Work Header

I Am In The Past, Never In The Future

Chapter Text

Papyrus doesn’t like the Underground now that it’s empty. Even Hotland feels cold, silence sinking into his bones. But that, he reminds himself, is why he is here! If he doesn’t like it, then it stands to reason that any monster unfortunate enough to get left behind wouldn’t like it either, and there’s one that no one seems to have seen.

‘Flowey!’ he calls. ‘Floooooweeey!’ Even Papyrus’ voice can’t fill the silence of the caverns. He decides a flower probably won’t be on a bridge over lava and hurries on. At least the conveyer belts are off now, he appreciates that. ‘Flowey!’

Waterfall is a better place for flowers. Mostly echo flowers, still whispering dreams to one another. Dreams that have, Papyrus realises with a wide smile, nearly all been fulfilled now! Everyone is up on the surface where they always wanted to be. Undyne’s house is still a burnt out shell, which is a bit sad, but she has a new house now and lives with Alphys, and Toriel has done something to her stove so that she can’t burn it down even when she cooks really passionately and that’s probably a good thing.

The dump has a patch of golden flowers in it, but none of them answer when Papyrus calls. The dump is still collecting human rubbish, but no monsters collect it now. They can buy new human stuff instead, which is much better! And cleaner! Papyrus thinks some of the stuff Sans brings home still comes from dumps, but never mind that.

Snowdin is… Snowdin is sad. Even though everyone left with him, Papyrus still somehow feels bad for leaving it. He doesn’t remember where he lived before Snowdin, so in a way it’s been his only home. ‘Hello, house!’ he stops to pat its doorjamb and pushes the door open even though there’s no reason for a golden flower to be inside. Unless he came to visit Papyrus, which would be an excellent reason, so maybe he’d just better check! The house is very empty and even Sans’ room is clean because Papyrus cleaned everything when they moved out properly. It’s like they never even lived here. Maybe the house has forgotten them.

The door at the edge of Snowdin is the same as ever, except it’s slightly open now. Really, he feels a bit bad for trying to stop Sans hanging around it now he knows why, even though Sans and Toriel in the same room is still one of the most annoying things in his life. (In different rooms is fine! Toriel is nice and teaches him how to cook, and Sans only drives him up the wall in the same way he always has, but together the puns never stop.)

He’s never been in the ruins before, so it’s a nice break from nostalgia, and also he does some puzzles. They are good, traditional puzzles with plenty of spikes and no lasers.

Here is the very end of the underground, where Frisk must have fallen once upon a time, and Papyrus has literally searched one end of the underground to the other. There’s a whole bed of golden flowers here and he calls, ‘Flowey!’ to them hopefully, because the flower must be somewhere and there’s nowhere else left for him to be.

One of the flowers lifts its head and glares at him. ‘What do you want?’

‘I was looking for you!’ Papyrus sits down cross-legged by the flower patch and beams at Flowey. ‘Are you all right down here? Are these flowers your friends?’

Flowey draws his leaves around himself. ‘They’re just flowers, idiot.’

‘Then you are down here alone. That must be awful. You should come back up, with me.’

‘No. Go away.’

‘I’m not going to go away and leave you here!’ One monster all alone in these huge caverns is the saddest thing Papyrus can think of. ‘Aren’t you lonely?’

Flowey heaves a sigh, petals drooping around him. ‘Why do you even want me to come back? I’d just hurt people.’

‘You’re my friend! You were always so nice to me, and encouraging, and you helped save Frisk —’

‘I tried to kill Frisk!’ Flowey’s never made that face at him before and Papyrus cowers back, covering his eye sockets and nearly falling flat. ‘I used you because you were too stupid to realise! I tried to kill everyone!’

‘But… but you were nice! You could be nice again, you don’t have to hurt people! Anyone can be a good person if they try.’

Flowey laughs, wild and bitter. ‘You have no idea how many times you’ve said that right before I killed you.’

Papyrus slides his hands down and blinks at Flowey. ‘I’m not dead? At least, I don’t think I’m dead, I’d notice. Wouldn’t I?’ What if he is dead and didn’t notice? Can that happen? He hopes he’s not, he doesn’t want to die, and Sans would be very upset.

‘Time stuff,’ says Flowey, face going back to normal. He turns away. ‘Ask your trash bag brother.’

‘Sans knows?’ That makes it more believable, because Sans knows a lot of things and doesn’t tell Papyrus any of them. ‘You really killed me? I thought we were friends!’

‘I told you, I don’t have… are you crying?’

‘No!’ Papyrus rubs his gloves quickly over his damp eyesockets, but only succeeds in spreading tears around.

Flowey vanishes under the ground and pops up closer to Papyrus’ knee. ‘See, I can’t even have a conversation without hurting someone. Stop being a crybaby and go back to your friends.’

‘But you’re one of my friends.’

‘If you still think that you really are an idiot.’

Papyrus can’t stop a sob from escaping his ribcage. Before Undyne it sometimes felt like Flowey was the only friend he had. Apparently he hadn’t even had Flowey. Another sob follows.

‘Stop crying! I can’t have friends, I can’t care, I don’t have feelings, I don’t have a soul. So go home. Go! Haven’t you got anything better to do.’ A vine smacks into Papyrus, knocking him over, but it’s neither that nor the orders that stop him crying.

‘You don’t have a soul? That’s why you’re being mean?’ he says. ‘Then we can fix it! We just have to get you a soul!’

Flowey gives him a very flat look, but that’s okay! Papyrus gets that look a lot! He knows how to help his friend now, and then Flowey will have feelings and be nice to him again, and Flowey can come and live on the surface and be happy like everyone else. Everything is going to be fine!

‘We can ask Dr Alphys! She made Metatton’s soul, so I’m sure she wouldn’t mind making one for you.’ Papyrus jumps up, all ready to go and ask her right now, even if she might be in the middle of important science. This is more important than even the most important science. A vine trips him and then holds him up by the ankle.

‘She didn’t make Mettaton, he’s a ghost living in a robot and they lied to everyone about it,’ says Flowey conversationally.

‘Oh. That’s disappointing.’ Papyrus twists in the air. ‘Still, she’s very smart, I’m sure she can think of something to help us.’

‘You will not tell her, or anyone, about me. Or I will kill you, and them, and everyone,’ says Flowey.

‘That’s not really necessary,’ says Papyrus, voice small and shaking. Flowey needs to get a soul as fast as possible so he’ll stop doing things like this, because it’s really a bit much for even a very awesome skeleton. ‘You could just have asked me not to tell.’

Flowey drops Papyrus, but he lowers him quite a lot of the way to the ground first, so he probably still likes Papyrus a little bit at least! Papyrus is very likeable, after all.

‘So!’ Papyrus says, with as much brightness as he can muster. ‘I guess we’re the sole people doing this.’

‘No one has ever managed to make a soul, and you don’t know anything about anything,’ says Flowey. ‘This is impossible.’

‘Everything is impossible if you don’t try. And therefore, if you try hard enough, anything is eventually possible.’

‘That doesn’t make any sense.’ Flowey sighs. ‘Fine. Where are we going first?’

Papyrus stands up and brushes himself down. ‘Somewhere with lots of information,’ he says. ‘I know just the place.’

Flowey follows, disappearing underground and popping up every time Papyrus stops to check he’s still there. They walk from the ruins to Snowdin and finally to the place Papyrus had in mind.

‘Snowdin library,’ says Flowey, peering in from the doorway. ‘Really.’

‘The new library on the surface doesn’t have room for most of these yet, because they bought new human books that people hadn’t read yet,’ says Papyrus, squinting at one of the books still on the shelves. ‘It still has quite a lot of information and it’s nicely colour coded.’

‘It has information that people who live in a snowy wasteland in the middle of nowhere would want. It’s not going to have anything about souls. And it’s cold out here.’

‘You could come inside?’ Papyrus says. ‘Were you waiting for me to invite you? That’s very polite.’

‘I can’t come in because there’s a floor.’ Flowey huddles his leaves around him. ‘You know what, you have fun with this. I’m going home.’

‘Flowey!’ Papyrus calls, but he’s gone.

Considering that Flowey is a soulless and somewhat threatening flower it’s amazing now much more intimidating the library feels without him. It’s so empty, and the holes on the shelves where books used to be gape like missing teeth. Papyrus gathers an almost random selection of books — he doesn’t know what he’s looking for, so he might as well look at everything — and wedges himself in a corner where nothing can sneak up on him. It’s hard to concentrate. Some of the words are difficult or he doesn’t know them, so he gets up to find a dictionary, but apparently that was one of the books they did take to the surface. It’s very discouraging.

It’s also, he thinks, getting late. The day-night cycle was turned off in the Underground when everyone left, but it feels late. Sans is probably wondering where he is — well, no, Sans is probably asleep, but that is all the more reason to go home and make sure he wakes up for dinner. Papyrus reshelves the books even though he’s coming back tomorrow and no one is down here to mind. It’s the principle of the thing.

The walk back through the underground is just as long and lonely as the walk there.


The flower looks up from where he’s planted himself in among the other golden flowers again. ‘You came back.’

‘Of course I came back! I brought something too. Three things! But you probably don’t want a dictionary or my packed lunch.’ He rummages in his very cool backpack (it has the Avengers on it, so it’s definitely cool) and pulls out a flowerpot. ‘Ta-da!’

‘You’re going to put me in a flowerpot?’ says Flowey flatly.

‘You could come into the library that way and help me look at books. Not that I am not great at looking at books, I am definitely very good at that, but some words were quite difficult.’

‘Can you even read?’ Flowey asks.

‘Of course I can read. I can do junior jumble and wordsearches.’ Papyrus pushes the pot towards Flowey. ‘But it will go faster with two of us?’

Flowey rolls his eyes, but lifts his roots out of the ground and slides them into the pot, rocking back and forth slightly as he settles in. ‘…What is wrong with this soil?’

‘It has spaghetti under it. Because I heard plants eat through their roots and I thought you might get hungry.’ Papyrus taps his gloves together. It was meant to be a present, but he’s not sure Flowey appreciated it.

‘…Let’s just go to the library,’ says Flowey.

Papyrus picks him up, holding the pot carefully, and sets off at a trot.

The library seems friendlier with someone there, even someone who throws books at his head when he confuses fiction with non-fiction. It’s not his fault! Sometimes true things seem just as unlikely as false things. Quite a lot of the time. Flowey starts vetting the books after that and aggressively discards most of them after reading a few pages, so Papyrus has less to read all the way through, and after searching everything on the shelves they’ve only found one book with anything useful in it.

‘Love, hope, compassion… this is what people say monster SOULs are made of. But the absolute nature of “SOUL” is unknown. After all, humans have proven their SOULs don’t need these things to exist,’ reads Papyrus out loud. ‘…But my human friend has those things!’

Flowey shrugs, at least Papyrus thinks the way he bobs on his stem is a shrug. ‘No one even knows what souls are. See how stupid you are for trying to do this?’

‘That just means we have to find out!’ Papyrus stands up. ‘If the information isn’t here, it must be somewhere else. And I was right, the library did have information about souls! Nyeh heh heh!’

‘One sentence.’ Flowey droops dramatically over the edge of his pot.

Papyrus lifts him back upright with one hand. ‘We must not give up hope! Or perhaps you cannot help giving up hope, since you don’t have a soul? If we could find hope, love and compassion perhaps we could make a soul from those.’

‘Where were you thinking of looking? A convenience store?’

‘Excellent idea!’ Papyrus stands up, carrying Flowey’s pot. ‘Let’s go and find one.’

‘It won’t be in a convenience store. It’s not going to be anywhere. Let me out of this dumb pot and go home.’

Papyrus clears away a patch of snow and puts the pot down outside. ‘I’ll come back tomorrow,’ he says. ‘Are you sure I can’t ask Dr Alphys or Sans? They’re very smart, even if Sans is lazy.’

‘Don’t tell anyone.’ There’s that face again, making Papyrus jump back against the library wall. Then Flowey is gone. Papyrus goes back into the library to pick up all the books Flowey has thrown around and write a note apologising if any are dog-eared.

Papyrus thinks his spaghetti must be improving, even if Flowey didn’t like it, because Sans actually eats it now instead of making it disappear through time and space shenanigans. Afterwards they watch television. Humans have a lot of different sorts of television, although Papyrus still likes Mettaton best. Fortunately Mettaton is still on television quite a lot! He’s on television now, but for once Papyrus isn’t paying attention, he’s fidgetting with his gloves and wondering how to ask the question he’s been thinking about since yesterday.

‘Something on your mind, bro?’ Sans asks.

Papyrus jumps, guilty even though he’s not sure what about. Maybe it’s because he’s keeping secrets, although if there’s anyone who shouldn’t object to that it’s Sans. ‘Can I ask you a question?’


‘Have I died before?’

‘Weird question,’ says Sans. ‘Wouldn’t you notice?’

‘That’s what I said.’ Papyrus looks up. Sans is still looking at the television.

‘What you said, huh?’ Sans answers, voice taking on a slightly hollow ring. ‘Someone been telling you you died?’

‘N-no. Of course not. Why would anyone tell me that?’ Papyrus looks down at his gloves again, pressing his fingers into the bits in the centre where there’s no bone underneath.

Sans takes his hands and looks at him seriously. ‘If someone’s scaring you, you don’t gotta protect them.’

Is that what Papyrus is doing? He’s not sure whether he’s protecting Flowey or protecting people from Flowey, and neither of those are why he’s helping. Flowey has been scaring him, but that’s not why he’s helping either. ‘I know. It’s nothing like that.’

Sans looks at him searchingly and then leans back. ‘Just tell me if anyone does, okay?’

Papyrus nods, feeling even more guilty, and turns his attention to the television.

Chapter Text

Papyrus is hurrying down the road bright and early with everything he needs packed for the day when he feels a tug on his sleeve.

‘Human Frisk!’ he says, delighted. ‘You are up early today! Did you decide against having a very long nap?’

Frisk holds onto his sleeve and fixes him with a serious expression. ‘Who told you you died?’

‘What do you mean?’ Papyrus says, trying to laugh it off. ‘Why would someone think I was dead?’

The look that gets suggests that Frisk is very disappointed in him. ‘I know someone told you, because Sans thinks it was me. He’s mad at me, by the way.’

‘But why would Sans think… Why would you know I died? Did I die? Why do other people know this and not me? Small human, this is very confusing!’

‘I know and Sans knows… well, I think Sans just guesses, but he’s really good at guessing.’ Frisk scowls. ‘Usually.’ They let go of his sweater and fold their arms, doing a pretty good impression of Toriel about to be stern. ‘But there’s only one other person who knows, and he’s not here, so it’s really important and I need to know. Did Flowey tell you?’

Papyrus wasn’t prepared for this and he doesn’t know what shows on his face, but a moment later the human is hugging him around the hips. He hesitates until he realises Frisk is crying and then pulls them up into his arms. ‘Don’t cry! I-I am not sure why you are crying, but I am sure whatever it is we can fix it!’

Frisk presses their head against his sweater and hiccups. ‘‘m not sad.’

‘That is good, but yet more confusing! You must help a skeleton out here.’

‘I tried to go back for him, but I tried the wrong way.’ Frisk wipes their face on his shoulder, and Papyrus suppresses a grimace. ‘I’m really glad you went and found him. I should have tried…’

‘There, there.’ Papyrus pats Frisk’s back. ‘I am sure you did your best, and even if your best is not as great as mine it is still pretty great. And now that you know we can both help him, which means we are sure to solve everything! Except that he said he’d kill everyone if I told anyone, which could be a slight problem.’

Frisk giggles. ‘I don’t think he can really do that without souls. Anyway, you didn’t tell.’

‘There were souls? Where are they?’ Papyrus says, jumping on the important part. If they can find a soul it will fix everything.

‘They left,’ says Frisk.

‘But do you know where they went? Frisk, Flowey needs a soul to not be evil anymore.’

‘These ones won’t help,’ says Frisk with certainty. ‘They don’t like him.’

Papyrus closes his eyes. He’s got used to working with the facts he does understand and ignoring the ones he doesn’t, in hopes he’ll either understand them later or they’ll turn out not to be very important after all. But this is getting a bit much. ‘Frisk. I realise my death must have been very upsetting for everyone — if it is a thing that happened, which it seems it must be — but I would really like to know about it. Flowey tells me to ask Sans and Sans won’t answer and threatens you and now you want to know who told me but then get mysterious too! Everyone is too mysterious! I am used to it from Sans, but I hope he is not being a bad influence on you.’

Frisk flops against him and says, ‘There was time stuff.’

‘That’s what Flowey said and it is somewhat lacking in information.’ He hesitates and cups the back of their head with a hand. ‘Were you there when Flowey killed me?’

‘No.’ Frisk stays a dead weight in his arms. ‘Sometimes I killed you. But I undid it.’

‘B-but why?’ Papyrus hugs them tighter. ‘Why-why you and Flowey? Why would my friends… did I do something? Is it because I tried to capture you? Did I scare you, human, because I assure you I never intended to harm you.’

‘Nonono.’ Frisk reaches up and pats his head, almost frantically. ‘You were nice, you didn’t do anything, you always.’ Frisk pauses to sniffle. ‘Always spared me even if I did really bad things. Sometimes I k-killed you anyway. I was doing everything to find out what happened, so I could get the best possible ending, so I could be sure.’

‘You thought killing me might be the best ending?’ It hurts. Papyrus isn’t very important, or popular, although he tries very hard. But he doesn’t think the world would be better off without him.

‘No. Sorry. That was just messed up. One time I just killed you and everyone was miserable. Undyne took over the Underground to go to war with humanity.’

‘I am flattered yet disturbed!’

Frisk snorts wetly and Papyrus pulls a handkerchief from his pocket and pushes it at them before they can wipe their face on him again. ‘Thanks,’ they mutter. ‘D’you hate me now?’

‘Of course not! We are friends, and you are a good person now even if you were not in the past. I am sure I have been a good influence.’

‘The best.’

Papyrus beams and hugs Frisk again and then swings them down. ‘And now I must go and be a good influence on our flower friend! He assuredly needs one! And you must get ready for school.’

Frisk wipes their face and shoves the handkerchief into their pocket. ‘I’m not going to school.’

‘I thought that was only Saturdays and Sundays? I am sure today is Wednesday.’

‘I’m coming with you.’

‘I cannot let you skip school! That would be terribly irresponsible. It goes against all Toriel’s lessons in being a Mom.’

Frisk gives him a look. ‘You’re not my Mom and you can’t make me do anything. Either you let me come with you or I’ll just come on my own.’

Papyrus had never been able to keep this human in a prison, it’s very doubtful he could keep them in a school. Even Toriel can’t make Frisk do anything, Frisk just normally does the right thing on their own. (Or at least they have erased all the times they didn’t do the right thing, so is that the same?) ‘Very well,’ he says. ‘But! First you must come home with me and let me make you a packed lunch, otherwise you will be hungry.’

Frisk hesitates, scuffing the toe of one shoe on the ground. ‘Is Sans still asleep?’

‘Almost certainly!’

‘Okay then.’

Which is how Papyrus finds himself making a third packed lunch (Sans’ is on the counter still, with a note on it suggesting he should eat it instead of discarding it and going to Grilby’s) in a clean sweater while Frisk washes their face in the bathroom. He thinks a bit and then sends a text message to Toriel saying ‘I AM VERY SORRY, BUT THE SMALL HUMAN IS WITH ME. I COULD NOT PREVENT THEM FROM SEEKING MY PRESENCE, THEY SIMPLY MISSED ME TOO MUCH. PLEASE DO NOT BE ANGRY WITH THEM AND I WILL RETURN THEM BY DINNER. YOURS NYEHFULLY, PAPYRUS.’

‘Are you ready yet?’ Frisk asks from the doorway.

‘Yes, I am ready!’ Papyrus hastily packs their two lunches in his bag and reaches for Frisk’s hand.

Once again they set out, not much later, although people are starting to appear on the street. Papyrus and Frisk both wave to Muffet as she heads to her bakery. This time they make it to the Underground without being stopped.

‘Flowey!’ Frisk calls out as soon as they are in sight of the flowerbed. They’re running before Flowey turns and are crouched down cupping his face in their hands by the time he responds.

‘Frisk?’ Flowey’s face does something strange. It has fangs, now, but it isn’t the face he’d scared Papyrus with. It’s a little monster face, and on the verge of tears. ‘What are you doing here?’

‘I’m here to help you,’ says Frisk.

Flowey yanks himself out of their hands, features morphing back to normal. ‘You can’t help.’ He turns to Papyrus. ‘And I told you not to tell anyone.’

‘He didn’t tell, I guessed,’ says Frisk. ‘So don’t kill anyone, please.’

Flowey shrugs. ‘There’s no point anyway. Like there’s no point in you being here. What do you think you’re going to do?’

Frisk looks at Papyrus. Papyrus says, ‘We’re going to make you a soul!’

‘You don’t know how, you don’t know where to look for information on how, and it’s impossible anyway,’ says Flowey.

I know where to look,’ says Frisk. ‘There are notes about souls in the Royal Lab.’

‘Of course! That’s an excellent idea!’ says Papyrus. ‘A science house would be full of useful science notes.’

‘The Royal Lab has floors too.’ Flowey looks at the pot Papyrus picked up on the way. ‘Fill that thing with soil that doesn’t contain day old spaghetti and I’ll consider it.’

Papyrus does and Flowey gets in with a surprising minimum of grumbling. Frisk insists on carrying Flowey and even though Flowey scowls the whole way Papyrus doesn’t think he really minds. It’s nice when your friends like each other!

The lab looms over them ominously and Papyrus has a moment where he thinks something is wrong but then Frisk is pushing the button and the door is sliding open. It’s a little ominous inside too — lots of tiles. Are tiles ominous? Maybe tiles are not ominous and it’s something else. Like the length of the corridor or the darkness. Papyrus takes Frisk’s free hand just in case they’re scared, and Frisk squeezes back, so maybe they were.

‘I hope the lights still work in here,’ Frisk mutters, and then they pull their hand away to press the light switch which lights everything up very faintly with a noticable buzzing sound.

There are screens, green walls, white tiles, sticky notes on everything and a lot of empty ramen cups. ‘This certainly looks like a place where science is done,’ says Papyrus. ‘Although I did not realise it required so much ramen!’

Frisk lets go of his hand and heads for the room labelled as a bathroom. ‘There’s an elevator here. If there’s not enough power we might not be able to get back up, though. I managed to turn the power on from down there before, but… I dunno about this time.’

‘Ready to give up yet?’ Flowey asks, conversationally.

‘We’re not giving up!’ Frisk says, and strides into the elevator. Papyrus does not want to be trapped in an underground laboratory in the dark with no one knowing where he is, but he also doesn’t want to give up on his friend, so he strides after Frisk and strikes a heroic pose. What they are doing is surely heroic enough to require one.

