Actions

Work Header

Dirty Laundry

Chapter Text

You’re being watched.

You weren’t sure at first—Don’t be stupid. What are you thinking? Why would anyone be watching you?—but as little sense as it makes, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that’s exactly what’s happening.

He hasn’t done anything the entire time he’s been here.

He looks down every time you glance over, seemingly engrossed in something on his phone, but you see him raise his head again in your peripheral vision and know without a doubt that it’s fake.

He’s watching you, this strange man you’ve never seen before, and you can’t figure out what he could possibly want.

What was so fascinating about a girl in ugly old sweats doing her laundry?

You ignore the stare you feel burning a hole in the side of your head for a moment and take a good hard look at your clothes, tumbling around in the dryer.

There’s not even any underthings in there—you wash those at home, in the sink—so it’s not like he has any lacy bras to perv over…

Not that you think this particular guy would do that.

Say what you will about their ‘violent’ reputation, but you’d never once been harassed that way by a monster.

In fact, monsters had been on their best behavior for years. Whatever they’d been like Underground, as warlike as their day-to-day had supposedly been, that had all come to a screeching halt when they’d surfaced.

Any given monster off the street these days was probably more of a law-abiding citizen than half the human population and that…

…wasn’t too much of a surprise, actually.

If you were a monster, you don’t think you’d want to defy one of the terrifying Empress Toriel’s edicts, either, even if it was to integrate peacefully into the society of the people whose forefathers had trapped your whole species in a subterranean prison.

But that was the past.

Monsters and humans are working together now, towards a mutually beneficial coexistence.

It’s ongoing work, the very definition of a work-in-progress, with expected tension and disagreements from both sides, but all things considered it seems to be going…pretty well.

Monsters are slowly sharing their knowledge of magic and their impressive technological breakthroughs, and humans are offering their guidelines for building a more peaceful society. As intimidating and battle-scarred as your new nonhuman neighbors almost uniformly are, that’s something that many of them seem to genuinely want.

Which is why it’s so weird that this skeleton is staring daggers at you in a public laundromat like he wants to make you an exception to the Play By The Rules decree set forth by his monarch.

Come on, you hiss at yourself in your own head, don’t be…you’re smarter than this. Back up and think it through for once!

Okay.

So.

The skeleton.

You turn your head, trying to seem like you’re just casually looking over. Like every time before, his skull ducks down to ‘look at his phone,’ giving you plenty of opportunity to observe your unsubtle stalker.

He’s tall, at least a head taller than you, but between his slouching posture and being all the way across the room it’s hard to tell for sure. He seems lanky, even for a skeleton, and his baggy hoodie and ripped, paint-splattered jeans do very little to add to his bulk.

Not for the first time, your eyes fall on the overstuffed bag by his feet, ostensibly full of ‘laundry’ but this guy had been here since you came in—at least an hour ago—without so much as a sock tossed in a machine.

He hadn’t done anything, didn’t even have his own detergent with him to actually look like he was just a regular customer, nothing to see here…

Whoever this guy was, he was awful at selling this laundry ruse.

The skeleton shifts at about the same moment you realize you’ve probably been looking at him for too long. You start to turn again, not wanting to catch his eye(-socket?) and start a confrontation, when out of the corner of your eye, you see it.

A flash of color: a soft, pretty shade of violet spreading across his cheekbones.

You had no idea skeletons could blush.

Your eyes are back on the guy in an instant and he looks all too aware of your gaze. It seems like the shoe is on the other foot now, but you don’t bother to appreciate the irony.

Suddenly, you’re looking a lot closer, even as an inexplicable drop of sweat beads along his skull.

In spite of the hunched shoulders and the pointed avoidance of eye-contact, there’s a very particular vibe to this skeleton. You don’t know how you didn’t see it before, but now that you’re actually paying attention…

He looks anxious beneath your stare; nervous and desperate and…maybe even a little lost?

It’s certainly not the spooky vibe you’d thought you’d been getting before and you’re not sure what to make of it.

Until you take one more glance at his bag—still overly full, with no detergent or fabric softener or rolls of quarters in sight to accompany it.

That’s all it takes to make it click in your head.

The ‘laundry’… it wasn’t a flimsy pretense at all; some half-baked excuse to lurk around and creep on random girls.

In this moment, right now, this skeleton looks like nothing so much as a clueless college kid dumped out into the world on his own for the very first time, dazed and confused and too scared to actually ask anybody for help.

And you just happened to be the only person in his direct line of sight to ‘discreetly’ observe.

See?

You are smart when you actually think things through!

…And you’re also not the type of person that can just stand by when you know somebody else is struggling.

You turn back to your own laundry and see the skeleton sag a little in your periphery—probably relieved you’d stopped staring at him—but he doesn’t move from his vantage point, or stop staring at you the second he thought he was in the clear.

You’re fine with it.

You let him watch you wait out the dryer cycle. You let him watch you dig out all your clothes and plop them onto a table. You let him watch you sort and fold and pack them away neatly in your bag so they wouldn’t be too wrinkly by the time you got them home and properly put away.

And then you grab your bag and your stuff and head right on over to him.

His eye-sockets go wide as soon as he realizes what you’re doing.

Up close, you can see two little lights in them, the same purple color his skull had turned before, and that one of his canines is just a shiny gold replica of the other. Under the buzzing fluorescent lights, it gleams the same as the bone-shaped tag on the black leather collar he has hanging loosely from his vertebrae.

You think that it looks kind of like a dog-collar…but all the spikes and collars of monster fashion have always seemed a little odd to you and you’ve always reasoned the reverse is probably true of monsters looking at human fashion.

Who are you to judge?

“Hey,” you say, putting on your friendliest smile.

Before you can get so much as another word out, though…

“sorry!” the skeleton blurts out. “i’m sorry, i didn’t… i know i was……but i didn’t mean to, uh…… i, i wasn’t…t-tryin’ to………”

…Oh, stars above.

You realize quickly that this guy is legitimately intimidated right now—by little ol’ you—and you have to bite back a surprised laugh.

And an instant burst of pure endearment.

“First time at a laundromat?” you guess with a poorly restrained smirk, and the skeleton freezes like a deer in the headlights.

He’s quiet for a beat…but then slowly, a sheepish grin comes across his skull.

“…heh. nyeheheheh, ah jeez…” He reaches up, rubbing awkwardly at the back of his neck. “m’i that obvious…?”

“N…no,” you attempt to assure him, but you’re not the best liar if the faint shade of purple that comes back across the guy’s cheekbones is any indication.

Hastily, you change the subject and introduce yourself, holding out your hand.

He stares at it for a moment, like he has no idea what to do with it—suddenly, you can’t remember if handshakes are a thing monsters do or not—but eventually, he takes your hand in his claws for a careful shake.

“papyrus,” he says. And then, after another second, “i really…didn’t mean to stare…at you. i just… you seemed like you…knew what you were doin’…?”

You nearly laugh again: you, seeming competent?

Psh, that’s a first…

But, “Not my first rodeo,” you agree. “Do you, uh…maybe want some actual pointers, or help, or…?”

Papyrus takes a second to figure out what you mean, not really seeming to get it until you gesture down at his own bag of laundry.

“oh. oh, no,” he says quickly, “i don’t… i only brought that…in case… but i don’t! heh, i don’t actually…have anything, yet…?” Like everything you’d already noticed he was missing, you guess. “i’ll just, uh…be more…prepared when i… next time. y’know.”

………

Was he for real?

Was Papyrus actually planning on lugging that bag of dirty clothes all the way home and back again when he had actual supplies?

To…what? Avoid inconveniencing you?

That was…really dumb.

And relatable.

And even, in the weirdest way possible…kinda gentlemanly?

You may’ve just met him, but you feel like Papyrus isn’t the sort of guy who should get left hanging. You don’t want to leave him hanging.

You think he deserves to see a little of that good old-fashioned human kindness your species is always bragging about.

Which is probably why you shove your jug of detergent into his chest and, when his hands are full, snag his laundry bag out from under him.

“Nah,” you say decisively, heading over to an open machine. “I’m gonna help. You’re gonna learn some laundry.”

He sputters, offering up a half-hearted protest or two, but ultimately Papyrus is no match for your sheer force of will: he quickly caves and allows you to show him the ropes, this time from up close.

He’s more attentive than you expect, seeming to hang on your every word as you explain all the things that had tripped you up your first few times: picking the right cycles, not overloading the machines, the difference between how much soap you were advised to use and how much you actually, probably needed

Papyrus takes all this information in quietly, as utterly focused as you’ve ever seen anyone be.

With such a serious expression on his skull, dead-silent and looming just over your shoulder, you don’t feel quite so bad for your misconception before.

He is pretty spooky-looking… but when you tell him about your first time really screwing up the detergent levels and all the overflowing suds that had ensued and he laughs with that unassuming little ‘nyeheheh’ of his, it’s impossible to think of him as ‘scary.’

Papyrus may be awkward and quiet and…maybe even a little weird? But he’s not scary and you feel a profound sense of satisfaction deep down in your soul for being able to help him out!

(Your wallet isn’t as happy about your good deed for the day. With your…situation…being what it is, you can’t be entirely guilt-free about any charitable act that involves lost quarters, lost soap, lost time…)

(But your wallet can shove it—the relieved, beaming grin Papyrus gives you over his clean, neatly folded laundry is worth its weight in gold.)

“you’re a lifesaver,” he says, like he genuinely means it. “thanks.”

“Don’t mention it,” you reply, meaning it just as much. “Glad to help you figure it out! It, uh…ha, it seems like you were past due for it.”

Papyrus must know exactly what you mean—he had a lot of laundry to do, with a lot of weird stains, and he picks at a ratty sweater with those sharp claws of his while that purple blush colors his cheekbones again.

“uh…y…yeah,” he mutters, bashful. “i, uh…thanks. y’know. again.”

Stars, he’s cute.

But you know damn well you don’t have room in your life for that right now.

“Seriously, don’t mention it, happy to help!”

You start to gather your things, hefting your own bag of laundry up over your shoulder.

Papyrus frowns.

“…you’re leavin’?”

“Yep, gotta get home eventually.” You pause, eyeing his pile of clothes, and teasingly add, “Unless you don’t know how to get those back into your bag all by yourself?”

That makes Papyrus snort and laugh, shaking his head with good humor.

“nah,” he says, “i’m…i got it from here, don’t…don’t worry ‘bout me.”

But before you can start to go, a look flits across his skull, one you can’t even begin to place.

“hey. uh…” Pointedly avoiding your curious gaze, Papyrus says quite firmly, “don’t worry. you’re gonna be fine.”

…Well, that makes you frown.

“O…kay?”

You…really don’t know what to say to that. Aside from, ‘yeah, I sure hope so???’

You err on the side of not acknowledging it at all.

“I’ll…see you around, Papyrus. Good luck with your packing…?”

“yeah, thanks. see ya’.”

You really wish you knew what that look meant…but it doesn’t seem directed at you, or anyone unless his laundry had suddenly developed enough sentience to become exasperating…

So, with a jingle of the door, you head out of the laundromat, finally on your way back home.

But you can’t stop thinking about what Papyrus said.

‘you’re gonna be fine.’

What did that mean?

He hadn’t said it with any ill intent, none that you could hear, at least.

It had even sounded…reassuring? In a slightly ominous kinda way…

Maybe it’s a monster saying?

That…sorta made sense? A quick vote of confidence for somebody before they left your sight, out into a dangerous world where ‘fine’ couldn’t be guaranteed, that could pretty easily be a part of monster etiquette.

Especially if the person had just done something nice for you.

…Yeah.

Yeah, that was probably it!

You deliberately shake yourself of the weird feeling, deciding not to dwell on the negative.

How could you when even mired in the urban metropolis that was Ebott, you had such a gorgeous evening to enjoy?

Not quite dusk, the sun still shines above the streets you walk, pleasantly complementing the stunningly mild weather of the day. The foot traffic around you is far from heavy, just a handful of passersby here and there busy with their own lives and paying no mind to you or anyone else around them.

In the distance stands the majestic, snow-capped peak of Ebott, the city’s namesake…or maybe the namesake of the city? You’re not exactly up to date on the lore and you have no idea which of the things got its name first.

You’d learn though, you decided happily, and until then, you could just appreciate the stunning mountain for what it was— in spite of the long and mixed history attached to it.

…Although maybe you should appreciate it a little less while you’re walking.

Your inattention—because what else could it be?— has you completely missing the person you carelessly check shoulders with.

You stumble, losing your grip on your bag and fumbling for it even as automatic apologies start to fall from your lips.

“Oh stars, I’m so sorry,” you say to the poor stranger, grimacing at yourself. “I wasn’t looking where I was going, I………”

You trail off, at an abrupt loss for words.

The man—the skeleton you just bumped into seems to have no such issue.

“OH, NONSENSE, MISS,” he says, his gloved hands straightening you with ease. “I WASN’T, EITHER. NO HARM DONE.”

You continue to find yourself speechless for a moment, staring at the monster before you.

This skeleton was just barely taller than you, with broad shoulders and a voice much deeper than you’d expected. He was dressed mostly in black with a splash of color in the plum scarf around his neck, but none of that held your attention quite so much as…

You hadn’t been able to see the lights in Papyrus’ eye-sockets until you’d gotten close. You’re pretty close to this skeleton, too, but you know instantly that there’s no possible comparison to the dim, little pips Papyrus had quietly watched you with.

Even from a mile away, you’d be able to see this skeleton’s eye-lights: huge and neon, electric purple blazing against the black of his sockets above a wide, sharp grin.

His gaze is intense. His smile unsettles you. You have no idea why.

You decide you don’t need to know why.

Grabbing your things, you apologize again, making to move around him when…

“LAUNDRY DAY…?”

“Huh?” He helpfully points one sharp, gloved claw at your bag and your manners kick in. “Oh! Hah, yeah, gotta…gotta get it done sometime.”

“DON’T WE ALL,” he muses, his grin so perfectly pleasant that you start to return it. “I’M SURE YOU WERE VERY HELPFUL.”

The smile drops from your face.

“What?”

The skeleton blinks at you, as if startled by your surprise. “OH, NO OFFENSE MEANT, OF COURSE,” he says. “YOU SIMPLY SEEM THE TYPE.”

“The…the ‘type’?”

“TO HELP PEOPLE,” he explains. “TO LEND A HAND OR MAYBE A FEW QUARTERS OUT OF…WHAT?” He pauses to squint at you, like he’s searching your face for something, and whatever he finds tilts his smile into a smirk. “THE GOODNESS OF YOUR HEART? WITHOUT EXPECTING ANYTHING IN RETURN?”

Your heart skips a beat.

What the hell?

Was he there?

Was he watching you?

Did…did he know Papyrus or something…?

But before you can even ask the speciesist? question, he laughs.

“THAT’S SO NICE OF YOU,” he chuckles. “REALLY, THE WORLD COULD USE MORE PEOPLE LIKE YOU.”

You…don’t know what to say.

And somehow, you find yourself really not liking the direction of this conversation.

“I’m… I have to…get this home now, so…uh…”

Surprising you again, the skeleton waves you off.

“YES, OF COURSE. SORRY TO HOLD YOU UP, MISS.”

He lets you edge past him and an odd feeling of relief hits you, like your soul was just let loose from a vice. For a second there, you thought… you didn’t think he’d let you pass and you had no earthly idea what your next move would’ve been.

You don’t make it more than three steps down the sidewalk before you hear his voice again, though.

“OH, MISS!” he calls and you reluctantly turn on your heel. “IS THIS YOURS?”

Your jaw nearly hits the pavement when you see the thing he holds up to you— your wristlet, with your phone and your keys and all your cards..!

Thoughtlessly, you lash out, snatching it back.

“Where… How…?!” you stammer, torn between confused and upset, but the skeleton just keeps calmly grinning that eerie grin at you.

“YOU MUST’VE DROPPED IT,” he tells you patiently. “NOT TO WORRY. IT HAPPENS ALL THE TIME.”

You almost could’ve believed that.

If not for the way he leaned in, ever so slightly, his bright eyes going empty—pitch-black above that insistent shark-smile.

“YOU SHOULD BE CAREFUL.”

Your stomach drops.

It feels like your heart is going a mile a minute and suddenly, there is nothing more important to you than going home right now.

“I…I’m…gonna go,” you manage to eke out through your tight throat, taking a few unsteady steps backward.

The skeleton seems to find this an agreeable proposition. His smile seems a touch less menacing and his eye-lights are back as he says, with all the pleasantness in the world, “OF COURSE. HAVE A LOVELY NIGHT, MISS…”

You turn and start walking.

Quickly.

And if you work up the courage to look back after a few steps only to find the strange skeleton gone, like he was never even there, how much faster you walk after that is nobody’s business but your own.

You make it home to your little apartment just as darkness finally falls. You shut your door and bolt all the locks behind you and you go straight to your bedroom to put away all your clean clothes.

By the time you’re tucking the last of your socks into a drawer, you’ve managed to calm down a little.

At the very least, you don’t feel like you’re being watched anymore; followed by gleaming, phantom eyes lurking after you in the dark.

You’re not being watched.

…You’re…pretty sure of that…

Chapter Text

bro: WHY ARE YOU AT THE LAUNDROMAT AGAIN?

me: why do you know i’m at the laundromat

bro: SHUT UP, THAT’S HOW I KNOW!

bro: YOU’VE BEEN THERE THREE TIMES THIS WEEK AND IT’S WEDNESDAY, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?

me: smart guess would be laundry

bro: WE BOTH KNOW THAT’S NOT IT.

me: you gonna admit how you know that for sure?

………

me: i’m waitin

bro: I DON’T NEED THE SASS, PAPYRUS.

bro: IF YOU’RE REALLY DOING ‘LAUNDRY’ THEN YOU’RE WASTING MONEY, THE MACHINES AT HOME ARE FREE!

me: you cuttin me off?

bro: OF COURSE NOT.

me: then i think that means ‘mind your business, sans’

………

bro: TEXT ME WHEN YOU GET BACK TO THE APARTMENT.

Read: 12:37 PM

-

You’re having a pretty okay week, all things considered.

You’re working too much and not sleeping enough and looking at the numbers in your bank account never seems to be a pleasant experience but none of that is anything new.

Rough patch or no rough patch, you’ll get through life like you always have: staying true to yourself and doing your best.

And your biggest hurdle of the afternoon is your hideously stained shirt.

Of course it would happen to your work clothes, and of course it would be the precise one you needed to wear tomorrow, and of course no amount of sink-washing or detergent-stick-scribbling was making the blotch budge.

It needed a real wash, in the washing machine that you don’t have.

So, it’s back to the laundromat for you.

You had almost managed to forget about your last meeting with a monster entirely but something about the familiar scene seems to jog your memory.

…Perhaps it’s the voice you hear calling your name not five steps into the place, or the tall smiling skeleton it’d come from happily ambling over to greet you.

Papyrus’ handsome skull is a hard one to forget and you find yourself smiling and greeting him back.

Even as another, less friendly skull flickers through your memory, too.

“Hi, Papyrus!” you say, making your way to the first available machine you see. “How’ve you been?”

“ah, you know, same ol’ same old,” Papyrus shrugs, but his tone is light enough that you take it to mean things are going okay enough. “an’ you?”

You can’t help but let out a huff.

“Could be better,” you grumble. You show him the balled up shirt in your fist and the giant dried-on stain that’d stuck through everything you could throw at it at home. “Apparently, I’m a dumbass—look at this!”

Papyrus sucks a sympathetic breath in through his teeth. “oof, that’s…yeah.”

“And of course, I gotta fix it tonight, so here I am.”

You toss the shirt in, perhaps a touch petulantly, along with everything you’d worn for the past week for so much as an hour because if you were going to shell out for another wash-and-dry cycle, you’d be damned if you’d be paying to clean just one shirt.

You pour as much heavy-duty detergent into the machine after it as you think you can safely get away with and try not to slam the door shut.

You sigh and turn to Papyrus, admitting the part of it all that galls you the most. “The really dumb part is, I don’t even know what it is.”

“chocolate.”

The response comes so immediately that you have to pause, just to process that you’d heard it.

“What?”

“chocolate,” Papyrus says again, with great confidence. “i’ve fallen asleep in it enough to know what it looks like by now.

“…What?

Papyrus’ expression drops a little as he realizes your utter bafflement.

“i mean, like… y’know, when you…leave it on your bed an’…fall asleep on top of it?” he tries to explain. “an’ then, it…it melts, ‘cause…y’know, ch-chocolate…?”

You do not know.

Papyrus starts to look a little nervous.

“or like…when you! leave it in your…pocket?” he tries again. “is that…that’s a thing…that people do, right? that’s not, uh…that’s not weird, like…like the other thing, right???”

The suddenly desperate look on his face is what clinches it for you.

You laugh.

“Stars above,” you wheeze, utterly delighted. “Papyrus, you’re a mess!”

Your laughter seems to come as a relief for your skeleton acquaintance. He lets out a whoosh of breath, slumping a little before hesitantly laughing a little bit with you.

“nyeheheheh, i, uh…yeah,” he confesses, smiling bashfully. “that’s…yeah, uh…pretty much…”

“Hey,” you assure him, “at least you can own up to it. I think everyone’s kind of a disaster, in their own way—if there’s somebody out there with all their shit together, I haven’t met them yet!”

This does seem to reassure Papyrus.

A lot more than you thought it would, actually: he perks right up, his smile becoming a touch more natural, and it’s a very good look on him.

You’re glad.

“Is…” You have to take a second, restraining a snicker before wondering, “Are you here because of chocolate, too, then?”

“uh… well…”

You glance down and almost do a double-take when you don’t see the marmalade-orange laundry bag you’d expected to see at Papyrus’ feet.

It had been a pretty distinctive color, though, so you’re positive you’ll see it as you look around the laundromat for the spot he’d set himself up to wait for his machines to finish.

You don’t.

There isn’t a single unattended, running machine or bag in the place, and certainly no colors as eye-catching as the one you were looking for.

And Papyrus is starting to look nervous again.

“…Did you forget the laundry at home today, or…?”

He only gives you one awkward ‘heh’ in response to your half-hearted attempt at a joke.

“nah, i, uh…m’not…doin’ laundry today…?” he says, like it’s a question. “just, uh…hangin’ out…a little bit…”

“Hanging out,” you echo dubiously.

“y…yeah. laundromats’re…y’see, they’re, um…real…good places to…to………”

Papyrus seems to realize you’re not buying what he’s selling.

His next words come quickly, on the heels of a wince like it’s painful for him to say.

“okay, actually, i was kinda hopin’ to catch you again ‘cause i… i hadda question…”

You don’t think you react at all for a solid fifteen seconds.

“Are… So you’re saying… You showed up here…at this random laundromat you saw me at one time…on the off chance I might show up again?” And then, to clarify, “After I literally just did all my laundry a week ago?”

“………”

Papyrus’ skull goes more purple than you’ve ever seen it.

“…jeez,” he mutters eventually, “when, uh…when ya’ put it that way, it just sounds stupid… a-an’ creepy…”

He makes a noise—pure, distilled frustration and self-loathing if you’ve ever heard it—and smacks a hand over his face like he doesn’t even want you to look at him.

“i’m sorry,” he groans. “m’sorry, you’re, you’re totally right, i, that was… oh stars, i’ll go, i’ll leave, just—”

“Pfft, hahahaha!”

Papyrus seems very surprised to see you laughing again and…maybe you shouldn’t be? Maybe you should be a little creeped out right now, to know that this skeleton had been looking for you, but…

It’s also kind of hilarious?

It reminds you a little of a dog regularly inspecting a bush he once miraculously found a pie in—completely unlikely and unrealistically naïve, yet endearing in the dumbest way possible.

You imagine Papyrus loitering around the laundromat, a big skeleton trying to look casual instead of scary and hoping to catch a glimpse of you—because he had a question he wanted to ask you, of all the silly things.

It’s too goofy.

You can’t ascribe any kind of sinister motive to that, not coming from this guy.

“Oh man, ’Rus,” you giggle. “You are too much!”

You’re too busy laughing to catch the look Papyrus gives you, which is a shame.

You’d have definitely thought the way his eye-lights practically twinkled at you when you gave him a nickname was adorable.

Eventually, though, you catch your breath—at least enough to ask, “Alright, well… you lucked out, here I am: what was your question? And why couldn’t you just google it to save yourself the trouble?”

“uh……uh, well,” he hesitantly begins. “see, uh, after you…helped me with the…y’know. i thought… i mean, i realized? that, uh………there’s…there’s a lot of stuff i don’t really… like! if a zipper broke or, i dunno, a button fell offa somethin’, i don’t…y’know, i have no clue how to fix it…”

Papyrus shifts a little, from foot to foot.

“an’ it’s not just…that? either? it’s, y’know, it’s what i… it’s a lot of stuff an’ i don’t really know…what m’doin’…? never…never had to know before, but i wanna, an’ you seem like…like…”

Papyrus’ own words come back to you, from your first meeting. “Someone who knows what they’re doing?” you guess.

You chuckle a little as he straightens up, happily nodding, “yeah!” like you’d just read his mind.

You… do think you understand what he’s getting at, but just to be sure…

“So, you want me to…what? Show you how to do stuff? Like, heh, like an Adulting Tutor or something?”

Papyrus nods a little more vigorously, with an even more insistent, “yeah!”

You laugh again, shaking your head.

“Okay, that…that just brings me back to my second question: how come you can’t google?” In case he may not have discovered the wonders on his own, you point out that, “The internet is overflowing with guides and tutorials for everything. You don’t need an actual person for that stuff…”

Your very helpful tip, however, just seems to make him droop.

“i……tried those,” he says slowly, reluctantly. “they, uh…i don’t…… they don’t…work. f-for me, i mean.”

You frown. “What do you mean, ‘they don’t work’?”

Papyrus ducks down a little further and you have the utterly regrettable feeling of having chastised him.

“m’not…good at ‘em. i try to…to pay attention? but i usually just tune out, or…or forget everything they said as soon as i, y’know, actually try the thing. i dunno… i dunno why, a-an’ i’m even worse at the whole…the multitaskin’ thing? s-so doin’ it at the same time doesn’t…really work, either………”

Well.

That made you feel kinda terrible.

You were pretty decent at focusing when you had to, but of course not everybody could be!

But the unpleasant lump of guilt forming in your stomach at Papyrus’ mortified expression is quickly whisked away when he meets your eyes again, looking hopeful.

“but! it wasn’t like that with you,” he says eagerly. “you explained it really well, an’ it stuck when you left. i still remember the stuff you said about the soap a-an’ bein’ careful not to put too much stuff in, i remember it, an’ i didn’t get all turned around, or stressed out, or feel like you were judgin’ me or i was buggin’ you or something…”

Papyrus’ teeth click shut and a blush comes back over his cheekbones. You have the distinct feeling that at least some part of that, he hadn’t meant to say out loud.

But after a moment, he sticks to his guns.

“i feel like…it’d be good,” he says, “if you showed me stuff. …or it…it could be, if you were…y’know, c-cool with it…? i get it, if it’s…if it’s weird, or you don’t wanna, that’s, it’s fine, seriously…”

…Oh no.

Oh no, Papyrus is cute, like the biggest, spookiest puppy of a man you’ve ever seen.

Even the small violet lights in his eye-sockets look bigger, like real, actual puppy-dog eyes trying to plead with you.

But suddenly…

You’re reminded of another pair of big, purple eye-lights; the way they’d stared at you so intensely before snuffing out to pure black.

They’d felt like a threat and even just remembering them now makes you feel a tiny little thrill of fear in your chest.

You have to say something.

“Hey… Papyrus, uh…” You pause, trying to find the right words. You’re still not entirely sure yourself what had happened that day, and explaining it is an even more daunting task than sorting it out for yourself. “Look, there…the other day, there was… a guy? A…a skeleton…”

It’s like a storm cloud suddenly passes over Papyrus’ face.

“i knew it,” you hear him hiss, and…

“Wait…so, you do know the guy?!”

Papyrus grimaces.

“uh…yyeeaahh,” he says slowly, reluctantly. “look, he didn’t… did he do anything to you? you…you’re okay, right?”

In lieu of answering that, you find yourself asking another question.

“Who is he?” you demand to know. “How do you know…him?!”

It seems an utterly unapproachable concept to you right now.

Papyrus and the stranger were both skeletons, to be sure, but… for cute, goofy, harmless Papyrus to have anything to do with that creepy, scary guy who’d terrified you on the sidewalk just did not compute in your brain!

Which is probably why Papyrus’ next words stun you silent.

“he’s…sans. an’ he’s my brother.”

You weigh your next words carefully, taking the time to process this bizarre information.

You hope to come up with something civil and reserved to say in response…but what you come up with instead is, “Yikes…”

And then, after a beat, “Is ‘big yikes’ inappropriate?”

Thankfully, Papyrus only sighs at your assessment.

“no,” he assures you, sounding tired. “that’s about right. i’m real sorry about……whatever he said. if it makes you feel any better, he was… he was probably just tryin’ to rattle you a little.”

“Mission accomplished,” you say emphatically, because you had certainly been rattled! You almost pulled a muscle speed-walking home as fast as you did, and you must’ve checked your wristlet ten times over just to make sure nothing had actually been taken!

This ‘Sans’ guy… if he had scared you that badly just for talking to his brother one time, you really didn’t think you wanted to find out what he’d do if you were to hang out!

Papyrus must see some indication of your thoughts on your face.

His shoulders tense, eyes widening as his hands come up into the classic, ‘hold on!’ position.

“no, but…hey,” he says, smiling at you painfully awkwardly. “i-i told ya’, didn’t i? i said that you’d be fine? a-and you were! so! don’t, uh… just…forget about him…right???”

…Papyrus knew.

Papyrus knew, even before you left his sight, that his brother was probably going to come after you.

How crazy was Sans for stalking and intimidation to be something predictable?!

“I…I don’t know,” you say, frowning deeply. “Look, Papyrus, you’re… I just…don’t really know how comfortable I am here if—”

“wait, wait, wait, wait, don’t!” Cutting you off before you can make any kind of definitive statement, Papyrus moves faster than you’ve ever seen him move, whipping out a scrap of paper and scribbling something down onto it. “okay, just…wait, you…ya’ don’t have to answer right now! that’s fine, it’s cool, i get it, just, um… take this? and…and think about it? m…maybe?”

The slip he holds out to you is unmistakably a phone number—his, you presume.

You eye it for a good long moment…and can’t help but notice Papyrus’ body language while you do.

He’s pointedly not in your space right now. He’s holding the number between his thumb and index finger, easy for you to snatch away from him without coming any closer, and that respectfully-distant hand is the closest part of him anywhere near you.

Not to mention the fact that he’s offering his number instead of demanding yours, leaving the choice up to you.

As little as you guessed his brother understood boundaries, Papyrus seemed very aware of them, a good enough guy to respect your space and your situation even when he really, obviously wants to push you for more.

Even with his eye-lights pinprick-small and anxious sweat beading along the side of his skull, like hearing a hard ‘no’ out of you right now might break his heart.

You…

You take the paper.

“…Okay,” you decide, because thinking about it doesn’t feel like a promise too far; isn’t asking too much of you.

Papyrus’ relief is palpable and he thanks you before leaving you alone in the laundromat to finish your wash cycle—more resigned, respectful deference that makes you feel…terrible because of what you’re pretty sure your answer is going to have to be.

And if that answer is something Papyrus doesn’t want to hear; something he won’t respect, well, then…

You can easily find yourself a new laundromat.

What’s one more fresh start on top of all the others, anyway?

-

me: what did you do

bro: OH, SO YOU CAN LEAVE ME ON READ UNTIL YOU WANT TO ACCUSE ME OF THINGS?

me: don’t play dumb, sans, what did you say to her

ass: I DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT.

ass: ‘HER,’ DO YOU HAVE A NEW HUMAN FRIEND? THAT’S GREAT.

me: you don’t like humans

ass: I DON’T LIKE ANYONE, HUMANS ARE NO EXCEPTION.

ass: THEY ALWAYS HAVE SOME AGENDA, JUST LIKE EVERYONE ELSE!

ass: YOU CAN’T JUST TRUST EVERYBODY YOU MEET, PAPYRUS, YOU KNOW THAT, DON’T YOU?

me: i’m not trusting everybody i meet, i’m trusting one human girl

me: if you haven’t already screwed that up

me: i have to start somewhere, okay? not everybody in the entire world is out to get me, you’re being ridiculous

ass: YOU’RE BEING NAÏVE.

me: i don’t wanna get into this right now. just…leave her alone, alright? back off and stay out of this, for once

………

ass: FINE.

me: why do i doubt that sooo much

-

You give it a week.

That feels like a reasonable amount of time for you to mull over everything; giving Papyrus’ proposal all due consideration and sorting out your feelings on the matter.

The flashes of black and purple you’ve been seeing in your periphery all week, though—real or only imagined—have left you feeling edgy and paranoid and you can only see one answer to give.

You contemplate ghosting Papyrus entirely but the thought leaves a sour taste in your mouth. Whatever his brother…may or may not be up to…Papyrus had been nothing but kind and respectful to you and he deserved your honesty.

Taking a deep breath, you dial his number and call him.

He……takes a very long time to answer.

Disaster you know him to be, you have the hilarious mental image of him fumbling around for his phone.

You try not to think about how you’re not going to find out how much more of a disaster he really could be, once you got to know him.

“…’llo?” you hear eventually, and that’s your cue.

“Hey, Papyrus, it’s me.”

You don’t have to elaborate any further. He says your name, sounding painfully excited to hear from you.

You hate this already…

“I thought about it,” you tell him, not wanting to waste any time. Like a bandaid, you think as you just come right out and tell him your conclusion: “I like you. You seem like a really nice guy and I hope you find somebody to help you out, but I just… I don’t think it can be me. Your brother… he…really rattled me, and if that’s… If that’s just the appetizer for how he’s gonna be if we actually spend any time together, I really don’t think I feel comfortable going forward here. I’m sorry.”

“………”

The silence on the other end drags on long enough that you have to ask.

“Papyrus…?”

“…yeah, i’m…i’m still here.”

You can’t tell if it’s your connection or if there’s a new hoarse quality to your almost-a-friend’s voice. You do your best to ignore it.

“Are you…okay?” you have to ask. “I… I’m sure this isn’t what you wanted to hear…”

“uh, heheh…no, it, um…it’s not…ideal…”

“I’m sorry,” you say again, and you really do mean it. You’re probably at least half as disappointed by this as Papyrus is, all things considered.

Under different circumstances, a new friend in a barely-familiar city is something you’d have jumped on.

Especially considering that he might’ve actually been your very first one here.

“…don’t…don’t be sorry,” Papyrus says, sounding all too resigned. “i get it. gotta…gotta look out for yourself, that’s…y’don’t have to be sorry for that.”

………

In a way, you think you wish he wasn’t taking this so well.

At least if he were being a jerk and refusing to accept it, you wouldn’t feel so awful about this.

Still, “Thanks, for understanding, you’re… I know it’s the biggest cliché of all time, but uh…it’s really not you, it’s me.”

The implied, ‘it’s Sans’ hangs in the air between you—unspoken, but mutually understood.

You hear a sigh across the line, an exhausted-sounding huff of breath.

“i, uh…please don’t……take this as me…pushin’, or anything, but… i mean, is there… anything i can say here to………?”

You consider the mostly unasked question.

“I…don’t think so,” you say regretfully. “I just don’t think I can handle…living in fear, or having to wonder, y’know, ‘is this the day that my buddy’s brother finally drags me into an alley and beats me up?’”

The response is instant.

“he wouldn’t.”

“What?”

“he wouldn’t,” Papyrus says again, with just as much conviction. “sans is…he’s intense, yeah, but like…he wouldn’t lay a hand on ya’. he wouldn’t hurt ya’.”

…You really don’t see how he can be so certain.

Actually, frankly, “I…don’t see how I can believe that.” You purse your lips, trying to be understanding, because, “I know he’s your brother, I’m sure he’s…a lot different with you than with—”

“what if i can prove it?”

You frown. “…prove it?”

“that my bro’s all bark an’ no bite,” Papyrus explains. “what if there was a reason…he couldn’t ever touch you? would that…would that help?”

………

If such a reason existed?

“I… yeah, I mean, I guess that would…make me feel better?”

There’s a silence for awhile.

It’s not perfectly quiet—you can still hear Papyrus breathing over the phone, long, deep breaths like he was thinking it over.

And then…

“sans is the captain of the royal guard,” Papyrus blurts out. Your eyebrows shoot up in surprise, but he isn’t finished yet. “puts him real high up the chain, far as politics go. monster politics.”

Yeah, you imagined it would: the Royal Guard, as far as you knew it, was Empress Toriel’s own personal taskforce, soldiers and peacekeepers and enforcers all wrapped up into one.

If Sans was a ranking officer, there probably weren’t too many people above him as far as monster society went, and you’re not sure why Papyrus is telling you this.

The idea that the skeleton currently stalking and intimidating you has maybe only two or three people he has to answer to is not a comforting one.

But thankfully, Papyrus keeps talking.

“he’d never do anything to piss off toriel,” he tells you. “he won’t. he can’t. it’d be career suicide.”

“…because Toriel is the one who mandated that monsters abide by human laws,” you realize.

Apparently, her edict had been…very clear.

Painfully clear.

The royal equivalent of, ‘play nice or else.’

Not one monster yet had defied it, not in more than two years since monsters had surfaced.

Papyrus seems quite relieved that you’re catching his drift.

“yeah, so…y’see he’s, it’s all just…posturing,” he says quickly, furtively. “he won’t do anything, not over one human, he wouldn’t…he wouldn’t. so if……if that…helps…?”

It……does.

You’re just not sure how much.

As good as it is to know that the threat Papyrus’ brother poses to you probably tops out at scaring you and making you uncomfortable… you still don’t particularly love the idea of being scared and uncomfortable…

You open your mouth to speak.

And then you hear it.

It’s quiet, so small and faint that you know you weren’t meant to hear it, and that makes it even more powerful.

The magic word.

“…please…”

That one little word feels like an arrow through your heart.

It sounds…sad.

Desperate.

And for the first time, it occurs to you to wonder if Papyrus really wants an Adulting Tutor, or if he just wants a friend.

Maybe it’s both.

But either way, your ‘no’ dies a fast death on your lips.

“…Okay,” you say.

“………okay?” Papyrus cautiously repeats, and the faint bit of hope in his tone strengthens your resolve.

“Yeah. Okay. I’ll… We can… We can give this…thing…a try.”

“…r…really???”

“Yeah.”

You had no idea you could hear so much relief through a phone and Papyrus’ instantly improved mood is contagious.

You almost want to laugh at his eagerness as he immediately starts trying to schedule a time to hang out with you—somewhere public, of course, at your convenience, wherever you want, whatever you want to do, he’s flexible, he has no schedule, seriously, whatever—and you find yourself completely incapable of regretting being the cause of that much enthusiasm.

Even if that older brother of his does try to make trouble for you, you have a strong feeling that Papyrus…is worth it.

-

me: seriously. do not screw this up for me.

Read: 7:42 PM

me: ass

Chapter Text

It surprises you how many tasks there are that are boring, everyday things to you, yet utterly new and confusing to Papyrus.

You meet at the laundromat a couple more times to cover the basics—as it turned out, Papyrus did, in fact, have several items with missing buttons and broken zippers and (after a quick google-refresher yourself) you’re able to walk him through fixing them with minimal trouble.

He’d warned you that there were other things, though, and with his brother seeming to be out of the picture for now, you wonder what else it is that Papyrus thinks he needs to know.

Apparently, a lot, which leads to some very…interesting…hangouts!

Like the time he wanders around a grocery store with you as if it were some kind of bizarre food-museum.

“Have you…seriously never been grocery shopping before?” you wonder, eyeing your companion.

Papyrus continues gawking at the shelves of bread beside you for a moment longer.

“huh?” he says, and then belatedly processing your question, “oh, uh…no. i mean…not really? nowhere like this…”

It’s going on three years since monsters got up to surface, so of course, you have to ask.

“Where have you been getting food until now?”

“recently? there’s a…y’know, a little convenience…gas-station…type…spot? near my place. good hours, stuff’s cheap,” he explains and now you want to gawk at him.

Gas station food for stars knows how long.

You’re not quite sure how Papyrus is still alive.

“I mean…do you even remember what a vegetable looks like, or…?”

Thankfully, it seems that the more time Papyrus spends with you, the more he understands the difference between ‘you, criticizing’ and ‘you, teasing’ because he barely flushes at all and laughs along.

“nyeheheh, i think so,” he says. “that’s the green stuff that isn’t mountain dew, right?”

That wins a giggle out of you and Papyrus beams so hard you can practically see the shoujo flowers manifesting around his skull.

“Alright, I’ll give you that one, wise guy,” you say. “Now, what do you know about bread?”

“tastes good. makes sandwiches.”

…Touché. Another technical point to Papyrus.

But, “Picking what kind to buy,” you clarify and Papyrus nods as if suddenly understanding.

“ahh… nothin’, then.”

“Do you at least know what you like?”

Papyrus looks at the wall of carbohydrates before you, seeming to give the matter great and weighty consideration.

…And then, he carefully plucks a loaf off the shelf—the cheapest, most processed kind that money could buy.

You can’t help your smile, but hold back another laugh.

Far be it from you to dictate the healthiness of his bread: you’re just here to help him get the best bang for his buck, and help you will!

“Okay, that’s the kind you want, then,” you announce. “So, what’s the expiration date?”

Papyrus blinks at you.

(You’re still getting used to seeing eye-sockets blinking, but your friend is, in fact, a magical skeleton and you’re doing your best to roll with the punches.)

“…oh, right,” he says after a beat, starting to inspect the loaf. “i always forget, human food goes bad…”

He turns it over a few times, squinting suspiciously until he finds the date and reads it to you.

“About a week,” you note. “With bread, that’s pretty much the best you’re gonna get, but you might be able to milk that a little if you dig around further in the back.”

Papyrus doesn’t hesitate to take your suggestion. He reaches around on the shelf for some of the loaves behind all the others, gently crinkling the plastic as he goes.

Eventually the sound comes to a stop when he pulls out a second loaf, and then he’s comparing the dates.

“…this one’s got two more days,” he says, sounding surprised.

You figured as much.

“It’s probably a little newer than the rest! They usually put the older bread in the front so it’ll get bought faster. Digging won’t buy you more than another day or two at the most, but that’s something, right?”

Papyrus seems impressed by your tiny little trick anyway. “i wouldn’t even have known to look.”

You grin up at him. “That’s what I’m here for, isn’t it?”

He goes to put the bread in the cart, only to freeze at your sharp ‘ah-ah!’

“Not on the bottom,” you tell him. “It’s soft, it’ll get squished by other stuff. Put it in the child-seat thing up top.”

Papyrus does, even as he incredulously mutters, “how d’ya’ even think of this stuff…”

That, you do laugh at.

“It’s learn-as-you-go,” you’re happy to assure him. “We’re going, you’re learning, you’ll get there!”

You continue shopping, dropping all the hints and tricks you know along the way—if a ‘sale’ price is actually a good deal, the art of the Buy One, Get One, finding in-store coupons—and watching proudly as Papyrus starts to work things out on his own, without you having to say anything at all.

Clueless as he is, he’s a decently quick learner once he’s seen something a few times and had a chance to do it once or twice for himself.

You’re actually really proud of how well he’s doing if you had even a fraction to do with it.

By Papyrus’ own admission, he’s never cooked an actual meal in his life, so anything that can’t be eaten as-is has to be an instant skip—at least until you get around to showing him the function of a stove, but the two of you manage to find plenty of things to load up the cart with, anyway.

Especially once you hit the meal-kit aisle.

Papyrus may not know how to work a stove but he’s apparently quite familiar with the microwave.

The cornucopia of just-add-water mac and cheeses, vacuum-sealed Salisbury steak, canned chili and raviolis are a wonderland of opportunity for a limited chef such as himself. You, on the other hand, are violently flashing back to your first days of living solo, picking food on the sole basis of what’s easiest to make and stores the best.

That alone is a hoot and a half…

But if you thought that was Papyrus at his most excited, you have quite another thing coming the second he spots the snack-cake aisle.

He drags you along with him—literally drags you—as he zooms right in and begins inspecting all the prepackaged little pastries and sweet-rolls.

The expression on his skull is genuinely awed and as he darts around looking at every little thing, his enthusiasm gives you the distinct impression that if he had a tail, it’d be wagging up a tornado by now.

You snicker.

“Do, uh…do you happen to have a sweet-tooth, ‘Rus?”

“yeah,” he answers immediately, but with at least four bags of powdered donettes in his arms already, the answer itself is kinda superfluous.

You put a hand to your mouth, desperately trying to stifle your laugh as he starts dumping what seems like one of everything else in the aisle into the cart.

“You…haha, oh man, Papyrus, you’re…almost literally a kid in a candy store right now!”

“i’ve never seen this many,” he protests. There’s an edge of a whine in his voice, like he expects you to try and stop him, but…

You can’t.

A grown skeleton shoveling boxes of tiny pastries into his cart with all the gusto of a six-year-old told to ‘go nuts’ is far more adorable than you’d ever dreamed.

You have no defense against it.

“I mean…if you think you can eat all that…?” you half-heartedly try.

“nyeheheh, don’t underestimate me,” he says, “i’ve trained for years!”

The pride in his voice as he says it, entirely genuine, does you in.

“Pfft, hahaha, alright, alright!” you concede. “You do you, I guess…?”

Papyrus does, indeed.

You spare half a thought to worry about sticker-shock when you get up to the registers, buying so much stuff, but really…

Really, Papyrus looks far more intimidated by the lines of people and the cashiers than about having to actually pay for all the things he’s buying.

It’s actually palpable the way his cheerful mood starts to fade at the sight of them all, his shoulders tensing and making him look for a moment like he’s ready to bolt.

…Yikes.

The poor guy…

Papyrus’ social anxiety must be bad if just this much is putting him so on edge. You wonder if this is the reason there’s so many things he doesn’t know how to do, in spite of being a good student with you…

But you’re taking your duty as his Adulting Tutor seriously, and you’re not about to let this otherwise successful lesson end in your poor charge tripping at the finish line!

When you take his arm and gently steer him towards the self-checkout, Papyrus looks at you like you’re a goddess.

You try not to let that go to your head.

Instead, you talk to him, hoping to distract Papyrus from that moment of unpleasantness while he sorts out how to use the machine.

“You said you’d never seen so many snack-cakes before. Did… Underground, did monsters not have stores with this much…stuff, or…?”

You’re curious, figuring that any topic is probably better than embarrassing him, but…

Papyrus takes a bit to answer you.

For a second, you think maybe he didn’t hear you over the automated beeping of the checkout machine, but before you can repeat yourself, he speaks.

“……uh. nah. no, not like this.” Then, he pauses. “i…i don’t think, anyway… m’from a pretty…y’know, it was a…a small town. just little shops n’ stuff. there, uh…there might’ve been somethin’ bigger in the capital…”

“The capital?” you echo.

“big city,” he explains. “i, uh…i pretty much never left snowdin. seen waterfall, but only been through it into hotland like……twice.”

“Oh,” you say, as if you have any idea what he’s talking about. And then, “Did you like it? …wait, double-bag that, you don’t want it to rip.”

“………nyeheheheheh… yeah, okay.” Papyrus obediently uses two bags for the milk jug. He looks like he’s relaxing a little, though, which makes you happy.

And all the more concerned when a dark look comes across his skull.

“actually,” he says slowly. “…i hated it. couldn’t pay me to go back there. ever.”

For a moment, you think you’ve misstepped, asking about the Underground like you did.

You should’ve known better, it was a horrible, violent prison that monsters had been dying—literally dying—to escape for hundreds of years. Who knew what kind of dark and awful memories your new friend had attached to the place, that you were just thoughtlessly asking about, like an idiot.

The look on Papyrus’ face is pure, brooding loathing and you shudder to think what he must be remembering.

…At least, you do, until he opens his mouth again.

“i…hate conveyor belts,” he says, stern and unforgiving. “…vents, too.”

“…I… What?”

“so stupid,” he grumbles, like he hadn’t even heard you. “why’s that the only way to get around…? can’t you just…i dunno, take a bus?”

“…………”

You laugh.

You laugh hard and even if he doesn’t seem to totally get why, Papyrus laughs along with you.

“’Rus,” you say with utmost sincerity, “you are a weirdo.”

He straightens a little, almost puffing out his chest.

“yep,” he declares, without a hint of his earlier anxiety, and everything feels right with the world.

Ya’ done good, you think to yourself.

It even feels true.

Finally, everything’s rung up, paid for with a casual thoughtlessness that almost makes you a little jealous, and you’re ready to offer your final piece of grocery shopping advice.

“Now, if you don’t have a car, you should always bring a friend or something with you to help carry the bags. Doing it all at once never…works…?”

Papyrus, already standing there with a dozen full bags strung along his arms, tilts his head at you.

“really? how come?”

You…

You’re not proud to admit it, but you definitely gawp at him for a few seconds.

“Uh…uh, well, usually ‘cause they’re…heavy…” You summarily shake yourself of the shock. “Jeez, you’re strong for somebody so skinny!”

You expect him to point out the obvious—that he’s literally a skeleton—but instead, he just laughs, looking a little bashful.

And still holding all the bags like he’s barely even aware of their weight.

“heheh, just…just built that way, i guess,” he says, but he seems distinctly pleased by the compliment.

Stars above, this skeleton was getting cuter by the day.

You elect to walk home with him, reasoning that it’s a nice day and you don’t feel quite right ditching him just outside the grocery store.

He doesn’t live too far, giving you the name of an apartment complex in a decent neighborhood. It’s one that you’d actually seriously considered yourself on…two separate occasions, before ending up elsewhere.

You wonder what your first meeting might’ve been like if Papyrus had been your neighbor; if things had been different, if he’d met you at a different time in your life.

You don’t wonder too much, not liking the direction of your own thoughts.

The walk is pleasant, though, and you think most of that is due to the company.

Papyrus is a very sweet guy, soft-spoken and funny—sometimes intentionally, sometimes not, but always a good sport about it—at least when he’s with you.

You like him a lot and you’re glad you decided to do this.

…Though, you do stop about a block shy of his place.

Papyrus pauses when he realizes you’ve stopped walking, looking at you curiously.

“what’s up?”

“Oh, I just…” You struggle for a way to tactfully explain. “I thought maybe I…shouldn’t… That, uh, that it’d be better if I…”

Papyrus is no dummy.

He sighs, rolling his eye-lights, but when he turns to you he’s grinning.

“don’t worry,” he says, “sans isn’t there.”

“……No?”

“nah, he’s got his own place.”

Which you take as shorthand for ‘he’s not gonna be there giving you a death-glare out of the window,’ and that’s a pretty huge relief.

You still feel a little silly for being worried about that in the first place, actually intimidated by the thought of a skeleton peering around some drapery like a nosy old spinster, so while your face is a little hot, you manage to laugh it off easily enough.

You walk Papyrus all the way to his door, help him inside, and bid him a lovely afternoon.

Another hangout/tutoring session was a complete success and you head home with your spirits high!

You don’t feel any eyes on you as you walk back alone…

…But then again, you have no idea if eye-lights are something you can feel when they’re watching you…

-

“oh, hey wait, while i gotcha, there’s a thing i wanted to ask ya’, see, i got this…uh…friend? i mean, not…not really a… she’s not like you, we don’t…hang out, ever, it’s…it’s pretty much just, y’know, we…troll each other on the undernet, and that’s the whole……it probably doesn’t count…? as a friend? but anyway, she told me to watch somethin’ an’ when she recs it’s either like, really good or the worst thing i’ve ever seen, so i wanted to know if you’ve seen it? i don’t wanna sink a whole bunch of time into it if she’s trollin’, an’ i’m not really that into anime to begin with, but she’s been pesterin’ me and i dunno… i’d just look it up myself but i don’t know, is your internet, like…legit? ‘cause the undernet is at least ninety-nine percent people tryin’ to screw with you an’ i heard a lot of the same thing about the internet, so…what opinions do you even trust, right? anyway, i guess the anime’s called—”

By the time you finally, finally manage to interrupt, you’re laid out on your couch with your shoulders shaking.

“Papyrus… Pap, honey, we’re, we’re kinda in the middle of something, did you forget?”

There’s a brief silence on the other end of the phone.

“………maybe,” Papyrus admits, and you finally give up and let yourself chuckle.

You had no idea that your friend could be such a talker, especially when he’d been so noticeably shy when you’d first met.

Whether it was anxiety or just because he didn’t know you, you suppose it doesn’t really matter: he’s definitely over it by now, ready and willing to gab your ear off if you showed the slightest bit of interest in something.

You’re starting to guess that this is just what Papyrus is like when he feels comfortable with you, and that’s…

Well.

You’re really happy that someone likes you enough to open up to you this way.

…even if it means having to corral a scatterbrained chatterbox back on track every now and again.

“We’re practicing grown-up phone calls!” you remind him.

To which he shamelessly replies, “oh right, cool. where were we?”

“You’re scheduling a doctor’s appointment!”

You’d looked up a few call-scripts, and after successfully ‘ordering food’ and ‘deterring a scammer,’ this was his next task.

Your dumbass actually has the nerve to ask you, “what’s wrong with me? am i dying?”

You cover your face with your hand.

“Do you wanna be dying?”

“eh, not really. what would you recommend?”

“Snrk…oh stars, alright, uhh…you’ve got…”

You have no idea. You can’t think of anything.

“I dunno,” you blurt, “can skeletons even get sick?”

Papyrus’ wheezy, snickering laughter over the phone is practically an answer in and of itself.

“yeah,” he says, “totally. doesn’t everybody get sick?”

“Well! Excuse me for not knowing the intricacies of skeleton biology!” Papyrus keeps laughing and you feel compelled to explain yourself. “How do you get sick without any organs, anyway?”

“magic?”

You huff, but Papyrus insists.

“no, seriously, magic,” he says. “monsters get sick when our magic’s out of whack. dunno how it works for humans, but…y’know, lotta similar, uh…symptoms, sometimes.”

“So…fevers?”

“yep.”

“Aches and pains?”

“uh-huh.”

“Nausea? Vomiting?”

“oof, yeah, when it’s real bad. that ain’t ever pretty, trust me.”

You frown. “Do you get sick a lot?”

“me? nah, never. maybe…once? when i was a kid… m’pretty sturdy, but growth spurts trigger it sometimes, you know how it is.”

You absolutely did not know how it was, and you were fascinated.

Even as you open your mouth to ask another question, though, you realize.

“Hey, wait a minute, you’re distracting me!”

Papyrus is laughing again.

Damn him!

“Okay, no, you’re not getting out of this—Papyrus, you’re sick, your magic is…doing stuff, and you’re calling a clinic for an appointment, go!”

“nyeheheheheh, oh no, stuff, m’doomed…”

You don’t dignify that with a response. “Good afternoon,” you say coolly, “thank you for calling the Ebott Wellness Clinic, how may I help you?”

“alright, alright, fine, here goes.” You hear Papyrus take a breath and then, “yeah, hi, i’m callin’ to see if i can schedule an appointment…”

-

You do, eventually, get around to trying to show Papyrus the proper function of a stove.

You pay him a visit to his (very messy) apartment with some supplies and a recipe for a quiche, opting to just…let him at it.

You gotta figure out his baseline somehow.

…And unfortunately, Papyrus’ baseline is somewhere just above ‘can burn water.’

His first attempt ends up both scorched and runny, way too salty and pretty much inedible.

“………sorry,” he says, looking utterly disheartened as you regretfully toss the almost-a-quiche into the garbage.

Since you kind of expected something like this, though, you’re quick to reassure him.

“Hey, it’s fine, quiche can be…hard.”

Not that hard, and you…you should probably stop trying to outright lie to Papyrus because by the look on his face, you’re terrible at it.

You hasten to offer up a ray of something.

“We’ll try pasta next time!” you tell him. “It’s, uh…it’s a lot harder to mess up pasta.”

Papyrus looks at you hopefully. “…yeah?”

“Yeah! And even if you do mess it up,” you add, like confiding a secret, “it’s usually still edible anyway.”

He seems to consider your proposition.

“so what you’re sayin’ is…you have no confidence in me at all anymore.”

Papyrus is joking with you. You know he is because you can see the crinkle at the edge of his eye-sockets, like he’s trying not to laugh.

Which is why you just look down at the drippy mess in the garbage and say, “Well…”

Papyrus actually, physically doubles over with how hard he laughs at that.

“ah man,” he groans, “brutal… you’re lucky i don’t have much of an ego, ‘cause that woulda taken it out, one-hit, fuckin’…nyeheheh, decimated…!”

You giggle a little yourself.

“I mean…you’ll get there?” you try, and Papyrus…

Papyrus smiles at you, so full of warmth that it makes your stomach do a flip.

“‘course i will,” he says, like there’s no doubt in his mind. “you’re helpin’ me.”

Oh…

Oh no, that’s so sweet.

“H-hey, come on,” you say quickly, “you’re not off the hook! Inedible quiche, nothing to eat and you’ve got a guest over—what’s your next move, ‘Rus?”

Papyrus’ grin tilts into a smirk.

Soon, he’s got his phone in hand, suggesting, “pizza?” like any competent adult who’d messed up dinner would, and you nod in approval.

You think you’re running out of things to teach Papyrus…but somehow, after that smile, you don’t feel worried.

There’s no way this is just a friendship of obligation.

And you think you’re pretty damn happy about that.

Chapter Text

You…kinda knew it was only a matter of time before you hit a roadblock.

You also kinda knew that it would be a distinctly Sans-shaped roadblock.

It wasn’t very often that you treated yourself. The full extent of it these days was a small breakfast at a cute little sidewalk café, once a week. You liked to go early, right when it opened, to peacefully enjoy a warm beverage and a meal you didn’t have to cook or buy on the run before the bustle of your morning really got started.

Going so early meant relative quiet; still some early-birds like you milling about on their way to whatever the day had in store for them, but nothing at all like it would be during the real morning rush-hour.

Which is why the lone skeleton watching you sticks out like a sore thumb.

You take a long sip from your mug and look up and just…see him there, across the street.

Watching you.

Sans looks almost casual, leaning up against the cliffstone brick of a building. His arms are folded neatly across his chest, his posture lax enough to remind you of Papyrus’ perpetual slouch.

If you didn’t know better, you could take it as pure coincidence, that he just happened to be there waiting for a bus, same as you would be in another twenty minutes.

But then he meets your eye.

And he smiles.

That same creepy, vaguely menacing smile he gave you that first time, and you know exactly what Sans is doing here.

He’s trying to rattle you again.

You’re…not…unaffected. You’re not sure it’s possible to be unaffected when something—someone with sharp teeth and glowing eyes decides to stare at you like that.

But at the same time, you hear Papyrus’ voice in your head, he won’t, he can’t, and even louder…

Your own voice.

You don’t get pushed around like this, it tells you. You don’t. You’re stronger than that. You’re not going to be bullied.

………

You’re not.

Papyrus deserves to have a friend. You deserve to have a friend and you’re…you’re not going to let Sans spook you anymore.

You set your mug on the table and meet his gaze directly, head raised and shoulders back, trying to broadcast the message with your entire body.

I’m not going to be scared of you.

It must go through, because across the street, Sans’ grin falls.

The ridge above his eye-sockets shifts, like he’s raising a brow at you, trying to figure you out…and he doesn’t seem happy with his conclusion.

Sans frowns, looking downright peeved at your refusal to be intimidated, only to do the thing you least expected out of him.

He turns sharply on his heel and leaves.

It takes you a minute to even process it, but…

You did it?

You stood your ground.

You called his bluff and he just…went away, leaving you to finish your breakfast in peace.

Not so much as a word had passed between the two of you, but somehow, after that morning…

You feel empowered.

-

It’s only a day or so later that you go back to Papyrus’ apartment.

The ‘tutoring’ this time feels like even more of an excuse than usual because you’re getting down to brass tacks as far as what you can teach him.

“I mean…you know I can’t just…clean your place for you, right?” you’d asked him over the phone. “You’re not gonna learn anything if you just watch me, that’s not how this one works.”

“no, yeah, i know,” he’d promised quickly. “heh, trust me, i know, if a decade or two of just watchin’ cleaning happen didn’t make me learn it, i know a day isn’t gonna make much difference.”

“So…why do you want me over, again?”

There’s a pause.

“well…i, uh…i heard about this show? where…where, y’know, there’s a lady who tells you how to…i dunno, declutter? or whatever…”

You are familiar with the program.

But, “I thought you said you didn’t retain that stuff too well?”

“…i… i mean, i don’t, not…not when i’m by…by mys…… uh…y’know, i just! thought maybe if you watched it with me? it might be…easier…??? like, you could make me pay attention better or…or somethin’…”

Oh, be still, your heart—if Papyrus wasn’t such a genuine sweetheart, you’d take this as the flimsiest excuse to ‘Netflix and Chill’ that you’d ever heard in your life.

Apparently, you’d taken too long to answer because Papyrus was already trying to backtrack.

“maybe that… that’s dumb, isn’t it…? i’ll just… i’ll just watch it myself, you don’t… i don’t gotta bother you for every little thing, i, uh—”

“Shut up, ‘Rus,” you playfully interrupted him. “What time do you want me there?”

And that had settled that.

-

You show up right on time, straight from work, and Papyrus smiles widely when he sees you, stepping back to let you into the…‘even messier than you remembered’ apartment.

“…Did it… I didn’t think it was possible, but did it actually get worse?” you ask.

Apparently, it’s not your imagination—Papyrus’ cheekbones go purple again and he sheepishly scratches at the back of his neck.

“uh…yeah, it, um……there’s… a reason i wanna figure out the cleanin’ stuff,” he admits. His eye-lights dart to the side for a second before he bends a little, confiding to you, “may’ve tripped over some boots tryin’ to get a midnight snack.”

………

You snicker even as you definitely spot the culprits, big fur-lined snow-boots toppled over right by the kitchen door—where Papyrus hadn’t even moved them from, so it wouldn’t happen again.

“You’re the real mess here. You know that, right?”

Papyrus shrugs off your completely accurate accusation. “gives ya’ somethin’ to smile about,” he says, easily, and stars above, you think he might really mean it.

If this is what he’s like with a friend, you can’t even imagine what he’s like when he’s actually flirting.

“Well, hey, you’re not gonna be smiling if you expect me to stand around for five hours,” you say, and you definitely mean that.

Your feet are killing you after a long day and the appeal of Papyrus’ couch is decidedly ruined by the pile of shirts and jackets and hoodies draped all over it, in various stages of cleanliness.

“oh! ha, no, yeah, that’s…pfft, no.” Papyrus tentatively gestures down the hall, saying, “i got a tv in my room, too, i kinda figured we’d just…?”

…Oh, Papyrus

You wonder if he even realizes the implications of inviting a lady into his bedroom for Netflix and Chill

But above all else, Papyrus is your friend and you do feel comfortable with him: you’re not worried about him using this to try pulling a move on you or something.

‘Worried’ is…definitely starting to become the wrong word.

In any case, you don’t feel weird about it so with a sweeping gesture of your arm, you invite, “Lead the way, then,” and Papyrus does just that.

His room is…not what you would’ve expected, for several reasons.

For one, it’s actually…surprisingly clean? At least compared to the rest of the apartment, anyway. You can actually see the floor and most of the surfaces, a luxury that his living room area did not have.

For another, your big, spooky, gold-fanged, sharp-clawed skeleton friend apparently sleeps like a princess: his bed is covered in a frankly stupid amount of pillows, with satiny-looking sheets and the absolute fuzziest blanket you’ve ever seen. Picturing him asleep on it is probably the most adorable mental image you’ve ever had and…

Alright, well, maybe it shouldn’t surprise you that much.

A soft and squishy bed for a soft and squishy skeleton made a certain kind of sense, even if he did look a little scary on the surface.

You’re utterly blindsided by the third thing, though, because the clutter that Papyrus does seem to have in his room is all of a very specific type.

Scattered all across his desk is paper, pens, sketchbooks, markers, paintbrushes, and rulers—in short, as many art supplies as you’ve ever seen in one place outside of a store.

“Papyrus…” you say, taking it all in. “Do you… do you draw?”

“huh?” He turns, seeing your eyes on all his stuff, and laughs a little awkwardly. “oh, yeah, i, uh…a little, i guess…”

He doesn’t stop you when you wander a little closer, either, to where you can actually see some of his work here and there, unfinished or accidentally left out.

A sketchy-looking portrait of a rosebush you’d seen outside his building; the corner of a gloomy little copse of snow-covered pines seen from far, far above; some silly stick-figure doodles in the margins of a torn notebook page…

Naturally, though, nothing draws your eye more than the full-color piece he has up on the wall: a framed sunrise in vibrant orange and yellow pastels that you’d think was a randomly purchased bit of décor if not for the distinct, black silhouette of Mt. Ebott in the distance.

