Papyrus swung his legs against his bed and leaned against the wall, feeling light and airy. He trailed his hand through the air and flexed his fingers, marveling at the way they moved and the swirling currents behind them.
Sans was changing out of his party clothes. He paused with one leg in his sweatpants and squinted up at him.
“…you ok, bro?”
“you seem a little out of it.”
Papyrus laughed. It echoed. “OH I’M FINE. MUST’VE HAD TOO MUCH TO DRINK.”
“huh. ya drank less than i did.”
Papyrus shrugged and tried to breathe in sync with the walls, eyes half-lidded. “PACED MYSELF, TOO. WENT TO PLAY POOL, LEFT MY DRINK ON THE WINDOWSILL WITH SOME OTHER PEOPLE’S.”
Papyrus felt himself lifting away from his bed while Sans made idle chatter. It had been a nice party with lots of people, music so loud his teeth still buzzed. He glanced down and saw himself.
“AM I IN THE ASTRAL PLANE?”
Sans snorted. “closer to it than i am. how’s the view from up there?”
Sans stretched and popped his back. “aight, bro. have fun in the empty void of space. time for me to hit the hay.”
Papyrus hopped down from the bed, smoothly transitioning back to one body, and hugged Sans. He hummed and smiled out the window at the sunset, patting Sans’s head.
“heh. love you too, paps.”
Sans pulled away from the hug and paused. Papyrus had gone completely rigid, staring out the window.
“uh, you okay?”
Papyrus took a step back, rattling and eyelights showing. He dropped into a defensive slouch.
“ok seriously what’s wrong?”
“DO YOU FEEL THAT.”
Sans froze and felt around with magic, trying to catch a whiff of whatever had him on edge.
“no? what is it?”
Papyrus’s breaths ran ragged and he took a step away from the window. “I’M AWAKE, RIGHT?”
“yeah? seriously, whatsamatter?”
“THEY’RE… they’re not supposed to come while I’m awake. That was the agreement.”
His voice dropped into a hollow monotone that sent chills down Sans’s spine.
“heheh, okay knock it off. only i'm allowed to do the creepy bs.”
Papyrus turned to face him, eyes wild, and held a finger up to his mouth. He looked from side to side, then grabbed Sans’s shoulders.
“bro, let’s just-“
A car backfired in the street.
Papyrus yelped and shoved Sans into the closet, slammed the door shut. Sans heard glass shattering as he struggled to untangle himself from a sweater. He swore and kicked, threw the door open with his foot. Once free, he ran to the broken window.
Papyrus was sprinting through traffic with a chorus of car horns in his wake. Sans blinked as Papyrus slid over the hood of a taxi that couldn’t stop fast enough, rolled to the ground, popped up and resumed his manic dash.
Sans threw on a shirt and teleported to follow.
Everything was screaming.
Papyrus ducked and wove through the nightmare, hellbent on leading them away from his brother. He could always outrun them, at least for a while.
It was all part of the script! They just made a few revisions this time, that’s why the sky had too many layers. That’s why everything left multicolor afterimages, why pedestrian faces ballooned into caricatures as he passed. He could adapt. He could-
Papyrus clotheslined himself on a street sign that blended with the discord of color clouding his vision. He heard voices as his skull hit the pavement, legs in the air. A human face appeared over him.
“Sir! Are you alright?”
Layers of skin and muscle flayed off as it spoke to reveal a perfectly good Impact skeleton. It had the voice of an uppercase Impact, assaulting the inside of Papyrus’s aching skull. He blinked the pain away and gave a shaky thumbs-up.
Papyrus rocked back and jumped to his feet, stumbled a bit, then continued running. His head throbbed. He shoved through the throng of humans, monsters and others on his way out of the city, away from the apartment.
Things always went worse at home. There was more to use against him there.
He could feel them slavering behind, a presence clawing at the edges of his consciousness. Every shadow, every harsh light turned into them at the edges of his vision in his altered state. He zigzagged through bustling streets and abandoned alleys in his flight until he reached suburbs.
He jumped over a white picket fence. And another. And yet another.
Plants tore at his face and clothes but he kept going, their scratches insignificant compared to the thing behind him. At least they were following.
He caught his leg on a chain fence and slammed into the ground, but was up in an instant. Part of his scarf tore in his struggle.
He caught glimpses of white every few feet. They would almost catch up and he felt his soul about to burst, and then they would disappear yet again. The cat and mouse was familiar.
Papyrus swerved to avoid a yawning pit that opened in the earth and reoriented himself to Mt. Ebott. He knew that place better than the city. He could hide there.