Frisk grabs his hand again at the bottom and leads him through a dim lab in a state of disrepair. It looks like it’s been in a state of disrepair since long before everyone left for the surface. ‘Are labs always this spooky?’ he asks.

‘Dunno. I haven’t been in any other ones,’ says Frisk, tugging him along. ‘The power room’s here. Last time I had to go and find keys in weird places, but I don’t think anyone took them out again when I left.’

Papyrus hesitates. There’s a screen on the wall, displaying text in orange in the dim corridor. It’s not the first one they’ve passed, but it catches his attention.

‘I've chosen a candidate.
I haven't told ASGORE yet, because I want to surprise him with it...
In the center of his garden, there's something special.
The first golden flower, that grew before all the others.
The flower from the outside world.
It appeared just before the queen left.
I wonder...
What happens when something without a SOUL gains the will to live?’

Papyrus stops, puts his hand on it. Flowey, he thinks. Something is wrong. Are these Alphys’ notes? Then why does he feel this overwhelming sense of guilt?

‘Papyrus?’ Frisk tugs on him.

‘I think I did something bad,’ Papyrus says.

You?’ Flowey scoffs and Frisk stifles a laugh.

Papyrus closes his eyes. He tries not to think about it, the past yawning behind him like an empty cavern. It’s better to pretend he’d just come into existence three years ago, to live in the present. Whoever he was before, no one had ever come looking for him, no one had missed him. Only Sans, and Sans won’t tell him anything. So Papyrus tries to forget what he’s already forgotten, leave it in the past (not think about how the truths Sans hides are always the painful ones). Down here it’s harder to pretend that not having a past is a reasonable thing.

Frisk tugs his hand again. ‘Come on,’ they say gently. ‘We’ve gotta get the power up and then we can leave if you’re not feeling good.’

Papyrus blinks and rubs a hand over his skull. ‘I am fine! There is no need to worry! We certainly cannot leave before we have found the information we came for, that would be a waste of time.’

‘That was part of it,’ Frisk says quietly, as they enter the power room. They let go of Papyrus and put Flowey on the floor. ‘There’s a lot of information like that on screens around here. It says stuff about souls and experiments. Is looking at it going to upset you?’

‘I was not upset! I was… Well! Whatever I was, I am fine now, and we should continue!’

Frisk gives him a long look that makes him wish he could read expressions the way Sans can. Then they nod and walk over to press buttons on the console until the laboratory grudgingly lights up with light that is not dim but somehow dingy.

‘This is definitely the sort of place you’d expect people to make abominations of science like me,’ says Flowey.

‘You are not at all abominable! Most of the time,’ says Papyrus. ‘In general you are a very good creation of science.’

Frisk picks Flowey’s pot up again before the incredulous flower can respond and starts walking down another corridor.

There are more screens. Notes about monsters comatose and close to death, about injecting determination into them in hope that their souls would persist after their inevitable demise. Is one person writing these notes, or are two? If there are two they appear to be doing the same research. It’s morbid, to use the near dead in such a way, and none of the notes seem to feel this. There are operating tables near the second set of notes, tables still sticky with… something. Probably the creation of the amalgamates, there’s nothing inside a monster’s body that should be sticky.

‘Frisk? You came down here alone with the power off?’ he asks.

Frisk looks at him. ‘I had to. Alphys was… she was in trouble, I had to go check she was okay.’

Papyrus nods vigorously. ‘Of course, you would have to help Dr Alphys. Still, that was very brave of you, human!’

Frisk smiles. ‘It was pretty scary, especially with the amalgamates still down here. Before I got to know them, I mean, I’m not scared of them now.’

Something in the corner hisses like static. Papyrus jumps, turning his head so fast he can hear his spine click. There are three sinks there, presumably for whoever was doing surgery to wash their hands, and although no one has been near them one of them is filling with milky white.

‘What’s that?’ Flowey asks, pulling his leaves around him.

‘They’re still here?’ Frisk is wide-eyed, but steps protectively in front of Papyrus and Flowey. ‘I can handle them, don’t worry.’

Papyrus steps forward, anyway. He is not going to let his human friend fight alone! The white is coalescing into three creatures that look like blobs of faces. One of the faces looks like a skull (looks like Papyrus). They hiss and crackle and seem to turn his thoughts to static, leave him unsure of his own reality as if he might fall through the floor at any moment and land somewhere else. Faces start appearing around him, warped and distorted. He and Frisk both dodge, but they seem more interested in him, the faces gathering around him like… like an audience in a lecture hall…

‘Come join the fun,’ crackles a voice like a poorly tuned radio. Frisk is holding up their mobile phone.

‘No,’ Frisk says. ‘Papyrus, tell them no.’

Something slides into Papyrus pocket, even though the creatures haven’t come near him. For a surreal moment it reminds him of Sans, playing with time and space for his own amusement. He slides his hand into his pocket and pulls out something small and white. It sticks to his glove like toffee.

‘Remember us,’ crackles the voice. ‘Lorem ipsum docet.’

Papyrus raises the thing to his mouth and pulls it off his glove with his teeth.

‘Don’t!’ Frisk shouts.

It tastes awful and Papyrus has eaten both his own cooking and Undyne’s. It tastes like sour milk and pepper. It burns his mouth and goes down to burn the inside of his ribs.

’…not even trying to bring the barrier down with this, just…’

[’…feel bad for them, don’t…’]

’Sure, but you don’t get to rewrite a century because someone made a mistake. People make mistakes, you don’t get to go back and…’

‘Sans,’ he whimpers, holding his head. One of those voices had been his brother. The other garbled, some strange language, but somehow familiar.

‘Just say no and they’ll leave,’ Frisk says, taking his arm. ‘Just say no!’

Papyrus shakes his head. ‘I am sorry, but I need to know.’ He straightens up and holds his hand out. Another white lump appears in it.

‘N-n-never going to get this right, I’m just not smart…’

[‘…course you are! You just need more…’]


’Yo! Hope I grow up to be like you!’

He keeps going, swallowing more pieces down, voices around him. Praise, uncertainty, anger. Arguments. People he doesn’t know. Sans and Alphys. A voice he knows but doesn’t even know how he understands. His bones are burning, he’s shaking with the effort of standing.


’…give it to me, I’m not gonna let you do this alone, if you can…’

[’…dosage is good…’]

’Heh. Thought you’d argue.’


’No. No. Just… just hold still. I can reach you, I can… I… No!’

‘Sans!’ Papyrus crumples, arms folding around his ribcage as if he might need to hold himself together.

‘Great,’ says Flowey, his voice seeming to come to Papyrus from a distance. ‘Now what do we do with him?’

‘We’ve got to get him home.’ Frisk’s arms wrap around Papyrus, the pressure feeling like a vice on his bones, and lift him. ‘…He’s not heavy.’

‘He’s a skeleton, what did you expect?’ Flowey asks.

‘I guess I thought he’d weigh a skele-ton,’ Frisk says. Great. Papyrus may be dying and his brother isn’t even here and there’s still no escape from puns. ‘I don’t know if I can carry him all the way back to the surface though. He’s a weird shape and he’s knobbly.’

‘Do you know anything about skeletons?’ Flowey asks, then heaves a put upon sigh. ‘Get both of us somewhere with soil and I’ll get him the rest of the way.’

Frisk starts to carry Papyrus to the elevator and everything dissolves into hazy, staticy pain.

The journey to the surface passes like a nightmare. At some point Frisk shakes him awake enough to make him drink two juice boxes. The burning sensation in his bones abates a little, enough that when he’s lifted again into a cradle of vines their friction doesn’t feel like having his bones sandpapered. He drifts.

He wakes held against something solid and furry, burning soothed to a gentle warmth.

‘There, he will be fine now.’ Toriel. One paw is still cupping the back of his skull. ‘So perhaps you will no longer find it necessary to glare at my child?’

Papyrus lifts his head, still feeling unreasonably weak considering healing magic should have dealt with that. Maybe he’s just feeling overwhelmed? Is this what overwhelmed feels like? Frisk is huddled miserably on a chair and Sans is standing in front of them. Papyrus can’t see his eyes from here, but they are probably empty.

‘Sans,’ he calls.

There’s a flash of dark and Sans is next to him. ‘What the heck happened?’ he asks. ‘The kid says you ate an amalgamate.’

‘I don’t think it was really an amalgamate,’ Papyrus says.


‘It was memories and I think they were mine.’ He lunges forward, wrapping his arms around Sans’ ribcage and burying his face in Sans’ shoulder. ‘I did something bad! I’m sorry!’

‘Hey, c’mon, it doesn’t sound like you hurt anyone but yourself,’ Sans says.

Papyrus shakes his head. ‘No, before. I-I think we were arguing. And later you said to hold still and you sounded…’ Papyrus dissolves into sobs. ‘I’m sorry!’

‘Okay, look.’ Sans pats his back. ‘We argued sometimes, we argue sometimes now. And I expect I did sound dreadful when I was tellin’ you to keep still — you’d fallen into a machine we were workin’ on, I thought I was watching you die.’ His voice trembles a little on that. ‘But none of that means you did anythin’ bad.’

‘Then why do I feel guilty?’ Papyrus asks.

‘I dunno, but you don’t need to. You just got a bunch of memories back all at once with no context. Trust me, okay? You didn’t do anything wrong.’

It’s so tempting to believe. For three years Sans has been his main source of information on almost everything. Aside from pranks, he’s been a pretty reliable one. But… sometimes…

‘I think we all need lunch,’ says Toriel, reorienting Papyrus to the fact that it’s a little after noon on a Wednesday and they’re all in Toriel’s living room.

‘Should you and Sans not be at work?’ he exclaims.

‘Not when you’re half-dead for inexplicable reasons, bro,’ Sans says.

‘I phoned them,’ says Frisk.

‘I am sorry to make you miss work!’ says Papyrus. ‘That is, I am sorry to make Toriel miss work. I am sure Sans would have found some other way to miss it.’

‘I’m allowed time off work when something goes this badly a-miss,’ Sans says.

‘Saaaans!’ Papyrus whines and just like that everything is normal again.

Frisk and Toriel go back to school after lunch. Sans refuses to go back to work and instead tags along as Papyrus does some shopping, sneaking snack food into the cart like a four-year-old and smirking when Papyrus yells. Were we always like this? Papyrus wants to ask as they bicker their way through the check-out, amusing and frustrating the young lady behind the counter. Did you always tease, did I always scold, did we fall into step afterwards as we walked home?

‘You’re quiet,’ Sans says, cocking his head to look up at Papyrus.

‘Am I? It has been a very long, very strange day.’

‘Yeah, tell me about it.’ Sans shoves his hands in his pockets. ‘What were you even doing in those labs?’

Oh dear. That is a difficult question. Flowey will be very upset and possibly murderous if he tells Sans about him! But lying is hard! ‘I was helping a friend!’ he says.

‘You mean Frisk?’

‘No, someone else. Frisk was helping me help them. We were being helpful together, which made us twice as helpful! I hope.’ Maybe not, considering he’d just fainted and Flowey had had to carry him home. ‘I am sure we were at least somewhat helpful.’

‘You gonna tell me who this friend is?’

Papyrus shakes his head and doesn’t meet Sans’ eyes.

‘It’s not like you to keep secrets.’

‘It’s just! He would be very upset if I told you!’ Papyrus says.

Sans gives him a long look. ‘He threaten you?’

‘No! Well, yes. I mean, he did, but I don’t think he’d really do it. That’s not why I want to help him. Or why I don’t want to upset him. He’s lonely and thinks he’s bad and if I don’t help him he’ll just… stay there alone feeling bad… forever…’

‘Sometimes people think they’re bad because they are.’

‘Sans! I don’t believe that! If he feels bad then it means he wants to be good, and anyone can be good if they want to! Sometimes people just need help!’ He’s getting louder, swinging the shopping bags around as he starts gesturing. ‘He brought me home! He didn’t have to, but he did! I know he can be a good person!’

‘Okay. You can tell him “thanks” for that. ‘Cause I know you’re gonna see him again whatever I say.’

They’re nearly at their front door now, Sans is pulling out the keys to unlock it, and it gives Papyrus a chance to think of what he wants to say as they walk in. Because what he wants to say is exactly what he doesn’t want to say. ‘Sans, are you angry with me?’

‘Nah.’ Sans is already on his way to the couch. ‘Might have a bone to pick with your friends though.’

‘I-if you are angry, it should be with me. Because I’m the one who wanted to eat those memories, Frisk and Fl — and my other friend told me not to but I-I wanted them. I’m not — I’m not sorry.’

Sans flops onto the couch and throws an arm over his eyes. Papyrus puts the bags in the kitchen and then walks back into the living room and stands there, fidgetting.

‘I get it,’ Sans says, distantly. ‘You want your past back. I get it. But this is the best things have ever been and you’re… you’re here and alive and you’re great. It’s not worth dying to go back to.’

‘I don’t want to go back. I just want to know who I am going forward. I’m not sure I was very — very nice.’

Sans sits up. ‘I don’t know what memories you got, but you were great, okay? You were the Underground’s brightest star. Smart, kind, heh, exciting. You had your labcoat made extra swishy for posing. The kids loved you.’ His expression is fond, edges of his grin softened into something real, if tinged with sadness. ‘Poor Alphys didn’t even remember who she was trying to live up to and she couldn’t take the pressure. You were gonna solve everything. You believed so much it made the rest of us believe. You’re still like that. You’re still you.’

Powerful, popular, prestigious. ‘I was a scientist?’

‘You were the Royal Scientist. Me an’ Alphys worked for you.’

‘Employing you would make it easier to ensure you actually did your job.’

‘An interesting idea, but I’m just a naptural slacker.’

Papyrus groans and goes to put the shopping away. He’s got a lot to think about.

Chapter Text

The next day Flowey is waiting in a patch of grass, just inside the entrance to to the Underground.

‘Hello, friend!’ Papyrus says. ‘Were you worried about me? Of course you were! But there is no need, as you can see I am completely fine. Also, Sans said to thank the person who brought me home.’

Flowey raises an eyebrow. ‘Seriously? No, that figures. Did you know he’s much nicer about killing everyone but you than he is about killing you?’

Papyrus makes a distressed sound. ‘Of course Sans would be upset if you killed his awesome brother! I’m sure he was upset if you killed people who were not me, too.’

Flowey bobs on his stem. ‘Where’s Frisk?’

‘At school. Toriel insisted they be a responsible small human today.’ Papyrus crouches down in front of Flowey, unable to keep his news to himself any longer. ‘Did you know I used to be the Royal Scientist! I didn’t know it, but it’s true!’

‘So what are you suggesting we do?’ Flowey asks flatly. ‘Go looking for the rest of your brain?’

‘Exactly!’ Papyrus beams. ‘I knew about souls once, if we can find my memories I’ll know about souls again and I’ll be able to help you!’

‘I’m not going back in the labs again without Frisk. You’ll do something stupid and drop me.’

‘I am going to the labs because I don’t know where else to look.’ They will be spooky and he will be alone, but he has to. ‘You do not have to come.’

Fine. I’ll come.’ Flowey morphs partway into his scary face. ‘And if you try to eat anything weird I’m going to tie your jaw shut.’

‘Okay! Nyeh heh heh!’ He can’t help laughing. He’s pretty sure that was affection. Undyne would do the same thing. ‘Let’s go!’

Flowey’s pot is still by the labs, tipped over with soil scattered around it from where Flowey had climbed out of it in a hurry. Flowey climbs back in, grumbling, and insists on leaving a vine out for skeleton-grabbing purposes.

‘So,’ Flowey says, conversationally, as they walk through to the elevator. ‘If you used to be the Royal Scientist, does that mean you were smarter than your brother?’

‘Possibly! But I wouldn’t need to be.’ The light comes on properly when Papyrus flicks the switch, rather than the low flickering of last time. ‘Sans is very smart, but he hates being responsible for things. He doesn’t even feed his pet rock.’

‘Do you need to feed a pet rock?’

‘Of course! You should always feed your pets.’ Papyrus steps into the elevator and presses the button. For a moment, as the door closes, it sounds like something is moving outside it.

The lights are already on in the lower labs this time. It’s still a bit spooky — Papyrus hopes that when he was in charge the walls weren’t left cracked and grimy.

‘Hey! Stop and read the notes this time.’ Flowey’s vine taps him on the shoulder and then points at the screen they’re about to walk past.

‘Oh, yes, that is a very good thought!’

Papyrus holds Flowey up to the screen and bends down to look at it himself.

‘This is it... Time to do what the King has asked me to do.
I will create the power to free us all.
I will unleash the power of the SOUL.’

‘…I completely believe you wrote that one,’ says Flowey.

‘It does sound like a thing the Great Papyrus would write.’ Papyrus strikes a pose, holding Flowey out in front of him. ‘Unleash the power of the soul! Nyeh heh heh!’

‘FWOOSH!’ Flowey shouts, releasing a spade-shaped pattern of bullets in front of them. They both start laughing, Papyrus leaning against the wall and Flowey drooping over the edge of his pot.

The next few screens sober them up. The notes become more clinical as they talk about how to harness the power of the soul, lamenting that extracting a soul would destroy the soul’s host since the souls of most monsters fade after death.

‘I've done it.
Using the blueprints, I've extracted it from the human SOULs.
I believe this is what gives their SOULs the strength to persist after death.
The will to keep living... The resolve to change fate.
Let's call this power...

This is the last screen before the power room and they both shiver at it. Papyrus isn’t sure whether to admire or fear his past self’s resolve.

‘I hope it didn’t hurt the human souls,’ he says, hugging Flowey’s pot against him.

‘Who cares?’ Flowey asks.

‘I care. I don’t want to have hurt anyone. And it seems especially unfair for someone to hurt after they’ve already died.’

Flowey droops forward, petals hiding his face. ‘Nothing’s ever been fair.’

‘I’m sorry.’ Papyrus isn’t sure what he’s sorry for, but he’s sorry. They walk the rest of the way to the power room in silence.

‘We’re not going to the surgery this time,’ Flowey says. ‘Go that way.’ He points a vine to the right and Papyrus isn’t sure whether he has somewhere in mind or just wants to avoid the memory amalgamates. Either way, Papyrus doesn’t have any better plans.

The next screen begins, ‘nothing is happening. i don't know what to do.’ Papyrus doesn’t think that was him. He might panic, but he wouldn’t write down that he was panicking. Not like that. The next one reads simply, ‘one of the bodies opened its eyes.’ That wouldn’t sound so bad if he didn’t have at least a vague idea of what had happened to the amalgamates.

The corridor leads into a bedroom, which manages to be creepy placed oddly in the middle of the lab, but there’s nothing creepy about the beds themselves. They have pink covers. Papyrus sits on one and sinks into a soft mattress. It’s good that the beds are comfortable. There’s no scientific reason to make comatose monsters comfortable.

Something is patting his head. It’s very gentle and oddly comforting — or at least it was before he realised he and Flowey are the only ones down here. Shivering so hard his bones rattle, hands clenched on the rim of Flowey’s pot, Papyrus looks up. The shape above him is vague and white, completely featureless. A blob at the top might be a head, an extended branch with a smaller blob at the end might be a hand. It’s still held out where it was patting him.

Flowey yanks at his arm with a vine. ‘Run, idiot!’

The thing doesn’t seem aggressive. It barely seems present. There’s something about it that feels like… like briefly mistaking his reflection for another person. Papyrus lifts a hand, reaching for its.

A beam of energy flies over his shoulder to hit the thing and it’s gone, disappearing through the cracks in the floor like water.

‘Sans!’ Papyrus turns his head, not at all surprised to see the hooded figure in the doorway. ‘What are you doing? I was looking for that!’

Sans steps forward, blue light flaring in one eye. ‘You tryin’ to die on me? ‘Cause I warn you, I’m not okay with that.’

Sans.’ Somehow exasperated affection wins over everything else. ‘I’m not going to fight you. I can’t fight you. You know that.’ They both know that. For practice, of course they can fight, Sans has taught him all kinds of tricks. But for real? Sans is too fragile, there’s no middle ground between losing to him and killing him.

Sans blinks and his eyelights are back to normal. ‘Yeah, I know.’ He glances around warily and then walks over and sits down next to Papyrus.

‘If you’re going to have a family quarrel you can put me on the other side of the room,’ says Flowey. ‘That goes double if you’re planning to, ugh, hug it out.’

‘Looks like you’re the one getting cuddled,’ Sans says.

‘I’m being carried because I don’t have legs,’ Flowey snaps.

‘Sounds like you don’t have a leg to stand on with that excuse,’ Sans answers.

‘Sans, please,’ says Papyrus. He stands up and carries Flowey to the furthest bed and then hesitates. ‘Are you sure you want to be over here by yourself?’

‘Sure. If anything comes I’ll yank smiley over here and make him shoot it.’

‘Please do not do that. You can yank me over instead?’

‘You’d try to eat it or something.’

Papyrus puts Flowey down by the pillow and tucks the cover in carefully around his pot before walking back to sit by Sans. The room around them is silent, even the clock isn’t ticking, it evidently stopped at nine ‘o clock what might have been years ago.

‘If I tell you what you want to know will you stop doing this?’ Sans asks.

Papyrus hesitates. He doesn’t want to accept that offer. He wants the truth. But more than that, he needs to know… ‘Do you know how to make a soul?’

Sans throws a quick glance over his shoulder at Flowey. ‘Can’t be done.’

‘Just because something hasn’t been done, that doesn’t mean we should give up,’ Papyrus protests.

‘No, really. We were trying to bring down a barrier that required soul power. Don’t you think that was the first thing we tried? Souls can only come from living things, artificial ones just… fall apart. Even you gave up on that.’

‘Flowey’s alive. If we could put a soul in him he could contain it.’

‘Yeah, that’s what he’s made for, but the soul still has to come from somewhere. Your daisy friend’s not as bad as I expected but there’s nothing we can do.’

‘I won’t accept that.’

‘You never accept anything but sometimes you’ve gotta know when to quit.’

Papyrus clenches his fists inside his gloves, fingers rubbing at the space in the centre of his palms. ‘I’m not as stupid as you think I am.’

‘Stupid enough to eat an amalgamate?’

‘Stupid enough to believe anything you say!’ Papyrus does his best to take a deep breath and wonders if it helps more when you have lungs. ‘You won’t tell me anything about my past until I might find out without you. Now you want to tell me and apparently I’m great and never did anything wrong and you… you always say things like that and it’s very kind, but…’

‘But you don’t believe me.’ Sans looks down, eyes flickering like guttering candles. ‘Yeah. That’s fair. I lie a lot. Woah!’ The thing is there again, materialising from the cracks in the floor as easily as it had vanished into them. But this time it isn’t there for Papyrus. It stands there with its hand on Sans’ shoulder while Sans looks up at it nonplussed. ‘Hey. Uh, you’re pretty friendly considering I shot you.’