“Stars,” you breathe, “you’re amazing. How come you never said?”

That seems to snap Papyrus into action.

Abruptly, he kicks a little black sketchbook under his bed and strides forward, hastily scooping up another one right off the desk in front of you.

“uhh, well, y’know,” he says, shifting it beneath his arm—like he’s actually trying to hide it from you—and stepping back a little, “it’s just…y’know, it’s just a, a thing i… do sometimes, it’s not… uh……lemme just—”

“What’s in that one?”

Papyrus freezes, eye-sockets wide and startled like a cat caught stealing out of a drawer, and you laugh.

“C’mon,” you say, “you know I gotta ask when you’re being all suspicious about that one in particular, don’t you?”

“……you…wouldn’t like this one,” he says at length.

You blink. “I wouldn’t?”

“…nah.”

“Why not?”

“…it’s…mature.” And then, as if to make extra sure you understand, “there’s………nudity.”

You snort.

Partially because it’s kind of a silly thing to try to hide, and partially because…

Well, come on.

A cute, sensitive artist bashfully trying to tuck his nude pieces out of sight so his lady-friend doesn’t see…?

There were more cliché openings to porn, but all the ones you could think of involved pizza delivery.

“I’m a big girl, ‘Rus,” you chuckle, raising an eyebrow at him. “I’ve seen a boobie before.”

The violet glowing along Papyrus’ skull flares up and…

Oh!

“Oh my, scandalous,” you say, but you wink as you add, “I’ve seen a penis before, too…”

Papyrus ducks his head and makes a wheezing sound. “hhhhhhhhhh…”

You laugh, but then suddenly, the sketchbook is thrust right in your face, held out in deliberate offering.

“you’re killin’ me,” Papyrus groans, “just take it. …an’ don’t say i didn’t warn ya’…”

You’re an adult.

You generally know what naked bodies look like and it’s nothing you’d consider explicit on its own; something to keep hidden and be ashamed of. When you open up the sketchbook, you’re not shocked, appalled, disgusted, or any of the above.

…Though you do raise an eyebrow at the very first thing you see.

The figure is…well-endowed, certainly. He also happens to be very buff, and very furry. …Which makes perfect sense, considering he seems to be a bright neon-blue wolf-anthro.

Papyrus seems to take your silence as a commentary.

“i warned ya’,” he says.

“…No, no,” you protest, “it’s…it’s good!”

And it is! The grasp of shading and anatomy this one pin-up shows is legitimately impressive, the wolf-man is really very…proportional!

“I’m just a little surprised! I, uh…I didn’t know that was your thing, is all…”

“would you believe me if i told ya’ it was a commission…?”

“…Is it?”

“yeah.” Papyrus reaches to take the sketchbook back and you let him, watching as he flips through it. “i don’t totally get it, myself, but i guess a lotta humans like this kinda stuff? least enough to pay pretty good money for it. nyeheh, i thought for sure it’d stop once, y’know, us actual monsters stated integratin’, just…go date a real bunny-girl, right? but i dunno, people still email me so i guess it’s somethin’ else. i’ll draw whatever, long as they’re payin’, gotta…gotta save up, y’know?”

You do, indeed, know how that goes.

“So is that…that’s what you do?” you wonder. “Like, for a living?”

It would certainly explain his utter lack of schedule and why he was always so flexible about working around yours if he was able to set his own hours.

Papyrus nods, saying, “yeah, more or less. i know, it’s not…it’s not really a useful job—”

You cut him right off.

“Sure it is! Art’s a super useful job!”

“…nyeheheh, i can think of a whole lotta people who’d disagree with ya’,” he chuckles, “but…thanks.”

You figure that’s the best you’re gonna get.

“Well, then! Wolf-dicks aside—” Papyrus chokes as you say it, “—how’re we doing this?”

It takes him a second to figure out what you mean.

“oh yeah, the… uh, well… i guess take your pick? bed or beanbag?”

“You have a beanbag?!”

Papyrus gestures over to the other side of his bed where, sure enough, there’s a big, fluffy-looking beanbag and holy shit.

You practically sprint around and leap right into the beanbag with a supremely satisfying ‘whoomph’ and Papyrus snickers.

“guess m’on the bed, then?”

“You presume correctly, sir.”

“pfft, alright, lemme pull up the thing…”

You start watching the show.

It’s more compelling than you thought it would be, and the lady’s philosophy on tidying is an interesting take, reframing things in ways you hadn’t thought about them before.

Papyrus turns to you often—to ask a question or make a joke or just comment on something—and somehow, having you there with him really does seem to be useful for him. He’s paying attention and (you think) learning something that he’ll hopefully use to try and cut down on all that mess out in the front room.

It’s a perfectly nice, normal hangout.

…until your stomach growls.

Audibly.

You suppose it’s now your turn to be embarrassed.

Papyrus peers over at you from his spot atop Pillow Mountain.

“…was that you???”

“Uh…yeah,” you admit. “Sorry…”

He just keeps looking at you curiously. “why’d ya’ do it, though?”

“It…wasn’t on purpose?” More blank staring. “It’s a… Human stomachs…make that noise sometimes. When we’re…hungry.”

“oh!” Papyrus perks up a little, claws rustling around amidst his blankets. “why didn’t ya’ say so? we can get somethin’, what do ya’ want?”

You frown when he triumphantly emerges from the fuzz with his phone.

“No, I’m alright, don’t worry about it.”

It’s as if those words are somehow even more baffling than your growling stomach.

“why not?” he asks, visibly confused. “it’s easy. everything has an app…”

“That’s not the point,” you protest. “I…I don’t want you to feel like you have to do that for me.”

“……i…want to????”

Probably true.

Papyrus was a real sweetheart…and the last thing you wanted to do was take advantage of him.

“I know, but… look, Papyrus, you’re always ordering food and stuff when I’m over—” from pizza and burgers to sushi and noodles, a great way to keep his phone-skills sharp, and yet, “I don’t want to just mooch off you… I can pay for my own stuff sometimes,” if it wasn’t…too expensive, “or y’know, just wait until I get home to eat,” some cheap, terrible ramen.

“…………this…seems important to you,” Papyrus says with such diplomacy that you hear the unspoken ‘i don’t get it’ clear as a bell.

You sigh.

“I just…don’t want you to be spending a whole bunch of money on me. It makes me feel guilty…stars, especially now that I know you’re an artist!”

Papyrus frowns down at you. “what…does that have to do with anything…?”

“Well, the… ‘cause you don’t… the whole ‘starving artist’ thing?” You get another blank look. “Artists don’t make a lot of money, usually, and if you’ve got some freeloader, cutting into your budget…”

Papyrus just shakes his head.

“my budget is fine,” he promises, “seriously.”

Naturally, you’re skeptical.

“Alright, there’s no way wolf-dicks pay that well…”

“first of all,” Papyrus says firmly, “never underestimate the earning power of a wolf-dick. second, seriously, i’m good on money. or at least, y’know…sans is.”

………

Alright, now you’re baffled.

“Sans?”

“yeah. my art-money, that’s just…savings. emergency stuff. i don’t live on it.”

Slowly, you process the meaning of this information.

“So…groceries…”

“sans covers it.”

“Rent money…”

“writes a check every month.”

“…Spending money?”

“i mean, i’d text him if i ever ran out, i guess,” Papyrus muses, “but m’not…buyin’ solid gold…fountain pens, or whatever… hasn’t happened yet.”

“So you’re…living totally on your brother’s dime right now?”

Papyrus merely shrugs.

“ain’t like he can’t afford it,” he says. “servin’ in the guard pays a pretty penny—several of ‘em since we got up here and converted. i guess our Gs were worth a whole bunch of your dollars… plus, sans’ always had a good skull for numbers, keepin’ shit balanced…think he's got a side-gig doin’ that, actually… i dunno, we’ve always been comfortable, i guess.”

Which was the exact thing somebody rich enough to have never worried about money in his life would say.

The cleaning show is still playing on Papyrus’ TV, but you’re not really watching it anymore.

“I……don’t get it,” you say slowly.

And really…you don’t?

Sans—the cold, scary bastard who didn’t seem to want to let Papyrus to have a friend—was just…paying for his brother’s everything? From necessities to frivolities to a whole entire apartment he didn’t even live in?

That…doesn’t make sense.

You’re missing something here.

You have to be.

“Papyrus, what… what’s the deal with you and Sans?”

You see his expression fall into something blank and hasten to explain yourself.

“I’m not…! I don’t mean to…pry, or anything! I just… C’mon, this is…kinda weird, isn’t it? I thought… I kinda thought you didn’t even like each other…”

“that’s not—……” Papyrus sighs. “that’s not it at all… it’s just………complicated.”

And…fair enough, really?

Family stuff often is and much as you consider Papyrus your good friend by now, you don’t feel right trying to push him on such a personal topic.

You’re content to let the matter drop if he doesn’t want to talk about it.

You turn back to the TV, intending to just go back to business as usual, but Papyrus surprises you.

After a solid few minutes, he opens his mouth and starts to talk.

“it… Underground was……bad,” he says. “…real bad.”

…Yeah.

You’d…heard stories, mostly from bigots and alarmists in the early days, trying to convince people that monsters were unfit to live in human society.

Violent. Bloodthirsty. Cutthroat.

They were monsters, exactly as humans had always used the word—vicious beasts that would just as soon attack you as look at you.

Obviously, it hadn’t panned out that way.

Monsters had integrated, peacefully, with no major incidents in nearly three years, and the thought of your sweet, gentle Papyrus as some kind of mindless killer bordered on the hilarious.

…but the thought of his brother’s intentionally intimidating grin, and seeing the troubled look on Papyrus’ face right now…

You wonder if Papyrus may have just been a rare exception.

“humans…the ones who know, what it was like,” he begins. “they… they said it was like a ‘warzone.’ it was……i mean, it’s…it was all most of us knew… i think a lot of us hated it? i did. but…y’know, what…what d’ya’ do? if it’s…ya’ can just…get killed, anytime, anywhere, by anybody, those’re the rules ya’ play by, or… or ya’ die.”

Stars, it sounds horrible.

“everybody’s always fightin’, not enough…not enough space or stuff or patience, whadda’ya’ expect? we’re all…locked up in a tiny cave, an’ there was no fixin’ that, not for the longest time, an’ until then, everybody’s…stuck an’ helpless an’ mad, takin’ it out on everybody else…”

Your brows pinch because that sounds nothing at all like Papyrus…

And apparently, you’re right.

“but i’m a wuss,” he quietly admits, like it’s something to be ashamed of. “hate the fighting… the yelling… i didn’t…i didn’t wanna live like that.”

Your heart aches at the abject misery in those few terrible words.

“got real lucky, though.” You watch him as Papyrus’ claws idly fiddle with the gold tag on his collar. “i had sans for a brother. he… y’know, he looked out for me. got tough enough to protect me, joined the guard to make us safer… i don’t hate him. stars, i’d be dead if it wasn’t for him.”

The unshakable certainty with which Papyrus says it is startling.

But it does raise a key question.

“So…what happened, then?”

To turn a relationship from ‘i owe him my life’ to ‘oh my god, leave me alone’? It must’ve been something big.

Papyrus pauses, as if debating something.

“i, uh…i don’t think this is……common knowledge,” he says haltingly. “if i… you wouldn’t spread it around, o-or tell anybody i told ya’…right?”

Instantly, you shake your head. “No, of course not.”

He quirks a smile at you, just a little one, but it nearly makes you smile back.

Then, “most…monsters… we’re in, uh…counseling.”

That raises your eyebrows.

“Counseling,” you echo. “Like…like therapy?”

Papyrus nods. “it’s supposed to be… for helpin’ us…y’know, adjust. to things bein’ different. they, uh, keep sayin’ it’s kinda the same as…what your soldiers get, when they come home? i dunno, maybe they just say that so it sounds cooler an’ the real hard-asses don’t feel like they’re too tough an’ cool to do it…”

“…It’s not mandatory, though?”

“it’s ‘strongly encouraged,’” Papyrus says, and it sounds like a direct quote.

“Then…it must be…doing some good, right?” you hesitantly pose. “I mean, if monsters are still doing it willingly?”

Papyrus shrugs. “i dunno, i guess it’s workin’… i never seen monsters this damn mellow, but maybe…” His skull turns and you follow his gaze, to the oil-pastel sunrise he has up on his wall. “i think maybe we just…really like it up here. don’t wanna screw it up, y’know…?”

Oh, stars… you can’t even imagine what living Underground was really, truly like—you know you have no chance at all of imagining the weight carried in the threat of being sent back.

You have no idea what to say to that, and Papyrus seems to realize as much.

“right,” he says, “that’s…m’gettin’…off-track. sorry. ya’ wanted to know about sans.”

Papyrus starts to pick at the corner of one of his many pillows, staring straight down at it.

“we…do family counseling. an’ awhile ago, the guy said… he noticed that… that i don’t…didn’t really…do anything…for myself? it was… i mean, you know what i mean, right? it’s, heh, it’s the whole reason i got ya’ to start hanging out with me.”

You know what he means. …But at the same time, you have to add, “Not the whole reason.”

That gets Papyrus to look at you, eye-sockets wide and hopeful.

You just smile. “I like you, Papyrus. I don’t come over to sit in just anybody’s beanbag, I hope you know that.”

“…nyeheheh… okay. okay, yeah, that’s…” He clears the throat he doesn’t have. “a-anyway.”

Right, yes—the serious discussion.

“sans looked out for me. made it so i almost never had to do anything i didn’t wanna do…which was great down there. not…not so great up here.”

Things are…starting to make sense.

Sans scaring the hell out of you… maybe that hadn’t been a crazy, spiteful bastard trying to keep Papyrus from having a friend.

Maybe it was just a ridiculously overprotective bastard trying to scare off some…weird human lady, messing with his brother.

“our, uh…our guy,” Papyrus cuts into your thoughts. “he said a whole lotta stuff, threw around a buncha buzzwords… ‘reactionary,’ ‘unsustainable,’ ‘codependent’… said we oughta…oughta spend some time apart. try out the whole…‘solo’ thing, for a year, just to get some space, just to see. i mean…we’ve never been apart before, it… it wasn’t safe to be apart, down there.”

“But not up here.”

“yeah, that’s what he said. if there was any time to try it out, it was now, when monsters’re as safe as we’ve ever been up here, with you guys. …sans, though…”

“He…disagreed?” you guess.

“euphemism,” Papyrus says flatly. “he, uh…he had a lot of choice words for the counselor. insulted the guy’s whole profession, his intelligence, common sense, you name it, sans had somethin’ to say about it.”

Which makes you wonder… “And what did you say?”

Papyrus huffs. Rubs his hand over his face.

“i said, ‘yeah, let’s try it.’”

Ouch. I’m guessing your brother wasn’t…really cool with that?”

“nnnnot really. but i… i think it’s…a good idea? when… back when we were… sans handled everything. an’ i mean, seriously, everything. how’m i ever supposed to…figure out coupons an’ sewin’ buttons an’ doin’ laundry if it’s all already done? i’m…i’m a grown-ass skeleton an’ until two weeks ago i woulda had to go cryin’ to my big bro to come help me fix the stupid drippin’ under the sink!”

“…You called me to come help you fix that, though?”

“it’s different,” Papyrus insists with a scowl. “you brought a wrench and showed me how to tighten the thing. sans would just…take the wrench an’ fix it an’ say, ‘don’t worry about it, it’s fine now,’ and i’d still have no clue what to do if it happened again!”

You…can see how that might not be very helpful.

“i don’t……want to just keep ridin’ sans’ coattails, i wanna…‘exercise my right to autonomous independence,’” and wow, Papyrus’ therapist sounds just a tad pretentious.

“Even though…” Stars, you feel terrible just pointing it out. “Even though your brother is still…y’know, actually…paying for everything…?”

“that was a condition,” Papyrus says, rolling his eye-lights. “it was the only way sans could even be as cool about it as he is right now, lettin’ him pay. counselor-guy said it was fine as long as sans’d keep his distance, an’ since…y’know, since i don’t have a real job to live on.”

…Yeah, you’re…

You hope this counselor is doing some good for Papyrus because personally, he sounds like kind of a—

“but…whatever, it got sans to agree to it, so…progress, i guess.”

Somehow, that doesn’t ring entirely true to you.

Sans may be keeping his distance from Papyrus, but…

He knew when you ran into his brother for the first time. He knew enough about your routine to find your coffee shop.

Sans was staying away, but he…he wasn’t really staying away…was he?

Papyrus must see something of your thoughts on your face because he groans.

“i know,” he says, “i know. if there’s one thing on this whole planet i know, it’s my bro, an’ he’s a hell of a—”

“Stalker?” you guess.

Far from offended, Papyrus agrees, “the best. real sneaky. i may not be seein’ him, but i know he’s around. long as he stays in his lane, though, m’not about to snitch on him. let him stalk his heart out—we don’t have those, anyway.”

Such an utterly casual stance on the topic really throws you.

“So you’re… That’s it?” you ask. “You’re…you’re seriously cool with your brother stalking you like that? It doesn’t bother you at all?”

Emphatically, dramatically, Papyrus flops backwards onto the bed.

“nah,” he drawls tiredly, “i don’t mind. i know he’s just…tryin’ to look out for me, like he always did.”

There’s a beat of silence.

“i know he made a horrible first impression on ya’, an’ i’m not gonna try to…convince ya’ to change your mind, or whatever, but… sans just…cares a lot. i think… i think sometimes, it hasn’t really clicked for him how different it is up here.”

“How so?”

Besides the obvious, you mean.

Papyrus seems to understand, though. “i mean…down there, if i wasn’t… if i wasn’t at home or like…literally right next to him, i had somethin’ like an eighty-two percent chance of getting’ caught in a fight. or already havin’ been in a fight, an’ dusted.”

You blink in surprise. “That’s…a pretty specific,” and harrowing, “figure.”

“sans. I toldja, he’s good at math. he’s… it’s…annoying, sometimes,” Papyrus says. “but it’s…he’s tryin’ to take care of me, how’m i supposed to stay mad at that?”

You don’t know.

You don’t really know…a lot of things, now.

Everything you just heard has cast a bizarre new light on Sans—your terrifying, would-be bully, secretly…protective? Generous?

You’re not sure what to make of it, really, and you don’t envy Papyrus’ position: trying to figure it out as the guy’s brother.

Only one part of you, squashed deep, deep down, can admit to even a shred of jealousy.

You wonder what it must be like, to have someone who gives that much of a damn about you.

Can’t relate.

Ultimately, you know it’s not really your issue to weigh in on.

If Papyrus is fine being stalked by his own brother—and as long as said brother isn’t going out of his way to scare the hell out of you anymore—you guess that, really…that’s all that matters.

When your stomach chooses that supremely inappropriate moment to growl again and Papyrus laughs, reprising his offer to get some takeout for you—c’mon, seriously, it’s no problem, sans’ treat, nyeheheh—you finally concede.

Something about knowing Sans is paying for it feels…karmically correct… Apropos, for freaking you out those times.

You join Papyrus up on his bed to eat (because apparently that’s how he rolls) and re-watch the episode you’d missed most of because of your interlude of heavy-talk.

The rest of the evening is perfectly pleasant and if you’re at all disappointed that ‘Chill’ really meant ‘Chill,’ well, that’s between you and yourself.

-

You like Papyrus.

You like him quite a bit, and it seems obvious enough that he likes you, too.

It doesn’t take a genius to see that much in the way he’s always treating you, calling you, inviting you over every other damn day.

Papyrus is already so attached to you in just a few short weeks that it’s bordering on the smitten.

And you’re not quite so easily spooked as Sans had hoped.

You pose a particular sort a problem, a kind of variable that he doesn’t like having in this equation.

He has to get out in front of it.

He’s been going about this all wrong.

So, you can’t be frightened off—that’s just fine.

Sans can be very adaptable.

He grabs his scarf and pulls on his gloves and heads out early that morning; even earlier than his usual.

CHANGE OF PLANS…

Chapter Text

ME: GOOD MORNING, PAPYRUS.

ME: GOOD MORNING PAPYRUS.

ME: GOOD MORNING, PAPYRUS.

ME: GOOD MORNING, PAPYRUS.

ME: GOOD MORNING, PAPYRUS.

ME: FIVE DAYS, GOING FOR A RECORD, PAPYRUS?

UNGRATEFUL SHIT: yeah i hear there’s a book of ‘em up here

ME: OH, HE LIVES!

ME: I PRESUME THIS RESPONSE MEANS YOU ARE, IN FACT, ALIVE?

ME: DELIGHTFUL.

-

You’re not fully awake yet, you think.

You’re dressed and upright. You’ve left your apartment. You’ve made it all the way to your favorite café, ordered your usual, and sat down to enjoy it, so you’re certainly more likely awake than not.

But there’s also a skeleton in front of you, between one blink and the next, and you don’t see how you could’ve missed that unless you were still kind of asleep.

You’re definitely awake now.

Even though you instantly tense, eyes widening in shock, Sans simply stands there—in perfect parade-rest with your table in between you. He meets your gaze and before you can think of an appropriate thing to say to this (second!) violation of your precious me-time…

A strange expression comes across his skull.

It looks almost…

Sheepish?

“PLEASE,” he says in a low voice, stalling your words in your throat. “PARDON MY INTERRUPTION, BUT…MAY I SIT?”

For a second, you’re not sure you heard correctly.

A polite request? From Papyrus’ boundary-flaunting brother?

You open your mouth.

Close it.

And then, far more civilly than you’d like to be, reply, “I guess I can’t stop you.”

Sans…doesn’t move.

Not one inch.

You frown. “Well?”

“THAT WASN’T AN ANSWER,” he gently points out, and you huff.

“Fine,” you hiss, “you can sit, whatever!”

You’d rather not cause a scene and you had a feeling fewer things would do that so well as a skeleton in a Royal Guardsman uniform standing rigidly beside your table.

The gold-leaf Delta Rune emblazoned across Sans’ chest gleams as he pulls out a chair and seats himself opposite you. You think that he must have some official business to attend to today if he’s in full uniform so early in the morning.

Apparently, his business with you is more pressing, and normally, that would worry you, but…

Protective as he may be, you somehow doubt that Sans would try to do anything to you, a human, in a public place, while literally wearing the symbol of his people.

It puts you just a little bit at ease.

“THANK YOU, MISS,” he says, and then, practically courteous, “MAY I HAVE YOUR NAME?”

You don’t think you can be blamed for your scoff.

“What,” you ask with a skeptically raised brow, “don’t you already know it? And my address? Social security number?”

Sans smirks at you. “OH, ONLY YOUR SOCIAL.”

You stare at him.

His grin falters.

“…A JOKE,” he notes after a moment. “IN…AHEM, IN…POOR TASTE. OBVIOUSLY.”

Yeah, no shit.

“BUT,” he continues, neatly folding his gloved claws on the table, “I HAPPEN TO BE OF THE FIRM OPINION THAT USING ONE’S NAME WITHOUT THEIR PERMISSION IS RUDE. ESPECIALLY……”

Sans’ eye-lights flick down, staring straight at the tablecloth.

“ESPECIALY WHEN YOU’VE…BEEN THE CAUSE OF SOME…INCONVENIENCE, FOR THAT PERSON.”

“………”

Jeez.

That’s almost…honorable.

Before you think too hard on it—and since he probably already does know—you give him your name.

Sans looks up at you, his ultraviolet eye-lights glowing vividly.

He waits a beat, as if trying to gauge your sincerity, but ultimately echoes your name, decisive.

“THANK YOU. OF COURSE, YOU CAN CALL ME SANS IF YOU’D LIKE. …THOUGH I…WOULDN’T BLAME YOU IF YOU HAD SEVERAL OTHER CHOICE WORDS YOU’D LIKE TO CALL ME INSTEAD…”

He stole the quip right out of your mouth.

“Yeah,” you say, slowly. “Speaking of, Sans… You know I, uh…heh, I gotta wonder…why you’re here.”

Sans frowns at you. “IS IT NOT OBVIOUS?”

You just raise your eyebrows at him—you wouldn’t have asked if it was.

“WELL, I CAME TO……”

He trails off for a moment and you’re…very surprised to see a hint of color creeping along his cheekbones.

But not nearly so surprised as you are at the next words he forces out.

“I CAME TO APOLOGIZE.”

………

Well.

Color you speechless.

Sans seems to have no such difficulty.

“I’VE…COME TO REALIZE THAT MY BEHAVIOR TOWARDS YOU HAS BEEN…UNCALLED FOR,” he says, sullenly, like pulling teeth…but he is saying it.

That feels important.

“YOU…DID NOTHING TO DESERVE BEING TREATED THAT WAY, AND IT WAS VERY ILL-FITTING FOR A SKELETON OF MY STATION TO HAVE……TERRORIZED YOU. IN ANY CAPACITY. AND FOR THAT, I’M…VERY SORRY.”

“……Did…Did you get a talking-to or something?” you wonder. “Is…are you being forced to apologize to me?”

Sans huffs, like the very notion is offensive.

“NO, I’M NOT HERE AGAINST MY WILL,” he assures you. And then, he…deflates, just a bit. “THOUGH OF COURSE, I CAN…I CAN UNDERSTAND WHY YOU MIGHT THINK THAT. I DON’T BLAME YOU.”

Well, if that isn’t the reason, then you’re officially out of explanations.

“…LOOK,” Sans says in response to your silence. “I REALIZE YOU HAVE NO REASON AT ALL TO BELIEVE ME, BUT… I’M NOT AN UNREASONABLE MAN. I’M NOT NORMALLY…… I JUST…FIND IT DIFFICULT TO THINK OBJECTIVELY WHEN MY BROTHER IS AT RISK.”

You find you have to state the obvious.

“He’s not at risk.” You say it firmly, with conviction, because, “Papyrus is my friend. I’d never hurt him.”

Sans winces.

“I KNOW. I KNOW THAT. YOU’VE BEEN…VERY KIND TO HIM. HE’S QUITE FOND OF YOU, AND IT’S OBVIOUS YOU FEEL THE SAME.”

……

Why did that innocent little observation make your heart skip a beat?

You don’t have time to dwell on it, at least.

“THAT’S WHY YOU DESERVE AN APOLOGY—THE WAY THAT I BEHAVED, WHEN YOU WERE ONLY TRYING TO BE A GOOD FRIEND… I SHOULDN’T HAVE.”

“…So, why did you?”

For a second, Sans looks…oddly stricken.

You have to give him one thing, though: he covers it quickly.

You can only see a hint of the distress playing at the edges of his eye-sockets as he says, “PAPYRUS IS…… YOU HAVE TO UNDERSTAND, HE’S… PAPYRUS IS THE ONLY FAMILY I HAVE. I’M…I’M TOLD HUMANS FEEL SIMILARLY ABOUT FAMILY; THE IMPORTANCE OF IT…”

Not all humans. Not uniformly.

But that’s…

You remember, suddenly, what Papyrus told you—about how he and Sans were always together Underground, how Sans always looked out for him, to the point of choosing a dangerous career just to protect him better.

Your eyes fall briefly to the golden Delta Rune on Sans’ chest and you feel you have a decent understanding of what ‘family’ means for him.

So, you nod.

And Sans nods, too.

“I REALIZE,” he admits, “THAT I CAN BE…OVERZEALOUS, AT TIMES. I OBVIOUSLY REACTED TO YOU RATHER DISPROPORTIONATELY, I KNOW THAT NOW. I WAS CONCERNED ABOUT PAPYRUS, AND WHILE THAT’S… MY INTENTIONS ARE NO EXCUSE. IT WOULD BE UTTERLY REMISS OF ME TO GIVE YOU ANYTHING LESS THAN MY DEEPEST APOLOGIES FOR ANY DISTRESS OR INCONVENIENCE I’VE CAUSED.”

…Wow.

Wow.

You’re a little mad at yourself for it but there’s something in those words that…really touches you.

You can’t remember the last time someone actually apologized to you, much less with such eloquent words.

But as pretty an apology as it is…

You hesitate to accept it so thoughtlessly.

“I don’t…”

Sans raises a hand, shaking his skull.

“NO, PLEASE, THAT’S FINE. I DON’T EXPECT YOUR FORGIVENESS.”

“……you don’t?”

If Sans doesn’t…if he’s not trying to get you to say you forgive him, then why bother to…?

“FORGIVENESS IS EARNED,” he says curtly. “I’VE DONE NOTHING TO EARN IT FROM YOU, BUT I INTEND TO START.”

You don’t know what that means and your mortal terror of the unknown has you gripping your mug a little tighter, knuckles white.

Sans, though…

Sans just laughs.

“HEHEHEH, IT’S NOT SO TERRIBLE AS ALL THAT. I, AH, HAVE A FEELING,” he muses sardonically, “THAT THE THING YOU’D MOST WANT FROM ME…IS TO JUST STAY OUT OF YOUR HAIR. AM I RIGHT?”

You resist the urge to fidget awkwardly. It sounds so…rude, out loud, and yet…

Well.

At least Sans doesn’t seem to be offended— he grins at you, like your (lack of) answer was more or less what he expected.

“THEN, THAT’S WHAT YOU’LL GET. OBVIOUSLY, PAPYRUS IS IN VERY GOOD HANDS WITH YOU, I…I HARDLY NEED TO CHECK UP ON HIM, ANYWAY, WITH YOU AROUND. IT’S… IT’S A LITTLE DIFFICULT FOR ME…”

He grimaces, ever so slightly, but the expression is quickly overtaken by one of determination.

“…BUT. I’LL BE…LEAVING YOU ALONE, FROM NOW ON. I PROMISE.”

You’re not sure how much a promise from Sans is worth—you hardly know anything about him, and what you have gathered hasn’t always been pleasant…

But to you, it seems…very big of him to admit he was in the wrong, and to want to do better.

You can respect that.

“Thank you,” you say at length. “That’s… I really appreciate that. Papyrus is… I consider him a good friend and the last thing I’d want is—”

“—FOR A DISAGREEMENT BETWEEN US TO COMPLICATE THAT?” Sans guesses.

He’s smiling pleasantly and it’s so casual and normal that you could almost believe you were just out with a friend for breakfast instead of the guy who’d been trying and not entirely failing to intimidate you for weeks.

…Well, maybe not a friend.

An…acquaintance?

Perhaps a coworker…?

Someone to be passing civil to, at least, who treated you the same way, and for the first time since you learned this skeleton’s name you feel a flicker of hope that he might not be a giant pain in the ass to you as long as you were close to Papyrus.

You exhale a breath and the tension you didn’t even realize you were carrying in your shoulders goes with it.

“Exactly,” you agree. “I…thank you, Sans.”

“OH PLEASE,” he says, waving you off. “IT’S QUITE LITERALLY THE LEAST I CAN DO. …AH, WHICH REMINDS ME…”

You watch as Sans reaches into an inner-pocket of his uniform, removing something thin and white.

An envelope, which he places on the table, within your reach.

“I UNDERSTAND TOKENS ARE CUSTOMARY WITH APOLOGIES SUCH AS THESE,” he says, watching you take it. He grins as an afterthought seems to occur to him, belatedly adding, “NO GREETING CARD, I’M AFRAID. THEY DON’T SEEM TO MAKE THEM TO SUIT OUR…HEH, PARTICULAR SITUATION.”

A token?

You’re intrigued and curiously open up the envelope wondering what sort of ‘token’ a monster like Sans might consider appropriate.

You’re not expecting something as mundane as a check, made out to you.

…But you’re also not expecting something as shocking as the numbers on it, and really, that more than makes up for any conventionality.

It’s a struggle to keep from noticeably gaping as you carefully close the envelope and set it back on the table.

“Oh, I…I can’t accept this,” you say quickly, and…and you can’t.

“WHY NOT?” Sans wonders, sounding confused, but…

It’s…generous.

Too generous by far, and you couldn’t possibly take that much from…anyone, not without having earned it!

You do your best to express this as clearly as you can, but…probably fall short.

“It’s…that’s too much, I, I can’t take that from you…”

“YOU AREN’T ‘TAKING,’” Sans replies, “I’M OFFERING.”

You frown. “But…”

Sans places his claws on the envelope and slides it a little closer to you, starting to look a little upset himself.

“PLEASE,” he entreats, “IT’S A GIFT—TO MAKE UP FOR WHAT I PUT YOU THROUGH. NO LADY DESERVES TO BE TREATED THAT WAY, BUT ESPECIALLY NOT ONE AS KIND AS YOU.”

You just…stare at the envelope.

“IT’S THE AMOUNT. THAT’S WHAT YOU’RE WORRIED ABOUT?” You must make some sort of face, because Sans takes it as an answer. “DON’T. THIS IS NO IMPOSITION AT ALL, WE’RE COMFORTABLE. YOU AREN’T TAKING ANYTHING UNDUE, I ASSURE YOU.”

You don’t know. You still feel…

“I… Sans, this is…very generous of you,” you say diplomatically, “but I just… I don’t know how comfortable I am accepting this kind of…gift.”

A drop of sweat starts to bead along the side of Sans’ skull. He must not have been expecting a refusal because he almost looks like he doesn’t know what to do with himself in the face of yours.

“WELL, I… I SUPPOSE THAT’S… I DON’T……”

Suddenly, he inhales sharply, eye-sockets going wide.

“WAIT,” he says urgently. “YOU SAID YOU DON’T FEEL COMFORTABLE ACCEPTING IT AS A GIFT. WHAT IF… WHAT IF IT WASN’T A GIFT?”

You don’t following his scrambling logic. “What… What else would it be?”

“MAYBE YOU COULD……DO SOMETHING? YOU KNOW, TO…TO FEEL MORE LIKE YOU’VE EARNED IT…?”

Immediately, the tension is back in your shoulders and you’re eyeing the envelope like it’s scorpion, ready to sting.

You don’t even have to say a word, though, before Sans is backtracking.

“UGH, NO, STARS, NOT—NOTHING OBJECTIONABLE,” he insists, sounding exasperated with himself. “I WOULDN’T… I’M NOT TRYING TO…”

He sighs, defeated.

“I’M NOT TRYING TO PUSH YOU,” he says. “I ONLY… YOU’VE DONE A LOT FOR ME… FOR PAPYRUS. IT…IT FEELS WRONG NOT TO REPAY YOU SOMEHOW. I……DON’T MEAN TO MAKE YOU FEEL UNCOMFORTABLE.”

In that moment, Sans looks nothing short of…miserable.

Awkward.

Well-meaning, maybe, but going about it in all the wrong ways.

He reminds you so much of Papyrus right now that it hurts.

You blame the weird family resemblance for the next, stupid words out of your mouth.

“………What would I have to do to earn that?” You huff out a laugh. “Political assassination? Promise you my firstborn?”

Sans puts a hand over his face, simultaneously amused and embarrassed.

“OH STARS,” he chuckles, “NO, DON’T UNDERSELL YOURSELF. THE GOING RATES ON THAT WOULD BE MUCH HIGHER. THAT…HEHEH, THAT’S MORE WHAT I’D PAY FOR A FAVOR.”

“Like what?”

Sans shakes his head. “OH, I DON’T KNOW. IT’S NOT AS IF I… I CAN’T EVEN THINK OF ANYTHING I’D………”

Slowly, the easy, abashed smile falls from Sans’ face.

“…WELL.”

Oh boy…

“What?” you ask again, apprehension noticeable in your voice.

“OH RELAX,” Sans admonishes, “REALLY. IF I WERE TO ASK YOU TO DO ANYTHING AT ALL, IT WOULD… IT WOULD ONLY BE SOMETHING LIKE…CHECKING ON PAPYRUS FOR ME.”

Your eyebrows pinch together. “Aren’t you…already doing that?”

“YES, BUT HE DOESN’T LIKE IT,” Sans groans. There’s the barest hint of a whine behind it, downright petulant, and you nearly laugh to hear it. “HE GETS MAD AT ME AND GIVES ME THE SILENT TREATMENT EVERY TIME HE THINKS I’M GETTING TOO CLOSE, AND THEN I KNOW EVEN LESS ABOUT WHAT’S GOING ON WITH HIM, AND…AND I WORRY!”

……Oh no.

No, that’s actually sweet in a weird sort of way

You can’t help but put yourself in Sans’ boots for a second: imagining somebody you cared about—Papyrus—being off on his own for the first time, a little naïve and a lot clueless, not even checking in with you to let you know he was doing alright…

Stars above, you think… You think you might get a little worried, too.

“HE’S… WELL, YOU KNOW HOW HE IS,” Sans grumbles, scrubbing his hand over his face. “YOU’RE CLOSER TO HIM THAN I AM, THESE DAYS. IF ANYBODY COULD TELL ME HE’S OKAY FROM TIME TO TIME, WITHOUT HAVING TO…GET INVOLVED MYSELF… IT WOULD BE YOU.”

…Yeah.

“BUT REALLY, I… I’M NOT ASKING THAT. THERE’S NO CATCH—YOU CAN TAKE THE MONEY, NO STRINGS ATTACHED.”

You still can very much not do that.

You don’t take things you haven’t earned, you work for them.

…You work a lot for them.

All your overtime, extra shifts, and missed lunches can attest to that. So can your hours of lost sleep and the constant murmuring money-anxiety you heard in the back of your mind over every little thing.

You find yourself staring down at your empty plate and near-empty mug—all that was left now of your modest little Early Bird breakfast special that you’d feel guilty about wasting money on later, just like you always did; no matter that it was just a couple of bucks and the only luxury you’d allow yourself for the rest of the week.

Those couple bucks could be going so many other places instead—the bills, your rent, the never-ending court fees, to say nothing of groceries, or…or unforeseen emergencies…

You’re…

You’re burning yourself out these days, running to stay in the same place, and this bizarre bastard of a skeleton is offering to…ha, to toss you a bone just to let him know his brother is doing alright sometimes.

……

Oh stars above, am I actually considering this…?

You…you think you might be.

You’re tired. You’re exhausted, you’re not thinking straight, how could you be?

If you were…if you were entirely in your right mind, you wouldn’t give this a second thought.

Papyrus is your friend, and…maybe more? and this would be…

It’d be going behind his back.

…To tell Sans he was fine, you unwillingly reason. To keep him from stalking and butting in while Papyrus is trying to figure things out on his own.

That wasn’t…

It wasn’t too terrible…was it?

You open your mouth.

“You… If I… I mean, I wouldn’t have to…spy on him for you…would I?”

Sans blinks at you, looking surprised.

“OH. OH, GOODNESS, NO,” he assures you. “NOTHING YOU’RE UNCOMFORTABLE WITH. JUST…THAT HE’S ALRIGHT. MAYBE…HOW HE’S DOING…? IF THAT ISN’T TOO MUCH…”

It’s not.

It’s barely anything.

And as much as it galls you, looking at the envelope on the table, you really don’t know how to turn down that much money right now; not with even the slightest bit of pressure applied to make you take it.

Sans must see you wavering.

“FORGIVE ME IF THIS IS…OUT OF TURN,” he says slowly, “BUT…I REALLY WOULD LIKE FOR YOU TO HAVE THIS. YOU SEEM LIKE A LOVELY WOMAN AND PAPYRUS IS VERY FOND OF YOU. I DON’T LIKE THE IDEA OF YOU HAVING TO WORK SO HARD TO MAKE ENDS MEET.”

You freeze.

“How do you know how hard I work?” you demand. “Have you been stalking me again?”

You’re ready to be angry, ready to latch onto that emotion and use it to shut this whole thing down before the rest of you can make a decision…

But Sans looks startled by your accusation, and then, even a little…sad.

That’s pity, stupid.

“I HAVEN’T,” he promises. “FORGIVE ME, I…HAVE MORE OF A TALENT FOR READING FACES THAN I REALIZE, SOMETIMES. YOU… YOURS LOOKS VERY TIRED, IS ALL. I JUST ASSUMED……”

………

You didn’t…you didn’t realize it was that bad; that somebody you didn’t even know could just look at you and see

That breaks you, just a little.

Hesitantly, you reach out for the envelope.

In one last ditch effort, you look up at Sans, asking, “Are you…are you sure? I can really…?”

Relief washes over Sans’ skull. He smiles at you, his eye-lights gleaming happily in their sockets.

“YES,” he says eagerly, “YES, PLEASE DO! IT’S MY PLEASURE—NO, MY DUTY TO REPAY YOU, FOR EVERYTHING.”

And…

Well…

You’re out of excuses to refuse.

You take Sans’ token of apology.

-

When Sans finally leaves you to pay for your breakfast and head off to work, it’s with a weight off his chest.

He feels so much better about this whole thing, now.

With the unpredictable variable—you—made just a touch less variable.

Sans is back in control again and he couldn’t be any more pleased.

He decides to take the long way to the Embassy this morning, to enjoy the wonderful day, and even resolves to give Papyrus another try on his way.

-

ass: WELL, IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR AN APOLOGY, YOU CAN HAVE ONE. I’VE SPOKEN TO YOUR HUMAN AND I HAVE NO OBJECTION TO HER.

me: i told you to leave her alone

ass: I ONLY SPOKE TO HER, RELAX!

ass: SHE’S ACTUALLY QUITE LOVELY, A GOOD HEAD ON HER SHOULDERS, VERY REASONABLE.

me: yeah?

ass: YES. I’M GLAD YOU HAVE HER AROUND. YOU HAVE GOOD TASTE IN FRIENDS.

me: thanks

bro: YOU’RE WELCOME.

me: be safe, bro

bro: I HAVE NO SAY IN THE MATTER.

me: die then

-

Your feet are aching when you get home the next night, but you haven’t gotten any new blisters: you only worked your normal shift that day, without springing to pick up another.

You’re tired, but for once you don’t feel like you’re about to fall over before you can finally spare a minute to eat something: you actually had your lunch break, like you were supposed to.

There’s a hint of uneasiness in your stomach, but it’s nothing at all compared to the roiling dread you’d normally feel: you don’t have to set your alarm for a ridiculous time, or think about how ragged and wrecked you’d feel tomorrow morning trying to function on empty tanks.

Maybe you’ll feel the guilt harder in another couple of days, when you actually have to face the reality of what you’ve agreed to.

But for now, you fall right into a dreamless sleep—really, truly relaxing for the first time in years.

There’s not a feeling in the world like it.

Chapter Text

The sound of graphite on paper was one Papyrus had always found…meditative.

A scratch when he flicked his pencil this way, a scritch when he hooked it that way, each stroke producing a simple little sound; a bit of white noise to ease the flow of his favorite hobby in the world.

Every medium had its own sound, of course—paintbrushes, pastels, styluses, and more—but Papyrus could never deny that pencils were just…his favorite, the one he always returned to no matter how many digital commissions he had piling up or how many brand new markers he’d been meaning to break in.

Sketching relaxed him, made him forget about everything else for just a little while.

Case in point: Papyrus was sitting in the heart of a public park, all but oblivious to the dozens of passersby while he scribbled away in his sketchbook, unconcerned about strangers’ curious eyes or questions or judgment.

He was just…here, calm and focused and…very, very happy.

But Papyrus would be the first to admit that this may’ve had less to do with his medium than his subject.

Thoughts of you always seem to make him happy these days.

“YOU HAVE TO WATCH YOURSELF AROUND THESE HUMANS, PAPYRUS,” Sans had once told him, back in the early days of their freedom. “THEY’RE JUST LIKE MONSTERS, THEY’RE ALL THE SAME.”

…But Papyrus didn’t see how that could be after he met you—warm and funny and so, so nice to help him the way you did, back when you didn’t even know him.

You’d never looked at him like he was just some…some creep, like so many humans did. You didn’t avoid him, either, like monsters did once they spotted the tag on his collar and realized who his brother was.

You talked to him, hung out with him, joked around and helped him out, even after a couple run-ins with Sans’ legendary mother-henning.

You’re nothing like any monster Papyrus has ever met. You’re nothing like any human Papyrus has wanted to meet, either.

You’re special. You’re good.

Good enough that even Sans could see it.

Papyrus tsks to himself, thinking that it took his stubborn brother long enough to come around, but that text…

The sense of relief that had come along with that one little text had been enormous and well worth the wait.

Papyrus is so glad that Sans is finally cool with you being around: it’s going to make things so much better.

……nah, Papyrus decides after a moment, looking down at his sketch. already has.

Because you look incredible lately and that’s not just his rose-colored glasses.

He can see the evidence right there on the page.

Papyrus idly traces a claw over an older sketch of you, from just a week or two ago: flopped backward into his beanbag without a care in the world. You had looked so cute when you’d done it for real, he knew instantly that he’d have to try to capture it on the page and as soon as you’d left that night, he’d taken up his pencil and tried his hardest to do you justice.

He’d liked the result, at the time, but now, it just…doesn’t look like you. Not anymore…

………

Not, uh…not that he’s…actually hung out with you, lately, you’ve been…kinda hard to pin down…

Papyrus has just…seen you around, here and there, and you haven’t……seen…him……

He’s not stalking you! Really, he isn’t! He’s not Sans, for fuck’s sake, but…y’know!

He really…only knows the one grocery store, the…the one you showed him, and he may’ve…spotted you shopping once… And sometimes, he just sorta walks around Ebott, not to do anything, just to feel the sun on his bones, and…and you live in the city, too, it’s not…totally weird that he’d see you out here and there!

Papyrus would’ve said hi those times, but…you were obviously busy, doing stuff With Purpose and he didn’t wanna hold you up or anything, plus…plus there was what Undyne had said…

But!

You.

Papyrus lets his eye-lights fall on the you he’s drawing now; the you with a backpack slung over your shoulder, hopping up into a bus.

Seeing it right next to beanbag-you, the differences are shockingly obvious.

Beanbag-you has dark circles under her eyes and her smile looks pinched. Even at rest, her shoulders are tight with some kind of tension that not even the fluffiest beanbag on the planet could get rid of, and Papyrus doesn’t think that’s because of the poor company.

Bus-you, on the other hand… she looks relaxed, and the only lines around her mouth are from grinning, and he may not have realized that you had looked so tense until you didn’t anymore, but…

Stars, Papyrus thought you were cute before.

Now that Sans has calmed the hell down about you, you look totally gorgeous and Papyrus loves the look on you—relaxed and happy—and he…he kinda wishes he could see you like this all the time.

…But truthfully, he’d settle for any time.

It feels like it’s been forever since he’s talked to you for real, you’ve been so slippery lately and Papyrus had tried not to push too hard ‘cause…because…

Papyrus pulls out his phone, trying to remind himself why.

geekfish: NOOOO, YOU GOTTA WAIT!!!

me: why???

geekfish: Because you gotta! You have to play it cool, let her come to you, girls are into that!

me: source?

geekfish: ME, YOU DINGUS, I’M A GIRL

geekfish: How do you think I got Alphy to notice me? You can’t come on too strong, you gotta entice a little, be interesting! Mysterious!

me: how tho

geekfish: I dunno, just don’t be thirsty! Chicks hate that, be more tsuntsun!

me: what does that even mean

geekfish: It means play hard to get, dumbass!

And so Papyrus had…after looking it up online first and finding that the internet said the same thing about human women: be cool, be distant, make her do the chasing…

But Papyrus…is failing miserably.

He’s not cool, he can’t be distant, he doesn’t know how to ‘not be thirsty,’ he is so thirsty and he wants to see you again, he wants it so, so badly…!

fuck it, he decides, scrolling over to your contact in his phone. undyne’s probably trolling, anyway…

He’s gonna ask you.

He’s gonna make this happen.

-

You feel great.

And also terrible.

Neither is much of a surprise to you, not after you’ve fully come to terms with what you did.

…No, that’s not right.

You haven’t done anything, yet.

But you agreed to.

You basically agreed to be Sans’ informant on his own brother, the closest friend you have right now, and for what?

Some extra sleep? A little more security? Less constant anxiety about everything you have to pay for, with no stalking skeletons lurking over your shoulder, adding to the stress?

Damn it all, though, it’s good.

At least physically, you’re feeling the best you’ve felt in…stars, years, and you hate that you don’t regret that part.

The part you know you’ll regret is still looming in your future—the part where you actually see Papyrus in real life and have to tell Sans how he is, or…

Or do the thing your very soul is screaming that you have to do.

Tell Papyrus everything.

You stare at the text on your phone’s screen, like you had been on and off for at least ten minutes.

Rus: hey, i miss you, you should come over sometime

Stars above, he’s sweet. You can practically hear the earnestness in the words from here and…

Well.

You miss him, too.

It hasn’t been long since you saw him last, not really, but…

Papyrus is a good guy, the best you’ve met in a long time, anyway, and you really do want to see him.

Even if it means you have to have…probably the worst possible conversation you can imagine with him.

One that’ll definitely kill your chances at that nebulous ‘something more’ you’ve been starting to consider, if not your whole friendship entirely.

Your thumb hovers over the keyboard again for the hundredth time.

You’ve typed out and deleted at least a dozen messages so far, each more terrible and shitty-sounding than the last, but you’re kind of at a loss for how to make what you need to say sound any better.

‘Your brother is trying to pay me to get information about you and I’m kinda letting him because I’m desperate, please don’t hate me’?

No.

Hell no.

You think that maybe these are the kind of beans that just can’t be spilled over text.

You have to tell him what a terrible friend you are in person.

You sigh and before you can lose your nerve, you send Papyrus your answer.

Me: Sure, when were you thinking?

Papyrus’ typing bubble appears immediately and even as a fond smile comes across your face, it feels…

Bittersweet.

You spare a moment to curse yourself, wondering why the hell you even agreed to that…that stupid arrangement in the first place.

Because Sans caught you in a moment of weakness and turned you around until it seemed like a good idea at the time.

………

Oh.

Yeah.

Jeez, you feel so played.

This was probably exactly what Sans wanted and you’d let him play you like a fiddle.

You have to wonder now how much of what he said to you that day was real and how much was just an act to get you to agree.

As much as you hate having fallen for it, you feel a begrudging spark of admiration for what Sans did there.

He got you.

But maybe…it wasn’t too late to back out…?

Your phone buzzes in your hand and you try to distract yourself making plans with your friend.

You guess you’ll just have to…see how Papyrus takes it and then do whatever he wants you to do.

You hope that at the very least, he’ll be able to forgive you…

-

The door swings open and almost immediately, you’re tugged right in a big ol’ bear-hug.

You laugh, hugging back with your cheek squished right up against Papyrus’ sternum, soft fabric over hard bone.

“Well, jeez, hello to you, too!”

Papyrus pulls back, inviting you in. His smile isn’t even a little bashful and there’s a playful twinkle in his eye-lights.

“told ya’ i missed ya’, didn’t i?”

He pauses, looking you up and down.

“ya’ look good,” he says, and…

Oh…oh boy.

He does, too.

Papyrus is wearing a turtleneck today, so dark that the shiny gold tag of his collar pops effortlessly. His jeans are nice—not a single rip or paint splatter to be found—tucked neatly into a pair of lace-up boots, and you’re honestly not sure if you’ve ever seen him wearing something that wasn’t loose and baggy before but it makes him look…

Tall.

Sleek.

Oh so touchable, and the soft, genuine smile on that handsome skull of his is not at all helping matters.

Of all the days for Papyrus to look so damn good.

After what feels like way too long, you manage to make your mouth say…something? Some sort of utterly normal pleasantry that doesn’t broadcast the direction of your thoughts, and you must succeed because Papyrus isn’t looking at you like you’re a weirdo.

Instead, he just walks with you to the kitchen, apparently eager to get started on your cooking lesson.

‘Lesson’ here is, of course, heavily air-quoted at this point being that you’re not even here tonight to help.

Papyrus had sworn up and down that he’s been practicing, he’s got a Signature Dish now, ‘no microwaving required, i promise,’ and all he needs from you now is your ‘expert opinion.’

You’d…doubted, at first…but coming into the kitchen on Papyrus’ heels, you’re starting to think he’d been serious.

The oven is on with something cooking away inside, and the stovetop is alive with a gentle little flame beneath a pot of barely bubbling water. On the counter you spy a bowl of sauce and a box of pasta and you can’t help but smile.

“Took my advice, huh?”

Papyrus shrugs.

“nyeheheh, you were right,” he freely admits. “noodles are…really hard to screw up…”

“Aw, don’t sell yourself short! A fine, upstanding disaster like yourself, I’m sure you managed it at least once!”

Papyrus chuckles, rubbing at the back of his neck. “let’s…just say there’s…a reason i own a wooden spoon now. and that i’m just gonna……do this real quick.”

So saying, he plucks the spoon up from beside the stove and sets it over the top of the pot, warding off future boil-overs and you snicker, just a little bit.

“Hey,” you reassure him, “if that’s the worst thing that’s happened to you in a room with so many fire hazards, I think you’re doing alright!”

“ah hell, thanks,” he mumbles, “that, uh…that actually…means a lot.”

You want to be touched by the sentiment.

Really, you do.

But you know that your opinion…probably won’t hold so much weight with Papyrus once he finds out… Once you tell him………

Shit.

You have to do this now, don’t you? Before you can lose your nerve.

You take a deep breath, trying to steel yourself for the undoubtedly horrible conversation to follow.

“Wait,” you say, and your suddenly serious tone makes Papyrus frown, but you keep going. “Papyrus, I…before we… I have to tell you something.”

Papyrus’ expressive skull shifts, the ridges above his eye-sockets pinching. “o…kay?”

“The, uh…the other day, I… I was…”

Damn it, this was hard! You try to talk faster, hoping that maybe that would help you get it out.

“I ran into Sans the other day, and—”

“yeah, i know.”

You freeze.

Thinking you misheard, you ask, “Wh…What?”

And looking confused, Papyrus slowly replies, “yeah? sans told me.”

It feels like your heart plummets straight down to the floor.

Sans told him.

Sans told Papyrus what you did and holy crap, that had been his plan all along, hadn’t it? To make you take his money and then snitch on you to his brother himself, to show Papyrus what a terrible person you were for it.

You took too long to confess on your own, you should’ve done it sooner, immediately after it happened, no matter how much you’d dreaded it, Papyrus must already hate you and you deserve it, stars above, why did you drag your heels so long?!

“i mean…it was about time, really,” Papyrus grumbles, cutting into your increasingly panicked self-deprecation. “i was waitin’ for him to be cool with you, it usually doesn’t take ‘im so long to chill out… but i guess, y’know, as long as he’s leavin’ you alone, who cares, right?”

You…pause.

“Uh…”

“wish he’d talked to ya’ sooner, actually,” he continues, grimacing a bit. “i shoulda let him, it always makes him feel better, but after that, uh…first impression…i guess i…mighta been tryin’ to……protect you, a little?”

You just stare at him.

Papyrus seems to take that as some kind of response, laughing a little sheepishly. “i know, i know, that was…that was kinda stupid, i guess,” he says, rolling his eye-lights at himself. “ya’ handled yourself fine. really won ‘im over, shoulda…shoulda figured you would.”

“I…I did?”

Papyrus smiles at you. “totally! he actually likes you, so y’know…ya’ probably won’t be hearin’ from him anymore, least not in the, uh…usual way… m’glad ya’ sorted it out!”

………

Oh.

Oh, you get it now.

Sans hadn’t snitched on you, but…

Whatever he told Papyrus about what happened…it wasn’t the whole truth, either; nowhere near enough of it. Papyrus just thinks you…came to some kind of agreement, which…technically, you had, but not the kind he thought.

Papyrus was just as clueless as you’d feared, which meant…

It was still definitely on you to tell him the thing that was probably going to make him hate you.

Damn it…

“I… no, ‘Rus, that’s not… I mean, we… it is sorted, kinda, but not… You don’t know what—”

“oh stars, i don’t need a play-by-play,” Papyrus says, cutting you off. “i’m sure it was just a buncha haughty, pretentious shit that looked like an apology…”

…Well.

He wasn’t wrong.

But, “It’s not what he said, it’s what I—”

“m’sure you said the right stuff, or else sans wouldn’t have ‘signed off’ on ya’, nyeheheh…”

You huff, trying not to get upset, but the frustration is definitely building.

“Papyrus,” you say firmly, “you’re not hearing me. Sans—”

Papyrus cuts you off again.

“can we just! not! talk about sans right now???” He turns to you, meeting your eyes, and he looks…almost as upset as you feel: tense and uncomfortable and maybe even a little disappointed. “i just… c’mon, this is…this is the first time i’m seeing you in…forever, i don’t… i don’t really wanna talk about my brother right now, i…i wanna…”

Papyrus’ pretty purple eye-lights stare you down.

Puppy-dog eye-sockets, you realize with a start, unreasonably endearing on such a big, spooky skeleton but there’s no other phrase even half as appropriate to describe what they’re doing to you now.

Especially when he reaches out to you, his claws brushing against your wrist as he hopefully entreats, with just a hint of a whine in his voice, “can’t you just…be here with me? just for…just for right now…?”

………

It’s…

It’s a very tempting prospect.

It’s not as if you want to talk about the Sans-thing, not really, much as you know you have to.

……Would it…would it really be so bad to put it off…?

Not long, of course, it was…this was important, Papyrus had to know, and he would, you’d be sure of that, but…

Obviously he didn’t want to hear it right now. You couldn’t get a word in edgewise, anyway, so maybe it…was for the best to delay a little bit.

Just…a couple hours or so? Just to enjoy your friend’s company for a bit, like both of you he wanted, before you had to drop the bombshell of your betrayal on him?

And if he got mad at you for not saying something right away…you had tried!

Weak.

Weak excuses, you know it, you know it all the way down to your soul, but you’re also…

A weak human.

Because you find yourself saying, “…Okay. But! Later, okay? It’s…it’s really important!”

By the look on Papyrus’ face, you might’ve just told him it was his birthday and there was a truckload of pastries for him just outside.

“sure,” he says quickly, “sure, whenever, let’s just, uh… well! here, lemme show you…”

Ever so gently, Papyrus grasps you by the wrist and tugs you over to see the recipe he’s been working off of, obviously an attempt to distract you, but…

You do want to be distracted, so it works…very, very well.

You listen intently as he tells you what he’s done already: a more ambitious project than you’d realized since he’d chopped vegetables before you’d arrived, and made the sauce himself from scratch instead of buying it in a jar.

The only thing he’s store-bought already made is the rotini pasta noodles and the garlic bread he has heating up in the oven, filling the kitchen with a mouthwatering aroma that makes you feel so incredibly proud of how far your protégé has come, that he’d managed to throw all this together without your help.

Between his checking on this and that, Papyrus also takes it upon himself to tell you how he’s been since last he saw you, his chatterbox nature coming right to the fore with barely any provocation.

“…so i totally caved and watched that anime. i told you about that, right? pretty sure i did… anyway, i got lucky, it wasn’t a bad one, it was actually…pretty good? y’know, for a cartoon. it was a lot better than i thought it would be, except for—…”

He stops himself, squinting at you.

“how much do you care about spoilers?” he asks.

“Not at all,” you tell him, to which he sighs in relief.

“okay, cool, then like, it’s good except for the part where they just killed off wolfwood right before the end, what the fuck kinda shitty, last minute twist is that, right?!”

Having absolutely no idea what he’s talking about, you empathize anyway.

“The worst kind of twist,” you agree. “Usually lazy writing.”

“exactly!”

Papyrus keeps right on talking and the more he says, the less you get, but his enthusiasm is…

Well, there’s no other word for it but ‘adorable,’ seeing him passionately excited about something, even in spite of confiding in you that he thought it was kind of a kid-thing.

“it actually gave me a couple ideas, y’know for, stuff i could… i kinda wanna draw some scenery or something for it now—‘sci-fi-western,’ what a weird fuckin’ concept, but i kinda love it? pfft, only in anime, right?”

“…Not necessarily.” At Papyrus’ curious look, you explain, “I can think of a couple shows like that, actually. Live-action, real people, not…but I mean, really good, still! I could give you the names if you want to look ‘em up later.”

“or…we could watch some together?” Papyrus poses, cautiously optimistic. “during, uh…during dinner, maybe…?”

“Haha, I mean, if you can find ‘em, sure, I don’t see why not!”

Papyrus perks up, looking so delighted at the prospect of watching a show with you that he nearly lets the pasta water boil over behind him.

But he really must have been practicing lately because as soon as the bubbling water touches the spoon and quietly hisses, he’s turning around, catching it in time and shutting off the burner.

He even timed it so that the alarm for the garlic bread goes off at the same time the pasta was ready to be plated and you watch as he almost skillfully assembles two plates—not restaurant-quality, but certainly something you’re eager to taste.

When you reach for the silverware, though, intending to help him set the (coffee) table, Papyrus bats your hand away.

“nuh-uh,” he says, grabbing it himself, “you go sit, i got it.”

“Pfft…I can’t carry a fork?” you wonder, trailing after him into the living room.

“nope.” He sets the utensils down and nudges you to sit on the couch while he heads back into the kitchen. “no plates or cups either. forbidden.”

You laugh, and when he comes back with everything else you ask, “Why am I forbidden? I can carry stuff, you know!”

“‘course ya’ can,” Papyrus scoffs, sliding a delicious-looking plate of pasta in front of you. “ya’ shouldn’t have to, this is for you.”

That gives you pause.

“For me?”

“duh. why d’ya’ think i practiced so much? m’tryin’ to do something nice for my favorite human.”

Papyrus sits down, too, just beside you—close enough that he’s a solid line of warmth right against your side.

When you look up at him, eyes a little wide, he grins at you.

“‘sides,” he says, “pretty lady like you deserves to have somebody to make ya’ a nice meal every now an’ then. now i can.”

………

Oh stars.

Oh fuck, is that what Cupid’s arrow feels like? Affection striking through your heart so quick and clean that at first, you don’t even realize how badly you’ve been hit?

You don’t think…

You don’t think anyone has ever said something so sweet to you, not actually meaning it, and by the guileless smile on Papyrus’ skull, you know that was nothing less than sincere.

Slowly, you feel your cheeks heating up and in a moment of flustered panic, you realize you have no idea how to respond to what was…almost definitely flirting.

Trying your best not to stammer and failing miserably, you manage, “W…well, I guess I’ll…have to be the judge of how, uh, how ‘nice’ it is, won’t I?”

Papyrus nods encouragingly, and under his hopeful, clearly affectionate gaze, you take a bite of your rotini.

It’s good.

It’s really good and you’re sure to tell Papyrus so, coaxing him to take up his own plate and see for himself.

Now you’re the one searching for a distraction, but Papyrus seems to allow it, taking your praise for a meal well made and soaking it up like a sponge soaks up water.

The only thing close to a criticism you have is the garlic bread, a little crunchier than it was probably supposed to be, but far from burnt and—being garlic bread—still delicious. You don’t even voice it and just keep eating, trying not to notice how proud and happy your skeleton looks for it, even as he flicks through streaming options on TV.

He’s too cute.

Too sweet.

You don’t know what to do.

You don’t really relax until Papyrus gently bumps your side, getting you to look up at the screen.

“hey, that’s one of the things you said before, right?” he asks. “the space western?”

You take one glance at the title. “Oh, yeah, that’s one of ‘em! Can’t believe you found it…”

“you’ll, uh…you’ll stay to watch a couple eps, r…right?” Papyrus’ cheekbones start to look a tad flushed. “while you’re already here, i mean. it’ll be fun, right? i, uh…i won’t make ya’ stay too long, i-i know ya’ got work an’ all, but, uh………”

He trails off a bit, but if there’s one thing at all you’re finally coming to realize…

It’s that you’re absolutely terrible at saying ‘no’ to Papyrus when he looks at you like that.

-

It’s not until you’re alone, in the rideshare car on the way home that you realize your mistake.

You never found a better time to say something to Papyrus.

And your deal with the devil is still in effect.

You…officially have something to report now, if…if you’re going through with this.

You don’t want to.

You stare at your phone in your hand for a solid five minutes straight, thinking about how much you don’t want to; how bad you feel about this, and how Papyrus doesn’t even know yet…

But.

You agreed.

It’s underhanded and sneaky and feels wrong, but you agreed to…and even if it’s to Sans, you don’t think you have it in you to go back on your word, once you’d given it.

There’s a sour taste in your mouth as you pull up the number Sans had given you that day.

You resolve to…just be vague. ‘NOTHING OBJECTIONABLE,’ Sans had said and you were damn well going to hold him to that, if you were really going to do this.

You: Had dinner with Papyrus. He’s fine.

There.

That…that wasn’t so bad…was it?

As long as Sans didn’t push for anything more than that…

But within a few seconds, he responds, cordial as can be.

Sans: THANK YOU. HAVE A GOOD NIGHT.

You don’t respond to that.

Between these two skeletons, you feel more twisted up than a bundle of wires and you don’t have the slightest idea how to even begin untangling yourself.

You just…try not to feel too terrible about what you’ve done.

You don’t know how much you succeed.

-

Papyrus waits twenty whole seconds after you’ve left to flop over on the couch and hiss cusswords into a pillow.

He cannot believe himself.

He was so close.

He almost had you.

He knows by now what it looks like when he’s got a shot with someone and he definitely had one with you tonight—stars, more like several shots, he could’ve made his move any time if he hadn’t chickened out before every single one.

