Actions

Work Header

A Fixed Debt

Chapter Text

Sans pressed a hand to his sternum, allowing blood to soak onto his trembling fingers. Each breath came as a shuddering gasp that sent an excruciating jolt through his wounded chest. As he limped across the golden tiles of the Judgement Hall, he nearly tripped over one of his pink slippers. His hands latched onto the bright column closest to him as his thoughts tried to catch up with what he was doing.

It was over. He had lost. The child – that disgustingly indifferent human child – had already left the Hall for King Asgore. They had taken everyone he had ever cared for and had murdered them. Everything had been destroyed in a matter of hours.

And now he was dying too.

He clenched his sockets shut. His sweaty hands skated across the pillar’s smooth surface, and he slid to the ground with a resounding crack.

How could he have failed so monumentally? All the signs had pointed toward the anomaly. The Core’s data. The unique characteristics of human souls. He should’ve seen the child a million miles away. If only he had prepared better…

Then maybe he could have saved Papyrus.

At the thought of his brother’s death, Sans could feel his soul giving way to his injuries. It was only a matter of minutes, if not seconds, before he would be nothing more than a pile of dust. Frankly, he welcomed death. He was so very tired. It wasn’t worth the effort to keep going all alone.

Plus, maybe when he died, he would see Papyrus again. He could imagine him standing in their kitchen, twirling around as soon as Sans entered the room.

“WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN, LAZYBONES? I THOUGHT I WAS GOING TO HAVE TO SERVE YOUR DINNER COLD BY THE TIME YOU GOT HERE!”

Heh. The playful jibes. That warm smile. Those cheerful eyes. The pain of death would all be worth it just to see that again.

And yet…

It was all well and good to hope for a happy ending. But to bank on an afterlife? Heh. Well, he wasn’t holding his breath.

No, really, he wasn’t. In fact, his breathing was getting faster and faster.

Even though his bones were protesting through every movement, Sans slowly climbed to his feet. If he wanted a happy ending, he needed to make it himself. There was no use waiting around for someone to hand deliver it to him.

He dragged himself across the length of the Hall. With each step, his ribs tightened; it was getting difficult to breathe past the agonizing pain. When he reached the Hall’s western entrance, he created a doorway to his final destination: an unmarked room in the heart of the Core.

The moment he teleported, a wave of fatigue rolled over his body, sapping much-needed energy from his magic reserves. He choked on the sulfur-laden air, his soul desperate for any sort of nourishment. The effort only sent more stabbing pressure around his chest.

His fingers scrabbled for the light switch, and after three attempts, the room lit up. Old memories flooded his mind as he peered around the abandoned laboratory room.

There was ‘Dings, standing at the Trait Overflow Pump. His face was set with purpose as he reviewed the data on the computer screen. But as soon as he turned around to see Sans, a bright smile alighted his face.

And there he was again, whooping with exhausted giddiness after Sans had played the old whoopee cushion in the hand trick on him. The reports on the anomaly that the doc had been handing him went flying across the room, coming dangerously close to the open pit of lava on the far side of the room.

No, no. This was no time to get lost down memory lane. He was at Death’s doorstep. His arms and legs were numb, and as he limped to the other side of the room, he could feel the tips of his fingers beginning to loosen.

When he reached his destination, he cast his gaze downwards. At his feet was a hundred-foot drop leading straight to the bubbling lava that haunted his nightmares. He could still hear his best friend’s screams as he realized that his attempt to prevent the anomaly had failed. Not to mention the image of the doc’s body melting into a charred mess was forever burned into his memory. And his memory alone.

But ‘Dings hadn’t had what Sans did now – teleportation. If the doc had only waited just a couple more years, the numbers would’ve matched up, he was sure of it. Then they both could’ve lived and avoided all this destruction.

It didn’t matter. Sans had to take that chance now. He needed to restore everything to before the anomaly came to kill them all. If he could do this, then maybe everyone could live. Undyne. Alphys. Paps. Even ‘Dings himself.

It was time to perform the experiment that he should’ve tried ages ago.

With a great shuddering breath, he threw himself over the edge. As the blazing air whipped through his clothes, a touch of giddiness stole through him. His body quivered from the thrill of the fall. He wondered if this was how Dings felt right before his demise.

As Sans approached the bottom, he called upon his magic to open a gateway. He concentrated, with all his soul, on the world as it was seven years ago. His mentor. His friends. His colleagues. His brother.

The last thought – of his coolest bro in the whole universe – lingered in his mind as he opened his shortcut. His magic had an immediate effect. A burst of lava exploded below him, cascading around his invisible doorway. The air stirred with a violent, frenetic energy that crawled across his bones. Sans didn’t have time to dwell on it; already he was falling through the portal, and –

Everything disappeared. Wind no longer rippled through his clothes. The smell of sulfur was gone. There was no lava. No light. Nothing at all.

Darkness pressed into Sans, gripping him like nothing else. All pain had disappeared, dwarfed by the intense and unnatural blackness. He was suffocating, drowning. There was no air or noise or anything at all. This was all wrong! This wasn’t the past or the present or the future or anything else!

He had failed.

Suddenly, as he tumbled through the emptiness, his bones prickled. After the absence of any other sensation, the sharp pain dragged him from every other thought. He glanced at his hands. Tiny particles of bone were sloughing off him, dissolving into the dark. He wasn’t sure if it was dust or something else, but it was clear that his body was giving way to the impenetrable void.

No! He needed to escape!

His soul screamed in fiery revolt as he called upon the last of his reserves to create a portal to anywhere, anywhere, god please anywhere but here. An explosion of light – blessed, wonderful light – appeared before him. As he fell through the shortcut, some invisible force gripped at his body, trying to pull him back.

But as he shut off the flow of magic and crashed onto solid matter, it was as if a switch had been flicked. The void’s magnetizing tug ceased and a rush of sensation returned to him all at once. Pins and needles prickled his bones and pain sliced through his ribs. He unleashed a piercing scream, his mind too clouded to do anything else.

There was no doubt he was dying. And this time, he had neither the energy nor the motivation to halt the process.

He was done. Forever.

“SANS!”

A surge of determination engulfed his soul. Papyrus. Those were his footsteps. How? His brother was dead. It wasn’t possible. Unless…

The last vestiges of energy had been sapped from his body. He couldn’t even raise his head off the ground. The shadows that had gathered at the borders of his vision melded together as he lost consciousness.

Chapter Text

Something tugged at the remote corners of Sans’s mind. At first the sensation was subtle, like a gentle whisper blowing against his bones. But the longer he slept, the more insistent the feeling became. Even through his exhausted haze, it stabbed at his soul, drawing panic into his mind, until every part of him was screaming with a singular thought: get up and run. By the time he finally had the energy to drag his sockets open, his skull felt like it was on fire from the overwhelming compulsion.

The world spun before him in a whirl of color and light. No matter how many times he blinked, his vision wouldn’t clear. Nausea gripped him, and he squeezed his eyes shut to block out the dizzying blur.

He poured his attention into his other senses. His breathing was so labored that his ragged breaths were all he could hear. The taste of metal lingered on his tongue. Blood. He recalled his injuries and all that had led up to them. He shifted, feeling the sharp slicing pain across his chest.

But it wasn’t all he felt. Something warm and soft hindered his movements. It was hard to tell with his eyes closed, but it felt like he was swathed in a cocoon of blankets. Every time he twitched his arms, they rubbed against a soft but scratchy fabric. It reminded him of Papyrus’s favorite fleece throw that their parents had given him so long ago.

And speaking of Papyrus, his scent filled Sans’s nasal cavity. The sharp pine smell. The crispness of fresh snow. The familiar scent of Italian spices. It smelled like home.

And yet, everything felt… wrong. It was more than just his vision or the nausea. Something was striking him at his very core. His soul was racing like he had just gotten back from one of Papyrus’s training sessions. And whether he was home or not, he felt the compelling need to teleport as far away as he could. The sensation burned at him, bringing his mind to a frenzied panic.

He needed to… get up… before it swallowed him whole…

It took everything in him to open his eyes again, but when he did, his vision had finally stopped spinning. Yes, those were clearly the wooden beams that stretched across the ceiling in his living room. And that was definitely his old lumpy couch he was sitting on. But it still felt undeniably wrong.

He tentatively rolled to his side in the hopes of finding out what was going on. Bad idea. The movement only left him lightheaded and shaky, and he had to stop midway through the motion. The way his skull throbbed, he wondered if he had somehow hit it. Though his soul was lurching similarly…

“YOU ARE AWAKE!”

Sans jolted at the sudden shout, sending another wave of pain through his bones. But it was nothing compared to the flood of relief that surged through him.

“paps?” he croaked.

Papyrus was on him in seconds, scooping him into a sitting position and wrapping his arms around him in loving hug. An endless babble of words was streaming from his mouth, melding together into an incoherent mess. It was so much at once, but Sans didn’t know what to do or say to get his brother to stop.

So instead of trying, he pressed into Papyrus’s shirt, desperate to share his brother’s exuberance in his own way. The scent of basil and rosemary clung to Papyrus. God, he never would’ve thought he’d appreciate that smell so much.

“papyrus.”

Even though his voice was barely audible, it cut through his brother’s excited chatter like butter. Papyrus silenced immediately and squeezed Sans tightly. It was only when Sans squeaked out in soft protest that he loosened his grip. As much as Sans wanted to do nothing more than hug his bro until the end of time, his chest felt damaged beyond repair. He wondered if he might break.

“ARE YOU OKAY?” Papyrus yelped, his voice gravelly from emotion. “ARE YOU HURT? I MEAN OF COURSE YOU’RE HURT, BUT DO YOU FEEL BETTER THAN BEFORE? I TRIED TO HEAL YOUR WOUND, BUT YOU WERE SCREAMING, AND I –”

“stop, stop.” Sans nuzzled against Papyrus’s chest. “i’m okay. better than okay.”

“YOU ARE NOT! YOUR VOICE IS SHAKING! NOT TO MENTION THE FEVER, AND YOUR CHEST –”

“’m fine, okay?” he murmured, trying his best not to fall asleep against his brother in such a horrible position. “bad nightmare. or accident. something.” He sighed. “just need to rest.”

For a few moments, silence reigned over them. Sans took it as a sign that his brother had believed him or that he was at least was saving the third degree for later. But as Sans started to doze off, Papyrus startled him awake again with a loud wailing noise.

“whazzit?” he said, jerking abruptly. “paps?”

“I CANNOT BELIEVE IT! YOU’RE HERE! HOW? HOW?”

Sans blinked and pushed himself away from his brother. “huh? what d’ya mean?”

“YOU WERE GONE,” Papyrus sobbed out. “AND NOW YOU ARE HERE! YOU’RE HERE!”

Sans’s eyes latched onto his brother’s face. Sure enough, tears were spilling down his cheekbones. Sans sucked in a breath. That wasn’t all. A giant, elongated scar stretched across his brother’s right eye socket.

“oh my god, what happened to you?”

Papyrus hastily wiped away his tears. “WHAT? WHAT DO YOU MEAN?”

“your eye! holy crap!”

Papyrus balked, his brow crinkling with anger. And not the playful anger that he usually displayed when Sans told a bad joke or when he yelled about dirty socks. No, it was that silent, deadly rage reserved for the rarest of occasions.

“YOU KNOW WHAT HAPPENED. DO NOT TRY TO CHANGE THE SUBJECT.”

“i’m not, paps. jeez, it looks horrible.” He extracted a hand from his pile of blankets and extended it towards the scar. “how in the world – ?”

Papyrus slapped Sans’s hand away fiercely. “DON’T TOUCH IT!”

The shock of his brother’s action stunned him more than the pain did. Since when did Papyrus ever yell like that? Or hit him? It was inconceivable. Whatever had caused this injury must have been terrible.

Papyrus must have realized how cruel his actions had just been because already he was clutching at Sans’s hand, rubbing it tenderly.

“I’M SORRY! SO, SO SORRY! I – I – I REALLY DON’T WANT TO TALK ABOUT THAT, AND YOU CAUGHT ME OFF GUARD! AND – AND –” He narrowed his eyes. “HOW DO YOU NOT REMEMBER ANYWAY?”

Sans shook his head. How was it possible? He had lived with Papyrus since he was born. There was no way he would miss something like that, and the injury was clearly several years old.

When he had made his portal, had he… gone to the future?

That made no sense. Papyrus had died. If he had traveled forward in time, his brother wouldn’t be sitting here.

As he peered at Papyrus, the sensation of wrongness intensified. Now that he was looking more closely, his bro seemed… different. Yeah, he had the same face, and he was the same height, and heck, he even smelled the same. But there were little details here and there that didn’t match up. Papyrus’s shirt didn’t usually have a Royal Guard emblem. Plus he didn’t usually give off such a tired aura. And… had his brother filed his teeth? Some of them were sharpened to points.

Papyrus seemed to have sensed something as well because he was scrutinizing Sans as well.

“WHAT HAPPENED TO YOUR TOOTH ANYWAY?”

“huh? my tooth?” Sans pressed a hand to his mouth, gliding against the grooves. He didn’t think there was anything wrong with them, and they certainly weren’t sharp like Papyrus’s. “what’re you talkin’ about?”

Papyrus’s glare deepened. “GET OUT,” he snarled.

“huh?”

“I SAID ‘GET OUT,’ SCUM!” He leapt to his feet, his eye blazing with magic. “YOU ARE NOT HIM! YOU ARE NOT MY BROTHER! YOU ARE AN IMPOSTER, A SHAPESHIFTER, A – A – A DOPPELGANGER!”

Sans shrunk into the couch cushions, a cold lance of fear running up his spine. He could taste the threat of an attack in the air. He had never seen his brother this angry in his life. Not even when Sans had gone on an impromptu week-long journey through the remote regions of Waterfall.

Except this wasn’t his bro, couldn’t be his bro. Because he had messed up big time. That teleportation through that shadowy emptiness… crap, where had he ended up? Another timeline? Another universe? God, everything was all wrong.

“HOW DARE YOU?”

Not-Papyrus jabbed his finger at Sans’s chest, poking right as his injury. When Sans released a pained noise, the other skeleton hesitated for the briefest of moments before allowing his rage to take over again.

“WHO SENT YOU?! THE CAPTAIN?! ONIONSAN?! TELL ME!”

Sans shook his head rapidly. “no one sent me!”

“I WILL NOT BE BESTED BY THE LIKES OF YOU.” Papyrus hovered over him, his body throwing a shadow over Sans. “THIS IS SICK! DISGUSTING! LOW EVEN BY MY ENEMIES’ STANDARDS!”

“crap, it’s me! sans! i swear!”

“PROVE IT!”

“i will! ask me anything that only i would know!”

Papyrus straightened his posture, a reluctant expression crossing his features. Sans sighed in relief as he was given a little breathing room. But the gesture only seemed to infuriate the other skeleton.

“FINE THEN! WHERE DID WE GROW UP?” He waved his hand as if dismissing the thought. “NO, NO, THAT IS TOO EASY! WHAT ABOUT… HMM… AH! WHAT IS OUR PET ROCK’S NAME? WAIT.” He scratched his skull. “HE DOESN’T HAVE A NAME.”

He began to pace back and forth, casting a frantic energy over the room. Every few seconds, he spat out a question only to hurriedly reject it for one reason or another. If Sans wasn’t so frightened, he may have found it amusing.

After a few minutes of this, Papyrus snapped his fingers. “I KNOW!” He twirled towards Sans. “WHAT IS MY FAVORITE BOOK?”

A smug expression adorned his face, as if he had solved a particularly difficult puzzle after Sans had teased him all day.

“heh. that’s it? peekaboo with fluffy bunny. i read it to you every night.”

Papyrus’s eyes widened comically. “YOU – WHAT?!” All the anger melted away, replaced with pure shock. “HOW DID YOU GUESS THAT?!”

Sans allowed his bones to sag now that the immediate threat of death was extinguished.

“not a guess. i’m sans.” He closed his eyes as the truth nipped at his soul. “just not your sans. and you’re not my paps,” he admitted, his voice breaking.

Papyrus’s mouth opened and closed over and over, but no words came out. Sans wondered how the hell he was going to explain time travel – or hell, universe hopping, of all things – to this version of his brother. It had been hard enough explaining the basics of his job to Papyrus back when he had worked at the Core. Who knew what he had to work with here? Had the Sans from this universe told him anything at all?

Wait… the Sans from this universe. Was there another version of himself walking around here?

As he readied himself to pose the question to Papyrus, there was a heavy knock at the door.

Papyrus gasped. Before Sans could say a word, blankets slammed into his body, draping over him.

“hey, what the –?”

“QUIET,” Papyrus hissed into Sans’s skull. “DO NOT SAY A WORD AND DO NOT MOVE.”

The covers fell over Sans’s eyes. If Papyrus hadn’t sounded so painfully worried, Sans might’ve considered taking a nap right there and pretending like this was all a bad dream. But his soul was thrumming in his chest from the warning of danger in Papyrus’s voice. His senses were on high alert as he listened to the commotion outside his hiding spot.

Not that they had to be with how loud Papyrus and the surprise visitor were.

“Well? Where is it?”

“I ALMOST HAVE IT ALL. LEAVE IT UNTIL NEXT WEEK.”

Sans grit his teeth as the other monster’s forced laughter echoed through the house.

“You gotta be fuckin’ kiddin’ me. You’ve had two months. TWO DAMN MONTHS! They're not waitin’ any more, buddy.”

“I ONLY NEED ONE MORE PAYCHECK AND –”

His sentence ended with a loud yelp as an unexpected slamming noise sounded through the room.

Sans couldn’t handle hiding any longer. He tore the blankets from his skull and leaned over to get a better look at the entryway. A mange-covered, blue-furred rabbit stood at the door, their hand pressed into the door frame. They wore a collared shirt that was on backwards and a pair of tacky, mismatched boots. Their posture oozed with a smarminess that disgusted Sans.

Despite the fact that this guy was clearly a creep, Papyrus was intimidated. He didn’t think the guest could see the subtle signs of it, but Sans was able to read his brother – but not his brother, definitely not his brother – like a book. Seeing that expression on Papyrus made Sans want to summon a blaster right there. It would be satisfying to see the fear in the other monster’s face as they ran down the road with their tail between their legs.

“You’ve been tellin’ me ‘one more paycheck’ for the last two months, asshole. If you think for one second –” The stranger’s eyes caught onto Sans as he threw the blankets aside. “What the fuck?!”

Papyrus followed their gaze. Any delusions of his not-brother hiding his fear were tossed out the window. “IGNORE HIM, HE’S NOT INVOLVED!”

The rabbit’s focus returned to Papyrus. “’Not involved?’ Is that some sorta joke? You said he was dead! Boy, when Boss finds out about this –”

“THAT IS NOT MY BROTHER, YOU ARE MISTAKEN!”

“You must be dumber than fuckin’ dirt if you think I’m gonna buy that!”

“that’s rich comin’ from a guy that can’t even put his clothes on right,” Sans interjected.

The rabbit flexed their fists. “The fuck you say to me?”

It was a ridiculous insult coming from someone like Sans who didn’t even wear more than one outfit, but this loser was ticking him off in all the wrong ways. No one insulted Papyrus’s intelligence, whether he was truly his brother or not.

“since you don’t seem to get pap’s real obvious hints, lemme say it slow for you: l e a v e   b e f o r e   i   g e t   m a d.”

The other monster stared him down. “You’re messing with the wrong guy, asshole.”

With a wave of their arm, they summoned a circle of glowing carrot bullets and aimed them Sans’s way. Suddenly Sans was all too aware of how low his magical stores were. He wasn’t sure if he even had enough to teleport. All it would take was one hit and poof! He’d be a pile of dust.

But Papyrus was having none of it. Before the rabbit released their attack, a wave of bones shot up from the ground, extending across the doorway.

“DON’T YOU DARE!” The air tingled with unspent magic. “IF YOU DON’T LEAVE RIGHT NOW, I WILL SHOVE A BONE SO FAR UP YOUR ASS, YOU’LL BE SPITTING UP MARROW FOR DAYS!”

Sans went cold. What did Papyrus just say?

“You asshole! You’re dead meat next time! You hear that? DEAD! Boss isn’t gonna sit and wait around when I tell them about this bullshit!”

“FUCK YOU!” Papyrus bellowed before slamming the door shut, causing the wood to splinter as it crashed against the bones. As soon as the two of them were alone, Papyrus rounded on him, fury outlining his features. “WHY DID YOU DO THAT? I TOLD YOU TO HIDE, NOT TO INSULT THEM! I DON’T HAVE THE MONEY FOR THIS BULLSHIT, SANS!”

Sans glared at him. “he was being a jerk over a handful of gold.”

“ARGH! IT IS MORE THAN A ‘HANDFUL!’”

“well, he didn’t need to call you stupid.”

Papyrus rolled his eyes. “WELL, THANK YOU FOR YOUR CODDLING, BUT I CAN HANDLE AN INSULT OR TWO.”

“yeah, i noticed. since when do you use language like that anyway?”

Papyrus paused, eyeing Sans with shock. “YOU REALLY AREN’T MY BROTHER, ARE YOU?”

A silence fell between them, heavier and more suffocating than even that of the void-like space from before. Sans cast his eyelights downwards, suddenly unable to look Papyrus in the face. He gripped his knees, as a thought came to him. A thought that Papyrus gave voice to.

“HE IS DEAD. MY BROTHER IS DEAD.”

So it was true. This Papyrus’s brother was dead.

Just like his own brother.

The weight of it tugged at Sans’s soul. He was alone. Alone in a world he didn’t know with a monster so similar and yet so different from his brother. It made him sick.

“PLEASE –” The desperation in Papyrus’s voice drew Sans’s attention, and when he looked his face was a mixture of tears and anger. “PLEASE GO BACK TO WHERE YOU CAME FROM. I CAN TAKE A LOT, BUT I CANNOT TAKE THIS.” He swallowed. “JUST… LEAVE.”

And with that Papyrus went upstairs, making Sans’s isolation complete.

Chapter Text

Sans nearly slipped out of his chair as the sound of the front door startled him awake. With a loud slurp, he sucked in the pool of drool that had dribbled down his face. When had he fallen asleep? He raised his head and rubbed his sockets to dispel the sleepiness from his eyes. Was that clock right? Ugh, he must’ve dozed off hours ago.

The noisy clanking from the other room told Sans that Papyrus was home and taking off his boots. His soul squirmed as he tried to mentally prepare for the encounter. It was sure to be just as lovely as it had been the last six days.

Papyrus stomped into the kitchen, his Royal Guard armor clanging noisily as he rushed to the refrigerator. As always, he was avoiding making eye contact with Sans, and chose to stare straight ahead at his destination.

“so, uh,” Sans said, tapping his fingers along the edge of the table. “how was your day?”

Papyrus flinched, but otherwise gave no indication that he had heard Sans. He tossed open the fridge door with such ferocity that it hit the wall and rebounded. Sans sighed as Papyrus swore under his breath and reopened it.

“if you’re lookin’ for the lasagna, i finished the last of it this morning.”

Papyrus’s hand clenched around the door handle. “WONDERFUL.”

Sans watched with a mixture of curiosity and sorrow as Papyrus gathered his tools and ingredients and began to cook. He hadn’t felt comfortable enough to be downstairs while his not-brother had whipped up his lasagna over the last week, and instead chose to huddle in the bathroom to stay out of the way, seeing as "his" room was locked and he had no inclination to go into Papyrus's room.

But tonight he needed to stop moping and speak to Papyrus. Cornering him like this seemed the best way to do it.

It was strange to see how easily Papyrus cooked a half-decent dish. His own Papyrus struggled to even boil a pot of water without burning the noodles. Sans clutched at his chest as a flood of overwhelming grief poured through him. It wasn’t fair and it wasn’t right. How could Paps be dead?

His not-brother slammed a plate of steaming lasagna in front of him, jarring him from his train of thought. As Papyrus sat in the chair opposite him, Sans hurriedly wiped his tears away. He needed to get himself together to discuss different universes and time travel, dammit.

But it was Papyrus who broke the silence first. “I GROW TIRED OF YOU LURKING IN MY HOUSE AND STEALING MY FOOD, DOPPELGANGER. I DEMAND TO KNOW WHEN YOU PLAN TO LEAVE.”

“i’m not a doppelganger,” Sans muttered through gritted teeth.

“DO NOT LIE. YOU ARE NOT MY BROTHER, AS WE BOTH KNOW. THEREFORE, THE ONLY LOGICAL EXPLANATION IS THAT YOU ARE A DOPPELGANGER.”

“not exactly logical if doppelgangers are extinct.”

The shapeshifting monsters had been employed in reconnaissance missions during the human war all those years ago. When he was kid, their history classes used to tell them all about the subspecies. They were brave soldiers who had to adapt to different human cultures or face detection. His teachers had also told them about how the humans had eventually tracked down and murdered every last one. All in the name of war.

“THAT IS WHAT THEY SAY, BUT HOW WOULD ANYONE KNOW FOR SURE? THEY – THAT IS TO SAY, YOU – CAN TAKE ON THE APPEARANCE OF ANYONE!”

“listen, i’m not a doppelganger. i’m sans… but also not sans.”

“THAT MAKES NO SENSE.”

“well, i’ve been trying to talk to you ‘bout it all week, but every time i open my mouth –”

“THAT IS BECAUSE I AM NOT INTERESTED IN HEARING YOUR LIES. OR THE LIES OF WHOEVER PUT YOU UP TO THIS.”

Sans let out an exasperated huff. “would you just listen, paps, for one sec–”

“YOU HAVE STILL NOT ANSWERED MY QUESTION!”

Sans pinched the space between his eyes. “i don’t even remember the question.”

Papyrus smacked his hand on the table. “WHEN ARE YOU LEAVING? I WANT YOU GONE.”

The last word was spoken with such venom that tears sprang, unbidden, to Sans’s sockets.

“i don’t know,” he said with a slight shrug.

It wasn’t like he was planning to stay forever. He had every intention of returning to the Core as soon as he was healed. Maybe he’d give another shot at teleporting back to his universe to a time when his brother was alive. The problem was his injuries weren’t healing as fast as they should. And god, when he focused on the wound, the pain seemed to grow even more.

He knew why. It was because he didn’t really want to heal. There was nothing to live for. Sure, he could jump into the Core again and try to manipulate the anomalous energies to get back to his universe. But that was assuming he could survive another journey through that void-like space. Not to mention, the chances of getting back to his old life were astronomically small.

And that meant his brother was truly dead. Forever.

Papyrus broke the silence with an angry sigh. “WELL, I WOULD APPRECIATE IT IF YOU LEFT SOON. I AM SURE YOUR BOSS WILL UNDERSTAND THAT THE GREAT AND TERRIBLE PAPYRUS CANNOT BE SO EASILY THWARTED EVEN BY SUCH LOW TACTICS.”

“i already told you,” Sans said with growing irritation. “i’m not working for anyone.” He raised his head to stare Papyrus straight in the eye. “and i’m really sorry if i’m botherin’ you.”

A flicker of rage ran through Papyrus’s features. “YOU ARE NOT BOTHERING ME.”

“i’m sure i am,” Sans sighed. “it’s like lookin’ at some messed up image of your bro. it’s different in the weirdest ways.” His soul lurched. “it hurts, i know.”

Without warning, Papyrus sprang to his feet and rushed to the front door.

“I AM LEAVING. PLEASE MAKE SURE YOU ARE NOT DOWN HERE WHEN I COME BACK. GO UPSTAIRS AND WALLOW IF YOU MUST. OR BETTER YET, LEAVE THE HOUSE ENTIRELY! JUST DON’T BE WITHIN MY SIGHT BY THE TIME I RETURN!”

With that, he scurried out of the house. He didn’t even put on his boots.

Sans cursed to himself. Why the hell was this version of his brother so… frustratingly stubborn?! It was like running into a brick wall. A particularly pissed off brick wall that ran away every chance it got.

He glanced at the now-cooled lasagna and let out a grunt of disgust. That was it. He’d eaten this crap for every meal over the last six days. It was one thing to sacrifice his taste buds to someone who cared about him. It was another thing completely to do it for this… jerk.

He zipped up his hoodie –not his hoodie, but the black and red one that his counterpart had left behind – and exited the house. The familiar brisk winds of Snowdin whipped around him, chilling him to the bone. From the looks of the dark clouds hovering below the cave ceiling, he hazarded a guess that the town was about to get hit by a wicked snowstorm. A heavy flurry was already coming down on him, soaking his clothes.

He rushed down the path, dodging the confused stares of the townsfolk. Snowdin was undeniably different. The shops were dingier than he was used to, and the other monsters seemed unkempt and grouchy. Even the familiar Gyftmas tree was notably absent. Sure, it wasn’t that time of year in this universe – he had checked – but Snowdin residents left it up year-round. They always embraced the Gyftmas spirit.

But everything about this world seemed a little colder than he was used to.

By the time he made it to Grillby’s, he was more than ready for a pipin’ hot meal. He stepped inside the restaurant and shook the snow from his jacket. It was nice and warm in here, and yet… he didn’t feel like it was any friendlier than outside.

He made his way to the bar, glancing around the room as he went. Many of the patrons he recognized; others he didn’t. But every single one of them was staring at him. There was more than curiosity to their expressions too. Was Doggo glaring at him? Why did Red Bird look so revolted? And what was that aura coming from that moldsmal?

The feeling that something was wrong returned full force.

“…Sans?”

He directed his focus to the bar, his soul racing when he spotted the very monster he had hoped to see. Well, sorta. Grillby was… different, to say the least. How the hell had he made himself purple? And his black dress shirt was unbuttoned to his chest, leaving nothing to the imagination. It was actually pretty amazing. Sans sidled up to his usual spot, never taking his eyes off the mesmerizing flames.

“…Is that really you, Sans?”

There was something about the way Grillby said his name that invoked that familiar yearning to embrace the monster. He could imagine the way those flames would lick around him, warming him to the core. God, that was pathetic. They hadn’t dated in years, and it wasn’t like he shared any of those memories with this Grillby.

“heya,” he said casually.

Grillby frowned. “… I can’t believe it. After all this time?”

“yeah, well, don’t believe it. i’m not the skeleton you’re thinking of.”

“…What does that mean? Who are you?”

“sans. it’s hard to explain, but, uh, i’m not the sans you know.”

Grillby snorted, his flames popping. “…Well, ‘Sans I don’t know,’ what are you doing here? Your brother said you were dead.”

The way Grillby was speaking was odd. It was like he didn’t care that Sans was miraculously alive again. Maybe… the two of them didn’t know each other that well in this universe?

“well, i’m clearly not a walking pile of dust,” he joked. “i just came by for a ‘burg. gettin’ tired of lasagna.”

“…And your tab?”

“yeah, thanks, put it on the tab, grillbz.”

Grillby’s flames flickered wildly. “…I meant when are you going to pay it off? It’s been past due for years now.”

Years? Crap, was that how long the Sans from this universe had been dead or had the idiot not been making payments while he had been alive? Either way, it wasn’t good news for him.

“well, i don’t got any gold on me. figured an old pal like you would be willing to feed me.”

Grillby looked ready to throw him out the front door. Yeah, this wasn’t going to work. Sans was halfway out of his seat when Grillby stopped him.

“…Of course I’ll feed an old friend,” Grillby crackled, his tone gentle. “…What do you want?”

Sans smiled fondly. “damn, grillbz. thanks a bunch. really appreciate it. how about the usual? can't go wrong with that.”

"…No, you can't." Grillby turned towards his mixing station, grabbing a tumbler and some alcohol. “...I’m surprised your brother is allowing you to come here.”

Someone tittered loudly, but when Sans twisted around, everyone was engrossed in their own conversations.

“he’s not my bro,” Sans murmured.

Grillby set a bottle of beer in front of him.

“…You two had a fight then?”

Sans sighed. “that’s not what i meant.” He sipped the bottle and nearly gagged at the bitter undertones. Man, the Sans of this universe had some bad taste if this was his drink of choice. Still, beggars couldn’t be choosers, and boy, he was really begging for some alcohol right now.

“…So where is Papyrus?”

“dunno, don’t care.” He knocked back the drink and glugged half the bottle. “he’s sick of me taking up room in his house. don’t blame him though, i’d be sick of me too.”

“…Been cooped up in the house too long?”

“yeah, you could say that.”

Grillby’s grin twitched. Another customer called for him, leaving Sans alone at the bar. While he was gone, Sans tried his best not to dwell on the way that this universe’s Papyrus had spoken to him earlier. “I WANT YOU GONE,” he had said. Sans sipped on his drink, trying to drown out the words. Yeah, well, he couldn’t wait to leave.

As he drank his fill, his bones grew uncomfortably hot. He shed his hoodie, stuffing it below the bar stool. After what felt like a couple minutes, he was surprised to see he had already finished his beer. He was even more shocked when Grillby placed another on the counter almost immediately.

“hey, thanks, bud.”

“…Of course.”

He took a large swig, and continued where he had left off. “it’s just… i was afraid if i left and messed up again, he wouldn’t let me back in. got nowhere else to go until i can leave for good, y’know?”

“…That does sound like a conundrum.”

God, these drinks were strong. He was talking way too much, and everything was slowing down in a pleasantly soothing way. And boy, his bones were burning up. It was nice though. He hadn’t kicked back like this in a long time. He downed some more.

“and he’s so mad,” he slurred. “i mean, i would be too if i were in his boots, but he doesn’t gotta –” He twirled his finger in the air. “ – get so wound up when i try to talk to ‘im.”

“…That is true.”

“and what’s worse is that i’m the one that’s causin’ it. i messed up bad. real, real bad. shouldn’t even be here. if i hadn’t decided the core was a good place to jump, it’d be different. i coulda tried somethin’ else. the machine or i don’t know what else.” He smashed a hand to his face. “dumb, dumb, dumb.”

He closed his eyes. It was nice being able to talk, even if Grillby didn’t really get what he was saying. That’s what he had always done for him. He was a great friend, a right old pal.

And being comfortably buzzed helped a lot. In fact, he was the happiest he had felt in ages. He opened his eyes and allowed his eyelights to linger over Grillby’s body. His violet flames were so enthralling the way they curled and sputtered. It was almost exotic how they danced before him.

“…Feeling your drink there?”

Sans giggled. As soon as the noise escaped him, he clapped a hand to his mouth. His already warm face heated up even more.

“…No need to be embarrassed. It feels good, right?”

Sans blinked, trying to see past the blurriness. “yeah,” he said, nodding. “feels real good.”

“…And there’s nothing wrong with that, right?”

“heh.” He tilted his glass, which, amazingly, was already empty. “this stuff is strong.”

His bones were searing now. All he wanted to do was take off his shirt. Maybe roll around in the snow or… something. He parted his teeth and allowed his tongue to flop out as he panted.

“…That stuff is the strongest in the Underground, yes.”

Sans leaned into his hand and chuckled. “stronger than… than… crap, can’t think of a pun.” He hiccupped. “man, what’s in this stuff?”

“…Secret recipe.”

Sans winked. “c’mon, you can tell me.” He tried to grab at Grillby’s hand, but somehow ended up falling flat on his face. He giggled weakly against the counter.

“…I have a question for you.”

“heh. shoot.”

“…You know your brother is late on his payments, right?”

“late on… huh?” His brother hadn’t paid for a thing in his life, and he didn’t believe in credit. Sans tried to push past the fog in his brain to tackle this puzzle. “oh, wait… you don’t mean my bro. you mean the other paps.”

“…I wonder if you know how costly your tab is. It’s not my business if he wants to keep you locked up or whatever sort of thing you two have going on, but I run a business. He’s responsible for your debts.”

Sans blinked lazily. “slow down a sec there. i’m – i’m –” He clutched his head. “that’s a lot to process.”

“…While your brother may be making more money now that he’s joined the Guard, you’ve been a horrible burden on him.”

“that’s… not me… i don’t…” He didn’t know what to say. His mind was a muddled mess, and he couldn’t think past the heat that had taken over his skull.

“…You don’t want to be a burden on Papyrus, right?”

“no, ‘course not.”

“…Then why are you here?”

“i don’t… know.” He panted heavily, wishing that his body would cool down somehow. “i didn’t realize… crap.”

“…I figured you would want to help him. You two seemed so close. I guess I was wrong.”

Sans bristled at that. “’course we are. he’s my whole world.”

“…Then will you help him out? Tonight?”

“yeah, yeah. just point it out and i’ll do whatever.”

Out of nowhere, Grillby grabbed him by the arm. Sans cast his eyes downwards, but his head was all woozy. All he could see were indistinct purple and white shapes. He shook his arm, and it made the colors all wobbly. Another giggle fell from his mouth.

“…So who here wants to help Sans pay off a debt?”

Sans glanced up, confused. “huh? ‘s that supposed to mean?”

Grillby wasn’t looking at him, but out at the rest of the restaurant. “…150g a pop. Who’s in?”

A loud clamor reverberated through the room as the other customers shouted excitedly, but Sans ignored them. His eyes were glued to Grillby. When the bartender peered down at him, a wide grin graced his flames. Sans could see Grillby’s mouth moving, but the world had gone all funny. None of his words were making much sense. It took all of his concentration to understand even the tiniest bit of the conversation.

“ – and 100g per monster. Think of – extra – finder’s fee. And they – good – a deal?”

There was such exuberance in Grillby’s voice that Sans nodded even though he didn’t really know what he meant by all that. Suddenly he was lifted from his seat, his vision slanting and blurring. He wasn’t sure who was carrying him or why, but he just went with the flow. Soon he found himself sitting in the center of a table, surrounded by a host of familiar-yet-different faces. He swayed precariously, unable to keep himself still.

“…You want more to drink, Sans?”

Sans glanced around him, but couldn’t find where Grillby had gotten to. “for free?” he asked, skeptical. Hadn’t he just offered to help with… debt or something?

Someone barked out a series of laughs, and Sans found himself giggling alongside them.

“…Yes, Sans, for free.”

“okay, fill me up.”

“…Oh, we plan to.”

Something large, hot, and solid pressed against his back. Even though his bones itched with an overwhelming heat, he leaned into the mass, finding that he was oddly desperate for contact. He panted as his bones warmed further from the touch.

Someone edged a glass between his parted teeth and poured it onto his tongue. All the bitter flavors that he had tasted earlier seemed to have disappeared. He closed his eyes, inclining his head backwards so it’d go down easier. Mmm, it did nothing to satisfy his thirst, but it was so good.

The monsters around him were raising their voices now, but the words didn’t reach him. It was like he was detached from the rest of the world. He got to suckle on his drink, and they got to watch.

Vaguely he felt something lifting his shirt. A cool wind blew across his exposed ribs, but it did little to satiate the feverish heat that had crept through him. God, he was so damn hot. He wriggled and whined. Something wet and squishy grazed across his bare bones, invoking more of the heat. This time, however, it felt good. Real good. He released a low groan into the bottle. Whatever that was made his head spin, and oh god, he’d do anything for more.

“…Do you like that?”

He nodded quickly. The gesture sent a pool of alcohol slopping from his mouth and onto his shirt. Whoever had been tilting the bottle pulled back, leaving Sans’s mouth woefully empty.

“Stop dillydallying and grab it already.”

Something soft skimmed along the underside of his ribs, and Sans squirmed happily until, all of a sudden, there was a tightness. Sans gasped. His soul! Someone was squeezing it! No, no, that wasn’t right. No one could touch his soul! He tried to move, but his limbs weren’t working right. His instincts kicked in and he let loose a primal growl. He had to scare them off before they hurt him!

“…Shh, shh. It’s okay.” Something warm brushed the inside of his femurs, arousing the heat within him. “…It’s going to feel good.”

Grillby was right. Whoever had his soul was treating it well. A channel of calming energy was being pumped directly into the organ. With a heavy sigh, his body went limp and his skull lolled onto his shoulder. If his bones weren’t blazing, he’d go to sleep right now. But jeez, he wanted to move, to feel, to do something. The urge was biting at him so fiercely, and yet he couldn’t find it in him to even twitch a finger.

“…Here, take a photo. Let’s show Papyrus exactly how good of a brother Sans is.”

A tender hand lifted his skull. Oh, it felt good to be touched. He nuzzled into the palm, reveling in the tingles of satisfaction spreading through him.

“…Sans, smile for the camera.”

As Sans automatically parted his teeth in an open grin, another bottle was unceremoniously tipped into his mouth. More liquid dripped onto his body. He poked his tongue out, trying to catch all of it before it fell. As he slurped at it uselessly, a firm pressure against his pubic bone stirred him from his half-doze. Befuddled, he cracked open his eyes as a bright flash filled the room.

“huh?” He blinked wildly, trying to clear the spots from his vision. “’s going on?”

With a swift jerk, his shirt was torn from body. He screeched as the fabric ripped into his injuries. When he tried to squirm away, a firm weight grasped his limbs, holding him back.

“no! please!”

“...Stop, it’s okay. It won’t hurt for long, so stop moving.”

Sans quickly ran out of energy and had no choice but to obey. And, oh, was he glad he did. Something soft and slippery glided over his wound, and the sharp pain was replaced with a soothing pleasure that went to his very marrow. He glanced down, and through his foggy vision, saw elongated, green appendages weaving around his ribs. They writhed through his cage, leaving behind a thick coat of slime wherever they went.

At the same time, the kneading on his pelvis grew more insistent, pushing against his most sensitive bones. Sans loosened a throaty moan as he rocked into the unknown hand. It felt so good, and it drove straight at his heat-addled mind.

“Look, there’s light.”

“Fuck, there we go, his magic is doing something.”

“…Good job, Sans,” a low voice purred into his skull. Sans glowed from the simple praise. “…It feels nice, right?”

“yeah,” he groaned.

His body was so hot, he just wanted to tear his clothes off and rub himself on the table. The viscous appendages curled and stroked against the inner parts of his chest cavity, tickling at his hidden sensitive spots. Still, it wasn’t enough.

“more!” he gasped.

A chorus of laughter filled the room.

“He wants more!”

“That’s great!”

“Let’s give him what he wants!”

He whimpered as the tendrils slipped from his bones, leaving him wet and twitching for more. In reply, someone yanked his shorts to his feet, exposing his pelvis to the cool air. He spread his legs, welcoming the change in temperature. The burning still crawled through his bones, and it was beginning to hurt now that no one was rubbing him.

“please,” he begged.

The others were ignoring him again. It sounded as if an argument had broken out.

“No, I’m going first!”

“Fuck that shit!”

“…You’ll all have a turn to fuck him. Draw straws.”

“How do you fuck a skeleton anyway?”

“Rough.”

“Oh, ha ha. You know what I meant.”

“...Just shoot some magic into his soul.”

There was a pause, and then –

Sans unleashed an unearthly scream. Something hard and fast and sharp was pouring inside him, tearing through his bones. It was everywhere, all over him. He couldn’t move or speak. His mind was drowning in raw magic. It hurt, it hurt, but it felt so good, so terrible, so, so –

He collapsed backwards, his bones a rattling mess, as the sensation abruptly stopped.

“Well that fucking worked.”

“His soul’s going so fast now.”

“Who fucking cares about that? He’s got a nice little cunt to fuck now.”

“And an asshole too. Ha! I didn't know skeletons could do that!”

"Yeah, it was pretty shocking the first time I saw it too."

Sans gasped and spluttered, his chest heaving from whatever had rippled through him. He could feel his soul vibrating faster than ever before, but the sensation was distant, as if it were happening to someone else. He had to find his soul before that happened again. Or god, maybe he wanted it to happen again. Regardless, he had to make sure his soul was safe. He tried to lift his head, but his bones were weak and shaky. His head rolled uselessly against the warm mass behind him.

Someone thrust a palm to his groin once more, but this time it met his newly-conjured clit. He moaned and rocked into the motion, needing more of it.

“Heh heh, he’s all over this. What a fucking slut.”

“No wonder his brother kept him prisoner. Bet he squeezes you just right.”

“…Why don’t we find out?”

The world spun as someone dangled him in the air. He whimpered as his surroundings muddied together in a smear of colors. When he was finally set down, it was not directly on the table, but on something warm and lumpy. He was dizzy and sick, and he had to close his eyes before he threw up. Someone grabbed him by the wrists as he teetered forward.

“…None of that now,” came Grillby’s voice from behind him. “...Don’t you want to feel good?”

Sans released a needy whine. The heat had reached an unbearable level. He craved that sensational friction, that glorious rubbing. Anything at all but this stillness. He rolled his hips forward, and gasped in surprise when his conjured flesh slid against something hard and hot. Desperate for more, he increased his speed, the solid mass gliding smoothly along his folds.

“…Hnn… Yes, get my cock nice and wet,” Grillby growled. “...It’s going to feel real good inside you.”

The odd words broke through Sans’s heated haze. What had Grillby just said? Cock? Was he… having sex with Grillby?

He opened his eyes. Sure enough, Grillby’s massive violet length was cradled between Sans’s legs. And he wasn’t the only one with his dick out. All around him were half-nude monsters, many of whom were palming themselves roughly. Their motions made lewd, wet noises, and a few of them groaned under their breath as they watched Sans intently.

Even though the heat in his bones screamed at him to continue, he stilled his movements. Something… about this… was wrong…

Before he had time to dwell on it, Grillby spoke. “…Oh? Guess foreplay’s over then. Our turn now.”

Grillby roughly grabbed at Sans’s hipbones and elevated him a few inches higher. Sans’s position was adjusted, and he hazily registered that Grillby’s wet tip was pressed to his opening. Then, in one swift motion, Grillby sheathed himself to the hilt inside Sans.

“aaah!”

Tears gathered in Sans’s sockets. Holy crap, Grillby was huge and he sure as hell wasn’t waiting for Sans to adjust. He was already plunging in and out of Sans’s passage at a breakneck pace. Obscene, slick sounds emanated from their connection, blending with the furious beating noise from the rest of the patrons.

“...Fuck, Sans, your pussy’s so fucking tight.”

“gri-i-illbz!” he shouted, his voice stuttering as he was bounced frantically on top of the other monster. “o-o-oh, cra-a-ap!”

The heat was reaching a pitch he couldn’t contain. Every time Grillby pushed against the end of his canal, something deep inside Sans called for him to move. The friction was so good, so delicious. It did nothing to cool the blazing in his bones; to the contrary, it seemed to raise the temperature to a boiling point. Yet the contact made it bearable, even satisfying.

As Grillby rode him, Sans moaned and cried out, his hips grinding as fast as they could. The fire within him wanted more, more, more!

“Don’t hog him all to yourself, Grillby. We paid good money.”

“...By all means, join me.”

Grillby’s movements slowed as Sans was pushed slightly forward. But Sans’s need for more was so desperate that he continued to go as fast as he could, urging Grillby to resume his previous tempo. That was until someone furry sidled behind him and gripped his ilium, halting his motions. Before Sans got a chance to turn around, something pierced inside his second hole, going all the way in. He let out a pained gasp, flinching from the abrupt intrusion.

“Shit! He really tightened up from that!”

Grillby had finally returned to full speed. “...You’re good at this, Sans.”

Sans was alternating between giggling and crying now as the two of them slid in and out of him. Their thrusts were staggered so that every time one of them pulled out, the other pushed in all the way to the end. He was never left empty. Sans could hardly breathe as his senses were overwhelmed.

It wasn’t long before someone else – Punk Hamster, Sans registered dully – came forward. The newcomer crawled onto the table and nestled himself between Sans’s and Grillby’s legs.

“Yo, hold still for a sec. Let’s see if he can take a third.”

Horrified, and yet transfixed, he watched as Punk’s erection skated across his opening, rubbing where his conjured flesh met Grillby. It took Sans far too long to realize how much was already inside him.

Sans blocked his entrance with his hand. “it’s n-not gonna fit,” he spluttered.

Someone wrenched Sans’s arm backwards. “Oh, it’s going to fucking fit.”

The stranger was right. It took Punk a few attempts to push past Grillby’s girth, but in the end, he succeeded. Sans let out a high-pitched squeal as the addition stretched him to his limit. The combination of both their dicks painfully widened Sans’s canal all the way to his cervix.

The three monsters pounded into him with wild abandon, taking no time to coordinate their movements. Occasionally Punk or Grillby would slip out of him, but they moved so frantically that Sans hardly noticed the loss before he was filled again.

They jostled his body up and down violently, threatening to send him toppling over. His hands dug into Punk’s shoulders, holding on for dear life as they gave in to their frenzy. Punk took the opportunity to mash his tongue into Sans’s mouth. Although it disoriented Sans, the insatiable heat muddled his mind too much for him to push back. He could only concentrate on the way his body melded with the others. He was so full, so hot, so good.

“morepleasemoremoremore!” His words blurred together in an incoherent slur. “feelssssooogoodpleaseplease!”

With a powerful lurch, Sans reached his peak and came with an intensity he had never felt before. He clenched around the other monsters, whose orgasms soon followed. While his magic twitched with the aftershocks of his release, a wet warmth flowed inside him.

He collapsed against the furred monster directly behind him. His head was woozy, and his body exhausted from the exertion. All he wanted to do was pass out.

...If it weren’t for the heat.

It was still deep inside him, clawing at his every bone. He needed more movement, more friction!

“please,” he whined, reaching for a winded-looking Punk. “it burns, everything burns. i need more.”

Someone on the sidelines said, “More, huh? Coming right up.”

Out of nowhere, a deluge of magic ripped through him, paralyzing his mind and body. It needled along every nook and cranny, drilling into his most sensitive parts. Crap, crap, crap. It was twisting, pulling, tearing. It was amazing. It was horrible. He was going to come or pass out or – or –

The sensation ceased. Sans had nearly toppled over, but one of the monsters had gripped him.

“Fucking shit! He’s tryin’ to squeeze us for all we’ve got!”

“...He’s really a natural at this.”

“Hey, come on, you already got your turn! Move out of the way!”

There was a flurry of movement. Dazed and worn out, Sans stared into nothingness as he was extracted from the pile of monsters. A gush of cum spilled from his holes, trailing down his femurs.

By the time they returned him to the table, the fire in his bones was excruciating. A pathetic sob escaped him as he thrashed against the wood, desperate for something to caress his bones.

Two new monsters climbed onto the table. Doggo. The bear monster that lived down the road. What was his name? Billy? Sans’s mind was too messed up to remember.

Doggo crawled to Sans’s head, while the other monster lingered at his lower half. The latter didn’t hesitate in pushing inside Sans’s dripping entrance. A glop of cum spilled out of his canal as the bear’s thickness pressed all the way inside.

“Damn, you guys really warmed him up for me,” they mused.

“...That would be the drug.”

As the bear impaled him, Doggo wrapped a hand around his pink dick. It wasn’t quite as big as the others had been, but every inch of it was coated in a transparent, wet film. Doggo snarled as he slapped it across Sans’s cheekbones with a loud smack.

Out of the corner of his eye, Sans saw a moldsmal untangle itself into a curtain of the same undulating, glimmering tendrils he had seen earlier. Before he knew it, the appendages were coiling around his spine, pumping fiercely. He cried out as his sensitive vertebrae prickled from the pleasure.

Doggo took advantage of Sans’s opened mouth and pushed his wet member to the back of Sans’s throat. A strong musk covered Sans tongue and he gagged on the brutal invasion. When he tried to pull back, Doggo seized his skull and forced him to bob back and forth on the length.

Tears fell freely from his sockets as the thickness choked him. Occasionally Doggo would withdraw completely, giving Sans a brief opportunity to gasp for air. But the respite was only ever temporary, and Doggo would quickly push back inside. Every time Sans’s throat attempted to reject the entry, Doggo would moan and mumble something like “Aah, that’s right, squeeze it.”

All the while, the moldsmal had entangled itself throughout his ribcage, massaging his torso, lingering on his vertebrae. And the bear monster continued to drive into him, their balls slapping against Sans’s pelvis. Sans was tired – so very, very tired – but the heat was controlling him completely. He weakly moved his hips, meeting the bear monster’s every thrust.

It wasn’t long before they came. Sans was first, already worn down from his last orgasm. As Sans squeezed around the bear monster, they quickened their pace and soon added to the disgusting mix of fluids. Not long after, Doggo pulled out of the deepest part of Sans’s throat and shot a stream of hot liquid onto his tongue. The engorged dick slipped out of Sans’s mouth with a slick noise as Sans spluttered and choked on the bitter taste of his cum.

Even as the two of them removed themselves, more monsters instantly took their place. They squeezed into both his holes, stuffing him entirely. He wept as he clutched to a furred body that appeared in front of him, rocking into them out of instinct more than anything.

His mind was a fuzzy mess, and he knew he must have passed out several times; one moment he’d find himself humping one pair of monsters, and then he’d blink and there would be another set bucking into him. He couldn’t be sure how many times he came, or how many monsters used him. All he knew was that his body was soon raw from it all, and his sobs eventually turned back into giggles.

Through it all, his heat persisted, calling on him to seek out the other monsters for more. He obliged, throwing himself completely into the moment. Anything to satisfy that driving, compelling need.

All of a sudden, a resounding bang echoed through the room. Sans jolted, though he couldn’t move much given his awkward position. Someone had him by the femurs and had suspended him midair as they heaved into him from behind. In front of him was a red demon monster, balls deep in Sans’s right eye socket. There was a pause in the others two monsters’ movements as an upset clamor rang out amongst the onlookers. Raised voices. Glass shattering. Wood splintering.

Even though Sans was half-blind, he wrenched his neck to the left to find the source of the commotion. A forceful hand immediately pushed him back into position.

“...Keep going,” Grillby hissed. “...All of you.”

The monsters picked up where they left off, though they sped up considerably. The length inside his skull jabbed roughly, poking at the summoned pocket of flesh inside. It left Sans foggy-headed and weak, but he moaned nonetheless as the friction struck at his heat.

“I’LL KILL YOU!”

Papyrus? Sans couldn’t even attempt to move this time; someone’s fingers were digging into his sensitive neckbones, preventing any motion. There was a loud bang followed by a lengthy silence.

“...Watch your temper, Papyrus,” Grillby warned. “...I’m the one with Sans’s soul here.”

“LET HIM THE FUCK GO! HE DOESN’T DESERVE THIS!”

“...Deserve? My dear Papyrus, Sans is paying off the debt that he accumulated. Besides –” The pinching pressure around Sans’s neck increased. “ – Sans here is enjoying it. Aren’t you, Sans?”

“yes,” Sans keened. “more.”

As soon as he said the words, the monster in front of him swore loudly and buried himself to the hilt in Sans’s eye. The sudden movement stirred his conjured flesh, and as a burst of warmth filled his socket, the magic rippled with another orgasm. A hoarse scream tore from his throat as his vision blacked out in both eyes.

When he came to, he was lying crumpled on the table, alone. He was wet and sticky all over, and his holes were raw from the abuse he had taken. A stream of cum dribbled from his right socket and onto the tabletop with a steady drip, drip, drip.

He heard the sound of coins clinking into one another. Although Sans was curious what was going on, he was far too drained to investigate.

“...I knew you could be reasoned with,” Grillby hummed.

Something grazed at the underside of Sans’s ribs and he felt something blazing hot placed just beneath his sternum. His soul.

Suddenly Sans was lifted and he found himself cradled against someone’s chest. His surroundings were a kaleidoscope of shapes and colors, so he shut his eyes and leaned into the touch. As he breathed in, the smell of Italian spices invaded his nasal cavity.

“bro,” he sighed as he wrapped his legs around Papyrus’s waist.

“QUIET.”

Despite the sharp tone, Sans felt a firm but comforting hand nudge his head.

“Bye, Sansy! It was fun!”

“Come on in again if you ever get a hankering for my cock!”

“If your brother will let you that is!”

Laughter trailed behind them until it was lost to a sudden whoosh of wind. Sans further burrowed into Papyrus’s shirt as an icy chill bit at his naked bones. Even in the bitter cold, the minute amount of friction reignited the flame within him. Desperate to douse it, he ground his pelvis against Papyrus, his sore lips dragging along his brother’s ilium.

“STOP THAT!” Papyrus screamed over the howling wind.

“’s so hot,” Sans whined, quickening his tempo.

Papyrus clapped a hand to Sans’s tailbone, preventing him from moving more than an incremental amount. Now Sans couldn’t get enough traction. The heat was clawing at him, begging him for release. As they braved the storm, he bawled into Papyrus’s shirt and feebly punched at him. A litany of “please”s and “more”s trickled from his mouth. But Papyrus held his ground.

When they made it back to the house, the heat was inescapable. Sans scratched and kicked, trying to get Papyrus to loosen his grip. It wasn’t fair, he needed to move!

He didn’t know how he got there, but Sans suddenly found himself flung onto Papyrus’s mattress. He was too addled to do anything but squirm uselessly on the sheets before Papyrus enveloped him in a bundle of blankets. His brother wrapped the fabric so tightly around his arms and legs that he couldn’t move more than inch.

“papyrus,” he wailed as he tried to wriggle frantically. “it’s too hot. it hurts. please.”

“I’M SORRY.” The throaty tone, more than the words, dragged Sans’s attention from his confines to Papyrus’s face. There were tears running down his cheeks. “I’M SO, SO SORRY.”

This pissed off version of his brother was actually crying. The mere thought of that was so ludicrous, so bizarre, so hilarious. Yes, that was it. Hilarious! In fact, it was the funniest thing he had ever seen.

He rolled around on the bed as he dissolved into a fit of bubbly laughter. The motion did nothing for the heat, but it did help to distract him from it.

And it also helped him block out the sound of Papyrus’s sobbing.

Chapter Text

The ceiling of Grillby’s bar spun in circles, the dark wood blending together in a mesh of colors that had Sans reeling. Sweat was pouring off him in buckets, drenching his clothes so they clung uncomfortably. Grillby was somewhere nearby; his anger was radiating off him in waves, making the air hot and stuffy.

Sans must’ve pissed him off somehow. Probably something stupid like always.

He knew he needed to get home. His bro was waiting for his bedtime story, and after a long day at work, Sans was really looking forward to seeing him too. But no matter how much he tried, he couldn’t seem to move. Nothing would respond.

Even if he could get up, he wasn’t sure he’d be able to get through all of Snowdin without breaking himself. The way his head swam even with his eyes closed told him that he had drunk far too much.

Eh, maybe it wouldn’t be a big deal to rest it off here.

“...It’s time to go.”

Or maybe not.

Fiery hands seized him, sending a ripple of heat through his already warmed body. Though Grillby tried to drag him from the booth, his sweaty bones stuck to the worn cushion, begging him to stay there.

“mmm... grillbz, five more minutes,” he slurred.

With a loud popping noise, Grillby pried his bones from the booth. Sans tried to twist away from the heat, but Grillby caught his wrists, flames searing him.

Sans tentatively cracked open his sockets, and as he took in Grillby, his soul trembled in fear. His flames weren’t the usual shade of flickering orange and yellow, but were instead a vibrant violet. Despite the intense heat, Sans shivered as Grillby’s maw opened to display a predatory grin.

“n-no...”

Though Sans wanted nothing more than to scramble from his arms, it was as if he were paralyzed. His limbs were curled against his body, unable to move an inch.

The driving need to flee was boring into his soul, filling him with an indescribable fear. Sans couldn’t figure out why he needed to get away so badly. It wasn’t as if Grillby had done anything to hurt him. They were buds, exes, lovers...

Lovers...

Suddenly Sans realized that Grillby’s hand was kneading his pelvis, his flames playing lightly against his ischium. Wait, when the hell had Sans taken off all his clothes?

“...Disgusting,” Grillby spat out. “...Do you strip every time you walk inside a business? Or are you only a whore for me?”

“stop,” Sans whispered.

Grillby’s face flashed with anger. Without a moment’s notice, the world tilted, a rush of colors filling his sight, and he found himself face first in the pathway in front of the bar. The door slammed behind him with a resounding bang, leaving him alone in the snow. Already the iciness was crawling inside him, biting into his marrow, and cutting through the suffocating heat. He breathed in the snow as his body sunk into the ground.

Maybe he deserved this. Here he was getting drunk again when his bro had died. No, that wasn’t right. Papyrus hadn’t just died. Sans had gotten him killed. His brother had been the only good thing in his life and he hadn’t even gotten off his tailbone to protect him. What was wrong with him?

“UNDYNE WILL HAVE NO CHOICE BUT TO LET ME IN THE GUARD AFTER THIS!”

What?

Sans craned his head up and his soul nearly fell from his chest. Papyrus was stomping down the road, absolutely and beautifully alive. Alive! He was sporting his usual bright smile, strolling down the road with a spring in his step, and shedding an air of optimism unmatched by any other monster. Sans could almost cry.

“papyrus,” he called out feebly.

His voice must have been too quiet; Papyrus didn’t even glance in his direction. In fact, he traipsed right past Grillby’s, almost stepping right on top of Sans. Sans squirmed uselessly, his limbs once again failing to respond. He raised his voice, and though his shout came out raspy and tense, there was no way Papyrus couldn’t hear him from this distance. Yet his bro kept on walking, not noticing a thing.

Then another pair of footsteps crunched in the snow, following not too far behind Papyrus. They were very light –imperceptible if you weren’t paying attention – but they reverberated loudly in Sans’s skull, invoking a memory he couldn’t ever forget.

He turned and saw exactly what he had been expecting – the human. They trailed after Papyrus, a broad grin stretched across their features. An aura of malevolence soaked the air, sending a chill through Sans’s spine that was entirely unrelated to the snow.

Red eyes flashed Sans’s way.

“no, please...”

The human’s smile grew cartoonishly large. They returned their attention to Papyrus and snapped a tough leather glove onto their hand.

“stop, please!”

The human marched forward.

Sans desperately ordered his arms to move, but something warm and soft was enveloping him, weighing him down, constricting him. His bones ached from the strain of pushing against the invisible barrier, but he couldn’t stop, wouldn’t stop. Not when he could save Papyrus. He wouldn’t let the anomaly murder him again... Please, god, he had to move...

“SANS.”

Papyrus’s voice was much closer this time, as if Sans could reach out and graze him. Oh god, if he hadn’t headed home, maybe he really could save him. He had to save him!

“SANS, STOP. PLEASE.”

If only he could get up or turn around or do anything!

“SANS, YOU ARE OKAY... STOP...”

Sans’s eyes snapped open. He was no longer lying in the snow, but curled up in Papyrus’s racecar bed. A dense wad of blankets was wrapped around him, holding his limbs tight. His breathing was fast and shallow, and with every inhale, his chest seared with a stinging pain as the covers cut into his wound.

His wound...

It hit him all at once. Papyrus was dead. Truly dead. The Papyrus he had just seen had never been real... It had all been a dream.

And as he lay there, his eyes finally taking in his surroundings, he saw all the signs that he was not in his bro’s room at all, but in some twisted version of it. Next to the bed was a table covered with different robotic action figures, each clearly decked out in villain’s attire. The walls were painted dark red and were mostly lined with posters of various human musical bands dressed completely in black and white. The dark colors, combined with the fact that thick black curtains blocked the only window, made the room was much darker than what Sans was used to.

Still, the nearby floor lamp made up for it – the blinding light was shining directly in his sockets, driving a piercing headache through his skull. His head hurt so much he wondered if he might throw up. Scrunching his eyes, he huddled in on himself and inhaled deeply.

The nausea tightened around his soul as the memories slowly returned to him. His brother’s death. The fall into the Core. The other Papyrus. Grillby’s.

At the last thought, Sans sucked in a shaky breath. All at once, images of different monsters surrounding him, touching him, fucking him flashed through his mind. Grillby pushing inside him. The taste of Doggo in his mouth. The acrid scent of slime filling his nasal cavity as tendrils squirmed inside his ribcage.

It couldn’t have happened. That had to have been a part of his nightmare. No one would ever do that.

But even as he denied it to himself, he could feel the remnants of last night’s escapades caked on his pelvis and the insides of his femurs. The stickiness was impossible to ignore.

Not to mention his soul was heavier than before. Those monsters... They had pumped his soul with their magic. He remembered seeing stars as they had done it.

Sans rolled over to the side of the bed and vomited, his soul quivering violently from the force of it. Though he choked on the chunks of white magic, he forced himself to expel every last bit from his soul. He wasn’t going to let the tiniest iota of the other monsters’ magic remain there.

As the liquid fell from his mouth, something pressed through the blanket and pat him on the back.

“IT IS OKAY.” The hand pat more firmly. “I’VE GOT YOU.”

Sans forced the last of the foreign magic from his body and allowed the last drops to dribble to the ground before rolling to face the other side of the bed. Warmth suffused his face and his soul sunk as their eyes met. Everything from last night was a blur, but he distinctly remembered rubbing himself all over Papyrus. In fact, the perverse sensation stuck out above all else.

He had done that to his brother.

“god, what did i do?” He tried to bury his face in the blankets, but Papyrus prevented him by clasping his shoulder. A weight settled on Sans’s soul as he spotted the tears in Papyrus’s sockets.

“papyrus, oh my god, i’m so sorry. i can’t believe – ” He drew in a breath as his own tears manifested. “i’m so, so sorry. i’m – i can’t believe it, just – no, no, no – i –”

Papyrus slammed Sans to his chest. “STOP! I AM THE ONE WHO SHOULD BE SORRY.”

Violent sobs wracked Papyrus, catching Sans off guard. As Papyrus wrapped his arms around the mass of blankets, another wave of nausea rippled through Sans’s soul and he had to make a real effort not to throw up again.

“what?” Papyrus couldn’t possibly be blaming himself for this. “papyrus?”

“I AM SO, SO SORRY!” Papyrus wailed as tightened his grip.

“what’re you sorry for? i was the one – i was the idiot – i can’t believe – i tried to touch you!”

It was the worst thing he could’ve ever done. There was no forgiving him.

“STOP! IT WAS NOT YOUR FAULT, YOU DID NOT KNOW WHAT YOU WERE DOING.” Papyrus’s fingers dug into Sans’s ribs. “I HAD A RESPONSIBILITY TO YOU. I SWORE I WOULD NEVER LET YOU GO THERE AGAIN, AND I...” He shook his head. “I WAS THE REASON YOU ENDED UP THERE!”

Sans yanked back, desperate to escape Papyrus’s hold. As he peered into the familiar but different face, Sans recognized all the signs of guilt.

“paps, don’t –” Sans started before realizing he had used the nickname for his bro. He swallowed and tried to continue – to tell this Papyrus that he was fine. That nothing bad was happening. The usual lie. Nothing new.

But something inside him had broken. He was... all alone. His brother wasn’t here – would never be here – and he needed him more than ever. All he wanted was to hear his bro’s voice again, telling him everything was okay, that they’d be okay. Or hell, if he could listen to him talk about his newest idea for a puzzle, or his newest recipe, or his training session with Undyne...

Just not this. Anything but this.

He didn’t want to be here. He didn’t want to be stuffed into this blanket. He didn’t want his body to be covered in a sticky film of cum and sweat.

His breathing was coming in quick, reedy gasps, and he couldn’t stop his vision from spinning. He needed to get out of these blankets. They were so hot, and they were smothering him, burning him up just like last night. God, he could still feel that insatiable heat.

But he couldn’t get out of the blankets no matter how much he struggled; they were wrapped around him so tightly, choking him, drowning him. He was going to die here, swallowed up by the sea of cotton. He was... he was...

Papyrus grasped Sans’s shoulder, and the bone scraping against bone drew him back to reality. Without a word, Papyrus pushed Sans onto his side and grappled at something along his back. Sans released a muffled cry between gasping breaths, a surge of panic rising in his soul. His body was stuck beneath Papyrus’s firm grip, preventing him from escaping. Magic bubbled in Sans’s soul, his desperation to leave reaching a pitch.

But before he could do anything to ward off Papyrus, the blankets around him loosened and the weight lifted. Sans quickly shrugged the suffocating fabric off, his bones welcoming the kiss of the frigid air.

“I – I AM SORRY, SANS,” Papyrus said, his voice shaking. “LAST NIGHT YOU WOULDN’T STOP... MOVING, AND I – WELL, I DID NOT KNOW HOW ELSE TO STOP YOU.”

Yeah, he hadn’t been able to stop himself from trying to fuck his bro.

And Papyrus was blaming himself. Perfect.

Sans moved onto his back, pressing his hand to his sternum and making every effort to calm his breathing. But his gaze shifted, and as he glanced down, the horrors of last night resurfaced yet again. The ugly scar slashed across his chest was bleeding freely, bright red liquid mixing with the dried green gelatinous substance caked on his ribs that had been so soothing only hours ago. And between his legs...

He clenched his sockets shut and tried not to think about it. But the stickiness on his femurs tugged at him, drowning out all other thought. The way those monsters had relentlessly fucked him. He raised a quivering hand to his eye and felt something crusted along his cheekbone.

God, and he had begged them to do it.

Sans curled up into a tiny ball and sobbed into the blanket, the mattress shaking from the force of his tears. Every choked breath sent a slicing pain through his ribs. He knew he was only exacerbating his injury, but he couldn’t stop. He allowed the world to fade away as he gave into his emotions.

Throughout it all, Papyrus gently rubbed Sans’s scapula and whispered calming reassurances beside him.

After only god knew how long, Sans finally cried himself out, his limbs going slack as the tension unspooled from his body. His vision whirled; he was so lightheaded and dizzy, though he didn’t know how much of that was from his crying and how much of it was from the side effects of whatever drug he had ingested last night. Exhaustion had stolen through him and was now threatening to drag him into unconsciousness.

But Sans didn’t want to sleep. He had always been prone to nightmares, especially after what happened to Dings. And after everything the last few days... He shuddered.

Not to mention he was disgusting, even by his standards. He wondered if he smelled.

As if he could hear his thoughts, Papyrus murmured from beside him, “YOU REALLY NEED A BATH.”

“heh.” Sans sniffled. “you’re always the same.”

“WELL... YOU ARE THE SAME TOO. SO SMELLY! DID YOU EVEN BATHE AT ALL THIS WEEK?”

He had adopted a playful tone. Like everything was normal. Like Sans hadn’t just been raped. Like the two of them were actually brothers.

Some of the tautness in his soul slackened. It was exactly what he wanted right now.

“nah. just as lazy as ever.”

“UGH!”

“i know, this really stinks, doesn’t it?”

Instead of the laughter that Sans had been expecting, Papyrus went silent. When Sans glanced up, Papyrus’s brow was furrowed. It had to be pity.

Sans didn’t want that.

“anyway,” he said, hunching his shoulders, “yeah, i could use a bath. but uh... i don’t know if i can even walk there. my legs kinda feel like noodles.”

“THE DRUG,” Papyrus sighed. “IF YOU ARE NOT USED TO IT, THAT IS WHAT HAPPENS. I HAVE READ ALL ABOUT IT.”

Sans sunk into the bed, ashamed that Papyrus knew the details of what had happened. It was horrifying that everyone knew about his stupidity.

Papyrus climbed out of bed and scooped him up. Sans’s face warmed as his naked body grazed Papyrus. Thankfully, Papyrus didn’t seem to care at all; he clutched Sans close as he walked down the hall, one of his hands supporting Sans’s legs, frighteningly close to his pelvis. But Sans supposed that was how Papyrus always acted. He didn’t think about ulterior motives or impure stuff like Sans did. Papyrus took things like at face value. That was just one of the things Sans loved about him.

With that, he relaxed against Papyrus, allowing his head to loll against Papyrus’s shoulder. Italian herbs clung to Papyrus’s shirt, invoking pleasant memories of his bro learning how to cook his first batch of pasta. Sans inhaled deeply, eager to lose himself in the emotions of that day.

Instead a wave of guilt to crashed over his soul.

He needed to stop. This wasn’t his bro.

He pulled away, unable to stand the shame of his actions, and as he did, he saw the strain on Papyrus’s features. It was obvious then that Papyrus was putting on an act. He wasn’t as okay with this situation as he was pretending. Sans wondered what had changed between them; last he knew, Papyrus hated him and wanted him gone. But now he was being so... nice.

In this universe, that level of kindness didn’t seem possible.

Papyrus set Sans down on the long-unused toilet and turned the tap for the bathwater. Soon the room was filled with a warm steam, and as Sans was lowered into the tub, a soothing heat seeped into his marrow.

Yet as relaxing as it was, it didn’t stop the jolt of pain that traveled through his chest when the water hit his wound. He groaned and gripped the sides of the bath as he submerged his ribcage completely. Soon the water was tinted with his blood.

Papyrus scratched his skull as he eyed the reddened water. “I DID NOT THINK THIS THROUGH.”

“doesn’t matter,” Sans rasped tiredly. “just need a rinse.”

“YOU NEED MUCH MORE THAN THAT.”

“yeah.”

An uncomfortable silence fell over them. Papyrus squirmed nervously, looking at Sans with unease for a couple minutes before seizing a washcloth and dunking it in the water.

“HOLD STILL,” he demanded as he pressed the cloth to Sans’s cheek.

“heh. wash out, someone is serious.”

Papyrus ignored him. His expression set with determination, he scrubbed at the bone carefully. Sans exhaled and relaxed his body, silently thankful that Papyrus had volunteered to do the work. As embarrassing as it was, he wasn’t sure he had the energy to clean himself.

And Papyrus was not holding back. He cleaned off Sans’s face, dipping into the sockets to remove the residue that had crusted along the edges. It was then that Sans realized that the other monsters’ cum was inside his skull. He nearly gagged as his tongue ran over it at the back of his mouth.

Papyrus must have noticed it as well because he ordered Sans to dismiss his tongue, and as soon as he did, Papyrus reached back there, slowly scraping the substance from inside. Although it hurt to stretch his jaw open so wide, and it felt strange to have a cloth rubbing against the back of his skull, it was also oddly therapeutic. Every bit that Papyrus scraped off was like throwing away a memory of last night. All they had to do was rinse it away and it was gone forever.

By the time Papyrus was done, Sans’s jaw was aching, but his soul was a bit lighter. He sunk into the tub and sighed, the air whistling somewhat painfully past the sore, raw spots.

As he relaxed, Papyrus retrieved a fresh washcloth. When he returned, he went right back to business and gently pushed the rough material to Sans’s chest, a sharp sting shooting through his ribs. Sans let out a small grunt but kept himself as still as possible. Better to get it done quickly than to draw it out. For a few moments, Sans focused on staying immobile as Papyrus dragged the flecks of dried slime and blood away.

It was only when he was nearly finished that Papyrus whispered, “I AM SORRY.”

“mmm, don’t worry about it,” Sans said groggily. “gotta clean it.”

“NO, I MEAN... I AM SORRY ABOUT YESTERDAY. ABOUT WHAT I SAID TO YOU.”

Papyrus was staring at the washcloth that he was twirling in his hands, his brow etched with guilt.

“nothing to apologize for.”

Papyrus glanced up, anger spreading to his features.

“YES THERE IS! YOU WERE TRYING TO TALK TO ME AND I REFUSED TO LISTEN! IT WAS VERY UNBECOMING OF ME, ESPECIALLY AS A ROYAL GUARD!” His eyes darted back to his lap and when he continued, his voice dropped to a near whisper. “AND... AS SOMEONE WHO SHOULD CARE MORE FOR HIS BROTHER, I SHOULD HAVE BEHAVED BETTER.”

Drops of red water spilled onto the floor as Papyrus twisted and wrung the washcloth in his hand. Sans went quiet for a bit, watching as the red liquid pooled on the tiles as he chose his words carefully.

“i think it’s because you do care for your bro so much that you acted the way. i know i’d be beyond pissed if i thought someone was pretending to be my paps. anyone would be.”

“YES.” Papyrus’s paused his movements, though his fingers continued to dig into the cloth fiercely. “I KNOW WHY I SAID WHAT I DID. WHEN IT COMES TO MY BROTHER I CAN BE... STUBBORN. BUT IT DOES NOT EXCUSE MY BEHAVIOR. ESPECIALLY SINCE... NONE OF THIS WOULD HAVE HAPPENED IF I HAD KEPT MY TEMPER.”

“don’t blame yourself,” Sans said hurriedly. “that’s not your fault.”

No, it was Sans’s fault. He had been literally begging to get raped. God.

“PERHAPS. REGARDLESS OF THE CIRCUMSTANCES FROM LAST NIGHT, I WILL APOLOGIZE. I REGRET MY WORDS. I SHOULD HAVE LISTENED TO YOU WHEN YOU WERE TRYING TO SPEAK TO ME.”

Papyrus looked like he wasn’t going to let up until Sans forgave him. And if Sans were to be honest, he wasn’t gonna refuse the apology now that Papyrus wasn’t blaming himself for what happened at Grillby’s.

“okay.”

Papyrus relaxed. “GOOD.” He swallowed and rubbed the back of his head. “DO YOU HAVE THE STRENGTH TO CLEAN... DOWN THERE OR...?”

Sans reddened as he realized Papyrus was talking about between his legs. “yeah, don’t worry about it. just hand me a towel.”

Blushing, Papyrus politely looked away as Sans quickly scraped off the last of the cum that hadn’t dissolved in the water. Even that tiny amount of work left Sans drained. The last of his energy gave out as he finished, and his arm flopped uselessly into the tub as the last physical remnants mixed with the water.

“YOU NEED TO EAT,” Papyrus ordered when he noticed Sans was done. “YOU THREW UP SO MUCH, AND THAT DRUG TAKES A LOT OF ENERGY FROM YOU.”

Nausea prickled Sans’s soul. “i don’t know if that’s the best idea.”

“YOU NEED TO,” Papyrus repeated with much more venom, and Sans shirked away. Papyrus’s expression softened, and he continued, “IF YOU DUSTED... IF I LOST YOU AGAIN...”

Papyrus shut his mouth, his jaw taut. Guilt needled through Sans’s soul. Here he was being an ass when Papyrus was clearly trying to help him. Even though the similarities in appearance to Papyrus’s brother probably had his head spinning.

“yeah, okay. let’s get some food.”

Papyrus sighed. Whether from relief or frustration, Sans didn’t know. He rinsed Sans off one last time before lifting him from the bath and setting him on the toilet again. With unexpectedly gentle hands, Papyrus patted him with a towel. Still, despite his tender touch, Sans’s bones ached, and every time he breathed, his chest felt like it was going to split open and begin bleeding anew.

After Papyrus thoroughly dried him off, he left the room and returned with a fresh set of red, black, and gold clothes. Sans remembered with burning shame that he had abandoned his last outfit at Grillby’s. He silently accepted the replacements, on the brink of tears once again. The thought of this universe’s Grillby possessing his clothes... He shook his head.

When he finished putting on his clothes, Papyrus picked him up and announced they were going to have a hearty meal and there would be no way out of it. As Papyrus marched downstairs, Sans smashed into him, once again savoring the familiar scent.

Memories were bouncing around in his mind, reminding him of the last time his bro had carried him through the house like this. It had been years ago, not too long after they had first moved into Snowdin. Dings had gotten sick but had shown up to work anyway.

