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A golden crown circles the top of Asgore's throne.

The crown is technically counted as his now. The throne, too. The house and the clothes and the bedrooms and the furniture; all the blades of grass, the petals of flowers, this belongs to Papyrus.

Papyrus doesn't know what to say. He isn't sure if he knows how to hate, either. But there's something about this that invokes this speechless sort of resentment, stirring between the bones of his ribcage.

It's this house with its lingering sense of sadness, all rain sliding down windows; it's the way the flowers in the garden start to fall apart, a murder scene of petals and pollen; it's the sound of monsters crying and shouting and slumping against doors, exhausted.

It's how Sans looks so tired, so conflicted; it's how the concerns of citizens pile up in his mind like building blocks; it's the "nothing will get better, will it?" whispered by his brother three months ago to a woman behind a door.

It's how he heard the monsters talk of him, their tones laced with laughter and annoyance and disbelief; it's how these old robes hang dusty in the wardrobe (his wardrobe) because wearing them feels like something bigger than he could handle; he is not the great Papyrus anymore and his crown feels like a circle of poison and thorns.

'Melodrama,' Mettaton grins, all dazzling smile and splayed fingers. His image flickers on the ancient TV before the power cuts out. It was an old episode anyway. He doesn't make new ones anymore.

Papyrus' bones sometimes feel too heavy for his body. For the moments when people are shouting, talking about the murder of six children for their souls, well. He doesn't want to think about it.

So Papyrus tries. He wears different robes (they're less fancy, so it doesn't matter if pasta sauce splatters on them). One day the sauce goes wrong and smoke fills the kitchen and Papyrus sits on the floor feeling this intense sense of longing. Something is missing and he buries his head in his hands, feels his bones rattle.

Undyne's phone fills up with missed calls. The postcards Papyrus writes are a sin for how much paper he wastes. He will never forget the look on Sans' face when he asked him about his friends; he looked almost haunted, eyesockets black as coal -- Papyrus doesn't ask again.

Citizens come to him with questions. They ask about the barrier. They ask about the human. Papyrus shifts uncomfortably when they talk about souls, swallows in his non-existent throat. He liked Frisk. Despite what Undyne said, he's sure that humans aren't all bad.

He says this and they look surprised, unsure.

(Standing to his left, he notices Sans carefully look away.)

So Papyrus does what he does best and makes spaghetti. There's been some food shortages recently; everyone flocks to the castle for it. They're all so bright and cheerful and if everyone's happy then Papyrus is sure he's doing a good job.

He proposes a new law and feels very proud of it. Puzzles, he says, are to be given to good humans. Puzzles will also be given to bad humans ('because no one's bad at heart', he thinks. He doesn't say it).

He tells everyone to stay hopeful. All the monsters gathered in the Capital are given a royal pep talk of sorts. 'Give up on giving up,' Papyrus says. 'I believe in you!'

(Two hours after, Sans slumps against him, tired. 'you're their king now, paps,' he says. 'your majesty papyrus,' he tests out. He starts to laugh and there's no humour in it. 'it's rainin' somewhere else.'

Papyrus doesn't know what he means. Sans is asleep before he can ask, slow breaths and void eyesockets.)

 


 

He kneels down, bone against soil. He's in Asgore's garden. It doesn't feel right to call it his.

'You can do it,' he murmurs. 'You shouldn't give up. I know Asgore isn't here, but ...' The golden flowers stay silent before him.

Papyrus tucks his knees up to his chest. He read once that talking to flowers helps them grow. The Underground could do with a little hope, he thinks, so he goes down to the garden every day.

'Being king is hard,' he says. 'I don't want to be negative but there's so many things. Everyone wants me to know what to do, but I don't.'

Sunlight shines through the windows and settles on the grass. Papyrus traces a pattern on his femur. 'I miss Doggo. I miss Grillby. I miss the bunny family back in Snowdin. I miss Mettaton and Undyne and Asgore. No one's seen Doctor Alphys. I miss talking to her on Undernet.'

He bites one of his phalanges a little, mulling it over. He stares at the flowers, gold and green, and digs his hands into the grass.

'Sans is lying to me.'

The words taste like poison, cyanide in his mouth. He closes his eyes. 'He doesn't think I know. I ... I don't think I'm supposed to. But I do know, I remember, and I know he thinks I don't but ... but Sans ...'

Papyrus flops onto his back, grass tickling his spine. He covers his eyes with a hand, thoughts heavy and overwhelming in his head. There's something secret about this; something he's not supposed to talk about.

'I miss him, too,' he tries to say, but it only comes out as a whisper. He sits up again. He stares at the buttercups.

'I will never take a vacation,' he stutters out, and then he starts to cry.

 


 

Sans is standing in front of him wearing old pyjamas and a tired expression. It's late, gone midnight, and Papyrus ...

'can't sleep?'

He shakes his head. 'I don't know what to do.'

Sans looks at him curiously. There's a look on his face that Papyrus can't place. 'about what?'

'About everything. Being king is hard. I don't know what I should do.'

'aw, paps.' Papyrus looks away and Sans' face softens. 'come here.'

Papyrus does. Not a second later, he feels Sans hug him. Sans is good with hugs. He doesn't give them out very often -- he never used to be at the house much back in Snowdin -- but they always make him feel better.

'you're doing a good job, bro,' Sans says. 'all the citizens like you. it just takes some time to adjust with this kinda stuff. they're havin' a hard time coping with -- you know.'

'Mm.'

'bro.' He detaches himself. 'you're the great papyrus. productivity is up. and everyone likes your spaghetti. you've got really good at it, i swear. you're doin' well.'

'Mm,' Papyrus mumbles. 'Am I?' Papyrus thinks.

come on,' his brother says. 'when have i ever lied to you?'

Papyrus blinks. He stares down at his hands and takes a deep, shuddering breath. 'There aren't many vacation spots in the Underground, brother.'

Sans stiffens. His eyelights tremble minutely. 'no,' he says. 'no, there's not.'

Papyrus clenches his hands into fists behind his back. Guilt washes over him. 'I ... I'm going to go to my room now.'

'okay.' It's a helpless sort of okay, the kind you use when there's nothing else to say.

Papyrus pauses with his hand on the handle. Their doors are only about a metre apart.

'I'm sorry, Sans.'

Sans closes his eyes. The look on his face is pained and Papyrus never wants to see it again.

'don't be,' he says, quietly, regretfully.

Papyrus closes the door.

 


 

There's a golden crown that circles Asgore's throne. Papyrus traces the inside of it and thinks about his friends.

(Somewhere in Waterfall there's a phone full of voicemails, buzzing urgently before lying still.)