He thinks the closest he came was when he gave you your plate and said…

Fuck, Papyrus has no clue what he said, just that it had (miraculously) been the right thing, making you look at him all flustered and cute and…

…and perfect.

Jeez, he wants you so bad, how the hell did he wuss out?!

………

He knows exactly how.

‘YOU LACK FOLLOW-THROUGH,’ Sans had said to him once, when they were kids, and even now, years later, it was still painfully true.

And speaking of Sans…

Papyrus has half a mind to blame his brother for tonight’s utter flop—as if your weird insistence on talking about Sans for some reason at the beginning of the technically-not-a-date had thrown him off his game—but he knows that isn’t fair to his bro.

Papyrus just doesn’t have any game to speak of.

…Except…

Maybe he does.

Papyrus rolls over on the couch, staring straight up at the ceiling.

Slowly, he’s…getting an idea.

At least part of one.

All he has to do is…make it happen, find his follow-through.

He can…probably…do that?

Papyrus thinks of you—the possibility of holding your hand, touching your hair, seeing if your lips felt as good as they looked—and the doubt vanishes from his skull completely.

He can do this.

He will.

Whatever it takes, Papyrus is going to tell you how much he likes you.

Chapter Text

When Papyrus called you, saying he wanted to do something different, he wanted to go somewhere to hang out with you, you thought it was a fantastic idea.

Meeting him publicly sounded like a great opportunity to talk to him—really talk to him—without the chill, private intimate vibes of his comfy couch and his unfairly endearing company to lull you into forgetting things until it was too late.

You’d definitely get to have your conversation this time, and if…well, if it went badly…at least it would be in public which would minimize the possibility of A Scene.

…Not that you thought Papyrus was the type to cause a scene, of course. The way he’d shyly rushed through your phone call, like he’d abruptly forgotten all your call-training and it was a band-aid to be ripped off as quickly as possible, spoke to that.

But you suppose a little extra insurance never hurts.

He’d hung up on you so fast, though, and hadn’t responded to your texts for the past few hours.

You don’t even know what kind of place this…‘Lucky 7even’ you’re going to is.

Papyrus certainly hadn’t said, and until now you’d spent so much time scripting and rehearsing…what you need to say to him…that it hadn’t even occurred to you to ask.

Looking it up was no help at all. It must’ve been very, very new or very, very old because you couldn’t find much of an online presence at all, just a streetview and an address.

Going in blind makes you decide to err on the side of caution.

You try to dress nicely—not fancy, but…nice, taking just a bit more care with your appearance than if you were going to go shopping, or visit a close friend who wouldn’t care if you looked a bit mussed.

You look at yourself in the mirror, right before you head out the door.

You look good: neat, presentable, put-together…like you’re going out to have a good time.

The last time you went out looking like this was…

Well.

This isn’t a date.

And you really hope this won’t end in tears and yelling.

You take a deep breath, meeting your own eyes in the mirror.

No, you tell yourself, firmly. It’s different.

You’re going to say what you need to say, and Papyrus…

Papyrus is tougher than he looks.

You feel pretty certain of that.

You really hope so.

-

You find the place without much trouble, within walking distance of your apartment.

No, the trouble doesn’t start until you actually walk in.

Pushing through the big, heavy door, you’re immediately greeted by noise— loud chatter and louder music each doing their damnedest to drown the other out. Stalled by the sound alone, you glance around, taking in your surroundings.

The ‘Lucky 7even’ is, apparently, a bar; a trashy-looking one at that, the kind you’d never intentionally visit if you were alone.

It’s dark and dirty and above all loud, and you have to seriously wonder for a minute if you’re in the right place.

You see absolutely nothing of your sweet, socially-anxious friend in a dive like this.

…Except the man himself, apparently.

You turn when above the din of…everything…you hear your name, and over by the bar, you see Papyrus, waving to you with a big, broad smile on his face.

Feeling…unaccountably weirded out, you head over to say hello.

“heyyy, hi, you’re here!” Papyrus exclaims in response to your greeting.

“Yeah, I wasn—oh!”

The second you’re within arm’s reach, Papyrus grabs you, effortlessly pulling you up onto the barstool beside him.

Startled by the move, you’re speechless as he eyes you, looking you up and down with an expression…you choose not to analyze.

“you look incredible,” he says. “you always do, but like…you’re especially incredible. like, tonight. right now. stars, you’re beautiful, i’ve told you that before, yeah?”

You feel your cheeks heat.

Not even five minutes here and Papyrus is already derailing you—you’ve got to stop making plans around this skeleton with the way they all keep ending up out the window the second he opens his mouth.

You do your best to stay focused. “Uh, I-I don’t—”

Papyrus doesn’t let you finish.

The bartender is approaching and suddenly, Papyrus’ arm is around you, tugging you a little closer to his side.

“monty, hey, monty, look!” he says, beaming. “this is the girl, the one i told ya’ about!” And then, to you, “this is monty, he knows me, he’s cool.”

Monty, to his credit, does look cool as a cucumber, even leaning over the bar to ask, “What can I get you, ma’am?”

Oh. Oh, you hadn’t planned on…

“Uh, just a water, actually,” you say, apologetically waving him off.

“whaaat??? aw, c’mon…” Papyrus, still with his arm around you, reaches back a little, grabbing a laminated menu and sliding it to you across the bar. “they got so much stuff here, look, look—the mai-tais’re pretty good but holy crap, lemme tell ya’, monty makes the best painkillers i ever had, no joke. or if ya’ want somethin’ else, he’ll make it for ya’, even if it’s not on the menu, he’s cool, seriously!”

You take the menu, obligingly looking at it, but…

Before you can respond, Papyrus scoffs at himself.

“ah hell, what m’i sayin’, y’can have water if y’want, you get…whatever you want, i won’t stop ya’, but hey…hey.” He dips down a bit, giving you a sly little wink. “ya’ gotta try th’ sweet potato fries, a’least, i’ll buy ya’ a basket when monty comes back, a’right?”

………

It’s not until you fully register it—that barest little slur in Papyrus’ voice—that it hits you what’s going on here.

“‘Rus, are you already drunk?”

Papyrus leans back a little, onto his own stool.

“pfffffffffft,” he says eloquently, not denying your accusation. “i hadda few, yeah… what, m’i drivin’? nyeheheheheheh…”

Well.

You guessed that explained this…weirdly good mood of his; his unusual boldness.

It still throws you, just a little bit.

If someone asked you yesterday, you’d have seriously doubted that Papyrus drank at all, as little as he’d seemed the type…yet here he was, hitting the booze for…who knows how long.

(You can’t help but wonder how many ‘a few’ drinks was for him. He’d told you 6:30 and you were here right on time, you’re sure of that—how much earlier than you had he gotten here to have already had ‘a few’?)

You give him a once-over.

Papyrus seems…alright.

Drunk, but not sloppy drunk, not blackout drunk, and…he’s a grown skeleton. If he wants to have a couple cocktails while he waited for you to show up, far be it from you to tell him how to live his life.

Shamefully, a part of you thinks that this might even be a good thing: as far as you can tell, Papyrus is a relaxed, confident, happy drunk, and in a mood like this, your little confession might actually go over better.

You’d probably even still be able to stay friends.

You sigh.

“Alright,” you say, “get those fries, I’ll try a couple.”

And Papyrus looks at you like…well, you’re not sure what that look is.

But it’s the kind of smile that’s irresistibly catching and soon, you’re smiling, too.

-

You try no less than four times to bring It up.

Between the noise and the music, and the regular interruptions from Monty, every single subtle topic redirection you’ve tried has fallen utterly flat.

It seems to you that there’s only one thing Papyrus wants to talk to you about tonight, and with his fingers brushing your bicep or his arm curling companionably around your shoulders, it doesn’t take more than a handful of sweet, flattering compliments for you to feel yourself getting…very, very distracted.

You try to be strong.

You like the attention.

You don’t want to just blurt anything out.

You don’t want this to end.

But you quickly stumble across your breaking point.

Apparently, that breaking point is when Rus leans in, chuckling at a halfhearted joke you made—his voice low and raspy and so close you can feel his warm, rum-tinged breath puffing against the shell of your ear.

“stars, you’re funny,” he breathes, “i love that about you,” and…

No.

No, foot down, too much, step back time.

You need to talk to Papyrus, really talk to him, and you can’t do that if he keeps rendering you speechless.

The sooner you get this over with, the sooner you can move past it; both of you.

“Hey!” you say, definitely not yelping the word as you slide off your stool. “Is there…like, do you know if there’s somewhere we can, uh…go? Maybe…maybe quieter than here…? I…y’know, I feel like we can’t really…talk here…”

Apparently, that was all you had to say.

As soon as he processes your words, he’s up and grinning, gently taking your hand and leading you away from the bar.

“oh yeah, sure,” he says as you walk, his words becoming more audible the further you get from the epicenter of the noise, “i hear ya’, it’s pretty… i know what ya’ mean, i know somewhere better, it’s great if you’re overwhelmed or just y’know, need a minute, it’s why i like this place so much, i’ll show ya’!”

Papyrus doesn’t say ‘ta-da’ when you arrive at your…destination…but you somehow hear it anyway in his expectant stare, like a dog leading you to a squirrel carcass and wagging its tail as if to say, ‘Look what I found!’

…Alright, ‘squirrel carcass’ might be a little harsh, you can admit that.

But an old, ratty loveseat set out in front of the bathrooms is hardly the epitome of luxury.

You elect to suck it up.

It doesn’t stink here, at least, and in the distance, you can only barely hear the noise from the patrons and the sound-system by the bar, which was pretty much all you’d asked for.

You sit down on the couch and Papyrus follows your lead, plopping himself down right next to you.

“Thanks,” you tell him and he smiles at you, crooked and loose but undeniably pleased.

He is…a very handsome skeleton, wearing a devil-may-care look like that. By the relaxed set of his shoulders alone, you’d guess that your friend is having a pretty great night so far.

You hate to rain on the parade, but you know if you don’t do it now, you’ll just keep finding excuses, putting it off forever, and that’s not right.

“Papyrus,” you say, as soberly as possible, “can we…talk?”

“yeah,” he replies. “anything.”

Okay then.

Another deep breath…and then you start in with your speech, just how you’d practiced it.

“Papyrus… I’m…I’m pretty new here, in Ebott. I, uh…there’s been some things…people I…wanted to get away from. A-a fresh start, y’know? New place, new job, new friends… And you, uh…you’re kinda my first. Of that last one.”

Violet eye-lights watch you intently and it surprises you how much they throw off your focus. You find yourself stumbling over your words a bit in your haste to get them out.

“And you’re! I, y’know, I really don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that, uh…you’re kind of my…my best friend! Right now, sure, but even… I don’t…I don’t know that I’ve had a better friend than you’ve been to me.”

You can’t tell if it’s a trick of the dim light in this place or if Papyrus’ cheekbones actually are darkening.

You don’t dwell on it.

“But that’s not… That isn’t what I……” You shake your head, staring down at the torn and dirty fabric of the couch. “Lately. With the move and the…everything else… you may have noticed…or not? That, uh…that I’ve kinda… I haven’t really been in the best…position…lately. F-financially. And it…might’ve led me to…uh, to making some decisions that I… Well, that I’m…not really proud of…”

It feels like your heart is going a mile a minute, making your chest feel tight with tense anticipation.

Concerned by his silence and needing to know what he’s feeling so far, you chance a look back up at Papyrus.

Your mind blanks for a second when you do.

He’s looking right back at you, but…he doesn’t seem like he’s paying attention. There’s a glazed look in his eye-lights, like he’s spacing out—so unfocused that he doesn’t even realize his gaze is way too low on your face to pass for eye-contact.

You feel like you’re losing him.

“Papyrus…?” you ask, trying to figure out if he’s paying any attention to you at all.

You get your own name in response, drawled out on a sigh that sounds…

Utterly lovestruck.

That

That stalls you.

And while you gape at him, at a loss for words, Papyrus seems to sense an opportunity.

“you’re amazing,” he says, so perfectly sincere that your eyes widen. “you’re incredible, really. I never would’ve guessed you were havin’ a hard time ‘cause you just…make everything look so easy. i love that about you, even when stuff is bad you just…tackle it an’ try to do your best, that’s so cool.”

You jump when he settles his hand on top of yours, but Papyrus isn’t done yet.

“an’ i… i have a hard time sayin’ it, i know i do… i get nervous or i, y’know, i don’t know…what the right words are, so i…just don’t say anything…but this is…it’s stuff you should hear, ‘cause it’s important. you’re important.”

Papyrus chuckles a little, self-deprecatingly.

“stars above know why the hell you still hang out with me so much, even knowing…what a mess i am, but… humans got that saying, somethin’ about gift-horses…? i don’t care why. you’re so strong…so good, a-an’ you make me…you make me feel………”

Papyrus leans into you, like so many other times tonight, except this time…

He doesn’t pull back.

Dipping down, his eye-sockets drooping closed, Papyrus ever so gently presses his teeth to your lips.

You’re frozen.

He…nuzzles at you, squeezing your hand in his, and all you can do is sit there, trying to process what’s happening.

You don’t get it—really get it—until he presses harder, carefully scraping your bottom lip with a fang as his claws come up to slowly curl around the back of your neck, raising goosebumps all along your body.

This is a kiss.

Papyrus is kissing you.

………

…Under some…gross misconception that you’re a good person.

That you’re someone he can trust.

Suddenly, you feel sick; dirty, like you’ve done something really, really wrong.

You…panic.

Reeling, you shove against Papyrus’ chest and watch him topple backwards onto the other side of the sofa.

He lays there bonelessly (ha! chirps a hysterical part of your brain), blinking up at you all dazed and confused and stars, he was drunk, and that just makes all of this so much worse.

You stand up.

“I-I’m sorry,” you manage to stammer out, “I’m so sorry, I… I can’t. I…I have to go!”

And before Papyrus can say another (charming, drunken, oblivious) word to you, you…

Well, you’re not proud of it.

You run away.

-

The house is quiet.

It always is.

One would think that would make it easier to relax, and yet…

And yet.

Papyrus left his apartment a few hours ago and normally, Sans would’ve been hot on his tail to find out where, but there’s really no need for that.

Sans has you now, after all—a woman of your word with such a pathetically low LV that he couldn’t even sense it in you from a foot away.

…Pathetic or not, though, you can still serve a purpose; still be useful.

Unlike…

Sans shakes the thought from his skull and texts you instead, asking after Papyrus and how he is.

You send back a one-word reply.

HUMAN: Drunk

Sans sits upright, a bolt of foreboding striking right through his soul.

Papyrus is drunk—alone? Are you with him?

His nonexistent gut tells him ‘no,’ and he’s made a habit of listening to those instincts.

Something is wrong.

Sans drops everything and then he’s on his feet, shortcutting not-quite-blindly all around Ebott. He pops in and out of all of Papyrus’ usual haunts, cursing himself for every sloppy landing; every stumble and stagger that isn’t a perfectly smooth step through the void.

At last he strides purposefully inside a ramshackle little dive following the distant feeling of his brother’s magic, an aura he could track in his sleep.

Apparently, this…‘Lucky 7even’ is not so lucky tonight.

Not for Papyrus, anyway.

Sans finds his brother slumped over on a ratty little couch in the back, looking half-conscious and wholly miserable.

Sans is at his side in an instant.

He pulls Papyrus upright, checking him over, and Papyrus lets him—no torn clothes, no wounds, no dust.

Sans sags a little in relief.

“YOU’RE ALRIGHT,” he says, not entirely sure who he’s saying it for. “YOU’RE ALRIGHT…”

And finally, Papyrus responds.

y’r not s’posed to be here…”

…Ouch.

A month since he last saw his brother in person, up close, and that’s the first thing he says.

That hurts.

Sans shakes it off as if it doesn’t.

“AND YOU’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO BE DRUNK IN A HUMAN DIVE-BAR, PAPYRUS!” he fires back, which seems the most prudent point to him.

Underground, it was different. He could let Papyrus carouse to his soul’s content in any bar he wanted Underground, because everyone there was a monster.

They all understood what Papyrus’ collar stood for, who they’d have to answer to if they laid one cruel hand on his little brother.

Sans tries to take some comfort in the fact that Papyrus still wears it, at least—black leather and a shiny gold bone around his vertebrae, still protecting him from any monster who fears Sans’ wrath.

But not from humans.

Humans didn’t get it, they didn’t know what that collar meant, they had no idea what he’d do if any harm came to Papyrus, how far he’d go without any fear of consequences.

Sans would die for his brother. Without hesitation.

He didn’t care about anything else.

Papyrus only scoffs at him.

“please,” he grumbles, “don’ act like y’r sober,” and Sans stills.

How…?

Ah, but no, Papyrus was…

Papyrus had always been sharper than he let on, always picked up on things, surprising even his brother…

But really, Sans thinks, the glass or two, or three of wine he’d had before coming out tonight wasn’t really the most pressing issue.

I CAN HOLD MY LIQUOR,” he hisses at Papyrus, grabbing at his arm to pull him up.

Papyrus reluctantly stands, immediately stumbling, and Sans is there in a split-second, stabilizing him.

You were right, Papyrus is drunk. Papyrus is way too drunk right now to be out, he should be at home, he should be somewhere safe!

What the hell happened? How long had he just been sitting here, all but unaware on this ugly little couch? Where were you?!

“YOU’RE A FUCKING MESS,” Sans snaps at his brother, doing his best to cover sudden distress with anger. “WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?! YOU SHOULDN’T BE OUT LIKE THIS ALONE! YOU SHOULD’VE…”

‘Called me,’ is how he wants to finish the sentence.

But Papyrus…wouldn’t appreciate that.

Sans swallows the words, feeling them sting all the way down, and says instead, begrudgingly, “YOU SHOULD’VE STAYED WITH YOUR HUMAN!”

Oh.

Oh, now that seems to get Papyrus’ attention.

His intermittent wobbling stops and he straightens, standing to his full height. Sans watches him take a few deep breaths, steadying himself, considering…something.

If he were a little more in his right mind himself, he might’ve been able to predict the words that came out of Papyrus’ mouth.

“where does she live.”

Nonetheless, Sans’ browbones raise.

“WHAT?”

Your name falls into the air, emphatic, impatient.

“where does she live, Sans.”

It’s not even a question, and Sans…

Sans can’t help but huff out a little laugh.

“WHAT AN INVASIVE THING TO ASK,” he chuckles. “HOW WOULD I KNOW THAT? SHE’S YOUR FRIEND, ISN’T SHE? I’D THINK YOU—”

Papyrus steps forward, jerking his arm out of Sans’ grip to whirl around on him.

“cut the crap,” he says, curtly, firmly. “i know you know. tell me.”

It’s not the force behind the words that sways Sans, impressive as it is coming from Papyrus.

It’s the fact that…

That Papyrus needs something from him.

Something he can provide.

And if his life has taught him anything, it’s that his baby brother is his one and only weak spot.

“EBOTT CREEK APARTMENTS,” he says. “BUILDING 3, ROOM 207.”

Papyrus nods once and stalks off back into the bar.

Sans trails after him a few steps, watching him purposefully clip through any tables and oblivious drunks in his way to the door, heading out into the night alone.

Was he going to see you? Had his booze-soaked skull even retained any of the words Sans told him? Could he actually get to you without…without something…?

Maybe Sans should…

………

No.

No, he’s…not wanted.

Here. In this.

Trying to butt in again, it would only drive Papyrus further away and it was…

It was already bad enough.

Sans…heads to the bar instead, calling over the grizzled human bartender to pay off his irresponsible brother’s tab.

And if he…happens to order himself a water or two while he’s up there, nursing them for a few long minutes while he tries to gather his wits and his energy for another shortcut home, well…

There’s certainly no one here whose judgment he gives a fuck about.

……

…Ah, stars above, he’s a fucking mess, too.

Of all the goddamn things to run in a family…

Chapter Text

You turned off your phone before you even got home.

You didn’t want to know if you got any messages—not sure if it would be worse to not get any, or to get something and have…no idea what to say.

You try to forget about what happened for awhile and eventually fall into an uneasy sleep, but the uncomfortable pit in your stomach is still there when you wake up and first thing you see is your darkened screen on the nightstand, right where you left it.

It may as well be a live landmine the way you find yourself picking it up.

You kind of want to put it right back down; to try to live in ignorant bliss for just a little bit longer…

But…

You also kind of…have to know.

You turn it back on.

………

Oh, stars.

Ten unread messages. Three missed calls.

No voicemails, at least—you wouldn’t have to hear Papyrus’ voice, accusing you of…you don’t even know…so early in the morning.

But you can’t stop yourself from reading his texts.

Rus: i'm sosrryv

Rus: don't bje mad

Rus: sorroy

Rus: did i od something wrong??

Rus: aer you okay?

Rus: i didn't mean to hurt you, i'm syorry, pls call me

Rus: you don't havee to call me, i get it

Rus: just tdell me you're okay?

Rus: thats fine you don't have to

………

Rus: i'm gonna fix this, just wait for me

That last message is time-stamped after midnight.

And then…nothing.

Oh no, you feel terrible: Papyrus thought it was his fault, that he did something wrong when that couldn’t be further from the truth.

You’re the one that has to fix this.

Hastily, you dress yourself, rushing through your morning routine and thanking everything that it’s the weekend and you don’t have to worry about work, just the poor, sweet skeleton you’d left hanging without an explanation and then ghosted all night.

Tactless.

Selfish.

Stupid.

You’re so busy berating yourself that when you swing open your door and it stops suddenly, it takes you a moment to realize it had hit against a boot—a very familiar boot in fact, attached to a very familiar skeleton.

Papyrus, slumped down against the wall, looking comically scrunched in the tiny hallway of your apartment building and blinking bleary-looking sockets up at you now that you’d roused him from whatever kind of sleep he’d been getting like that.

What the fuck?

How was he here? Why was he here? How long had he been here?!

All these questions run though your mind, rapid-fire, and in a brief second of thoughtless panic you’re ashamed to admit you very nearly slam the door on him.

That’s not what happens, though.

Faster than you’ve ever seen Papyrus move, he’s up on his feet, claws curling around your door and holding it in place.

“wait!” he says, sounding desperate. “wait, please, don’t, i! i came to! to, um…can i…can i come in…? p-please???”

Your mouth works for a second. You think your brain must, as well, because even though you don’t believe you registered any conscious thought happening, you start making words out loud.

“I…yeah,” you find yourself saying, letting go of the door and taking a step back. “Yeah, you should.”

Belatedly, you realize why that choice and those words were good ones—you were just about to go looking for him. You don’t know why or how Papyrus is here, but he is and he’d saved you the trouble of tracking him down.

He’s here. He’s upset. He’s realized the gravity of the situation, if not the situation itself.

It’s not at all how you wanted this to happen, but you’re pretty sure Papyrus will actually listen to you now.

So, you let him inside.

You spare half a second to be embarrassed about the state of your apartment.

It’s dirtier than you’d like it to be with someone over, striking a weird balance between under and over-furnished—not very much stuff, but even the basics seemed to take up a lot of room when you tried to arrange them in a shoebox.

Your only saving grace is that Papyrus doesn’t seem to care about his surroundings at all. You’re not even sure he looks at anything, much less passes any kind of judgment on it. He just makes a beeline for your cruddy little sofa and plops down onto it, folding his hands in his lap and staring straight down at the floor.

You wonder what must be going through his skull right now—if he thinks you shot him down because you don’t like him, or because…because he was a monster and you were some kind of…gross person who thought there was something wrong with that.

It was a sentiment you’d heard before: fine to befriend, wrong to bed, they’re not human, you don’t really think that’s okay, do you?

You did. You do, and the idea that Papyrus might think…

There’s an indignance rearing up, deep in your chest, an urge to make things clear; to make yourself understood.

To make things right.

You sit down on the couch with Papyrus, a far more respectable distance than last night.

“Papyrus—”

“wait.”

You pause.

Papyrus breathes deeply for a second, unlacing his fingers to rub one hand over his face.

“i know,” he says after a moment, “i know you wanna talk, too. i…know you’ve…probably……been wantin’ to talk…f-for awhile. an’ i didn’t…i wouldn’t let ya’. m’sorry, for that.”

Your brows come together. “Papyrus, you are not the one who needs to apologize.”

“i…i think i kinda am, though?” he replies, like question. “i mean, i don’t…i dunno what you need to say, but i gotta…say some stuff, too, it…it’s important. an’ m’sorry to even ask but can i…go first?”

You frown.

Nonetheless, Papyrus insists. “i’ll be quick, i swear, a-an’ then i’ll listen, i will, i just, i gotta…i, uh…ahaha, i been thinkin’ about this……all night? kinda? an’ if i don’t do it now, i…i think i’m gonna lose it, or…somethin’…”

You know the feeling. Intimately.

You don’t think Papyrus has rehearsed his speech as much as you have yours, so…

“Okay. Go ahead.”

Relief washes over Papyrus’ skull for just a moment—probably until he remembers he actually has to talk, and then he goes right back to tense and anxious.

“i’m…sorry i kissed you,” he says tightly. “like that. it, um…it wasn’t…i-i, y’know, i was…drunk, an’ i’m, i don’t………think things through? really? w-when i…”

He sighs.

“i wasn’t thinking about you, or if you were…if you actually wanted me to… an’ i wanted you to know that i don’t… i feel like a…a pretty huge jerk for…for makin’ you feel, y’know, bad or uncomfortable or whatever??? you’re feeling right now? i didn’t want that. i don’t want that. a-an’ i wanted to tell you that…if you need to, t-take a break…? or get some space from…this, or, or me, or whatever, it, no hard feelings, i’d totally…y’know, understand.”

Oh no, that’s a sweet thing to say, especially from a guy so thoroughly convinced he’d just gotten rejected out of hand.

Suddenly, though, a distressed look comes over Papyrus’ skull.

“and i’m…sure you might actually believe that if i hadn’t…literally tracked you down to talk to you instead of giving you space, oh my god…”

………

Despite yourself, you laugh.

Papyrus must think it’s some kind of hysterical response because he puts his face in his hands.

“i’m so bad at this,” he moans, muffled and miserable. “i’m sorry, i…i really do mean it! i just… i wanted to tell you in person, for some reason? it felt…important, at the time, i don’t know…”

“It’s…it’s okay, Papyrus, really,” you try to console him. “I’m not mad at you.”

is it okay, though?” He looks up at you, violet eye-lights intense. “‘cause i… you’re… you’re like, the nicest thing i’ve had up here, an’ i don’t wanna…lose you just ‘cause i’m bein’ stupid…”

You feel your heart break, just a little bit.

“Papyrus…no. You’re not stupid.”

Actually.

If anything, “I’m stupid.”

Papyrus looks at you, nothing less than utterly dubious.

Well…alright.

It was…it was time.

“What I was…trying to say…before,” you clarify. “A…a lot of times before, actually… Was that I…the other day, when I talked to your brother, you…you remember that, right?”

“yeah,” says Papyrus—still seeming confused, but thankfully not interrupting you again.

“Well, I… He… He wanted to know how you were doing.”

“yeah.”

Of course, you knew Papyrus wouldn’t find that information too shocking, but the rest…

You steel yourself and keep talking.

“Sans. He, uh… he noticed that I was…that my…situation? Was…” You bite your lip a little. “I said this last night, do you remember, or…should I go over it again?”

“i remember,” Papyrus says, and thank the stars for that.

It was embarrassing enough to have to admit to it the first time…

“Okay, so… He noticed, and… I don’t know what I was thinking, I… maybe I was just desperate or tired o-or stupid, but…”

Oh hell.

Moment of truth.

You close your eyes for a moment and just blurt it out.

“Sans offered to pay me to check up on you for him and I agreed.”

“yeah.”

………

You open your eyes to look at Papyrus.

His expression is one of intent listening, his claws folded politely in his lap again and his sockets firmly on you.

He’s not saying anything.

But it looks like…

It looks like he’s not saying anything…because he expects you to be saying something.

Like he didn’t even realize the big reveal was the big reveal.

Slowly, the realization hits you.

“……You know.” And then, “You knew.”

Papyrus just…tilts his head at you a little.

“yeeees…?” he replies, and you feel your stomach swoop.

“Sans did tell you.”

Papyrus frowns a little bit.

“no? i mean,” he attempts to clarify, “not…not like, outright, or anything, he didn’t…tell-tell me, but y’know, as good as.”

“…What does that mean?” you demand.

“uh…well, he…he texted me, after he talked to ya’,” Papyrus says, almost nonchalantly as he scratches at the back of his neck. “said you were ‘reasonable,’ an’ that’s…y’know, i, uh…i may not know much, but i know my brother, that’s basically code.”

“Code for what?”

“you’re smart. know a good opportunity when ya’ see it.” Papyrus laughs suddenly. “actually, it probably made a little more sense Underground, ‘cause uh…well, down there, the other options woulda been… y’know, sans didn’t like ‘resorting to extremes’ right away so… if he couldn’t scare somebody, havin’ ‘em on his payroll was the next best thing. Actually, he’s been a…benefactor to lots of monsters.”

“…You’re kidding.”

Papyrus shakes his head.

“nah, seriously. tends to make people think twice about messing with us…or lettin’ stuff happen on their watch. who’s gonna just…stand around an’ let somebody kick snow in my face if they think the guy who bought their groceries last month might remember they didn’t do anythin’ when his kid-brother was in trouble? everybody wants a piece of the pie, right?”

That is…absolutely not what you mean.

You’re hung up on something else entirely.

“No,” you say. “You… You knew, this whole time, what was going on, and you…” You huff a little, kind of incredulous. “Did it…not even occur to you to say something to me about it?”

Papyrus stares at you for a few seconds.

“…nnno?” he says, like he knows it’s the wrong answer, but isn’t sure why. “i mean… it…was a good thing, right? you…you had more money, an’… were we…supposed to talk about it???”

“Yes!” you exclaim to Papyrus’ obvious confusion—nervous sweat beginning to show on his skull. “That’s definitely the kind of thing we should’ve had a talk about!”

“……why?”

Why.

Papyrus is asking you why.

“Why would we talk about the fact that I was going behind your back?” Your frown deepens. “No, I guess I wasn’t, you knew the whole time that I was…that I thought I was informing on you for money from your brother, and you…what? Didn’t think that might upset me a little, not knowing that you knew?”

You don’t have the moral high ground here. You know you don’t.

But it’s still just a touch infuriating to see that Papyrus is still totally lost.

“are……are you upset ‘cause you…think i’m upset?” he tentatively asks. “‘cause i’m not! i’m definitely not! you could, y’know, if you wanted, you can still tell sans how i am sometimes? you should, actually, it’s… you can have some extra cash, an’ sans’ll keep…keepin’ his nasal bone outta stuff, that’s…that’s good for everybody, isn’t it???”

No. No, it isn’t.

You decide then and there that you’re not accepting a penny more from Sans, no matter how prettily he might try to sweet talk you—it was a terrible idea and it made you feel terrible, no matter how bizarrely blasé Papyrus seems to see it.

It wasn’t true to you, and you should’ve known that from the start.

But even so…you have no idea what to say to Papyrus now.

So…for a few moments…you don’t.

Tentatively, sweating even more obviously, Papyrus speaks first instead.

“are you…are you mad at me?”

You consider it.

“Kinda,” you admit, because so much stress and confusion and anxiety—and the utter disaster that was last night!!!—could’ve been totally avoided, and he was the one who could’ve done it.

You could’ve by not taking Sans’ money in the first place, you realize that, but Papyrus…

Papyrus knew what was going on.

He knew what’d happened, and at no point did he think to share this fact with you, or think that all your cagey, insistent pleas of ‘we need to talk’ may have had something to do with the guilt you were feeling over it.

He still didn’t even get why you were guilty about it.

And where could you begin to explain that?

It seems like Papyrus might actually have more of an idea than you do.

After a few tense seconds, his eye-lights darting awkwardly around the room, he slowly poses a solution.

“okay,” he says, “i, uh…i don’t…really……but maybe…? can i, uh…try somethin’?”

“…Try what?” you ask.

Papyrus grimaces. “hard to explain,” he says shortly, “but it…y’know, it might help me…understand more? s…so you won’t…have to be mad???”

………

Oh, no. The puppy-dog eye-sockets again.

How does he even do that?!

“I’m…” You sigh, sullenly concluding, “I’m not…that mad at you. But I…if you think your thing will help, I guess…go ahead?”

Papyrus didn’t understand why you were upset…but the fact that he was trying to figure it out, at least, went a long way in your book.

Though, in retrospect, you think you’d have appreciated a bit more of a warning than a glib, “okay, this’ll probably be…weird, but just…bear with me a sec,” before your entire apartment went pitch-black around you.

You freeze in place as the world seems to disappear, all except for you and Papyrus—who suddenly looks a little like he’s stepped out of a film noir, all black and white save for the gleaming violet of his eye-lights, seeming even more colorful than before in the contrast.

The tangerine orange of the…buttons? that appear in front of you is brighter, but neither compares to the vibrant, shocking splash of color that bursts forth from your own chest—a little heart-shape that glows with the intensity of a dozen LED bulbs, floating innocently in midair.

You think you can be forgiven that the first words out of your mouth are an emphatic, “What the fuck.

“i-it’s okay!” Papyrus says hurriedly, “it’s just an Encounter!”

“A what?!”

“an Encounter. it’s, uh…it’s a type of interaction, f-for monsters. traditional!”

“I have never heard about anything like this,” you insist, shaking your head.

Across from you, Papyrus shrugs. “yeah, probably…probably not, uh…Underground, most just used Encounters to fight each other.”

You look down at the four orange boxes in front of you—sure enough, one of them says ‘FIGHT’ in big, bold letters.

“but that’s! it’s not just for that,” Papyrus explains at the concerned look that flashes over your face. “not if you…not if the person you have the Encounter with is…… if you do it right a-and don’t just try to, to kill each other with it, you can…you can really learn a lot about somebody!”

You look at your…utterly bizarre surroundings.

You look at Papyrus.

“How?” you ask.

“well…i…i think i…kinda already figured out why you got so upset, f-for one thing.”

Your eyebrows shoot up.

Papyrus merely gestures to the heart floating in front of your chest, like the cartoony little shape and its deep blue glow explained everything.

“that’s…that’s your soul,” he says, watching it bob in the air. “the color of it…that’s your dominant soul trait—it’s what you use to guide your life, an’ make decisions, the…lens? that you use to see the world.”

…That tiny little heart…was all that?

“What…what does blue mean?” you find yourself asking, staring down at it.

“integrity,” Papyrus tells you. “and, uh…i think i get it now. why you were…are…upset.”

“Do you?”

Papyrus looks a little sheepish, but surprises you with his words.

“you were doin’ somethin’ you thought was shady. thought you were hurtin’ me with it. i’m sorry i didn’t…see this, in you, sooner, i… i probably could’ve saved you a lot of stress if we got this out there earlier…right?”

…Holy crap.

“in…in my defense,” he adds, “integrity wasn’t really…y’know, Underground, there wasn’t…wasn’t a whole lotta that to go around, nyeheheh… but if…if it means anything? o-or helps…? um. i still. y-you’re still a good person, to me…an’ i still trust you. i-i know m’not just…i dunno, some kinda paycheck for you… we’re…friends, an’ you…you care about me. i know that.”

All that.

All that from…

Papyrus took one look at the color of your soul and seemed to know exactly what you needed to hear.

You…oh, stars, you think you actually feel yourself tearing up a little, if just from the feeling of relief.

Papyrus knows you, he knows you’re not, that you wouldn’t…

Papyrus doesn’t hate you and you don’t think you realized how important that was to you until he said it outright.

He said…almost the opposite, in fact and you’re going to need a minute to process that.

In probably your lamest attempt ever to redirect a conversation, you…gesture vaguely at Papyrus.

“What about your soul?” you ask him. “How come I can’t see yours?”

Suddenly, that feels very important to you—knowing more about his soul, being able to say something…incredibly touching and sweet to him, so you could fluster him for flustering you.

R…revenge???

Papyrus blinks at you, seeming surprised.

“oh…uh, humans…don’t? usually? uh, at least…y’know, from what i’ve heard…somethin’ about…monsters bein’ made of magic already, so it just…looks like it blends in with the rest of us?”

“Oh,” you say, hoping you adequately conceal your disappointment.

“i could make it manifest, though,” Papyrus says quickly. “if…if you wanna see…?”

“Really?”

“yeah, sure!” Papyrus touches a hand to his chest, talking even as he…well, literally works his magic. “just gotta concentrate a little more to make it…an’ it’s, i guess, kinda, uh…i-intimate? to do in an Encounter…”

That makes your expression turn uncertain. “Oh, Papyrus, if it’s…if it’s private, you don’t have to! I just—”

“nyeheheheh, nah,” he chuckles, “not private, it just…makes me a little more vulnerable, is all. y’know, if you were gonna fight me—but i said i trust you, i meant that, an’ if you’re showin’ me yours, it really does seem like it’s only fair… ah, there! you can see it now, yeah?”

You can!

Following Papyrus’ fingers is another little heart-shape, luminous and hovering just like yours.

Well…maybe not just like yours.

“What does white mean?” you wonder, looking at the pearly-white glow of Papyrus’ soul in the blackness of the Encounter. “And why’s it…upside down?”

“…y’know, i don’t really know, either?” Papyrus admits. “we know what human soul colors mean, but monsters…there’s lots of theories but uh, i never really been into…sciencey stuff. all i know is, monster souls all look like this.”

“…White and upside down?”

“yeah. …sorry i don’t…know more about it?”

You wave Papyrus’ apology away.

“It’s fine,” you say, “it’s already…haha, a lot more than I was expecting to learn today!”

You pause a moment, glancing around at the utter blackness of your apartment and the weird orange buttons still hovering in front of you.

“Um…maybe you could tell me…how long Encounters are supposed to last, though? Or…or if I’m supposed to…do something?”

You can practically see the little light bulb flick on above Papyrus’ skull.

“oh! right, my bad, this is…this is your first one. well,” he explains, “i pulled you into it, so the first move is yours.”

“What, like…taking turns?”

Papyrus grins, nodding. “yeah! it’s your turn, so you can do…whatever you want? an’ then, it’ll be my turn an’ i can end the Encounter. or,” he adds, like an afterthought, “you probably could, with mercy. i, uh, i feel pretty spare-able right now, nyeheheh… but seriously, whatever you wanna do!”

You have next to no idea what he’s talking about, so you examine your options.

On one end, you see the MERCY Papyrus mentioned.

Beside it is…ITEMS? You wonder what would happen if you chose that—could you…take something out of your pocket? And if so, what would happen to it?

The option baffles you a little, and you elect to ignore it.

Next to that one is ACT, which definitely has you curious, but on the far end, you can’t help but notice the big FIGHT button, looking…almost ominous in light of the pleasant turn your conversation with Papyrus has taken.

And the rumors you’ve heard, about humans and monsters and what happens…happened when they fought.

Some of the stories said that when monsters were driven Underground so, so long ago, it was an easy victory; that an ordinary human could be stronger than even the deadliest of monsters if they chose to be, if their intention was violence and anger, because the power of the human spirit was so strong.

You don’t think…

You don’t think you fully understood what that might’ve meant until now, with your deep blue soul floating before Papyrus’ pale white one, that garish FIGHT button sitting there like a threat.

You…you could really hurt Papyrus here, if you wanted to. Not just emotionally, like you…may have already done, but…for real.

Papyrus opened himself up to you by doing this—and made himself even more vulnerable by showing you his soul—just to…appease your curiosity? To try to understand you better? To make things be okay, between you?

If you didn’t believe it before, you’re pretty sure you do now: Papyrus trusts you.

And the last thing you want to do is hurt him.

You ignore the FIGHT button completely, as if it didn’t even exist.

You very nearly go straight for MERCY then, in light of your little revelation, but…

ACT is far too intriguing for you, in the end.

You just want to see, just a quick peek…

And for your hubris, you are immediately struck down—with burning hot cheeks.

Your view in the darkness changes and you see your options before you: Check, Tease, and Flirt.

Your voice may be…a bit higher pitched than normal as you ask your Encounter expert, “How, uh…how do these actions get decided again…?”

Oblivious to your embarrassment, Papyrus considers your question.

“uhh, i think it comes from a little bit of both people. in the Encounter, i mean. like…the relationship the two souls share with each other, things that…stuff you were probably thinkin’ about doing already, even if it was just kind of a passing thought.”

“………Oh. Really? Are…are you sure?”

“pretty sure,” Papyrus decides. “…nyeheheh, i…when sans was teachin’ me about Encounters an’ stuff, back…way back in the day, uh… well, i never got the option to ask for bedtime stories with anybody but him, an’ lemme tell ya’, nobody else i been in an Encounter with used every turn to hug me.”

Oh no. Oh fuck, that was cute. Why was that cute? Why do you want to see baby pictures now?!

(…babybones pictures???)

You! Don’t really want to examine those thoughts!

So before you can hesitate long enough to doubt yourself, you Check Papyrus.

* PAPYRUS 12 ATK 8 DEF

* He really likes you.

……

Well, that wasn’t making your soft, mushy heart feel any more solid!

With your choice made, your options disappear—you guess that means it’s Papyrus’ turn now, and that he’s doing…whatever he does to end the Encounter, because your apartment reappears around you in living color, your souls disappearing…back inside you, you suppose, wherever that was.

You rub idly at your sternum, feeling a touch disoriented, but…not bad.

You felt good, actually.

You’d wanted to communicate with Papyrus—openly and honestly—and you’d gotten your wish.

Everything was out in the open now.

And the truth of Papyrus’ very soul was that…he liked you.

He really liked you.

You know without a doubt that it’s very much mutual.

When you finally look up, you find Papyrus watching you again, intently.

“so,” he says, his voice low and soft. “you checked me.”

You swallow.

“Yeah.”

“an’ you saw…somethin’ good?”

You hesitate a moment, but…

“Yes.”

You feel the cushions of the couch shift as Papyrus unsubtly scooches closer to you, your positions almost an exact mirror of last night.

But only on the outside.

On the inside, everything has changed.

At least, everything except…

“you’re my friend,” Papyrus says. “i don’t…i don’t wanna mess that up, i meant it when i said that…but the way i… it’s the same…a-as before. nothin’s different, for me.”

You take a breath…and nod.

Papyrus reaches out, settling his hand over yours again.

“if it’s…if you don’t want things to be…different? or…whatever…that’s okay, i won’t… i’ll drop it an’ i won’t bug you again…with, with this.”

You know.

You believe him completely that if you told him ‘no’ right now, Papyrus would just go right back to being your best friend.

Pining over you as quietly as he possibly could.

And you…might do just the same.

“but,” says Papyrus and you look up, meeting his gaze. “if…last night……if your only…objection…was ‘cause you thought i…didn’t know, o-or that you thought you were hurtin’ me………then…?”

Papyrus trails off, watching you hopefully.

You open your mouth to reply.

“That wasn’t my only objection.”

Papyrus freezes.

He starts to look anxious, pulling his fingers back from yours…

…before you turn your hand over and grab his, awkwardly lacing fingers with claws.

“The other one,” you say, a note of teasing in your voice, “is that you were pretty drunk, at the time.”

It takes a second for the words to sink in.

As soon as they do, Papyrus is sagging in relief, unable to help the laugh that bubbles out of him.

“oh stars,” he snickers, putting a hand over his face. “you’re tryin’ to kill me…”

“It’s important!” you insist with a smile. “I’m not gonna hold you to stuff you say when you’re drunk!”

“integrity soul,” he tsks at you, playfully. “jeez… well, i’m not drunk now—powered through the worst of the hangover out in your hallway this morning, so…… nyeheheheheh…!”

You chuckle a little, too, and then, you edge a little closer to Papyrus yourself.

“Alright,” you say slyly, “so you’re sober now. Cards are on the table. What’s your next move, Papyrus?”

Papyrus’ crooked grin is…almost stunningly handsome.

He dips down, leaning in and pressing his teeth to your lips.

This time, you let him.

It’s a touch awkward to figure out kissing without lips. You do your best, angling your head and meeting his pressure with your own, closing your eyes to just…feel his slow, careful nuzzles.

It’s nice. It’s very nice, and only gets nicer when he starts talking.

“you’re incredible,” he murmurs against your lips, like he can’t quite keep from saying it. “i-i…stars, you’re so… i…mmn…”

He’s not as effusive as he was last night; nowhere near as smooth and romantic as he was when he had the ol’ liquid courage in his system.

But somehow…

This feels better.

Even slow and stuttering and trailing off, the sentiment seems so, so real and you love it.

You take Papyrus’ other hand, guiding it up to your shoulder, and his claws immediately curl around you, clinging while he fervently nuzzles your face and starts to laugh—like he can’t believe his luck, like this is somehow both ridiculous and amazing at once.

You feel the same way.

So, Papyrus is kind of awkward, a little weird, a little thoughtless…

Nobody’s perfect, and if there’s anything he’s shown you by now, it’s that he cares; that he’s willing to try.

You don’t think you can offer him any less in return.

Chapter Text

Missed Notifications

Mail, 48 m ago
Robert Klein
Re: ACTION NEEDED - RESCHEDULE
Mr. Serif,
Of course we are able to reschedule! Please let us know wh…

Messages, 5h ago
PAPYRUS: i really hope you’re ignoring me

Messages, 5h ago
PAPYRUS: oh so now you’re ignoring me, is…

Messages, 6h ago
PAPYRUS: hey do you have a minute to ta…

Messages, Yesterday
HUMAN: I left a message but I’ll be at the café…

Phone, Yesterday
HUMAN
Missed Call

Mail, Yesterday
Palma
Your Time Off Request
Good morning Captain Serif,
Your time off request has been approved for M…

-

He’s late.

You really hadn’t pegged Sans as the type to be late—for anything.

…But in his defense, you suppose he never technically said he was even coming.

Not for the first time since you sat down, you wonder if this was even a good idea, calling up Papyrus’ brother and asking him to meet you to discuss…things you’d been pretty vague about, intentionally.

It seemed to you, though, that it was pretty important to…well, to try to talk things out with Sans, and to get on some kind of civil footing.

You didn’t really like how things were right now, and if you and Papyrus were going to be dating…

You can’t quite help your smile at the memory of that conversation—Papyrus reluctantly pulling back from your first little necking session to promise, “i am gonna date you so hard, it’s gonna be great…”

And then, after a moment of thought, “actually…i don’t…i don’t really know what m’gonna do yet, so, uh…lowered expectations, please? if you can… it’ll be better if you think it’s gonna suck an’ then it doesn’t.”

You’d laughed, promised you’d like it no matter what it was, a real first date with him sounded great—“oh thank god, you already have no standards,”—and then you’d laughed a little more.

You were going on your date tonight, and the thought alone makes you a little giddy.

But business before pleasure and you really wanted to get this whole thing out of the way as soon as possible.

You’ve really learned the value of communication and the kind of (dumb, frustrating, downright silly) misunderstandings it can avoid when one actually…communicates.

And no offense to your…boyfriend?

(Was it too early to be calling him that if you haven’t technically had a date yet? You’re not sure… it’s been so long since…)

Well, no offense meant to him, but you weren’t one hundred percent sure he’d think to mention this latest life-development to his brother—not if Sans had resorted to paying people to check up on him—and the absolute last thing you wanted was for him to find out about this months down the line.

No, best to be upfront.

And there was the other thing, too, the matter of the resolution you’d come to, and for about the third time you’ve convinced yourself that this was a good idea, meeting to talk things out with Sans.

…If, of course, he showed up.

You check your phone, seeing that it’s only ten minutes past the time you’d said in your message, and resolve to wait another twenty.

You don’t make it more than five.

You don’t even see him come up on you (but then again you never seem to), just suddenly jump to find Sans there in front of you, taking a seat.

“Oh! You made it!”

“YES, YES, APOLOGIES,” he murmurs, almost distractedly. “THANK YOU FOR WAITING.”

Sans looks…harried, in a word.

He’s sagging in his chair the moment he sits down, breathing heavily like he ran all the way here. He’s not even in uniform this time, and maybe that’s why he seems less put-together; less everything-in-its-place…?

You…don’t think you know Sans well enough to comment.

Ultimately, you conclude that Sans must just be busier than usual today—he certainly seemed the type—and elect to let it go.

“It’s fine,” you say. “The important thing is that you’re here.”

And those seem to be the magic words to get things right on track.

“YES,” Sans breathes, “I HAVE TO ADMIT, I WAS… I WAS A LITTLE SURPRISED TO HEAR FROM YOU…” A wide eye(-sockete)d look of concern flits across his face. “IS EVERYTHING ALRIGHT? ARE YOU…?”

You shake your head.

“Oh, no… I mean, yes! Everything’s fine, nothing’s wrong,” you quickly assure him. “Things are…things are good. Yes. All fine.”

Sans just looks at you skeptically.

“I just! I wanted to…to talk to you. Just, quickly, I won’t take up much of your day, I promise!”

“…ALRIGHT.” Sans places his hands on the table, folded politely. He’s not wearing gloves this time and the way his claws slot neatly against each other is on full display. “WELL, AS YOU SAID, I’M HERE. YOU CAN…SAY WHATEVER IT IS YOU NEED TO SAY.”

It’s an invitation, and one you don’t hesitate to take.

“I’ve thought about it,” you say. “And I…I really didn’t…don’t…feel comfortable accepting money from you. Whatever the reason.”

Sans frowns.

“OH?”

You hasten to explain. “It’s not that your…gift…was unappreciated! It was, really, and it came at…” You clear your throat. “At a very convenient time for me… So, thank you, for that, but going forward…anything else… I just wanted to tell you that I’d…really rather not that be the…the way we do things.”

“OH.” Sans’ skull shifts back to an expression of concern. “JUST TO BE CLEAR, IT’S… YOU KNOW IT’S NOT A MATTER OF INCONVENIENCE, YES? IF YOU…IF YOU TRULY NEED THAT SORT OF HELP, IT’S NOT THE KIND OF THING THAT PUTS ME OUT TO PROVIDE…”

“I know,” you say. “It’s not about that. It’s just…”

You struggle for the words to explain it, to this skeleton who probably won’t even get it anyway, and you remember the Encounter you had with Papyrus.

Your Integrity soul, bobbing before you in deep and luminous blue.

“It’s not…who I am,” you settle on. “So, in future, just…just to be upfront… I wanted to say that.”

Sans stares at you a moment—gauging your sincerity, trying to think of a comeback to make you change your mind, you have no idea and opt not to fathom a guess.

Eventually, he sighs.

“WELL. THAT’S…YOUR CHOICE, I SUPPOSE,” he says slowly. “I DON’T INTEND TO PUSH YOU ON YOUR…MORALS…BUT IN THE INTEREST OF BEING UPFRONT, YOU SHOULD KNOW THAT EVEN SO, I’M…AROUND. IF YOU SHOULD NEED ME.”

“I don’t intend to,” you say, but Sans chuckles.

“AH, WHO INTENDS TO NEED ANYONE?” he asks rhetorically. “THESE THINGS HAPPEN TO THE BEST OF US. LIFE RARELY WORKS OUT SO PERFECTLY AS ALL THAT… BUT YOU’RE AN IMPORTANT PERSON TO MY BROTHER, SO IF YOU NEED ME, I’LL BE THERE.”

…Oh.

You’re not sure you’ve heard Sans speak so…candidly, before.

It’s…weird.

Vaguely heartwarming…but also weird.

And with a perfect segue into the other thing you wanted to talk about, too.

“Thank you,” you say, first and foremost. “And…about your brother—”

“IS HE ALRIGHT?”

It’s a struggle to keep your lips from twitching at the automatic response that cuts you off.

“Yes, Papyrus is fine, too. …Better than fine, maybe? I, uh…ahahah, he seemed pretty happy earlier…”

“THAT’S…GOOD.” Sans tilts his skull at you. “ANY…ANY PARTICULAR REASON, OR…?”

………Oh boy, is…is it hot out here, or is it just you?

Heroically resisting the urge to tug at the collar of your shirt or fidget nervously, you take one solid breath and try to tackle the elephant in the room.

“That’s, uh… That’s the other thing, actually. I thought, it…seemed like something you should…find out right away, i-in person, and not, y’know, from somebody else…”

The more you speak, the more wary Sans looks, like he’s expecting you to drop a huge bomb instead of a minor relationship status change, and that is not at all your intention.

You cut to the chase.

“Papyrus and I…we’re a thing, now.”

It’s…

It’s actually a little eerie, how fast Sans’ expression blanks—completely empty, like your words did a hard reset on him.

“………I’M SORRY,” he says at length. “A…A ‘THING’? CAN YOU…?”

You don’t see the harm in being a little clearer.

“We’re dating,” you say. And then, “Well…we’re going to be, anyway. We, um…we like each other, so that’s…y’know, that’s the direction we want to take things. Thought you should hear it from one of us, so that’s…that’s that.”

There!

You’ve done your courtesy! You already feel a little better, even as you wait for Sans’ reaction.

Of all the things for that to be, though, the last thing you’re expecting…

…is a smile.

“AH, CONGRATS,” Sans says, sounding like he genuinely means it. “THAT’S… WELL, HEHEH, I CAN’T SAY I’M WHOLLY SURPRISED, BUT… THAT’S GREAT!”

“…It is?”

“OF COURSE! IF YOU LIKE EACH OTHER, THERE’S NO REASON YOU SHOULDN’T DATE.” His grin broadens a little. “AND IT’S NICE TO BE IN THE LOOP FOR ONCE, TOO, SO THANK YOU FOR THAT!”

Ah jeez…had you really built yourself up worrying about this for nothing?

It certainly seemed that way.

You feel a little silly now and laugh it off.

“Well, I just figured…in case Papyrus didn’t tell you himself, haha…”

“VERY KIND OF YOU,” Sans notes. “I CAN ONLY HOPE A LITTLE OF THAT RESPONSIBLE ATTITUDE RUBS OFF ON MY BROTHER.”

Sans pauses, scoffing at himself.

“WHAT AM I SAYING, IT ALREADY HAS! IF ANYONE COULD GET PAPYRUS TO SETTLE DOWN AND ACTUALLY DATE, OF COURSE IT WOULD BE YOU!”

Your smile drops, just a little.

“What do you mean?”

Sans blinks at you a second.

“OH…NO, IT’S NOTHING, FORGET IT!”

Like you’re going to let that go.

“No, hang on,” you protest, “what…what do you mean, ‘actually date’?”

You watch as Sans’ eye-lights dart to the side, almost nervously.

“…IT’S… WELL. NOT TO TELL TALES, OR…OR TRY TO MAKE PAPYRUS SEEM LIKE… IT’S ALL IN THE PAST FOR HIM, I IMAGINE,” he tells you hastily, “SO PLEASE, DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT!”

Now, you’re frowning.

“Sans.”

And now, Sans looks nervous.

“Just tell me,” you demand, and the skeleton across from you sighs, drooping a little in defeat.

“PLEASE DON’T TAKE THIS THE WRONG WAY,” he begins and you feel your shoulders tense. “I…OBVIOUSLY, I’M VERY FOND OF MY BROTHER AND YOU… YOU’RE GOOD FOR HIM, A VERY LOVELY LADY WHO I’M SURE WOULD DO VERY WELL AS HIS DATEMATE! BUT……NO, YOU’RE RIGHT, YOU DESERVE TO KNOW THAT…”

Sans’ claws come up to tap contemplatively at his teeth.

“WELL, UNDERGROUND, LET’S JUST SAY THAT PAPYRUS HAD A BIT OF A…REPUTATION.”

 “…A reputation.”

“YES,” Sans says, “WITH LOVERS.”

Your frown deepens and Sans rushes to clarify.

“NOTHING UNTOWARD, OF COURSE! IT WAS ALL…YOU KNOW, PERFECTLY CONSENSUAL, MUTUAL UNDERSTANDINGS, THAT SORT OF THING… AS FAR AS I COULD TELL, AT LEAST,” he admits as an afterthought. “THERE’S ONLY…HAHA, THERE’S ONLY SO KNOWLEDGEABLE ONE WANTS TO BE ABOUT THEIR SIBLING’S…PRIVATE LIFE… BUT IT’S HARD NOT TO KNOW A LITTLE BIT ABOUT IT WHEN IT’S… WELL, WHEN IT’S YOUR HOUSE ALL THE NO-STRINGS-ATTACHED, NIGHTLY COMPANIONS ARE STROLLING IN AND OUT OF, IF YOU CATCH MY DRIFT.”

“I am…catching the drift, yes,” you say, and for a long moment, that’s all you can say.

Your first thought is that Sans is lying to you.

He doesn’t like that you’re going to date his brother and he’s making things up to scare you off, with that uncanny way he has of zeroing in on exactly the thing you’re afraid of the most.

But your second thought…is of Papyrus, that night at the bar.

Drunk.

Effusively complimentary.

Utterly sincere and unhesitating with every word and every touch he laid on you, to the point that if you hadn’t been so twisted up about lying to him, it kind of startles you to think of how easily he might’ve seduced you to go home with him.

Papyrus with a string of lovers is an incomprehensible concept.

Drunk Papyrus with a string of lovers, however…

That sounds like it could be…very, very real.

Sans tsks suddenly, and you glance up again to find him watching you apologetically.

“NOW, SEE,” he says, “THIS IS WHY I DIDN’T WANT TO TELL YOU. PAPYRUS IS… HE LIKES YOU, THAT MUCH IS OBVIOUS. I REALLY DON’T THINK YOU HAVE TO WORRY THAT YOU’LL… I DON’T KNOW, FIND HIM OFF WITH SOMEBODY ELSE. IT’D TAKE MORE THAN ANOTHER PRETTY FACE TO TURN MY BROTHER’S HEAD, ESPECIALLY NOW THAT HE’S FOUND SOMEONE LIKE YOU!”

A ‘talent for reading faces’ Sans had told you once, ‘sometimes more than he realized’…

Was he really just that good, or did he…

Was this on purpose?

You’re not sure.

………

You’re even less sure it matters what Sans’ intentions are in telling you all this if your… if Papyrus really was some kind of…love ‘em and leave ‘em type of person.

You hadn’t even considered the possibility of that, though you damn well should have—Papyrus wanted to date you, but what did that mean?

You know Papyrus isn’t the type to lead you on or hurt you intentionally, but…

Was it a casual kind of dating? Was it going to be serious, like you’d thought, or was it more just for fun? Was it going to be exclusive, or…

…Or open?

You don’t know.

You hadn’t talked about that yet.

And no small part of you is getting pretty pissed at Sans for making you think about it.

There are other parts of you—hurt ones, scared ones—but the indignant annoyance is easier to hold onto.

Aloud, you tell him, “I…appreciate…the warning,” in a tone that probably very clearly says you don’t, “but…honestly. No offense intended… I think my love life is actually…none of your business.”

Sans…huffs.

That’s the closest word for the noise that he makes, and when you meet his eye-lights…

You’re struck by how very, very…weird they look.

The bright ultraviolet rings seem…thinner, somehow, less solid and almost…almost wobbly?

You don’t have long to puzzle on the meaning of that.

“WELL,” he says airily, “AS LONG AS YOU’RE TAKING CARE OF YOURSELF, GOING SLOW. IT ALL SEEMS FAST TO ME, BUT IF IT’S NOT TOO SOON FOR YOU, I SUPPOSE THAT’S ALL THAT MATTERS.”

Your eyebrows crumple in confusion.

“Too soon…?” you echo.

Helpfully, Sans clarifies.

“AFTER YOUR DIVORCE.”

And your blood

runs

cold.

How the fuck does Sans…?

……

No.

No, you don’t care how.

Not with the sudden shock of ice-water in your veins turning your anger cold and hard, making you absolutely certain that true or not, Sans is definitely trying to screw with your head again.

You decide, quite abruptly, that you’re very much done here.

You stand up and revel in the naked look of shock on Sans’ face. With quiet words and an unapproachably firm tone, you tell him, “You don’t know what you’re talking about. And this is over.”

“WH—”

No,” you snap, “I’ve said my piece already—I kept you in the loop on this one last thing as a courtesy, and that’s all. Feel free to delete my number, actually, because I think I’m going to lose yours as soon as I get home.”

You know you’ve done something unexpected because Sans is obviously thrown by your reaction. His eye-sockets are wide and there’s even a faint purple flush across his cheekbones as he tries to stammer out a response.

“WELL, IF…IF I DO THAT, IF YOU…TH…THEN YOU…IT’S…GOING TO MAKE IT FAIRLY DIFFICULT FOR YOU TO, TO REACH OUT, IF YOU EVER N—”

“Fuck you.”

Oh, it seems Sans wasn’t expecting that, either, shocked fully silent by the calm, matter of fact statement from your lips.

You take full advantage of the quiet.

“Fuck you,” you reiterate, “and fuck your money. Let me be clear: I don’t need anything from you. I’m not going to ask for anything from you. And if you ever try to corner me again with any more of these shitty little mind-games of yours, I absolutely will get the human authorities involved.”

Sans just…stares at you.

You only have one thing left to say to him.

“I can be civil if we have to talk to each other. I care about Papyrus and I’m not an asshole, so that’s the very least I can do. For your brother’s sake…?” You scowl down at him. “I hope the same is true for you. Goodbye, Sans—please continue to make yourself scarce.”

And with that, you storm off, not letting any emotion show on your face.

Not your satisfaction at having stood up to him and told him off for what he had the nerve to say to you, and not your fear, either, that…that the things he’d said about Papyrus could be just as true.

As soon as you’re out of sight, you take a deep breath and try to calm yourself down.

You…are an adult.

You’re going to handle this like one.

-

You: Hey, Rus, can I come over a little early? I want to talk to you about something.

Rus: yeah sure whenever!

Rus: i’m making question dials

You: ???

Rus: queso idols

Rus: ducking autocorrect

Rus: QUESADILLAS

Rus: please still date me, i swear i’m cool

Rus: i lied i’m not cool but date me anyway

With your hand over your mouth to keep from laughing out loud on the bus, you suddenly know one thing for certain.

You and Papyrus are gonna be okay.

All you gotta do is talk.

-

Sans shortcuts straight home and immediately does the very thing he’d been wanting to do from the moment he sat down across from you.

He drops to his knees in front of the toilet, doubled over in a dry heave strong enough to make his spine pop.

It’s the waiting that’s the worst—to find out whether the nausea deep down in the pit of the stomach he didn’t even have was going to stay there, or graduate into full-blown vomiting.

…Although the vomiting was never fun or pretty, either, not for a skeleton.

Sans is lucky today and the nausea stays only nausea, and though it doesn’t pass it lessens enough eventually that he decides to risk getting up.

It’s a decision he regrets almost instantly.

Everything hurts and it takes all the resolve in his bones to keep going with the searing heat in all his joints, literally having to claw his creaky, aching body up to the mirror above the sink.

What he sees makes him grimace.

Stars above, he looks like shit.

…which, frankly, would be a step up from how he felt right now.

His white skull is flushed with fever, already beginning to show beads of sweat. The shadows beneath his eye-sockets seem all too noticeable to his critical eye-lights, too— eye-lights gone fuzzy and out of focus with pointless fatigue.

Toriel’s horns, he’s a mess, how did he get away with this, even for a few hours?!

“COME ON,” he growls at his reflection, “COME ON, GET IT TOGETHER! YOU’RE…YOU’RE ONLY SICK BECAUSE YOU’RE WEAK, YOU CAN’T BE WEAK, THAT’S HOW YOU GET DUSTED, IDIOT! FOCUS!”

As if in some misguided attempt to obey him, Sans’ magic spikes and flares, bursting outwards in an uncontrolled shockwave that cracks the towel rack behind him in half.

He hangs his head for a second after that, bracing himself hard on the sink as his knees try to buckle under him in a sudden rush of faintness.

FANTASTIC, he thinks when he regains his senses long enough to look at the sad little pile of towels and broken metal on the floor. JUST WHAT I NEED AFTER THAT SPECTACULAR FUCK-UP WITH…

…With you.

Sans shouldn’t have left the house today.

He shouldn’t have even gotten out of bed, that Monster Candy he’d hastily swallowed was a bandage at best and he knew that—just enough stable magic in his system to level him out, to make him look a little less like he felt and keep the magical outbursts to a minimum, just for a little while…

Clearly, it hadn’t done anything for his mental state.

That meeting…it wasn’t supposed to…he hadn’t meant to………

Sans is more than a little furious at himself for bringing that up.

That’s what happens, he supposes, when you don’t actually think, when you just thoughtlessly, stupidly, emotionally react, as if you’ve never heard of the concept of restraint.

The thought of you, elbowing your way into Papyrus’ life, making yourself some kind of, of fixture, had just…just…

Sans still wasn’t sure he could trust you enough to be completely okay with that.

How could he after…whatever the fuck had happened the other night? Whatever it was that made you ditch Papyrus alone and drunk and…and sad at some crappy dive bar?!