Sure enough, just like always, Sans had caught it too and ended up unable to care for himself. When Paps had finally realized how ill Sans had been, he had been near delirious with a fever and hadn’t eaten in days. Though his bro had scolded him for not taking better care of himself, his voice had been high-pitched and shaky.

The Papyrus of this universe suddenly shook him, and Sans sucked in the drool that had dribbled from his mouth.

“NO SLEEPING UNTIL YOU EAT!”

Yeah. His bro had sounded just like that.

Papyrus placed Sans on the lumpy old couch. As Sans was about to flash an apologetic smile, he noticed that Papyrus was peering somewhere behind Sans’s shoulder. Following his gaze, Sans turned toward the front window. A sea of white and grey clouded the outside air, obscuring the landscape. Shards of ice clinked against the glass, leaving behind long bands of water. There was one hell of a storm raging outside.

“some weather, huh?” he asked sleepily.

He hoped it wouldn’t knock out the electricity.

“IT IS QUITE THE SNOWSTORM!” Papyrus shouted, not sounding worried at all. In fact, his voice was downright ecstatic. “MAYBE IT WILL KEEP GOING FOR A COUPLE DAYS! THAT WOULD BE PERFECT!”

“it would? why?”

Papyrus’s eyes widened, though he quickly adjusted his expression so his brows were crinkled with anger. He crossed his arms against his chest and glared down at Sans.

“NO REASON!”

From the tone of his voice, there was totally a reason, but Sans was too tired to press it.

“y’know, you might wanna be careful what you wish for. these storms are snow joke.”

Papyrus lowered his arms, looking affronted. “SANS!”

“heh. icy you like my jokes.”

“UGH! STOP!” He pinched the gap between his eyes and exhaled. “YOU SHOULD NOT WASTE ALL YOUR ENERGY ON BAD JOKES!”

“guess i’m really on thin ice, huh?”

“ARGH!” Papyrus threw his hands into the air and stomped into the kitchen.

Sans called out behind him, “hey, don’t storm outta here!”

He couldn’t help but smile when Papyrus screamed from the other room. It was nice to banter with him. He hadn’t gotten a chance for some lightheartedness in days. The last time had been when his bro...

Sans’s soul constricted. Dammit, he needed to stop thinking about that day like it was the last time he’d see his bro. As soon as he healed up, he was going to get out of here and return home! Failure wasn’t an option.

There was nothing he could do now though. His body wouldn’t let him right now. Careful not to exert himself too much, he reached for the remote and turned on the television. The screen flickered with static.

He sighed and sat back, staring at the fuzz blankly. From the other room he could hear Papyrus taking out pots and pans to make a meal. Probably lasagna.

The storm continued to pelt the house, the wood creaking under the force of the howling wind. It was one of those days when no one could travel except those monsters that could burrow underground. Snowdin always shut down when these big storms came through. Years ago, during a particularly bad ice storm, Sans had been forced to wait around for hours at Grillby’s.

God, maybe that was why Papyrus had been so happy about the storm. Grillby couldn’t get to them now. Had Papyrus paid off his debt to him when he rescued him last night or was he still waiting for some sort of payment? Was Sans in danger of getting attacked?

He’d be ready to return fire at a moment’s notice, but the thought of seeing that cruel, smug man again... The image of bartender’s wide grin right before he had fed him to the pack. His searing dick, rubbing alongside the other monsters’ inside him. The low, crackling laughter. All of it was burned into his mind, permanently tearing away at the core of his being. The ghost of pleasure was still tickling the edge of his soul. It was something a bath could never wash away.

Seemingly out of nowhere, a hand appeared in his vision, yanking him from his thoughts with a gasp. He blinked and saw that Papyrus was standing near him, holding a steaming mug. His brow was scrunched with concern, and though his mouth was moving, his words were inaudible. Sans shook his head.

“what? did you say something?”

“ARE YOU OKAY? YOU WOULD NOT RESPOND!”

“i –” He realized he was gasping so he took a steadying breath. “yeah. yeah, sorry.”

“YOU ARE SHAKING.”

Sure enough, Sans’s body was a trembling mess once more. His rattling bones drowned out the sound of ice plinking against the window.

“JUST HOW MUCH OF THAT DRUG DID YOU TAKE LAST NIGHT?”

“i don’t know,” he said shortly. After taking another deep breath, he continued, “i don’t really wanna think about it, to be honest.”

Papyrus frowned but didn’t say anything else. When Sans finally got his breathing under control, Papyrus handed the mug to him. Billows of steam poured from the cup, filling his nasal cavity with a rich, chocolatey aroma.

“hot cocoa?” he asked skeptically as Papyrus retrieved his own drink from the nearby table.

“JUST BECAUSE I DO NOT CONSUME A POUND OF SUGAR WITH EVERY MEAL,” Papyrus said as he sat on the couch, “DOES NOT MEAN I DO NOT ENJOY THE OCCASIONAL TREAT. ESPECIALLY ON A DAY LIKE THIS.”

“that’s not what i meant. i’m wondering where you got it from.”

In his universe, they could only get this sort of thing at the capital, and it had been a real luxury. Sans had only had it a handful of times, and that was when he had been Asgore’s guest.

“THE STORE, OF COURSE!” Papyrus replied, squirming in his seat. A blush spread across his skull. “I AM NOT RIFLING THROUGH THE DUMP FOR THIS SORT OF THING. I WOULD GET MYSELF KILLED.”

“they sell this in snowdin?”

“NO, I DO NOT THINK SO,” Papyrus said as he continued to fidget. “I CANNOT REMEMBER THE LAST TIME I SHOPPED AT THAT SHOP.”

“wow, they really pay you a lot in the guard.”

“NO, I –” Papyrus huffed. “WHY DO YOU CARE WHERE I GOT IT? JUST DRINK IT! IT IS SUPPOSED TO BE A TREAT, NOT A MATTER OF DISCUSSION!”

He was acting... strange. Even though he was sipping on his own mug, he kept wriggling and casting side glances at Sans.

After last night...

“this... doesn’t have anything in it, right?”

“WHAT? I JUST FILLED IT!” He peered into Sans’s cup. “IS THIS A JOKE? YOU HAVE A FULL CUP RIGHT THERE! YOU HAVE NOT EVEN TOUCHED IT!”

“i meant...” He shook his head. “nevermind. i’m being dumb.”

Papyrus’s eyes bugged out. “WAIT... YOU MEANT DRUGS, DIDN’T YOU?! NO! A MILLION TIMES NO! HOW DARE YOU ACCUSE THE GREAT AND TERRIBLE PAPYRUS OF STOOPING TO SUCH LOWS! I WOULD NEVER TOUCH ANY SUCH SUBSTANCE! IT IS ILL-FITTING FOR ANYONE TO –”

“okay, okay. i already said i was being dumb.”

“YOU ARE!”

Sans hunched his shoulders. “yeah, thanks.”

“GRR! THAT IS NOT WHAT I INTENDED TO SAY!”

Sans sighed. “okay.”

He took another whiff of the drink and tentatively sipped it. No funny aftertaste like last night. In fact, it was really good. The chocolate was quality and the taste stuck pleasantly to Sans’s tongue. Plus it surprisingly helped his nausea. He took another gulp much more enthusiastically, and before he knew, the cup was empty.

“YOU FINISHED ALREADY?” When Sans nodded slowly, Papyrus asked sheepishly, “SO... YOU LIKED IT?”

“it was really good. first decent thing i’ve had in ages. would love some more.”

“OH NO YOU DON’T! THAT WAS ONLY TO HOLD YOU OVER UNTIL THE PASTA IS READY! I DO NOT WANT YOU TO GET SICK FROM THE SUGAR!”

“i doubt i would.” When he caught sight of Papyrus’s expression, he quickly said, “but eh, you’re the boss. where’d you get so good at making this sorta stuff anyway? you’re a pretty good cook.”

“NYEH! IT IS NOT THAT GOOD! I HAVE A LOT OF ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT AS UNDYNE WILL TELL YOU ANY DAY!”

“so undyne taught you too, huh?”

“SHE STARTED THE LESSONS, BUT... MOSTLY I READ RECIPES! UNDYNE GAVE ME LOTS OF COOKBOOKS. SOME WERE EVEN HANDED DOWN FROM THE QUEEN HERSELF!”

“the queen?”

Papyrus nodded enthusiastically. “I AM NOT GREAT AT BAKING, BUT PASTA HAS BECOME EXCEPTIONALLY EASY FOR ME! I SHOULD MAKE ZITI FOR YOU ONE DAY! I KNOW LASAGNA CAN GET TIRING.”

“eh, whatever you want. i’m a guest, so i got no right to complain.”

Papyrus didn’t respond, and the silence lengthened uncomfortably. Sans set his cup on the floor. If it was already awkward between them, then now was just a good a time as ever...

“i wanna say sorry to you again. seriously, what i did last night, on the way home...”

Papyrus reddened. “THOSE WERE THE DRUGS AT FAULT. I KNOW YOU WOULD NEVER DO THAT UNDER NORMAL CIRCUMSTANCES!”

“you still didn’t deserve that. especially after saving my tailbone from... that mess. so please accept my apology.”

Papyrus lowered his mug to his lap. “NO.”

“no?”

“NO. I WILL NOT LET YOU APOLOGIZE. MY HONOR WILL NOT ALLOW FOR THAT. YOU WERE NOT THE ONE AT FAULT. I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN THAT YOU WOULD –” He shook his head. “IF THERE IS ANYTHING YOU EVER NEED TO SAY SORRY FOR, I, THE GREAT AND TERRIBLE PAPYRUS, WILL ACCEPT YOUR APOLOGY WITH GRACE AND DIGNITY. BUT NOW IS NOT THAT TIME.”

Sans didn’t know what to say to that.

“NOW ENOUGH OF THIS! WE SHOULD BE RESTING, NOT FRETTING!” He glanced out the window again. “AS MY BROTHER ALWAYS SAID, FRETTING IS FOR TOMORROW. AND THE NEXT DAY. AND PROBABLY EVERY DAY AFTER THAT UNTIL WE END UP A PILE OF DUST.”

“uh...”

“BUT NOT TODAY! NOW... WHY IS THE TELEVISION IN SUCH A STATE?”

“i’m guessing the storm.”

“NO MATTER!” He bounced to his feet and marched over to the TV and pulled out a tray of old VHS tapes. “WE HAVE HUNDREDS OF MOVIES TO CHOOSE FROM! I HAVE BUILT UP QUITE THE COLLECTION SINCE... WELL, NEVERMIND! WE COULD WATCH TRANSMORPHERS: ROBOTS IN HIDING! OR PERHAPS YOU ARE MORE IN THE MOOD FOR MY LITTLE MINIATURE HORSE: THE AWAKENING OF THE GIANT PAPAYA! THAT ONE ALWAYS MAKES ME LAUGH!”

Sans shrugged. “why don’t you choose?”

He was probably going to fall asleep pretty quick. His soul was craving sleep, and now that he had consumed something, he didn’t feel like he was on the verge of falling down. Hopefully Papyrus would let him rest a little.

“THE HORSES THEN!”

He popped the tape in, and soon the screen was covered with pastel-colored ponies waving swords and guns at once another. Papyrus threw a blanket over the two of them and watched with an almost-contagious glee. It was nice to imagine that this sharp-toothed Papyrus truly was his brother, keeping watch over him as the storm raged on outside.

So Sans curled up on the couch, focusing on the ponies as they engaged in bloodthirsty battle. It wasn’t long before his eyes grew heavy, and he felt himself drifting off. As he began to lose consciousness, he could’ve sworn he felt Papyrus brushing his back through the blanket.

Chapter Text

“we’re going a new route – no humans.”

Hands stuffed in his lab coat pockets, Sans half-walked, half-jogged down the busy sidewalk, struggling to keep up with his bro’s pace.

“I DO NOT UNDERSTAND! CAPTURING A HUMAN WOULD BE SIMPLE ENOUGH WITH THE RIGHT PUZZLES!”

Craning his neck upward, Sans grinned at Paps. Man, how had Papyrus gotten so tall so fast? It was pretty awesome.

(An ugly mixture of jealousy and desire flitted through his soul.)

“yeah, that’s probably true. but we’re trying to avoid the humans altogether.”

“BUT WHY?”

Sans shrugged. “i’ve never seen one but everyone who has says they’re not all that nice to be around. in fact, from the sounds of it, they’re pretty scary.”

“NONSENSE! I HAVE SEEN THE PICTURES! THEY LOOK AS SOFT AND HUGGABLE AS THE KING! THOUGH I DO NOT THINK A BIKINI WOULD FLATTER KING ASGORE’S BODY MUCH. HMMM. MAYBE I AM WRONG?”

“heh. i think he’d look swimmingly.”

“SANS!”

Sans chuckled. “but yeah, the humans are in ads, bro. those make the humans look better than they actually are.”

“NONSENSE! THEY STILL LOOK SOFT!”

“bet you they aren’t as soft and fuzzy as skeletons.”

Papyrus exploded into a series of whooping NYEH HEH HEHs, and every monster within a block turned towards them, some with expressions of annoyance, others seeming like they might join in and laugh as well.

(Embarrassment swept over Sans, though he wasn’t entirely sure where it came from; when was the last time he had ever been embarrassed of his bro? Even as he wondered it, his face contorted with an ugly scowl, and he shushed Papyrus sharply. His brother shrunk in on himself, looking abashed.)

“point is,” Sans continued, (as if there had been no interruption,) “dings and i are avoiding using humans in our research if we can help it. the man’s on a mission, what can i say. it’s why i’ve been working such long hours lately.”

(Despite himself, his soul twitched with guilt. He had been in the office a lot lately, and Paps didn’t really know exactly what he had been up to...)

Papyrus, however, was as ecstatic as ever.

“THAT IS OKAY! YOU HAVE YOUR OWN OFFICE, YOUR OWN RESEARCH PROJECT, AND THE BEST JOB A MONSTER COULD ASK FOR! WELL, BESIDES THE ROYAL GUARD, OBVIOUSLY.”

“well, obviously.”

“BUT THAT IS NOT THE POINT! THE POINT IS THAT YOU HAVE ACHIEVED ALL THIS AND RIGHT OUT OF SCHOOL! ALL YOUR HARD WORK IS FINALLY PAYING OFF!”

“heh.” Warmth suffused his cheekbones. “guess so.”

“WELL YOU MAY GUESS SO, BUT I KNOW SO! MY BROTHER IS THE BEST EVER!”

(For some inarticulable reason, Sans’s guilt deepened.)

---

Clang!

Sans jolted out of his reverie, his eyelights taking a moment to adjust to the light. A pot had crashed to the floor, leaving a long trail of soapy water across the floor.

“RAAAARGH! DARN IT, DARN IT, DARN IT!” Papyrus screamed, every other word punctuated by the stamping of his feet.

Sans blinked the exhaustion from his sockets. “you okay?”

“YES, OF COURSE I AM FINE!” Papyrus snapped. “I AM NOT SURE HOW SOMETHING LIKE A POT COULD HURT ME.”

He snatched a dish towel from the counter and dove to the floor, scrubbing at the water with a fervid energy. As he wiped up the mess, Sans sat back in his chair, fighting the tautness that had crept into his chest.

Earlier, when the two of them had first woken up, Papyrus had greeted him with a hearty “GOOD MORNING” and had immediately checked to see if Sans had recovered from yesterday. His touch had been gentle and cautious, as if he had been afraid Sans would turn to dust in his hands. Sans hadn’t been complaining; he kind of liked how careful Papyrus was being. And once he had verified that Sans could walk with no problems, he had offered to make breakfast. He had been so full of energy and the brightest of smiles had graced his features.

It had reminded him of his bro.

But as soon as they had gone downstairs, Papyrus had opened the curtains, and the mood had quickly soured. The storm had abated, leaving behind a thick layer of snow that looked like a pain in the tailbone to get through, but navigable nonetheless. The moment Papyrus had seen it, it had been like flipping a switch; one second he had been all rainbows and butterflies, and the next he had been commanding Sans to get into the kitchen and eat. No time for a sleep-in because Papyrus had to go. The whole meal Papyrus had been irritable and snippy, and every few seconds he had twitched his head towards the front window, sighing in aggravation.

It had been exhausting.

“UGH!” Papyrus shouted as he grabbed another towel to sop up the mess. “WHY DOES EVERYTHING HAVE TO BE SO DIFFICULT? AND OF COURSE I GET NO HELP! I HAVE TO DO EVERYTHING ON MY OWN!” He glared at Sans. “THIS IS... IS... A... FFF-GRRR! A DISASTER!”

Sans crossed his arms and spat, “y’know, you don’t gotta stop yourself from swearing on my account.”

Papyrus stopped and glanced at him, looking genuinely confused. “WHAT?”

“if you wanna say ‘fuck’ or ‘shit’ or whatever the hell you wanna say, i’m not gonna stop you. you clearly want to.”

He knew he was being ridiculous, but he didn’t give a damn; Papyrus was being just as ludicrous. He hadn’t even asked Sans to help him out, so what the hell was he supposed to do? Read his mind?

“WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT? NO, I DO NOT WISH THAT! I HAVE MORE ELOQUENT VOCABULARY TO EXPRESS MY... DISPLEASURE!”

“yeah, that’s why you had no problem dropping the f bomb the other day.”

“YES,” Papyrus said slowly, his brow furrowing. “BUT THE OTHER DAY WE HAD A GUEST.” When Sans continued to frown at him, he continued, “ONE MUST INTIMIDATE THEIR FOES. ESPECIALLY IF SAID FOES ARE ATTEMPTING TO ATTACK MY VERY WEAK AND ALMOST DEAD BR– VISITOR.”

“oh.”

“YES, ‘OH.’” His expression softened. “I HOPE YOU WILL NOT JUDGE ME TOO HARSHLY BY HOW I ACT AROUND... CERTAIN MONSTERS.” He fidgeted. “I DO NOT ENJOY USING SUCH LANGUAGE, BUT I HAVE HAD TO ADAPT SINCE... WELL, I HAVE HAD TO ADAPT.”

Sans’s guilt deepened. “yeah, okay.”

With that, Papyrus returned to cleaning, this time in silence. His cheekbones were shaded a brilliant red and he was keeping his head down, clearly avoiding eye contact. Sans covered his face and sighed. Why couldn’t he keep his temper under control? He never had a problem around his bro, even when Paps had been in the grumpiest of moods.

But this Papyrus wasn’t his bro. He had to keep remember that.

Sans lowered his hands to get a good look at Papyrus. He wanted to memorize where that god-awful scar stretched across his skull. To see that hint of anger. To catch any other reminder that this Papyrus was not the same monster as his brother.

But as his hands dropped to his lap, something flashed out of the corner of his eyes. His gaze darted towards the living room, and though he had sworn he had seen a shadow or a light or something moving, there was nothing there. It was empty. He trained his eyes on the window, expecting to see some sort of movement, yet all was eerily still.

He grasped the edge of the table, his fingers straining from the tension. If someone from the bar came by, what the hell would he do? Yesterday he would’ve been too tired to fight even though he had been wanting to all day. Now though... He swallowed past the lump in his throat.

“SANS, I –”

At the sudden noise, Sans jolted, his hands sliding against the table and a low gasp slipping through his teeth.

“IS EVERYTHING ALRIGHT?!”

Sans clutched his sternum, feeling his soul’s strong magical energy rapidly pulsating beneath his fingertips.

“i –” he squeaked. After clearing his throat, he continued, “yeah. i thought i saw something, but i was wrong.”

The color drained from Papyrus. “SOMEONE WAS OUT THERE?”

“i think it was a trick of the light.” Though Sans tried to shrug nonchalantly, his tone betrayed him.

Papyrus rushed to the window, and as he craned to see every possible angle, Sans’s soul did loop-de-loops in his ribcage. Any moment Grillby would appear in the window, that evil grin on his ugly mug. Or Doggo would knock on the door, asking for another round. Or maybe that giant bear from down the road. Sans cringed.

“NO ONE IS THERE,” Papyrus announced, closing the curtains to throw the room into shadow.

Sans hadn’t realized he had been holding his breath until that moment. Nor had he realized just how much his soul was pumping and fluttering against his ribs, like a bird trying to escape its cage. On top of it, every time it constricted, something twisted inside it violently, causing him to break out in a cold sweat. He wondered if his soul would shatter into a million pieces, leaving behind only an empty husk of who he once was.

Maybe it already had.

He scrunched his sockets shut, hunching forward as his vision spun. Every breath came as a deep, heaving gasp, and he knew if he didn’t get himself under control, he’d never recover.

A pair of hands grasped his shoulders.

“SANS,” Papyrus said quietly, “ARE YOU OKAY?”

No, he wasn’t okay. He was never going to be okay. And the more he dwelled on it, the more he knew with all his soul that he was going to be broken for the rest of his life. He was someone who deserved this crap after all the things he had done, and after failing to do all the things he had needed to do. A useless pile of bones. Too stupid, too lazy, too disgusting, too...

He had to stop.

Though his arm was shaking real bad, he reached up and placed his hand on Papyrus’s.

“yeah,” he managed to say. “just... not feeling like myself, y’know?”

Papyrus gently squeezed Sans’s shoulder. Sans’s eyes suddenly felt warm, so he clenched them shut, trying to fight off his emotions. Thoughts of the other night continued to swirl in his mind, but they became subdued the longer Papyrus stood next to him. Eventually his breathing calmed, and though his soul was wound with indescribable emotion, it was no longer threatening to kill him.

When Papyrus finally let go, Sans leaned back in the chair, lightheaded and dizzy. He wanted nothing more than to rest his weary bones.

“I DO NOT KNOW WHAT EXACTLY IS GOING ON RIGHT NOW,” Sans opened his eyes and saw that Papyrus was standing next to him, wringing his hands, “BUT WILL YOU BE ABLE TO STAY HERE WHILE I ATTEND TO MY DUTIES TODAY?”

A tremor of renewed fear flitted through him at the thought of being here alone all day, in the same town as the monsters that had done this to him. What if they rang the doorbell? Hell, what if they marched right in? Would he have the moxie to fight them off? Would he have the energy? He felt like he had spent himself sitting here thinking about someone outside the door. How the fuck would he ever defend himself?

Papyrus held out a hand as if to say “stop” and Sans realized his breathing was growing out of control again.

“OBVIOUSLY NOT.” Papyrus swallowed. “ARE YOU EVEN GOING TO BE ABLE TO WALK TO WATERFALL IN THIS CONDITION? WITHOUT ATTRACTING UNWANTED ATTENTION?”

Sans blinked. “unwanted attraction? i’m not gonna stop to tell them jokes if that’s what you mean.”

“THIS IS SERIOUS. I DO NOT WANT ANYONE TO AMBUSH US.”

“ambush us? who the hell is gonna do that?”

Papyrus cocked a brow at him. “ARE YOU SERIOUS?”

“yeah? i mean, are you expecting someone from snowdin to follow us or something?” He laughed humorlessly. “or are you expecting a temmie to attack us for some flakes? don’t think we got that many enemies, do we?”

“EVERYONE IS AN ENEMY UNTIL PROVEN OTHERWISE.”

“uh...” There was no hint of a smile on Papyrus’s face. “are things really that bleak here?”

Another blush crept onto Papyrus’s cheekbones. He averted his gaze, leaving Sans feeling sick. God, what sort of hellish universe had he landed in? Apparently ambushes were a regular thing here. Was rape a normal thing? Did monsters just do it on the regular? Maybe what had happened to him wasn’t all that big of a deal by these guys’ standards.

The very thought made him want to vomit.

He brought his attention back to the topic at hand. “why don’t we take the boat?”

“YOU MEAN THE RIVER PERSON? I DO NOT HAVE THE MONEY.”

“you have to pay?”

Papyrus shook his head, rolling his eyes. “OF COURSE YOU HAVE TO PAY. IT IS THEIR JOB, NOT A VOLUNTEER JOB.”

Sans was pretty sure Asgore paid the River Person for their services back in his universe, but he didn’t really know. Usually he teleported wherever he wanted. Maybe he should try that out now, but... he was worried about the universal differences. Clearly things weren’t the same here, and even back home it had taken a long time to imprint his mental coordinates to get to the right places on demand.

And he had experienced a few scares there too. One time he had been testing out his abilities and had tried to land on a bridge in Waterfall, but he had ended up teleporting in the middle of the air next to a large, roaring waterfall. The air had whooshed around him as he had plummeted down the chasm. It had taken him a few soul-stopping seconds to gather his bearings and teleport home, and when he had, he hadn’t been able to stop his momentum. Papyrus had never quite forgiven him for crashing into his action figures, and he was sure that was why Paps had moved the collection to his room.

That experience was one reason why he was so particular about where he teleported to and from. Better to aim for those places he knew than to chance dangerous areas like that.

Which was why he wasn’t going to mention anything about his abilities to Papyrus right now. He didn’t seem to be aware of his teleportation. Had the Sans in this universe never developed the skill after all those experiments with Gaster or had he just not used it around Papyrus? Whatever the reason, Papyrus wasn’t relying on it, and that was fine by him.

“well then, i guess we’re walking.”

Sans shakily climbed to his feet. Papyrus stood perched on his toes, looking ready to grab Sans at any second. Surprisingly, Sans’s trembling subsided after he took a few deep breaths. Though he wasn’t feeling 100% by any means, he could at least walk. That was more than he had been expecting.

As they stepped out the door, his eyes darted around the landscape, on the lookout for any hint of flame or fur hidden in the shadows. But all was quiet; the only things he could hear were the sounds of snowdrifts falling from the nearby pine trees and ice crunching beneath their feet.

Still, he felt exposed out here. Like any moment Grillby or some other monster would step out and grab them without warning. Papyrus’s behavior only served to heighten the sensation; even as they entered Waterfall, his head swiveled in every direction, as if expecting an attack at every corner.

But no one approached them. In fact, as they got closer to some of Sans’s usual spots, he even caught sight of a few monsters scampering away. He was glad for it; his wound was not happy with their journey, and every step sent a jolt through his ribcage. He vaguely wondered if it was bleeding again.

As it became apparent that no one was going to challenge them and that Papyrus was being overly cautious, Sans relaxed. Well, maybe not relaxed – he was still nervous that someone would follow them from Snowdin. But he slowed down enough so he could catch his breath even as Papyrus encouraged him to go faster.

“hey, why waterfall anyway?” Sans called out as they entered a cramped cavern. “i would think you’d be assigned to snowdin. do you guys even have a guard out there?”

Though Papyrus did not deviate from his routine of peering around every corner, he straightened his posture and puffed out his chest. “A GOOD GUARD CAN ADAPT TO ANY LOCATION. THAT IS WHY I HAVE A NEW ASSIGNMENT EVERY WEEK. SOMETIMES IT IS EVEN EVERY DAY. THEY KNOW THEY CAN DEPEND ON ME TO GET ANY JOB DONE RIGHT.”

“huh. that’s pretty cool.”

“INDEED IT IS! THOUGH THAT IS NOT THE REASON FOR OUR VISIT HERE. TODAY WE ARE VISITING MY CAPTAIN AND GOOD FRIEND UNDYNE,” he boasted. “YOU KNOW WHO UNDYNE IS, RIGHT?”

“yeah, i know her.” Well, he knew one version of her anyway.

“GOOD. I WAS NOT SURE. I MEAN, OF COURSE EVERYONE KNOWS CAPTAIN UNDYNE. BUT YOU ACT SO STRANGE SOMETIMES. IT IS LIKE YOU HAVE NEVER BEEN HERE BEFORE.”

“i mean... that isn’t wrong.”

“WHAT?” Papyrus turned his focus toward Sans. “WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?”

“eh, nevermind,” he said, shrugging. “i’ll tell you later.”

It didn’t seem like an appropriate time to discuss multiverse theory and the mechanics of interdimensional travel, especially when it was something he wasn’t too sure about himself.

Papyrus retuned to guiding them, though now his brows were furrowed and he was mumbling something to himself angrily. Guilt fluttered through Sans, though he pushed it down, reminding himself that he would tell Papyrus later when they weren’t busy.

The two of them exited the smaller cave and entered a wide, open cavern teeming with dozens of echo flowers. An ethereal glow that permeated the room, refracting off the cavern walls so that the very air was stained with their blue hue. A nearby stream babbled softly, and Sans longed to jump in and unwind for a while. But Papyrus was pressing on, and there was no time for that. Still, Sans wasn’t about to let that stop him from taking it easy; while Papyrus was still rushing about and on the watch for enemies, he paused to listen to one of the flowers.

“500g a night for Golden Flower in North Waterfall,” said a sing-song voice. “Ask for Lucy at the Echo Inn.”

Strange. Was it an advertisement? He went to another and listened intently.

“Don’t ever say a word,” a soprano voice whispered. “If she caught us, she’d rip our throats out and feed them to her pet. Or worse. They never found all of Yer’s body, did they?”

A chill ran up Sans’s spine.

“NO DILLYDALLYING, SANS! THIS IS NO TIME TO GET CAUGHT UP IN ECHO FLOWER WHISPERS!”

Sans pulled away from the flower, all too eager to leave it behind.

By the time they got to Undyne’s place, he was wiped out. He knew Papyrus had slowed down for him, yet even at their “leisurely” pace, Sans’s chest was burning from the exertion. As they approached Undyne’s house, he practically collapsed against the house’s outside wall, out of breath and his ribs screaming in pain. God, maybe he should have tried to teleport after all.

Papyrus took one last surreptitious glance over his shoulder before he marched to the front door, his features set with determination. It only took one quick knock before the entrance burst open with a loud bang. Papyrus bounced backwards, barely dodging the assault of wood and fury. Undyne, appearing the same as ever, stepped onto her welcome mat carrying a bright blue spear. Her forehead was creased with anger, and she looked ready to attack at full strength.

“You. Are. LATE!”

Much to Sans’s panic, she spun her weapon in her hand and pointed it at Papyrus, mere centimeters from his breastplate. Sans straightened his posture, magic tingling in his soul, ready to be unleashed at a moment’s notice.

But Papyrus didn’t seem all that concerned; he stood still, moving only to bow his head slightly.

“I APOLOGIZE.”

“You ‘apologize’?! Papyrus, I thought you were hurt!”

Papyrus frowned but didn’t speak.

“ARGH!” She stomped her foot, and, to Sans’s relief, she dismissed her spear with a wave of her hand. “You know you should message me when I’m worried!”

“THERE WAS NO SIGNAL YESTERDAY.”

She rubbed her face and huffed. “Okay. You couldn’t call yesterday because of the storm. I get that. Once I heard the weather report, I didn’t worry. But today? After last week’s fiasco? Come on, nerd! I expect better from you than that!”

“I KNOW.” Papyrus hunched his shoulders. “IT IS MY RESPONSIBILITY TO PERFORM MY DUTIES AS A GUARDSMAN... AND AS A GOOD FRIEND. I AM SORRY FOR MY BEHAVIOR. I TRULY THOUGHT I WAS GOING TO ARRIVE ON TIME. A ROYAL GUARDS SHOULD ALWAYS BE PUNCTUAL! BUT... I WAS DELAYED.”

“By what?” She peered behind Papyrus. “Did someone confront you about – ?”

“NO. NOT THEM.” He clenched his fists and with gritted teeth he nodded towards Sans. Undyne twisted around, her eye widening comically upon taking him in.

Sans?”

“y-yo.” Sans feebly waved at her.

“What the hell.”

“uh... yeah, i know.”

“What. The. Hell.” She balled her fists.

“maybe we should go inside and –”

“WHAT! THE! HELL!” she bellowed. Sans’s bones prickled with unspent magic as waves of rage exuded from her, filling the chamber with a frenetic energy.

“UNDYNE, CALM DOWN!” Papyrus exclaimed, obviously taken aback by Undyne’s behavior.

“Calm down?! CALM DOWN?!”

A loud dinging noise rang through the hollow, and Sans gasped as something gripped his soul, adding to the tightness around his chest. He instantly knew what this was. After all, it wasn’t like Undyne hadn’t tested her magic out on him before. But this time it was different. This time she hadn’t given him a shield to protect himself. He was left frozen, without any means to defend himself unless he resorted to using his own magic.

With a flick of her wrist, Undyne summoned another spear. And another. And another. Sans’s soul sunk as the weapons hovered midair, their points aimed directly at him. Though Sans opened his mouth to say something – though what, he wasn’t sure – to get her to stop, Undyne shouted before he got the chance.

“What the hell are you doing here, you horrible – ” She loosened the first spear so it pierced the wall immediately to his right of his head with a sickening crunch. “ – disgusting –” She released another, this time to the left so that his skull was trapped. “ – IDIOTIC skeleton!” She flung the last one across the room, this time directly at his face.

Time slowed to a crawl as the magic came hurling towards him. With no other choice, he called upon his magic, his soul stirring beneath the foreign green energies that held him fast. He ordered himself to teleport a couple meters to the right – not too far, just enough that he’d avoid the attack but not risk getting stuck in a wall.

But as a storm of energy thundered within his soul, something went terribly wrong.

He was falling through the gateway he had placed at his feet, but at the same time, he wasn’t. It was as if his mind had been split; he was distinctly aware of two realities, one in which he was inches from blinding blue magic, and the other...

An impenetrable darkness constricted his body, his mind, his soul. He was tumbling, falling, collapsing, drifting, dying...

The light was gone. (But it wasn’t – it was dazzlingly bright, only a few centimeters from his sockets.) That horrible Void had returned, come to fill his skull with emptiness. (His head wasn’t empty; there was a spear going right through it.) A scream threatened to rip from his throat, but it wouldn’t manifest. Nothing would... (How could he even scream? He was a pile of dust, deprived of his body forever.)

The air was gone. The Void was collapsing in around him, sucking all his breath away, all his memories, his dreams, his everything....

He needed to leave! Better to die by Undyne’s strikes than to face whatever the hell this was!

With a mighty tug, he pulled himself back to where he had started, like he had never fallen in the first place. But that couldn’t be right. He must have moved because directly above him, jutting from the house, were three crackling spears.

It was then that Sans realized he was lower to the ground than before. He was crouching over the slick rocky ground, and it felt as if something was dragging his soul down. When he peered down at his chest, he saw that the green magic had been replaced with a dark blue. The color illuminated his immediate surroundings, and Sans was struck by the way his ribcage cast oblong shadows along the dank floor.

An almost drunken giggle fell from his teeth as he realized how close he had come to death.

When he was able to tear his gaze away, he glanced up at Papyrus. His arm was outstretched towards Sans and all the color had drained from him. Undyne’s eye was bugging out of her head as she stared at the results of her havoc.

“SANS! ARE YOU OKAY?!”

He chuckled again as he nodded sloppily, his skull rolling on his shoulders. Unable to maintain the awkward position, he sunk to the cold ground, wetness soaking into his shorts. His vision tilted as the last of his reserves drained from his body, and he was dimly aware of his head slipping from the wall to the floor.

The world had gone all funny. The glowworms that dotted the ceiling were spinning, and though he tried to ground himself by grappling at the stone beneath him, he couldn’t make it stop. But it was more than that. It was like everything was muted or discolored or vibrating. Something had changed because the world felt off-kilter, like trying to solve a puzzle with a missing piece. Maybe some part of him was still in that Void, desperately trying to escape that bleak emptiness. He shivered.

“WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?!” cried Papyrus who, from the volume, had to be right beside him, but seemed far away. It was like a layer of snow was muffling the noise. “HE WAS ALREADY INJURED AND YOU ATTACKED HIM?!”

“How the hell was I supposed to know he was hurt?! And more importantly, why the hell should I care anyway?!”

“LISTEN TO WHAT YOU ARE SAYING! THAT IS SANS! YOU WERE TRYING TO HURT SANS!”

Sans had never heard his bro speak to Undyne so angrily before. It felt... wrong.

“Listen to what you’re saying! I can’t believe you’re defending him! Your brother goes and pretends he’s dead for months, and you expect me to give him a big hug and say ‘That’s okay, Sans, glad to have you back!’ HELL NO! I don’t know what you’re expecting from me!”

“I EXPECT YOU TO NOT ATTACK HIM!”

“I should’ve shot ten spears at his stupid, good-for-nothing ass!”

“AAARGH!” Something slammed into the stone next to Sans loudly, and though Sans heard it immediately, it was several seconds before he jolted in reaction. “THIS IS UNFORGIVABLE! DESPICABLE! YOU DO NOT GET TO ATTACK MY... MY...”

He faltered and a dense silence fell over the cavern. Sans blindly groped along the stone floor until he found Papyrus’s hand and clasped tightly. Though he was trying his best to squeeze as tight as possible, the sensation felt detached. Even when Papyrus pressed back, it felt almost like it was happening to someone else.

A few seconds later, the world shifted, and he felt himself lifted into Papyrus’s arms. His view of the ceiling was soon replaced with Papyrus’s face. Though it was hard to tell – god, why wouldn’t anything stay still for a little while – he swore there were tears trickling down Papyrus’s cheeks.

“WE ARE LEAVING, UNDYNE. I CANNOT BELIEVE YOU WOULD EVER DO SUCH A THING. I AM....” He puffed and hugged Sans to his chest before turning around.

“Woah, woah, woah! You can’t leave with him like that! Who knows who’s watching?”

“YOU HAVE LEFT ME WITH NO CHOICE!”

“Wait, stop!” she called desperately. Papyrus took a couple more steps, and then hesitated, though he didn’t look happy about it. “Alright, look, I’m sorry, okay? I may have lost my temper.”

Papyrus huffed. “REALLY. I HAD NO IDEA.”

“Ugh! I don’t know what to say, Papyrus!” she yelled. “I don’t want to order you inside the house, but I will if I have to!” Her voice softened. “I don’t want you to get hurt trying to save this bastard. It’s not fair to you.”

“yeah,” Sans muttered so faintly he wondered if anyone could even hear him. “not fair. inside.”

Those few words ripped the last of his energy from his body, and an intense fatigue overtook him, seeping into his bones. His sockets sagged closed, and an almost peaceful feeling embraced him as everything went dead quiet.

Chapter Text

*************************************************

Papyrus scrunched his face, trying to ward off his nausea. His brother was heaving on the other side of the cramped room, the excess magic splattering into the toilet water. Every time he retched or choked on the chunks, Papyrus clawed his arm, the pain a distraction so he wouldn’t get sick himself.

At some point the noise stopped, and it was only after the silence lingered for several minutes that Papyrus peeked his sockets open. Sans was huddled into a ball, shivering against the bathroom tile, his face contorted with pain and his bones slick with sweat. Glowing blue and yellow liquid trailed from the toilet and onto the floor. The magic wasn’t nearly as luminous as the first splashes of vomit had been all those hours ago, but Papyrus could still spot some of it soaking into his brother’s already-stained pants.

“SANS?” he fretted. Sans hunched in on himself a bit more but didn’t reply. Papyrus allowed a few seconds of silence before he pressed him further. “HOW ABOUT WE GO BACK TO BED? YOU SHOULD REST.”

“leave me alone,” Sans replied, his voice muffled by his shirt.

“YOU WOULD BE A LOT MORE COMFORTABLE IN BED.”

“fuck off.”

Papyrus sighed, uneasiness coursing through his soul. He leaned against the wall, resigning himself to another long night in the bathroom. Surely Sans would have to throw up more. After all, the book had said the process would leave a human sick for days, and when it came down to it, monsters reacted the same in every other respect. It was unlikely this would be any different.

Though Sans had been sick for so long, and he hadn’t slept for more than a few minutes over the last few days. The hospital wasn’t an option, but... what would the two of them do if Sans took a turn for the worse?

Yet Papyrus could only stand there, acting as a guard over his brother. His legs ached and his sockets were weighed with days of no sleep. As he slumped against the wall, he could feel the heft of his responsibilities dragging him. It was only when he caught himself stumbling forward after nodding off that he realized how much he needed to lie down.

He turned his attention to Sans who was still a quivering lump in the same exact spot. There were no signs that he had returned to the toilet. Perhaps, at long last, they were done with this stage. If so, they were near the end of this horrible ordeal.

Papyrus crouched next to his brother, taking care not to step in his filth. It was evident that Sans was not in good shape. He was still doubled over, his arms wrapped around himself and his breathing arduous. Dark shadows underlined his sockets, a reminder of how much he needed sleep. How much they both needed sleep.

With all the tenderness he could muster, Papyrus grabbed underneath his brother’s arms and lifted him to his chest.

“i said fuck off!” Sans screeched, and without warning, he turned into a kicking, scratching, punching, wild ball of fury. Wholly unprepared for such an assault, Papyrus released Sans. His brother’s bones thumped loudly as he hit the ground. Still, Papyrus was too slow, or perhaps his brother was unaware that he had been let go, because he was still thrashing about, his limbs going everywhere. One of his feet slammed into Papyrus’s knee, and his leg buckled beneath him.

As Papyrus stumbled backwards, his foot slipped across Sans’s stray vomit, and, with a sharp crack, his right eye smashed against the toilet.

For a moment, the world slowed to a crawl, and he could see every detail on his brother’s face as his pure, unbridled rage transformed to shock. Papyrus could tell from that expression that Sans hadn’t meant to strike him. In that brief moment, his soul lightened more than it had in years.

Then the pain hit.

It shot up his skull, blossoming in his socket and forehead all at once. He broke out into a cold sweat, and, like a switch had been flipped, his right eye went blind. Acrid magic burst in his skull, his soul automatically trying to protect him from whatever had happened. Yet it only made it worse.

He slumped to the floor, and for a moment he was too stunned to do anything. But then everything rushed through him at once and he unleashed an unholy howl. He clutched desperately at his socket, scrabbling at it as if he could somehow tear the pain away, but only making everything worse. His fingers grazed across a deep crack that protruded from his eye and his cry grew shriller as the pain overwhelmed him.

There was a flurry of movement beside him and hands grasped at his back.

“shit, shit, shit! paps, oh my god, i didn’t mean to –”

Curling away from the sound of Sans’s voice, Papyrus wailed, drowning out the rest of the sentence. A mixture of the caustic protective magic and tears flowed down his face, cutting into his injury, and he was forced to close his sockets.

“fuck, stay here, paps!”

Though Papyrus couldn’t see him, he heard Sans stumble out of the bathroom, crashing into the walls, doors, and whatever else was in his way. A tendril of concern wrapped around his soul, cutting through the haze. Sans couldn’t be on his own right now... He wasn’t well... He hadn’t been for a long time... What if he left? What if he ruined everything after all this hard work?

Panic bloomed within him, gripping him like nothing else, even driving past the pain in his skull. But rather than allowing it to consume him, he used it as a focal point. A reminder that he needed to get past this and be the best brother he could be. There was no point in acting like such a babybones when Sans had been in so much pain for so long.

He opened his good eye and took a deep, shaky breath as he pressed his palm to the ground. Just as he was about to climb to his feet, the door flew open and smashed into the wall. In the doorway stood a mountain of blankets that would topple over were it not for the tiny, frail arms wrapped around them. Immediately Sans rushed over, allowing the covers to fall from his grip and onto Papyrus.

“hold on a sec, bro. hold on. hold on. god, just hold on.”

Papyrus almost wondered if Sans was high with the way he kept repeating every phrase. But there was no way he had found drugs so fast. It wasn’t like his brother could teleport.

Sans maneuvered the sea of blankets, tucking them around Papyrus tightly. Though he was moving quickly, and his hands were trembling, his touch was unusually tender, as if afraid he might break Papyrus. More than he already had. Papyrus accepted the treatment silently, and as Sans brushed against his bones, his soul knotted with emotions that he oh-so-wished had suppressed long ago. On the upside, though his head was still throbbing, the sensation was muffled behind the fog of embarrassment, guilt, and above all else, warmth that flooded his mind.

Soon he was swathed in a cocoon of fabric just like when he had been a kid stuck home with a fever. And like when they were young, Sans was caressing his skull, whispering reassurances under his breath. It was nice to pretend that his brother was going to look after him while he recovered like in the old days.

Except they weren’t children anymore. And his brother certainly wasn’t capable of taking care of anybody.

“SANS.”

Sans stopped muttering and drew his rattling hand back to his chest. Now that Papyrus was talking, Sans was refusing to look at him again; whether it was out of some newfound sense of guilt or because of his usual stubbornness, he wasn’t sure.

“YOU NEED TO REST. PLEASE.

His brother glanced back at him, and there was no hiding the concern in his eyelights now. “bro, maybe we should try healing your face first.” He started to reach out again, but Papyrus shied away from the touch.

“NEITHER OF US HAS THE ENERGY FOR HEALING MAGIC RIGHT NOW. ESPECIALLY YOU.”

“but –”

“I WILL HEAL MYSELF IN THE MORNING. AFTER WE SLEEP.”

Sans backed away. “i’m sorry,” he whispered, and for a moment, Papyrus wondered if he was hallucinating.

Then Sans’s voice returned to its usual tone.

“i just don’t know what you expected.”

The warmth drained from Papyrus in an instant, replaced with cold, hard reality once more.

“I WAS TRYING TO HELP YOU.”

“dammit, why can’t you leave me alone? you’ve already got me locked up here, why do you have to control everything?”

“YOU ARE SICK, SANS. YOU NEED TO GET BETTER.”

“sick. heh. that’s hilarious.”

Papyrus remained silent. He wasn’t going to be goaded into another one of these arguments. It was pointless trying to get his brother to see reason.

Sans crossed his quivering arms against his chest and turned his gaze away again, that familiar anger flickering across his face. While he simmered in his rage, Papyrus was left to curl up on the floor, the pain pulsing through his skull. He knew it was going to bruise, and leaving the cracks like this overnight would mean he’d probably have a scar. But he didn’t have it in him to use healing magic tonight. He was too tired.

In fact, he could feel himself beginning to drift off. He wasn’t partial to sleeping on the bathroom floor – especially given its current state – but the blankets were so comfortable, and his aching body yearned for a moment’s rest. His good eye was growing heavier by the second, tugging him down, down, down...

But as his eye was about to close, he chanced a glance at Sans. His brother was still looking away, but something had sparked in his eyelights. Something that made Papyrus uneasy. And as he followed Sans’s gaze, he understood why: his brother was staring at the door.

Papyrus sighed and awkwardly pushed himself into a sitting position, shocking his brother from whatever ill-conceived plans he had been concocting. One thing was certain: there would be no sleep for Papyrus tonight.

*************************************************

---

Papyrus’s soul stuttered when Sans’s weight sagged against his chest. He shook him wildly, so desperate for him to wake up, to not fall asleep, to not die in his arms – oh god, oh god, please, anything but that.

“Papyrus!” Undyne barked, drawing Papyrus from his spiral. Her brow was furrowed with obvious concern, but she exuded both calmness and authority that stilled Papyrus’s soul. “We need to get him inside,” she ordered. “If one of Muffet’s cronies sees him like this...”

For a moment, Papyrus wanted to refuse. Undyne was the reason Sans was in this state to begin with! That rage still prickled at his soul, demanding him to take action and stomp straight back to Snowdin.

Then he remembered Sans’s garbled plea. And Undyne’s warning was as true as ever. If he ever lost his brother again...

He wasn’t his brother. He needed to remember that.

Still, he wouldn’t let harm come to this monster. He wasn’t sure his soul could take it.

He swallowed and nodded at Undyne. Without waiting for an invitation, he marched into her house, rushed past the living room and kitchen, and went straight into her dark, familiar bedroom.

Carefully cradling Sans’s skull, he lowered the fragile skeleton onto the bed. Immediately he began raking over his body – which in almost every aspect was his brother’s body, and oh, he should really not be looking at him like this without his permission, he’d be rightly upset – and searched for any sign of injury from Undyne’s attack. When his fingers grazed over the old wound that was slashed across his chest, Sans yelped and convulsed.

“SANS? ARE YOU OKAY?”

Sans didn’t reply, nor did he open his eyes or give any other indication that he was conscious. Papyrus gently lifted Sans’s shirt to reveal the ugly injury, ignoring the embarrassment and guilt that needled through his soul at the intimate gesture. The wound was the same as the day he had appeared in the living room all those nights ago, and really, he wasn’t sure why he was surprised. Of course his healing had done nothing. He was a failure through and through.

“Holy crap!” Undyne shouted. Papyrus jolted from the sudden noise. “Did I do that?”

Papyrus lowered the shirt and glanced over him one more time to ensure there were no other injuries before he began bundling him up in the blankets.

“NO, HE HAS BEEN LIKE THAT SINCE I MET HIM.”

“’Met him’?”

“YES.” He offered no other explanation, and she didn’t press him for one either. It was only after Papyrus had completely drowned Sans in blankets and several minutes of fretting over him that Undyne spoke again.

“Papyrus, he’s fine.”

“HE MOST CERTAINLY IS NOT FINE.”

“Yeah, but you don’t have to keep tucking him in. He’s not going anywhere.”

He stilled his hands.

“Come on, let him get some rest.” She motioned toward the door. When he didn’t move, she continued, “He doesn’t need you hovering over him like that. He’ll be scared out of his wits if the first thing he sees is your face two inches from his.”

There was no denying what she said was true. He didn’t want to exacerbate Sans’s condition any more than it already had been, and it appeared as if his pain had passed for the moment. His labored breathing had transformed into a quiet snore and he seemed quite peaceful.

With great reluctance, Papyrus followed her into the other room. She offered him a seat at the kitchen table, and although he wanted to say no, she levied a look at him that told him there was no room for negotiation. He slumped onto the stool as she put a kettle on. While she tended to the tea, he crossed his arms and legs, telling himself that if he wouldn’t engage with her no matter how much she tried!

However, perhaps sensing his displeasure, Undyne did not speak. Even when the tea was done, she did not say a word as she handed a steaming cup to him and sat next to him. Papyrus begrudgingly accepted the tea, knowing that she was trying to soothe his nerves. Still, wasting food was not something the Great Papyrus ever liked to do, so he sipped the drink, savoring the familiar floral flavor.

After they had been drinking for several minutes, Undyne finally spoke.

“Okay,” she said quietly, “I know you’re pissed at me, and yeah, maybe I deserve it, but if I had known he was so hurt, I probably wouldn’t have gone all out like that.”

“’PROBABLY’?”

“Yeah. Maybe.”

“I CANNOT BELIEVE YOU.”

“Come on, the little shit can usually take more than a few hits and you know it. And can you really blame me for wanting to bruise him up a little?”

“YES! YES, I CAN! HE DID NOT DO ANYTHING TO DESERVE SUCH BEHAVIOR!”

“You cannot be serious.” When Papyrus remained silent, she yelled, “Papyrus, he faked his death! You expect me to forgive him after he goes missing for months and leaves you with how many messes to clean up? And god only knows what he was doing with the rest of the Underground the rest of the time!” She slammed her hand on the table. “What the fuck is wrong with him?!”

Papyrus grit his teeth. Unwelcome memories swirled in his mind, threatening to cloud his every thought. He forced himself to take several deep breaths before he continued.

“HE DID NOT FAKE HIS DEATH. IF YOU HAD JUST LISTENED TO ME INSTEAD OF ATTACKING, YOU WOULD KNOW THAT ALREADY.”

Undyne cocked a brow at him. “He didn’t fake his death,” she stated skeptically.

“NO,” he said, his voice breaking. “HE DID NOT, I CAN ASSURE YOU.”

It hurt him so much to admit it, but it was true. This Sans was not his brother. He acted too differently – from the way he acted, to the manner of speech, to the way he seemed to have no clue what life was like in the Underground. It was utterly bizarre how much he stood out, given that he was a monster and had to have grown up here. Yet Sans had offered no explanation.

Secretly he couldn’t help but wonder if this was his brother and he had some form of amnesia. He knew it was a fruitless hope. This Sans had insisted they weren’t brothers, and he had seemed so sure of it. He had even said his own brother was dead, and he had said it was such finality that Papyrus knew in his soul that it must be true.

Maybe that was why he had treated him so badly... He couldn’t stand the truth. The truth that his brother was gone. It was hard to fathom after seeing Sans abruptly turn up in his home one day, out of the blue. And it didn’t help that his soul felt like it was breaking all over again every time he laid eyes on him.

Even now, when he wasn’t in the same room as Sans, his soul was clenching, and oh no, were those tears collecting in the corners of his sockets? He tried to brush them away but they wouldn’t stop obscuring his vision, and he was having a hard time breathing, and oh....

Undyne slid a hand across the table, and despite how angry he was with her, he placed his hand on hers, welcoming the familiar gesture. Every now and then she’d cast aside her role as captain and fully embrace their friendship like this. And every time she did, he ended up either having the time of his life or having a meltdown.

Today it was apparently the latter.

Loud, hiccupping sobs wracked his body as he released all his emotions over the last couple weeks. He had spent so much energy procuring Sans from that damned bar and helping him recover that he had hardly had any time to reflect on how tired he was. Sans’s presence had utterly sapped him, and he knew why. This wasn’t his Sans. His Sans was gone.

Undyne sidled up next to him and rubbed small circles into his scapula as he let the tears flow. “Crap, I didn’t mean to bring up bad memories.”

Though he wanted to reply, he was choking on his emotions, tears clogging his throat. He made a spluttering noise as he tried to speak, so Undyne hushed him and wrapped him up in one of her best friend hugs. It was exactly what he needed. After releasing a few more sobs into her shoulder, he got himself under control (though still a bit sniffly).

“You okay?” she asked, handing him a tissue. He nodded. “Crap, Papyrus. I’m really sorry.”

This time she sounded genuine.

“I WISH YOU WOULD LISTEN TO ME INSTEAD OF THINKING... I DO NOT KNOW. I GUESS THAT I AM STUPID!”

“I don’t think you’re stupid!” She huffed. “I just want to know what the hell is going on!”

That was fair. He explained everything that had happened over the last two weeks. From Sans’s sudden entry to the horrid affair at the bar where he had been forced to witness his brother doing... that with the patrons.

“What the hell? Papyrus, this all happened and you didn’t tell me?”

Papyrus noisily blew into the tissue before continuing. “I DID NOT THINK YOU WOULD BELIEVE ME.” He hadn’t really believed it himself.

“More like I don’t believe him.”

Papyrus blinked. “WHAT?”

“Papyrus, he’s clearly an enemy! Do you think the lab wouldn’t do something like this? Or Muffet? Any one of them would totally send a fake to ruin your life! Or your brother’s reputation... or what’s left of it anyway.”

Papyrus balled his fists. “IT WASN’T THEM.”

“How do you know?”

“I HAVE ASKED AROUND.”

Undyne dragged a hand down her face, sighing. “We’ve talked about this. Just because people say one thing doesn’t mean it’s true.”

“I KNOW THAT, BUT... EVEN IF I HAD NOT ASKED, I KNOW HE IS NOT WORKING WITH THEM.”

He may have accused Sans of being a doppelganger more than a handful of times over the last few days, but he had never truly believed it. This Sans didn’t seem to have any hidden motives. Or if he did, they were well-hidden.

And if he was a doppelganger, then Papyrus was convinced that he had accidentally taken on his brother’s appearance because he was not a very good mimic. If that were the case, that would be quite unfortunate for everyone involved. The worst sort of misunderstanding. Though maybe Papyrus could convince him to turn into someone else. Like a human. Then they could see the Surface! Wait, no... That wouldn’t work...

Undyne interrupted his thoughts. “You need to find out who he is if he isn’t your brother. You’ve got some stranger living in your house, getting who the hell knows what out of it –”

“HE IS HARMLESS.” He rubbed his arm. “AS YOU CAN TELL FROM EARLIER.”

“Still, get his story straight. Or he’ll have me to answer to. Again.”

Papyrus exhaled. “SPEAKING OF ANSWERING TO YOU, THAT IS WHY I AM HERE.” He squinted at her. “IF YOU CALLED ME IN FOR A SPARRING MATCH, I THINK WE HAVE HAD ENOUGH OF THAT FOR ONE DAY!”

“No, that’s not it. I wanted to talk in person because I didn’t want anyone to overhear our conversation.”

“WELL?”

“Muffet contacted the Guard yesterday.”

“ABOUT ME?” he asked, his voice going up an octave.

“God, no! If I ever got an order like that it’d get lost in our files or something. Or I’d raise hell and overthrow the establishment!” She laughed, but Papyrus knew she would if it came down to it. Well, maybe if King Asgore died or retired she would. Some bonds weren’t so easily broken.

“THEN WHAT?”

“She asked for some Royal Guard intervention in some eviction case out in Deep Waterfall. Apparently she wants us to stop a squatter from getting thrown out.”

“WHY?”

“I don’t know, that’s the weird part. She’s got no relation to any of the monsters. As far as I can tell no one involved is any of the usual junkies or drug mules or anything else. I checked into it and she doesn’t even have a connection to the property or the owners. As far as I know, she doesn’t even run shipments into that area. It’s a pain in the butt to get to.”

“MAYBE SHE WANTS TO SET UP SHOP THERE?”

“That’s a possibility. I don’t know, though. These guys she’s trying to help aren’t the sort that usually get involved in that sort of business. They work at the university. Apparently they’re there to test some electromagnetic field or something. I don’t know why Muffet would care.”

“IT IS STRANGE,” he agreed. “AM I TO STOP THE EVICTION?”

“Pfft, hell no! The court says Muffet’s got no basis for interference, and it’s pretty obvious to the Guard she doesn’t either. No, I want you to go make sure nothing happens to those squatters and keep an eye out for anything strange while you’re there.” She hesitated. “Well, I wanted you to go and do that. But after all this mess...”

Papyrus shook his head. “OF COURSE I WILL STILL DO IT.”

“I can get someone else, you don’t have to –”

“I WANT TO DO IT! IT IS MY DUTY!”

And anything to hinder Muffet was fine with him.

Then he remembered Sans. Papyrus glanced toward the bedroom door. He was still hurt, and Papyrus couldn’t very well leave him on his own. It wasn’t safe for him.

“Don’t worry about him.” Papyrus returned his gaze to Undyne who was frowning at him. “I’ll watch over him while you’re out there.”

He squinted his sockets. “YOU WON’T HURT HIM?”

She folded her arms. “Of course not.”

“UNDYNE,” he said dubiously.

“That’s ‘Captain’ to you!”

At that, he sat up straighter. It was their inside joke... of sorts. She always intended it as a joke, but every time she said it there was a hint of seriousness to the words that drew them back to their duties. This time Papyrus understood what she was telling him. He needed to trust her to watch over his brother.

“RIGHT, CAPTAIN!” he said, climbing to his feet. “I TRUST YOU WILL TELL HIM WHERE I AM IF HE WAKES UP?”

“Yeah, of course.”

“AND... WOULD YOU TRY TO HEAL HIM?” His face warmed. “I KNOW IT IS RUDE TO ASK, BUT MY HEALING MAGIC DOES NOT SEEM TO BE WORKING.”

In truth, he didn’t really expect his healing magic to ever work again.

Undyne hesitated but nodded. “I’ll try.”

His soul loosened the tiniest bit. “THANK YOU.”

“Yeah, don’t mention it.”

He got to his feet and headed for the door.

“And Papyrus?” He turned towards her and saw that her posture had relaxed some. “Be careful out there. Word on the street is that Muffet is really pissed at you.”

Papyrus gulped. “OF COURSE. THE GREAT PAPYRUS IS ALWAYS CAREFUL!”

Though as he stepped out of the house, he made a note that he would have to be especially careful while he was out today.

Chapter Text

Sans sipped on the last dregs of his drink, his eyes half-lidded and a lazy smile sprawled on his face as he watched Grillby wipe down the tables. The bar was unnaturally quiet. Everyone had gone home for the evening, and Sans was in too much of a drunken haze to climb to his feet.

The room was much dimmer than usual, so Sans’s gaze didn’t wander far from Grillby’s dancing flames as he cleaned up after the long-gone patrons. Not that he wasn’t enjoying the show. Grillby had a slight swagger to his step, and the way those pants hugged his hips... Sans hummed under his breath. Grillbz was always nice eye candy, though watching him made Sans miss what they used to have together.

(At the thought of their last escapade, his body grew warm.)

“...Don’t you need to be getting home?” Grillby said, not bothering to look up from the table he was scrubbing.

Sans’s soul stirred. He really did need to get back. Papyrus was at home, probably pacing back and forth across the living room, watching the clock with ever-growing worry. He would be waiting for his bedtime story, getting increasingly cranky with every minute.

(The image filled Sans’s soul with a sense of dread and he couldn’t articulate why. Didn’t he usually enjoy his time with his brother?)

But it wasn’t that he didn’t want to spend time with Papyrus. It was because... Well. It didn’t matter why. He wasn’t in any rush to get home tonight.

(Not until he could get rid of the growing heat below.)

“what? trying to throw me out already? i expected more from my old flame.” He winked, though he knew Grillby wouldn’t be impressed. He braced himself for another argument about moving on with their lives, and responsibility, and blah, blah, blah.

To his surprise, however, Grillby dropped his rag onto the table and faced Sans with a smile curled on his face.

“...If I had known that’s why you stayed late tonight, I could’ve told you hours ago that you were boned.”

For a moment Sans was too stunned to do anything more than gape. Then he began wheezing with uncontrollable laughter, his sockets clouded with tears. It was rare that Grillbz played along with his puns, but wow, when he did, Sans couldn’t be happier.

(Or more turned on.)

He must’ve been laughing for a lot longer than he had thought because when he cleared his vision of tears, Grillby was inches from his face. His laughter died in his throat.

“...Have you missed me?” There was a husky timbre to his voice that prickled at Sans’s heat.

“yeah,” he admitted. “why? have you missed me?”

In reply, Grillby pressed his mouth against Sans’s. All too eager to reciprocate (and to chase that intense heat growing in his bones), Sans immediately opened his mouth, welcoming him to explore inside. Grillby enthusiastically accepted the invitation and slipped his tongue between Sans’s teeth, and with a rush of magic, they were soon entangled with one another. Face suffused with warmth, he closed his sockets, moaning as he savored the moment.

When they unraveled from one another, Sans was shocked to find that he was no longer sitting at his regular spot at the counter but instead lying on one of the tables with a very topless Grillby straddling him. How had he moved without feeling it? Was he really that drunk?

When Grillby tore off Sans’s clothes and began peppering his neck with tiny, warm kisses, he shrugged it off and threw himself back into the moment. As soon as his shorts had been extracted, Sans ground his pelvis against Grillby. His magic was already tingling with anticipation, and all he wanted was to get started. Before he could get any real momentum, Grillby gripped his hips, stilling his movements.

Sans opened his mouth to protest, but Grillby staved him off by dragging his hands to Sans’s spine, allowing the flames to lick the crevices of his vertebrae and penetrate the most sensitive parts of his bones. He fell forward against Grillby’s chest, no longer able to sit up on his own.

“grillby…” he groaned, his eyes clenched shut. He leaned into the touch, his bones burning from head to toe as Grillby skimmed his spine and trailed down to his tailbone.

“…Shh, let it happen.”

Something about that sounded… wrong.

He peeked open his eyes and saw that Grillby was no longer against him, but crouched on the floor, his face level with Sans’s pelvic bone. His soul flared with panic as he caught sight of something violet deep within Grillby’s body. He suddenly a violent urge to teleport as far away from him as he could. Before he hurt him. Before something unforgivable happened. Before... Before...

He blinked. All he could see was the familiar red and orange. Sure, there were hints of blue along Grillby’s fingertips and cheeks, but no sign of anything purple. He shook his head, his fear disappearing in an instant.

Grillby was already roughly massaging Sans’s pubic arch, and he fell back against the table, his phalanges scratching the wood.

“…You look so beautiful like this,” Grillby said, continuing his strokes.

It wasn’t long before his magic gave way and Grillby’s three middle fingers were diving between the lips of his summoned flesh, strands of wetness clinging to them as he pumped steadily. Still, it was strange. The pleasure that emanated from his groin was distant – almost as if it were happening to someone else. Convinced that Grillby wasn’t doing his job properly, Sans grabbed onto his wrist and rammed the intruding appendages more deeply. Grillby chuckled and, with a burst of blue light, unfurled another finger, his flames extending to the deepest recesses of Sans’s sex.

(A wild, untamable heat filled his cavity, heightened by the drugs he had taken. God, when he got like this, there was nothing quite like Grillbz fucking him raw.)

“please, i – ah!” he screamed as he tore into the table with his fingers, etching long scars in the wood. “i need more!”

The final finger penetrated him, stretching him almost painfully, and he angled his hips so that Grillby could fill every inch of him. Tears pricked at his eyes as the thrusts grew faster and harder all at once. Even though it felt so damn good, and Grillby was fucking him harder than he could handle, somehow the heat that clawed at him was insatiable. He clawed at Grillby’s shoulders, leaving deep caverns of bright orange where they scratched. He was so close to release, and it felt so good, and his hips wouldn’t stop, and if Grillby pulled out he’d probably cry, and oh god, oh god, oh god –

A wide smile spread across Grillby’s features as he stared into Sans’s eyes.

“…You’re so tight, Sans,” he whispered.

At those words, Sans’s soul froze. “what?”

“…You heard me,” Grillby said, his tempo unchanging. “…Look at the way your cunt is sucking me in.”

Sans looked down, and, sure enough, every time Grillby tried to withdraw his fingers, his magic pulled him back and sucked him deep inside. With every outward movement, Grillby had to force his hand out, prompting a perverse squelching noise.

Usually something like that would turn Sans on, but Grillby’s words had struck him at his core. Physically, he was having the time of his life. But his thoughts swirled with hesitation, and as he dwelled on what Grillby had said, realization hit him.

(What the fuck was he doing?)

(His brother was waiting for him, and if he knew what he was doing right now...)

He had just been raped! By the very monster who was wrist-deep in him right now.

Without warning, a dazzling purple color blossomed from within Grillby’s chest and spread outward until, like a raging wildfire, it had consumed his body. The color cast a malevolent light over their surroundings, reminding Sans of the last time he had visited the restaurant.

“no!” Sans tried to shove himself away, but Grillby heaved him closer, his hand going in even further, his forearm breaching Sans’s opening.

“…Don’t be scared. We’re having fun.”

(He wasn’t scared, dammit. It was because he was having fun that he was pushing away. Papyrus would be pissed – so fucking pissed – when he found out what he was doing.)

Sans was tugging at Grillby’s arm, frantic to extract it. “please, grillby! i gotta get home! please! paps is – ah! – paps is –”

“…Papyrus is what?”

“he’s waiting!” he shouted as Grillby’s arm began to pump again.

“…No he isn’t. He’s enjoying the show.”

Sans blinked, his hand fumbling against Grillby’s chest, his mind too muddled to understand.

Then he spotted him. Standing at the entrance, his hands pressed to his mouth and his eyes wide with astonishment, was Papyrus.

What? No! How long had he been there? His brother couldn’t watch this, it wasn’t right!

Sans released an unbidden moan as Grillby snickered and somehow went deeper, elongating the flesh to his rib cage.

(He blushed and he wasn’t sure if it was from arousal or shame.)

No matter what he did, he couldn’t pull away. Grillby was too far inside him and was moving too quickly. All he could do was watch in horror as Papyrus stared at where they were connected, his expression transforming from one of shock to curiosity.

“please, grillby,” Sans begged, “stop… you can’t do this while he’s here…”

“…I can’t?” Grillby teased.

“please… i don’t want it…”

“...Are you sure about that? You got so much tighter when you realized he was here.”

“pull out, please!”

Grillby snorted. “…Alright, then.”

A wave of relief crashed over Sans as Grillby slowly removed his fist. As desperate as he was for orgasm, he could never do this in front of his brother. He panted as the pressure lessened and his organ shrunk to a normal size.

But as Grillby was about to withdraw the last few inches, he paused, his fingers twitching. Sans shot him a questioning look, but when Grillby didn’t respond, he directed his gaze to his pelvis. As he was about to reach down to drag the intruding hand away, a torrent of energy exploded from Grillby’s fingertips, sending a scalding mote into Sans. The bright purple erupted and swirled, shining radiantly through the blue magic.

Sans shrieked as his canal burned with a pleasure so intense that his vision sputtered. Whatever Grillby had summoned was expanding, penetrating every corner of him, forcing his flesh to swell to accommodate the intrusion. The air was laden with his strangled moans, and he was writhing so much, he could hardly maintain a hold on Grillby’s arm. He was still trying to pull him away, to tell him to dismiss the conjuration, to do anything, but it was too hard to concentrate with the flame piercing him, growing hotter and hotter.

Besides, Grillby’s hand was no longer inside him, but was instead smashed against Sans’s hole, acting as a plug to keep that blaze within.

“…Beautiful,” he heard Grillby say. “…It’s getting so big. I bet it’s so tight in there right now.”

And it was. It just kept getting bigger and bigger, and Sans watched in horror as his organ lengthened so much that it was nudging his lower ribs, appearing like a belly filled to the brim with squiggling lava. Sans flung himself backwards, his body a thrashing mess against the table, and though he wasn’t exactly sure what he was screeching, hysterical pleas left his mouth until his throat was raw. He scratched at his flesh, drawing out beads of blue liquid but not the foreign magic that he needed out, out, out!

“…You won’t get anywhere by doing that,” Grillby muttered as he rubbed the bloated magic. “…If you want it out, you know what you have to do.”

Sans knew, but he didn’t want to. He didn’t want to give Grillby the satisfaction. This was wrong. Horrifying. Absolutely disgusting.

(It felt so damn good, he could hardly stand it.)

“…You can do it,” Grillby urged. “…Cum for me. It’ll feel good.”

There was no stopping it. The flame kept growing bigger – it was already spilling into his ribs – and the longer it went on, the more enthusiastically it squirmed, the closer it drove Sans to the edge. Holding back his orgasm was like trying to stop water from falling through his bony hands. And if it was inevitable anyway…

Sans gave in.

Within seconds, his vision went dark and his hips jutted into the air with great force as his walls clamped down. Time seemed to dilate as his orgasm rippled through him, the scorching magic inside his canal elongating it past the point of comfort. When it finally abated, his body plopped onto the table, and he was too tired and hurt to even open his eyes.

Besides, he didn’t want to look down. Even though his sexual organs were by no means a permanent addition, he didn’t want to see how badly the flame had transformed it. He didn’t want that image burned in his vision.

“WOWIE!”

Sans’s eyes snapped open. Papyrus had taken Grillby’s place on the floor, his face inches from Sans’s opening. Though his magic was not swollen like before, it was stretched, worn, and packed with what looked like molten lava.

“THAT LOOKED LIKE FUN!”

Sans was still out of breath, and he didn’t get a chance to speak before Grillby, who now stood behind him, clamped a hand over his mouth.

“…It is fun.” Grillby pointed towards the muddy mixture of blue fluid and lava that dribbled from Sans. “…You always know when someone has had a good time if they’re leaking like this.”

“REALLY?” Papyrus said, tilting his head. “BUT WHAT IS HE LEAKING?”

“…It’s magic.”

Papyrus extended a single finger towards the opening, and though Sans tried to shake his head, Grillby was gripping him too tightly. He shivered as his brother grazed his folds, causing more of the liquid to slop out.

“MAGIC? WAS THAT A TRAINING EXERCISE? IS IT LIKE WHEN I SWEAT WHEN I SPAR WITH UNDYNE?”

As Papyrus continued to play with Sans’s overstimulated magic, Grillby stroked Sans’s head almost soothingly.

“…Somewhat. This training is special. You only do it with monsters you love.”

“SANS LOVES YOU?”

“...Yes. And he loves you too, Papyrus.”

Terror flooded Sans’s soul. Grillby couldn’t know.

“I KNOW HE DOES! AND I DO TOO! DO YOU THINK I CAN TRY THIS WITH HIM?”

“...I think that is an excellent idea. Why don’t you give this a lick?” he said, pointing between Sans’s legs.

Excitement flashed across Papyrus’s face. “REALLY?”

Grillby nodded. “…Yes, if you love him, it’ll taste very good. I promise.”

Papyrus scooched forward, his already-summoned tongue unfurling from his mouth, ready to scoop up the magic even as Sans tried to find the strength to throw Grillby off. It was no use. Grillby was too strong, Sans too weak, and Papyrus too innocent.

(His magic tingled once again.)

As Papyrus’s tongue was about to make contact, Sans jolted and suddenly the other two were no longer in his sight. He kicked his legs, desperate to get away from his brother before he did something he couldn’t even comprehend was wrong. But Sans was trapped. A tight bundle of blankets engulfed him, making it impossible to move. He twisted and turned, gasping as he searched for a way to escape before Grillby pushed him down against the table and compelled his brother to fuck him.

It was a couple of minutes before he realized that Grillby and Papyrus were not there, and that, in fact, he wasn’t in the bar at all. He was lying in the middle of an oversized bed, surrounded by blankets and pillows. Sucking in shallow breaths, he craned his neck every which way as he took in his unfamiliar surroundings.

It was in total contrast to where he had just been; the air was cool, though heavy with a humidity so dense it felt like it was coating the inside of his bones with dew with every breath. Everything was much darker than the bar, and it took him a couple seconds to adjust to the dim lighting. What he saw didn’t reveal much; most of the space was bare. He noticed a potted fern here, a bookcase there, and rumpled clothes thrown haphazardly in a corner, but not a whole lot else.

But what caught his eyes was the wall to his right. Comprised entirely of glass, it allowed him to peek into a spacious cavern on the other side. The cave hosted a large, faintly glowing pond that was dotted with lily pads, water sausages, and a host of insects that skimmed the surface, leaving behind little ripples in their wake. Slender stalactites glistened overhead, trickling drops of moisture into the scene below. Not too far away from the building, a waterfall poured fresh water into the edge of the pool, and it was loud enough that he could hear it even through the glass.

The sound echoed in his skull, and it drained some of the tension from his bones. Realization slowly nestled in his soul.

God, he had been dreaming.

He huddled in on himself, ignoring the throbbing in his chest that the movement caused. Wetness had gathered at his groin, and from the achiness in his leg bones, he knew that when he had come in his dream, he had done so in reality as well. Stars, he had gotten pleasure from that. Why the hell would he be dreaming about Grillby and Papyrus doing something like that so soon after having been raped? What the fuck was wrong with him?

Wanting nothing more than to scream out his frustrations, he rolled over so his face was buried in his pillow. Yet when he opened his mouth to shout, he instead released a broken sob and then another, and another, until the fabric was wet with his tears.

When he felt like he had cried enough, he began to lift his head, but was suddenly struck by the thought of seeing Grillby’s flames at the foot of the bed. What if he hadn’t been dreaming? Maybe Grillby was waiting, alongside the rest of the patrons at the bar. It wasn’t true, he knew it couldn’t be true, and yet he couldn’t stop shaking at the idea. His chest began to heave as panic overtook him, and he couldn’t stop, wouldn’t stop, even though he needed to stop because Grillby was probably there watching him. Oh god, he was so hot, and he had to cool down because if it wasn’t hot that meant Grillby wasn’t nearby. So he ripped off the blankets that imprisoned him, but he couldn’t slow his breathing, and it was still so hot, and... and... and....

When he finally came to, he didn’t know how long he had been hyperventilating, but his bones were drenched in sweat and weighed with exhaustion. He sat immobile and listened to the waterfall splashing into the pool, determined to focus on it instead of the horrid memories of the dream, the bar, the death of his brother, everything. He just wanted to drown it out. Please…

An abrupt crashing noise jerked him from his stupor. He tore his head away from the comfort of his pillow and whipped around. Light spilled from the nearby door, and standing right in the center of the doorframe, casting one long, eerie shadow over him, was Undyne. Shadows played across her face, which served only to deepen the glare she was throwing his direction.

Her sudden entrance sent Sans scrambling to get into a defensive position before she attacked. But as he tried to push himself up, his limbs trembled from the exertion, and before he knew it, he was sprawled across the bed once more, gasping and clawing at his chest.

“Stop!” Undyne yelled as she rushed forward. Once again, Sans tried to get away, only to find himself gasping and straining against the covers as the slicing pain across his ribs intensified.

“Ugh! I said stop!” She held him down to the bed so he couldn’t move. A new wave of panic, born from an entirely different fear, sparked within him. He shoved against her arm, trying to break contact so he could teleport as far away as he could before... before...

She leaned her weight into him, and as her fingers pressed against his wound, his vision blacked out. Suddenly devoid of energy, he flopped onto the bed.

“Dammit!” she exclaimed as she lessened the pressure. “Would you stop moving? I’m not trying to hurt you, asshole!”

He didn’t know what she was complaining about; whatever she had done to him, he couldn’t move an inch now even though he needed to. All she had to do was summon a spear and he’d be dust. Or... oh god, was she taking off his shirt? No, please... Not again... He could already feel the whisper of her touch against him, her fingers easing down his spine like Grillby had done in his dream.

There was nothing he could do, so he tried to tune everything out. Better to not feel anything than to feel too much. And this? This would be too much for any monster to handle.

Yet as he started to space out, something warm and heavy drifted into his chest cavity, and with a surge of energy, the pain from his injury became muffled. He hadn’t even realized how much it had been hurting until now.

With trepidation, he resummoned his eyelights and was stunned to find wisps of ethereal green flowing from Undyne’s hand and into his ribs. Her magic was strained and loose; so much of it was escaping his ribcage and dancing in the air, flickering like the soft flame of a candle. But the small amount that was entering his body was like a breath of fresh air.

“you’re healing me?” he slurred. Never would he have expected this level of intimacy from someone like her. He’d be embarrassed if it didn’t feel so refreshing.

“Shut up, jackass, I’m trying to concentrate.”

“where’s paps?” He looked towards the door, half-expecting to see his brother – no, not his brother, the other Papyrus – standing there.

“Working! Now shut it!”

He relented to the gentle pressure of the magic and sunk into the bed, his soul slowing to an even pace. As his bones grew heavier, a soft sigh escaped his teeth.

After a minute or so, Undyne yelled, “Ugh! Why isn’t it working?!”

Through barely-open eyes he saw the magic grow taller. More of it seeped into his chest, and the sincerity of Undyne’s intent to heal him cradled his soul, making everything feel fuzzy and pleasant.

“dunno what you mean,” he murmured. “feels fine to me.”

“No, it isn’t! You’re absorbing it, but nothing’s healing!” She increased the channel so that the magic spiked to the ceiling, but after only a few seconds she bellowed, “NGAH! THIS IS POINTLESS!”

She withdrew her hand and the green swirls sputtered away, throwing the room into darkness once more. Though he was half-tempted to close his sockets all the way and go back to sleep, the pain was already creeping into his chest, cutting through the haze. He blinked and returned his attention to Undyne. She was scrutinizing his torso with a frown, and when he followed her gaze, he saw that his wound was as ugly as ever.

“oh, you’re right,” he mumbled. “it didn’t heal. weird.”

Her brow furrowed. “Not really.”

“what do you mean?”

“Tch.” She got up from the bed and crossed her arms. “My healing isn’t going to work with you.”

