Sans was still like prey. Listening carefully for any danger, his eyes remained closed in a mock sleep as his back was supported by the cool wall of their cave. He had just woken up. Papyrus could be heard shuffling about their little hideout, the four-year-old humming energetically as he entertained himself with whatever fascinating objects he happened to find around their tiny home. All was safe and calm, the only sounds from the outside of their cave were the familiar echoes of water dripping from the cavern ceilings of Waterfall. Sans let his breathing fall back into a normal rhythm, his limbs relaxed back to how they had been under the spell of sleep.
“G’mornin’ Pap.” The older murmured as he cracked open an eyesocket. He was greeted by the soft, cool colors of blue light emitted by the Echo Flowers that grew within their little cave. Papyrus was sitting with a carefully balanced stack of rocks. The tiny skeleton flicked his gaze up from his home decorating.
“Good morning Sans!” Papyrus chirped, a bright smile on his face as he jumped up to his current height of three feet and rushed over to the side of the cave opposite of Sans. Snatching up something from the ground, Papyrus turned and quickly made his way over to his older brother who was starting to sit up straighter, seeming to struggle slightly in doing so. The younger held out his hands, offering a crab apple to Sans.
“Where’s yours?” The older questioned, eyeing the apple, but he didn’t make a move to take it. Papyrus was smaller and far more active, so he always had first pickings in Sans’ book. How many had they had left last night? He couldn’t remember, his mind felt fuzzier than usual; odd.
There was a slight delay, and if Sans wasn’t still groggy, he would’ve been suspicious, but Papyrus eventually answered. “You slept through mealtime, so I already had mine!” He brought the apple further forward, more adamant that Sans take it.
Blinking, Sans took the apple. “I did?” Papyrus nodded with a small sound of confirmation before turning on his heels to go continue mocking gravity with his decorative rock towers.
Sans murmured a ‘thank you’ which was immediately returned with a happy ‘you’re welcome!’ The older huffed in satisfaction and cleaned the slightly dusty apple on his raggedy, pale blue and white striped sweater. The fabric used to be much brighter. He took a bite out of the magic-filled fruit and immediately his mind felt clearer, but still not one-hundred percent. In fact, he still felt incredibly tired, but it was different . . . Somehow. Oh well. Maybe he practiced with magic too much yesterday. Speaking of . . . The eight-year-old dug into his pants pocket, still eating away at his breakfast as his phalanges tapped against a familiar metal object. He brought out a cheap brass pocket watch, pausing a minute to trace its not-so-intricate, but familiar designs. Sans opened it. 8:47 a.m. Wow, he did sleep in. Might as well just rest, then. Save energy for tomorrow’s magic practice. Plus—Sans looked over to the large, blue jacket on the ground where Papyrus had taken the last apple—he’s going to have to go out later to get more food. As always, his soul felt as if it constricted at the thought. It’s been almost a year, or at least he thinks it has been; and yet, despite having to go out for food every three to four days, every time the fear he felt of doing so was still just as fresh and sharp as it had been from the first time, maybe even worse. What if something finally goes wrong? Papyrus wouldn’t know where he would be. Would his little brother leave the safety of their cave to look for him by himself? Only to be found by some other monster—
Sans shook his head, his breathing had become shallower, faster. He shouldn’t think like that. It could affect his magic and make all those fears come true--
“Sans?” Papyrus’ voice brought Sans out of his thoughts, and the older held his breath as he looked over at the concerned face of the smaller monster. Papyrus had stopped sorting through his pile of various rocks and was simply staring and picking anxiously at the sleeves of his own blue and white-striped sweater. When his only guardian was scared, Papyrus didn’t feel safe, and all the small monster wanted to do now was to fix what the problem was. Sans was shaking; was he cold? He keeps looking at their cave’s entrance; did he hear a bad monster?
Sans didn’t want a repeat of past events. This has happened a few times before; Sans ended up scaring himself like a Temmie seeing their shadow for the first time, and Papyrus would do everything in his power to make the other happy again. Which would be fine, and really comforting for Sans to see that his brother was becoming a kind-souled, compassionate monster—like all skeletons should be—but Papyrus tended to ask a lot of questions. Questions to things Sans didn’t want to talk about, partly for himself, and partly for Papyrus. It seemed like his little brother had forgotten those chaotic and terrifying events from that day everything changed; and if Papyrus hadn’t understood enough of what happened to their family to remember, then it was for the best. Sans didn’t want to see that horrified, lost, and confused expression on the face of his now only family member. So he did his best to act as if nothing was wrong. Like how his father once did to soothe his children’s worries; though Sans didn’t realize this echoing of behavior.
