted in several minutes of coughing. This was by far the worst illness I'd ever had. Monsters did not get sick, their magic and food able to keep them in constant, perfect health. No, only humans got sick, and it was from a human that I'd caught this particularly nasty bug.

Three days ago, a diplomatic mission had requested entry into the monster city to meet with the king and queen of monsters. Asgore had, of course, accepted the offer. And, as the ambassador, I had attended as well. One of the human ambassadors was very sick. He coughed. He wheezed. He apologized endlessly while shaking my hand with his own.

I thought I'd been careful enough about washing my hands afterwards, but apparently not. Now I was paying the price for it. I sighed heavily and leaned into my pillows. The wet towel on my forehead was now uncomfortably warm and the water glass on my bedside table was empty.

Should I try to make it to the kitchen by myself? Should I call Toriel to help me? Should I wait until morning?

My vision had grown blurry and the room spun slightly whenever I moved my head. I didn't think standing up would be a good idea, and I didn't want to bother Toriel after she'd spent all day watching over me. She needed sleep too.

So I lay there in the dark room and listened to the crickets outside.

I felt Sans arrive before I saw him. His arrival was heralded by a small pulse of magic and displaced air. I blinked slowly at the formerly empty chair. His familiar grin was firmly in place, and I matched it with a weak one of my own. I'd been wondering when he would drop by. I'd expected him to arrive with Papyrus, but as the hours ticked on, I began to think he wasn't coming.

"Hi…" I wheezed. I coughed, the breath for that one word was apparently too much for my lungs to handle now. Sans handed me a glass of water. I reached for it, but my fingers slipped from the surface several times. Eventually, Sans heaved a sigh and pressed the glass to my lips. I drank the water slowly, with a fair bit of it dripping down my chin and neck. "…Thanks…"

"no problem, kid," said Sans, sitting back. "you're not looking so hot. in fact, I'd say you're chilled to the bone." The joke would normally have gotten a chuckle at least, but I'd been shaking violently all day, so I just waited. "okay, maybe not the best time."

I shook my head, and then stopped when the room pitched sideways. It was a good thing I hadn't eaten all day, because otherwise it would have wound up all over Sans.

"…Hurts," I said. "…Dizzy…"

"heh, better stay still then," said Sans. "I heard that Pap came by to read you a story. I'd tell you a story about a germ, but it's not something I should spread around."

He winked.

"…Heh…" I managed.

"okay, okay," said Sans. "there's something I need to talk about anyway. Tori was really worried about you. we don't know much about human diseases, so she sent me to find out a few things. I thought I should drop by here first before I give her my report."

Sans didn't continue right away. He was looking out the window at the stars. That wasn't a good sign. He usually only paused like that when it was something serious. But maybe it was different this time. Maybe he was lining up for another pun….

"hey, kid, when was your last save point?"

Or maybe not.

I shook my head and stopped when I felt another wave of nausea.

"…no save points," I coughed. "…when…when I die outside the…the Underground…I have to…reset. No…save points. W…why?"

I already knew the answer, but it was something I had to hear.

"the diplomat who made you sick, he died yesterday," said Sans. "you'll probably only last until tomorrow."

The words would have sounded callous to any listener, and I was suddenly very glad that he'd chosen to visit in the middle of the night. Sans knew all about saves and loads and resets, so when we talked about death, it wasn't the nasty, irreversible thing that most people had to endure. It was more like a constant, trivial annoyance that we both thought was behind us.

And that was part of the problem.

"...Oh," I muttered.

"so, a full reset, huh?" Sans asked dully. His eyes were blank, and his grin was fixed. It was normally his scary look, but now it felt more resigned. He knew that I couldn't help being sick and that I didn't have complete control of the timeline. He wasn't angry with me. And yet, in a way, I really was the one to blame.

"…Maybe not," I said hesitantly. I'd thought this through a bit, but I hadn't expected this discussion to be so soon. I didn't want to talk about it, but if what he said was true, then I had precious little time left. I plowed on hurriedly, half-afraid that I would lose my nerve if I stopped to think about it too much. "If…If you took away…my Determination…there would…be no reset…."