He cast her an inquisitive look.

“Really? You don’t know?”

He gingerly lowered his shirt so his injury was no longer exposed. “look, i don’t know what is going on, but –”

“Healing –” she said through gritted teeth, “ – doesn’t work if you don’t have a strong enough connection to a monster. A basic level of trust. And believe me, I don’t trust you.”

Sans tensed up and flinched when the minute movement shot pain through his bones. For some reason, that hadn’t been what he had been expecting from her, though... he didn’t know why. He remembered learning about what she had said in school when his own healing magic hadn’t seemed to work for ages. But... he had never seen any other monster have problems with it before.

Why was he surprised? This Undyne knew nothing about him and had even attacked him earlier. They had no connection.

“i’m not the untrustworthy one here,” he said as he pushed himself into a sitting position, ignoring the aches in his body. “i don’t know what your problem is, but you almost got me killed with that stunt you pulled earlier.”

“If I had known that you were hurt –”

“what? you would’ve gone easy on me?”

Her eye narrowed. “You think you would have deserved it?”

“look, i don’t know what the sans you know has done to you, but –”

“Don’t give me that crap!” She jabbed her finger at him. “Where the fuck have you been?”

“i –”

“Or, no, better yet, how about you tell me who the fuck you really are?”

“i’m from –”

“And no more lies! You might be able to fool Papyrus, but not me!”

“it’s –”

“Let’s hear the truth!”

He huffed in exasperation, and only when he was sure she was done did he reply. “i’m sans. just not the sans you know.”

He explained, in the simplest terms he could, how he had traveled to this universe. He left out the details of his brother’s death and all that had led up to throwing himself into the Core and pretended it had been an experiment gone wrong.

“And why didn’t you tell all this time travel bullshit to Papyrus, huh?”

“i just... didn’t get around to it.” Guilt squirmed in his soul. He should have told him yesterday, he knew that, but it had all been too much at the time.

“Pssh. You really expect me to believe that? How about you tell me who sent you to fuck up Papyrus’s life? I’ll give you double whatever your boss is paying.”

“god. no one sent me! is it really that hard to believe?”

“Time travel? Uh, yeah, asshole. Either you’re a doppelganger like Papyrus thought or –”

“how in the world would there be a doppelganger –“

“OR –” she continued, “– you really are Sans, in which case I’m going to kick your ass all over again for hurting Papyrus like you have.”

“i would never hurt papyrus. he’s –” He stopped himself. “i’m... not gonna hurt him, okay?”

“You already have! Have you seen the way he’s acting? God, if you really don’t have any plans to hurt him, then leave. Your being around him is going to kill him!”

Sans was silent. She was probably right – if his dead brother showed up out of the blue, he’d probably lose it. But there was nothing he could do about it until he traveled back home. And he wasn’t sure it was all that safe to do that in his condition...

“Look, whoever you’re working for –tell them that I found out about the scheme and scared you off. That should satisfy them.” Her glare deepened. “Or I could actually scare you off, if that’s what you really want.”

“would you stop? i’ve already given you my explanation. as soon as i heal up, i’ll go back home. which... er, thank you for trying, i guess.” He glanced at his chest again.

“Don’t thank me. It was Papyrus’s idea, so you can thank him. Or here’s a better idea: don’t.”

Sans sighed. “i don’t want to stick around this hellhole any more than you want me here, believe me.” He thought back to his nightmare and shivered. “if i could get this cut fixed...”

“If it’s such a big concern, then heal the natural way. Away from Papyrus. Go stay at an inn or something. There’s nothing stopping you.”

“uh, money? i’ve got none, and in case you haven’t noticed, paps doesn’t have any either. you were the one offering to pay double or whatever the hell, so if you wanna hand over some gold for a night at the inn –”

Undyne snorted. “Typical.”

“what?”

“Your behavior. Typical! Now I know it’s you. Asking for money, not giving a crap about your brother.”

“you were the one that offered money!”

“Well I don’t have any,” she said, her arms outstretched. “I bet you were excited when I offered.” She shook her head. “What, were you planning to go out and get drugged up again? Have a night out at Grillby’s and leave your brother to pick up the pieces?”

Sans’s soul sunk. “he... told you about that?” Why would he tell anyone about that? That wasn’t Undyne’s business.... It was no one’s business...

“Of course he told me. Papyrus and I are friends. He tells me everything. And even if he hadn’t, the whole Underground knows about the crap you did.” She clenched her fists. “I wouldn’t even care what the hell you did with your personal time if you didn’t hurt Papyrus every time you fucked up. I don’t know if you’re more of a masochist, a sadist, or just plain stupid for the crap you’ve done, but it’s messed up how little you care.”

The reality of what she had said hit him all at once. He lowered his head onto his knees, hiding his face from Undyne.

“dammit.”

What had Papyrus said to her?

“dammit.”

How badly had he hurt him? Had he cried to her? Or... was he pissed about how he had ended up in that situation at the bar in the first place?

“dammit, dammit, dammit.”

Papyrus never should’ve seen something like that. It was disgusting. He was disgusting.

“dammit, dammit, dammit, dammit, dammit.”

(All he wanted to do was die.)

Something flickered in his vision and for a moment it felt like his soul was being stretched in two.

“What the hell.”

He edged his sockets out from behind his knees, hating the fact that it was so obvious that he was crying.

“what?” he spat.

“Were you just –” She shook her head. “Never mind.”

“was i just what? crying? freaking out? breaking down after i’ve just gone through the worst couple weeks of my life?”

“No, that wasn’t what I meant.”

“then what, undyne? i know you have papyrus’s best interests in mind, i really do. but you don’t know a god damned thing about me, and what you’re doing is hitting the below the belt.”

“And how do you figure that?”

“you’re acting like i deserved what happened. like i enjoyed it.”

“You didn’t?”

His mouth went dry. “no,” he lied. “how can you even say that? do monsters not even care about rape here? is that just how it is here?”

Undyne blanched. “What?”

“what kind of fucking thing to say –”

“You were raped?”

“i – what? didn’t you say –?”

“Who raped you?!”

“but you said...”

Something was wrong. There had been some miscommunication between them because it didn’t make sense that Undyne didn’t know that. But his thoughts were such a mess that he couldn’t focus on how he had made that error.

“it doesn’t even matter,” he said more to himself than to Undyne.

“Like hell it doesn’t matter! Tell me what happened! I’ll kick their fucking ass! I’ll set the entire Guard on them!”

no.” He couldn’t even remember most of the monsters from the bar. One forgotten name and they’d come after him. All of them. He shuddered. “just drop it, okay?”

“If there is a rapist roaming around in the Underground, that’s... How long has this been going on? Who’s been doing that to you? Is that why you’ve been missing?”

“i already told you i’ve only been in this universe for a few weeks, dammit! so stop pretending like i’m someone i’m not!” He turned towards the glass wall and watched the water cascade into the pond. “it happened recently, so stop asking about it! i don’t wanna talk about it!”

To his surprise, she didn’t press it, but stood there silently, watching him carefully. Nervous energy poured off her and filled the room. He ignored her and continued to stare at the waterfall, following the ripples in the pool until they disappeared amongst the reeds and lily pads. It was so much easier to focus on the motion of the water than his thoughts of the other night. Or about how he felt about his brother. Or how this universe’s Papyrus probably hated him for having to save him from Grillby’s the other night.

Or the way his pants were still wet from the nightmare this morning.

So he kept watching, pretending that Undyne and the rest of the world didn’t exist. It was only him and the pond. He breathed in and out, tuning himself to the ebb and flow of the water.

After a while, he distantly heard Undyne call out his name, saying something that his mind didn’t register. Still, his subconscious must have been listening because when he heard her say something about calling Papyrus, he snapped out of it.

“what?” he asked, dazed.

Undyne was staring at him, wide-eyed and looking ready to flee. He had never seen her like that before.

“Finally. God, you scared me. Are you okay?”

“what do you care?” he asked, his voice hollow.

She sat on the edge of the bed. “Look, I don’t know what you’re going through. I really, really don’t. And... I pretty much hate your guts!” Doubt flashed across her face. “Well, maybe I don’t if you’re not Papyrus’s brother. Which, uh, I still don’t believe! But you say you aren’t, right?”

“that’s right.”

She rubbed the back of her head. “Well, even if I’m right! I would never think you deserved anything like that.” She looked at her hands which were folded in her lap. “No one does.”

He stayed silent.

“And, uh, if you want to talk about it, we can.”

His face warmed. “thanks.” He’d never talk about something so personal with her, especially since she’d take action if she pieced together who had done it.

As if reading his mind, she said, “Let me tell you, I think Asgore would get personally involved if he heard about something like this. So don’t think for a second you wouldn’t be protected if you decided to tell me anything, okay?”

“yeah,” he said, not believing her for a second.

“Anyway. How about I make you some tea and we can uh... talk?” Perhaps sensing that she wasn’t going to get anywhere with that offer, she hurriedly continued, “Or you know, not do that! Let’s hang out! I can play the piano, we can spar! Or. Maybe not that.” She slammed her fist down on the bed. “We’ll do stuff! Great activities! Together!”

“you don’t gotta do that.”

“Yeah I do! Papyrus said I had to make sure you were okay while he was working, and that’s what I am going to do, dammit!”

“you can make sure i’m okay while i’m asleep.” He lay back on the bed. “how’s that sound?”

She looked uncomfortable, like she wasn’t sure what to do. “Can you really just sleep?”

His soul hammered at the thought of another nightmare. “sure. sleeping’s easy. i can even do it with my eyes closed.”

“Ha.” She sighed. “Listen, the tea will help you relax. Screw the rest of what I said, just have a cup with me. We don’t need to talk.”

He stayed silent, and after a minute, she climbed to her feet, looking defeated.

“Well, think it over,” she said as she reached the door.

“wait.” He slowly crawled out of bed. “if you’re gonna make me a cup of tea, you’ll need me there. you don’t even know how many sugars i take.”

She flashed him a triumphant grin as he joined her at the door.

Chapter Text

*************************************************

“SAAAAANS!”

Papyrus’s whine echoed off the cavern walls over the gentle hush of the nearby stream.

“papyrus, would you quiet down?”

“YOU ARE GOING TOO FAST! I CAN’T SEE!”

Sighing in exasperation, his brother stopped and swung around, lantern in hand. The flames flickered precariously as the wind whipped through the glass container, and Papyrus tensed, ready for the light to sputter out. Thankfully, his worries were for naught; as soon as Sans stilled, the flames calmed and glowed as brightly as ever.

“BE CAREFUL! THAT IS THE ONLY LIGHT WE HAVE!”

It wasn’t strictly true. They could navigate back home by traveling along the stream’s edge, using the luminescent blue as their guide. But the light was not that strong, and every time Papyrus fell too far behind, he’d get stuck in the mud and had to fight against the strong suction to get his feet out. He could not imagine how horrible the journey would be without even the flame to aid them.

Sans impatiently beckoned Papyrus closer. Groaning, Papyrus crept forward, trying his best not to slip on the moisture-coated rocks beneath his feet. The embankment was narrow here, and – never mind the mud – if he wasn’t careful he’d end up in the water. Whatever came of the rest of this ill-begotten journey, if he got wet he’d be furious. His schoolwork would be completely drenched and as it was, it was already unlikely that he’d have enough time to finish it before tomorrow. His teachers would be none too pleased with him if he turned in sopping wads of paper, and with his grades…

If he had known this is what Sans had meant when he had invited him, he would’ve insisted that he at least drop the backpack off at his locker first! That, or he would’ve gone straight home.

Upon reaching Sans, he grasped onto his shoulder so he wouldn’t get too far ahead again. As soon as his hand made contact, his brother continued forward, stretching his arm out so the lantern lit the ground before them. Everywhere that Papyrus looked, tall weeds, slick moss, and slippery rocks covered the thin strip of land, and there were no signs of even a single echo flower along the way. If there had ever been a path, it had long since faded.

Papyrus cleared his throat and said, “SANS, MAYBE WE SHOULD GO HOME.”

Sans pressed on, not saying a word.

“WE CAN GO TO OTHER TOWNS AND TRY TO FIND WHAT YOU NEED,” he said, his voice speeding up as his nerves got the best of him. “I HAVE HEARD THAT SNOWDIN HAS A WONDERFUL SELECTION TO CHOOSE FR–”

“snowdin doesn’t have what i need, paps.”

Papyrus squeezed his brother’s shoulder. “YOU WENT TO SNOWDIN?”

“yeah, the other day,” he said, shrugging. “it wasn’t a big deal.”

“WHY DIDN’T YOU ASK ME IF I WANTED TO GO?”

“you were busy with the pre-rg club. i didn’t think you wanted to come for that.”

Papyrus stayed quiet, knowing that Sans was right –training for the Royal Guard was the most important thing, much more so than this. Still, he wish that his brother had waited until he was free. Usually he enjoyed these impromptu trips to other parts of the Underground. It was an excellent opportunity to scout the other regions, and if he ever hoped to become an accomplished Royal Guard he was going to have to get a lay of the land.

Today, however, was a different matter entirely.

“THIS IS VERY DANGEROUS, YOU KNOW!”

“what is?” Sans said. There was a hint of something to his tone that might have indicated sarcasm, though Papyrus always found it difficult to tell, as his brother full well knew.

“THIS TRIP!” he huffed. “I WOULD NOT HAVE MINDED GOING TO SNOWDIN, YOU KNOW THAT! BUT WE ARE OUT IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE, SURROUNDED ONLY BY PLANTS AND DIRT AND WATER –”

“what, is the water gonna jump up and bite you?”

“WE COULD GET LOST AND NEVER FIND OUR WAY HOME!”

Sans stopped suddenly, and Papyrus lurched as his feet skidded along the wet stone.

“i can’t believe this.”

“WHAT?”

“i never thought i’d see the day where my bro was afraid,” he sighed, shaking his head.

“WHAT?! I AM NOT AFRAID! TAKE THAT BACK!”

“can’t. sounds like you’re being a scaredy cat, bro.”

“THAT IS NOT FAIR! I AM NOT A CAT! AND I AM NOT AFRAID! YOU KNOW THE GREAT AND TERRIBLE PAPYRUS WOULD NEVER BE SCARED!”

Sans snorted but started walking again, prompting Papyrus to follow.

“DO NOT LAUGH AT ME!”

“i’m not,” he said with clear humor in voice.

“WHY DON’T YOU BELIEVE ME? I AM NOT SCARED! I AM JUST... VERY CONCERNED ABOUT THE LEGALITIES OF WHAT WE ARE DOING! WE WILL GO TO JAIL, SANS!”

Sans stopped laughing. “shhh, quiet. do you wanna get caught?”

“THAT IS MY POINT!” Papyrus shouted. “WE SHOULD NOT HAVE TO BE WORRIED ABOUT GETTING CAUGHT! WE SHOULD BE AT HOME DOING OUR HOMEWORK! NOT COMMITTING CRIMES!”

“you’re acting like this is a big deal. it’s just a petty crime, bro.”

“NO CRIME IS PETTY, BROTHER! IF THE ROYAL GUARD FOUND OUT –”

“the royal guard doesn’t care about this sorta thing i promise.”

“THEY SHOULD! THEY SHOULD UPHOLD EVERY LAW –”

“the sun don’t shine outta the guards’ asses. they look the other way for this kinda shit so they can get to the real garbage –”

“LANGUAGE!”

“– and i know sometimes it’s just to add a few more gold coins to their pockets.”

Papyrus bristled. “ONLY THE BAD GUARDS DO THAT!”

all guards do that.” He shook his head. “i keep trying to tell you that but you won’t listen.”

“YOU ARE WRONG! AND – AND EVEN IF YOU WEREN’T, IT DOESN’T MATTER!”

“why? because it’s wrong?”

“WELL, YES. THAT TOO! BUT REALLY, IF THE GUARDS ARE AS CORRUPT AS YOU SAY – WHICH THEY AREN’T! – THEN THEY WILL NOT LOOK THE OTHER WAY FOR US AND YOU KNOW IT!”

Sans rolled his eyelights. “you underestimate my ability to talk us outta this stuff.”

“LAST TIME YOU TRIED TO TALK US OUT OF SOMETHING YOU NEARLY GOT US KILLED!”

A smirk lit up his face. “i don’t know about ‘killed.’ more like… seriously injured.”

“SANS!”

“hey, we got away in the end.” He hit Papyrus on the arm. “and you got a cool scar on your hand to show for it. the rg will be impressed.”

Papyrus did not want to be reminded of that horrid affair. After “negotiations” with a group of criminals had soured, one of the other monsters had aimed their magic right for Sans, hoping to catch him off guard. Being as great as he was, Papyrus was always on the lookout for such intolerable behavior from the scoundrels that his brother associated with. At the sign of first trouble, he had dashed in front of Sans, taking the brunt of the attack and almost getting his hand blown off.

Sans was acting nonchalant about it now, but at the time, he had… freaked out, to put it mildly. He had retaliated with his own magic, though it hadn’t done much; with such poor control over his magic and his difficulties doing even the basics, all he had managed to do was make the gang of miscreants double over in laughter. In the end, Papyrus had been forced to knock over a nearby fruit stand to escape.

“I AM SURE THE GUARD WOULD NOT BE IMPRESSED IF THEY KNEW THE DETAILS OF HOW I RECEIVED IT!”

“nah, they’d think it was badass. standing up to a bunch of no-good criminals? i know i thought it was cool.”

Warmth blossomed in Papyrus’s chest, constricting his soul and filling his mind with fluff until he was left almost breathless from giddiness. His fingers automatically clenched around his brother’s shoulder, but as soon as he noticed he yanked his hand away, hoping to all that was good in the world that Sans hadn’t felt it. He didn’t need another lecture.

“NO, THAT’S NOT–! I MEAN YES! I MEAN – ARGH!” He shook his head, trying to dispel the fuzziness and get back to the topic at hand. Scars. Fights. Criminal activities!

“NONE OF THIS MATTERS, SANS! EVEN IF THE SCAR IS – ” he coughed, his cheekbones warming, “– ‘BADASS,’ I DO NOT WANT TO GET INTO ANOTHER FIGHT WITH ONE OF YOUR SO-CALLED ‘PALS.’”

“well you didn’t have to come,” Sans said, his tone edging on serious.

“I AM NOT ABOUT TO LET YOU GO OUT HERE ALL BY YOURSELF WITH NO WAY TO PROTECT YOURSELF!”

“i can take care of myself, you know,” Sans retorted. “you don’t gotta babysit me.”

“YOU CANNOT TRAVEL ALL THE WAY OUT HERE BY YOURSELF, SANS! IT IS DANGEROUS!”

“what’s that supposed to mean?”

“YOU CANNOT EVEN USE MAGIC PROPERLY!”

Sans swiveled around, and the flame wavered again as the lantern veered through the air. The light danced across his skull, and the shadows only highlighted the angry furrows lining his face. Too late, as always, Papyrus realized he had crossed a line.

“would you give it a rest already? your nagging isn’t gonna do anything when we’re almost there.”

“I AM NOT NAGGING!”

“yeah you are. that’s all you ever do. it’s not cool, you know, and if you don’t watch it, the guard is never gonna let you in. no one wants to hear it.”

Tears sprung to Papyrus’s sockets and an icy pain seeped into his chest, eliminating all traces of the warm happiness that had flooded him just moments ago. Sans was right. Every time he whined or moaned, he knew how irritating he was. No one – absolutely no one – could bear to be his friend when all he did was worry and fuss over trivialities, and really, who could blame them? It wasn’t as if he didn’t know he was insufferable. Sometimes he wished with all his might that he would just… just… be normal for once.

Sans stomped off, leaving Papyrus alone on the narrow strip. For a moment, he wasn’t sure what to do. His brother obviously wanted to leave him behind so he could take care of his business without his incessant whining. But as much as Papyrus had been nagging, deep down he knew that he needed to keep his brother out of trouble. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust Sans; in fact, there wasn’t a more trustworthy monster in his life. His brother had just gotten… a little rebellious since Dad had died. And with Father working all those late hours, it was up to Papyrus to keep him in line.

As Sans stomped away, the darkness closed in once more. Unwilling to leave his brother’s side, Papyrus dashed forward and fell in line behind him.

Neither of them spoke as they traipsed through the underbrush, and every second of stony silence caused his soul to twist and throb. He wanted to yell at Sans, or apologize, or say anything so they’d start talking again, but he didn’t trust himself not to mess things up further.

“fucking finally,” Sans announced.

At first Papyrus wasn’t sure what he meant by that, and he opened his mouth to tell Sans to stop being rude. But then his brother lifted the lantern above his head and examined their surroundings more closely.

The remnants of the trail ended at Sans’s feet, giving way to a larger piece of land spotted with pools of luminescent water. Upon closer inspection, he noticed a handful of buildings, barely distinguishable from the rest of the muck, nestled between the puddles. The residents here clearly didn’t care for their homes much; many of the mossy stones that comprised the foundation had long-since fallen to the wayside, and the thick, humid air had caused the wood to rot and mold. It was a miracle the buildings were still standing.

Papyrus didn’t have much time to study the dilapidated buildings. Already, Sans was taking off, his light bobbing as he rushed toward a particularly wide building some meters away. After taking a quick peek around to ensure they weren’t being watched, Papyrus ran after him, painfully aware how difficult it was to see without the aid of the lantern or the stream. With his long gait, he caught up to Sans in no time, but as they approached the larger building, his foot smacked into something solid, and he had to fling out his arms to stop himself from falling to the ground.

“Hey, watch it!” cried out a nasally voice.

With the help of Sans’s torch, Papyrus spotted a mosquito monster a few meters away. They were bedecked in muddy overalls, worn leather gloves, and oversized glasses that amplified their pupils to a comical size. Their long legs and abdomen went unclothed, giving them the appearance of someone half-naked.

“Look where yer going before ya tear up the garden!”

Papyrus glanced down. At his feet was a dark brown mushroom mottled with deep red spots, broken at the stem where his foot had made contact. Sure enough, the stranger was right; the dirt surrounding the building was littered with fungi of varying sizes, clearly making up a garden.

“SORRY! IT WAS AN ACCIDENT!”

“Well, keep an eye out, will ya? I won’t have ya killing my babies just because yer in a hurry.”

Papyrus ogled the broken mushroom with horror. “THESE ARE YOUR CHILDREN?” Oh my god, what had he done?!

“In a matter of speaking, yes,” the mosquito said as they peeled their gloves off.

“don’t freak out,” Sans muttered. “he doesn’t mean it literally.”

“OH.”

The mosquito lurched over to them, their legs stretching over the mushrooms with ease. “How can I help ya folks? Not much out here that would interest skeletons, I wouldn’t think. Unless ya were wanting some O Negative Shrooms.” They chuckled. “Ya don’t strike me as the type though.”

“nah, it would go right through us.” Sans winked as the stranger laughed more. When their chortling died off, his brother said, “we’re looking for my bud who lives out here. goes by the name ‘psilocybin’ online.”

As Sans said the last sentence, his voice tautened, prompting Papyrus to study the stranger carefully and prepare for an attack. The mosquito sobered, their posture straightening as they stared at Sans with newfound intensity.

“Oh? Psilocybin?” they asked in a would-be casual voice. “Don’t know about them, but we got plenty of peckii in the house for sale.”

“nah, can’t have any of that. i got a bleeding tooth.”

What? When had Sans broken his tooth?! As Papyrus was about to order his brother to open his mouth for inspection, the mosquito broke into a wide smile.

“Ya made it! I didn’t think ya’d come out all this way!”

Sans relaxed. “what can i say? with the right incentive, i guess i can do anything.” He winked again.

The mosquito chuckled. “Incentive? Got plenty of that.” They urged them towards the front door. “I’ll show ya my stock.”

“knew i could count on you, psilo.”

Papyrus was a trembling mess as they followed Psilo to their decrepit house. He wanted to yank Sans back and take him home before they really got into trouble. But he didn’t, and as the three of them stepped into the dank, musky home, his soul weighed with guilt.

Psilo led them down a dark, narrow hall where the damp wood beneath them creaked with age, and into a cramped room lined with shelves of jars and overflowing boxes of mushrooms and dirt. Filthy laundry covered the moldy floor, and in the middle of the mess sat an unmade twin-sized bed.

“Sit on the bed, I’ll get them for ya.”

Sans immediately complied with Psilo’s request, throwing himself onto the bed. He peered all around him, a bright grin plastered on his skull, seemingly oblivious to how disgusting the bed was. Even from here, Papyrus spotted the dubious brown and red stains on the tattered sheets. Ugh. He was perfectly fine standing right here, thank you very much.

Psilo shuffled several boxes aside, sending billows of dried and powdery dirt through the air. Mushrooms tumbled to the floor as their arms banged into the overfilled boxes, and after several minutes, they dragged a box from the back corner to the bed, leaving behind a trail where it scraped through the thin layer of dirt on the floor.

When Papyrus caught sight of what the box contained, he grit his teeth, the guilt redoubling.

“damn, look at these!” Sans shouted, bending down to pull out the books. “you said you found a shitload, but i thought you were pulling my leg!”

“I’m not the type to exaggerate, ya should know that. I had a few more before ya came in too, but someone came by just yesterday and took a few. Wanted to learn how to draw apparently.” Psilo cleared their throat. “Now… ya wouldn’t have been exaggerating about yer gold, now would ya’ve?”

“what? of course i’ve got gold.”

“Well, it wouldn’t be the first time someone’s tried to swindle me. Emphasis on tried.”

Sans jingled the coin purse at his side. “yeah, calm down, i got money.”

Psilo nodded and sat down on a tower of boxes, staring intently at Sans as he pulled out the collection of illicit books and placed them on the bed. Papyrus swallowed. If anyone found out about this, they would be marked as criminals for the rest of their lives. These books were supposed to be in a library, shared between monsters for the common good! King Asgore had made it clear they were not something to barter over!

Maybe if he suggested Snowdin’s library again, or perhaps another visit to one of the capital’s, he could convince Sans to give it up…

“yes, here it is!” With a loud thump, Sans dropped an oversized book labeled “A Modern Approach to Quantum Mechanics” onto his lap. His hands quivered as he paged through the textbook.

Any arguments that Papyrus had been about to make died in his mouth. His brother had been searching for a book on this subject for months, digging through every library in all corners of the Underground just to read it. Here it was, finally within his grasp.

As Sans silently skimmed the book, Papyrus flopped on the floor next to the bed. He wouldn’t say a word. His brother deserved this. This was his gateway to attending the university. It would put him a step ahead of everyone else. And really, Papyrus was proud of him. There weren’t many monsters who could learn as quick as his brother. All he needed was the opportunity.

Papyrus brought his chin to his knees and allowed his eyes to drift over the remaining contents of the box. At the bottom sat a few more textbooks that covered a myriad of subjects, including physics, mathematics, engineering, and a few other topics that probably had Sans leaping for joy. None of them interested Papyrus. Science always gave him a headache, and while he loved to read, technical jargon always bored him to dust unless it had practical application.

But as he raked over the supply, his eyes caught on to something bright, colorful, and glossy, hidden beneath the other books. He shifted the textbooks aside and uncovered a thin hardback book decorated with pastel rabbits hopping along a field. Peekaboo with Fluffy Bunny. It was a children’s book, hardly befitting someone as great as he – who read at an advanced college level, he might add! – but he couldn’t pull his eyes away from its splendor. Not only were the illustrations gorgeous, but it was in such pristine condition!

He jolted as something warm weighed against the top of his skull. When he looked up, he saw that Sans had placed his hand to Papyrus’s head and a gentle smile had replaced the angry glare from earlier.

“that the one you want?”

Papyrus shifted his gaze towards the book, his face warming. “REALLY? YOU – YOU ARE GOING TO BUY ONE FOR ME?”

“i promised i would if you came with me.”

“I THOUGHT YOU WOULDN’T WANT TO AFTER ALL MY NAGGING,” he said quietly.

On the last word, his throat tightened and he forced himself to stare at the colorful book in his hands so he wouldn’t start crying.

Here was Sans, being as kind and generous and wonderful as always. All Papyrus had done was whine the whole journey like a little kid.

“nah, bro, it’s fine.”

Papyrus levied a look at him.

“listen,” Sans said, sighing, “i’m sorry for snapping at you earlier. you were just… doing what you always do: watching out for me. i should’ve listened to you.”

“IF YOU HAD LISTENED TO ME, WE NEVER WOULD HAVE FOUND THE TEXTBOOK,” he choked out, hyperaware that he was so close to tears with the strange mosquito monster watching them from nearby.

“pfft. doubting my abilities again, huh?” When Papyrus remained silent, he continued, “bro, you’re always watching out for me. you’re so cool. the coolest of monsters. and you know what the coolest of monsters deserves after a long day at school and some ass-backwards trip to the middle of nowhere? a reward.”

Papyrus knew that his brother was just trying to smooth things over and make him feel better about himself. No one really believed he was cool, especially not his brother. But Papyrus was all too eager to put the argument aside; anything to get Sans talking with him again.

“I GUESS…”

Sans nudged him. “go on, pick your book.”

His brother rubbed his skull, and once again, that unwanted warmth prickled through his soul, heating up his every bone. Without hesitation, he clutched Fluffy Bunny to his chest, vowing never to get rid of it, even if King Asgore himself ordered him to hand it over. He’d never tell anyone how he had gotten it. This was their secret. A reminder of how amazing his brother was, even when Papyrus was such a pain in the tailbone.

Whatever Sans said, his brother was the coolest one here.

And Papyrus loved him for it.

*************************************************

Papyrus clenched his fists as his eyes fell upon the rotting house a few meters away. It was in shambles, far dumpier than he remembered, and he wondered if it had been abandoned years ago. But then he spotted the same mosquito monster from all those years ago, still in those atrociously dirty clothes. They were digging through their garden, plucking oversized mushrooms from the mud. He turned away, hoping they wouldn’t recognize him. That was one conversation he never wanted to have, especially while on duty.

His gaze settled on the house he was supposed to be watching.

To his surprise, the eviction had so far gone uneventfully. When the landlord had delivered the notice to the five inhabitants of the building, Papyrus had expected a scuffle or an argument at the very least. It wasn’t often that monsters would let something like an eviction go unchallenged, even with a court order. But the tenants had agreed without question, and had immediately begun emptying the home of their possessions.

Not long after the eviction had begun, an intimidatingly large bull monster had led a covered wagon to the clearing. The five monsters were now scurrying to and from the building and had already loaded countless boxes onto the vehicle; it was quite astounding how much the small building had held. They called back and forth between themselves to ask where a certain box would go or if they should keep a certain object, not bothering to keep their voices low. Their shouts echoed through the caves and not long after the wagon arrived, the other inhabitants of Deep Waterfall crawled and skittered over to the home.

“As loud as ever!” an old hermit crab bellowed, shaking one of his large foreclaws in the direction of the evicted cat monster with an overly-wide grin. “Don’t you have any respect?”

“This is why they got kicked out in the first place,” said a black fish monster with a mouth full of sharp teeth. “They never shut up!”

“Goin’ all night and all day like they’re in the capital or summat,” said a young earthworm.

“Let’s hope that’s where they’re headed,” the hermit crab said. “Ain’t going to find a lot of folk that appreciate their noise out here.”

Papyrus kept a close eye on the onlookers, ready to fend off any attacks aimed at the ex-tenants, but the other monsters seemed perfectly content to gossip amongst themselves from the sidelines. Uncouth, but not dangerous as far as he could tell.

As he patrolled the perimeter of the crowd, one of the evictees – a small, wide-eyed humanoid monster with stubby legs and a distant expression– stumbled over a piece of brush. The box they had been carrying spilled out of their arms, sending objects spilling to the ground. The spectators tittered as the short monster cried out and immediately dove to pick up their possessions.

Papyrus dashed over and bent down next to the monster.

“HERE,” he said as he arched towards a metal cube the size of his palm.

Before he could grab it, the other monster snatched the object away and shuffled it into their box. Papyrus glanced up at the monster and… were their eyes even wider than before or was that just their face? They moved to the wagon, and Papyrus saw what looked like glass flasks and notebooks stuffed inside the box before the stranger folded it closed. When they were done, they twisted towards him again, that same detached expression scrawled across their features.

“Thank you,” they signed with their hands. The monster said something else, but Papyrus was so bad at hands that all he caught was something about “fragile” and “small.” Before he could ask them to repeat themself, however, they hurried past him and into the house, presumably to get another load.

Papyrus shook his head though he eyed the unattended box with curiosity. What he had seen hadn’t seemed like drug manufacturing equipment, but, then again, he hadn’t gotten a good view. Maybe if he was fast he could….

“They’re right rude, ain’t they?” said the earthworm monster. Papyrus jumped. “Can’t even be friendly. I have a right mind to teach them some manners.”

“IT IS NOT AN ISSUE.” Papyrus tried not to let his guilt show. “STEP BACK PLEASE.”

The earthworm monster grumbled as they inched back to the sidelines. Papyrus sighed and returned to patrolling. How could he have thought it was a good idea to search through their belongings without a warrant with all these spectators present? It was downright foolish.

The rest of the day went by uneventfully. The residence was cleared with no signs of damage to the premises and the evictees left without incident, though the hermit crab monster lobbed a rock at the wagon as it disappeared deeper into Waterfall. The monster scampered off before Papyrus had a chance to stop and question them, and he didn’t see the point in chasing them; he knew that the gesture had been out of pettiness and not motivated by anything sinister.

Throughout his journey home, Papyrus tried to keep his mind off his brother. It was difficult given that all he could think of was the imposter Sans he would be returning to. His soul knotted with painful nostalgia as he focused on the differences between the two different monsters. And the similarities. God, the way that Sans had crumpled back at Undyne’s house, just like his brother had done when he had o–

Papyrus shook his head. In any case, he was not looking forward to confronting Sans about how he had ended up at their home – no, his home. It would be much easier to pretend that this Sans and his brother were one and the same. But he couldn’t do that…. Fantasizing that his brother hadn’t died wouldn’t solve anything, and it certainly wouldn’t relieve him of his well-deserved guilt.

No matter what he did, his thoughts kept arriving to the same topic, and by the time he reached Undyne’s home, he was shaking from the unwanted memories. He stared at the entrance, taking deep breaths to calm himself like Undyne had taught him.

When his soul finally settled down, he approached the door and, drifting through the wood, came the muffled sound of the piano. The song was soft and slow, the notes rising and falling gradually like ripples in a pond. He paused to listen for a couple minutes, before he finally knocked on the door twice in the traditional fashion, announced himself, and entered the house.

As he expected, Undyne sat at her piano, her body rocking back and forth as she pressed the keys. She didn’t look up when he entered the room, but by the expression on her face, she had long lost herself to the music. If past experiences were any indicator, she was well-aware that he was there, but she was too enraptured by her own music to disengage.

His gaze drifted over to Sans and his soul panged. He was sitting near the window, plopped down in an armchair that Undyne must have dragged from her bedroom. His body sagged into the cushions, as if he were physically weighed down by some invisible force, and tear tracks ran down his cheekbones. At first glance his sockets appeared blank, appearing like they did whenever he was lost to drink or drug, but as Papyrus walked closer he saw that his eyelights were merely shrunken into pinpricks. He was staring at Undyne, seemingly oblivious to Papyrus’s presence, his chest rising and falling in time to the music.

Papyrus’s anxiety quickly dissipated, aided by the gentle melody that seeped into his bones and tugged at him softly. Whenever Undyne played the piano like this, the room became imbued with a peaceful energy that Papyrus always found difficult to resist.

Not that he ever wanted to resist it. Back when his brother had first died, Papyrus had found himself practically crawling over to Undyne’s every chance he got, doubled over with breathless panic. As soon as she had spotted his state, she would play, allowing the music to work its magic through the worst of it.

When it had first happened, he had been mortified by his behavior. Acting that way in front THE Captain Undyne? He had been shocked that Undyne hadn’t removed him from the Guard. But not only had she let him maintain his duties, she had let him stay the night and had encouraged him to return any time he needed her to soothe him.

These days he usually only visited when his duties required or they had training practice, but on occasion she’d invite him for dinner and she would pair their after-supper tea with a few songs on the piano.

This time, however, he kept his eyes fixed on Sans and didn’t allow the music to enthrall him; it just wouldn’t do to get caught up in it when he had to escort Sans, injured and weak, back home.

Eventually the song petered, the final notes lingering eerily in the air. Even when those faded, Sans didn’t move, and his eyelights remained contracted and fixed onto Undyne.

“Papyrus?”

He swiveled around. Undyne had gotten up from the piano and was squinting at him with a serious expression.

He saluted her. “CAPTAIN!”

She motioned for him to relax and then glanced towards Sans. His appearance was unchanged, and he continued to stare at where Undyne had been sitting, as if he hadn’t realized she had moved. As Papyrus moved towards him, Undyne coughed, drawing his attention back to her. She motioned for him to join him in the kitchen.

“Sorry,” she whispered once they were out of Sans’s earshot, “I don’t want him listening in since it’s official Royal Guard business.” When Papyrus nodded, she continued, “So how did it go?”

“IT WAS UNEVENTFUL.” He gave his full report, noting the strange equipment he had seen. “I DO NOT THINK IT WAS A DRUG CELL, BUT IT WAS MOST UNUSUAL. SOMETHING FELT OFF.”

“There were no sign of Muffet’s cronies anywhere?”

“NO, THOUGH THEIR WAGON DRIVER SEEMED MORE THAN CAPABLE OF FIGHTING OFF ANY ENEMIES. PERHAPS THAT IS WHY NO ONE ATTACKED.”

Undyne sighed. “Yeah. Or maybe that was one of her people.”

“IT COULD HAVE BEEN, BUT THERE WAS NO WAY TO TELL.”

“Hmm.” She brought her hand to her chin. “If there’s a rival trying to set up their operation… But that makes no sense…”

She trailed off, lost in thought. Usually Papyrus would have been happy to contemplate why Muffet would have had an interest in this, but right now he was too distracted. He glanced back at Sans. Though he was still slumped in the chair, he was now staring at his lap with that same hollow expression.

“UNDYNE, IS HE OKAY?” he asked, whipping back around to Undyne.

“Huh?” she said, shaken from her thoughts. “Who?”

“MY B– SANS. I AM GLAD HE IS AWAKE, BUT HE LOOKS… NOT WELL. DID YOU TWO FIGHT AGAIN?”

“No…” she said, her voice wavering.

He clenched his fists. “YOU PROMISED! WHAT DID YOU DO?”

“No, no, you’ve got the wrong idea!” she said, waving him down. “We had an, um, exchange, but we got over it pretty fast. Hell, I even tried healing the little bastard. It didn’t work, but…”

“REALLY? YOU DID? SO… YOU TWO HAVE BEEN GETTING ALONG?”

“I guess? He’s been pretty quiet.”

“HE KEEPS TO HIMSELF USUALLY, YES.”

“I mean, I guess. I was working on reports most of the day, so I wasn’t exactly pushing for conversation, but…” She rubbed her shoulder, averting her gaze. “He seemed like he needed a piano session.”

“HE PROBABLY DID AFTER YOU THREW A SPEAR AT HIM.”

Undyne sighed. “That’s not what I meant.”

“BUT IT IS TRUE!”

“Maybe. Um… Have you talked to him a lot? You know, about… life?”

“NO, I ALREADY TOLD YOU THAT I HAVEN’T.”

“I think you should.”

“IF HE PLANS TO STAY WITH ME ANY LONGER, THEN IT WOULD BE FOR THE BEST.”

“That’s not what I mean. Papyrus, when he and I spoke earlier he told me some stuff that really has me worried.”

Papyrus’s chest tightened at the familiar words. “WORRIED? ABOUT WHAT?”

“He told me that –”

“hey.”

Papyrus and Undyne jolted and turned towards Sans. His eyelights were back to normal and he had climbed to his feet, though his body was shaking badly.

“not to interrupt whatever private conversation you guys are having, but are we heading back soon?”

Sans started to walk over, but after only a few steps his legs gave out; his hands latched onto the piano, preventing him from falling flat onto the ground. Soul thrumming, Papyrus rushed over.

“YOU SHOULD BE CAREFUL! HERE, GRAB ONTO ME!”

Sans took a quick glance at the proffered hand and shook his head. “nah, i can take care of myself.”

Papyrus withdrew his hand though he stayed close to Sans, ready to catch him should he fall again.

“well? are we leaving?”

“What’s your rush, Sans?” Undyne asked. “I was going to invite you two for dinner.”

“no thanks.”

Undyne narrowed her eye. “What? Don’t want to try my cooking?”

“not really.”

“SANS, DO NOT BE RUDE!”

“sorry, i guess i just know how inconvenient i can be. wouldn’t wanna burden you.”

Undyne’s mouth clamped shut.

“WHAT? WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?”

“look, i just don’t wanna be here while you two have some secret discussion about me.”

“WE WERE NOT HAVING A SECRET DISCUSSION! UNDYNE WAS MERELY EXPRESSING HER CONCERN ABOUT –”

“it doesn’t matter. i wanna go home. watching undyne do paperwork all day really wore me out.”

Papyrus huffed. “THAT IS THE LAZIEST, MOST RIDICULOUS THING YOU HAVE EVER SAID, BROTH–“

Realizing his mistake, he choked on the last word, but it was too late. Color flooded Sans’s cheeks and his eyes darted to the side. It felt like forever before Sans broke the awkward silence that fell between them.

please. i wanna sleep. i’m so tired.”

Maybe it was best that they left. Sans truly didn’t look well, and truth be told, after all the emotions of the day, Papyrus was exhausted too. Not to mention, if arguing with him got Undyne riled up…

In one swift motion, he bent down and scooped Sans into his arms.

“hey!” Sans shouted, pushing against Papyrus. “what’re you –”

“QUIET. IF WE ARE LEAVING, YOU WILL ALLOW ME TO ESCORT YOU AS I SEE FIT. AND I BELIEVE THE BEST TACTIC IS TO KEEP YOU CLOSE SO NO ONE WILL ATTACK YOU WHILE YOU ARE IN THIS STATE.”

“put me down, no one is gonna attack us.” Despite his words, all the bite had left his tone, and his flailing was growing weaker by the second.

“I KNOW WHAT IS BEST!”

He expected Sans to argue more, to fight and struggle just like his brother used to do, but instead he lowered his head against Papyrus’s shoulder and sighed.

Papyrus nodded to Undyne. “THANK YOU FOR YOUR HOSPITALITY. I THINK IT IS PROBABLY BEST WE TAKE OUR LEAVE.”

She frowned, her gaze darting towards Sans. “Are you sure you don’t want dinner? You can stay the night if you want and we can talk about what you saw today. Hell,” she said, her mouth crooking upwards, “forget Royal Guard crap, let’s invite Alphys over and make it an all-out sleepover!”

He held Sans closer to him. “ANY OTHER DAY, I WOULD ACCEPT! BUT I THINK WE HAVE PROBABLY HAD ENOUGH EXCITEMENT FOR THE DAY.”

She sobered. “Seriously, are you sure it’s safe?”

“IT WILL BE NO SAFER TOMORROW MORNING.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right, but maybe I should follow you back, just to make sure no one’s on your tail…”

“I AM CAPABLE OF FENDING OFF AN ATTACK!”

The truth was that he didn’t want her to put herself in harm’s way. Even if she could handle it, Papyrus knew better than anyone that all it took was a well-placed ambush and that was it.

Undyne exhaled. “Fine. Have it your way. But if I found out you dusted because you wouldn’t accept my help, I’m going to kick your ass!”

“BUT I’D BE DUST! AND I DON’T HAVE A BUTT!”

“Excuses, excuses!” She placed her hands on her hips, her smile faltering. “Anyway, I’ve got you set up to collect taxes tomorrow, okay? Should be a pretty easy day. But uh… call me if you need help with anything.”

She stared at Sans meaningfully and Papyrus nodded. He’d take him to her if he needed a babysitter.

“And Sans?” Sans shifted and gazed at her with half-lidded eyes. “If you ever want to talk about what you said earlier, let me know.”

“yeah, okay.”

“I’m serious – I’ll do everything in my power to get justice for you.”

“okay. sure.”

“I mean it.”

“i know.” His voice was laden with guilt. “thanks, really.”

He turned away and slumped against Papyrus once more. As the weight hit his chest, Papyrus’s soul fluttered. It was like all the other times he had carried his brother to bed. Horrified with himself, he immediately discarded the thought.

“G-GOOD NIGHT, UNDYNE. THANK YOU AGAIN FOR YOUR HELP.”

With that, Papyrus stepped outside, his soul still quaking. As he peered around at the cavern, it struck him how utterly vulnerable he was. If Muffet was keeping an eye on them, she’d know how hurt Sans was right now, and all it would take was one hit and he would…

He gulped. Maybe it was a good idea to make Sans walk.

But as he was about to ask, Sans sighed tiredly and gripped on tighter. Papyrus’s soul clenched painfully.

No. He’d carry him.

As he always did.

Chapter Text

*************************************************

The freshly fallen snow crunched beneath Papyrus’s feet as he trudged down the path to his house, gloved hands curled at his sides. One of the neighbors called out to him from down the road, their voice raised with friendliness, but the words were lost to the wind.

Not that he cared. He was in no mood for idle chitchat, and if anyone else approached him right now, he would have to carry on a polite conversation – Oh yes, we’re from the Capital. No, no, it isn’t too cold. Yes, I attended the academy! No, I gave it all up for my brother! – and he’d just have to stand there and bear with it. If he wasn’t careful, he’d end up crying right in front of them.

As it was, he was already close to tears.

So instead of tarrying for a moment longer, he bounded up the final steps to his home, his soul fluttering with relief to find that Sans had left the door unlocked. With a click, the door closed behind him, and he was finally, mercifully, separated from the rest of the world.

“RRRRRGH!” he growled to himself as he cast off his jacket.

It wasn’t fair! This day was supposed to be great! Not… terrible!

He unsnapped his boots and promptly threw them against the wall, slush splashing everywhere. Wonderful. Now he would have to clean up because he couldn’t just calm down for but a few moments.

As he moved towards the kitchen to gather the cleaning supplies, he heard Sans raspily call his name from upstairs. He released another huff of frustration, and, abandoning the mess for later, he stomped his way to Sans’s room.

As he entered the room, a hush fell over him. The lights were, of course, off, and Papyrus could barely make out the lump that was his brother on the old mattress. Upon closer inspection, he saw that Sans was facing the wall, his back turned towards the door, and his breathing slow. The wind from Sans’s nearby self-sustaining tornado had Papyrus shivering, and he had to wonder why his brother didn’t at least have a blanket.

Sighing, he turned on the light and marched over to the bed.

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING HOME?”

Sans rolled over. Dark shadows hung beneath his sockets and that familiar aura of utter exhaustion cloaked him.

“taking a nap,” he said, yawning.

“YOU WERE SUPPOSED TO APPLY FOR A JOB!”

“tried. shopkeeper turned me down. she let me start a tab though.”

“A TAB? I THOUGHT WE WEREN’T GOING TO START TABS HERE. THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE A FRESH START!”

“it was just a few things, bro. we gotta eat.”

“I COULD HAVE PAID FOR IT! WE ARE NOT THAT BAD OFF!”

“then you can pay it off next time you go. then if we ever do need it, they know we’re good for repaying.”

Papyrus sighed. “I SUPPOSE. I JUST WISH YOU WOULD CONFER WITH ME BEFORE MAKING DECISIONS LIKE THAT!”

“you’re busy at work, i can’t just call you for every little think. speaking of, how’d that go? was the captain everything you pictured her to be?”

Oh, blast it.

“EVERYTHING WAS FINE,” Papyrus lied. “THE CAPTAIN WAS AS INTIMIDATING AS I HAD IMAGINED.”

Sans scrunched up his legs and patted the bed. “tell me about it. i wanna hear all about it.”

Papyrus swallowed. “I WOULD RATHER NOT.”

“uhh… why is that?”

“BECAUSE – BECAUSE I THINK YOU SHOULD GET OUT OF BED,” he invented wildly. “IT IS UNHEALTHY TO STAY COOPED UP IN HERE FOR SO LONG!!”

Sans frowned. “i get outta bed to eat.”

“BUT YOU STILL STAY IN THE HOUSE! IT IS JUST LIKE BACK AT NEW HOME! YOU NEVER LEAVE!”

“we don’t got the money to go out, paps.”

“YES WE DO! I AM NOT A STUDENT ANYMORE! A SENTRY JOB PAYS, SANS.”

“not much.”

“IT PAYS ENOUGH FOR AN OCCASIONAL NIGHT OUT.” He scooped his brother into his arms. “AND THAT IS JUST WHAT WE ARE DOING!”

“hey, get off!” Sans yelled, flailing until he was set on his feet.

“COME ON. LET’S GO!” He took one look at the stained pajamas his brother had been wearing for the last week and added, “AFTER YOU GET DRESSED IN PROPER ATTIRE.” It was no wonder the shopkeeper hadn’t given him a job.

“where are we even gonna go?” Sans asked as he opened his drawers and pulled out a shirt and shorts.

“HAVE YOU TRIED THAT BAR DOWN THE ROAD? WHAT IS THE NAME AGAIN… CHARBY’S? BURNBY’S?”

“grillby’s?”

“YES, THAT ONE!”

“no, i haven’t been, but the shopkeeper was telling me early that it’s a hot spot in town.”

It took Papyrus a few moments to realize why Sans was chuckling, and when he did, he released a playful groan.

“SANS!”

“heh.” For once, the smile on his face was reaching his eyes, and it warmed Papyrus’s soul. “but yeah, grillby’s. apparently the shopkeep’s cuz likes to hit the bottle there. sounded like a relaxing place.”

“HIT THE BOTTLE? WHY WOULD ANYONE PUNCH A BOTTLE? GLASS WOULD GO EVERYWHERE!”

“nah, it means they get drunk. it’s where everyone in snowdin goes after work for a drink.”

“OH. I SEE.”

After the horrible interactions earlier, Papyrus had already devoted enough time to speaking to strangers for one day, and he truly didn’t want to talk to anyone else but Sans. On the other hand, if a trip to the local eatery was enough of a distraction, then he wouldn’t have to discuss how his day had gone. Better to face the crowd than to admit his precarious position within the Royal Guard’s ranks.

“THEN IT IS DECIDED! WE SHALL JOURNEY FORTH AND PROCURE SUSTENANCE FROM THIS ESTABLISHMENT!”

“sounds like a quest.”

“YES! THE GREAT AND TERRIBLE PAPYRUS WILL CONQUER THIS MISSION WITH EASE!” he shouted with exuberance he didn’t feel.

Once Sans had finally dressed in wrinkled but fresh clothes, they left the house. His brother shuffled behind him, his every movement slow and labored, as was typical of late. A light flurry was falling upon them, blanketing the town in an eerie quiet that was broken only as the two of them approached the glowing bar in the center of town.

They entered the building and were welcomed with a cacophony of noises; from the excited babble to plates clinking together to the loud laughter, Papyrus was overwhelmed by the onslaught of sound. Sans’s eyelights, however, seemed to brighten, and he pushed past Papyrus and sidled up to the counter. Swallowing his nerves and doing his best to ignore the patrons’ intense stares, Papyrus marched across the room with his head held high.

As he slid onto the barstool next to Sans, a tall purple flame monster, clothed in a black shirt and grey slacks, slunk over. Papyrus could only assume he was the bartender from the way he was polishing an empty shot glass.

“…Hello,” he crackled as he glanced between the two of them.

“GREETINGS, BARKEEP!”

“’lo.”

“…I don’t think I recognize the two of you. Are you new to town?”

“THAT IS CORRECT, STRANGER!” Papyrus proclaimed, sticking out his chest. “WE JUST MOVED IN A COUPLE WEEKS AGO!”

“…Down the road? Near the cave to Waterfall?”

“INDEED! NO SECRET GETS PAST YOU, DOES IT?” Papyrus joked.

When the bartender snorted in response, Papyrus’s soul swelled with pride. Yes! Finally! A monster that could appreciate his banter!

“…Two weeks though?” he said, shifting his gaze to Sans. “…I’m surprised I didn’t see you two sooner then. There aren’t many from around here that don’t come in for at least a drink or two. Or… for other entertainment.”

“heh. moving kept us busy.”

“…It took you all that time to move?”

“among other things.”

The bartender cocked his head. “…What other things?”

Papyrus was curious how his brother would answer, considering “other things” included lying in bed for hours on end while Papyrus was left to unpack, cook, clean, and acquire his sentry job.

“oh, you know what kinda things i mean,” Sans replied with a wink.

Papyrus rolled his eyes and was affronted when the flame monster started laughing.

“LIKE WHAT, BROTHER?” Papyrus interjected. “SLEEPING DOES NOT COUNT AS ACTIVITY, YOU KNOW!”

Sans shot a subtle glare his direction. “neither does complaining.”

Papyrus’s face warmed as the bartender’s laughter grew louder.

“anyway, i’m sans. this is my bro, papyrus. what’s your name?”

“…Grillby.”

the grillby, huh?”

“…The one and the same.” He offered his hand. “…It’s nice to meet you, Sans.”

His brother shook the proffered hand. “heh. likewise.”

They stared at each other for an unusually long time, their smiles growing as their hands locked together.

“YES! IT IS WONDERFUL TO MEET YOUR ACQUAINTANCE!” Papyrus announced, finally fed up with how long the two of them had left him out of the conversation.

“…Oh, yes. A pleasure.”

Grillby withdrew his hand, though his flames lingered across Sans as he pulled away. Papyrus didn’t know his fury could deepen, and yet here he was, stewing in his own emotions, seconds away from running out of the restaurant in a rage.

Instead, he scooped Sans into a one-armed hug.

“hey, what the hell –”

“WELL, MY NEW FRIEND, MY BROTHER IS SIMPLY STARVING! THAT IS WHY WE CAME HERE! FOR NOURISHMENT!”

“…I see. I’ll grab some menus.”

As he walked to the other end of the counter, Sans pried himself from Papyrus’s grasp.

“god damn it, paps. what the fuck was that for?”

“LANGUAGE, BROTHER!”

“fuck your ‘language,’ that was embarrassing.”

“I APOLOGIZE THEN. IT WAS NOT MY INTENTION TO HUMILIATE OR DEMEAN YOU.”

Sans sighed and crossed his arms, though brightened considerably when Grillby returned, this time with menus and two bottles of beer. He opened them up and slid them across the counter.

“…On the house.”

“wow, thanks,” Sans said, inspecting the bottle with excitement. “been a while since my last one.”

Papyrus didn’t touch the glass. “THE MENUS?”

“…Right here.”

To his dismay, Grillby did not leave even after they ordered. He seemed perfectly content to listen to Sans babble on and on about the lives they had left behind at the capital – though he carefully avoided mention of his old job. As the night wore on, he seemed to get closer and closer to Sans, and it wasn’t that long before his brother became inebriated. Papyrus had to watch in horror as Sans did the most horrendous things. Like stroke Grillby’s hand. Or wink flirtatiously as he delivered utterly unfunny jokes. Or unbutton Grillby’s shirt.

Of course Grillby reciprocated; after all, who would not find Sans’s attention alluring? But he wished that the bartender would have left them alone so that the two of them could have some peace. Papyrus preferred talking about Captain Undyne to witnessing this!

Long after they had long finished their meal – and after Sans had imbibed four free drinks – Grillby was called away to tend to one of the few remaining customers. As soon as he was out of earshot, Papyrus grabbed onto Sans’s arm.

“I THINK IT IS TIME TO GO!”

“what? we just got here.”

“WE HAVE BEEN HERE FOR NEARLY THREE HOURS NOW, SANS!”

“really? heh. time flies.”

“WHETHER TIME FLIES OR STICKS TO THE GROUND, IT IS TIME TO LEAVE. I AM TIRED AND WE HAVE A LONG DAY AHEAD OF US TOMORROW.”

“speak for yourself, i got nowhere to be.”

“YOU NEED TO APPLY FOR A JOB!”

“that can wait. besides, staying a bit longer won’t hurt. heck, maybe grillbz over there can land me a waiter gig.”

“I HIGHLY DOUBT THAT.”

“well, you can doubt it all you want. i can tell he’s a nice guy. a nice-looking guy too.”

“UGH. I FAIL TO SEE HOW HE IS MORE ATTRACTIVE THAN THE GREAT AND TERRIBLE PAPYRUS.”

Sans peered at him out of the corner of his eye, his smile transforming into a frown. “don’t.”

“DON’T WHAT.”

“you know what.”

Papyrus crossed his arms and legs, sudden tears biting at his sockets. “I DO NOT KNOW WHAT YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT.”

“right.”

Papyrus closed his eyes, hoping and praying that Sans wouldn’t make a scene. It had been so long since they had last discussed this, Papyrus had almost thought his brother had forgotten.

He needed to make a good impression. This was a new town with new people. If they argued about this, and everyone in Snowdin found out about how he felt…

“…If you’d like, I have a special drink I can treat you to.”

Papyrus’s eyes flashed open. Grillby had returned and was now on their side of the bar, pressed up against Sans. His arms were draped over his brother’s shoulders and onto his chest. Sans was looking up at him, his hands rubbing the top of Grillby’s and a seductive smile playing across his features.

They were so… indecent! How could they do this in front of so many people?!

But as Papyrus glanced around the room, he realized that they were the only three left. Everyone else had gone home.

“heh. that sounds nice. i’d love to taste it.”

“SANS.”

Sans turned back to Papyrus, his eyes narrowed. “hey, bro, why don’t you head back? i’ll catch up with you later.”

“BUT –”

“really. i’ll be fine here.”

His tone brokered no argument. Sans wouldn’t budge no matter what Papyrus said, even if he reminded him of what happened the last time he had decided to do something like this.

So Papyrus threw down a few gold coins onto the counter and stood up. “FINE THEN. GOODBYE.”

With that, he scampered out of the bar, Sans’s and Grillby’s quiet laughter echoing in his skull as he closed the door behind him. The storm had picked up since he had last been outside and had shrouded Snowdin in a layer of snow that had him trudging back home. Even though the cold burrowed into his bones, it did nothing to cool his burning anger.

When he got home, he didn’t sleep. He simply couldn’t. Instead he sat on the couch, watching television, reading books, contemplating his next moves so that he wouldn’t lose his position within the Royal Guard. Anything to avoid thinking about Sans and Grillby and what they were doing right now.

It was only once Sans came home the next morning, covered in sick and reeking of campfire, that Papyrus finally broke down.

*************************************************

Panting and drenched in sweat, Papyrus slammed the door shut behind him and leaned against it as a wave of relief crashed over him. Instead of taking it nice and slow like earlier, he had chosen to take his traditional sprint home before evening fell over the Underground. With Sans’s extra weight, it had taken longer than he was accustomed to and his bones were shaking from his efforts.

Thankfully, Sans hadn’t thrashed or tried to get him to stop. In fact, he hadn’t really moved at all. He was still slouched against his chest, gripping Papyrus’s shoulders like he was afraid to let go.

Papyrus gently pried Sans away to get a better look at him. What he saw wasn’t encouraging. The shadows under his sockets were dark, darker even than yesterday, though perhaps not as bad as the day they had met. His eyelights were flickering, as if they might sputter out at any moment, and if Papyrus hadn’t known about Undyne’s attack, he would’ve thought Sans was high.

“what?” Sans asked, narrowing his eyes.

“YOU LOOK ILL.”

Sans shrugged. “been a rough day.”

“YES. IT HAS.”

Recalling how concerned he had been this morning, Papyrus briefly checked the room for any sign of intruders. Once he verified it was all clear, he walked into the kitchen and deposited Sans into a chair.

“what’re you doing?”

“YOU NEED TO EAT,” Papyrus said as he tied his apron around him. “YOU LOOK READY TO COLLAPSE!”

“i ate earlier.”

“WHAT DID YOU EAT?”

“tea.”

Papyrus sighed. “AS WONDERFUL AS UNDYNE’S TEA IS, I MUST INSIST YOU EAT SOMETHING MORE SUBSTANTIAL BEFORE BED.”

Sans started to get up. “this is stupid, i just need –”

“I WILL HEAR NO EXCUSES!” he yelled, pushing Sans back down firmly. “YOU NEED TO RECOVER.”

Sans glared at him but sat back in his chair, crossing his arms. Papyrus reluctantly took that as a sign that he wasn’t going to get up and pulled out a pot to boil noodles.

He knew why Sans was angry; he had let his worries get the best of him this morning, and had taken it out on him. And with Undyne attacking like she had, it was no wonder Sans was upset.

It was about time Papyrus took the initiative to repair things between them. No more dillydallying around sore subjects. He had done that once before and it had ended horribly for everyone.

“YOU AND UNDYNE APPEARED TO HAVE MADE UP QUICKLY,” Papyrus said as he turned on the water.

“yeah.” Sans shrugged. “she didn’t say sorry, but she seemed eager to patch things up.”

“THAT IS GOOD! IT CAN BE DIFFICULT TO GET HER TO APOLOGIZE! I AM PROUD OF HER! SHE CAN BE QUITE STUBBORN SOMETIMES!”

“’sometimes,’ huh?”

“YES, SOMETIMES.” He put the water on the stove and began opening a can of tomato sauce. “BUT NOT ALWAYS! MOST DO NOT KNOW THIS OF HER, BUT SHE HAS QUITE A FEW SENSITIVE SPOTS! NYEH, JUST LAST TRAINING SESSION, SHE ALMOST –”

“you and her are always best buds, aren’t you? no matter what.”

It wasn’t said with any malice, yet Papyrus felt suddenly and inexplicably defensive.

“I – WHAT? NO? WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?”

“my bro and her got along like peas in a pod.” He clenched his eyes shut. “all it took was one training session and they hit it off.”

Papyrus had no idea what Sans was talking about, but irritation needled at his soul at the words.

“WELL, I DO NOT KNOW WHO YOUR BROTHER WAS, BUT HE MUST HAVE MET A MUCH DIFFERENT UNDYNE THAN THE ONE I KNOW! I WAS NEARLY THROWN OUT OF THE ROYAL GUARD WHEN I MET HER!”

“huh?”

“THAT IS RIGHT!” he shouted as he poured an eager helping of Italian herbs into the saucepan. “SHE TOLD ME I WAS PATHETIC!”

“that doesn’t sound like her,” Sans muttered, his brow furrowed.

“I DO NOT KNOW WHAT YOU KNOW OF UNDYNE, BUT AS FAR AS I AM AWARE, SHE HAS A REPUTATION FOR NOT ACCEPTING ANY TOMFOOLERY WITHIN HER RANKS. SO WHEN I SHOWED UP TO HER HOUSE WITH THE OTHER RECRUITS, SHE TOOK ONE LOOK AT ME AND KNEW I WASN’T READY!”

“not ready maybe, but… ‘pathetic’?”

“YES! PATHETIC AND STUPID AND IMMATURE. AND I WAS ALL THOSE THINGS AND MORE! I HAD NO FIGHTING SPIRIT! I HAD NO – NYEH HEH – BACKBONE.”

He flashed a smile at Sans, expecting him to reciprocate with his own pun, but Sans’s face was still lined with anger. Or perhaps it was disappointment. Papyrus just couldn’t tell. In either case, the expression reminded him of the last argument he had had with his brother.

“ANYWAY,” he said hurriedly, “I HAD TO PROVE HER WRONG BEFORE SHE KICKED ME OUT OF THE GUARD! IT TOOK SOME TIME TO CONVINCE HER, BUT I, OF COURSE, MET HER CHALLENGE HEAD ON!”

“you two finally became bffs then?”

“NO! SHE WANTED LITTLE TO DO WITH ME!”

“the hell.”

“IT WAS UNDERSTANDABLE. SHE IS A VERY BUSY MONSTER, AND AT THE TIME, SO WAS I!”

“you’re not anymore?”

Papyrus gripped the spoon he was using to stir the sauce. “NO.”

There was a pause, and then –

“so how did you two become pals if she hated you so much?”

“SHE NEVER HATED ME. SHE JUST DID NOT THINK I WAS CUT OUT FOR THE GUARD. WE DID NOT HAVE A TRUE CONVERSATION WITH EACH OTHER BEFORE SHE SAW HOW I REACTED WHEN YOU – I MEAN, WHEN MY BROTHER…”

He trailed off, suddenly aware what he was saying. That was not really something he wanted to discuss right now, especially considering that he and his brother obviously suffered, to some degree, the same ailment. Or maybe that was just him projecting because they looked the same… Yes, this Sans had taken drugs the other night, but that didn’t mean he was addicted. There were casual drug users amongst them, and if this monster was merely taking on the appearance of his brother…

Oh, who was he kidding?

“i’m gonna leave tomorrow.”

Papyrus twisted around and saw that Sans had his arms crossed, conviction spelled into his features.

“WHAT? LEAVE?” Where had this sudden announcement come from? “BACK TO UNDYNE’S YOU MEAN?”

“no, i’m going back home. to my universe.”

Papyrus blinked. “UNIVERSE? AS IN… A DIFFERENT WORLD?”

He vaguely recalled one of his high school science teachers teaching the concept to their class. The idea that there was another place just like theirs but different. Like every other science class, he had been bored out of his skull. The details of the lesson were lost to him.

“uh. yeah. maybe it’s best to tell you about a few things.”

Sans explained how he had once worked on a time machine using human souls and had experimented on his own soul so he could teleport. He had apparently thrown himself into a pit of lava to teleport to the past and had somehow ended up here, in a completely different universe.

“it was an experiment gone wrong,” Sans said bitterly, not making eye contact.

“AN EXPERIMENT.” Papyrus’s head hurt. “IS THAT… WHAT MY BROTHER DID AT THE LAB? WORKED ON TELEPORTATION AND TIME TRAVEL?”

“probably,” he said shrugging. “i told my brother some details about what i did there, but maybe yours didn’t.”

That sounded about right.

“SO… YOU ARE SANS.”

“yeah.”

“SANS. MY BROTHER. EXCEPT NOT REALLY?”

“let’s get one thing straight,” Sans spat, ire returning to his voice, “i’m not your bro. i’m never gonna be your bro. and you aren’t my bro. my bro would never…” He shook his head, his face creased with disgust.

“WHAT?”

Sans hesitated, but then scrunched his sockets and muttered, “my bro would never tell undyne about what happened in grillby’s. even if they were best friends.”

“WHAT? I DO NOT UNDERSTAND! OF COURSE I TOLD HER! IT WAS NOT A SECRET! EVERYONE IN THE UNDERGROUND PROBABLY KNOWS BY NOW!”

“wow, thanks.” He stood up and began to walk towards the door. “i’m going to bed. i’ll be outta your way by tomorrow morning.”

“NOW DON’T YOU MOVE AN INCH!” shouted Papyrus as he slammed the spoon down on the counter, splattering red sauce all over the cupboards. Sans paused by the entrance to the living room, his features contorted with rage.

“I DO NOT UNDERSTAND WHAT I HAVE DONE WRONG HERE! WHY WOULD YOU THINK I WOULD NOT TELL HER ABOUT WHAT YOU HAVE BEEN DOING SINCE YOU HAVE GOTTEN HERE?”

“it’s none of her business!” Sans cried, his knees shaking. “i don’t get why you’d bring up that night at all!”

“BECAUSE EVEN THOUGH YOU ARE NOT MY BROTHER, IT IS APPARENT THAT YOU ARE PLAGUED WITH MANY OF THE SAME ISSUES. I NEEDED HER HELP!”

Sans balled up his fists. “help with what? grillby?”

“YOUR SOBRIETY, SANS!”

“what?” Sans said, his volume dropping to barely above a whisper. “my sobriety?”

“YES! MAYBE IN YOUR UNIVERSE YOUR BROTHER DOES NOT CARE IF YOU GET WASTED AT GRILLBY’S, BUT I CERTAINLY DO!”

Tears gathered in Sans’s sockets. “i can’t believe you’re pretending like this whole thing is about… this! i had one beer. one! and you’re blaming me for everything that happened?”

“ONE BEER DOES NOT HAVE THOSE EFFECTS! YOU CAN PRETEND OTHERWISE, BUT I KNOW BETTER!”

“yeah because i had a choice!”

“WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?”

“grillby drugged me!” Sans wrapped his arms around himself, his entire body trembling as he sank to the floor. “he drugged me. and he fucked me. got everyone to fuck me. and you blame me for that just because i had a beer? well fuck you, and fuck him t–”

“HE DID WHAT?”

The air sparked with a sharp current of magic as Papyrus smashed his hand against the counter. His chest felt tight, like a band was wrapped around his ribcage, and his magic threatened to spill out, igniting into a series of bone attacks. Sans stared at him wide-eyed from the floor, his mouth slightly ajar.

Soul hammering in his chest, Papyrus rushed across the kitchen to where Sans sat and said, as calmly as he could, “YOU ARE TELLING ME THAT YOU DID NOT AGREE TO ANY OF THAT?”

“what?” Sans said softly.

“DID HE GIVE YOU DRUGS AGAINST YOUR WILL?”

Sans’s eyes dropped to his lap, and for a moment, Papyrus thought – hoped – that he was about to say that he had consented, that the whole thing has been his idea to pay off Papyrus’s tab, or to have some fun, or anything.

But then he nodded.

Something inside Papyrus broke.

For a moment, all he could do was stand there, gawking at Sans as he quaked on the floor, tears spilling onto his lap. He was still clutching at his own arms, not saying a word. Everything about him looked tired, miserable, defeated.

Sans looked just like his brother.

“I WILL KILL HIM!” Papyrus bellowed, prompting Sans to jolt so that he smacked his head into the wall.

As he groaned and rubbed his head, Papyrus hurried past him and out of the house. Night had already fallen over Snowdin, and monsters were returning to their homes, the lights on their porches winking out. Grillby’s bar blazed brightly in the center of town, and even from here, Papyrus could hear the patrons whooping and hollering.

He was going to tear Grillby apart, snuff him out like a candle. It would be payback for everything he had done to Sans. To his brother. To their family.

Chapter Text

Sans groaned as he rubbed where his skull had smacked the wall. Normally something like that wouldn’t throw him so off balance, but after today, he was having a hard time seeing.

Somewhere in the distance, a door slammed, shaking the floor. He shook his head, his eyelights blinking back into existence as Papyrus’s last words echoed in his head.

He had said he was going to kill Grillby.

His brother would never do that. There wasn’t a bone in his body that wanted to harm another being. He would try to convince Grillby and the rest of them to turn themselves in, but kill them? Not in a million years.

Well, his brother wouldn’t hurt a fly, but this wasn’t his brother. And back home, no one went around raping people either. Hell, the concept of rape was only known to those monsters who had studied human history. That any monster could even do such a thing was unheard of.

So maybe this Papyrus was serious when he said he was going to kill Grillby.

The thought sent him flying to his feet. As he stood up, he nearly toppled over as a spell of dizziness knocked him over the head. He gripped the nearby chair, scrunching up his face until the vertigo passed. By the time he could move, the dire reality of the situation had crashed over him.

Papyrus was about to walk into a bar full of his rapists.

Sans dashed to the front door, ignoring the aches and pains pulsating through his body. Fight all logic, he prayed that Papyrus had simply gone upstairs to rage on the undernet about Grillby. It was wishful thinking. Even his own Papyrus would never let something like this go. He’d storm to Grillby’s and demand to talk to him.

So when he spotted Papyrus’s black and red apron lying in the snow just outside the house, he wasn’t surprised. Still, his soul sunk at the sight, and as he looked down the path and saw Papyrus marching up to Grillby’s door, his mind froze. Without a second thought, he gathered his energy to open a shortcut in front of the restaurant’s entrance.

The magic went awry.

The now-familiar Void cloaked him in an instant, knocking the breath from his chest. Sans didn’t even have a chance to think; already the darkness was stretching over him, clinging to his bones, his chest, his mind. It seeped into his every injury, drawing out pain from deep within and sawing at the wound across his chest. But the sensation went deeper than that. It was piercing at his soul, muddying his thoughts, making it impossible to do anything but scream silently.

(He tried to claw at it only to find that his hands were missing.)

Bits of white sloughed off him.

(He turned his attention to the rest of the Void. Just in front of him, he saw something… white?)

Was it bone or snow?

(Was that… another skeleton? They were standing there, staring straight ahead and not moving at all. Yet their body flickered rapidly, as if they were an image from an old film.)

Flecks of red and grey intermixed with the white as they drifted across the darkness. Bone it was.

(The figure looked like him, but… with minor differences. Was his tooth…?)

The specks of color were pooling together, forming something… Sans couldn’t tell what it was… Were they…?

(They were wearing the same clothes as him, but they were… dissolving. The particles were flying in Sans’s direction, and he reached out to catch it, remembering last second that he didn’t have hands. Except… wait, he did have hands…)

A pair of hands appeared in the darkness, followed shortly by a skull, and…

(Was that his own face staring back at him?)

He jerked away, his magic revolting instinctually. He landed face-first into something hard. In the blink of an eye, the figure disappeared and the endless black was replaced with a mass of solid white. The Void had already knocked the breath from him, and the impact had his wound throbbing. For what seemed an eternity, that pain was all he could focus on, and it took him far too long to remember how to breathe.

When he finally did, he inhaled something cold and wet. It was then that he realized he had collapsed in the snow. He slowly arched his neck upwards, coughing and spluttering from the snow that had crawled down his throat.

“GET THE HELL OUT HERE, GRILLBY!”

He glanced to his right and found that his shortcut had been successful in the end – he was lying right outside Grillby’s restaurant. One of the local rabbit monsters was standing at the entryway, holding the door open as she peered into the building with wide eyes. Just on the other side stood Papyrus, his stature ramrod straight and his chest glowing with magic.

“papyrus.” He had meant to yell, but his voice came out as a croak. Nonetheless, his cry caught the rabbit’s notice and she hopped forward, her eyes widening even more.

“Sans?” She asked, perplexity coating her tone. “Is that really you?”

Nodding, Sans tried to push himself to his feet, but didn’t get far; his arms gave out and he fell flat on his front once more.

“dammit.”

“Hold on there, hon, don’t move.” The rabbit lifted him up, his weight leaning heavily into her as she brought him to his feet. “What happened to you? You look horrible!”

“it doesn’t matter – it’s just –” He shook his head, trying to clear away the fuzziness. “papyrus is –”

“You brother did this?”

“what? why would –”

The inside of the restaurant suddenly erupted into a ruckus. All at once there came the sound of dogs barking and glass breaking, followed shortly by a loud crackling whoosh that caused the rabbit monster to gasp and hop backwards with Sans in tow. The movement wrenched his back, and he cried out, phalanges digging automatically into the rabbit’s arm.

“Ouch! Sans, what are you –?”

Papyrus released a wordless bellow from within the restaurant, and half a second later, a series of bones shattered the nearby window into a million pieces. Smoke was trickling out from the entrance, clouding the lanterns on either side of the door.

“dammit, help me get in there, please!”

Though the rabbit didn’t look eager about getting involved, she dragged Sans to the entrance. Whatever had happened to him had left his reserves dangerously low, and the tiny amount of effort it took to get inside the bar left Sans reeling. The rabbit didn’t seem to have much strength either; after moving Sans only a few feet, she was panting. She propped Sans against the doorframe and slunk onto the ground on the front step, trying to catch her breath.

The chaos around him quickly stole his attention. He couldn’t see much; the air was choked with heat and smoke that itched at Sans’s throat, and all that was visible was the occasional burst of blue or violent light that shone through the darkness. Magical energy crackled through the air, and the sound of shouting, snarling, and something banging on metal rang throughout the restaurant. Something was causing the floor to rumble, and Sans had to clutch the door tightly to stop himself from falling over.

“pa –” He coughed on the air. “pa-papyrus!” Even if the smoke hadn’t been clawing at him, there was no way anyone could hear him over the din.

A sudden gust of wind from outside sucked some of the smoke from the bar, unveiling the discord.

Sans’s soul stuttered. On the other side of the room stood Grillby, looking worse for the wear. His violet flames were bursting through his clothes so they were burned asunder, and smack in the center of his abdomen was a long, charred bone, stuck all the way through. His face was a misshapen mess; strings of lava were threaded in his gaping mouth, and his eyes were wide and glowing a luminescent blue akin to Sans’s own magic. His flames towered over him, licking the ceiling so that it was aflame.

A layer of black ashy soot covered the top half of the bar, and parts of the wallpaper were burning and peeling off to fall to the floor below. Some of the patrons were cowering in their seats, and Sans recognized many of them as his friends from town or patrol. On the left side of the room, on the other side of the large table – where he had been fucked, Sans remembered dully – congregated many of the Snowdin dogs. Their snarling filled the air as they bit and clawed at some figure huddled against the wall.

There came a loud dinging noise and Doggo, who had been smashed in with the rest of the dogs, was suddenly cast in blue light and thrown against the table. It was then that Sans spotted Papyrus, hunched up against a wall, aiming wave after wave of bone attack at the dogs. Most of his attempts were fruitless; the dogs’ armor protected them well, and try as he might, Papyrus couldn’t seem to land a hit. The dogs continued to snap at Papyrus’s red and black leather armor, and Sans saw that Greater Dog had their teeth sunken into his exposed bone.

“no!” Sans cried as loudly as he could, but no one seemed to notice.

Dredging up as much energy as he could muster, he summoned a wave of bones, and, with a flick of his wrist, he flung it at the attackers’ heads. Most of them splintered against the metal, crumbling uselessly to the ground. But three of them struck Lesser Dog’s head, and with a high-pitched yelp, Lesser Dog swiveled towards Sans, slobber foaming at their jowls.

Automatically, Sans tried to turn their soul blue, but as he extended his arm to Lesser Dog, he dully realized that he had overdone himself. His arm was shaking. The magic didn’t work. His legs were no longer able to support him.

He sunk to the floor, and when his head smacked the wood, his vision guttered briefly and an intense chill ran through his bones. He reflexively hunched in on himself, forming a tight ball, as he shivered. Everything about him felt weak, like he might fall apart at the seams.

The floor thudded with heavy footsteps, and for a second Sans hoped it was Papyrus – his Papyrus – here to take him home so he could rest. God, what he would do to see his shining face again. He wished he’d just take him away from this horrible world, tell him everything was going to be okay. More than anything, he wanted Papyrus to be alive.

Someone roughly turned him over, and as his eyelights adjusted to the light, he was shocked to see Lesser Dog standing above him, whining softly.

(Lesser Dog’s tongue wrestled with his as they made out in the back alley. Everything was so blurry and unfocused. Fur was pressed against his face. Claws tore into his chest. He moaned softly against Lesser Dog’s mouth, warmth spreading through his bones.)

He gagged at the unwanted images that flashed through his mind, and tried to scuttle backwards, away from Lesser Dog. His arms were too weak. Everything was too weak. All he could do was quake beneath Lesser Dog’s stare, his vision flickering as the last of his energy fled his body.

