Distantly, Papyrus notes that his face is sticky with a strange fluid. It seeps out from his eyes, nostrils, and mouth, and hangs precariously from his aching, upper jaw. Occasionally, the substance splashes to the ground. The substance is thick and mostly black, with some flecks of purplish-red thrown in for good measure. Oh, well. He’ll just have to clean up the mess later… Wowie! What a Sans’ thing to think!
Yes, he’ll deal with the mess later, because the chunks of flesh sliding into his mouth are heavenly. Pure paradise, and better than oatmeal with dinosaur eggs or even Toriel’s pancakes. So juicy and coppery, so salty and sweet. And he’s so hungry too. So, so hungry. Gosh, he’s been hungry for so long. He just didn’t know it.
“papyrus,” he hears Sans say. Sans’ eye-lights are mere pinpricks, that perpetual smile of his now a perfectly-even line. Something about his tone of voice momentarily punctures through the fog like a knife (like a swift slice at his neck, and then down to dust he goes, oh, he really wasn’t expecting that). Papyrus finishes chewing, swallows, and gazes back at Sans curiously.
“papyrus,” Sans repeats, his speech drawn-out and thick, like molasses. His hands are up placatingly, as though speaking to a wild animal. He seems much smaller than normal. No, he is smaller than normal. Wait, no, that’s not right either. Papyrus is bigger. Even crouching on his hands and knees, Papyrus towers over Sans by a couple of feet. How odd.
Sans is still talking in that slow voice, but it is such a confusing mess, like he is saying, “papyrus, do you understand me?” And he is saying, “bro, please, say something, give me a sign, give me anything at all.” Well, of course Papyrus understands him. He’s not dull. He’s just distracted right now, because Sans really needs a shower. Why, he can scarcely recall Sans looking so unclean in his life, and when it came to his brother that was really saying something! More than filth though (and, strangely enough, socks), he smells like, hmm, that that thingggg he was eating tastes good. Smells like bones. Smells like... fear? All hot and burning what a rrrrush. He moans.
Takes another bite.
Sans makes a choked noise before abruptly falling silent. What a lazybones, he thinks fondly. Sans never did get to the point of all that rambling, did he? His metaphorical heart swells with affection for his brother as he gulps down a bit of reddish meat from the center of the- the hu- the thing beneath him. That piece was kind of dry, he decides, and definitely not as tasty as the last one.
A hitch in breathing. He tenses, eyes swooping up to find Sans staring at the ground, eye-sockets empty and black. Sans’ mouth is slightly agape, a rare sight to see. Then, another hitch in breathing, and Sans seems to curl up in himself, the way he does whenever he is feeling especially down. Papyrus knows this, because Sans’ gut-reaction to any problem is to retreat behind a stupid pun or crude joke, to lies upon lies (Papyrus always puts up with them, because whenever he points them out, Sans only seems to feel worse, and he knows Sans genuinely has his best interests in mind, even if sometimes Papyrus does feel… lesser because of it), to his bed to sleep away his unspoken pain. So averse to conflict.
And yet, even as he sleeps his life away in an effort to escape, Sans’ sadness never truly disappears. It’s a vicious cycle. Papyrus wishes that he could make Sans truly happy, make him smile for real. Sans’ true smile might actually be Papyrus’ favorite thing in the world. Papyrus doesn’t see it enough.
Papyrus can tell that Sans is crying now, even though he’s trying to be quiet about it. Fat, cyan tears roll down his round cheekbones. It has been a long time since Papyrus had witnessed Sans crying. Maybe… maybe he’s hungry? Oh, yes. That might be it. How long ago had it been since Sans had last eaten? He had no clue. Papyrus had whisked them away to this abandoned warehouse two, three, maybe four or five days ago. Maybe a week or so ago. He wasn’t entirely sure.
Well, it was a good thing the Great Papyrus was here to make sure Sans didn’t starve! Not everyone could handle a long lengths of time without food or sleep like himself. Really, what would Sans do without him? Probably nap all day and night. What a lazybones, he thinks again, more exasperatedly than before.