He hated that because it frightened him, and in that one moment of conversation with you, he’d let that control his words.

To clearly marvelous effect.

It was heavy-handed. It was clumsy. It was downright cruel, and…

Absolutely nothing he should’ve given voice to, just the kind of deeply emotional, stupid things meant to be kept locked away, thought but never spoken.

But Sans spoke them.

And now, he’s thoroughly pissed you off, which…was really not his intention, at all.

Your words seem to echo in Sans’ lack of ears.

I care about Papyrus and I’m not an asshole, so that’s the very least I can do. For your brother’s sake…? I hope the same is true for you.

He deserved that.

Hell, he probably deserved worse than that from you and it…

It galls him, actually.

But Sans knows damn well that the only thing he can blame for this is his own sloppiness; his pitifully ham-fisted efforts to protect Papyrus from a human who…clearly didn’t mean him any intentional harm.

A human Papyrus was undeniably fond of.

A human Papyrus absolutely did not want to be protected from in the first place.

Sans exhales shakily, looking up at his own pathetic image in the mirror.

“FUCK,” he breathes aloud.

He’s…he’s going to have to figure out how to fix this, isn’t he?

He’s going to have to…make a real apology to you, somehow…

Later, ideally—when his skull felt a little less like someone was trying to hammer their way out of it, maybe.

FUCK, Sans thinks even more emphatically, and when he tries to take a step back from the sink, he…

He…

………

His…abrupt lightheadedness has…absolutely nothing to do with his decision to stagger into lean against the wall and slowly slide down onto the floor.

It is also a conscious choice to lie down there on his side: the tiles are refreshingly cold against his burning skull and his aching joints, and the fallen towels are…basically the same as a blanket.

This is a much better place to lay than his way, way, way too far away bed.

It crosses Sans’ muddled mind to take another Candy…but he shouldn’t have even had the one this morning, he’s supposed to be rationing them—even small healing items are difficult to get ahold of, and lately, he’s been blowing through his stash of them like they were…

………

“HEHEHEHEH…WELL, FUCK,” he mumbles to himself, “THEY ARE CANDY, AREN’T THEY? HEHEHEHEHEH…”

Luckily, Sans is already too far gone to realize how delirious his own laughter is.

The amusement doesn’t last.

He feels weak. He feels pathetic, he should be stronger than this, he shouldn’t have to be wasting his Candies after all the trouble he’d gone through over the years, hiding them from…

……Well. Papyrus and his incorrigible sweet-tooth weren’t here anymore…were they?

And if Papyrus was here, Sans probably wouldn’t even need so goddamn many in the first place.

(It was that fucking stunt at the bar that did this, Sans is sure of it, watching his baby brother wander off drunk and alone with a knot in his chest and a lump in his throat… What a mess.)

(Sans has no idea if he’s thinking about his brother or himself, at this point.)

(He’s not sure it matters.)

But at least…

At least Papyrus has…somebody.

That’s…that’s better than him being alone, right…?

Sans spares one final conscious thought to you—to the conviction in your tone, the way you’d calmly, fearlessly stood there and told him off, with ice in your words but fire in your eyes…

He miscalculated.

He really underestimated you.

You weren’t a pathetic human at all—you were a lot stronger than you looked.

For probably the first time in his life, Sans actively hopes he was wrong about someone, because if you really were as strong as you seemed, then…

Maybe you could be the one to take care of Papyrus.

Sans decides to pass out for awhile on the bathroom floor.

His dreams are empty.

Chapter Text

You kinda…barge into Rus’ apartment.

It only occurs to you that you should’ve knocked, should’ve announced yourself, should’ve done something besides what you actually did after you’ve just walked right on in and made a beeline to the skeleton you’d been looking for.

To his credit, beyond a tiny little jump of surprise, Papyrus doesn’t seem too put out by your lack of manners and greets you with a broad smile.

…One that falls a little when you don’t return it right away.

For a moment, silence reigns.

“……hey. everything okay?”

The question snaps you out of it.

“Oh, uh…yeah, no, everything’s…it’s…fine, I’m fine!”

………

You really are a shitty liar.

But pretty good at changing the subject, and maybe you can use that to buy yourself a little time to work up the nerve to just dive right into a Serious Subject!

Just beyond Papryus, you spy a plate on the kitchen counter, containing one lovingly crafted, gently charred quesadilla.

“Oh, hey, your queso idols!” you exclaim, heading over to it. “You saved me one? That’s sweet…”

Papyrus chuckles, just a little. “m’never gonna live that down, huh?”

“Nope!”

You take a bite. Aside from slightly cooled and a tiny bit burnt here and there, it’s good—really good—and you turn to tell Papyrus so because it feels like something he ought to be told.

Your compliment dies on your tongue when you find yourself nose-to-chest with him, his arms looping around you into a firm hug.

Standing there in the middle of the kitchen, a bitten quesadilla in hand and a skeleton abruptly wrapped around you, you’re not sure what else you could say other than…

“What.”

Papyrus’ arms tighten.

“i…i panicked,” he mumbles into your hair. “s…sorry…”

That just raises further questions.

“You don’t…have to be sorry?” you say to his sternum. “I just… This is you panicking? Why?”

“i…well, y……you looked…kinda upset…?” he hesitantly explains. “and…an’ the quesadilla wasn’t…it didn’t fix it, s…so…”

So he hugged you.

That was his panic response for ‘girlfriend (?) upset,’ that was all he had—‘if food not working, hug.’

You find yourself starting to snicker even as you reach up to return the hug, squeezing his sturdy ribcage closer.

“Aw man, ‘Rus…you are sweet…”

And you’re being dumb.

You’ve got nothing to be afraid of, you’re…you’re pretty damn sure of that.

“I talked to your brother.”

You can physically feel Papyrus sag against you.

“oh god,” he groans, “why.”

You pull back a little, ready to try and explain—you’d wanted to be upfront with him, to clear the air, try to make sure things were cool before you and Papyrus were officially a thing—but Papyrus just sighs.

“no, it’s, it doesn’t matter, m’sure it was……i don’t care, just… he said somethin’ to you, right? what was it?”

You grimace.

What was the most…delicate…way to phrase Sans’ thinly veiled accusations…?

You give it your best shot.

“It… he thought to, uh… to ‘warn’ me that… that, you…you………um.”

“it’s the hook-ups, isn’t it.”

Oh.

Oh jeez, right to the point, and you feel yourself tensing already—Papyrus guessed that way too fast, way too casually.

So, it’s true.

Your…

Papyrus did have at least some kind of history with…girls? Boys? Other?

Which means…

You have no idea what it means.

“alright,” Papyrus says, “look, i—”

“Wait!” you cut him off, and his teeth click shut. “I don’t… You don’t have to…make excuses, or… I don’t need,” or want, “details, it’s… The past is the past, I get it!”

He frowns at you. “…but…?”

“……But. If that’s…how things were, for you, I… I think I…really need to know…what we are.”

You pause, a(n unpleasant) thought occurring to you (not for the first time).

To give yourself something to do, you carefully duck out of Papyrus’ hold and move to put down your half-eaten quesadilla.

If we are. I mean, it’s…if this is…you know, just for…for fun? Then that’s, it’s…fine,” it isn’t, “but I… I just gotta know, from the start, I. I can’t go into it thinking it’s anything but what it i—”

Papyrus surprises you, curling his claws around your arms and cutting you off with a kiss.

You squeak a little, at first, surprised, but…the gentle pressure of his teeth against your lips is…nice…and the slow, careful nuzzling is… it’s…

You…kiss him back.

By the time he reluctantly pulls back from you, your climbing heart-rate has slowed a little and you’ve completely lost the thread of your babbling sentence.

Just as well, you suppose: you don’t know if you could’ve finished any sentence looking up into Papyrus’ bright and earnest eye-lights just now.

“listen,” he says, and so you do.

“that was how things were. i never… serious is new, for me, yeah, but…it’s not like i…never wanted…?”

That must not have come out the way Papyrus wanted to, because his eye-sockets widen a little and he hastily adds, “there wasn’t! anybody, uh…specifically? or anything, so don’t… just… there was just…stuff i…wanted? a-an’ there was…pretty much, uh, no other… it had to be casual, o-or i couldn’t even have…”

He huffs, sounding a little frustrated. “am i makin’ any sense at all…?”

A little.

Papyrus is obviously struggling to actually verbalize it, but you think you might be able to fill in the blanks.

He’s been on you pretty much since you walked through his door, it’s not too much of a leap to figure out what he may have been seeking from a slew of one-night-stands in an underground prison of killers and double-crossers.

So…you nod.

“it was something,” Papyrus says quietly. “just a…a little while where it wasn’t… where things could be…nice? and…you could pretend, f-for just a couple of……that you were okay and…and maybe even…uh…l…loved?”

Oh, his voice goes so small on that last word, and it makes your heart ache for him.

Papyrus lets go of one of your arms, covering his rapidly coloring face with his hand.

“oh god,” he groans, “that sounds so stupid out loud, it’s! i mean, i knew what it was, everybody knew what it was! it wasn’t, it was never that!

But he wanted it to be.

Or maybe…wished it could be? Hypothetically? Wished that he didn’t have to just…take whatever he could get, however he could get it?

For the first time, you think you recognize Papyrus’ growing physicality with you for what it really is.

He’s touch-starved; possibly always has been and all of this hugging and kissing and petting is just…him being less afraid to show it to you.

Because he…

He wanted to try ‘serious’ with you.

Papyrus makes a startled sad noise when you turn away from him, but when you wordlessly take his arms and pull them around you from behind you think you actually, physically feel him melt against your back.

And now that you’re not looking at him, it seems his words come just a little bit easier.

“…you’re different,” he says, resting his cheek on top of your head. “it’s different. i want… i really like you.”

You know that’s true.

“I like you, too, ‘Rus,” you tell him back, and he drapes over you even more.

“an’…an’ i don’t wanna hurt you, or…see you upset… so. y’know, if there’s something you… that i should, uh…say? here? that i haven’t already… just…whatever you need to hear to feel okay about us…?”

You consider it.

“Tell me this isn’t a game for you,” you ask him. “Tell me it’s…tell me it’s me you want and not just any old warm body.”

You’re…not quite expecting Papyrus to start laughing.

“nyeheheheheh…” He squeezes you, rubbing his cheekbone against your hair in a delighted little nuzzle. “jeez, is that all? that’s easy: m’not playin’ games. i do want you, just you, m’not gonna go lookin’ for anybody else.”

Papyrus laughs a little louder, as if the very idea is ridiculous.

“why the hell would i?” he wonders rhetorically. “i already got the best one to be my girlfriend, m’not getting that lucky ever again, nyeheheheheh!”

The words hit you like a rush, and even as you realize your label dilemma has been neatly resolved, the only thing on your mind is the relief.

You whirl around in Papyrus’ arms, get right up on your tip-toes and pull your tall, bony boyfriend into another smooch, the most passionate one you’ve given him yet.

A bark of surprised laughter escapes you when you pull away to find little violet swirls in his eye-sockets, blinking down at you.

He is just too damn cute

And you love it.

“I’m lucky, too,” you tell him, firmly, in a tone brooking no argument. “Thank you, that’s all I needed to know.”

“oh…yeah, totally, y…you’re welcome,” Papyrus mutters, still a little dazed.

It makes you feel a little smug, actually, that you affected him so much with just a kiss. You haven’t even had your first date, but you already know that this skeleton is going to be fantastic for your ego.

…Oh hell, speaking of.

You take a step back, habitually smoothing your clothes. “Well! That was…thank you, ‘Rus, I’ll, um… I’ll get out of your hair for a little while, I guess. …Metaphorically, ‘cause…haha…”

Papyrus takes a second to process this.

Shaking his skull a little, his eye-lights popping back into the tiny little dots you’ve grown so fond of, he follows after you a step when you make for the door.

“wait, wait, why?” he asks. “where???”

“Uhh, home?” You put on a teasingly reassuring face, adding, “I’ll come back, but I gotta go get ready if we’re gonna have that date tonight!”

This only further mystifies Papyrus.

“are you not ready now?”

“No…?” You give a cursory glance down at yourself—casual clothes, just the basics, hardly genuine date attire. “I gotta… There’s, y’know, make-up and nice clothes and actual effort I need to put in first, the bells and whistles! First date stuff! I’m supposed to knock your socks off!”

Papyrus grins at you, undeniably fond.

“c’mon…ya’ already do.”

…Well, damn it, your face is starting to feel a little hot.

“Pfft, you’re corny,” you say, hoping to cover how much you really like it. “I’ll just head home real quick and be ba—aaaaack?!”

You are…

You are in Papyrus’ arms, suddenly, in the most effortless princess-carry you’ve ever been swooped into in your entire life and you are very much not sure what to do about it.

“What! The hell are you doing!” you squawk at him for lack of other options, and he just beams at you.

“ya’ look fine to me,” he says, starting to carry you further into his apartment, “and…you’re already here, so like…why should you leave?”

You sputter a bit. “Well, beca… What about the date?! You worked really hard to plan something nice, and I’m not—”

“gonna level with ya’,” Papyrus admits, “i didn’t work that hard. i, uh, honestly, i couldn’t really come up with anything original? so the plan was kinda just…go see a movie.” And as an afterthought, “maybe try to impress you by signin’ up for a theater rewards card, get those extra perks, y’know?”

……holy crap, that’s adorable.

Peak romance.

“I’d have loved that,” you protest, surely sounding dismayed.

Papyrus just laughs, carrying you over the threshold of his bedroom.

“nyeheheh, then you’re gonna love this, too!”

And without further ado, Papyrus spins and plops the both of you right down into his beanbag chair.

Well…he plops himself into the chair.

You end up…more or less in his lap, leaned right up against his chest.

He’s very warm and surprisingly sturdy, and snuggled up against him like this, you can’t help but feel the bumpy curves of his ribs beneath your fingers, even through the material of his t-shirt.

You’d have expected it to be awkward sitting on a skeleton, maybe even painful, but you’re pleasantly surprised to find yourself comfortable.

…Comfortable and…very distracted.

By the time you manage to focus again, Papyrus has turned on his TV and is already in the process of pulling up a movie for you to watch, and you have to laugh when you realize what’s happening.

“Netflix and Chill?” you practically giggle.

“yyyep,” says Papyrus, his arm wrapping around your shoulders. “netflix and chill. worked out pretty well on the other dates, i thought, so…”

“Pfft, those weren’t dates!”

“coulda been,” he retorts, “if i wasn’t too chicken to ask you out…”

Papyrus’ voice is low, just a little gravelly in your ear, and you have to resist the urge to shiver.

You fail completely when his hand falls down to your hip, claws curling around you just at the hem of your shirt.

Oh.

Oh.

Was this…

Could this time actually be ‘Netflix and Chill’…?

Your cheeks feel hot again, and there’s a giddy little thrill in your chest that makes you…

Well.

This…this may technically be your first ‘date,’ but the reality is that you’ve known Papyrus for months, grown close to him, felt the attraction, and now…

Now, you know that you and he were even on the same page about what your relationship was.

You don’t see the harm in just…seeing where the evening takes you.

Though you do have to quickly think to remember if you're at least wearing matching…undergarments. Just in case.

…You are, you’re pretty sure.

You decide to be open to the possibilities.

“Okay,” you say aloud, making yourself even more comfortable leaned up against Papyrus’ chest, “you’ve convinced me—beanbag date, it is.”

“knew it,” says Papyrus, nuzzling at the back of your head. “knew you couldn’t resist my beanbag.”

“Hahaha, shut up, ‘Rus!”

He laughs with you, affectionately squeezing your hip and you feel…reassured.

Maybe this is fun, but it’s not only that.

You’re…okay.

Happy.

Enough.

You settle in for a nice night watching movies with your boyfriend.

(And…if there are a couple that you…maybe aren’t watching particularly closely, you don’t see anything wrong with that whatsoever.)

-

Dr. Dirk Riley is flipping through his notes after a long, long day.

His caseload is utterly ridiculous these days, enough to make even a professional like himself want to tear his hair out. He’s doing good work, though, and that at least takes away some of the sting of hardly having a moment to himself anymore.

And besides, who in his field wasn’t busy as all hell since that fateful day monsterkind rose to the surface?

Out of curiosity, Dirk cards through his schedule for the coming week, just to see how rough it’s going to be.

He immediately breathes a sigh of relief at the appointment jotted down smack-dab in the middle—the skeleton brothers.

That’ll be nice, he loves to see those two!

Such normal issues to work through—little brother with a nasty case of Millenial Syndrome and big brother whose only problem is a bit of empty nesting—it really was a refreshing lull amidst all the PTSD and trauma and culture shock he usually had to help with.

Dirk wouldn’t have believed it until he’d seen it, but two monsters adapting so well and so easily to surface living…?

It was downright inspirational.

They barely needed him at all, he could practically help them in his sleep with all the progress they’d shown since they agreed to his little ‘separate living’ experiment!

(Well, Papyrus had progressed, at least. His brother, Sans, he’d been fine since Day One, a touch hot-tempered but already a functional, even-keeled member of society.)

Just a few short months of being apart, though, and Papyrus was already doing so much for himself, practically even acting his age.

Honestly, the only thing that could impress Dirk more at this point would be if the guy went out and got himself a real job, but even without that, he’d made some pretty great strides.

And really, Dirk was a professional, but he wasn’t a miracle worker!

He was actually quite looking forward to the brothers’ appointment mid-week. It would be a nice little break to handle the smaller scale problems for once, a breather before having to go back to helping monsters with real more serious problems.

Yes, he’s a very busy man, but he can’t deny that his work is fulfilling.

Dirk loves being able to help people— even the not-so-human ones!

Chapter Text

You had been Papyrus’ girlfriend for, officially, a couple of days.

It’s probably too early to call it, but you wouldn’t disagree with an assessment that it’s the best your love-life’s been in literal years.

You’ve still really only had the one date—you didn’t care what Papyrus said, your other hang-outs didn’t count, not without the words—but it was an undeniably good one, spent in the lap of an amorous skeleton who did his absolute best to make you happy to great success.

You’re really looking forward to more dates, especially with Papyrus’ firm vow to ‘think of something really good, super romantic, bells an’ whistles, like ya’ said.’ You know that anything he’ll come up with is going to be great, mostly because you’ll be with him, and when you said as much he’d turned an adorable shade of violet that just made you want to pinch his cheekbones.

At the very least, you know that he’ll have plenty of time to ponder over date options because your life is starting to get a little busy again; too busy to easily accommodate dates scheduled on the fly.

It’s your own choice, though, taking on a couple extra shifts at work again now that… now that you’d come to the decision you had, regarding your boyfriend’s brother and his money.

His…donation was helpful for you. You had put it to good use, making a decently sized dent in your bills; to the point that even though you are going back to working a little more, you really don’t feel the need to work yourself down to the bone.

(…Ha!)

You’ll cover for a coworker, or take a shift that nobody else is jumping to take, but—and you feel very firmly about this—you’re not going to take every shift you can, or make choices that leave you sleep-deprived and stressed, not again.

Much as you might not appreciate the attitude of the skeleton it came from, Sans’ money had given you enough freedom to make that choice, and for that, you’re grateful.

The rest of it…

You’d always been of the opinion that if you don’t have anything nice to say, it was probably better that you didn’t comment.

So………no comment.

But, even though your currently foreseeable future is filled with long hours and bills to pay, at least there’s silver linings!

A goofy boyfriend to text you on your breaks, for one—the very same guy who’s shown up outside your work on two separate occasions already, waiting to take you out for a quick lunch.

It surprised you how much seeing Papyrus’ grinning skull for just a little while in the middle of the day had boosted your mood and made the rest of it go by quicker. You hadn’t even bothered to protest the second time he’d paid for your food after the first time, when he’d excitedly insisted on treating because, and you quote, “boyfriend privileges.”

His bright eye-lights and genuine smile had almost bowled you over with how damnably endearing they were. You imagine you’re going to be letting him pay for a lot of lunches, just to see him get that happy again, and as long as you don’t go out of your way to order something expensive you think you’ll be able to live with it.

You’re already thinking, though, about nice things you can do for him in return, just to surprise him and make his day and cite ‘girlfriend privileges’ when you do it.

Turnabout ought to be fair play, after all!

But you’re making yourself giddy, and that’s not going to fly right now.

You have a later shift today (or rather, tonight) and if you’re going to be decently functional for the duration of it, you’re going to have to weird your sleeping schedule a bit.

Drawing your shades against the morning sun, you head to bed to try and get a little shuteye.

You hope that your thoughts of Papyrus will color your dreams with some romantic ideas to surprise your new bonefriend with…or at the very least, just make them some very pleasant dreams.

-

“…an’ she’s, uh, she’s…she’s great. i like her, obviously, nyeheheh…”

“That’s fantastic, Papyrus, I’m glad—you’re really coming into your own!”

Papyrus has been gushing about his wonderful new girlfriend for about fifteen minutes now.

Dr. Riley has been nodding and smiling and encouraging him to keep talking, and so he has—talking about all the great things happening in his life and how well he’s doing, and Sans…

Sans is trying not to tune out too obviously.

“How do you feel, though?” Dr. Riley asks, and for a split second, Sans wonders if he’s being called on to speak.

But no, he’s looking right at Papyrus, attentively waiting for an answer that…honestly, Sans is curious about as well.

For his part, Papyrus is smiling wide.

“uh…good,” he says after a second of thought. He scratches the back of neck, just a tad sheepish, but duly elaborates that, “i’m…y’know, it’s cool that i can… that i know, uh… what m’doin’ now, more. than before. i, it’s…i don’t think i stress as much? i can… i can do more stuff now an’ not…get hung up on bein’…y’know. it’s better—i feel like i’m better.”

THERE WAS NOTHING WRONG WITH YOU BEFORE, Sans wants to say, and decisively doesn’t, knowing he’s the minority opinion here.

Sure enough, Dr. Riley looks delighted to hear it.

“That’s very good, Papyrus. I remember you were a little scared to test your own independence but it seems like it’s brought you nothing but good things and that’s really incredible. You’ve come a very long way since our first session, I hope you realize that.”

Papyrus beams at the words, looking validated and proud and happy and the flicker of irritation in Sans’ chest dies an uncomfortable death.

What the fuck is wrong with him?

Papyrus is doing well, that was the whole point of all this!

Why should it sting that he had to get away from Sans before he could look so comfortable in his own bones? Why shouldn’t Sans be happy, too? What is he, a totally selfish prick?

……Probably.

But the kind of totally selfish prick to hold his only brother’s wellbeing against him…? Sans would rather not think so.

It’s good that Papyrus is happy.

This is good.

Sans is unceremoniously snapped out of his musings when Dr. Riley turns to address him.

“And you, Sans?” he asks, a little smile playing around his lips which means he’s going to say, “Anything to report, Captain?”

Sans smiles back at what is essentially an inside joke at this point.

He doesn’t even have to glance at the clock on the wall to know that there are less than ten minutes remaining in their time-slot, and so his answer can be nothing but a wryly delivered, “NO, DR. RILEY, NOTHING TO REPORT.”

In a way, he’s glad for it—it’s a relief not to be expected to spill his metaphorical guts, like Papyrus is; like Papyrus does nearly every session with the doctor.

It seems to help him, the talking, but that’s never been Sans.

He hadn’t survived this long, in one piece, by being an open book and there was no reason to start now.

So, he makes pointless small-talk with Dirk instead.

“You’re keeping busy, I assume?”

“YES,” says Sans, “I’M FINE. NO REST FOR THE WICKED. MY DUTIES AT THE EMBASSY TAKE UP MOST OF MY TIME, AS USUAL.”

“But you’re passionate about it?”

“OF COURSE, PROTECT AND SERVE, FOSTER PEACEFUL INTERSPECIES RELATIONS…”

“Wonderful! Now, last time, you mentioned that you might try branching out a little, some…”

“ACTUARIAL FREELANCING.”

“Yes! That! Have you gotten started with that already, or how is it going?”

“I HAVE, IT’S GOING WELL! NO SHORTAGE OF CLIENTS SO FAR, BUT I MAY BE UNDERSELLING MY GOING RATE A BIT, HEHEHEH…”

Six minutes pass in this fashion, with absolutely nothing of import being discussed just the way Sans likes it, and the appointment ends.

Dr. Riley ever so politely wraps up their session and sends them on their way with the promise of seeing them again next month for more of the same and to be well in the meantime.

So, that’s that.

And in short order, with the barest of glances at one another, both brothers head out of their therapist’s office and start walking.

Sans, of course, doesn’t need to walk—he could be anywhere he wanted in the blink of an eye-socket—but…

He’s never been the type to run away.

And he’s sure his brother must have some choice words for him, after…

After.

So he walks along beside Papyrus, waiting for him to strike up the nerve to break the silence.

It doesn’t take more than a minute.

“………are you?”

Sans frowns. “AM I WHAT?”

Papyrus looks at him out of the corner of his eye-socket. “are you fine?” he clarifies. “like you told dr. riley?”

A flippant scoff. “AREN’T I ALWAYS?”

Sans realizes almost as soon as he’s said it that the words were a mistake; the absolute wrong brand of sass to fool his brother.

Papyrus turns his skull to glare at him full-on, wordlessly demanding the truth.

Sans…can’t quite look at him.

“…YES,” he says at length, knowing what Papyrus is referring to. “I’M FINE NOW.” And seeing Papyrus still looking unconvinced, “IT PASSES, PAPYRUS, IT ALWAYS DOES. DON’T WORRY ABOUT ME.”

Papyrus makes a face and looks away again.

Sans remains quiet, not sure what else to say to try and reassure him—somehow, he hadn’t planned for this direction of conversation, one where Papyrus wasn’t just mad at him for what he’d said to you the other day.

“it…it’s better now, though…right?” Papyrus wonders, sounding hesitant. “it’s…it’s not happening…as much?”

“NO,” Sans tells him, “NOT AS MUCH.”

Which isn’t entirely a lie so much as an obfuscation.

Every couple of weeks is a different level of frequency than every couple of months; more but not as much.

…which was a painfully weak technicality and Sans knows that well enough.

But why should he be honest about his…unpleasant little bouts of magical instability when it would only bring his brother down? When there was nothing at all to be done for the way his body reacted to stress and fatigue and…other such…emotions?

Nothing save for Papyrus coming home again, maybe, and if Sans has come to realize anything lately, it’s that…

His brother is doing well where he is.

And Sans should probably…stop trying to screw that up for him.

He keeps his absolute best poker-face on and after a moment of suspicious squinting, it seems like Papyrus buys it.

Papyrus slumps a little, looking relieved and saying, “good, that’s…that’s good,” and Sans does not feel guilty at all for his lie.

There’s a beat of silence.

“y’know what else i gotta say to you, though.”

…Ah.

Here it is.

Sans grimaces. “YES. I KNOW.”

Papyrus says your name, and Sans suddenly discovers a deep, abiding interest in the sidewalk.

“i like her.”

“YES.”

“kind of a lot.”

“OF COURSE.”

“i’m pretty serious about her?”

“OBVIOUSLY.”

“don’t…don’t really like it when she comes home all upset.”

Why does it hurt that the apartment is already ‘home’? It’s been months, of course it is.

Sans…sucks it up.

“YES,” he says, “I UNDERSTAND. THAT’S…I…MMM.” It takes a second, to make himself say what he needs to. “MY WORDS WEREN’T…CAREFULLY CHOSEN, THAT AFTERNOON, I…THAT’S… ON ME, I REALIZE THAT.”

Tentatively, guiltily, he asks, “IS SHE…ALRIGHT? THE…THE BOTH OF YOU, YOU’RE…?”

You’d sounded alright, from all the things Papyrus had to say about you; about your relationship.

But Sans wanted to be sure.

He can feel Papyrus staring at him, trying to figure him out, and he must conclude that the question is coming from a genuine enough place because he smiles softly.

“yeah,” he promises, “she’s fine. we’re fine. s’all okay now.”

Good.

So at least he hadn’t screwed that up.

“……what did you say to her, anyway?”

Sans can’t quite help his smirk.

“WHY?” he wonders. “WANT TO DEFEND YOUR LADY’S HONOR? GOING TO BEAT ME UP IN HER NAME?”

“pffffffft, nyeheheheheheh, shut up,” Papyrus laughs, and Sans almost breathes a sigh of relief at how much more easily it seems to come than it used to.

Not for the first time, he thinks of how well-suited his brother is to life up here, far more than he ever was Underground.

That violent, backstabbing hellscape, that’s where Sans was the one who shined—tensely, of course, with never a moment to rest or let his guard down, but he worked well under pressure.

Papyrus…never had.

He’d hated every second, full of fear and anxiety that never quite seemed to go away, even in moments of peace.

Papyrus was just…born for a kinder world, a better world, Sans had always believed that.

Up here, on the surface, it seemed like…maybe he’d finally found one?

With his own place and his own life and his own human who made him happy and…

Stars, who was Sans to try and interfere with that?

This is good.

He thinks he might actually be starting to believe that.

“m’not…nyeheheh, jeez, m’not gonna try to beat you up,” Papyrus chuckles. “just…‘weren’t carefully chosen,’ that means…that means ya’ said somethin’ dumb, right?”

NOT WRONG.

“just figured i’d ask, see what it was.”

Ah, Sans is…going to have to be a big enough skeleton to admit it, isn’t he?

He huffs.

“I…MISCALCULATED,” he says honestly. “I SHOULDN’T HAVE GONE AT HER AS HARD AS I DID… OBVIOUSLY, I WAS EXPECTING A REACTION WHEN I BROUGHT UP HER DIVORCE, BUT THAT MUCH OF A REACTION WAS—”

“wait, wait, hold up, she…she was married???”

…Oh.

He’d have thought…

But by the look on Papyrus’ face, startled and very much thrown as he stops dead on the sidewalk, Sans realizes instantly that this is entirely new information.

You must not have told Papyrus about your past.

YET, he thinks to himself, figuring that by now you’ve probably earned the benefit of the doubt from him.

Sans pauses, resisting the urge to wince.

“YEEEES,” he says slowly. “DON’T… SHE MIGHT JUST…NOT BE READY TO TALK ABOUT IT, IF SHE HASN’T, I WOULDN’T… I WOULDN’T BE CONCERNED ABOUT IT.”

“…when.”

“WHEN…?”

“when was she married.”

The plaintive look on Papyrus’ face is such that Sans really has no choice but to explain what he’d dug up.

“BEFORE WE SURFACED. IT…IT WAS A SHORT MARRIAGE, ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, BARELY TWO YEARS BEFORE IT ENDED. SHE…SHE STAYED AWHILE, WHERE SHE WAS, AND THEN DROPPED EVERYTHING TO COME TO EBOTT.”

Sans frowns.

“I…I COULDN’T FIND MUCH MORE THAN THAT, ACTUALLY, BUT…FROM THAT ALONE, IT MUST HAVE BEEN…MESSY. IT WOULD CERTAINLY EXPLAIN HER REACTION WHEN I MENTIONED IT, I…I WOULD GUESS THAT IT’S A PART OF HER LIFE SHE’D RATHER FORGET, FOR WHATEVER REASON.”

Sans half-expects to be chastised for having dredged up a memory like that for you.

The other half of him expects that he may have unintentionally gotten you into trouble, because Papyrus looks as if he’s thinking some deep, stern thoughts.

“PAPYRUS…?” Sans asks, hoping to find out which it is.

“……you owe her an apology,” Papyrus says. “you know that, yeah?”

The former, then, that’s a relief.

“I KNOW,” Sans admits. “I WILL, OF COURSE. APOLOGIZE. I…HAD JUST THOUGHT… I’D THOUGHT TO GIVE HER SOME…TIME, FIRST. TO… TO COOL OFF. FOR THE TWO OF YOU TO, AH…SORT THINGS. GET SETTLED. NOW THAT YOU’RE…AN ITEM?”

Well.

Sans thinks those may have been some of the most stilted, painfully clumsy words he’s ever said aloud.

…But they must be the right ones, because Papyrus is smiling at him again, apparently taking them in the spirit he’d meant them—a horrifically awkward, yet genuine sentiment of…of approval, for your relationship.

(Not that Papyrus needs his approval, or…even necessarily wants it…? But as far as Sans can tell, his brother seems happy to have it, and Sans couldn’t find it in him to regret that.)

(No matter how embarrassingly wooden it’d come out.)

Sans tenses when Papyrus reaches out to him suddenly.

It’s…not an attack.

Of course it isn’t.

Sans wouldn’t have expected one, not from Papyrus, of all people, but…

It’s not…easy, for him, the touching.

Things aren’t like they were when…when he was just a babybones and Papyrus was…an even babierbones and scooping his little brother up for a hug was the easiest thing in the world.

Papyrus is bigger now.

It’s…difficult to get that through his own thick skull sometimes, but Sans’ brother is a grown skeleton, and if Papyrus is bigger, then Sans is harder. More jaded.

And often, just…very, very tired.

That all amounts to Sans staying very still when Papyrus clasps a hand on Sans’ shoulder and squeezes, a brotherly gesture that he curses himself for not trying to return before he pulls back again.

…Still. He’s glad he got it.

It means that Papyrus isn’t holding a grudge against his overbearing older brother, or…

It means he doesn’t completely hate Sans yet.

It’s something, a clue that Sans is probably finally moving in the right direction.

“thanks for telling me,” Papyrus says, already turning on his heel. “i gotta…… you be careful, alright?”

For a second, the sheer nostalgia nearly knocks Sans off his feet.

‘Be careful’—that’s… that’s what they’d always said to each other Underground, the rare times they’d had to part ways.

The difference this time, of course, is that Papyrus is the one walking away with important business to attend to.

And he’s walking off into a bright, sunny day.

Towards good things.

“OF COURSE,” Sans says belatedly, to his brother’s back, “YOU TOO,” and…

Well.

That’s that.

And Sans feels…okay.

He thinks.

Quite frankly, he’s not entirely sure he’d recognize the feeling, but this moment, right now, feels…

Like a start, at the very least.

-

Papyrus…doesn’t think he likes this new development about you.

He’d be the first to admit he doesn’t always understand human customs perfectly—he’s still new to the surface, they all are, two years is nothing—but from what he does understand, human marriages aren’t all that different from monster ones.

The same intimacy, the same commitment, just signified with rings instead of fancy collars.

And suddenly, Papyrus is picturing you…being collared by somebody else.

It’s a ridiculous mental image, of course, he knows that isn’t how humans do it, but he can’t quite shake it either and…

So many options flash through his head, like his own imagination can’t quite decide what kind of pretty, delicate thing would be circled around the base of your throat: a fine chain, lace, maybe even a ribbon? Something far removed from the plain leather that signified association and protection, like the kind he wore around his own neck, something…

Something special, something a lover would give you.

And the hands in his mind’s eye, tying that special collar around your neck are human.

Not his.

If Papyrus had a heart, he thinks it might’ve just skipped a beat there.

Stars above, is that… is he…jealous?

He’s not sure.

He doesn’t think he’s ever been jealous before, not over a person, and…maybe he still hasn’t now?

Papyrus just…really does not like the thought of you being someone else’s, where he wouldn’t ever get to see you or hold you or…or love you…

If you had stayed married to…whoever, that would’ve been exactly what happened.

It feels to him like a very narrowly dodged bullet and he absolutely must see you, right now.

He wonders if this is at all like what you were feeling when you were worried that he only wanted to be your friend-with-benefits, and if it is…if it is, he has to tell you firmly and emphatically that that is not going to happen, you never have to worry about him sharing his attention with anyone but you, you deserve that reassurance, as explicitly as he can tell you!

(Maybe, selfishly, he also wants to reassure himself a little, that this…that you are something he really does get to have…)

These are the things Papyrus is thinking as he makes his way to your apartment and knocks on your door.

It takes you awhile to answer, but he kind of expected that, he hadn’t called first, or even…checked to see if you were actually at home instead of at work…?

You’re doing weird shifts again, he remembers that now and thinks he’d feel pretty silly if it turned out he was knocking for nobody…

But then, the door opens and…

All the words on the tip of Papyrus’ Schrödinger’s tongue fizzle right out at the sight of you.

You’re home.

You’re here, right in front of him, looking a little sleepy and a lot confused but the part Papyrus finds himself immovably hung up on is that…

“…you’re wearing my shirt.”

You blink up at him, blearily bewildered.

“What?” you ask, but Papyrus is sure of it, that’s his t-shirt you’re wearing, the one with a takeout box and ‘SEND NOODS’ written underneath.

It looks like a dress on you and holy crap, you’re adorable, Papyrus doesn’t think he’s ever been so stupidly smitten in his life.

But all he can say is…exactly what he’d already said, “you’re wearing my shirt,” like that came even remotely close to expressing all the things he was feeling in this moment.

It seems to at least wake you up enough to actually process the words.

“Oh! It, your shirt, I-I’m sorry, it, I think it, uh…ended up in my bag when…the, the other night,” you try to explain, looking even cuter all flustered and babbling. “I must’ve grabbed it by mistake, and it, by the time I noticed it was…it was pretty wrinkly, so I, I was gonna wash it! And bring it back! Laundry day’s Thursday, though, so I just, uhh…!”

Papyrus lays his hands on your shoulders, leaning in to ever so gently touch his skull to your forehead.

“can i come in…?” he asks and with just one more embarrassed squeak, you let him in.

Suddenly…

Suddenly, Papyrus doesn’t feel like your marriage…your divorce was very important, after all.

‘The past is the past,’ you’d said, just the other day.

‘Two years is nothing,’ he’d literally just thought to himself.

You are…such a good thing. You can make him so happy without even trying to and miracle of miracles, you liked him back, the way he liked you.

Papyrus decides that there’s nothing he really needs to say to you, or to hear you say to him—just one look at you standing there in his shirt, adorable as all hell, and there’s not a single panicked thought in his skull.

You can tell him about your past when you’re ready, if you’re ever ready.

He even thinks he has the certainty that…that he could do the same.

Out loud, he says, “i didn’t come for the shirt. just…wanted to see you.”

“Oh. Oh jeez, that’s…”

You look up at him, a little less embarrassed but a good touch more sheepish.

“I mean…I, uh…I have a late shift tonight and I…I kinda just wanna sleep until then, so…I’m not gonna be a whole lot of fun, but… if you wanted to stay for a nap or something…?”

Papyrus would be downright stupid to pass up an offer like that.

He happily follows you over to your bed, kicking off his boots and waving away your sweet concerns that he won’t be comfortable on your little bed.

Spending the next few hours spooning with what must be the softest, most wonderful human in the world, Papyrus is beyond comfortable, practically floating in warm, cuddly bliss.

He is a very happy skeleton.

Chapter Text

Big Dork: you are the least helpful anyone has ever been, i think it’s a record

Big Dork: congrats

Me: Excuse you? I am SUPER helpful, it’s you who won’t take my advice!

Big Dork: maybe i would if any of it had ever worked

Me: As if it hasn’t?! Are you, or are you not dating her now?

Big Dork: she’s dating me ‘cause i asked her to, your…tsuntsun??? thing had nothing to do with it

Me: Obviously, you were doing it wrong, that’s not MY fault!

Me: But the rest of it’s been working out fine, why do you NEED to change it up?

Big Dork: we can’t just stay in for every single date and watch stuff on tv

Me: Did it, or did it not get you laid that one time?

Big Dork: THAT

Big Dork: IS NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS

Big Dork: OH MY GOD, UNDYNE, IF YOU RECORDED ANYTHING I’M ACTUALLY GONNA DUST YOU

Me: Hahahaha holy shit, you’re easy, of course I didn’t!!! Lmao, like I wanna hear YOU fooling around with some poor girl who has terrible standards? Keep dreaming!

Me: It’s good that you still fear me and my power, though, never forget that lol

Me: Also, thanks for totally confirming that something happened, ergo the date was successful, ergo I’m right, so???

Big Dork: you’re not right

Big Dork: a week and a half is way too early for a routine, i gotta…be romantic and spontaneous and shit, i gotta surprise her with something

Big Dork: ‘watch anime instead’ is not a surprising date idea

Undyne grins down at her phone, practically giggling as she suggests something else Papyrus could surprise his girlfriend with.

He’s gonna get all fussy over it and tell her she’s literally the worst, but she loves riling this skeleton up and has no plans of stopping anytime soon.

Sure enough, an expletive appears on her screen. Shortly followed by a middle finger emoji and a hilariously impotent, ‘i hate you.’

“Fuhuhuhuhu, dumbass,” she laughs under her breath, undeniably fond.

“Who’s a dumbass?”

Undyne jumps, startled…but she relaxes quickly to see that it’s only Alphys wandering in.

Ahh…Alphys

Straight from a workout, she’d bet, all buff and sweaty and gorgeous, and stars above, Undyne feels like the luckiest fish in the world for being the one to lock her down.

Undyne straightens her glasses, buying herself a second to wave away the mushy thoughts.

“It’s just Papyrus,” she explains with a wiggle of her phone and a roll of her eyes. “He’s being stupid. It’s like he just doesn’t understand the inherent romance of engaging with media mentally, and your partner physically. I mean, you want a successful relationship, are body and mind not the most important components?”

Alphys smirks, dropping her axe by the door and coming to join Undyne on the couch.

“Aren’t those the only components?” she wonders. “Body and mind?”

“He’s saying ‘heart’ is important, too, or something, I dunno.”

Alphys laughs.

“Pffft, that’s soft shit, what a dandere!”

“That’s the one that means he’s a weenie, right?”

“Hahaha, yeah, pretty much!”

Undyne grins even wider, happily opening up his contact info.

“I’m changing his name. Don’t try to talk me out of it. I have to do this.”

No sooner has she finished keying it in than a big pair of biceps are wrapping around her, squeezing her hard.

“Maybe I’m a weenie too,” Alphys chuckles into her shoulder, making Undyne feel a little hot in the cheeks. “I love soft shit when it’s with you.”

“Alphyyyys,” she teasingly whines. “That’s gay…”

Alphys’ confusion is practically tangible.

“We’re married???”

Ah! That beautiful word…!

Undyne closes her eyes, trying to stop her lips from curling upwards into a happy smile to little success.

Who cares? There’s no one else around to see.

Yeah, we’re married,” she agrees, wiggling a little in Alphys’ arms, and when her wife pushes her down against the couch cushions to pile on the smooches, she doesn’t even put up a token, playful resistance.

Alphys’ claws trace idle patterns along the scales just beneath Undyne’s shirt while she presses her mouth against the back of her neck. She shivers, which naturally only encourages her to kiss harder, sharp teeth coming out to graze the sensitive skin of her gills ever so gently.

Undyne feels hyper-aware of the collar around her neck—ruffled lace, stitched fancifully with her partner’s name—and longs to see its counterpart bearing her own name, around Alphys’ thigh like the world’s most perfect garter.

She is so

frustrated, because suddenly, her phone blares out a text alert that soundly interrupts that beautiful, sensual moment she was attempting to have with the love of her life!

“Ugh, Papyrus!” Undyne snaps, whipping her phone up to glare daggers at it. “He’s such a mood-wrecker, I’m gonna kill him! I’m gonna hack his stupid old flip-phone to play…ugh, I dunno, Caramelldansen or something every time he tries to hook up!”

“Hahaha, holy shit!”

Alphys’ arms move down around Undyne’s middle and heft her back upright.

She’s not pinned underneath her wife anymore…but she is in her lap now, so it probably breaks about even.

“That’s evil,” Alphys says with no small amount of approval, “24/7 Caramelldansen… Maybe sprinkle a Nyan Cat in there to spice it up?”

Undyne barks out a laugh.

“Nah, not 24/7… I think he’s gonna start slowing down with that stuff now that he’s got a real girlfriend.”

“He does? Oh,” Alphys realizes, “the human! She said yes?”

“Apparently. He’s getting all finicky about her, too, like their next date has to be crazy-romantic and perfect. He’s being super annoying about it, actually…”

Alphys makes a noise of consideration, resting her chin on Undyne’s shoulder.

She watches her type a few increasingly sarcastic and trollish replies to Papyrus before speaking again.

“Weird,” she says, “I was just out training with Sans and he didn’t say anything about his brother…”

At that, Undyne scoffs.

“Since when does Sans say anything about anything?”

Alphys shrugs, conceding the point with a, “Yeah, fair.”

Alphys’… ‘friendship’ with the elder skeleton brother had always been incontestably weird in Undyne’s eyes.

They didn’t talk. They barely saw each other outside of work. To even the closest of observers, like Undyne, it seemed like their only shared interest was flinging bullets at things and standing around each other in Serious Stony Silence while carrying out the duties of the Royal Guard.

Undyne doesn’t get it.

…but, she supposes, somehow, even with all that, Alphys explicitly trusts her subordinate to follow orders and watch her back—Underground, that kind of thing was huge beyond words.

Undyne had just always liked virtual friendships better.

You could find out everything you really needed to know about somebody through the Undernet, and not only what they ‘hid’ on their devices, like their search history and passwords and physical location.

You didn’t have to put yourself at risk in person for a single second before you’d figured out who someone really was and how dangerous they could be to you.

Undyne genuinely cringes some days to think of how long she might’ve spent being quietly afraid of Papyrus, the tall and silent guard-dog who lurked at his openly terrifying brother’s side when really

Really, he was just a big, dumb softy with a really good resting bitch-face.

And the scary brother. That part was real.

But, she thinks, sitting in the lap of the incredible woman who collared her, some things…

Some people are worth the risk of meeting in person.

Sighing, Undyne leans back, probably drowning her short wife with the hair of her messy bun.

“I’m out of ideas for this dingus,” she complains. “He’s just gonna keep texting me, I know it…”

To her credit, Alphys just takes a second to blow the red strands away from her mouth before suggesting, “…Episode 13 of Wan Wan?”

Undyne has to take a second to remember which one that is.

“…The cherry blossom festival?” Oh shit, that was pretty romantic, wasn’t it? But, “There’s no cherry blossoms in Ebott, though.”

And what a damn shame that was…

“Papyrus does artsy stuff, though, you said? He could art up a couple of petals or something, papier-mâché a few trees?”

Oh.

Oh, be still, Undyne’s heart!

This… this is why she loves Alphys so much.

A stern voice, full of 100% conviction, like she’s never been surer of anything in her life…as she uses it to suggest the cutesiest weeb shit Undyne’s ever heard of.

The passion…!

It was enough to make any fish’s heart go doki-doki…

But alas.

Undyne scrolls up through Papyrus’ messages, angling her phone up and back to show Alphys.

“He specifically said ‘no weeb shit,’ he’d shoot down that obviously amazing date idea in a heartbeat, he doesn’t even deserve to hear about it.”

“Tch, damn. Guess I’m out of ideas, too.”

“Right?!”

It’s a matter of seconds before the text alert goes off again.

“What?” Alphys asks. “What’s he saying now?”

Undyne takes a look.

Dandere Dork: PICNIC

“Pfft, fuhuhuhu, guess he figured it out without me, after all. Bye, phone!”

Without further ado, Undyne yeets her phone across the room, not caring where it lands. If it broke, she’d just build herself a new one; a better one.

For now, it is far more pressing, to turn around, straddling Alphys’ lap and slowly dragging her fingers down along her wife’s beefy, scar-riddled arms.

“Now…where were we, Alphy…?”

Alphys smiles slowly, looking her deep in the eyes with a beautifully sultry gaze. She opens her mouth and the voice that comes out is low and husky, utterly enticing as she says…

“There was a box on the porch when I came in. I think it’s that cosplay kimono we ordered. Will you wear it?”

Undyne’s grin is wide as a shark’s as she tackles Alphys and rolls the two of them onto the floor.

Clearly, she has no other choice.

-

To say you have no idea what Papyrus has planned would be an untruth.

He’s done a good job keeping quiet about the details and not letting anything slip, even though he’s had plenty of opportunities as you worked things out with your schedule. To his credit, you were completely clueless up until five minutes ago.

But then, he’d shown up at your door, looking practically gentlemanly as he waited there for you with a wicker basket on his arm and a blue gingham cloth folded almost neatly on top of it.

You’d laughed a little as you’d realized instantly what the plan was, but not being surprised and not being happy were two very different things, so you’d all but skipped out of your apartment and hurriedly locked the door behind you.

Your second date with Papyrus—a picnic date—was an experience you couldn’t wait to have.

It’s a great day for it, sunny and mild, and as you hit the sidewalk outside, you find yourself looking up at Papyrus with a playful smirk.

“So…did you google ‘cute date ideas’ to come up with this one?”

“no!” Papyrus replies immediately, only for his skull to gradually go violet as he amends, “well…uh…i mean, m-maybe? a little? is…is that a deal-breaker, or…?”

You laugh.

“The opposite of a deal-breaker,” you promise, edging a little closer to his side.

‘Original’ is nowhere on your list of datemate priorities.

‘Invested’ is. So are ‘thoughtful’ and ‘willing to put work in,’ among a few others, and thusfar Papyrus has met all your standards.

He wanted to take you on a nice date. He didn’t have any really special ideas.

As easy as it would’ve been from there to shrug and just have you over for another movie night, he did a little research and came up with this instead, because, you can only assume, you’re important to him and he wanted to treat you.

You feel very treated right now.

“This’ll be fun,” you say, hoping to reassure Papyrus a little more. “I can’t remember the last time I’ve been on a picnic! …Plus, y’know…good company.”

You shoot him a wink, half-expecting you’re about to see that cute blush of his get darker.

But the reality…

Papyrus smiles, apparently emboldened by your words to reach right over and grab your hand.

So now, you’re…you’re holding hands with your boyfriend, in idyllic weather, on your way to enjoy the picnic he’d planned for you.

And you end up being the one to blush when the magnitude of how sweet this is really hits you.

“nyeheheheh, ah jeez, you’re cute.”

“N…! You’re cute, shut up, where are we going?!”

Papyrus doesn’t end up telling you, nor does he let go of your hand the entire way there, the sappy bastard.

You end up at an only slightly crowded park, with greenery and benches and even a little pond near a tiny hill—apparently, your destination.

“okay, okay, stay here, hold this a sec,” Papyrus says, passing you the basket and snatching the gingham off the top of it.

You watch him lay the blanket down over the grass, meticulously smoothing it out before taking his basket back. He opens it, revealing (to your surprise) very neatly packed foodstuffs, that he digs right into, hurriedly setting it all out on the ground.

You can only take one step forward intending to help him unpack it all when he stops you with a disapproving, “ah! i got it, i got it, stay, i said!” and you chuckle, but leave him to it.

In no time at all, an entire smorgasbord is laid out on the blanket—sandwiches, snacks, a couple of drink thermoses—and one very proud skeleton looking to you for approval.

“Do you want me to tell you how romanced I am right now?” you wonder, and Papyrus puffs up even more, excitedly.

“Pfft… Okay, did you make those sandwiches?”

“yeah!”

“Then, I am supremely romanced. You’re nailing this.”

“really? ‘cause i didn’t make the other stuff, but i, y’know, i got a veggie tray, a-and i moved all the chips and pretzels from the bags they came in… into the other, smaller bags with the… with the zip ‘cause…you’re…supposed to??? for picnics…”

It occurs to you, in that moment.

Papyrus has no idea what the function of a re-sealable baggie is.

He’s literally only mentioning it, and the fact that he purchased vegetables in an attempt to earn bragging rights with you.

You don’t know why, but this is one of the most endearing things you’ve ever heard out of this gigantic goofball’s mouth and you cannot be held responsible for your actions.

You go right up to Papyrus and give him a big, affectionate smooch on the cheek.

“You have made the jump to Ludicrous Romance, ‘Rus,” you tell him. “I’m impressed already.”

Papyrus snickers, obviously delighted, and snags you, holding you close to nuzzle your cheek right back.

And with that, the two of you settle in to eat some food, appreciate the park, and just spend some nice time together as a couple.

Eventually, the two of you get to talking— once you get through all the pleasantries about the weather and the snacks and the ‘how’s work?’ ‘Good! How’s furry pinups?’ ‘knot bad…’ ‘Oh stars, hahaha!’

“found this place just kinda…wandering,” Papyrus says, gesturing vaguely at the park around you. “not, like…goin’ anywhere in particular or anything, but…y’know. glad i did though, s’real pretty.”

You couldn’t disagree with him on that. “Yeah, it is. …How often do you, uh…wander?”

Papyrus shrugs. “pretty often, i guess? i dunno, i toldja i don’t really have much of a schedule.”

He seems to think on it.

“maybe…two or three times a week?” he guesses. “just…like to walk around, look at stuff.”

“That’s a lot more than I’d have guessed,” you say thoughtlessly, before your brain can quite catch up to the words you’re saying. “You seem like kind of………uh.”

Papyrus looks like he’s barely restraining a laugh. “kind of a what?”

A touch sheepish, you admit, “………I…probably shouldn’t say.”

“snrk…were you gonna say ‘a huge shut-in’?”

You press your lips together and say nothing.

“nyeheheheh, listen, you’re not wrong,” Papyrus freely admits, and you breathe a little sigh of relief at his good humor. “i never used to go anywhere. didn’t really want to, so it was fine, but… it’s safer up here… nobody hassles me ‘cause i’m tall an’ i guess skeletons are scary for humans, or whatever. not you, but you’re weird.”

He pauses, only to quickly add, “in a good way! you’re good-weird! i-i like that about you!”

“Oh, well that’s alright, then,” you chuckle. “As long as I’m not bad-weird.”

“never,” Papyrus reassures you, and ah, that touches your heart, just a little.

“…but…y’know, the…the wandering, it’s…it’s nice, what with the…the sky and stuff…”

A soberingly bittersweet note if ever you’d heard one.

In retrospect, of course even the most homebodied of monsters would enjoy being outdoors: they’d all gone from thinking they’d live and die trapped in darkness to being able to feel for themselves the warmth of the sun on their skin…(or bones, or feathers, or scales…)

It makes you more than a little sad to think of how amazing that probably is for all of them, and for Papyrus, specifically.

But it makes you even more happy that at least he gets to experience it now; that all monsters do.

You tune back out of your thoughts to find Papyrus mid-sentence and hurriedly pay attention.

“…good spot to, y’know, to draw, a little, lots of scenic, uh…stuff. the usual things, trees an’ animals…that pond over there.”

He points vaguely to the little body of water, ripples sparkling in the sunlight, disturbed only by the leisurely floating of ducks.

“Bet you have a lot of pictures of ducks,” you comment and apparently, you’re right on the money.

“looootta duck doodles,” he agrees. “gotta say, i like it better when it’s ducks. when the geese show up, it’s…mmn.”

It takes only a second of thought before your brain is conjuring up…probably the most hilarious mental image you’ve ever had in your life.

“Oh no,” you say trying not to laugh, “I’m…I’m picturing you being attacked by an angry goose now…”

“m’sure whatever you’re picturing isn’t far off.”

“Oh no!”

You soundly lose your battle with the giggles.

You try not to feel too badly about it, though, because even with a pretty purple tint to his cheekbones, Papyrus is laughing with you—though he does take a big bite of a sandwich as if to pretend he isn’t.

There is absolutely no force in the universe that could prevent you from finding that adorable.

…but only moments later, when he abruptly chokes on the sandwich, is considerably less cute.

You’re no small amount of alarmed when it happens, partially because you have no idea what set it off and partially because you have no idea how you’d even begin to do the Heimlich maneuver on a person without a diaphragm to compress.

Wide-eyed and startled, you just get in close and pat him on the back, hoping that does something, and thankfully, Papyrus coughs and seems to get himself back under control.

“What the hell?” you ask him. “What was that? Are you okay?”

“pu…puffballs,” is all Papyrus wheezes, which…

What???

You say the same thing out loud, to which he emphatically gestures at the pond and repeats, “puffballs! oh my god, what the fuck.”

You try to follow where he’s pointing, still totally lost…

Until, that is, you see what you think he’s talking about.

“…Wait. The ducklings?”

Papyrus turns to you, eye-lights questioning. “the… they’re, what, little ducks? baby ducks?”

You look back at the tiny clusters of fluff, now dutifully marching after their mother into the water.

“Yeah?” You give your boyfriend a curious look. “Have you seriously never seen baby ducks before? I thought you came here a lot!”

“just for, like, a couple of months,” he protests. “they don’t even look like ducks? they’re like…floating fluff balls, holy shit, i love them.”

“……Pfft, stars above, Papyrus,” you affectionately chide, shoving at his arm. “You had me worried there for a second!”

“sorry,” he tells you, obviously distracted. “i, uh…i didn’t, can i, do you mind if i…? i kinda gotta, just…hang on…”

You watch as Papyrus reaches over to the picnic basket and rustles around in it, coming up with a little sketchpad he must’ve stowed away with all the goodies.

From his pocket, he pulls out a thoroughly chewed-looking pencil and right then and there begins to scribble down some ducklings.

You could protest…but you don’t.

Though you’ve seen a bit of his art, you’ve never seen your boyfriend drawing before, and the allure of getting to see the process up close is too much to resist.

You scoot a little closer, all the way up against his side when he doesn’t seem bothered by it, and just…watch.

Papyrus really has a knack for realism: the strokes of his pencil are smooth, seemingly effortless, but right before your eyes the floofy little gaggle of ducklings is taking shape skillfully, meticulously.

You’re impressed.

“That’s really good,” you tell him, completely meaning it.

There’s a moment of lag before he responds, but with his focus split between the ducks and his drawing and now you, you don’t take that personally.

“…ah, thanks, but it’s…really, y’know, i just…there’s lots of people better than me.”

Maybe so.

But most importantly, at least to you, “None of those are people are you, ‘Rus. I like what you make.”

Another slight delay.

“………oh. oh, uh, that’s…”

Papyrus tucks his pencil away, turning to you with a bashful smile and holding out the little pad.

“do, uh…do y’wanna see…?”

You frown a little.

“Oh, you don’t have to stop drawing the ducklings…”

“ah, no, it’s, it’s okay,” he says, “i, uh, i just wanted to get a little outline down, i can fill it in later, o-or just look up pictures another time, you…you can look! if you wanna!”

There’s something in his expression that makes you understand his real feelings.

He’s excited that you’re interested. He really wants you to look.

So, you take the sketchpad from him and look at it.

You flip through a few pages finding exactly what you’d expected to find based on what he’d told you earlier, a whole lot of nature-study—trees, birds, squirrels and the like, all very nicely done with the quality you’d expect of a hand-drawn field guide.

You make plenty of noises of appreciation and comment on specific things you like, especially when Papyrus seems to brighten with each and every one of them, happily chattering on about where he was when he did that one, what he had trouble with on this one, what that weird bird sounded like when it chirped and flew away…

A few pages deeper shows you a whole series of doodles that must’ve been the result of a heck of a lot of people-watching, a whole cluster of human strangers going about their park-related business.

“i, uh, i wanted to get in some human practice,” he explains when you get there. “with, y’know, with people, the only thing i’ve ever done was, uh…was monsters, so humans are… nyeheheh, the only thing even close to human-lookin’ down there was skeletons, an’ you guys are a whole lot squishier than bones. y’wouldn’t think it makes that much of a difference, but…”

From somewhere, you pluck up the cheek to look at Papyrus from beneath your eyelashes.

“Maybe you could practice on me sometime,” you offer. “I’ve never posed for an artist before…”

You’re expecting a little surprise and (hoping for) some excitement.

Instead, you get Papyrus looking a touch guilty and admitting, “don’t, uh…don’t be too sure about that…”

Of course, you’re confused.

Papyrus reaches over but instead of taking his sketchpad back, his claws card through a couple more pages, down towards the back, and when he flips them open…

Oh.

Oh!

That’s you.

Papyrus drew you!

It takes you only a couple seconds to realize that, staring down at a whole page of drawings ranging from cute doodle to practically portrait quality of the girl that undoubtedly has to be you.

They’re all very good. And you look very pretty in every single one of them.

Your cheeks feel a little hot again but rather than embarrassed, you feel…flattered; giddily pleased at all this.

That Papyrus should want to draw you at all… much less more than once, with such obvious care taken in recreating your likeness…

It makes you really happy, that he clearly sees something in you worth capturing.

“Aw, ‘Rus,” you say, leaning just a little heavier against his side. “This is so sweet? What the hell…”

“you like ‘em?” Papyrus asks hopefully.

“Of course I do!” you exclaim. “Even if you’ve got a bad case of the rose-colored glasses!”

He tilts his head at you, looking confused. “the what?”

“You like me. That’s why you draw me extra pretty, don’t try to deny it!”

Papyrus makes a noise, somewhere between a scoff and a laugh.

“s’funny,” he says. “always thought i wasn’t drawin’ you pretty enough. just can’t get that much pretty on the page yet, i guess.”

Oh stars, he means that, doesn’t he.

“You’re so corny,” you say, returning his sketchpad to him by smacking him in the chest with it.

But he’s also extremely sweet, and for that, the very next thing you do is pounce on him, throwing your arms around his vertebrae and smooching him all the way down to the gingham blanket.

If you had to guess, you’d probably admit that the truth of the matter was somewhere in the middle of you two.

You’re just an average human lady with a (maybe not so) average boyfriend who just so happens to like you a whole lot.

You’re pretty sure that’s something you can live with, ‘cause that feeling is very much mutual.

Chapter Text

When Sans steps into the Empress’ inner-sanctum, he is immediately on guard to see an old photograph between her furry white paws.

It takes him twenty seconds to decide with certainty that it’s of her husband.

(…Well. Ex-husband—though nothing had ever officially been dissolved, it would be an inaccuracy to call him anything but.)

Sans knows this, though, because he isn’t actively dodging fireballs, like he must when the empress looks at her other old photographs.

Her maddened rages on those days, rare as they are, are the stuff of legend and the only thing that appeases her is to FIGHT until she can’t.

And of course…Sans has always made a point of making himself very hard to hit.

(No one ever comes away from her as unscathed as he does, not even Alphys—and Sans does take pride in that.)

But apparently, target practice is not his duty for today so instead he dips in a respectful bow, fist closed over the golden Delta Rune on his chest, and speaks.

“YOUR MAJESTY. HOW MAY I SERVE YOU?”

Toriel’s crown barely tilts as she angles her head, acknowledging him.

“At ease, Captain,” she says, and Sans straightens. “Tell me: how long have you been in the service of my empire?”

He frowns a little, uncertainly. “…I’M SORRY?”

“How old were you when you joined the ranks? All those years ago?”

Sans isn’t sure what this line of questioning is meant to accomplish, but he duly answers, “RECRUITMENT AGE, YOUR MAJESTY. SEVENTEEN.”

A grin comes across Toriel’s face, and finally, she turns to face him.

“I think I am getting better,” she says wryly. “That was a lie, was it not?”

Sans…wonders if he ought to look chastened.

Ultimately, he doesn’t try.

“YES, YOUR MAJESTY,” he admits. “IT WAS FIFTEEN.”

Toriel squints at him.

“That is either true, or close enough to true that you believe it,” she eventually concludes, and Sans has to try very hard to hide a grin.

What difference was a few weeks, anyway?

“Too young,” she tsks, sounding for just a moment as if she were a million miles away. “Too young by far… Yet somehow, I feel there is no one else to ask this of.”

Sans perks up to attention. “YES, MA’AM. ANYTHING.”

Looking off into the middle distance, Toriel slowly asks, “Do you think…do you think I was wrong? Back then?”

………Ah.

A minefield.

Sans…stalls for time.

“YOUR MAJESTY,” he protests with gentle humor, “YOU KNOW HOW LONG I’VE SERVED YOU, AND YOU ONLY JUST ASKED AFTER MY AGE THEN. I HAVEN’T BORNE WITNESS TO NEARLY SO MUCH OF YOUR GLORIOUS REIGN. WHATEVER YOU’RE REFERRING TO—”

“I know you, Captain,” Toriel interrupts. Her tone brooks no argument as she continues, “There is nothing you hate quite so much as not knowing, is that not so?”

Sans ducks his skull deferentially, in lieu of answering.

“I appreciate such diligence in such a loyal asset to my empire. I also appreciate it when such diligence is employed when I ask for it. I know that you know and I am asking your opinion. …You may speak freely, Sans,” she adds, grinning at him almost pleasantly. “I am in a good mood this morning.”

Sans has not climbed so far up the ladder and survived this many years to take such a statement at face-value.

So, he weighs his words very carefully.

“I…UNDERSTAND THE POSITION YOU WERE IN. AT THE TIME. AFTER…”

No. Best not to say it aloud.

If a photo of her late children was enough to provoke a temporary madness, Sans didn’t want to test what an explicit description of their fate could bring.

“…AFTER. OF COURSE IT WOULD’VE BEEN FOOLISH TO LET SUCH A THING GO UNANSWERED. AND…AND DELAYING NEEDLESSLY WOULD’VE BEEN TACTICALLY UNSOUND. ACTION NEEDED TO BE TAKEN.”

“………But.”

Sans resists the urge to wince, and when he speaks again, it’s slowly.