“GET AWAY FROM HIM!”

Sans hadn’t even realized the bar had gone quiet until he heard Papyrus’s scream. He heard another blast of magic and shortly after one of the other dogs yipped. Within a few seconds, Papyrus came into his view.

Sans’s soul churned. Papyrus’s head was cracked open and a rivulet of blood was pouring down his face and dripping onto Sans’s with a soft plop plop plop noise. His bones were lined with scratches and bitemarks where the dogs had clearly torn into him, and Sans wanted nothing more than to heal him, take away the pain.

Yet Papyrus was clearly more concerned about Sans than himself. He was inspecting Sans, turning him over and allowing his hand to brush against his every bone. When he grazed Sans’s chest, Sans gasped as his pain redoubled and his vision darkened completely. He could feel his mind going dim, his bones loosening, and finally, the pain went blissfully numb.

Then, Sans heaved as a sharp blast of energy entered his chest.

Sans’s eyes flew open. Papyrus’s features were contorted with concentrated as he bore down upon Sans, firing one, two, three jolts of green magic into Sans. With every discharge of energy, Sans inhaled sharply, the magic electrifying his soul. Papyrus pulled away, panting and looking disheveled.

The magic had done its job. He was by no means healed – his body ached and he was sure that he still couldn’t walk unassisted – but he was no longer on the brink of death. Tears fell down the side of his skull, misting his vision. He reached out to Papyrus to convey his gratitude for saving him, but he was already turning away, his expression darkening.

“WHAT DID YOU DO TO HIM?” Papyrus sniped at Lesser Dog who sat next to him. “WHAT? YOU DID NOT HAVE ENOUGH OF HIM ALREADY? BACK FOR MORE?”

Lesser Dog bore their teeth, a low growl rumbling from their chest.

“paps,” Sans mumbled, his words slurring slightly, “what the hell are you doing?”

“…A wonderful question. What the hell are you doing?”

Sans’s gaze darted to the bar where Grillby was watching them intensely. He had calmed down somewhat; his flames were not nearly as tall or loose as they had been moments ago, but were still not entirely contained, occasionally popping loudly. His eyes continued to glow bright blue as he glared Papyrus down.

Papyrus stood and faced Grillby, his chest glowing with magic. “YOU DARE ASK THAT OF ME, YOU DISGUSTING, MISERABLE CREATURE?”

“…You came into my bar, demanded I exit the kitchens, and attacked me as soon as I stepped out here. I would contact the Guard, but they’ve already made it clear that they mean to apprehend you,” he said, nodding to the sentry dogs who were watching Papyrus with unease. “…I do not know who you think you are, but I have every right to demand answers.”

“I AM THE GREAT AND TERRIBLE PAPYRUS, THAT IS WHO I AM! AND I AM HERE TO DEMAND RETRIBUTION FOR YOUR CRIMES!”

“…Crimes?”

“YES, YOU WILL PAY FOR DEFILING MY BR – MY GUEST, SANS.”

There was a pause, and then –

“What did you just say?”

“You’ve got to be kidding me!”

“Is he serious?”

Grillby’s voice cut across the commotion. “…Is that what you’re calling it? ‘Defiling?’ I know we used your sex toy without your permission, but to accuse us of something like that?”

Sans’s soul constricted.

“’SEX TOY?’ HOW DARE YOU?! SANS IS NOT – WE HAVE NOT – I WILL NOT STAND FOR THIS SLANDER!”

The bar erupted into riotous laughter. The only one who didn’t seem amused was Grillby.

“…That is not slander, Papyrus. What’s slander is what you just said: that I defiled your brother.”

“HE IS NOT MY BROTHER AND YOU DID DEFILE HIM. YOU RAPED HIM, YOU VILE MAN!”

The restaurant went deathly still.

“…Is that what you told him, Sans?” Grillby chuckled humorlessly, sending a shiver up Sans’s spine. “…I’ve heard some lies in my day, but this? This takes the cake.”

Sans’s mouth went dry. “what?”

“…Don’t pretend you weren’t begging for it. We all heard you.”

The crowd roared its agreement, and, in the quickest of movements, Papyrus glanced to Sans, a flicker of doubt in his eyes. Anger unlike any Sans had felt before bubbled within his soul.

“are you fucking serious?!” Sans couldn’t move, but his voice had finally returned to full volume. The room fell silent again. “you’re going to pretend that whatever you doped me with didn’t mess with my head?!”

“…Are you fucking serious?” Grillby’s tone was downright dangerous now, and as he leaned across the counter, Sans’s soul raced uncontrollably at the mere hint of him coming any closer. “…You were the one that asked for ‘the usual.’”

“i have no idea what the hell that means.”

“…If you go down this route, Sans, there’s no helping you.”

“go down what route?! i came in here to get some grub, you offered me a beer that was laced with drugs, and then you ordered everyone to fuck me!”

“…I don’t know if this is an attempt to get your money back or to escape punishment from him,” Grillby said, gesturing to Papyrus, “but don’t lie. In the long run, it won’t help you.”

“i’m not the one lying here, and you know it.”

“…You really have deluded yourself, haven’t you?”

Grillby sounded so serious, so sincere, that even Sans wondered if he was the one getting the details wrong. Everything from that night was a damned blur, thanks to that drug. But no, he remembered everything leading up to then very clearly. He never would’ve said yes to drugs. It just hadn’t been something he had ever been interested in. If he had, what would Papyrus have thought about him?

“…If you continue to accuse me of this nonsense, I won’t hesitate to get all relevant parties involved. And I mean all relevant parties,” he warned.

Sans puffed up, and with confidence he didn’t feel, he replied, “i don’t know what you’re trying to threaten me with, but i got news for you, pal: i don’t care what authorities you go to. no one here heard me give permission for drugs. no one.”

“…As I said, you ordered ‘the usual.’ Everyone here knows what that means.”

“everyone but me apparently.”

“…So I just imagined our deal?”

“what deal? any deal we made was when i was wasted! that doesn’t count!”

“…We have had a longstanding deal, as you well know.”

“how about you fill me in on the details then, bud?”

“…Maybe the terms changed slightly the other night,” he said, his voice laden with guilt, “but is it really much of a logical leap from ‘you can fuck me as long as I get access to your customers’ to ‘you can fuck me to pay off some of my tab?’ It’s the same shit, just a different lender, Sans. And the deal didn’t change when your brother decided to fake your death and imprison you.”

Sans really had to focus on Grillby to comprehend what he was saying. Obviously the two of them hadn’t had a deal, but had this universe’s Sans really agreed to do something like that? And what did he mean by imprisonment? What the hell kind of place was this?

“SHUT UP!” Papyrus screamed. “I DID NOT FAKE HIS DEATH, YOU SWINE!”

“…So he’s a figment of my imagination?”

“HE IS NOT MY BROTHER!”

“…Right.”

“it’s true, and i told you that the other night, you piece of crap!”

“…I don’t know what sort of joke this is, but I’m afraid I don’t understand your sense of humor,” Grillby said coolly.

“it’s not a god damned joke!”

He was desperate to impart this to Grillby, to all of them. He gazed around the room, aware that all eyes were on him as he lay helplessly on the floor. It was just like the other night, when he had been strewn upon the table, naked and moaning before them. His skull warmed at the mere memory.

“i’ve never been more serious in my life, you gotta get that. please,” he begged.

The silence lingered for a few moments, but was broken by Red Bird peeking out from behind the counter. “You’re a fucking liar! We all heard you say it was fine!”

“Yeah! How about you get the hell out of here, you lying sack of trash!” Punk Hamster shouted, emerging from one of the nearby booths.

One of the dogs barked at them, and soon the whole pack was yipping and growling. All except Doggo, who was staring at Sans with wide eyes. As they made eye contact, Sans was reminded of the last time they had looked at each other, and the memory of Doggo’s musky taste still cloyed his tongue. He averted his gaze, trying his best to hold back the vomit that threatened to escape his soul.

“I WILL MAKE YOU ALL PAY FOR WHAT YOU HAVE DONE TO HIM! AND TO MY BROTHER!”

A surge of bones cracked through the wooden floor and went flying in Grillby’s direction, whistling through the air. Grillby’s hands immediately sparked and a ball of flame exploded forth, colliding with Papyrus’s attack midair. The bones disintegrated into a pile of ashes before the magic disappeared entirely.

When the fire extinguished, Sans peered around the room and saw that many of the monsters were preparing their own attacks. Whether it was to mount an offense or to defend themselves from Papyrus, Sans didn’t know. Nor did he care. If any attack hit him, he was done for. There was no way he’d be able to dodge, not when his teleportation wasn’t working, and he couldn’t even pick himself off the ground.

More importantly, though, was Papyrus. If the others released their magic, Papyrus would end up wounded or worse, and if there was anyone innocent in all this, it was him. Sans never wanted him to get hurt. He didn’t deserve it.

So, despite the pain that lanced through his arm at the movement, Sans grabbed onto Papyrus’s pants and tugged to get his attention.

“WHAT?” Papyrus asked, his eyes darting between Sans and Grillby.

“we need to leave.”

“I WILL BRING THEM TO JUSTICE!”

“please, papyrus,” Sans begged. “we gotta go. now.”

Papyrus was frowning at him, his chest continuing to glow with barely restrained energy, and to Sans’s dismay, he glanced away, his brow furrowing. Sans knew that expression. It was the look his brother always got when he was hellbent on pursuing something his way. Once he got like that, there was no stopping him.

Sighing softly, Sans clenched his eyes shut and grasped the leg of Papyrus’s pants. Maybe, if he had to go, this was the best way to do it. With Papyrus at his side.

He should’ve done that the first time.

All of a sudden, Sans was whisked off the ground, and when he opened his eyes it was just as Papyrus was bringing him close to his chest.

“FINE,” he muttered to Sans, hugging him gently. He then turned to the rest of the bar, and yelled, “FINE! WE WILL LEAVE. YOU WIN. BUT I SWEAR, IF YOU EVER COME ANYWHERE NEAR US, I WILL UNLEASH A FURY UPON YOU UNLIKE ANY YOU HAVE SEEN BEFORE. I PROMISE IT!”

“…Get the hell out of here. I’ll send you the bill for this mess.”

Papyrus squeezed Sans tighter, but thankfully said nothing else even as the Snowdin residents’ jeered and shouted. He straightened his posture, held up his head, and marched out the restaurant.

As they walked onto the front step, Sans caught sight of the rabbit monster from earlier, still sitting there. Sans tried to flash her a weak but thankful smile as they passed, but was met only with a glare. He sighed and shifted closer to Papyrus, huddling in his jacket to shield himself for the walk home.

Chapter Text

*************************************************

The snow swallowed most noise, including Papyrus’s footsteps as he marched down the frosty path and up to one of the many wooden homes in the center of the quiet hamlet. The houses’ roofs were layered with thick coats of snow and with the Gyftmas decorations hanging from their porches, they appeared like cozy gingerbread houses nestled in a heap of untouched icing. No one was on the streets, casting an eerie air over the village. Though it was unusual for this time of day, Papyrus didn’t mind much. He liked the quiet. His job had entailed so much yelling and hostility recently; this was a pleasant change.

He rapped on the wreath-adorned door of the assigned house, burying his hands in his pockets immediately after to protect against the bitter cold. As he teetered on his feet, waiting for someone to answer, his gaze roamed over his surroundings. Many of the nearby buildings, though clearly inhabited, were unlit and their chimneys were not emitting any smoke. The home next to this one even had its windows cast open, which was more than odd, given the recent storm.

Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed that his badge was lopsided. With a heavy sigh, he readjusted it for the fifth time that day, the frigid air biting at his hands as he removed them from the sanctuaries that were his pockets. He would need to save up for a pair of gloves and additional gear for the weather if the Captain was going to assign him to Outer Snowdin again in the future. Even though he had moved into Snowdin proper a few months ago, he still wasn’t used to the chill after he had been forced to patrol rural Waterfall for so long.

Once he had refastened his badge, he knocked on the door again, a bit more impatiently this time, and stepped back to pace the porch to warm up his bones. He hoped that they would answer. The day was almost over, and if he didn’t meet his quota this week, the Captain would –

A spray of snow slapped him in the face as the door flew open, drenching him in slush that instantly had him shivering all over.

“Who goes there?!”

Refraining from grumbling out loud, Papyrus whisked the snow from his sockets, ready to shout at the stranger’s insolence, and… found himself staring at a grey wolf monster that towered over him head and shoulders. Their maw was split wide, revealing rows of jagged teeth envious of the Captain’s, and their fur stood up on end so that they took up most of the doorway. Hovering all around them were several paw-shaped magic bullets, complete with razor sharp claws, aimed in Papyrus’s direction.

Jumping at the sudden threat, Papyrus gathered his magic, stopping just short of coalescing it into solid matter.

“I AM THE GREAT AND TERRIBLE PAPYRUS, SENTRY FOR THE ROYAL GUARD. YOU WILL DISMISS YOUR ATTACK!”

Though he commanded it in as firm a voice as he could muster, he still squeaked as he pronounced the last sentence, and he hated himself for it. Ignoring the blush that was creeping onto his face, he puffed out his chest and continued to hold onto the stream of magic channeling in his soul.

“What’s a Guard doing out here?” the wolf monster snarled, and before Papyrus had a chance to reply, they continued, “Don’t believe whatever Regisel’s been reporting to you, he’s just trying to get back at me! I don’t have an ounce on me!”

“I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT.”

“You’re… not here on a tip?”

“NO, BUT I AM LOOKING FOR A MX. TY RED PUPPS?”

“Yeah, well, what for?” they said cagily. “Got some sort of business with them?”

“I AM HERE TO COLLECT THEIR TAXES.”

Now was the moment of truth. He bent his knees slightly, ready to roll away should the stranger decide to attack.

But to his immense relief, a smile crept onto the monster’s face, their fur smoothed out so they looked half the size they were before, and their bullets dissipated into nothingness.

“Well, why didn’t you just open with that? I thought I was in trouble!”

Papyrus relaxed. “OF COURSE. HOW SILLY OF ME.”

The monster shook their head and beckoned them inside. “Well, get in here then. No point in staying out in the snow while I fetch the coin.”

Papyrus stepped inside, welcoming the opportunity to warm his hands by the fire, but was disappointed to find that the interior was almost as cold as outside. The living room was decorated warmly with rugs, framed photos, and flower print curtains, and, even though the monster had clearly been sitting on the couch with a book, the fireplace was bare and the back windows were open to the elements. Drifts of snow had already managed to fall inside, sticking to the window sills.

“Anything you’d like to drink?” the monster asked as they closed the door behind them.

“ER. YOU WOULD NOT HAPPEN TO HAVE HOT COCOA?”

They released a throaty bark that Papyrus took for laughter.

“Not today, I don’t! Have you lost track of the date?”

“I… AM NOT SURE?”

“It’s Ice Day!”

“OH!” He had no idea what that was, but he wasn’t about to let this monster know that. “OF COURSE, HOW COULD I FORGET?”

“I was surprised they had you working out here today of all days. All the shops are closed, I’d think any Snowdin Guards would be at home today! Unless…” The monster tilted their head. “You are from Snowdin, aren’t you?”

“I DO LIVE IN SNOWDIN,” Papyrus confirmed. “IT IS THE BEST PLACE TO LIVE IN THE UNDERGROUND, IS IT NOT? LOTS OF BEAUTIFUL SNOW AND WARM HOMES AND HAPPY PEOPLE.”

“Yeah, I suppose,” they said with doubt in their tone. “Not sure how long you’ve lived here, but I hope you know that Ice Day means no electricity, no fires, nothing like that. It’s to bring in the warmth over the next year.”

“Y-YES OF COURSE! I KNEW THAT! I AM A SNOWDIN RESIDENT AFTER ALL! NYEH HEH HEH!”

The wolf raised an eyebrow. “Right. Well, uh, how much do I owe anyway? You never mentioned.”

“OH! UM.” He pulled out his ledger and pinpointed the wolf’s name. “MX. TY RED PUPPS, RIGHT?” They nodded, impatience coloring their features. “THE TOTAL IS 100G.”

“100G? Mercy, these taxes just keep going up, don’t they?”

“THAT IS WHAT MANY MONSTERS HAVE SAID TO ME.”

Mx. Pupps sighed. “Too many Guards, I’ll tell you. No offense, but it seems like they keep hiring more and more and yet they don’t actually do anything, do they?”

Papyrus puffed up. “THAT IS MOST UNTRUE! THE ROYAL GUARD DO MANY THINGS!”

“Yeah,” they said, rolling their eyes, “like collect taxes.”

Papyrus crossed his arms. “ARE YOU GOING TO GET YOUR MONEY OR NOT?”

Mx. Pupps growled under their breath as they stormed out of the room, ignoring the glare Papyrus was throwing their way. Once they had left, Papyrus aimlessly paced through their living room, trying his best to push down the anger bubbling in his chest. He would be happy to put this day behind him. Perhaps he’d go home and buy a cinnamon bunny from the shop as a treat. Unless they weren’t open today. Stupid holidays no had ever heard of getting in the way of a relaxing night at home.

As he passed one of the windows, a scream had him stopping in his tracks. That had come from somewhere nearby.

Soul thumping, he dashed over to the window and peeked his head out. With the snow, the silence was absolute, and as he stood there, his skull freezing in the wind, he wondered if he had imagined the sound in the first place. But a second later another wail echoed between the houses, much longer this time and fluctuating in both volume and tone as it stretched on. The voice was low and guttural, and Papyrus swore it belonged to his brother, but that made no sense. Sans was busy selling hot dogs and hot cats in Hotland, nowhere near Snowdin. He had no reason to be out in the middle of nowhere.

Papyrus strained his neck to peer to find the source of the sound. That was when he saw him. His brother. He was visible through the neighbor’s window, back sliding against a bed as a bright blue bear monster plowed into him. Papyrus’s mouth went dry as he spotted the familiar glow of summoned flesh lighting up where the two were connected. As the unknown monster thrust in and out of Sans, he continued to shout, at first wordlessly, but then gradually returning to his familiar teasing timbre.

“fuck, big boy, you’re really trying here, aren’t you?”

The bear lifted Sans’s legs and began to impale him vertically, eliciting another moan.

“oh, come on, you can go harder than that, right? i thought you wanted to fuck me until i was raw.”

“Shut up!” the bear shouted as he redoubled his efforts.

The next scream Sans released was exaggerated, high-pitched, and caused Papyrus’s soul to constrict with such overwhelming pain, he could hardly breathe. Tears clouded his eyes as he stared at his brother grappling at the sheets, as the monster pushed him backwards until his skull hit the headboard. Papyrus rubbed at his sockets, frantically trying to get rid of all evidence of his emotion so he could pull away and stop watching the proof that Sans didn’t love him. But the tears kept coming and his eyes were glued to the scene.

That was, until the wolf monster shouted from right behind him.

“Hey, I have your money!”

“OW!” Papyrus exclaimed as he smacked his head against the window frame. Massaging his skull, he backed up and straightened his posture to stare into the wolf’s eyes, his cheeks warming. “I – I APOLOGIZE! I WAS JUST… JUST…”

“fuck, you’re almost there!” came an urgent screech from behind him.

“Oh. Guess you saw the neighbors going at it.” The wolf monster – what was their name again? Pupps? Yes, that sounded right – sighed as they shook their head. “I told you, the Guard doesn’t do anything around here.”

“W-WHAT DO YOU MEAN?” Neither Sans nor the bear were part of the Royal Guard as far as he knew.

“You mean besides the disrespect of warming yourself up like that on Ice Day?”

Even with his brother’s moans and groans sounding behind him, he didn’t want to hear about how Sans and the bear were heating themselves up with this activity. It somehow made it more perverse, more painful. He wasn’t sure his soul could take much more.

“W-WARMING UP IS NOT A CRIME, IS IT?”

“Of course not. It’s just the principle of the matter! But I have to tell you, I am real tired of my neighbor picking up the cheapest whores he can find down at the bars.”

Papyrus couldn’t stop the gasp that left his mouth.

“I know, it’s disgusting,” Mx. Pupps said, nodding. “I keep complaining to the Guard about it, but they won’t do a damned thing. But hey, if you’re upset about it, maybe you can –”

“SHUT UP. NOW.”

Their face scrunched with momentary anger that quickly faded. They must have spotted the expression on Papyrus’s face. Or perhaps they saw how his body trembled so violently. Or maybe, just maybe, it was because Papyrus had summoned his most special of attacks. He could feel the constructs levitating somewhere behind him, waves of turbulent magic rolling off them. Whatever it was they noticed, they took a step back, holding up their hands.

“Hey, hey, calm down. I didn’t mean anything by it.” They dropped a black bag onto a nearby coffee table, and Papyrus heard the sound of metal clanking against metal. “Here’s the gold. You can just… go. Don’t worry about the neighbor! I can call the Guard another day or –”

Somewhere behind him his magic whined with power, and Mx. Pupps yipped as they fled the room, their tail tucked between their legs.

With only his blasters to keep him company, he dropped to the floor, his chest tight as he listened to his brother and the unknown bear’s orgasmic screams piercing the air.

*************************************************

Papyrus stormed into the house, every bone in his body burning with an unrelenting desire to punch the walls, destroy the furniture, wreak havoc upon everything within sight. Not wanting to ruin his belongings, yet unable to remain still, instinctively his feet carried him back and forth across the living room floor. The smell of smoke lingered in his nasal cavity and only added to his fury, reminding him of the very monster he truly wanted to unleash his anger upon.

It took him far too long to realize that the smell was not merely the remnants of his fight clinging to his clothes, but that there was, in fact, smoke drifting from the kitchen. With a low growl, he rushed to the stove and, with one hand, removed the burnt remains of the marinara sauce off the heated burner. Even that small task left him immobile too long for his restless soul and he returned to the living room to begin his pacing anew.

After he had walked across the room for who-knew-how-long, Sans’s voice called out weakly against his chest.

“papyrus? can you put me down?”

Papyrus stopped in his tracks. He had been so caught up in his own thoughts he had forgotten he had been carrying Sans. With his arms trembling, he lowered Sans onto the couch and, when he was secure, tucked a cushion under his head.

“thanks,” Sans exhaled, his eyes fluttering closed. “what a day.”

Papyrus swallowed but didn’t respond. His eyes roved over Sans’s body, taking in the state of his pallor complexion and noting how his bones sagged against the couch. Blots of red bled through his shirt, the sight of which sent daggers through Papyrus’s soul. Carefully, he lifted the t-shirt and saw that the wound beneath was as ragged and ugly as ever though not freely bleeding. The stains must have been from when he had been injured at Undyne’s.

He gently lowered the shirt and pulled back. Relief poured through him when he realized that Sans’s breathing had turned deep and restful. Sans needed all the sleep he could get right now; with whatever impairment he had, it was a wonder he hadn’t dusted back at Grillby’s.

A shiver shot through Papyrus at the thought.

They needed help. The threat that Grillby and the rest of the town presented was too much to deal with on their own, especially with Sans in such a state. He fished his phone out of his pocket, and readied himself to dial Undyne’s number, but just as he was about to press the call button, Sans grabbed onto his wrist.

“ACK!” Papyrus shouted. “YOU SCARED ME! I THOUGHT YOU WERE ASLEEP!”

“nah,” Sans murmured, his eyes opening slightly, “just resting my eyes a little.”

Papyrus shook his hand off. “WELL YOU SHOULD SLEEP. YOU NEED ENERGY.”

“heh. what happened to eating before bed?”

“DO YOU REALLY HAVE AN APPETITE RIGHT NOW?”

“if i did, then would you make me something?”

Papyrus started to climb to his feet. “OF COURSE, YOU COULD HAVE ASKED, I WOULD HAVE –”

“i was joking.”

Papyrus scowled. “THEN YOU MUST SLEEP.”

“are you going to sleep?”

“NO.” He held up the phone. “I WAS ABOUT TO CALL FOR REINFORCEMENTS.”

Sans blinked so slowly that Papyrus thought he was going to go back to sleep for a few moments. “yeah, don’t do that.”

Papyrus narrowed his eyes. “AND WHY NOT?”

“don’t wanna involve the guard.”

Papyrus’s chest tightened. “IS THERE A REASON?”

Sans’s sockets squeezed shut. “none of their business.”

“SANS,” he said with exasperation.

But Sans was already rolling over to face the couch cushions, scrunching his legs so he formed a small ball.

After a few seconds of silence, Papyrus quietly asked, “IS WHAT HE SAID TRUE?”

“is what who said true?”

“IS WHAT GRILLBY SAID TRUE? DID YOU…” He swallowed. “DID YOU SELL YOURSELF TO HIM?”

Silence rang out, more deafening and uncomfortable than any other between them. Eventually Sans turned back around, and Papyrus spotted fresh tears at the corners of his eyes.

“hell no,” he whispered, his voice shaking. “i can’t even believe you asked that.”

“I AM SORRY.” And he really meant it; he didn’t want to accuse of him lying, but he had to be sure. “I KNOW THIS IS HARD, AND I AM SORRY FOR BEING SO… ANGRY ABOUT EVERYTHING.” He clenched his fists. “IT’S JUST… IF HE IS LYING…”

“he’s lying,” Sans said shortly.

“THEN… IF WE ARE INCAPABLE OF PERSONALLY DELIVERING JUSTICE ONTO HIM – ONTO ALL OF THEM – WHY WOULD WE NOT CONTACT UNDYNE? SHE WOULD BRING SUPPORT.”

Sans sat up and hugged his knees to his chest. “because it’s… terrifying to even think about.”

“TERRIFYING?”

Sans rested his chin on his knees and gazed at the floor. “yeah. i can’t believe grillby…” He gripped his leg. “he was a… good friend back home. how could he do this? how could any of them do this?” His eyes darted to Papyrus. “and if i said anything, what would they do to you once i left?”

Left. The word echoed strangely in Papyrus’s mind, leaving his soul throbbing with indescribable pain. He suppressed the feeling, put it out of mind as quick as possible. It wouldn’t do to think about it now.

“SANS, WHAT HAPPENED? YOU MENTIONED A FEW THINGS, BUT… IT WOULD BE BEST TO HEAR IT ALL FROM THE START.”

Sans hugged his legs tighter to his chest, his eyelights disappearing, leaving only a void behind. His mouth opened and then closed without making a sound one, two, three, four times. Papyrus wondered if he might cry – he wouldn’t have blamed him – or if his voice was permanently stuck in his throat, unable to tell his side of the story. Just as Papyrus was about to tell him that it was okay, that he didn’t have to say a word, Sans began, his voice a rasp deep in his throat, almost inaudible. Papyrus listened, horror growing as Sans described the evening, finally squeaking when he detailed how Grillby had brought him to the table with promises of eliminating his debt.

“THAT BASTARD.” He was trembling so badly now that he had to sit on the floor. “HOW COULD HE SAY THAT? HE KNEW…”

“he knew what?” whispered Sans.

“HE KNEW THAT I WAS GOING TO PAY OFF THE DEBT. WE HAD A DEAL. I HAD BEEN SENDING HIM SMALL PAYMENTS FOR THE LAST SEVERAL MONTHS. HE WAS GETTING PAID. SLOWLY, YES. BUT IT WAS STILL MONEY.”

“guess he didn’t wanna wait.”

Papyrus bit back the words that nipped at his mouth. No, Grillby hadn’t wanted to wait. Not with Sans around again. The two of them had their own bargain. Their own relationship. Their own needs. And certainly not when Sans had just strolled into the bar one day, acting as if nothing was amiss. To Grillby, it must have appeared as if Sans had just… abandoned all that without batting an eyelash.

Well, Papyrus supposed that his brother had done that, in his own way.

He put the memory out of his mind, gritting his teeth.

“SANS, WE NEED TO GO TO THE CAPTAIN. SHE WILL KNOW HOW TO DEAL WITH THIS.”

Sans snapped his eyes to Papyrus, his frown growing. “how is she gonna deal with this? i can’t prove a damn thing. the whole town says i gave permission, what am i supposed to do? my word won’t count for shit!”

Papyrus straightened his posture, a pit forming in his soul. “HE… DID HE NOT…?” He shook his head. “OF COURSE NOT, YOU ARE NOT MY BROTHER.”

“what?”

Papyrus unlocked his phone and navigated to his text messages, taking much longer than usual; his hands were shaking so violently that he kept accidentally pressing the wrong buttons. When he finally got to the text message in question, he hesitated, glancing up at Sans as nausea stole through his soul.

“what is it?”

“I DO NOT KNOW HOW TO TELL YOU THIS, BUT…” He gulped and handed over the phone. “IT IS BEST TO SEE IT WITH YOUR OWN EYES.”

Sans took the cellphone and stared at the photo. “this is…?”

“FROM THAT NIGHT, YES. GRILLBY SENT IT.”

The image had been burned into his memory ever since he had received it the other evening. And it was no wonder. One moment he had been pacing the length of Waterfall, on the verge of bursting into Undyne’s home to vent to her about his brother’s lookalike showing up out of the blue, and the next he had received… that. An image of Sans, half-naked, surrounded by monsters, and clearly intoxicated – and getting more intoxicated by the second, what with Grillby shoving a bottle into his mouth. And worst of all, his soul was in someone’s hand.

When Papyrus had seen that, paired with the words “LOOK WHAT I GOT” typed across the top, complete with emojis, his anger, his sadness, all of his turmoil had been replaced with an urgent need to run to Grillby’s and rescue Sans from his bad decisions. And to pay Grillby all that he was owed.

“you… got this… from grillby?” Sans asked quietly, his eyes boring into the phone screen.

“YES. HE SENT IT TO YOU AS WELL, BUT OF COURSE, HE ACTUALLY SENT IT TO MY BROTHER’S OLD PHONE NUMBER.”

“why?” He lowered the phone, his arms quaking. His eyelights stared blankly into the distance, fuzzy around the edges, as if not really seeing anything. “why would he do that?”

“AS A THREAT. HE KNEW THAT I DID NOT APPROVE OF MY BROTHER’S… HABITS.”

“habits?” Sans croaked, his eyelights sharpening into pinpricks. “is… what grillby said true?”

“I WOULD NEVER KEEP MY BROTHER AS A SEX SLAVE, NO.”

“what?” He blinked a few times, as if not understanding. “i meant… the drugs. the agreement they had.”

“OH,” Papyrus said, his cheekbones warming. “YES. MY BROTHER HAD A DEAL WITH NEARLY EVERY BAR IN THE UNDERGROUND TO SELL HIS BODY TO THE CUSTOMERS. I BELIEVE GRILLBY TRADED DRUGS FOR SEX ON A NUMBER OF OCCASIONS,” he added bitterly, hating that he had to admit it. “I DO NOT KNOW THE DETAILS OF THEIR AGREEMENT, BUT THERE IS NO DOUBT THEY HAD AN AGREEMENT.”

“but… why? why would he do that?”

Papyrus inhaled a shaky breath. “MY BROTHER WAS ILL. VERY, VERY ILL. HE WAS ADDICTED TO A LOT OF THINGS AND HE… FELL INTO DEBT WITH A LOT OF MONSTERS. AND MANY OF THOSE MONSTERS WERE QUITE UPSET WHEN HE DID NOT PAY THEM IN A PUNCTUAL MANNER. SO WHEN HE HAD NO OTHER WORK TO TURN TO, HE DID WHAT HE ENJOYED BEST.”

“why didn’t you tell me?” Sans asked, his voice hollow. “before i walked around with everyone thinking i’m your bro. why didn’t you say something?”

“WHY DIDN’T I… WHY WOULD I TELL YOU? I DID NOT THINK I WOULD NEED TO TELL YOU ANY OF THAT. EITHER YOU WERE MY BROTHER OR YOU WERE A DOPPELGANGER. I DID NOT THINK I HAD TO WARN YOU OF SOME AGREEMENT THAT I DO NOT KNOW THE DETAILS OF.”

“fucking hell, i’m going to be sick.”

“SANS, WE NEED TO ALERT THE GUARD. WE CAN USE THAT PHOTO AS PROOF.”

“there’s no way in hell i’m showing that to undyne.”

“IT IS EMBARRASSING, I AM SURE –”

“embarrassing?! it’s more than that –”

“– BUT IT WILL PROVE THAT GRILLBY WAS TRYING TO FORCE MY HAND. THAT HE WANTED ME TO PAY OFF YOUR DEBT IN EXCHANGE FOR TAKING YOU BACK HOME.”

“god, papyrus, it doesn’t prove anything!”

“IT WILL ACT AS AT LEAST SOME EVIDENCE THAT HE WAS RAPING YOU!”

“everyone thinks i have some sort of deal with him! they heard me order ‘the usual!’ the photo is just… fuel to the fire!” He pressed his hands to his sockets. “fuck, they’ll even ask around and see if anyone else knows anything.”

“SANS, PLEASE.”

“no way. i won’t do it.”

“SANS!”

“there’s no point! no one’s gonna believe me!”

“THE GUARD WILL BELIEVE YOU ONCE THEY INVESTIGATE!”

“listen, even if the guard comes here and interviews us and everyone else, what’s it gonna do? prove i didn’t mean it when i was –” He faltered for a moment, his words catching in his throat. “when i was calling out for more while i was out of my mind high?” His chest shuddered. “i’m sure it’ll go over great. ‘it was all a big misunderstanding! no, you didn’t actually have my permission to publicly fuck me!’ and all this right before i skedaddle back to my own universe?”

Papyrus didn’t know what to say. When Sans put it like that, it sounded horrendous. And with Sans’s panic controlling his breathing, Papyrus’s own anxiety was pushing him closer and closer to the edge, wrapping a tight band around his chest, warping his thoughts. Perhaps Sans was right. They didn’t need eyes on them right now anyway, not with Muffet out there.

“i just can’t believe… god, i can’t believe this is happening.” Sans rubbed his sockets roughly, his hands scraping loudly against the bone. “i can’t believe your bro had agreed to let this happen.”

Papyrus exhaled a long, quivering breath.

“MY BROTHER DID A LOT OF THINGS THAT WERE… QUESTIONABLE. AND IN THE END, HE DIED BECAUSE OF THAT.”

The moment he uttered the last words, he regretted saying them. A sob tore from his throat, reverberating his body, his soul.

Why was he crying? This wasn’t about him, this was about Sans. He hurriedly wiped away the tears, trying to get rid of them before Sans got angry with him for acting like a child. Besides, Sans was the one in so much pain and misery. Papyrus had no right to cry. None at all. He needed to stop right this instant!

It was no use. Whenever he started thinking about that day, it always took him at least a couple hours to recover and usually longer. He hunched in on himself, ready for Sans to tell him off for being so loud and such an attention hog. And he deserved it. Who else but him would cry like this when Sans had just disclosed how he had been raped? It was disgusting. He was disgusting.

To his shock, however, Sans climbed off the couch and knelt next to him, taking his hands into his. As Papyrus peered into his eyes, he saw only worry reflected in his features.

“I-I-I AM SORRY,” Papyrus gasped out. “I DID NOT MEAN TO – TO CRY L-LIKE THIS.”

“don’t be sorry. i know, i know.”

And his tone was so sincere, so forgiving, that Papyrus couldn’t help but release another sob. Sans leaned forward and wrapped his arms around him, squeezing tightly along his back as Papyrus shook with restrained emotion. He was so desperate not to let out everything at once or the whole town would probably hear him explode with all his rage and fear and grief. Yet the memory of finding his brother’s dusty clothes, covered with freshly fallen snow, had his soul wound tight, and he knew he had to cry. Truly cry.

So when he felt Sans bawling alongside him, his chest expanding and contracting against Papyrus’s, he lost it completely. He keened into the air, grabbing fistfuls of Sans’s clothes and dragging him closer. As he buried his head into the old hoodie, he sucked in an urgent breath and took in his brother’s scent, prompting him to wail again.

“don’t ever apologize for crying about your bro’s death,” Sans choked out as Papyrus’s cry tapered off. “never ever.”

“S-SANS.”

“i mean it, i c-can’t handle it.” He tightened his grip on Papyrus’s back. “i always had a hard time when my bro cried. but when he apologized for it… blamed himself for it… god, that was the worst.”

The thought that Sans’s brother would cry like this somehow made the pain in his soul even worse. He forced him to inhale, then exhale. Inhale. Exhale. Over and over again. He needed to get a grasp on his breathing. He needed to lie and let Sans know he was okay. That there was no need to worry. That he didn’t blame himself.

And then realization struck him, knocking the wind from him.

Sans had used the past tense just now. In fact, he was almost positive that every time Sans had spoken about his brother, he had spoken as if Papyrus were something from a memory. Not present. Always “was” and never “is.” He had never really given it any thought, but…

“IS – IS HE DEAD?”

Sans’s grip was so tight now, Papyrus wondered if one of his ribs might snap off.

“yes,” Sans said so quietly Papyrus wasn’t sure if he had actually said it until he continued, a bit louder this time, “but not permanently.”

“WHAT? WHAT DO YOU MEAN?”

“if i travel back, i can prevent it. my bro’s death. i just gotta… figure out how to go back to the right place and time.”

The words echoed in Papyrus’s head strangely. Going back in time. For so long that had been what he had wished for himself. To go back and stop his brother before he had died. To put an end to his addiction before it had even begun. To urge him away from the working at the Royal Laboratory before he had lost himself. To tell his younger self to stop his foolishness before Sans was hurt beyond repair.

They were the wishes of someone who had lost the one closest to them. Someone who was desperate to get them back at all costs. He knew because, some days, he was still that monster.

“HOW DID IT HAPPEN?” Papyrus asked, half-hoping that the answer wasn’t as horrible as he was expecting.

Sans’s words came stilted and sluggish, as if they were stuck to his mouth.

“someone murdered him.”

“WHAT?” Papyrus asked, soul stuttering. “MURDERED?”

Sans nodded, and as Papyrus lifted his head to inspect him, he saw that his sockets were blank once more. “yeah. a human came.”

“WAIT. AN ACTUAL HUMAN?”

In his mind flashed the images of humans zooming down the roads in a car chase, as seen in the black and white movies he had found in the Dump, fashionable humans giving important life advice about sex, makeup, and cooking in tattered magazines, and superheroes battling villains in a show of wits and brawn in waterlogged comic books. The thought of seeing a human in real life, after the Underground hadn’t seen one in so long, sent a thrill through his soul. And yet, Sans’s expression told him it had not been fun and games.

“yeah, just a kid.”

“A CHILD KILLED HIM?”

He had heard of evil humans before – after all, it was how monsterkind had ended up down here in the first place – but after years of growing up watching humans standing up for good on television, being the coolest things in the Underground, he had simply thought that the historians had exaggerated. But for a child to murder a monster…

“i don’t think either of us knew how violent humans could be,” Sans replied, echoing Papyrus’s thoughts. “hell, when i saw them, something told me – and it was a real deep feeling, like an instinct – that they were a good kid. ha!” he cried out humorlessly. “my instincts were garbage, like always.”

“BUT… YOUR BROTHER… DID HE NOT HAVE GOOD INSTINCTS?”

Papyrus very much doubted that any version of himself would ignore an obvious threat such as the one that this human clearly presented.

“of course he did. he just… pushed them down. he tried to see the best in everyone.” Sans averted his gaze. “saw the best in me too for some reason. don’t know why. i couldn’t even protect him in the end. i couldn’t protect anybody. the kid killed half the underground and i just… let it happen.”

Papyrus stared at him in horror as he wiped his tears on his hoodie sleeve. “HOW LONG AGO DID THIS HAPPEN?”

“how long have i been here?”

“ARE YOU SAYING THIS HAPPENED JUST LAST WEEK?!”

“how do you think this happened?” he said, indicating his chest. “i had to stop them.”

“YOU KILLED THE HUMAN?” Papyrus exclaimed, his soul tightening.

“no,” admitted Sans, and Papyrus could hardly contain his sigh of relief. “couldn’t even do that in the end. i’m a failure in everything i guess.”

Papyrus shook his head. “I DO NOT UNDERSTAND. AFTER YOU GOT SO HURT, YOU… TRIED TO TELEPORT AWAY?”

“time travel,” Sans reminded. “i tried to time travel. back to before this mess. before… everything.”

It all made sense now. There had been no “experiment gone wrong” like Sans had claimed earlier; Sans had been on the brink of death when he had appeared in the living room. At the time, Papyrus had thought him as his brother, back from the dead and desperate for home. Desperate for Papyrus. But no, Sans had merely been trying to get back to his own brother.

“it’s why i gotta get back to him. if i could just get back to the core… or get my magic working, dammit.”

Papyrus snapped to attention. “YOUR MAGIC IS NOT WORKING?”

“do you really think i would’ve let them do that to you back there? i couldn’t get off more than a bone attack without nearly dying. and every time i try to teleport… it’s like the world disappears and all my energy just goes –” He made a splatting noise.

“PERHAPS IT IS A SIDE EFFECT OF THE DRUG. SANS – MY BROTHER – OFTEN HAD PROBLEMS WITH HIS MAGIC WHEN HE TOOK TOO MUCH.”

“maybe.” He sounded doubtful.

“YOU DO NOT BELIEVE THE GREAT AND TERRIBLE PAPYRUS?”

“i believe you when you say it happened, but my body just hasn’t felt right since i got here.”

“THEN…” He hesitated, trying to think of a solution. “WE WILL CONTACT ALPHYS. I SUPPOSE YOU HAD AN ALPHYS IN YOUR WORLD?” Sans nodded. “I THOUGHT SO. SHE AND SANS… WORKED TOGETHER.” He fiddled with his scarf. “I ASSUME THE SAME WAS TRUE OF YOU TWO?”

“yeah, we did a lot of stuff together back when g– well, it doesn’t matter.”

Papyrus sighed. “I SUPPOSE IT DOES NOT. BUT IF YOU TWO WORKED ON TIME TRAVEL AT ALL, AS YOU SAID, PERHAPS SHE COULD AID YOU.”

“yeah. yeah, that’s a good idea.”

They sat in silence, thoughts of the past rumbling in Papyrus’s mind. It was hard not to dwell on all the mistakes he had made tonight and over the past few years. Fatigue seeped through his bones, penetrating his soul so that he ached all over.

He was so engrossed by his memories and exhaustion that when Sans reached out and touched his arm, he could have sworn he jumped ten feet in the air.

“sorry, didn’t mean to scare you,” he said, sniffling. “i was just looking at your armor.”

Papyrus glanced down at where he was making contact and saw that his leather was marred with indentations where the dogs had tried to bite and scratch.

Sans nodded to Papyrus’s skull. “you need a healer.”

Papyrus lifted a hand to his cheekbones and hissed as he grazed an injury. It stung fiercely, even from the lightest of touches, and when he pulled away, blood stained his fingertips. The leather armor had protected him from the worst of the attacks, but his face, left unprotected and bare, had endured the brunt of the damage.

“I SHALL HAVE TO WASH AND BANDAGE THESE.”

“what? no, you should go to a healer. they look deep.”

“A HEALER? AT THIS TIME OF NIGHT? THE SNOWDIN HEALERS WILL WANT NOTHING TO DO WITH ME AFTER MY ACTIONS EARLIER. THE NEAREST MONSTER I TRUST TO DO THE JOB RIGHT IS UNDYNE, AND I WILL NOT VENTURE THROUGH WATERFALL AT THIS HOUR.”

He needed to keep an eye on Sans while he was so weak. Carrying him all the way to Undyne’s home while keeping an eye out for enemies was out of the question when he had such obvious injuries.

“then, maybe i should try to –”

“YOU ARE NOT HEALING ME,” he snapped, already drawing back so that Sans shifted against the couch. “YOU CANNOT EVEN WALK PROPERLY!”

Sans flinched. “you’ll scar.”

“I HAVE PLENTY OF SCARS. A COUPLE MORE WILL NOT DO ANY HARM. IN FACT,” he added, thinking back to what his brother had once said, “THEY MAKE ME COOLER. THE WHOLE UNDERGROUND WILL KNOW I GOT INTO A FIERCE BATTLE AND LIVED TO TELL THE TALE.”

Sans frowned. “is that really something to brag about?”

“WHY WOULD I NOT BRAG ABOUT SOMETHING LIKE THAT? IT IS TRUE!”

“what if you have permanent damage?”

“THEN THE GREAT AND TERRIBLE PAPYRUS WILL SHOULDER THAT BURDEN!” he exclaimed, straightening his posture. “HOWEVER, I THINK YOUR WORRIES ARE MISPLACED. IT IS DOUBTFUL SOMETHING THIS SUPERFICIAL WILL BE PERMANENT.”

Sans remained silent, but did not look happy. Still, there was nothing to be done for it. Papyrus sighed and rose to his feet, his bones cracking as he stretched his limbs.

“I AM GOING TO ATTEND TO MY INJURIES. YOU, HOWEVER, NEED SLEEP.”

“yeah,” Sans sighed. “that’s true.”

“GOOD! NO ARGUMENTS FOR ONCE!”

Sans rolled his eyelights. “guess i can see reason.”

“IT IS A GOOD THING YOU CAN! I AM NOT SURE HOW MUCH MORE MY SOUL CAN TAKE.”

Sans blinked a few times, his face reddening.

“WHAT?”

“nothing,” Sans said hurriedly. “guess i’m realizing i argue too much.”

“YOU DO.”

Sans exhaled, but didn’t respond. His eyes were half-lidded and he looked ready to fall asleep any second. It took Papyrus more than a few seconds to realize that Sans couldn’t even get up to go to bed. His limbs sagged against the floor uselessly. Just like his brother.

Holding back a sigh, Papyrus scooped Sans into his arms, shifting his weigh so he could easily carry him. He climbed up the stairs, taking care to hold Sans close so his arms and legs wouldn’t flop around too much, but as they approached the top, Sans mustered the strength to tug on Papyrus’s shirt.

“YES?”

“can i –“ He audibly swallowed. “can i sleep with you?”

“I –”

He was about to express his surprise, to question why Sans would want to join him after Papyrus’s ill treatment of him over the last few days, but, really, the answer was obvious. Not only was there safety in numbers – and there was no doubt Sans feared Grillby’s retribution as much as, if not more than, Papyrus – but after their discussion, it was clear that Sans missed his brother. His brother that looked identical to him, he was sure. It made Papyrus’s reprehensible behavior towards him over the last week that much worse.

“YES, OF COURSE.”

Pressing Sans closer to his chest, he changed course and entered his bedroom. A quick glance around told him that everything was exactly as he had left it and tension deep within him – tension he hadn’t even been aware of until now – unspooled like a ball of yarn. He walked across the room, his shoulders straighter and his gait more confident, but as he reached the bed, his poise was disrupted when Sans released a low chuckle.

“WHAT IS SO FUNNY?”

Papyrus had thought he was laughing at his sudden change in posture, but as he lowered him onto the bed, he saw that Sans’s eyes were not fixated on him, but roaming the room.

“nice decoration. very cool.”

Upon moving into the house, Papyrus had painted the walls black with a red border along the top, and over the years, had adorned them with posters he had scrounged from the Dump. Powerful-looking human superheroes and supervillains peered down at him alongside the grungy and badass rock bands. He thought the posters paired nicely with the special Halloween edition action figures from one of his favorite shows, Transmorphers.

Usually he was quite proud of his collection, but the way Sans was laughing had him blushing.

“DO NOT MAKE FUN OF ME!”

“i’m not,” Sans said, grinning. “i mean it. you have a real eye for color.”

Absolutely steaming with embarrassment, Papyrus gripped at his pants and turned away, trying to avoid showing Sans how much he was blushing. From the way Sans was still chuckling, he had a feeling he had seen anyway.

Eager to change the subject – and moreover, to escape Sans’s presence for a bit – he rushed over to the closet and pulled out a set of pajamas for himself and an oversized shirt he sometimes used for sleepwear. It was tattered and had several holes, but his brother, and hopefully this Sans, never seemed to mind the wear and tear in clothes. Without hesitating, he threw it at Sans’s beaming face.

“oof!”

“PUT THAT ON. I WILL NOT HAVE YOU DIRTYING UP THE BED WITH WORN CLOTHES.”

“heh. alright.”

He began to undress right then and there, and Papyrus nearly squeaked as he saw the hint of bone peeking out from Sans’s shirt as he tugged it off. Within seconds, Papyrus was out of the room. It wasn’t like he hadn’t seen his brother unclothed before, but now that it had been made decidedly clear that this Sans was not his brother, it felt like an invasion of privacy to see him in any sort of indecent state.

In any case, he had things he had to do. He headed to the bathroom and looked into the mirror, noting how his sockets drooped with exhaustion. His injuries, though at first sight looked ugly, were not as bad as they appeared. Though he would doubtless have some scarring here and there, most would heal up in no time. He pulled out his first aid kit and, with the aid of weak and ineffective self-healing, washed and dressed his wounds. By the end, his face was a patchwork of bandages, but it was far better – and more importantly, less bloody – than before.

Once he had switched into his black and purple polka-dot pajamas, he returned to his bedroom door to peek inside and ensure that Sans wasn’t in a state of undress. Sans lay outstretched at the foot of the bed, softly snoring and thankfully clothed; the oversized shirt stretched past his knees. It was a good thing too since Sans had apparently fallen asleep without bothering to cover himself with the blankets. He hadn’t even had the foresight to get a pillow.

Moving as quietly as he could, Papyrus grabbed one of his pillows and maneuvered it underneath Sans’s head. He sighed in relief when Sans continued to snore through it all, unaware that he had been moved at all. Though shadows underlined his eyes, his expression was so peaceful, a direct contrast from earlier.

To think that Sans had been raped, had undergone so much trauma these last few days, especially so soon after his brother dying… Papyrus’s soul wrenched at the thought. He wished he had been kinder to him, just as Sans had been nice to him.

Because if one thing was true, it was that this Sans was a gentle soul. Full of fire and fury at times, like him. But overall, he was sweet. Soft. Caring.

Much better than his own brother had been in his final days.

Papyrus climbed into bed, curling his legs under the covers so as not to knock into Sans. Though he tried to fall asleep, worries of home invaders, memories of his brother, and troubling thoughts about this Sans churned within his soul, keeping him wide awake late into the night.

Chapter Text

Chapter 12: Porn!!! Get Dunked On, Beetle

(He was going to die of this heat. It was burning inside him, pressing into every inch of his being, scorching his soul.)

(His life was a series of mistakes. From beginning to end.)

(Sweat drenched his shirt, making it stick uncomfortably to his bones. He wanted to run away. To get out of this house before it was too late. Before things could never go back to normal.)

(Why was he so stupid? He should’ve said something. This was all his fault, all his fault. Why hadn’t he just been honest? If he had just told him how he felt all these years…)

(He was never going to get out of here. He was never going to change. And the longer he stayed, the more likely it was that Papyrus…)

(God, if he had only opened his mouth. He could’ve saved so much soulache for the two of them.)

(Or at least he could’ve gone sooner.)

With a start, Sans’s eyes flashed open. Though he inhaled sharply, a pillow, which he was currently smashed into, stifled the air, making it impossible to breathe.

It was not just any pillow. This was Papyrus’s pillow. His scent clung to the cover, penetrating deep into the cotton that filled it; as he sucked in frantic breaths, the smell drifted into his nasal cavity.

With every inhale, his body relaxed. Papyrus – the idea of him, his very presence – flowed into his soul and soaked him with indescribable warmth. His brother’s legs were butted against the length of his body. He was so close, just when he needed him. Sans could almost cry.

When was the last time they had fallen asleep together like this, all snuggled next to one other?

(When was the last time he had let himself?)

Loathe to jostle Papyrus awake, but eager to see his brother’s peaceful face as he slept, Sans carefully maneuvered onto his side, allowing Papyrus’s legs to press along his front so they fit snugly against his ribcage.

Except it wasn’t his brother at all. It was the other Papyrus. The strange Papyrus from this ugly world. The Papyrus with a scar cleaving his face. The Papyrus who sounded so angry and so lonely and so very, very sad. The Papyrus that had carried Sans upstairs last night after the two of them had completely deteriorated in each other’s arms, so worn out and emotional.

Sans had to stop himself from breaking down again as it hit him: his brother wasn’t here. He was gone. Away. A universe apart from him. Dead.

A few loose tears trickled down his cheekbones as realization settled within his bones. It was stupid. He was stupid. There was no use in crying about this, not when he would eventually travel back home and see him again.

Hopefully.

Please, please, he needed to get back to him eventually.

He swallowed down his grief, his nausea, his momentary incapacitation at the thought of never getting back to his brother. Better not to think about that. He had to think positive, just like his brother would want. In fact, Paps would be so proud of him. He could imagine it now.

“you were right, bro –no use dwelling on things you can’t change, right? should’ve listened to you sooner.”

“THE GREAT PAPYRUS IS VERY PROUD OF YOU, BROTHER!”

He gripped underneath his pillow, allowing a few more tears to sneak out of his sockets.

Really, he should have just been thankful that his brother hadn’t been doomed to come here alongside him. This place was awful. Rapists. Drug addicts. Probably murderers too. They were no better than humans.

Sans peered at the sleeping Papyrus at his feet, refraining from reaching out to him. He had been forced to grow up in this terrible universe, pushed to endure things that had left his body marred and broken. Even now, with his face so relaxed and smooth – and so shockingly similar to his own brother’s – Sans couldn’t help but cringe at the sight of the bandages that dotted his skull.

Those had been Sans’s fault. Papyrus wouldn’t have gotten those injuries if he had been more careful. He really shouldn’t have said anything about what had happened at Grillby’s. Papyrus couldn’t have done anything to prevent it, so why had he put that burden on him? His confession had only caused Papyrus to almost get himself killed.

Deep down, Sans knew he didn’t truly feel that way. When he had shared the story with Papyrus, a heavy weight – a weight he hadn’t even known had existed until that moment – had lifted from his soul, leaving him lightheaded and dazed. In truth, he couldn’t thank Papyrus enough for helping him so much. Maybe, in the end, how it had played out had been the best possible outcome.

Sans burrowed closer to Papyrus’s pajama-clad legs. If only Sans had stopped him from going to the bar last night, then maybe he wouldn’t feel so guilty. As it was, when he returned home, he’d be leaving Papyrus behind to clean up the mess he had made.

Really, they could’ve avoided all this if Sans hadn’t gone to Grillby’s in the first place. Or, God, if he hadn’t begged all the monsters for more. He had been out of his mind, desperation clawing at his bones so fiercely, making him say things he would never think sober. Yet he still couldn’t help thinking about how stupid he had been. And with everything else he had learned about this universe’s version of himself…

No. The only one he could truly blame was Grillby. The way he had acted leading up to… everything had been disgusting. He had led Sans on, had told him to help with the debt, had drugged him without his permission, even if he claimed otherwise.

Sans could never forgive him.

Not when he couldn’t get the taste, the smell, the feeling of those monsters out of his head. The memory of that heat, though faded behind a distant haze, was still sharp in his mind, as if Sans could simply reach out and return to that state if he only tried. Pulsing right below the surface, ready to unleash at a moment’s notice.

Maybe he’d even enjoy it as much as he had that night.

Sans choked back the nausea that stole through his soul, but couldn’t pull away from the invasive thought. He had enjoyed it, that much had been clear from how much he had been begging. But to want more? While sober? The hell was wrong with him? He was sick, far sicker than he could’ve ever imagined.

As his thoughts began spiraling out of control, Papyrus abruptly jerked, his legs knocking into Sans’s ribs. Sans gasped, his hands reflexively clawing the pillow as he curled in on himself.

“ugh, papyrus….”

Papyrus released a long, whining groan. Sans’s eyes flew open. Papyrus was thrashing under the covers, his hands twisting the blanket. He was breathing frantically, muttering tiny, near-inaudible moans. Though the bandages blocked most of Sans’s view, it was obvious Papyrus was.... well, either angry or in pain, he wasn’t sure which, but Sans wasn’t going to sit around guessing. He crawled over to the head of the bed, his hand dragging along Papyrus’s spine as he went.

“hey, papyrus,” he said as he patted Papyrus’s shoulder. “wake up.”

Papyrus’s breathing grew even more labored, his hands continuing to grapple with the blanket blindly as he tossed and turned. Sans grabbed Papyrus’s clavicle and shook, his grip becoming firmer as Papyrus continued to thrash about.

“papyrus!” he called, becoming more desperate as he spotted Papyrus’s tears. “wake up!”

“SANS!”

Papyrus sprung upwards, chest heaving and hand stretched out in front of him. For a few moments, he stared straight ahead, his eyes hazy and unfocused. Then, as suddenly as he had sat up, he leaned forward and snatched the pillow at the foot of the bed, his body trembling as he turned it over in his hand.

Sans reached out and murmured, “papyrus?”

As Sans touched Papyrus’s shoulder, Papyrus snapped around. He peered Sans up and down, his sockets wide.

That was when Sans saw it: the spark of disillusionment in his expression. It unfurled across Papyrus’s face, sowing within Sans’s soul that pit of wrongness he had felt when they had first spoken.

Now that he was paying proper attention, he knew what Papyrus’s expression meant. It had been born from the two of them recognizing, simultaneously, that something was amiss. That they were not brothers after all.

He wondered if he had been wearing a similar expression when he had woken up this morning.

Sans rubbed Papyrus reassuringly, though he drew back mid-stroke, realizing how inappropriate it was. They weren’t brothers, no matter how they appeared.

He suppressed his embarrassment and mumbled, “are you okay?”

Papyrus gawked at him, his eyes watering and his mouth moving up and down noiselessly. Then, with no warning at all, he exploded with a wail that struck at Sans’s core.

Before Sans could even blink, Papyrus engulfed him in a tight hug. The force of Papyrus’s violent sobs shook them both, and with how tight Papyrus was holding him, he could hardly breathe. Out of instinct, Sans went slack, acting as a cushion for Papyrus like he had done for his bro so many times before. Papyrus leaned harder into him, resting his chin on Sans’s shoulder.

“bad dream?”

Papyrus nodded wildly against Sans, sniffling loudly.

“wanna talk about it?”

Papyrus shook his head, his fingers digging into Sans’s back.

“hey, that’s okay,” Sans said, entirely too familiar with the horror and emptiness one felt after a bad nightmare. “if you just wanna hug it out, that’s fine.”

Papyrus squeezed him closer to his chest. Though it took some effort, Sans reached up and patted him on the back.

He could only hope for Papyrus’s sake that the memory of the dream would fade away. But from the way Papyrus was clawing at him, sucking in desperate breaths, he had a feeling this was one of those nightmares that stuck around for a long time.

Sans was used to those types of dreams. Not just because of his own experiences; his brother had experienced more than a handful himself, and Sans had been there every time, ready to comfort him. And like his brother, as soon as Sans rubbed the bottom part of this Papyrus’s scapula, his bones began to loosen and his sobbing gradually grew quieter. Eventually his tears tapered off and it wasn’t long before his skull was resting heavily against Sans, as if he had fallen asleep.

Sans made to place him on the bed to let him snooze, but Papyrus latched onto his arms.

“NO, NO. I AM BETTER NOW.” He pulled away and wiped at his tears with a noisy snuffle, his face stern. “SORRY FOR THE THEATRICS.”

Sans had never heard his brother refer to his crying that way. Tears had always been a good thing in his book. “THEY ARE A WAY FOR YOU TO RELEASE ALL YOUR FEELINGS, SANS! BEFORE THEY MAKE YOUR SOUL EXPLODE!” Sans had never really followed that advice much after Dings had fallen. Well, not until Papyrus had finally forced him, and then the dam had broken, so to speak.

“nah, don’t worry about it,” he said softly. “a bad dream’s enough to get anyone riled up.”

“NONSENSE. THE GREAT AND –” He sniffed loudly. “ – TERRIBLE PAPYRUS DOES NOT GET ‘RILED UP.’ HE MEETS CHALLENGES HEAD-ON WITHOUT FLINCHING! IT IS SHAMEFUL TO CRY OVER DREAMS… NO MATTER HOW REALISTIC THEY MAY BE.”

Though Papyrus was no longer crying, his expression said a thousand words. He wasn’t over whatever he had dreamed.

“it’s not shameful.”

“HMPH.”

“but i get what you mean. not fun to dwell on it.”

“NO. IT IS NOT.” Papyrus wrapped his arms around his chest and averted his gaze. “THANK YOU FOR YOUR HELP. I KNOW IT CANNOT BE EASY FOR YOU TO HUG ME AFTER… ALL THAT HAS HAPPENED.”

Sans blinked. “what do you mean? we were hugging just last night.”

“THAT WAS DIFFERENT. WE WERE CAUGHT UP IN OUR EMOTIONS.”

“and we aren’t now?”

YOU ARE NOT! AND…” He shook his head. “AND NEITHER AM I.”

“yeah, i can tell.” At Sans’s sarcasm, Papyrus folded his arms. “uh, still, i don’t exactly get why you wouldn’t be hugging me anyway.”

“BECAUSE I HAVE – NO, NEVER MIND.”

“hey, come on, tell me.”

Papyrus swallowed. “AFTER ALL THE THINGS I HAVE SAID, I CANNOT IMAGINE YOU WOULD WANT TO BE ANYWHERE NEAR ME.” He looked away. “I WAS MORE THAN RUDE TO YOU. MY BEHAVIOR WAS DOWNRIGHT DESPICABLE.”

Sans sighed. “you don’t gotta think so low of yourself.” He shifted his weight, considering his words carefully. “i already told you before that i understand what it’s like to… well, to have a hard time seeing someone so much like your bro and nothing like ‘em at the same time. makes you feel really weird.” He clenched a fist and placed it on his sternum. “makes you sick to your soul.”

Papyrus nodded, one hand clenching around his other wrist. “STILL, THANK YOU. YOU ARE… MUCH MORE FORGIVING THAN M– THAN I EXPECTED.”

Sans shrugged. “kinda hard to get worked up over something so petty.” He chuckled. “well, i guess i think it’s pretty pointless to get upset about a whole lot, really. less about forgiveness and more that i’m just too lazy to care.”

“HMM… WELL I SUPPOSE I SHOULD HAVE EXPECTED THAT.”

“heh. yeah, always lazy in any universe. that’s me.”

Papyrus frowned in his direction. Sans could tell from his expression that a question was gnawing at him. He had a feeling he knew what it was, and, frankly, he didn’t have the energy to deal. It was too early for serious conversations. And he knew if they talked about that night, they’d be up here all day, blubbering about something neither of them could change. And if Paps wanted to ask about his bro? God, he’d be a useless sack for a while, that was for sure.

Better to stave off any question before it could be asked.

“so, uh, you got stuff to do today?”

Papyrus jumped. “OH NO! WHAT TIME IS IT?” He examined his phone and sighed. “THANK THE STARS, THE ALARM HAS NOT GONE OFF YET!”

“heh. guess that means i can get a little more shuteye then.”

Papyrus glared. “IT IS GOING TO GO OFF IN ONE MINUTE.”

“so yeah, that’ll buy me ten minutes, right?”

Papyrus sighed. “NO, WE BOTH NEED TO TAKE A SHOWER. I AM COVERED IN SOOT AND SALIVA AND FUR, AND UGH!” Disgust flashed across his face. “AND YOU ARE NOT GOING BACK TO UNDYNE’S WITH DIRT ALL OVER YOUR FACE.”

Sans frowned. “undyne’s? what, is she gonna babysit me again?”

“IT IS NOT BABYSITTING. YOU ARE NOT A BABY. THOUGH, SINCE IT IS YOU, I DO IMAGINE THERE WILL BE PLENTY OF SITTING.”

“oh come on, you know what i mean. i thought we were gonna talk with alphys?”

“OH. YES.” He rubbed his arm. “THIS IS TRUE. HOWEVER! THAT JUST MEANS WE NEED TO BATHE EVEN MORE.”

“you really think alphys cares about something like that?”

Papyrus shot him a Look. Sans sighed.

“fine then.” Sans stretched his arms high into the air and flopped onto the bed. “you can take the first one.”

“OH NO. I KNOW HOW LONG YOU TAKE IN THE SHOWER. YOU WILL GO FIRST WHILE I CONTACT ALPHYS.”

“but –”

Papyrus rubbed his temples. “WHY ARE YOU MAKING THIS DIFFICULT?”

“eh, dunno. guess it’s fun.” Sans rose to his feet and stretched again. “towels are under the sink, right?”

He waited, but was met with resounding silence.

“papyrus?”

He twisted around. Papyrus’s head was turned away, though his eyes kept darting in Sans’s direction. His skull was as red as his scarf.

When Sans followed his gaze, he realized why. He was only wearing the oversized t-shirt that Papyrus had thrown at him last night. It barely covered his pelvis.

“uh.” He tugged the t-shirt down so it reached his femurs, face warming. “well, gonna. just. head on out. bye.”

And with that he skedaddled to the bathroom. Even after he was out of Papyrus’s sight, he continued to blush and pull at the shirt, as if somehow that would change what had just happened.

Normally he didn’t give a second thought about nudity. When his brother had accidentally caught a peek of him naked back home, usually Sans had been met with embarrassed exasperation. It was nothing more than that. Just another one of Sans’s quirks that frustrated Papyrus.

But this Papyrus… that hadn’t been mere embarrassment. Maybe it was because they had been hugging. God, that was stupid. They weren’t exactly brothers and he had been all over him, half-nude.

Though there had been something more to Papyrus’s expression.

Nah, there was no way. Sans shook his head and climbed into the shower, trying his best to dismiss the wishful thinking.

Jeez, why was it wishful thinking in the first place anyway?

(Hadn’t he learned to ignore those intrusive thoughts?)

He clamped his hand over his sternum. His soul was hurting real bad now, and as the water poured over him, he wondered how he could be so fucked up. It wasn’t like he could blame his childhood or even his experiences at the lab. And he had dated. He knew what romance could be like. Nothing could explain how his soul had warped into something so disgusting.

(Why, then, did he feel this way about Papyrus?)

He pushed the thought away, trying to think of something else, anything else. But that only led him down a darker path… Now he couldn’t stop mulling about the fate of his brother. And when he tried to quash that line of thinking, his thoughts turned to his fight with the human, then that night at Grillby’s, then –

A loud knock startled him.

“SANS? ARE YOU COMING OUT SOON? YOU HAVE BEEN IN THERE FOR THIRTY MINUTES ALREADY!”

Thirty minutes? Had it really been that long? He shook his head, trying to draw his thoughts back into his body instead of the faraway place they had been.

“SANS?”

“yeah…” He pressed a hand to his eye socket. “yeah, sorry. was just… spacing out.”

“WELL THEN, STOP STUDYING ASTRONOMY IN THE SHOWER AND COME DOWNSTAIRS!”

Sans’s mind clunked into gear. By the time he realized what Papyrus had said, the shadow of his feet had already disappeared from the crack under the door. He chuckled, wondering if Papyrus had intentionally punned or if it had been accident. Either way, he was happy for the distraction.

He quickly scoured the dirt off his bones and haphazardly rinsed off the soap before stepping out. To his immense relief, several fluffy towels were folded neatly under the sink and as he dried himself off he got a whiff of Papyrus’s scent. He held the towel to his face for a few seconds, trying his best not to get ensnared by his memories, and then deftly wrapped it around his waist.

Though he wanted nothing more than to teleport directly to his bedroom to get dressed, his last four attempts at magic had ended with him sprawled on the ground. Since it probably wasn’t the best idea to drain all his energy in one go so early in the morning, he peeked his head out the door to see if Papyrus was still upstairs. It was only when he heard him loudly humming from the kitchen that he scampered into Papyrus’s room.

Thankfully, Papyrus had gathered a fresh pair of clothes. And, from the looks of them, except for the maroon undershirt, they were his own clothes, back from his own universe. Torn from his encounter with the human but freshly laundered. His hands shook as he put them on. It was ridiculous, but he could feel his happiness coalescing into tears. Even if the clothes were tattered to pieces, he still had something from his home. And that Papyrus had thought to give them to him, to even hold onto them in the first place…

He closed the hood of his jacket over his face, appreciating the floral scent of the softener that hung onto it.

---

When Sans entered the kitchen, Papyrus was standing at the stove, his eyes pinched into a scowl as he glared down at his phone, free hand hovering over the device. Something was steaming from a pot behind him, and Sans’s soul stirred with an almost insatiable hunger. When was the last time he had eaten? The only thing he could recall was the tea at Undyne’s place. It was no wonder everything felt… distant.

He plopped himself down at the kitchen table, the chair creaking loudly under his weight. Papyrus’s head snapped in his direction.

“YOU ARE FINALLY DONE! YOU TOOK LONG ENOUGH!”

“yeah, my star charts were hard to maneuver in there.”

Papyrus blinked, but soon cracked a reluctant grin. “OH, HUSH.”

“heh. it was a pretty good joke. couldn’t believe what i was hearing.”

“QUIET, YOU!” Blushing, Papyrus set his phone down and picked up a spoon, stirring the pot on the stove with vigor. “DID YOU AT LEAST DO A DECENT JOB OF WASHING?”

“yup,” he lied, drawing invisible circles along the grooves of the wood grains covering the table. “why else would it take so long?”

“YOU GOT EVERY NOOK AND CRANNY?”

“heh. yeah, and every crack too.” When Papyrus glanced his way, Sans winked and wiggled his lower end.

Papyrus pressed a hand to his sockets. “REALLY? WE DO NOT EVEN…” He huffed and returned his attention to the stove.

Sans smiled. “we don’t even what?”

“YOU KNOW VERY WELL WHAT!”

“no, i got no clue,” he teased.

“WE DO NOT EVEN HAVE BUTTS!”

At the outburst, mirth erupted from some hidden corner of Sans’s soul, shining through the grey flatness that enveloped him. He couldn’t stop laughing. It wasn’t so much the expression on Papyrus’s face – the anger mixed with hesitant amusement – but just the way his tone had been tinted with sincere incredulity… Tears filled his sockets as he was overtaken by hysteria that left him gasping for air.

By the time the fit of laughter had subsided, he was utterly drained. His head clunked against the table as he wheezed. At this point, he was certain he couldn’t even lift a pinky until he got some food in him.

His conviction was put to the test only seconds later when Papyrus set a steaming bowl inches from his face.

“BON APPÉTIT!”

Sans let out a weak chuckle. “another good one.”

“UGH!” Papyrus exclaimed as he eased himself into the chair across from Sans. “THAT WAS NOT EVEN A PUN!”

Still, with the way Papyrus’s mouth was twitching, Sans had a feeling he had hit the mark.

Combing up the last of his energy, Sans raised himself from the table and stared down at the meal before him: a heaping pile of oatmeal.

“trying something new?” He frowned at the lumpy mess. The last time he had eaten oatmeal was back when they had been teenagers in New Home. Back when they were kids, Dad and Pops had made it for breakfast every day until Sans’s stubbornness had won out and they stopped altogether; he couldn’t stand the stuff.

“MORE LIKE SOMETHING OLD! I HAVE KNOWN THIS RECIPE SINCE I WAS A BABYBONES!” He proclaimed proudly. “IT IS MY FAVORITE THING TO MAKE!”

Sans stirred the slop absentmindedly. “even more than lasagna?”

“YES, EVEN MORE THAN LASAGNA! THOUGH I WILL ADMIT, IT DOES COME CLOSE!”

“oh. well, that’s… cool.”

He swirled the mush one last time before he finally gave in and brought a spoonful to his mouth. Even now, after all these years, the taste, the texture… He swallowed the mouthful whole.

“HOW IS IT?” Papyrus said, eyeing him with an impassive expression.

“it’s… well, it definitely reminds me of the old days.”

Papyrus stared at him for a few seconds before bursting into shrill laughter.

“what?”

“THE LOOK ON YOUR FACE! JAPED AGAIN BY THE GREAT AND TERRIBLE PAPYRUS! NYEH HEH HEH!”

Papyrus wiped away a tear, withdrew a small metal cannister from his pocket, and pushed it across the table. Sans glanced at it. Cinnamon.

“heh, you got me good,” Sans said, flashing a shaky smile.

“AS IF I COULD FORGET YOUR FAVORITE INGREDIENT!”

“yeah, that would be pretty silly.” He very much doubted that the cinnamon would do much for the texture, but maybe it could save the taste? With a silent prayer and a few shakes of the cinnamon (and maybe a bit more than that), he shoveled another bite into his mouth, and… No, still terrible. But at least now it wasn’t bland, he supposed. He mustered up his courage to tackle on the bowl. Thank the stars he was practically starving; it made the task so much easier.

Papyrus nodded in approval, though as the meal wore on, his glee slowly slid off his face. At first, Sans thought that maybe he wasn’t doing a good job keeping the disgust from his expression, but after a while, he saw that Papyrus’s attention was turned elsewhere: downwards toward his phone, which was placed flat on the table.

“what’s up?” Sans asked between bites, worry clawing at his soul. He knew it was ridiculous, but his mind was drawn to the worst-case scenario: maybe Grillby or some other monster was harassing him, using the photo he had sent as blackmail, or threatening to hurt him, or –

Papyrus sighed. “OH, I AM JUST… TRYING TO MAKE MYSELF SEND A MESSAGE.”

“oh. to undyne?”

God, he didn’t want her to babysit him today.

“NO, THOUGH I SHOULD PROBABLY MESSAGE HER TOO.”

“then who?”

“ALPHYS.”

Sans frowned. “what? why?”

Papyrus took a bite and chewed it deliberately, drawing out the silence between them. Finally, after making a show of swallowing, he continued.

“I DO NOT THINK SHE WILL BE HAPPY TO RECEIVE A MESSAGE ABOUT THIS. ABOUT YOU.”

“well, i know it’s bound to bring up unpleasant memories, but… if you put it delicately, i’m sure she’d be willing to talk to us.”

Papyrus raised his phone in the air, cleared his throat, and put on an air of politeness.

“‘DEAREST DR. ALPHYS, I WAS HOPING TO MEET WITH YOU AS SOON AS MONSTERLY POSSIBLE TO DISCUSS AN URGENT MATTER CONCERNING SANS. IF YOU COULD PLEASE LET ME KNOW AN APPROPRIATE MEETING TIME, I WOULD BE MOST GRATEFUL! SINCERELY, AND WITH THE WARMEST OF WISHES (THOUGH NOT TOO WARM BECAUSE I KNOW IT IS ALREADY QUITE TOASTY IN HOTLAND), THE GREAT AND TERRIBLE PAPYRUS.’”

“that’s… how you put it?”

“YES. IS THAT, AS YOU SAY, DELICATE ENOUGH?”

“i mean… i guess? don’t you wanna give her some more details?”

“I BELIEVE IT IS… SUCCINCT ENOUGH FOR A TEXT MESSAGE. I AM NOT SURE I COULD EXPLAIN THE UNIVERSE… THINGY WITH AS MUCH DETAIL AS NECESSARY.”

“maybe you could give me her handle on the undernet and i could give it a shot?”

“DO YOU REALLY THINK IT BEST TO INTRODUCE YOURSELF THAT WAY? SHE…” He coughed. “SHE THINKS YOU ARE DEAD.”

“right. maybe not. though, um, i do think we’re gonna wanna explain it before she sees me in-person.”

Knowing Alphys, she’d faint if he just strolled up to her without an explanation beforehand. Heck, she might do that anyway.

“YES,” Papyrus said haltingly, “YOU ARE PROBABLY RIGHT.”

His eyes darted back to the phone, his hand hanging over the buttons. After a few more seconds of hesitation, he finally pressed the screen, and, with the message sent, deposited the phone in his pocket.

“WE WILL AWAIT HER RESPONSE. WITH LUCK, SHE WILL BE AVAILABLE THIS EVENING.”

He picked up his bowl with both hands and poured it into his mouth like he was pulling a long draught of water.

Sans grimaced.

With a satisfied sigh, Papyrus gathered the bowl and put in the sink. “WELL, I SUPPOSE I OUGHT TO WASH UP SO WE CAN HEAD OUT. I DO HOPE THAT UNDYNE WILL NOT MIND MY TARDINESS. THOUGH AFTER YESTERDAY, I EXPECT THAT SHE WILL NOT BE SURPRISED WITH OUR SLOW PACE.”

“you’re still dropping me off there?”

“DO YOU HAVE AN ALTERNATIVE?”

“you could take me with you on the job.”

Papyrus straightened. “OUT OF THE QUESTION!”

“why the hell not?”

“YOU ARE…” Papyrus’s face flattened, as if he trying to find a way to say this diplomatically. “WELL, YOU ARE NOT IN THE BEST OF CONDITIONS.”

Sans waved his arms in the air. “i’m fine, never been better.”

Papyrus scoffed. Yeah, that was fair. He had definitely seen better days.

“well, fine, maybe i’m not at my best, but do i seriously have to get carted to undyne’s like a kid?” For some reason, the thought really nettled his soul. “maybe i could stay here.”

Papyrus sobered. “NO.” His eyes flickered to a point behind Sans, somewhere in the living room, and then back to him. “I… DO NOT TRUST THE LOCALS TO LEAVE THE HOUSE ALONE TODAY.”

The reminder sent a chill through Sans.

“AND SINCE IT APPEARS YOU DO NOT HAVE THE BEST CONTROL OVER YOUR MAGIC RIGHT NOW…”

Irritation and an overwhelming sense of uselessness swathed his soul. “who cares about that?”

“I DO! IF WE ARE ATTACKED –”

“if someone from snowdin is gonna follow us to attack, they’re gonna follow us to undyne’s. and yeah, she’s one hell of a fighter, i’ll give her that, but i still don’t trust her like i trust you.”

Papyrus’s jaw fell open an inch. “YOU… YOU TRUST ME?”

“yeah?” For some reason, as Papyrus’s gaze raked over him, embarrassment spread across Sans’s face.

“BUT YOU HARDLY KNOW ME.”

Sans didn’t understand what that had to do with anything. Monsters trusted one another, and especially family. Even if… they weren’t exactly family.

Though Papyrus was used to this god awful universe. Sans couldn’t exactly blame him for being reluctant.

“true, i don’t really know you, but… it’s hard to explain. you just got this quality to you that, well, i don’t know.”

“YOU SHOULD NOT TRUST BLINDLY,” Papyrus said shortly.

Sans bowed his head, shame running through him. “but… you trust me, right?”

Conflict flashed across Papyrus’s features for the briefest of moments, but in the blink of an eye it was gone, replaced with certainty.

“OF COURSE, YES.”

“then, there ya go,” Sans said lamely. “no need for a big explanation. it just is what it is.”

Papyrus wrung his hands together, his eyes looking anywhere but in Sans’s direction. “THAT VERY WELL MAY BE, BUT THAT DOES NOT MEAN YOU SHOULD ACCOMPANY ME TODAY. TRUST WILL NOT PROTECT YOU IF – IF GRILLBY ATTACKS.” Bone slid noisily against bone as he continued to fret. “OR – OR ANYONE ELSE.”