Papyrus hardly broke pace as he ran up the mountain. His long legs ate up the ground faster than theycould devour and he stayed a few steps ahead, steadily gaining ground up the hill.
His soul ached with the effort of propelling himself so far so fast, but panic served as fantastic fuel. He skidded to a halt at the summit.
A maw of teeth and flesh greeted him where the human children supposedly fell. Glistening, plaid liquid leaked from the walls. Tree roots wormed through the skin and broke free, writhing in open air before plunging back into the earth.
Papyrus took one look behind him, saw one of them framed by the dying sun.
He threw himself into the hole to get away, his own screams chasing him down to the Underground.
He landed badly. Pain numbed their assault on his mind for a split second and he rolled onto his side to check the damage. His left fibula had snapped in half so his foot tilted inward, dust and marrow oozing on the ground.
It wasn’t enough to keep him from moving.
Papyrus shoved himself to his feet and limped deeper into the Ruins. His panting echoed in the stillness, only broken by a squawk as the ground in front of him shifted. A familiar yellow broke through the earth.
Flowey squinted at him. “Why did you jump down – HEY!”
Papyrus snatched him up by the stem and cradled him to his chest. “THANK GOD YOU’RE OK. WE CAN’T STAY HERE IT’S NOT SAFE.”
Flowey bit the hand that covered his mouth. Papyrus’s fingers went slack under his teeth but held on.
“Shhhhh,” his voice dropped. “They might hear.”
Papyrus froze and stared back the way he had come. Flowey froze with him.
Ten seconds passed. Flowey pulled the hand away from his mouth and whispered, “I don’t hear-“
A pebble skittered across the ground and Papyrus bolted, impressively fast despite his leg. He tucked and rolled into a crevice and kicked the ceiling with his good leg.
“What are you doing?!”
Papyrus kicked once more and collapsed the mouth of their tiny cave. Papyrus had to curl into a fetal position to fit in the remaining space, Flowey cradled in his lap. He clenched Flowey’s petals and trembled in the stillness.
They waited in pained silence for what felt like hours. The walls pulsed in sync with his soul, a feeling that he tried to squash down. Flowey wormed vines around Papyrus’s clavicle and hunkered down close to his skull.
This was certainly new.
“What is it, Pap?” Flowey whispered in his ear.
Papyrus shook his head and tapped a finger against Flowey’s mouth. He flinched away from something unseen and held on tighter, so Flowey sent out some feelers to try and find whatever it was. He felt the soft footsteps of the trashbag brother’s approach. Papyrus tightened his grip as the footsteps approached, eventually scoring marks in Flowey’s stem.
They both held their breath at a crunch from outside, the sound of earth shifting and heavy breathing. Flowey tightened his hold and Papyrus shifted to better face the blocked entrance. He stared straight ahead, jaw clenched.
Magic buzzed in the tiny space, a familiar drone that sent Flowey scurrying for cover.
Sans felt it more than heard it.
He hopped away from the pile of dirt and stone just as a beam of pure, white magic vaporized the spot he occupied. He tripped and fell on his tail as Papyrus crawled out of the hole, a flower monster wrapped around his torso, and dropped into a battle stance.
Papyrus’s leg was broken, bad, and he was watching him with a crazed expression.
“bro, oh my god.”
Papyrus stared, struck with horror as he saw Sans unhinge his jaw and they poured out. He shook off the mounting panic and advanced, putting his full weight on his bad leg despite the injury. Sans scooted away from him, scrabbling until he got to his feet and panting.
“Get out of him,” Papyrus growled. His face slackened into a rictus, dead grin.
“papyrus, what is wrong with you?!”
Sans’s voice was distorted, muffled by visual snow. Flowey shifted away from the two of them while Papyrus took another step closer.
“Am I not enough? Leave him be.”
Sans took another step back. Papyrus looked past his terrified eyes to glare at the puppeteer behind, fury and a mad desire to protect welling in his chest. How dare they?
They messed up this time. They touched the wrong brother.
Papyrus took one long step and crouched, leaning forward and looming over Sans.
“…I will go through him to get to you.”
Sans stuttered, eyelights shrunken and set deep in his sockets. “pap- papyrus, it’s me, sans. snap out of it, okay? everything is fine.”
Papyrus sneered. “Get out of him or I swear to God. We both know he wouldn’t want this, to be your toy. You have three seconds.”
“pap? papyrus plea-”
Sans teleported away just as Papyrus’s fist closed around empty air. He heard the flower yelling in the distance as he rushed the exit to the ruins, teleporting in short bursts to save energy. He lost a lot in the race to the mountain.
