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Lethe

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He feels… funny.

Sans is locked up somewhere dark. He can’t move his arms or legs, his magic isn’t working. He’s dizzy and his skull buzzes with static.

He’s safe for the first time in recent memory.

A light blinks at him in the corner of his vision. It’s beautiful. Magic, probably. He’s started to forget things since he started watching it. Every time he fixates, his mind is slowly, softly wiped clean, like a forgotten shelf meeting a dust cloth in the spring. It feels amazing to let go of everything, even if he fears some of it might not come back.

The light pulses. Sans responds with a slow blink. Then another.

It pulses again, slower. He blinks again, slower.

A deep voice permeates the dark. It lulls him down further than he thought possible, though he understands none of the words.

He blinks so slowly that he does not open his eyes.

“Sans?”

The dream again. It keeps coming back, different every time. He wakes up aroused. He lets it bleed over to his life, probably because it’s started to turn him on to realize he’s forgotten something. Never anything important, just that the senses of deja vu he used to get that always came with a violent memory now give him a feeling but nothing to draw from. A blank slate.

The thought gives him chills. Has yet to figure out why. Not sure if he wants to.

“Sans? Are you alright?” Papyrus calls again, outside his door. He’s still tired somehow. Shouldn’t be. He’s felt pretty good for about a week now.

Took too long to answer, because Papyrus opens the door. Sans is dazed, sitting up on his mattress. His chest is tight. “yeah, bro? what’s up?”

Papyrus’ brow ridges knit together. “I just wanted to make certain you were alright. You didn’t respond to me, so I… became worried. I’m sorry to barge in.”

“i’m fine. don’t need to worry about me.”

Papyrus gives Sans his patented skeptical expression. “If I didn’t worry about you, who would? One of us has to, and you have such a hard time caring about yourself or for yourself.”

Sans shrugs.

Silence reigns for what feels like an eternity. Papyrus doesn’t leave.

Then, “You had the dream again, didn’t you?”

“how’d you know?” Sans doesn’t meet his brother’s eyes.

“Your soul,” Papyrus says, and gestures down at Sans’ chest. It’s luminescent, trying to break free of the cage of his ribs through sheer pressure. That explains the constriction. “Do you want me to help again?”

Sans nods weakly, collapsing back onto the bed. He’s glad that the Royal Guard has disbanded, in a manner of speaking. He’s not sure how he’d react to being the direct cause for Papyrus’ sudden chronic tardiness, were that a concern. His brother keeps putting him first. But if the only thing suffering from Papyrus’ absence is a flower patch, Sans can live with that.

He’s on the precipice of considering how touching but strange it is that his brother has started actively prioritizing him over his ambitions when Papyrus reaches into his ribcage and gently runs a thumb over his brother’s soul. Sans lets out a bone-deep exhale and lets the tension and train of thought leave his body. Pap sure does know what he’s doing.

The gloved fingers trail over the tiny inverted heart, normally white but pulsating aqua with magical buildup. The massage his brother gives always seems to soothe the strain. It’s sublime in its intimacy, but doesn’t make things awkward enough to bring him shame. He loves Papyrus so much. More than he knows how to express.

“thank you,” he whimpers, and that’ll have to do.

His brother gives him a smile. “It’s no trouble. I promise. You can always come to me with whatever problems you have.”

It’s hard not to believe him when he has his thumb rubbing slow circles into Sans’ heart like that. The smaller skeleton nods. “of course.” Then closes his eyes and enjoys the sensation.

Papyrus’ other hand joins the first and he begins pushing in with both thumbs, applying slow, steady pressure. Sans groans as he relaxes, going limp under his brother’s touch. He doesn’t know how he’s supposed to move like this. His body is far too heavy. He doesn’t know if his brother really understands how intimate this is. But it can be platonic, he tells himself. It will be platonic. Has to be.