“you’re right, but…” Sans sighed, feeling the stress ooze through his spine. “listen, i just don’t think i can handle another day at undyne’s. not today. not after yesterday.” He hesitated and then added quietly, “or last night.”

Papyrus was silent, his hands continuing to rub against one another as he stared Sans down.

“OKAY.” He swallowed. “OKAY, FINE, YOU MAY JOIN ME. BUT ON ONE CONDITION.”

“name it.”

“YOU MUST EAT ANOTHER BOWL OF OATMEAL WHILE I SHOWER.”

“really?” That was it?

“I DO NOT WANT TO HEAR IT! YOU NEED ALL THE STRENGTH YOU CAN MUSTER!”

Sans leaned his elbow on the table and rested his skull in his hand. “well, if you insist.”

“I DO.” He brought the pot over and ladled a hearty helping into Sans’s bowl. “AND IF IT IS NOT FINISHED BY THE TIME I GET OUT, YOU CAN FORGET COMING WITH ME.”

Well that would be fun. Whenever Papyrus forwent a bath, he chose instead to take one of his notoriously fast showers. A spark of competitiveness glinted in Papyrus’s eye as he leaned upwards.

With a crooked grin, and without bothering to add even a hint of cinnamon, Sans copied Papyrus’s earlier movement and held the bowl to his mouth. He gulped the oatmeal down whole. Papyrus gasped and, with the sound of footsteps pitter-pattering across the tile, he fled the kitchen in a rush.

When Sans set down the dish, it was nearly empty. But so was the kitchen.

The elation that had stolen through his soul disappeared all at once. Papyrus wasn’t here. Though he could hear the water chugging through the pipes in the ceiling, he felt itchy, and wrong, and above all else, isolated. He swiveled around to peer at the living room windows, paranoia spiking through him. No one there. No one here at all.

His mind slowly parted from his body once more as he tried his best to down the last dregs of oatmeal.

Chapter Text

Sans stuffed his hands deep inside his hoodie pockets as he shuffled behind Papyrus. Even though Hotland was still as miserably hot as ever, the warm fluff inside his coat extended him a modicum of relief as they catapulted through the open air, solving the complex puzzles that this strange world had to offer.

Well, this universe honestly wasn’t that strange, to tell the truth. Yes, Waterfall’s caverns always seemed oddly empty. And Papyrus had been every inch as paranoid and guarded today as yesterday; Sans had had to refrain from making bad jokes throughout the journey – though he had snuck in a few anyway.

Thankfully, the moment the smell of brimstone had hit their nasal cavities, Papyrus had visibly relaxed. Although he had continued their deliberate pace through the remainder of Waterfall, as soon as they had walked into the spacious Hotland caves, he had rushed ahead, eagerly calling for Sans to keep up.

And Hotland wasn’t much different from the Underground that Sans was used to. He even saw other monsters here, though the way Papyrus tensed as they walked by them had his soul pumping, ready for an attack. Still, as he looked them over, they appeared just like the monsters from his universe. Some even waved welcomingly at the two of them.

And others stared at Sans openly, their mouths agape and eyes as wide as saucers.

Sans hadn’t really had a chance to “catch up” with them though. Papyrus had herded him to the north, out of the strangers’ sights as quick as he could, once again becoming more cautious as they entered more compact spaces.

That was where they were now: Papyrus muttering under his breath as they traversed the ever-complicated conveyor belt puzzles riddled throughout Hotland. Sans didn’t even have a chance to make any jokes now; he was out of breath trying to keep up with Papyrus on these damned things. And even though Papyrus was twisting his head in every direction to keep an eye out for enemies, he was still miles better at these puzzles than Sans. If Sans wasn’t getting caught in endless loops, he was stranding himself on lone islands with no visible mechanisms to return him to the start. Back in his universe, he would have teleported across the gaps, or better yet, never would have seen the puzzles in the first place. But without access to his magic, all he could do was rely on Papyrus to rescue and guide him.

So when the two of them finally arrived at their destination, it was with an exhausted, muted sense of relief. He wanted nothing more but to collapse on the ground and take a long, deep nap. It wasn’t just that he was physically tired; the mental strain had him sagging to the floor like a sack of junk.

“I WILL NEED TO GO TO EVERY HOME.” Papyrus rolled his shoulders, staring straight ahead. “IF THERE ARE COMPLICATIONS, IT MAY TAKE THE WHOLE DAY.”

Sans gazed at the wall opposite them. He didn’t even know that many monsters lived out here. The homes, which consisted of grey stone doors set against the red, rocky façade of the cave, were lined up in rows stacked upon one another all the way to the ceiling. A sloped path wound up to each floor, steep and clearly unmaintained as evidenced by the large sections of rock that had crumbled and fallen from its sides. Sans’s legs ached just at the sight of it.

Still, he could sense the tension leaving Papyrus’s body, and it didn’t take him long to figure out why. The open space made it easy to see oncoming attackers.

Sans only wondered why he was so afraid of an ambush in the first place.

“you expecting a lot of, uh, ‘complications’ today?”

“IT IS ALWAYS A POSSIBILITY,” Papyrus said, casting a backwards glance at the cavern entrance. “SOME MONSTERS ARE… NOT THAT HAPPY ABOUT PAYING THEIR TAXES.”

Well, he supposed that made sense. Tax Day was never a fun day.

They approached the leftmost door on the bottom row, and though the door had seemed big from a distance, Sans hadn’t realized just how big – nearly double Papyrus’s height.

As they reached the foot of the entrance, Papyrus brushed off the ashen dust that coated his armor and flattened his tunic so that his Royal Guardsman insignia was neither wrinkled nor lopsided. Even with his face speckled in bandages, he looked pretty professional. Like a real Guardsman on official business.

Papyrus raised his hand to the oversized door but paused before knocking to turn his eyes toward Sans.

“ER… COULD YOU STAND AGAINST THE WALL?”

“what for?”

“TO… KEEP AN EYE OUT.”

Sans sighed. He was pretty sure Papyrus was being a bit overdramatic. If anyone from Snowdin had followed them, he was sure they would’ve attacked back in one of the smaller caves.

Though… Papyrus did know this universe better than he did. The thought of one of those bastards sneaking up on them made his bones crawl with fear. Swallowing down his nerves, he backed up against the wall and set his gaze on the cavern’s entrance.

Papyrus tapped at the door with the back of his knuckles. The noise echoed across through the cavern, eventually sucked up by the bubbling sounds of the nearby lava pools. When no reply came, Papyrus rapped again, louder. Met with silence once more, Sans stretched his arms up, his bones popping with small tck-tck-tck noises, and readied himself to move to the next address.

“tough luck. looks like they’re not in.”

“OH, SHE IS IN.” This time, instead of knocking with his hand, he scooped a loose rock off the ground and slammed it against the door. Though it broke apart in his hand, it pierced the stone, marring the door with a single blackened scratch.

“woah, what’re you –”

An unearthly roar filled the cavern, reverberating the wall so hard that Sans almost slid to the ground.

“THERE SHE IS!” Papyrus declared proudly.

Sans eyed the door. Had that been from –

Slowly, the stone slid to the side, the sound of rock scraping against rock echoing in Sans’s skull. Filling the doorway with her body alone stood a towering, red lizard-like monster with narrowed, amber eyes. Sans had to swallow down his magic as he eyed the sharp, extra dangerous-looking spikes jutting from her arms and legs. Usually other monsters’ appearances didn’t really bother him – it wasn’t like they could do much about what they looked like – but the way this monster was just fuming….

Literally. A long billow of smoke escaped her snout as she let out a low rumble of a growl.

“GREETINGS, MISS! IT IS I, THE GREAT AND TERRIBLE PAPYRUS, HERE ON BEHALF OF THE ROYAL GUARD!”

The figure released another wave of smoke that cascaded around Papyrus’s face. Though Sans was inching off the wall, ready to get the hell out of Dodge, Papyrus didn’t even balk.

“YES, I AM JUST AS HAPPY TO SEE YOU AGAIN, I ASSURE YOU!” Papyrus called out in what Sans took as a sincere tone. “ALAS, I DO NOT HAVE TIME TO ENGAGE IN ANOTHER SPARRING MATCH THIS YEAR, SO IF YOU COULD PLEASE PAY THE AMOUNT DUE, WHICH IS… WELL, THE AMOUNT SHOULD BE ON THE BILL.”

He procured a slip of paper from his clipboard and offered it to the monster. A hand the size of Papyrus’s torso extended outward and snatched it up. More smoke flowed from the doorway like a rolling fog.

Papyrus didn’t look the slightest bit concerned.

“AND IF YOU COULD PUT THAT IN A BAG OR SOME OTHER CONTAINER, THAT WOULD BE MOST KIND OF YOU.” He placed a hand on his hip. “OR WILL THAT BE A PROBLEM?”

His tone was light and friendly, but there was no denying the threat his words carried.

The monster grumbled again. Sans inched away from the wall, set to dart to Papyrus’s side at a moment’s notice. Not that it would do much good with whatever was going on with his magic, but he supposed maybe his presence would shock her enough that they could get a head start on their escape.

Papyrus stayed where he was, hand on his hip, completely unaffected.

After a few nerve-wracking seconds of silence, the monster stepped backwards into her house, the shadows hiding her from view. Within only a few seconds, she returned and flung a bulging sack at Papyrus’s feet. Coins spilled out onto the orange-tinted dirt, and with that, the monster slammed the door closed.

“THANK YOU VERY MUCH!” Papyrus called out behind her. Though his voice was as sincere as ever, as soon as he twisted to face Sans, he sighed and adopted a scowl. “AT LEAST THIS YEAR SHE WAS NOT GROUCHY.”

He knelt to the ground and deposited the loose change into the sack.

Sans finally found his voice. “that wasn’t grouchy?”

“HA! LAST YEAR SHE NEARLY BIT MY ARM OFF!”

“what the hell.”

“I KNOW. AS IF I WOULD NOT HAVE SIMPLY CALLED FOR REINFORCEMENTS HAD SHE SUCCEEDED.”

“why don’t you have reinforcements in the first place?! why does undyne have you dealing with this on your own?!”

Papyrus looked taken aback. “AS IF SHE HAS THE RESOURCES FOR SOMETHING LIKE THIS. NEW RECRUITS ARE DOWN BY SEVENTY-FIVE PERCENT THIS YEAR!”

Sans stepped away from the wall and peered at the number of homes. “and you have to do all of these?”

“YES.” Papyrus shook his head. “EVERY CITIZEN IS SUPPOSED TO DEPOSIT THEIR TAXMONEY AT THEIR LOCAL OFFICE, BUT EVERY YEAR I HAVE TO GO ON THIS WILD GOOSE CHASE.”

“you have to do this everywhere?”

“NO, NO. JUST THE RUFFIANS WHO DO NOT RESPECT THE ROYAL GUARD.” Papyrus sighed. “THIS NEIGHBORHOOD IS PARTICULARLY TROUBLESOME WITH THEIR DEBTS.”

“why?”

“AS I SAID, SOME MONSTERS DO NOT LIKE PAYING THEIR TAXES. THIS IS JUST A LARGE CONCENTRATION OF THEM. NOW –”

He offered the bag to Sans who took it into his hands.

“oof.” Heavy.

“– LET US MOVE ON,” Papyrus said as if uninterrupted. “THE NEXT HOMES ARE MORE LIKELY TO IGNORE US THAN TO HARM US, BUT I WOULD NONETHELESS APPRECIATE IF YOU COULD HAVE YOUR BACK AGAINST THE WALL AGAIN.”

Sans adjusted the sack so his arms were wrapped around it.

“…to keep an eye out?”

“I DON’T –” Papyrus suddenly looked guilty. “YES. YES, EXACTLY. TO KEEP AN EYE OUT.”

“and not to make sure i don’t get attacked by a debtor?”

“WHAT?” Papyrus exclaimed, beads of sweat forming on his brow. “NO, OF COURSE NOT! I AM SPEAKING OF… ENEMIES. ENEMIES FROM… ELSEWHERE.”

“elsewhere. okay.”

Sans had a sneaking suspicion that Papyrus was being less than honest. The realization that he was protecting him like that should’ve irritated him, but… he found it strangely endearing. It reminded him of his bro. Always looking out for him, just like he, in turn, tried to protect him.

“BUT!” Papyrus added hurriedly. “I DO NOT THINK WE REALLY NEED TO WORRY! IT’S! JUST! IN CASE!”

“heh. yeah. pretty good idea.”

Face brightening, Papyrus straightened his posture. “IT IS, ISN’T IT?”

“yeah. you’re super cool. like the way you handled that lady back there.”

“DO NOT MAKE FUN OF ME,” Papyrus said, blushing.

“i’m being serious. she was friggin’ scary and you didn’t even blink. you just acted real smooth, like always”

Papyrus fidgeted as his grin widened. “I – I DO NOT KNOW WHAT TO SAY.”

“how about ‘the great papyrus enjoys your compliments, but we should get back to work!’” Sans winked.

“THAT. IS AN EXCELLENT IDEA.” Papyrus cleared his throat. “THE GREAT AND TERRIBLE PAPRUS ENJOYS YOUR COMPLIMENTS, BUT WE SHOULD GET BACK TO WORK!”

“sounds good, paps.”

Though he reassumed his air of professionalism, Papyrus’s face was brighter than Sans had ever seen it. Well, besides when he had seen that expression on his brother. It was actually pretty contagious; Sans’s soul was leaping with joy as he trailed behind Papyrus, struggling to hold the money in place.

As Sans butted up against the wall once more, all he could think was just how cool Papyrus was.

The rest of the day was spent dashing after monsters who were more than reluctant to give up their hard-earned money. Papyrus was forced to use his magic on more than one, and their only blessing was that Papyrus had command of blue magic, as most of the inhabitants, Sans soon discovered, could fly. Wasps, tsunderplanes, dragons. If it had wings, it was apparently living in this hellhole.

And every single one of them was hostile toward the Royal Guard.

Well, except for one group of monsters. By the time they had gotten to the fourth floor, Sans had come to expect escape attempts, or at least an argument from the residents. But these monsters…

“OH! HELLO!” Papyrus called, waving in an exaggerated manner.

Sans peeked around the doorframe. A wide-eyed humanoid monster was staring blankly at Papyrus. As soon as Sans locked eyes on the monster, Sans’s soul clenched with recognition. He didn’t know where he knew them from, just that he knew them.

It was the same feeling he got every time he was reminded of his days at the lab.

The monster held out their hand, as if to tell Papyrus to wait, and stepped back into their home, bringing with them that sensation of familiarity. Sans shook his head. He wondered if they – or the version of them in Sans’s universe, anyway – had worked with him in the lab before it had gone to ruins. Unfortunately, everything not central to the project was a haze.

“YOU KNOW, I THINK I RECOGNIZE THAT MONSTER,” Papyrus mused to himself.

That shocked Sans out of his temporary stupor. “you do?”

Maybe they hadn’t been from the lab from the after all. His brother hadn’t interacted much with the monsters from the lab.

“YES, I THINK THEY WERE… I MEAN…” His eyes swept around their surroundings. “I WILL TELL YOU LATER.”

“wait, no hold up, they’re not even here.”

“NO, SANS,” Papyrus admonished. “LATER.”

“no come on, where do you know them from? because i think –”

He paused at the sound of footsteps approaching the door. The humanoid monster had was back, this time accompanied by a wide-grinned cat monster whose eyes were missing.

The feeling of familiarity returned, just as strong as before. He rested his head against the wall. Something deep down inside him – instinct, maybe – told him that it wasn’t a good idea to be seen by these guys.

“HELLO.” The monster’s voice was much louder than a normal monster, as if they were shouting to someone across a distance, similar to Papyrus’s manner of speech. “CAN I HELP YOU?”

“ER, YES, I AM HERE TO COLLECT YOUR TAXES.” Papyrus’s voice was bereft of his usual gusto, and his brow was creased with confusion.

“TAXES? I BELIEVE WE HAVE PAID THEM?” There was a pause. “YES, YES, WE HAVE PAID THEM,” the monster confirmed.

“YOU HAVE?” Papyrus gazed at his ledger, drawing his finger down the paper. “OH. YOU ACTUALLY AREN’T ON THE LIST,” Papyrus said with a surprise.

“NO, WE WOULDN’T BE. WE JUST MOVED HERE.”

“OH! MAYBE I HAVE YOUR NAME ELSEWHERE? COULD YOU –”

Before Papyrus could get the rest of the sentence out, the sound of rock hitting rock filled the air.

“HEY!”

Sans peeked around the corner. The door was shut. Papyrus knocked on the door but received no reply.

“THAT WAS VERY RUDE!”

“it was,” Sans agreed.

“I WILL END UP DISCOVERING WHO THEY ARE EVENTUALLY, SO I DO NOT UNDERSTAND THE ATTITUDE.”

“maybe they don’t like talking to monsters.”

“SHYNESS HAS NO BEARING ON MY DUTIES!”

“yeah, can’t just shy away from the taxman.”

“SANS!”

Sans grinned, the sound was so normal, so familiar, and just ever so sweet to his earholes.

Papyrus sighed and shook his head. “COME ON, WE NEED TO GET A MOVE ON IF WE ARE TO FINISH THIS BEFORE NIGHTFALL!”

“yeah, yeah,” Sans said, pushing himself off the wall, “up and at ‘em.”

By the end of the day, Sans was completely spent. There had only been four more homes after that, but each of them had gotten progressively more difficult to deal with. The first had thrown an egg at Papyrus that had left him stinking of sulfur and rot. The second had booby-trapped the door to dump dirty water all over anyone that approached, and while that had washed the egg off, Papyrus was left smelling even worse than before. The third had been a chameleon who had opened the door and skittered right past them, invisible to their eyes. Even though Sans had spotted her as he had tripped on a rock, she still managed to give Papyrus the slip.

And the fourth monster had been the worst of all.

“YOU KNOW, I REALLY DO NOT KNOW WHAT I HAD BEEN EXPECTING OUT OF THIS DAY,” he growled, flinging a big glop of white off his hand that didn’t do much for the rest coating his body, “BUT BEING COVERED IN ESSENCE OF PHOENIX WAS CERTAINLY NOT WHAT I HAD IN MIND.”

Sans took the dripping bag of gold from Papyrus, and gave it a whiff. “oh god, that’s friggin’ nasty!”

Papyrus gave him a Look. “THANK YOU.”

“heh.” He held the sack at arm’s length. “i mean don’t worry about it, you’re still lookin’ mighty fine.” He shot Papyrus a fingergun and winked.

To his surprise, Papyrus reddened. “I – YOU – THAT IS NOT –”

“uh…” Sans’s own embarrassment was heating his face now. “i didn’t mean it like…” He trailed off, unsure of what to say. “i mean, you do look good, it was just…”

A joke. He had meant it as a joke.

“TH-THANK YOU?” Papyrus said, averting his gaze. “BUT I FEEL GROSS RIGHT NOW, SO MAYBE SAVE COMPLIMENTS FOR LATER?”

“yeah. right.” He coughed and scuffed his feet along the ground. There it was again. Papyrus getting flustered over compliments that his brother would have shrugged off.

“um, maybe you should get cleaned off? since, y’know, no compliments until then.”

“NOT BEFORE WE DROP OFF THESE OFF,” he said, pointing towards the bag. “COME ON, IT IS NOT THAT FAR.”

They trudged down the path, taking care not to stumble on the uneven paving. By the time they reached the bottom, Sans was wheezing from the effort. Not to mention sweaty. God, why did it have to be so damned hot here? He grabbed his shirt and tried to fan himself. All he managed to do was make an unnecessary amount of noise as coins jingled together.

Papyrus frowned and indicated Sans’s chest. “DID YOU REALLY HAVE TO PUT THEM ALL IN THERE?”

Tired of exerting his arms, earlier in the day Sans had stuffed all the gold into three large bags and had jammed them inside his ribcage. Though his hoodie hid the contents, he was still bulging oddly.

“hey, i didn’t put them all in,” he said, holding up the rotten-smelling bag.

“IF YOU HAD PUT THAT ONE IN THERE, I WOULD NOT HAVE LET YOU INSIDE THE HOUSE TONIGHT.”

“pfft, but you’re the one covered in gunk!”

“I CAN CLEAN OFF MY ARMOR IN WATERFALL. YOU, ON THE OTHER HAND, DO NOT KNOW HOW TO WASH YOURSELF PROPERLY.”

“says who?”

“SAYS ME! YOU DID NOT EVEN WASH YOUR NECK THIS MORNING!” He licked his hand and rubbed at Sans’s cervical vertebrae, causing Sans to jerk. “THERE! THAT HAS BEEN BOTHERING ME ALL DAY!”

As he backed away, Sans massaged at the spot, warmth returning to his face. Papyrus didn’t really seem to think anything of it; he was already rushing ahead to start up the puzzle.

Then it hit him.

“wait a sec… did you just… lick your hand after getting sprayed with all that junk?”

Papyrus paused mid-step. “OH MY GOD?”

It was a few minutes before Papyrus stopped vomiting over the land’s edge and into the lava. Sans consolingly patted his back, smile tugging at his mouth the entire time.

“is it still a bad time to compliment you then? because i think you look pretty sick.”

Papyrus wiped off his chin. “THAT WAS… AWFUL.”

“not as awful as that stuff all over you.” He helped Papyrus up and shook his hand of the gunk. “ugh, nasty. i can’t believe you put up with this kinda stuff all the time. you have way more patience than me.”

Sans looked expectantly up at Papyrus, but Papyrus’s mind seemed to be elsewhere; he stood silently at the cliff’s edge, staring into the lava with a frown.

“uh, paps? you there?”

“WHY DO YOU DO THAT?” Papyrus suddenly said, turning on Sans.

Sans blinked. “uh. what?”

“COMPLIMENT ME. YOU DO IT A LOT.”

“uh. why wouldn’t i?”

“I DO NOT KNOW! IT IS ODD.”

“do people not compliment each other here?”

“OF COURSE THEY DO!”

“uhh… then i don’t catch your meaning.”

“I JUST… DID YOU DO THAT OFTEN? BACK HOME I MEAN…” Papyrus’s eyes darted to the side. “WITH YOUR BROTHER.”

Sans swallowed and replied quietly, “yeah. he had a lot to praise.”

“SO! IT IS OUT OF HABIT THEN.”

“habit? no?”

Papyrus returned his gaze to Sans, incredulity lining his brow. “I WISH YOU WOULD NOT LIE.”

“i’m not. i mean everything i’ve said to you. you’re really cool.”

“YOU DID NOT MEAN EVERYTHING,” Papyrus huffed. “YOU DID NOT MEAN TO CALL ME… HMPH. NEVER MIND.”

“no, wait. call you what?”

“GOOD-LOOKING,” Papyrus said between grit teeth. “IT WAS A JOKE, I KNOW THAT.”

Papyrus’s blush had returned. So had Sans’s.

“oh. uh. i mean, yeah, it was a joke, but –”

“SEE?” Papyrus said, putting his arms up in the air. “I TOLD YOU. I WISH YOU WOULD –”

but,” Sans continued, “i think you are good-looking. very handsome, just like my bro.”

The effect was immediate. With a squeak, Papyrus dropped his clipboard on ground, kicking up a poof of orange dust. He knelt down, fumbling for the paper as his skull absolutely glowed red.

“are you really that surprised? i’d think you’d know that by now.” Sans had been telling his own brother that every day for years now. Had… this Papyrus’s brother not done that?

“HANDSOME? ME?” Papyrus stood up. “NO, YOU ARE VERY MUCH MISTAKEN.”

“i’m not. really, anyone would be lucky to have you –”

“STOP, STOP, I DO NOT…” Papyrus gulped. “LET’S JUST DROP OFF THIS MONEY. I AM DISGUSTING RIGHT NOW AND I DO NOT WANT TO… I DO NOT WANT TO HAVE THIS DISCUSSION RIGHT NOW.” He cringed. “I AM SORRY FOR BRINGING IT UP.”

“no need to apologize. i’m sorry if i bothered you.”

“YOU DID NOT BOTHER ME.”

“seems like i did. i’ll just… pull back on the praise i guess.”

“NO, DO NOT…” Papyrus squeezed his clipboard tighter to his chest. “DO NOT DO THAT. I LIKE THE COMPLIMENTS, I JUST…” He shook his head. “I JUST DO NOT EXPECT THEM.”

“i don’t wanna upset you.”

“YOU ARE NOT. I MEAN IT.” Papyrus stepped forward. “AND… I SHOULD REALLY THANK YOU. FOR THE COMPLIMENTS. SO I WILL.” He reached out and grabbed Sans’s free hand and shook it heartily, causing Sans to jangle from the coins in his chest cavity. “THANK YOU.”

“heh. don’t mention it, paps. always got something nice to say about you.”

“NYEH,” Papyrus said, withdrawing his hand. “NOW LET US BEGONE FROM THIS CURSED PLACE! FIRELAND IS TRULY AWFUL AND I, FOR ONE, WOULD LIKE TO LEAVE IT AS SOON AS POSSIBLE!” He pointed ahead with gusto. “ONWARDS, AND AWAY FROM SOCIAL EMBARRASSMENTS!”

“yeah, enough with those! we got coin to drop off!” He did a little jig so that he tinkled from the gold.

“ARE YOU TRYING TO ATTRACT THE ATTENTION OF EVERY MONSTER IN THE UNDERGROUND?”

“why? you think they want to copy my sweet moves?”

“NO! I THINK THEY WANT TO STEAL OUR GOLD!”

“don’t know how they’d do that with you protecting me.”

Papyrus’s smile twitched. “THAT IS RIGHT. I WILL PROTECT YOU FROM ANY EVILDOERS THAT WALK THIS REALM, SO HELP ME.”

And much to Sans’s shock, Papyrus lifted him onto his shoulders and ran towards the next puzzle, happiness imbued in his features.

Chapter Text

*************************************************

“Hey, watch it pal!”

“SORRY!” Papyrus called out distractedly behind him.

The disgruntled monster yelled something crass in return, but Papyrus paid them no mind and continued to push through the crowd, doing his best not to step on anyone else’s toes.

The city was always packed at this hour. Everyone was returning home from work or school, rushing to their destinations before night fell and they were trapped on the dark streets with the thieves, cretins, and scavengers. Monsters were especially hesitant to dawdle in this particular corner of New Home; no one wanted to be stuck here when the darkness swallowed up these roads.

Papyrus inadvertently bumped into several more scandalized monsters. He knew that he ought to slow down, but the energy burning in his soul just wouldn’t let him. He wanted to sing, to cry, to shout from the rooftops! The world should know his accomplishment!

He’d have to make do with only telling Sans. Anything else would be improper behavior from a Royal Guard-in-training.

A Royal Guard. In training!

It was a dream come true!

When Sans heard the news, he was going to be over the moon. Papyrus only hoped he would be the one to inform him; he didn’t want those rapscallions Res or Mak telling him first! If those two had heard the announcement at the academy, they’d surely be able to put two and two together and they’d do everything within their power to ruin Papyrus’s fun, including spoiling the surprise for Sans.

He sped up. One of the monsters that lived in the nearby alley lifted his empty donation basket, calling out for any loose gold.

“SORRY, I HAVE NO SPARE CHANGE TODAY, SIR!” Papyrus yelled distractedly, dodging the monster. “GOOD LUCK!”

Even if he did have any money – which he didn’t – there was no time to waste! He could only hope the monster would get at least one donation before dinner time. Papyrus made a mental note to bring him a hearty snack later.

A couple more blocks, a leap over a giant pothole, a turn around the final corner, and one last dash across the road –

There was Sans! Sitting on the front step of their apartment, hands in his pockets, and –

All of Papyrus’s exuberance deflated in an instant.

Sans was frowning, his sockets underlined with shadows so dark that if Papyrus hadn’t known better he would’ve thought his brother hadn’t slept for days. But Papyrus did know better. Sans had slept far too much this past week.

And as he approached, he could see that Sans’s eyes were devoid of their usual sparks. Empty. Gone. Just like him.

This wasn’t new, not by any means. Nowadays, he often found Sans staring off into the distance, unreachable and absent despite being seemingly awake.

When it had first happened, Papyrus had nearly rushed him to the closest hospital. In fact, he had already gathered his brother into his arms and been about to dash out of their home when Sans had finally stirred, hazy and confused. In the end, it had taken a lot of coaxing on Sans’s part to dissuade Papyrus from taking him to a doctor. To this day he still wasn’t sure he had made the right decision.

These spells had been happening more frequently as of late. Papyrus knew why; it was no secret that Sans had been unhappy lately, to put it mildly.

That unhappiness was contagious. Even now, as he watched Sans from down the footpath, he could feel his soul cracking with a longing to fix his brother. Sans didn’t deserve this injustice. Not even for the… “mistake” he had made at the lab.

Everyone was worthy of forgiveness.

With a sigh, Papyrus lugged himself to the steps, making sure to scuff his feet and produce plenty of noise to alert Sans to his presence, and as he arrived at the porch, his brother jumped, shaking his head dazedly as he caught sight of Papyrus.

“oh.” His voice was hollow. “hey bro.”

Papyrus stopped on the bottom step and peered down at his brother with sympathy.

“SANS, WHAT ARE YOU DOING OUT HERE? IT IS ALMOST NIGHTFALL.”

The light that formed the Underground’s artificial sun would disappear in a few minutes, and here was Sans, out of his mind in their dumpy, vermin-infested neighborhood.

“heh,” Sans chuckled without any humor, “got locked out.”

Papyrus crossed his arms. “AGAIN?”

Sans shrugged. “sorry, been forgetting a lot of stuff lately. guess i just can’t keyp up.”

Papyrus ignored the bad joke. “WHAT WERE YOU DOING OUT IN THE FIRST PLACE? YOU SAID YOU WERE GOING TO STAY HOME FOR THE LANDLORD.”

“i did. she woke me up fixing the pipe with some tape this morning.”

“OF COURSE SHE DID.” Papyrus massaged his temples. “DID YOU AT LEAST TELL HER ABOUT THE BROKEN BURNER?”

“yeah, she told me she’d add the cost to repair from next month’s rent, so i told her not to bother.”

“WONDERFUL. JUST PERFECT.”

“yeah. she wasn’t here long.” Shutting his eyes, Sans leaned against the porch railings. “which was good, i guess, since an old college bud of mine stopped by the place right after.”

“OH? YOU TWO WENT OUT FOR THE DAY THEN?”

“nah. she said there was a job available at the old physics department, so she took me there.”

Papyrus straightened at that. “AND?”

“and nothing,” Sans said, emotionless. “the department head wouldn’t even see me once he heard my name.”

Papyrus moved to comfort his brother. “OH, SANS…”

“don’t ‘oh, sans’ me, paps,” Sans snapped, swatting Papyrus away. “i don’t need your pity.”

Papyrus held his hands to his chest, massaging where Sans had struck him. It hadn’t hurt. Not physically, at least.

His brother seemed to have realized his affront.

“sorry,” Sans mumbled, averting his gaze. “didn’t mean to do that.”

Though it still stung, Papyrus nodded and said thickly, “THAT IS OKAY. I UNDERSTAND.”

Sans patted Papyrus’s leg gently. “nah, that was dumb, sorry. need to control my temper. didn’t mean to take it out on you.”

The anxiety in his chest slackened as his brother continued to tap his leg, though it was replaced with another sort of tension entirely. To distract himself – and to make Sans stop his movement more than anything – he carefully dropped to the steps so that he was perched next to Sans. He extended an arm around his brother’s shoulder and patted his arm awkwardly.

“YOU HAVE HAD A LONG DAY,” Papyrus assured him.

“yeah,” Sans choked out with another mirthless chuckle. “been up since this morning, can you believe it?

“I AM PROUD OF YOU.”

Sans slumped more heavily against the rusty metal behind him, pinning Papyrus’s arm between the bars. Although pain lanced up his bone, he didn’t say a word.

“great. glad that it’s such an impossible feat that you gotta praise me for it.”

“SANS,” Papyrus sighed, wishing his brother would stop disparaging himself.

“well, it’s true. you don’t gotta tell me that you’re proud of me when i didn’t do shit.”

“YOU TRIED YOUR HARDEST, THAT IS WHAT MATTERS.”

“nah, getting a job is what matters. getting out of this fucking hellhole is what matters.”

Sans raised himself from the iron bars, and Papyrus withdrew his arm and massaged at the ache that the momentary confinement had caused, secretly wishing that he could continue to hold his brother close to him.

“which is what i wanted to talk to you about.”

“HMM?” Papyrus said distractedly as he flexed his arm. “TALK ABOUT WHAT?”

“this.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a balled-up wad of paper. “picked it up while i was downtown.”

Papyrus took the proffered paper and flattened it, revealing a brightly colored advertisement for a single-family home in the heart of Snowdin. Wooden, decorated in mounds of snow, and very roomy. It was like something straight out of a human picture book.

“A LISTING FOR A HOME?” Papyrus said as he lowered the paper, noting the seriousness in Sans’s features. “WHAT IS THIS FOR?”

“i’m gonna try to move there.”

Papyrus’s soul stuttered. “M-MOVE?”

No, that wasn’t the plan. They had agreed to stay until Papyrus had been assigned to a post as a Guard. Otherwise he’d be disqualified from promotion at the Academy…

“you don’t have to worry,” Sans said reassuringly. “i’m sure i can find a job out there.”

“BUT YOU – YOU WANT TO LEAVE?”

Even with all his complaints about the neighborhood and New Home in general, he had never thought Sans had truly wanted to abandon the city. This had been where they had grown up, where their fathers had raised them. This had always been their home.

Sans frowned, his gaze wandering to the streets. “i just need a place to stretch my wings, and i can’t really do that here. no one will hire me.”

Yes, that was true. Dr. Gaster had seen to that.

“BUT… I AM SURE YOU WOULD BE ABLE TO FIND A JOB HERE IF YOU LOOK OUTSIDE YOUR SPECIALTY. AND… AND THAT IS WHAT YOU WOULD BE DOING IF YOU MOVED TO SNOWDIN!”

By all accounts, Snowdin was a wasteland. Only the most pathetic of Guards were assigned there, and whenever anyone spoke of the town, everyone laughed at how backwards and downright rural the inhabitants were. It was no place for a scientist like Sans!

“look, paps,” Sans said, rubbing the back of his head, “everywhere i turn, people are whispering behind my back. everyone, and i mean everyone, knows how bad i fucked up at the lab. i just… want a fresh start.”

Papyrus could feel tears building up behind his sockets. “BUT… EVENTUALLY THEY WILL STOP TALKING, SANS. AND THEN YOU CAN GET A JOB! AND BE HAPPY! HERE! WITH ME!”

“this place just isn’t for me anymore.” Sans dropped his hands to his lap and stared at them. “i need some space. and that’s that.”

He had pronounced the words with indisputable finality, adopting the tone that brokered no argument. When his brother got like this, it was… well, it was just like when Papyrus got stubborn!

“I… BUT WE HAVE NEVER…. SANS, I WILL NOT –”

“i know you’ll miss me,” Sans interrupted, not looking up, “but i’ll still visit, you know? it’s just a boat ride away.”

“WAIT. WHAT?” Papyrus trembled as the words sunk in. “I DO NOT UNDERSTAND… YOU… I… DO YOU NOT WANT ME TO GO?”

When Sans remained quiet, still refusing to make eye contact, Papyrus knew he had hit upon the truth.

“TH-THAT IS OKAY,” Papyrus said, and though he was trying his hardest not to cry, tears were spilling freely from his sockets now. “IT MAKES SENSE. YOU WANT… WANT A FRESH START, AFTER ALL! THE G-GREAT PAPYRUS WOULD JUST HOLD YOU BACK.”

Sans finally glanced at him, guilt on his face. “now don’t cry, bro. you know you can go if you want. i wouldn’t lock you out like that.”

“B-BUT?” Papyrus asked, sensing the reluctance in his tone.

“but i know you’re doing well at the academy. you’re probably ready to get promoted to a real position any day now. you’ll make a real name for yourself. don’t you wanna be a guard?”

“THAT…” Papyrus swallowed, his soul a torrent of conflicting emotions as he struggled to contain the news of his promotion. “NO, IT DOES NOT MATTER!”

“you being a guard doesn’t matter? it’s the only thing you’ve been talking about your whole life.”

“I – I CAN STILL BE A GUARD IN SNOWDIN!”

Sans faltered. “what?”

“I CAN STILL BE A GUARD,” Papyrus said with more certainty. “EVEN IF I MOVE.”

It wasn’t a lie per se. True, there was no way they’d let him keep his Royal Guard-in training position; recruits were required to live in at least the city, if not in the barracks. And, in fact, they would probably kick him out of the Academy entirely if he moved all the way to Snowdin, especially when the residency requirement would disqualify him from an Academy promotion.

But he could still move up the ladder, slowly but surely. He’d have to take a sentry position and probably do more clerical duties for a time. Yes, it would take a lot of sacrifices just to get to where the Academy had appointed him earlier today, but… but….

He had to. After all this time, he couldn’t lose Sans. He loved his brother. And his brother was the only one that loved him. Separation would absolutely kill him….

“I AM SURE THE ROYAL GUARD WOULD BE WILLING TO ACCOMMODATE ME!” Papyrus announced with an unwavering conviction he didn’t feel. “I AM THE ACADEMY’S FINEST STUDENT, AFTER ALL.”

“oh. okay.” Sans flashed him a feeble smile. “well, the offer’s on the table then.”

Papyrus beamed. “REALLY? YOU MEAN IT?”

“can’t say no to you.”

Papyrus bent forward and wrapped Sans up in one of his best hugs, relief swathing him like a blanket….

And he ignored the hint of disappointment flashing in Sans’s eyes.

*************************************************

Papyrus crossed his arms, his foot bouncing restlessly against the marble floor as he did his best to keep his eyes trained on his lap and ignore his surroundings. He was already self-conscious enough without drawing even more attention to himself by staring at the décor.

Really, he was too nervous for that anyway. The bank, even with all its luxurious furnishings, was not going to distract him. This was his last chance to fix things before his life truly went south. Well, more south than it already had gone.

He just hoped that the bank teller would come back before Sans wandered in and saw what he was up to.

Right on cue, the lion monster returned to the open cubicle, nestling comfortably within his chair before setting a manila folder down on the mahogany desk between them. He procured a piece of paper from within and slid it across the surface. Stamped across the top, in bold, red letters, was the word “REJECTED.”

Papyrus’s soul sunk.

“I apologize, sir,” the teller said quietly, though his voice seemed to echo through the wide-open space, “but the bank cannot accommodate your loan request.”

“WHY.” The word fell haltingly from Papyrus’s mouth, making it sound more a statement than a question. He closed his eyes for a moment, needing to ground himself in the temporary darkness. This had been his last hope.

“Your estate already owes the bank far too much.” Papyrus opened his eyes to see him pulling out another file. “Your brother was Mr. Sans the Skeleton, correct?”

Papyrus nodded, his mouth gone dry.

“He had obtained a loan from us some years back to purchase a freestanding house in Snowdin. We have not received payment from him or his estate in several years.”

“HE…” Papyrus hugged his arms. “HE TOLD ME HE HAD PAID OFF THE HOUSE AGES AGO.”

“Well, he did not.” The lion cleared his throat. “I am sorry to be blunt, but it has been reported to us that your brother died. Is that true?”

“YES, ABOUT A YEAR AGO. I THINK? MAYBE LONGER,” he conceded, mortified that had lost track of time. Had he missed the anniversary of his brother’s death? Was he really that careless?

“He stopped payment long before that, I’m afraid.”

Of course he had.

“The mortgage, unfortunately, is a fixed debt.”

“FIXED? IT IS… REPAIRED?” Papyrus asked hopefully.

“No, ‘fixed’ as in permanent. You’ll have to pay it even after his death.”

Papyrus ducked his head. “YES, OF COURSE.”

He hadn’t expected otherwise. All of Sans’s debts had been permanent.

And none of them had been fixed.

“The bank is willing to work with you in paying off that balance. You would be able to pay in monthly installments, and we may be able to forgive past due payments due to hardship.” He slipped the rejection letter back into the folder and slid the collection across the desk. “You can find information on how to do that in here. However, until you are brought back into good standing with the bank, it cannot extend a personal loan to you.”

Papyrus clung the papers to his chest. “OKAY. THANK YOU.”

The bank teller stood up and walked around the desk, his hand inching up from his side in an offer to shake Papyrus’s. Before he had taken more than a couple steps, however, Papyrus had turned away and fled the cubicle. He was being rude, he knew that, but if he stood there any longer, he was at risk of breaking into tears. That would just make a scene.

And Sans – the new Sans, not his brother – was waiting for him.

He rushed out of the bank, one hand clasped over the folder and the other gripping the small bag of gold attached to his belt. There were probably only fifty gold pieces in there. That was all that remained of his salary after he had paid the other bills.

Not enough to make even one month’s payment under the original deal.

Once he was outside, he leaned against the wall of the bank and sucked in the warm, dry air that drifted from the nearby Core. A few tears had leaked out, but he brushed them away in irritation, cursing his failure to keep his emotions at bay. After a couple minutes, he had himself under complete control. He was just happy that Sans hadn’t seen him lose his cool like that.

As soon as he was sure he had recovered from his momentary weakness, he tucked the bank files inside the seat of his pants. It wasn’t comfortable, but the documents were secure, and more importantly, hidden.

Confidentiality ensured, he hiked down the bank’s steps and onto the main path, twisting his head in every direction to find Sans amongst the throng of monsters who marched diligently to their destinations. Sans should have completed his drop-off of the taxes by now, though of course, there was no guarantee that had happened. After all, the lines had been backed up every evening during this long, grueling week, no thanks to the Hotland tax office’s daily premature closure. God – or perhaps more appropriately, Asgore – only knew the reason behind that bureaucratic disaster.

Today they had thankfully finished their collections somewhat early. That was what he had told Sans anyway. The reality was that this was the final opportunity to obtain the required money before the original due date passed.

That, unfortunately, had not worked in his favor.

Perhaps Sans was still at the office? But no, as he perched on his tiptoes, his head rising above the tide of hurrying monsters, he finally spotted him, just across the road from the bank. He was sitting alone on a bench outside the postal office, one leg folded under the other.

Papyrus paused, a kernel of dread burying itself inside his soul.

Even from here, he could tell Sans wasn’t okay. His eyes were staring blankly into nothingness, and though his eyelights hadn’t flickered away completely, he appeared faraway. Hollow and exhausted. Empty.

Just like his brother.

Every now and then, over the last couple weeks, Papyrus had caught him like this, his gaze vacantly aimed on some invisible object, as if lost in some thought that had long-since escaped him. Whenever it happened, he appeared so frail and small, like a broken ragdoll with its stuffing all loose. At least Papyrus could understand why. What had happened to Sans’s brother… What Grillby had done to him… Neither of those were anything to scoff at.

But up until now, he had only lapsed into this state when Papyrus had been nearby, ready to defend against anyone that dared to attack. Maybe no one else noticed Sans’s condition, but they were in New Home for goodness sake. The city was filled with opportunists down to their last scrap of luck. With Sans’s poor health and no way to defend himself? It would only take one wayward blow and….

Papyrus cursed at himself for being so careless and dashed to Sans, worry constricting his soul.

“SANS?” Papyrus half-whispered as he arrived at the bench. “ARE YOU OKAY?”

Sans glanced in Papyrus’s direction and even nodded in affirmation, but his eyes were glazed over, and he made no attempts to verbalize. He continued to stare into nothingness, mentally detached from the rest of the world.

Although Papyrus knew he could guide Sans while he was in this state, he wasn’t sure it was a good idea; the two of them needed to be on-guard in case the lenders called on his debt. Should they have their eyes on them now, Sans would make more than an easy target.

So Papyrus watched over him, a silent sentinel, as Sans pulled himself out of his trance, lazily blinking his eyelights back into existence over several minutes.

With a shaky inhale of air, Sans finally came back to reality.

“paps?” he rasped.

“YES,” Papyrus said, sliding onto the bench next to Sans, “I AM HERE.”

“i –” Sans squinted downwards, confusion and a spark of fear flitting across his features as he plucked at his shirt. “i… dropped off the money?”

“APPARENTLY SO. THE BAGS ARE GONE, AND I LAST SAW YOU WALKING IN THE DIRECTION OF THE OFFICE.”

“and –” He peered at the bank across the street. “you went in there? the… the bank?”

Papyrus nodded. “YOU REMEMBER THEN?”

Sans swallowed. “kinda? it’s all –” He made a vague gesture with his hand. “ – blurry. like. um. god, what’s the word?”

“DISTANT?”

“yeah. distant. like… i’m apart. or… something.”

The words came out clipped, as if he was having a difficult time speaking.

“I APOLOGIZE,” he said, rubbing Sans’s back. “I SHOULD NOT HAVE LEFT YOU THERE ALONE.”

Sans shook his head and then stopped midway as if he thought better of the motion. “of course you should’ve. i don’t… i can’t… i’m not a child….” He stood up, his shoulders sagging. “i can’t just… be with you all the time.”

“YOU ARE NO CHILD,” Papyrus agreed, following Sans’s lead and rising to his feet as well. “BUT I DO WISH I HAD BEEN THERE FOR YOU. ARE YOU OKAY?”

“um,yeah. yeah, like i said, i’m, uh, just a little… floaty.”

Papyrus frowned. “FLOATY? YOU DID NOT ACQUIRE DRUGS, CORRECT?”

Sorrow touched Sans’s face, and though it took him a few seconds to speak, when he did, his words were weighted with seriousness. “i… get why you’re asking, but no. i never… never wanna touch any… crap like that again.”

“I JUST WANTED TO MAKE SURE,” Papyrus said hurriedly. “JUST IN CASE, WELL –”

“i get it.” Sans grinned weakly. “promise i do. but no.”

Papyrus nodded, feeling slightly ashamed of himself. This Sans was not his brother. He wasn’t addicted, he wasn’t embarrassed to be seen with Papyrus, he wasn’t selling his body, he wasn’t repressing himself to –

“come on.” Sans took a step towards the road and beckoned for Papyrus to join him. “let’s go home.”

Momentarily befuddled, Papyrus gawked at Sans. He was waiting patiently by the path, and despite the way his shoulders slumped with exhaustion, a gentle smile graced his skull. His expression, plus the fact that he had paused for Papyrus, made his soul glow with an indescribable warmth. They were a team.

Casting off his doubts, Papyrus sidled up to Sans, his own grin spreading across his features as they strolled down the road.

Waves of monsters rushing through the city gave way to trickles of activity as they moved from New Home to the Core, and then eventually petered out completely when they reached Hotland. An amicable silence stretched between them, though Papyrus couldn’t help but secretly fret over Sans as they traversed the more difficult puzzles. When they had first begun tax collections some days ago, Papyrus had been reluctant to allow Sans to tag along considering his severe magical disability, and now that he was clearly unsteady on his feet, Papyrus felt more exposed than ever. He could almost feel the unseen eyes stalking them, a familiar sensation that he would feel on occasion as he journeyed through the Underground.

In truth, however, he was glad for Sans’s company. Not only did he keep an eye out for assailants – would-be debt collectors and their lackeys, though Papyrus didn’t tell him that – but he also knew how to defuse a troublesome situation before it spiraled out of control. A joke here, a little bit of fenagling there, and Papyrus didn’t have to resort to violence most of the time.

And all the while, Sans would go on and on about how cool Papyrus was and tell him how well he handled his duties. Yes, it had certainly flustered him on more than one occasion, but… it felt good. He really appreciated Sans.

Which was probably the reason why he hadn’t pressed Alphys as much as he should have.

She still hadn’t responded to his messages, even though he had texted her and Undyne every other day at Sans’s behest. Though Undyne had assured him that she had nudged her, she had been met with silence as well. For that, Papyrus was secretly grateful.

Still, Sans kept asking for updates. He wanted to leave. Yet Papyrus couldn’t bring himself to try harder, even at Sans’s insistence. He didn’t want to lose him. Not again.

“hey papyrus?” Sans said, his voice still lingering with exhaustion, though the words came out more smoothly than before.

Papyrus slowed down, hoping that his pace hadn’t been too brutal. “YES? IS EVERYTHING OKAY?”

“yeah. i’m feeling better.”

“YOU ARE SURE YOU DO NOT NEED ME TO CARRY YOU?”

“nah. i’m tired, not incompetent.”

“YES, OF COURSE! I DID NOT THINK OTHERWISE!” Papyrus hesitated and then pressed on, “WHAT DID YOU NEED THEN?”

“i just wanted to say… thanks.”

“THANKS?” he asked incredulously. “FOR WHAT?”

“for letting me tag along. and… for having my back.”

Papyrus’s guilt deepened. “WHAT DO YOU MEAN?”

“you know, back there. thanks for watching over me while i was… well, thanks.” Sans blushed. “and for the rest of it too.”

Papyrus’s cheekbones also warmed. “THE REST OF WHAT?”

“like back at grillby’s,” Sans muttered. “you didn’t have to do all that.”

“OF COURSE I DID!” What sort of monster did he take him for?

“nah, you really didn’t. you thought i was some dick impersonating your bro. you didn’t have to pay grillby off like that.”

“YES, I DID,” Papyrus repeated, though with less conviction this time. “EVEN IF YOU HAD BEEN A STRANGER, I COULD NOT JUST… LEAVE YOU THERE LIKE THAT.”

Sans grimaced. “i guess.”

“YOU DO NOT NEED TO GUESS. I CAN ASSURE YOU. I WOULD NOT LET YOU OR ANY MONSTER SUFFER LIKE THAT.”

They walked in silence for a couple more minutes, navigating the simpler puzzles with practiced ease. The last few days Papyrus had insisted on the longer route, but he didn’t want to run into Muffet with Sans in tow.

When they landed on a platform, Sans spoke up again. “you’re so cool.”

Papyrus whipped around to stare at Sans. He was beaming up at him.

“A-AGAIN WITH THE COMPLIMENTS?” Papyrus ground his teeth, his skull flooded with heat. “YOU ARE BEING RIDICULOUS, YOU DO NOT NEED TO –”

“oh, stop. you said you liked them.”

Papyrus didn’t think his face could get any warmer.

“you want me to stop?” His voice lilted teasingly.

“NO. I MEAN… YES! NYEH, I JUST WANT YOU TO….” Papyrus paused, unsure exactly what he wanted. “I WANT YOU TO TELL THE TRUTH!”

“i am. i only know one other monster as cool as you, and that’s across two universes.”

Papyrus stumbled over a puzzle tile, his concentration wavering. “NONSENSE, THERE ARE MANY MONSTERS AS COOL AS ME! COOLER, EVEN!”

“like who?”

“CAPTAIN UNDYNE OF COURSE!”

“eh, she’s cool, but definitely not in the same league as you.”

“KING ASGORE IS ALSO COOL WHEN HE WANTS TO BE!”

“him?” Sans chuckled. “he’s just a fluffball.”

“A VERY COOL FLUFFBALL! AND… AND YOU ARE COOL TOO. WAY COOLER THAN ME!”

Sans smirked. “now that is hilarious.”

“IT IS TRUE! I HAVE NEVER MET ANYONE AS COOL AS YOU!”

“pfft, i’m the least cool monster around, papyrus. i’m a regular loser.”

“NO!” Papyrus shouted, suddenly angry. “YOU ARE NOT A LOSER!”

This Sans was the furthest thing from a loser he had ever met! For him to degrade himself like that….

“hey, hey,” Sans said, waving Papyrus down, “it’s okay, i’m mostly joking.”

“NO, YOU ARE NOT! I KNOW WHEN YOU ARE JOKING! YOUR FACE TWITCHES, AND YOU GET THIS RIDICULOUS SMILE! YOU ARE NOT DOING EITHER RIGHT NOW!”

“it twitches, huh?” His mouth spasmed.

“YES, LIKE THAT!”

“nah, you’re mistaken.”

“I AM NOT!”

“no, no, believe me, papyrus, i’m always full of hot air, i swear.” He pressed his hands together and a loud farting noise emanated from his direction. “see?”

“WHAT! HOW DID YOU –?”

Sans held up his hands, displaying a whoopee cushion attached to his right palm. He pressed down on it and released another round of fake flatulence.

“WHERE DID YOU GET THAT?!”

“found it on the ground at the last place we visited. been waiting to try it out this whole time.” He winked. “couldn’t think of a reason to shake hands though.”

“SANS,” Papyrus cried out, exasperated. He could feel his own mouth twitching against his will. “DO NOT SLEEP WITH THAT THING ON, I SWEAR.”

“heh. or what? you gonna make a stink about it?”

He punctuated the pun with another squeeze of the whoopee cushion.

“UGH! NO! STOP THAT!”

“but you’re smiling!”

“I AM NOT!”

“you are!” He grinned widely at Papyrus. “and i love it!”

Papyrus huffed, though he didn’t force the smile off his face.

The two of them continued to banter as they journeyed through the remainder of Hotland, and as they entered Waterfall, Papyrus’s mouth ached from the joy stretched across his skull.

It was all so… nostalgic.

Yes, he remembered now. This was why he had fallen in love with his brother in the first place. It had been so long since then, but Papyrus still recalled the gentle smile, the playful attitude, the way his brother just seemed to know Papyrus inside and out. This Sans was a painful reminder of how his brother had acted all those years ago.

But perhaps the most agonizing thing of all was the way that this Sans seemed to care. Unlike his brother, he never crossed boundaries, always pausing when his jokes came anywhere near caustic. And he was constantly watching out for Papyrus. As they traveled through Waterfall, Sans would call out a warning to not trip over an echo flower’s root, and whenever Papyrus’s cloak caught on a rough patch of stone, he would bend down and untangle it for him.

With the way Sans kept distracting him, Papyrus needed the extra help. Honestly, he was making a right fool of himself!

And yet his soul was thumping with delight every second.

His attention was so focused on Sans that he didn’t even notice when Flowey popped out of the ground. If Sans hadn’t cried out a strangled warning, he would’ve crashed right into him.

“AH!” Papyrus shouted as he jumped a meter into the air. “WHAT IN THE –”

“Gosh, Papyrus, watch it!” Flowey yelled after momentarily diving underground and reappearing some distance away, safely out of reach of Papyrus’s feet.

“YOU SCARED ME!” he shouted, scandalized.

“Sorry, sorry,” Flowey said, waving his upper leaves in a calming gesture. “I just –”

“is that a talking flower?”

Papyrus whipped around. Sans’s tone, which had been light and jovial just moments ago, was now dripping with iciness. The chill didn’t end there either; instead of his bright, warm smile, he was shooting daggers at Flowey.

When Papyrus turned back around, he saw Flowey sporting a similar expression.

Oh no….

“FLOWEY!” Papyrus called, hoping to put an end to any hostility before it could manifest. “THIS IS MY VERY GOOD FRIEND, SANS!”

Flowey’s anger eased away. He blinked slowly, his head tilting to the side.

“’Friend’?” he asked, bewildered.

“YES! AND SANS, THIS IS MY INCREDIBLY GOOD FRIEND, FLOWEY!”

To Papyrus’s disappointment, Sans’s ire did not disappear, though it softened incrementally.

That would have to do for now, Papyrus supposed.

Flowey shook his head, his petals flapping in his face. “Oh, never mind that now! Papyrus, your house! Someone’s trashed it!”

Papyrus’s mouth dropped open.

“what?” Sans gripped Papyrus’s arm. “w-was grillby…?”

The fear laden in Sans’s voice was what spurred Papyrus into action. Wordlessly, he grabbed onto Sans’s hand and rushed through the final caverns of Waterfall, running head-on through the dense fog that permanently gathered on the riverbank near their home.

As they approached the scene, it was clear someone had ransacked their house. Piles of garden tools lay rusting in the snow just outside the shack, and the front door to their home was wide open, waving back and forth in the wind as it hung from its top hinge. Papyrus sprinted inside, lugging Sans behind him.

Everywhere he looked, the place was a mess. Containers of lasagna spilled across the threshold from the kitchen to the living room, staining the carpet and walls with red sauce, and pots and pans, some dented, Papyrus noted with a cringe, had been tossed onto the kitchen floor. The television had been knocked off its stand, his precious VHS tapes had been disemboweled, and the fluffy insides of the couch cushions had been plucked and strewn across the living room.

None of that mattered once he glanced upstairs.

The door to his brother’s room, once locked and well-secured from any intruders, was now wide open.

Papyrus’s head swam. Forgetting all sense, he bounded up the stairs three at a time, jumped over the discarded laundry and broken doors that littered the hall, and flung himself into the bedroom.

No one was in here.

But they had been.

“NO! NO, NO, NO!”

The curtains had been snatched from the window, casting light into the otherwise darkened room. Paper – hundreds and hundreds of pieces of paper lined with walls of text – covered the carpet. Here and there, Papyrus saw torn pieces of fabric, broken glass, and other indiscernible items of varying colors scattered amongst the black and white. He bent down and inspected one of the objects.

A Modern Approach to Quantum Mechanics

It was a cover to Sans’s old textbook. His eyes latched onto the text of the nearby paper. Those were pages. Pages to books.

Whoever had broken in had ripped apart Sans’s books. Every single one.

A broken whine escaped his teeth as he fumbled across the room. The dresser appeared untouched, but even in the very back corner, pages layered the floor. Oh God, had they come back here? Had they seen? Had they –

Fingers shaking, he flung the paper away, revealing the familiar frayed strip of carpet, and with a quick tug, he lifted the loose floorboard underneath. His soul unwound as he caught sight of the hidden compartment’s contents.

Inside the shadows sat his bag of emergency gold, bulging and unharmed. Just to make sure, he seized and emptied it, quickly confirming that every coin was there. More importantly, the leather-bound booklet and the old, unlaundered sock were still concealed in same spot.

His secret cache was safe, undiscovered by the trespassers.

He plopped down on the floor, his emotions quaking through him. Thank God. Thank God, thank God, thank God. Tears slipped from his eyes and onto the pages below. It didn’t matter what had happened to the rest of the home. As long as his most prized possessions were safe, as long as he still had some gold to pay for food, he’d survive.

And then he realized.

Oh no.

He dove into the back corner again, digging everywhere in the compartment, his hands scrabbling against the empty space. It wasn’t in here. Why wasn’t it in here?!

Oh.

Oh God no.

He had taken it out a couple weeks ago to read it. Sans had shown up, and Papyrus had wanted to drown himself in memories, and –

As he climbed to his feet, Sans’s voice rang across the room, nearly spooking him out of his bones.

“why the hell would grillby have done this?!” Papyrus whipped around and saw Sans studying an open book in his hand. “this is fucked up!”

Papyrus peered at the cover. Pastel rabbits hopping along a field.

Peekaboo with Fluffy Bunny.

Sans shifted the book and a loose page drifted to the ground.

“DON’T TOUCH THAT!”

His shout startled Sans, and the book fell from his hands with a thump. Papyrus wasted no time in diving to the floor, snatching it up, and turning to a random page.

The book was ruined.

Someone had scrawled various swears and horrible phrases across the page in bright red marker:

PIECE OF TRASH OWES US MONEY

PAY UP!!!

YOUR BROTHER BETTER BE DEAD OR WE’LL KILL HIM FOR YOU

Accompanying the words were ugly doodles of crude gestures, and the illustrations were vandalized with depictions of decapitated rabbits and piles of… excrement.

His legs gave out and he flopped onto the bare mattress, ignoring the crinkling of paper beneath his tailbone. He turned the page and it was more of the same. The vulgar delinquent had blemished every meticulously painted image, and with it, every memory of his brother reading the book aloud to him.

With a howl, he slammed the book shut and clutched it to his chest. Those bastards! Those disgusting, rotten-toothed, scum-sucking –

“papyrus?” Sans asked quietly. Out of the corner of his eye, Papyrus spotted Sans holding out an unsteady hand in his direction.

“GO AWAY!” Papyrus screeched, twisting away. “LEAVE ME ALONE!”

Sans dropped his hand and backed up a step. “sorry, i didn’t mean to –”

“I DON’T CARE!” Papyrus clenched his eyes tight. “I DON’T CARE!” he repeated, voice warbling. Maybe he just wanted Sans to leave or maybe he was just trying to convince himself. “I DON’T CARE, I DON’T CARE, I DON’T CARE!”

But he did care. He cared so much it felt like his soul was going to crack. How could he have been so careless? No one was supposed to see this book. EVER. And he had just left it on the bed, out in the open. Stupid, stupid, stupid!

“papyrus.”

He opened his eyes. Sans was still standing nearby, and though his posture conveyed indecision, his eyes were trained on Papyrus, imbued with empathy.

That was all it took.

“SAAAAAAAAAAAAAANS,” Papyrus wailed as he dropped the book to the floor. He threw his arms around Sans, and although he tried to be gentle for the sake of Sans’s injury, he couldn’t stop himself from jamming him against his breastplate. Sans went limp.

“it’s okay, paps. shhhh, it’s alright….”

“NO IT – IT – IT ISN’T,” Papyrus hiccupped. “THEY – THEY DESTROYED IT, SANS, AND I – I CAN’T REPLACE IT.” He sobbed against Sans’s shoulder. “MY BROTHER GAVE IT TO ME.”

Sans squeezed him. It wasn’t a tight hug like Papyrus was giving him, but a gentle press along his spine, a graze against his chest, a soft reassurance that he was there. Not too much. Exactly what Papyrus wanted. There was understanding in his every action, and he wondered if Sans knew what that book had meant to him.

As if hearing his thoughts, Sans mumbled, “i’m so sorry, paps. i know how much you loved that book and i’m so, so sorry.”

So he must have at least an inkling. God, had Sans and his brother gotten the book the same way they had? Had Sans read it to him every night until two of them had graduated high school? And once Sans had stopped, had his brother read it to himself like he had, clinging to the old memories?

Except this Sans wasn’t like his brother. He didn’t strike him as the type to tell him to grow up and get over his obsession with kids’ stuff. Maybe the two of them had even made it a habit to continue reading the book together every night.

He didn’t want to ask. All he wanted to do was cry and cry and cry.

And he did. His entire body quavered with his fury and grief, and Sans drooped across him, whispering his sympathy. Light popped in his vision as he freed the whirlwind of emotions deep from within his chest, crying as if he hadn’t in months. It would be embarrassing if it weren’t for the fact that Sans was softly encouraging him to let it all out.

He sobbed for what felt like hours, though it couldn’t have been that long; when he finally withdrew his skull from Sans, the neighbors’ porch lights were lit. The regulars were still at Grillby’s, drinking away their boredom. It was early.

“hey.”

Sockets heavy and head stuffed with the remnants of his breakdown, Papyrus glanced at Sans. He was neither weepy nor sniffling, but he still had tear tracks running down his cheeks. The knowledge fortified Papyrus. Sans – the very monster who would berate him for being too sensitive – was crying over this. Crying over him.

He could once again feel the tears building up, but he forced himself to calm down.

“HELLO,” Papyrus croaked belatedly in response as he squeezed Sans’s back tightly.

“you wanna go to bed?” Sans murmured. “we can clean this up in the morning.”

Papyrus violently shook his head. Go to bed? There was no way he could just leave the house in shambles like this. Besides, he knew if he went to sleep now, he’d just wake up to another nightmare. After today, it was inevitable.

He resisted the urge to hug Sans closer again.

“papyrus,” Sans said, and something in his voice told him that he was about to get a lecture.

Papyrus headed him off before he could begin.

“PLEASE DO NOT ARGUE WITH ME ABOUT THIS,” he begged. “THIS MESS NEEDS TO BE CLEANED UP. I DO NOT WANT TO EVEN THINK OF SLEEPING WITH ALL THESE… BOOKS EVERYWHERE.”

His brother’s books – expensive treasures, even after all these years, with the ban still in place – were trashed like they had been worthless. They hadn’t even stolen them.

“i wasn’t going to insist,” Sans assured him.

“THEN WHAT?” Papyrus asked, his tone harsh.

“i just… i think we should tell undyne about this.” He slid off Papyrus’s lap and stood on the ground, his gaze drifting over the sea of paper. “grillby shouldn’t terrorize us for the rest of our lives.”

Papyrus went quiet, his soul pounding.

Sans’s words weren’t lost on him. “The rest of our lives,” he had said. Despite himself, he could feel his soul twisting with hope. What if Sans stayed? What if he never left? What if he remained by his side forever, became his best friend, didn’t go down the path that his brother –

No, that wasn’t right. And not just because it was repugnant to hold Sans here when he so clearly wanted to leave. He didn’t want to outright lie to him, especially not about Grillby.

“let’s tell her tomorrow.” Sans’s voice was hardly a whisper. He stared at the ground, resolutely not looking at Papyrus. “we can tell her everything.”

Everything?

Oh.

Oh.

Papyrus didn’t know what to say. He obviously wanted Sans to tell Undyne about what had happened at the bar; he had brought it up subtly several times over the last few days, only to be met with a stubborn silence each time. But… Sans was only doing this because he thought Grillby was responsible for this break-in.

“i’ve kept my mouth shut until now for… a bunch of reasons. mostly because what happened was my fault. but if he’s gonna start taking it out on you –”

“IT WAS NOT YOUR FAULT.”

Sans’s eyes darted upwards, guilt permeating his features, and then returned to stare at the floor.

“WHAT HAPPENED AT GRILLBY’S WAS NOT YOUR FAULT,” Papyrus repeated, knowing Sans didn’t believe him. “IT WAS MINE. MINE AND MY BROTHER’S.”

“don’t know how it’s your fault.”

Papyrus exhaled. “MY BROTHER HAD THAT SCHEME SET UP, AND I SHOULD HAVE… BEEN A BETTER BROTHER. I SHOULD HAVE PAID BETTER ATTENTION TO WHAT HAD BEEN HAPPENING LONG BEFORE I DID.”

Sans continued to examine the carpet.

“AND… THIS MESS IS NOT THE WORK OF GRILLBY.”

Papyrus allowed that to sink in, gritting his teeth in preparation for the fallout that was sure to trail. Sans eventually glanced upward, confusion written in his expression.

“MUFFET DID THIS.”

muffet?”

“I… OWE HER MONEY. A LOT.”

“what? why?”

“MY BROTHER WAS… WELL, HE WAS NOT VERY GOOD AT MAKING PAYMENTS TO HER.”

“payments for what?”

Papyrus tilted his head. “DOES… MUFFET NOT RUN AN ORGANIZATION IN YOUR UNIVERSE?”

“yeah, a bakery. what, did your bro buy her doughnuts?”

Papyrus thought maybe Sans was trying to make a joke. A horrible, ill-timed joke. But there was only sincerity in his voice, and no other indication that what he was saying was an innuendo or a code word.

“SHE SELLS DRUGS. SHE IS THE UNDERGROUND’S MAIN SUPPLIER.”

“i – what?”

“MY BROTHER HAD GOTTEN QUITE ADDICTED TO THEM,” he admitted. “IT WAS WHY HE HAD TURNED TO… SEX WORK. HE NEEDED TO PAY HER OFF.” Well, that was almost the truth. Close enough that it wasn’t really a lie. “AND HE FAILED TO DO SO, SO IT IS UP TO ME TO PAY THE DEBT.”

“but… why the hell is that on you? you didn’t do anything!”

Papyrus shrugged. “THAT IS HOW THINGS ARE HERE.”

Sans was quiet for some time, and when he spoke next it was with realization laced in his voice. “the first day.”

“THE FIRST DAY?”

“the first day i got here. the guy who came by and asked for money. i thought they were here on behalf of grillbz – i mean grillby,” he corrected himself, cringing. “but it wasn’t for him, was it? it was muffet.”

Papyrus nodded.

“hell, papyrus, you haven’t paid them yet?”

And here it was. The blame game, just as Papyrus had expected.

“I WAS GOING TO; WE HAD AN ARRANGEMENT,” Papyrus said, shuffling his hands together, “AND I HAD ACCRUED ENOUGH MONEY TO PAY HER THE TOTAL SUM, BUT… I HAD TO GIVE UP MY SAVINGS.”

There was a deep, impenetrable silence, punctuated only by the wind blowing against the nearby window. And then –

“shit.” Tears had sprung to Sans’s eyes.

“NO SWEARING,” Papyrus scolded, though he had no oomph to his tone.

“shit,” Sans repeated, his body shuddering. “this really – this was – fucking shit, it’s all my fault.”

“IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT,” Papyrus reiterated, eyes wide. He couldn’t believe that Sans wasn’t accusing him of wrongdoing. “I DO NOT BLAME YOU. I DID,” he confessed, his cheeks burning with shame, “BUT ONCE I FOUND OUT YOU WERE NOT MY BROTHER, OR A DOPPELGANGER SENT BY MUFFET, I COULD NOT PLACE ANY OF THAT RESPONSIBILITY ONTO YOU.”

“but why? paps, it’s my fault this happened,” he said, gesturing wildly to the rest of the room. “if you had been able to pay off muffet right away –”

“THEN I STILL WOULD HAVE OWED GRILLBY A SUBSTANTIAL AMOUNT OF MONEY.”

“he had a deal with you though! you even said it yourself the other day. if i hadn’t gone into that stupid fucking bar –”

“SANS, ONCE AGAIN, GRILLBY IS THE ONE TO BLAME HERE. WELL, AND MY BROTHER AND MYSELF, OF COURSE,” he added with a grimace. “BUT NOT YOU. NEVER YOU.”

Silence stretched between them again, neither of them moving as the wind continued to blow noisily against the window pane. Papyrus wanted to get up and begin cleaning, but Sans held him in abeyance with his insecurity. He didn’t know what to say to convince him that he had done nothing wrong, and if past experience was any guide, it was of paramount importance to do just that. But nothing he could think of sounded persuasive; it was like the words were stuck behind some barrier in his mind.

In the end, Sans was the one to speak first. “why are you so cool?”

“WHAT?” That had come out of nowhere.

“you live in this hellhole and yet you’re still so… amazing.” He wiped his face of tears. “we don’t even know each other, and you always seem to know what to say.”

“N-NONSENSE! YOU ARE THE AMAZING ONE HERE!”

“nah. too lazy for all that,” he said, raising his arms over his head in a long, joint-popping stretch. “in fact, i’m so lazy, i’m getting sleepy just thinking about cleaning up this mess.”

“YOU DO NOT HAVE TO.”

“’course i do. not gonna leave it all to you.” He offered his hand to Papyrus to help him off the mattress. “i might be lazy, but i’m not a jerk.”

No. No, he wasn’t. Far from it.

With Sans’s aid, Papyrus climbed to his feet.

“THANK YOU. SO MUCH.”

He knew his words couldn’t convey how grateful he was for everything. For Sans’s patience and kindness. For his willingness to go to Undyne over what had happened at Grillby’s, even though he hadn’t wanted to. For offering to help him clean even after working all day. For not placing the blame on Papyrus even though it truly was his fault.

There was so much he had to thank him for.

Over the next hour, the two of them cleaned up the room. Papyrus was on the brink of tears every time he recognized one of his brother’s books, though the inclination tapered off when Sans pointed out that they could compile them into new copies. After that, everything went much smoother. They stacked the papers into neat little piles atop his brother’s dresser for safekeeping.

Once they had picked up the pages and tattered fabric, they were exhausted, far more than Papyrus had been expecting. They agreed to clean his room next and go to bed immediately afterwards.

Yet as soon as they peeked into the other room, the rest of his energy left him.

The intruders had destroyed his belongings. His posters had been torn down, carving scars into the walls where the paint had ripped away, and all his collectibles and keepsakes had been smashed into pieces. Clothes and blankets were strewn across the room in a lumpy mess. The only thing that seemed to survive untouched was his computer, and he couldn’t fathom what they had uploaded onto it. He certainly wasn’t going to look tonight.

“god, this is… a lot.”

Papyrus nodded, too tired for words.

“do you wanna just –” He glanced toward the other room, and although the question was apparent, he must have thought better of it. “eh, never mind. let’s get to work.”

He sounded exhausted but determined to do the job.

Papyrus, however, was just exhausted.

“NO,” he sighed, “I AGREE. LET’S SLEEP IN MY BROTHER’S ROOM. WE CAN TIDY THIS UP TOMORROW.”

The tension in Sans’s posture drained away. “yeah, okay.”

Sans ambled to the other room, but Papyrus lingered for a few moments. After taking in the mess one more time, he grabbed his blanket off the floor and brought it with him. Sans had already flung himself onto the barely mattress, fully clothed and his face squashed into the bed. Papyrus’s soul panged with nostalgia.

He didn’t chide Sans for failing to remove his clothing. It was too tiring, and besides, he was already joining Sans on the mattress, not bothering to undress either. Though it wasn’t comfortable, he didn’t mind. He had no intention of sleeping tonight. Rather, he would just rest quietly next to Sans and keep a watchful eye over the house. He doubted Muffet would send anyone else tonight, but one could never be too sure.

Sans shifted and accidentally rolled into Papyrus. “heh. sorry.”

He was already scooting away, but stopped as Papyrus wrapped his arms around him. After a few seconds, he leaned into the embrace with a low grunt.

Papyrus clenched his eyes shut, willing his attachment to go away. This wasn’t his brother, but what he was feeling was wrong. Hadn’t he learned that the first time? Emotions like this could only lead to pain.

He pressed Sans closer to his chest anyway. He couldn’t let go.

Which was why he needed to contact Dr. Alphys.

Before it became impossible to let him leave.

Chapter Text

*************************************************

Even though his clothes were soaked, and his bones trembled from the cold that punctured his marrow, Papyrus paced the living room at a relentless pace. His boots were tracking mud onto the carpet, and he knew he’d have to be the one to clean it up later, but he refused to stop. It would serve his brother right to see the mess he had caused. Maybe he would feel guilty for once!

Right on cue, something smacked into the door, and the telltale sound of fumbling keys sliding against the knob announced Sans’s arrival. Papyrus stopped in his tracks in front of the staircase, crossing his arms and glaring at the entrance. When his brother finally managed to unlock the door, Sans stumbled inside, a drunken grin stretched across his red face.

“heh. turn left. gotta remember that,” Sans mumbled to himself as he nearly tripped over his own feet. Looking unsteady, he lumbered over to the side of the couch and tightly gripped its arm.

“WELCOME HOME, BROTHER,” Papyrus sneered. “DID YOU HAVE A GOOD DAY?”

Sans gasped. His hand slipped, and he fell sideways onto the couch so that half his body was strewn across it. Though he managed to keep himself “standing” with one of his feet, somehow the other one was waving in the air. Papyrus was not sure how he had managed to do that. Maybe it was one of his brother’s jokes; from the way Sans was giggling into the cushion, he sure thought something was funny.

“you scaaaared me,” Sans said, drawing out his words with an upwards inflection.

“DID YOU ENJOY YOURSELF AT GRILLBY’S?”

“heh.” Sans pushed himself all the way onto the couch and twisted around to stare at Papyrus with half-lidded eyes. “yeah, it wassss good. y’know, e’ryone saw you come in earlier. said you slammed the door open so hard it went righ’ back in your face.”

Sans howled with laughter, clutching his midsection.

Papyrus’s face warmed at the memory. “YES, THANK YOU. I AM GLAD YOU REMINDED ME OF IT.”

When Sans laughed even harder, Papyrus had to fight the urge to chuck the remote at his head.

“man, that’s great. why’d you even think it was a good idea to go in there, huh?”

“I NEEDED TO SPEAK TO YOU ABOUT WHAT HAPPENED IN OUTER SNOWDIN, BUT YOU WERE ALREADY BUSY WITH A NEW CUSTOMER, WEREN’T YOU?”

That knocked the smile off Sans’s face. “huh? wha– what’re you talkin’ about? ‘customer’?”

If Papyrus didn’t know for a fact that his brother wasn’t telling the truth, he would’ve been convinced, even with Sans’s clear drunkenness.

“YOU MUST LIE A LOT TO BE SO GOOD AT IT.”

“who says i’m lying?” Sans slurred, scrabbling to sit upright.

“I AM. AND DO NOT TRY TO CONVINCE ME OTHERWISE, SANS, I SAW YOU. YOU WERE… YOU WERE… WITH THAT BEAR MONSTER!”

Sans froze midway through sitting up, leaning on one arm and his mouth hanging open and his eyelights overblown almost comically.

Papyrus clenched his eyes, not wanting to even look at Sans right now. The temptation to go soft on him was too strong when his brother started making expressions like that.

“HOW COULD YOU.”

“how could i what?” Sans spat, suddenly full of venom. “have some fun?”

Papyrus opened his sockets. Sans’s face had transformed into something truly terrifying; his eyelights, which usually only glowed when he was employing magic, were filled with wisps of cyan. His body almost glowed from the light, and if Sans were any other monster, Papyrus would’ve gotten into a defensive stance.

But it was Sans, and Papyrus wouldn’t be intimidated.

“IT WAS NOT FUN, IT WAS BUSINESS.”

“business? says who, huh?”

“SAYS THE MONSTER I WAS COLLECTING TAXES FROM.”

Sans blinked and the magic washed away in an instant. He waved his hand in dismissal.

“well, what do they know?” he said, back to his usual tone. “people talk trash all the time, papyrus. you gotta stop listening to every little –”

Papyrus stamped his foot down. “I AM SO TIRED OF THE LIES, SANS!”

Sans shut his mouth, looking sullen.

“I CAN HANDLE YOU GOING TO GRILLBY’S EVERY NIGHT. I CAN HANDLE YOU GETTING DRUNK OR… HIGH, OR WHATEVER YOU ARE ALL THE TIME. BUT SELLING YOUR BODY? SELLING YOUR BODY, SANS!”

“what do you care?”

“IT IS ILLEGAL!” Papyrus shouted, hitting a pitch he hadn’t thought possible. “FAR MORE ILLEGAL THAN ANYTHING ELSE! SO, SO ILLEGAL!”

“what? you gonna rat me out to the guard? gonna get your promotion because you turned on your bro?”

“OF COURSE NOT! WHY WOULD YOU –”

“i can see it now,” Sans interrupted, waving his hand out in front of him and appearing like he had seen something truly astounding. “the great papyrus, savin’ the underground from another common whore.” He put his hand down and tilted to the side, looking unsteady even while sitting. “pfft, should call you the great and terrible papyrus, if y’ask me. who the fuck cares about something like whoring except you?”

“DO YOU THINK GRILLBY WOULD NOT CARE IF HE FOUND OUT? HE IS YOUR BOYFRIEND!”

Sans averted his gaze, though the corners of his mouth twitched upwards. It hit Papyrus then…

“WAIT… HE KNOWS?”

“who said that?” Sans said quickly.

“YOU DID! WITH YOUR FACE!” Papyrus stepped back. “ARE THE TWO OF YOU…. EVEN DATING?”

“you could call it dating of a sort,” Sans mumbled.

Papyrus was going to be sick.

“MY GOD, WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU. THIS IS…. THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE, SANS!”

“whatever, papyrus, you don’t get to judge me. i’m making money, aren’t i?”