“BUT…I THINK THAT…PERHAPS I UNDERSTAND…THE EMPEROR’S POSITION, AS WELL.” Toriel narrows her eyes at him and he hastens to explain. “NOT WANTING TO PLAY THE LONG GAME, THAT… I DON’T NECESSARILY AGREE THAT WAITING FOR HUMANS TO FALL, HOPING…HOPING THEY’D BE THE KIND TO…ESPECIALLY DESERVE THEIR FATE WAS…THE RIGHT CHOICE…”

Sans has only ever met the man in passing, heard of him in urban legends whispered furtively so the Empress wouldn’t hear.

But what little he had heard…really, really reminded him of someone.

“I BELIEVE THAT…ASGORE IS A MAN OF LOVING TEMPERAMENT. THE KIND WHO, EVEN IN A CRUEL WORLD, THINKS OF FORCE AS A LAST RESORT.”

“And what does that make me, Captain?” Toriel wonders, a dangerous tilt to her smile. “A violent warmonger? A bloodthirsty tyrant?”

CAREFULLY!

Sans steels himself.

“HARDLY,” he says. “SIMPLY NOT THE TYPE TO HESITATE WHEN FORCE IS CALLED FOR.”

Exactly as he’d hoped, the words seem to make the Empress deflate.

“…And…he is. Yes. You are right, that is…that is who he always was. The soft-hearted fool…”

She drops her gaze to the photo again, stroking her thumb along it. She looks…

Remorseful.

“I should never have tried to order him to cross the Barrier,” she says at length.

No, probably not.

That was the thing that had made Asgore balk, so the story goes—being expected to go to the human world above and slaughter enough humans to break the barrier from the outside.

He hadn’t wanted it, already grieving from the loss of the royal children and broken even more by his own wife’s attempt to pull rank on him when all he’d wanted to do was mourn.

Theoretically, Toriel could’ve gone to the surface to do the job herself at any time… but with her husband in such a soft state, she’d feared he lacked the strength to lead their people in the meantime—the only ‘children’ she had left—so she had insisted.

They’d fought, a near-literal clash of titans so violent and dangerous that no one had stayed to witness it.

And in the end, only the Empress remained, forced to stay Underground and collect souls the long way because now there was no one but her.

It had been…considerably shocking for everyone to learn that Toriel hadn’t actually killed Asgore; had just sent him running into the Ruins, hiding and desperately trying to keep the human children that fell from ever escaping to their death in Toriel’s flames.

A pathetic, futile effort until…

Until.

“IF HE HADN’T LEFT,” Sans quietly reminds Toriel, “THERE WOULD’VE BEEN NO ONE TO GREET OUR YOUNG AMBASSADOR IN THE RUINS.”

“…Chara,” the Empress breathes, her expression softening considerably. For a moment, she seems less like an iron-fisted monarch, more like…more like a mother.

Sans isn’t surprised—in only a few short years, Toriel’s shown a marked fondness for the human child her estranged husband had adopted as his own.

The human that brought them all their freedom.

(Somehow.)

(No one seems to have any memory of how the Barrier was broken, and Chara refused to explain what happened, but it was unquestionably their doing.)

“ASGORE PROTECTED THEM,” Sans points out. “HE SHOWED THEM KINDNESS. IT WOULDN’T SURPRISE ME IF THAT WAS WHAT CONVINCED THEM TO… THAT, IN SPITE OF APPEARANCES…AND SEVERAL…LESS-THAN-FRIENDLY WELCOMES… THAT MONSTERS WEREN’T ALL BAD. COULD BE BETTER, IF GIVEN THE CHANCE.”

Chara showed them that violence wasn’t the only way, or at least… didn’t have to be.

And nearly three years later, so many monsters are living that truth, on the surface, among humans.

Peacefully.

That’s the company line anyway—the motto the Embassy and all monster politics these days runs by.

Sans isn’t convinced.

His motto has always been more to the tune of ‘don’t trust, verify.’

Toriel believes it, though— wholeheartedly.

She sighs.

“It sounds as if you are saying everything has worked out in spite of me, Sans…”

Sans’ reply is immediate.

“NOT AT ALL. YOUR CHOICES AND ACTIONS WERE INTEGRAL TO THE CURRENT OUTCOME. YOUR LEADERSHIP IS…HAS ALWAYS BEEN…”

And that is where he starts to flounder for words.

How to express the importance of one, consistent monarch in a place of such random violence and split-second change? Someone who made it her mission to singlehandedly hold together an ever-dwindling band of broken, cutthroat rats who struggled more and more everyday to remember that they were monsters, beings once rumored to be made of love and compassion… instead of LoVe and anger?

Some things are beyond value, and equally beyond words.

The Empress must read something into his silence, though, for she soon speaks.

“Well… I must be a passing decent empress to silence your silver tongue.” Toriel casts him a sidelong glance, a smile playing at her lips. “I am tempted to wonder if something may have…goatten it.”

Sans snickers before he can stop himself, but quickly replaces his poker-face.

“YOU MUST BE MISTAKEN, EMPRESS TORIEL,” he says demurely. “I AM BUT A SIMPLE SKELETON WITH NO TONGUE OF ANY KIND— NO BONES ABOUT IT.”

“Hahaha!”

When Toriel laughs, Sans knows he’s navigated the minefield correctly.

Another successful interaction.

“Ahh, thank you for indulging an old woman, Captain,” she sighs.

“OF COURSE, YOUR MAJESTY,” Sans assures her pleasantly, glad to still be on her good side—or what passed for it, in any case.

The favor, however small, of the Empress herself was an extra bit of protection that he hoped to have for many years to come. Any sort of deterrent to keep him and his just a little safer was more than welcome.

And besides, even if only in the rare times like these when her nostalgia made her soft, who else did he know who would appreciate a good pun?

Toriel picks up a book and slots her old picture between its pages, setting it aside.

“I want to try again,” she says, seemingly apropos of nothing. “Gorey’s recipe.”

Sans pointedly does not make the face he wants to make.

He can’t even begin to understand the fascination his Empress has with the dish, excepting that it’s the one recipe she’s never been able to recreate to her satisfaction once Asgore had left.

She herself made an amazing butterscotch cinnamon pie, rich and so delectable that even without much of a sweet-tooth Sans would heartily recommend it provided that you had some kind of certainty that Toriel liked you, of course. But for some reason…

AH, WELL, he shrugs to himself. NOT MY PLACE TO UNDERSTAND.

His place was only to obey his monarch’s orders.

And today, those orders are, “Go and get the ingredients for me, Sans. I know you are the Captain of the Guard, but you have always been my fastest errand boy.”

The way she says it is with a smile, like she’s telling an inside joke.

In a way, she is—there aren’t many people still alive who know why Sans has always been fast, elusive, nigh impossible to pin down…

Sans bows again, smirking proudly beneath the Empress’ gaze.

“AS YOU WISH, YOUR MAJESTY,” he replies grandly.

And in the blink of an eye, he’s gone from the room.

-

It’s time.

It is finally, finally ‘girlfriend privileges’ time and you don’t think you could be any more excited, not after the hours and hours of thought that went into being able to surprise Papyrus with a super-sweet gesture.

Literally ‘super-sweet.’

You know firsthand now how deeply his love for cakes and sweets and baked goods of all kinds runs, but from his grocery list alone you know that no such treat holds his favorite spot so well as donuts.

Even with him buying anywhere from four to five bags of the miniature kind every time he went shopping, you still never saw a single one at his place that wasn’t empty—probably, he sheepishly confessed to you, because he had no self-control and felt about them a little the way he’d presume a snake would feel about an unguarded clutch of bird eggs.

Well… if that was the case, you were going to bring your big, goofy snake an unexpected feast!

You did a little research online first, narrowing things down by the best ratings and the most enthusiastic reviews (only the best sweets for your sweetheart!), and finally came up with one place as the clear winner.

A monster-run business, too, go figure!

Everything you could find positively raved about Muffet’s donuts, so as soon as you have a free moment, that’s exactly where you go.

When you walk in the front door, though, you can’t help but be hit with…an odd feeling.

Maybe it’s the dim lighting, the décor of dark silks and intricate laces draped over this and that for a gothic, slightly eerie effect.

Or…maybe it’s the fact that the place is…apparently empty?

You are coming at a weird time, you suppose, dead in the middle of the typical breakfast and lunch rushes, but there should at least be an employee or something, right?

You don’t see any.

You realize quickly, though, what must’ve given you the odd feeling, even just subconsciously.

It’s probably all the spiders.

In every corner, every nook and cranny, every shadow of the shop, you see them: spiders, in webs, scuttling across the floor, up the walls and into hiding places and your first reaction is to startle, immediately checking your feet to make sure nothing was crawling on you already.

You’re in the clear (for now), but still thoroughly creeped out to say the least.

A feeling only exacerbated by the fact that when you look up, there’s suddenly someone behind the counter, someone who definitely wasn’t there a moment ago.

“Oh! Uh, hi!” you greet the pale purple woman with shiny black hair. “I, um…I heard about this place and…and wanted to come check it out! Is…is that…okay?”

You’re not sure why it wouldn’t be.

But you also…don’t feel particularly welcome under this monster’s five-eyed gaze, that she’s fixing on you without even blinking or saying so much as a word of greeting to you in return.

She isn’t moving, either, one pair of hands neatly folded, the fingers of another set tapping silently on the counter.

How many hands did this woman have? More than she had eyes?

Was… Could she be a spider, too?

………

Oh, stars, duh!

That would definitely explain the bugs, wouldn’t it? The whole shop being run by a spider (spiders?)…

You feel kinda silly now, especially when another fuzzy little spider scurries across the counter in front of you, holding up a card.

Monster spiders, of course—sentient, you’d bet, and not the kind that tried to crawl on people with their skittery legs just because they didn’t know any better.

You feel so relieved and you feel your nervous smile taking a turn for the genuine as you read what’s written on the spider’s card.

Are you looking for anything in particular today?

“Oh, yeah, actually! I’m looking for a gift, for my boyfriend! He, uh, haha, he really loves donuts so I was hoping to surprise him with something nice.” You struggle a little, trying to figure out whether you’re meant to be looking at the card-holding spider or the humanoid one while you’re talking, and try to err on the side of flicking between both. “Is there, do you have any recommendations? O-or a menu…?”

One of the humanoid spider’s many arms waves and you watch a handful of little ones climb up the wall to pull aside a few bolts of silk.

Apparently yes, there is a menu!

…and wow, it is as expensive as it is extensive.

For all the cakes and pastries and ciders you saw listed up there, you have also never seen such high pricing—you could probably buy a few dozen cheap donuts for the same as one from here and that’s…

That is really putting a dent in your ‘girlfriend privileges’ plan.

You still want to do something nice for Papyrus, it’s not as if he isn’t worth it, but… you do have to be practical, and you know he wouldn’t be happy if you went outside your price range for a random Just Because gift…

You continue to stare up at the menu, hoping you look like you’re only browsing your options instead suppressing sticker-shock.

Maybe…maybe if you only got…one donut?

It wouldn’t be as nice a gift as a full dozen, sure, but…it would be something

You’re torn.

Until the hair on the back of your neck suddenly bristles and behind you, you hear a deep chuckle.

A very familiar chuckle.

You turn and sure enough, standing there is none other than Sans.

You’re not sure what the hell he’s doing here.

You’re not best pleased to see him, either.

But before you can say a single word of confrontation to him, he speaks instead.

“WELL, WELL, PRICES HAVE GONE UP, HAVEN’T THEY,” Sans muses, his ultraviolet eye-lights locked on the menu. “RESTRUCTURING YOUR BUSINESS MODEL, MUFFET?”

You look to the spider-lady—apparently Muffet herself—and note that her mouth seems…oddly tight.

“OR…ARE THOSE JUST THE HUMAN PRICES?”

A bolt of alarm shoots through you.

That… that literally hadn’t even occurred to you, that this woman could be trying to scam you.

(Because you were human? An easy mark? Both?)

You turn, from Sans back to Muffet, trying to figure out if it could be true.

Muffet smiles, slow and creepy to reveal a mouthful of fangs.

And another spider with a card comes running out, bold lettering stamped across it.

Just a little joke, Captain!

…Shit, you think emphatically.

So it was true?

You watch as the spiders on the wall jump into action, moving the skeins of silk around again to hide the menu only to reveal another—identical to the first, but with completely normal prices.

(Well. Still kind of high, but not unreasonably so for ‘artisan’ pastries.)

Your pride positively stings at the realization of how close you’d come to being duped; how much you’d have been out for no real reason if Sans hadn’t happened to walk in.

You find yourself watching him as he approaches the counter, his stride purposeful and confident.

“A JOKE,” he echoes, smiling faintly. “OF COURSE, VERY FUNNY. THAT’S GOOD.”

Lightning fast, his hand darts out, snatching the card from the little spider so quick that it stumbles under the sudden lack of weight.

“THAT’S GOOD,” he says again, flipping the card between his fingers in a begrudgingly impressive display of dexterity, “BECAUSE IF IT WEREN’T A JOKE… THAT WOULD BE VERY MUCH FROWNED UPON. ILLEGAL, ACTUALLY.”

Muffet looks visibly discomfited by Sans’ icy tone.

For the first time since you walked in, she opens her mouth and speaks herself.

“There’s no need to be so stern,” she practically whispers. And then a little questioningly, flicking her black eyes over at you, “I hadn’t realized you were such a white knight for humans, these days…”

Sans audibly scoffs.

“YOU MEAN, MY JOB DESCRIPTION? ‘FOSTER DIPLOMATIC INTERSPECIES RELATIONS ON BEHALF OF THE EMPRESS’?”

Muffet has no reply to this.

“BUT… ALL HUMANS? NO.”

Your eyebrows raise when Sans turns his skull to look back at you, his expression…unreadable.

“ONLY THE REALLY IMPORTANT ONES.”

It means absolutely nothing to you, only serving to confuse you more than you already are.

But it seems to mean something quite significant to Muffet, who pales and visibly stiffens before you.

“Thank you for having such a good sense of humor, Captain,” she murmurs softly. “What can we get for you today? The usual?”

“YES. THANK YOU.

And without further ado, Muffet disappears into the back, apparently to attend to ‘the usual’ order personally.

…Leaving you alone with Sans.

You stand there in silence for a long, long moment, just waiting for him to say something.

It can’t be a coincidence, just ‘running into you’ here.

…okay, maybe it can, you are standing in a monster-run patisserie, you’ll grant there’s odds on that, but!

Sans.

In your experience, this skeleton has been conniving, manipulative, and at times, what you’d unflinchingly call a bastard, most especially at your last little run-in.

He must be here to say something to you.

………

But…

There is only silence.

You chance a look over at him, trying to gauge what the hell is going on.

Sans is…

Sans is standing in parade-rest, faced diligently forward like… like he’s actually avoiding acknowledging you, and quite frankly, you have no idea what to do with that.

In the end, you’re the one who breaks the ice.

“What are you doing here?” you quietly demand. “Back to the stalking thing already?”

Just as quietly, Sans responds, “NO. I’M HERE ON BUSINESS. I’M WORKING.”

You notice that he is dressed in his uniform, which would support that…

But you fix him with a dubious look anyway.

He must be able to sense your stare, even without turning his head, because he insists, “I AM. I…DO ODD JOBS, FROM TIME TO TIME. ORDERS FROM THE TOP.”

You take a second to process that.

The top.

“Empress Toriel,” you conclude, openly disbelieving. “Toriel herself…sent you…to a pastry shop.”

Sans responds with a simple, “YES,” and nothing else.

“…For what?”

“THE EMPRESS MAKES HER OWN MEALS. SHE BAKES, ON OCCASION. MUFFET IS ONE OF ONLY A FEW SUPPLIERS TO CARRY THE SORT OF…INGREDIENTS…SHE PREFERS.”

You…

You think you’re speechless.

Partially because you think you believe him, and the thought of the intimidating Captain Sans of the Royal Guard, moonlighting as…as some kind of errand boy

It’s more than a little bizarre and very difficult to reconcile in your head.

The silence returns for a bit, as you try to process this information and as Sans pointedly says absolutely nothing to you.

Until…

“IF YOU COME HERE AGAIN UNACCOMPANIED, SHE SHOULD LEAVE YOU ALONE, BUT TRY NOT TO FLINCH OR CRINGE EITHER, NO MATTER YOUR FEELINGS ON BUGS.”

“…What?”

As if you hadn’t even spoken, Sans continues, “YOU MUST’VE BEEN POLITE OR SHE’D HAVE DONE WORSE, BUT SHE’S EASILY INSULTED. THAT’S LIKELY WHY SHE TRIED TO RAISE THE PRICES ON YOU.”

You find yourself gawping at him.

“Wh…she tried to overcharge me just for that?”

Sans rolls his shoulders in a gesture that’s almost a shrug.

“NO ONE EVER GOT ANYWHERE LETTING PEOPLE INSULT THEM WITHOUT CONSEQUENCE. IT’S BASIC SENSE—AMONG MONSTERS, AT LEAST.”

That sounds…

Exhausting, honestly.

You ponder it for a moment, a world where every little slight had to have an answer, where you couldn’t just…let something go. Ever.

Yes…exhausting. Exhausting and sad and very much not for you.

You’ve always been the type to let things go eventually.

Until you weren’t.

You’re jolted from your thoughts by a sound—a throat clearing.

It takes you a few seconds to realize it had been Sans, who is still not looking at you.

Even as you try to figure out how the hell he’d made that noise without a physical throat (how do skeletons do anything, you suppose?), he speaks into the quiet one more time.

“MAPLE.”

You just stare at him, utterly confused.

“YOU WANT THE MAPLE DONUTS,” he explains, without really explaining, finally glancing at you out of the corner of his eye-socket. “OR POWDERED SUGAR, THEY’RE BOTH HIS FAVORITE. …AVOID JELLY-FILLED, IF POSSIBLE, HE’S ENOUGH OF A MESS ALREADY, I’M SURE YOU’VE REALIZED THAT MUCH BY NOW.”

Belatedly, it dawns on you.

He’s talking about Papyrus.

He’s…giving you a tip.

You narrow your eyes at him, wondering why he might be telling you this.

Your tone is chilly as you ask, quite rhetorically, “I suppose you expect me to thank you?”

To your surprise, though… Sans doesn’t agree, or even try to argue with you that you’re wrong.

He only says, “NO,” and leaves it at that, facing staunchly forward once again and all but ignoring you.

You…don’t know what to say to that.

Thankfully, you’re saved from coming up with something by Muffet’s return.

Her heels click smartly as she strides back up to the counter, with a clear plastic container of…

Eugh, snails???

At the very last second, you manage to control your expression, remembering what Sans had told you about the spider-lady’s sensitivity.

“What does your queen want with snails?” you can’t keep from asking.

“YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW,” Sans says.

You give him a look, trying to wordlessly indicate that yes, you very much do want to know.

“SNAIL PIE.”

You try to picture this thing.

It is…not appetizing, in your mind’s eye.

“I TOLD YOU THAT YOU DIDN’T WANT TO KNOW,” Sans reminds you. Then, to both you and Muffet, “LADIES. HAVE A LOVELY AFTERNOON.”

And then, he simply…turns on his heel and walks right out.

So.

That was…

You don’t know what that was.

In lieu of thinking about it too hard, you turn your attention back to Muffet and (with the prices more or less reasonable) start to tell her your order.

You buy a dozen donuts for Papyrus.

In spite of your suspicion—the off-chance that Sans was lying again, trying to sabotage you—you order them half-and-half.

Half-powdered sugar, half-maple.

-

You show up to Papyrus’ place shortly after, unannounced.

You’re greeted in the usual fashion, of course, with an immediate brightening of expression, followed by a big hug and a happy little nuzzle against your face.

“Hey, hey, easy, you cuddlebear, you!” you laughingly chide. “You’re gonna squish the box!”

“box???”

Papyrus pulls back from you enough for you to hold up your gift, and the effect is instant.

“muffet’s?!” His eye-lights are practically glimmering, his smile so wide you’re surprised his mandible is still attached. “i love muffet’s, what’s the occasion?”

You take great pleasure in giving him a smug look and declaring, “Girlfriend privileges!”

Papyrus laughs, nuzzling you again and inviting you in to share a couple with him, “…‘cause if ya’ come back any later, they’re definitely gonna be gone, nyeheheh…”

You watch him intently when you finally get around to opening the box, showing him the selection.

“oh stars, angel,” he says, “you even got the best ones! how’d you know?”

Angel?

Oh…that’s…that’s a new one…

You think you like it…

But as you answer your boyfriend, you spare a thought to Sans and clumsily lie, “Ah, y’know…lucky guess?”

Papyrus either doesn’t notice or doesn’t call you out on your mysteriously perfect choices.

He only beams at you, saying, “you are really good at this… m’gonna have to step up my game or somethin’!”

“Not before you eat your donuts, you’re not!”

“nyeheheheheh, don’t have to tell me twice!”

You start to chow down on a donut or two yourself and have to hand it to Muffet—even for the price, they are probably the best damn donuts you’ve ever eaten.

You’d guess Papyrus feels the same the way he’s practically inhaling them, looking like he’s in Sugar Heaven—these really are his favorites.

…Which meant…

Which meant that Sans really had helped you out back there, and not only with Muffet.

He didn’t have to do that.

Or, failing that, he could’ve rubbed it in your face that he had, to make you feel like you owed him something again—like you’d completely expected him to do.

Except that hadn’t happened.

If anything, Sans had downplayed his involvement in your little outing today, barely looking at you the entire time and leaving immediately as soon as he could, acting almost like…

Well.

You’d say ‘like a normal human being,’ but that was speciesist, wasn’t it?

A thought occurs to you, strange to be sure and you have no idea how likely, but…

You wonder if this is, maybe, Sans at a…slightly less intense ‘bastard’ setting, actually trying to be civil with you for Papyrus’ sake, like you’d suggested.

It’s…certainly a thought.

You don’t know that saving you (more than) a couple of bucks and helping you to score a few extra girlfriend points was enough to make up for… how you’d been treated; the things that were said…

…but.

Maybe it could be a start?

You’d like to think so, though you guess ultimately, only time will tell.

-

Papyrus…is very happy.

Knowing it is bound to confuse the hell out of his brother, he nevertheless sends him a text.

me: hey, thanks

bro: ????

bro: WHY

Papyrus snickers, imagining the bleary look of incomprehension on Sans’ face.

If there’s one thing in this world he knows, it’s his brother.

And right now, he’s certain that Sans has been cursing himself for hours about how he hadn’t just apologized to you when he’d had the chance at Muffet’s.

Sans had always been shit at apologies.

Lying, he was good at, which apparently worked well enough as an apology, most times, but whenever he had to do it for real…

Papyrus’ brother was stubborn and proud and very, very awkward, and him having to admit (and actually mean it) that he’d screwed up was nigh impossible for him.

Papyrus was the only one he’d ever bothered to try it for… and now, he supposes, for you, too.

Which is why he’s so happy right now.

me: for helping out my human

me: i appreciate that

bro: THAT WAS NOTHING???

bro: SERIOUSLY, THAT WAS NOTHING

Yeah, he would say that.

Sans always said that, about everything.

Papyrus may not have known exactly what went down between you and Sans today, but he knows it was something positive; something you didn’t have any choice words or high emotions from it that you’d needed to vent.

So…

me: you don’t have to get it, i’m just sayin thanks

Papyrus does a quick search online, looking for just the right picture to encapsulate his feelings, one that Sans might actually understand even with his supremely subpar awareness of memes.

Aha—the ‘Not As Big Of A Jerk As You Could Have Been’ ribbon, perfect!

me: [IMG-154]

The reply is immediate and gratifying.

bro: DUCK YOU

bro: RESPCET YOUR ELDERS, ASSHAT

Yep, he was right, perfect.

…but two typos? In rapid succession?

me: yea ok grandpa, go to bed already

bro: IT’S 7:30

me: aspirin, water, bed

bro: THAT HUMAN SHIT BARELY WORKS

me: how many jobs do you have tomorrow again

bro: SHUT UP, THAT’S HOW MANY

bro: AND I’M THE NAG???

Papyrus can already see where this is going and makes a quick change, just to make for the absolute best screenshot.

me: yea pretty much

YOU UNGRATEFUL SHIT: YOU UNGRATEFUL SHIT

me: [IMG-155]

me: predictable too, go to bed

Papyrus smirks a little, picturing his brother loudly cussing up a storm with no one around to even hear it.

He wishes he could be there to hear it— Sans was always hilarious when he was pissed off over dumb shit…

Eventually, one more text comes through.

YOU UNGRATEFUL SHIT: YOU GO TO BED

Ha, victory!

…but yeah. Might as well.

It was early, sure, but as someone who made his own schedule, Papyrus could go to bed whenever he pleased.

(And if he did, there was a good chance he’d end up awake all night for no reason because he was big enough to admit his sleep decisions were often…questionable.)

So sure.

Bedtime.

Why not?

me: night bro

bro: GOOD NIGHT, PAPYRUS

Yeah…

The good ones were nice.

Chapter Text

Not all nights can be good ones.

Some of them…

Some of them are…

Well.

-

“Are you kidding me?!”

You can’t make yourself say anything other than that, the words just don’t come.

You shouldn’t be surprised at this point. You know you shouldn’t.

Yet somehow, you are.

Your friend’s voice through the phone is apologetic…but only cursorily so.

“Oh come on,” they say, trying to justify themselves, “it’s not… He just wants to talk to you, that’s not so… I mean, you…you kinda owe him that, don’t you? After… y’know, since you never—”

Entirely on autopilot, you hang up.

You don’t want to hear it, not again.

‘You never,’ they all said, but you did. You did, but nobody ever asked you.

Shit like this was the entire reason you moved.

Nobody understood when you packed up all your things and left your job and your city and your life.

You’d been told, multiple times, by friends and family alike— you were overreacting, being extreme, isn’t that a little dramatic?

But they didn’t know.

And quite frankly, you weren’t about to tell any of them, not even now that you were miles and miles away from all of them—if they cared to actually listen at all, you know that dragging his name through the mud wasn’t going to fix anything.

You’re the bad guy.

You’re the one who didn’t care enough to try.

…If that’s what they think of you, you have nothing to say them.

Any of them.

Your eyes prickle a little as you go into your contacts and block your old friend’s number; just another cut tie in a long line of them.

It hurts…but if your goddamn ex-husband ends up calling your new number thanks to yet another friend who ‘meant well,’ you were going to do the same thing to him.

Ebbot is your fresh start.

You have a new job and a new place, and way better than either of those, you have a new boyfriend who is nothing like him and you’re happy.

You’re happier than you’ve been in a long time.

The past is something you don’t want to revisit, for your own sake, but it doesn’t stop your heart from feeling heavy in moments like these, when it comes back around to bite you.

Ultimately, you decide to just…go to sleep.

You almost always feel better in the morning.

-

Morning comes…entirely too soon.

Honestly, you’re not entirely sure that two o’clock should count as morning as you’re pulled out of an already fitful sleep by…

Of fucking course.

Your ringing phone.

You were going to ignore him. You were going to ignore him and then block him without a second thought and just be done with it, but this is ridiculous—to be calling you after midnight? Much less at all?!

No.

Unacceptable.

You’re going to give him a piece of your mind.

You pick up the phone and for the second time today, you find yourself demanding, “Are you fucking kidding me?!”

There’s no answer… which at this point, is really only fuel for the fire.

“Do you have any idea what time it is?” you wonder, rhetorically as you of course don’t wait for a reply. “Do you even care? This is just the kind of selfish bullshit… I mean, ha, literally what are you trying to accomplish here? Because I am really not in any kind of mood to be nice to you right now, I hope you realize that.”

Still nothing, just the faint sound of breathing.

“Well?!”

“………y…you’re right, i… i-it’s… it’s t-too late to, i-i shouldn’t be, i……m’sorry…”

Your temper falls away in an instant.

It’s not your ex—it’s Papyrus.

“u-um, i’ll just—”

“No,” you say quickly, remorse in your tone, “no, baby, I’m sorry, it’s…it’s okay, I just…I thought you were… well, that, i-it doesn’t matter, uh…”

Your free hand runs over your head, pushing back your hair. It’s more disorienting that you’d have thought, the mental whiplash of who you’d thought you were talking to, and it takes your freshly woken brain a second to switch tracks.

With your eyes on the bedside clock again, still reading ‘2:27 AM,’ you find yourself asking, “It’s…it’s pretty late, ‘Rus, is…is everything okay?”

“…uh………”

There’s a long pause, more damning than anything else and when Papyrus speaks again, you know it’s a lie.

“y-yeah,” he tells you, “yeah, no, ev…everything’s, uh… i-it’s great, really, i, uh… i just… w-well, it’s fine, n-never mind, y…you should……go back to sleep, i-i’ll just…just……”

Oh, stars, all those stammers and pauses…

Papyrus hasn’t had this much trouble talking to you since… since the day you met him, you think, before he got comfortable with you and it was harder to shut him up than to get him talking.

You feel pretty guilty for yelling at him, wondering if you’d made it worse, but also… you have a feeling that you’re not really the cause of this.

Something else is wrong.

“Papyrus,” you say, gentle but firm. “What’s wrong?”

The only way you know you haven’t been hung up on is the shaky breathing you hear over the phone.

And then, eventually, very softly…

“……can…can you………c-come over…?”

Your eyebrows shoot up.

It’s…two in the morning.

It’s two in the morning and you don’t have a car, and you don’t think public transportation even runs this late.

Or…does it?

Ebott is a big city, it…it might…?

But you don’t go out at night, at least not by yourself, you actually have no idea how you’d…

Papyrus’ voice startles you out of your thoughts.

“u-uh! never mind, it’s, that’s… that was, uh, that was stupid, f-forget i… you, you don’t have to come,” he says, almost frantically backpedalling, having taken your lack of answer as an answer. “you…you go back to bed, an’ i, it’s…… g-goodn—”

You cut him off before he can hang up on you, making your voice as gentle as humanly possible.

“Papyrus, honey, it’s okay. I’ll be there as soon as I can, just… can you take a breath for me?”

He does.

You hear his inhale and the long, shaky exhale that follows, and then a, “thank you,” so small and so painful in its sincerity that it actually kind of hurts you.

And then he hangs up on you before you can catch him.

You think of calling him right back, for just a split second, but no, he… he was upset, you weren’t gonna get anything else out of him, not over the phone.

All the better to light a fire under your ass to get the hell over there as soon as possible.

…Somehow.

You roll out of bed and fumble around in your room, blindly until it occurs to you to turn on a light.

You…do your best to make yourself sort of presentable in a very short amount of time—pants, shoes, a jacket hastily pulled on over your night-shirt and only a cursory fight with your hair. Snatching up your essentials, you’re out the door fast, pausing just long enough to lock it behind you before scurrying downstairs.

You stand out on the street in the middle of the night for about ten minutes waiting for your rideshare car to show up, clutching your phone in one hand and your pocketed pepper-spray in the other, just in case.

When the car arrives, you slip inside, pausing just long enough to confirm your name and destination with your driver, and thank your lucky stars, the man isn’t chatty beyond that.

You don’t really know how you’d have reacted to a guy who had something to say about your tired, probably disheveled appearance—no makeup, messy everything, not even wearing a bra and thank fuck for your jacket to keep that from being obvious—but instead, you just get a silent trip over to Papyrus’ place, alone with your thoughts.

You hope he’s okay.

You don’t know what could’ve made Papyrus sound so…upset, so rattled to the point that he’d actually seemed to need to call you in the middle of the night, on the off-chance that you might agree to come over.

Had something happened?

Was… was it Sans?

Oh, you hope not… Just because you aren’t the guy’s best friend doesn’t mean you’d want him hurt or…or worse, especially knowing how badly your boyfriend would take it.

You try to think it through rationally, wondering what even could’ve happened.

Sans…is in the Royal Guard, you guess, but that’s… that’s mostly security stuff for monster royalty these days, nothing in the line of fire…

Unless somebody had made some kind of attempt on one of the monarchs? Or the ambassador?

It’s an alarming thought, one that has you frantically googling the news for any mention of monster anything, but… aside from a publicity appearance and the usual boring political stuff, there’s nothing.

So there’s either a really good cover-up, or something else is happening.

You hope that whatever it is, it isn’t serious, but you can’t stop your mind from racing down a million different avenues trying to guess it anyway.

It only stops when the car does, and in that moment you resolve strengthens.

Whatever’s wrong… you’re going to do your best to make it right again.

With just an automatic farewell to your driver, you head inside, up to see your boyfriend.

-

You hesitate outside his apartment for a few seconds, wondering on the neighborly etiquette of knocking on a door so late at night, but ultimately it’s not important to you.

Not as important as Papyrus.

He answers in just a knock and a half anyway, like he was waiting for you.

The door swings open and without so much as a hello, you’re pulled inside, locked in place against Papyrus’ chest by his arms around you, squeezing tight.

You open your mouth, not even sure what you’re going to say until you hear it—the clattering sound of bone on bone, in perfect time with the faint trembling you feel all around you.

Oh, no… Papyrus isn’t just rattled, he’s rattling, actively, right now, even as he hugs you so tight you can hardly breathe for it.

“Aw, baby,” you murmur, reaching up to wrap your arms around his back. “Honey…sweetheart…what’s wrong? Is everything okay?”

Papyrus just…shakes his head, curling forward to press his skull against your neck.

“m’sorry,” he says, “m’sorry, y-you shouldn’t have to… i didn’t think……m’sorry, m’sorry…”

“You have nothing to be sorry for, ‘Rus,” you tell him sternly, wanting to shut that self-blaming thing down immediately. “It’s okay, you needed me, I’m here, that’s all that matters right now. Okay?”

“mmn…”

The regretful whining sound he makes doesn’t sound particularly convinced to you.

You’re just gonna have to try harder.

You gently kick the door shut behind you and make your way over to the couch. It’s a little difficult and undeniably awkward with Papyrus clinging to you like a burr, but you manage somehow.

You plop yourself down and let him follow, practically climbing on top of you and pinning you between him and the armrest, like he can’t stand the idea of space between you right now.

That hurts your heart.

“Papyrus,” you try again. “What’s wrong? Is everybody okay? Did something happen?”

“……no,” he mumbles at length. “no, n…nothin’…nothin’ happened.”

As sweetly as you can manage, you say, “I’m sorry, baby, I don’t believe that…”

Papyrus sighs, a shaky, shuddery thing…and then, he’s pulling back from you, just a little bit.

“it…it’s stupid,” he tries to tell you. “just a…just a dumb…i-i shouldn’t have called you over some…stupid little nightmare, i………”

Some part of you relaxes to finally know what you’re dealing with—a nightmare—but by Papyrus’ trembling, how desperate he’d sounded on the phone, and now here, in the dimmed light of his living room, the faint tear-tracks you could see on his face…

You’re pretty sure it was anything but stupid, or little.

“No,” you tell him, “you should call me. I want to be here,” and you mean that wholeheartedly.

Papyrus…looks a little lost at that. Like he doesn’t know what to say.

“Do you… Is it something you want to talk about?” you ask.

Apparently not.

The look that crosses Papyrus’ skull can only be described as ‘stricken’ and the, “no,” that falls from his mouth may be the swiftest and most emphatic you’ve ever heard.

So, he doesn’t want to talk about it.

That’s fine.

“Is there anything I can do?” you try instead. “Something you need? I want to help.”

“i…”

Papyrus grimaces, reluctant to speak—maybe…embarrassed to?

His words are stilted as he slowly admits, “i wanna……hold you… i just…i don’t wanna feel…… i wanna feel you. …please.”

You think you can accommodate that.

You reach up, pulling him back into you and the way he practically melts in relief is enough to tell you that you’re doing the right thing.

Papyrus buries his face against your neck as you carefully stroke up and down his spine, pressing stray kisses to him wherever you can reach. He seems to return the gesture at first, halfheartedly nuzzling your throat with the sweet little skeleton-kisses you’ve started to grow fond of, but then…he stops.

He stops and just…breathes, hiding his face down against your shoulder as he slowly, slowly stops shaking.

Abruptly, you are very aware that, as well-adjusted as your boyfriend seems to be most days, the life he lived as recently as a few years ago was…very, very bad.

It feels…important, that he wanted you here for one of the bad parts.

Like he trusts you enough to let you see.

You’re not going to let that trust be misplaced—you’re here for him, no matter what he needs.

You don’t know how long you sit there, just holding each other, but eventually, Papyrus feels a little calmer and you start to feel a little antsy, like…like you should do something, something else.

You begin the process of untangling yourself from your bony cage while Papyrus blinks his eye-sockets at you, confused.

“I’m gonna make you something,” you say decisively. “Warm drinks are…those are good, usually, for… Do you want tea or cocoa?”

You pause.

“…Do you even have tea?” you wonder aloud. “You at least have cocoa, I bet, but… oh, it doesn’t matter, I’ll figure something out.”

You bend down a little, planting a kiss right on top of his skull.

Before you can actually step away from the couch, though, Papyrus blurts, “no, wait!”

So, you wait.

At first, you expect him to want you to come back, like maybe he’s not quite ready for you to be away from him physically.

But instead…

“no, no, i can do that,” he protests, sounding upset. “i, i should do that, let me, you don’t have to—”

“You don’t have to,” you shoot right back, putting your hands on his shoulders to keep him on the couch. “‘Rus, really, it’s sweet that you want to do stuff for me, but you can’t do everything, all the time. Sometimes, you have to let other people help you, okay?”

Your words are delivered gently, affectionately…

…but from the look Papyrus gives you, you think you may as well have slapped him across the face.

He looks stunned by the sentiment, but most importantly for your goals, it makes him stop trying to get up and do something just because he can.

You give him another kiss and make your way into his kitchen.

Papyrus does, of course, have cocoa—mini-marshmallows, too, which you happily add in for him, and soon you have a warm mug full of sweetness to bring back out to him.

He’s sitting upright on the couch when you return with it, looking off into the middle distance. He seems…pensive, thoughtful, and he quietly accepts the mug and starts to sip at it.

You wonder what’s rattling around in his skull now as you sit down to rejoin him.

“Hey,” you say, reaching out to pet at his arm. “You alright?”

Papyrus’ eye-lights flick over to you.

“…yeah,” he answers. “yeah, i’m…yes. thanks.”

You think you believe him this time, but he’s also…quiet. Much quieter than you’re used to your Papyrus being, a completely different side of him than his anxious, stuttered babbling, or his excited, overflowing verbosity.

You just…keep petting his arm, figuring that if he hasn’t shrugged you off yet, he either liked it or didn’t mind too much.

Eventually, almost making you jump in the hush of the room, Papyrus opens his mouth.

“who… when i called, earlier… who did you think i was?”

The question is…deliberate.

Not demanding or judgmental, just…deliberate, like it was something he’d been pondering over for awhile.

“Oh… I, uh… it…”

You find yourself hesitating, unsure if you should answer. Was now really the right time to… When Papyrus was so…out of sorts? Barely himself?

…But.

He’d asked.

You had no reason to lie to him; didn’t want to lie to him.

“I thought,” you say, carefully, “it was my ex. My ex-husband.”

When Papyrus just…nods, like that was an expected, acceptable answer, it makes you wonder.

Was he not reacting because of…the night he’d had? Or did he already know?

…With a brother like Sans and his own deceptively perceptive nature, you don’t think you’d rule the latter out.

You don’t think you mind that he knows, though. Knew. Whatever.

It wasn’t a huge secret, or at least, not one you’d been planning on keeping from him.

It worries you a little, that he might be upset about it…but with it out there now, at least… at least if he wanted to talk about it, or…ask you questions, he could.

For now, it seems like he only has the one.

“did he hurt you?”

“Yeah.”

When Papyrus stiffens, looking on the verge of alarmed, you realize your mistake.

“Oh,” you add quickly, “not! Not physically, it wasn’t… no. Just…”

You sigh, your eyes falling to the carpet.

“He just…wasn’t the man I thought he was. That’s why…we didn’t work. It’s over,” you assure Papyrus, “it was over a long time ago.”

“nothin’ to worry about?”

You scoff.

“Definitely not. Let’s just say I was really glad when I figured out it was you calling me.”

“yeah? even though you had to come over here in your pajamas just to take care of a big mess like me?”

You look over at Papyrus.

His expression is mostly unreadable, except for the tiniest hint of a smile around his eye-sockets.

You smile openly.

“I’ve seen bigger,” you tease. “At least you’re a cute mess.”

You feel like you’ve hit the jackpot when he starts to laugh, quiet but genuine.

“nyeheheh, guess i got that goin’ for me at least…”

He scooches closer to you, leaning into your touch. Everything feels right with the world again, and you sit there together in affectionate silence while he finishes his cocoa.

When his cup is empty, you pull it from his claws and set it down on the coffee table.

You don’t have to shoot a sidelong glance at the wall-clock to know that it is very late, and the shadows beneath Papyrus’ eye-sockets echo how your eyes are starting to feel.

Wordlessly, you take his hand and he stands with you, following along as you lead him down the hall to his bedroom.

His bed-sheets are fantastically tangled, pillows all over the floor, and you go in to start fixing it all up while Papyrus lingers in the doorway.

“i…i dunno if i can sleep,” he hesitantly admits. “i don’t… b…by myself, it’s……”

You feel a little bad for chuckling.

But… like you were planning on leaving him here alone, after all that?

What a dummy.

You go back to Papyrus, undressing him and shrugging out of your own clothes until you’re back in your pajamas once again.

Understanding, he goes with you when you climb up onto his mattress, sliding beneath the covers and settling in.

You’re surprised for a second when he rolls over, putting his back to you, but when he unsubtly, not-so-carefully starts to snuggle back into you, you realize what he wants.

You’ve never been the big spoon before, especially not with such a big skeleton, but Papyrus is melting against you again and you can’t deny how addictingly good that feels.

You reach a little, just enough to grab at one of his hands so you can stroke his claws while you hold him.

If he could, you think Papyrus would be purring by now.

Eventually, you drift off to sleep again—soft pillows at your back, and warm bones cuddled against your front.

It’s a lot more comfortable than you’d have guessed.

-

You’re the first to wake the next morning, unable to sleep any longer with the light streaming through the window, directly into your eyes.

You could try to go back to sleep, but you’re not sure why you’d want to—not once you turn and catch sight of your handsome bed-partner.

Papyrus looks infinitely more peaceful than he did last night, even with his face half buried in his own folded arms. The muted sunlight through the curtains only seems to make the white of his bones glow, and looking at him strikes you straight through to the core with a bolt of…

You’re not sure.

You don’t know that you’re ready to put the name to the feeling just yet.

It doesn’t stop you from sitting up to better admire your sleeping boyfriend and indulge in more of the emotion anyway.

He shifts a little, moving the sheet draped over his back and drawing your eye.

You’ve never actually seen him without his shirt off, not from behind like this, so the scars are kind of a surprise.

Though maybe ‘scar’ isn’t the perfect word for what you see scattered all over Papyrus’ back and shoulders. Bones don’t really scar… but they must chip and scrape and gouge because the evidence of it is right in front of you, literally carved into Papyrus’ body.

You’re reaching out to touch before you can even reason with yourself otherwise.

Luckily for you, Papyrus is a pretty deep sleeper and doesn’t even twitch when your fingers make contact, or when you start to trace the lines you see.

There are…an awful lot of them.

Most of them seem to be scratched into the backside of his ribs, shallow like he’d maybe only been clipped. You imagine they’d still hurt, when they happened, but at least they don’t seem to bother Papyrus now if the way he slumbers on in spite of all your touching is any indication.

There are others, though, ones that look…bad.

There’s a wide gouge through the whole surface of his shoulder… his scapula? that you could lay a marker in, and one very disturbing line straight up through his vertebrae, narrow but deep enough to make you physically wince in sympathy pain.

You’re extra careful tracing that long crack, but you guess that might be one he still feels, because…

“th’was my first one.”

You jump, instantly retracting your hand. Sure enough, when you turn, Papyrus is awake, watching you with placid purple eye-lights and you frown.

“O-oh, baby, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean… Did I hurt you?”

“nah, nah, s’okay,” Papyrus assures you, stretching a little the same way a cat would, bones softly popping. “was a long time ago… real long time ago, m’alright… really only hurts now if y’press on it hard.”

You make a note to watch out for that particular part of Papyrus’ back from now on.

“How did… uh.” You pause, realizing the insensitivity of your question and…trying to rephrase. “Is it… I mean, could I ask…how it happened? Or would that be too much?”

For a moment, you can’t quite tell what Papyrus is thinking, but you decide not to interrupt him either.

“…would it be too much for you?”

“What?”

Papyrus just barely meets your eye, looking…

Looking guilty.

“it’s…y’know, it’s not, uh…it’s not a nice story,” he haltingly explains. “actually, um…none of ‘em are nice. i don’t……i don’t wanna…scare you? if, uh…if it turns out that…that maybe i’m not… the man you thought i was, either…”

“Papyrus.”

He says your name back, sitting up in bed. “i…i know you think i’m…… i dunno… but! i’ve done things, okay, same, same as anybody down there, U-Underground, bad things… a-an’ i can tell you, if you want, but not if……not if it’s gonna scare you, o-or make you—”

You cut him off.

With a kiss.

“Papyrus,” you say before he can work himself up anymore, “you’re not gonna scare me. I know who you are. Maybe I don’t know what you did, but… I know you, alright? You’re… you’re the sweetheart who had a nightmare and called his girlfriend to come over for a cuddle and I…haha, I really, really like that guy… And I really, really don’t think there’s anything you could tell me about him that would change that. Okay?”

Papyrus looks at you for a long, long moment.

He seems to realize you’re telling the truth.

“okay.”

You smile, taking his hands in yours and pressing a cheeky kiss to his knuckles.

“Okay. So… whatever you want to tell me, or not tell me… it’s fine.”

Slowly, Papyrus nods.

“then, uh…m…maybe i could… could i show you something?” he asks you. “it, uh…it might be………easier.”

Your answer can be nothing but, “Of course.”

Papyrus leans over the edge of the bed, practically all the way off. By the time you realize he’s digging around under his bed, he’s already popping back up with…

…With a sketchbook in his hands, small and black.

You’re not really sure what to think as he starts to hand it to you, reluctantly, like he doesn’t quite want to let go.

He does though, and then it’s in your hands.

It feels…old.

And for the actual size of it, very, very heavy.

You look up at Papyrus, waiting for his permission to open it.

When he nods, looking nervous, you gently crack it open to the very first page.

It’s… a portrait.

It’s done up all in black ink, with considerably less skill than you know Papyrus to have with a pen, but the image is still clear—a monster, one that reminds you a little of a porcupine with lots of long, sharp quills sticking up at crazy angles. Her striped dress is a little torn around the hem but undeniably cute.

You’re unpracticed at guessing monster ages, but you don’t think the little porcupine-girl could’ve been any older than tween-aged.

You wonder who she is, what relationship she had to Papyrus, why he would want to draw her picture like this…

He answers your unspoken question.

“she, um… she was the first person i ever…dusted.”

…Oh.

Oh, Papyrus…

You realize immediately that you’re not looking at a portrait—you’re looking at a memorial.

You sit there, looking at the attentively-scribbled monster-girl on the page as Papyrus edges a little closer to you, behind you where it was harder for you to look at him.

“i, uh…i was… i dunno how old, a-anymore, but i… i snuck out the house for…some stupid reason, i can’t remember. i think it was…snowin’, maybe, in snowdin, big deal, an’ sans said to stay inside, but sans wasn’t there an’…y’know, stupid kid stuff, i wanted to go see the snow…”

Papyrus huffs.

“‘cept…she was there. an’ she was…bigger…older, meaner… i was, uh… easy pickin’s, i guess. tried to run, but…… was awhile before i got good at that, you saw…”

All the scars on his back—you certainly did see.

“an’ then, uh… that was my first Encounter. i…i think i panicked, i don’t…really remember everythin’…but i…lashed out, i guess. gave it my all.”

He laughs a little, but there’s not even a little humor in it.

“was awhile before i realized how strong i was, too,” he admits, with the deepest regret you’ve ever heard.

You find yourself reaching back for him and he lets you take his hand in yours, squeezing just a little.

“she dusted,” Papyrus says, his voice on the verge of cracking. “it…it was an accident, i…i didn’t mean to, but… she still… she’s gone ‘cause of me, i did that…”

“Papyrus…”

“sans found me eventually, cryin’ in the snow like a baby.”

You’d bet he was a baby—before his first Encounter, before his brother had shown him how they worked and what to do? —and you very much don’t want to know for sure.

The smaller the babybones you picture in your head, the worse it hurts you to think about.

“nyeheheh, he…he didn’t even yell at me for bein’ stupid, just dragged me home an’ fixed me up…” Papyrus sighs. “i kinda… i kinda wished he woulda yelled at me, though… somethin’ else to think about besides… besides what i did.”

“Why draw her?” you ask. And then, when Papyrus seems not to understand the question, “It hurts you, ’Rus, I can hear it; I can see it,” and you could, in every scribbly pen-stroke on the page, somber and penitent lines made by a child who’d done something terrible to save his own life.

“Why did you draw her if it hurts?”

“…because,” Papyrus says, matter-of-factly, “forgetting would be worse. i don’t wanna forget. i can’t forget, that’s why. i have this…to remember. to be better.”

Oh, Papryus…!

You lean back a little into him, squeezing his hand tighter.

You can feel him shifting, looking down at you, concerned.

“is this…is it too much?” he asks, sounding worried. “are you…?”

“I’m okay,” you answer quickly. “It’s not too much. I’m… I really hate…that that was your life…but I understand. I’m not upset. You… you did what you had to do, Papyrus, I am never going to hold that against you.”

Hesitantly, like he can’t even believe he’s pushing his luck by asking it, he says, “how d’you know? you…you haven’t seen everything.”

“Then, show me everything. It’s all here…isn’t it?”

The sketchbook in your lap is small, but not ‘one page’ small. You don’t know how full it is, but if you’re understanding Papyrus right, he’s drawn a picture of every ‘bad thing’ he’s had to do, to respect the memory of them; to keep from forgetting.

And if he thinks there’s something in here that’s going to scare you off, you’re ready to prove him wrong.

You leave the choice up to him, keeping your hands to yourself.

It’s barely a few seconds before Papyrus’ claws reach over you and turn the page.

He walks you through a few others, explaining who the monster was and what happened.

He was ambushed on a grocery run once, and he’d learned his own strength by then, hadn’t hit hard, but like the name implied, Snowdin had lots of ice, and like it didn’t imply, lots of tall, sheer cliff-faces… Another accident, but still his doing.

He’d done a brief stint as a sentry for the Royal Guard that hadn’t lasted long, but he’d been caught sleeping on the job, pegged as easy EXP—EXecution Points, apparently. He’d gotten away that time scot-free, save for a missing tooth, the very same one he’d replaced with a shiny gold replica.

Sans had been the one to go after that monster, to ‘make an example’ of him, but if Papyrus hadn’t been so careless in the first place…

Another one, whose leg he’d damaged, crippling them long enough for him to escape, an Encounter he’d felt very proud of…until he found they’d just been dusted soon after by somebody else, since they were weak and couldn’t fend off their next opponent.

There are more than that, and you let Papyrus get through the list with you.

All told, it’s not a long one, but it is a weighty one, and a painful one.

It’s clear to you that Papyrus is deeply affected by every single loss he’s faced, whether you think they’re entirely his fault or not, and your heart bleeds a little for the weight he carries on his conscience.

At the end of it, when Papyrus is draped over your back, practically holding you in his lap like you’re his own personal teddybear, anxiously awaiting your verdict, you close the sketchbook and set it aside.

“Papyrus,” you say, with utmost sincerity. “You are…exactly the man I thought you were. I still really, really like you. And I’m not going anywhere.”

Nothing to worry about.

Papyrus finally gives up any pretense of not snuggling you, pulling you even further back against him and nuzzling the absolute hell out of your head and neck and shoulders.

His heart is definitely in it this time, and you lose a couple minutes to snuggling back from your disadvantageous position, giggling as you try not to just headbutt him in the face.

It’s…an awkward couple of minutes, honestly.

But fun-awkward, if there is such a thing!

And you feel warm all over when Papyrus murmurs a, “thank you,” into your ear.

“Good to get it off your chest?” you wonder.

“uh, nyeheh, actually…actually yeah, a little bit…” he says. “i, uh…i never actually told anybody…about all that, before… it’s… thanks for listenin’, angel.”

An ‘of course,’ is on the tip of your tongue, but then, the actual words register with your brain, and you end up saying…something else.

“Wait,” you say curiously, “you… you’ve never told anybody that stuff?”

“nah,” Papyrus replies, happily settling his jaw atop your head. “you’re the first.”

Part of you is probably exactly as proud and flattered as Papyrus’ tone would suggest you should be.

But another part of you…

“Not even your therapist?”

The pause that follows the question makes you reassess your knowledge that ‘???’ does not have an audible sound.

“uh…no?? that’s…that’s pretty dark stuff, m’not gonna dump that on dirk…”

You think you feel your expression screwing up in either confusion or…something else.

“What…do you talk about with…Dirk?” you wonder before you can think better of it. Hastily, you tack on, “If! That’s not too personal, I mean, obviously you don’t have to—”

“nyeheheheh, i, uh, i kinda just bared my metaphorical soul to you,” Papyrus reminds you, sounding amused. “plus, y’know…you’ve seen the actual one, too… i think we’re, uh, kinda past ‘too personal’? just a little?”

…Fair point, you suppose.

“but y’know, it’s just…regular stuff… surface adjustment— things m’learnin’ how to do, life skills an’…an’ bein’ independent. adulting progress, the usual.”

………

That…is not really the goal of therapy, as far as you’re aware.

Or at least, it shouldn’t be for somebody who had been born and raised in the equivalent—if you’re understanding it correctly—of an active warzone with only one very strong and very zealous older brother for protection.

It had already been your private opinion that Papyrus’ therapist was kinda pretentious, but if ‘regular stuff’ is all they talk about together, now you’re kind of wondering if your boyfriend is even getting the bare minimum of counseling for everything he’d been through.

A thought occurs—if your validation-driven, heart-on-his-sleeve Papyrus wasn’t talking about anything but mundane stuff… how much trauma was his tight-lipped, Actual Soldier brother getting away with not talking about?

The idea you have right now of…Dirk… is not sitting well with you.

But on the other hand.

Papyrus is actually happy right now— if his nuzzling is any indication— feeling calm and relieved after what was obviously a rough night for him and only slightly less rough morning.

The absolute last thing you want to do right now is ruin that for him, especially over something that isn’t strictly your business to judge or interfere anyway.

So, you let it go.

For now.

“Well, hey,” you say as the idea comes to you, “if you wanna do something really adult-y…”

“yeah?”

“I don’t have work today, and I’m already here, with you.”

“uh-huh…”

“So…… why don’t we do that movie-date idea you had that one time? Where you impress me by signing up for a theater rewards card?”

You say it with the same inflection you’d give to something very, very naughty and exactly as you’d hoped, Papyrus bursts out laughing behind you.

“nyeheheheh, oh my god, yeah, yes, i’m in, let’s do it!”

Surprising you with a burst of energy, Papyrus rolls out of bed, making for the door.

“i’ll…”

He pauses, literally mid-step, like something’s occurred to him.

“…why don’t, uh… we make some breakfast?” he asks, instead of whatever he’d been about to say before. “i, uh, m’gettin’ pretty good at eggs… as long as you like ‘em scrambled, at least.”

You grin, getting up yourself.

“Sure,” you agree with a playful wink, “I’m not half-bad at pancakes!”

Papyrus stares at you, like you’ve just offered him the world on a platter.

“i love you,” he says with utter solemnity.

You cannot be blamed for laughing.

“Hahaha, yeah, yeah, love you, too, you big goof,” you chide, already shoving past him to get to the kitchen. “Move your coccyx, I’m hungry!”

“sure thing, angel,” he practically purrs, hot on your tail.

You think the new pet-name sounds extra appropriate from him this morning.

Papyrus certainly sounds like he’s on Cloud Nine right about now, and you think…

You think you are, too.

Chapter Text

The alarm goes off and Sans is groaning aloud before his eye-sockets are even open.

Consciousness has never been his friend before six o’clock and this morning is absolutely no exception, still tired and with a low-grade headache he just knows is going to stick around all day…

But, what else to do?

Sans rolls out of bed, reluctantly starting his day.

Blearily digging around in his closet, he comes up with a simple outfit—nothing fancy, only going to get sweaty anyway—and tugs it on.

Coffee… He needs coffee.

But coffee is traditionally not kept at one’s bedside for reasons he has no hope of fathoming in his current state of wakefulness, so out of his bedroom he trudges.

Sans only just catches himself before turning the wrong way down the hall.

Toward Papyrus’ room instead.

Which was empty.

No reason to go bang on the door and hustle his semi-nocturnal brother downstairs for some breakfast, at least one decent meal on top of his ill-advised all-nighter before he’d inevitably go back to bed to sleep the rest of the morning away.

Sans does not go near Papyrus’ room.

He goes downstairs, straight to the kitchen to make himself a hot, strong cup of coffee that, in an ideal world, might make him feel like a proper skeleton again.

It works, more or less.

Coffee guzzled in record time, Sans discards his mug in the sink, snatches a granola bar off the counter—no point cooking breakfast for one person, just more work, and more dishes for later—and pulls his water bottle out of the freezer before shortcutting out of the house.

-

One security checkpoint, a polite greeting to Palma at the reception desk, and a few minutes to properly wrap his hands later, Sans is all but beating the stuffing out of the punching bag in the Embassy’s gym.

He’s always found it to be a great start to his workout, blowing off a little steam first and getting properly fired up for the rest of his training.

Plus, it’s always good to know how well he can still throw a punch, how hard he can hit with fists alone, even for never having to use them.

Bullets first, always: fast strikes, clean kills, never let anyone close enough to make him need his fists.

Old habits, from weaker days.

Sans only just starts to really work up a sweat when he feels a prickle up through his vertebrae, the sense that something…

In the quiet of the empty gym, the sound of the doorknob beginning to turn is extraordinarily loud.

Sans goes perfectly still.

His eye-lights flick across the room, analyzing his surroundings in a split-second, weighing his options.

The treadmill to his left is angled just so that it would be decent cover, if necessary, he could get there in one easy shortcut. Or over to the water cooler by the door, a clear blindspot to anyone coming in, giving him considerable advantage if…

…OH.

The door swings open in a flash of yellow scales and Sans’ tensed shoulders dip, just a little.

It’s only Alphys, dressed for her own workout, nodding to him in greeting.

“GENERAL,” Sans returns respectfully, only for her to scoff at him.

“Oh come on, Sans, none of that formal junk,” she grumbles. “It’s too early, relax a little.”

I AM RELAXED, Sans thinks to himself and does not say out loud.

He watches her for a moment as she makes a beeline for the free weights and dumps her gym bag on the floor, setting herself up to do a few sets. As soon as she picks up a barbell and does her first curl, he cautiously puts his back to her, returning most of his attention to the punching bag.

Sans likes the silence that often falls when he and Alphys are in the same room.

It’s…simple. Uncomplicated. No need to try to calculate the perfect thing to say if there’s no conversation and really, the value of that is criminally understated, in Sans’ opinion.

…Which is probably why it seems extra jarring when only a few quiet minutes pass and Alphys decides to actually say something.

“You train an awful lot for somebody without any muscles,” she comments abruptly. “Does it really make you stronger?”

Sans pauses a moment, entertaining the paranoid thoughts first: was she looking for weaknesses? Trying to test him based on the way he responded to the question? What sort of angle could this be?

Then, rational thought sets in.

Alphys is many things, but roundabout…is not one of them.

Sans has seen the woman crash through enough walls, take dozens of opponents head-on heedlessly to know that everything she does, she does directly, or not at all.

“YES,” he answers, giving the bag a hard right cross. “IT’S MAINTENANCE.”

“But, like…how?”

Sans spares his commanding officer a glance.

Alphys doesn’t seem overly interested, just…curious, if he had to put a name to it.

Which he certainly couldn’t fault.

Especially since he had no idea how it worked, either.

All he has to answer her is a shrug, because all he knows is that it works and that’s all that’s ever mattered to him.

Sans has always done whatever worked to get stronger, to stay strong, and at least these days, he didn’t have to go lurking around, spoiling for FIGHTs all the damn time.

He remembers those days not-so-fondly, having to leave his little brother alone, unsupervised just to ambush any weak-looking monster he could find that probably wouldn’t be missed—anything to get EXP and LV fast because he was weak and needed to be stronger, needed to be strong enough to protect the things that mattered, whatever he had to do.

Sans is strong enough now.

He’s worked his way up from the literal bottom, into the Royal Guard: a personal acquaintance of its general and an intermittent confidant to the Empress herself, with the power and clout to protect whatever he needed to protect.

Except…

These days, it seems like he isn’t protecting anyone.

Just…dragging them down…

Sans swings hard at the bag, digging his knuckles in on a particularly vicious uppercut and even through the catharsis, he can see Alphys’ eyebrow raising in his peripheral vision.

“……Are you alright?” she asks at length.

“OF COURSE,” he replies evenly, feigning ignorance. “WHY DO YOU ASK?”

“I dunno… You seem a little, uh…tense?”

Well…damn.

If his mood is showing enough for Alphys to ask, Sans is telegraphing way too much.

He reins himself in a little, making an effort to seem more pleasant.

“NO COFFEE THIS MORNING,” he lies, wryly adding, “I DON’T HAVE A WIFE TO SIGN ME UP FOR A ‘COFFEE OF THE MONTH’ SUBSCRIPTION.”

It’s a tactical change in subject—if there’s one thing that always distracts Alphys, it’s the thought of her lady.

Sure enough, Alphys’ gaze goes just a touch unfocused, an involuntary smile twitching her lips.

“I can’t believe ‘Dynie did that,” she murmurs fondly. “It wasn’t even my birthday…”

Sans knows.

He and Alphys barely talked about anything important, but absolutely anything Undyne did was common conversation fodder and should’ve been a perfect diversion.

But this morning, Alphys seems to be unusually persistent.

“Hey,” she says, like something’s occurred to her, “maybe that’s what you need.”

Sans…cannot resist.

“WHAT? YOUR WIFE?”

Alphys narrows her eyes at the quip, swinging the barbell around to point at him. “Watch it,” she says, which, fair enough. But her stern expression fades quickly enough and she clarifies, “No, though, like… a partner! A little, ah, haha…stress relief…”

………

Alphys…actually winks at him as she says this.

Sans has no doubt that if he were physically closer, she may have tried to nudge him as well.

“SOMEWHAT UNPROFESSIONAL FOR MY SUPERIOR OFFICER TO BE TELLING ME I OUGHT TO GET LAID,” he notes casually.

Alphys snorts, sounding unbothered and a little amused.

“Fine, fine,” she says, waving vaguely, “not laid. But…y’know, something. Like…like what your brother’s got!”

“…AH.”

Right.

You.

Sans tries not to outwardly grimace thinking about…that whole situation, how messy and uncertain it all still feels.

It’s entirely his own fault that it is that way, of course, which really just makes it worse.

“How are they doing, anyhow?” Alphys asks, startling Sans from his thoughts. “Papyrus and the human, I mean. Undyne said they were pretty cutesy, that true?”

Her tone is casual, as if she doesn’t care about the answer one way or the other.

Sans knows this to be a cover—Alphys has always had a weak spot for ‘cute’ things, is probably hoping to get details out of him to coo over later, when nobody is looking.

She’s barking up the wrong tree entirely, unfortunately.

Sans wouldn’t know how you and his brother are doing. He’s been trying very hard to keep his distance, to stay on Papyrus’ good side…

But he doesn’t want Alphys to know that.

He doesn’t particularly want anyone to know about the rift between him and his brother lately, or that they’re not even living together anymore.

So, he lies again.

“UNBEARABLY SO,” he says curtly. “THEY’RE DOING WELL, THOUGH. HE’S SETTLING DOWN A BIT. SHE’S GOOD FOR HIM.”

Which…maybe isn’t wholly a lie.

You are good for Papyrus. Just because Sans isn’t one hundred percent up to date lately doesn’t mean he’s managed to miss that little fact.

Papyrus is…happier lately, the rare times Sans sees his brother in person. More relaxed, more comfortable in his own bones.

Maybe that wasn’t all you, but if you had even a tiny bit to do with that, Sans was very, very wrong about you and he’s glad of it.

Even though it does remind him how much you deserve that apology he owes you.

And how much he wants things to be fixed with you, ‘civil,’ like you’d said, for…for Papyrus’ sake.

And his own, if he’s honest with himself.

But again, Alphys needs to know precisely none of these things and Sans does not tell her.

She looks a little disappointed that he isn’t regaling to her your most adorable, romantic exploits, but covers it quickly and lets the topic go.

It isn’t long before she moves to the bench to tackle some heavier weights, asking Sans to spot her, and he does.

They don’t really talk about anything else, back to their status quo.

Sans is…relieved.

