Papyrus sat in the living room huddled in a blanket with his brother by his side. It was an unusually cold day in Snowdin – so cold it called for an impromptu day off. The small town was at a standstill with most monsters opting to stay in their own homes for warmth. Even the children thought it best to spend their time indoors what with the freezing weather. Like most of their day offs, the skeleton brothers passed it leisurely watching TV. Papyrus's favourite show had just ended and now they were watching a news report from Mettaton, but the robot wasn't talking about the news as much as himself and his upcoming shows. Regardless, neither were really listening.
Sans took up most of the space on the sofa. He lied on his back, hands pillowing his head and legs resting on Papyrus's lap. The latter was seated on the other end. He glanced from time to time to his brother, noticing how he steadily seemed to doze off. Papyrus frowned. He didn't understand why Sans slept so much. At first he thought it was because of his 1 hp. He thought that being so fragile consequently meant getting exhausted easily, but, nowadays, he wasn't entirely convinced anymore.
The skeleton's doubts began with Alphys. He didn't speak with her much. In fact, odds were they never would have wound up talking had she not had a habit of frequently visiting Undyne during their training sessions. She had been so awkward and apologetic the first time, firmly believing she had committed something akin to murder in terms of gravity of her intrusion. But Papyrus didn't mind; he always loved meeting new people no matter how uncomfortably awkward they could sometimes be. It took a few more unexpected meetings before the two became friendly. Once they did, Alphys began opening up to him bit by bit.
Yesterday, Alphys had finally spoken up about the darker period of her life. It was something she had only hinted to beforehand and Papyrus had quickly understood she didn't like reminiscing on it so he never forced her to expand. If she wanted to talk about it, she would and that day she did. Alphys talked about having spent a good many years awfully depressed and disillusioned with life. This terrible feeling had manifested itself in different ways. She had started by gradually isolating herself from the world, she had then practically refused to leave her home, and consequently began to sleep a lot. There had hardly been a moment she spent awake because being lucid was just too painful and everything was alright when she dreamed. Her situation got worse and worse to the point where she almost made a permanent mistake – but luckily, Undyne saved her.
Papyrus was sure there was a point to the intimate confession, but he had to admit that he had completely missed it. When she had begun describing how she had initially been before things got horribly worse, the tall skeleton's mind immediately drifted to his brother. He couldn't help but notice the similarities between how Alphys had described her depression and the way Sans had been acting for a very long time. The latter hardly ever made an effort to socialise, he probably wouldn't leave the house if Papyrus didn't push him to do it every single day, and though he was always reprimanded for doing it, he slept almost all the time. Traits that he had once considered goofy and, in some strange way, endearing now seemed so much more worrisome and it had altered the way Papyrus perceived his big brother.
Was Sans depressed too? How long had he had felt this way and not told him about it? Was he on the verge of making the permanent mistake that had nearly robbed Alphys of her life?
Innumerable questions plagued Papyrus's mind. He wanted answers and yet jumping into such a sensitive topic wasn't the most obvious endeavour. He knew he absolutely needed to have a conversation with Sans to express how he was ready to help and support him at a moment's notice if he truly was depressed. He needed to tell him that he was loved, that he was ready to listen to his problems free of judgement, that he had a brother who would remain by his side until the end of the line. But despite all of that, Papyrus simply didn't know how to go about instigating such a heavy discussion. Should he just jump into it and get to the point or find a way to ease into it?
"pap." Sans said, pulling his brother from his train of thought. Papyrus darted his gaze towards him and noticed how his eyes were still closed, like he was getting ready to fall asleep at a moment's notice. "you're doing your thinking face."
"How would you know?" Papyrus frowned curiously, "Your eyes are closed."
"i can literally feel it." He chuckled, "you're thinking real hard about something. what's up?"
Papyrus supposed this was his opportunity to talk about what was bugging him. It made him nervous but he had to do it. The last thing he wanted was for Sans to get as bad as Alphys and have no one to pull him away from the edge of the abyss.
"Um…" He started with a heavy sigh.
"yeesh." Sans commented with a snicker, "that bad, hun?"
"No, no…" Papyrus huffed and shifted his eyes to his brother's feet. He grabbed them without thinking much and began fiddling with his toe bones. It somehow helped him feel less anxious. "It's really not…"
"then spill it." Sans encouraged, "and if you could give me a massage, that would be great."
"Sans, that's literally impossible." Papyrus dead panned, "Your feet are bones."
"way to ruin my dreams, bro." And though Sans was clearly joking, it still affected Papyrus. What the smaller skeleton said reminded him of how carefully he would have to consider his every word lest he said the wrong thing and made everything worse.
"Sans…" He started bravely, still fiddling with his toes absently, "You know I care for you a lot…don't you?"
There must have been something off about his tone because Sans immediately tensed and opened his eyes. Though he wasn't looking, Papyrus could tell he was scrutinising his face for answers to unspoken questions.