“THEN WHERE IS THIS SO-CALLED MONEY? I HAVE NOT SEEN YOU PAY A SINGLE BILL SINCE WE ARRIVED HERE!”

“oh, i’m paying bills. you’re jus’ not lookin’. too busy with your ‘highly esteemed career,’” Sans said, using his fingers for air quotes.

“SANS!” Papyrus huffed. “YOU DO NOT GET TO MOCK ME WHEN… WHEN…”

“when what?”

Papyrus bit down on his retort. It would be too low a blow to bring up Sans’s career, or lack thereof.

“y’know what? i don’t even care. whatever you’re gonna say is fucking lies too, and you know it!”

“LIES? HOW IS ANYTHING I HAVE SAID A LIE?!”

“because the truth is that you only care about me fucking for cash for one reason: because i’m not fucking you.”

Something sliced through Papyrus’s soul, leaving him almost jittery.

“HOW COULD YOU SAY SOMETHING LIKE THAT.”

“because it’s true! and guess what, paps?” he said, leaning closer. “i’m never gonna fuck you. you’re my brother! what kinda freak wants t’ fuck their bro?”

“WHO SAID ANYTHING ABOUT THAT?” Papyrus said, fighting back tears. How could rejection still hurt, even after all these years of Sans telling him there was no chance? How, how, how…

“oh, please. just look at… at…” He gestured at Papyrus. “well, at you. it’s fucking as obvious as always.”

“NO, IT IS NOT!” Papyrus whined, face growing hotter.

“we’ve been down this road before, papyrus. sooner you realize how disgusting it is, the sooner you’ll actually be happy for once in your god damn life.”

“STOP IT!” Papyrus wailed, bringing his hands to the sides of his skull. “STOP IT RIGHT NOW!”

“i’m not gonna stop just ‘cause you don’t wanna face reality, you asshole! get it through your thick skull: you don’t own me. and you’re never. gonna. fuck. me.” Each word was impregnated with such animosity that Papyrus’s soul felt like it was going to tear in two. The feeling only intensified when Sans said, with bitter finality, “you’re so fucking…. revoltin’.”

“YOU ARE JUST… CHANGING THE SUBJECT! THIS IS NOT ABOUT ME!”

“nah, i’m pretty fucking on-point. it’s really none of your business who i sleep with.”

Papyrus was crying openly now. He just couldn’t stop himself.

“god, would you cut it out with the waterworks? it’s not my fault you won’t butt outta my business.”

“Y-YES IT IS!” Papyrus yelled, his voice thin with tears. “YOU NEVER STOP BEING SUCH A… SUCH A…” Papyrus was shaking from trying to hold himself back, but the way Sans was openly disparaging him finally broke him. “SUCH AN ASSHOLE!”

“pfft, using big boy words now, are ya? thought you were above that.”

“F… FUCK YOU! I HATE YOU! THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT!”

“yeah, right. i don’t know how the hell you got so fucked up as a kid, but you sure as hell can’t fucking blame me!”

“I – I AM LEAVING!” Papyrus screamed, voice catching in his throat as he marched towards the door.

“where to? not like you got any friends!”

“OUT! I AM GOING OUT!”

“good then! leave! just don’t let the door slam on you again or i’ll probably die laughing!”

Just to spite Sans, Papyrus flung the door open and didn’t bother to close it, allowing a chilly breeze to blow into the house. He hoped Sans froze to death for all he cared!

Tears obscuring his vision, he made his way through town. It was so abnormally dark, he couldn’t see where he was going. Every building was dim and the only point of reference he had was Grillby’s restaurant in the distance, which seemed to crackle with light like a bonfire.

Though Papyrus walked in that direction, he had no intention of stopping in for food, warmth, company, or anything else. He shirked the bar, ignoring the call from one of the dogs as he passed – they were probably only making fun of him anyway – and stomped across the natural bridge that connected the town with the western outlying region.

He traveled through the frosty woods, crying as he went, but keeping himself from reaching full volume. It would be horrific if anyone saw him like this. Not only would he be the laughing stock of the Underground, but Captain Undyne would probably dismiss him on the spot. Who ever heard of a guardsman that cried from a fight?

It was only until he reached his post, just outside the permanently locked door to the old Ruins, that he felt safe to let out his emotions. All was quiet here. Only one guard was posted along the trail at this time of night – it wasn’t like there were any humans coming through, and the only trouble that could arise would be in town – and Papyrus didn’t expect to see them tonight. Not when it was Frost Day or Snow Day or Ice Day or whatever the hell holiday it was supposed to be. No, everyone else would have gotten the day off. It was just Papyrus who got the short end of the stick when it came to shifts.

So he flopped down in a small snowdrift and broke down into wailing, hiccupping sobs. Though the surrounding snow soaked up most of the sound, he could still hear his cries reverberating against the nearby trees. It was almost cathartic to listen to the echoes, to all the anger and sorrow and humiliation bouncing back at him.

How could he have grown so distant from Sans? How could he have not known that his brother was doing… this? And when had Sans gotten so mean?

He clawed his pants, digging his fingers into the cloth, and howled as he thought back to his brother’s accurate analysis of the situation.

“Are you okay?”

“AGH!”

Papyrus jolted back, his body pushing into the mound of snow. Though the pile was sturdy enough to support his spine, his head skull sunk into a soft spot and he found himself buried in the drift. He hurriedly yanked himself out, shaking his head to loosen the white that filled his sockets. Some of it fell into his jaw, forcing him to swallow, and he shivered as his soul sucked the iciness up to convert into energy.

Someone nearby giggled. Embarrassment warming his face – though not enough to heat up his now-freezing body – Papyrus twisted everywhere to find the source of the noise. There was no one in sight.

“Down here, silly!”

Papyrus nearly fell back into the snow again at the proximity of the voice. Just a meter away was a small yellow flower, which had popped right out of the snow. But it was more than just a flower; it had a face.

“Howdy!” the creature said, smiling. They quickly sobered as they peered at Papyrus. “Um, what are you doing on the ground like that? You alright there?”

“YES, OF COURSE!” Papyrus squeaked, climbing to his feet in a rush. He took another glance at the flower and squinted. “WHO EXACTLY ARE YOU?

“Oh! I’m… I’m Flowey! Flowey the Flower!” They stuck out their tongue and winked. “Not a very original name, I know!”

Papyrus wiped his face. “WELL, I DO NOT KNOW ANYONE BY THAT NAME.”

“Hehe, I guess I don’t either.”

If Papyrus had to guess, he’d say that Flowey was young based on the timbre of their voice. It was hard to tell with unfamiliar species, and he knew nothing about flower monsters. He wasn’t sure he had ever met one before.

“ER, IF YOU DO NOT MIND MY ASKING,” Papyrus said sniffling quietly, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING OUT HERE?”

Flowey blinked. “Well, you were being kind of loud. I wanted to see who was making all that racket.”

“OH.” Papyrus blushed. “I WAS… ER… HAVING A MOMENT.”

“A pretty loud moment!”

Papyrus rubbed his arm and averted his gaze. Great. What a wonderful first impression. The perfect way to end this day.

“Did you get hurt? It sounded like you were in a lot of pain.”

“NO,” Papyrus said, wincing. “NOTHING LIKE THAT. I WAS JUST… UNHAPPY.”

“Well, that’s not cool.”

Papyrus ducked his head. “NO, IT ISN’T. I AM NOT VERY COOL THOUGH.”

“That’s okay! I’m not cool either!”

Papyrus peeked up at Flowey who was frowning at him. “YOU AREN’T?”

“Not really.” They lowered their volume, and with a hint of nostalgia tinting their tone, they said, “My sibling always told me I was a pretty lame brother.” Flowey stared into space for a few seconds before shaking his head. “They were right, looking back on it. But that’s okay! I’m turning over a new leaf!”

Despite himself, Papyrus released an unbidden giggle. He clamped a hand over his mouth.

“What’s so funny?”

“’TURNING OVER A NEW LEAF.’” When Flowey stared back at him, he explained, “BECAUSE YOU ARE A FLOWER. ‘A NEW LEAF.’”

An exasperated expression fell over Flowey. “Really?”

“WELL, I THOUGHT IT WAS FUNNY….”

But now that he was thinking about it, inwardly he was cringing. It was exactly the sort of joke his brother would tell. When he was sober anyway.

“You have a weird sense of humor.” With a quick shift of dirt and snow, Flowey dove underneath the earth, disappearing from view.

“FLOWEY? WHERE DID YOU – AH!”

Flowey had popped up right next to his feet, a bright smile on his face.

“Sorry, friend, I didn’t mean to scare you!”

Papyrus paused, blinking down at the flower. Had he just called him ‘friend’?

“I was just coming over to hug you. You seem like you really need one.” Flowey extended a couple of long, thick vines from his stem. “Can I?”

Papyrus had never been hugged by anyone outside his family before. But… a hug sounded nice. It was not like any of his family members – of which he only had one remaining – would be doing that any time soon. He nodded and lifted his arms in the air.

Though Flowey was by no means warm, when he hugged Papyrus, it filled his soul with such warmth that he could hardly believe how cold and empty he had felt just moments ago.

*************************************************

Don’t fall asleep.

Don’t fall asleep.

Don’t fall asleep.

Papyrus kept up the mantra in his head, blinking the sleepiness from his sockets. He needed to stay awake. Sans was resting in his clutch, blissfully unaware of his surroundings and of Papyrus’s heightened nerves.

If Papyrus left him unprotected, and he somehow got hurt… he could never forgive himself. And he already didn’t forgive himself. In truth, he wasn’t sure he’d survive if this Sans died after what he had done to his brother.

So he kept vigil.

It wasn’t easy. With the blanket wrapped around the two of them, shielding him from the bitter cold, he felt a warmth budding within his chest that was slowly enrapturing him. His eyes kept drifting closed, hungry for respite after the long, emotional day. He repeated the silent chant over and over – don’t fall asleep, don’t fall asleep, don’t fall asleep – as he huddled closer to Sans.

Perhaps the best approach was to keep himself awake by reminding himself of what would happen to Sans if Muffet captured him. She would probably draw it out, making him scream for mercy that she wouldn’t deliver. Her mouth would twist into that cold smirk as she tortured him within an inch of his life. With the state Sans was in, he wouldn’t last long.

Or worse, she’d make him repay the debt by forcing him to sell himself. Just like she did to his brother. Though this time she wouldn’t have a willing participant.

There was a chance, however, that Sans would do it without argument, just to help Papyrus. Was it really that much of a stretch? After all, as twisted as his brother’s reasoning had been, he had been doing the same thing back when he was alive. And this Sans was… kinder and perhaps a bit less selfish than his brother had been. He’d do it for him, even if it meant postponing his return home.

It was unjust. Horrific. Papyrus wouldn’t allow it!

“mmng,” Sans whined.

Papyrus gasped and loosened his arms as he realized he had been gripping Sans so tightly he had probably been close to suffocating him. Free from his prison, Sans rolled over to the other side of the bed, going just far enough that he was still lying on Papyrus’s now-extended arm but that the blanket was spread taut between them.

With a few calming breaths, the anxiety in Papyrus’s chest slackened incrementally.

Dumb. Really, really dumb. He was supposed to be watching over Sans, not crushing him. Why did he always mess up the easiest of tasks? He just hoped that Sans wasn’t too upset about being woken up so rudely.

Apology already at the tip of his tongue, he waited with bated breath for Sans’s response. He only relaxed when Sans released a soft snore. Good. Sans deserved sleep.

He watched the way Sans’s chest sunk and rose, emanating a contagious calmness that had Papyrus slowing his own breath to match his tempo. His hand curled around Sans’s arm. It wasn’t the same as hugging him, but his soul felt lighter as he ran his touch up and down the bone.

And his sockets felt heavier.

A tap at the window stirred him.

The sound was so tiny that anyone else would have dismissed it as an ordinary nighttime noise. Papyrus, however, was on such high alert that he was immediately out of bed, bone attack in hand and his soul tingling in preparation to release one of his stronger attacks.

Sans’s snores continued to resonate throughout the room. That was for the best; Papyrus could keep an eye on him if anyone decided to attack.

He trained his gaze on the window, ready for the slightest movement.

A long, green vine came into view and tapped on the glass again, louder this time.

With a long sigh, Papyrus dismissed his magic, scurried over to the window, and pressed his skull against the pane. Flowey’s head was stretched off the ground, his tendrils wound against the siding of the house for leverage. The two of them made eye contact and with a twitch of one of his vines, Flowey beckoned for Papyrus to come outside.

Needing no other sign, Papyrus backed away from the window, and with only a half-glance at the still-sleeping Sans, he rushed down the stairs. The air was frigid, and it was no wonder why: the front door had been left open on its broken hinges, allowing the wind to carry snow and slush onto the front step.

He ignored the evidence of the earlier break-in and stepped onto the front porch. Flowey was already there, bouncing on his stem in the frozen soil.

“There you are! Are you okay?”

“YES,” Papyrus lied, “FINE.”

“You didn’t come out afterwards! I thought maybe you got into a fight!”

“THEY WERE GONE BY THE TIME I ARRIVED.” Papyrus knelt on the ground next to Flowey. “WERE YOU WATCHING THE HOUSE WHEN THEY GOT HERE?”

“No, I heard about it at the Web and came as fast as I could to warn you. By the time I got here, they had already been through.”

“YOU WERE SPYING ON THEM?”

Flowey nodded. “She’s very mad, Papyrus.”

“I KNOW, I KNOW,” Papyrus said, hugging himself. “I SHOULD HAVE PAID THEM… OR BEGGED FOR FORGIVENESS.”

“It’s more than that,” Flowey said with an ominous tone. “Muffet keeps going on and on about how you kept Sans hidden from her. I heard she might even pull the Queen into this.”

Papyrus’s soul dropped. It was an open secret that Queen Toriel was the real boss of Muffet’s operation. If she got dragged into this, well, he would be praying for Muffet’s gentler methods.

“Papyrus,” Flowey said slowly, as if weighing his words carefully, “have you been keeping your brother hidden?”

“NO.” When Flowey didn’t look convinced, Papyrus shouted, “HE IS DEAD, FLOWEY!”

“Um. Then who was that I met earlier?”

“NOT MY BROTHER, AND I WOULD APPRECIATE IF YOU STOPPED THE ACCUSATORY TONE!”

Flowey shirked away, appearing like he very much wanted to vanish into the ground. “Okay. No need to jump down my throat.”

Guilt enveloped Papyrus. “SORRY, I DID NOT MEAN TO – UGH, I JUST… YOU KNOW HOW MUCH I HATE IT WHEN PEOPLE SAY THAT, FLOWEY.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“I ONLY KEPT HIM FOR A FEW MONTHS, AND IT WAS NOT BECAUSE OF…” He trailed off.

“I know,” Flowey said, abashed. “But you can’t deny how it looks.”

Papyrus nodded. “HE TRULY IS NOT MY BROTHER THOUGH.”

He explained the circumstances, fumbling on the details he wasn’t quite sure of himself. It was still hard to understand exactly how Sans had traveled between universes, and whether he and his brother shared any of the same memories. On that last point, Papyrus had been too scared to ask.

“I KNOW IT IS UNBELIEVABLE, BUT WELL, I BELIEVE HIM,” Papyrus finished lamely. “I JUST WISH I UNDERSTOOD IT A BIT BETTER.”

“Yeah, none of this makes a lot of sense, but I guess neither does my existence.” Flowey paused, face scrunched up in contemplation, and then said bitterly, “Is that why you’ve been trying to get in touch with Dr. Alphys? To explain this?”

“NO,” Papyrus said, defensiveness rising up, “WE ARE TRYING TO GET SANS HOME, NOT – WAIT A SECOND. HAVE YOU BEEN FOLLOWING ME?”

Flowey hunched in on himself. “No.”

“FLOWEY….”

“No, honest, I wasn’t!”

“THEN HOW DO YOU KNOW THAT WE HAVE BEEN TRYING TO GET IN CONTACT WITH DR. ALPHYS?”

Flowey tapped two of his front leaves together in a display of meekness. “I may have followed Captain Undyne.”

“FLOWEY! WE HAVE BEEN OVER THIS!”

“It was because of Muffet! She kept bringing her up.”

“SHE DID? WHY?”

“I don’t know. She was talking about Guard patrols or something. I couldn’t hear the whole conversation.”

“SO YOU TOOK IT UPON YOURSELF TO FOLLOW THE CAPTAIN BECAUSE OF THAT?”

“I was… worried about her?”

Papyrus frowned. “WORRIED? REALLY?”

“And maybe a little bit curious,” Flowey confessed. “I overheard one of Muffet’s cronies say that the Captain is dating Dr. Alphys now? Is that true?”

Ah. So that was the real reason.

“I THINK SO, BUT I DO NOT MAKE IT A HABIT TO PRY INTO MY SUPERIOR OFFICER’S PERSONAL LIFE.”

Flowey’s face was all skepticism. “Really?”

“WE MAY BE FRIENDS! AND I MAY HAVE ENCOURAGED HER TO WRITE A HEARTFELT LETTER DECLARING ALL POSSIBLE FEELINGS OF ADORATION AND LOVE THAT SHE FEELS TOWARD HER OBJECT OF DESIRE! BUT! THAT DOES NOT MEAN I KNOW EVERY DETAIL OF UNDYNE’S LIFE!”

“Tsk. And of course you just had to fan the flames. Ugh.”

“I KNOW HOW YOU FEEL ABOUT LOVE, FLOWEY, BUT –”

“This isn’t about love. It’s about her.”

Papyrus clamped his mouth shut.

“Why did you encourage them to date, huh?” Flowey asked sullenly. “That’s messed up.”

In truth, he hadn’t really been thinking of Flowey when he had urged Undyne to ask Alphys out on a date, but ever since he had, an implacable sense of guilt had dawdled in the back of his mind every time he had thought of the pair. He simply had not had the time to dwell on it as of late; Sans had taken up his every spare thought.

“I… FORGOT,” Papyrus admitted.

“Forgot? How do you forget that someone is a psychotic, unethical…?” Flowey trailed off, shaking his head. “I thought you were my friend.”

Papyrus crossed his arms. “OF COURSE YOU ARE MY FRIEND, FLOWEY, BUT I AM ALSO UNDYNE’S FRIEND, AND… WE DO NOT UNDERSTAND THE CIRCUMSTANCES SURROUNDING DR. ALPHYS’S DECISIONS.”

“Circumstances?” Flowey sneered.

“YES, FLOWEY! MAYBE SHE DID NOT INTEND TO CREATE YOU AND DID NOT KNOW OF YOUR SENTIENCE!”

“She hooked me up to a machine and blasted me to hell and back! You think she didn’t know I was alive when I was screaming my head off?”

“YOU ADMIT YOURSELF THAT YOU LEFT BEFORE SHE COULD EXPLAIN HERSELF! I CANNOT JUDGE DR. ALPHYS WHEN YOU REFUSE TO EVEN ATTEMPT TO MAKE AMENDS!”

“Make amends,” Flowey scoffed under his breath. “You try putting up with her for longer than five seconds.”

Papyrus sighed. “LET’S AGREE TO DROP THE MATTER. I KNOW YOU HATE DR. ALPHYS, AND IT DOES SOUND LIKE SHE DID NOT ALWAYS MAKE THE RIGHT DECISIONS, BUT IF I KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT THE ROYAL SCIENTIST….” Papyrus cringed, suddenly nauseous. “WELL, DR. ALPHYS MAY HAVE FACED ENORMOUS PRESSURE TO GET THINGS DONE.”

Flowey tutted but did not say anything else about the topic. It would be a matter of contention later, Papyrus knew, but he didn’t have the wherewithal to get sidetracked when he really wanted to know what information Flowey had uncovered.

“HAVE YOU BEEN WELL? NO ONE CAUGHT YOU AT THE WEB, CORRECT?”

“Obviously not,” Flowey replied after remaining silent for a few moments, “though there were a few near misses. I wish you’d appreciate all that I’m doing for you.”

Papyrus recoiled. “OF COURSE I APPRECIATE IT. THANK YOU. TRULY. HOWEVER, I DO WISH YOU WOULD NOT MAKE ME FEEL GUILTY ABOUT IT.”

Flowey rolled his eyes. “Yeah, right. Sorry.”

Papyrus breathed. Flowey truly was a good monster. He just… didn’t seem to understand right and wrong sometimes! That was okay. Papyrus was there to set him on the right path. And even though they fought over the details sometimes, Flowey was usually willing to listen, even if he didn’t always understand the reasons. It was something Papyrus always appreciated of the other monster.

He just wished Flowey would act a little less bratty sometimes.

“I did hear something new,” Flowey muttered. “From Muffet’s crew, I mean.”

Papyrus straightened. “YES?”

Flowey’s eyes lit up. “Apparently she’s interested in a group of monsters who’ve set up in a few places,” Flowey said, clearly excited to be getting to the real story. “Waterfall, Fireland, Snowdin. Even a place out in the old Ruins.”

“SET UP FOR WHAT?”

“They were being pretty cryptic – and these were some top guys too – but I did a little traveling and found their campsite in the Ruins. Looks like a bunch of scientists.”

“SCIENTISTS? LIKE… FROM THE ROYAL LAB?”

Flowey shrugged his leaves. “I don’t know. They don’t look like they’re from the Royal Lab. Could be from the university. I couldn’t get close enough without getting caught.”

“WHAT SORT OF INSTRUMENTS DID THEY HAVE? BEAKERS?”

He swore if they were establishing another drug operation, he’d tear it down himself.

“I don’t know, it was hard to tell. I didn’t see a lot of that sort of stuff from where I was, but I saw a bunch of big machines.”

“MACHINES?”

“Yeah, like big black boxes with a bunch of gears on the side. And they had lots of mechanical parts all over the place at their camp too.”

“ODD. DID YOU NOTICE ANYTHING ELSE?”

“No, I got chased out pretty quick. They have a lot of monsters guarding the place. It was interesting, but not that much. I went back to the Web after. They keep talking about it though.”

“HMM. WELL, IT DOES NOT SOUND LIKE DRUGS, BUT IF MUFFET IS INTERESTED IN IT, IT MUST BE ILLEGAL.”

“Probably.”

Papyrus was tempted to march into the Ruins and investigate the matter this very moment. It would be nice to wipe that sickly-sweet smile off Muffet’s face after everything that had happened yesterday.

But he had Sans to care for. He couldn’t afford to leave him alone for the evening. Not when she had probably assigned lackey to watch the house. Even if Papyrus could uncover some grand scheme, getting Sans home took priority.

“FLOWEY,” he said softly, “WOULD YOU BE WILLING TO SPY ON THOSE SCIENTISTS?”

“Hmph. Guess you still have some use for little ol’ Flowey, don’t you?”

“I AM ASKING AS A FRIEND. IF YOU THINK I AM USING YOU, THEN DO NOT BOTHER.”

“Why don’t you just ask the Captain instead? Or maybe Dr. Alphys?” Flowey taunted.

“BECAUSE I TRUST YOU TO DO THE JOB RIGHT, FLOWEY, AS YOU VERY WELL KNOW!” Papyrus reached out and grasped Flowey’s front leaves. “YOU ARE VERY QUICK AND BRAVE AND SMART, AND I KNOW THAT IF YOU WERE TO BE CAUGHT YOU WOULD BE ABLE TO LIE PROPERLY.” He swallowed. “AND BECAUSE, AS MY VERY FIRST FRIEND, I HAVE FAITH IN YOU.”

Flowey smirked. “Yeah, I guess that’s true. Gee, you really must like me, Papyrus!”

“I DO. AND I KNOW YOU LIKE ME, EVEN IF YOU DO NOT ALWAYS SHOW IT.”

“Wow, you’re so full of yourself!” Flowey stuck out his tongue and winked. “Hee hee, just kidding! You’re right, but it sure is embarrassing to lay it all out like that.”

“NYEH HEH HEH!” Papyrus patted Flowey’s top flower petals. “SO WILL YOU DO IT?”

“Yeaaaah,” Flowey said, rolling his eyes with a smile. “You convinced me. But boy, do you owe me, Papyrus!”

“YOU ARE RIGHT! I WILL HAVE TO THINK OF SOMETHING SPECIAL TO GET YOU. IT WILL HAVE TO WAIT UNTIL AFTER SANS LEAVES THOUGH. THAT WAY THE GREAT AND TERRIBLE PAPYRUS CAN DEVOTE EVERYTHING TO FINDING THE VERY BEST GIFT FOR HIS SUPER WONDERFUL FRIEND!”

Flowey glanced up at the house. “Speaking of the trashbag, what is he doing? Sleeping?”

Papyrus frowned but didn’t comment on the ‘trashbag’ comment. “YES.” He rubbed at his sockets, feeling the heaviness weighing them down. “AS I ALMOST DID. THANK YOU FOR STARTLING ME. I NEED TO GUARD HIM.”

“Is it really worth your time? He’s kind of a jerk, right?”

“HE… IS MUCH KINDER THAN MY BROTHER.” Papyrus rubbed his arm. “OR RATHER, HE IS LIKE HOW MY BROTHER USED TO ACT. LIKE WHEN WE WERE YOUNGER.”

“Sounds like you’re giving yourself an excuse.” Flowey sighed heavily. “If it were me, I’d kick him to the curb and let him fend for himself.”

“WELL, I AM NOT YOU, AND I WILL NOT BE DOING THAT. HE IS… IN A LOT OF PAIN RIGHT NOW.” He cast his gaze downward, suddenly interested in examining the snow. “HE HAS LOST HIS OWN BROTHER.”

“Really? Guess you two got a lot in common.”

Papyrus flinched. “THAT WAS RUDE.”

“Was it? Sorry! I thought it seemed appropriate.”

“NYEH, I SUPPOSE YOU ARE CORRECT THOUGH. WE DO HAVE A LOT IN COMMON.” He looked back to Flowey. “AND THERE ARE DIFFERENCES TOO. THE WAY HE TALKS ABOUT HIS WORLD… EVERYTHING SOUNDS SO DIFFERENT. MUCH NICER.”

“Yeah?”

“WELL, EXCEPT THE MURDERY HUMAN ANYWAY! THAT SOUNDS NOT AS NICE!”

Flowey’s eyes widened. “A human?”

He was quiet, like he was telling a secret.

Papyrus nodded. “THEY DO NOT SOUND AS COOL AS THE MAGAZINES MAKE THEM OUT TO BE. THOUGH I WONDER IF THAT IS JUST HOW THEY ARE IN SANS’S UNIVERSE,” Papyrus contemplated.

“Yeah.” Flowey sounded breathless, and when Papyrus glanced at his face, he thought he spotted tears.

“ARE YOU OKAY?”

“Of course,” Flowey said, voice reedy. “But, um, I really ought to get going with this new assignment and all.” He gave Papyrus a once-over. “And you really should get some sleep, Papyrus, you look awful!”

“MMM. MAYBE.” Papyrus had no intention of sleeping, even if he felt ready to collapse. Maybe he’d fix the door while Sans rested. “ARE YOU SURE YOU DO NOT WANT ANYTHING BEFORE LEAVING? SOME TEA PERHAPS?”

“Taking a leaf out of the Captain’s book, huh?”

Papyrus chuckled. “GOOD ONE.”

“Ugh! That wasn’t intentional!”

“NYEH HEH HEH, THAT IS OKAY. I LIKED IT ANYWAY.”

He found that dumb puns had grown on him again recently. Even if he didn’t want to admit it to Sans.

Flowey exhaled. “You’re the same as always, Papyrus. Such a weirdo.”

“A WEIRDO THAT CARES FOR YOU!”

“Yeah, but that’s what makes you even weirder.”

But even though he said that, he was smiling even as he dove underground.

Chapter Text

“WHAT DO YOU MEAN ‘MY PLACE GOT RANSACKED AND CAN I HAVE THE DAY OFF’?!”

Even from all the way in the living room, there was no mistaking Undyne’s dulcet tones. Sans wouldn’t be surprised if all of Waterfall could hear her.

“CAPTAIN, I UNDERSTAND THAT YOU ARE UPSET –”

“UPSET? UPSET?! I’LL TEAR THEIR THROATS OUT WITH MY TEETH, I’LL BLEED THEM UNTIL THEY’RE DRY, I’LL – AARRRRRRRRGH!”

From the sound of things on the other end of the phone, Undyne had either blown up something or had punched a wall clean through.

Sans sighed. He really hadn’t expected any other reaction; no matter the universe, Undyne was out for blood any time something bad happened to her friends.

As Papyrus paced the kitchen, trying to pacify Undyne with half-formed explanations, Sans continued to wind loose tape into the broken VHS cassettes. He was grateful that, while he had slept, Papyrus had fixed the front door and rearranged the couch to be usable. It meant that Sans could slowly clean up the rest of the living room without having to worry about the cold or feeling guilty about sitting on his tailbone organizing useless items while there were more important things to get to.

Even with this easier task, he was moving at a snail’s pace. His body was sore from sitting on the ground too long and his wound was making every movement difficult.

Papyrus hadn’t noticed it – and thank God because he had enough on his plate right now – but the injury had been acting up ever since the end of their collections yesterday. Something about it left Sans feeling woozy. Disconnected. Distant, as Papyrus had said.

He tenderly rubbed at the edges of the cut, wincing as pain sliced across his ribs and left little spots of light flashing in his vision.

It was going to be a long day, especially if Papyrus couldn’t get the time off. Sans didn’t think he could handle another round of collections. He felt weak, both physically and mentally. Like a wayward breeze would just knock him flat.

Then again, the thought of staying here alone was less appealing than ever. He had seen those messages in that book last night. Muffet wasn’t just pissed at Papyrus for failing to pay up; she was gunning for Sans’s head too.

And Grillby and the rest of the town were here, ready to break down the door, to steal him away, to bend him over and…

No.

No, no, no, no.

The word repeated in his head, drowning out the memories of warmth and lust and horror. His mind was pulling away from that line of thinking, detaching from that awful reality until he felt detached, frayed at the edges.

It was only when he heard the clattering of his fingers trembling against the VHS cartridge that he realized he had been sitting there, staring blankly, for some unknown gap of time. Senseless sound was echoing in his skull, adding to his confusion. It took a great amount of concentration to determine that it was Papyrus’s voice, still in a heated discussion with Undyne.

Sans dropped the VHS tape onto the ground and gaped at his shuddering hands. Something was wrong with his vision. The bones were blurry, as if time had dilated, and though his mind was keeping up, his body had been left behind in the dark recesses of the past.

He shakily climbed to his feet. The world around him was too big, too fuzzy. He needed to get Papyrus, to help him through whatever… episode this was.

All it took was one step for him to rule that out. His legs were too wobbly to make it all the way to the kitchen.

The couch then. He’d sit down and wait it out. Yeah, that was manageable.

Though it was only a few steps, his journey to the couch was like wading through a muddy pool that kept sucking him further into its depths. Everything was moving around him so quickly, shifting so unsteadily.

He blinked and found himself lying face down on the cushions with no recollection of having arrived there. When he raised his head to look at his surroundings, everything was still blurring together.

It was just like that night. The colors blending together, the noises going all strange. It was like he was back at the bar, waiting, hoping for someone to touch him.

Fuck, fuck, fuck, he just wanted to stop thinking about it. He gripped the sofa seat, his eyes clamped tight as he attempted to distract himself from his thoughts.

Papyrus’s conversation came as a garbled mess from the other room.

“– NOT ANSWER, THAT DOES NOT MEAN SHE IS NOT LOOKING AT THEM –”

“– YOUR GIRLFRIEND! NOT A RANDOM –“

“– COURSE SHE IS AVOIDING ME. I DO NOT ENTIRELY BLAME HER, BUT I STILL NEED TO –”

Sans flinched into the couch, feeling even sicker. Papyrus’s annoyance and exasperation was making everything worse, leeching into his soul like a cloyingly sweet poison.

It reminded him of that last day. Just another morning of the usual routine: his bro pounding on the bedroom door to wake him, Paps coming back several times over the next hour until they were finally late and he had to physically get Sans out of bed. “Late,” of course, took on a different definition in Papyrus’s world. Late meant a rushed breakfast, a shorter shower, and no time for the morning news. Sans was always fine with that sort of schedule, but Papyrus… God, it always sparked an argument.

That day it hadn’t been a serious argument, but that only made his soul ache worse. His brother had set out a special spaghetti breakfast for him (extra sauce) and had made sure Sans’s clothes had been in tip-top shape (for his wardrobe anyway). Worst of all, though his lecture had been interjected with that familiar annoyance, he had gone soft on Sans, emphasizing how worried he was about Sans’s health.

And he had ended it with the most painful words of all:

“NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENS TODAY, KNOW THAT I ONLY SAY THESE THINGS BECAUSE I CARE ABOUT YOU, SANS!”

His brother was always so worried about making sure he was okay, even when he didn’t fully understand what was going on. He was simply the best.

(What he’d give to hug his bro one last time. To tell him he was sorry for all the crap he had put him through. He’d listen to any of his lectures if it meant he’d see him again.)

“YOU NEED TO PICK UP YOUR SOCK, SANS.”

Sans jolted, not expecting the memory of his brother’s voice to sound so real. Blinking, he twisted away from the couch, and with a choked gasp, he found himself peering not at his brother, but at this universe’s Papyrus. At least, he thought it was this universe’s Papyrus. His teeth were filed down to points, but oddly enough, his scar was missing.

“I MUST HAVE LEFT A THOUSAND STICKY NOTES! AND YOU IGNORE –” Sans flinched as Papyrus threw one of said notes at his face. “– EVERY –” He threw another. “– LAST –” And another. “ONE!”

On the final word he threw the remaining handful right into Sans’s sockets. Sans backed up, moving too slowly to dodge the explosion of paper.

What was Papyrus on about? He hadn’t seen any loose socks while staying here, and for once in his life, he had been pretty careful about picking up after himself. The whiplash from his memories to whatever he was talking about was more than he could take. He got ready to convey his confusion, but –

“hey, how about you fuck off, ya piece of shit? i’m trying to sleep.”

Sans blinked.

(Wait, had he said that? And when had he gotten to his feet? Hadn’t he been lying down a second ago?)

Papyrus took a step back, appearing wary for the briefest of moments before his expression hardened.

“IF YOU CANNOT BOTHER TO GET A REAL JOB, THEN YOU CAN AT LEAST PICK UP AFTER YOURSELF! YOU CANNOT EXPECT ME TO TAKE CARE OF YOU THE REST OF YOUR LIFE!”

(Even though Sans was trying to speak, to tell Papyrus how sorry he was for saying something like that, his mouth wasn’t following his commands. It was as if it opened on its own, and the resulting shout came from somewhere else.)

“i’m working my tailbone off!” he screamed, his voice uncharacteristically loud. “just because you wanna bury your head in the sand –”

“THERE IS NO SAND HERE, BROTHER!”

“ugh, you know what the fuck i mean!”

“NO, I DO NOT. YOU ARE OUT EVERY NIGHT UNTIL DAWN, DRINKING YOUR LIFE AWAY IN VERY SANDLESS AREAS.”

“that’s not all i’m doing and you know it.”

Papyrus looked ready to burst. Whether into tears or into explosive anger, Sans wasn’t sure.

“I DO NOT WANT TO DISCUSS YOUR NIGHTLY ACTIVITIES. I JUST WANT YOU TO TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF.”

“i’m fine, okay? now go the fuck to work and leave me alone. i got a massive headache and your fucking yelling isn’t helping.”

And as he said the words, he was suddenly incapacitated by a pain that wrapped around his skull. His vision was a blur of colors and shapes all over again, and an overpowering nausea stole through his soul. He laid back down on the couch, already closing his eyes before his head hit the cushion.

Before he got a chance to settle, he found himself being lifted by the collar of his jacket.

“what the fuck are you –”

Papyrus shook him, rattling his skull so hard that stars filled his vision. Paps had accomplished what he had set out to do – stun Sans so he couldn’t fight back – but it had been a bad idea.

“UGH!”

Sans glanced dazedly at his shirt. He had vomited all over himself, pulling up chunks of everything he had consumed earlier, which, to his surprise, looked to be (and tasted like) mostly cum.

“DISGUSTING. ABSOLUTELY ABHORRENT. IS THIS REALLY ALL YOU DO EVERY NIGHT, SANS?”

(Sans, too, was repulsed with himself. That disgust was quickly surpassing his confusion, and he wanted nothing more than to rip off his clothes and ask for Papyrus’s forgiveness.)

But Papyrus was already throwing Sans over his shoulder and marching upstairs. It was only when they were just outside the bathroom that Sans (or whoever had taken over his body) began kicking and punching Papyrus, struggling to get out of his reach.

(If he had been in control of himself, he would’ve just let Paps do whatever he wanted; he was so achy and filthy that he couldn’t even think of washing himself.)

(His passenger had different ideas.)

As they passed the sink, Sans reached out and grabbed its edge, dragging himself out of Papyrus’s arms. He fell, his mouth smacking a drawer knob on the way down. Sparks of light flashed in his vision as pain, sharp and bright, yet also numb and distant, shot up from his teeth to his eye.

He blankly registered that something was wrong, that this new injury probably should have rendered him unconscious, or that he should at least be more distressed. But everything felt detached, like it was happening to someone else.

(It was happening to someone else.)

“SANS, WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?!”

Papyrus was on him once more, quivering hands grazing the back of his skull.

“what’s wrong with me? what’s wrong with me?!” he bellowed, shaking Papyrus off as he struggled to sit up. “you! you’re what’s wrong with me! i fucking hate you! stop touching me, god damn it!”

In that moment, there was nothing more important than getting away from Papyrus. God help him if he came near him. Sans could feel a primal scream forming in his throat, ready to erupt at the slightest touch.

(No, no, that wasn’t right. He wanted Papyrus to touch him more than anything.)

Thankfully, Papyrus was keeping his distance now. Sans could see him out of the corner of his eye, standing near the bathtub with his hands drawn to his chest.

Gasping, and his vision flickering precariously, he gripped the corner of the sink and hauled himself to his feet. As his head rose above counter surface, he paused when he caught sight of his reflection in the mirror.

To say his left canine tooth was chipped would be the understatement of the century. No, most of the tooth was gone. Only a tiny, mangled sliver, misshapen and covered in blood, remained embedded in his skull. He gingerly brushed the injury.

Another bad idea.

He howled as the pain flooded his skull all at once, surpassing any coherent thought. His entire body spasmed and he crashed to the floor, a sputtering mess.

Papyrus was shouting a bunch of words from above him, desperate pleas from the sound of it. All Sans could make out was his name.

“SANS! SANS! SANS!”

Sans peeked out from behind his hand, but the light blinded him, making the pain somehow worse. He clenched his eyes shut, hiding his head again as he continued to howl.

“SANS, GET UP!”

Papyrus’s voice was very close. Far too close. Instinctually, Sans lashed out. Papyrus released a soft cry as Sans’s hand made contact.

“get the fuck away from me!”

“SANS!”

Sans yanked himself away from the floor, his chest screeching from the effort. He was ready to tell Papyrus where to shove it when realization hit him like a truck.

He wasn’t on the bathroom floor. He was firmly planted on the couch. And Papyrus? Papyrus was staring at him from the ground, tears dotting the corners of his eyes.

His vision was back to normal. He lifted a trembling hand to his mouth to find that all his teeth were there, intact and leaving no trace of pain. In fact, as he lifted his arm, it was not his face that pained him, but that familiar slicing sensation that traveled across his chest, leaving him feeling tight and lightheaded. He cradled his forehead, trying to keep himself steady.

“WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?!” Papyrus shrieked.

Sans sat up and pressed his back into the sofa cushion as far as he could go, his injury screaming with every movement. Fear, cold and sharp, cut through his soul as he turned Papyrus’s words over in his head. Hadn’t he said the same exact thing minutes ago?

“are you –?” Sans whispered. “did you just –?”

He was shaking violently now. His chest was growing so tight he half-wondered if it would split in two.

Papyrus’s face relaxed. “WERE YOU… DREAMING?”

“i –” Sans clutched at his injury, trying to ease the pain to focus. “i guess so.”

It hadn’t felt like a dream. Everything had seemed so real. He could still feel the way he had kicked at Papyrus, how his tooth had been knocked from his face, how he had felt so sick. He pulled his hand away from his shirt, shocked to find not a drop of vomit clinging to his fingers.

Yeah. A dream. It had to be.

Papyrus stood up, straightening his outfit as he got to his feet. “I RECEIVED THE DAY OFF.”

“uh?” Sans blinked, taken aback by the sudden change in topic. “yeah?”

“YES,” Papyrus said coolly. “AND WE WILL BE MEETING WITH DR. ALPHYS SOON.”

“i – what?”

“WE ARE GOING TO DR. ALPHYS’S OFFICE TODAY,” Papyrus said, pronouncing each word with great care, as if Sans was too slow to understand.

“you… got undyne to schedule something with her?”

“NO. SHE REFUSES TO CORNER ALPHYS GIVEN THE HISTORY. SO IT, OF COURSE, FALLS TO ME TO GET YOU THERE SO YOU CAN FINALLY GO HOME AND LEAVE FOR GOOD.”

With that, Papyrus bent down and scooped up the fixed VHS tapes and brought them to the splintered television.

Something deep inside Sans cracked. He had no idea that Papyrus had been aiming to do this today. It wasn’t that he wasn’t thrilled to return to his brother – God only knew how much he missed him, and this universe was the worst kind of garbage – but Papyrus’s attitude left his soul aching with an indescribable sorrow.

Hadn’t the two of them been, at the very least, friends? Why was he being so… dismissive? No, not dismissive. Cruel. Not only was he ignoring the incredibly… intense dream that Sans had just experienced, but he was also throwing him out without a second thought. No offers of discussion, not even a hint of sorrow, nothing.

What had he been expecting, really? It was painful to have Sans around, that much was without doubt. Yet somewhere in the back of his mind, Sans had been hoping to… what? Bring Papyrus back with him? That was unlikely, though given the chance, he would….

Papyrus continued to tidy up the room, throwing away bits of fluff into the nearby trashcan. His movements were stiff, and he was clearly avoiding eye contact with Sans.

It struck Sans, then, why Papyrus was acting this way, and frankly, he couldn’t blame him. His own callousness had come from nowhere, and… and that nightmare had been….

And Sans hadn’t even apologized.

“paps?” Sans said softly.

Papyrus paused, his back to Sans. “YES?”

“are you okay?”

For a few moments, Papyrus didn’t move, not even to breathe.

“YES,” he said, unconvincingly.

Sans got to his feet, suppressing his body’s instinct to fall right back down to the couch as pain spread across his ribs. Papyrus straightened his back as he approached, not bothering to turn around. For a fraction of a second, Sans hesitated, not sure if touching him would upset him.

The reluctance was short-lived; out of instinct, or perhaps habit, he found himself enveloping Papyrus with one of his biggest hugs, squeezing him so tightly that his chest screeched in protest.

“i’m sorry, paps. for pushing you. and yelling at you. scaring you. everything.”

Papyrus sucked in a long, shaky breath and promptly twisted to face Sans as he returned the hug with his own tight grip.

“SANS….”

“it was a really bad dream,” Sans mumbled into Papyrus’s chest. “if i had been in my right mind, i never would have done that to you.”

Though Sans couldn’t see his face, Papyrus’s breathing came stuttered and when he spoke, his voice was thick and strained.

“YOU – YOU ARE SURE?”

Sans hugged Papyrus harder, suspicion sprouting in his soul. “i couldn’t live with myself if i hurt you. i’m so, so sorry.”

“I KNOW. YOU ARE NOT LIKE…” He cleared his throat and held Sans even closer. “I KNOW.”

The wording didn’t alleviate Sans’s worries, but he set it aside and concentrated on making sure Papyrus was safe. Maybe… he would ask another time. Maybe. They already had enough troubles for one lifetime. Bringing up the past, even if it was probably not really the past, didn’t seem like a good idea.

So he continued to embrace Papyrus, happy to accept Papyrus’s love in return.

After a couple minutes, Papyrus finally patted Sans’s back and backed away. Although he quickly covered his face, he didn’t mask the sniffling noises.

God, Sans had been the cause of another round of tears. If he had made his brother cry half as much as he did this Papyrus, Sans would’ve… would’ve…. Well, he wasn’t sure what he would’ve done.

(It wasn’t like he had ever been the best of brothers. Way too lazy to even comfort him properly.)

Sans shook his head as his vision went fuzzy once more. When his eyes went back to normal, Papyrus had already resumed cleaning, though the tension in his posture had faded away.

“ARE YOU OKAY?” he asked as he scooped up a cassette. “I SHOULD HAVE ASKED BEFORE. THAT WAS INCREDIBLY RUDE OF ME.”

“don’t worry about it. getting pushed like that is, uh, not fun.”

“BUT ARE YOU OKAY? YOUR DREAM –”

Sans shrugged. “it was a bad one, but i have plenty of those.”

“DO YOU WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT?”

“no.”

That dream was the last thing he wanted to discuss with Papyrus. Something about it had seemed… more real than he cared to admit. And the way Papyrus spoke about his brother, he suspected that it might have actually –

No. It made him queasy even thinking about it… and everything that had led up to it.

He swayed on his feet, feeling, once again, like he might vomit.

“YOU SHOULD SIT DOWN,” Papyrus commanded gently.

“nah, lemme help you with the trash,” Sans said as he took a wobbly step towards Papyrus. “i should’ve been doing that before you –”

“SIT DOWN.” Papyrus arched a brow at Sans. “YOU LOOK TIRED. I CAN CLEAN THE REST OF THIS ON MY OWN.”

Guilt churned within Sans’s soul, and he was about to ignore the demand when Papyrus adopted his customary stern expression.

“PLEASE,” he added, motioning to the couch. “IT WILL BE A LONG DAY AND I DO NOT THINK IT IS A GOOD IDEA TO POSTPONE IF WE CAN HELP IT. I WILL IF IT REQUIRES IT – I DO NOT WANT YOU TO INJURE YOURSELF FURTHER – BUT IT WOULD BE BEST TO GET THIS… TRICKY INTRODUCTION OUT OF THE WAY.”

Even though the way he posed it was like a command, the lilt to his voice suggested that he was asking permission. His hands were pulled submissively to his chest, another reminder of that awful dream.

With a defeated sigh, Sans slunk into the couch. Immediately, Papyrus’s expression softened.

“THANK YOU. I KNOW YOU REALLY NEED THE REST. YOU HAVE BEEN WORKING SO HARD LATELY, EVEN AFTER… EVERYTHING.”

“i guess.”

“WELL, YOU DO NOT HAVE TO GUESS! I KNOW IT!”

“heh. well, if you know so,” he said, sinking into the cushions, “then it must be true.”

Papyrus smiled as he bent down to pick up more of the broken bits of his belongings. For Papyrus’s sake, Sans wished he could help, but secretly he was happy to sit back and let him take care of things. When was the last time he had just had a lazy day to himself? It had to have been at least a couple weeks, maybe even months before coming here. Life had been busy lately.

Hell, that was the understatement of a lifetime.

His chest tingled as he watched Papyrus clean. At first his mind strayed down rocky paths. Why had his vision gone wacky so many times? Why did he keep thinking about Grillby’s with anything but revulsion in his heart? What the hell had that dream even been?

But his chest hurt even more when he did that, so he stopped.

Instead he focused on Papyrus. It was astounding how expertly he cleaned and organized. He certainly didn’t look like it took every ounce of his energy to do so, unlike Sans.

That was something he had always envied that about his bro. This Papyrus was no different. He was fixated on his task, humming a slow, measured song to himself under his breath as he scurried about the room. If Sans focused, he was sure he’d recognize the tune, but he resigned himself to just half-listening.

It hadn’t been that long since Sans had been sitting in his own house, watching his bro gathering up the mess of lazily-discarded books and clothes. How long had it been? Only four weeks? A lifetime ago.

Yet he could still hear Paps lecturing him about the importance of keeping things in order. Sans had always kept quiet during those times, knowing that he deserved the berating, but also secretly chuckling at his bro’s hypocrisy; as much as he had been a clean freak compared to Sans, he had always left his puzzle diagrams and books all over the room, especially after a particularly intense puzzlemaking session.

A slight smile graced Sans’s features as the memory of his brother, arms filled with books and face splattered with oil grease, flitted across his mind.

It struck him then that aside from last night, he hadn’t seen many books in this house.

“paps, do you like to read?”

Even from across the room, Sans saw the blush spread across Papyrus’s cheekbones. He blinked at Sans, clearly taken aback by the question.

“READ?” he asked, nonplussed.

“yeah. like… y’know, books.”

“OF COURSE I LIKE TO READ!”

There was something in his tone that told Sans that wasn’t entirely true, and he had a sneaking suspicion he knew why.

“you uh… still have trouble with letters?”

Papyrus’s face reddened even more.

“I – WELL, I DO, SOMEWHAT. BUT!” he exclaimed defensively, “I HAVE BEEN GETTING MUCH BETTER LATELY! IF I HOLD MY FINGER TO THE PAGE, THE LETTERS DO NOT… GO BACKWARDS AND FORWARDS AND ALL OVER THE PLACE QUITE AS OFTEN!”

Sans nodded. His bro had learned the same trick a few years ago.

“that’s good. glad you got that worked out.”

“W-WHY DO YOU ASK? DID YOU WANT ME TO READ TO YOU?” He sounded like he wanted to do anything else in the world.

“if you want to, i guess. truth is i was only wondering since you don’t seem to own a lot of books.”

Papyrus shuffled his feet. “WELL, SANS – MY BROTHER – NEEDED THEM WHEN HE WENT TO THE UNIVERSITY, SO HE KEPT MOST OF THEM FOR HIS STUDIES.”

“you two never went dumpster diving for them?”

“NOT SINCE WE WERE CHILDREN. WELL, NOT TOGETHER ANYWAY.”

That seemed wrong. Sans and Paps had always loved going to the dump to find new treasures from the Surface, even if his brother had screamed about filth and muck the whole time. But the way this Papyrus had worded that statement….

“you found some on your own then?”

Papyrus rubbed his hands together, his eyes darting all over the place so much that Sans couldn’t fight the urge to turn around and make sure no one was skulking outside the house. No one was there, but now paranoia was creeping into his soul.

“WELL, I HOPE YOU ARE NOT TOO UPSET… I MEAN, MAYBE YOU WILL NOT MIND; I DO NOT THINK SANS EVER CARED…. BUT IF YOU DO, I AM SORRY, I JUST…”

“hey, it’s okay. no harm in foraging. not like the original owners are gonna get mad at you.”

Papyrus glanced at him. “I KNOW, BUT YOU MAY BE DISAPPOINTED IN ME FOR NOT TURNING THEM IN….”

“turning them in? to what?”

“TO THE LIBRARY, OF COURSE.”

“why?”

“IT IS THE KING’S ORDERS, OF COURSE.”

Now it was Sans’s turn to be taken aback. “fluffybuns makes you give up books to the library?”

“THAT IS… A UNIQUE NAME FOR THE KING! AN ACCURATE ONE TOO. THOUGH I THINK HE WOULD BE EMBARRASSED IF HE HEARD YOU CALL HIM THAT.”

“i mean, back where i’m from, he gets a little flustered, but he’s cool about it.”

“YOU TALK TO THE KING OFTEN?” Papyus asked, shocked.

“yeah, i mean i am… was his judge.” Sans swallowed, his chest tightening as he remembered his last day in his universe. After failing to protect so many monsters, after to failing to protect his brother of all people, he had passed judgment on that horrible human, doing everything in his power to save one of his dearest friends. He wondered if King Asgore had made it in the end.

Somehow, he doubted it.

Sans realized that Papyrus was saying something to him, the words muffled behind the curtain that had fallen across his mind.

“– NOT AS IF THE KING IS NOT KIND, OF COURSE, AND SOME SAY HE IS EVEN TOO KIND, THOUGH I HAVE NEVER HAD THE BLESSING OF HAVING MET HIM MYSELF, SO I COULD NOT SAY FOR SURE. BUT I MUST SAY I AM ASTOUNDED THAT HE WOULD CONSENT TO SUCH A NICKNAME! EVEN FROM ONE AS PERSONABLE AS YOU!”

“personable?”

“Y-YES? EVERY MONSTER WE MEET SEEMS TO LIKE YOU…”

“i don’t know about that.” Sans rubbed at his sockets, trying to ease the fluff out of his head. “we’re getting off track. king fluffybuns doesn’t want us to have books?”

“OH! HE WANTS EVERYONE TO HAVE BOOKS! THAT IS WHY THEY MUST GO TO THE LIBRARY. MANY MONSTERS HAVE TAKEN TO HOARDING THEM.” His eyes darted to Sans’s room. “BUT SAVING THEM LIKE THAT MAKES IT DIFFICULT FOR THOSE WITHOUT MONEY TO HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY TO READ THEM. ESPECIALLY THE RARER BOOKS.”

“i guess that makes sense, but, uh…” He nodded towards the upstairs. “it seems like it’s happening anyway.”

Papyrus squirmed. “YOU ARE RIGHT, I SHOULD GIVE THOSE TO THE LIBRARY RIGHT AWAY. IT IS UNBECOMING FOR A ROYAL GUARD TO KEEP THEM TO HIMSELF, AND IF ANYONE FOUND OUT, MY REPUTATION WOULD BE TARNISHED, AND HOW COULD I LIVE WITH MYSELF –”

“woah, woah, i don’t care if you keep the books. it’s none of my business.”

“OF COURSE IT IS. YOU ARE LIVING HERE. IT IS DEFINITELY YOUR BUSINESS.”

“nah. if you wanna keep ‘em, you don’t gotta defend yourself to me. not like i care. hell, i say you should have them if they make you happy.”

Papyrus’s face fell. “WELL, I DO NOT KNOW ABOUT HAPPY. THEY… REMIND ME OF THE PAST.”

Sans didn’t really know what to say about that. He was sure if he was in the same position, he’d do the same with Papyrus’s puzzle books.

Hell, if he had Papyrus’s puzzle books right now, he’d probably never put them down.

Did this Papyrus have those same books?

Sans cleared his throat. “you don’t have your own books then?”

“I DID NOT SAY THAT.” Somehow, Papyrus’s face brightened even more. “I HAVE… BOOKS OF A SORT.”

“what’s that mean?”

“I… I AM EMBARRASSED!”

Sans cocked his head. “what is it? porn or something?”

“OH. MY. GOD. NO! I WOULD NEVER HAVE LEWD MATERIALS!”

“pfft, then what?”

“I WILL NOT SAY!”

“definitely porn,” Sans said, smirking. “look, paps, it’s alright if you need to take care of your boners occasionally.”

“OH MY GOD!” Papyrus screeched, his entire skull burning brightly. “NO! NO, THAT IS NOT TRUE!”

“mmhmm, sure…”

“I… THEY ARE COMIC BOOKS, OKAY? COMIC BOOKS! NOT PORNOGRAPHY!”

“wh–” Sans smiled, ready for Papyrus to say he was just kidding, but Paps continued to blush, his eyes obstinately fixed on the floor. “how is that embarrassing?”

“WHAT?”

“i mean, i got a bunch of those back home myself. not a big deal.”

“YOU… YOU LIKE COMIC BOOKS?” Papyrus asked, hopeful.

“yeah, sure. i don’t have as big of a collection as when i was a kid, but that’s only because i gave those to paps and he passed them on to our old classmates.” Sans shrugged. “we never got them back, but i’m sure someone is enjoying them.”

“I CANNOT BELIEVE IT. THAT IS… SO COOL!” Papyrus shouted, his face alight. “WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITES? THE TRANSMORPHERS COMIC ADAPTATION? SUPER-BURRITO: THE REVENGE? THE RETALIATORS?”

Sans shrugged. “i liked super snake ball z.”

“OH.” Papyrus made a face. “YOU LIKE ANIME.”

“technically it’s manga, and yeah, it’s alright. i don’t like it as much as alphys, but there are some cool ones out there.”

“HMM,” Papyrus hummed tactfully.

“i liked those others you mentioned too, though i can’t remember them much. it’s been a long time.”

Papyrus’s features lit up. “THEN DOES THAT MEAN YOU WOULD LIKE TO READ THEM AGAIN? I HAVE ACQUIRED SO MANY ISSUES! I ALMOST HAVE A COMPLETE SET OF THE TRANSMORPHERS COMICS! OH, I AM SURE YOU WOULD LOVE THE TIME THEY GO TO THE MOON AND FIGHT ULTRA-LORD! YOU LOVE THAT SPACE STUFF, RIGHT?”

Papyrus’s exuberance had Sans almost giddy with joy. “heh. yeah, that sounds pretty neat. don’t think i’ve read that one.”

“THEN IT IS A DEAL! WE WILL READ THEM TOGETHER! SOME TIME. SOON.” Papyrus frowned. “IF WE HAVE TIME BEFORE YOU LEAVE.”

And just like that, Sans’s sorrow returned to him in a deluge. “yeah. if we have time.”

Papyrus wrung his hands together. Silence pervaded for a couple minutes before he dove to the floor, once again stubbornly refusing to make contact with Sans’s.

It was probably a good idea to try to ease the tension between them. Maybe Sans could even discuss trying to find a way back home with him rather than without.

But he was struggling to find the words. Something was gnawing at him, reminding him that Papyrus had his own life to live here. Sure, they were friends. But nothing more than that. And soon, they’d be nothing to each other. Just chance acquaintances across a universal divide. It wasn’t fair, but it was the fact of the matter.

Sans laid back down and covered his eyes with his sleeve, fighting the instinct to cry.

Chapter Text

“ugh,” Sans said as he tripped for the twelfth time this morning, narrowly avoiding a spill to the floor.

Papyrus stopped to let Sans catch up, a sigh whistling through his teeth. “PLEASE HOLD THE BOTTOM. I DO NOT WANT YOU TO GET INJURED!”

“y’know, it’s not exactly easy walking around like this,” he said, holding up his aubergine robes.

A reluctant smile crept onto Papyrus’s face. “IT IS NOT EASY WALKING AROUND LIKE THIS EITHER!” he said, waving at his own body. “THE GREAT AND TERRIBLE PAPYRUS IS TRULY TOO GOOD LOOKING FOR MOST MONSTERS TO HANDLE.”

“pfft. i meant the clothes.” He winked. “but you’re right. you are a handsome skeleton.”

Papyrus grinned even more brightly and tugged Sans closer to him, his arm guiding his shoulder as they continued their journey. Thankfully, Paps had decided to slow his pace even more than usual, so Sans could at least attempt to keep up without falling on his face.

Whoever had fabricated his outfit had clearly favored design over functionality; although Sans had hiked the velvet robes to his knees, cords and loose strings were still flying everywhere. An odd assortment of rainbow-colored threads hung from the robe’s sleeves and hemline, and the tassels that dangled from his torso to his toes were dotted with tiny white beads that clattered as he walked.

That wasn’t to say the clothing wasn’t unique. It was. It definitely was. But everything about the costume made it nearly impossible to bundle up the bottom, and with the way the robe’s hood limited his peripheral vision, he had stupidly run into the walls several times before Papyrus had pulled him close to act as a buffer.

He wanted to tear off the damn disguise, but Papyrus kept insisting he wear it. For what purpose, he wouldn’t say. Another bit of paranoia about being followed, Sans supposed. Understandable given how messed up Muffet was, but Papyrus was still in his usual outfit. If anyone was following them, it would be obvious who was with him.

Well, whatever Papyrus’s reasoning was, he felt downright ridiculous in this getup.

Then again, no one around them seemed to care. Everyone was ignoring the two of them.

It was weird. The laboratory – which was much larger than the one in his universe – was bustling with monsters. When the two of them had first arrived at the entrance, Sans had hardly believed his eyes. Everywhere he looked were offices and labs and server spaces and so many rooms. Story upon story. Row upon row. The buildings – buildings, as in more than one! – were filled with so many white-coated monsters conducting experiments, doing paperwork, or collaborating with one other on some project or another that he had almost wondered if the two of them had accidentally wandered onto a much larger version of the university. Never in his lifetime, not even when ‘Dings had been around, had Sans’s universe seen such a flurry of activity in the labs.

And yet, even though he stuck out like a sore thumb amongst the sea of white lab coats, no one even glanced his way.

“OVER HERE,” Papyrus murmured, guiding Sans down a side hall. “SHE SHOULD BE UP ONE MORE FLOOR.”

They passed an empty room with walls made of glass, and Sans’s eyes locked onto a whiteboard filled with equations. And another. And yet another. As far as he could tell from the brief glimpses, the numbers and figures were related to thermodynamics. But as they continued further into the building, he noticed that some of the rooms were filled with large, bulky machinery that filled the spaces. Some were clearly still under construction, while others were connected by pipes and tanks to wide vents around the outer walls. Were those… gasifiers?

“uh, what exactly does alphs do here?”

Neither thermodynamics nor gas conversion had ever been her forte. She may have forced herself to become an expert on a variety of subjects after she had taken on the role of Royal Scientist with no support staff to speak of, but with so many different departments and assistants, he doubted she had done the same thing in this universe.

“I DO NOT KNOW WHAT SHE DOES. SCIENCE.”

“like… engineering?” Sans asked, thinking back to her passion in graduate school.

“MAYBE? I NEVER ASKED SANS – MY BROTHER – WHAT HE WORKED ON WITH HER. COMPLICATED THINGS, I WOULD IMAGINE.”

He sounded bitter. Not for the first time, Sans wondered about Papyrus’s and his brother’s relationship, which, to say the least, didn’t sound like rainbows and butterflies.

Sans decided to drop the topic. He’d ask Alphys about her work himself.

The two of them turned down two more passages, went up a narrow flight of stairs, and arrived outside a room on the fifth floor with a bulky metal door simply labeled “Conference Room Theta.” Though he refrained from pushing the hood back so he could see better, Sans untucked his arms so his supply of bead-covered strings cascaded to the floor like hail.

Without knocking or announcing their arrival, Papyrus opened the door and nudged Sans inside.

The room was packed. Filing cabinets lined the walls, easily hitting the low ceiling, and in the center of the room sat a large workstation covered with bits of welded metal and tools. Monsters of all sorts surrounded the table, chatting loudly, some of them smiling brightly, and a few of them snickering at some unheard joke. None of them had even seemed to notice that the two of them had entered the room.

…Until Papyrus cleared his throat.

As one, they turned toward him, their faces falling as they caught sight of them.

“Yes?” a grey squirrel monster asked frostily.

Papyrus cleared his throat. “IS DR. ALPHYS HERE?”

Several monsters fidgeted. Some openly glared at Papyrus.

From somewhere behind the table a small voice called out, “P-Papyrus?”

That was when Sans noticed a computer desk nestled between the filing cabinets on the rightmost wall. There, trembling ever-so-slightly, sat the very Dr. Alphys herself. She appeared the same as Sans had always known her; she wore a crumpled and stained lab coat and her bloodshot eyes were marked with the effects of sleeplessness and caffeine. The only noticeable difference was that her yellow scales were pale, but that was probably because she was shocked to see Paps.

“DR. ALPHYS!” Papyrus said in a sickly-sweet voice. “I HAVE BEEN LOOKING ALL OVER FOR YOU. YOU HAVE NOT BEEN RESPONDING TO MY MESSAGES!”

“I-I’ve been busy.” She clutched her hands together as she grinned nervously at the rest of her team. “Th-there’s a lot of work to do. We’re on a p-pretty strict deadline.”

“YOU HAVE BEEN AVOIDING UNDYNE’S MESSAGES TOO.”

Alphys frowned, casting her gaze downwards. “Yeah? S-so what?”

“SO! I HAVE OFFICIAL ROYAL GUARD BUSINESS WITH YOU!”

“Um, well, um, I don’t think…”

“Dr. Alphys,” the squirrel monster spat, “are you trying to put this study at jeopardy?”

“N-no, of course not!”

“Then deal with this. The last thing we need is the Guard shutting this down because you can’t be responsible for once in your life.”

Sans stared in shock at the audacity of the unknown monster. Even if she wasn’t his boss in this universe – and he clearly wasn’t – there was no reason to be so rude.

Alphys hunched her shoulders. “I-I’m sorry. Of course.” She glanced up at Papyrus, her eyebrows tilted upwards. “W-we can go to my office, if you prefer to discuss this p-privately.”

“THAT SEEMS SUITABLE.” When Alphys didn’t get up, he waved towards the exit. “PERHAPS YOU SHOULD LEAD THE WAY?”

“R-right!” Alphys hopped to her feet and scuttled out of the room. With his cumbersome outfit, Sans couldn’t move fast enough to keep up, and it was only as he stumbled over his feet once again that Papyrus finally picked him up and tucked him under his arm. A wave of humiliation passed over Sans as his feet flailed in the air behind them.

Thankfully, the trip wasn’t long. Back near the stairwell, tucked between a janitor’s closet and a maintenance room, was a door labeled “Alphys Alphys, PhD – Mechanical Engineering.” Hands shaking, Alphys fumbled with the keys for several terse seconds before leading the two of them inside the office.

“UGH,” Papyrus moaned quietly as he peered around the unkempt room.

Though Sans was not usually one to criticize, he had to admit he was surprised that Alphys maintained her normal level of slovenliness when she wasn’t acting as a one woman army for the Underground. Her usual half-empty styrofoam cups of instant noodles lay discarded on her disorganized bookshelves and paper-layered desk; some had even spilled onto the floor, leaving dark spots in the grey carpet.

Here and there, Sans saw evidence of Alphys’s love for anime, apparently a universal constant. Chewed up and mangled figurines stood hidden between textbooks, half-naked cat girl posters were pasted onto the wall, and chibi anime character stickers had been stuck onto her laptop to form a collage in the shape of a “:3” smiley face.

As soon as Papyrus had safely set Sans into a chair, Alphys clicked the door shut and rushed to the other side of the desk. Though she was quivering all over, she had no trouble glowering at the pair of them.

“Wh-what do you want and why did you bring a Delta in here?” she said, peering Sans up and down. “I know this isn’t for the Guard or the Royal Family or – or – or Undyne would’ve at least warned me!”

“DID SHE NOT TRY TO CALL YOU THIS MORNING?”

Alphys grumbled something about not missing a deadline under her breath.

“WELL, AT LEAST SHE DID NOT LIE ABOUT TRYING TO TALK TO YOU.” Papyrus sighed. “SHE REALLY WANTED TO PROTECT YOU FROM THIS.”

She glared at Papyrus. “Wh-what does that mean? If you’re dragging me into something to do with the K–” She bit her lip as she cast a sideways glance at Sans. “No, n-never mind. Just get it out and leave, okay?”

“ALPHYS, PLEASE.”

“You know why I’ve been avoiding your messages. You kept… you were just…” She huffed. “If this is really about something for the Royal Guard, why did you text me about S-S- him?”

She cringed at her final words, and she directed her gaze to her lap, though her brow remained furrowed.

“I LIED,” Papyrus replied softly. “THIS IS NOT FOR THE ROYAL GUARD. FOR THAT, I APOLOGIZE.” Alphys’s head snapped up, but Papyrus raised his hand. “I HAD GOOD REASON!”

“Th-then spit it out! In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve g-got to get back to work! U-unlike the Guard, we’re on a p-pretty strict deadline.”

Her voice dripped with accusation, though what she meant by it, Sans wasn’t sure. Whatever it was, Papyrus didn’t comment. Instead, he cleared his throat loudly.

“TAKE OFF THE HOOD PLEASE.”

Though Sans couldn’t see him with the fabric blocking his peripheries, he could only assume Papyrus was talking to him. With the threads getting in the way, it took a while to grasp the hem, but with some work he managed to flick the hood back.

Alphys’s mouth dropped.

“S-Sans?”

“in the flesh,” he said, holding up his string-covered arms. “uh. kinda. not really.” He scratched the side of his nose. “not a very good joke since i don’t have skin anyway. heh.”

Alphys didn’t say anything. Her mouth was still agape, and her eyes were wide, but all she did was simply stare at Sans.

And stared.

And stared.

Until she burst into violent tears.

“ah crap, alphs.” He moved to get up –

– and was promptly sent back to his chair as Alphys screamed at him with unprecedented volume.

“I THOUGHT YOU WERE DEAD!” She flinched, seemingly at the sound of her own voice, and continued more quietly, “E-everyone said you were dead, that you had – had – had –” She shot an angry look at Papyrus. “You l-lied!”

“I DIDN’T.”

“Wh-what do you call that!” she said, motioning to Sans. “He was with the Deltas this wh-whole time? He was protecting the R-Royal Family?!”

“NO, OF COURSE NOT!”

“Then –”

“I JUST FOUND THIS DISGUISE AGES AGO! I MADE HIM WEAR IT SO NO ONE WOULD BOTHER US!”

“Y-you’re… That makes no sense! Why are you l-lying about this?”

“he isn’t lying,” Sans murmured, wishing that he didn’t have to break yet another monster’s heart. “i’m not working for anyone and paps hasn’t been keeping me secret.” He exhaled. “i’m not the sans you knew.”

Confusion spread across her features, her face a mixture of tears and wrinkles.

Sans, yet again launched into his explanation about his origins and how he had been staying with Papyrus for the past four weeks.

Even though he had his speech down pat by now, it was difficult telling Alphys, far more than when had explained it to anyone else. Alphys was far too emotional over this to be just a casual acquaintance of the other Sans’s. The way she kept leaning forward, as if wanting to get closer, to maybe even hug Sans, was so unusual for his own Alphys that they had to have been friends.

It was rough. Besides Papyrus, no one else seemed to have been friends with this universe’s Sans, and even by the time he had gotten around to explaining to Papyrus, Paps had known that Sans wasn’t truly his brother. But Alphys? This… was a whole other beast.

“A-another universe?” Alphys said, trembling as her eyes watered. “S-so you aren’t S-Sans?”

“no.”

“P-please, you have to tell me – you’re t-telling the t-truth, right?” She gripped the edge of the desk, her claws denting the grey plastic. “I-it’s okay if you’re lying. I-I’ll forgive y-you, I-I swear. I just n-need to know for sure….”

She was holding back her tears, but there was no hiding the emotion in her voice.

“i’m sorry, alphys,” Sans whispered. “i’m not lying.”

She grimaced, her nails audibly scraping into the plastic. A low whining noise sounded through the room, and for a few moments, Sans thought her computer or some other electronic had malfunctioned. But then she took a deep breath and the noise stopped altogether… until she exhaled again.

Even though she was shaking badly enough that her glasses had bounced forward to perch precariously on her snout, her grief was so quiet that Sans almost wished she’d scream at him again. At least then, he’d know she was expelling her emotions.

“i’m really, really sorry,” Sans said, his soul twisting and churning. “i should’ve warned you or… i don’t know, something.”

She took several shuddering breaths before answering, “I-it’s not your fault. I-it sounds farfetched – the t-teleportation and – and – and e-everything else, s-so I was hoping, but –”

“I AM SORRY, ALPHYS.” At the strain in Papyrus’s voice, Sans snapped towards him and caught sight of the tension near his sockets. “I HAD TRIED TO GET IN CONTACT WITH YOU EARLIER, BUT –“

“I-I know, i-it’s all my f-fault. It’s j-just –”

“YOUR REACTION IS UNDERSTANDABLE, BUT NOW THAT WE ARE HERE, IT IS IMPERATIVE THAT WE GET THIS DONE AS QUICKLY AS –”

Papyrus’s words ended with a gasp as the entire room suddenly trembled with great force, sending a pile of papers to the floor. Sans shot out of his chair. The jolt ended as he got to his feet, come and gone so fast that it might not have been noticeable if it hadn’t been so violent and if the vibrations hadn’t rippled through his chest.

Spots popped in his vision and he plopped back down in his seat, a soft gasp escaping him.

“ARE YOU ALRIGHT?”

“yeah,” he said, rubbing at his injury, “i’m –”

“Y-yes, don’t worry about it.”

Sans’s eyes popped open. Papyrus was pushing himself out of his chair, his stare fixated on the ground on the other side of the desk where apparently Alphys had dropped flat on her butt, her tail unfurled behind her and her glasses askew.

She sniffled loudly, wiped her face with the back of her arm, and repositioned her glasses.

“I didn’t h-hurt myself, I-I was just leaning forward when it happened, and I f-fell down like a klutz.”

She was already reaching around her to pick up the fallen documents. Papyrus walked around the desk and bent down to help, but she waved him off.

“I-I’ve got them. J-just do me a favor and make sure all my f-figures are standing up straight?”

She pointed toward the shelves, still sniffling noisily. Sure enough, some of her anime figurines had toppled onto their sides, though nothing had fallen from the bookcase. Papyrus walked over and set one of them upright, and while Alphys wasn’t looking, he trashed an empty instant noodle bowl with an expression of pure disgust.

They didn’t talk. Not about Sans or time travel or, most bizarrely in Sans’s view, whatever had just occurred. They went about their business nonchalantly, like nothing had happened at all.

“what was that?”

They gawked at him. All the confusion he felt was reflected in their faces.

“Y-you haven’t felt an earthquake before?”

“an earthquake?” Sans blinked. “i mean, yeah? when i was a kid?”

He could still remember how freaked out his brother, still a baby, had been. Back then, Sans’s jealousy had raged deep inside his chest as his mothers had cooed and soothed Paps.

“it wasn’t even that big of a deal!” he could still recall shouting, even as he had trembled with barely suppressed fear.

It really hadn’t been that big of a deal. The earthquake hadn’t lasted even a second, nor had it knocked anything down. But it had shaken Sans, both physically and mentally, and it hadn’t been fair that Papyrus had gotten all the attention when everyone was perfectly fine!

Yeah, he had been a little brat.

Thankfully he had never had to experience another one. After that, the only earthquakes in the Underground had been deep down, only barely registering on their outdated instruments.

“it’s been a long time since i’ve felt one. decades.”

“R-really? Y-your universe doesn’t get them often?”

“nah. i take it you guys do?”

“OF COURSE. IT IS A NEAR DAILY OCCURRENCE!”

Sans raised a brow at Papyrus. “since when?”

“SNOWDIN DOES NOT FEEL THEM OFTEN.”

Alphys nodded. “Snowdin only feels them about, um, once a month?”

“once a month?”

“M-maybe it’s about every three months. We mostly get them in Hotland.”

Still sprawled on the floor, she stretched to return the stack of papers onto the desk.

“i haven’t felt a thing on collections,” he said, peering questioningly at Papyrus.

Papyrus merely shrugged and offered Alphys a hand to help her stand up. She shook her head and climbed to her feet unaided.

“I-I guess you’ve been lucky?” she said as she sat back down at the desk. “It’s pretty constant. Although, um, now that I think about it, they’ve been happening at night the last month or so.”

“that’s… really weird.”

“Heh heh, n-not really? I-I mean it’s not as if we aren’t literally in an active volcano, a-and with the w-way we have everything set up in the Core, we, um, don’t really, um –”

Papyrus cleared his throat, and when the two of them looked over, he crossed his arms and sat back against the wall.

“WHILE THIS IS ENTERTAINING! AND I WOULD LOVE TO HEAR ABOUT YOUR WORK ON THE MATTER, PERHAPS WE SHOULD GET BACK TO THE TOPIC AT HAND.”

Sans grit his teeth as Alphys’s face crumpled. He really wished that Papyrus hadn’t derailed the conversation; Alphys was always in her element when she discussed topics she was passionate about, and it wasn’t fair to jerk her back to this hard, cold reality where her friend was dead and she had to help his clone from another world.

“nah, i’m curious about the quakes,” he said, throwing a frown in Papyrus’s direction before smiling kindly at Alphys. “how long have they been going on?”

“SANS.”

Sans ignored him.

“U-um.” Alphys lowered her head. “N-not that I don’t want to talk about it, but I, er, actually agree with P-Papyrus. I really need to get back to work. M-maybe you should tell me why you came to me?”

That was more like the Alphys that Sans had grown to know over the last few years. Distant, avoidant, anxious. Back in his universe, they were still technically friends, but Alphys had evaded Sans at all costs, their friendship suffering from old, painful memories of the lab.

“i guess i wanted to ask you about getting home,” Sans relented.

Alphys’s slowly raised her gaze, her eyes clouded with a touch of fear. “Wh-why do you think I’d be able to help with that? I don’t know a-anything about quantum mechanics.”

Sans’s soul sunk, though he quickly steeled himself. “well, even if you’re not familiar with the physics behind it, you work here, right? you can just bring me to the faraday cage room at the core.”

“Th-the what?”

“uh. y’know, a faraday cage. it’s like this big metal cage that shuts out electromagnetic fields and –”

“I-I know what a Faraday cage is.”

“oh. uh, then –?”

“I just, um, what did you mean by ‘Faraday cage room at the Core’?”

“oh! well, maybe you aren’t familiar with the core?”

“Er. I-I’m pretty familiar, yeah.”

“and you didn’t ever…?” He shook his head. “there’s a room that acts like a sort of faraday cage that we used back home for our time travel and teleportation experiments. there was this weird buildup of iron deposits along the walls of the cave that shielded us from outside interference and it acted as a –” He saw the expression on Alphys’s face and paused. “you have no idea what i’m talking about, do you?”

She slowly shook her head. “N-not a clue. I, er, u-used to work in the Core a lot and I’ve never heard of a room like that. We do have a Faraday cage here at the lab I can take you to?”

“thanks, but i think it’s gotta be the one at the core.”

“Why?”

“kinda hard to explain, and, heh, to be honest with ya,” he said, winking, “we never really got to the core of the matter back home either.”

Alphys didn’t react to the bad joke, but Papyrus certainly did. He shifted his weight against the wall as he released a low groan.

“W-was there something special there or…?”

Sans dropped the smile. “yeah, lots of magic in the air, which we investigated for… god, who the hell knows how long? months? years?” He rubbed his face as he thought of all the hours wasted away in front of the computer that tracked the data. “every time we went into the room, something was going nuts with our magic and atomic measurement devices.” Sans twirled his finger in quick little circles. “just outside the room were a bunch of electron-positrons spinning real fast, but not like how all the books explained they should be. it was only when you stepped inside that they did what we expected.”

“Uhh…”

“and then we did a little digging, and well, experimented with the human souls –”

“THE HUMAN WHAT?” Papyrus asked, bug-eyed.

“uh, the human souls?”

“I – WOWIE. YOU… ACTUALLY GOT TO SEE THOSE.”

“um. yeah, we did,” he said abashedly. “asgore granted us special permission to extract some of the traits that were… y’know, maybe it’s best not to get into that right now. doesn’t really matter for this, does it?”

“I… don’t know?”

“nah, we can talk details later if we need to. the point i was gonna make is that we figured out that the room protected us – or uh, protected me from the anomaly. with the soul extractor and that room, i was able to develop my ability to teleport.”

“Y-you can teleport?”