“SAAANNNSSS,” Papyrus hisses, his throat gravelling. Sans jerks at the sound of Papyrus’s voice, his head snapping up like he was a puppet whose strings had been harshly yanked. Yet his watery eyes are strangely slow to connect with Papyrus’s.
“papyrus,” Sans says, voice uncharacteristically wobbling. “bro? we need to go home, okay? everyone’s probably wondering where we are right now, and heh…” Sans weakly forces a chuckle. “bet they’re feeling bonely without us.”
Papyrus stares. Sans stares back. He blinks expectantly at Papyrus as if waiting for something, that permanent smile of his twitching. Smells like panic. Smells like fear. Smells even more delicious than before.
“paps, bro,” Sans says, before suddenly averting his gaze. “uh, yeah… yeah.” He pauses, then resolutely meets Papyrus’s again. “i know my jokes are a riot, but even i’m gonna stop having pun eventually.” Papyrus scoffs, the exclamation grating and rough. Sans seems to warm for a moment, but it fades just as a quickly as it came. “we need to leave, papyrus,” Sans says firmly. “we need to go home.”
Go home? They are home. Home is each other. “CAN’T,” Papyrus replies.
“we can,” Sans says, his left eye briefly flashing blue and yellow, “and we have to, papyrus. you’re, uh, you’re really sick.” And there’s a solitary bead of sweat forging a path down the side of his skull.
Papyrus is at least a hundred percent certain that he is not sick, so he doesn’t bother dignifying that particular lie with a response. “TOO DANGEROUS,” he explains.
Boy, that last denial must have done it! Undyne was usually the one who exploded at people, not Sans. “dangerous?” he laughs bitterly. “i need food, papyrus!” he bursts out, fists clenching at his sides. “i haven’t eaten anything in the last three days except for some chips I found in the trashcan. not eating is dangerous, right? really unhealthy, right? and- and you’re the one who’s a health nut, yeah.” And just like that, his rant decelerates. “pa-papyrus… please…”
As he had suspected! Sans is hungry, or, as Frisk had once put it in the eloquent and expressive lingo used by many young, hip humans, he is hangry. Well, he himself is hungry too, ravenous really, and maybe even a bit hangry, but the Great Papyrus is always willing to share.
Hopefully, Sans will feel better after eating. Papyrus supposes most people would be upset if they hadn’t eaten for that long, although he himself had fasted for days in the past in order to be as healthy and fit as possible! So he didn’t really see the big deal about going without food. It hurt sometimes, yeah, but looking in the mirror and seeing the narrowness of his limbs underneath the taped-on biceps, the delicate grace of a thinner, healthier ribcage was worth it. Well, his diet always worried Sans, but while Papyrus agreed that fasting for too long could potentially have negative repercussions, what did a week without food really hurt?
But Sans is too frail to sta- diet for so long. Most people are he’s found, although he had discovered a shared strength in online human forums. People he has never met in person, who have a common goal in mind with him: to become thinner, healthier, better. The best they can be! And while, Papyrus considers himself rather awesome in general (He is the Great Papyrus after all!), he still is… lacking??? Something??? Sure, he has many friends on the Surface, a cool sportscar, a sunrise and sunset to look forward to every day, a job as a waiter at a fancy restaurant where he gets to talk to lots of nice people, and yet, there is always this… pit. It never goes away.
Or, scratch that, he had all those things, before he ran away with Sans in order to protect his fragile, older brother from everything that could possibly hurt him. Unfortunately, that list of dangers included all of their friends.
Like Undyne, because she is too hardcore and might have accidently killed Sans if he happened to be watching their kitchen-warrior training one day, and so much could go wrong, like thrown-awry spears or fiery explosions! Cooking spaghetti was generally a rather intense activity. And Queen Toriel too, because she encouraged unhealthy, potentially-one-day-fatal eating habits by always baking sugary foods for Sans to devour. And Frisk, of course, with all of their past genocide runs (which he definitely didn’t know about, no-sir-ee). Even King Asgore couldn’t be excluded from that list because he had killed human-children in the past, so he likely had a secret, brutal side that Papyrus had yet to see, and- and. He just couldn’t risk it. He couldn’t. Losing Sans terrified him.