“Yeah? Did you need something?” Sans gave his best reassuring smile.
Upon seeing the change in expression, Papyrus looked confused, but at least the visible tension in his bones relaxed. “Did you hear a person?”
With slight hesitation, Sans decided to go along with the other’s assumption. He shook his head ‘no.’ “Thought I did, but I think it was just a rock fallin’ down outside. We’re ok, Pap.” Papyrus still kept staring at Sans. The older, not really knowing how to continue, anxiously diverted his gaze to Papyrus’ newest rock tower. “Wow, that’s lookin’ good, is it almost done?”
At the acknowledgment, Papyrus’ eyes beamed; a drastic switch from their previous worry. “Yes! I’m gonna make more around the Echo Flowers too! They deserve to have decorations too because they help us see, so I’m going to give them something pretty to see as a present!”
“A present!” An echo flower nearby repeated.
“Something pretty.” Said another.
With a delighted gasp, Papyrus pointed excitedly for Sans to look at the flowers. “Sans! They do want a present!”
Letting out a soft, caring—but tired—laugh, Sans nodded. “That’s really nice of you, Pap. I’m sure they’ll love—”
“Echo Flowers.” Repeated a flower.
With an indignant noise, Papyrus looked over at the offender of social conduct. “Yes, I know you all are Echo Flowers!” Papyrus huffed at the outspoken flora. “And inter- er . . .” He struggled with the bigger word. “interrupting is rude!”
“Interrupting is rude!” It repeated.
“Yes! Now, wait your turn!” With that, Papyrus looked back at an amused Sans, silently telling him to continue.
But Sans really couldn’t think of anything to add to the conversation. “Uh, nothin-“
“Wait your turn.” The echo flower chimed in.
. . .
“No more apples, Sans!” Papyrus followed Sans as the taller slowly walked over to the blue jacket on the floor. “I want the donuts you got last time!” When Sans shook his head ‘no’ with an apologetic look, Papyrus let out a discontented huff. They both stayed in silence like that for a few moments while Papyrus gave him the stink eye. Then the smaller grasped at his own blue striped shirt and began to stretch it out of frustration. Sans gave him an unimpressed, warning look.
“Hey, Pap, don’t do that to your shirt. That’s how you ruined your orange one.”
Sans let out a tired sigh, but tried to maintain as much limited patience that a tired eight-year-old could hold. “Pap, please.”
The older groaned and dragged a hand over his face as the younger continued to use his ever-deteriorating shirt as blackmail. Papyrus was usually well-behaved, always happy with even the smallest things in life. Always making do with what little they had and improvising with his environment to surprise Sans. Heck, he was building those cool little towers out of the small rocks in their cave to ‘decorate’ their home . . . and mock gravity as the smaller had put it. He was smart for his age. To others, scarily so . . . but being Papyrus’ older brother, Sans would only feel pride and admiration. His brother would no doubt be amazing when he got older. An engineer, maybe? Sans took a quick, hopeful glance at his small stack of science magazines that sat across the cave. Scientist?
A small thud sounded as Papyrus threw himself to the ground.
Oh. Great. Ignoring him usually worked, but Papyrus wasn’t giving up. So, that meant . . . Sans glanced down at the jacket that once held the last crabapple. Papyrus said that there had been another one and he ate it. Sans had believed him, figuring he was just more tired than usual and hadn’t noticed that they had more food than what he initially thought. But . . . judging by the rare spectacle of a tantrum before him, Papyrus had lied. And for what? For all Sans acknowledged his brother’s intelligence, sometimes he just couldn’t understand the other’s logic. And he really didn’t want to deal with a hungry Papyrus . . .
“Pap, you know I was only able to get you those because that lady happened to have them . . .”
“I don’t know where the donuts are, Pap . . .”
“You know I’d get you anything if I could-“
“Then get them now!”
“But last time!”
“I just said-“ Sans gave up. “Okay. I’m gonna go and try to get you some sweets, alright? But only if you stop being upset and stand up . . .” He added extra emphasis by sharply pointing his index finger in an upwards motion.