“How are you feeling?” Papyrus asks him, still kneading into the soft magical tissue of his soul. Sans tries to look alert. Feels like he’s sleeping with his eyes open, and Papyrus must be able to note the glaze in them, because he just smiles. “You can keep your eyes closed.”

He’s more than willing to comply, sinking further into the bed.

“You can doze off if you want. Nothing important happening today,” Papyrus says. “Especially since you seem so poorly rested. I’d like for you to be able to get some real, good sleep.”

Sans emits a soft, satisfied hum and nods once, then detaches and lets himself drift out.

He wakes, eventually, without dreams. Papyrus is still at his side, though he’s just holding Sans close now. “Sleep well?” Papyrus asks. Sans nods, a touch of bleariness lingering around his edges. “That’s good.”

Papyrus is excellent at warding off the dreams, though Sans isn’t entirely sure that’s what he wants. But it’s good for now. Better to not let them have more influence over his life than he can handle.

The world sharpens slowly. He yawns. “don’t you have something you should be doing?” Sans asks.

His brother stops, considers. “I don’t think so. Unless you’re hungry or something.”

Sans shakes his head. “nah. just curious. you’re usually busy helping people out, though. didn’t think you had the time to be sitting in bed with me all day.”

“It’s Saturday,” Papyrus says, and Sans’ entire body goes cold.

“bro,” he says, then chuckles, trying to hide his anxious shivering by tucking his hands under his arms. The laugh doesn’t sound like a laugh. It sounds like a halfhearted exhale. “you had me going for a second there, making me think i’d slept through a couple days, but you’re being too obvious. it’s obviously…” He strains to remember what day of the week it is. He knows he was told it was Tuesday a while ago, but he’s not sure if that was one or two days ago. He hazards a guess. “thursday. you need to step it up, bro. trying to out-prank the prankmaster.”

Papyrus stares at Sans for a moment. Then, there’s a flicker of orange in his eye, or at least Sans thinks there is, and the television downstairs turns on.

Mettaton is fighting someone, witty catchphrases timed effectively between blows. The sound effects drift up the staircase, too juvenile to be anything but Saturday morning programming.

MTT Broadcasting wouldn’t compromise their schedule for a joke. Even if it was Papyrus asking. It’d be unlike Mettaton to prioritize one fan so highly, especially over children. So it’s not a practical joke at all. He’s lost at least two entire days.

The thought scares him so much he shakes.

“You were up and about during Wednesday and Friday, but you didn’t look… yourself,” his brother states, holding him close. “I thought you were just tired, but I should have tried to wake you. I’m sorry for allowing that to pass.”

Sans shakes his head. “nah, it’s fine. just got a little rattled, is all. this isn’t the first time this has happened, remember?”

Papyrus doesn’t groan at the pun, and that’s off-putting all on its own. He puts his hand on Sans’ shoulder and gives him a light squeeze. “I’m concerned about you, brother. Very concerned.”

Sans doesn’t know how to react to that. But he does think Papyrus has been acting a little weird himself, so he looks down and says, “me too. except about you.”

“Why?”

“you’re different. a lot more serious than usual. it’s creeping me out a little.”

“Once you’re well, I’m sure my demeanor will return to normal,” Papyrus says, but Sans isn’t so sure. He’s been tired before, been sick before, and Papyrus never acted like this.

Well. He supposes that he’s never lost this much time before, either. Maybe his brother is right. “what do you want me to do?”

“Whatever you need in order to improve your health,” Papyrus says. “I’ll go make lunch.”

The taller skeleton leaves his older brother alone in his room and shuts the door behind him.

 

Sans is running his thumb over his pelvic bone and considering getting off when Papyrus tells him that lunch is finished, and he’s very grateful he didn’t start earlier.

He gets up and makes sure he’s suitably dressed before going down the stairs and finding Papyrus eating spaghetti on a plate of his own and a take-out box on the other end of the table. He hops up into the seat and opens it.

It’s Grillby’s. A burger and fries, covered in unopened ketchup packets.