‘I think it’s part of me,’ says Papyrus. ‘A nice part!’

‘Huh. I thought you were the nice part.’ It tilts its head slightly, Sans is still staring at it as if he’s trying to meet its eyes. ‘But even if it don’t mean any harm, what’s going to happen if you join up with it?’

‘I don’t know,’ says Papyrus. ‘But I don’t think it will be as bad as the other ones. And you’re here.’

‘I suck at healing magic.’

‘But you know a shortcut to Toriel’s house.’

‘She’s not gonna be at home… yeah, okay, I know a shortcut to her office too.’ He nods thoughtfully. ‘Hey, uh, Wingdings… fragment? I know Papyrus ain’t all of you, but he’s the only bit I’ve got, so try not to hurt him or dislocate him from reality or… whatever, okay?’

Papyrus pulls off one glove. He doesn’t wear his battle body much, since the guard was disbanded, but gloves are practical for a skeleton. Hands contain so many small bones, held together only by magic, it’s good to have an extra layer against them scattering. Besides, his are strange, even for skeleton hands, with sharp edged circles cutting right through. He flexes his phalanges and holds out his hand. The thing lifts its approximation of a hand from Sans’ shoulder and places it in his.

The lab is still gloomy and the colour scheme of green and grey doesn’t help, but there aren’t cracks in the walls and it’s clean.

’Saans, d-d-don’t make fun of this bit, it’s s-so cute’

[‘Are you two watching anime again?’]

’Legally required break, bro. We’re about to order pizza.’

[‘Do not order pizza! Since neither of you are working anyway, we will go home for dinner. A real dinner.’]

’Um, s-s-sorry about the—’

[’That is fine, Alphys. It was later than I realised. Do you like tuna?’]

’I d-don’t live with you?’

’You put up with us all day, you’re practically family.’

[‘Sans is right! And I can certainly invite you for dinner.’]

Cooking dinner in a neat kitchen. Coming back to find Sans has offered to show Alphys a trick that involves balancing a glass of water on each hand and leaving her like that. Rescuing Alphys, who laughs once she’s not agonising about spilling water on the tablecloth. A warm home, a warm meal.

Papyrus closes his eyes.

Sans gazing up at the night sky as if someone gift-wrapped the entire universe for him.

But wasn’t that before the barrier fell?

Doing homework in Sans’ bedroom because Sans is sick again and he plays it off like he enjoys getting out of school, but he’s always eager to hear about Papyrus’ day. He helps with the homework too, patient, encouraging and reliable.

[’Saaans, babies don’t develop orange magic if they drink lots of orange juice.’]

’Sure they do.’


Papyrus can feel himself starting to smile.

A scrapbook of impressions. The lab full of people, full of life. Sans seems to spend more time talking to other scientists and providing incidental music for failed experiments than he does working, but projects always go better when he’s been chatting with the person running them. Alphys is nervous but incredibly talanted, able to turn the things Papyrus dreams of into reality with a few tweaks he never would have seen. Serious projects see all of them working through the night and even Sans not mentioning legally required breaks.

This strange, spooky place had been more home to him than even the house he’d shared with Sans. It’s with that knowledge that he blinks away the last shreds of memory, feeling them settle inside his chest. ‘I was me.’

‘See, I toldja,’ Sans says, looking indescribably relieved. Papyrus hugs him, both because he now knows that Sans was always Sans and because Sans had been happier once. The weary detachment he’s used to from his brother should have worried him more, but he’d had nothing to compare it to.

Flowey makes a ‘blech’ noise in the background and is ignored.

‘Good memories this time?’ Sans asks.

‘Yes. Working with you and Alphys.’ Papyrus frowns slightly. ‘Did you and Alphys stop talking after I… lost myself? You always got on so well.’

‘It’s really weird to have you suddenly askin’ that,’ Sans says. ‘Things didn’t settle straight away and Alphys was kind of caught in the worst of it. Seemed to have different memories every day for a while. I did talk to her after that straightened out, but she didn’t remember how she knew me and she didn’t remember you at all and, well, she was havin’ a bad time and I couldn’t really help. I dropped by sometimes.’

‘Did everyone forget me?’ Papyrus tries not to sound plaintive. He’s always hated to think of himself as forgettable, even if being erased from reality isn’t quite the same thing.

‘Yeah. ‘cept me. ‘s part of why I didn’t tell you. Telling someone they were an amazing public figure no one can remember just makes you sound like a nut.’

Papyrus hugs him tighter. ‘I would have believed you.’

‘You believed me when I told you planting a meatball would grow a meatball tree.’

‘I didn’t say believing you was smart.’

‘Heh. What’re you gonna do now?’

‘Continue, I think. I feel fine. Better, even!’ Papyrus picks up his glove and puts it back on before standing up and holding a hand out to Sans. ‘Will you come? I could use some help from someone who remembers what everything is.’

Sans hesitates when Papyrus hadn’t expected him to, eyes flicking to the side as if weighing options. Papyrus had thought they were on the same page, now that having memories returned hadn’t been harmful. He’d thought Sans wanted him to remember, would be glad to be invited along.

Sans nods slowly and takes his hand.

Chapter Text

‘May as well bite the bullet,’ says Sans. ‘The thing you probably want to see is through here.’

Papyrus follows him into another corridor and then left. Ahead of them looms a huge grey dragon skull of a machine. ‘It looks like a gaster blaster,’ Papyrus says.

‘Funny, that,’ says Sans. ‘It’s a Determination Extractor.’

It seems almost malevolent, even powered down. Papyrus walks over, stopping subconsciously before stepping in front of its eye sockets, and leans towards it. ‘Wowie! Did we build this?’

‘We built the original, but this one is Alphys’. She made some improvements.’

‘So this extracts a component of human souls. What about other components? Or components of monster souls?’ They’d need a monster soul — or would they? Flowey was neither human nor monster. ‘Flowey, would you want a human soul or a monster soul?’

‘Monster,’ says Flowey, quickly. ‘I mean, whatever, it’s not like I’m getting either.’

‘Monster souls don’t last after death so you can’t run ‘em through a machine,’ says Sans.

‘What about living monsters?’ Papyrus asks. ‘Not that I am suggesting running any of our friends through a machine, because that would be strange and disturbing! But I could probably spare a little…’

’…already leeching off you, you think I wanna make it literal?’

[’…not the only one I was thinking of! Hope is in such short supply these days, and I have…’]

’…not gonna see you drain yourself, you have no idea what you’re…’

Papyrus puts a hand to his head. ‘I… tried that before?’

‘Yeah, you tried.’ Sans sounds tired. ‘Turns out even skeletons have enough body to get in the way of that. Prob’ly just as well.’

Papyrus steels himself and walks in front of the machine’s empty gaze. Maybe it’s the resemblance to his own blasters that makes that unnerving? He glances at it. No, it really isn’t.

‘What’s through here?’ he asks, noticing the doorway on this side of the machine.

‘Fridges for samples,’ Sans says. ‘Up that way we have the break room, back a bit there’s a shower, and if you go left from the split there’s a passage full of fans ‘cause we have a crappy ventilation system.’

There are notes in the room with the fridges, but they have nothing to do with souls. They have a lot to do with Alphys feeling terrible and leave Papyrus slightly heartbroken and with a strong urge to invite her over for dinner. Maybe he could? She hardly knows him, but Undyne’s his friend, it would be easy to invite both of them over for dinner!

‘There’s not gonna be anything in the break room,’ Sans says, and leads them back through the bedroom to a corridor full of mirrors and wilted flowers. The mirrors on the wall of the corridor keep catching Papyrus’ attention. It’s his reflection in them, he’s sure, not another lost piece of him, but his reflection has never felt like a stranger before.

‘These are nothin’ special, just controls,’ Sans says, gesturing to the flowers.

‘What do they control?’ Papyrus asks, bending down to look at them more closely.

‘Scientific controls,’ says Sans. ‘Means they weren’t experimented on, they were there to check the one we did experiment on against.’

‘Oh. I see I still have a lot to remember!’ Papyrus says.

‘Did you make me?’ Flowey asks, looking at the dead flowers that resemble him so much.

‘Tough question,’ says Sans. ‘We injected determination into a flower, but a lotta stuff… unwound. And then Alphys redid it, or had already redone it, or, uh, yeah. I dunno what tense to use, but I can tell you the whole situation was pretty damn tense.’

‘Why me?’ says Flowey.

Sans shrugs. ‘You’re just the flower we happened to pick.’

Flowey’s vine swipes down the bench, breaking pots and scattering faded petals. Papyrus nearly drops him in shock, and, even though he manages not to, the thought of Flowey’s little body down there with the other mangled flowers sticks in his brain.

‘I never asked for this,’ Flowey hisses, grabbing a mostly intact pot and throwing it at a mirror. ‘The stupid flowers never even mattered. Bringing them back… why did I bother with something like that?’

Another pot smashes into another mirror. Papyrus wants to grab Flowey’s vine, but it’s taking both hands to hold onto his pot.

Blue bones surge up on both sides of Flowey’s vine, outlining it perfectly as it freezes. Sans stands just past the tip of it, hands in his pockets and a lazy grin in place. ‘What’s up, buttercup?’

‘DON’T CALL ME THAT!’ Flowey shrieks. The pot bursts in Papyrus’ hands and the air is full of bullets and vines. Blue magic grabs his soul and flings him sideways, a hand catches his wrist, and the empty house in Snowdin unfolds around him.

‘What happened?’ Papyrus asks, trying to stop his voice from shaking. ‘I was not expecting that!’

‘Me neither.’ Sans lets go of Papyrus’ wrist and rubs his eye sockets. ‘I was tryin’ to intimidate him, not whatever that was.’

‘Maybe he doesn’t like buttercups?’

Sans leans back against the wall and stares at the ceiling, brow furrowed in thought. ‘Aw, hell,’ he concludes. ‘I may’ve deserved that. I gotta talk to the kid.’

‘If you’re going to talk to Frisk you should apologise for yesterday,’ Papyrus says. ‘You were very rude to them!’

‘Yeah, sure. You ready to go home? You’ve seen the whole lab now.’ Sans extends a hand but Papyrus can only stare at it — at him — in complete bafflement. ‘What?’

‘I’m going back for Flowey.’ Papyrus can hardly believe it needs to be said.

Sans shrugs. ‘He’s not helpless. Maybe there isn’t soil down there but he can grab things. Pretty sure he can vine-d his own way out.’

Papyrus turns towards the door. ‘You go ahead. I’ll catch up.’

‘You know that weed has almost certainly killed you before. Helping him isn’t worth the risk.’

‘That’s what he said, too.’ Papyrus opens the door and starts walking, not surprised when Sans’ footsteps follow him. They crunch through familiar snow and Papyrus realises he’s instinctively slowed to a pace Sans can easily match even though he’s not sure he wants Sans to come with him. Flowey is angry and hurt and has a right to be, whatever else he’s done, and they can’t… they can’t reach out to him while ready to shoot him if he puts a vine wrong. ‘It might be better if you did go home. I can handle this.’

‘Yeah. That sounds great. I can watch the clock and wonder how long I should give it before coming back to look for your dust.’

‘Sorry.’ The image of Sans waiting in their living room to find out whether he’s dead mixes with the image of Flowey alone in the lab, lying among the other abandoned flowers.

‘S’okay, I’ve probably done it tons of times. I mean, the kid and the weed have both killed you, gotta wonder where I was, right?’ Sans continues bitterly. ‘Except this time there’s no reset so, y’know, if you die there’s not gonna be another timeline, another Sans, another chance for things to get better. Guess I’m finally out of excuses for doing nothing.’

‘It will be fine!’ Papyrus hopes it’s the right thing to say. Sans won’t believe it, but he hopes Sans believes he believes it. ‘Maybe there are no more resets, but that means Flowey is less powerful too! If he fights me I’ll be able to defend myself, but it won’t come to that! He is not a bad flower, he is just upset!’ He doesn’t know what to do except for pouring on optimism and confidence and hoping it helps. There are too many things he could say — it won’t be your fault if I die; I’ve never expected you to protect me; I’m scared too but that doesn’t mean I can just walk away — and all of them feel mean.

They trudge through snow until it becomes rain and then Papyrus grabs an umbrella (why are there still umbrellas here?) and they trudge on into Waterfall. Sans doesn’t offer a shortcut and Papyrus wonders whether he’s hoping to give Flowey time to calm down or just delaying the inevitable. Maybe Papyrus is too, after all he hasn’t asked for one. He really doesn’t have the patience for bridge flowers today, though, and opts to pick Sans up and jump over the gaps. It’s not until he’s on the other side and putting Sans down that he thinks. ‘Oh. You could have taken a shortcut past that.’

‘Nah. I ‘ppreciate the lift.’

Papyrus has never really thought of Sans’ shortcuts as unusual before. Monsters have all sorts of magic. Sans has magic that’s stranger than most, but not unreasonably so. Except he didn’t used to be able to do that, did he? Lifting Sans over puzzles when they’re in a hurry seems to have come back with Papyrus’ memories, something that had once been ingrained in his bones.

Their clothes start steaming as they enter Hotland and Papyrus speeds up at the sight of the lab. ‘Hey,’ Sans calls. Papyrus pauses for him to catch up, turning back to him, but Sans stays where he is on the bridge. ‘I’ll meet you downstairs. Gonna check it’s safe.’ He’s gone.

Papyrus starts running even while telling himself that there’s no need. Sans is neither reckless nor cruel. Still, he stamps his feet impatiently as he waits for the elevator to arrive. Downstairs he hurries past the power room. Someone’s crying. Little hiccuping sobs that echo through the bleak corridors like something in a ghost story. Sans is standing in the bedroom and when he hears Papyrus enter he turns and gives him a sheepish grin. Apparently he was prepared to deal with Flowey still being violent, but not this. Papyrus shakes his head at him and walks past, towards the corridor of flowers.

Flowey is perched on a knot of vines and roots, bent over and sobbing like a child.

Papyrus crouches on the floor, opting not to kneel on glass and pottery fragments. ‘Flowey,’ he says gently.

‘You’re here?’ The crying stops abruptly and Flowey glares up at him from under his petals. ‘Where’s your trashbag brother?’

‘Sans is here. He’s just leaving me to deal with things as usual.’ Papyrus winces. The complaint had slipped out, more habit than feeling, but he shouldn’t have said that right now with Sans listening.

Flowey droops again, hiding his face under his petals. ‘I hate both of you.’

‘I’m sorry! I was right, I did do something bad, making you without a soul! But I’ll fix it, I promise.’

‘You can’t.’ Flowey’s voice trembles. ‘You’re just saying that, but eventually you’ll realise I’m never going to change and give up.’

‘I won’t! I won’t ever give up! And I won’t ever stop visiting you! Even without a soul, you’re my friend, so until you get one I’ll just like you the way you are!’

‘You’re so stupid.’ Flowey sniffles. ‘I want to go home.’

Papyrus cautiously puts out a hand and strokes the back of Flowey’s stem. ‘To the ruins?’

‘To the past.’

‘What was the past like?’ Papyrus asks. Could it really have been that much better for a flower created such a short time ago?

‘Never mind. It’s over.’ Flowey stands straight and shakes tears out of his eyes. ‘Take me back to Hotland and go home.’

‘Do you want to come home with me?’ Papyrus asks impulsively, and then rushes on before Flowey can answer. ‘I know you said you’re not safe around people, but I intend to visit a lot, so you’ll be around me either way. And Sans can take care of himself.’ He considers this. ‘As long as it doesn’t involve laundry or vacuuming. Sans already knows about you and no one else would have to and Frisk can visit you without having to come such a long way!’

‘Why would you offer that?’ Flowey asks.

‘If I made you then I’m responsible for you! I don’t want you to be alone and unhappy. Even if I can’t make you happy, I can at least not leave you alone!’ Papyrus gently picks up the knot of vines and roots and stands up, raising Flowey to eye-level. Until he has an answer as to where they’re going, though, he doesn’t move.

Fine. But if it doesn’t work out I’m coming back here.’

‘Okay! But it will work out, you’ll see!’

Sans is sitting on one of the beds with his eyes closed, but they blink open too fast for him to really have been napping.

‘Flowey’s coming home with us!’ Papyrus tells him, even though he was definitely listening.

‘If you say so.’ Sans gets up and stretches, making Papyrus wince by cracking his joints, before walking over to join them. ‘Hey,’ he says to Flowey. ‘Sorry about the buttercup thing. Didn’t realise why you’d mind when I said it.’ Flowey huffs and won’t look at him.

Papyrus looks back and forth between them. ‘What am I missing?’

‘Everything, as usual,’ Flowey snaps, then rounds on Sans. ‘And you can keep it to yourself. It’s what you’re best at, anyway.’

Sans ignores that and holds out his hand. ‘Shortcut? I dunno about you but I’ve done enough walking today.’

‘This is probably the most exercise you’ve had in months,’ Papyrus says, shifting Flowey to one arm and taking Sans’ hand.

‘Yep,’ Sans agrees, tugging them through a shortcut and, this time, to their house on the surface. ‘Gonna take a break now.’

‘Oh!’ says Papyrus to Flowey. ‘I don’t have any more flowerpots! How do you feel about mixing bowls?’

‘Sure. Whatever,’ Flowey answers sulkily.

By the time Flowey is esconced in a glass mixing bowl Sans is asleep on the couch. Which Papyrus would not normally encourage, but it’s good that he’s decided he doesn’t need to watch Flowey all the time! Papyrus was, perhaps, a little thoughtless in inviting the flower home without consulting Sans. Besides, Papyrus is tired after the day they’ve had, so Sans must be exhausted. Papyrus tucks a blanket over his brother, realises they missed lunch, decides it’s too late to worry about that now and goes to cook dinner.

He hums as he dices tomatoes and sets water boiling, thinking about whether he can still invite Undyne and Alphys for dinner tomorrow with Flowey in the house. He should invite Frisk, too. Or maybe instead? Flowey and Frisk are friends, it would be good for them to see one another! There’s the question of memories, too. He still doesn’t have the sciencey ones, at least not the right sciencey ones, and he’s checked the whole of the Royal Labs so — he sighs — he will probably have to search the entire underground. Maybe Frisk will have more ideas? Or Sans! Although Frisk is honestly more help at present since they’re actually trying to do the same thing he is instead of just humouring him! If only he could explain Flowey to Alphys…

‘Hey, somethin’ smells good.’ Sans wanders into the kitchen yawning.

‘Yes! Spaghetti by the Master Spaghettore the Great Papyrus is nearly served!’ Papyrus announces, grabbing some plates out of the cupboard. He’d been thinking of so many things he’d hardly paid attention to what he was cooking, but it doesn’t seem to have turned out badly.

Sans pauses after a bite. ‘Okay, really good. Didn’t know you’d remembered how to cook.’

Did he? Papyrus takes a bite of his own and… oh, yes, it is good. Which is great! But… ‘Oh dear,’ he says. ‘I do hope Undyne doesn’t mind.’

Sans makes a not very convincing effort to hide a laugh. ‘I expect she’ll find it in her heart to forkgive you.’

‘Sans, don’t.’

‘You may even be able to teach her now that you’ve sur-pasta.’


‘Though she’d be surprised by the sauce of your improvement.’

‘Stop, or I’ll take it away.’ Papyrus makes a threatening motion towards Sans’ plate and Sans fends him off with a fork.

‘Hey, I missed lunch, starving me wouldn’t be very…’



Papyrus tries to hide a laugh in his turn and Flowey turns his back on them muttering about idiots.

Chapter Text

Papyrus wakes, as usual, long before dawn. Glancing out of his bedroom window he can see he’s not the only one, and that’s less unusual than it used to be. Their garden is a square of neatly-mown grass surrounded by flowerbeds enthusiastically dug up and inexpertly planted. Snowdin wasn’t a place for gardening, but Papyrus is learning! Tonight it also contains a telescope, star charts scattered over the grass, and Sans. Papyrus pulls a sweater on over his pyjamas and heads down.

‘Hello, Sans. Good… morning? It is not morning, but it is not evening either and good night has entirely the wrong connotations. How are the stars?’

‘They’re good. Getting on with sparkling and so on.’ Sans smiles at him.

‘I don’t know why you don’t study astronomy properly,’ Papyrus remarks, looking at the star charts. ‘Given the exchange rate for gold it’s not as if we couldn’t afford it.’

‘It feels wrong, doing science without you.’ That is a new answer, and a startlingly honest one. A moment later Sans tries to soften it. ‘Anyway, ‘m too lazy for college. You see me getting up early for classes?’

‘You did it once. I didn’t even have to drag you out of bed most mornings.’ Papyrus stares up at the star speckled sky, poking at his brain to see if recovering his past as a scientist makes him share Sans’ interest in them. It doesn’t, he decides, at least not yet. The stars are lovely, but they’re too far away to help anyone, and after the Underground one planet is big enough for him. ‘Sans. How did we go star-gazing before the barrier fell?’ Sans goes still for a moment and Papyrus continues. ‘If you’re going to say that you don’t know what I mean or that that sounds unlikely, don’t.’

‘Dunno what you expect me to say.’

‘I know it’s a novel experience for you but you could try the truth.’

Sans shoves his hands into his pockets and hunches his shoulders. ‘You’re scaring me.’

‘What?’ That’s not… he’s angry with Sans, yes, a smouldering frustration that Sans can’t seem to decide whether to help or hinder him. But scared? Of him?

‘You don’t even remember it all and you’re already rushing headlong into the same mistakes. What’s going to happen once you know what you can do?’

‘Maybe I’d do a better job of avoiding them if you’d tell me what they were.’

There’s a long pause and then Sans sighs and capitulates. ‘Okay. I guess I’m not gonna be able to hide this one for long. ‘s embarrassing though.’ He pulls his hands out of his pockets and hides his face in them. ‘We had a time machine.’

‘Wowie! Really? How is that embarrassing? That’s amazing!’ They’d had a real time machine, like super-heroes or science fiction adventurers!

‘Mostly ‘cause we were really irresponsible with it.’

‘Irresponsible? How? Did we… did we change the past, like Frisk?’ Not like Frisk. They wouldn’t have killed people, surely, not even if they could undo it.

‘Nah. Not like that. Mostly ‘cause we couldn’t. It wasn’t that great a time machine to be honest. The original idea was to go back to before the barrier was raised, maybe stop it ever going up, but that was a terrible idea to begin with. You change stuff millennia back most of the same people aren’t even gonna be born. Didn’t have to make the decision though, because it couldn’t do it. It could just about handle stepping on butterflies, any bigger changes and it started to shake itself apart. Sometimes it shook bits of reality apart with it.’