The reaction was immediate, and Papyrus hopped up and squealed with delight. That was going to make Sans feel even more guilty later, but right now he was too exhausted to care. He had fallen back asleep shortly after Papyrus finished lecturing their echo flowers, but it was like it did nothing at all. His legs were wobbly as if he had just run from New Home to Waterfall and back. But they needed food, and he could rest more in some other hidden place when he got out of their cave.
“Yay! Thank you Sans!” Papyrus bounced around him. “Can I come with you this time, too?!”
“No, Pap.” His patience was slipping. How does his brother have so much energy? He faintly recalls being just as energetic before . . . A chill ran up his spine. He didn’t want to think about that. Not around Papyrus. “When you’re bigger I can show you how to get food, but for now, stay here.”
Papyrus deflated a bit, but perhaps the thought of getting something that deviated from their dull, everyday routine kept him from falling into another fit. Mission accomplished. Sans turned and snatched the large blue jacket off the ground with little enthusiasm. It was too big for either of them to wear, so they just used it occasionally as a bed or for gathering food. The taller skeleton carefully made his way to the entrance that led to the more abandoned tunnels of Waterfall. He began to angle himself sideways so he could slip through the narrow opening; however, fast, frantic footsteps that grew louder as they neared Sans made him stop and look over his shoulder. He only saw a flash of white before he was nearly tackled to the ground with a hug. Sans let out a startled breath as he just barely caught himself with his fatigued limbs. Frustration surged through his soul as his palm painfully scrapped against a sharper section of rock on the cavern wall, and the older skeleton was about to finally lose it and scold Papyrus for everything the younger had done within the past ten minutes—But . . . then he registered the anxiousness in the other’s tight grip. Hesitating, Sans felt his anger fade away. He could never stay mad at his little brother. They only had each other, after all.
“Make sure you come back!” Papyrus demanded.
“I’d never leave you alone if I could help it, Papyrus. Don’t worry.” Sans sighed, internally reprimanding himself for getting angry. He went to his knees and gave his younger brother a reassuring hug. Sans knew Papyrus hated being left alone, but it couldn’t be helped. The smaller always bore through his loneliness and fear with valor, something admirable for one so young. Sans didn’t know what he’d do without such a cool brother. He pulled away and rubbed the top of his brother’s skull with his hand. “I might be a little late, but keep your fingers crossed so I can find you something better to eat.”
Papyrus’ gaze narrowed, experienced enough with his older brother’s habits to notice how Sans tried to make loopholes for himself. “Donuts.”
Sans held up his hands in defeat. “Alright, alright, I’ll do my best to make sure that I find donuts. Nothing else.” It would still probably end up being something else. If anything at all because—
“Promise?” Wide, curious black eye sockets stared at Sans, testing him ever so slightly. Papyrus just never stopped pushing his limits, didn’t he? Like when an infant, learning about the world, keeps dropping its food plate to the ground to make sure it will indeed fall to the floor, much to the parent’s despair.
“Papyrus . . .” Sans raised a brow in a small warning. “You know the rule.” The day Papyrus had figured out the concepts of debts and blackmail was a time when everyone quickly learned you should never promise anything to a child that knew how to guilt-trip.
He got a nod and a pout in response.
“Okay, be good. I’ll be back later. Love ya bro.” With that, he took his hand away and began the painstaking process of shimming himself through the long, narrow opening. He usually opted to just teleport to the other side, but he was still feeling too weary, and Sans knew his magic wouldn’t be as reliable.
“Love you Sans! Good luck!” Papyrus called out as Sans began tiredly trudging down the tunnel.
He went down the abandoned, dim path for a little while before stopping as he spotted a suitable little niche in the wall, waterfall grass and budding echo flowers were growing against the walls in this section. The thicket would keep him considerably hidden from any rare passersby. Hardly anyone came down this darker, more cramped part of Waterfall. It was why he treasured the cave they had managed to find back here so much. He laid the jacket on the ground and huddled into the crevice. Digging into his pants pocket, he drew out the small pocket watch he had kept close to him for the past almost-year. Sans pondered briefly on how he should start marking the days. 4:12pm. He had about two hours before he could go to the turtle’s shop. Sans put the watch back into his pocket before letting his eyes fall shut.
Sleep came all too quickly.