He could hear Papyrus’s footfalls catching up.
Sans ducked as a blaster cut a searing line through the wall in front of him, sidestepped as a chunk of the ceiling fell. Papyrus was stupid strong.
Sans jigged around increasingly complex bullet patterns, variations on the standard templates that made no sense until they threatened to graze his shins. Sans teleported once more, dipping into the last of his reserves.
Papyrus whipped around to track him, correctly guessed where he landed and sent twin lines of bones in sine waves. Sans nearly lost his balance as he teleported again, this time going behind his brother.
Papyrus spun with a roundhouse kick aimed at his head. Sans ducked beneath it.
“GET OUT OF HIM!”
“bro, what are you talking about?! STOP!”
Papyrus snatched at him and hooked a few fingers in Sans’s eye socket, yanked him forward.
Papyrus summoned a long, sharp bone in his free hand. The flower stared, slack-jawed.
“LEAVE BEFORE I CUT YOU OUT MYSELF!”
“there’s nothing wrong with me! papyrus please!” Sans’s voice pitched into hysteria.
Tears cut white trails in the grime on Papyrus’s face. Sans dug his heels into the loose gravel and tried to pull away, but Papyrus held firm. All he could do was look up at Papyrus, try to snap him back into sanity.
He had the sinking feeling it wasn’t going to work.
“GET… GET OUT!”
Papyrus’s voice wavered and his free hand shook, but he cocked his arm back and aimed the bone for Sans’s other eye. The flower looked between the two brothers, then came to a decision.
Just as Papyrus thrust the spear, Flowey wrapped vines around every appendage and anchored them to the ground. Papyrus’s bad leg buckled under the weight and he dropped to a knee, losing his grip enough for Sans to slap his hand away and run.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”
Papyrus struggled against the bindings. Flowey responded by tightening his grip and worming a few tendrils in and around Papyrus’s jaw.
The horse-bit strategy worked well on other runs, at least.
“I’m keeping you from murdering your family, idiot! What the hell is wrong with you?!”
Papyrus screamed something incoherent against the foliage and wrenched his head around to watch Sans retreat down the hallway, deeper into the Ruins. He yelled and tried to stand. Flowey forced him down again and loosened the gag.
“I NEED TO HELP HIM! I CAN’T LET THEM KEEP HIM!”
“Papyrus, you’re crazy! Who are they?!”
He just shook his head and stood, straining against Flowey’s vines before finally snapping some of them. Flowey hissed and smacked Papyrus upside the skull.
“I NEED TO SAVE HIM.”
“Papyrus, seriously, st-“
Papyrus worked an arm free of the vines and grabbed a fistful of the ones threatening to smother him again. He tore them away, shredded them, and Flowey screamed.
Flowey swore, bit, scratched and shot with bullets, but Papyrus wriggled free and flung the flower aside. He took off at a hobbling sprint and left Flowey to sputter.
Papyrus couldn’t keep up with his aggravated leg, but he couldn’t let them take his brother. He fumbled for their soul in an attempt to yank it away from his brother, to save him, as they raced through the ruins. Papyrus threw half-hearted attacks to harry his brother into a corner but he kept slipping between the cracks, taking advantage of the chaos in Papyrus’s mind.
Papyrus snarled as his blue magic missed their broken soul again and again. It felt overlaid on Sans’s – he wouldn’t risk manhandling his brother’s soul, that would definitely kill him, but if he just hurthim bad enough they might leave.
It was the only option.
Sans dodged an insane array of bones and blasters. He felt the spazz of misaimed blue magic, always a little bit to the side of his own soul. Papyrus usually had better aim than that, but thank heavens whatever was messing with his head also ruined his aim. There was no way Sans would survive if he managed to pin him down.
They sprinted across a collapsing floor puzzle, both too light to break through the floor. Sans ran harder than he ever had before. His legs burned and his ribs ached with the strain, but adrenaline fueled him on.
Sans took a right at a fork and arrived on a balcony overlooking Old Home. He only took a second to look behind, to hear Papyrus’s labored, pained breathing in the background, to vault over the railing.
He could hide in the city’s shell, lay low until Papyrus came back to his senses.
It took hours for Papyrus’s insanity to wear off.
Flowey nudged him away from Sans whenever he got too close. He threw a few bullets into an abandoned building to make a racket, let Papyrus zero in and give Sans a chance to catch his breath. No more resets, so it was best to keep as many people alive as possible.
After two hours, Papyrus slowed to a pained limp and started yelling for his brother, clutching his leg.
He passed out in a park after three hours.