‘Stepping on butterflies? Why were we stepping on butterflies?’

‘It’s a metaphor. There’s this famous science fiction story where someone changes the future by accidentally stepping on a butterfly. See, he’s —’

‘Don’t change the subject.’ Papyrus sits on the grass so he can look up at Sans instead of down and smiles. ‘I want to hear the rest of our story.’

‘You tryin’ to butter me up now? Okay, so, we couldn’t make changes without breaking the machine and causing side effects. But as long as we didn’t do much, we could go back, even to before the barrier was raised. It may have messed reality up a bit, but not enough to measure, so, uh, we figured it wasn’t doing any harm. And, yeah, this is the embarrassing bit, ‘cause we may have weakened causality in the whole Underground. To go star-gazing.’

Papyrus puts a hand over his mouth and hides his face in his knees and still can’t stop the constricted, ‘snrrrk.

Sans shrugs. ‘Guess you gotta laugh.’

Papyrus pulls up a handful of grass and throws it at him. ‘You don’t even know whether we did weaken reality! You just feel bad because you enjoyed it!’ The memory of Sans gazing enraptured at the sky is at the front of his mind and it is irresponsible, but he thinks he’d still risk causality a little to put that look on his face. Is that what Sans means by making the same mistakes? ‘Is that really all we did?’

‘It may have made what Frisk did possible.’

It’s a sobering thought, but still. ‘That’s not so bad, is it? Maybe they did bad things along the way but we couldn’t have brought down the barrier without them!’

Sans rubs the top of Papyrus’ skull as if he’s a baby bones again. ‘There’s also the part where you fell into the time machine and nearly died.’

‘I’m sure I didn’t do that on purpose,’ Papyrus protests. ‘Anyway, I’m not planning on time travelling, especially the kind where you can’t change anything. I can’t see how it would help.’

‘Right. Guess I’m worrying about nothing.’ Sans’ eyelights are still shaking, though.

‘It does seem that way!’ says Papyrus. ‘You certainly don’t need to worry about me falling into a time machine! I don’t even have a time machine!’


Papyrus gets up and wanders restlessly over to a corner of the garden. He planted tulips here, but they haven’t come up. Now he starts digging the bulbs up and putting them aside.

‘I gotta ask, are you burying a bone over there?’ Sans says, a little while later.

‘No, I need my bones!’ Papyrus answers. ‘I’m making a space for Flowey. I’m sure living in a bowl all the time can’t be healthy! He can get around better in soil too. Maybe I should make a roof for him? He might not want to be rained on, but then he is a flower so he might want to be rained on.’

‘Maybe a retractable roof? We’ve made enough puzzles with moving parts,’ Sans suggests, ambling over.

By the time dawn arrives one corner of the garden is under a rickety awning made of dowel and tarpaulin that can be retracted by pulling a string and Papyrus has discovered he definitely doesn’t have any recovered memories involving woodwork.

Flowey grudgingly concedes that the corner of the garden will do after Papyrus paints him a ‘Flowey’s Place — No Anyone Allowed’ sign. The bowl of earth is set by the back door so he can climb into it and knock with a vine if he wants to come in. Sans tries to go back to bed but is convinced not to with an offer of pancakes for breakfast. Papyrus phones Frisk while he cooks them to ask if they want to come over for dinner, they’re eager to visit and even more so once they learn Flowey is going to be there.

With that settled and Sans off to work (to nap at his hotdog stand, probably, but at least it will save the world from fake hotdogs) Papyrus decides to do some laundry. He’s been busy the last few days! Technically he and Sans have an agreement about Sans’ room — Sans doesn’t have to keep it tidy if Papyrus doesn’t have to clean it — but Papyrus usually takes pity on Sans’ bedclothes eventually. He might as well do so today. He sings, later, as he hangs the washing out to dry, and Flowey heckles. It’s a lovely afternoon, anyway.

Frisk arrives after school, hugging Papyrus, semi-graciously accepting an apology from Sans, and immediately running outside to see Flowey. They come in together for dinner, even though Flowey doesn’t eat. Both of Frisk’s arms are wrapped around the mixing bowl, leaving them awkwardly shouldering the door closed.

‘It’s not spaghetti?’ they say in surprise as they pass the stove.

‘The Great Papyrus is not restricted to any one dish!’ Papyrus announces. ‘Frisk, wash your hands before dinner.’

Frisk does, but gives the risotto a very resigned look when it’s placed in front of them. After the first forkful the look changes. ‘When did you learn to cook this?’ they demand.

‘A long time ago and yesterday and also I bought a recipe book today,’ Papyrus says.

‘He managed to collect some more memories, so he’s a little more competent,’ Flowey puts in.

‘You did? You’re not hurt?’ Frisk says anxiously.

‘I am fine!’ Papyrus finishes serving and sits down himself. ‘I will tell you all about my amazing adventures while we eat!’

He does, at least mostly. He sort of skips the bit where Flowey was crying and also the reason he’s been arguing with Sans, but he includes the things he saw in the lab and the memories he’s been getting back. Frisk interrupts after the first few. ‘You were the Royal Scientist? W. D. Gaster?’

W. D. Gaster? Sans had called the fragment Wingdings, hadn’t he? Gaster is familiar from the gaster blasters they both have. Wingdings Gaster. It feels familiar. ‘Yes! I think I was Wingdings Gaster,’ says Papyrus. ‘But how do you know? Sans said everyone forgot me.’

‘I don’t know if they were people,’ Frisk says. They take a few more bites while they think. ‘They were grey and some of them looked like other people I’d seen. They showed up sometimes in different timelines and talked about Gaster.’

‘What were they like?’ Sans asks.

‘Um. You remember that guy in the MTT resort licking a ficus?’ Frisk says.

‘You went to the MTT resort? Without me?’ Papyrus breaks in.

‘Yeah,’ says Sans, to Frisk. ‘It looked like him?’

Frisk nods. ‘And one looked like this guy I saw buying a donut. And one was a giant head. And… one was Monster Kid? But that one was kinda different. They didn’t talk about Gaster they said stuff about… being forgotten. And rain. Oh! The one with the donut… I mean, he didn’t have a donut, he was holding a head… he said he had a piece of Gaster and that’s why he could talk about him.’ Frisk rubs their head. ‘There was a skeleton too with holes in its hands, that one didn’t say anything. I think I startled them?’

Papyrus strips off his gloves. ‘Like this?’

‘Oh. I didn’t know you had those.’ Frisk leans over and pokes a finger through one inquisitively. ‘Does it hurt?’

‘No. I’ve always had them. I think?’ he shoots a look at Sans, who nods.

‘Yeah, you were born with ‘em. Never slowed you down either.’

‘So now we know what to look for!’ says Papyrus. ‘We definitely need to find the one that has a piece of me! And the one that is me?’

‘I know where they are, but not how to make them show up,’ says Frisk. ‘They were never on the same time through as one another.’

‘Can you still reset?’ Flowey asks conversationally.

‘I think so. If I go right back to the beginning,’ Frisk says in a small voice.

The world suddenly feels very, very fragile. Like a chalk drawing ready to be wiped away. Everything that Papyrus has done, everything that he is, could simply be reverted to an earlier state. Is this how Sans has been feeling all along, knowing about this? Like standing on the edge of the abyss knowing it’s not up to you whether you fall.

‘I won’t, though,’ Frisk continues. ‘It’s not fair. I did it too much already.’

‘Thanks, kid,’ Sans says. Papyrus can understand why that sounds so heartfelt even as it grates a little to think of thanking someone for not doing that to you, not undoing pieces of you. Maybe it’s just another form of mercy, though, and there’s nothing wrong with being grateful for that.

‘It might be the only way we can find them,’ says Flowey.

‘But it would reset me to a state where I don’t even have the memories I do have!’ Papyrus says. ‘That wouldn’t help!’

‘I’m not resetting,’ Frisk says firmly. ‘Papyrus, what else happened yesterday?’

Papyrus continues his story, trying to put the shaken feelings behind him and focus on the present. Which is going to stay the present, Frisk says so! The last bit of his story is exciting enough to distract him from those thoughts. ‘And then last night Sans told me we used to have a time machine!’ he finishes.

Frisk frowns. ‘I’m pretty sure he still does. In the workshop behind your house in Snowdin.’

‘Kid,’ says Sans. ‘I don’t think you should be saying that.’

‘You don’t have to help,’ says Frisk, folding their arms. ‘But if we need to move between times it’s better than resets.’

Sans looks down. ‘It’s broken, anyway. How did you even know about it?’

Frisk rolls their eyes and says in a monotone, ‘I’m a stupid doodoo head. I am the legendary fartmaster.’

‘Frisk! That’s very immature!’ Papyrus scolds.

‘Nah,’ says Sans. ‘They’re passcodes. Dunno what I was thinking when I told ‘em.’

‘You could have thought of better passcodes,’ Papyrus says. ‘Even if it’s broken, we could take a look at it.’ He sees the dark expression gathering on Sans’ face and swiftly adds, ‘I promise not to fall into it!’

Flowey says, ‘You fell into it? Of course you did, that’s exactly the kind of stupid thing you would do. So that’s how you wound up smeared all over time and space.’

Frisk pushes their empty plate at Papyrus and says, ‘Can I have some paper and a pen? I’ll draw the grey people and write down where they were.’

‘Oh, yes, of course.’ Papyrus finds paper for Frisk and collects up everyone’s plates. He’s in the kitchen, deciding the washing up can wait, just for once, when he hears Frisk talking softly.

‘Do you think the time machine can get him back? It’s what you gave up on, right?’

‘I dunno, kid.’ Sans’ voice is just as soft. ‘I used to think it could patch the timeline back together since it shattered it, but if it could I never figured out how. Too late now, who knows what that would do to the happy ending.’

Frisk sighs. ‘I wanted a happy ending for everyone.’

‘Well, you’re workin’ on it, right? You and Papyrus.’

‘I’m working on it too,’ says Flowey. ‘Maybe it’s stupid, but if it’s going to be my happy ending, then I’m not just waiting for you idiots to hand it to me. I don’t deserve to be happy, but you’re not going to leave me alone until I am, so I’m doing this my way.’

There’s a crash and Papyrus runs out of the kitchen to find Frisk’s chair overturned. Frisk is hugging Flowey’s mixing bowl with the biggest smile while Flowey scowls.

Chapter Text

The next day it rains, but that doesn’t matter. They’re going to be in the Underground anyway. Papyrus packs a picnic and Toriel drops Frisk off after breakfast with a flower pot (it will be easier to carry than the mixing bowl) and an invitation for Papyrus and Sans to come over for dinner. Papyrus doesn’t know how Frisk has explained the need for the flower pot to Toriel, but they must have been convincing.

‘Are we taking a shortcut?’ Frisk asks, wrinkling their nose at the rain.

‘Kid, I can’t take a shortcut with three people, even if one of ‘em’s a flower,’ says Sans. ‘Not if you want me to be good for anything when we get there.’

‘You’re not going to be good for anything afterwards if you walk up a mountain, either,’ says Papyrus. ‘You and Frisk may as well go ahead and I’ll bring Flowey. Frisk, make sure he doesn’t try to hide the time machine or something.’

‘That’s an unwarranted accusation. C’mon, Frisk,’ Sans says. He grabs Frisk’s hand and the two of them disappear through the door to the kitchen — which almost certainly takes them to Snowdin.

Papyrus walks up Mt Ebott with the picnic basket in one hand — he should have asked Sans to take that — and Flowey in the other. The rain doesn’t bother him too much as long as he keeps his head down. It’s not as if he has skin or hair to get wet, but he doesn’t like it trickling in through his eye sockets. Flowey’s face is tipped upwards, though, petals and leaves spread.

‘Do you like the rain?’ Papyrus asks.

‘It’s okay. Real weather’s more interesting than the fake stuff underground, anyway.’

‘It is!’ Papyrus agrees. ‘It’s so strange to have a place where you only get snow in winter and then get rain sometimes!’

A night when the sky had clouded over and they weren’t sure whether to be disappointed by the lack of stars or fascinated by the rain itself. The moon had broken through, painting the puddles silver. When the clouds blew away revealing the stars again the world was left soft, wet and glowing, full of the smell of damp earth and growing things. It was as if Waterfall had always been a stage set and this was the reality it had been trying to imitate.

Papyrus looks up at the silver-grey sky streaked with purple and ignores the drizzle of rain into his skull.

They reach Snowdin to find Frisk building a snow-Frisk. Sans has, as usual, built a lump. Papyrus considers starting a snow-Papyrus but is interrupted by Flowey demanding that they, ‘Get on with this if you’re going to do it. Where’s the time machine?’

Papyrus slips the picnic basket in through their front door to keep it out of the way and they troop around to the back. Sans unlocks it resignedly. Inside is a workbench with blueprints on it and a machine under a curtain.

‘Is this the time machine?’ Papyrus asks eagerly, pulling the curtain away. It’s about the size and shape of a phone booth. Not that Papyrus has ever seen a phone booth! But he has seen phone booths in movies and they looked a lot like this. At least, if someone had glued a lot of wires and glass tubing to the outside with no apparent regard for pattern. Or physics, he adds, noticing that some of it passes through itself. Which is sort of impressive, but mostly confusing. It’s humming slightly, the wire vibrating very gently. ‘Are you sure it’s broken?’

‘Definitely broken,’ says Sans. ‘But not entirely off. It causes distortion effects, stuff in here sometimes stays the same through resets. Only some of it, though, so it’s not like I had great notes — or maybe I just never took any. Seems just as likely.’

Flowey rears back from it suspiciously. ‘You could have mentioned that!’

‘It’s not dangerous. The effects are really mild.’ Sans runs a hand over one of the tubes as if to prove his point.

Frisk puts Flowey down on the bench and comes over to look as well. ‘So, do we need to fix it?’

‘Good luck with that,’ says Sans. He opens the door and points to a screen above a control panel. Numbers and symbols are scrolling over it. To his surprise, Papyrus can read the symbols, although he still doesn’t understand the words. ‘I used that to track the anomaly. Anomalies. It doesn’t do anything else anymore.’

‘So we can’t time travel,’ Frisk says.

‘We don’t need to time travel,’ Papyrus protests. ‘We don’t want to go back to the past, we just want the grey people to show up.’

‘Right,’ says Sans, looking at the screen. ‘So, the variable that made them show up on only some timelines has to be Frisk ‘cause none of the rest of us changed.’

I changed,’ says Flowey, sounding offended.

‘So what does that mean we do?’ Frisk asks.

‘Heck if I know. I’m just here ‘cause you guys wanted my time machine, you’re running the show,’ says Sans.

Frisk gives him a look and steps into the machine. Nothing happens, then they close their eyes. The humming intensifies, light flicks through the tubes.

‘Frisk!’ Papyrus shouts — it was a shout, not a yelp, even if it came out a little high and strangled!

The humming dies back down and Frisk opens their eyes and shrugs.

‘Jeez, kid,’ says Sans. ‘If I had a heart you’d have given me a heart attack by now.’

‘Well, you weren’t doing anything,’ says Frisk defensively. ‘Did anything change?’

‘What was that?’ Papyrus asks, then realises the answer. ‘Determination? Were you feeling determined?’

‘Looks like you did change things,’ says Sans, reading the screen. ‘Thankfully not the timeline we’re in, but the readings are different… dunno what readings we want, but at least we’ve got some new ones.’

‘If they’re not the right ones I can change them again,’ Frisk says.

Sans presses buttons and scans the resulting numbers. ‘Yeah, okay. Hasn’t destabilised anything. You guys wait here, I’ll take a look see if any grey people have shown up.’

‘Aren’t you the one who doesn’t want us to find any?’ says Flowey. ‘Put me down outside and I’ll look.’

Papyrus wonders whether he should defend the sincerity of Sans’ offer — Sans is helping them when he doesn’t have to be here at all — but Sans says, ‘I’m always down for doing less work,’ and sits down on the work surface. Frisk sets Flowey down outside the open door and Flowey vanishes into the ground, returning before long to shake his head. Frisk steps back into the machine and they try again.

Eventually Flowey looks ragged enough that they let Sans take a turn anyway. He’s smug and annoying enough about it that none of them feel guilty for very long. At noon they troop into the house for lunch — Flowey back in his pot — and Papyrus spreads a picnic blanket out on the floor and starts unpacking sandwiches and flasks.

‘Would you like some tea, Flowey?’ he asks. ‘I know you don’t eat, but Asgore says it’s good for plants.’

‘I might as well try some so I’m not just watching you eat,’ Flowey says. He drinks his tea with a strange expression, but finishes the cup.

After lunch it’s back to the grind. For Papyrus it’s mostly boring — there really isn’t anything anyone needs him to do — and he finds himself looking at the blueprints on the bench just for something to do. He doesn’t understand them, which is discouraging, but he writes translations of the symbols on them just in case it’s useful to someone else.

Sans reappears from his latest round. ‘Found the Monster Kid one,’ he says. ‘Uh. It told me not to tell you, which is kinda concerning, but if you wanna see it?’ he holds out his hand.

Papyrus takes it.

The kid is standing on the end of a pier. They really do look a lot like Papyrus’ biggest (only) fan, but their colours are completely washed out to grey and their eyes are blank.

‘Hello?’ Papyrus says. ‘I am the Great Papyrus! Probably a fragment of the great W. D. Gaster, only a less creepy fragment than you!’

‘Yes,’ says the kid. ‘You should forget about me.’

‘I already did that! I’m trying to remember about you!’ Papyrus says. He steps towards it.

It doesn’t move, just continues in a soft, monotone voice. ‘Not every part is worth retrieving. A world where everything is the same, except you don’t exist. Where it doesn’t matter. We feared that. Isn’t it better not to remember that fear?’

Papyrus stares at it. ‘Didn’t that happen?’

‘I dunno about it not mattering,’ says Sans. ‘It sure as hell mattered to me.’

‘Did it?’ The kid looks at Sans with those huge white eyes. ‘I’m sorry, Sans. But you held onto what you had and continued. Isn’t that easier? All I am is fear, doubts and guilt. Haven’t you always tried to protect your brother from feeling those?’

‘I. Uh.’ Sans looks troubled, gaze sliding off to the side rather than meeting those eyes. ‘I guess. I mean, I don’t want him to feel bad? But overconfidence ain’t always a great thing either.’

‘Don’t confuse actions driven by the fear of unimportance with arrogance.’

‘Don’t say things like that to Sans!’ Papyrus breaks in. Fears, doubts. Sans does try to protect him from them and, in turn, Papyrus tries to protect Sans from knowing when he’s failed.

‘I’m sorry,’ says the kid. ‘You should forget about me.’

‘Is there really nothing good about you?’ Papyrus asks. It’s tempting to obey the strange monster. Forget about this part of himself — does he need to be afraid? To feel unimportant? …Guilty? He’d wanted, hadn’t he, to know what he’d done? Guilt has haunted him from the first painful memories he swallowed down. But why?

‘Not every piece of a person is good or necessary,’ they say.

Papyrus hesitates. ‘Are… are you sad?’

The kid looks at him. For the first time there’s an expression on their face and it’s a lost uncertain one. ‘I do not think I can be happy like this.’

‘I don’t want to leave one part of me to be unhappy so the rest of me can be happy!’ says Papyrus. ‘I think all parts of me are too cool to deserve a fate like that! Wasn’t I happy back when we were Wingdings Gaster? At least sometimes?’

‘I do not have those memories,’ says the kid. ‘The thought that we might have been… it does make me feel a little better.’

Papyrus looks at Sans who says, ‘You were mostly pretty happy.’ Sans shifts, looking between Papyrus and the kid. ‘This isn’t the bit you were looking for, we could go back, try for the sciencey bit.’

‘But if we’re both W.D. Gaster, aren’t we both your brother? We can’t just leave this bit!’

‘I dunno. I don’t want you feelin’ sad and guilty but that’s pretty selfish, right? You got a right to be all of yourself. If you want to be.’

If he wants to be. If he wants to remember, to know the bad parts as well as the good, to get to the bottom of whatever Sans keeps sliding away from. If he feels enough compassion for himself not to leave a part of him to suffer. He kneels down and holds out his arms to the kid. ‘Come here?’

The kid takes a step towards him, tears welling in blank eyes. ‘Are you sure?’

‘The Great Papyrus is always sure.’

The kid steps into his arms and he hugs them tightly, although their body already seems to be fading.

The gaster blaster emits a beam of white light. Papyrus shakes his head and dismantles it, magic fluttering in the air like confetti until he rebuilds it. Another blast.

‘You doin’ this again? You know they don’t shoot anything but basic magic,’ Sans says from the doorway.

[‘I know. They were a failure from the start. Everything about project HOPE has been.’]

‘You give us hope just by bein’ you. You don’t need to blast it at people.’

[‘Sometimes I think blasting it at people would be easier.’] Papyrus shreds the blaster with a gesture.

‘Bro.’ Sans’ expression falls and he comes over to pat Papyrus’ arm.

Papyrus sniffs and pulls a handkerchief out of his labcoat pocket to wipe his eyes. [‘Sorry. Asgore sent th-the new one today. The yellow one. Alphys has been running it through the DT Extractor.’] Sans’ hand squeezes his humerus sympathetically. [‘There just has to be a better way of giving people hope! Asgore doesn’t want to do this, he’s just afraid that everyone would give up if he stopped! There has to be a better way than k-killing… it was a child, Sans!’]

‘I know. C’mere.’ Sans tugs Papyrus’ arm until he kneels down so Sans can hug him properly. ‘I don’t like it either, but we’re working on it, right? The BARRIER project?’

[‘The BARRIER project failed. We sent everyone home. I’m glad they didn’t die, but we didn’t get their souls, and the flower never developed either.’] Papyrus sniffs again. [‘Sorry. I’m being a baby bones.’]

‘Nah. Some days just suck.’

That, Papyrus thinks, is why Sans didn’t ever tell him what the Royal Guard really did. He’d been able to protect him from knowing things he’d only been able to comfort him over before.

[’Sans, I stole Asgore’s home videos.’]


[‘I don’t think he’s watched them. I don’t think he should! Just… watch them with me?’]

They sit in the break room, watching a blank screen and istening to children’s voices.

Oh. Oh, Asriel, oh, Flowey. Papyrus hadn’t known, when he’d chosen that flower, where the Prince’s dust had been scattered. Hadn’t realised even when he saw the video, but he realises now.

’You’re not even trying to bring the barrier down with this, just changing history ‘cause you think it’s for the best.’

[’I just feel bad for them, don’t you? They cared about each other so much! They should have got a better ending than that, someone should have stopped them. Or if they’d realised what they meant to everyone, how much monsters needed them, maybe they wouldn’t have done it!’]

’Sure, but you don’t get to rewrite a century because someone made a mistake. People make mistakes, you don’t get to go back and fix it.’