Sans shatters the silence between them. “papyrus,” he says anxiously. “you there?” His chest heaves from his earlier outburst. Papyrus snidely wonders where else he’d be, but decides saying that out-loud might be petty, and immediately feels guilty and mean-spirited for even thinking that way at all.
“YESSS,” Papyrus answers. He scrounges around the sticky insides of the hu- thing, thing lying in a limp, boneless heap at his feet. He tears off a piece and licks it experimentally. Hmm… A bit flabby, but it’ll do. Sans always liked fatty, greasy foods anyway. He won’t mind. Papyrus holds out the piece of meat to Sans. “HERE.”
Sans gapes. Papyrus would go far as to say that he is gaping like a fish, but that’s frankly insulting to Undyne. He’s pretty sure that Undyne has never made an expression quite like the one on Sans’ face in her entire life.
Apparently, as it turns out, Sans does mind. He doesn’t make any move to accept the food. Some emotion Papyrus cannot put a name to begins rapidly swelling up inside of him. “TAKE IT.”
“n-no,” Sans stammers. That nameless emotion balloons further. “i can’t- that’s wrong- this is wrong. this is so wrong. we can’t just- papyrus, you can’t eat people-”
There’s a snapping then, some essential thread in his mind pulling loose and drifting away from him before it even occurs that he should grasp at it, and quicker than he can complete any coherent thought he finds himself standing. Looming over Sans, and wowie, he really did get super tall now, didn’t he? No no not that right now doesn’t matter. Sans needs to eat he needs to eat he needs to eat he needs to eat smells like bones smells like fear-
Sans is cowering, actually cowering, arms held up in front of himself defensively. His hands spark cyan with magic and clench minutely for the barest of moments, like he wants to turn Papyrus blue and push him away, but with a single, focused glance, Papyrus puts Sans’ magic out. The blue magic at Sans’ fingertips turns black as pitch, sputters, and then disappears entirely. Sans blanches. Papyrus knows with a grim certainty that Sans would teleport away from him right now if he could, if Papyrus let him.
Papyrus isn’t going to let him. Sans clearly doesn’t understand. They’re better off here. This is home now, and maybe the run-down warehouse doesn’t have working plumbing or electricity, but that’s fine because now Sans can safely live with that single HP point. He’ll never die because Papyrus will make sure of it. There are no threats because the two of them are completely and utterly alone. Nobody is anywhere nearby, and nobody is aware of their location. So, everything would be simply dandy if Sans could stop being so stupidly stubborn and just eat.
More than anything, Papyrus wishes he still had access to his old magic so that he could turn Sans blue and force him to stay still. He has to settle with grabbing Sans hard by the neck and shoving him (not too roughly, of course, he is always very precise and controlled!) to the floor. He holds him there, Sans squirming beneath him like perfect prey, his pleading words barely worming through Papyrus’s skull, and then not at all, that soupy mind-fog descending upon him like a woolen blanket.
Sans’ left eye-light flickers frantically, uselessly. Blue and yellow blue and yellow blue and yellow blue anddddd it is the only flash of color in this black-and-white mist and his fear drives Papyrus on (he breathes it in deep deep deeper so deliciousssss oh my god) like nothing else because Sans will be better soon. Papyrus will fix him. He’ll make it all go away. He squeezes Sans tighter, fascinated with how easily his ribcage begins bending inward, and Papyrus’s mouth waters, a loose strand of black saliva falling from his mouth and onto Sans’ forehead, smells like fear and- and-
It is piercing. Unlike Sans’ babbling and begging, it cuts through the curtain of blank, mindless hunger. Papyrus blinks and looks, really looks at his brother. Oh.
He releases Sans, the piece of flesh (he’d completely forgotten about it, to be quite honest, how silly of him) falling from his hand and onto the floor next to Sans’ prone, shaking figure, and stumbles backwards until his spine collides with a wall. The world seems to stutter around him, frame-by-frame. His brother lying there on the dirty, warehouse floor, trembling uncontrollably in one snapshot. His brother sitting up in the next, eyes dark and hollow, wiping away the tears on his face with his hoodie sleeve. Enter the third frame, and Sans is already standing upright again, clumsily staggering backwards with a pained grimace while cradling his ribcage with one arm.