-

Training completed, Sans bids Alphys a temporary goodbye, leaving her to the showers while he pops back home to use his own.

One of the (many) advantages of the kind of instant transportation he has access to.

The bathroom is spotless when he walks in, pulling off his sweaty clothes, and somehow that puts him in a sour mood.

(It should be nice not to have to yell about wet towels on the floor instead of hung up or in the hamper.)

(It isn’t.)

He showers as quickly and perfunctorily as monsterly possible before changing into his dress uniform, stiff fabric and shiny gold-leaf that looks great and provides exactly zero protection beyond the ideological.

But Sans’ duties these days are less and less military, increasingly political, and full armor just isn’t appropriate for things like televised press conferences, where his Empress has to extol the peaceful relations between humans and monsters and her hope for further progress, further unity.

To have her bodyguard look ‘over-prepared’ would simply send the wrong message.

It was best to just avoid anything with the potential of sparking accusations, however unfounded.

Strictly speaking, Sans’ presence entirely was…somewhat superfluous.

One didn’t survive, unscathed and uncontested as the one and only ruler of the Underground without being able to take care of oneself.

Toriel was a Boss Monster, incredibly powerful and downright vicious in battle. If someone were to make an attempt on her life, Sans would wager her wrath should be infinitely worse to face than his own—at least he would end things quickly…

Nonetheless, appearances must… and then again, Sans supposes that with one’s attention on all the reporters chattering and milling about, asking basic, inane questions, having to recall all the correct political manners and stock phrases, it was possible that Toriel could actually miss someone in the crowd not meant to be there, the flash of a sniper-scope in the distance, commotions not immediately identifiable somewhere in the mass of people before them.

That’s what Sans watches for on her behalf, standing stoically at the Empress’ side as her well-spoken words echo out to everyone through her microphone, calm and collected and perfectly matronly.

It almost makes Sans want to laugh: Toriel is as good of an actor as he is.

Almost.

-

No sooner is the press gone than Sans is summarily dismissed.

He does not take this personally, knowing the Empress’ intention to remain at home for the rest of the afternoon onward. Normally, that would still warrant a detail, if only peripheral, but today…

Today, the Emperor is coming to visit—or rather, Chara is and Asgore simply prefers not to leave his child alone in the company of his ex-wife.

Another thing Asgore prefers is Alphys over Sans, which Sans also does not take personally.

The distant monarch seems to have the greatest affinity for those he deems vulnerable for whatever reason, so the fact that he hasn’t made an attempt to adopt Sans in any capacity, formal or otherwise, feels like more of a compliment than an insult.

Alphys can go on being the one to get gifts of ‘cute’ teacups that were supposed to look like her. Sans will go without.

Somehow.

Just as he’ll go on not being Toriel’s immediate detail for the afternoon.

He knows almost nothing of Asgore, likes Chara…well enough, he supposes, but most vitally, he finds Toriel to be…weird… in Chara’s presence.

Too soft, too motherly, on the verge of genuinely uncanny for how he’s used to seeing her behave.

So, Toriel’s attempt to win her ex-husband’s favor with the changing of the guard is really the best solution for everyone, and far be it from Sans to protest the order of the Empress, anyway.

Besides, it’s not as if he hasn’t already found an appointment to slot neatly into the hole in his schedule.

He always does.

Anything to fill the time, there’s always so much time these days…

Home again, for just long enough to change into a clean, pressed three-piece suit, the very picture of a classy business skeleton.

He leaves his gloves on—nothing wrong with just a touch of eccentricity.

In short order, he’s striding into EbbCo with his head held high, feeling as comfortable and relaxed as he he ever had.

But why would he be on edge? This part was child’s play.

“GOOD MORNING, LILA,” he greets the receptionist. “I HAVE ANOTHER MEETING WITH MR. KLEIN THIS AFTERNOON.”

Lila smiles and him and waves him through, “Yes, of course, Mr. Serif, he’s expecting you. Go right ahead!”

And so he goes, up to the top floors for yet another conference with Robert and a few other members of upper-management, eager to finalize his assessment of the new insurance policy they’re implementing.

It’s the usual, of course: lots of polite greetings, hand-shaking and ‘how was your weekend?’ before finally getting into the meat of anything.

And then the questions and the doubt.

“Is it really necessary to have the third option in place?”

“The premium rate seems…on the high end, are we sure this isn’t going to be a net loss?”

“About what kind of turnover would we be looking at here? Just a ballpark.”

Sans is ready for them all, naturally.

He has spreadsheets.

“PERHAPS NOT STRICTLY NECESSARY, BUT FROM THE COMPANY’S AUDIT FOR THE LAST THREE YEARS, THE ODDS OUT THAT IT’S A BETTER SAFETY NET TO HAVE THAT OPTION AND ONLY NEED IT A FEW TIMES THAN NOT AT ALL.”

“DEFINITELY NOT, AS YOU CAN SEE FROM THE GRAPH I’VE PUT TOGETHER ON PAGE THIRTY-SEVEN, THE PERCENTAGE OF EMPLOYEES COVERED BY THE PREMIUM RATE, COMPARED TO THE PERCENTAGE OF THOSE EMPLOYEES ACTUALLY AFFECTED BY SUCH CIRCUMSTANCES IS INCREDIBLY UNLIKELY.”

“THE PROBABILITY IS SOMETHING LIKE POINT-ZERO-ZERO-FIVE, IF I’M RECALLING THE FIGURES CORRECTLY, THAT SHOULD BE A FOOTNOTE ON PAGE 8. CERTAINLY LOW ENOUGH TO LABEL IT A NON-CONCERN.”

The doubt doesn’t offend Sans, either.

They’re paying him for this, after all, and are well within their right to ask as many questions as they like to ensure they’re getting quality work out of their consultant.

It’s his job to manage and weigh risk versus reward and if they were the types of management who’d accept an assessment at face-value, he would be very concerned for the fate of their company.

And more than that, well…

Sans loves numbers.

He understands them, revels in their clean, factual predictability—nothing at all like trying to predict people, where even with all possible data, you can still guess an outcome wrong; can never quite account for that complicated thing called ‘free will’ and ‘sentient nature.’

Numbers are easier.

Better.

Showing them off, explaining his statistics and calculations, even to a group of humans who, quite honestly, seemed to struggle with the basic concept of ‘penny foolish’ was probably (if he cared to analyze his own complicated nature) the most confident he’d felt all day.

“Mr. Serif, would you mind coming to my office for a moment? I was hoping to get your opinion…”

“YES, OF COURSE, I’D BE HAPPY TO.”

-

Several more micro-meetings and powerpoints later…

Sans goes home.

And this time, he stays there.

He carelessly tugs his tie loose with gloved fingers and flops backwards onto the couch, sprawling out.

He takes a deep breath in and a long exhale out and just…stares blankly up at the ceiling for a few long, long minutes.

The house around him is dead-silent.

Sans…is tired.

Bone-tired, heheheh…

But even if he said that out loud, there was no one around to moan and try to halfheartedly smother him with a throw pillow for it.

Sans doesn’t think he’s ever been so disappointed to be spared an attempt on his life.

Stars above, he’s pathetic.

It takes him…entirely too long, lying there and pointlessly spacing out, to realize he’s actually hungry.

Which makes sense, in retrospect.

That little private conference in the CFO’s office to discuss a few points of his presentation in greater detail had happened while everyone else had been breaking for lunch. She’d wanted to be sure she understood all the facts and figures to properly explain them to the CEO later should he change his mind—which he apparently did often, if left unchecked.

Smart woman.

But.

She’d cost him his lunch nonetheless.

So…dinner.

“………UGH…”

Sans doesn’t want to get up, but that’s exactly what he does, dragging himself off of the couch and into the kitchen.

He’s…not going to cook.

He knows he’s not going to cook, it’s just not worth all the time and effort for just one person, but maybe he can at least entertain the fantasy for a moment.

He opens the fridge. Stares listlessly at the ingredients therein. Thinks of at least three things he could, probably should make with what he has.

And then he shuts the door.

Sans isn’t proud of himself for it, but he switches right to the freezer instead, well past the point of talking himself out of it.

He grabs a handful of microwave burritos, rips the packaging open with his teeth, and dumps them onto a plate, tossing them in for a thorough nuking.

So thorough that he has some time on his hands now again, and he’s still practically dressed to the nines for absolutely no reason.

Not even the fanciest suit in the world could make Sans feel like less of a slob right now, so he blips upstairs to change one more time.

This time, into worn sweats and a t-shirt with a radical and the text ‘ALL EVIL’ underneath it.

No one was around to judge him for it, anyway.

Sans decides to make an attempt at classing up his otherwise trashy dinner, considering his options for a glass of wine to go with it.

He took a course about it once, actually, entirely on a whim, not long after Surfacing. Better times, of course, before…

Well.

Sans plucks a burrito wrapper off the counter, turning it over in his claws.

What sort of flavor profile would pair best with an, ‘X-TREME QUESORITO’?

Something savory, maybe from a Spanish vineyard to have at least one authentic thing in the mix… A Tempranillo, maybe? Or something similar that went with most anything rich and fatty, like a Montepulciano?

………An interesting thought experiment to be sure, but a moot point.

Sans hasn’t exactly been wine shopping lately, and literally all he has in the house is a few bottles of cheap, grocery store Cab Sauv.

So, the Cab Sauv it is!

Which is, honestly, probably just as well since the second the microwave beeps, Sans is pulling the plate out and dousing the burritos in enough tabasco sauce to drown them, anyway.

No sense looking for a flavor profile there.

Sans grabs a bottle and a glass in one hand, plate in the other, and makes his way back over to the couch to enjoy it.

He only makes it halfway through his first burrito before the quiet becomes deafening and he has to flick on the TV, just to get some noise in the damn house.

Oh, not the news, fuck no, the absolute last thing Sans wants to do is stare at clips of himself and Toriel, to hear them be discussed by human news anchors talking about issues they knew next to nothing about.

He flicks through channels until he finds something palatable—some comedy show, fine, whatever, it’s only for background, he has no intention of watching it.

………

Dirk called this… ‘empty nest syndrome,’ Sans thinks, the one time he’d bothered to say something Sans cared about. He’d said…he’d said it usually happens to parents when their children move out, and Sans…

Quite frankly, Sans had barely kept from laughing out loud in Dirk’s office.

Papyrus isn’t his kid.

Papyrus is his brother and stars above, the very thought of Sans as any kind of parental figure was literally laughable!

Sans doesn’t have a single nurturing bone in his body—and he has quite a few bones!

He remembers… he remembers how Papyrus had to suffer, because of that; because Sans wasn’t a parent and had no idea what to do with this…weird and sensitive babybones that relied on him for everything, with no one to turn to for help.

Sans…tried, of course.

To…to toughen his brother up, to teach him new things, to make him stronger, strong enough to stand on his own in the horrible world they called their own.

…But.

Then, there was the crying. Always the crying, and the attacks, and the running and hiding trying to get away from all the things that scared him and made him nervous, and for Papyrus, that had been a lot of things.

Sans remembers the guilt of being the one to reduce his own baby brother to that state, over and over again.

Until the last time.

The last time is all too clear in his mind’s eye.

Papyrus, just a kid and trying to look even smaller, curled up in a ball in the corner of his room—literally backed into it by Sans himself, trying to get his brother out for more training.

He had to learn, didn’t he? He needed to practice his bone-patterns, he needed to get faster, and better at dodging, more accurate with his bullets, he needed to, it wasn’t safe out there!

Papyrus was crying that time, too, screaming desperate, ‘no’s, and ‘please’s, and ‘i don’t wanna’s, just like he always did.

Except…

Except.

That time, when Sans reached for him to drag him up and out, just like always…

Papyrus flinched.

Sans swears he felt his soul crack, just a little, in that moment.

It sure as hell broke his heart to realize what he was doing, trying to make his poor brother be someone…something he just wasn’t.

Making him scared in the process.

Sans had fallen to his knees right there, squeezing Papyrus tightly to his chest.

His little brother had squirmed, still upset, still trying to get away, but Sans shushed him… and then proceeded to make…the most important promise of his life.

“IT…IT’S OKAY, PAPYRUS, IT’S… YOU DON’T… HAVE TO TRAIN TODAY. OR… OR EVER. I’M SORRY, I… YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO…ANYTHING YOU DON’T WANT TO DO. I’LL…I’LL TAKE CARE OF EVERYTHING, F-FROM NOW ON.”

Papyrus had stopped crying.

And Sans had given him his collar the very next day—plain and sturdy leather to let everyone know that he was protected; associated.

The years that followed were to make that collar mean something.

Sans got stronger, strong enough that any monster in the Underground could take one look at the shiny gold bone around his brother’s neck and know to stay clear, that messing with Papyrus was to invite Sans’ wrath, and if reputation alone wasn’t enough, his bullets and claws and even fists would follow to make it stick.

Papyrus wouldn’t have to learn how to be hard.

Sans would do that instead.

He would make everyone else in the world terrified of him and he wouldn’t care, not as long as he still had…

As long as he never made Papyrus flinch from him again.

……No. Sans isn’t ‘nurturing,’ not by a long-shot.

He’s just…a selfish bastard in the middle of a long, long line of attempts to stop screwing things up.

You just so happen to be a perfect example.

Sans sighs, sullenly licking hot sauce off his claws.

He really owes you that apology.

You make Papyrus…very happy. Anyone with eyes—and even without them—can see that.

He’d be willing to bet a few hundred G that the two of you were exactly as cute as Alphys had hoped to hear, going on dates and flirting and being so happy and affectionate with each other that you risked giving passersby an urgent need to call their dentist.

Papyrus had always wanted that kind of stuff.

He’d never said as much, out loud, but… he’d never really needed to open his mouth for Sans to understand. He’d finally found somebody he really liked, to spill all of his schmoopy, romantic feelings on, and…

Sans would feel equally comfortable wagering that you felt…pretty much the same.

The two of you are good together.

Solid.

Sans likes that his brother gets to have that.

But it also means that he’s still pretty firmly in the red with you, and as a skeleton who repays his debts and keeps his ledgers balanced, it doesn’t sit well.

Sans thinks that what he really wants now is to fix things.

Not just to simply slap a bandage of an apology on it and call it good, but actually fixed; good instead of just good enough.

If you’re going to be around for as long as Sans is starting to suspect you will be, good terms are an absolute necessity.

Sans finds his eye-lights flicking toward the calendar on the wall, noting the date.

It’s especially pressing with the ever-nearing deadline—two hundred and twenty-four days since Dirk had made that stupid suggestion and since Papyrus had agreed to it.

To his own…obvious…benefit, Sans begrudgingly admits…to no one.

That was one hundred and forty-one days left until the ‘trial year’ was over, only a handful of months.

No time at all, really.

When… if when Papyrus moved back in, it was going to be unspeakably awkward if his brother couldn’t even make nice with his girlfriend…

And Sans… Sans has never done anything by halves.

…I’VE GOT IT.

It could be his second glass of wine starting to go to his head, or his long day finally starting to hit and making any idea seem like a genius one…

But he’s come to a conclusion.

Sans isn’t only going to make nice with you, ‘civil’ for Papyrus’ sake.

Sans is going to befriend you, whatever it takes!

He…probably has his work cut out for him, what with…everything that’s happened between the two of you. He realizes that all too well, actually, but… since when has he ever shied from a challenge?

“NEVER.”

Sans sits bolt upright on the couch, ideas already rolling through his skull, firing him up.

Yes.

Yes, he can do this!

“…HEH…HEHEHEH…OH, STARS…”

What was that thing that he’d… that he’d used to call himself? Back when they were kids, and…and he’d wanted to make Papyrus laugh?

Oh, yeah… that’s right.

“NOTHING IS BEYOND THE REACH OF THE MALEVOLENT SANS!” he declares boldly, theatrically, only to immediately burst out laughing at his own joke.

The cresting feeling in his chest isn’t immediately identifiable, but if you gave him enough time to put a name to it…

Sans might settle on calling it ‘hope.’

Chapter Text

There is nothing quite like snuggling with Papyrus.

His bed is perfect, exactly the right firmness and a whole sensory experience besides—from the silky sheets to the many soft pillows of varying textures, and all the way to the man himself.

Papyrus has unconsciously (sorta) decided to be the big spoon this time around, his skull pressed down between your shoulder blades and snoring into your back. You have no idea how awake he is, in your own very drowsy state, so you can’t even fathom a guess as to how intentional the wandering of his hands is just now.

The slow, sleepy drag of his claws, up and down your body, lingering at your hips and thighs is…lulling, actually. There’s no pressure in his touch, no intention you can feel behind it besides the simple desire to be touching you. The total lack of expectation is…nice, soothing, downright domestic.

You think you could probably lie here with Papyrus, like this, forever…

If you didn’t have to eventually get up and go to work.

You spend a few minutes in solid denial of this fact, staring blankly at the wall in front of you, but like it or not, you are a responsible adult who honors her commitments and if you’re already this awake, you might as well go the whole nine yards and get your morning started.

You start to sit up.

At the very first shift, though, you feel Papyrus latching onto you, clinging tighter as a (frankly adorable) whine of protest escapes him.

Aw, man…he doesn’t want you to go… and you don’t want to go either, warm and comfortable and at exactly the right place to be able to fall back asleep without any trouble, you can feel that you are!

So…you fumble about for your phone to check the time.

You have three minutes before your alarm would’ve gone off anyway…but you also set your alarms a little generously, in case of situations just like these—really, you could get away with a whole twenty minutes more of sleep before you’d be pushing things.

Your Tired Brain makes the choice for you and on autopilot, you turn off the old alarm and set a new one before flopping back down onto the mattress and drifting off to enjoy just a little more snooze-time.

…It probably would’ve been helpful if you’d actually turned on the alarm instead of just setting the time, though.

-

Quite naturally… twenty minutes becomes…something more like forty.

The adrenaline rush that shoots you up and out of bed as soon as you realize what’s happened is a hell of a thing, and even as you manage to get up and dressed in record time, you already know in your heart of hearts that you are gonna be so late today.

And thus ensues your panicked scrambling around Papyrus’ apartment to finish getting ready.

Papyrus sleeps on, oblivious to your plight.

The lucky bitch.

Since your second awakening this morning, only one thing seems to be in your favor, and it’s that you have everything you need already over here—a change of clothes that you’d brought, knowing you’d have to go to work straight from your boyfriend’s place, and all your various hygiene and cosmetic sundries.

It’s not as if you’re moved in, or anything of the sort, but… well, some of your stuff has begun to migrate over, like it tends to do.

First essentials, then clothes here and there, random things you just happened to have on you and left behind…

Papyrus hadn’t complained about any of it, not even the sheer volume of junk that had pretty much taken over his bathroom at this point, and you were glad he was such a good sport about that.

“Stars, I’m sorry,” you’d told him once, upon realizing the clutter you’d brought with you. “I feel like everything in there is mine…”

“yeah, most of it,” he’d agreed, but before you could try to apologize again, he’d smiled at you. “m’glad you got what you need here. most i could’ve offered you in a pinch was toothpaste, nyeheheh…”

A fair point, you supposed, being that your boyfriend has no hair or skin to necessitate products to take care of them; one of many, little strange things about dating a man of a different species than your own.

Nonetheless, it seemed that you had a surprising amount of stuff over here these days, mixed in with Papyrus’, and that would normally be very sweet and heartwarming…

But this morning, as you dart around like crazy person through it looking for your stars-forsaken keys, all it makes you feel is frazzled.

You’re going to be late.

You’re going to be late and you know that, there’s no changing that now, but if you can get out of here in the next…five (!!!) minutes, you could only end up half an hour late instead of an hour, when the next bus rolls around, and that would be really, really cool!

Your keys, however, do not seem willing to cooperate with this plan, making themselves impossible to find in all the normal places, and maybe if you calmed down for a second and tried to trace your steps to find them, you could, but urgency is making you panic-stupid and seriously, where the hell are your keys?!

Then, there is a noise.

It takes you…entirely too long to realize that the noise is a knock.

You pause a moment in your frantic search, staring at the door, and sure enough, there it goes again—somebody is actually knocking on Papyrus’ door, at Early O’Clock in the morning, and the interruption is more curious than it is irritating.

Well…almost.

Deciding that if this is something you have to deal with, you’d rather do so now than have to run into somebody awkwardly on your way out, you go over to the door and answer the knocking.

………

It’s Sans.

Sans is here, and it takes all your composure not to make an obvious expression of dismay as one thought chimes through your brain in devastating clarity.

I do not have time for whatever this is.

Credit to his manners, he either doesn’t notice your knee-jerk reaction or simply opts not to comment on it, instead greeting you by name.

“GOOD MORNING! YOU’RE LOOKING WELL.”

Are you? That’s one thing you have going for you on this delightful morning.

“Uhh, thanks,” you reply, admittedly distracted and glancing back in the direction of your boyfriend’s bedroom. “Look, sorry, Papyrus isn’t really available right now? He’s, uh, he’s still asleep, I think… Sorry.”

Sans doesn’t look particularly surprised by this information.

“OF COURSE HE’S ASLEEP,” he says, utterly nonplussed. “IT’S BEFORE NOON.”

Which, fair.

“AND THAT SAID, THERE’S NO GETTING PAPYRUS UP EARLY SHY OF FLIPPING THE MATTRESS OR YELLING LOUD ENOUGH TO DISTURB THE NEIGHBORS.”

…Yeah, you’d noticed that.

But it also only raised further questions, namely that if he wasn’t here for Papyrus…

“So………” Feeling antsy from your lack of time, trying your damnedest not to be intentionally rude because of it, the next words are a real struggle to put together. “Why…are you here?”

Internally, you facepalm.

Yep, that was super not-rude. Nailed it.

You at least don’t have long to beat yourself up over it, though, because Sans elects to graciously answer your question.

“I’M HERE FOR YOU.”

………

You don’t know what that means.

You don’t have the capacity right now to know what that means, and even as your mind reminds you of your last encounter with this skeleton—positive, proof of the potential for non-jerk behavior, worth the benefit of the doubt now—your stomach drops a little anyways.

And before you can catch yourself, you find yourself speaking your deepest, most honest truth out loud.

“…I really don’t have time for this right now.”

The ridges above Sans’ eye-sockets seem to raise in something like shock, but you’re already turning on your heel, back into the apartment to resume your exceedingly time-sensitive quest.

As you aren’t one hundred percent rude and didn’t slam the door in Sans’ face, he follows you in, watching you start to reshuffle through everything on the coffee table again.

If you were actually looking at him, you might describe the look on his face as somewhere between confused and peeved.

“WHAT DO YOU MEAN, YOU DON’T HAVE TIME?” he demands as you switch to the couch, digging around in the cushions out of desperation.

“Just, exactly that,” you say, frustration bleeding into your tone. And then, apologetically, “I’m sorry, I know that’s… but I’m not trying to blow you off, or anything, I’m sure it looks like that, but your timing really sucks and I overslept so I’m already gonna be late for work, but I can’t go anywhere until I find my freaking keys, which have somehow disappeared into, I dunno, Narnia, and—”

“SNRK…”

The sound makes you freeze.

Is…

Is he laughing at you.

……He is, that sharp grin of his is wide as it’s ever been and his eye-lights are neon-bright with mirth, Sans is laughing at you and you have half a mind to…!

…Well. You don’t know, but you’re a little pissed about it, that’s for certain!

“HEHEHEHEH… OH STARS ABOVE, IS THAT ALL?”

Your anger fades before it can even really take root and by his tone, you realize that this isn’t entirely mocking laughter.

It’s practically good-natured.

“YOU’RE IN LUCK,” he proclaims. “I CAME HERE TO OFFER YOU A GESTURE OF GOODWILL. AN APOLOGY, FOR…”

Sans trails off, his smile falling a little.

He sounds reluctant beyond the telling of it to admit, “YOU DIDN’T DESERVE… I… THE WAY THAT I… WELL, THAT’S…THAT’S NOT IMPORTANT, IS IT? WHAT’S IMPORTANT IS THAT… I’M SORRY FOR IT. YOUR PERSONAL BUSINESS IS… IT’S YOUR OWN. AND. I’M GOING TO DO BETTER.”

As apologies go, it’s…not great; certainly not as pretty as the last apology you received from him.

But that apology had turned out to be fake…hadn’t it?

This one, stilted and vague as it is, doesn’t feel fake, even with your judgment skewed by your generally frazzled state of mind.

You think you believe it.

Sincerity seems not to sit well with Sans for extended periods of time, though, because soon, there’s a proud smile back on his face and confidence in his tone as he explains, “I’D THOUGHT BREAKFAST WOULD BE A NICE GESTURE, BUT I’M ADAPTABLE—I DON’T MIND GOING THE EXTRA MILE TO HELP A LADY IN NEED.”

And before you can even ask what that entails, he’s pointing, one gloved claw directing your eyes into the kitchen, to the fridge.

…The top of the fridge, where your keys are sitting innocently, like that was a completely normal place for them to be!

“How?!” you hiss at them, snatching them up. “Why???”

But in reality, you don’t think you care—you have the damn things, so now you can thank Sans and go, finally.

“WOULD YOU LIKE A RIDE TO WORK, AS WELL?”

You blink in surprise at the offer, turning to look at Sans again.

“Oh… that’s, you don’t have to,” you say. “As long as I can catch the bus, I’ll only be a little late, it’s okay.”

You’d probably still get yelled at, but getting yelled at for being sorta late was a very different animal than getting yelled at for being really late. Your own fault, you’re prepared to face the music by now.

“I COULD GET YOU THERE ON TIME.”

Now, that makes you frown a little.

You seriously doubt that, but even so, Sans insists.

“REALLY! ONE OF THE MANY BENEFITS OF BEING MY FRIEND—YOU’RE NEVER LATE WITH ME AS YOUR ESCORT, THAT’S A PROMISE.”

Sans winks at you as he says this, even giving you a playful (?) half-a-bow, and…

“Ha…hahaha! Oh stars, y’know what? Sure, why not.”

What have you got to lose? Even if he can’t make good on the promise, you might end up a little less late than you were going to be waiting on public transportation, and that was worth a shot.

Still, you can’t help but quip, “You must have one hell of a car if you think you can get me to work from here in fifteen minutes.”

“NOT AT ALL…BUT I KNOW A SHORTCUT.”

“One hell of a shortcut, then,” you amend, only to pause, a little confused.

Sans isn’t making for the door, or digging out his own keys.

He’s just…looking at you.

Hand outstretched.

“Uhh…?”

You can quite honestly say that you’ve never seen such a hangdog smirk before as Sans asks, “WILL YOU TRUST ME?”

What a question to ask you, with so many reasons that the answer could be ‘no.’

The look on his face says he understands that, too, all too well… but even so, his open hand doesn’t waver, hanging unanswered like the question between you.

……

You don’t hesitate long.

You’ve never liked thinking of yourself as someone who held grudges, even when it could be justified.

You reach out to your boyfriend’s brother and take his hand.

Sans smiles…and then tugs.

In one gracelessly stumbling motion, you find yourself pulled up against him, an arm around your shoulders to hold you tight. You jolt, instinctively trying to back up but Sans is surprisingly solid for a skeleton, much different than Papyrus’ lanky form, and caught between his strong arm and his broad chest, you can already tell you’re not going anywhere.

“Uh, what—”

“YOU’RE IN FOR A BIT OF A MAGIC TRICK,” Sans says at your ear. “ONE IT’S BEST TO STAY CLOSE FOR, I’M AFRAID—SAFETY REASONS.”

“Oh…uh, okay?”

You didn’t really understand, but you could pretend you did to save face, at least.

“I’D ALSO SUGGEST CLOSING YOUR EYES, TENDS TO MAKE THE TRANSITION A LITTLE SMOOTHER.”

“Right. …What trans—………”

You’d blinked.

You’d blinked, once, and apparently that was enough of an eye-closure for Sans to catch you in, because suddenly, you were no longer standing in Papyrus’ apartment.

You’re outside, on the sidewalk just outside your work.

Miles away, in the literal blink of an eye as Sans releases you and steps back to a reasonable distance, arms proprietarily folding behind his back like he hadn’t just done something completely crazy and incredible.

“What the fuck.”

Incredulous, you whip out your phone to check the time and yes, that little magic trick had been instantaneous, to boot, not even a minute having passed between there and here.

…which meant that instead of being late, you are now officially early, plenty of time before your shift and the thought has a relieved laugh bubbling up from your chest.

“Stars, Sans,” you giggle, “this is… that was…! That’s incredible! You can teleport?!”

Sans merely shrugs, possibly trying to downplay it, but he can’t quite seem to stop the smirk coming across his face.

“AH, SOMETHING LIKE THAT,” he says, obviously pleased by your assessment. “JUST A TRICK OF MINE, A LITTLE—”

“Shortcut?” you guess with a grin, echoing the word he’d used earlier.

He matches your smile with a smirk, a downright mischievous glint in his eye-lights as he pointedly doesn’t say another word.

“Haha, okay, fair enough,” you happily relent. “Keep your secrets, then.”

Sans was entitled to them, especially now that he’d done you such a solid. You practically have whiplash from the one-eighty your mood had just done, from the stomach-sinking dread of impending tardiness to the all-consuming relief of having avoided it.

“Thanks,” you say, meaning it sincerely. “I really appreciate this, Sans.”

“OF COURSE. IT’S THE LEAST I CAN DO AFTER…” That abashed look returns to his face for a moment, his eye-lights darting away from you. “AHEM. IT’S THE LEAST I CAN DO.”

You consider that.

“No. The least you could do is nothing. This is…”

You struggle a moment for the right word.

“This is more. Thank you.”

Perhaps it’s not explicitly what you could’ve said: that if this was him trying to make nice with you, for real, then it was a very good start; that bygones could be bygones, if that was how he wanted this to be; that you were more than ready to work with him on that, to build some kind of relationship here that wasn’t tense or hostile by default.

But… when you look at him, Sans is smiling at you—not a grin or a smirk, but a smile.

He looks happy.

So you think he understood you.

“YOU ARE…QUITE WELCOME,” he says at length. “AND IF THERE’S… IF THERE’S ANY OTHER WAY I COULD… THAT WOULDN’T MAKE YOU UNCOMFORTABLE, OF COURSE…”

“Maybe that breakfast you were talking about earlier,” you feel bold enough to joke. “Gotta say, I’m a little disappointed I didn’t get to see that. I mean, if this is your idea of a ride…”

Sans barks out a laugh.

“OH STARS, HUMAN,” he tsks, “YOU DIDN’T REALLY THINK I’D COME TO SEE YOU UNPREPARED, DID YOU?”

You raise an eyebrow at him, not yet following.

“NATURALLY, I’D BE HAPPY TO COOK ONE FOR YOU FRESH SOME OTHER TIME,” Sans tells you, his chest proudly puffed, “IF THAT’S WHAT YOU WERE HOPING FOR, BUT YOU NEEDN’T GO EMPTY-HANDED TODAY!”

He reaches into an inner-pocket of his jacket and summarily passes something into your hands.

“I HOPE YOU ENJOY IT, AND PLEASE—HAVE A NICE DAY AT WORK.”

With another wink, Sans disap—…shortcuts out of sight right before your eyes.

Leaving you standing there, holding a little tupperware of food that you hadn’t even had a chance to thank him for.

You only linger on the sidewalk for another second or two before heading into work, feeling a little like you’d just been handed a bagged lunch, patted on the head, and sent off to class.

It’s…it’s kind of sweet, actually…

And it only gets sweeter when you decide to use your handful of early-minutes to check out the breakfast you’ve been given, opening the tupperware to find the most perfect, neatly-packed and mouthwatering assortment that’s ever been handed to you.

You find yourself not even caring that it just so happens to contain all of your favorites, because what a cute use for the observation powers of a mastermind, so much nicer than the stalking and dirt-digging and very much a change you would like to support.

You’re already dating a ludicrously perceptive skeleton—was his brother really anymore offensive?

Even reheated in the break-room’s microwave, the breakfast Sans brought you is tasty and filling and it might not be the reason you end up having a pretty decent day at work, but it certainly feels like a factor.

Towards the end of the first half of your shift, you start to think.

About what Sans said.

About being his ‘friend.’

Honestly… it wouldn’t be the first time you’d given someone a second or third chance. It was…it was kind of your modus operandi, at this point, but…

If ever there was anyone who would actually use it well, you think that Sans… Sans could be that guy.

So you get your phone out again.

Me: Hey, thanks again for this morning. Just wanted to say that if you wanted to try the friend-thing, I would really like that.

DELETE, DON’T ANSWER: WEREN’T YOU GOING TO DELETE MY NUMBER?

…Oh, yeah. You did say that, didn’t you?

You make a quick change and your lips quirk a little as you reply.

Me: Whoops, I guess we’re both chronic liars!

Sans: HA! TOUCHÉ.

Me: :)

So that feels…okay.

Good, even.

It’s a lot more of a weight off your mind than you’d realized.

-

Not long after, Papyrus wanders in and you perk up to see him—you love the days he comes by to take your lunch with you, especially because it’s always something of a crapshoot as to whether he’ll be up and out of bed in time for it.

Today really is your lucky day.

Even if Papyrus is looking a little apologetic as he approaches you.

“sorry ‘bout this morning, angel,” are some of the first words out of his mouth. “i, uh… i saw the little hurricane you left. i didn’t make you late, did i…?”

You get up on your toes to plant a kiss right in the middle of his teeth.

“Not your fault,” you assure him, gathering your things into your bag. “I just gotta watch my alarms better, that one’s on me! And besides, I made it in on time, it all worked out okay.”

“…sans dropped you off?”

A minor jolt of shock hits you, stilling your hands… and then you’re whirling around to face Papyrus.

“Okay, normally, I don’t ask,” you preface, “because it doesn’t matter and I don’t really care, but seriously, how did you figure that one out?”

You try to think of ways Papyrus could’ve possibly known.

“Were you actually awake this morning? Did Sans text you, too? Am I wearing some kind of micro-expression that means ‘your brother gave me a ride this morning’? Please explain your math on this one, I gotta know!”

Papyrus stares at you for a second, his skull blank.

And then, he starts to snicker.

“pffft, you—heheheh…you just…you left your phone open? right there???”

………

You look where he points, to the counter where—sure enough—your phone is on and open to the texts where Sans’ name and unique all-caps style of typing is plainly visible.

“…well. Would you look at that.”

Your cheeks feel a little hot for just a moment before you bust out laughing, and Papyrus joins you like you’d given him permission.

“Ohhhh jeez,” you breathe, gathering up your phone to put it away with everything else. “Yeah, Sans came by this morning. Guess he wanted to apologize and helping me not be late was too good an opportunity to pass up.”

“did he?”

“Did he what?”

“apologize,” Papyrus clarifies.

“Oh, yeah, he did.” And after a second of thought, “I think he even meant it this time.”

“did it suck?”

You snort. “What?”

Papyrus looks at you intently, curiously. “was it, like, a really crappy apology? awkward and terrible and like, he didn’t even say what he was apologizing for?”

Thinking back on it…

“Yeah, kind of?”

Papyrus nods, almost sagely.

“yep,” he says, “that was real, then. he meant it.”

You laugh, probably more than you should, until…

“that’s good, i’m glad.” You look up at Papyrus and he continues, “i know… you guys, uh…it was, y’know, kind of a…rocky…start? but it…it could be nice, y’know, havin’ my…my, uh………”

His cheekbones turn a little violet and your heart fills up with fondness at the sight.

When he actually finishes the sentence, however, it feels like bursting.

“…my two favorite people, gettin’ along……”

Ohhhhh, baby…!

Delighted and overflowing with affection, you grab his hand in yours, beaming at him.

“I agree,” you tell him brightly. “I think it’ll be nice, too.”

And… you do.

In a way, being accepted by—and just sorta getting along with—Sans feels like something you didn’t realize you’d been waiting for, like…an important puzzle piece slotting into place.

You feel happy, hopeful, practically triumphant on the heels of this turn of events, like you could take on anything!

But for now, you think you’ll settle for ‘taking on’ your second skeleton-sponsored meal of the day.

“m’thinkin’ pizza,” Papyrus says as you walk out together. “the place with the crazy bread. y’know, unless you wanna go someplace else…?”

“Nah,” you decide easily, “pizza sounds perfect!”

Chapter Text

It starts innocuously, as most things do.

A simple text the next day.

Sans: GOOD MORNING!

You stare at it a second, just processing it…and then you reply.

Me: Good morning!

And then, feeling like…maybe you should say something else…

Me: Hope you have a nice day!

…Was that awkward?

Probably.

But in your own defense, the entire exchange was doomed to at least some degree of awkwardness from the start, what with the…general situation between you and this skeleton.

Trying to be friends with somebody you didn’t really know was always awkward, at first.

It would pass eventually.

Sans: THANK YOU, I HOPE YOU DO, AS WELL!

You wonder if Sans is thinking the same things you are, on the other end of the screen.

AH YES, THAT’S NICE. POLITE, THIS IS GOOD.

Pfft…somehow that makes you laugh a little to yourself, but you don’t dwell on it.

You get on with the rest of your day, the awkwardly pleasant exchange forgotten.

-

It happens again, the next day.

Sans: GOOD MORNING, HAVE A NICE DAY!

Me: Thanks, you too!

Polite. Nice. Good.

Nothing to write home about.

-

The next day is when you decide to change the script.

Sans: GOOD MORNING!

Me: Good morning! Are you going to do this every day?

Not that you had a problem with it or anything.

You kinda just…wanted to know.

And Sans quickly gives you an answer.

Sans: I WAS PLANNING ON IT, BUT I CAN STOP IF YOU DON’T LIKE IT.

Me: No, it’s fine, I don’t mind it! Just curious.

Me: I don’t think I’ve ever been texted so consistently in my life, haha

Sans: I PRIDE MYSELF ON MY CONSISTENCY!

Me: Oh, ONLY your consistency?

Sans: HA! YOU CAUGHT ME, I PRIDE MYSELF ON MANY THINGS.

Sans: PRIMARILY, PUNCTUALITY—POSTPONE THIS PARLEY FOR A PINCH?

Me: LOL, positively!

You’re smiling when you put your phone away that time and you’re even excited to see a new message, a few hours later.

Sans: PART OF THE PREDICAMENT IS PASSING THE DAY AT THE PROPER PACE.

Sans: PERIODIC PATHS PREVENT PROBLEMS—PAINLESS TO PINPOINT THE PRAGMATISM THERE, RIGHT?

Me: Omg, Papyrus said you were a math guy, why do you know so many words!

Sans: NEVER UNDERESTIMATE ME, HUMAN!

Sans: I’M NO PARTICULAR-PERFORMANCE-PONY!

You’re not ashamed to admit that that one makes you laugh out loud.

Me: Okay, fair enough, but no more *horsing* around with the letter ‘p’!

You couldn’t have predicted, not in a million years, what you’d just unleashed with that one half-assed pun.

Sans responds immediately, faster than you’ve ever gotten a text-back.

Sans: NOT IN THE MOOD TO FOAL AROUND?

Sans: I SUPPOSE IT WOULDN’T BEHOOVE ME TO FORCE THE ISSUE, NOT THE NEIGHBORLY THING TO DO.

Sans: CONSIDER IT FORTROTTEN!

Oh no…

Oh no, your weakness…

Puns…!

The next hour or so of your day is…not very productive.

And most importantly, you’ve realized something about your boyfriend’s prickly, awkward, and kind of abrasive older brother; something that you really wished you’d known a lot sooner.

Sans is, in his own way, kind of a huge dork.

Somehow, you feel like this friendship could actually work out.

-

Sans isn’t the only skeleton texting you these days.

Your dearest bonefriend also makes time to message you every day—if on a far more erratic schedule than his brother seems to hold to.

It’s been a few days since last you’d managed to make your schedules work but today, they do and you can’t wait to see Papyrus again, even if it is just for another casual, stay-at-home date.

Apparently, he can wait even less than you can.

Rus: i miss you

Rus: come over

Me: I am? I’m coming over right now?

Rus: faster tho

Me: ???

Me: Baby, literally how?

Rus: break the speed limit

Me: I’m on a bus?

Rus: hijack it, then break the speed limit

Me: You want me to commit a felony just to get to your place faster?!

Rus: yeah

Rus: either that or call sans for a ride again

Me: LOL, I’m not doing that!

Rus: don’t you love me

Rus: i’m dying

Rus: i would do it for you

The perfect response is on the tip of your tongue.

“No, you wouldn’t, you’re so shy that…”

Well.

That’s the problem—you don’t know how to finish the sentence. You can’t think of anything shy Papryus has done that you weren’t also explicitly grateful for like staring creepily at a stranger doing her laundry instead of just asking for help.

But maybe…

Maybe you have a friend you can ask instead.

And Papyrus did tell you to call him, so he really only had himself to blame for this.

Since you are, in fact, on public transportation and don’t really want to be overheard by perfect strangers, you switch to a different text conversation rather than make a call.

Sans: SO, WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO RETURN MY TUPPERWARE?

Me: Eventually, I’ll wash it and everything, but no time for that now

Me: Papyrus is sassing me, I need dirt, do you have any?

Sans: …YOU’RE KIDDING, RIGHT?

You feel your heart sink a little reading the words.

Were you overstepping?

You were probably overstepping: Papyrus was Sans’ brother and you were just barely his friend; just Papyrus’ girlfriend. You shouldn’t have expected him to—

And then you get another notification.

Sans: I HAVE *ALL* THE DIRT. WHAT DO YOU NEED?

A smile breaks out across your face.

Me: He’s acting like he’s hard enough to hijack a bus.

There’s a significant pause between your text and the next.

Sans: OH STARS, APOLOGIES, FOR THE DELAY, I WAS JUST LAUGHING VERY, VERY HARD.

Sans: HE ALMOST LITERALLY PANICKED THE FIRST TIME A BUTTERFLY TRIED TO LAND ON HIM UP HERE.

You snort loud enough that a few fellow passengers turn to look at you, but you pay them no mind.

You’re already switching back to your chat with Papyrus, grinning with excitement.

Rus: i would do it for you

Me: No, you wouldn’t, Mister Scared of Butterflies

-

Unbeknownst to you, thus begins another text conversation, one you have no part of.

me: what the fuck

bro: HMM?

me: what the FUCK

me: did you tell her about the butterfly thing???

bro: OH, THAT. YES!

me: wh

me: w h y

bro: SHE ASKED!

me: b r u h

bro: WHAT’S THE PROBLEM? I THOUGHT YOU WANTED US TO GET ALONG!

me: i regret everything

me: my entire life

me: no, your entire life

me: how could you do this to your brother, your own bone and magic

bro: OH, THAT’S SO CUTE…

bro: YOU THINK I’M DONE.

-

Sans sends you a photograph.

It is the most beautiful thing you have ever seen.

And you are wheezing, desperately trying to stay sort of quiet as you admire it, saving it to your phone.

Befriending Sans is now officially the best decision of your life.

You regret nothing.

-

PAPYRUS: what did you just do

PAPYRUS: she just said ‘lol’ and sent me like ten crying laughing emojis

ME: OH, WELL, NOW THAT WE’RE GETTING ALONG, I THOUGHT IT WAS HIGH TIME TO FULFILL MY SWORN DUTY AS YOUR ELDER BROTHER!

ME: SADLY, ALL OF YOUR BABYBONES PICTURES ARE ANALOG, BUT I DID HAVE ONE EMBARRASSING DIGITAL PHOTO TO SHOW HER!

ME: YOU’RE WELCOME.

PAPYRUS: the pen explosion

PAPYRUS: you said you didn’t take a picture of that!!!

ME: YOU BELIEVED ME???

PAPYRUS: i can’t believe you did that, oh my god, i’m gonna dust you

ME: OH, DON’T BE DRAMATIC! SHE’S YOUR HUMAN, ISN’T SHE? SURELY THERE’S NO NEED FOR SECRETS BETWEEN YOU TWO!

………

PAPYRUS: y’know what

PAPYRUS: you’re right

-

You proceed to get three texts almost simultaneously.

One from Sans that makes you raise an eyebrow…

Sans: DON’T LISTEN TO PAPYRUS, HE’S LYING TO YOU!

One from a number you don’t know that makes you frown…

???: Hey, are you ready to talk to me?

And one from Papyrus, your beloved boyfriend who always seems to lift your mood sky-high, without even trying.

Rus: sans thought lol meant lots of love for like two solid weeks

And another from Papyrus…and another after that.

Rus: when we were kids, he wore a blanket like a cape and pretended to be a supervillain

Rus: one time he kept shredding paper towels on accident and got so pissed he ripped the roll off the kitchen wall and tried to play it off like it just fell

“……Snrk…”

Just like that, you’re right back to happy again.

Stars above, you love this skeleton.

In the wake of all these texts, you make precisely two good decisions—firstly, you block the mystery number and delete the message from it, and secondly…

Secondly, you make a group chat.

Me: Hey guys, I thought it might be cool to have one of these! Now that it seems like we’re all getting along! :)

Sans: A LOVELY IDEA, THANK YOU, HUMAN!

Rus: sans cries at pop songs when he’s drunk

Sans: YOU ARE SUCH AN UNTRUSTWORTHY SOURCE, DON’T BELIEVE A WORD OUT OF HIS MOUTH!!!

Sans: THIS IS THE SKELETON WHO GOT EXCEPTIONALLY DRUNK ONE NIGHT AND TRIED TO COOK A PIZZA IN THE MICROWAVE!

Sans: A FULL-SIZED OVEN-PIZZA!

Sans: HE ROLLED IT LIKE A PIZZA-RITO AND COULDN’T FIGURE OUT WHY THE DOOR STILL WOULDN’T CLOSE!

You can already see Papyrus’ typing bubble.

You are living.

This may be the greatest day of your life.

-

Once again, unbeknownst to you, there is another set of texts going on.

ME: ALRIGHT, WAIT, PAPYRUS, YOU’RE RIGHT

ME: WE’RE BROTHERS, WE OUGHT TO STICK TOGETHER, WE SHOULDN’T BE TURNING ON EACH OTHER LIKE THIS…

PAPYRUS: you’re only sayin that cause you have more shame than i do

ME: WELL, YES.

ME: YOU ACT AS IF THAT’S HARD—AN IOTA OF SHAME IS MORE THAN YOU HAVE.

PAPYRUS: you’re right but also 🖕

ME: FAIR ENOUGH, I’LL GIVE YOU THAT ONE.

ME: BUT SERIOUSLY, TRUCE.

PAPYRUS: why? suspicious...

ME: NOT SUSPICIOUS! I’M JUST ACTUALLY TRYING TO MAKE A DECENT SECOND OR THIRD IMPRESSION ON YOUR HUMAN, YOU KNOW THAT.

ME: I DON’T NEED HER THINKING…WHATEVER ABOUT ME. I’LL STOP IF YOU STOP, REALLY.

………

PAPYRUS: bro, you’re an idiot

PAPYRUS: if i had eyes, i wouldn’t anymore, they’d have rolled right out of my sockets

PAPYRUS: if you want her to like you, this is great

ME: …PUBLIC HUMILIATION IS GREAT?

PAPYRUS: no

PAPYRUS: well kinda

PAPYRUS: no

ME: WELL, WHICH IS IT?

………

PAPYRUS: sorry she just got here

PAPYRUS: had to tell her about the snowpoff incident

ME: DAMN IT, PAPYRUS, I’M NOT PROUD OF THAT!!!

PAPYRUS: [IMG-193]

Sans blinks startled eye-sockets at the picture on his screen, feeling the magic heat pooled in his cheekbones fading away.

Papyrus has sent over…a picture of you.

A picture of you, doubled over on his couch, laughing your metaphorical ass off.

He snaps back to focus as his phone buzzes again with another message from his brother.

PAPYRUS: she likes dumbasses, bro

Sans can’t resist, he just can’t.

ME: AND YOU’RE THE WALKING PROOF, I ASSUME?

PAPYRUS: yeah, exactly

PAPYRUS: listen

PAPYRUS: i tried bein cool an capable an shit to get her attention, got nowhere

PAPYRUS: i don’t think ‘cool’ is what she’s lookin for

PAPYRUS: just be her friend, it works

Sans considers this.

Papyrus…may actually have a point.

You did seem to appreciate the joking and the teasing… and you’d been an enthusiastic punning partner the other day, more than anyone he’d ever found to truly appreciate the humor of the art-form…

You’d even added him to a group chat, unsolicited, of your own volition.

Sans couldn’t help but feel………included, by that. Somehow.

At the very least, this is the most conversation at once that he’s had with Papyrus in months.

He really doesn’t want that to stop.

But all of those thoughts are far too raw and soft to be admitting to the sassy little brother who’d just started airing all of his most embarrassing dirty laundry to the human he was trying to build a nice relationship with.

As retaliation, Sans will grant—but even so.

He turns back to his phone.

ME: YES, I SEE THAT’S WORKED VERY WELL FOR YOU. IS ‘FRIEND’ WHAT THE COOL KIDS ARE CALLING THAT THESE DAYS? 👀

PAPYRUS: well we started as friends

PAPYRUS: y’know, before the boyfriend thing, too

……

PAPYRUS: we’re still friends, actually

PAPYRUS: i didn’t know you could even do that until i met her, be both

PAPYRUS: bro, it’s so cool, i kinda love her

PAPYRUS: like, a lot

Sans smiles a little to himself.

ME: THAT’S ADORABLE.

ME: IT’S DISGUSTING, GO KISS HER OR SOMETHING, I DON’T NEED TO HEAR ABOUT YOUR EPIC ROMANCE.

ME: ISN’T IT YOUR DATE-NIGHT, ANYWAY? WHY THE HELL ARE YOU EVEN TALKING TO ME STILL?!

ME: JUST DON’T FORGET WE HAVE AN APPOINTMENT TOMORROW, SET AN ALARM, I’M NOT GOING TO COME GET YOU AGAIN!

Sans doesn’t receive any further response—from Papyrus or from you, but to be fair, he wasn’t expecting one.

He’s content to let the two of you enjoy your couple’s time together.

Unbidden, he finds his claws scrolling up a little, to get back to the picture of you that his brother had sent.

You really do look…happy— your face flushed, eyes crinkled shut in laughter, showing off a wide, delighted smile.

Sans isn’t sure he can remember the last time he made someone smile like that, even indirectly.

It’s…it’s a very nice feeling.

And you’re a very nice human.

He’s glad that Papyrus found you, and that he apparently hadn’t completely ruined his chances at knowing you.

Hell… if the price of this first friendship is just a bit of his dignity, Sans supposes that’s not a terrible tradeoff.

He shuts off his phone and gets up, heading into the kitchen. He feels a little more energized at this hour than he usually does; less exhausted.

Maybe he’ll actually make dinner tonight instead of microwaving it…? He certainly has the ingredients and the time…

Yes.

Yes, he’ll do that!

Sans has to get his cooking skills back into shape eventually, what with Papyrus coming home relatively soon, and consequently, probably you visiting often to stay for dinner.

Things are…things are really, actually looking up.

WELL… IT’S ABOUT TIME!

Sans washes his hands and gets to work.

Chapter Text

Papyrus is, in fact, on time to their appointment the next morning.

Apparently, you’d woken him up and hustled him out the door at the correct time with a big kiss on the cheekbone—which had resulted in the only genuinely enjoyable part of the session.

“Papyrus,” Dirk had said, failing to hide a smile, “I’m guessing things are going well with your girlfriend?”

“uhh…yeah?”

Papyrus had sounded a little confused by the surety of the question, and so Sans had decided it was his brotherly duty to explain for him.

“IS SHE WEARING A NEW CHAPSTICK THESE DAYS?” he asked pointedly. “PERHAPS ONE WITH MORE OF A TINT THAN USUAL?”

Oh, Papyrus’s whole skull had gone violet at that realization, frantically wiping the pale pink lip-print off with his sleeve and Sans had nearly laughed his coccyx off.

It was one hell of a conversation-starter, to be sure.

As always, Papyrus leapt at any opportunity to gush about you and for whatever reason, ‘having a successful relationship’ seemed to be high on Dirk’s list of Important Adult Milestones, so the gushing was encouraged.

(Sans generally considered Dirk’s list to be bullshit. Adulthood was a descriptive concept, not a goal that could be reached by ticking boxes until you have the right amount to be ‘enough’ of an adult to count.)

(Papyrus was a grown skeleton with a job and a datemate, and he’d be one without them, too…but Papyrus had always been one to thrive on validation, and Dirk provided that in spades.)

(Sans could, would, and did put up with a lot for the sake of that.)

But this time around…Sans finds himself actually listening instead of tuning out.

And the things he’s hearing are…very good.

He’s…happy that his brother is happy, that was a given, but…now that he’s started to know you, too, he thinks that maybe…maybe he’s happy for your happiness as well?

…Granted, Sans only ‘knows’ you inasmuch as you’re a pun-loving person with a mischievous sense of humor, but how much else does he need to know, really?

He likes you so far, at least, and he figures he’ll have plenty of time to know you better at the rate you and his brother are getting snuggly.

“…leaves her stuff all over the place now,” Papyrus is saying, a fond look on his skull. “not, like…cluttery? just, y’know, her little…jackets an’ bags an’ brushes an’ stuff… s’just junk, but i dunno, i love seein’ it, it’s like…it’s like havin’ her there, sorta, even when she’s not? does…does that make sense?”

Adorable—downright adorable that Papyrus is so head-over-heels for you that seeing your shampoo in his bathroom could make him look that happy…

And then and there, Dirk ever so helpfully proceeds to ruin everything.

At least, for Sans.

“Have you thought about asking her to move in yet?”

Papyrus frowns, looking uncertain.

“uh. n…no? it seems…i-isn’t it, uh…a little soon for that? i mean, we…we’ve only been dating, officially, for a couple…like, five…ish…months???”

Dirk puts on a reassuring face. “It doesn’t have to happen right away,” he says. “But it could be something to discuss with her, to gauge how she feels about it and what her timeline is on that. It’s something you’d like to do with her, isn’t it?”

“…mmn…yeah, i…i guess so,” Papyrus admits hesitantly. “i don’t wanna…scare her off, though? or like…make her think she has to, i-if she’s not ready, or whatever…”

“Then, frame it that way! It’s only a discussion, I think she’d understand that from what you’ve said about her. It could be something worth exploring, even if it’s just to get on the same page—communication and managing expectations, remember?”

“yeah,” Papyrus nods, looking thoughtful, “yeah, that’s…… makes sense.”

“And even if it does end up being too early for you two,” Dirk continues, “talking about the timeline could really help strengthen your relationship. Sharing a living space is one of those important steps for a couple to really establish themselves as a pair, so you definitely do want to make sure you’re ready for it before you try to graduate to that from living with family, or roommates—it’s a whole different animal!”

Papyrus is quiet as he considers this.

And doesn’t.

Say.

Anything else.

Which is just about the moment when Sans’ nonexistent stomach drops.

The lease on Papyrus’ apartment expires in something like four months. Sans hadn’t planned on renegotiating it, because…

Because a year would be up.

Papyrus would move out.

Papyrus would come back home.

But if…

If he was talking about moving you in with him, giving it serious consideration…

Surely, Papyrus couldn’t mean to have you move in, only to move again a few months later.

Which meant…

Which meant…

It’s not the first time the thought occurs to Sans, but it’s the first time it occurs to him with so much crushing plausibility.

What if the ‘trial separation’…wasn’t a trial anymore?

Was this… Did Papyrus want to keep living on his own? Were you the next—and maybe only—person he would want to move in with?

Maybe…

Maybe Papyrus wasn’t going to come home.

Ever.

The thought takes a few moments to sink in.

It feels like ice in Sans’ soul, creeping and cold—trying to imagine…the rest of his life being just like this, only getting to interact with his brother through light-hearted texts and the occasional therapy visit, like that could ever be enough.

It was hard enough for Sans to agree to this for one year.

He is not prepared for ‘forever.’

OF COURSE HE’S DONE WITH YOU. HE WAS THE LAST ONE AND EVEN HE COULDN’T PUT UP WITH YOU ANYMORE. YOU SHOULD’VE SEEN THIS COMING. IDIOT.

The rest of the session, Sans is…quieter than usual. Which is saying something, since he already barely spoke at all, his replies all wooden stock-answers with the least amount of effort put in to make them seem believable.

Par for the course, Dr. Riley doesn’t even seem to notice.

Papyrus does, though.

“…hey,” he says cautiously on their way out. “you’re… are you alright? you were…kinda quiet…”

The concern…helps.

So, Papyrus can’t stand living with him anymore. At least he still cares; at least he doesn’t…

It makes it easier for Sans to put on a genuinely convincing smile and bluff.

“MMM, JUST EAGER TO LEAVE, I THINK,” he shrugs, casually enough to fool his brother. “I’M A LITTLE TIRED.”

…and already starting to feel a by-now very familiar shudder deep down in his core.

His magic, getting ready to act up again.

Sans truly loathes how susceptible he is to upsets like these: one little unexpected stressor, one tiny devastating bomb of a revelation he wasn’t ready for and just like that, his whole body rebels.

He blames being born with garbage HP and does not even think about how often he burns the candle at both ends and how little time he spends on self-care.

But…in any case, Papyrus seems to buy the obfuscation well enough and the two of them part ways.

Sans is already putting in for the time off for the rest of the day, grateful for the clout that allows him to do so on short notice.

At the very least, he can just go home and stupidly suffer his next several hours in peace and privacy.

…So he thinks.

-

Papyrus looks up from his tablet when you emerge from the bathroom and grab your bag.

“you leavin’ already?”

“Yep!” you declare brightly, stopping briefly in the kitchen to retrieve the object of your quest. “Your brother’s tupperware isn’t gonna return itself.”

Wryly, Papyrus says, “it might’ve, if ya’ waited another week,” but you snort.

“I’m not gonna make him come get his own tupperware, ‘Rus. He did something nice for me, I want to return the favor.” Speaking of which, “So…burgers? You’re sure?”

It seemed…incongruous to you, that a guy as seemingly classy and sophisticated as Sans would enjoy such lowbrow fare as ‘literally anything that drips grease, angel, you can’t go wrong.’

But a lot of your assumptions about Sans had turned out to be mistaken—you never would’ve guessed him for an avid punster, either, or willing to blackmail his own brother at your request, and well…

Papyrus absently nods, without looking up.

“the ideal would be to catch grillby’s, but…that place is impossible to get to on purpose, m’pretty sure i’ve only ever seen sans find it intentionally…”

So the (admittedly rave) reviews said of the little monster-run food-truck that supposedly popped up at random throughout Ebott, with an eccentric (possibly mad?) fire-elemental owner who somehow seemed to do a brisk business, even without ever advertising his location.

Maybe you’d stumble upon it yourself one day to see how real the hype was…

…or maybe Sans could take you?

That was a possibility now, at least for someday, and you were still adjusting to that in the best way possible!

The drama was over and what a relief that was, every time you remembered.

You’ve had more than enough drama for one lifetime, really.

“you sure you don’t want me to come with you?”

You smile at Papyrus’ offer.

“Very sure,” you say. “I’m a big girl and you are up to your ribs in commissions right now.”

Papyrus pauses in his scribbling, staring down at his tablet.

“i am…not a smart man,” he replies reluctantly, which makes you laugh.

You head over to him, bending down and taking his skull in your hands to give him a kiss.

The two of you are getting pretty good at this whole nuzzling thing and you particularly have started to enjoy it a whole hell of a lot.

You…linger, just a bit.

And the dazed, utterly love-struck look Papyrus gives you when you finally pull away, oh…that makes you feel powerful.

You might give him a bit of the ol’ bedroom eyes for it, telling him, “Work hard, baby. I’ll see you later,” as you turn and head for the door.

It takes him until you’re halfway out of the apartment before he’s able to croak out one last warning to you.

“…hold the food in front of you, he seemed…hangry this mornin’, or somethin’…!”

Hangry or not, though, you’re not worried.

You’re about to return a favor with a favor—your absolute favorite thing to do—and everything is finally looking up.

It’s about time!

-

You stop at the fastest, greasiest burger joint you can think of before making your way to the address your boyfriend had provided.

The neighborhood is pretty upscale, maybe just a notch below ‘gated community’ levels of near-suburban niceness—neat lawns and fresh-looking paint and probably the most annoying HOA in existence to keep it that way.

(If anybody could handle one of those with unfailing politeness and malicious compliance to any of the stupid rules or their obnoxious enforcers, it probably would be Sans.)

The home you waltz up to is surprisingly nondescript, nice-looking but modestly sized and not really sticking out from any of its neighbors. It looks perfectly…at home with all the others, but a quick check of the gold-numbered address is all you need to know you’re in the right place.

You ring the doorbell and wait.

It’s immediately obvious when the door swings open that you are an unexpected guest—the annoyed, somewhat frazzled look on Sans’ face drops away into an expression of surprise at the sight of you. It even takes him a moment to sputter out your name!

“I…I WASN’T EXPECTING YOU,” he says. “TO, UH. TO WHAT DO I…OWE THE PLEASURE?”

His tone is a little clipped, just a tad forced, but you don’t take offense. Unplanned visitors are always a little jarring, at least in your experience, making you worry about how clean everything was and if you had enough supplies on hand to entertain.

But you didn’t intend to be over long and the allure of surprising the unsurprisable had been too great.

You smile happily and, perhaps remembering Papyrus’ advice, hold your two things in front of you, explaining, “Thought I’d finally bring back your tupperware…and a little lunch, too. Interest for holding onto it so long?”

Sans blinks at you, like it takes him a second to process your words…but then he laughs and your smile widens.

“AHH…HOW THOUGHTFUL!” He tsks at himself, stepping backwards and opening the door wider. “WHERE ARE MY MANNERS, PLEASE COME IN!”

And so you do!

..with, of course, all the proper compliments on the house, just as nice inside as out.

The grin Sans give you looks a little tired, but seems genuine.

“THANK YOU, I…I DID A LOT OF RESEARCH BEFORE SETTLING ON THIS NEIGHBORHOOD. YOU’D…YOU’D BE SURPRISED HOW MUCH GOES INTO PICKING THE RIGHT…” He seems to cast about for the right word, struggling for it before giving up and just waving one gloved hand. “YOU KNOW.”

“Oh, definitely.”

You do know—house-shopping is a pain and a half—but as you look closer at Sans, you think you realize why Papyrus seemed to believe his brother may’ve been hangry. Even to your unfamiliar eye, something about him certainly seems……off.

Well, then…

No need for you to intrude unnecessarily, especially if Sans is tired enough to be showing it.

“…So,” you only slightly awkwardly cut to the chase, raising the hand with the tupperware in it, “should I…take this to the kitchen for you, or…?”

“NONSENSE,” says Sans, taking it from you. “I’LL DO THAT. WHY DON’T YOU HAVE A SEAT?”

You turn to look at the plush leather couch in the living room that he gestures to, and when you look back, Sans is already gone.

So…you guess you’re staying?

If that’s what he wants… you suppose, parking your butt on a cushion. It wasn’t intruding if you were invited, and you did have awhile before you had to get to your evening shift.

Still…

You can’t shake the feeling that somehow…this is a bad time…

Especially when your host takes awhile to return and the silence around you begins to feel a touch oppressive.

The only thing that stops you from getting up to go…you don’t know, look for Sans, just to give yourself something to do, is the sound of running water from what you presume to be the direction of the kitchen—at least you knew from that, you hadn’t just been abandoned, and so you would be a good guest and wait.

Why was the water running, though? You had washed the tupperware. Was it…not up to Sans’ standards…?

You…wait.

For awhile, actually.

You sit there, on the couch, with the fast food bag in your lap, for long enough that you start to feel antsy.

You’re on the verge of literally twiddling your thumbs just to pass the time when Sans returns between one blink and the next, swanning into the loveseat across from you.

Except, no, he doesn’t.

He staggers into it, noticeably, and that’s something you can’t ignore.

“Are you feeling alright, Sans?” you ask, unable to hide the touch of alarm in your voice.

Sans huffs.

“I’M FINE,” he says, so flippantly you can almost believe it. “IT’S BEEN A DAY, IS ALL.”

Setting aside the fact that it was only afternoon, “…Are you sure? ‘cause Papyrus said… He said you were a little weird earlier, too…” You frown a bit, adding, “I really don’t need to have a whole visit or anything, if you’re not feeling well…”

Sans seems to seize on the excuse, as soon as you say it.

“WELL,” he admits, sounding reluctant, “I MAY BE…A BIT ‘UNDER THE WEATHER,’ LIKE YOU HUMANS SAY… BUT REALLY, IT’S NOTHING, JUST A LITTLE COLD. IT’S THE SEASON FOR THOSE, ISN’T IT? MUST’VE PICKED IT UP SOMEWHERE, WHO KNOWS.”

If the stumble was a red flag, this feels like an alarm bell.

Because you know now that Sans is lying to you.

“Monsters…can’t catch colds,” you say slowly. “Papyrus told me it’s different.”

Sans visibly stiffens a bit.

You imagine your unspoken subtext here is loud and clear—Why are you lying to me?