[‘But I can fix it! It’s nowhere near as far back as bringing the barrier down, I’ve been improving causality correction on the machine, I can do this! Maybe it’s rewriting people’s lives but it’s been… it’s all been so sad! After Chara died everyone lost hope, the Queen left, Asgore’s been killing children! Surely undoing that isn’t wrong? All I’d have to do would be to tell someone about the buttercups.’]

‘It’s a bad idea…’

[‘It’s the right thing to do! Please, we have to try!’]

‘…but if you’re sure.’

Oh no. Tears are trickling down Papyrus’ skull. He’s sorry. So, so sorry for ever dragging Sans into something like that.

The room tilts, twists, and every direction from the time machine seems to be uphill. Curving walls of floor tiles close around him. His soul is blue, trembling with the strain of being pulled in two directions. Sans is yelling, clutching at the doorframe with one hand, the other stretched out to Papyrus. His eye is flaring blue like a supernova, lighting up his skull from the inside. There’s blue light trickling between his teeth. Papyrus digs his fingers into cracks between the tiles, feels the bones in his hands drifting apart, straining under the forces pulling at him.

‘Stay there!’ Sans calls.

Papyrus is trying. He’s trying. But his hands aren’t going to hold forever. He shifts one to ease it and tries to wedge the toes of his boots into something, anything. A phalange cracks and red leaks from it.

’No. No. Just… just hold still. I can reach you, I can… I… No!’

The tiled walls close into a sphere above him and in that moment he minds more that they’re cutting him off from Sans than from reality.

Papyrus gasps. ‘I’m sorry!’ he says. ‘I’m sorry!'

‘Easy, bro,’ Sans says. He’s kneeling to one side of Papyrus, leaning over him, while Frisk kneels on Papyrus’ other side. A blur of yellow further back is probably Flowey.

‘I shouldn’t… I should have listened to you. I shouldn’t have tried to change something from so long ago.’

Frisk pushes Papyrus until he’s in a sitting position instead of curled on the floor. ‘What did you change?’ they ask, eyes wide.

‘I… I tried to save Chara.’

’What?’ Flowey pops out of the ground so close he’s practically in Papyrus’ face.

‘I tried to go back and stop them… the buttercups. I felt so bad for you both, I wanted to save you.’ Papyrus hiccups a sob. ‘But all I did was torture you! I didn’t even stop to think where your dust might have been scattered! I picked that flower to try to please Asgore, I’m sorry.’

‘You… you tried to save Chara.’ Flowey’s face is that little fanged monster face again, and Papyrus can see the features of a boss monster in it now. ‘Even knowing what they’d done?’

‘I knew how they felt! It’s not easy, carrying everyone’s hopes and at least I’d wanted it… wanted the attention. They’d just been thrust into it. M-maybe what they did was wrong, but they were trying to free us and not even seeking credit. I just wanted to fix everything so everyone would remember me.’

‘Wingdings… Papyrus… you’re being way too hard on yourself,’ Sans says gently. ‘I know how much you cared.’

‘You know more than I do then.’ Papyrus scrubs his gloves over his face, feeling tears soak through the fabric. Maybe erasing himself and being totally forgotten had been exactly what he deserved. ‘Let’s go home.’

‘You go. There’s somewhere I need to be,’ says Flowey, and he vanishes into the earth like he’d never been there. Papyrus scrubs at his face again. His friendship with Flowey had been so fragile and he doesn’t deserve to be forgiven.

Chapter Text

The day dawns grey and shaky, sun feebly lighting up a sky like cardboard. Or maybe it’s just him, Papyrus thinks, sitting on the bed and scrubbing his hands across his eye sockets. A memory comes to him, not one of the retrieved ones, but the earliest one he didn’t have to retrieve.

He wakes to cold flecks of sensation and a thick, staticy sound. ‘It’s raining.’

‘Bro, you’re awake?’ He doesn’t hear footsteps, but perhaps they were just lost under the hiss of rain. Then something brushes his forehead. ‘Bro?’

‘It’s raining,’ he repeats. He should open his eyes.

‘Nah, it never rains in Hotland.’ The mattress dips, someone’s weight settling beside him. ‘How are you feelin’?’

‘It’s not raining?’ Wrenching his eyes open takes more work than it should. Above him is a white ceiling, when he slowly rolls his head to the side he can see a neat unfamiliar room. There’s a skeleton sitting on the side of his bed, gazing at him with concern. ‘Where am I? Who are you?’

The eyelights in the skeleton’s sockets flick out for a moment, then return, dim and hazy. ‘Oh. Jeez, I wasn’t expecting… oh.’ He rubs his palms hard across his eye sockets. ‘I’m Sans.’

‘Am I… Bro?’

‘Well, it’s not your name, but we’re brothers, no brones about it.’

Despite himself, he snorts. ‘That was terrible.’ Is he a skeleton too? He pulls one hand from beneath the covers, inspects the delicate finger bones and the strange hole in the palm. Yes, he’s a skeleton.

Sans looks more cheerful for the complaint. ‘If you wanna know your name it’s —’ The world screeches out into static and blackness. When it comes back both of Sans’ hands are wrapped around the one he’d been inspecting, clutching as if he might be pulled away. ‘That, uh, that wasn’t meant to happen, there’s been an accident and I’m, I’m tryin’ to work it out. You could have a different name for now. How about Papyrus? It’s a nice name.’

‘But it’s not my name.’

‘It could be. Just until I can get your real name back.’ Sans closes his eyes, shoulders slumping. ‘I’ll fix it. I promise I’ll fix it.’

‘Okay. Then I will be Papyrus!’ Sans looks sad and Papyrus-for-now doesn’t know him, but apparently they’re brothers, and he wants to help. ‘What kind of accident was it? Can I do anything to fix it?’

‘Uh. You know anything about antiphoton-tachyon interactions?’

Papyrus shakes his head. ‘I do not recognise any of those words. You will have to explain it to me.’

Sans rubs the back of his skull and doesn’t meet Papyrus’ gaze. ‘While I don’t mind explaining some stuff to you, catching you up on a university education is a few degrees of impossible. Just focus on gettin’ better for now and leave that stuff to me.’

Papyrus looks down at his hands, feeling a bit embarrassed. Maybe he’s just not very smart? He wants to help, but Sans seems to know what he’s doing and Papyrus would just be in the way.

Sans stands up and shuffles towards the door. ‘You hungry? You’ll be soup-rised to learn I have something for dinner that isn’t hot dogs.’

‘What are hot dogs?’

‘Sausages in buns.’ Sans has stopped in the doorway.

‘Why are they called dogs if they are sausages?’

‘Dunno. It’s puplexing.’ Sans turns around, leaning back against the door jamb. ‘So. You don’t know what soup is either? Quiche? Lasagna? Soufflé? No? Guess it doesn’t matter, not like you’ll be getting those with me doing the cooking.’

‘But I am getting soup!’ Papyrus says, feeling accomplished at managing to put this together amidst the disorientation. ‘Because you made a pun about it!’

‘Heh. You catch on quick.’ Sans grins at him and for the first time he actually looks happy.

Papyrus grabs onto the feeling. ‘Indeed! I am very astute! And also hungry, so you should go and make this “soup”.’

‘You got it, bro.’

With Sans gone Papyrus closes his eyes again and presses his hands over them. The prickle of rain on his bones is still there, although it’s fainter now, and there’s still static in the background. So. This is who he is. He has a brother and… and what? Did Sans tell him anything else about himself? He’ll have to ask later. Maybe when he’s eaten.

Sans hadn’t ever really explained. There had been times Papyrus had been angry about that, especially at first when Sans had simultaneously been a stranger and the only certain thing in his life. Now he can see how exhausted Sans must have been, working various jobs to support them, trying to fix the machine, and suddenly parenting an adult skeleton reduced to the skills and knowledge of a toddler. He’d had to teach Papyrus how to read, how to count, even how to get dressed at first. On top of that the conveyer belts and vents of Hotland had been overwhelming for Papyrus to navigate, meaning he was frequently stuck indoors until Sans got home and then nagging at him to go out when Sans wanted to rest.

Snowdin had been better. A smaller town, easier for Papyrus to navigate. He’d been able to go shopping by himself and he’d figured out the housework after a while. They’d been able to take care of each other instead of Sans taking care of him. Sans should never have had to take care of him, he’s put his brother through so much with his mistakes.

Well, he has his name back now. If he wants it. ‘Wingdings Gaster,’ he murmurs. No static, no jolt. Things have settled. He still thinks of himself as Papyrus.

There’s a tapping at the door. ‘Hey, I got breakfast.’

Papyrus freezes. He’s not sure he can face Sans right now. It’s not even the guilt, and he knows Sans won’t be angry, but he’s… not okay right now. He’s not sure he can pretend to be okay. Sans will worry. Well, Sans will also worry if he stays in his room and doesn’t come down for breakfast. ‘I’ll be down in a minute,’ he says.

Once he’s dressed and downstairs he finds a mug of coffee and a bag of pastries waiting for him on the table. ‘This is not a healthy breakfast,’ he says severely.

‘’s for a good cause,’ Sans says, halfway through a danish.

‘Is it?’

Sans shrugs. ‘They’re Muffet’s. Usually a good cause involved with her.’

Papyrus considers whether he has the energy to cook a proper breakfast, then whether pastries are actually worse than pancakes, before giving in and taking one. ‘Thank you. For picking them up.’

‘No prob.’ Sans leans his chair back onto two legs and Papyrus reaches over and pushes it down onto all four again. They eat in awkward silence, eventually broken by Sans. ‘Frisk called. Wants to know if we’re goin’ out again.’

‘I don’t think so. Not today.’ Maybe not ever. Hasn’t he put everyone to enough trouble? ‘I’m tired.’

‘You giving up?’ Sans asks, quietly.

‘Shouldn’t I? Pushing ahead hasn’t been…’ He shakes his head. ‘I’ll decide later. I’m going to do some gardening.’

‘Want a hand?’

‘No! No thank you.’ He needs to be alone, or, more specifically, away from Sans. Just until he’s a bit more together.

‘Okay. I’ll be here if you need me.’

The garden looks dull today, too, the few flowers that have poked their heads up somehow washed out under the hazy sky. But, as long as Papyrus avoids Flowey’s corner, pulling up weeds is a good distraction. It’s something Wingdings hadn’t known how to do, so any information he remembers (not much) about which plants are weeds and which are not comes only from Papyrus and doesn’t bring shreds of older memories to mind.

When he hears the door open he keeps his head down. A moment later he regrets it when someone yells, ‘Mud wrestling!’ and he finds himself face down in the flowerbed.

‘Undyne?’ he mumbles into the soil.

‘Hey, Papyrus! I heard you didn’t go to Toriel’s yesterday because you weren’t feeling well, so I came to check on you.’

‘This is no way to treat a sick person!’

‘Oh, sorry, dude!’ Undyne gets off and lifts him to his feet — literally, his feet leave the ground before she puts him back on them.

‘I’m not actually sick,’ Papyrus says, trying to brush earth off his skull. ‘Ack! Don’t wrestle me again!’

‘So, why did you miss dinner with Toriel? Spill!’ She grabs him in a headlock and holds her hand up threateningly.

‘No, no noogies!’ Papyrus wriggles in her grip. ‘I’ll tell you!’

‘Good.’ Satisfied she lets him go and sits down on the grass. Papyrus sits down next to her and brushes at his mud-stained sweater. What is he going to tell her? The parts about Flowey aren’t his secret to tell. Undyne pokes his shoulder. ‘Hurry it up, or I’m going to think you’re deciding what lies to tell me.’

‘I won’t lie to you, it’s just, um. I never told you I don’t remember much from more than three years ago. Or, well, until recently, anything.’

Undyne’s fins flare. ‘That’s a pretty big thing not to mention.’

‘I thought you wouldn’t let me into the Royal Guard if you knew! And it’s embarrassing, everyone else has a past!’

‘Damn right I wouldn’t let you into the Guard! Do you even count as an adult? Wouldn’t stop me being friends with you, though.’ She pats his back roughly. ‘If this has been a thing for that long, what are you upset about now?’

‘I got some memories back and I remember doing… some bad things.’

‘So, this is like an anime where you used to be an evil mastermind but now you’ve lost your memories so you’re an innocent person and you’re not sure whether you’re still guilty of your past crimes?’ Undyne says excitedly.

‘I wasn’t evil! You can’t jump to conclusions like that about people!’

‘Okay, okay, sorry.’ She holds her hands up peaceably. ‘Not evil. But you’re not sure whether you’re him or you?’

‘It’s not really that, either.’ Papyrus draws his knees up to his chest and frowns. ‘At first it was like that. When I started getting memories back I was worried I’d been someone who wasn’t very nice! But… I wasn’t so different.’

‘That’s good, right?’

Papyrus shakes his head. ‘I still did bad things, but they’re bad things Papyrus would do! Not thinking about consequences, wanting to be important… I captured Frisk for the same reasons!’

‘Dude, you’re the only one that didn’t try to straight up kill Frisk. You and Sans, and that’s only because he’s too lazy to kill anyone.’ Undyne shrugs. ‘So you were a nice guy who did some dumb stuff, which you still are. Sounds okay to me!’

‘I did something terrible to someone.’ Papyrus blinks, tears gathering in his eye sockets.

‘Can you fix it?’ Undyne asks pragmatically.

‘I don’t know. I was trying to fix it before I found out it was my fault, but now…’

‘But now you know it’s your fault you’re not going to fix it? That is dumb! Where’s your fighting spirit!’ Undyne jumps to her feet and lifts Papyrus off his. ‘I will not let a friend run away from their problems. We are going to solve this right now. With spears.’

‘Undyne, spears aren’t going to help.’ Papyrus says meekly. ‘But if we get Frisk and Sans to come maybe we could fix it.’

‘There!’ Undyne waves him triumphantly in the air. ‘That’s the determined Papyrus I know.’

Sans has been reading the paper on the couch and looks up when they come in. ‘I changed my mind about going Underground today,’ Papyrus says, surprised when Sans looks relieved. ‘Can you call Frisk?’

‘Sure.’ Sans pulls his phone out and dials. ‘Hey, Frisk, this is Sans. Papyrus says we can go after all, so if you… huh, you are? Does Toriel know that?… yeah, I thought not… okay, meet at our house in Snowdin. Take care.’ He puts the phone away. ‘Turns out Frisk’s already down there.’

‘Alone?’ Papyrus asks. It’s so spooky down there!

‘Kinda doubt it. I’d bet they found who they were looking for.’

The trip up Mt Ebott happens with Undyne hauling Papyrus along by one arm as if he might turn back otherwise. Honestly, he’s grateful. Sans follows them, periodically wandering back the way they’ve come and turning up ahead of them.

‘How does he do that?’ Undyne grouses after the fifth time he’s backtracked.

‘There was an accident with a time machine,’ Papyrus answers absently.


Papyrus blinks, simultaneously trying to bring his memories into focus and return to the present. ‘Yes. I did something stupid. Alphys evacuated the lab… I think…’ Sans had shouted at her to get everyone out, don’t come back until it stabilises. ‘But Sans was trying to reach me.’

‘So you lost your memory and your brother got cool powers? That seems kinda unfair.’

‘I got shattered across space and time and I’m glad it didn’t happen to Sans as well! He’s had a hard enough time trying to pick up after me!’

The sight of Sans ahead of them shuts them both up. Papyrus is pretty sure that he knows they’ve been talking about him as soon as he’s close enough to see their faces, but he doesn’t comment.

‘So, who were you?’ Undyne asks, as they walk through where the Barrier used to be. ‘Who the heck has a time machine?’

‘I was the Royal Scientist,’ Papyrus answers.

‘No way! You’re younger than me and I’m Captain of the Royal Guard. If there had been a Royal Scientist before Alphys I’d have noticed.’

‘I didn’t just lose my memories, everyone lost their memories of me,’ Papyrus says. He frowns in concentration. ‘I… didn’t really know you, though.’ He’d envied her. Asgore’s protegée, practically raised by him, as well as the Underground’s other star. ‘I did think you were cool!’

‘I’m always cool!’ Undyne tugs him along. ‘So, you knew Alphys? Did you guys do nerd stuff?’

Papyrus nods enthusiastically. ‘She was amazing! So many ideas only worked because she’s such a great engineer! She helped with the time machine project —’

‘Project DeTIMEination,’ says Sans.

‘— it was not called — it was called that, why did I let you name it?’ Papyrus glares at Sans, who is grinning widely, and then continues, ‘She helped with the time machine project but couldn’t time travel with us because —’ He stops and is nearly pulled off his feet by Undyne. He scrambles them back under him and keeps walking, staring at his arm where he’d once pushed a needle through it into the marrow. The vision is so vivid. ‘Because she didn’t want to risk the determination dose necessary for monsters to survive it,’ he says slowly.

‘Wasn’t that big a deal,’ says Sans. ‘You’d got safe doses figured out, Alphys was just squeamish after some of the early mistakes.’

’Early mistakes?' Undyne says.

‘Amalgamates,’ Sans answers. ‘Uh. We had less of ‘m. Don’t get me wrong, Alphys is great, but she kinda panicked. We didn’t use such high doses on everyone as she did and we stopped sooner. So, we had some, but most of the fallen down monsters turned out okay.’

‘Then you dosed yourself so you could time travel?’ Undyne says. ‘You guys are way more hardcore than I thought!’

Sans chuckles at that but doesn’t answer. They’re moving into Hotland now and that seems to prompt a new line of questioning from Undyne.

‘Did you always hate it here?’

‘Oh, no!’ says Papyrus, only realising as he says it that it’s true. ‘We lived here for a long time! It was only after I lost my memories…’ Fond nostalgia washing through him, coupled with irrational hate for a place that made him feel trapped and useless, leaves him a little nauseous.

‘Whoa there, you feelin’ okay?’ Sans is looking up at him anxiously.

‘I’m fine!’ Papyrus wobbles a little and tries to lean on Undyne subtly. ‘I just don’t agree with myself about Hotland. It’s confusing!’

‘How does your past self feel about basketball hoops on conveyer belts, so that…’ Undyne starts with a sly grin.

‘No! None of me has ever thought puzzles based on throwing up are anything but disgusting!’ He shoves Undyne with his free hand.

‘You wanna fight, nerd?’

‘Aah, Undyne, noooooo.’

Trying to escape her roughhousing distracts him until they’re in Waterfall. He doesn’t think any of him ever had very strong feelings about Waterfall. For Undyne it’s her home turf and she speeds up, even taking a few — non Sans-style — shortcuts. It’s not long before they’re crunching through snow, Undyne shivering slightly.

Frisk is waiting for them outside the door to the workshop, bundled up in a purple coat. There’s a speck of gold by their feet.

‘Flowey?’ says Papyrus, running over to them. It is, the flower hunched over and scowling at the ground.

‘Why’d you bring the fish?’ Flowey asks.

‘I wouldn’t have come if it weren’t for Undyne. Sorry, I know you didn’t want anyone to know, but I didn’t think you’d be here!’

Frisk clears their throat and nudges Flowey with a foot. Flowey turns his scowl on them, then draws his leaves in and lets them out in imitation of someone taking a breath. ‘Fine.’ He turns to face Papyrus. ‘I didn’t leave because I’m mad at you. It wasn’t about you. I went to Chara’s grave.’

‘Oh.’ Papyrus feels relieved and foolish and self-centred all at once.

‘I was mad at myself for not going through with their plan for a long time and then I was mad at them for making me think I should. What you said…’ Flowey goes back to glaring at the ground.

‘Thank you for telling me,’ Papyrus says.

‘Whatever,’ Flowey mutters. ‘Frisk came and found me, talked me into doing this again. You going to help?’

‘Yes!’ Papyrus takes a deep breath. ‘If you’re not giving up, then I certainly can’t!’

Chapter Text

Once again it’s Sans who finds the person they’re looking for. He returns from a check looking thoughtful. ‘Hey. Remember Tad? It’s… well, it’s his head, anyway. I think he might have the memories you want, given what he was talking about.’

‘I don’t… maybe I’ll remember him once I have those memories?’ It does bring something to Papyrus’ mind. A shadowy figure gossiping with Sans. Sans making puns about… bats?

‘Guess we’ll find out.’ Sans takes Papyrus’ hand and pulls him through a shortcut to one of the elevators in Hotland. There is a grey head seemingly sprouting from the ground in front of it, warped and twisted and as big as he is.

‘Dr Gaster,’ it says, with a cheerful air at odds with its appearance. ‘Long time no see. How is the surface treating you? I suppose I’m up there too, although I doubt I’d care for the sun.’

‘The surface has been great! The sun is great too, why…’ He catches the hint of a fang in the warped mouth. ‘Oh, you’re a vampire!’


‘Are you still alive? You said you were up there too,’ Papyrus asks.

‘Oh, yes. The destabilisation didn’t kill anyone, Dr Alphys saw to that. I’m just a shadow of someone who had a lot of memories tangled up with you. I suppose you’re after those memories… it will be a relief to stop haunting this place. No one to talk to, you know.’ The mouth curls further in, a smile that almost turns it into a spiral. ‘Now more than ever.’

Papyrus strips off a glove and holds out his hand, even though there’s no hand to take it. Instead the head leans forward and the grey swirl taking up its face starts to fill his vision.

The room is filled with bats and wolves, glowing the white of magical constructs. Papyrus is holding a bat, inspecting its twitching ears, surprisingly not being harmed by doing so.

‘So this is how you always know the gossip.’ Words fall thick and heavy between his teeth, the way they always do when he struggles into other people’s notions of coherency. Tad isn’t a close enough friend to be able to follow him when he drops into his natural speech.

‘Part of it.’ Tad sounds pleased with himself. The vampire wears his labcoat like an opera cape, with a flare that Papyrus tries to imitate. His speciality is magical constructs — what most people would call attacks or bullets — but he can do a great deal more with them than simply fight.

Tad. He’d been considerably older than either skeleton, from the capital as most undead types were. A vampire with wicked observational skills and a tendency to regard the world with barely repressed amusement at its follies. In some ways he’d reminded Papyrus of Sans.

’You realise your brother is never going to forgive me if you succeed.’

[‘I’m sorry! I didn’t ask Alphys because I wouldn’t want to get her caught between us, I didn’t think of that with you.’] They’ve known each other longer, now, long enough for him to talk naturally.

‘No, no. I’m too curious to want to be taken off the project.’ Tad pokes at the gaster blaster hovering in front of them. ‘A magical construct able to draw on the essence of a monster’s soul.’

[‘Except it doesn’t.] Papyrus runs a hand over his eyes. [‘It’s meant to be a conduit. Some of your attacks drain?’]

‘Health Points,’ says Tad. ‘Draining hope would be a thing… and the opposite of what you want.’