Sans crept out of the woodwork and knelt down by Papyrus’s head. He was ok, or as ok as he could be covered in scratches and running on a broken leg.
Papyrus twitched and Sans teleported to a nearby rooftop, out of range of Papyrus’s strongest attacks.
“Scared?” Flowey crawled up the side of the building to join him.
Sans drew his knees to his chest and rested his chin on them, not taking his eyes off Papyrus. “a bit…”
He turned and offered his left hand. “uh, i'm sans, sans the skeleton… but i'm sure you know that.”
Flowey ignored the hand. “Yeah, yeah, I’m the dead prince Asriel, hermit extraordinaire and terror of the Underground.”
Sans squinted at him, having reached maximum weird tolerance for the day.
“pfft. ok kid.pretty rude for gallows humor.”
Sans chuckled and turned back to watch his brother. “anyway, thanks for saving me back there. i'd be grasswithout your help, heh.”
Flowey rolled his eyes. “You’re not welcome.”
He crawled around to sit in front of Sans. “Ok so what the hell is wrong with my best friend? What did you do?”
Sans shrugged. “i have no idea, he jumped out a window and i followed him.”
“Ugh, no, tell me things out of the ordinary.”
Sans rubbed his temples, worry lines on his skull. “um…we went to work this morning, he stopped for gas… we had lunch at a Mexican place, came home, got ready for a house party, went to that-“
“Hold up, party?”
Flowey flicked his nose. “Explain.”
“party, a gathering of people, usually a lot of music and food-“
“I know what a party is, moron, what happened at the party? Did Papyrus eat anything weird?”
“hey, leaf me alone.”
Flowey scowled and bared his teeth.
“he didn’t eat or drink anything i didn’t. he said he went to play pool while i was with some other people, put his drink on the windowsill with some others.”
“Oh! Somebody probably spiked his drink! That’s a relief.”
Sans stared, having a very different definition of “relief.”
“why would anyone do that?”
Flowey shrugged, content now that he figured out the mystery. “Humans do weird stuff. Maybe they were trying to spike their friend’s drink and got his by accident. My sibling knew a lot about this kinda stuff, the friggen nerd.”
“is he going to be okay??”
Sans’s mouth twitched into the closest he could manage to a frown.
“Probably, I don’t know. I’m not a doctor.”
Sans stood up and pulled his phone out of his pocket. “do you think he’s going to try and kill me again?”
“I mean I would, but he’s a much nicer person than I am. You’re probably safe-ish.”
“…alright then. thanks, bud. i'm gonna call someone to help me get him to… someone with a clue.”
Flowey saluted with a free vine. “Alright then, send me postcards when he gets better. Y’all have fun. “
He skittered off the roof while Sans called Toriel.
They had Papyrus recovering at home within the hour. He slept off the rest of his trip while Toriel tended to his wounds, Sans hovering nearby.
He didn’t wake until midnight.
Papyrus sat upright. “SANS!”
Papyrus flopped out of bed, tripped on his leg and shoved himself onto his knees. “SANS ARE YOU OKAY??”
“dude, get back in bed.”
“BUT ARE YOU OKAY?”
“yeah, yeah, i'm fine. bed.”
Sans hesitated for a moment before he helped Papyrus back onto the edge of the bed and tried to push him down. In response, Papyrus grabbed either side of Sans’s skull. He flinched back while Papyrus inspected him, turning is head around and eventually running a CHECK on his stats.
“i have no idea who theyare but nothing that happened before you woke up was real, ‘k?”
“no, it wasn’t real. someone must’ve slipped something into your drink at the party. now let me go.”
Papyrus complied, frowning and eyebrows drawn.
“…ARE YOU SURE YOU’RE OK?”
Sans sat down next to him. “a bit rattled, but i'm fine now that you’re back.”
“I’M SO SORRY.”
“it’s fine, not your fault.”
“I… I WASN’T TRYING TO HURT YOU. YOU KNOW THAT RIGHT? I’D NEVER EVER HURT YOU!”
Papyrus wrung his hands. “I WAS TRYING TO HELP.”
They could talk about this later… or just pretend it didn’t happen, whichever was easier. Sans patted Papyrus’s back and pushed him back into bed. He didn’t resist this time, just pulled the blankets closer.
“we’ll talk later, ‘k? just get some good rest.”
Papyrus nodded and pulled the sheets over his chin, exhaustion already pulling at his eyelids. Sans patted his skull and pulled the door to as he left, moonlight reflecting off the few inches of Papyrus’s exposed face. He mumbled something unintelligible and shifted, blending into the darkness of the room.
Sans didn’t sleep that night.