Sans looks up. There’s a level of fear in his brother’s eyes he hoped he’d never have to see.

“is there something you’re not telling me about?” Had he lost more time somehow?

“I’m just worried about you. And I thought it might be helpful for you to have… your favorite for lunch.” Maybe it’s not fear, but there’s a level of discomfort there, at the very least.

“but you hate going to grillby’s.”

“I called him and asked him to box up some take-out.”

“did you put it on my tab?”

“In a manner of speaking,” his brother replies, and looks away.

“papyrus.”

“I paid for the food and for your tab,” he says, then shoves several forkfuls of spaghetti and two whole meatballs into his mouth all at once and stares down at the plate, orange blossoming across his cheekbones.

“you didn’t have to do that,” Sans says, but it comes out weak with gratitude. Truth be told, much of the money he earned working between the hot dog stand and sentry duty went toward making sure their house was still theirs. Grillby understood, but it still nagged at him sometimes that he took up so much food and time and space and didn’t provide in return.

But Papyrus had covered things with what he’d acquired being Captain of the “Royal Guard.” He hadn’t thought it had paid that well to just water flowers and occasionally go around helping people with small tasks, even if it did make a significant difference in keeping the Underground happy and hopeful. Regardless, he wanted Papyrus to be able to spend the money he’d made on something he enjoyed, not on him.

“Brother,” Papyrus says once he’s finally managed to chew and swallow everything in his mouth, “I know things have been very tough for you lately. It’s the least I could do.”

Sans is torn between love for his brother and shame that he couldn’t do it himself, and it comes out in the swelling of bright blue in the corners of his eyes. “i just… don’t want you to have to spend that on me.”

“I didn’t have to, Sans. I wanted to. I know you worry about it a lot—Grillby and I talked a bit while I was there—and I wanted to make sure you had less stress in your life. That’s also why I made certain that you still went to work while you were… not all there. No one really noticed.”

Skepticism burns its way through Sans’ ribs. “no one noticed that i was sleepwalking.”

“I mean,” Papyrus says, “I was accompanying you throughout both days. I thought you were just tired from sleeping poorly, and I wanted to help. You’d been waking up a lot from night terrors just prior to this further development, so… I thought this was just an extension of that, and I hadn’t been awake when they had happened.”

“mmh,” Sans grunts. “well, if nobody noticed and it didn’t impact the money… that’s fine, i guess.” He gives Papyrus a weak smile. “thanks, bro. don’t know what i’d do without you.”

“I don’t either,” Papyrus says. “But there’s no need to worry about it! I don’t intend to leave you. However! I do think it would be a good idea for me to start looking into these strange dreams.”

“what do you mean?” Sans asks, tearing open a ketchup packet and emptying it on his burger.

“Well, they must have some external source. Night terrors are common for you, but what you’ve described seems to be a type of magically-induced dream that forces you to forget things, if I’m remembering what you told me correctly.”

“yeah,” Sans replies, flushing slightly. He’d neglected to tell his brother about the arousal, about possibly not wanting these dreams to stop, but if it’s bothering Papyrus this much… Sans isn’t going to stop him. He squirts several more packets onto the fries, then sets the rest aside in the top half of the take-out container for later.

“So clearly it must be someone with magic that’s making you feel this way,” Papyrus concludes. “And I intend to find out who.”

“okay, bro,” the smaller skeleton replies between fries. “knock yourself out.”

Papyrus finishes his spaghetti in silence, then goes to wash the plate as Sans finishes his own meal. Once that’s done, Sans puts the take-out box in the trash and the ketchup packets in the fridge, save for one that he selects to consume then and there.

His taller brother looks at him expectantly.

“need something from me, bro?”

“I need you to come with me to gauge your reactions to the people involved. I’ve agreed to meet the first person in this mystery in Waterfall, and there’s no time like the present!”

“oh.” Sans blinks slowly. “i guess not.”

By the time Sans realizes what’s going on, Papyrus has all but dragged him out the door.