[‘Anything that transfers hope from one person to another, regardless of which side provides the impetus, would work.’]

‘Except the person you’re worried about is the last person who’d do that.’

The knowledge is coming back to him. Magical constructs, trying to work with hope instead of basic magic or HP, the only two things they could transfer. Components of a soul… he needs that now… maybe paired constructs, if one person tries to give and one to take…

Tad’s head fades, swirls into nothing, and someone else is standing there, nervously holding a smaller head, his own face in shadow. ‘Doug!’ Papyrus finds himself exclaiming.

The monster tips his head back and the face in his hand smiles. ‘Hi, boss, I offer you greeting. This is a long overdue meeting.’

Papyrus blinks. ‘You didn’t used to talk in rhyme!’

‘Strange things happen across space and time.’ Doug holds out the head and Papyrus takes it carefully in his own hands.

’I hope you don’t mind,’ Doug says, nervously. Across the room an orange soul is hovering in a bell jar, Papyrus can’t take his eyes off it. No matter how many experiements they run on the five souls, the sight of them is always shocking. They look so naked, hovering without bodies.

Sans grins. ‘Nah, makes a change to be subjects instead of running the test. You pick the orange one with a colour wheel?’

‘Preliminary tests have shown that magic does show up better than way.’ Doug walks over and tweaks a few of the wires trailing from the bell jar. ‘If one of you would stand on the mark?’

‘You go first, bro, I know you want to get back to work,’ Sans says.

[‘And you don’t, of course,’] Papyrus replies, long-sufferingly.

He stands on the mark and, when Doug says, ‘now,’ he turns the soul blue. It drops to the bottom of the bell jar, scanners beep as they take readings, and he waits for the word, ‘release,’ before letting it go.

They’d got the results back later, hadn’t they? Yes, they had. He and Sans had been test subjects not only because they’d been available blue magic users but because their use of it was similar enough to provide an interesting case study. They’d got back results detailing where they differed, small things that would help set a standard for the study of blue magic.

’There are differences in the determination gathered from different souls, boss,’ says Doug, fussily arranging the samples in the fridge. ‘But it’s not going to make any difference. No more than it would matter whether you or Sans pinned someone.’

[‘That’s not our problem, then.’] Papyrus shakes his head. ‘I mean, that’s not it then.’

‘Monsters might produce their own determination,’ Doug says. ‘In very small quantities. I’ve picked up some traces on the spectrescope, although they could be errors…’

[‘That’s it! That accounts for the fluctuations. Once they revived they started to want to get better… we failed to adjust the dose.’] Papyrus stops waving his hands and looks at the confused Doug. ‘Later. Explain then.’ He’s too excited now. [‘I need to go over those results again, where’s Alphys? ALPHYS!’] He heads into the corridor, bellowing.

Why hadn’t Doug still been working for the Royal Scientist in the new timeline? Papyrus had hired him, but he would have the same education and Alphys was doing the same research. Shouldn’t she have hired him again? Why hadn’t she hired anyone? Because, Papyrus realises, she’d become Royal Scientist by claiming to be able to produce an artificial soul and anyone she hired would expect to see her work. Poor Alphys had really got in over her head with that one.

Doug stands up straight, one hand brushing his ears back, already fading. Someone else, half the height and twice the width — as long as you view him from the front — fades in. A strangerbread monster only a few inches thick for all his solidity from the front, washed out to grey and with his “buttons” replaced by an indented ribcage pattern. His huge eyes stare forward, not blank as the kid’s had been, but not meeting Papyrus’.

‘Phil?’ says Papyrus.

‘Oh! Dr Gaster.’ Phil turns slightly to be square to him, drawing himself up to his full not very impressive height. ‘…I need to give you some memories back. That’s what we’re doin’ here, right?’

Papyrus feels strange, light and overfull at once, as if all his bones have been stuffed with hot cotton wool. He ignores that and reaches for Phil’s hand.

Papyrus catches Phil in the break room when he goes there to pick up his own strawberry milk. ‘Phil,’ he says. ‘How are the patients?’

‘Holdin’ steady,’ Phil says. ‘Which… I know that’s not what we wanted, but it’s kinda good?’

‘It is good! It may not free us but curing them would also be a happy ending.’

Phil grabs Papyrus’ milk from the fridge along with a bottle of iced tea and hands the milk over. A moment later he takes a sip of his tea and Papyrus sees his face screw up before he forces a smile and takes another sip. Papyrus reaches over and takes the bottle — it smells strongly of citrus.

‘Lemon juice?’

‘It’s, uh, lemon flavoured tea.’

Papyrus takes a moment to line up the words. ‘There is nothing wrong with falling for Sans’ pranks. I do it all the time! He is the one being juvenile.’ He hands the bottle back. ‘Do not drink this.’

Poor Phil. His determination to hold onto his dignity and never admit when he’d been fooled had made him an irresistable target to Sans. Who shouldn’t have been playing pranks in the labs, anyway, he was such a child sometimes!

Papyrus and Sans are both sitting in a white room, Phil showing them sheets of paper. ‘Your vitals are in normal ranges, both of you. The determination level is higher and fluctuates more with Dr Gaster, but nothin’ too bad.’

‘Makes sense, he was always the determined one.’ Sans slouches in his chair, barely seeming to pay attention. ‘So, we good to go, doc?’

‘Yes,’ Phil answers.

‘Thank you for your time,’ Papyrus says, smiling brightly at Phil.

Medicine had never been Papyrus’ field of study, despite the number of first aid courses he’d taken at school, but memories are flooding back now. Things he’d learned while at the lab, things he’d had to learn when it did cross over into his field, and things Phil had checked or explained.

Project HOPE. The BARRIER project. Project DeTIMEination. The smaller projects that had slotted into those, or branched off from them — in all honesty everything had branched off the BARRIER project. The attempts to use determination on monster souls had sprouted the other possibilities. Now it feels like the world is a puzzle and someone’s finally turned the pieces over so he can see which ones fit together. Everything is hot, his bones itch from the inside and his skull feels like it might float off.

‘We can do it!’ he says, as Phil fades. ‘A soul for Flowey! We can!’ He turns to Sans, beaming across his whole skull, and is met with a worried grin.

‘S’not possible. I wanna help the kid too, but artificial souls aren’t a thing.’

Papyrus shakes his head, gesturing with his hands. ‘You’re thinking too generally! In most cases it would be impossible, but in this specific case we’ve been very lucky! Flowey’s a boss monster.’

‘What does… oh!’ Sans’ eyes flicker rapidly between full brightness and dark before settling to bright dots. ‘They don’t lose the connection to their parents at birth.’

‘Are there any studies, Sans?’ Papyrus demands. ‘There were so few boss monsters, of course we could never study them! But it can’t be just magic that transfers, why would that cause them to age as the child grows? There’s every possibility that if we can create even the smallest seed of a soul, Asgore and Toriel…’

‘They’re uniquely suited to be donors.’ Sans blinks. ‘I dunno why I wasn’t prepared for you solving this.’

Papyrus laughs and then wobbles, catching himself with one hand against the elevator door. ‘We’ve got to go back to the others, we’ve got to tell Flowey! Then we need to talk to Alphys and… at least Tad, I have a feeling we’ll need his constructs…’

‘Woah, there. He won’t remember you, you know.’

‘I know! It will be okay! I don’t need his friendship, I just need his skillset.’

‘Okay.’ Sans grabs Papyrus’ hand and he expects to take a shortcut, but Sans just looks at him. ‘You’re way overexcited and you can barely stand. Get a grip before we go back to the others, huh? You know I admire your enthusiasm, but this might be a bit much.’

‘I’m fine!’

‘You’re not fine. Do you need me to take you to Toriel? And if you do can you, uh, not say anything just yet?’

People are less beguiling and more confusing puzzles than science, they can’t be solved and often even understanding them seems unlikely. Papyrus wants to chase plans for magical constructs, not force himself to consider breaking the news to Toriel. He puts a hand to his head, the hot, floaty feeling intensifying as excitement fades. ‘I don’t think it affected me that badly. Undyne can fix it.’

‘Wouldn’t have taken her for a healer.’

‘Green magic,’ Papyrus points out. ‘She can do first aid.’

‘Okay, let’s get you to Undyne.’ This time Sans does pull them back through a shortcut.

‘What happened to you?’ Undyne demands, when Papyrus stumbles on re-entry and faceplants into the snow.

‘It doesn’t look as bad as when he first ate memories,’ Frisk observes.

‘He says you can fix it,’ Sans says.

‘Sure!’ Undyne lifts Papyrus out of the snow, green already glowing around her hands. Undyne’s healing magic feels like being thrown at a bed and force-fed soup, but it gets the job done. When she lets Papyrus go he’s steady on his feet.

‘So what happened?’ Frisk demands, running over and tugging on his sleeve. ‘Did you find a science bit?’

‘All three of them!’ Papyrus says. ‘And we can do it! We need to gather a few people, but we should be able to do this!’

‘You can? Really?’ Flowey asks, looking like he doesn’t know how to feel.

‘Almost certainly!’ Papyrus crouches down to talk to the flower. ‘You’re a boss monster, so if we can restore your connection with Asgore and Toriel —’

‘He’s a what?’ says Undyne.

‘I don’t want them to know!’ says Flowey at the same time. ‘Especially not when it might not work! They — they’ll want me to live with them, even like this, and I — I can’t. You don’t know what it’s like to be loved by someone you can’t love back.’

Frisk kneels down in the snow to pat a leaf. ‘They’ll want to help you.’

‘But I’ll want to die,’ Flowey snarls, face morphing hideously.

‘No way!’ snaps Undyne, pointing a spear at the flower. ‘There is not going to be any dying! I don’t know who you are, but if you’re Asgore’s son then it’s my duty to protect you!’

‘From what? Dumb, well-meaning plans?’ Flowey yells back.

‘Hey,’ says Sans, sounding so calm that it cuts through everyone else more effectively than a shout. ‘You know I’m not dumb or well-meaning. And I’m not real keen on breaking this to Toriel, either. But it didn’t sound like you were down for giving up earlier. You really ready to change your mind on that?’

‘I didn’t — I didn’t expect them to be involved until it had either worked or failed,’ Flowey says. ‘And you’re not that smart.’

Sans shrugs. ‘Guilty as charged. But my bro’s really smart, so if he says this is gonna work…’

‘It will work!’ says Papyrus. ‘And you can stay with us until it does, if you’re happier like that!’

‘Toriel let me leave,’ says Frisk. ‘She won’t make you stay with her if you don’t want to.’

‘And Asgore’s a big pushover!’ Undyne says. ‘For a king he really sucks at making anyone do anything.’

‘Fine.’ Flowey sniffs. ‘But I’m not going to be the one to tell them. Someone else can do it.’

‘I will,’ says Papyrus. ‘It was my fault and I’m the one with a plan to fix it.’

Flowey looks at Papyrus and then at the circle of people and shivers all over. ‘This had better work,’ he mutters. He hesitantly pulls out a root and starts to climb back into his pot.

Chapter Text

Papyrus puts the phone down and glances out of the window. It’s dark outside, but he can make out Flowey asleep in his corner. He closes the curtains and walks back into the living room. ‘I told Asgore and Toriel I had something important to tell them and they’ve agreed to meet me after school finishes tomorrow. Although I don’t think they took it very seriously.’

Sans opens an eye and looks up from where he’s slumped on the couch. ‘You still sure you want to do this?’

‘Are you volunteering?’

‘Maybe. I, uh, dunno if I can look Toriel in the eye and tell her we turned her kid into a flower. But you shouldn’t have to do it either.’

Three years ago Sans would never have made that offer. Three weeks ago he would have just done it and and somehow prevented Papyrus from realising it needed to be done. ‘It’s fine, Sans. I’ve given people bad news before. Would you do me a favour and catch Alphys up, though?’

‘Sure. She’s probably heard the gist from Undyne by now, anyway.’ Papyrus smiles, imagining that conversation. There’s something else he needs to ask, though, and he starts to fidget with his gloves thinking about it. ‘What else?’ Sans asks.

‘Did you keep any of the notes from Project HOPE?’ Papyrus asks sheepishly.

Sans stiffens. ‘Nah. Sorry. Guess we’re gonna have to replicate it, though? No way around it, we’ve gotta move hope about. Sure you’ll have plenty of notes when we’re done.’

Papyrus shakes his head. ‘I just need a starting point for this. I won’t start Project HOPE up again, I promise.’

Sans stares at him with dark sockets. ‘I don’t think you ever lied to me before, with or without memories. You sure you wanna start now?’

‘I’m not lying, why would you even think…’ Papyrus throws his hands up. ‘Why do you have to be so… so dramatic?’


‘Yes, you! What are you even trying to do? Scare me?’

‘I spent enough time trying to convince you to give that project up before. Now you’re suddenly offering? What changed?’

‘What changed? What do you think changed? Do you think I didn’t learn anything over the last three years?’ Papyrus stamps his foot, suddenly aware of the childishness of the gesture and embarrassed by it. ‘Papyrus may have been young but he still knew things Wingdings didn’t!’

‘That’s weird, havin’ you talk about yourself as two people.’ Sans’ eyelights are back but sliding off to the side, away from Papyrus’ gaze.

‘You’re the one treating me like two people, assuming I’d just go back to thinking like Wingdings.’ Papyrus folds his arms, halfway between indignation and hugging himself.

‘Wingdings is the one I argued with about this project, I don’t even know what Papyrus would… heh. Guess I should ask?’

‘It might be worth trying.’ Papyrus keeps his arms folded and his gaze fixed over Sans’ head.

‘Aw, c’mon, don’t get in a snit? Okay, I’m askin’. What do you think of Project HOPE?’

‘I don’t think it was an inherently bad idea. But I shouldn’t have kept pushing at it when I knew you hated it.’ Papyrus looks down at his hands, fidgeting with his gloves again. ‘I was scared. I thought if things got… got really bad… I was always scared of losing you.’

‘I wouldn’t abandon you,’ Sans says. ‘Not for anything.’

‘I know!’ Papyrus looks up from his gloves to meet Sans’ eyes for this bit, because it’s important. ‘Things have been bad and you took care of me and you’re still here! Papyrus knows you’re not going anywhere.’

‘Oh.’ Sans’ smile goes soft, eyelights hazy. ‘We’re okay then?’

‘We’re fine.’ Papyrus interrupts himself with a yawn. ‘Except we have a lot to do tomorrow and I think even I might need a nap first.’

Sans slides off the couch and stands up. ‘Does whoever you are now still want Fluffy Bunny?’

‘Yes! I won’t be able to sleep without it.’ It’s a children’s book. It’s also a calm end to a day and means falling asleep with Sans audibly there while he does.

‘Maybe I should’ve tried that before the amnesia to stop you working all night,’ Sans says with a grin. They head upstairs.

It’s a misty day, chill and damp but not quite dreary. Papyrus heads into the garden to talk to Flowey and finds him sparkling with droplets of water.

‘Oh my!’ Papyrus says, pressing his hands to his mouth. ‘You’re so pretty! They look like those gemstones that sound like lemons!’

‘Do you mean citrines?’ Flowey asks, shaking himself dry. ‘What do you want?’

‘I’m going to talk to your parents soon.’ Papyrus crouches down in front of Flowey. ‘Is there anything you want me to say?’

‘Say I might not come home even if I do get a soul and if they only want to help me to get me back they needn’t bother. Tell them they should stick with Frisk, Frisk’s better anyway.’

‘Flowey.’ Papyrus cups the flower between his hands. ‘I’m sure they’ll want to help whether or not you go home to either of them, but do you really not want to?’

‘I’m not as good as they think.’

‘But once you have a soul —’

‘I wasn’t that great even with a soul.’ Flowey pulls his head out of Papyrus’ hands. ‘I can’t even tell them what I did because they’ll just feel sorry for me and blame Chara.’

‘All you did was follow Chara’s plan,’ Papyrus says sadly.

‘That’s all I ever did.’ Flowey shoots him a malicious smile and continues in a suddenly lilting voice, ‘Your brother would get it. The number of times he’s let you go to fight the human knowing they’d killed monsters already. Letting someone go to their death because the alternative is saying you don’t believe in them and what if they don’t like you anymore? What if they realise you’re clingy trash and leave?’

Papyrus stands up and points a finger at Flowey. ‘First of all, that is very rude! I am sure Toriel taught you better manners. Second of all there is nothing wrong with being like Sans! He may be lazy and frustrating, but he is a good person and an excellent brother. I never expected him to protect me from my mistakes even if he thinks he should. He’s always been there when I’ve —’ Not needed him, not exactly. Dying qualifies as needing help even if you went to your death on your own terms.

‘When you cried out for help,’ Flowey whispers, as if it’s a mantra, as if it has some special meaning.

Papyrus kneels down and puts a palm on the soil beside him. ‘Yes.’ Small vines whip out of the ground and bind his hand there. Papyrus manages not to flinch. ‘If you think you’re like Sans, am I like Chara?’

‘I don’t think you have it in you to hate anyone the way Chara hated humans.’ The vines squeeze. ‘They always had a plan, they always kept going, they laughed things off when I thought a mistake was the end of the world. Everyone expected so much of us, but it never seemed to get to them until they died for it.’

‘I’m sorry you lost them.’

The vines release, pulling back into the ground. ‘You’re not that much like them, but I’ve spent the past week clinging to you the same way.’

‘I don’t think that’s really the same,’ Papyrus protests, subtly flexing his phalanges. ‘You’re a child! You’re allowed to need help from adults.’ He thinks for a moment. ‘Even adults are allowed to need help from adults!’

Flowey snorts. ‘Even now you’ve got your memories back, you’re still so good and so so dumb.’

‘I’m not dumb. People think it’s dumb to believe in good things, but it’s not because I’m right. Nyeh heh heh.’

Flowey shoves him in the shoulder with a vine. ‘Go and be sickeningly cheerful at my parents. Tell them… tell them whatever you like.’

Papyrus actually has no idea what he’s going to tell Asgore and Toriel, which is a problem since he’s about to meet them. It has just been a very busy week! One that has, now that he thinks of it, been full of strange and implausible events, although he’s sure it all made sense at the time!

They’re meeting in the New Palace, mostly because Asgore is more willing to have Toriel there than she is to have him in her house, and Papyrus is relieved when Frisk runs up to him as soon as he enters.

‘Are you here to help me tell people things?’ he asks.

Frisk nods. ‘I don’t think they’d believe just you.’

‘I am very believable and hardly ever lie!’ Papyrus says, miffed. He hadn’t thought of that — he’d thought it was going to be hard to explain, he hadn’t thought they’d just assume he was making it up.

Frisk pats his arm. ‘I know. But it’s always more believable with two people.’

Papyrus sighs. ‘What are we going to say?’ he asks, suddenly anxious. ‘There’s so much, and you’re right, they might just think Papyrus is being silly.’

‘I dunno.’ Frisk leans their head against him. ‘I’m not real good at telling people things. But I’ll tell them you’re not being silly.’

‘Thank you.’ Papyrus pats Frisk’s head and sighs again. Time to get on with it.

Asgore and Toriel are seated in a reception room, looking forlorn and irritated respectively. ‘Hello, your majesty, hello, Toriel,’ Papyrus greets them. ‘I’m sorry if this wasn’t very convenient?’

‘That’s quite all right, Papyrus,’ Toriel says with a smile, which means she’s not irritated with him she just doesn’t like being in a room with Asgore. Papyrus feels relieved and a bit guilty for feeling relieved, because it’s really rather hard on Asgore. He doesn’t even have to do anything at all to get that reaction!

‘Howdy,’ Asgore rumbles. ‘It’s no problem. Have some tea.’

‘Are you joining us, my child?’ Toriel asks Frisk, who nods and takes a chair.

Papyrus sits down and takes a sip of tea. ‘There’s rather a lot I need to tell you, and it might sound quite strange, but it’s important,’ he begins.

‘Is this something to do with Sans?’ Toriel asks, worriedly.

Papyrus blinks, derailed. ‘I suppose it is quite a lot to do with Sans. But it is even more to do with me! Which is why I am the one telling you and not Sans. That and Sans is really quite bad at telling people things they might be upset about, and sometimes just doesn’t, although he did offer this time, which was very nice of him.’

There’s a moment’s pause and then Asgore says, ‘Are you all right? I heard you were hurt earlier this week.’

‘I’m fine! I just… I used to be the Royal Scientist. Which I realise sounds unlikely, and especially to you Asgore, because you don’t remember employing me.’

Asgore looks at his hands uncertainly, as if he thinks he might be about to be the butt of a joke. ‘That does sound unlikely.’

‘There was an accident with a time machine. I erased myself from everyone’s memories. Sans remembered me, somehow, but I didn’t even remember myself.’

‘It’s true,’ Frisk says. ‘I’ve seen the time machine.’

‘You still have a time machine?’ Asgore asks, sounding alarmed.

‘Sans does,’ says Papyrus. ‘It’s broken though and he’s not… we’re not… going to do anything else with it now!’

Toriel looks at him with a forced calm. ‘Then I assume this is not really about the time machine?’

‘No, that’s just background! You needed to know why you can’t remember me.’ He puts his teacup down and waves his hands as if drawing vague shapes in the air might explain things better. ‘The determination experiments Alphys did, we did them first. I mean, that included Alphys! But she was working for me, so it was my fault, and I… I took a flower from Asgore’s garden! We injected it with determination. It was meant to be a container for the souls, something to break the barrier with, I thought it would be… would be nice to use something special…’

‘I wouldn’t be angry with you for something like that,’ Asgore says, gently.

Papyrus shakes his head. ‘You don’t understand! I’m not explaining right. Your son’s dust was… it was on the flower and I didn’t realise.’

There’s a sharp crack and when Papyrus looks at Toriel there’s tea and shards of china on the table in front of her. She turns dark eyes on him and he could swear there’s fire in their depths. ‘Are you telling me that you accidentally revived my son as a flower? With no soul?’

Papyrus ducks his head. ‘I can fix it! I can fix it. It’s why I’ve been chasing memories, I needed to know what I knew, but I do now and I can… I just need your help. I’m sorry!’

There’s a long silence. Asgore slowly gets up and comes around the table, resting a huge hand on Papyrus’ shoulder. Papyrus has never felt so small. ‘This is a lot to take in,’ says Asgore. ‘But please calm down. I understand that you didn’t mean to. Now, are you telling me that Asriel is alive?’

‘It’s true,’ says Frisk, softly. ‘Asriel’s the one that broke the barrier.’

‘My child, why didn’t you tell us this?’ Toriel says.

Papyrus glances up and sees that Frisk’s gaze is fixed on the table too. ‘’cause he didn’t want me to,’ they say. ‘’cause he’s different without a soul and when he gave everyone’s back he knew he’d stop feeling again.’ Frisk sniffs. ‘He didn’t want to make anyone lose him again and I’m sorry I left him behind.’