Sans's expression went from resigned to shocked to angry so quickly I almost didn't catch it.

"that's not funny, kid," he said. "you can't offer me something like that."

I blinked slowly at him. I knew it was unfair to offer. It was cruel to make him choose between the surface and a friend.

In the Underground, Sans had given up. He'd lost all will to live, and he functioned only on a scripted routine and a faint possibility of escaping the time loops. I'd been a little surprised by how full of life he was now. The surface had given him optimism for a life that had meaning. It was like watching someone see the world for the first time.

He had hope.

But a reset would erase everything he'd done. It would put him back in his prison. And even reaching the surface would be meaningless. Everything he accomplished in life would be erased again and again as I continued to die. This time by sickness. Perhaps later in an accident. Perhaps even later by old age. Again and again, an endless cycle of resets where nothing changed and nothing mattered.

Or he could let me die.

And he could be free.

"Humans…don't live forever…Sans," I said. Talking was a little easier with practice. "It's okay. I…I'm offering it to you."

Sans turned away, his face half in shadow.

"Are you prepared to die?" he asked, and his voice lost all its casual laziness. "Are you really ready to go?"

I wanted to say yes. But the words were caught in my throat. The truth was that…no I wasn't ready. I did not want to die. I loved living with Toriel and Asgore. I loved playing with Monster Kid and solving all of Papyrus's many puzzles. I loved watching anime with Alphys and I loved training with Undyne. I loved eating hotdogs and napping on grassy hillsides with Sans.

There was so much in this world I wasn't prepared to surrender. There was so much to live for, to work toward, to go to. There was so much to see and do and feel. No, I wasn't ready to die. I was ready to live.

But this wasn't just my life.

"For you…I would die one…last…time," I said. I could have reset the world without the others noticing or caring. But Sans was different. He could not live without hope. If I reset, I would see the light leave his eyes as he stared at an endless, meaningless loop. He would not be able to escape, not even in death.

It was an unbearable nightmare, and I would be to blame.

Eventually, he would hate me.

I pulled my soul from my chest. It hung in the air between us, red and bright and filled with Determination. It was my strength, and it was my weakness. I could not cast it aside, but if it was taken from me…I would not stop it.

I couldn't see Sans's eyes, but I felt his gaze on my soul, and there was so much that was left unsaid. He needed to hear the words, I realized. He needed me to say it.

I took a deep breath and suppressed the cough. I should be strong. I was Determined to say what I needed to say.

"It's okay…to let me go," I said. I had to convince him. I had to let him know that my life wasn't worth living in a nightmare. "I…I am…read—"

"stop, kid," said Sans. I coughed and he waited. "it would be easier if I hated you, or if I didn't care about you at all. but I do. you're a good kid, and everyone loves you. Tori loves you. Pap loves you. I…" he stopped. "I can't let you die forever."

Sans flicked his hand, turning my soul blue and shoving it forcefully back into my chest. I coughed and spluttered in shock. Sans stood slowly.

"Sans…" I said.

"there are some things I've gotta take care of, you know?" he said, reaching out to touch my forehead with his cool fingers. I leaned into his touch just as I had with Toriel. His hand lingered there. "try to stick around for a little while. but, kid, when the time comes, you'd better come back."

"You'll be…sad," I objected, but I closed my eyes wearily. I felt so tired. "You can't…give up the surface…freedom…for me."

"I already did, kid," said Sans. I expected him to sound unhappy, but he just sounded relieved, as if a great burden had been lifted from his shoulders. "I already did. get some rest. I'll see you again the next time around."

And then he was gone.

I stared at the dark room for a long minute before closing my eyes and falling into another doze. I felt him return some time later, but I did not open my eyes. He sat it the chair by my side, as silent as a shadow.

At some point, I must have drifted off to sleep.

And when I awoke, golden sunlight was streaming down from above.

To be continued...