Then, Sans is saying something. It all sounds garbled. What a mess. Like if watercolor had sound. A high-pitched keening noise rises up, fills up the room. It isn’t Sans making the noise though. It’s... him? He is abruptly and acutely aware of the liquid stuff dripping from his orifices, especially from his eye-sockets. It isn’t just black now though, he knows. Orangish too, like the color of his old magic. Smells like salt. Smells like guilt.
And then he can hardly breathe. What a perplexing situation. He’s a skeleton, how silly to crave oxygen like how some humans crave the tocabbo, because he doesn’t even have lungs! It doesn’t matter though. He can hardly breathe. What little air he does manage to suck in burns like the wintery air formerly endured by the residents of Snowdin, cold-fire whirling down his throat and licking at his insides. His vision dots itself with black stars, his tailbone loudly hitting the floor with a smack as his legs give out beneath him. Papyrus crumbles. And he really didn’t think monsters could actually crumble without turning to dust, but then he didn’t think he was capable of deliberately hurting anyone, especially Sans, either.
He can’t bring himself to look at his brother. “SORRYYY,” he moans, face pressed to his knees. “DIDN’T MEANNTO.” But he did mean to, didn’t he? Didn’t he? He groans. His head hurts. The fog is already starting to come back. He needs to ground himself. He needs to stay. He can’t go back to that scary state of being now, not so soon after… he can never ever again… Sans, oh god. He scratches at his legs until he feels pieces of bone flaking away, marrow slicking his fingertips, the pain sharp and deserved and so, so real-
Arms suddenly wrap around him and what remains of his battle-body as best as they can, holding Papyrus far more gently than had been done to him. “shhh, paps,” Sans whispers, rubbing soothing circles on his spine, like Papyrus was a little babybones again who had just awoken from a bad dream, or scraped his knobby knee-bones raw on the paved walkways of New Home. Like Papyrus hadn’t almost just killed him. “it’s okay, it’s okay.” It’s not okay though. “i’ve got you.” And he does, even if Papyrus still doesn’t understand why. He keeps rubbing his back and cooing at him, and normally Papyrus would be so embarrassed (he is... was the Great Papyrus, a grown man who had turned his back on childish things, not including the venerated tales of Fluffy Bunny), but he needs this undeniably-selfish contact with his brother right now as much as he irrationally needs air. And gradually, breathing doesn’t come as difficultly to him. Papyrus calms.
The fog in his mind has vanished, but his bones feel sore, as if they had been stretched like taffy, and are throbbing tautly even now as though he had been about to be stretched even further. Papyrus lifts his head from his knees. Sans looks very tired, and much older than his twenty-six years. His blue hoodie, grungy even by Sans’ admittedly-low standards, is unzipped to reveal his yellowing, formerly-white shirt. He doesn’t linger on that area too long, his ribs were so breakable, so easily crushable, like putty in his hands- no. No. He moves on to his face. On Sans’ left cheek, there’s a plum-colored bruise directly below his eye-socket (how hadn’t he noticed that before?). That streak of black saliva is dried to his forehead. Papyrus can’t even muster up the disgust, much less the will, to wipe it away right now. Grime is the least of their problems.
During the entirety of Papyrus’s scrutiny, Sans keeps his eye-sockets locked levelly on Papyrus’s own face. Perhaps he’s doing some scrutinizing of his own. Sans’ white eye-lights have returned, and seem a little watery, and a bit wary too, but none of that surprises after what Papyrus put him through mere minutes ago. Yet, Papyrus doesn’t need to CHECK Sans to know that his SOUL is shining with love for him, however undeserved. He’s surrounded by its radiating warmth even now. “how are you feeling?” Sans asks him softly, never ceasing the careful circles on Papyrus’s spine.