Toriel kneels down to hug Frisk, murmuring something comforting. Asgore’s hand is still on Papyrus’ shoulder and it feels entirely wrong that he and Frisk are the ones being comforted by their too kind monarchs.

‘What do you need from us?’ Toriel asks, standing up with Frisk in her arms.

Papyrus rubs the heels of his hands over his damp eye sockets and says, ‘Boss monster souls don’t lose their connection to their children’s at birth. Once I realised who Flowey was I realised what that meant. I need any information on boss monsters you have, I need gold to hire Alphys and a few other people temporarily. I need you to act as donors for the hope, love and compassion that make up a monster soul. Possibly I need you to learn to make a new kind of magical construct once I know what it needs to be, but that could be purely mechanical with Alphys on board and you won’t need to make it personally in that case.’ They’re both looking at him with almost more shock than when he told them Asriel was a flower. ‘…Is that not all right?’

Toriel shakes herself briskly. ‘Of course it is. We’ll do anything we can for Asriel. I’m just not used to you sounding quite so knowledgeable. Now, when can we meet Asriel?’

Papyrus doesn’t think he can brace himself enough for this, because it’s the worst thing to say, even worse than admitting what he’d done. ‘He doesn’t want you to.’

Asgore steps back from him and says, ‘He must know we’d still love him.’

‘He does! That’s the problem. He can’t love you back like this and he thinks he doesn’t deserve it,’ says Papyrus.

‘His situation is not his fault,’ says Toriel, voice like steel. ‘And I shall tell him so. Where is he?’

Papyrus holds up his hands. ‘Toriel, he has done bad things as a flower.’

‘It is not his fault and I will not allow you to blame him.’ Toriel draws herself up, ignoring Frisk starting to squirm in her arms. ‘Let me see my son.’

Papyrus shakes his head. He hates this, but he owes it to Flowey. ‘It’s not his fault, but he’s scared! He doesn’t want to see you and not be able to feel. He’s also a powerful being who is not imprisoned in any way and if you push him he might just run!’

Frisk reaches up and puts an arm around Toriel’s neck. ‘You let me go,’ they say.

Toriel closes her eyes. ‘I see. I will wait, then, until he is ready.’

‘As will I,’ says Asgore, head bowed. ‘For now, you can have any funds you need. Please, take care of him.’

‘I will.’ Papyrus stands up, aware there’s nothing more he can say but still feeling like he needs to offer reassurance. ‘It will be okay!’

They just look at him until he takes the dismissal and sees himself out.

Chapter Text

The logistics of finding and hiring both the people Papyrus wants and a place for them to work (with Alphys fired and the barrier down, building lab space had not been a priority on the surface) take up much of the next day. He winds up hiring lab space from a human research park — they only really need somewhere for Alphys to work and a reliable power supply, which the humans seem to have covered.

With that done he texts Alphys to invite her and Undyne over for dinner. ‘WE’LL BE TALKING ABOUT A LOT OF SCIENCE,’ he types. ‘SO UNDYNE MAY NOT WANT TO COME, BUT I’LL BE VERY GLAD TO SEE HER IF SHE DOES.’

Undyne comes. She greets Papyrus with a noogie and a cheerful comment about nerds and then pushes her way inside. Alphys hesitates on the doorstep, wringing her hands. ‘H-hi,’ she says. ‘Sans says I, um, used to work for you?’

‘That is correct!’ Papyrus says. ‘But it is my fault you don’t remember me, so please don’t worry about it! It just means that I already know how great you are at engineering!’

‘I-I’m not exactly…’ Alphys trails off, possibly because none of the mistakes she made as Royal Scientist involved engineering and she actually is just as great as he says!

‘You should come in and look at my notes! And, also, we should be friends! In fact, I might forget we’re not already friends, but if you don’t want to be that’s okay too!’

Alphys looks a little overwhelmed. ‘Of c-c-course I’d like to be friends with you, Papyrus,’ she says.

Papyrus grins and ushers her inside, to where Sans is already sitting at a table covered in paper. ‘Hey, Alphys,’ he says. ‘Pull up a seat.’

‘So, wh-what is this?’ Alphys asks, picking up a piece of paper. ‘These look like magical c-c-constructs. That’s n-not my area.’

‘We have more to go on when it comes to designing magical constructs for this,’ says Papyrus. ‘But there are reasons machines would be better if we could make them do the same things! For one thing, they don’t vanish if you stop thinking about them.’

Alphys picks up some sheets of paper and starts reading the calculations there. ‘I c-c-could maybe copy the application better if I saw it in p-p-practice. Is this all theoretical so far?’

‘’fraid so,’ Sans tells her. ‘We’ve got some stuff we could probably test once we’ve run it past the expert and got some lab space.’

‘First tests will have to be proof of concept,’ says Papyrus, scribbling calculations and drawings of skulls on a fresh sheet of paper. ‘Two constructs, one emitter and one receiver. Sans and I are probably the best subjects for that.’

‘What are we moving?’ Sans asks, grabbing a pen of his own and starting to doodle numbers into the equations. ‘Not real soul stuff, I take it.’

Papyrus shakes his head. ‘Green and purple.’

‘G-g-green and p-purple magic?’ Alphys asks. ‘I thought you b-both had blue.’

‘We both have a fairly wide range,’ says Papyrus. ‘We both have both blues and then Sans shades purple and I shade green. Green’s going to be more quantitative, since Sans can heal, but I can’t use purple at all so that’s a good subject for testing. It shouldn’t be a permenant effect at this stage.’

‘Not the end of the world if it is,’ says Sans, shrugging. ‘I don’t like using it anyway.’

‘What does purple even do?’ asks Undyne. ‘I thought only Muffet had that.’

‘I don’t have her style of it,’ Sans says. ‘Not soul magic. Mine’s… a kinda poison. If I need to give someone what they deserve.’

‘Well, th-that sounds extremely creepy,’ Alphys observes. ‘R-really what they deserve, or what you th-think they deserve?’

Sans shrugs.

‘Doug’s experiments on that were inconclusive,’ Papyrus says absently. ‘There were too many factors to control for, it was impossible to run a double blind experiement since volunteers would obviously know whether they’d committed a crime, and even limiting sensory input as much as possible Sans is too perceptive.’

‘Limiting sensory input?’ Undyne asks.

‘Blindfold and earmuffs,’ says Sans. ‘So I couldn’t read their expression or the sound of their footsteps or anythin’. But you can’t attack someone without bein’ at least a little aware of their soul, and it’s not like I looked for EXP or anythin’, but still. You pick stuff up.’

‘Doug decided to look for another subject who hadn’t put himself and his brother through college on gambling money,’ says Papyrus. ‘But purple magic is really rare and he didn’t get one.’ It’s a bit of an exaggeration. Sans had made money any number of ways, none of them more respectable than gambling and many less legal. Wingdings had done his own part, washing dishes and stocking shelves, working real jobs that somehow never paid even half as much.

‘The d-d-d-determination extractor is based on these, isn’t it?’ Alphys says, putting down one of the drawings. ‘That’s why it’s a f-f-funny shape.’

‘Yep. Turns out when a vampire and a skeleton collaborate you get weird wolf skull things,’ says Sans. ‘Guess with vampires it’s all about the canines.’

‘I’ve seen those blaster things,’ Undyne says. ‘They’re way cool! But they only shoot magic.’

‘That’s because they don’t work,’ says Papyrus. ‘Originally they were for transferring hope!’

‘H-hope?’ Alphys looks up. ‘I m-might have seen something about that?’

Papyrus looks up sharply. ‘Really?!’

‘I f-f-found the b-blueprints for the d-d-d-d-determination extractor in the p-palace,’ Alphys says, wringing her hands together. ‘There were other b-b-b-blueprints with it, but I d-didn’t need them and I w-w-wasn’t sure I should have t-t-t-taken even the extractor ones…’ Undyne puts an arm around her and Alphys leans into it.

‘That’s perfect!’ says Papyrus. ‘I thought we were going to have to start from scratch, but if there are blueprints left in the palace we’ll have something to work with! We should fetch them —’

‘Tomorrow,’ says Sans. ‘We won’t be able to start work for a few days anyway and you’ve got dinner in the oven.’

‘Oh! I should check on that.’ Papyrus jumps up and hurries out to the kitchen. It wouldn’t do to get distracted and burn things! That would completely ruin the point of remembering how to cook in the first place! His shepherd’s pie with cheese and leek crust — and yes he has heard the jokes about being sure he bought enough shepherds — is looking fine, but it’s nearly done, so he calls through to ask someone to please lay the table. Unfortunately Undyne volunteers, which means the knives and forks wind up neatly on either side of each plate but point down in the table after being thrown across the room.

‘Hey, this is good!’ Undyne says after her first mouthful. Then her fins droops slightly. ‘Guess you didn’t need those cooking lessons.’

‘That’s not true!’ says Papyrus. ‘I may not have learnt about cooking in the end, but I learnt a lot about having a cool friend like you!’

Undyne’s fins perk up again and she looks almost flustered. Sans puts down his fork and quietly says. ‘Yep.’

‘What?’ Undyne demands with an irritated glare.

‘That’s the expression of someone wondering if my brother’s always been like this. Answer’s yes.’

The palace hasn’t changed. It’s made of the same light grey stone that the whole of New Home is built from and brings to mind a mausoleum. True, the capital has always been home to most of the undead population of the Underground but, personally, Papyrus likes things cozy! There’s nothing about being a skeleton that causes you to want everything to be grey! He’s always felt the whole place needs a lick of paint and maybe some fairy lights. Something pretty.

He’s looking out over the capital now, when he should be looking through shelves of papers, but he’d happened across the window and started hovering. So many turrets and cupolas on what were, once you got closer, overcrowded apartment buildings. Maybe they’d been something else, once.

‘You’re not gonna see our apartment from here,’ Sans says, suddenly next to him. Probably because Papyrus was distracted, not because he teleported.

‘I know.’ Papyrus shakes himself with a slight rattle. ‘I just haven’t really looked at New Home for a while! I kept walking past it to get to other parts of the Underground, but I didn’t stop and think…’ About a childhood there, which is not much to get nostalgic about, really, although it wasn’t bad. It was just that he couldn’t talk properly and Sans was sick all the time and Mom was always busy trying to make enough money to support them all. ‘Is Mom okay?’

‘Yeah. She’s settling in on the surface just fine last I heard.’ Sans shoves his hands in his pockets. ‘Gonna go check those shelves over there, Alphys thinks that might be where she saw ‘em.’

Papyrus sighs because… well. Of course Sans isn’t talking to her. Would Papyrus want to talk to her if she’d forgotten Sans existed? At least he’s keeping an eye on her and she’s doing okay.

Something knocks on the wall beside him loud enough to shake it.

Alphys jumps and skitters back. Sans goes still and focused. Papyus walks across to the door and opens it, poking his head out into the corridor. A white face looms like a mask, cracked and warped, body a mass of shapeless black. It holds its hands out, fingers warped and bones fused, but holes still perfect circles.

‘Oh,’ says Papyrus. ‘I-I forgot. But I don’t feel like I’m missing any memories.’

[‘I am not memories.’] It’s his voice, his old voice. [‘I am… determination.’]

‘The dose I injected myself with?’

[‘Yes. Its presence allowed you to shatter instead of dying. Most of the parts were memories, but I am fully conscious, as you are.’]

‘Have you been alone all this time? You should have come to visit me and Sans!’

[‘I have been unable to remain at a fixed point in time or space.’] It smiles at him, eyes distorting as it does. [‘Now I am being drawn back to you and I would like to come home! But I don’t contain knowledge you ever had, I contain knowledge I gained in the void, of different timelines. Absorbing me will be something new.’]

Papyrus is already pulling his gloves off. ‘I’ve never minded knowing more things!’

Their hands meet.

A brief glimpse of Frisk’s face — Frisk had startled him even more than he’d startled Frisk!

Sans flashing through, unaware of how close his shortcuts brought them. Papyrus watching over him each time but unable to reach out.

Flowey befriending everyone. Flowey killing everyone. Frisk killing… not everyone, but so many. Frisk saving them all. The two anomalies (his friends!)

A looming darkness, the end of the world or at least the Underground, like a black wall ahead of him. He’d been afraid, but Frisk had never taken them there.

Sans slumped against the time machine, looking small and lost, head in his hands.

Flowey being hacked apart by bones, the ground around him littered with dismembered vines. Sans’ eye glowing like a beacon, face caught in a rigid grin like he’s forgotten how to stop.

Flowey alone in the garbage dump, holes spreading across his leaves as his own fire magic whittles him down to his core, eyes screwed shut surrounded by burning petals.

Frisk dying to sweet Shyren, whose melody contains magic even when she only wants to say goodbye. Frisk dying to Undyne’s triumphant spear. Frisk dying on the end of Asgore’s trident.

Himself going out to face Frisk and he’d been afraid for himself and not afraid for himself, knowing all the ways it could go and knowing they could all be undone.

Loneliness and anxiety, worrying for everyone he couldn’t reach, fearing he would be like this forever.

It’s nearly over, now.

‘You okay there, bro?’ Sans and Alphys are both watching from the doorway.

[‘I’m fine,’] he says.

‘Huh. Long time since I heard you talkin’ like that,’ Sans says.

[‘Yes, me too! I do hope I’m not stuck talking like this! It was terribly inconvenient!’] He takes a breath, Alphys is looking confused and starting to look distressed. ‘There!’ he announces in Papyrus’ theatrical tones. ‘I have accomplished coherence!’

‘Good job, bro. Gold star,’ Sans says.

‘Is th-that another language?’ Alphys asks.

Papyrus shakes his head. ‘It’s a sort of… magical speech impediment, I suppose. You learned to understand it once. But if I can talk like this without struggling it’s just easier for everyone!’

‘I w-w-wish it was that easy for m-me,’ Alphys says, then waves her hands. ‘Oh, I d-d-don’t mean to c-compare it! P-people can understand me, it m-m-must have been a real hassle, and I’m g-g-glad I understood you anyway.’

‘It was very kind of you to learn!’ he says, with a big smile at Alphys. It seems to calm her down somewhat.

‘So, what’d you get this time,’ Sans asks, as they all walk back into the room to continue their search.

‘It was different this time,’ Papyrus says. ‘Not lost memories, new ones. Of different timelines.’

‘Really? What about ‘em?’

‘All sorts of things, but scattered and tangled. I think I was moving between timelines a lot so I never really saw a whole one! But I saw Frisk and Flowey a lot and sometimes you.’ He understands what it was like for Frisk and Flowey better now, which is good! He should talk to them about it, sometime, or at least let them know he knows and they can talk to him.

‘I f-found it!’ Alphys calls suddenly.

Papyrus strides over and grabs it, scanning the heavy strokes of Tad’s handwriting and the coded symbols of his own. ‘Yes! This is perfect!’

It’s nearly noon on the surface, everything bathed in golden light. Papyrus stops and tilts his head back, letting sunlight fall on him as if he’s been starving for it. Maybe part of him has.

Once they have lab space up and running, working is fun! Maybe it shouldn’t be, when they’re trying to fix such a huge error, but it is anyway and Papyrus isn’t about to waste energy trying not to have fun. There’s so much science he’d forgotten and so much new science that the humans hadn’t thrown away textbooks on! Alphys discovers 3D printers and rents one, then has to convince Toriel to hand over the gold to buy it after she rebuilds it. But it’s printed out a working gaster blaster! They even managed to tether it to Alphys briefly for testing! It’s the perfect solution as to what the SOUL transfer devices should be made of, now they just need to get a prototype magic construct working.

They need some new test subjects for that, too. He and Sans are… well… there are problems and he suspects it’s not the theory it’s them. Papyrus managed to receive purple magic from Sans but it doesn’t do anything when he uses it — which could be a problem with the magic transfer or could just be that he doesn’t think anyone really deserves it. Sans hasn’t managed to receive green magic from him at all, but Papyrus suspects he’s just uncomfortable with the idea of taking anything from his brother and subconsciously blocking it. Magic is an expression of will and while it’s good to be prepared for emotional interference — he really doubts things will go smoothly with the Dreemurrs! — they really need test subjects who have less complicated emotions about this.

Right now the labs are nearly empty. It’s night time and even Tad, who’s nocturnal by preference, has opted to sleep since he’s keeping daylight hours with the rest of them. Papyrus just wants to try one more thing. He summons the receiver skull, shaped like a vampire bat’s with front teeth protruding at an impressive angle, and strokes his hands over its surface. He’d worn gloves so much as Papyrus it’s almost strange to feel things again, even the staticky bone surface of his own attack. The brow ridges change shape slightly as he touches them, moulding under his fingers like clay. It’s unnecessary — he could do this purely by thought — but he’s always been a tactile person.

‘Hey,’ Sans says, from the door. ‘I’m gonna fall asleep before your bedtime story if you don’t wrap it up soon.’

‘Don’t worry about it,’ Papyrus says, pressing a finger against the point of a fang. Maybe it’s the wrong symbolism? They need to accept from, not feed on, the donor. ‘You can go home.’

Sans leans against the doorframe instead. ‘Sorry I couldn’t get it to work. We can try again tomorrow.’

‘At this point I’m just going to look for new test subjects,’ says Papyrus.

There’s a moment when Sans goes still, suppressing whatever his immediate reaction was in favour of choosing one, and then he says, ‘Yeah. Can see why,’ as if he doesn’t care much either way.

‘Did you want to carry on trying?’ Papyrus morphs the skull to a more familiar canine shape and then shrinks it. ‘I thought it would be a waste of your time since it’s not working.’

‘Don’t you mean a waste of your time?’ Sans says.

Papyrus pushes the snout of the blaster in slightly with his palm and twists his fingers around the inside of the eyesockets, enlarging them. Puppyish. Something to nurture. He’ll have to feed this back into the equations later, see if it does have the effect he was hoping for. It probably won’t, but sometimes instinct gets you where you need to go. ‘Both of us, then,’ he says. He looks up and catches a strange expression on Sans’ face for a moment. Lost and almost wary. ‘Are you all right?’ He lets the construct dissipate.

‘Yeah, sure, why wouldn’t I be? You’re gettin’ on like a house on fire with that. New idea every few minutes. Should leave you to it, in fact.’ He pulls away from the door and that’s the giveaway, because Sans was hovering and now he’s being questioned he wants to leave. It’s so typical it almost hurts, a tug on his soul from a thousand memories of Sans doing this.

‘No, don’t,’ Papyrus says quickly. ‘Stay and tell me what’s wrong. Is this about what we’re working on? Is it still about Project HOPE?’

Sans shakes his head.

‘Then what? Did you… did you prefer me without memories?’

‘Don’t. That’s not. Look, I don’t even want to think about it like that, preferring you one way or another. You’re you. You’re always you.’ Sans shoves his hands in his pockets. ‘You got back some memories I wasn’t expectin’ and I guess I’m just waitin’ for the other shoe to drop.’

‘What other shoe?’ Papyrus gestures at himself. ‘I’m all here now! The shoes are all dropped! And we nearly had enough of them for a spider.’

‘You remember when we first saw the anomaly? When we were buildin’ the time machine and we could see a point where timelines started jumpin’? We were gonna come up with a plan, some way to deal with it, ‘cause there was that point where everythin’ might just stop. We were definitely plannin’ to do something.’

‘You did do something,’ Papyrus says.

‘Nah. I may not have seen the other timelines, but I can predict people. I can sure as hell predict me.’ He swipes a hand over his skull, wiping away sweat. ‘How many times did I watch the kid die? I can guess, ‘cause I know how many times I watched them walk into danger thinkin’ it didn’t matter. They’d just redo it, right? No one would know I hadn’t even bothered. That the only thing I’d done to stop someone destroying the world was to talk to them, and the only thing I’d done to keep a promise to protect a kid was to not kill ‘em myself. But Frisk knows and now you know and I guess I was wonderin’ if you were ever going to bring it up. Or maybe you didn’t learn anythin’ you didn’t already know.’

Sans.’ Papyrus takes a step towards his brother. He wants to say don’t do this, but that’s unfair and not really what he wants. He doesn’t want Sans to stop saying these things, he wants him to stop feeling them. ‘That was meant to be all of us! With help from Asgore and the Royal Guard! I never intended to leave you to deal with the whole situation alone. And you did fine! This is the best ending!’

There’s a moment where they both hesitate and then Sans wraps his arms around Papyrus and presses his forehead against Papyrus’ ribcage. Papyrus hugs him back, tightly. ‘I was scared,’ Sans mutters, voice less bitter but somehow raw. ‘I don’t wanna think about you as different people but I did miss you. I missed havin’ someone who knew what to do. I sure as hell didn’t. I figured Frisk or Asgore was gonna have to die, they needed each other’s souls. I didn’t dare to hope otherwise ‘til Frisk got to the palace without killin’ anyone.’

‘You came with the rest of us to stop them fighting,’ Papyrus says.

‘Yeah. ‘cause you asked me to.’

‘That’s still a choice, isn’t it? It’s not as if you always do what I want or there wouldn’t be socks all over your room.’

‘I was so relieved you had a plan. I mean, I shoulda wondered how you had a plan to stop a fight I’d been carefully not tellin’ you was going to happen.’

‘What were you planning to tell me afterwards?’ It is maybe not the right question to ask, but Papyrus can’t help but wonder. Naive as he was, he can’t have been expected to miss that the king was dead, can he?

‘Dunno. Wasn’t sure there was even gonna be an afterwards at that point.’

‘Oh.’ Papyrus thinks of the darkness, the place they could have gone if Frisk had been crueller, or simply the possibility of endless looping, a day that never ended for any of them while they remained unaware their lives had stopped. ‘It’s over now.’

‘Yeah.’ Sans lets out a shuddering breath. ‘…I’m tired.’

‘Three years is a very long time to struggle with something like that! I’m sorry you had to. But you did fine and it really is over! And you’re right. We should go home.’

It’s still a few minutes before they pull out of one another’s arms to walk out of the labs side by side.

Chapter Text

Papyrus wakes up surprised to find that he’s been asleep. He wasn’t really expecting to sleep the night before a big experiment, but apparently he has. Deeply, too, he thinks looking out the window. The garden is wrecked. The plastic chest that contained Flowey’s things — mostly sent by Toriel and Asgore — is now blue shards scattered over upturned earth. Broken toys and torn pages from books litter the garden from one end to the other. In the middle of it, like the last survivor of a hurricane, Frisk is crouched over the little golden form of Flowey.

Papyrus taps on the window. Frisk and Flowey both turn to look and Frisk gives him a solemn thumbs up. Papyrus returns it and pulls the curtain closed to give the children some privacy.