“………HE… WELL, SURELY, HE TOLD YOU THAT WE DO STILL GET SICK,” he says at length. “IT’S……NOT FROM GERMS, LIKE HUMANS, THAT’S… O-OTHER THINGS CAUSE IT, LOTS…LOTS OF……… GROWTH SPURTS, OR HIGH STRESS, OR UNEXPECTED EXPENDITURES OF MAGIC, IT’S…REALLY, ANY NUMBER OF THINGS! WHAT I MEANT WAS THAT IT’S…THE SAME SEVERITY, AS A HUMAN COLD, NOTHING TO WORRY ABOUT, REALLY!”

You press your lips together, considering this.

It does sound a lot more in line with what Papyrus had told you about monster illness, so you’re inclined to believe it…

Except.

The longer you sit there, staring at Sans, the less it seems like…whatever he has is ‘nothing to worry about.’

There are tiny droplets along his skull—sweat? Water?

Had that been what he was doing in the kitchen, splashing water on his face just to seem composed enough to face you? Or was he just sitting there at home, doing no strenuous activity whatsoever in the perfectly cool, conditioned air and visibly sweating?

Neither seemed good.

It’s also pretty hard to believe he’s entirely alright with the increasingly weird quality of Sans’ eye-lights, their purple glow seeming warbled and almost fuzzy around the edges.

You think you’ve seen them like that before…

You don’t know what it means. But you don’t like the things you’re starting to think right now.

“…Right.” You’re sure you don’t sound convinced, but you set the bag in your lap aside and start to stand. “Look, Sans, if—”

He cuts you off, the crinkling of the paper bag having caught his attention.

“OH, NEARLY FORGOT ABOUT THAT,” he says in the most casual ‘silly me’ tone you’ve ever heard. “SORRY TO SAY, I…DON’T HAVE MUCH OF AN APPETITE JUST NOW, BUT I’M SURE IT’LL BE FANTASTIC LATER. LET ME…”

Your frown turns into a look of genuine concern as it seems to be a legitimate struggle for Sans to pull himself upright; like sitting down for a minute or two had completely sapped him of strength.

He makes it out of his seat, while you sit on the edge of yours, but when he finally gets to his feet, a very odd look crosses his face.

And then, he’s gone again.

Your eyes widen and you irrationally look around the room, like you could somehow see where he’d shortcutted himself to, but really, you don’t need to see.

Faintly, you hear instead—the unmistakable sound of retching, from somewhere upstairs.

You’re on your feet and moving before you even make a conscious decision.

But what else are you going to do? Just sit there?

You quickly manage to find the bathroom and with it, Sans…on his knees and faintly trembling over the toilet.

His shoulders stiffen when you enter, like you’d just caught him out at something.

Being suddenly and violently sick, you’d guess, if the way he quickly scrubbed at his mouth, trying to hide the weird, glowing magic residue staining his glove was any indication.

“…I… I DON’T SUPPOSE YOU’D…PRETEND YOU NEVER SAW THAT…?” Sans wheezes out, a piss-poor attempt at humor that falls miserably flat.

He’s grimacing a little like he knows it, too, and he won’t even look you in the eye.

Standing there, looking down at him, something inside you…

Awakens.

Mama-Bear Mode Activate.

You stride forward into the bathroom.

“You’re not fine,” you say. “That’s bullshit.”

Sans’ skull ducks a little, essentially admitting it.

Right.

Right, then.

You kneel down on the tile and grab at him.

“WHAT—!!!”

“I’m helping you.” Your tone is hard, brooking absolutely no argument as you pull at him, dragging his arm over your shoulders. “Sorry, you’re not getting rid of me now.”

Sans…wisely bites his tongue as you start to pull him up to his feet.

The nausea is apparently not Sans’ only problem—he’s burning up, too, his bones feeling scorching hot wherever they touch you, and out of the corner of your eye, you see a darkening purple flush across his face.

You have no idea if it’s fever or embarrassment that you’re forcing him to use you as a crutch, but you also…don’t really think you care.

Sans is obviously unwell, way beyond a cold, and you don’t care one damn bit about his pride in favor of that.

“Where’s your room?” you ask him, because this skeleton was going to lay down and get some rest.

Sans tells you which way and you go.

He walks with you, at first, but then the hair all over your body starts to prickle, strange, tingling pulses of static electricity shivering through you—magic?—and Sans’ body just gets heavier and heavier against you with each passing step.

You’re going to go ahead and guess that a monster not having control of the very thing they’re made of is…not a great sign.

By the time you make it to Sans’ room, he’s fully dead-weight and it’s all you can do to unceremoniously dump him onto his mattress, face-first into an overstuffed pillow.

“Oof, shit, sorry!”

“…S’FINE,” Sans mutters, curling up a little, “M’FINE…”

Two things occur to you in that moment.

One—no, it’s not, and no, he isn’t.

And two—you are way out of your depth, here.

This… Whatever this is, isn’t like some human sickness, where all you’d have to do is run to the medicine cabinet or the nearest drug store for a quick remedy.

This is a monster thing.

…You don’t know what to do.

As if Sans can sense your fretting without even opening his eye-sockets, he speaks out in the momentary silence.

“S’RRY,” he slurs, half-into the pillow. “’M…M’A MESS, IT’S FINE. YOU C’N GO…”

You exhale one short, disbelieving breath.

“And what?” you demand. “Just leave you here? I told you, you’re not getting rid of me with that ‘I’m fine’ crap!”

“I AM, THOUGH,” Sans insists. “REALLY. H’PPENS ALL THE TIME.”

“Does it?”

“EV’RY FEW WEEKS. IT’S FINE, M’USED TO IT.” He turns his skull a little, speaking even more into the pillow. “……S’MY FAULT IF I’M…JUST A WEAK…SENSITIVE IDIOT, THAT’S…THAT’S NOT YOUR PROBLEM…”

You are…pretty sure he didn’t mean to say that out loud.

Sans is looking less and less conscious by the second, and one small part of you…actually wants to take his advice.

To leave.

You’re out of your depth, you don’t know how to help, and…and he was saying it was okay; practically telling you to go! You could, maybe even should just…turn around and go off to work.

It would be justified.

Except…

Except.

That’s just not the kind of person you are.

All you need is a minute to regroup, and a good enough excuse to go do it.

With Sans in the state he’s in, “I’m gonna go put the food away so it doesn’t go bad. I’ll be right back!” ought to be enough to pass muster.

“MMN…” is your only reply and you turn on your heel and scurry back downstairs

To call for backup.

Papyrus only takes two rings to answer the phone.

“hey, angel,” his cheerful voice comes across the line. “how was sans?”

“Hey, ‘Rus,” you greet him quietly, like you’d be somehow overheard with a whole floor between you. “Uhh…Sans is…not good, actually… I… I think he’s sick?”

“…oh.”

“Yeah, he’s…he’s got a fever, I think? And he’s kind of out of it, I… ‘Rus, baby, I really don’t know what I’m doing here, I’m not a doctor, much less a healer, I… I know you’re busy, but can you come over? I think I could use a little help here.”

“………”

The pause is…unexpected.

And so is your boyfriend’s eventual answer.

“…n…no.”

It takes you a full ten seconds to even respond.

“…What do you mean, ‘no’?”

“…i…i mean ‘no.’”

That leaves you speechless.

Papyrus fills the silence for you.

“i can’t,” he says, “m’not…i can’t go over there, alright? i……it…i haven’t been back there since… no, i can’t, i-i, m’just gonna, i’ll just make it worse, okay?!”

“How would you make it worse?!” you hiss at the phone. “Your brother’s already lost whatever lunch he probably didn’t have and I don’t know what I’m doing! I just…dragged him to his room left him there! To call you!”

When Papyrus speaks again, he sounds guilty…but firm, too.

“i know. i’m sorry. i can’t. look, it’s…you’re doin’ good, that’s… i woulda done the same thing, i’m not a healer either, an’ there’s…there’s not really much to do when…with this… he’s just gotta…sleep it off.”

“Sleep it off,” you echo flatly.

You can practically see Papyrus wincing on the other end.

“…yeah. that’s… his magic’s out of whack, i-it’ll stabilize, eventually.”

“Does this happen a lot?”

Quietly, so quietly that you could barely hear it, “it was supposed to be less…”

But before you can comment, Papyrus is moving on.

“look, i mean… maybe…maybe you can find sans’ candy stash…?”

“What?!”

“monster candy,” he hurriedly clarifies. “it’s magic, it…it might help, a little, with…with the stabilizing part? i have no idea where it is, but he’s got a whole stockpile somewhere, i dunno, you’d have to ask him.”

“Papyrus. You are. Not being helpful.”

“i know. m’sorry…i love you?”

You sigh, feeling very frustrated with this skeleton.

…But, “I love you, too. Why can’t you just come over?”

“………talk later. i…i’m sorry.”

And without so much as a goodbye, Papyrus hangs up on you.

………

You take a long, deep breath, in and out.

You’re still frustrated.

Actually…you think you might be a little pissed.

What the hell was that?

Your sweet and wonderful boyfriend had just hung up on you, leaving you to handle this all by yourself.

And the ‘this’ in question just so happened to be his own brother—his sick brother, at that!

Maybe you don’t understand everything about monsters, or even just about these two skeletons in particular, but the only way you can classify this in your head right now is as supremely uncool.

You’re not happy.

…But neither are you the type to shirk your responsibilities; your promises.

You’d promised Sans you were coming back.

-

You attend to your flimsy excuse to come downstairs in the first place, stowing the abandoned bag of burgers away in the fridge and go back upstairs.

When you reenter Sans’ bedroom, you find the skeleton in question has kicked off his boots and scarf, which is good.

He’s also managed to tangle himself up in a sheet in such a way that cannot possibly be comfortable, which is less good.

“Oh boy, okay, c’mon, big guy,” you murmur, grabbing it and starting to tug. “Let’s fix this…”

Sans physically jolts the moment you speak, his eye-sockets snapping open and staring at you with fever-bright and fuzzy lights.

As soon as he seems to recognize you, though, he relaxes and lets you fuss with the sheet.

“…YOU’RE STILL HERE.”

Your brows knit at the nonsensical statement.

“Of course I’m still here,” you say, as if it should’ve been obvious.

It should’ve—you’d said you were coming back.

“MOST PEOPLE LEAVE,” Sans says airily, almost dazed, like he was still asleep. “EVEN…EVEN WITHOUT SEEING THE PATHETIC PARTS… NOBODY EVER STAYS, REALLY… NOT EVEN……… BUT HE’S… THAT’S…PROBABLY MY FAULT, TOO…”

Your hands still, mid-task.

You’re positive this time that you’re hearing something you weren’t meant to.

Sans would never say something like this out loud, on purpose.

You stand up straight, absently smoothing at your clothes. “Hey! So… where’s your, uh…your Monster Candy stash?” you ask, hoping to change the subject and spare your friend as much dignity as you could for whenever he came to his senses. “I, uh… I think you could use one about now.”

“OH, YEAH, PROBABLY.”

“…So?”

“HMM?” Sans stares at you blankly for a second before it clicks. “OH, THE CANDY… BEHIND THE WARDROBE.”

You turn to see what he’s pointing at, a fine antique-looking dresser across the room.

You go to it, pulling it away from the wall and searching for anything that could possibly be a Monster Candy.

There’s nothing.

You open your mouth, ready to voice your confusion to the half-conscious skeleton on the bed, but when you touch the wood down by the bottom you feel…some sort of seam?

It’s hard to see in the dark mahogany, but now that you’re squinting, yes, there’s definitely a seam there. You feel around a little more, pressing and pulling here and there until, to your surprise an entire secret compartment pops out—filled with little pastel candies in shiny cellophane wrappers.

What a good hiding place from a sweets-fiend!

You take a candy, admiring the compartment’s creativity—it looked hand-carved, had Sans made this?—but as you’re getting back up to your feet, you hear it…

“DOES HE HATE ME?”

You freeze.

“What?”

As if you hadn’t said anything at all, Sans asks you again.

“PAPYRUS. DOES HE HATE ME?”

You whirl to face him, feeling your expression crumple in sympathy.

“Sans. You don’t think that, do you?”

Your disbelieving tone seems to have some effect, and an abashed look comes over Sans’ skull.

“I…… NO,” he says a little guiltily, “I… I DON’T…I DON’T WANT TO THINK……… I JUST…IT WOULD MAKE SENSE, IF HE DID…WOULDN’T IT?”

“How?” you demand.

“I…ALL I’VE EVER DONE IS…HURT HIM… HOLD HIM BACK…” Sans huffs the least humorous laugh you’ve ever heard, a little watery. “HE CERTAINLY HASN’T EVER LOOKED BACK… SE…SEVEN MONTHS, AND HE’S…JUST FINE, ISN’T HE. WON’T EVEN COME HOME TO DO LAUNDRY… PROBABLY WON’T COME HOME EVER…”

…Seven months?

Seven whole months?

“AH STARS, I…I DON’T BLAME HIM,” Sans says. “I’M…I’M A PAIN TO LIVE WITH, I, I MUST BE, IF HE WON’T EVEN… IF I………”

Sans turns to you, those fuzzy eye-lights of his almost pleading.

“CAN I… DO YOU THINK I CAN…FIX THIS?” he asks. “YOU KNOW HIM. I…I’M TRYING, REALLY, I AM, BUT I… I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M DOING. I NEVER KNOW WHAT I’M DOING, BECAUSE, BECAUSE I THOUGHT THINGS WERE GOING WELL, AND THEN THIS AND, AND I…I DON’T WANT TO SCREW IT UP AGAIN…”

The next words come very close to breaking your heart.

“PAPYRUS IS… HE’S ALL I HAVE, PLEASE…”

You’re at Sans’ bedside faster than you knew you could move, tightly gripping his shoulder.

“Hey,” you say, softly yet sternly. “there’s nothing to fix. Papyrus doesn’t hate you, he told me so, okay? He told me that…that you always protected him and made sure he was safe… He loves you, Sans, he’s your brother. All that is… it’s just the fever talking, alright?”

Sans just… looks at you. Like he wants to believe it.

You don’t know what else to say, so you try to busy yourself, to buy enough time to think of something. You start tucking the sheet around him a little.

In the process, you realize that Sans is still wearing his gloves and you thoughtlessly grab at his hands to peel them off for him.

He allows it.

The claws beneath the thick leather are much sharper than the claws you’re used to dealing with, blade-sharp, the kind of razor-like edge you could cut yourself on and not even feel the pain until you started to bleed.

But you don’t cut yourself.

You don’t cut yourself because as soon as Sans’ phalanges are exposed, right next to yours, they twitch in precise little motions, flicking this way and that as you get rid of the gloves—avoiding your flesh with instinctive ease.

Even half out of his skull with whatever kind of magic sickness, Sans is trying not to hurt you.

Seeing that… you have your words.

“You’re not a bad person, Sans,” you tell him. “Nobody hates you. Not even me—and you gave me plenty of reasons to, so that’s saying something, don’t you think?”

“…PFFT.”

The exhausted little smile that flickers across Sans’ face feels like a victory.

“Here.”

You unwrap the little Monster Candy and pass it to him, letting him carefully pluck it out of your fingers and take it.

Relief floods you as it seems to work quickly, at least, clearing his eye-lights.

Sans still looks unspeakably drowsy, and his skull is…definitely acquiring a brighter color as he doesn’t quite look at you…

But his eye-lights are clearer.

And then he clears his throat or makes an equivalent sound, at least.

“I…YES, TH…THANK YOU,” he says, all but stammering it. “YOU, ER. YOU CAN…LEAVE, ACTUALLY, NOW. IF… I’M SURE YOU HAVE OTHER PRESSING ENGAGEMENTS TO…TO ATTEND. YOU’VE BEEN VERY HELPFUL, REALLY, BUT…THERE’S NOTHING FURTHER YOU CAN HELP WITH, HERE, THE…THE ONLY ‘CURE’ IS…REST, REGRETTABLY.”

So, at least Papyrus hadn’t been wrong.

“I, AH… HEHEHEH, I WOULD FEEL LIKE AN EVEN WORSE HOST TO HAVE YOU STAY, IGNORED, IN FAVOR OF A NAP. AFTER YOU’VE ALREADY……”

He trails off a bit, but you put on a sly expression for him.

“Aw, I wouldn’t take that personally—naps are fantastic.”

He snorts, apparently amused, but…

“Alright, you have a point,” you concede, standing straight. “I do have to get to work eventually.”

And more importantly… you think that even if he didn’t so obviously need to rest, Sans also really needed you to leave, now.

With an awkward goodbye and an even more awkward ‘Feel better soon!’ you leave the room, all kinds of thoughts whirling around in your head.

-

On your way out, a few things occur to you.

Sans’ house is…pretty big.

It isn’t huge, or ostentatious, or over-the-top, none of those things—but it’s still noticeably too big for just one person.

It’s obvious, in retrospect, but this house… this home was for both of them: Sans and Papyrus, two brothers that had literally always cohabited until…

Well, seven months ago, apparently.

Barely longer than you’d known Papyrus.

And in those seven months…Papyrus hadn’t been back once, apparently not even for a visit.

A lifetime of status quo, upended practically overnight.

A good change for Papyrus, as far as you could tell, sure—getting to be more independent and to gain confidence doing things on his own…

But how fucking quickly had all this had to have gone down for Sans to be feeling like he’d just probably accidentally admitted to you?

Liked he’d screwed up.

Like Papyrus leaving was his fault instead of an experiment.

And honestly, you think you can understand how it might feel like a punishment if the pieces you were putting together were arranged right, if Papyrus hadn’t so much as visited his brother, in person, on purpose, in months.

‘DOES HE HATE ME?’

Holy fuck…

And what about Papyrus, who seemed to be under some pretty ridiculous notions himself?! That he wasn’t supposed to come home, that he’d somehow…‘make things worse’?

What was that supposed to mean?

…Had the brothers’ therapist actually let them believe these things? Without addressing them at all?

Had he even asked about their feelings on this trial separation beyond…basic agreement?

You had… you’d just sort of assumed, when you first heard about this, that there’d been some kind of regular discussion about it, to keep everyone on the same page about what was happening, some kind of professional monitoring of the situation, to ensure that it was going well.

It is…definitely not looking like that from where you’re standing.

Had…‘Dirk’ encouraged the brothers to talk about the living arrangements thing (or any thing) at all, or had he just… told them what to do and left them to sort it all out on their end, and called it a day?

From what Papyrus had told you of what he ‘usually’ talked about with this guy… you think that may be exactly what had happened.

You had worried before that your opinion of your boyfriend’s therapist had been a tad too uncharitable.

But now, it’s taking a steep nosedive even further.

Oh…oh, you are mad.

You are mad at this therapist for half-assing his job, and you are mad at these brothers for their failure to communicate, and you are mad at yourself because you’ve always, always, always believed that some things should be private and handled privately, no matter how spectacularly and life-wreckingly it had backfired on you, but…

You don’t see any other way around this one.

It’s a family drama, but you’re part of it, now—you’re going to have to get involved.

Not tonight.

You still have work and you’re always bone-tired (ha!) after your shift, so you know that all that’s on your agenda for tonight is a long, long sleep.

But after.

After, you’re going to see Papyrus, and you and your boyfriend will have words about what the hell just happened this afternoon.

You’re no therapist and from the sound of it, neither is Dirk, but…

Between these two brothers in particular, you don’t think you’ll have to do much to help them build a sorely-needed bridge.

Chapter Text

You wake up the next morning to a pointed lack of messages on your phone from any skeletons.

You’re fairly certain that at least one’s reason is that he’s too ashamed to face you after what happened last night.

You also worry that it’s both of their reasons.

Yeah…nope.

You’re gonna do…something about that.

But there’s things you need to understand first, before you try to do anything, and so your next course of action is obvious.

Me: Papyrus, I’m coming over. We’re talking.

Rus: ok

……Huh.

Easier agreement than you expected, but you suppose that’s a good thing.

This conversation was going to happen, whether Papyrus was on board or not.

-

Your arrival at your boyfriend’s apartment is not as exuberantly celebrated as it usually is.

You are not welcomed with an excited hug and an adorable series of nuzzles before you can even step inside.

In fact, Papyrus won’t even look at you as he opens the door, barely giving you one nervous, “hey,” and uncertainly skirting your presence as you stride in past him and he slinks in after you.

It’s probably because he thinks you’re mad at him.

He’s right.

You feelings haven’t changed overnight and leaving you hanging the way he did last night…?

Still supremely uncool.

Which means that—as glad as you are to see he knows what he did was shitty—you don’t feel too terribly bad about making him be the one to bring it up.

You think your cool, flat stare can speak for itself.

It is literal seconds before Papyrus starts to sweat beneath it.

“…uh…s-so you’re…!” he blurts into the moment of silence. “h-how was, uh. how was work…?”

“Fine.”

“………did. you sleep good, a-and everything?”

“Yeah.”

“………”

He’s floundering already.

“um. h…how was sans…?”

There it is.

“Shitty,” you retort, your eyebrows raised at him,. “just like I said he was. When I called you. And you hung up on me.”

Papyrus winces.

“i’m sorry,” he says quickly, “that was…i shouldn’t have… i-i’m sorry.”

And you say, “Good,” because he should be apologizing for that. But also, “Now, can you tell me why you did that?”

“………”

You frown.

“Papyrus. I’m being serious here. I’m not just…trying to make you feel bad, or whatever, I just… I really want to understand your side of this, ‘cause right now… all I can see is, that was really not like you and I don’t get it.”

With you stuck in a situation you weren’t prepared to deal with, upset and asking for help; with the situation being his own brother, sick as a dog and alone with one human who had no idea how to handle monster illnesses, the Papyrus you know should’ve run right over to try and make it better, even if he was just as uselessly clueless as you were.

So why had he left you both in the lurch instead?

“i…look,” Papyrus says, a guilty expression on his skull. “i…what do you think would’ve happened? if i went over there?”

“You could’ve helped me,” you suggest, but Papyrus shakes his head.

“no,” he protests, “no, i… he wouldn’t have…! sans would’ve taken one look at me a-an’ just! act like he was fine! he’d get up an’ say ‘don’t worry about me’ an’ then try to, i dunno, do taxes for me or somethin’!”

“…I…really doubt your brother was in any shape to be doing taxes…”

“that’s the point!” Papyrus insists. “it’s…it doesn’t matter, to him, how he’s…… he’ll always try to do everything, everything, even if he just had a twelve-hour day an’ all he really wants to do is go to bed, but ohh, no, he can’t do that, he’s gotta…gotta see if i want dinner, or if there’s dishes in the sink, or i need any laundry done! it’s……don’t you get it?”

Mutely, you shake your head.

“it’s me. i’m the problem, i’m the reason he’s getting sick in the first place!”

You don’t think you can be blamed for your very emphatic, “What?”

Papyrus huffs.

“i told you, didn’t i?” he asks you plaintively. “monsters are… we, we don’t get sick, like humans do, it’s not… it’s our magic, we’re made of it, i-it reacts to, to everything, all the time, but… but baby, it goes haywire when you’re stressed out, or not sleepin’, or eatin’ right, especially…‘specially if you’re not that tough to begin with…”

He rubs a hand over his skull, clearly distressed.

“an’ i mean, me, i’m…i’m built sturdy, always have been, i never… but sans, he…he wasn’t, always, an’…he gets sick, sometimes, i-it happens, but it…it got so bad up here… that’s my fault.”

“How?” you demand, utterly baffled. “How is that your fault?”

“well…i mean… c’mon, i’m…i’m what’s stressing him out…aren’t i…?” Papyrus smiles and it’s so sad that it looks more like a grimace. “i can’t…i couldn’t…do anything, f-for myself, so…so sans had to. like, heh, like he didn’t already have enough on his plate… i’m getting’ better now, but before—”

“Wait.”

Papyrus pauses when you cut in.

The more he talks, the more you’re understanding, you think, and if you are getting this…

“Is that why you wanted to move out?” you ask him. “Because you…”

Felt like a burden, is how you almost finish the sentence, but instead you just trail off.

And to your dismay, Papyrus looks relieved.

“yeah!” he agrees. “so i could…figure out how to do stuff for myself! so sans wouldn’t…wouldn’t have to worry about me, a-an’ he wouldn’t be so stressed all the time! one, heh, one less thing to worry about, right? so he wouldn’t… this wouldn’t keep happening so much…”

…Stars.

Stars above, that’s…

“Papyrus.” You think you can feel your own expression crumpling in concern, but it absolutely must be said that, “Sans’ stress levels are not on you.”

“they are, though,” Papyrus protests. “‘cause it’s, y’know, i-it happened sometimes Underground, but it only got worse up here when i, when i started tryin’ to go places an’ do things, every couple of months, he’d—”

“Weeks.”

Papyrus blinks confused eye-sockets at you. “…what?”

“Weeks,” you repeat. “At least, that’s what Sans said…”

You don’t know whether it was less or more likely to be true, knowing that he’d said it in the grips of fever.

But Papyrus looks utterly devastated by this information nonetheless.

“…n…no,” he says, instinctive denial. “no, that’s… he said… he’s supposed to… he’s not supposed to be worse!”

You…don’t think you’re very surprised at this point that he is, though. For a monster like Sans, facing the sudden and forceful separation from his only family…

Yeah, you can very much see how that might make his stress-levels worse.

You can see it in his moment of weakness yesterday, in his paranoia about you and your intentions, in the way he’d been acting from the moment you met…

This trial separation may have been a good idea for Papyrus, but they’d been going about it in the worst possible way for Sans—cold turkey.

“Papyrus,” you begin, not sure what you’re intending to say, but he takes the question out of your hands.

“no…no, it’s…it’s still…even if he.” He shakes his head. “it’s still good, that i’m not there! because, see, i, i’ve been learning stuff! so when…when i go back home, it’s not gonna be like it was, co-dependent like dirk said, it’ll be better for sans, then!”

Dirk.

Stars, you kinda hate this guy and you haven’t even met him.

You hope you never do, for his sake.

“Papyrus, I…really don’t think you should put so much stock in ‘what Dirk said.’”

Papyrus stares at you.

“what…? wh…why not?” It’s obvious that he doesn’t understand your statement. “dirk helped me! i…i’ve done so much stuff, lately, stuff i’d never have tried without… i’m acclimating, i’m doing better, i’m better now!”

“Better?” you echo. “Like there was something wrong with you before?!”

………

Oh.

Oh, the look on Papyrus’ face; the guilty silence that follows your question…

All of your annoyance at this skeleton softens in an instant.

Maybe… maybe Papyrus is an idiot who doesn’t think things through and puts his faith in people who don’t deserve it.

…but you’re pretty sure that he’s your idiot, the idiot that you love, and you can’t let something so negative and untrue about him stand unchallenged.

You step forward, reaching up and pulling Papyrus down into an embrace.

He goes willingly, if obviously confused and uncertain, but you can fix that.

“‘Rus, baby, there is nothing wrong with you,” you tell him, squeezing him tight. “You are…sweet, and thoughtful, and so, so talented and y’know what?”

“…what.”

“That has nothing to do with whether or not you can darn a sock, or run a dishwasher. You would be that guy either way.”

“………mmn.”

Papyrus hugs you back, settling his skull into the crook of your neck.

“it’s…it’s better i can do those things, though…isn’t it???” he asks. “i shouldn’t…need other people to do that for me…”

“Everybody needs help sometimes,” you say. “It’s cool to learn how to do stuff you couldn’t before, but it’s… you’re not a failure if you don’t know, or if you rely on somebody for something.”

You think of something, suddenly, and feel like Papyrus could do with a reminder, too.

“‘Rus, you remember when you called me over that one night, right? After…after the nightmare?”

He stiffens a little in your arms, but he mumbles a quiet, “yeah,” into your shoulder.

“Do you remember what I said?”

“……‘you can’t do everything all the time.’”

“Yeah, that. Just…just because you can do something, it doesn’t mean you have to, or else you’re not doing enough. You’re………”

Papyrus pulls back enough to look at you when you trail off again.

“what?” he asks, and…

Sheepishly, you admit, “I was gonna say, ‘you’re only human,’ but that’s… it doesn’t really work, does it?”

“snrk…nah, not really.”

“Well…same sentiment, different species, you know what I mean.”

It takes a second, but eventually, Papyrus laughs.

“yeah,” he says, “yeah, i…i hear you…” He snorts, adding, “s’funny, ‘cause i…y’know, i said…somethin’ like that to sans, back when… he didn’t listen, obviously, but uh… i guess…i didn’t, either, so…”

“You’re trying,” you insist. “I know you are, okay? I can see it and I… I’m proud of you, baby, I really am. I love you.”

And oh, Papyrus melts into you, clinging like plastic wrap as his warm, lanky body drapes down over you, pleasant as anything.

You have a flash of sense-memory—a broader body, fever-hot bones against your side and bright purple eye-lights that looked at you, with so much…

Right.

“Sweetheart,” you say quietly, “how do you think Sans feels in all this?”

You think of…a lot of the things you saw in Sans yesterday, far too much and far too raw to sum up in a few words, as someone who’d only just started making friends with him.

You do your best.

“He’s your brother—he misses you.”

Papyrus frowns.

“w…well, i mean, i… he………” His cheekbones go a touch violet. “ah stars, i, of course i miss him, too, i just……”

Yep.

It’s just as you’d thought.

What you have here are two brothers who absolutely do love each other.

…And they’re not saying anything remotely to that effect while the other is listening.

They need to communicate better, or at least more.

Which luckily, is something you think you can facilitate.

“‘Rus, did…your therapist…say you couldn’t spend time with your brother?”

Papyrus blinks at the unexpected question.

“uh…i…i don’t…think he did???”

“Just that you had to be living apart, right?”

“i…yeah, i guess so.”

“So,” you gently propose, “why don’t you make some plans with him? To hang out?”

Papyrus is quiet for way too long.

It’s obvious that he had never thought of this before, and in his defense, neither had Sans.

You add a few things to your list of what apparently runs in the skeleton-family: making assumptions, trying to martyr themselves, general idiocy…

“I think it might really help for you to see him more, outside of just therapy.” It takes a lot of effort not to say that last word in air-quotes. “It’s not against the rules, and…some actual bonding time could be good for you guys, don’t you think?”

“…i dunno. you think it would…help?”

Truthfully, you admit, “I don’t know. Maybe. But would it hurt to actually go see him sometimes, without Dirk sitting there in between you?”

“guess not,” Papyrus admits, looking thoughtful…but still a little hesitant.

“I could come, too?” you suggest. “If you’re worried that it’ll be…awkward or…whatever?”

That makes him smile at you, warm and grateful.

“ah hell, you know i’d never say no to bein’ with you, angel… i…yeah, it…it could be good, to… i mean, you guys haven’t really, y’know…hung out, ever? so that’s—”

“Two bird with one stone?”

“nyeheheh, yeah!”

You grin, happy with the turn of the conversation.

It really amazed you, how much a little communication could do for even an unpleasant subject.

You hoped to get the brothers to realize that, too, someday—and at least Papyrus was already getting his practice in.

The mood improved and tension deescalated, you’re happy to change the subject and just spend a little time with your boyfriend, doing your usual coupley activities and completely forgetting the frigid start.

But on your way out later, you stop Papyrus before he can give you your goodbye kiss nuzzle.

“Ah-ah! What are you gonna do?”

Papyrus pouts a little, but duly replies, “text sans.”

“And?”

He frowns. “and…???”

You give him A Look.

“And call him,” you say sternly. “He was pretty sick yesterday when I saw him, ‘Rus. The man was divulging feelings, alright?”

That makes Papyrus hiss, even as he chuckles a little. “ah jeez, yeah, that’s…that’s pretty serious, i guess… gotta make sure he hasn’t dusted, if that’s how it was.”

So, Papyrus agrees to call his brother, too, and you leave his apartment with a nuzzle and the warm feeling that you’ve done something good.

-

When you arrive at your apartment, it’s to a small, mysterious package on your doorstep.

There’s a note attached, with your name on top, so you pull it off and read it.

I HOPE THAT THIS MISSIVE FINDS YOU WELL.

I WOULD LIKE TO FORMALLY APOLOGIZE FOR THE EVENTS OF YESTERDAY EVENING AND REQUEST YOUR FORGIVENESS FOR SUBJECTING YOU TO SUCH AN OBVIOUSLY UNPLEASANT DISPLAY.

ENCLOSED IS A GIFT AS THANKS AND TO MAKE AMENDS FOR MY BEHAVIOR.

- SANS

You bring the box inside and open it up.

With the formal wording of the letter and the skeleton it had come from, you half-expect to find a diamond necklace or something else extravagant and ridiculous, but instead you find…

A blouse.

Not to say it isn’t a nice blouse, of course, because it is—your favorite color, in a style that you knew looked flattering on you—but it seemed…almost intentionally normal.

Until you chase a hunch and look up the little number on the blouse’s tag online and see how much it cost, which…

Wow.

On the one hand… you still don’t think you’re very fond of getting expensive gifts.

But on the other hand…it’s a very nice gift, a thoughtful and understated one that you could actually get some use out of, and more than that…

More than that, it sounded like Sans was actually trying to apologize for being sick in your presence, and—stars forbid—subjecting you to the sight of emotions, like it was a silly faux pas comparable to spilling wine on your carpet.

It’s true, you think to yourself. Idiocy really does run in their family.

Still, you decide to accept the gift and carefully hang it up to keep it from getting wrinkled.

You already know just where you’re going to wear it out to…

-

me: hey

me: are you alive?

bro: AGAINST MY BETTER JUDGMENT, YES.

me: cool

me: i’m gonna call, hang on

Papyrus does just as he said, calling Sans directly.

His brother’s voice comes in three rings.

“WHAT THE FUCK, YOU NEVER CALL.”

“you sound like shit,” Papyrus comments, noting the pronounced rasp in Sans’ voice. “it was that bad? you’re puking?”

Sans grumbles audibly.

“NOT ANYMORE,” he snaps. “I’M FINE.”

ah, like hell you are…

“not how my human told it. heard she got a real show. …pretty grossed out by the eye-socket thing, though.”

The response is immediate.

“FUCK! SHE SAW THAT?! I THOUGHT I—”

“you did, don’t worry, you did, i’m fuckin’ with you.”

Fucking with him, and figuring out just how bad Sans had been sick.

Vomiting was never pretty, but with skeletons?

Even less so.

Not…not strictly restrained to one cranial orifice, to put it as politely as possible.

“…YOU LITTLE SHIT.”

“bastard,” Papyrus returns automatically, and he hears his brother sigh on the other end.

“SERIOUSLY,” he demands, “WHY ARE YOU CALLING? JUST TO HARASS ME? DO I NOT HAVE ENOUGH PROBLEMS RIGHT NOW?”

Relief well and truly sets in to hear those words.

If Sans can be pissy at him, he’s at least started to feel better, and it eases at least a little of the guilt in Papyrus’ chest that he…hadn’t been there, himself.

“no,” Papyrus says, listening to Sans sputter wordlessly in reply. “here, uh… here’s another problem for you—you gotta pick a day.”

“A DAY?”

“yeah.”

“………FOR WHAT, DARE I ASK?”

“dare you?”

“YES. YES, I DARE.”

“the, uh…the girlfriend wants to get to know you better. tried to tell her that was a huge mistake, but y’know, she’s…she’s pretty set on it, so…dinner?”

Not…strictly the truth, of course, but not exactly a lie, either.

And certainly a lot easier to say it’s all at your insistence than, ‘she thinks we should hang out more but also, i miss you, and it turns out your cooking is way better than mine and i miss that too, so how ‘bout it?’

“………”

“…bro?”

“UH. WELL, I… IF SHE……I SUPPOSE I CAN’T SAY NO TO YOUR HUMAN. I’LL…CHECK MY SCHEDULE, I’M SURE… SURELY, WE CAN WORK SOMETHING OUT. …IF IT’S THAT IMPORTANT TO HER.”

Papyrus has a very small moment of epiphany.

The ‘using you as an excuse’ thing… this is Sans doing it too… isn’t it?

Was that what you meant to happen? Could it actually be just…a happy accident that you could be the reason that they could arrange a playdate do this casually, without having to admit to………anything embarrassing?

pfft…and she gives us crap for bein’ too smart…

It puts a fond smile on Papyrus’ face, at least, and filled with love for his favorite human he finds that maybe he can share a little love for his favorite brother, too.

“thanks, bro, appreciate it. and…and next time, how ‘bout a heads up that you’re dying?”

Sans scoffs loudly. “I WASN’T DYING, I—”

“i didn’t really like…hearin’ it from somebody else, is all,” Papyrus cuts him off. “it kinda…kinda got me worried, a little…y’know?”

“……”

…Ugh, there’s the embarrassment catching up to him, and he rushes to add, “just! i dunno, let me know next time, so i can come scoop up your dust, o-or whatever, alright?!”

“…PAPYRUS.”

“what.”

“DON’T WORRY ABOUT ME, I’M NOT GOING TO DUST. I’M…HEHEHEH, I’M ‘INDESTRUCTIBLE,’ REMEMBER?”

It takes a second…but then, Papyrus starts to laugh.

“nyeheheheheh, oh my god,” he wheezes, “i haven’t thought about that in forever!”

A fight, of course, an ambush otherwise perfectly innocuous, an everyday occurrence that would’ve normally been forgotten, blurred into all the others.

Papyrus couldn’t even remember the faces of the little gang that had tried to take on him and his brother…but it was hard to forget the melodramatic wail of, ‘He’s indestructible!’ as the monsters scattered when they realized they couldn’t land a single hit on Sans.

The two of them had just stood there until they were alone and immediately burst out laughing. They’d had a hilarious inside joke for weeks afterward that would instantly dissolve them both into wheezing.

And there were plenty more where that had come from.

“oh shit, no, wait, remember when…”

Papyrus ends up being on the phone with Sans for an hour, just…reminiscing and joking and ribbing each other.

(“uuugggghhhh, sans…”)

(“WHAT? DOESN’T TICKLE YOUR FUNNYBONE?”)

(“i’m disowning you.”)

(“WOULDN’T YOU BE BONELY WITHOUT YOUR BROTHER?”)

(“you’re embarrassing. i hate this. you’re such a bonehea—oh god no, you did this to me…”)

(“HEHEHEHEH!”)

It’s…a good talk.

-

Later, your phone pings and you open it up to the groupchat.

Sans: I’VE LOOKED OVER MY AVAILABILITY AND MY FREEST NIGHTS ARE THIS TUESDAY AND THURSDAY.

Rus: for dinner

Sans: YES, OBVIOUSLY, FOR DINNER.

Sans: IF NEITHER WORKS FOR YOU, WE CAN PUSH IT BACK A LITTLE FURTHER, I CAN BE FLEXIBLE.

Me: Thursday sounds great, I’ll look forward to it!

Me: I already know just what I’m going to wear, thank you, Sans!

Rus: wait what

Sans: YOU’RE VERY WELCOME

Rus: wait

Rus: what are you gonna wear

Rus: what’s happening

Sans: NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS

Me: Wouldn’t you like to know? ;3

Rus: should i be scared

Sans: HUMAN, IF YOU’RE GOING TO FLIRT WITH MY BROTHER, DO NOT DO IT IN THE GROUP CHAT!!

Rus: don’t listen to him, baby, flirt all the time

Rus: he can’t tell you what to do

Me: Omg…

Sans: PAPYRUS, NO!

Rus: papyrus yes

Rus: this is a kinkshaming free zone

Sans: NO IT ISN’T! KINKS WILL BE SHAMED HEAVILY! ALL FREAK-FLAGS FLOWN WILL BE BURNED!

Rus: join the resistance, angel

Rus: anarchy now

Me: Omfg you guys are killing me, I can’t…

Sans: YOU SEE THAT, PAPYRUS, YOUR HUMAN HAS MANNERS!

Sans: DECENCY!

Rus: sounds fake but ok

The typing bubbles just keep popping up.

You need to start having popcorn on hand if you’re going to get shows like this more often.

Chapter Text

You take your time getting ready.

You spend a little extra effort on your hair, carefully apply your makeup, and spend many more minutes than you’d like to admit trying on different bits of jewelry, attempting to decide which looks the best.

It was all cheap costume stuff, of course. You’d had a few real pieces, back when…

Well.

A couple necklaces and a ring or two weren’t the only things you lost in the split, and certainly far from the most pressing at the time.

Your costume jewelry is just as pretty as the real stuff and that’s all that matters.

…Now, if you could just decide between the medallion or the teardrop, you’d be all set!

You hear a knock on your front door, not hard from the bathroom, being some fifteen feet away and a familiar voice calling your name.

“babe?” Papyrus asks, muffled by the wood. “can i come in?”

Thoughtlessly, you call out, “Yeah, sure!” and soon, your boyfriend is wandering in and peeking around the doorframe.

You’re…maybe a little smug about it when in the mirror, you see Papyrus’ eye-sockets widen at the sight of you.

“wow,” he breathes, fluffing your ego even further as he drifts in behind you.

You smirk, angling yourself into a half a pose. “You like?”

Papyrus’ claws come curling around your hips, gently tugging you back against him. His skull dips down a little to nuzzle at your cheek from the side, but in your reflection you can see his eye-lights looking straight ahead, roving up and down your figure.

“i like,” he assures you. “stars, you’re beautiful…”

His sincerity makes you want to preen, just a little, and you find yourself smiling.

“You think so…?”

“mmhm…” Papyrus picks carefully at the fabric of your new blouse, perhaps admiring the way it highlights and flatters your body as much as you do. “sans got you this?”

“Yep. Some kinda…apology gift, I think.”

“yeah, sounds like him. …damn, he should ‘apologize’ to you more often, angel, you look great…”

“I’m not overdressed or anything?” you wonder, eyeing Papyrus’ attire in the mirror—nothing fancy, but maybe a little nicer than his usual, too.

“nah, you’re perfect,” Papyrus tells you. “and so’s your outfit, don’t worry.”

“Pfft, hahaha, shut up!”

Playfully, you elbow Papyrus in the ribs and he chuckles but steps back to give you a little more space.

Thus freed, you return to your earlier jewelry dilemma. Holding the two chains up to your neck, you announce, “Okay, serious time, what do you think—teardrop…or medallion?”

Papyrus manages to fool you into thinking he’s actually considering it for a moment, only to solemnly reply, “both.”

“Papyrus,” you snicker, “I said ‘serious’! I can’t wear both!”

“why not?”

“It’d look weird!”

“jeez, i didn’t know you were so hung up on society’s opinion… thought you were more of a free spirit, like me…”

“Papyrus, I’ve seen you apologize for apologizing after getting a soda spilled on you.”

“………listen—”

“Forget it, forget it,” you laugh at his utterly called out expression, “just…help me pick one or we’ll never get out of here!”

Papyrus sighs.

“fiiiiiiine, show me again?”

You do, raising one and then the other.

“mmm…teardrop, i guess.”

Yeah…yeah, that feels right!

You put it on and set the other aside for now, and then you’re maneuvering around Papyrus to gather the rest of your things to finally get moving.

It’s not until you’re at your front door, pulling at the handle that you realize something that should’ve occurred to you ten minutes ago.

The door doesn’t budge.

Because it’s locked, from the inside—with three separate locks, like it always is.

And…Papyrus…

You turn around to find your bonefriend at your heels, just looking at you curiously.

“Uh…babe?” you ask.

“yeah?”

“How…did you get in? Just now?” You frown. “Did…can you…‘shortcut,’ or whatever, too?”

Papyrus blinks…and then, he smiles.

“ehh, more ‘or whatever’ than a shortcut,” he says. With an almost mischievous glint in his eye-lights, he asks, “want me to show ya’?”

“Sure?”

You were…always down for a little… ‘or whatever’…?

Papyrus takes you by the hand, lacing your fingers together.

Remembering your brief shortcut experience, you wonder, “Do I have to close my eyes, or…?”

Papyrus just shrugs.

“probably not…can if you wanna, i guess.”

He looks at your door a moment, squinting at it like he was looking for something…

Whatever it is, he must find it because he takes a step forward, pulling you along with him as he proceeds to…walk right through the door.

Like it wasn’t even there.

You have to stand there, out in the hallway for a solid few seconds just to process that. Your eyebrows are high on your forehead and you must look pretty silly, stock-still and shocked like that, because from beside you…

“nyeheheheheh…”

That snaps you back to reality.

“Don’t laugh at me!” you exclaim, giving Papyrus a light shove. “You can…you can phase through walls?! That’s crazy!”

Papyrus barely reacts. If anything, he looks a little smug.

“s’a fun party trick,” he says with a smile. “ya’ like it?”

Honestly…?

“Yes,” you respond emphatically, “what the fuck?! That’s so cool! How… I… how?!”

Papyrus beams at you wordlessly.

“Oh, no… no, ‘Rus, baby, come on,” you plead, “you gotta explain that!”

“what, i can’t be mysterious? thought girls liked that…”

“Mysteries are great, but so are the answers,” you insist. “Come oooon, your brother already left me hanging with the shortcut thing…”

You put on your absolute best puppy-dog face and tug a little at Papyrus’ arm.

Either you underestimate your own charm or your boy is weak, because he caves in seconds.

“aw man, that’s not fair…” he mutters.

But he tells you everything he knows about his bizarre ability.

As Papyrus explains it, it’s maybe less an ability to do than it is an ability to see; to see what he haltingly, haphazardly describes as seams, building blocks, Layers.

“What…like video games have?”

“mmm…i mean, yeah, kinda?” Papyrus scratched idly at his cheekbone. “it’s…part of everything, there’s not… i dunno, there’s probably physics, or somethin’, involved, or that would explain it, but i don’t… it’s… i can look at a thing and i just…know that if i went at it that way, i’d be able to go right through. or between. or over.”

“Over?” you asked and Papyrus responded with another demonstration—taking several steps up over thin air, like climbing and descending a little pyramid of stairs that didn’t exist.

“…Baby, that might actually be the coolest shit I’ve ever seen. How come you never showed me that before?”

Papyrus flushes violet.

“i, uh…honestly, i just sorta…forget about it? most times?”

You stare at him.

“You have reality-bending superpowers and you just forgot about them?”

“well! it’s! y’know, it’s really not that, uh…that much different than magic, whatever it is… i always had it, and like, sans has his thing, not like mine’s any weirder, is it?”

“…I guess not,” you concede. “Do you think it’s genetic? Or…maybe a skeleton monster thing?”

“maybe? couldn’t say, there, uh…there’s kinda just the two of us. you could ask sans?”

You blink, realizing abruptly where you are.

Sans’ house, already.

Well, that’s one way to kill time walking, you think distantly. Debating how strictly the laws of physics and reality apply to skeletons.

“I, uh…better not,” you decide to Papyrus’ suggestion. “Maybe later.”

After all, this was meant to be a social occasion, not an interrogation, and you were determined to do whatever you could to make it a pleasant one.

For both of these skeletons.

-

Sans greets the two of you with a big shark-toothed grin that’s frankly infectious, and you’re smiling pretty wide yourself as you’re ushered inside.

Papyrus hovers behind your shoulder at first, his own grin and greeting to his semi-estranged sibling noticeably awkward, but something tells you not to worry too much just yet; to let them fall back into their normal orbit at their own pace.

You don’t have to wait long.

“YOU LOOK LOVELY,” Sans says to you, clearly noting the top you’re wearing. “IT SEEMS MY TASTE IS EVEN BETTER THAN I THOUGHT.”

“don’t break an arm jerkin’ yourself off,” Papyrus seems to thoughtlessly retort. “she’d look good in anything.”

“PROBABLY TRUE, THOUGH I SUPPOSE YOU ARE THE EXPERT AT SELF-INFLICTED INJURY OF THAT SORT.”

“that is not what the brace was for, holy shit, how many times—”

“AS MANY TIMES AS YOU WANT, ‘EXPERIMENTING WITH POINTILLISM’ IS THE WORST EXCUSE YOU’VE EVER TRIED ON ME, AND YOU’VE TRIED A LOT OF—”

“pointillism is hard, okay?!”

“APPARENTLY NOT THE ONLY THING THAT WAS—”

“wait a minute, what the hell happened to ‘manners’ and ‘decency’? my girlfriend is right here.”

“WELL, ANARCHY NOW, I SUPPOSE.”

You burst out laughing.

Sans looks utterly smug and as Papyrus loops an arm around your shoulders, he too looks markedly more casual than just a moment ago.

You have a good feeling about tonight.

Sans proceeds to show you around the place, giving you a ‘proper tour’ since he failed in his hostly duty to do so on your last visit.

“I was unannounced and you were sick, Sans, you know I don’t hold that against you, right?”

“AH, THAT’S NO EXCUSE!” he protests.

“he’s right,” Papyrus interjects. “jeez, bro, i can’t believe you didn’t give her the tour of scenic ‘our house,’ just ‘cause you were dying.”

Sans scoffs, a little huffily.

“FOR THE LAST TIME, I WAS NOT DYING, AND I SHOULD HAVE BEEN MORE THAN CAPABLE OF SHOWING HER AROUND OU—……”

Sans’ jaw audibly clicks shut after a moment.

You wonder why, but before you can consider it, he’s already shaking it off.

“IN! ANY CASE! AHEM, YOU HAVEN’T…UH, LET ME SHOW YOU THE LANAI!”

“y’mean the porch?”

“IT IS A LANAI.”

The house is lovely but the tour is brief, ending in the dining room where Sans encourages you to sit while he brings out dinner for you all.

He pops in and out several times, each dish seeming to look and smell more delicious than the last.

Beside you, Papyrus is practically salivating and you can hardly blame him—you kind of are, too, by the time Sans joins you at the table and you all start loading your plates.

Conversation is…basic, but hardly awkward, just the usual topics: how was your day, how about this weather, what’s going on at work?

You spend a bit of time bitching explaining about the latest nonsense going on at your job, with lots of comforting thigh-pats from your boyfriend and commiserating scoffs from his brother at all the right intervals.

So, naturally, it would be rude not to ask about Sans in return.

“Well! If I keep going, I’m definitely gonna start a rant or something, so… what about you?” you ask him. “Papyrus said you work with numbers, I think?”

Sans blinks wide sockets at you.

“OH…YES, I… O-ON THE SIDE, IN ADDITION TO MY ROYAL GUARD DUTIES,” he says. “I DO A LITTLE FREELANCING AS AN ACTUARY.”

“At the risk of sounding stupid… what, uh…what actually is that?”

“nerd stuff,” Papyrus pipes in.

Sans just rolls his eye-lights. “IT MEANS THAT I USE STATISTICS TO CALCULATE PROBABILITIES—RISK WEIGHT AND MANAGEMENT, MOSTLY FOR INSURANCE PURPOSES, BUT ESPECIALLY FREELANCING, IT’S A LITTLE BIT OF EVERYTHING.”

“Oh! Well, that sounds like it’s right in your niche.”

“nerd niche.”

Ever so gently, you whap Papyrus on the arm.

“THANK YOU.”

“Any time—”

“ouch, angel…”

“—but I mean, how do you like it? Uh, your work, I mean,” you clarify.

“OH…WELL… IT’S…FINE, I SUPPOSE. EASY FOR ME, WHICH, HEHEHEH, THAT’S ALWAYS… I…I LIKE IT.”

Sans pauses, like he’s thinking about it.

“OF COURSE, I’VE ALWAYS LIKED NUMBERS,” he says after a moment, quirking a smile. “THEY’RE…CLEANER THAN MOST THINGS, ALWAYS ADD UP IN WAYS THAT MAKES SENSE, WHETHER YOU HAPPEN TO UNDERSTAND IT OR NOT. …I DON’T KNOW, MOST PEOPLE FIND IT BORING BUT REALLY, IF YOU SEE IT FOR WHAT IT IS, A…A WAY TO MAP THE UNIVERSE, IT’S ACTUALLY QUITE………BEAUTIFUL.”

The longer he talked, the more you could hear the passion in his voice rising and you do see it for what it is—genuine enjoyment of a subject, and probably one that he didn’t get to talk about often, at that.

But by the last word…

By the last word, there’s a faint tinge coming across Sans’ skull, like he’s all at once realizing he said more than he meant to.

Oh jeez, is he…shy about this?

That’s cute…

Sans abruptly coughs.

“BUT THAT’S! ERM, E-ENOUGH ABOUT ME,” he all but stammers out, “PAPYRUS! HOW DID, AH, HOW DID YOUR TALK ABOUT MOVING IN TOGETHER GO?”

…Our what?

Confused, you turn to Papyrus, who grimaces when he sees you looking.

“uhhhh, it…it didn’t happen,” Papyrus mumbles at Sans, and then to you, “it was, uh…it was just an idea that……that…dirk…had? he thought maybe we should start…talkin’ about that, the…the livin’ together thing.”

“…Oh,” you say.

You’re…not really sure what else to say.

Is that…something Papyrus wants from you? Now?

It’s really not an idea you’ve given a lot of thought to—sure, you had a lot of stuff in each other’s spaces, your relationship was going well, but that…

It seems…

“i didn’t say anything,” Papyrus interrupts your thoughts, “‘cause it felt a little…i dunno, soon?”

Yes. Too soon.

That was…that was definitely what you were feeling, about that idea!

Much as you love Papyrus, the absolute last thing you want to do is move too fast, leap without looking and…

And…

“i figure we’ll just…y’know, cross that bridge when we get to it.” Papyrus touches you on the arm, smiling softly. “i like what we’ve got now.”

……

“Yeah,” you agree, relief and affection making your chest feel light, “I do, too.”

“…OH, YOU TWO ARE SICKENINGLY ADORABLE,” Sans muses across the table.

You turn and find him smirking at you both good-naturedly (if a smirk could be called ‘good-natured’).

“YOU’RE OBVIOUSLY DOING FINE AT YOUR OWN PACE,” he opines. “SO IN-SYNC THAT YOU’RE EVEN SHARING A PLATE.”

………what.

You look down.

Sure enough, there is a fork there—a fork that is not your own!—thieving sweet potatoes off your plate!

“Papryus!” you exclaim, utterly appalled.

Utterly unashamed, your boyfriend only ‘tsk’s.

“snitch,” he grumbles at Sans. “you know i love sweet potatoes…”

“Love your own sweet potatoes!” you demand, pushing his hand away. “We were having a moment!”

“a moment of sharing?”

“No! You didn’t even ask!”

Sans snickers.

“SORRY, HUMAN, FORGIVENESS OVER PERMISSION HAS ALWAYS BEEN PAPYRUS’ MOTTO WHEN IT COMES TO ANYTHING EVEN REMOTELY SWEET.”

“Jeez, I knew you had a sweet-tooth, ‘Rus, but stealing! From your own girlfriend!” You shake your head at him, pulling your plate further away. “Rude…”

“I GAVE UP TRYING TO INSTILL MANNERS IN HIM AFTER THAT SWEET-TOOTH LOST HIM HIS TOOTH.”

“oh my god,” Papyrus groans.

“Wait, what?” You look between Sans and Papyrus and your boyfriend’s one gold fang, glinting in the warm light of the dining room “I thought it got knocked out? In a fight?”

“it did.”

“WELL, YES, BUT HOW DO YOU THINK IT CAME OUT SO EASILY, HMM? YEARS OF DRINKING STRAIGHT SYRUP AND OTHERWISE MAKING MUFFET THE RICHEST SPIDER IN THE UNDERGROUND, THAT’S HOW!”

“that’s not how it works,” Papyrus petulantly denies. “that’s not how anything works, sans!”

“…I don’t know, maybe he has a point.”

Papyrus whips his skull around to gape at you, looking almost betrayed.

“what?”

It’s a real struggle to hold a straight face, but you manage it somehow.

“I mean, come to think of it, I’ve only seen you brush your teeth a couple times,” you note. “Maybe you don’t need to as much, without a tongue or saliva, but…how diligent are you about your dental hygiene exactly?”

“baby,” Papyrus breathes, noticeably scandalized. “i brush my teeth. you know i brush my teeth!”

“But like, do I know that?”

“y e s,” he insists, shooting a glare at his brother. “somebody is just trying to embarrass me and he’s gonna have to try a whole lot harder than that goofy bullshit.”

Sans eye-lights visibly brighten.

“OH? A CHALLENGE? I ACCEPT!” He turns to you, grinning broadly. “HUMAN, DID YOU KNOW—HEY! DON’T EAT MY POTATOES, YOU UNGRATEFUL LITTLE SHIT!”

“Hahahahaha!”

Oh, stars above, these two are hilarious!

They get along so well when there’s not something stupid or petty or Dirk-y standing in between them.

…Well.

You’re pretty sure they do, anyway—there’s certainly a lot of sniping and complaining and general harassment going on, but…it doesn’t feel mean-spirited. It just feels like…affection, filtered through the lens of two brothers who happen to have a roundabout way of saying they actually like hanging out with each other.

You think it’d probably be good for them to actually say that…

…but this is still good!

You’re glad that this is happening.

Eventually, you all finish eating and when Sans notices, he springs right up and starts collecting dishes and leftovers, disappearing with them into the kitchen.

Left alone with Papyrus, you turn to him, thinking to say that this was going well…but the look on his face holds your tongue.

Papyrus’ expression is…oddly serious; distant, even, and you’re not sure what to make of it.

“‘Rus?” you ask quietly, a little concerned. “You okay?”

You try to think of reasons he might be upset, kinda grasping at straws, but…

“Did we haze you too hard? About the teeth thing? Because I was only teasing, I know you brush your teeth. I thought you were pretty shame-proof, so…”

Papyrus looks at you, apparently startled. You get the sense that for a split second, he may have forgotten you were sitting there in the midst of his hard staring at the kitchen door.

But then, slowly, he starts to laugh.

“nyeheheheh, ah hell, don’t worry about that,” he chuckles. “m’fine, you’re fine, everything’s fine. there’s just, uh…just somethin’ i wanna do.”

He stands up, looking determined.

You feel his hands on your shoulders and his teeth atop your head as he bends over you to give you a little skeleton-kiss.

“hang here a sec,” Papyrus says, and then he disappears into the kitchen after his brother.

-

Sans feels like this is going well.

It’s…possibly affecting him more than he thought, having Papyrus in the house again. He hasn’t let his guard down so many times in…

………

Has he ever…?

Well, even so!

It’s good!

You both seemed to enjoy the dinner—he’d have to pack some leftovers to send you off with—and the mountain pile of dishes would go quickly—they’d have to, since he didn’t want to keep you waiting long—and then with the pie to finish off…

“OH DAMMIT,” Sans grumbles to himself, abandoning the sink for a moment.

Naturally, he’d made dessert ahead of time, but pie was almost always better warm, everyone knew that.

Thank the stars he’d had the forethought to preheat the oven, too, so it’s especially easy to move the little tin from the counter to the rack and then turn right back around to—

“ACK!”

Sans is definitely letting his guard down too much.

He hadn’t even heard Papyrus come in and yet there his brother was, standing right in front of the sink…

…rolling up his sleeves?

“PAPYRUS, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” he demands.

“skydiving,” is Papyrus’ glib reply. “what’s it look like?”

Sans watches Papyrus pick up a dirty pan and a sponge and…

“YOU CAN’T WASH DISHES!” he definitely does not squawk, rushing forward. “YOU’RE THE GUEST!”

Papyrus’ elbow angles out, bumping him in the shoulder.

“you’ve barely lived here longer than me,” he says. “back off, m’doin’ the dishes.”

Sans…can’t really get any closer to the sink from here.

(To be fair, he absolutely could get closer to the sink, but with the way his brother keeps insistently nudging him away with those stupidly long limbs of his, he’d have to use force.)

(Sans has never been able to not pull his punches when it comes to Papyrus, no matter how annoying he’s being.)

But that’s fine: Sans doesn’t mind playing dirty.

“AND YOU JUST LEFT YOUR GIRLFRIEND IN THERE? ALONE?”

Papyrus is increasingly frustratingly blasé.

“she’s a big girl, she can kill fifteen minutes by herself.”

“THAT’S RUDE, PAPYRUS!”

“so, go entertain her, then.”

Sans opens his mouth to reply.

His retort dies on his metaphorical tongue a second later as he realizes what Papyrus said.

“I… WHAT?”

“you’re the host, right?” Papyrus prompts, raising his browbones expectantly.

“THAT… I…” Sans frowns, the full absurdity of the situation dawning on him. “WHY DO YOU WANT TO DO THE DISHES? YOU’VE NEVER DONE DISHES BEFORE!”

“probably got a lotta catchin’ up to do then, huh?”

“………”

It…it kinda pisses Sans off, how thrown he actually is by this.

He doesn’t…

Papyrus is…

This…

This is throwing off everything.

“I…I WAS JUST GOING TO DO THE DISHES AND BRING OUT PIE,” Sans says helplessly.

Papyrus perks up a little. “oh, cool, there’s pie?”

“YES, IN THE OVEN.”

“nice. i’ll bring it out when I’m done with these,” Papyrus says, still stubbornly cleaning.

“THAT’S—!”

Sans’ exclamation is cut off.

“you cooked. i’ll clean.” These statements appear to brook no argument. “now, go make sure my human doesn’t up and die of boredom out there in the meantime, alright?”

Sans continues to…hover.

Awkwardly.

“…YOU KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING, DON’T YOU?” he attempts to threaten. “GIVING ME FULL, UNSUPERVISED ACCESS? YOU KNOW WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN IF I GO OUT THERE.”

This should be the thing that wins Sans leverage; that makes Papyrus rediscover that one, tiny shred of shame he possesses somewhere deep down in his soul.

His brother’s common sense does not seem to want to kick in tonight.

“yeah, sure, whatever,” is all he says. “go bond over how much you love me, you big dumbass.”

And Sans…cannot actually come up with a better reply to that than, “WELL! MAYBE! I WILL!”

If his brother wants to do the dishes so damn badly, fine!

He was warned…

-

You’re not sure what to expect when you’re left sat at the empty dining room table for a few long, quiet minutes, hearing faint but unintelligible conversation in the kitchen.

But you sit at attention when Sans swans back through the door, grinning wickedly and asking, “SO, HOW WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE SOME BABYBONES PICTURES?”

If your eyes could turn to stars, you’re certain they would’ve at those words.

“Oh boy, would I,” you breathe.

You have a feeling that this night is about to go from ‘good’ to ‘great.’

-

Papyrus finishes up with the dishes and leaves them all to dry.

He rescues the pie from the oven and cuts a few slices. He even gets fancy with the plating and plops on a couple scoops of ice cream to really make the dessert great.

He takes a deep breath…

alright, he thinks to himself, here goes.

He walks out of the kitchen to find the dining room empty, and from the living room…

Giggling.

yeeeep.

Well, no point just standing here, might as well face the music now.

He heads into the living room to see the damage.

“…rstand why he even did that!” your delighted voice is asking.

Sans’ voice answers the question with, “MY FAULT, PROBABLY, THEY WERE SCENTED.”

You laugh loudly and Papyrus knows without a doubt that his brother is telling you all about the time he got a marker stuck up his nose.

…Not too bad, but just to be safe, he’ll assume you’ve already heard a few other dumb stories about him too, each with visual aids.

You look up from the photo album you’re bent over when Papyrus walks in, your entire face lighting up at the sight of him.

Stars, you really are beautiful, and he finds himself smiling right back at you.

Even when the first words out of your mouth are, “‘Rus, Sans can’t remember which marker it was and it’s red—was it cherry or watermelon?”

“cherry,” he says, coming to sit beside you on the couch and distributing the plates. “is this gonna be more interesting than the pie?”

“Yes,” you reply with utmost sincerity and his soul thrums with affection for you—so much that he has to sling his arm around you and pull you to his side just to feel your soft warmth next to him.

“so i can have yours, then?” he asks, slowly reaching for the plate he’d sat in front of you.

You snatch it right up and hold it away from him protectively.

“You’ve learned nothing from the potatoes,” you say, and from your other side, Sans chimes in with, “INVEST IN A SPRAY BOTTLE.”

Papyrus smiles.

He finds himself thinking something that…probably doesn’t make a lot of sense.

i missed this.

Sans, sure. Their home, definitely.

But you’re new.

You’re new, but you still fit into it all so seamlessly that it almost feels like you should’ve been here all along and that this is what it should be like.

Yeah… yeah, Papyrus can absolutely see a future with you, cohabitating and collars and everything.

But there’s no rush.

He’s…

You’re both going to take this at your own speed, and if it’s anything like all those other great moments he’s had with you, Papyrus knows it’s going to be amazing…

-

Over pie, you get to look at a whole album’s worth of babybones pictures, with all the cute stories to go with them.

Little Papyrus was positively adorable, even through carefully documented, bawling tantrums over ‘no cookies before dinner’ rules and ‘bedtime is not three AM’ lectures.

You’d guess that Sans was the one taking most of these pictures, so it makes sense that you don’t see much of him, but there are a few you stumble across that Papyrus took—presumably around the time he became old enough to hold a camera and sneak it from wherever his brother kept it.