“yeah?” Sans rubbed the back of his head. “guess, um, the version of me here didn’t show it off?”

“N-no? Th-that’s amazing! Maybe Sans could do that and I just never knew? Wow, that would be –”

Papyrus tsked from across the room. When the two of them looked at him, he stated simply, “HE COULD NOT TELEPORT.”

“you sure? back home i kept it quiet for a while.”

“BELIEVE ME,” he said, leaning back into the wall with his arms crossed as he stared resolutely at the door, “IF HE COULD HAVE TELEPORTED, HE WOULD HAVE DONE SO SEVERAL TIMES IN MY PRESENCE. AS I AM SURE HE WOULD HAVE WHEN HE WORKED HERE.”

Alphys squeaked. As Sans’s eyes met hers, she trained them on her lap and began squeezing her hands together.

“oh, that’s, uh, weird that he didn’t develop it.” He didn’t know what to say. The tension in the air was tangible and very distracting. “but i guess it doesn’t really matter?”

“No. And I-I don’t really know what to tell you, Sans,” she said quietly. “I’ve never heard of a room like that. But, um, I-I’m not exactly on the quantum mechanics team. If w-we even have that team anymore.”

“well, that sorta thing might not have been public knowledge, especially with… well…”

Especially with the whole fiasco with Wingdings was what he wanted to say, but it was probably best not to bring that up with everything else. It was complicated enough without discussing the implications of erasing oneself out of existence. Or maybe it was? It was a real possibility that he could wind up doing the same if he wasn’t careful.

But that was a conversation for practical application, not now. First they had to find the Faraday cage room.

“I-I get it,” she said, her face reddening. “I definitely w-wouldn’t be privy to that sort of stuff with my track record.”

“what? no, that isn’t what i meant alphs.” Sans massaged the side of his face. “look, i don’t know what you do here, but the alphys i knew back home was real accomplished and really smart. she knew how to take any machine apart and put it back together in a cinch, and she was super skilled at botany and cellular biology and a whole hell of a lot of other stuff.”

“I-I’m definitely nothing like your Alphys,” she said, sinking unto herself.

“she was also really shy about all she could do too.”

“That i-isn’t what I –”

“ALPHYS,” Papyrus interrupted, his eyes still aimed on the door, “CAN YOU HELP WITH THIS OR NOT?”

His abrupt impatience caused Alphys to yelp once more.

“paps, what the hell?”

“I AM SORRY, SANS, BUT I WOULD RATHER NOT BE HERE ANY LONGER THAN NECESSARY, AND IF DR. ALPHYS CANNOT SUPPLY ANY AID, WE WILL HAVE TO LOOK INTO ALTERNATIVE METHODS TO GET YOU HOME.”

Sans swallowed. Alternative methods? There were no alternative methods. It wasn’t like he could just build a room like that in his home.

Yeah, sure, he had tried replicating it in his basement through a rather complicated process of gathering compressed air with the strange properties and developing his own Faraday cage, but the effect had been paltry compared to the Core’s room and had weakened over time. When he had first built the imitation room, he had stored a plethora of blueprints, records, and machinery that he had wanted to escape the clutches of any possible changes in the timeline. But when he had visited the room the day before the damned kid had shown up, most of the stuff had disappeared. All that had remained were frayed and incomplete memories of the objects.

And there was nothing like that at all in this universe. He had checked during that awful first week. The basement was just a basement that had gone unused.

So if this Core didn’t have anything like his did…

“M-maybe we could look at the Core’s schematics?”

Sans’s soul jumped. “yeah, that’s a good idea. you have those on-hand?”

“No, but I can try to find them on our shared drive.”

She logged onto her computer, and though she hurriedly opened a folder, Sans still managed to catch a glimpse of the half-naked cat girl wallpaper. Her face revealed no signs of embarrassment, however, and with few clicks and some quick typing, she soon had a sprawling blueprint loaded onto her screen.

“Which floor is it on? And which hallway?”

“bottom floor, hallway omega, room 9-c.”

“Uh, I-I don’t think we’ve labeled the Core the same way.”

She turned the laptop so he could have a better look and zoomed into one of the hallways, which was marked with numbers, not Greek letters. As he scrolled across the image, he saw that the first room was named after one of their previous rulers.

In fact, as he peered at the map, he realized how differently the Core was structured overall. There were so many extra hallways and what appeared to be ventilation pipes.

“god, this is… really hard to understand,” Sans said as he scrolled through a random corridor that was somewhat close to where he thought the target room would be his universe. “nothing is the same at all.”

“M-maybe it would be easier for me to go to the Core and find the room? You could call me and guide me through?” She groaned. “O-or maybe not. That’s actually a really bad idea.”

“i could just go with you?”

“N-no!”

“NO!”

They had both shouted at once, their voices immediately putting Sans on edge.

“why not?”

“I, er, i-it’s restricted access?”

“so just get me past security.”

“I-I can’t do that!”

“really?” When Alphys didn’t answer, he pressed on, “listen, i’d know the room when i saw it. i’d go there right now if my friggin’ teleportation wasn’t acting up.”

They both continued to frown at him.

“i’m gonna have to go there anyway, right?”

“SANS,” Papyrus said warningly, his glare fixated on Sans, “I AM PUTTING MY FOOT DOWN.” He promptly slammed his foot onto the floor to reaffirm the point. “YOU ARE NOT GOING THERE!”

“that’s ridiculous! paps, if you want me to go home, then i have to at least look at the room.”

“YOU CAN DO THAT FROM THE OTHER SIDE OF A WEBCAM THEN!”

“no i can’t! i need to be able to test the room!”

“THEN HAVE DR. ALPHYS DO IT FOR YOU!”

“I-I really don’t think that it’s a good idea for me to go either, Papyrus.”

“she’s not gonna be able to just do what i ask her to do anyway. i’m the one who knows where it is and what to look for!”

“I DO NOT CARE. GOING TO THE CORE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE DAY LIKE THIS IS A VERY BAD IDEA!”

“why? because of the earthquakes?” Sans huffed. “you both admitted they’ve been happening at night anyway!”

Papyrus rubbed at his temples. “I… THAT IS NOT…. RARGH!”

“S-Sans, I don’t know if you’re being serious, but it’s not the earthquakes. It’s –”

There came a clicking noise behind Sans, and Alphys’s eyes widened in stark terror as a deep voice, tinted with the sound of static and imbued with the familiar staccato accent, resonated through the room.

“Dr. Alphys, what are you doing in here?”

Sans twisted around and saw someone he had never expected to see again. His eyes were closed as he entered the room; his main two hands were holding a clipboard to his chest, while his spare, spectral hands continued to sign without needing (or bothering) to look at Alphys or the rest of the room.

“That jolt misaligned the connectors on the ventilation pipes for both of the experimental bioenergy harvesting rooms,” ‘Dings said, his hands signing sharply. “And may I remind you that it is your duty to check after every earthquake, not mine or anyone e–”

‘Dings’s words caught in his mouth as he opened his eyes and spotted Papyrus, shock sprawling across his features.

“What? What are you –?”

His eyes traveled to the rest of the room and he stopped once more.

A lump had formed in Sans’s throat. He couldn’t speak. It wasn’t possible.

A resounding clack filled the room as ‘Dings dropped his clipboard.

Sans?”

Chapter Text

‘Dings was here. ‘Dings.

He wasn’t a melting pile of goop sinking into a pool of lava. He wasn’t screaming at the top of his lungs. He wasn’t gone forever.

No, he was alive and appeared the same as Sans had known him for most of his life. His skull was still split unevenly (from a friendly fight gone awry, Sans recalled), making his eye sockets appear wider than they already were. The tension from a stressful day was built into his posture, reminding Sans of all the times he’d have to force him to take a break. And he was wearing his pristine lab coat with the familiar black undershirt.

He was alive. Alive and well. Alive and staring open mouthed at Sans.

Alive…

…and pissed.

His face contorted into an ugly grimace. At first Sans mistook the expression as one of grief, but as ‘Dings closed the gap between them, his hands, both physical and magical, curled into balls and his eyes glowed with a frightening fury. Sans gawked at him, mind stuck.

Papyrus, ever alert and agile, intercepted ‘Dings.

“What in the name of the King and Queen is going on here?!”

“SIR, I CAN EXPLAIN –”

“Well you better get started! Because I went to his God damned memorial. I made my grievances.” He jabbed a finger at Sans. “HE WAS DEAD!”

“D-Dr. Gaster!”

‘Dings rounded on Alphys, the rage radiating from him filling the air. “Were you aware of this as well?”

Alphys squeaked again as she jumped back. She shook her head furiously.

Shaking his head, ‘Ding returned his attention to Papyrus, his spectral hands signing furiously. “I swear, if the rumors about you and him are t–”

“’dings?”

Sans had finally found his voice, though it had come out strained and much quieter than usual. Still, it was enough to silence ‘Dings. He was looking at Sans with wide eyes again.

For the umpteenth time that day, Sans couldn’t stop himself from quaking from head to toe. From the way his chest hurt, he knew he was probably opening his injury again, but his emotions had taken over.

Body catching up with his thoughts, he nudged Papyrus out of the way and threw himself into ‘Dings’s arms. He grasped the back of his lab coat, dragging him into a desperate hug.

He was hugging ‘Dings. His lab partner. His best friend.

“you’re alive,” Sans cried, tears finally spilling from his sockets. “you’re alive, you’re alive, you’re alive, you’re alive.”

‘Dings was stiff against him, neither reciprocating the hug nor moving against him. He simply stood there, silent and motionless but for the soft rise and fall of his chest. Sans didn’t care. He was alive. This was something Sans had dreamed about for years, and for it to be real? God….

It wasn’t until his mantra trailed off into wordless sobs that ‘Dings finally spoke.

“I should be saying that of you. You’re alive.”

His voice had dropped to a monotone, undercut by barely hidden restraint. For a second, Sans stood still, his sobs freezing in his throat. ‘Dings still hadn’t moved, but the way he was keeping his chest motionless had Sans pulling back.

Dings’s face had completely warped. Before Sans had spoken, he had obviously been upset. But this? This was downright scary. He was grating his teeth together, releasing an unholy noise that had Sans gritting his own teeth in sympathy. Sans didn’t think he had ever seen ‘Dings angry enough that parts of his face had started twitching, nor had he ever seen him scowl so menacingly that shadows lined his face, but here he was, completely transformed.

“How the hell are you alive.”

Though it wasn’t posed as a question, Sans felt himself trying to form an answer, but the anger in Dings’s voice had his tongue tied.

“Tell me how you are here when everyone told me that you had gone and killed yourself,” ‘Dings said between clenched teeth.

All the air left Sans’s body as a chill, icier than the waters of the Snowdin River, washed over him. He stepped back, eyes wide.

“wh-what?”

Sans turned towards Papyrus, his mouth agape. When Papyrus simply crossed his arms and averted his gaze, his soul twisted.

God, it was true.

“I-I think you m-might have the wrong idea, D-Dr. Gaster.”

Head bowed in submission, Alphys shook all over as she rubbed her claws together.

‘Dings simply scoffed. “What, pray tell, is the ‘right idea’ then? Were all the reports wrong? Was his suicide a lie fabricated by the Guard?”

She looked imploringly between Papyrus and Sans, but Papyrus was refusing to do anything but stare at his feet, and Sans was too stunned to say anything else.

“Well, Dr. Alphys?”

“Ughhh,” Alphys moaned under her breath. “M-me and my b-big mouth.”

Although her voice was wispy and high-pitched, and she occasionally trailed off onto irrelevant tangents, she debriefed ‘Dings about Sans’s appearance in this universe.

“This is true?” ‘Dings asked, peering down at Sans. Throughout the conversation, his rage had melted away, though his ghostly hands were still signing in quick agitation, cutting off the sentence he had verbalized.

For some reason, it made Sans’s chest wrench with some displaced emotion. He lowered his eyes and nodded.

“Prove it.”

Sans blinked at the floor, and after a few moments of thinking, he replied with a half-shrug, “i can’t.”

“Seriously?” ‘Dings slammed his hand on the desk, eliciting a gasp from Sans as his gaze returned to the other monster. “Tell the truth.”

“i’m not lying,” Sans answered quietly, secretly wondering what his counterpart had done to piss off someone as calm and reserved as ‘Dings.

“You think I don’t see that you’re here to sabotage my work?”

“i’m not here to sabotage anything.”

“A likely story.”

“it’s true. i don’t even know what you’re working on!”

“Hmph. Next you’ll tell me that outfit is just for show.”

“it was just a disguise,” Sans mumbled. “i don’t even know what the hell this… what is it? ‘deltas’? i’ve never heard of them before today.”

“Ha! You may think me an idiot, but I assure you –”

“i don’t think you’re an idiot,” Sans interrupted. “i think you’re one of the smartest monsters i’ve ever met.”

There was a brief silence and then Papyrus turned toward Sans and whispered, “SANS, NO.”

‘Dings’s anger returned full force.

“If this is your idea of buttering me up, then you’re far more foolish than I had ever imagined.”

“’dings, i haven’t seen you in nearly a decade.”

“First off, you may call me Dr. Gaster. You don’t have the privilege of calling me by my first name or any other cute little nickname you’ve concocted in your head. Secondly, let’s be accurate: it has only been two years since I last saw you, not a decade. And if you ask me, it hasn’t been long enough.”

Pain weaved through Sans’s chest. He slunk into his chair, his words failing to form while his tears had no issues doing so.

‘Dings – no, Gaster – sneered at him. “Now, go back to whomever you work for, whether that be the Deltas or otherwise, and tell them that if they were under the impression I had forgiven Sans, they were sorely mistaken.”

“i’m not –”

“And do us both a favor,” Gaster interrupted, “Take off that ‘disguise’ on your way out. It isn’t a good look on you.”

Sans glanced down at the configuration of beads, his face burning. He wanted to shout back at Gaster that it hadn’t even been his idea to wear this outfit in the first place, but the retort sounded dumb even in his head.

And something told him that arguing with him would be a bad idea.

“Dr. Alphys, you will report to my office immediately after you ensure that these two leave the premises. No arguments.”

Gaster brushed off the front of his coat and made his way to the door, but before he got there, Papyrus rushed up from behind him and blocked his path, brow creased.

“Out of my way.”

“NO.”

“You may be a Royal Guard, but do not delude yourself into thinking that I cannot defend myself if needed.”

“I AM NOT ATTACKING YOU.”

“You are blocking my way.”

“BECAUSE I HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY!”

Even though both of them looked angrier than ever, Papyrus gently placed his hand on Gaster’s shoulder and squeezed.

“What?”

Papyrus inhaled a great gulping breath. “I KNOW YOU HAVE A LOT OF THINGS YOU STILL WANT TO SAY TO MY BROTHER. THINGS THAT HAVE FESTERED FOR FAR TOO LONG AND HAVE LEFT US BOTH… BROKEN IN MANY WAYS.”

“Oh, this is ridiculous. I am not –” Gaster began, affronted.

“WE ARE BOTH UPSET WITH HIM,” Papyrus continued as if uninterrupted, “AND RIGHTLY SO! BUT HE IS NOT MY BROTHER. HE LOOKS A LOT LIKE HIM AND HE ACTS LIKE HIM IN MANY WAYS, BUT HE IS NOT HIM.”

Papyrus glanced in Sans’s direction, a quiet sorrow shadowing his face.

“WHEN I LOOK AT HIM – TRULY LOOK AT HIM – I SEE A STRONGER MONSTER, A BETTER SOUL. HE HAS ENDURED SO MUCH, AND EVEN IN THE FACE OF GREAT TRAGEDY AND HARDSHIP, HE HAS BEEN NOTHING BUT KIND TO ME AND TO OTHERS WE HAVE MET. AND WHEN I… SCREW UP, HE DOES NOT BELITTLE OR BERATE ME, BUT INSTEAD COMMUNICATES WITH ME.”

His bones trembled ever so slightly as he exhaled.

“HE IS EVERYTHING I APSIRE TO BE.”

He allowed his eyes to remain clenched shut for a few seconds before they shot open, and, just as quickly, he placed his other hand on Gaster’s free shoulder.

“PLEASE. I KNOW HOW HARD IT IS, BUT HE NEEDS YOUR HELP TO GET BACK HOME. I CANNOT AID HIM IN THIS ENDEAVOR. YOU CAN. EVEN THOUGH YOU HATE MY BROTHER, AND EVEN THOUGH HE WRONGED YOU FROM BEGINNING TO END, YOU MUST BELIEVE ME WHEN I SAY THIS SANS WOULD NEVER DO THAT.”

He shook Gaster.

“I ASK YOU, AS ONE MONSTER TO ANOTHER – NO, AS SOMEONE WHO – WHO ALSO L-LOVED MY BROTHER, PLEASE HELP HIM.”

Finality, stark and unwavering, impregnated his voice, but neither he nor Gaster moved or spoke.

Sans stared at the two of them, knowing he ought to say something, to at least offer some evidence in support of Papyrus, but all he managed to say, in the breathiest of tones, was a simple “wow.”

A bright blush spread over Papyrus’s face. His gaze was still trained on Gaster, but his scowl loosened, making his intimidation factor fall by at least twenty percent.

Sans’s soul, body, and even his injured chest felt light. Like he was walking on air. The way Paps reddened was amazingly cute. So cute, in fact, that if he could, he’d kiss Paps right here. Right on the cheek for everyone to see.

(That wasn’t right. He needed to stop thinking like that. What the fuck was wrong with him?)

Gaster cleared this throat, tearing Sans from his delusions.

“You really have him fooled, don’t you?”

He was staring at Sans, brow raised. Without speaking, he nudged Papyrus’s hands away and shook his head.

“I wish I could say I was surprised, but I’m sadly not.”

He nodded towards Papyrus and swept towards the door.

“D-Dr. Gaster!” Alphys called out as she rounded the desk.

Gaster paused with his hand over the door handle. “Yes, Dr. Alphys?”

When no one came to her rescue, she wheezed out, “I b-believe them.”

Gaster turned around, arms folded together. “Do you now? Or are you just trying to save your own hide?”

To Sans’s surprise, Alphys straightened her posture and, in the most confident voice he had ever heard from her, stated, “That isn’t fair and you know it.”

Gaster’s sockets widened incrementally.

“I know why you’re s-suspicious. It’s kind of, um, weird for him to show up after all this time.” She barked out a mirthless, nervous laugh. “A-almost like a bad dream.”

“Get to your point.”

Alphys closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “O-okay. The point. The point is that I believe them. The way he speaks… it – it – it isn’t the same as the way Sans and I u-used to talk.” Alphys blushed. “I-it doesn’t even sound like him. Th-the Sans I knew was more, um, um…”

She mumbled something incoherent.

“What was that?”

“I, er, I mean to say.” She balled her claws into fists, and, like she was ripping off a bandaid, spat out, “The Sans I knew was more flirtatious, okay!”

She bundled the front of her lab coat in her claws, looking like she’d like to be anywhere else but here.

Huh. Sans had to wonder if his universal counterpart had tried to sell sex to Alphys. It wasn’t that much of a leap; Alphys was a lonely monster, and Sans knew better than anyone else how sex-crazed she was. She had made her own hentai game after all.

And what better customer was there? Since she wasn’t the Royal Scientist in this universe, she may not have had the most high-paying job, but she’d be a loyal customer.

But one question remained stuck on his mind: Had they slept together?

And, now that he was thinking about it, who else had had sex with the other Sans? Obviously Grillby. The monsters at the bar. Had Gaster? Papyrus had just said Gaster had loved him.

Wait, that wasn’t quite what he had said. Paps had said they had both loved him. Though there was no way he had meant sexually.

Right?

Something was out of place. That dream he had had this morning, the one that had felt so real… Paps and his bro hadn’t exactly been happy with each other in it. Fact of the matter was that they seemed to have harbored a hell of a lot of hatred for one another.

Then again, maybe his dream had really been just that: a dream.

And yet, everyone kept accusing Papyrus of keeping Sans locked up as some sort of slave. He had dismissed it – none of those people were actually worth listening to – but now he was wondering….

Gaster cleared his throat loudly, yanking Sans from his thoughts.

“Fine. I will help”

Sans blinked. What? Had he misheard? He rubbed at the sides of his skull, but as he peered around the room, he saw that Alphys and Papyrus were just as shocked as he was.

“seriously?”

“On one condition.” He looked Sans right in the eyes and his mouth stretched into a grim smile. “We will examine you to see if you are who you say you are.”

“Wh-what do you mean?” Alphys asked.

“Well, my dear Dr. Alphys, unlike you and Mr. Papyrus here, I do not trust blindly.”

“I DO NOT TRUST BLINDLY!” Papyrus retorted.

Gaster held up a hand. “Then you should have no objections to an examination. It is but a simple scan.”

Sans sighed, tension unwinding from his soul. “is that all? sure.”

“Um. W-what kind of scan?”

Gaster gave Alphys a pointed look. “Not the one you’re suggesting. Just the medical scan for now.”

A chill ran up Sans’s spine. Alphys had been referring to the scanning device in the soul extractor, otherwise known as the determination extraction machine. It wasn’t exactly dangerous, at least not for a typical monster, but it was definitely more than a simple scan.

Papyrus glanced between the three of them, his eyes narrowing. “IS THIS INVASIVE?”

“No. Every monster undergoes a scan during a regular checkup. It reports all the basic information about a monster – their weight, their height, their age, their species.”

“S-species? What do you mean by that?”

“As I said, I do not trust blindly.” He turned his knowing gaze to Sans. “Shape-shifting monsters do exist.”

“really?” Sans said, rolling his eyelights.

“Um, yes, they exist,” Alphys interjected, “b-but don’t they usually, er, shift into different forms? I don’t think I’ve ever seen one shift into a skeleton. E-especially a skeleton that died m-months ago.”

“I am sure you have heard of doppelgangers.”

“I, uhhh, w-what?”

Papyrus huffed. “DOPPELGANGERS DIED IN THE WAR, THANK YOU VERY MUCH.”

“Then we should have no problems scanning him,” Gaster said, nodding. “We can do it right now, if Sans will consent to it.”

All eyes turned toward Sans. “yeah,” he said, shrugging, “i don’t have an issue with that.”

“Excellent, then let’s –”

“but before we do this, i gotta know one thing.”

“What?”

“why the sudden change in heart? don’t get me wrong, i’m grateful for it, but once you see that i’m telling the truth, are you really gonna help? you seem to hate my metaphorical guts.”

Papyrus wildly shook his head from behind Gaster.

“As long as I follow through, what does it matter to you?”

“it matters.” Sans glanced away. “call me jaded, but after the month i’ve had in this universe, i don’t exactly trust blindly either.”

Papyrus made a small noise, though only Sans seemed to notice.

“A wise decision.”

“well?”

“If you must know, I am not doing it for you. It’s for your brother.”

“ME?” Papyrus asked, pointing at himself.

“if you do mean him, then you’re forgetting something: he’s not my brother.”

Gaster aimed a look of incredulity at him. “For Papyrus then.”

“BUT… WHY?”

“Besides the passionate speech?” He turned toward Papyrus, wearing, for once, what seemed to be a genuinely heartfelt expression. “I am aware that you suffered a great deal after what happened to your brother. And for my part, I owe you a great debt.”

Papyrus’s face did a number of movements as if he couldn’t decide on a proper emotion. In the end he settled on gratitude.

“THANK YOU. TRULY. I KNOW YOU UNDERSTAND THIS BETTER THAN ANYONE ELSE, AND I –”

Gaster held up his hand to quiet him. With his other hands, he gestured to Sans.

“Enough. I believe this statement of appreciation is premature, seeing as I do not believe Sans is who he says he is.” He gestured to Sans with his spectral hands. “Sit down and take off your… ‘outfit’ while I fetch the scanner.”

“I-I have a first aid kit right here.” Her eyes roamed over the mess of an office. “Er, somewhere.”

Sighing, Gaster joined her in searching the office while Sans slipped into his seat. A pained hiss slipped through his teeth as he raised his arms over his head to take off his robe.

“HERE, LET ME HELP,” Papyrus offered, tugging gently on the beaded costume.

Sans groaned as the fabric pulled at his shirt which in turn grated against his injury. Once the robes were removed, however, he fell backwards into the chair, feeling suddenly lightheaded. He hadn’t realized how much the robes had weighed him down, nor that it had been resting so uncomfortably against his wound.

“OH NO, YOU ARE BLEEDING AGAIN.”

Sans glanced down at his chest. Sure enough, a blossom of darker red was spreading amongst the lighter red fabric of his shirt.

“You’re injured?” Gaster asked, abandoning the search to inspect the shirt.

Papyrus nodded frantically. “HE SHOWED UP AT THE HOUSE THIS WAY.” He dropped his voice to a stage whisper and said, “I THINK HE SAID IT WAS THE HUMAN.”

“it was the human,” Sans mumbled. “not sure why it won’t heal.”

“Intent can be slow-acting or fast. In either case, it is exact. And usually deadly.”

Papyrus bristled. “DO NOT SAY THAT!”

“I am merely stating the facts.”

Alphys sidled up next to Gaster holding an unopened first aid kit. “Th-then perhaps we should also state the fact that a monster’s state of mind can affect their health. It’s a lot more complicated than just intent. Er. Sir.”

“I did not realize you had gone to medical school.”

Alphys reddened. “E-everyone learns that at the university.”

“EVERYONE LEARNS IT IN GRADE SCHOOL.”

“Well, grade school lessons aside, perhaps we could see just how extensive the damage is instead of speculating about it for the next hour. I do have other duties to attend to, as do you, Dr. Alphys.”

“R-right.” Her sweaty claws skated across the latches as she tried to force the box open.

“LIFT YOUR ARMS,” Papyrus said, nudging Sans’s shoulder.

Though his arms shook from the effort, Sans complied. Papyrus slowly plucked the shirt upward, obviously trying to be as gentle as possible, but finally giving up when the fabric stuck to Sans’s chest. The final yank drew a sharp cry from Sans as his ribcage was exposed to the cold laboratory air.

“Oh, wow,” Alphys exclaimed softly as she gaped at the injury. “That l-looks like it really hurts.”

“it does,” Sans sighed as he slumped in the chair. “the pain comes and goes a lot, but it’s been hurting a lot more the last few days.”

Papyrus squeezed his shoulder, and the he was inundated with a sudden burst of energy. It was enough to get him to sit up straight in the chair instead of flopping about lazily.

“And you say a human did this?”

Gaster now appeared more curious than skeptical. His spectral hands were extended towards Sans’s chest, tracing the injury midair, though he seemed to realize it was unwise to touch it. He snapped his physical fingers in Alphys’s direction.

“Gloves and scanner, Dr. Alphys.”

“Oh, s-sorry!”

“yeah,” Sans said, answering Gaster’s earlier question. “they used a knife. though, to be honest with you, i think it was their… presence that hurt more than anything.”

The air had been thick with an overwhelming sense of dread that had bogged Sans down in his final moments.

Gaster nodded. “A clear case of malicious intent.”

Alphys handed him a pair of rubber gloves that he promptly snapped onto his physical hands. Tension was knotting up within Sans’s chest as he mentally prepared himself for Gaster to study the injury. Gaster’s hands were only centimeters away when he paused.

“On second thought, I think it best if a physician examines this.”

“heh. afraid i’ll break?”

“I’d rather not make matters worse. I have enough on my plate without having to deal with the fallout.”

“pfft, fallout? hate to bomb your expectations here, but i doubt anyone is gonna go nuclear if an already-dead guy dies again.”

“I WOULD CARE.”

Sans glanced up at Papyrus and saw the concern written on his face.

“oh.” Guilt crawled in his chest. “it was just a joke.”

It wasn’t very funny now that he thought about it.

“Joke or not, I would rather not have your death on my soul.” He took a black rectangular device from Alphys and switched it on. “Before we begin, I will explain the procedure. This device will not harm your soul, but merely takes an image of it and –”

“you don’t gotta explain it, i know.”

“It is standard procedure to explain and gather proper consent. Perhaps where you’re from they do not care for such things, but I certainly do,” he replied coolly.

Sans sighed. “fine.”

“As I was saying, the scanner takes an image of your soul and the surrounding radiation. It uses that image to calculate certain base statistics about your health. It will not gather any information directly about any diseases or injuries you may have, but rather the symptoms related to them. You would need a different scan for that.”

“yeah, yeah, less of a diagnosing tool and more of an ‘okay, this monster is alive!’ tool. i know.”

“Then may I proceed?”

“yeah,” Sans said impatiently, “get it over with.”

Gaster raised the scanner to Sans’s chest flicked the switch. A wide ray of bright green light fell over his ribcage, illuminating the small white construct hovering just behind his sternum. The device beeped for several seconds before it shut off with a click.

For several moments, Gaster pored over the device’s printout, saying nothing. His expression, however, told more than words could. His mouth gaped noiselessly at the device, and his eyes gradually widened.

“well? what are the results, doc? am i the scary doppelganger like everyone thought?”

Gaster’s gaze darted upwards. He silently shook his head and passed the device over.

Sans scrolled to the beginning of the report.

Species: Skeleton (Monster Origin)

Age: 25 years, 5 months

HP: 1/1 (Critically Low)

Height: 171.75 cm

Soul Height: 10.05 cm

Soul Width: 9.023 cm

Weight: 22.679 kg

Soul Weight: 55.014 g

Magic Intake Levels: 10 (Critically High)

Magic Output Levels: 2 (Very Low)

Latent Magic: 9 (Very High)

Magic Resonance: 1 (Critically Low)

Magic Stability: 2 (Very Low)

Stress Levels: Very High (Reduce immediately)

CAUTION: Detection of high levels of Malicious Intent embedded in SOUL

CAUTION: Ley lines disruption detected – Proceed with emergency procedures

“OH MY GOD! SANS!” Papyrus knelt to the floor so that he was level with Sans. “ARE YOU OKAY? YOUR HP!”

“I am less concerned about his HP and much more worried about the magic readings. These are the worst I’ve ever seen.”

“THEN DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!” Papyrus yelled. “CALL A DOCTOR! A BETTER DOCTOR!”

But Sans wasn’t looking at the HP or the magic readings.

“what the hell is this?” Sans said, thrusting the device back at Gaster. “where did you get this info?”

The other three eyed him with confusion.

“SANS, ARE YOU ALRIGHT? HE JUST TOOK THE SCAN.”

“he faked it.”

Gaster squinted his sockets. “What makes you say that?”

“you messed up on the age. i’m 27, not 25.”

“…What?”

“look at it, you got the info. wrong. if this is some kind of test, then –”

“It’s not. Truly.”

Sans gawked at the device until Gaster snatched it out of his hand and passed it to Alphys.

“wh – wait, what year is it?”

“211X,” Alphys replied. “March.”

“that sounds right… i came here in february. no, wait, the months are off too. my birthday is in september, not november.”

“How odd.”

“that’s an understatement.”

“M-maybe the reading is wrong?”

“It may be. You do not appear to be in critical magical distress, after all.”

“i don’t know. i haven’t been able to use my magic since i got here.”

“AND EVERY TIME YOU DO, YOU HAVE BECOME EXTREMELY ILL.”

“something like that, yeah.”

“I would advise not using your magic then.”

“noted.”

Gaster frowned at him. “I suppose this scan proves nothing then.”

Sans blinked incredulously. “seriously? you think i’m a doppelganger?”

“No.”

“but you’re not gonna help me get back home.”

“You still assert you are from another universe?”

“yes,” Sans said, almost begging. “and look, i don’t care if you help, but if you just let me research on my own, i’ll stay outta your way.”

“The whining will not be necessary. I will help you.”

“you will?”

“Yes. At least as far as I am able to.” He stood up, a grim expression on his face. “Let’s start from the beginning. Tell me about your research.”

Chapter Text

To put it bluntly, the last few hours had been a waste of time.

Gaster, for all his expertise, had only seemed to hinder their work. When Sans and Alphys had informed him of the apparently missing room, Gaster had simply told them that unless he had suffered a traumatic head injury and had forgotten the last twenty years of his life, there had been no such room in the Core.

Such was Gaster. Like ‘Dings, he had a way with words. This version just used those words as bitter jabs for no apparent reason.

Once they had firmly established that no one had devoted resources to developing such a room at the Core, Sans had wondered aloud if maybe a room like that still existed, just behind a cavern wall. That had sparked another argument about unnecessary drilling and expenses and following proper procedures. When Alphys had jumped in to defend Sans, Gaster had torn her apart, calling her a failed scientist and hitting far below the belt. By the end of the day, Sans had had enough.

And it truly had been the end of the day by the time he and Papyrus had stepped out of the labs. Nighttime had descended over the Underground, which, with the surrounding lava, wasn’t all that dark.

Yet even with the shifting haze of light, evening had attracted a host of shady monsters wandering Hotland. In the ten minutes it had taken to walk from the laboratory’s campus to the bridge leading to Waterfall, Sans had seen at least twelve monsters, huddled together as they passed objects discreetly between one another, or argued with one another in hushed, abrasive tones. The strangers left Paps and Sans alone, probably thanks in part to Sans’s robes. Still, there was that distinct unnerving air about that told Sans it would be best to travel through the area quickly.

Papyrus was twitchier than Sans had ever seen. His head was moving so fast as he tried to keep track of their surroundings that Sans felt a little sick.

So even though it sparked another argument in a day filled with squabbling and strife, Sans had insisted they take the boat back. He wasn’t sure his body could take the journey through Waterfall, especially with Papyrus having to watch for Muffet’s cronies and who knew what else, and if it meant Papyrus would have some peace of mind, he’d do it.

Thankfully, Papyrus must’ve recognized the danger because he quickly gave up the fight. The nearby group of monsters mimicking his high-pitched tones probably helped expedite the decision.

Though it cost way more than Sans was comfortable with, the ride home on the ferry was far more relaxing, and it got them to Snowdin safe and sound. Barring the way his soul wound up as they walked through town (the rowdy cheers emanating from Grillby’s immediately put him on edge), the rest of their trip home was without incident or worry.

But the tension still wasn’t at an end. As soon as they opened the door, Papyrus was off to check for signs of intruders.

Sans slumped onto the couch. If Muffet or anyone else had broken into the place and was waiting to ambush him, he’d let them do it. Right now, all he had on his mind was how well he was going to sleep tonight. He snuggled into the cushions, knowing that when Paps came down, he’d carry him upstairs for proper rest.

So it came as a shock when the clanking of weighty metal against metal stirred him from his doze. Within seconds, he was on his feet, ready to dodge any would-be attackers, but the living room was empty. He peeked into the kitchen and saw Papyrus standing at the stove, wielding a can of tomato sauce and glaring at a baking dish layered with lasagna noodles.

“paps,” Sans said as he tried and failed to wipe the tiredness from his eyes, “what are you doing?”

“WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE I AM DOING?” Papyrus snapped as he smacked the bottom of the can and sprayed sauce into the dish and onto the stove. “DAMMIT.”

Sans hovered in the doorway, uneasiness growing in his soul at the sound of Papyrus’s swearing. Was this another dream? It didn’t feel like a dream, but, then again, it hadn’t last time either.

Papyrus spun around, one hand on his hips. “WHY ARE YOU JUST… STANDING THERE?”

“uh. no reason. guess i’m just, i don’t know… confused?”

“ABOUT WHAT?”

“shouldn’t we be going to sleep? we had plenty of food back at the lab.”

“NO WE DID NOT! CHISPS AND PRETZELS DO NOT COUNT AS FOOD!”

Papyrus began stirring the dish violently, churning up the layer of noodles so that they mixed with the tomato sauce.

“yeah, guess you’re right.”

It wasn’t worth arguing about, not after the day they had, and especially not with Papyrus so grouchy. Plus, hey, he was feeling peckish.

So, his eyes heavy, he sat down at the table and watched Papyrus struggle with his kitchen tools. Even Sans knew that the temperature Papyrus set the oven to was extremely high (even for monster food), but he just kept his mouth shut and let it happen.

All throughout, Paps swore under his breath. Yet even despite his unusual behavior, it was only when he set the unappealing congealed mess of a meal on the table that Sans noticed the shadows underlining his sockets.

“WHAT IS IT?” Papyrus spat as he noticed Sans staring at him.

“uh. nothing. admiring the meal.”

“TSK.” Papyrus frowned down at it. “IT DID NOT TURN OUT RIGHT…”

“eh.” Sans scooped a spoonful into his mouth and allowed his soul to instantly absorb it, not bothering to taste the concoction. “it’s not that bad.”

In truth, his own brother had made far worse meals, though he would never admit that out loud.

“MMPH,” Papyrus said as he poked the food.

An uncomfortable silence lingered between them, punctuated only by the sounds of them slurping their burnt sauce.

“so. uh. how are you feeling?”

“I WOULD RATHER NOT TALK ABOUT THAT.”

Sans blinked. He had been expecting Papyrus to shoot back something about being “VERY AWAKE AND READY FOR A FULL RANGE OF ACTIVITIES,” which would have, of course, led to Sans trying to fenagle him into bed. But the way Paps had said that, laden full of meaning, had Sans suspecting that he wasn’t referring to his sleepiness.

“you don’t gotta talk about anything you don’t wanna.”

Without missing a beat, Papyrus slammed his hand down on the table, causing the dishes to bounce and jarring Sans from his sleepy haze.

“I WISH YOU HAD NOT FOUND OUT THIS WAY.”

Immediately, Sans knew what he was talking about. It had been hovering in the back of his mind ever since the revelation, though he wasn’t about to bring it up out of the blue.

“it’s okay. i get it.”

“NO YOU DON’T!” Papyrus shouted. “YOU DO NOT UNDERSTAND AT ALL!”

“yeah,” Sans relented. “you’re right.”

It had been hard enough talking about his brother’s temporary death. He couldn’t imagine the soulache he’d have from his brother killing himself, and while he’d never admit it, the fact that his universal counterpart had actually committed suicide… Well, it wasn’t like the thought hadn’t crossed his own mind before, but to see that any version of himself had done it left him feeling both empty and slightly queasy.

“I HATE HIM.”

Sans’s breath caught in his chest. “i’m sure you don’t mean that.”

“NO, IT IS TRUE! I HATE HIM FOR TELLING YOU!”

Oh. Sans had thought….

But even if Paps did mean Gaster, Sans had never thought Papyrus capable of hating anyone. It was unsettling.

“hate’s a pretty strong word.”

“NO, IT IS NOT. IT IS A PERFECTLY ACCURATE DESCRIPTOR FOR THE EMOTIONS I FEEL TOWARDS THAT AWFUL MAN.”

“mmm. he’s a bit grouchy, but… i don’t know. i reserve that word for the worst people.”

Like the anomaly. Or this universe’s Grillby. They were beyond forgiveness or even understanding.

“WELL, HE IS ONE OF THE WORST I HAVE MET. I HATE HIM.”

Sans scratched his cheek. “he doesn’t seem to hate you though. in fact, he seems to like you.”

“SO? I CAN HATE SOMEONE THAT DOES NOT HATE ME!”

“mmm. i guess.”

“HE DOES NOT TREAT YOU RIGHT. EVEN THOUGH HE KNOWS YOU ARE NOT MY BROTHER!”

“yeah, he sure does seem to hate me. or maybe he just dislikes me? i don’t know, he was warming up to me by the end, i think.”

“THE LAST THING HE TOLD YOU WAS THAT HE WAS HAPPY TO SEE THAT YOUR EDUCATION WAS NOT GETTING IN THE WAY OF YOUR IGNORANCE.”

“heh. yeah. that was one sick burn. that’s what i meant by ‘warming up.’”

“UGH!”

“is there a reason why he’s like that? i mean, towards me that is.”

Papyrus paused, the rage on his face suddenly giving way to nervousness. “YOU MEAN… YOU DO NOT KNOW?”

“guess not. lay it on me.”

“ER… MY BROTHER AND HIM… THEY WERE, UM…” He clicked his pointer fingers together. “A THING.”

Oh.

Oh.

“suddenly a lot of things make sense.”

“THEY, ER… BROKE UP. IT ENDED BADLY. YOU AND YOUR DR. GASTER DID NOT…?”

“no way. nothing like that. we were just friends. best friends actually.”

“OH. SO THAT IS WHY YOU HUGGED HIM LIKE THAT.”

“yeah, it was… heh. the last time we had spoken, ‘dings was in no position to receive any hugs.” Suddenly his sockets felt warm and tight. “didn’t really think it through. shouldn’t have hugged him without permission.”

More than aware that Papyrus had a careful eye on him, he took a deep breath and put his memories of ‘Dings out of his head. Maybe he’d examine them later. Maybe. Probably not.

“so. he and the other me were a thing, huh?”

Papyrus seemed to close in on himself. “YES.”

And their relationship hadn’t gone well. In fact, if Gaster’s treatment of him was anything to judge by, it had reached terrible lows, and Sans could only think of one reason why that might be.

“was he, y’know, doing the whole, uh, selling sex thing while he was –”

“I DO NOT KNOW AND I DO NOT WANT TO THINK ABOUT IT,” Papyrus spat as he clenched his eyes shut.

“woah, okay. sorry.”

Papyrus gripped the edge of the table as his expression tightened. “I KNOW I AM BEING TESTY AROUND THIS SUBJECT. I REALLY WANTED TO TELL YOU SOONER, BUT EVERY TIME I THOUGHT I COULD, I WOULD START THINKING ABOUT HOW I WOULD HAVE TO TELL YOU EVERYTHING, AND EVERYTHING IS SO MUCH, AND I COULD NOT BEAR TO THINK OF HOW HE DIED, OR OF WHAT LED UP TO IT, AND I AM SO SORRY, BUT I JUST COULDN’T, AND I STILL DON’T THINK I CAN, AND I –”

“hey, hey, it’s alright,” Sans consoled as he reached just far enough across the table that he could pat the tips of Papyrus’s fingers. “you don’t gotta tell me anything.”

“I WANT TO THOUGH,” Papyrus grumbled. “JUST… NOT NOW.”

“later then. when you’re up for it.”

Papyrus rubbed at his eyes and returned to eating, his face full of resolution. Good. He clearly needed the energy, and Sans wasn’t sure he was up for a full explanation tonight anyway. Exhaustion, nausea, and all the aches and pains of today were weighing him down.

As they rounded off their dinners, Sans noticed that he was not the only one incapacitated by today’s events. Though Papyrus hadn’t moved from his chair, he was weaving back and forth, his eye sockets drifting closed momentarily before snapping open, a burst of energy filling his face before the process repeated itself. Sans knew what that meant; it was what always happened when his brother was too tired to even stand.

And like with his brother, Sans had to approach the topic of sleeping delicately.

“so. it’s time to sleep.”

“WHAT! IT IS NOT!” Papyrus rapidly shook his head. “WELL, IT IS TIME FOR YOU TO SLEEP! BUT NOT ME! IS THAT WHAT YOU MEANT?”

“nope. i mean you.”

“THEN YOU ARE MISTAKEN! I, THE GREAT AND TERRIBLE PAPYRUS, NEED MUCH LESS SLEEP THAN THE AVERAGE MONSTER!”

“yeah, i know you do. but you still need sleep.”

“NOT TONIGHT!”

Sans sighed. “and why not?”

“IT IS MY RESPONSIBILITY TO ENSURE THAT YOU REST WELL.”

“believe me, i got no problems with that.”

“HMPH. I JUST MEANT… HMMM…”

“you just meant you wanna watch over me to make sure i don’t get killed.”

“CORRECT! WAIT, NO, THAT IS NOT WHAT I –”

“nah, that’s exactly right.” Sans rubbed his face. “listen, you should go look at yourself in the mirror. you’re about ready to fall over. and don’t tell me otherwise, i know how you look when you’re fighting sleep.”

“THAT DOES NOT SOLVE THE ISSUE AT HAND.”

“well, how is this for a solution? i’ll watch over you tonight.”

Papyrus looked very uncomfortable. “I… DO NOT BE TOO UPSET WITH ME, SANS, BECAUSE I KNOW THIS A SORE SPOT FOR YOU, BUT… I DO NOT THINK YOU ARE CAPABLE OF DEFENDING US IF WE ARE ATTACKED.”

“that’s not a sore spot for me, paps. i take it your bro wasn’t good with defensive magic?” Papyrus shook his head. “well, i was, and while it sucks that i can’t use magic right now, i know how to dodge better than anyone.”

“REALLY?”

“yeah, really. i’ve always had pretty crappy health. uh, not 1hp worth, but bad enough that i knew if i ever got hit accidentally during a magical practice, i’d be in a world of hurt.”

“OH. THAT MAKES SENSE, I SUPPOSE. IS THAT WHY YOU LEARNED HOW TO TELEPORT?”

“not really, but it sure helped.” He sighed, wishing desperately that he had that ability still. “anyway, regardless, you can trust me on this: i’ve got fast reflexes and i can keep a lookout.”

“BUT IF YOU GET ATTACKED –”

“i’ll yell if anything happens.”

“THAT DOES NOT SEEM LIKE AN IDEAL SOLUTION.”

“since when does anything in life match an ideal?”

“UNDYNE MATCHES AN IDEAL.”

“pfft. really? gonna marry her?”

“EW. NO. SHE IS IN LOVE WITH ALPHYS, NOT HER SUBORDINATES.”

“then guess she isn’t ideal then.” He winked as Paps groaned. “besides, even if muffet’s minions do show up, i bet they won’t attack us anyway.”

“NOW THAT SOUNDS LIKE AN IDEAL.”

“nah, what i mean is they’ll take one look at these robes –” He plucked at the threads. “– and they’ll be scared to death that they’re attacking a proud member of… what is it called? the deltas?”

“YOU DO NOT HAVE THE DELTAS IN YOUR UNIVERSE EITHER?”

“nope.”

“EVERY TIME I HEAR SOMETHING NEW ABOUT YOUR UNIVERSE, IT GETS STRANGER AND STRANGER.”

“tell me about it.” Sans climbed out of his chair and offered Papyrus his hand to help him up. Though Papyrus hesitated, he accepted the gesture and leaned on Sans as they left for upstairs.

“so what are the deltas then?”

Papyrus shifted his gaze. “THEY ARE… AN ORGANIZATION.”

“i gathered that much. they protect the royal family?”

Papyrus nodded. “AND MORE. THEY ARE AN ELITE TEAM OF MONSTERS HIGHLY PRACTICED IN MAGIC.”

“is that all?”

“NO. IT IS NOT.” He coughed and, as if reading from a script, explained, “THEY ARE ALSO TASKED WITH PERFORMING VARIOUS SECRET DUTIES AROUND THE UNDERGROUND, INCLUDING ANYTHING TO PROTECT THE CROWN AND MAINTAIN THE LONGEVITY OF THE UNDERGROUND.”

“that sounds… vague.”

“TRADITIONALLY THEY WERE THE ONES THAT COLLECTED HUMAN SOULS FOR THE ROYAL FAMILY.”

Sans paused as they reached the top of the staircase. “wait. they kill the humans?”

“BACK WHEN THEY FELL DOWN HERE, YES. IT WAS A COMPROMISE THAT KING ASGORE AND QUEEN TORIEL MADE AFTER THEIR CHILDREN DIED.” Papyrus tilted his head at Sans. “YOU MENTIONED THE HUMAN SOULS BACK AT THE LAB, SO THE HUMANS MUST HAVE BEEN KILLED, BUT… IF YOU DO NOT HAVE DELTAS THERE, THEN WHO…?”

“uh. the judge.”

“…YOU?!”

“i never killed anyone, no. it was my duty, but… the only ‘human’ that showed up was the anomaly. the rest were before my time.”

“OH.”

Papyrus straightened his posture and wobbled to the door. Sans followed, his soul racing with an indescribable anxiety. For some reason, he felt the need to justify himself.

“judges were only supposed to wear them down anyway. the king was the one who dealt the final blow.”

And, though he didn’t say it, he wasn’t sure he could’ve done even that had anyone other than the anomaly shown up for Judgement. Hurting people, getting them killed… that just wasn’t the way he did things.

Well, not unless he was pushed. The anomaly had really tested the limits of his credo.

“I AM SURPRISED THAT THE QUEEN ALLOWED THAT.”

“she didn’t. she disappeared decades ago. left after an argument.”

“THAT… IS ALSO SURPRISING,” Papyrus said as he removed his clothing. Knowing that Paps was too tired to realize what he was doing, Sans politely looked away, heat suffusing his face. “THE QUEEN MUST BE VERY DIFFERENT BACK IN YOUR WORLD.”

“it feels like everything is different.”

“YES. LIKE THE JUDGES. HERE THEY OVERLOOK THE COURTS.” He yawned loudly. “WHEN YOU SAID YOU WERE A JUDGE, I THOUGHT THAT WAS WHAT YOU MEANT.”

“we had those too, but yeah, that’s different from being asgore’s judge. the judge.”

“THAT SEEMS LIKE A DANGEROUS JOB.”

The soft rustling of clothing ended and Sans garnered a guess that it was safe to look up. Sure enough, Papyrus was in his pajamas, complete with a nightcap. He climbed into bed, taking care to fluff the pillow before resting on it.

“I AM SURPRISED YOU TOOK ON THAT DUTY.”

“like i said, i know my way around magic.”

“THAT IS… VERY DIFFERENT FROM MY BROTHER. HE COULD NOT USE MAGIC TO GET HIMSELF OUT OF A PAPER BAG.”

“that’d have to be a pretty big paper bag to get stuck in it.”

“HMPH. YES, A LARGE PAPER BAG. AND HE WOULD HAVE TO BE LIKE A GIANT CAT TO GET STUCK IN IT,” Papyrus replied sleepily.

“a cat?” Sans asked, amused.

“YES. THAT FITS. SLEEPY AND LAZY AND ENDS UP IN PLACES HE SHOULD NOT BE.”

“now that sounds like me.”

“NO,” Papyrus murmured as his eyes drifted shut. “YOU ARE VERY, VERY DIFFERENT FROM HIM.”

“completely different? well, huh. you’re not that much different from my bro.”

“I… DID NOT SAY COMPLETELY,” Papyrus said as a blush spread on his face. “JUST… DIFFERENT. IN GOOD WAYS.”

Sans’s soul warmed. Though he kept it to himself, the statement reminded him of what Paps had said when he had stood up to Gaster. Papyrus obviously admired him. Much like Sans admired him.

Just… probably not in the same way.

“well, glad i made such a good impression then.”

Sans pulled the covers to Papyrus’s chin, tucking the corners under his shoulders so he was snug. A soft sigh fell from Papyrus’s teeth as the tension unfolded from his expression.

“THANK YOU, SANS….”

And like flipping a switch, Papyrus fell asleep, his snores much quieter than even his softest indoor voice. A soft smile spread across Sans’s face as he sat on the ground and watched Papyrus with a growing fondness.

Chapter Text

A tremor shook the ground, knocking a clipboard off the nearby counter. Without thinking, Sans caught it mid-air and tucked it under his arm as the vibration quickly subsided.

“N-nice catch!”

“huh? oh, heh, thanks.”

He had already resumed checking the data on his computer, not even registering that he had set the clipboard back on the counter. Considering he had only been working here for only a few days, it was strange how fast he had gotten used to the earthquakes, but they were practically nonstop in this region of Hotland, so he supposed that was to be expected.

To be honest, he was kind of glad. Better to get used to a little bit of shaking than to have a near panic attack at every little vibration. So long as it didn’t jostle his chest, he was fine with them.

“I need to go check on the infrastructure,” Alphys said, standing up from her workstation. “Y-you good here?”

Sans nodded absentmindedly as he scrolled through another document. “grab me a snack while you’re out there?”

“Sure, what do you want?”

“eh, whatever. y’know i’m not picky.”

She scurried off, the weighted door closing with a loud click.

Sans stretched his arms, glad he wasn’t stuck on earthquake duty. It mostly involved going to the various department heads and ensuring that their various experiments were stable and undamaged. Since most of the lab was newly built and constructed around the seismic activity, it was pretty much just a lot of running around; definitely not Sans’s forte. Alphys was certainly getting her daily exercise though.

His newly-acquired phone – thanks, Alphys – buzzed in his lab coat pocket. One new message from Papyrus. With a faint smile, he opened up the text.

9:07 PM: DID YOU FEEL THAT? IT SHOOK THE POTS AND PANS. IT MUST HAVE BEEN WORSE THERE.

Sans quickly typed out a reply:

9:09 PM: * wasn’t too bad. knocked a couple things down, but nothing broke.

Papyrus immediately sent another text:

9:09 PM: EVEN UNDYNE WAS WONDERING IF YOU WERE OKAY! SHE SENT ME A TEXT ASKING IF YOU WERE FEELING OKAY!

Sans cringed.

9:09 PM: * ??? about the earthquake?

9:10 PM: WHAT ELSE COULD IT MEAN?

9:10 PM: * did she send it before or after the earthquake

9:10 PM: WELL I SAW IT AFTER THE EARTHQUAKE.

9:10 PM: OH! APPARENTLY IT WAS SENT BEFORE THEN. WOOPSIES!

9:10 PM: * don’t think that’s what she was asking about then

9:10 PM: OH.

9:10 PM: WAIT, WHAT SHE TALKING ABOUT THEN?

9:11 PM: WAIT AGAIN!!! NEVER MIND! DISREGARD THAT LAST MESSAGE!!!!!

9:11 PM: * ok

Sans ignored the discomfort building in his chest as he waited for the next message.

9:11 PM: WILL YOU BE MUCH LATER? IT IS ALREADY 9!

9:12 PM: * not sure. i’m waiting for the doc to check in

Just as he sent off the message, the door once again closed from behind him.

“forget something?” he called out, still staring at his phone. “or are you dropping off some chisps?”

“Eating is not allowed in the lab.”

Sans stiffened but forced a smile onto his face before swiveling his seat to face Gaster. Speak of the devil.

“heh, was wondering when you’d get here. you sure are working late.”

“As are you. You’ll find that most of us work extra hours here.”

“not me though. i’m way too lazy for that.”

“You are?” Gaster asked skeptically. “Then why are you still here?”

“does it really count as ‘work’ if i’m just working on personal projects?”

“Why wouldn’t it?”

“well, i don’t know. it’s not like i’m working for the greater good of society like you. that’s gotta wear you thin.”

Gaster folded his arms against his chest. “I could do without the sarcasm.”

Sans’s smile slipped. “it wasn’t sarcasm, but alright.” He shook his head. “what brings you to this lonely stretch of the woods anyway? checking up on me or on alphys? she’s already doing her rounds.”

“Of course she is. Dr. Alphys knows better than to dawdle when it comes to that.” Gaster dragged a stool to Sans’s workstation and sat down next to him. “I’m checking up on you.”

Sans wanted to say that it was about time, but he swallowed the remark, knowing full well that Gaster wouldn’t accept the attitude.

Besides, Gaster hadn’t been all bad since their initial meeting. A little rough around the edges, sure, but, hey, it was difficult working with someone that looked exactly like the friend that you thought had killed themself.

It wasn’t like he didn’t know the feeling.

“well, i’m almost through with the reports.”

All of them?” He pulled up a chair next to the desk and peered at Sans’s screen.

“yup. you’d be surprised what a little bit of desperation will do. i mean, not that i don’t find –“ He squinted at the report he had pulled up and read the title aloud, “– ‘measuring the core: electron counts in the surrounding igneous rock’ an interesting read, but i think most monsters’ eyes would’ve gone cross by now.”

“Then it is a good thing you use eyelights.”

“heh, yeah, i see your point.”

“Hilarious.”

“yeah, thanks.”

They were quiet for a bit while Gaster skimmed several reports over Sans’s shoulder.

“This doesn’t seem relevant.

“well i’m looking everywhere, but i don’t think there is anything.”

“I am sure there is something. Our readings of the Core are quite extensive given the seismic activity.”

“yeah,” Sans sighed, disappointed that Gaster hadn’t gotten the hint, “you’ve mentioned.”

A lot. It was all he ever talked about. The entire lab was devoted to either stopping the earthquakes or producing an alternative energy source to the Core’s geothermal power plant. Apparently most of the monsters were off building fluidized bed gasifiers to turn the flowers into ethanol.

Or something like that. Even though Alphys wasn’t assigned to the project, she always got really excited when she talked about it. She’d speak so fast that he’d have a hard time keeping up.

“Then I shall mention it again. I have neither the time nor the resources to develop an instrument to measure –”

“well, you don’t need to then. we’ve got alphys. i can try to walk her through it.”

“Hmph.”

“now, doc, come on, you gotta admit alphys knows what she’s doing when it comes to building that sorta stuff.”

“And yet here I am wasting her on this ridiculous project.”

“was she really doing anything that important before?”

As far as he could tell, Alphys had been stuck on dead-end projects for a long time, and no matter how many times he asked why, he never got a straight answer.

“Even if she were to create this supposed instrument, who would take the measurements?”

“me, obviously. and alphs if you’d allow her.”

Gaster scowled. Dr. Alphys,” he said, putting emphasis on the name, “is one monster. And you make two. You need a team.”

“why?”

“It is the standard procedure.”

Sans dragged his hand down his face. “is that all you ever care about?”

“Why would I not care about something like that?” Gaster snapped. “It is paramount to proper experimentation! How could we replicate the results without being precise in everything we do?”

Sans shrugged. “i’m not arguing that we don’t need to document it, but i just don’t see why we need a team for a one monster job.”

Gaster’s spectral hands made a dismissing motion. “You have never understood the need for rules.”

“look,” Sans said, his frustration reaching its boiling point, “you’re clearly not my doc, and i’m not your sans, so i’d appreciate if you stopped confusing me with him, okay?”

“And what was your ‘Doc’ like?” Gaster asked, using his physical hands to punctuate his sarcasm with air quotes.

“he didn’t get hung up on the small stuff like you do.”

“Well, if that’s all.”

“no, that’s not all.” Sans grabbed his chest as the pain suddenly spiked. “he was smart. i think the smartest monster i’ve ever met. and really brave. he had to be to just… throw himself into the experiment like that. heh. literally.”

“You call it brave. I call it exceptionally foolish.”

Sans clenched his fist. “like you haven’t gotten over-invested in a project before.”

Gaster shut up real fast. Sans’s satisfaction was short-lived, however; Gaster’s hands, which had been animated in conversation just seconds ago, fell to his lap, as if he had given up completely on talking. Worse yet, Sans swore that he could see the shadow of tears near his sockets.

Oh no, Sans wasn’t having any of that. If he was going to make Gaster cry, he wanted to at least know the cause of those tears. Better yet, how about no tears at all? As much as Gaster pissed him off, he didn’t think the relationship was unsalvageable.

“you know,” Sans said, softening his tone, “my doc also had a sense of humor.”

“AN-d I dNon’t?”

Without the help of his hands, Sans struggled to understand him, but he made do.

“pfft, i don’t know, you tell me. have you ever – oh, wait a sec, what’s that?”

He pointed towards the one of buttons running down Gaster’s coat.

“WEhat?”

When Gaster glanced down, Sans took the opportunity to flick his nose bridge.

“OhH!” Gaster cried as he brought his physical hands to his face.

“woops, looks like it was just my finger. heh heh.”

Though hidden behind his hands, a reluctant smile stretched across Gaster’s face. It was only there for a couple of seconds before he dismissed it with a heavy sigh, but Sans still counted it as a victory.

“guess you do got a sense of humor. nice.”

“I don’t qualify that as a joke,” Gaster said, resuming the use of his spectral hands. “Or a laugh.”

“welp.” Sans shrugged. “can’t say i didn’t try.”

“Fine,” Gaster said, rolling his eyes, though with the hint of a smirk. “It was a little funny.”

“nice. score one for me.” Sans chuckled. “y’know, i missed this.”

Gaster sobered. “What?”

“joking around with you. reading reports. talking about experiments.” He gestured around him. “all of this.”

“I don’t understand why you stopped then.”

“i tried. i really did. it’s how i got the ability to teleport. but you try working on a problem on your own for years, knowing that time is ticking away until it all goes to crap.”

“You mean the human,” Gaster stated plainly.

“yeah, the anomaly.”

“Hush!” He flashed his gaze back at the door, as if worried someone was standing on the other side listening.

Sans huffed. “listen, the anomaly is the central issue to my problem, so why do you hush me every time i bring it up? i get that it’s weird, but no one will care if they find out i’m from another universe.”

“That… is not what I mean.” He massaged his temples. “We had an anomaly issue here as well, but we do not speak of it.”

As soon as he said the words, he lowered his hands, eyes wide.

“wh–?” Sans blinked. “you had a what?”

“It is not relevant.”

“why not? that seems pretty relevant!”

“It isn’t. I promise you.”

“what the hell does that even mean?!”

“Never mind. Forget I said anything.”

“i don’t think so!” Sans got to his feet, soul pounding. “you gotta tell me what the hell kinda anomaly you meant!”

Be quiet,” Gaster hissed through closed teeth.

“no!”

“If I thought it could help get you out of my way, I’d just tell you, but it is of no concern to you.”

“you –”

The door to the lab opened again, and Gaster gestured for Sans to be quiet.

“Oh! D-Dr. Gaster!” Alphys exclaimed as she approached with a bag of nacho-flavored chisps. “W-when did you get here?”

“It has been some time.”

“I-I’m so sorry! I was checking for damage, and then the stupid vending machine ate my money and I had to wait for maintenance, and then while I was there I met doctor –”

“You’re not supposed to eat food in the lab rooms.”

“O-Of course not! Heh heh. We were, uh, going to go out in the hall! R-right, Sans?”

But Sans was still fuming over the conversation with Gaster.

“doc, listen, if you can give me any info about the anomaly, i can –”

Gaster slammed his hand down on the counter. “Enough! When I tell you to drop a topic, I expect you to listen!”

“this is my life we’re talking about here!”

“And it also my life! It has no bearing on your situation, so there will be no more discussion on the matter!”

A tense silence fell between them as Alphys looked wildly between the two.

“Uhhhh….”

Gaster stood up, anger scrawled on his face. “If there are no other developments, then I shall be going home. Message me when you finish the reports. And Dr. Alphys, I expect a report on the damage by 9am on the dot tomorrow morning.”

“doc!”

But Gaster ignored him and left the room, slamming the door behind him. Alphys’s eyes darted between the front of the room and Sans.

“G-gosh, what did you do?”

Sans threw up his hands. “he says there was an anomaly here too!”

“Um, what?” She set the chisps down on the counter. “There was nothing like that here. W-well, there were humans, obviously, but they weren’t like your human….”

“well, he insists there was and that it isn’t relevant to me. what the hell? why the fuck wouldn’t he tell me?! i need that info to get back home!”

“Hmmm,” she said, appearing contemplative. “Maybe.”

“what? you disagree?”

“N-no. It’s just, just, um….” Her hands were now squeezing the life out of her bundled up lab coat. “Listen, back home, did you… were you…?” She trailed off.

“what?”

“Umm…. I know! Wh-what did you work with back at your old lab?”

“wh – i already told you. trying to figure out a way around the anomaly.”

“And you worked with Dr. Gaster?”

“yeah. i mean, he’d never ask me to call him something so formal, but yeah, i worked with ‘dings.”

“Okay, so ‘Dings… Um… Did y-you tell everything to your brother? About him and the project, I mean.”

“no, obviously not.” His soul twitched with a slicing pain at the thought of Papyrus, but he ignored it as best he could.

“E-even though you and your brother were close?”

“what’s your point?”

“S-Sans here, uh, well, he was close to Dr. Gaster.”

“yeah, they dated, i know. papyrus told me. he and i didn’t do that back home. we were just friends.”

“Oh, um. Y-yeah, but I mean… beyond dating? S-Sans and him worked on some real top-secret stuff together.” She coughed. “I think that’s why he’s such a stickler for following procedure. They had to for that project.”

“he says it’s to maintain the integrity of science or whatever.”

“W-well, yes. Hmm.”

She popped open her bag of chisps and promptly stuffed one in her mouth before passing the bag to Sans. He dug in.

“I think his attitude is more because of whatever happened on that project. H-he and Sans had their, erm, falling out not too long after that. N-not that I think that’s related, but um… It’s just something that was a sticking point with him.” She glanced sideways at Sans. “A-anyway, it was right around the time he, um, er, made me his lab assistant, and I r-remember how much of a stickler Dr. Gaster was for it.”

Sans shook his head, passing the bag back to Alphys. “y’know, i don’t understand how you were the doc’s assistant in the first place.”

“N-no, not Dr. Gaster’s assistant. Sans’s.”

“wait, what?”

“S-Sans hired me right out of th-the university to work on some stuff for the Core. Didn’t you… W-was that… Was your version of me…?”

“if you’re asking how my alphys and me met, it was back in our doctorate program. ‘dings hired us around the same time. she went the engineering path, i did the quantum physics stuff.”

“O-oh. Y-yeah, I think Sans graduated a couple years before me. He was… a prodigy. Heh.”

“eh. i doubt that.”

“N-no, really, he was younger than me and already basically the head of the lab with Dr. Gaster. Th-that’s amazing!” She exhaled. “Was that how it was for you too?”

“i mean… i graduated early, but so did she. besides, the situation here isn’t the same.”

“How?”

“nothing in our lab was like yours is. most people didn’t want to do the experimental side of stuff, so anyone that graduated in stem basically started working in the core, which was like… a separate entity from the rest of us. ‘dings oversaw it, but it was like… as an equal to the head of the core program.

“so the lab was tiny. we only had a handful of people working there.”

“Wow.”

“yeah, and we were all pretty much equals.” Sans glowered. “none of this ‘go check out the earthquake damage, alphys’ or snapping in your face demanding you do what he says right then. ‘dings never would’ve done that to me or you! we didn’t lord power over one another.”

“Heh. Well. Um. Sans was technically under Dr. Gaster, but, um, everyone th-thought of them as the top dogs here. M-metaphorically speaking.”

“well, i don’t give a crap about how he treated sans. he treats you like garbage!” he said, not bothering to hold back anymore. “doesn’t even value your work at all!”

“W-well, that, uh, makes sense.”

how? you have every right to be here!”

“Did… Did you… W-were you… Didn’t you and…?”

Sans frowned, waiting for Alphys to just say it straight.

“N-never mind.” She tugged at her coat again. “It’s not important.”

“come on, alphs, tell me.”

Alphys groaned. “Okay, I….” Her face brightened momentarily and then quickly sobered again. “I-I used to work with this bioenergy stuff, but I got taken off the project a long time ago. A-after I let an i-important sample get… destroyed, it was the final straw for me. Heh heh. Lucky I h-have a job here still.”

“but that was after the other version of me left here, right?”

“Y-yes,” she said, avoiding his gaze.

“so who were you working under then? not him, right?”

“Oh. Well, everyone reports into him. But, um, at the time, no. I, um, was moved to a different department. A few. Heh. N-no one wanted me around. A-anything to do with S-Sans, was, um… well, heh… But, you know, I’m just blessed? No, that’s not the right word. Honored? Fortunate? Y-yeah, fortunate. I’m fortunate and th-thankful they keep me around.”

Something still felt off about this whole conversation. Like a missing fact that was keeping Sans from comprehending fully. But he didn’t know what to ask about, and frankly, it could just as easily be Alphys’s anxiety confusing the issue.

So he simply shook his head and responded, “still doesn’t mean he should treat you like garbage.”

“M-maybe not. Oh! Garbage! That reminds me! Dr. Zhen! I can’t believe I forgot! Heh heh!”

“huh? who? is dr. zhen a jerk or something?”

“O-oh, that’s not what I meant,” she said, slapping a hand to her cheek. “The garbage part is because we’re eating garbage. Dr. Zhen isn’t garbage. G-gosh, I hope she isn’t still outside.” She whipped around. “D-do you think she heard me?”

“i have no idea who you’re talking about, but probably not.”

“Dr. Zhen. She’s the doctor in charge of the trait extractor unit.”

That familiar chill ran up Sans’s spine as the image of the extractor flooded his mind. “oh. what about her?”

“I ran into her at the vending machine. She says she can look at you tomorrow!”

“tomorrow? i thought she wouldn’t be able to until next week?”

Alphys nodded. “She said it was the best time since she’s here all night for an observation anyway.” She frowned. “A-are you up for it? I’ll need to let her know –”

“yeah, count me in.”

“Are you sure? I know it can take some m-mental preparation for that thing.”

“the sooner i can fix my teleportation, the sooner i can even think about getting home.”

“R-right.”

“you’re gonna be there, right?”

“Yeah! I mean, uh, if you want me there?”

“yeah. i’d appreciate it.” Sans rubbed the back of his skull. “i’ve been through that thing more times than i can remember, and not all of it for scans. it’s not exactly fun.”

“I know. I, er, used to work with it a lot a few years ago.”

“loud, right?”

“V-very loud.” She shuddered. “Reminds me of that scene in Lurren Galann when Makina gets crushed in his mecha!”

“uh, don’t think i’ve seen that.”

Alphys gasped, the empty bag of chisps falling from her hands as she covered her mouth. “Y-you’ve never seen Lurren Galann?”

“is it that magical cat girl anime?”

“No!” she shouted, clearly offended. “Mew Mew Kissy Cutie is nothing like – B-but wait! That means you have to see it!” She clasped both of Sans’s shoulders. “Let’s marathon it!”

“now? it’s 10:30, alphs.”

“So? I-it’s only 27 episodes!”

27?”

“It’s only the first half that counts anyway! C-come on! I know you’d totally appreciate the dark undertones.”

“i still got a bunch of reports to go through.”

“And I still have to write up my earthquake summary. You can k-keep me company!”

“what about getting home?”

“I, er, have sleeping bags in my office?”

“why do you have those?”

“You think Dr. Grumpster doesn’t keep me here all the time?”

“wow. nice name.”

“Eheh. I have some other names for him too.”

“pfft. yeah, i bet.” He beamed. “alright, you convinced me.”

“R-really?” she said, straightening. “You mean it?”

“yeah, i could use a break.” He nodded towards Alphys’s laptop. “we watching on there?”

“S-sure!”

Heh. So much for her getting that report done. He was pretty sure that had been an excuse anyway.

---

To Sans’s delight, the next several hours were spent watching a stupid anime, eating vending machine junk food, and cracking jokes about the awful fanservice.

“wow, she sure is titillating,” Sans said when he caught Alphys staring at the main female character, clad in a bikini string set of ‘armor.’ “bet you’d have the breast time dating her.”

“I’m taken, Sans,” Alphys said with a sarcastic smile. “But if Undyne wants to share, I’m not arguing.”

“heh, she’s a generous monster, huh?”

Alphys blushed. “O-oh, I was just joking.”

“pfft, so was i.”

“Oh! Y-yeah, heh heh.” She rubbed her cheeks. “O-obviously.”

“and don’t think i didn’t see you checking out makina’s family jewels.” He winked.

“Hmph.” She tossed a bag of popato chisps at Sans’s face. “Like you weren’t looking yourself.”

“hey, what can i say? smarts, looks, killer jewelry set? he’s the whole package.”

“Boo!”

The entire evening went like that. He had to admit that the anime itself was pretty good, despite the number of boob shots. The main highlight of the evening, however, was chilling with Alphys. It had been ages since their last hangout, and even if this Alphys wasn’t his Alphys, she was definitely the same monster.

They ended up getting caught up in the show until around episode twenty, at which point someone tried to enter the room for actual lab purposes. Alphys jumped up, ushering Sans out of the room with a string of flustered apologies. Secretly, Sans was grateful. It was already past five and he was ready to fall over.

As Alphys pulled out the ratty old sleeping bags, Sans tiredly pulled out his phone to set an alarm and saw that he had nine missed messages from Papyrus. Crap.

9:12 PM: HE HAS NOT DONE SO YET?

9:12 PM: TELL HIM YOU ARE BUSY AND NEED TO GET HOME!

9:12 PM: BECAUSE IT IS TRUE! YOU DO! I DO NOT FEEL COMFORTABLE WITH YOU STAYING SO LATE. I WOULD NOT BE SURPRISED IF MUFFET HAS MONSTERS TRACKING YOU.

9:15 PM: MAYBE I SHOULD COME PICK YOU UP.

9:15 PM: THAT IS A GOOD IDEA! THAT WAY I CAN HAVE SOME WORDS WITH DOCTOR GASTER ABOUT HIS LACKADAISICAL ATTITUDE TOWARD PUNCTUALITY.

9:20 PM: SANS? ARE YOU GOING TO ANSWER YOUR MESSAGES?

9:25 PM: HMMM. ON SECOND THOUGHT, I URGE YOU TO STAY AS LATE AS YOU CAN BECAUSE I HAVE BUSINESS TO ATTEND TO. PRIVATE BUSINESS. I HOPE THAT IS ALRIGHT WITH YOU.

12:53 AM: SANS? ARE YOU AWAKE?

2:31 AM: SANS?

Ugh…. Sans debated for a few seconds whether he should reply this late. Deciding it wouldn’t be kind to keep Paps guessing when he woke up in a couple of hours, he shot off a message.

5:11 AM: * sorry was busy with alphys and the doc. you done masturbating?

To his surprise, Papyrus answered within seconds.

5:11 AM: I WAS NOT DOING ANYTHING LIKE THAT!!!!!

5:11 AM: THAT IS SO INAPPROPRIATE!!!!

5:11 AM: private business is clearly code. masturbation seemed like the best fit

5:11 AM: YOU WERE WORKING WITH DR. GASTER AND ALPHYS THAT WHOLE TIME?

5:11 AM: NO!!!! PRIVATE BUSINESS MEANS PRIVATE BUSINESS!!! NOT… THAT!!!

5:12 AM: * nah, took a break and lost track of time, sorry

5:12 AM: * i’m gonna stay here for the night

5:12 AM: * wait were you still up or just waking up

5:12 AM: YOU ARE AWAKE THIS LATE? SANS!

5:12 AM: OH. OKAY.

5:12 AM: BOTH!

5:12 AM: * how can it be both

5:12 AM: I TOOK A POWER NAP! NOW IT IS TIME TO START THE DAY!

5:12 AM: * how long was this power nap? like one of my power naps or?

5:12 AM: NO, OF COURSE NOT! MY POWER NAP WAS ABOUT 10 MINUTES, GIVE OR TAKE THIRTY SECONDS!

5:13 AM: * paps that’s not a power nap

5:13 AM: * you can sleep in until like 8 right

5:13 AM: NO I CANNOT! I HAVE AN EXTRA EARLY MORNING AND A FULL DAY AHEAD OF ME! THERE IS NO MORE TIME FOR REST!

5:13 AM: HOWEVER, I HOPE YOU GET PLENTY OF SLEEP. I CANNOT BELIEVE YOU STAYED UP THIS LATE.

5:13 AM: * heh dont worry about me, falling asleep is so easy i can do it with my eyes closed

5:13 AM: HILARIOUS.

5:13 AM: * i know, ty

5:14 AM: * maybe try to get a few winks in today, ok?

5:14 AM: WINK? WHY WOULD I WINK? I DO NOT THINK CAPTAIN UNDYNE WOULD APPRECIATE MY FLIRTING.

5:14 AM: * good point i don’t think alphs would either

5:14 AM: * anyway good night

5:14 AM: GOOD NIGHT, SANS. SLEEP WELL! <3

Warmth blossomed in his chest. The heart emoji. Holy crap. He stared at the message, savoring every pixel as his chest expanded with a happiness so profound his fingers began clattering against the screen.

He only tore his gaze away from the phone when he realized that the room had gone deathly silent. Confused, and slightly embarrassed, he glanced around.

However, Alphys was paying him no attention; her eyes were similarly transfixed on her own phone, filled with adoration. Directly behind her were the sleeping bags, strewn halfway out of their crumpled box. She had apparently abandoned the job just as Sans had started texting.

He coughed pointedly. “need help with that?”

She jumped and had to scramble to clutch at her phone as it slipped from her sweaty palms. “O-oh! S-sorry, I, uhhhh, got distracted! Heh heh!”

“no big deal,” Sans said, shrugging. “think we both did.”

“Y-yeah! W-we did.” Her face was beet red as she rushed to pull the sleeping bags out completely. “Umm, d-did you want the pink or the blue?”

Both sleeping bags were printed with disjointed images of scantily clad anime girls from, presumably, Mew Mew Kissy Cutie.

“wow, alphys, forget the body pillows – you can just sleep inside the girls with these.” He winked.

“Sh-shut up!” She threw the pink sleeping bag at Sans’s face. Sans caught it with a smile and laid it out on the floor next to the desk as Alphys unrolled hers nearby.

Once the two of them had snuggled into their respective spaces, Sans tiredly asked, “hey alphs?”

“Y-yes?”

“how long have you and undyne been dating?”

“Um, I don’t know? About a year? Wait, shoot! D-did I miss our anniversary? No wait,” she said with a long sigh, “I-it’s next month.” She twisted to face him. “Why do you ask?”

“was just curious. the alphys in my universe had a big crush on undyne, but she never made any moves on her.”

“O-oh.” She scratched her snout. “We had been flirting with the idea, no pun intended, for a while, I think, but er, I-I don’t think we really decided to go for it until after Sans died,” she said apologetically. “I think seeing P-Papyrus in such grief, well, it really made us decide what was important in life.”

“huh.” He scratched his nose bridge. “you know, i just had a weird thought.”

“What?”

“can’t help but wonder if my death would be the catalyst for you two dating in every universe. like maybe you two are going at things in my universe now that i’m gone.”

If Undyne and Alphys had made it. Which they hadn’t.

“That’s morbid.” Alphys adjusted her glasses. “And probably inaccurate.”

“what makes you say that?”

“I-I’d like to think that the two of us would’ve gotten together whether you died or not. H-heck, maybe we would’ve given it a shot earlier if you hadn’t died. Undyne was consoling Papyrus for months before we agreed to date.”

“so you think it was inevitable that you two would date?”

She reddened. “I-I don’t know!”

“you like her that much, huh?”

Alphys beamed. “Yeah. I know it sounds pretty silly, but she offers things that no other monster can.”

“man, i don’t wanna hear about your gill fetish.”

“Oh my God, Sans! I-I’d throw something at you but all I have are my glasses and phone.”

“i bet i’d look great with frames.”

“God, sh-shut it!” She sighed, her face transfixed with what was obviously love. “B-but no, I mean… Like if I hear that she’s doing well with an assignment, I-I’m glowing with pride for her! And when she comes over to watch anime with me, she actually enjoys it. I-it’s not her just walking through the motions. Sh-she cares!”

“yeah. similar interests are good.”

“I-it’s not just that though! You know that warm feeling in your chest when you love someone with all your soul?”

He knew it all too well. Papyrus. The perfect monster. So full of positive energy, it almost hurt. He knew exactly how to make Sans smile….

Sans’s chest was so painful at the sudden memory of him, beaming at him with all the care and love in the world, that he had to force himself to think of someone else.

Papyrus. Not his brother. This Papyrus. The one from this universe. When he grinned, Sans’s soul leapt. When he was upset, Sans felt like crying too. He was spectacular. He was amazing! He was…

Crap. When had this happened? The hell was he even thinking?