Sans isn’t stupid. He already knows the answer. Guilt aches in Papyrus’s non-existent stomach. He thinks about how much worse off Sans could have been, and his gore rises. Papyrus gulps it back down and frantically prays he doesn’t end up puking soon. “SORRYYY,” he warbles. “COULDAVE HURTTTT YOUUU...” He trails off, silently loathing himself. Why is speaking so hard? He loved to talk normally, but now when he direly needed to express himself to Sans most of all, he could barely manage a fragmented sentence. Come to think of it, he had hardly been particularly well-spoken earlier either. But he isn’t sick, is he? Papyrus simply didn’t contract illnesses, or at least not since he was a fragile babybones. He possessed an impressively hardy constitution. And yet…
Something must have shown on his face, because Sans’ brow-bone crinkles, before smoothing out. He has that dawning expression on his face, like he used to get back when he was Assistant to the Royal Scientist and had solved a particularly complex problem, although this current expression lacks in any degree of wonderment or triumph. “it’s hard to talk, isn’t it?” Sans says, voice lowering sympathetically. He leans backwards, removing one hand from around Papyrus in order to delicately clasp Papyrus’s jaw. He turns Papyrus’s head side-to-side in order to carefully examine it, frowning.
“your face has kinda changed shape,” Sans says, “that’s probably why. gonna take some getting used to, i guess.” The for both of us is left unsaid. “and your nose and mouth are definitely more wolfish. elongated, like a muzzle. like the canine unit back home.” There’s that phrase again. Back home. Makes him uneasy. It really is too dangerous to return. Papyrus can more easily protect Sans here.
Thankfully, Sans stays ignorant of Papyrus’s distress. Good. Sans shouldn’t shoulder the burden of Papyrus’s negative emotions and weaknesses any longer than he has to. He knows that Sans is already depressed enough as it is, even if Sans never discusses anything important with him. So, Sans just pushes on in his examination of Papyrus’s altered physique in that soft, slow tone of voice. “teeth and fingertips have sharpened… considerably. And you’ve grown a few feet in height too.” He grins faintly then, but it’s tinged with sadness. “heh, as if you weren’t tall enough already-”
“WOOFISH,” Papyrus cuts in, before he starts thinking too hard about difficult subject matters, and before Sans can become more upset. Unfortunately, it sounds more like a growl than a word.
“huh?” At that, Sans halts his survey of Papyrus’s lower face, his eyes flitting back up to regard Papyrus. The wariness is back in full force. Sans is wound tight as a snare drum.
“WOOFISH.” Ah, there. That sounds more like a proper word. He wracks his brain for the right words to use next. “MISSED OPPORT- OPPORUNES-” Despite relenting being more in Sans’ nature and not his, Papyrus gives up on that one. “CHA- CHANCE?” That’ll work too, he supposes. “FOR PUN.”
Sans’ smile stiffens with confusion, before realization lights up in his eyes. Wowie, it didn’t usually take this long for him to catch on to a joke, even a terrible one (especially the terrible ones). “oh, heh. woofish, wolfish. good one bro.” And Papyrus physically feels Sans relax against him, possibly for the first time since he took- no, brought Sans with him. He lets out a soft nyeh of relief. At that, Sans’ almost-smile shifts and then sparkles, and it is absolutely perfect, because Sans is smiling at him for real, his big brother who has always been there for him and always would be, even if that grin is slightly wistful.
The surrealism of the moment is actually stunning, if he thinks too much about it. He feels so utterly normal for a moment, like how he used to be, and it’s wonderful. Papyrus wishes he could draw this moment out forever until it was so long that it could reach even beyond Sans’ beloved stars and still keep going on and on and on. But he knows, in that sinking, dreading way, that it’ll end soon. So he’ll just have to take what he can get and make the most of it! And Sans will too, he realizes.
And they’re both still so hungry. Even now, the limp, reddish thing on the other side of the room tugs at him as though it has its own brand of blue magic. But right now, outweighing either of their hunger pangs, they need each other more than anything else in the world. So Papyrus, eyes heavy, mouth tasting coppery and stale, buries his face in the crook of Sans’ neck, and breathes in. Smells like ketchup, bad jokes, and bones. Smells like love. Smells like home.
Papyrus’s desire for sleep remains unspoken. Even so, Sans seems to know this, and Papyrus falls asleep on the dirty floor of that abandoned warehouse, clutching at his brother while Sans continues rubbing circles into Papyrus’s spine, and dreams of better days.
But when Papyrus wakes up, Sans is gone.