It seems that Sans was often very serious-looking for a child, especially in candid shots where he clearly didn’t know he was being photographed. You’re not sure you totally like the implications of that, since in all this, there doesn’t seem to be any kind of parental figure in the picture…

You especially don’t like the implications of a shot of Sans donning his Royal Guardsman uniform, looking teenaged at the absolute oldest.

But… you do smile at all the photos of the brothers together.

Sans looks a little softer in those ones, like the cute kid he probably was, even with Papyrus hanging off of him and holding the camera at a clumsy angle to snap selfies of them doing whatever they happened to be doing.

It makes you feel warm inside, knowing that…even in the midst of everything terrible they must’ve gone through Underground, they still got to have nice moments like these.

Probably not enough, but…they did have them, and that makes you glad.

“…I DON’T KNOW, THOUGH, I STILL THINK MY FAVORITE IS THE MARKER,” Sans is saying. “IT WAS SUCH A COLORFUL EXPERIENCE, HEHEHEHEH!”

Papyrus groans aloud.

“no,” he says, “don’t start, not in front of her…”

Sans’ grin takes a turn for the sadistic.

“SHE’S SMILING,” he points out.

And so you are.

Dismay visibly flits over Papyrus’ face.

“OH, BROTHER,” Sans gasps, faux-sympathetic, “DID YOU NOT KNOW? YOUR DATEMATE IS A WOMAN OF TASTE: SHE LIKES PUNS.”

You get the puppy-dog eye-sockets on full-blast.

“oh baby, no,” he all but pouts. “say it ain’t so…please…”

You bite your lip.

The temptation is…far too great.

You’re only human.

“That’s not gonna be a problem, is it?” you wonder. “I thought you had pretty thick skin about jokes…”

“nooooooooooooooooo…”

Papyrus slumps over on the couch, looking slain.

His brother, by contrast, is unreservedly delighted.

“I DON’T KNOW WHAT HIS PROBLEM IS,” Sans admits. “I GUESS CERTAIN THINGS JUST DON’T TICKLE HIS FUNNY BONE.”

“Pfft…I don’t know why, I thought it was pretty humerus.”

“MAYBE HE JUST DOESN’T HAVE THE STOMACH FOR IT?”

“Aww, go easy on him, he’s starting to look a little rattl—mphf!”

Papyrus is…

Papyrus is actually, physically trying to cover your mouth.

You abandon your terrible joke immediately, laughing and throwing your arms around him in an apologetic embrace.

You even kiss him on the cheek for good measure!

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” you say through your snickers. “Do you still love me?”

Papyrus sighs deeply.

…but he also leans a little more heavily on you, draping over you affectionately.

“i guess,” he mumbles and you think you can live with that.

-

All told, you have a lovely evening.

Sans is a great host and it made you really happy to see the two of them just hanging out and getting along—and getting to be part of it yourself.

You’re pretty sorry to say goodbye at the end of the night, and since your skeleton friend and boyfriend don’t look all that happy about it, either…

You take it upon yourself to smile at Sans while you stand in the doorway and tell him, “This was really fun, we’ll have to do something else sometime!”

Sans seems to brighten a little at the suggestion.

“OH, YES, ABSOLUTELY! MAYBE WE’LL HAVE DINNER AT YOUR PLACE NEXT TIME.”

You think of the pathetically tiny apartment that Papyrus is about to walk you back to, from this large and beautiful home you’ve been visiting.

Definitely not! is what you think, and, “Yeah, maybe!” is what you say. “Or whatever—I’m up for anything, really, I bet there’s a lot of stuff we could all do together!”

“sounds good to me,” Papyrus agrees, and Sans nods.

“WELL, THAT’S WHAT THE GROUP CHAT IS FOR, I SUPPOSE, WE’LL HASH SOMETHING OUT WHEN OUR SCHEDULES ARE FREE AGAIN.”

Sans bids the two of you a good evening and eventually, you and Papyrus are walking off into the night.

A few blocks away, Papyrus looks at you and says, “that went well…right?”

You smile.

“Yeah,” you decide, “I think it did!”

Chapter Text

It…well and truly sucks that, even with so much good going on in your life, it doesn’t take all that much to dampen your mood.

And there is a lot of good!

You have a sweet and devoted boyfriend. You have what you think is shaping up to be a pretty good friend in his brother. Your work…

Well, work sucks, but mostly just in the sense that it makes it difficult to see either of them as much as you think you’d like to.

Papyrus is easy enough, setting his own hours and matching them to yours, but you’re pretty sure that Sans may be a workaholic with how full his schedule seems and how hard it is to make it align right with yours.

After that delightful evening at his place, you’re looking forward to seeing him again—Sans is a lot more fun than you’d ever have guessed—but you and the brothers have just been going back and forth for days in the group chat about what to do and when without resolution.

The bright side of this, naturally, is your front row seat to the show.

Sans: NO, I’D RATHER DUST.

Rus: you are so friggin dramatic

Sans: THE BOOK IS BETTER!

Rus: it literally just came out, how can you know that

Sans: BECAUSE THE BOOK IS ALWAYS BETTER!

Rus: so you won’t even negotiate

Sans: NO.

Rus: okay

Rus: so that’s two tickets for me and you, angel, and we can sneak in sans’ dust in your bag

Me: In a jar, right? I don’t want him all over my stuff…

Rus: yeah, no, obviously

Sans: YOU’RE BOTH HEARTLESS AND DESERVE EACH OTHER COMPLETELY.

Me: Awww, thanks, Sans, that’s sweet! :)

Rus: i learned it from watching you

Sans: 🖕

Sans: WHY ARE YOU SO SET ON THAT FILM, ANYWAY? THERE ARE OTHER MOVIES THAT AREN’T TERRIBLE RIP-OFFS OF GOOD BOOKS!

Me: Not at 10PM on a weeknight there’s not, lol

Sans: OH, WELL, EXCUSE ME FOR BEING IN VITAL SERVICE TO MY KINGDOM TOO LATE FOR YOUR HUMAN MOVIE THEATERS TO ACCOMMODATE.

Rus: you’re excused

Me: Omg

Rus: for now

Sans: YOU’RE ON THIN ICE, PAPYRUS!

Rus: no u

Me: Whoa, whoa, them’s fightin’ words, fellas! Maybe we should come up with something else?

That’s the point where you set your phone down, your attention momentarily needed elsewhere.

Whether it’s a movie or something else entirely, you don’t think it matters what you guys do—you just know it’ll be fun.

Optimism is easy to come by when you’re happy!

Your phone buzzes again.

Already smiling, you pick it up, wondering which skeleton has replied to your suggestion.

???: You can’t keep avoiding me like this.

And just like that…

There goes your optimism.

-

It doesn’t stop there.

You block the new number immediately, of course you do, but apparently he’s got a real hair up his ass about something because over the next couple of days, more keep coming in.

???: I know you’re still mad, I get it, but don’t you think…

You don’t finish reading that.

Block. Delete. Ignore.

And then another.

???: I just want to talk, can you stop trying to block me?

No.

No, you can’t.

Not that it seems to be doing you much good, and you don’t know how he’s doing that, but you guess there’s ways to get around a blocked number if you don’t give a shit about somebody’s boundaries.

Still, you try it again.

Block. Delete. Ignore.

Predictably, it’s not the end.

???: I miss you.

“Oh, I fucking bet you do,” you hiss at your phone as soon as the message pops up.

Even knowing it’s futile, you go through the motions, again.

Block. Delete. Ignore.

For a little while, nothing.

You almost fool yourself into thinking he’s gotten the picture—that it’s over, that you’re angry, that you don’t want to talk to him—but really…

You know better.

It’s still a surprise when your turn your phone back on one morning and the screen lights up, revealing…

Missed Notifications

Mail, 2h ago
asdfjkl987
Sweetheart, please
I’ve changed, we can work this out. I can talk t…

Oh, stars above, he found your email?

You flag it as spam on instinct, faster than thought, wishing you hadn’t seen even as much of that message as you had.

He’s ‘changed.’

Sure.

Like you’d never heard that one before.

Fool me once, you think sourly.

Or twice…thrice…you don’t know what comes after ‘thrice.’

You’d decided, a long time ago, that you were never going to fall for it again.

He was never going to change, and even if you were wrong about that, there was too much between you now to ever ‘work it out.’

After what he did, once it was all over…

If you ever see his face again, after everything, it’ll be too damn soon.

You’re with somebody else now anyway, somebody who cares about you, somebody who loves you, who doesn’t…

Who doesn’t………

…mind if you come over, unannounced, for a little TLC…?

Stars, that sounds fantastic right about now, you think, and just like that, you’re decided.

You gather your stuff and head out, hoping… knowing you’ll feel better once you’re in Papyrus’ arms.

And maybe then, you can decide what to do about this campaign of bullshit spewing from your ex.

-

“…hy would I do that, Papyrus? I’m being, snrk, totally serious right now! The dub is great, definitely the, haha, the best version!”

Papyrus fought not to roll his eye-lights.

“somehow i don’t believe you,” he mutters at Undyne. “stick to trollin’ me on the undernet, you actually have a shot there.”

As far as jibes go, it’s pretty mild, but in his own defense, his metaphorical heart’s not really in it.

Papyrus doesn’t really know why he called her instead of just texting…

Except that you haven’t been answering your phone very much for a couple of days…and neither has Sans…

You’re busy, he knows you are, but he still misses you when you don’t talk.

Both of you.

And…

And maybe, also, something’s been weighing on his mind a little, something he couldn’t really bring up with you guys anyway.

Their whole relationship may boil down to sporadic texting and online trolling, but Undyne really is someone Papyrus would call a friend.

So…maybe he should stop beating around the bush?

“Aw, you’re no fun,” she’s grumbling at him over the line. “So, it’s super-terrible and the worst thing you’ll ever see, does that mean you shouldn’t—”

“hey, so, like, what…what d’you talk about with your therapist?” Papyrus blurts out.

………

The brief silence makes him wince.

mm…coulda been more delicate with that, he realizes—much like he realizes most of the awkward things he says—far too late.

“…Papyrus.”

“……yeah?”

“Are you seriously asking me that? You expect me to just, what…spill all my deeply personal mental health issues to you over the phone? ‘cause you’re curious?”

Papyrus winces harder.

That sounds…pretty awful.

He tries to explain himself, backtracking a little.

“…i…i mean, not…i don’t need…details, or…”

…Nope, still sounded awful out loud.

“shit…i-i’m sorry, i di—”

Undyne suddenly begins to cackle on the other end of the line.

“Fuhuhuhuhu, you dumbass!”

……what.

She snickers audibly, wondering, “What, did you really think I was mad?! Oh my god, haha! Still think I suck at trolling now?”

Papyrus exhales in a whoosh, going limp against the couch.

“fuck, ‘dyne,” is all he can say, which is just as well.

Undyne continues to laugh for at least a solid minute.

“Ohhhhh jeez, you’re so easy, dude, I love it. I don’t care—it’s just the usual crap everybody’s got, survivor’s guilt and PTSD, and Lara thinks maybe I’m dealing with some internalized inadequacy issues too, about, y’know…stuff? She’s probably right but I’m not ready to admit it yet, y’know? Like when they’ve got a point but you’re not done thinking about it, one of those things.”

If Papyrus had eyebrows, they’d be sky-high about now.

“…oh. o-okay, yeah, no, that’s…that’s cool… thanks!”

“Why do you ask?” she says, and…

Frankly, Papyrus could not be any less prepared to answer a question than that one.

How to explain the conflicting thoughts beginning to swirl around in his skull?

How to describe, out loud, in any sort of concise and coherent way the confusing jumble of confidence and creeping doubt he’d started to have, every time he thought of his own therapist?

Papyrus…liked Dirk.

…Inasmuch as you can like somebody you’re paying to be there, at least.

Dirk gave him advice, a plan, a push to follow through…and when it worked out, he said nice things and made Papyrus feel validated.

Like he was doing good.

So… that was good, right?

Except that… you had said…

Well.

You said a couple of things. Made a couple choice faces, too.

You don’t like Dirk, or at least you don’t think he’s doing what he’s supposed to do, and that’s been making Papyrus wonder.

It’s not like he or monsterkind in general had ever had a therapist before. He has no context for what they’re supposed to be like, but you, a human… a good human at that, you would know, right?

And based on your reaction when moving in together had come up so soon, Dirk had definitely not been right about that.

Papyrus has a feeling that if he hadn’t elected to follow his own judgment and thoughtlessly sprung that conversation on you, you might’ve gotten really upset.

He didn’t like that.

But at the same time, it isn’t as if there was nothing Dirk had been right about.

Having his own apartment for awhile, learning to do stuff on his own… all that had been really good… really good!

The sight of Sans actually sitting down for once, practically relaxing even though there were chores he wasn’t doing—because Papyrus was the one doing them instead—was…

That’s gonna stick with him awhile.

Papyrus had hoped hearing from somebody else might make the half-formed questions in his mind a little clearer, but even after asking Undyne, all he can think is, dirk’s never talked about that stuff, and wonder what it all means.

To Undyne, he says, “ah, don’t worry about it, just…just curious, i guess,” and resolves to just…keep thinking it over.

He’s got plenty of time for it between now and their next appointment anyway.

“Oh, ‘just curious’?” Undyne scoffs at him, obviously disbelieving. “Papyrus, you’re the worst liar ever, you know that, right?”

But sass and sarcasm is something Papyrus is almost always prepared for, and his retort is already on the tip of his nonexistent tongue.

“nuh-uh, i told you that ugly dog-dress looked good and you believed me.”

Undyne sputters.

“Wh—my limited edition racerback screen-printed Wan-Wan meido dress?! You bitch, I wore that on my third date with Alphys!!!”

“i know, it was hilarious.”

“Well! Jokes on you, funnybones, I got laid on that date, so…”

Undyne says more words.

Papyrus doesn’t really hear them, because there’s a pretty loud knock on his front door.

Your knock.

He sits upright on the couch, already smiling.

“okay, yeah, whatever, ‘dyne, i gotta go, chat later.”

“What! Don’t—”

Papyrus doesn’t hear her tell him not to hang up on her, too busy hanging up on her and heading for the door to greet you.

There you are!

He says your name with all the affection he has in his soul for you.

Papyrus is pretty sure he’s never gonna get tired of seeing you smile…even if it does look like a tired one.

“Hey, Rus,” you say, reaching for him and as always, he is happy to oblige with a hug. You sag right into him, faceplanting into his chest. “Stars, I missed you…”

“ditto, angel.” He squeezes you a little tighter, tugging you inside. “what’s the occasion? long day?”

Not that he really cared—he’d accept ‘saw a donut commercial and thought of you’ as an excuse for your visit, probably.

You pull back a little, pretending to look offended. “What? I can’t come see my boyfriend ‘just because’?”

And then, one of Papyrus’ favorite things happens.

Those moments when, with no conscious thought of his own, he somehow manages to say exactly the right thing that woos you.

“you can always come to me,” he says, and your whole expression goes soft.

“…It…it was a long week,” you admit. “I’m just…really happy to see you.”

If that’s not the most mutual thing…

Papyrus reaches down, adjusting his grip and scooping you up into his arms.

Your startled squeak makes him want to laugh for how cute it is, but he tries not to show his amusement.

You obviously came here to get loved on and he’s ready to do his duty.

Papyrus carries you back over to the couch, flopping down into the warm spot he’d just vacated. It’s easy to drape you over his chest, and the feeling of your soft body squirming to get situated is delightful in a hundred different ways; even better when you find your sweet spot and just melt against him, all comfy and pleased.

He has to bend a little bit to nuzzle your head, but the happy sigh you let out is utterly worth it.

never thought in a million years, i’d get this lucky…

Which is…sad, but true.

Less sad now, though, that he very clearly is this lucky—getting to have moments like these with you, the warm and wonderful human that made him so happy, and who let him cuddle her all the time without shoving him away or telling him he was too clingy.

Papyrus is so…happy right now.

At peace.

…which is probably why it’s so incredibly noticeable when there’s a buzz between the two of you, and your whole body locks up.

what the fuck, is Papyrus’ first thought.

He looks at you and you don’t look back, which is almost as concerning as how tense you’ve suddenly become.

From…what? Your phone?

“………whoa,” he says at length, with just a touch of humor. “s’work buggin’ you, or…?”

You just turn your head right into his sternum, hiding your face.

Your answer is a muffled, “I wish it was work,” which doesn’t really answer his question.

Papyrus hasn’t even opened his mouth to ask again, though, before you’re saying something else.

Something that makes him go still.

“My ex got ahold of my number.”

Papyrus sits up.

You slide down a bit, into his lap, but he steadies you and fixes you with a look of concern.

“he’s still bothering you?” he demands asks.

The look on your face—tired and distressed—is not promising.

“wh…hasn’t it been, like…years since…? what the hell does he…”

Papyrus isn’t really sure how coherent his half-formed questions are. The heavy little ball of dread and anxiety that dropped into his soul with this new information is surprisingly distracting.

“He hasn’t had my number in years,” you say on an exhausted sigh. “Somebody… well, it doesn’t matter, I don’t… I’m not talking to him, I don’t care what he wants.”

Papyrus does.

“is he… does he…want you back?”

He scoffs at himself the moment he asks it.

Of course your ex wants you back—who the hell wouldn’t?

Sure enough, you nod, and only the sheer distress and distaste in your expression stop him from getting really worried.

You won’t go back to this guy; not ever, that much is obvious.

“This is… he always did this,” you start to explain, shaking your head angrily. “Every time we… when there was a, a fight, or a…he’d just…pester me until I heard him out and, and then pretend the…whatever never even happened! He just…!”

You make a noise of frustration.

Papyrus wraps his arm around your shoulders instinctively, stroking at your arm.

It seems to help, a little.

You relax against him, still tense but no longer rigid.

A defeated little, “I just…wish he’d let me forget about him already…” escapes your lips and Papyrus…

Well, he’s not sure what comes over him at that.

“you want me to beat him up?”

“………”

You snort audibly, looking at him like you can’t believe what you just heard.

(Honestly, Papyrus isn’t sure he believes it himself.)

“What? No,” you practically giggle. “You don’t have to beat anybody up!”

“i…i could,” he insists. “if you…wanted me to?”

Not that Papyrus wants to get in a fight; not that he’s ever wanted to get into a fight, or do any of the awful things he had to do Underground to get by ever again, now that he was out.

But faced with this: with somebody making you so upset…

“……Hahaha…hahahahaha! Oh jeez, baby, that’s, that’s really sweet!”

Oh, well…

If he can bring your smile back without having to beat somebody up, Papyrus thinks that’s all the better.

You lean up a little, pressing your lips to his teeth in a sweet little peck of gratitude.

“It’s… it’s okay, ‘Rus, I’m alright, I just…gotta change my number again, I guess. Get a new email. Et cetera.”

“you can’t just block him?”

You huff. “I’ve been trying but I dunno, he’s…getting around it, somehow. I’m not about to ask him how.”

Probably for the best, not to engage, yeah.

“It’s a pain to do all that, but if it’s the only thing that’ll make him stop…”

It takes a minute…

But eventually, Papyrus feels a lightbulb click on, somewhere above his skull.

“…what if it isn’t?” he proposes.

You blink up at him, confused, but now the gears are turning.

Maybe Papyrus can’t do more for you than cuddle the living daylights out of you (which he is more than happy to do). You don’t want him to go beat anybody up, and he’s not nearly good enough with tech to be able to help you block someone who refused to be blocked.

But that last part…

Maybe he knows someone else who can help you instead.

Ignoring your increasingly perplexed stare, Papyrus gets out his phone.

There’s a certain fish he owes a call back….

-

When Papyrus has a short conversation right in front of you and then sweeps you up onto your feet and out the door, saying, “c’mon, baby, field trip!” you are…not entirely sure what to think.

He explains for you, on the way, that you’re going to see his friend, Undyne—he’s mentioned her before, he thinks, mostly Undernet friends—and that she’s a real whiz with tech. She owes him a favor anyway, and if anybody can fix your blocking problem, it’ll be her.

It sounds like a plan to you!

…Though, of course, you…haven’t actually met very many monsters… and your first impressions of the ones you have met weren’t…exactly…

Mmm.

But!

Your second or third impressions were pretty okay overall, and Papyrus would be with you, so ultimately you think that the thing you’re feeling as you walk up to a cozy, cornflower-blue house is ‘excitement.’

You won’t entirely rule out ‘nervousness,’ though…

No time to dwell on it.

Papyrus is already knocking on the door.

It swings open almost immediately, revealing the monster you have to assume is Undyne.

She’s tall, at least as tall as Papyrus, with deep cobalt scales in place of skin and bright red hair tied back into a bun. The eyes hidden behind her glasses are equally vibrant, yellow and sharp…just like the teeth she bares at the two of you in the biggest grin you’ve ever seen.

“Papyrus!” she exclaims, and…

“ghhk!”

Oh.

Oh dear…

Your boyfriend…appears to be in a headlock now.

“You fucking goober,” the fish lady says. “You think you can hang up on me and get away with it? Huh? No consequences???”

“…don’t…noogie me,” Papyrus manages to eke out.

“Oh, I got half a mind, buddy!”

He turns to you, with his best puppy-dog eye-sockets.

“babe, please help…”

Your eyebrows shoot up in disbelief.

“Me? What am I supposed to do?!”

Apparently nothing—Undyne releases Papyrus the moment you speak, letting him stagger back over to your side.

And now, her attention is squarely on you.

“‘Babe,’” she echoes. “So, you’re the girlfriend?”

You’re not sure how to answer that, other than, “Uhhh…yeah?”

Undyne whistles.

“Wow…” She looks at Papyrus for a moment, and then back to you. “You know you’re way out of this dork’s league, right?”

“…Snrk.”

“hey,” Papyrus protests, slipping his arm back around your shoulders, “she hasn’t figured that out yet, don’t tell her, damn…”

“Pfft…”

“Fuhuhuhuhu, yeah, alright, whatever!” Undyne laughs, rolling her eyes. “C’mon in, no point standing on the stoop all day.”

You enter the lovely little home, led past a variety of little touches that give you some idea of the person that lives here—a piano in the foyer, a giant axe against a wall, a frankly startling amount of anime posters and wall-scrolls—and Undyne begins to…

Well, you think ‘interrogate’ might be too strong a word…

But you can’t think of a more appropriate one for the kinds of questions she starts asking you, the very second proper introductions are out of the way.

“So, human, huh?”

“Um…yeah, all my life.”

“That’s crazy, I hardly ever meet humans.”

I could say the same about monsters! you think, but don’t get a chance to say.

“Is it true that you guys make four pints of saliva in a day?”

“…Uh. I…maybe?”

“What about your intestines? I read that if you removed them and stretched them out, they’d be almost nine meters long. Have you measured yours?”

“W…well, if you read it, I guess it’s…probably true?” you guess. “I’ve never, uh…taken mine out, so…”

“Oh right, that’s fatal for you, I always forget! You humans have so many moving parts, it’s hard to keep track of it all. I’d really love to do some of my own research someday, though.”

You…are not sure what to make of this.

You settle yourself a little further into Papyrus’ gentle grip and ask, “Research?”

She turns briefly to explain, “Oh, I’m a scientist—the Royal Scientist, actually. Did Papyrus not tell you?”

“No, that, uh… that never came up, I guess. That sounds…interesting!”

…and also makes you wonder, just a little, if Undyne, with her creepy questions, may have some secret desire to dissect you, or…?

Sense kicks in eventually, of course.

Mostly when Papyrus squeezes your shoulders, reassuringly.

You know with certainty that he wouldn’t have brought you here if he thought you would be in danger around his friend, and even if you were

Papyrus may not be much of a fighter, but you know he’s tough; you’ve seen his scars, and his strength, and his little reality-bending tricks.

You feel safe with him here.

You’ll just…write Undyne off as a…very curious person with little to no filter and probably no intention of trying to see your organs.

“Yeah,” Undyne says about her job, “it pays the bills, I guess,” and then you’re entering a room at the back of the house filled with…

Things beyond your pay-grade of understanding, that’s for sure: glowing monitors and tools and circuit boards that look nothing at all like human technology.

Undyne grins again, puffing out her chest with pride.

“Welcome to my lair!” she proclaims, flopping backwards into a computer chair. “Let’s see the problem.”

You take it that this is your cue.

You take out your phone, unlocking it to the message screen and passing it over.

“I, uh…I’m trying to block this guy,” you tell her. “It’s…it’s not taking, though, and I don’t know what to do.”

Undyne pokes around on your phone a bit.

Makes a face.

“Yeesh. What a tool.”

Accurate, you think.

“Well, you’re in luck, human, this is a real easy fix!”

Now, that perks you up. “Is it?”

“Yep!”

Undyne blindly swats around on her work-table for…some kind of tool, popping open the casing of your phone.

“Real obvious one, too,” she elaborates, fiddling around with…something. “See, you humans, you don’t do the blocking right—you bar the IP address, or the phone number, or whatever. You gotta go right to the source if you really want to make sure somebody can’t get at you.”

“The source…?”

From beside you, Papyrus chimes in, “the soul.”

“Yeah, exactly! Only problem is, human tech sucks more than monster tech, can’t even pick up soul signatures, much less analyze them.”

She tsks, but continues to stay focused on whatever she’s doing to your phone.

“Like I said, though, easy fix, especially for me!”

Away goes the tool, back on goes your phone’s case, and in laughably short order, Undyne is holding it out to you with a smug smile on her face.

“There you go! Gave you a nice little upgrade,” she proclaims. “You’re good to go.”

That was fast!

You can’t quite believe it.

“I am?”

“Mmhmm, that dude can use any device, number, login, or proxy that he wants to try and talk to you, but now your phone’ll recognize him and it won’t go through. An actually effective block—you’re welcome.”

The relief that washes over you is…

You don’t know that there’s words.

“Thank you!”

You feel Papyrus bending down again, pressing a congratulatory nuzzle to the top of your head, and it just makes you ride even higher on the wave of oh, thank fuck that you’re feeling.

“Can I… I mean, what do I owe you? For the work, I mean?”

Undyne smiles, her gaze intense.

“I’d love a real live human blood sample.”

You freeze, your eyes widening.

Undyne then bursts out laughing.

“Fuhuhuhuhu, I’m kidding!” she says. “Stars, you’re almost as gullible as Papyrus… No charge, that was nothing for me, seriously.”

“O-oh, haha!”

Phew!

“Unless…?”

“………”

Undyne laughs even louder that time.

“Nah, nah, I’m definitely kidding, relax!”

You are…not particularly convinced of this.

You have a feeling that Undyne would probably actually be thrilled if you gave her some of your blood, but unfortunately for her, your gratitude for the phone-fix is not such that you’re about to give up your bodily fluids to a near-stranger.

“Besides, you already got Papyrus out of the house and over here. That’s all the payment I need!”

You don’t follow.

You glance up at Papyrus with a questioning look, only to see a defeated one on his face.

“Uh…what payment?”

Papyrus just sighs.

“yes. the dog-girl show.”

Undyne promptly flings something at Papyrus’ head.

“It’s called Wan-Wan Smoochie Sweetie, and I warned you what would happen if you ever left your hermit-cave and wandered into mine—we’re marathoning.”

Papyrus looks utterly miserable at this, but you are still…very confused.

“What’s…‘Wan-Wan Smoochie Sweetie’?”

Undyne gasps dramatically.

Papyrus winces.

“baby, i’m so sorry for what you’re about to suffer through—”

“Shut your mouth, Papyrus!” Undyne snaps, whirling on you with an intense stare. “Wan-Wan Smoochie Sweetie is a masterpiece of Japanese animation and if you have not seen it, you have not lived!”

Wow.

“It’s…really that good?”

“no—”

“Yes!” Her scales darken in what you can only assume is a blush, a sparkle entering her eye as she fiddles with the lacy yellow choker around her neck. “My wife and I watch it all the time, it’s how we met…”

Oh! Well…

That eases an insecurity you hadn’t even realized you’d had…

You suppose you…can’t really say no? After how she’d helped you…

No matter how godawful it is, based on Papyrus’ reaction.

“I…guess we could stay for a few…episodes?” you pose hesitantly.

The right answer, apparently.

Undyne looks downright giddy, leaping up from her chair and dragging you both into another room.

“This’ll be great!” she says. “A regular girls’ night!”

“………uh. hello?”

She waves a dismissive hand at Papyrus.

“You don’t count.”

Papyrus just spreads his hands at her, in the universal gesture of ‘what the fuck?’

You laugh, snagging Papyrus’ arm and patting it.

“It’s okay, ‘Rus, you’re plenty manly.”

“Oof, human, have you had your eyes checked lately? I think you’re supposed to do it every couple of years…”

“have you had your head examined lately?” Papryus retorts. “i think you’re supposed to do that every couple of months when you’re a mad scientist.”

“Oh, name one ‘mad’ thing I’ve ever done!”

“obsess over baby-cartoons and make me watch ‘em, too.”

“Anime is not just for kids! It’s deep and emotional, you dingus!”

Regardless, you and Papyrus settle in with Undyne for a night of anime.

Definitely not what you thought you’d be doing tonight, but…you’re far from unhappy about it.

Even when there’s things going on in your life that are…not so great…it seems like you’ve got some really great people around to help you through it.

More great people all the time.

And as you’re soon to find out, they’re not done proving that just yet.

-

It’s late.

It’s stupidly late, and normally, Sans would be thoroughly unconscious already, having shortcutted straight home from the Embassy and collapsed into bed, but…

Who hasn’t fallen into the insidious trap of ‘just one’ level of a phone game, at least once?

Well, it doesn’t really matter why he’s awake, just that he is when his phone rings and your contact info appears on the screen.

He sits up and answers the call.

“HELLO…?”

Your voice on the other end of the line is distant, like you have him on speaker.

“…t are you doing, give it back!”

The other voice is much closer.

“no, hang on, just lemme—hey bro.”

If Sans wasn’t very awake before, he certainly is now.

“PAPYRUS? WHAT’S WRONG?”

ARE YOU SAFE? WHAT’S HAPPENING? WHERE ARE YOU? WHAT DO YOU NEED?

All questions he pointedly bites back, needing to actually hear what Papyrus is saying.

Thankfully, that’s, “nothin’, we’re fine, chill,” and Sans does…chill. A little.

This is still a very unusual thing to be happening, though, and he can’t help but point that out.

“WHY ARE YOU STEALING YOUR HUMAN’S PHONE TO CALL ME?”

“I have the same question!” There’s a bit of grunting, the whoosh of air past the speaker. “Get down here, ‘Rus, what the—”

“shh, you chill too, angel, this’ll be quick, promise.”

Indistinct shifting noises—a gesture of affection, Sans will presume.

“i want her to hear this, too,” Papyrus says into the phone. “wanted to ask you a favor.”

“YES…?”

“you’re better than me at this stuff… can you…find somebody? an’ make sure he stays…wherever the hell he is?”

“What? Papyrus, what are y—”

“OF COURSE,” Sans replies over you. “EASILY.”

Keeping tabs on persons of interest was one of the easiest things he did Underground: it just didn’t do to have serious threats and dangers wandering around unobserved, with no way to be prepared for them.

Sans never thought Papyrus paid much attention to what his older brother did to protect them both.

Apparently, he had, which was…surprisingly validating too much to analyze at this hour, with you and Papyrus still on the line.

The only relevant question now is, “WHO?”

“her ex.”

“What?! ‘Rus, c’mon, don’t, ugh, give me the phone! Sans, ignore him, I don’t know wh— ”

“IS HE HARASSING YOU?”

“No—”

“yeah,” Papyrus cuts in. “all week, i think. we just got back from undyne’s, so that’s, y’know, half the problem solved, but… i don’t like her gettin’ messed with. don’t want him thinkin’ maybe he’ll have better luck face-to-face if he can’t get at her phone anymore, y’know?”

“Oh stars, Papyrus,” you chide, clear embarrassment in your voice. “It’s…it’s fine, it’s all fine now, you don’t have to get Sans involved! Sans! Don’t listen to him, he’s ridiculous, I don’t know why he’d call you over som—”

“NO.”

“…What?”

“NO, NO, HE WAS EXACTLY RIGHT TO CALL, THIS IS VERY MUCH SOMETHING I WANT TO KNOW ABOUT.”

Sans rolls out of bed, shortcutting over to his file cabinet—physical paper, impossible to hack—and rifling through folders.

“NATURALLY, YOU’RE UNDER MY PROTECTION AS WELL—”

“Wh…I am?!”

“OBVIOUSLY,” Sans scoffs.

Had you not been paying attention, that day at Muffet’s? Every monster alive probably knew that you were protected by now, thanks to the ever-reliable rumor mill.

It was really the greatest most anxiety-inducing tragedy of surfacing that humans didn’t have the same systems, the same awareness to just understand these things…

But that was no matter.

Sans didn’t have to keep track of every human on the planet earth for you—just the specific one bothering you right now.

He grins triumphantly as he finds exactly the file he’s looking for, propping his phone against his clavicle to properly peruse it.

…Hm.

He’d really been slacking on this one, hadn’t he? Far too focused on you, at the time, to do the due diligence on your peripheral contacts.

Ah well, it was a start, he’d build on it!

Flipping through the sparse pages in the file, he tries to assuage your clear agitation, distractedly muttering, “REALLY, DEAR, IT’S NO DIFFICULT TASK TO MONITOR A THREAT TO YOU, I DON’T KNOW WHY YOU’RE PROTESTING SO MUCH.”

You just sputter a moment.

“Because! He’s not a threat!” you exclaim. “He’s! An ass, yeah, but…but! This is too much, you don’t need to…surveil him, he’s not, he wasn’t some…violent psycho, or—”

“HE HURT YOU?”

Sans hears you pause.

It’s barely any time at all, an easily missed silence…but he catches it, loud and clear.

Even when you quickly rush to say, “Not like that!”, he knows what you meant and his mind is made up.

“HE HURT YOU,” he concludes decisively. “THEREFORE, HE SHOULDN’T BE ANYWHERE NEAR YOU. YOU DECIDED THE SAME, DIDN’T YOU? WHEN YOU CAME TO EBOTT?”

There’s…a long pause on the other end of the line.

“…baby? what’s wrong?”

Your voice is quiet when you speak again, maybe even a little…pained?

“You…you don’t even know him,” you say. “You never…how, how do you even know that… he was the one—”

“i don’t have to know him to know i like you better, angel,” Papyrus murmurs, softly and full of feeling. “m’on your side. always will be.”

At the risk of interrupting a touching moment, Sans throws in his two-cents, as well.

“HUMAN… I MAY NOT KNOW WHAT…HAPPENED, IN YOUR PAST…BUT I’M FAIRLY CERTAIN I DON’T NEED TO.” He quirks at smile, attempting to inject a bit of levity. “IF YOU’VE MANAGED TO FORGIVE ME FOR MY ABOMINABLE BEHAVIOR AND NOT HIM AND WHATEVER HE DID, I CAN ONLY IMAGINE THAT HE’S JUST UNFORGIVABLE.”

“yeah, probably,” Papyrus agrees. “…integrity soul, y’know.”

“REALLY? …HM. THAT EXPLAINS A LOT.”

“…Ha…hahaha…” Your tight swallow is so loud that even Sans can hear it. “You…have an awful lot of faith in me for somebody who tried to give me a heart attack the first time we met…”

Sans huffs out a quiet laugh.

“I HAVE NEVER BEEN MORE WRONG ABOUT SOMEONE IN MY LIFE,” he says sincerely. “AND I’M GLAD I WAS.”

Sans likes you.

Because you’re good to his brother, of course, because you make Papyrus happy and all the good things that come with that…

But also…just because.

You’re a lovely woman with a great sense of humor, warm and open and forgiving…but he’d seen glimpses beneath the surface, to the steel-solid core of you, and you were so much stronger than you looked.

Sans…admired that, about you.

He likes you, and wants you around, and was thoroughly put out when you’d abruptly stopped responding in the group chat and never answered his brilliant and perfect idea for a group activity.

There’s a word in his mind when he thinks of you—one he’d always taken very seriously—and…maybe it doesn’t fit you perfectly yet, but… he feels like it could.

Like it probably will.

And like you would be very happy to hear it right now.

Sans says your name. And then…

“YOU’RE PRACTICALLY FAMILY.”

A sharp inhale of breath.

Sans nearly does the same when Papyrus quickly follows it up with, “family’s important—we look out for our own.”

Words he’d said to his little brother verbatim Underground, when they were only kids…

Apparently, it had made an impression.

It must make some kind of impression on you, too, because the next thing Sans hears is a watery, emotional, “You guys…” that puts an amused smile on his face.

“AH, GOOD,” he proclaims loudly, purposefully breaking up the tenderness. “YOU’RE THROUGH ALL THE STAGES OF GRIEF ALREADY, FATE ACCEPTED, THAT MAKES MY JOB MUCH EASIER.”

You snort audibly and mutter something a little less audible that Papyrus snickers at.

Sans pointedly does not ask you to repeat it.

To his brother, he says, “WELL, NOT TO WORRY, PAPYRUS, FAVOR GRANTED, I’LL KEEP TABS ON HIM. HE WON’T SET FOOT IN EBOTT WITHOUT MY KNOWING ABOUT IT, YOU HAVE MY WORD. NOW, SHOULD I PAY HIM A VISIT AS WELL?”

“No!” you say emphatically, reading his subtext. “No beating up! No ‘visits’! Just—”

“YES, YES, FINE,” Sans agrees with a roll of his eye-lights. He closes the folder in his hand and slides it back into his cabinet, resolving to come back to it later. “HE WILL REMAIN UNMOLESTED, IF YOU INSIST…BUT ALL BETS ARE OFF IF HE COMES LOOKING FOR YOU.”

“I…think I can live with that.” You pause. “Thank you, Sans.”

“OF COURSE.”

“You, too, ‘Rus.”

“anytime, angel…”

There’s a certain lilt in Papyrus’ voice, one that Sans has only ever heard when his brother was out flirting with attractive monsters, or trying to cajole a one-night-stand not to leave so soon.

Sans is not particularly in the mood to hear you two smooching passionately over the phone, right into his acoustic meatus.

He hastily coughs, reminding you both that he’s there and rushing through a quick goodbye and goodnight.

“…AND DO CHECK THE GROUP CHAT, I THINK I’M ONTO SOMETHING!”

-

Your phone is safe now, so the group chat is the first thing you look at when you have a minute to see what Sans was talking about.

Sans: SPEAKING OF ICE… HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT ICE SKATING?

…Huh.

Maybe Sans was onto something, after all!

Chapter Text

“so, uh……first time skatin’, huh?”

“Is it that obvious?”

“…”

Papyrus just…looks at you.

Which feels a little uncharitable, but only until you remember that you’re currently clinging to the wall with a white-knuckled grip, just barely onto the ice and already wobbling for balance worse than a newborn giraffe.

“Okay,” you are big enough to admit, “I am…a little new at this.”

Your companions for the evening seem to have no such trouble.

Your dearest bonefriend stands before you perfectly steady on his blades, even leaning down a little toward you in an easy shift of balance that you feel pretty sure would smack your face straight into the ice if you tried it.

And his brother

Well.

You don’t particularly want to think about Sans right now— literally skating circles around you, acting unaware of your current plight…

Badly.

“Sans, can you knock off the ‘Oh, I’m not paying attention to this at all’ thing?!” you snap, trying again to get your feet under you. “It doesn’t work when you’re close enough for me to see you smirking at me!”

Sans laughs.

“WELL, I’D CERTAINLY HATE TO GET TOO FAR AWAY,” he muses. “YOU SEEM TO BE STRUGGLING THERE A BIT.”

“Yeah, just a bit.”

Alright.

Alright, you can’t just…be a wallflower all night, you’re not going to get anywhere if you don’t try, you gotta…

You take a deep breath, trying to channel some kind of sheer determination into balance and coordination.

And you push off of the wall.

Gravity and physics kick in instantly.

You let out a strangled little yelp as you start to fall, and it’s only by way of a ridiculous, uncoordinated flail that you manage to latch back onto the wall just in time.

Through the blur of sudden fear and the thumping of your own heart in your ears…

You hear Sans snickering.

“HEHEHEHEH, OH MY GOD, PAPYRUS, HELP HER!”

You look at Papyrus, who is… watching you with loving, shiny eye-sockets, his gloved hands pressed together up in front of his teeth.

Instead of outstretched to catch you.

“but she’s so cute,” he protests. “like…like one of those…baby horses…”

You can’t believe what you’re hearing.

“Papyrus,” you exclaim, aghast.

“it’s not my fault you’re adorable!”

“Is that really the most pressing issue right now?!”

“HAHAHAHA!”

You shoot Sans a glare, too, for good measure.

“You be quiet over there,” you demand, “I don’t need a peanut gallery, this is already public enough!”

You probably weren’t attracting all that much attention, in the crowded public ice-rink, but even one set of eyes on your embarrassing little predicament here was a set too many.

And your goofy bastard of a boyfriend still wasn’t helping you!

“Papyrus…!” you half-hiss, half-plead.

“SHE’S GOING TO SNAP HER TALUS IN HALF AT THIS RATE, BROTHER—YOU’D PROBABLY BETTER.”

Papyrus sighs and straightens, gliding behind you with an effortless scrape of ice.

“alright, i guess broken bones wouldn’t be very cute,” he reluctantly concedes.

“Oh, wouldn’t they?!”

Your frustrated sarcasm dies away instantly, though, the moment Papyrus’ body settles in reassuringly at your back, his hands held out for yours.

“c’mon,” he says, practically against your cheek, “i gotcha…”

And…

You can’t possibly be even pretend-annoyed at that.

You take his hands and let him pull you upright, helping you steady yourself. You still wobble a little, and you feel like it’s probably taking you way too long and Papyrus can’t be loving how tight your death-grip is right now…but he doesn’t complain, either.

Stars, you’re fond of this man when he’s not being a dumbass.

…No, you’re fond of him even then.

“…Okay,” you say slowly, after a long moment. “I think…I think I’ve got…something, here?”

Some kind of composure, or half-approximation of balance, you’re not sure which.

But instead of pulling away to let you try to do something, Papyrus starts to skate forward—pulling you with him.

You squeak a little, clinging tighter and frantically trying to make your feet do The Right Things so you don’t drag the both of you down at once, but you can feel his rib-cage shaking a little against your back as he chuckles.

“s’okay, baby,” he assures you easily. “i won’t let ya’ fall, i promise.”

Naturally, you have no choice but to trust him.

But you think it’s probably trust well-placed.

Ever so slowly, at a downright glacial pace, Papyrus skates with you around the rink. He’s a solid line of warmth along your spine when you shiver, a steady brace when you stumble, and a gentle correction when you start to put your blades to the ice in a weird way, and soon enough…

“I actually think I’m getting the hang of this!” you decide, grinning up at your boyfriend for validation.

You receive it, Papyrus beaming back at you threefold and agreeing.

With your consent, he even drops you down to holding only one of his hands for safety, and after a few more minutes without incident, no hands at all.

You feel giddily excited by the development, probably the same as a kid learning to ride a bike without training wheels—with the exact same sense of, ‘Wait, don’t go too far away, though, just in case!!!’ but you’re proud of yourself nonetheless.

Sans chooses this moment to swoop back in from wherever he’d fucked off to while Papyrus was showing you the ropes, seeming to just appear on your other side with a flourishing little toe-loop.

“NOT BAD,” he comments, eyeing your form. “YOU’RE A QUICK LEARNER.”

You smile.

“Thanks!”

“NEVER WOULD’VE GUESSED YOU WERE SQUEAKING AND FLAILING LIKE AN UNCOORDINATED DISASTER JUST A SHORT TWENTY MINUTES AGO, REALLY.”

You frown.

“Thanks.”

“hey, leave her alone,” Papyrus tells his brother, and you go to thank him…right up until he adds, “the squeaking was cute.”

“Okay, so both of you are bastards,” you note. “That’s cool.”

“HEHEHEHEH…”

“i said it was cute! that’s a good thing!”

You choose not to acknowledge that.

Instead, you look sideways at Sans—still just idly skating circles and other such patterns around you—and say, “Hey, maybe you can explain to me how you guys are so good at this, Mister Pro Figure-Skater.”

“AH, THAT’S EASY—WE LIVED IN SNOWDIN! PLENTY OF ICE TO PRACTICE ON THERE.”

“all over the place,” Papyrus agrees. “usually get left alone when you’re on it, too, since…y’know, nobody wants to pratfall in the middle of a fight or somethin’…”

You suppose, only a little begrudgingly, that that makes sense.

“Guess it was a pretty good place to live then… Safe?”

“RELATIVELY,” says Sans. “…AND OF COURSE, THE ADDED BONUS OF THE NAME.”

Papyrus looks at his brother across from you.

“………what…about the name?”

Sans looks right back at him, expression blank.

…Oh stars, no.

Papyrus can’t possibly

Hesitantly, you interject.

“I think, probably, he means…the pun?”

“……”

“‘SNOWED IN.’ SNOWDIN.”

“……”

It is probably the hardest thing you’ve ever done not to burst out cackling immediately as a sour look comes across Papyrus’ face.

“…aw fuck, i just got that,” he says, and Sans does not have your same level of self-restraint.

“…PFFT, HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA, PAPYRUS, ARE YOU SERIOUS?!” he guffaws at his brother. “WE LIVED THERE FOR YEARS! YOU GREW UP THERE!”

“wh—shut up! okay, not everybody is constantly looking for terrible puns like you, i’m sure nobody else even—”

“THE BUN-FAMILY HOSTEL WAS CALLED THE ‘SNOWED INN’! DID THIS SERIOUSLY NOT CLICK FOR YOU UNTIL JUST NOW?!”

By the faint shade of violet coming across Papyrus’ cheekbones and the grumpy way he turns away from Sans and refuses to look over, you’re gonna go with ‘yes.’

“Oh, honey, no…”

“don’t you start,” he groans, hanging his skull in defeat.

Sans laughs louder, actually tearing up a little, and you just…gently pat Papyrus on the arm, reassuringly.

(Even as you laugh just as hard as Sans, but on the inside—like a loving and supportive girlfriend would do, of course.)

“I—HAHAHAHA—I CAN’T BELIEVE…!”

“Aw, Sans, leave him alone.”

Papyrus perks a little at your words.

“thanks, ange—”

“It’s cute.”

Papyrus droops again.

“…okay,” he admits, “i…i get it now, why that’s…not really…reassuring…”

Ah, sweet vindication…

Still, you rub at Papyrus’ arm a little more, promising, “We still love you, ‘Rus.”

“YES, OF COURSE,” Sans backs you up. “IF THAT WERE CONDITIONAL ON YOU NOT BEING A DUMBASS, WHO KNOWS WHERE WE’D BE NOW! PROBABLY NOT HERE.”

You can’t help it.

You laugh, just a teensy, tiny titter.

Papyrus audibly scoffs.

He skates ahead of you a little, grumbling, “okay, y’know what? i’m gonna…” He looks around the rink and you follow his gaze as it settles on a little snack bar, back behind the plexiglass wall. “i’m gonna go get a cinnamon bun or somethin’, an’ when i get back, we’re just gonna…never speak of this again.”

Briefly, he spares you a look.

“you’ll be alright without me?”

Aww…

Even a little grumpy at you, ‘Rus was still checking to make sure you felt okay on the ice by yourself.

What a sweetheart.

You smile at him and carefully skate back to his side—because it was vitally important just then that you give him a kiss.

“I’ll manage a couple minutes,” you say. “You go get your sugar-fix, we’ll wait.”

“AND I’LL MAKE SURE YOUR LADY REMAINS UPRIGHT IN YOUR ABSENCE,” Sans adds.

Papyrus looks between the both of you, noticeably softened by your kiss and his brother’s reassurance, and with a sheepish yet warm smile at you both, he skates off to the door.

You turn to Sans as soon as he’s out of earshot.

“He’s not… You don’t think he’s really upset, do you?”

Fun was fun, but you loved Papyrus—you’d never want to make him feel actually bad, especially not over something as silly and common as a blonde moment.

Not even a blonde moment spanning apparent years.

Sans doesn’t appear to be concerned.

“AH, HE’S FINE,” he concludes with a dismissive wave of his hand. “HE DOESN’T SHAME EASY, I THINK YOU KNOW. HE’S BEEN EYEING THAT SNACK-BAR SINCE WE GOT OUT HERE, EVER SINCE HE SPOTTED THE CINNAMON BUNS. I’M SURE HE’S JUST BEEN LOOKING FOR AN EXCUSE TO GO GET ONE.”

Sans shoots you a commiserating look, one reading ‘Can you believe what we have to put up with?’ loud and clear, and you laugh a little bit.

Peripherally, you realize that Sans is closer to you now, slowed down considerably to match your (very slow) beginner’s speed. You feel a little safer knowing he’s near enough to catch you if you fall and you find yourself relaxing a little; not as afraid of messing up.

Not for the first time, a part of you starts to understand why it might’ve taken Papyrus so long to strike out on his own, if Sans has always been such a reassuring safety net.

“So,” you say, reaching for a topic to discuss, “‘Rus is wild about cinnamon buns too, huh? Can’t say that’s a surprise, but…”

“HA! NO, THAT’S BUSINESS AS USUAL, ISN’T IT?” Sans grins, shaking his head a little. “THE BUN FAMILY—RABBIT MONSTERS, I MENTIONED THEM EARLIER—ONE OF THEM SELLS CINNAMON BUNNIES.”

“Cinnamon…bunnies,” you echo.

“IT’S EXACTLY WHAT IT SOUNDS LIKE, A CINNAMON BUN SHAPED LIKE A BUNNY.”

“That’s… oddly adorable for…” You can’t find a delicate way to say ‘for a violent world where killing is distressingly normal,’ so you settle with, “Underground.”

“NOT THAT CUTE,” Sans says with a shrug. “ONE IN EVERY BATCH OF TEN IS POISONED AND THEY’RE HAGGLED AT EXORBITANT PRICES.”

“…Ah.”

“BUT,” he adds slyly, “THAT FAMILY HAS A KNOWN SOFT-SPOT FOR CHILDREN. KIDS’ STRIPES GET YOU A SAFE FREEBIE EVERY TIME. I SWEAR, PAPYRUS WORE STRIPES FOR YEARS, UNTIL HE HIT HIS GROWTH SPURT AND COULDN’T SELL IT ANYMORE. HE SCAMMED THAT WHOLE DAMN FAMILY FOR FREE CINNAMON BUNS AND CANDY AND…WELL, HUMANS JUST CALL IT ‘ICE CREAM.’ …HEHEHEH, STARS, I WAS PROUD OF HIM!”

There’s a lot of things Sans just said that you don’t really understand—missing context—but you think you get the most important part.

“It was a safe place to live, then?” Sans blinks at you and you clarify, “Snowdin, I mean. It was…it wasn’t…so bad?”

It couldn’t have been perfect, probably not even good a lot of the time; not with what you know Papyrus had gone through there, and what he’d had to do…

But you still sort of hoped…

“PROBABLY THE BEST OPTION, YES,” Sans confirms. “IT WAS…UNDERGROUND, OF COURSE, THAT’S… BUT SNOWDIN WAS…RURAL. SMALLER, QUIETER, EASIER TO NAVIGATE—THE CAPITAL WAS PACKED AND HOTLAND WAS A GAUNTLET OF TRAPS, AND WATERFALL… HMPH, THE GUARD STOPPED INVESTIGATING ‘MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCES’ IN WATERFALL YEARS AGO, TOO DARK AND TOO MANY PLACES TO HIDE. SNOWDIN WAS…EASIER.”

Here, you took ‘easier’ to mean ‘less of a constant struggle for survival’ which may have been the best you could ask for, all things considered.

“MOST OF THE MONSTERS THERE EVEN UNDERSTOOD RECIPROCITY. MINDED THEIR OWN BUSINESS, KNEW THE VALUE OF A REPAID FAVOR…” He turned, his smile just a touch abashed. “I THINK YOU’VE ENCOUNTERED THAT HABIT OF MINE FIRSTHAND, BUT UNDERGROUND, OUT IN THE STICKS, A LITTLE…PHILANTHROPY…GOES A LONG WAY.”

“Oh yeah, I remember.”

Yes, that part is familiar to you, and not only from Sans’ bribery attempts. Papyrus told you about it too, helping out monsters on the side with a little money, necessary items, protection…

You remember your disbelief most of all when Papyrus had said all that, finding it totally incongruous with the selfish, mean, scary version of Sans you’d known at the time.

It makes perfect sense to you now, though.

You actually know Sans now—you think, at least a little—and as far as you can tell, underneath all his snark and scheming…he’s actually a pretty good guy.

You’re glad you’re getting to hang out with him more, to get to know him even better.

“Can you…tell me more?” you ask.

Sans browbones dip in confusion. “…MORE?”

“About Snowdin. …Not,” you hasten to clarify, “the, uh…y’know, the…bad parts? I don’t…that’s…obviously not those, but… Papyrus doesn’t talk about it all that much, and uh… I’m a little curious, I guess? I mean, I don’t even know what the place looked like. …Snow, of course, haha, but…”

You trail off a little.

But Sans smiles at you, easy and unbothered.

“SNOW AND ICE,” he says. “A LITTLE VILLAGE, WOODEN BUILDINGS, ALL SMALL. CLIFFS AND CAVERNS IF YOU VENTURE OUT A LITTLE FURTHER, A FOREST IF YOU GO EVEN FURTHER THAN THAT.”

The image starts to form in your mind, its own kind of pretty if what you’re imagining is anything close to the reality.

“…Wait. A forest? Cliffs? You really had all that Underground?”

You guess ‘Rus had told you a little of that…and you think maybe one of his sketches had been of…somewhere in Snowdin, now that you think back on it…?

But it still seemed pretty crazy.

“WE HAD LOTS OF THINGS UNDERGROUND,” Sans replies simply. “FOR A CAVE, IT WAS A MASSIVE PLACE. IT’S REALLY ONLY COMPARED TO THE SURFACE THAT IT SEEMS SO SMALL… OR WHEN YOU TRY TO CONTAIN THE POPULATION OF AN ENTIRE SPECIES IN IT. THAT PUTS IT IN PERSPECTIVE, TOO.”

You wince.

“Yeah, I bet.”

“BUT…LIKE YOU SAID—SNOWDIN WASN’T SO BAD. SOME…QUIET MEMORIES THERE, PEACEFUL ONES. THINGS TO LOOK BACK ON FONDLY AND ALL THAT.”

“Papyrus grew up there,” you remember, and Sans’ genuine smile returns.

“YES,” he confirms, “JUST ABOUT ALL THE BABYBONES YEARS AND EVERYTHING AFTER THAT.”

So now, of course, you’re even more curious.

“What about you?”

“HM?”

“Where were you before Snowdin?”

“…NOWHERE IMPORTANT.”

You pause a moment, taking in the expression on Sans’ skull. To you, he looks…a little stiff, suddenly, a little shuttered.

Sensitive topic, you decide, and try to subtly redirect.

“Well…when did you move?” you ask instead. “How old were you? If Papyrus was still a babybones.”

Apparently, that’s an easier answer, because Sans’ shoulders visibly relax.

“FAIRLY YOUNG,” he admits. “WE BOUNCED AROUND A BIT FIRST, BUT WE NEEDED A PERMANENT RESIDENCE EVENTUALLY IF I WAS EVER GOING TO JOIN THE GUARD AND SNOWDIN WAS THE SAFEST PLACE I COULD THINK OF, AT THE TIME.”

You…can’t help but notice the word choices Sans is making right now.

If he was ever going to join the Guard.

The safest place he could think of.

The pointed omission of an exact age.

You think back to the photo album and that one candid picture of Sans in his uniform, looking far from eighteen, and you feel like he’s all but confirmed your suspicions.

You really, probably shouldn’t say it.

You shouldn’t.

But for some reason, beyond your comprehending, you blurt it out anyway.

“So, no parents. Just you.”

Sans only hesitates a moment, just long enough to take a breath and let it out.

“NO PARENTS,” he agrees. “JUST ME. …AND PAPYRUS, OF COURSE—SKELETON BROTHERS AGAINST THE WORLD.”

There’s almost a laugh in his tone as he says it, like he’s trying to lighten the mood for you, and that’s…

That’s probably par for the course for the kind of guy who’d had a ludicrous amount of responsibility thrust on him at an even more ridiculous age.

Thinking about everybody but himself.

Yeah…you don’t like that.

Not at all.

The idea of him…of both of them out there (down there) all alone, seems grossly unfair to you… especially with recent events so fresh in your mind.

Sans and Papyrus both are good people, maybe better than any you’d known before.

For whatever else they’d done, they’d also looked out for you, and no one else had done that.

Nobody had stood by your side before when it had come to your ex. They’d all just…believed him over you, taken what he said as fact.

You guess that’s…probably easy to do when he was the only one who’d been talking…

…but your lack of words didn’t seem to stop Papyrus and Sans from taking your side—because they cared about you, and because they trusted you, no explanations necessary.

Your thoughts are taking a decided turn for the sentimental, and even as you’re sure you’re about to expose yourself as a total cornball, you want to get it out there.

“Not just the two of you,” you say to Sans, with conviction. “Not anymore.”

If Sans could say that you were ‘practically family,’ the least you could do was earn the title.

Come hell or high water, you were going to be there with them, too—for them.

Sans tilts his skull at you, obviously processing what you’d said.

And then, he…says your name.

Gently, more soft and…and full of feeling than you think you’ve heard the loud and ever-composed Sans say anything.

It’s distracting enough for a novice like you to thoughtlessly set your foot to the ice in just the wrong way, in any case.

You trip.

Your skate suddenly slides out from under you, scratching the rink, and your stomach swoops as you start to fall, bracing yourself for a hard and unpleasant impact.

It doesn’t happen.

Instead, you feel gloved claws catching your wrist, an arm wrapping around your back and effortlessly pulling you up against a big, broad chest—Sans’ chest.

Through the sudden flood of adrenaline, it takes you a long, shaky minute to get your legs back where they’re supposed to be, and you can physically feel the deep, low chuckle bubbling up out of Sans while you try.

You look up, intending to tell him off for laughing at you, but then…

The electric glow of Sans’ eye-lights seems soft, when you look at them, a warmer shade of purple than you’re used to. His sharp grin is a little crooked, fond if you’ve ever seen a smile, and all your words die a quick death right there on your tongue.

“THAT’S WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU GET DISTRACTED MAKING SILLY PROMISES, HUMAN,” he chides, a playful glint in his eye-lights. “YOU SHOULD BE CAREFUL…”

Your heart skips a beat.

Unaccountably flustered, feeling your cheeks heat in embarrassment???, you carefully push yourself off of him, getting back onto the ice on your own power.

“That’s—! I, you…” you pathetically sputter, reaching for a comeback that doesn’t come.

Until it does.

“I don’t think you’re one to talk about careful—I heard all about The Snowpoff Incident, y’know!”

Sans audibly chokes, the sound resembling nothing so much as the strangled squawk of a gull.

“OH, PAPYRUS,” he hisses, his skull tingeing just the faintest bit, “I AM GOING TO KILL HIM FOR TELLING YOU ABOUT THAT!”

And just like that, the moment is over, and you happily banish…whatever the hell that was from your mind.

-

Papyrus doesn’t take too much longer to return after that, skating up behind you with a smile and a whole bag of cinnamon buns—enough to share with you and his brother.

“Isn’t food on the ice one of those things we’re…explicitly not supposed to do?” you wonder as Papyrus starts distributing the sweet treats.

Almost in unison, the brothers speak.

“heck the rules.”

“ANARCHY NOW, DIDN’T WE ALL AGREE TO THAT?”

“Pfft, hahaha! Well, shit, I guess I can’t argue with that?”

“OF COURSE YOU CAN’T!”

“smart choice, baby,” agrees Papyrus, passing you a cinnamon bun with an equally-sweet nuzzle to your cheek and you have to admit…

You’re having a great time.

…Or at least, you are, until the goddamn showoffs you’re with start bragging about how much better than you they are at skating.

“REALLY, IT’S NOT ALL THAT DIFFICULT, WE COULD TEACH YOU, IF YOU’D LIKE.”

“i mean, probably better to learn the jumps from me, though, if you do.”

“…AND WHY IS THAT.”

“‘cause i’m a better teacher than you? i’m the one who got her this far…and y’know…”

“YOU HAD BETTER NOT SAY WHAT I THINK YOU’RE GOING TO SAY, PAPYRUS.”

“What’s he gonna say?”

“THAT—”

“—jumps look cooler when i do ‘em ‘cause my legs are longer. sorry, bro, it’s your cross to bear.”

“OH, THAT’S IT!”

At which time, Sans glides off to do a very pointed, spite-driven routine while you and several impressed onlookers watch—ending on a perfect triple Axel that wins him a fair bit of applause.

“yeah, he’s pretty good, actually,” Papyrus freely admits where his brother can’t hear him. “just figured i’d give him an excuse to show off. …and to get a little more solo time with you, nyeheheheh…”

Papyrus hugs you to his side, happily bending down to kiss you and you freely return it.

So, yeah, you guess that overall, it’s a damn great time.

-

At the end of the evening, Papyrus reluctantly parts with you—into separate changing rooms, because this place doesn’t do the co-ed ones—and much as it’s only a temporary inconvenience, he still misses you pretty much instantly.

But on the bright side, it does give him a little time alone with his brother, while they’re taking off their skates.

And Sans looks…happy.

“good call on this. it was fun skatin’ again.”

It hurts a bit, in an almost physical sorta way, to give the compliment freely, without trying to backhand it or talk around it like they always do, but it feels like the right thing to say.

By the pleased (if confused) expression that comes over Sans’ skull, Papyrus figures it was.

“YES, IT’S…IT’S BEEN AWHILE. IT WAS…NICE.” Obviously as awkward and uncertain about genuine sentiment as he is, Sans quickly tacks on, “I THINK YOUR HUMAN HAD FUN, TOO. THAT’S…THAT’S GOOD. I LIKE HER.”

Papyrus has noticed that.

He’d kept an eye on the two of you today, while he was waiting in line, watching you and Sans chat and laugh and get along as you skated around the rink.

It was great.

It was almost as great as the other day on the phone, when Sans talked to you all gentle and nice, and that had been amazing.

“REALLY, DEAR, IT’S NO DIFFICULT TASK TO MONITOR A THREAT TO YOU,” he’d said, and Papyrus knew immediately that it was true.

Sans was happy to look out for his own, and that included you now—and Papyrus was one hundred percent certain that was a good thing.

You deserved people in your life who would be good to you, just like Sans deserved the same.

(Words like ‘nice’ and ‘gentle’ almost never describe his brother. Around you, though, they do, and Papyrus loves that so much…)

He’d already said it to you, at least once but his two favorite people, getting along… that was important to him, and it was all starting to come together.

“I…”

Papyrus looks over when Sans speaks up into the momentary lapse of conversation.

Sans is decidedly not looking back at him, seeming very engrossed in the unlacing of his skates, and Papyrus knows his brother well enough not to buy it at all.

“I’VE…MISSED YOU. L…LATELY. IT’S…AHEM. SEEING YOU…MORE…IT’S BEEN…GOOD.”

………

aw, jeez…

Papyrus can’t leave him hanging on that, so he’s quick to agree, “yeah, no, it…i, uh…i……missed you, too, i-i think…”

…Horrible delivery, as per usual, but he trusts Sans to translate the sentiment there, like he always had before.

He has to wonder, though…

How excruciating had that been for Sans to admit?

And…and how much had he felt it, to feel like that was something he’d needed to say out loud?

Not for the first time, Papyrus starts to think that maybe…maybe trying to do such a cold-turkey move-out wasn’t the best idea.

Another thing Dirk was probably wrong about, or at least not right

He’ll call that Strike Two.

“…BUT! THIS IS GOOD,” Sans says, just a touch anxiously. “THESE… THE OUTINGS, I MEAN. I…SURELY, WE’LL…WE’LL RUN OUT OF THINGS TO DO EVENTUALLY, BUT……”

“…not anytime soon, probably,” Papyrus decides, and by the subtle relief in his brother’s expression, that was exactly what Sans had really hoped to hear. “plenty of stuff to do up here… pretty lady, a handsome skeleton, an okay one, i mean, world’s our oyster, right?”

And predictably, so ensues the argument.

“…WHICH ONE OF US IS SUPPOSED TO BE THE ‘OKAY ONE’?” Sans demands, narrowing his eye-sockets at him.

“you.”

“BULLSHIT!”

“well, i can think of a human we could ask, get a fair judgment…”

“HOW THE HELL IS SHE A FAIR JUDGE? SHE’S DATING YOU!”

“i mean…that kinda proves i’m the handsome one, doesn’t it?”

“ALL IT ‘PROVES’ IS THAT SHE HAS LOW STANDARDS AND YOU GOT LUCKY!”

Papyrus considers that.

He can’t really speak to your standards, but…

Lucky?

Absolutely.

“y’know what? i’ll take it.”