‘t’s not broken anything so we’re ahead of the curve. kitchen’s full of pies though. really full, dunno who’s gonna eat them.’ Sans’ return text comes almost at once. ‘you ok if f’s wreckin stuff?’


‘i won’t tell but you bet im laughin.’


‘yeah just call if you need me to drop by ok?’


Papyrus takes a quick look out of the window again. Frisk is building a tower out of salvaged pencils, still deep in conversation with Flowey.

‘HOW IS ASGORE?’ he texts.

‘Doing fine!! How’s Flowey?’ Undyne texts back.


‘Little spitfire. I did that a couple of times when I was a kid!’


‘Yeah. Sometimes kids just need to wreck shit! See you at the lab?’


Papyrus’ boots make deep prints in the overturned earth. Frisk and Flowey both turn towards him, Flowey scowling and Frisk smiling.

‘Good morning!’ Papyrus tells them. ‘How are you two?’

‘How do you think?’ Flowey asks.

Papyrus looks around at the garden. ‘I can see you’ve been upset. Are you feeling better now?’

’No.’ Flowey droops. ‘This isn’t… this isn’t going to work.’

‘Probably not straight away. Remember that this is the first time that we’ve been able to test with boss monsters or real soul-stuff! But eventually it will work,’ says Papyrus. ‘Everyone has worked very hard!’

‘You’re just nervous,’ says Frisk, wisely. ‘The bit where you’re waiting for something is always the worst. Once it starts you’ll feel better.’

’No, I won’t,’ Flowey snaps. ‘Stop bothering me and have breakfast.’

Papyrus and Frisk look at each other but obey, quickly eating and getting dressed before coaxing Flowey into his pot and setting out for the labs.

Alphys is waiting for them outside the main door. ‘Hello,’ Papyrus calls to her. ‘The others aren’t here yet?’

‘N-no,’ she says. ‘N-not unless Sans and Toriel took a shortcut.’

Flowey stiffens and Frisk reaches up to the pot in Papyrus’ hands to pat a leaf. ‘Toriel wouldn’t surprise you like that,’ they say.

Humans wave as they walk through communal areas. At first they’d been startled by the presence of monsters in their labs, by now they know the whole team pretty well.

‘Hey, Alphys, Papyrus. And, hi, are you the ambassador?’ a young woman with blue hair says to Frisk. Then she jumps when Flowey clears his throat pointedly. ‘Oh, sorry, I didn’t, uh, see you there?’ Apparently being glared at by a flower convinces her to wrap up what she was going to say fast. ‘Just wanted to say good luck. Alphys, you sounded like it was a big thing for you guys today, so I don’t know what you’re doing, but, yeah, good luck with it.’

‘Thank you, Di,’ Papyrus says, grinning at her. ‘I am sure your good wishes will help!’

As he continues towards their labs he can hear Di whispering to Alphys behind him, ‘Is that a real magic thing, or is he being nice?’

‘Well, it c-can’t hurt,’ Alphys says.

They pass by Papyrus’ office — the sign on the door says “Papyrus W.D. Gaster” — and into one of the conference rooms. Laid out on the tables there are three grey skulls. The smallest, the receiver, is about the size of a football and the transmitters are twice that size. They’ve lost any real resemblance to any animal somewhere along the way, becoming more smoothly rounded, eye-sockets larger even on the transmitters. Papyrus puts Flowey down next to the receiver.

Flowey pokes out a vine and rubs its snout. ‘Are they meant to be… cute?’

‘They’re meant to be non-threatening!’ Papyrus says. ‘After all, no one is attempting to hurt anyone.’

‘Could they be used to hurt anyone?’ asked Flowey. ‘If someone wanted to?’

‘N-no,’ says Alphys. ‘They’re very s-safe!’

Frisk climbs onto the table and puts a hand on a transmitter. ‘I like them.’

The door is thrown open, causing Flowey to duck into his pot, then gently closed from the outside and knocked on. Papyrus opens it to find Asgore and Undyne, Asgore looking sheepish and holding Undyne back with one hand.

‘Come in, your majesty,’ Papyrus says. He glances at Flowey who has popped his head back out of his pot but is lurking behind the receiver as much as possible.

Asgore lets go of Undyne and takes a step towards the table. ‘My child,’ he begins. ‘It is good to see you.’ Flowey ignores him. ‘My child? As… Flowey?’

‘Well, gosh!’ says Flowey. ‘Were you talking to me? I’m sorry, I thought you meant Frisk.’

‘Hey, watch it, punk,’ Undyne says.

Asgore holds up a hand to her. ‘Flowey, I do consider Frisk my child, but no more than you are.’

‘Wow, really? I thought you might consider them an upgrade!’

Frisk is looking down fixedly at the table, hand still on the transmitter. Papyrus doesn’t know whether to try to get Frisk out of the room or stay here because leaving Flowey alone with Asgore and Undyne could go bad. Why had he allowed Frisk to be here today? He’d wanted them to be able to support Flowey, not to be attacked by him! He discreetly fumbles for his phone and texts, ‘HELP FLOWEY’S MAKING IT SOUND LIKE FRISK REPLACED HIM AND FRISK LOOKS LIKE THEY MIGHT CRY’.

‘oh shit ill tell t we’re takin a shortcut just hold the fort’

‘Asriel, I would never think about any of my children like that,’ Asgore says.

Don’t call me that. I’m not Asriel yet and I probably never will be! These things —’

Papyrus hastily summons a wall of bones between Flowey and the receiver. ‘Flowey, if you damage any of the equipment it definitely won’t work!’ he says, not quite truthfully considering they’ve got the design on the computer and could just print out a new one. ‘If you’re going to get violent you will have to talk elsewhere.’

‘Flowey, regardless of what you call yourself, you are my son,’ Asgore tries, looking distressed.

The door opens.

‘Are we late or are you guys all early?’ Sans asks. Flowey shrinks back slightly and Papyrus lets the bone wall dissolve. Frisk shoots a hopeful, frantic look at Toriel and then looks down at the table again, face twisted with guilt. ‘Hey, kid,’ Sans continues as if he didn’t notice. ‘You mind helping me with something?’

Frisk slides off the table and walks over to him, Sans takes their hand to lead them out of the room and Papyrus can see how tightly they’re holding it. Sans closes the door behind him with maybe a little more finality than necessary and Papyrus feels hugely relieved that he can just worry about Flowey for now.

‘My child,’ says Toriel, when no one else speaks. ‘I wanted to apologise for attacking you before. Had I known who you were I would not have done so.’

‘I was trying to kill Frisk,’ says Flowey. ‘Are you saying you’d be fine with them being dead?’

‘No,’ says Toriel. ‘I am saying I would have found a way to restrain you without hurting you. I wish that I had known, that you had come to me —’

‘I did,’ Flowey shouts. ‘They haven’t told you, have they? About the time loops, about the resets. About me and Frisk being able to go back in time.’ His face flashes its most twisted expression. ‘About the times I did kill Frisk, and Papyrus, and y— and you.’ Flowey’s leaves are rustling as he shakes. ‘The first time I woke up I stayed with Dad and I felt nothing and then I went to live with you and I felt nothing and I — I’m not your child. I’m not anything until I have a soul and maybe not even then.’

‘My child,’ says Toriel, voice full of tears. ‘Whatever you’ve done, whatever you feel or don’t feel, you are always my child.’

Alphys mutters something to Undyne and pushes her towards the door. Papyrus wonders whether he should follow, but the urge to monitor a volatile situation wins over the feeling he should give the Dreemurrs privacy.

‘I don’t deserve to be,’ Flowey mutters into the silence. ‘You’d be immortal if you weren’t doing this for me and I’m not worth it. Stick with Frisk. They’re better and they don’t… they won’t make you age, so you can have a child and forever.’

‘We knew what having a child would mean when we chose to have you,’ Asgore says.

‘You chose to have Asriel, not someone like me.’

Toriel kneels down in front of the table so that she’s eye to eye with Flowey. ‘We chose to have a child, no matter what happened to them, no matter who they grew up to be. Aging so you can grow will be worth it. After mourning you so long, it will be more than worth it.’

‘Please, let us do this for you. Let us be your parents,’ Asgore says, moving to stand behind Toriel and just stopping himself from putting a hand on her shoulder.

Flowey’s face crumples. ‘M-mom, Dad.’

They reach out to him, doing their best to hug a flower, large hands brushing the back of his stem. Papyrus is watching with tears in his eyes even as part of him calculates the breakdown of emotional resistance to the idea of receiving and the increased likelihood of this working.

He really should give them some privacy now, he decides.

Papyrus finds Undyne, Alphys, Sans and Frisk all in his office watching anime on his computer. Frisk’s eyes are red and there are still tear stains on their face, but they’re smiling now and halfway through an ice cream. Sans slips out when Papyrus cracks open the door and the two of them stand in the corridor for a moment.

‘How’d it go?’ Sans asks.

‘Excellently!’ Papyrus says. ‘Flowey’s showing less resistance to the idea of accepting soul-stuff. He was talking about not deserving it, but his parents got through to him.’

‘Considerin’ I just had to deal with Frisk cryin’ about not meanin’ to be any trouble, they just wanted a home, I’d be tempted to agree with him,’ Sans says.

‘Are they all right?’ Papyrus asks.

‘Yeah. But I might leave them in there with Undyne while we do the trial.’

‘That’s a good idea! We don’t need Undyne for the trial.’ In fact, they’re better off not having her near sensitive equipment.

‘Tad’s here too, he’s in his office,’ Sans says. ‘Are we ready to start?’

‘By the time we get everyone rounded up we will be!’ Papyrus glances at the door to the conference room. ‘I’ll give them a little more time.’

So they wait until Tad and Alphys are both there and Undyne and Frisk are settled in (with a plea for Undyne to go outside if she gets bored and not break anything). Then they open the office to find Toriel and Asgore sitting at the table with Flowey between them. When the flower looks around he has his little fanged face and Papyrus decides that’s a good sign!

‘Toriel, would you mind starting?’ Papyrus asks.

‘Not at all, what do you need me to do?’ Toriel asks.

‘Just stand here and do what Tad asks you to do.’ Papyrus points to a spot on the floor out of the way of the tables. ‘Sans, are you ready?’

Sans has hopped up to sit on the end of a table — as if there weren’t several perfectly good chairs available — and is holding a device that resembles a digital camera, down to the screen on the back. ‘Yep.’

‘Oh my, what do you have there?’ Toriel asks.

‘Miniature spectregraph,’ says Sans. He holds it up and turns the screen towards Toriel so she can see him on the other side of it, caught in a faint haze of ivory light shot through with blue and cyan, with a more solid blob at the centre marking his soul. ‘We cheated a bit on the display, it’s still recording the numbers, but this is easier to track even if it’s less accurate.’ They’re actually cheating more than that. The spectregraph will show magic, but there are two things they need to track and one is considerably more nebulous. Fortunately, when it comes to scanning emotions, Sans is the best equipment they have. Sans turns the screen back on Toriel and nods at Papyrus. ‘M and E both look stable.’

Tad steps forward to stand opposite Toriel. ‘If your majesty would summon an attack?’ he says.

Toriel summons fire, little fireballs like candle flames streaming to either side of Tad and vanishing before being replaced. Tad raises his hand and a pair of white bats are hovering by his head. They dodge nimbly through the fire to grab a transmitter, a gap opening in the fire as Toriel catches on and gives them an easier way back.

‘Try to think of it as one of your attacks,’ Tad says.

The bats swing around in the air so that the transmitter is pointing at Tad and then drop it. It hovers in the air, bobbing and faltering, and then lifts.

‘Tethered,’ says Sans. ‘Still stable.’ He looks up and grins. ‘Good job, Toriel.’

‘It was not very difficult,’ says Toriel, resting a hand on the still floating skull as she lets the fire go out. ‘Am I finished?’

‘For now, yes,’ says Papyrus. ‘King Asgore?’

Asgore manages it with no more difficulty. Papyrus looks over Sans’ shoulder to watch the cyan and orange streaked ivory of Asgore’s magic form a line from Asgore to the transmitter. Now for the tricky one.

Flowey is put on a chair for his turn, facing Tad. He’s looped several vines free of his pot and Papyrus is watching them anxiously — if he lashes out then Papyrus has bone attacks prepared but it would disrupt the process badly.

‘M stable, E as good as we’re gonna get it,’ Sans says.

Papyrus nods. ‘Flowey, we need some bullets. A long way away from everyone, please.’

‘Well, gosh, I never would have thought of that. Or maybe you think I went through all this just to shoot people now?’ Flowey says, voice so bright it practically sparkles.

‘Sorry, Flowey,’ says Papyrus.

Flowey shrugs and reluctantly spits a stream of bullets well above Tad’s head.

‘E still in workable range,’ Sans says. ‘M stable.’

It only takes one bat to bring the receiver, but it plummets straight to the floor when dropped and stays there twitching.

‘Don’t worry, Flowey, we can try again,’ Papyrus says.

‘I know that!’ Flowey snaps.

‘E levels high,’ Sans says.

‘We’ll wait for a little while,’ Papyrus says.

‘No, we won’t!’ Flowey scoops up the receiver with a vine and shoves it at Tad. ‘Do it again or I’ll shoot at you next time!’

Well, it probably won’t work, but waiting clearly isn’t going to calm Flowey down. On the other hand, neither is a string of failed attempts. ‘Sans?’ Papyrus asks.

Sans keeps his eyes on the screen and shrugs. ‘Worth tryin’.’

Once again the bat drops the receiver in front of Flowey and once again it falls. But this time Flowey yells. ‘No! You’re mine!’ and it stops before it hits the ground, grey surface lighting up with a rainbow of colours.

‘W-wow,’ Alphys mutters.

‘Tethered,’ Sans says, holding the spectregraph out to Papyrus. A line of magic — bright red as all his magic is — runs between Flowey and the receiver. ‘Dunno what just happened, though.’

‘Whatever it was it worked!’ says Papyrus. ‘Well done, Flowey! Alphys, check the equipment.’

While Alphys checks the transmitters and, somewhat tentatively, the receiver to make sure they’re still in order after tethering, Papyrus scans the numbers for Flowey’s tethering over Sans’ shoulder.

‘That was pure DT,’ Sans says softly.

‘Everything is with Flowey, it’s all he’s got,’ Papyrus answers.

‘Yeah, but we didn’t calculate for how that changes things.’ Sans shrugs and flips the screen back to picture mode. ‘Guess it’s only our first try.’

‘Equipment in order,’ Alphys announces. ‘Even F-Flowey’s one, it doesn’t seem to have changed anything but the c-colour.’

‘Next stage,’ says Papyrus. ‘If your majesties would come over here?’ Toriel gives him a faint frown for putting it that way, but opts not to say anything, and soon both of them are facing Flowey. ‘Now you need to charge the transmitters! Fill them with love, hope and compassion!’

Asgore and Toriel both close their eyes and a moment later the rounded eyes of the transmitters are alight with ivory. ‘Yep,’ says Sans. ‘That’s soul-stuff, not magic.’

Is it a boss monster thing, to be able to give that so easily? Or perhaps a parental thing? Either way, the transmitters are charging as if their soul-stuff had only been waiting for this chance. Papyrus walks around them and kneels down by Flowey.

‘I can do this,’ Flowey says, weakly. ‘I don’t need you.’

‘I’m here even if you don’t need me!’ Papyrus tells him. ‘And your part is the tricky one, so it’s okay if you do need help! You have to empty the receiver, fill it with a void.’

‘I’m always empty,’ Flowey says, voice wavering.

‘But you need to transfer that emptiness to the receiver so you won’t be!’

Flowey’s face screws up and Papyrus doesn’t need Sans to tell him the E level is getting too high. ‘It’s okay!’ he says. ‘Remember this is natural for boss monsters! You’re not going to empty them by letting them fill you!’

Flowey looks at him, eyes wide.

‘My child,’ says Toriel. ‘Please.’

‘Please, Asriel,’ Asgore echoes.

Flowey closes his eyes, leaves trembling and it’s just the first test, so why is Papyrus holding his breath? Why does it feel like now or never? The eyes of the receiver flash a shade of black that makes Papyrus recoil, reminded of a place where there was nothing, where he was left helplessly reaching for reality. Then they slowly light up ivory, faint and flickering but there. Flowey gasps and tips forward, shaking like he’s caught in a gale.

‘Link established,’ says Sans.

‘I h-have a soul?’ Flowey says.

‘You have a bunch of soul stuff that hasn’t coalesced yet, but it looks like it’s already settling.’ Sans is flicking the screen back and forth between pictures and numbers. Papyrus gets up to see for himself.

Through the spectregraph there are wisps of ivory flowing from the transmitters like smoke from a dragon’s mouth, finding their way to the receiver which drinks them in. There’s also ivory starting to spread through the red of Flowey, like dye in water, a tiny lump of it coalescing at the base of his stem. It’s barely the size of a seed, but with the link established it will grow.

‘Soul established!’ he says.

Toriel and Asgore are both crying, tears trickling down their fur, and when they rush to Flowey the scientists take this as their cue to leave.

Frisk and Undyne are still watching anime in Papyrus’ office, but they look up when he and Sans enter.

‘Did it work?’ Frisk demands.

Papyrus smiles wider than even he’d imagined possible. ‘Yes,’ he says. ‘It did!’

Chapter Text

The backdoor opens while Papyrus is in the middle of cooking breakfast and Flowey walks in. The potbot, a large flowerpot with delicate metal bird legs extending from the base, had been designed by Alphys to allow Flowey to get around without needing to be carried. Outdoors he still prefers to be in the ground, but indoors it’s a godsend.

‘Good morning, Flowey!’ Papyrus says. ‘Would you like some soup this morning, or just tea?’

‘I want hot chocolate,’ Flowey says, hopping into a chair and folding his legs under him.

‘You shouldn’t have sweets for breakfast,’ Papyrus says. ‘You can have sugar in your tea!’

Flowey looks around. ‘Can I wake Sans up?’

No,’ Papyrus says firmly. Flowey isn’t dangerous anymore, but that doesn’t mean Sans needs to be startled awake by a demon flower! He puts the kettle on to boil for Flowey’s tea. ‘I’m going to wake him up. Would you stir the porridge for me while I do?’

Flowey comes over obligingly. His vine dexterity has improved a lot recently and he enjoys being able to do things that use it. Papyrus watches him stir the porridge with one vine carefully wrapped around a wooden spoon, expression intent, and then runs upstairs to wake Sans.

‘Sans! Wake up, lazybones!’

‘M’awake,’ Sans mumbles loudly.

‘Good! If you go back to sleep I’ll let Flowey wake you next time!’

‘You’re so heartless, bro.’ But the sound of Sans shuffling around follows, so he should be down soon.

Back in the kitchen Flowey relinquishes the spoon, trying not to look proud of himself for not having splattered any porridge. Papyrus beams at him. ‘Well done! An excellent job, assistant chef!’

Flowey gives him an irritated look. ‘Whatever. Can I have my tea now?’

The three of them eating breakfast together is familiar, now. It probably won’t last. One day Flowey will be ready to live with one of his parents again, and ready to face the fact that it will be one of his parents. Papyrus will miss him when he goes, but for now he’s here, grumpily sipping tea with too much sugar in it.

After breakfast Papyrus goes to get the mini-spectregraph. ‘Are you okay to do this now, Flowey?’

‘What does it matter? You’ll do it whether I want to or not,’ Flowey mutters, hunching up.

‘I dunno why you make such a fuss, kid,’ Sans remarks, still sleepily eating porridge. ‘All he’s doing is lookin’ atcha. It’s not like it hurts.’

‘I’ll do it if you let me see yours,’ Flowey says.

But if he was hoping to push Sans’ buttons there he’s missed his mark, because all that gets is a lazy shrug and a ‘sure’.

Flowey’s spectregraph, when he lets them take it, is almost equal amounts ivory and red, roiling around each other like oil and water being shaken. The little ivory blob in the centre is growing though, and the red that’s inside that is only little veins of it, like the blue and cyan inside Sans. ‘It’s good!’ says Papyrus. ‘Hope, love and compassion are all up from yesterday! Magic levels are looking stable! And the soul’s coalescing nicely!’ He beams at Flowey who sags in relief. This should have become routine by now, but Flowey just can’t take the steady growth of his soul for granted. Maybe the fact that they are still checking it everyday doesn’t help, but if anything goes wrong they need to know. Not that anything will!

‘The determination’s still there, isn’t it?’ Flowey says.

‘That’s not a bad thing!’ Papyrus says. ‘Frisk has lots of determination, even for a human, and they’re fine! Now that it’s not the only thing you have you’ll be able to find good things to do with it!’

Flowey shoves his empty cup around with a vine. ‘Asriel didn’t have it.’

‘Is that what you want? To go back to being Asriel?’ Papyrus asks.

‘I’d like to have a proper body again,’ Flowey mutters.

‘That might happen!’ says Papyrus. ‘Once your soul is strong enough to generate one. There’s no reason it shouldn’t! It just takes time.’

‘…But I don’t know if I can be Asriel again. I just don’t want to be stuck as…’ A gesture with his vines that nearly sends the teacup flying. ‘Flowey.

Papyrus hesitates and glances at Sans who is watching this exchange sympathetically but doesn’t seem to be about to offer any help. ‘That’s okay!’ Papyrus says. ‘Things happened to you that didn’t happen to Asriel, just like things happened to me that didn’t happen to Wingdings. But not all those things were bad! I have new friends and I learnt new things! I think… I think that you won’t be Asriel again, but one day you’ll be someone you can like! Or you’ll learn to like Flowey. I like Flowey!’

Flowey huffs. ‘You like everyone.’

‘Everyone is nice!’

The doorbell rings and Flowey jumps up, rushing out into the hall and snatching up his schoolbag from where it rests on a pile of brightly coloured prospectuses — Papyrus isn’t sure whether Asgore and Toriel are going to hire him as the Royal scientist again yet, but if they don’t there’s a lot of cool new science he could learn! — and slipping it onto the hook on the back of his pot. Flowey opens the door to a grinning Frisk.

‘Hi, Flowey, ready for school?’ they ask.

Flowey sighs in a put upon fashion, despite joining Frisk’s classes being his own decision.

‘Good morning, Flowey,’ Toriel says, heading up the garden path towards them. She’d tried calling him Asriel at first, but Flowey either refused to answer or threw things and yelled. ‘Good morning, Papyrus.’

‘Good morning, Toriel,’ says Papyrus.

‘Morning,’ Flowey mutters. When she holds out a hand each to him and Frisk he slips a vine into it, though.

‘Goodbye, Flowey!’ Papyrus pats his petals, disarranging them slightly. ‘Have a good day at school. Be good!’

‘I’m never good,’ Flowey says.

Papyrus grins. ‘I’m sure you can try!’

Flowey pulls a face at him as he walks away.