"yeah…?" Sans replied slowly, almost prudently.
Papyrus was unnerved by his scepticism. The last thing he wanted was for Sans to misinterpret his intentions. He absolutely needed to find a way to avoid such a potentially devastating repercussion and Papyrus concluded it was best to make his brother understand just how much he meant to him. If Sans understood he was loved, perhaps any future miswords wouldn't have as negative of an impact.
"I mean it, Sans." He said seriously and turned to look at his brother, "I really, really care about you."
For some reason, his words only seemed to put Sans even more on guard. He pulled his feet from his grasp and tucked them beneath himself as he sat up on his knees wearing a cautious expression.
"pap…" He said carefully, "where are you going with this…?"
"I-I just need you to know that I love you!" He stammered quickly, like he was afraid Sans would up and leave before he got the chance to say anything else. Papyrus couldn't believe how difficult things were already and he was still leading into what he wanted to talk about. Nonetheless, as soon as he spoke those words, he got the most bizarre reaction from his brother. His face flushed blue as he tensed all the more, fidgeting nervously. "Sans…?"
"are you serious…?" Sans muttered quietly maybe even...shyly? Why would he get timid without precedent?
Everything was suddenly very tense. Papyrus didn't understand why. Had he already screwed up? He hoped not.
"What? Yes, yes! Of course!" He hurriedly proclaimed and reached over, clasping his brother's hands in what hoped was a comforting gesture, "I love you so very much! You mean the world to me!"
"but…we're brothers…" Sans mumbled, inexplicably sheepish.
"So?" Papyrus asked. He was truly confused as to why their family bond would change his feelings rather than reinforce them. "It doesn't change how I feel one bit! Why would it?"
Sans sunk his head a bit between his shoulders. He glanced away nervously and Papyrus noticed how his weird blush seemed to grow. "i-i don't know…" he stuttered and then paused briefly before adding; "i…i love you too."
Papyrus smiled widely and released a relieved sigh. Now that that first step was taken care of, he could start talking about his concerns in regards to his big brother's mental health. He mustn't have messed up as badly as he thought. "Yes, well—" he began but then stopped. He was hit by the realisation that there was something a bit off about how Sans had voiced his affection. It made Papyrus second guess himself, "wait…"
Sans nodded and looked him straight in the eyes. "i didn't know you felt the same way…but i'm glad…" He confessed.
Papyrus stared at his brother quizzically for an additional moment. He struggled to make sense of what Sans had just said until realisation dawned on him like a blue attack. The taller skeleton felt his face blush so violently it was almost painful. He was suddenly hyper aware that he was still holding his brother's hands. He naturally wanted to let go immediately but was afraid of accidentally hurting him. Never mind things had suddenly taken an unexpected and very uncomfortable turn, Sans was still probably depressed and Papyrus had to be mindful of how he approached the situation.
"R-really…?" Papyrus asked incredulously; he really hoped he had somehow just misinterpreted everything.
Sans nodded and smiled softly.
"F-for how long?" Papyrus asked, even if he wasn't sure he actually wanted to know.
"a while." Sans admitted and his brother now wished he had never asked.
He was so jarred by the confession he fought to speak. Sans loved him? Romantically? Despite the fact that they were brothers? Even worse, Papyrus had just confused him into thinking he felt the same way and had confessed to him first when all he had been trying to do was emphasise how much he meant to him platonically. Very platonically. What was he supposed to do now? He couldn't just clear up the misunderstanding, it would break Sans's heart! Papyrus didn't even want to think of all the pain he would be causing his brother by revealing the truth.
"pap?" Sans asked, cocking his head a bit to the right.
"S-sorry, this is just…unbelievable." Papyrus admitted genuinely.
"i'll say." Sans chuckled lightly. Somehow, he seemed incredibly happy – almost beaming. Papyrus hadn't seen him like that in, well, ever. "imagine how shocked i am."
The taller skeleton gave a half-hearted laugh and slow nod. All he wanted to do was tell Sans how much he loved him as a brother. The whole point was to make it easier when they talked about his mental health, not confuse him into thinking he reciprocated his romantic love. Never had he even remotely conceived he could screw up so royally. Papyrus shouldn't have jumped into such a conversation so unprepared.
"uh…" Sans sounded and Papyrus noticed how he was subtly urging him to release his hands. He did so slowly. "so what now?"
What now, indeed. The million dollar question. The last thing Papyrus wanted to do was break Sans's heart. He had seemingly been sad for so long but in this very moment he appeared to be very happy. It was refreshing. Papyrus liked seeing his brother this way and wanted to keep his good mood going if he could. And he knew he could. All he had to do was play along and pretend to reciprocate Sans's feelings. However, this would undoubtedly be a never ending charade. He wasn't cruel enough to make his brother break up with him by purposefully being a horrible person. So was it all worth it?
"We…we date, I guess?" Papyrus suggested dumbly.