“yeah,” he replied, shaking his head. “i know what you mean.”

She smiled. “Well, that’s what she does for me. I’m just so happy! And… secure!”

“secure?”

“Y-yeah. Like... secure because I know Undyne l-loves me.” She blushed furiously. “Gosh, that’s mortifying to say!”

“why? it’s true, isn’t it?”

She nodded. “Still embarrassing.” With a cough, she continued, “But, I didn’t even mean just that. She also provides security in other ways. R-really selfish ways, honestly.”

“you mean like financial security?”

“No, I don’t really have to worry about money. A-as much as I haven’t gotten a pay raise in… three? Four years? That’s never bothered me. I’m no stranger to garbage diving.”

“then what?”

“I-I mean like physical security. Have you seen her muscles, Sans?”

“she is pretty beefy. fishy? muscle-y, for sure.”

Alphys was nodding frantically. “The strongest in the Underground, for sure! W-well,” her gaze flitted around the room, as if afraid of being heard, “besides the Queen and King, obviously. Eheh. But, um, yeah, she could honestly beat up anyone.”

“good thing she doesn’t though, right?”

“What do you mean? It’s in her job description! Just the other day, we went out to dinner together and this dumb, idiotic, good-for-nothing pickpocket tried to steal my wallet. Ha! Undyne beat them within an inch of their life!”

“i – what? are you serious?”

“Yeah, can you believe that moron? You can imagine the look on their face when they realized who they had messed with. Heh heh heh!”

“uh…” He inspected her face for any sign that she was joking or being sarcastic but found none.

“The way she flexed her muscles.” She sighed in remembrance. “I-it was almost enough to distract me from the near-crushing anxiety attack I had r-right after.” She chuckled.

“heh.” Maybe it would’ve been a bit funnier if she wasn’t serious.

“B-but I’m sure you get it! Your brother protects you, right?”

“he’s not my bro,” he reminded her quietly as he rubbed at his chest.

“Oh! W-well, I actually meant your brother, not, um, Papyrus from here. You and your brother, uh, get along back home, right?”

“yeah, we were best friends.”

And Sans had been a terrible big brother because his feelings had gone well beyond brotherhood or friendship in his heart. But he couldn’t say that. He wouldn’t say that.

So he changed the subject instead.

“kinda guessing that papyrus and the other sans didn’t get along.”

“I – er, um, I don’t –” She burrowed into her blanket, and, though her were words muffled, she confessed, “I-I know they had some problems, yeah.”

“like… suicide-causing problems?”

Alphys’s eyes went wide. “I – I honestly couldn’t say. I, erm, d-didn’t talk to either of them when it happened.”

“but you suspect, right?”

“Mmmmm,” Alphys whined. “M-monsters used to say a lot of crap about them, and e-especially about Sans, but, um, I, just, um… tried to avoid listening to those r-rumors.”

“i keep hearing about papyrus holding the other sans prisoner – did you hear that?”

“I-I did, but, um, based on what I know of Papyrus, I really don’t think it’s true…. Sans had a, um, pretty big drug problem. I-I know Papyrus had to detox him n-not too long before he, er, passed.”

She was still smashed into her sleeping bag, her eyes barely peeking out from the edge, but Sans could tell she was hardly keeping it together.

“yeah, papyrus doesn’t really strike me as the type to do anything like that. honestly, i can’t believe how badass he is.”

“We’ve only hung out together a few times so I don’t know him that well, but Undyne says the world about him.”

“yeah?”

“Mmhmm,” she said, sneaking her snout of the bag. “Calls him smart and capable and strong, and he has a quirky sense of humor that has her laughing a lot.”

Even though it wasn’t directed at him, Sans glowed at the praise. Yeah, that was Papyrus alright.

“She says if he can get over his weird, um, hang-ups that he’ll be promoted to an officer rank in no time.”

The warmth, which had been spreading from Sans’s soul to the rest of his bones, stopped. “hang-ups? like what?”

“Um, well, he’s a bit emotional obviously.”

Sans nodded. He definitely had a big soul, and he was pretty… turbulent. Understandable given his loss and the unusual current circumstances.

“Also… Mmm, d-don’t tell anyone that I said this, but Undyne isn’t sure if he could really attack anyone else.”

“what do you mean? i’ve seen him get a little rough before.”

“Yeah, a little. But never enough to really harm anyone.” She sighed. “H-he’s a softie and everyone knows it.”

Sans’s soul sunk. Though it had never been confirmed, he was pretty sure this was exactly why his own brother hadn’t been promoted to the Guard back home. He was always so trusting, and never willing to throw his all into battle. There was always that hesitation – that hope and faith that he didn’t really need to – that kept him from hurting anyone else.

And in this universe? After all he had seen and heard? No. He was surprised Papyrus had gotten into the Royal Guard at all.

“P-please don’t tell him that. I think it’d crush him.”

“i won’t.”

And he wasn’t going to stay quiet for Undyne’s sake. In truth, he didn’t want to tempt Papyrus. If he was emotional enough, maybe, just maybe, he’d be willing to harm another monster, and he didn’t want that.

Alphys yawned noisily. “It’s getting really late.”

“yeah, it is, sorry.”

“Don’t be! Tonight was great.” Her brows turned upwards. “H-honestly, reminds me of back when the other Sans was still around. Back before…” She cleared her throat. “W-well, I guess, what I’m trying to say is that Papyrus is right about you.”

Sans started, heat suffusing his face. “what do you mean?”

“Y-you’re different. Nicer.”

“you’re pretty cool too.”

“Eheh. Thanks, but not really.” She yawned. “Let’s get to bed before Dr. Gaster comes knocking on the door for that dumb report.”

“yeah, good plan. g’night, alphs.”

“’Night!”

She turned off the lights with her phone and twisted to face the wall, but despite what he had said, and despite how tired he was, Sans didn’t sleep immediately. His mind was still caught up on what she had said about Papyrus and his realization about… his feelings? God, what was this? When had this developed?

He tried to put it out of his thoughts. Papyrus was still practically his brother, and it wasn’t like he was staying in this universe, so he needed to nip this in the bud.

Yet it was like his soul was raging war on itself. Like a bastard, he kept thinking “what if?”

It was well into the morning when troubled sleep finally took him.

Chapter Text

*************************************************

The television flickered with static, signaling the end of broadcast for the day. Papyrus, a useless lump on the couch, stared mindlessly at the crackling screen. A backsplash of light danced on the walls, just bright enough to keep him awake.

He knew he ought to get up, turn off the television, and rest in his bed properly for once, but he couldn’t be bothered. It wasn’t really worth it anyway; he didn’t feel like sleeping.

He didn’t feel like doing anything.

So he stayed there, bones heavy with a fatigue so profound that he was almost scared to close his eyes. If he didn’t show up to work, would one of the local sentries end up breaking into the house? More likely his dust would lie here, unperturbed for the rest of time.

Maybe “scared” was the wrong word. It was more like he was… indifferent. Everything felt, looked, and tasted like it was taken from the same swathe of bland grey. Closing his eyes was more an inconvenience than anything else; too much effort when nothing mattered.

His gaze stayed glued to the television. Yes, this was fine. Getting up was too much of a hassle.

As time ticked by – seconds, minutes, hour, however long it was – he fell further and further into his haze. Empty of thought, concern, or feeling. Maybe this was what Captain Undyne experienced when she meditated under her waterfall. Silly, really. He wasn’t reinvigorated at all.

Through his fog, he numbly registered that someone was pounding on his front door. Odd. It was very late. He wasn’t sure how late, but late enough that he knew if he fell asleep right now, he’d be more than exhausted if he showed up to work tomorrow.

He didn’t get up. They could come back later at a normal hour. Then he’d ignore them while it was bright out.

The door splintered open with a resounding crack. Through the threshold came three heavyset monsters – a werewolf, a demon, and a knight knight. They barreled through the room, their heads whipping around until they spotted Papyrus.

The demon monster grabbed him by the front of his shirt, dragging him from his sanctuary.

“Is there a reason you didn’t answer the door?” she demanded, cracking her knuckles.

Papyrus blinked lazily at her.

“Hey, you gonna answer me, you piece of shit?!”

Papyrus had no answer, and even if he did, he was too tired to open his mouth. Instead he hung in the air, immobile.

“Guess he’s thinks he’s funny,” the werewolf snarled.

“We’ll see if he has that sense of humor when we take him in.”

The demon and the knight knight each took hold of one of his arms and propped him on his feet. On his own, he was sure he would’ve swayed, but the two monsters held fast and guided him towards the door. As they exited the building, a cold, wet wind blasted him in the face, all but blinding him. It stung fiercely, but his arms were too heavy to even consider wiping the snow from his sockets.

It didn’t matter much; before long they were whizzing down the river, rushing through the warm, balmy mists of Waterfall and then into Hotland’s oppressive heat. The water evaporated away as they hauled him over the dusty red dirt.

The demon shook him. “Would you walk on your own? God!”

Papyrus was trying, in a detached sort of way, to keep up, but their pace was so brutal and their grips so strong that at some point his feet had given way. The others were left half dragging him, leaving his knees to scrape against the ground.

Much to the demon’s displeasure, he continued to slump forward, his eyes downcast, as they traversed Hotland. It wasn’t long before his pants ripped, allowing the dirt to muddy the raw and bloody bones beneath.

When the orange-red ground transitioned to a more violet shade, Papyrus dully realized where they were headed. Sure enough, the monsters were soon lugging him down the purple-coated corridor, deep into Hotland’s darkest cave. Sticky mats of spider web clung to his pants, threatening to rip off his lower leg bones. Tiny tittering echoed through the cavern as the demon finally grabbed hold of him completely and threw him to the floor.

He remained there, a puddle of bones amongst a sea of gossamer. A new, yet familiar, voice soon joined the chorus of laughter.

“Ahuhuhu~”

Papyrus inched his head upwards. Sitting atop a mountain of thick web, clad in a blue and white dress with oversized bows, was Muffet. A couple of dim, purple-flamed lanterns hung high above, illuminating her as she sipped from an intricately painted teacup. Her smile was radiant, but that didn’t encourage Papyrus; even the Devil grinned when he held all the cards.

She clapped two of her hands together as she set the cup next to her. “Ah, it’s good to see you visiting my parlor, dearie~”

Her children giggled again. The obnoxious noise bounced against every wall until it filled the cavern.

When the sound finally faded away, Papyrus, too tired to even grow irritated, mumbled, “WHAT DO YOU WANT?”

Muffet leaned into one of her palms, her mouth stretching even more. “Where is my money, skeleton?”

Oh. Maybe he wasn’t too tired for irritation. Her speciesist insults always had a way of getting under his metaphorical skin.

Plus, her question was frankly ridiculous.

“SANS IS DEAD,” he stated plainly.

Muffet’s smile slipped. “I’ve heard the rumors. What is your point?”

Papyrus pushed himself into a sitting position. “HE IS DEAD?”

“Yes, you have said that already, dearie.”

“YOU SAID… YOU WOULD ALLOW PAYMENTS ON HIS BEHALF IF I DOUBLED THE PAYMENT. AND I AGREED TO –”

She held up one of her hands. “Ah, no, no. Speak concisely, love. What are the precise details of our little arrangement~?”

“I…” He wrapped his arms around himself. “I AGREED TO MAKE PAYMENTS TOWARDS HIS DEBT, UNDER THE CONDITION THAT IT WAS DOUBLED. AND IN RETURN YOU AGREED NOT TO KILL SANS OR… OR MAKE HIM SELL HIS BODY.”

“Very good~” she praised, her voice dripping with sickly sweet condescension.

“HE IS DEAD NOW, SO… THE DEAL CANNOT BE COMPLETED.”

Muffet stood up, tutting Papyrus softly. “Oh, you silly skeleton.” She opened her arms. “Is your brother still selling himself to the riffraff?”

“NO.”

Muffet slid down her throne and stopped just short of Papyrus. “And did I kill him?”

Papyrus flinched. He wanted to say yes, that it was all her fault, but that wasn’t fair. After all, she hadn’t made him kill himself. That blame lay with Papyrus.

“NO,” he whispered, aiming his gaze towards the floor.

“Then it appears I’m the only one upholding my end of the deal~” She tilted Papyrus’s chin upwards so he was forced to look into her face. “That isn’t a good position to be in~”

Papyrus twisted out of her reach. “THEY ARE NOT MY DEBTS TO PAY.”

Muffet sighed. “They became your debts when you accepted the foolish agreement. And yes, it was quite foolish, to be sure.” When Papyrus glared at her she patted his skull gently. “There, there. I know you never thought he’d go off the deep end, but, ahuhuhu, anyone that knew him well could see he wasn’t stable.”

For a moment, righteous fury burned through Papyrus’s soul, clouding his vision with a mask of red. He could feel the flurry of magic spreading through his bones, giving rise to a spark of energy that he hadn’t felt since Sans’s death. Then, as quickly as it had come, the emotion faded away. A flash in a pan.

She shrugged. “He was bound to end up dead or back on streets as a whore. The little skeleton was quite addicted.”

“AND YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF THAT,” he said, not bothering to keep the contempt out of his tone.

“Well, I do have a business to run, dearie~”

She placed a flat palm to her mouth and shook as if laughing, though no sound came out. That didn’t stop her children from filling the cavern with their glee.

“YOU ARE… DISGUSTING.”

He stood up, ready to leave, but, within seconds, a tight grip landed on his shoulder. The noise died all at once.

With a heavy sigh, he turned around. Muffet’s smile had turned downright venomous.

“Disgusting or not, we had a deal~” Her claw dug into Papyrus’s collarbone. “Do you know what I do to debtors that refuse to pay a debt?”

“SOMETHING TERRIBLE, NO DOUBT.”

“That’s right. I feed them to my pet.”

Continuing to keep a rough hold on Papyrus, she put one of her free hands in her mouth and whistled. For a few seconds all was still. Then, from the darkest recesses of the room, a pair of yellow eyes, each the size of Papyrus’s head, blinked into existence. The cave shook, Muffet’s children snickered, and out came the strangest amalgam of a monster he had ever seen.

It was ugly, needless to say. A mass of purple carapace, complete with long, wet fangs, peeked out of what appeared to be a black cupcake wrapper. Except, upon closer inspection, the wrapper shone with that same almost iridescent quality as the rest of its husk, and its short, stubby spider legs transitioned from black to purple, as if they had grown out of the strange shell. A spider in the shape of a cupcake? Papyrus had never seen anything quite like it before.

Whatever it was, it was huge. Three times the size of Papyrus, at least. And at the beck and call of its master, it bounded over, slamming to a stop only inches from him. It roared ferociously, flecking pools of spit onto his face.

Other than wiping the slobber from his face, Papyrus didn’t react. Muffet had dissolved into giggles, but after a few seconds, both her laughter and her grin faded as she peered at Papyrus’s face.

“You do understand, yes?” She reached up one of her middle arms and scratched under her pet’s chin. “My pet here would make an easy dinner of you~”

“YES. I REALIZE THAT.”

Really, this was a fine way to go. It’d be quick. At least he hoped it would be. Even if it wasn’t, he deserved the pain. Getting eaten alive was a rightful punishment for all that he had done.

“I am willing to negotiate, dearie~”

“I, HOWEVER, AM NOT.”

Her pet sniffed the air, snapping its mandible in Papyrus’s direction.

“IF THIS IS HOW IT SHALL END, THEN SO BE IT.”

Muffet rubbed her chin thoughtfully. After some consideration, she snapped her fingers with one hand and pointed into the shadows with another. Her pet whined, its voice producing a low rumble, but obeyed and returned to whence it came.

“I have a better idea~” she said, her expression brightening again. “You know what we’ll do instead of killing you? Ahuhuhu… We’ll tell the world what really happened behind closed doors.”

Papyrus blinked. “I DO NOT FOLLOW YOUR MEANING.”

“Oh, of course you do, dearie~ It’s no secret that your brother did awful things to you.”

“WHAT? NO HE DID NOT!”

“Sure, he did. Several classmates saw the bruises on your arm. The black eye. The awful gashes.” She leaned in with a wink. “The terrible scars down there~”

Papyrus clenched his fists. “NO CLASSMATE SAW THESE THINGS BECAUSE THEY DID NOT HAPPEN!”

“Oh, sure they did~ After all, it only takes a few gold coins to convince a handful of people, and then suddenly everyone’s memories are changed. Ahuhuhuhu~”

Papyrus blanched. “THAT IS A LIE!”

“A lie? Oh no, dearie~ I would never lie~” Her children laughed. “Not like you!”

“I HAVE NOT LIED!”

“Of course you did… Your brother is still alive, isn’t he?”

“NO, HE IS NOT!” Papyrus exclaimed, getting more desperate.

“Yes, alive and imprisoned in your home. Oh, and who could blame you after all those terrible things that your brother did to you?”

Papyrus’s face was inches from hers now. “HE DID NOT!”

“Except… Oh dear, that’s not why you have him locked up, is it? Oh, you wretched creature. You’ve fallen for him.”

Papyrus’s breath caught. “W-WHAT?”

She patted his cheekbone. “Oh, the whole world knows about your little crush. But who knew that you’d actually go so far to make it a reality?”

Magic ignited within his chest, and with a flash of light he summoned a bone attack right under Muffet’s feet. She dodged, of course, but still stumbled as she bounced backwards.

Immediately, a mess of webs and legs were upon him, wrapping up his appendages before he could even blink. Her non-arachnid cronies also joined, readying their various attacks. Muffet merely beamed.

“Oh~ Finally got some fight in you, I see~” She brushed off her dress. “It’s not a very good idea, I’m afraid. You’re quite weak, and even if you did manage to kill me, everyone here would still tell the Underground of your depravities.”

“YOU HAVE NO PROOF!” he bellowed, trying to shake off the snares, but ending up getting even more tangled.

“I don’t need proof. You don’t have any dust, right?”

Papyrus clenched his eyes shut. He refused to answer.

“That’s what I thought. You’re the only one that saw him die. And all a rumor needs is a hint of the truth, and everyone will fall in line.” He opened his eyes when her hand alighted on his chin again. “Now I know you don’t want that sort of reputation for you or your brother, so be a good skeleton and make your payments.”

Papyrus stared at her, mouth slightly ajar. He would’ve preferred the beast’s teeth. Death had sounded nice after how things had ended up. But he knew if he tried to end it, or if he even fell down, she’d follow through on her threat.

If he killed her, she’d do it.

If he disobeyed, she’d do it.

He had no choice. After all he had done to Sans, after all Sans had done, this last vestige of his memory needed to remain untarnished. Papyrus would do anything to protect his reputation.

*************************************************

The pots and pans trembled with furious vibration as the ground quaked. Though it hardly lasted any time at all, Papyrus’s soul beat with a fervor. He turned off the stove and quickly sent a message to Sans:

9:07 PM: DID YOU FEEL THAT? IT SHOOK THE POTS AND PANS. IT MUST HAVE BEEN WORSE THERE.

Papyrus clutched his chest and sat down at the kitchen table to catch his breath. Usually earthquakes didn’t affect him so badly, but lately he was so tired that everything felt exaggerated and rougher.

He peered down at his phone and saw two messages from Undyne:

6:27 PM: Hey, grunt! I wanted to check in with you about some rumors I’ve been hearing about Muffet lately. Head over to my place in the morning before your rounds.

6:28 PM: Also, how’s the not-Sans doing? The twerp feeling okay?

At the sight of Muffet’s name, his chest tautened. What sort of rumors…?

He shook his head and sent off a fast reply:

9:09 PM: OF COURSE, CAPTAIN. I SHALL ARRIVE AT YOUR DOMICILE FIRST THING TOMORROW MORNING!

9:09 PM: AS FOR SANS, I SHALL ASK HIM.

As he hit send on the last message, a notification of one new message flashed across his screen.

9:09 PM: * wasn’t too bad. knocked a couple things down, but nothing broke.

Papyrus replied immediately, fulfilling his duty to Undyne right away:

9:09 PM: EVEN UNDYNE WAS WONDERING IF YOU WERE OKAY! SHE SENT ME A TEXT ASKING IF YOU WERE FEELING OKAY!

9:09 PM: * ??? about the earthquake?

9:10 PM: WHAT ELSE COULD IT MEAN?

9:10 PM: * did she send it before or after the earthquake

9:10 PM: WELL I SAW IT AFTER THE EARTHQUAKE.

He checked the message.

9:10 PM: OH! APPARENTLY IT WAS SENT BEFORE THEN. WOOPSIES!

9:10 PM: * don’t think that’s what she was asking about then

9:10 PM: OH.

9:10 PM: WAIT, WHAT SHE TALKING ABOUT THEN?

He gaped at Undyne’s message for a few seconds, puzzled. Then it hit him. Sans had told Undyne, at least vaguely, about the event at Grillby’s. With skills only befitting the Great and Terrible Papyrus, he sent off a perfectly constructed message in record time, before Sans could respond.

9:11 PM: WAIT AGAIN!!! NEVER MIND! DISREGARD THAT LAST MESSAGE!!!!!

9:11 PM: * ok

Papyrus waited for another reply, but when none was forthcoming, he decided that a distraction was necessary to avert a disastrous social outcome.

9:11 PM: WILL YOU BE MUCH LATER? IT IS ALREADY 9!

Nailed it!

9:12 PM: * not sure. i’m waiting for the doc to check in

9:12 PM: HE HAS NOT DONE SO YET?

9:12 PM: TELL HIM YOU ARE BUSY AND NEED TO GET HOME!

9:12 PM: BECAUSE IT IS TRUE! YOU DO! I DO NOT FEEL COMFORTABLE WITH YOU STAYING SO LATE. I WOULD NOT BE SURPRISED IF MUFFET HAS MONSTERS TRACKING YOU.

Ugh. He wished that he had not brought up Muffet. The thought of her getting her awful claws on him… Who knew what she’d do with him?

Sans didn’t answer immediately, so he took this perfectly acceptable lull in the conversation as an opportunity to pace the kitchen, his worries scraping at his mind. After a reasonable amount of time, he returned to the chair and sent off another suggestion:

9:15 PM: MAYBE I SHOULD COME PICK YOU UP.

9:15 PM: THAT IS A GOOD IDEA! THAT WAY I CAN HAVE SOME WORDS WITH DOCTOR GASTER ABOUT HIS LACKADAISICAL ATTITUDE TOWARD PUNCTUALITY.

Good. A flawless proposition if he did say so himself. Plus he had used the opportunity to remind Sans how terrible Dr. Gaster was. Because he was! Anger stewed in his soul at the memories of how that horrible man had slandered his brother’s name. Sans had been a lot of things, but he had not been half the things Dr. Gaster had said of him! Especially not the slights against his intelligence!

And now! Now! Now Dr. Gaster was spending all his free time with this new Sans! That liar didn’t deserve the honor of being in his presence for even a fraction of a second! Papyrus knew it was a necessary evil in order to help him out, but…

But where was Sans anyway? Wasn’t he going to reply?!

9:20 PM: SANS? ARE YOU GOING TO ANSWER YOUR MESSAGES?

He tapped his fingers on the table, glaring down at the phone. Maybe he should march right over to the lab, break down Dr. Gaster’s door, and politely inform him that working hours were from 9-5, thank you very much.

No, no. That was a bad idea.

He inhaled. This jealousy was beneath him, he needed to remember that. His focus needed to be on getting Sans home. His safety was of the utmost importance. Dare he say it, it was more important than his brother’s reputation.

Maybe because Muffet had already ruined that. A stray rumor here and there, and the whole Underground seemed to have heard at least an inkling of his brother’s supposed enslavement.

He balled his fists. It all came back to Muffet. She was the one that was putting Sans – both Sanses – in danger. If there was anyone he despised more than Dr. Gaster, it was her. Or maybe Grillby after what he had done to Sans. ARGH! There were just so many despicable monsters!

One thing was certain though: he needed to take care of Muffet.

As he realized his goal, he released a pent-up breath. There was a good chance he’d die tonight, but he had to take that risk if he had any hopes of getting Sans out of this universe unscathed.

And if he did die, at least Dr. Alphys would take care of Sans. After the incident at the lab, he didn’t really want her to hang out with Sans much, but she wasn’t a bad monster. He had fully supported Undyne dating her, after all.

And… he knew he couldn’t truly place the blame on her. His brother had made his choices, just as Papyrus needed to make his.

There was still no reply from Sans, so he typed out a fast message. He just needed him out of the way for as long as possible. If he came home and Papyrus wasn’t there, then, well, he’d probably assume the worst. Rightfully so. The worst would probably happen.

9:25 PM: HMMM. ON SECOND THOUGHT, I URGE YOU TO STAY AS LATE AS YOU CAN BECAUSE I HAVE BUSINESS TO ATTEND TO. PRIVATE BUSINESS. I HOPE THAT IS ALRIGHT WITH YOU.

He could only hope Muffet’s lackeys did not have their eyes on Sans tonight, or if they did, they’d refrain from capturing him if Papyrus approached.

Armed with purpose, he stormed upstairs, removing the purse of gold from his hidden floorboard compartment. It wasn’t enough, not by any means, but perhaps a gesture of goodwill would…?

Knowing it was useless, he shook his head.

---

When he arrived at Muffet’s hideout, two of her guards insisted on escorting Papyrus into the room. He had no idea why; it was not as if he their presence would stop him from attacking, and he had no delusions that any ambush would go successfully. The behavior was quite unusual, even for her.

When he walked into the faintly lit room, the reason became immediately apparent.

Muffet was not in her usual spot; her throne was empty save for the tea set that littered the web. Instead, she hovered ten feet above the ground, skittering frantically around a thrashing ball of silk. Although she wore one of her usual frilly dresses – red and black this time – the fabric sat above her waist, exposing her lower half to the air.

She wasn’t wearing any underwear.

Papyrus gasped and hid behind his hands. Of all the things he had been expecting to see this evening, this had most definitely not been on his list! One of the escorts snorted as they elbowed his side, but he was not going to look up when Muffet was… indecent!

“Ahuhuhu~ I see you’re shy, skeleton~”

He peeked between his fingers. She had stopped moving and now sat upon the wrappings. The sac continued to writhe, though its movements were much less lively than before and getting slower by the second.

Horrifyingly, she still hadn’t covered herself. Her bottom, which was pointed with sharp spinnerets, continued to pulse forward, pumping out more strands of webbing. Worse yet, he had full view of her… parts.

He smashed his face again.

“Ahuhuhu~ You’re so innocent~ Here. For you, I’ll cover up.”

A bit frightened she might be japing him, he reluctantly lowered his hands. She had thankfully held good to her promise and had covered her lap. However, to his dismay, her mouth was stretched into that familiar toxic smile.

Muffet cradled her face. “So sweet~”

Papyrus bit back a retort, maintaining a rigid posture only befitting a Royal Guard such as himself.

“You’re lucky I am in this evening, dearie~” she said, reaching under her dress and pulling out the end of her web. “As you can see, I’ve been quite busy lately.”

The sac of webbing weakly convulsed a couple more times before stilling altogether.

“What brings you to my den anyway?” She blew him a kiss. “Missing me~?”

Papyrus cleared his throat. “I CAME TO APOLOGIZE TO YOU.”

“Oh~? An apology, hmm?”

“YES. I HAD EVERY INTENTION OF PAYING THE DEBT IN FULL BY THE ARRANGED DEADLINE, BUT ANOTHER ONE OF MY BROTHER’S DEBTORS TOOK THE SUM.”

He had even been on his way to deliver the gold when Grillby’s message had appeared on his phone.

“Oh, dearie~” Maintaining her grip on the thick thread, Muffet slipped over the edge of the ball, landing gracefully on her throne. “Usually an apology doesn’t end with an excuse.”

“I… DID NOT INTEND FOR IT TO BE AN EXCUSE.”

“And yet it was.” She released a fake sigh. “If I had a gold piece for every time someone came in here with an excuse, well, I wouldn’t have to get violent~”

She punctuated the last word with a sharp tug on the string. The poor trapped monster, who Papyrus had assumed had perished, yelped. The silk squirmed for a few more seconds before fading into immobility once more.

“Ahuhuhu~”

“I AM TRULY SORRY,” Papyrus said, bowing his head. “I DO NOT KNOW HOW TO CONVEY THAT TO YOU.”

“Well, I know how, love~” She extended an open palm in his direction. “Give me the money you owe.”

Sweat dripped down Papyrus’s skull. After a moment of hesitation, he withdrew the purse of gold from his pocket and tossed it towards Muffet. She snatched it midair and poured the contents into her hands.

After a few seconds, she giggled. “I believe we may have had an unfortunate misunderstanding, skeleton~”

“I KNOW THAT IT IS NOT ENOUGH. I HAD HOPED THAT SINCE I NO LONGER HAVE THE LUMP PAYMENT, THAT I COULD ARRANGE FOR MONTHLY INSTALLMENTS AGAIN.”

“But even this is not enough for a monthly payment.” She raised a gold coin to the flickering light. “Besides, what makes you think I’d renegotiate our deal a third time?”

Papyrus kept quiet.

With a soft sigh, she lowered the coin and returned the gold pieces to the purse. “I hear your brother is alive.”

All the heat drained from his face at the sudden, disturbing change in topic.

“HE IS NOT,” he croaked.

“Oh~? My sources are lying then?”

He flinched. “HE IS… NOT HIM.”

“Who is not whom?”

“THAT IS NOT MY BROTHER. IT IS HARD TO EXPLAIN, BUT HE LOOKS LIKE HIM, AND HE HAS A LOT OF THE SAME… MANNERISMS? BUT HE IS NOT MY BROTHER.”

“I see,” she said coolly.

“IT IS HARD TO EXPLAIN.”

“Doubtless it is.” She smirked. “And is he helping you with these payments?”

“HE IS ENTIRELY UNINVOLVED WITH THIS.”

“Entirely~? Odd, since he was the one to wrack up the debts in the first place.”

“HE IS NOT MY BROTHER! I CANNOT STRESS THIS ENOUGH!”

She sighed. “Oh, you stupid, stupid skeleton~ What am I going to do with you?”

Papyrus took a deep breath but remained silent. If punishment was forthcoming, she would deal it soon. He only hoped she would leave Sans out of this. Wishful thinking, he knew.

“I hear the two of you went to Dr. Gaster’s lab.”

He jerked back at the second abrupt change in conversation. “I – WHAT OF IT?”

“Will you be spending much time there?”

“I… HAD NOT INTENDED TO.”

“But you could if you chose to?”

“I SUPPOSE. SANS WILL BE WORKING THERE UNTIL HE CAN GET BACK HOME. I AM NOT BARRED ENTRY.”

“Lovely~” She tossed the bag of coins back to him, which he barely caught. “I think a new deal is in order~”

He gawked at the purse. “YOU… WANT TO MAKE A NEW DEAL?”

“I do indeed~ Ahuhuhuhu~”

“I – I JUST WANT TO LET YOU KNOW IT WILL BE SOME TIME BEFORE I CAN MAKE THE PAYMENT, BUT I PROMISE YOU THAT THE MONEY WILL BE RETURNED IN FULL!”

She raised a finger and shook it side to side. “No, no, you misunderstand, dearie~”

Papyrus’s hands scrunched the bag. “WHAT DO YOU MEAN?”

“I am not interested in the same deal as before. I want something else.”

He had to hold back a whine. “LIKE WHAT?”

If she was going to force Sans to sell drugs or his body, he would have to fight her. Or… something. He couldn’t let Sans get punished for his own failures.

“I would like you to procure something from Dr. Gaster’s lab.”

Papyrus blinked. “SOMETHING FROM HIS LAB? I DO NOT UNDERSTAND… WHAT COULD YOU POSSIBLY WANT FROM THERE?”

“A few files that would help my business venture,” she said, crossing her legs. “I’ll give you the list.”

“THAT IS ALL?”

“Hmm. Well, and one more thing. It’s very small. Most would probably overlook it.”

“WHAT?”

“A vial of determination.”

“DETERMINATION? LIKE… THE FEELING?”

He wasn’t sure how exactly one put emotions into a vial.

“Ahuhuhu~ No, dearie. Determination is a very special substance. It’s bright red and very… volatile. Only a select group of monsters has access to it. Dr. Gaster is one of them.”

He gulped. “IS IT DANGEROUS?”

“Only in the wrong hands.”

So yes, very dangerous. Giving it to Muffet was probably an unwise decision.

“What do you say? A little adventure investigating the doctor’s projects isn’t so bad for full debt forgiveness, if I do say so myself. Ahuhuhu~”

“WHAT IF I REFUSE?”

Muffet’s grin twitched. “Now, that would be a shame. I’d have to take your brother off your hands so he can pay the debts himself~”

Papyrus’s soul dropped. “HE IS NOT MY BROTHER THOUGH!”

Her smile faded completely, all of her usual joviality dissipating from her eyes. “Do we have a deal or not?”

Papyrus clutched the bag to his chest. Once again, he didn’t have much choice. Sans’s safety was paramount. Dammit. If he could go back in time and kill Grillby instead of spending all that money to save Sans…

Well, maybe that would’ve been a bad idea.

“YES,” Papyrus replied, cowed. “WE HAVE A DEAL.”

She was all smiles again.

“Excellent~ You have one month, dearie! And I am sad to say that if you don’t follow through on your promise this time, I will have to become quite stern with you.”

She tugged on her string. This time, the sac didn’t move.

Chapter Text

“My goodness….”

“Y-yeah, it’s weird, right?”

“Mmm!”

The thin paper that lined the examination table crinkled as Sans leaned back into the wall, eyes half-lidded. If his soul wasn’t racing so hard, he’d probably be able to take a short nap, one that he so desperately wanted after his late-night stint. As it was, he knew he had to stay awake; Dr. Zhen, a blackbird with a bright red plume along the crest of her wings, was donating her precious time to help Sans with both his bad health and his teleportation problem.

“I think we ought to take another scan,” Dr. Zhen announced as she set the scanner aside and began sifting through her drawers.

Alphys frowned. “We’ve, erm, c-confirmed the results with three other scanners already.”

“Even so, I would like these for my records. You did say Dr. Gaster wasn’t joining us, mmm?”

“yeah,” Sans muttered. “he’s busy with stuff.”

It wasn’t a lie. He was sure Gaster was busy. But neither Alphys nor Sans had informed him of the appointment. It hadn’t been some big plan; it was just that neither of them had brought it up… even if he was sure they had both been thinking about it. Better to keep Gaster out of the way and report the results later.

“If he is not here to oversee this,” Dr. Zhen said as she held up another handheld soul scanner, “then we should cover our bases, mmm? Check off every box, as they say.”

“P-probably a good idea,” Alphys mumbled.

“Sans? If you would?”

Anxiety flaring up once again, Sans sighed and scooted forward. Apparently it wasn’t enough because Dr. Zhen reached out and brought him closer to the edge of the table. His soul clenched. Distantly, as if happening to someone else, he began to breathe more quickly, his eyes training onto Dr. Zhen’s face, but his mind not really processing what he was seeing.

“Mmm, it’s alright,” Dr. Zhen soothed. “We’re just taking another scan. You can relax.”

Though well-intentioned, the reassurances only served as a reminder of the source of his discomfort. The image of purple flames, dancing and caressing, flashed in his mind.

It didn’t make sense. Why couldn’t he stop dwelling on it, on him? It didn’t help that Dr. Zhen was patting his back, touching him when he wanted nothing more but to push her away and scream.

He kept his mouth shut; there was no point in getting into all that with her or Alphys.

Dr. Zhen aimed the device, and after a few seconds of bright green light, the scan was over and, thank the stars, she left his side to compare the results. He drew in a long, steady breath of air, grounding himself in the present.

“Mmm. Same readings.” She scribbled on Sans’s chart. “I do think it best to do a full scan while you test the impacted abilities. Teleportation you said?”

“yeah.” He hadn’t gone into specifics. As far as she knew, he was this universe’s Sans, injured and experiencing major magical disruptions, and he was going to leave it at that. “though my bone attacks are real messed up too.”

“We’ll test all forms of magic while you’re in there.”

He glanced at the extractor. The elongated, skull-shaped machine hung ominously over the deep indent in the floor, its arching pipes clearly polished and well-managed. Although the surrounding room was nowhere near as decrepit and dark as it had been back in his universe, that didn’t make the proposition of getting in the damn thing any less intimidating.

“Let’s get you ready, mmm?”

She handed him a medical gown and moved to prepare the extractor’s patient table. His face warmed under Alphys’s stare. Didn’t doctors usually give their patients space to change? Guess there was no point really. They were going to see every part of him in explicit detail soon enough.

Still, he slipped on the gown before easing his shorts to the floor. His body trembled all over as he ambled over to the extractor, well aware that the back of his pelvis was exposed. He burned with embarrassment and a touch of panic at the realization that this was the first time anyone had seen his private parts since that night. Well, except Papyrus the next day. Somehow, in his head, that didn’t count.

“Hop up here please,” Dr. Zhen instructed.

Chest stretching with pain, he crawled onto the table. As Alphys and Dr. Zhen locked the bars around the gurney, Sans gripped the bedding, praying to the stars it wouldn’t be as claustrophobic and nauseating inside the machine as it had been the last time he had forced himself in there.

“Now, I want to assure you that although the scan can be quite frightening, the two of us will be watching over you throughout the procedure. And Dr. Alphys here basically invented the machine! She’ll be watching over you the whole time.”

Except Alphys was also eyeing the extractor nervously. She looked back at Sans with an anxious laugh.

“Oh! Y-yeah!”

“i’ve used it before, don’t worry.”

“Mmm, yes, of course. Then you know there’s no need to fret.”

That wasn’t strictly true. He and the extractor had a long history, from extracting the essence of the human souls, to experimenting with DT, to firing up the machine with a combination of traits arranged in such a manner to give him the ability to teleport. Each use had left him more jittery and panicky than the last until, after his acquisition of teleportation, he had left himself unable to use the machine without suffering extreme panic attacks. When it came to the extractor, his concerns were pretty justified.

But he didn’t say any of that to her. Instead he took a deep breath and nodded silently.

With his assurances, the other two strolled across the room to the control podium. One punch of a button later and the hydraulic elevator kicked in, sending Sans’s table crawling backwards and ascending into the “mouth” of the extractor. He closed his eyes as he was pulled into the enclosure. With a soft hiss of air, the table stilled as it reached the center of the skull, between the two “eyes.”

He opened his eyes. Nope. Still claustrophobic. The ceiling was far too low, only a few inches from his face, and the doors at his feet had already closed, leaving him feeling trapped. On either side of his table were the soul compression chambers – the eye-like depressions that did the actual extracting (or injecting, if the experiment called for it). The cavities were mercifully empty, save for the beams of ethereal emerald light that filtered in through the eyes’ glass panes.

The fact that they hadn’t loaded the machine with any traits or other substances calmed him somewhat. At least enough not to break into a full-out panic attack. He wouldn’t be in pain. This was only a scan. It was fine.

He released a pent-up breath…

And jolted when the speaker to his right crackled. Thankfully he didn’t move enough to hit his head.

“We’re going to do a preliminary scan before we test your teleportation,” Dr. Zhen’s tinny voice said. “It will be quite loud.”

“yup,” Sans said breathlessly, “i remember.”

“Very good. Beginning the process now.”

Even with the warning, Sans started as the lower-back part of the extractor came to life with a series of clunking mechanical noises. A roaring hum filled the chamber, and, one, two, three blinding white lights popped on above, shining directly into his face. He clenched his eyes shut as he grappled at the cushion beneath him, but even through his eyelids he could see the beams converge upon one another. A mechanized winding vibrated through the machine, and after a few seconds the light repositioned – Alphys and Dr. Zhen adjusting its trajectory, he knew.

With the light’s intensity diminished, he peeked open his eyes and saw that the colliding rays were now inches above his chest. Right on cue, a mirror descended from above the focal point, and, before Sans even had a chance to mentally prepare himself, it hit the beam, sending it directly towards his soul.

“gah!”

A sharp, almost electric shock shot through his bones, and all at once he felt both scorching heat and icy cold. He reflexively flattened against the bed, his breath stuck in his chest. His soul glowed brighter, a tiny star of light in the darkness.

“Easy there, Sans. It’ll only be a few more seconds.”

His body was shaking so hard, but he wasn’t going to let his panic show any more than he already had. Not that the scan wouldn’t already show how distraught he was, but at least they’d know he wasn’t going to absolutely lose it despite his nerves. Silently, he recited a desperate mantra: “don’t freak out. it’s fine. it’s just a scan. just a scan. don’t freak out. totally fine. a scan. just a scan. it’s okay.”

The repetition helped. Before he knew it, the light disappeared, leaving his soul shuddering and dimmer in its wake. He instinctually brought his hands to his aching chest, cradling the construct as he took great gulping breaths. Heat poured off the organ, and every now and then it twitched against his fingers, a familiar rush of energy flowing through his bones.

“We have the results here,” Dr. Zhen announced, her voice barely audible over the whir of the machinery. “You are not in immediate distress, mmm?”

“uhhh…. no. just nervous.”

“No need for medical intervention, mmm?”

“nah. why? is it saying i’m still 1hp right now?”

“Y-yes,” Alphys replied. “Actually, um, a lot… or maybe all? Of the results are consistent with the other scans.”

“great.” So apparently he was ready to keel over at any moment.

“I am also seeing some other results here that… Mmm. They give me pause.”

“pause? didn’t know birds had those. thought you had talons. unless that’s what you call your wings?”

“Mmm?”

“Sans,” Alphys groaned, though with a hint of amusement in her voice, “I-is this really the time?”

“always time for a crappy joke.” Especially when it worked as a distraction from whatever bad news they were about to give.

“Mmm. Yes. This is true. A marvelous idea.”

“really? you like ‘em?”

“Not particularly, but I think you stand to improve your health with doing such things.”

“oh. heh.”

“If I may interrupt your merrymaking for a moment, however, could I ask you about what you mentioned before? About being in the extractor?”

“uh, yeah? you can ask.”

“Did you receive an injection while using it or was it for something else?”

“both. had scans, injections, extractions, even a synthetization.”

“A synthetization? Of what and what?”

“eh. a magical construct and my eye socket. or i guess, to be more technical, the leyline in my eye socket.”

“W-wow,” Alphys exclaimed. “That must’ve, um, really hurt.”

“yeah.”

“W-what was the construct for?”

“eh. if i activate it, i see stuff in slow motion.”

That hadn’t been the intent behind the procedure. He had developed the construct to detect disruptions in the space-time continuum. Well, even if it hadn’t stopped the kid in the end, at least the eye had been useful in some regard. That was more than could be said for most of his experiments.

“Did the person who performed that procedure leave records?”

“uh, yeah, i did, but the records are… um… long gone now.”

“…Sans! Y-you did this to yourself?”

Sans shrugged, his soul clenching painfully in his hands. “yeah. did a lot of stuff to myself in this old hunk of a machine. heh.”

“Th-that is so reckless and irresponsible and – and – and scary!”

“guess so.”

He hadn’t really cared about the outcome of his experiments back then. All he had focused on was trying to find a way to fight the anomaly before it arrived, and his attempts had gotten increasingly dangerous after ‘Dings had fallen into the Core. Pretty dumb, if he were to tell the truth. Oh well. Hindsight was 20/20.

“Did you also inject yourself?”

“yup.”

“With what?”

“uhhh. soul traits.”

“H-human soul traits?!”

“yup. pretty much every kind, though determination is what really pushed me through a lot of the experiments.”

Alphys gasped through the intercom.

“Mmm, I can see traces of it in your readings here.”

Traces? That didn’t sound right… The last reading he had done had been a while ago, no doubt, but he had been chocked full of determination when he had checked.

It was odd, but…

“eh. we can talk about the readings later.” He squirmed against the table. “i’d like to get this over with if it’s alright with you.”

“You’re still feeling okay? No complications?”

“nah. just antsy to get outta this cramped space.”

“Mmm. Then release your soul and lie back please.”

Oh yeah. They could see him through the camera. He coughed out a nervous laugh and unclasped his soul. Thankfully the conversation had given it time to recover; it was no longer thumping erratically and easily floated above his chest as he released it. With a long exhale, he shifted on the table, trying not to think about how painful attempting teleportation was probably going to be.

The lights snapped back on. Sans closed his eyes, groaning under his breath as he felt his soul begin to tremble once more. Like before, the lights converged onto one location, and after a few seconds of calibration, he was drowned in a mixture of heat, chill, and the sensation of pins and needles driving into his soul. The shock was not nearly as bad this time – at the very least he didn’t feel a panic attack crawling in his chest – but he still wanted this done as fast as possible.

Sans cleared his throat, the slight movement making his chest stretch painfully.

“uhh,” he rasped, “do you want me to try it out?”

“Mmm, I believe the sensor is steady, yes. Please go ahead. Try to teleport a short distance. Perhaps to the other examination table?”

That wasn’t exactly how his ability worked. Or rather, it was a lot harder to teleport without making one “doorway” to another. Possible, yes, but only in the most dire of situations. Like, for instance, when the anomaly is swinging a knife haphazardly around the Judgement Hall or when Papyrus is getting ready to attack a restaurant full of rapists without backup.

His soul visibly trembled. No. He couldn’t reflect on that now.

“i’ll aim for the door to the room.”

There was probably a doorway there. The sensation had passed over him as he had walked into the room, though of course, he had no way of telling if his inclination was right without testing it out.

“We’re ready then.”

Sans exhaled shakily and, ignoring the second wave of pain, he drew upon his magic to open a gateway underneath him.

He knew immediately that it had gone wrong.

Though he successfully fell through the table, something jerked his bones violently. Too quickly for him to comprehend, they stretched, cracking loudly like a carrot snapping in two. A wordless shout bubbled in his throat, the sudden onslaught of pain almost too overwhelming to believe.

He blinked, and as abruptly as the pain had come, it disappeared.

But it was not the only thing that vanished. The light had faded away. The extractor was nowhere in sight. The noise dead in an instant/

He was here again: lost in the darkness, the nothingness, the Void.

That familiar feeling of wrong, wrong, wrong returned. Everywhere he looked the impenetrable unknown pressed around him, pushing into his marrow, his skull, his soul.

He was falling still. It wasn’t clear how he knew that – everything was dark, how could he event tell? – but he knew it. He tried to latch onto that knowledge, to ground himself as he traveled through the blackness.

It wasn’t working. He just couldn’t figure it out. His mind was a haze of disconnected images, and everything was blurring together. One moment a memory of Papyrus watching a Mettaton show would flash through his head, and the next, he’d be remembering an unusual metaphor in a poem he read in high school. Nothing was making sense, and thinking was as useless as using a colander for a bucket; his thoughts kept pouring through the holes, slipping out into the Void.

Distantly, through the haze, he felt something. He wasn’t sure what. Pain? Maybe. All he knew was that his soul wasn’t working properly. It was… constricting? Yeah, that had to be it. Or maybe it was just… falling apart. Breaking. Dusting.

His vision flickered.

(…What?)

Sans opened the door, his eyes barely glancing up from the stack of papers he held in his hand as he strolled inside the extractor room.

(How the hell had he wound up here? Had the teleportation worked?)

(He tried to put the papers down somewhere, but his body wouldn’t respond to his commands. Fuck… He wasn’t in control of himself again, was he? His soul – which wasn’t even here, but somewhere far, far away – churned with nausea.)

(Calm down, calm down. He’d get out of this. He just needed to wait it out, like all the other times. It was like a waking nightmare. Scary and overwhelming, but… he’d manage. He had to.)

(Better to distract himself than get lost in his dreams.)

Sans turned to the front page of his report. The title at the top read “Determination Extraction Experiment A-102: Infusion with Live Plant Cells,” and was immediately followed by a long wall of text. It described what appeared to be a proposal to inject a concentrate of human traits into a variety of plants. At the bottom of the document was a large rejection stamp, apparently signed by Queen Toriel herself.

“stupid fucking bureaucrats,” Sans muttered under his breath.

(Even though his soul was racing, an overwhelming sense of boredom, exhaustion, and melancholy weighed him down. He hated it. He hated this. Damn, he just wanted to teleport, not get caught up in whatever the fuck this was!)

(Yet despite how much he was fighting it, he could feel himself falling into the other Sans’s thoughts. They were slow, lethargic. As if maybe he had just woken up. It was almost relaxing to fall into line with them.)

With a heavy sigh, Sans set the files down on a nearby desk and stared up at the extractor.

It needed some work still. The pipes were still disconnected after their last experiment – which was a damn success, screw what the Royal Family said – and the power supply was unplugged, leaving the machine’s “eyes” lifeless. They needed to adjust the circuits for regulation of power or they’d end up with another overflow.

He just wished the damn thing would get up and running again. Maybe then the Royal Family would start approving things.

The door squeaked open. In strode the Doc, the very monster he had been wanting to see.

“heya, wing-a-ling,” Sans said, dropping to flirtatious drawl.

Wingdings broke into a bright smile. “Ah. Sans, here you are.”

“heh.” Sans shrugged as he lifted his hands. “here i am.”

(Heavy sadness pressed into his soul as he was reminded of Dings. That smile… He hadn’t seen him that happy in so long. Sans just wanted to walk up to him and give him the biggest hug in the world. He had no doubts that this Dings would be happy to see him.)

(The other Sans’s feelings were already drowning out his grief, replacing it with glee.)

Wingdings strolled over to Sans, looking distractedly at the extractor as he set a clipboard on the desk. “Are you recalibrating the power?”

“pfft. no. alphys can do that.” He aimed a kick at a nearby pipe. “i’m not touching this damn thing until we see some funding.”

Wingdings’s face fell. “I see.” He bent down and examined the pipe with an almost mournful expression before standing upright again. “Sadly, I do not think we should expect good news on that front for some time.”

“ugh. you mean we’re just gonna lie down and take it? fuck that!”

Wingdings sighed, looking down at Sans with sympathy. “You know why they cut the funds. They won’t change their minds until they see results elsewhere.”

“well, fuck them!” Sans jammed his hands in his lab coat pockets. “they’re gonna have to realize eventually that it’s just not gonna happen!”

“You’re right. They will.” Wingdings placed a hand on Sans’s shoulder. “And when they do, we will show them the benefits of this experiment again.”

“yeah. right,” he grumbled.

He moved his fingers around in his pockets, frustration welling up within him until… there it was. A small, plastic object, which had been hiding between some lint and his gold purse, fell into his hands. Satisfaction filled his soul as he toyed with the dial.

Mindless source of entertainment secured, he glanced towards Wingdings who was continuing to stare at him fondly. Sans reached around Wing’s hip and dragged him closer, evoking a soft “Oh!” from the Doc.

“so, what’s the story, sweetheart?” he purred. “why were you lookin’ for me?”

“Sans,” Wingdings admonished, blush covering his face, “Not here. We’re at work.”

Sans winked and nuzzled against Wing’s chest. “didn’t stop you before.”

Wingdings unhooked himself from Sans’s grasp, embarrassed smile still scrawled across his face. “Later, Sans. Tonight, if you would like.

“after work?”

“Dinner first.”

“yeah, yeah, that’s fine.”

Perfect timing. Papyrus was slated to be back at the apartment tonight, and now he’d have an excuse to stay out all night.

“it’s a date then.”

“Hmm. Yes, I suppose one may call it that,” Wing joked.

“well, it sure ain’t a doctor’s visit. or, well, i guess it is.” Sans chuckled as Wing released a reluctant laugh.

“I am sorry I have not been around much for these… dates,” Wing said, stumbling on the last word. “With my mother ill…”

“yeah, i know – gotta watch the sibs. i know how it goes. are they –”

The door creaked open again and the two of them snapped their heads towards the front of the room. (A much younger-looking) Alphys peeked into the room, squeaking as she spotted them. Irritation flitted through Sans’s soul.

“S-sorry! I’ll, um, l-leave you two to y-your work!”

Wingdings relaxed, though the remnants of a blush still lingered on his skull. “Ah, do not worry, Dr. Alphys, you are not bothering us. Please, come in.”

“No, I sh-should let you two work,” Alphys mumbled.

“Are you not here to work as well?” Wingdings glanced at the power supply. “I know the project is somewhat delayed, but fixing the machinery might very well aid us in persuading the Queen.”

“Y-yes, of course. I, um, was just… I d-didn’t want to interrupt anything.”

What was she doing in here? He had told her his office!

“Not at all. Please, join us.”

Dammit.

Alphys hesitated by the door for a few more seconds before entering completely. Although she rushed past the two of them and settled at the desk on the far side of the room, Sans could see how flushed she was.

Hmm. Well, if she was going to come and join anyway, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have a little fun, now would it?

(God. There was something in that thought that caused Sans to disconnect… What was it? A sadistic edge? Malevolent intent? Whatever it was, it made his soul jerk with discomfort.)

“so why’d you need me, huh?”

As he posed the question, he twiddled with the dial in his pocket. Halfway across the room, Alphys let out a sharp gasp.

“Dr. Alphys?” Wingdings asked, sincere concern in his voice. “Are you alright?”

“Y-yes, fine! I, ehhh, just got… um… a paper cut?”

“Ah. If you need a first aid kit, it’s in the far-right drawer.”

“yeah, alphys, make sure to fix yourself up.”

“R-right.” She clamped a hand over her mouth as Sans continued to play with the dial.

(No. There was no way. This guy wasn’t doing what Sans thought he was doing, was he?)

“To answer your question,” Wingdings said, lowering his voice, “I came to ask you something about Project X.”

Sans jolted a little. “what?” he hissed. “why are you asking about that right now?”

“She will not understand the meaning,” Wingdings assured.

“okay, but she knows how to speak hands. we can’t just –”

“It is but a quick, innocuous question. Please.”

Sans rolled his eyelights. “fine. what?”

“Have you spoken to the Queen about it?”

“no, obviously not or we’d have funding by now. or, y’know, the end of days.”

“Sans, be quiet.”

“what, you get to ask your question but i can’t answer?”

“Answer neutrally.” Wingdings sighed. “I think the Queen may have gotten wind of some details.”

“wait, are you fucking serious?”

“It is just a suspicion, but yes.” He glanced over his shoulder at Alphys. “I will discuss it further at dinner.”

“good bed talk,” Sans mumbled under his breath.

“Now enough of that,” he soothed. “We’ll have plenty of that tonight.”

“yeah, i guess.”

Sans stretched, popping the joints in his shoulders.

“well, as much as i’d love to discuss this, i oughta get back to it.” He nodded towards Alphys. “she’ll probably be wanting some details about the blow up, sooooo…”

“Yes, and I need to be getting back to the Core. We’re getting unusual readings from one of our geothermal conduit systems.” He sighed. “It’s just one fire after another.”

water you saying? sounds like you just need a fire extinguisher.” He winked. “or maybe just a skilled scientist. maybe i’ll head over there after this.”

(God. Just… Go with him now. Please.)

But Wingdings merely smiled. “I am sure I can manage on my own, but I will contact you should we need some… dam assistance?”

Wing’s grin twitched.

Sans snorted. “well, it was an attempt.”

Wingdings rolled his eyes and batted Sans away. “Oh, hush.” He walked to the entrance, pausing only to turn towards Alphys and say, “It was a pleasure seeing you again, Dr. Alphys.”

“Y-yeah! Um, I mean… N-nice to see you too!”

As the door shut behind him, Sans laughed. “’a paper cut’?”

Alphys twisted toward him, her face crinkled with a scowl. “Y-you jerk!”

“hey, you were the one that was supposed to wait for me in my office. not my fault you decided to come here while i was having a meeting with the doc.”

“You were the one that decided to t-turn it up and down all day!”

“oh? what do you mean?” He dialed up the plastic object again, and Alphys jolted, gasping again. “turn what up?”

“Stop!”

“oh? is that our safeword?”

“N-no… I just…” She wheezed. “Let’s j-just do this already!”

“all you had to do was ask.”

(No. No, no, no. Sans wasn’t up for this, whatever this was. He had to… get out of here. He had to stop this. He had to… had to…)

(But no matter what Sans did, he couldn’t control his body. He was stuck. All but a ghost.)

Chuckling to himself as he went, he locked the door before sauntering to Alphys’s desk. He walked slowly, every step exaggerated, as a mischievous grin spread across his face.

Alphys, on the other hand, was quick to get things started; she was already tugging her pants, needy little whines falling from her lips. Despite his leisurely pace, Sans was obviously eager too because as soon as he reached Alphys, he was grappling at her waistline, allowing her to lean into him as he threw her clothing to the floor.

(Sans didn’t want to look at her. Didn’t want to see her half-naked. This was his friend.)

With as much strength as he could muster, he tried to lift Alphys onto the desk, though his arms and legs shook violently from the effort. She helped him out by perching onto her tiptoes, allowing him the leverage to push her to the wall. Her tail smashed into a pile of documents, sending them flying, a flurry of papers cascading through the air. As Sans joined her on the desk, he swept the rest of the clutter out of the way.

“H-hey! Careful!” she shouted, as her laptop fell to the side.

“woops, accident, i swear.”

While Alphys peered over the edge of the desk to make sure the computer was okay, he settled his legs on either side of hers and trailed a long line over Alphys’s shirt down to the bright pink vibrator nestled atop her clit.

(Sans was screaming inwardly now, doing anything within his power to tear himself from this memory, which amounted to… a whole lot of nothing. But with Alphys pressed up so close to him, with the two of them on top of a table like this, with the way his body felt lust when he knew this was all wrong… His soul was tearing in two, he could feel it.)

“Well,” Alphys said, glaring up at Sans, “it looks like it landed on a pile of papers, but if it’s broken –”

He smirked. “hey, not my fault if you didn’t back up your data.”

“It’s on auto-backup, thanks!” She pushed him back playfully. “I meant you’d have to replace it!”

“obviously.” He dug into his pocket and turned up the dial, and as Alphys squirmed against him, he teased, “if a friend breaks your shit, you better pay up or that friendship is gonna go broke.”

“Ahhhhn,” she moaned. “S-some friend you are, doing this to me all day.”

“well, i’m gonna take care of you, aren’t i?”

He drew his fingers past the vibrator, teasing her wet folds. As Alphys released a throaty gasp, he brought his phalanges together and parted her lips, scissoring them as he peered into her. (Horror coalescing in his soul), rivulets of slickness clung to his fingers. Grinning, he slipped two fingers inside her and slowly began to pump into the wet warmth.

(Stop, stop, stop…)

As he delved deeper, he continued to increase the vibrations of the toy, one notch at a time. (To Sans’s dismay,) Alphys was really into it; her face was scrunched up with an expression somewhere between lust and pain, and her hips were moving slightly, as if she wanted to thrust but was holding herself back. Soft moans fell from her mouth, though they were punctuated with the occasional flustered laugh.

“what’s so funny, huh?” He added another finger, stretching her even more.

(Nothing was funny. He was going to fucking die watching this. His head – not his head, it had to be the other Sans’s head – was spinning, blurring his vision? His mind? Something…. He was going to throw up, he was going to pass out, he was going to….)

“Hffff, it’s – god – just f-funny watching you do this.”

“what?” Sans growled.

“Funny b-because –”

Leaning forward, she grabbed his hand to stop him and snuck her other hand into his pants. He yelped as she rubbed deftly at his pubis.

“– Y-you act like you’re totally in control, and y-you’re just as horny as me,” she finished with a satisfied smile.

“fuuuuuck,” Sans moaned, thrusting eagerly into her hand.

“Heheh.”

It only took a few strokes before his dick manifested into her palm, glowing brightly even under the laboratory’s lights. He released a strangled gasp as her fingers stretched to wrap around the thick girth, squeezing just tightly enough that the pain was pleasurable.

(No. This was probably the only way this could’ve been made worse. It was all wrong. He wasn’t supposed to… That wasn’t what it was supposed to look like. Fuck! FUCK! NONE OF THIS WAS OKAY!)

“shit, alphs,” he groaned as he began to arch into her, simultaneously allowing her better access and angling his fingers farther inside her. His chest was flush against hers, and the vibrations of the toy rattled against his pelvis, crawling pleasurably within his bones.

“Mmm,” she whined in agreement.

(No. It was physically hurting him. His soul was on fire. It was dusting. It was NOT OKAY.)

The two of them moved in tandem – Sans’s fingers impaling her faster, Alphys’s palm roughly pressing into him as she shifted his foreskin up and down.

She still hadn’t stopped laughing.

“Y-you should see the look on your face!”

“wh – my face? hey, don’t forget,” he said as he set the vibrator to maximum, stealing a sharp cry from her, “you’re the one who’s been ‘suffering’ all day.”

He was moving so quickly now that every time he withdrew he sent noisy splashes of her natural lubrication splattering against his exposed spine. Her walls were clamping around his fingers, and he was getting desperate as well as she thumbed his head. It was going to be over soon…

(Please, please let it be over soon. Please.)

Alphys came first. Sans could feel her flesh tightening around him, fluids squirting around his phalanges as he continued to get in a few more pumps. As her orgasm wracked her body, she lurched backwards, her grip tautening along the tip of his length as she clenched reflexively.

Hand still deep inside Alphys, he quickly maneuvered his free hand to his dick and jerked up and down, constricting his fingers along the base and the head, until, after only a few seconds, he was spending himself onto her hand and lap.

(As the two of them panted in each other’s arms, all Sans could think of was how much he wished he could turn to dust…)

(Because, despite how fucked up it was, he had enjoyed that. There was no denying how much pleasure he had felt. Physically, at least.)

“God, w-what a mess,” Alphys muttered as she looked down at her cum-splattered lower half. “Y-you couldn’t have aimed that somewhere else?”

“i was finger deep in ya. what did you want me to do, pull out?”

“Heh. You could’ve just stuck it in.” She pulled back, allowing Sans’s fingers to withdraw with a (sickening) wet sound.

“not gonna fulfill your weird pregnancy kink on a whim,” Sans joked.

“Oh, haha.” She patted her chest. “L-like I’d bring out my soul for you.”

“who you saving yourself for then?” He winked. “the king? the queen?”

Alphys blushed. “Sh-shut up!”

“oh my god!” Sans burst into laughter.

“St-stop it! You know how I feel about them…”

“okay, a crush does not mean impregnation. jeez, alphs, you really got the hots for ‘em, don’t ya?”

She hid her face behind her claws. “UGH!”

His laughter was so loud that it echoed throughout the room, and even though Alphys continued to groan for a while, she was soon joining him, adding to the din.

It was so loud, in fact, that the only indication he got that someone else was in the room was an expression of pure shock on Alphys’s face…

Right before he was clobbered upside the skull.

Sans was sent tumbling to the floor in a heap of bones. Alphys screamed.

“What. Are you. Doing.”

(Oh no.)

“Dr. Gaster!”

Though dazed, Sans climbed to his feet… and promptly fell back down, too dizzy to stand. He had moved just in time, however, as Wingdings had flung another bone right where Sans had sat moments ago.

“D-Dr. Gaster, I can explain –”

“Be quiet!” he hissed as he threw another attack right at Sans’s chest. Sans stumbled forward, coughing as (pain spread through his chest.)

“No, please,” Alphys begged, and Sans saw that she had gotten off the desk and was now clutching Wing’s arm. “I know we messed up. We shouldn’t have been doing this here, and I know how disrespectful it is to –”

“HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN FUCKING HER BEHIND MY BACK?!”

Alphys inhaled sharply. “W-what?”

As Sans shakily got to his feet again, Wing tossed Alphys off of her and rushed forward. This time, Sans was prepared. Just as Wingdings approached, he dashed around him, (fear stabbing at his soul).

“GET BACK HERE!”

Sans wasn’t stopping, that was for sure. He bolted for the door. Bones splintered on the floor with sharp cracks as Wingdings threw attack after attack at his back.

“YOU LITTLE CHEATING…”

(Yet as the other Sans walked through the door, the world tilted…)

He was screaming. Screaming louder than he even thought himself capable. Screaming for so long that his breath was all gone.

Used up. Empty. Just like him.

He couldn’t breathe. Everything was stretching beyond its limits; his bones, his vision, his mind… He was lost.

Someone else was shouting too. Alphys. She was right there, probably yelling at him for his betrayal. He had to get away before she attacked him too. And, oh God, Wingdings was probably right behind her, bearing down on him, out for his dust.

He wanted to yell at her to get away from him, but his voice was gone. Or maybe it wasn’t. He could hear himself, though it was incomprehensible garbage. Alphys, too, was babbling, and no matter how he tried, he couldn’t focus on her words.

And then, with realization so sudden it had him sucking in a deep breath, it dawned on him that someone was holding him down.

No, no, no. There were bodies pressing down on him, shouting something. Was it Wingdings, here to murder him? Or maybe it was Grillby? Had he come to collect his debt? Was he here to fuck him again and again and again?

He tried to summon a bone, but as soon as he did, pain was slicing through him like a knife, incapacitating him beyond belief. He flung himself backwards into the floor? Desk? Table? Whatever it was, he was arching into the air, eyelights popping and flickering.

Then someone squeezed his soul.

Sans squealed. He was thrashing all over the place, fighting desperately against whoever was holding him down.

Distantly he felt something sharp jab deep into the tissues of his soul, educing a miserably pathetic wail from Sans as his vision burst with stars and crackles. The pain was too much. He couldn’t handle it anymore. His whole body, quaking from the intensity of everything, was going to break at any moment.

Another pulse of heated pain flared through his soul.

Whatever it was, it did the trick. Just like when Papyrus used to turn on the captions while watching Mettaton’s telenovelas, he could finally understand what Alphys was saying.

“ – o-okay, I-I-I promise, S-Sans. Y-you’re n-not g-going to – to die!”

Though she was a stuttering mess, and she sounded as scared as the time she had called him crying about her own determination experiments, her voice was clear as day.

He still couldn’t respond to her. His breath was coming too fast, too erratically. God, what was wrong with him? What was wrong with him?

“P-please, Sans, y-you’ll be f-fine! Y-you’re just having a p-panic attack! Y-you can breathe! N-no one is g-going to hurt you! W-we’re trying to help you!”

The pressure in his soul eased, and as he looked around he saw through his tears that the blackbird – Dr. Zhen, that was her name, she was a nice monster, not attacking him – was withdrawing a needle from Sans’s soul.

“hhhhhhhhhhh,” Sans wheezed.

She patted his leg gently. “You’ll rest, mmm.”

He didn’t understand what she meant; that was enough to almost trigger another bout of hyperventilation, but as he sucked in a tight breath, he heard her whisper something. Her words came muffled, but her deep, soothing voice relaxed him in a way he didn’t think possible. Alphys was grabbing him, muttering panicked reassurances near his skull, but he couldn’t understand her either.

And even though resting was the last thing he wanted to do, he could feel his mind lagging. He was… too tired to think straight. Everything was slow… and heavy… like molasses. Especially his eyelids. They were… too much effort to keep open…

---

Sans was warm, comfortably so. Though he could hear the soft hum of wind from a nearby vent, he was tucked snug in a blanket, a soft bundle of bones. Mmm… This was the life. He probably had a few more minutes before Paps woke him up… He could just go back to sleep. Especially since his body was begging for more rest.

But despite his coziness, something was needling at him to wake up. It wasn’t an urgent need, he knew that, but it was enough to get him to open his eyes.

The lights above him were on, though thankfully someone had dimmed them so that they didn’t hurt his eyelights. He pondered the ceiling – it certainly wasn’t his bedroom or anywhere else at home, and it didn’t look like anyone else’s home.

Quiet realization settled in his soul. The lab? How had he…?

He turned to his right, blinking the blurriness from his eyes, and with a rush, noticed that Alphys was sitting in a chair next to him, very much awake. She was on the edge of her seat, hands on her face, trembling from head to toe.

Memory of what had happened smacked him in the face. A quiet gasp caught in his throat.

“I-it’s okay, Sans,” Alphys said, putting her hands out in a “keep calm” motion. “D-don’t panic.”

There was something about ordering someone not to panic that typically made a monster instantly anxious, especially when they were clearly in a hospital bed, unconscious for Stars only knew how long. He sat up quickly, disregarding how his skull popped with lightheadedness.

Though he couldn’t exact ignore how much his chest hurt. He fell backwards, choked cry stuck in his throat. As always, the pain went deep, making him grip the blankets until he stopped.

“Oh no! A-are you okay?”

“ugh…” He sat still until the pain ebbed away. “yeah. fuck.”

He raised his head a couple inches off the pillow. His arms were covered with thin, multicolored wires, that ran into his chest and were presumably attached to his soul.

“heh. wire we hooked up like this?”

Alphys either ignored the joke or just didn’t get it. “S-sorry, those were just, um, a precaution. They’re for different monitoring devices.”

She got up and clicked a button on the wall. The bed inclined into a sitting position, going slow enough that it didn’t bother Sans’s injury. The new position allowed him to make eye contact with Alphys while he rested his skull.

“Y-you’re fine, by the way,” Alphys reassured. “Just had us worried for a little bit.”

“how long was i out?” Sans asked, voice pitching.

“Um, since the scan, so, uh… about six hours?”

A wave of relief washed over him. Only six hours. That was basically no time at all. Last time he had been through the machine, he had been out an entire day.

He glanced down at his hands. His wrists and left hand had been bandaged.

Alphys flashed him a sympathetic look. “You scratched your hands against the inside of the machine when you had your seizure.”

Sans blinked. “seizure?”

“Y-yeah, a soul seizure. I mean, we think that’s what it was anyway.” She sat back down in the chair, still shaking. “You don’t have a history, right?”

“of seizures?” He shook his head, stopping when the motion shook his wound. “what happened? all i remember is…” Memories of that paralyzed… dreamwalking flooding his soul. “well, i remember you telling me i was having a panic attack.”

“Y-you were. I don’t think Dr. Zhen believed me at first, but I recognized the signs, and you…” She exhaled. “I’m, er, getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning.”

“i was getting the scan,” he reminded.

“Yeah, and you, um, tried to teleport while getting the scan, and that’s, heh, when things went haywire.” She laughed nervously. “You, um… started screaming, and it was like…” She shuddered. “Like you were getting murdered or something, that’s how loud it was.”

Sans’s chest tightened. “yeah?”

“Y-yeah, and the readings were all over the place. Like, we didn’t figure it out until later, but the soul’s defense and health stats w-were consistent with a seizure. Though, um… we’re still not sure if that was what it was?”

“why not?”

“The other readings weren’t making any sense… They were all, um… fluctuating? Especially the magic levels and the, um… well, the soul traits were everywhere. A-at one point they’d give a high DT number, and the next it was back down to way lower. That doesn’t usually happen during a soul seizure, I-I don’t think. That’s a, um, constant thing?”

“did you record those numbers?”

“Mmhmm. W-we can look them over later. A-anyway, whatever it was, seizure or episode or whatever, it was clear you were in a lot of pain. And you kept… I don’t know, flailing? It was bad enough to see it happening through the camera, but… the way you were banging around was just so… ugh, awful.”

“sorry. i didn’t mean to scare you.”

“I-it’s not your fault. I, um, mostly feel bad that we didn’t get you out of there sooner. You scratched up your arms on the metal pretty bad.” She exhaled. “I’m just glad y-you didn’t fall out as you were coming down.”

The pit below the extractor was no joke. Even without his low health, he could’ve died from the fall.

“well, definitely wouldn’t have been your fault if i had. but, uh, yeah. thanks for getting me out of there safe.”

Alphys shrunk in on herself. “Y-yeah. It was, um, scary because when we g-got you out, y-you kept seizing. I h-had to hold onto you while Dr. Zhen left to get some anticonvulsant, and I think maybe you came to while she was gone?” She absently rubbed her arm. “You were, uh, screaming a lot, but it was like… with words and stuff.”

Sans’s soul sunk. What had he said? Had he been shouting something related to what he had seen?

“A-anyway, um, i-it didn’t matter. It was kind of obvious you didn’t know what you were, um shouting, or if you did, you w-were really confused. Like… maybe a flashback?” Her eyes darted to the side. “Y’know, panic attack stuff.”

“alphs,” Sans said, mouth dry, “whatever i said, i didn’t mean to say it. i was… hallucinating or something.”

“H-hallucinating?”

Sans nodded. “did i…” God, did he really want to know? He exhaled slowly. “what did i shout?”

“Um…” Alphys went red all over. “You were screaming about how you, um, ‘couldn’t do this’ and you yelled m-m-my name a few times, and um… Well, it was a bit all over the place, but at the end you were practically shrieking about someone named Grillby, um, grabbing your soul? Th-that was after Dr. Zhen got back, though, heh heh. Sh-she didn’t even think you were conscious u-until I yelled about a panic attack.”

Sans covered his face. “god, what the hell…”

“I-it was scary,” she said, adding a humorless laugh. “But, um, you’re fine now. W-well, sort of. Your health is still reading really low, but um, in the grand scheme of things, you’re alright? Maybe?” She groaned. “Okay, th-this is why I never became a physician.”

“it’s fine. well, it’s not fine, but you’re fine.” He clenched his eyes shut, opening them as visions of his nightmare flooded his mind. “listen, can i just… ask you something?”

“Y-yeah?”

“even if it’s about the other sans? the sans from here?”

“…Yeah.”

He opened his eyes and saw that she was hunched in on herself, still quivering. The question he wanted to ask was… too difficult. Even if she wasn’t on the verge of her own anxiety attack, which she obviously was, it wasn’t exactly easy to say “did sans cheat on gaster with you?” As far as questions went, that was a tough one to articulate… or to answer.

Was there something else from this “memory” that Alphys would know? Something that wasn’t a constant between universes? Something that would prove it was more than just a dream?

“did um… the other sans ever work on the extractor?”

“Yeah? He was the lead on the project.”

“and did he ever work with plant cells?”

Alphys blanched. “N-n-no.”

“but… he had suggested that the lab do that, right? and the queen rejected the proposal?”

“Y-yeah,” she said, looking ready to vomit. “Um… Y-you aren’t asking because…” She coughed. “W-why are you asking?”

“this is gonna sound insane, but… i really got no explanation for it, alphs.” He laughed bitterly as he dragged his hand from his forehead to the back of his skull. “i think i’m… remembering things that happened to the other sans.”

“W-what?”

“when i was in the extractor, it was like i fell through the hole i made and into… i don’t even know what to call it? i named it ‘the void’ because it’s like… a whole lot of nothing. every time i teleport i end up there, and then the last few times i’ve started to… relive a memory? i think? it’s like i’m stuck in the other sans’s body and i can’t fucking control myself and i’m stuck.”

“That’s…. um. Unusual? W-what kind of memory?”

“uh… it’s pretty personal stuff.”

“I… would imagine?”

Sans cleared his thoat. “well, okay, for example, the other day i had to experience this one time when he got absolutely wasted. he got into this huge fight with papyrus.” He swallowed. “and, uh, just now i had this memory of some stuff that happened at the lab.”

He jolted as Alphys gripped his arm. Oh God. She was going to ask him about the details, or even worse, guess the memory.

It was to his surprise, then, that she turned an excited expression toward him.

“Sans, you don’t think that… I-I mean, you are from another universe, right? You’re not… You don’t think that you’re…?”

“no,” he said, hating that he had to dispel the hope. “i’m definitely not him. i can remember all the things from home, and it’s nothing like this place.”

“O-oh.” She sat back. “Okay.”

“yeah, i just… i don’t know, maybe i’m going crazy?”

She arched her brow at him. “I don’t think you’re going crazy.”

“a nice reassurance.”

“H-hey, that isn’t nice.”

“i was being serious. it’s nice to know you believe me even if i have no proof.”

“Oh.” She blushed again. “Well, th-that experiment denial is plenty of proof, Sans. Only a few people know about it.”

“okay, if that’s the case, then what the hell is this? it makes no damn sense! i shouldn’t be seeing this sorta shit.”

For his own sanity.

“Maybe the universe is trying to c-correct itself? I mean, as far as it’s concerned, you’re an anomaly, right?”

His soul dripped with an icy chill at the implication. An anomaly had the power to end a universe. It was a disruption of the space-time continuum. A killer.

No, that wasn’t right. The anomaly back home may have been a cold-blooder murderer, but that didn’t mean any disruption would end their timeline. If the human had made better choices, had marched through the Underground without malice, his universe would’ve been fine. No one would’ve died. They could’ve kept going forever.

Right?

“okay, that’s… a lot to drop on me when i’m just waking up.”

“O-oh, sorry.”

“nah, i’m just joking. i actually think you might be onto something there… and that kinda scares the crap outta me, to tell you the truth.”

“Y-yeah, I know. Maybe… we should run some more tests?”

“probably. i don’t know how you test for that sorta thing, but, y’know, we probably oughta try.”

“We can look into it. M-maybe while we figure out the teleportation problem.”

“i mean… it seems like it’s linked, right?”

She nodded. “It does. And, um, thankfully we did get a scan in even if it was cut short. Dr. Zhen’s got the report uploaded in the patient files.”

“that’s good. we’ll check ‘em out.”

Alphys swallowed. “Not tonight though.”

“nah. it’s way too late for – wait.” He cast his gaze around, trying to find the clock. “what time is it?”

She pulled out her phone. “E-eleven?”

“crap.” He threw the blankets off and disconnected the wires from his soul. Pain whipped through his chest again, but it was duller, more manageable. “where are my clothes? my phone?”

“W-what? What’s going on?”

“papyrus. he’s probably worried sick about me, dammit. i didn’t even text him…”

“W-woah,” she said, making a soothing motion, “it’s okay.”

“no, i really messed up, i should’ve told him i might be late…”

“N-no, I mean, you need to calm down. I don’t think it’s good for you to have another panic attack so soon.”

“i’m not gonna have another panic attack. it’s not like that.”

“Still,” she said, looking at him doubtfully. “You should j-just wait here and breathe.” She got to her feet. “I’ll get your stuff and w-we can go to Snowdin together. S-safety in groups, right?”

It must’ve been obvious that Sans wanted to argue because Alphys pushed him back to the bed.

“C-come on, Sans, if you show up like this, you’re going to scare the crap out of Papyrus.”

Sans tensed and then fell back onto the bed, nodding. “yeah. you’re right.”

“I am?” She shook her head. “I-I mean. Of course I am!”

Sans smiled sheepishly at her. “you are. i don’t wanna worry him more than i already have.”

“Y-yeah. Um. Okay, then! I’ll be right back! T-take the time to, um, rest!”

Alphys rushed out of the room, leaving Sans alone.

The isolation would’ve been nice if he spent the time destressing like she had suggested, but, sadly, all he could focus on was the fear of disappointing Papyrus. Ha. After all that had happened today – after being forced to have sex against his fucking will with absolutely no say – that was where his mind ended up? It was ridiculous.

And yet as stupid as it was, he couldn’t stop feeling it. After the accident in the Core all those years ago, he hadn’t been able to shake off that endless worry that his brother would hate him if he messed up too bad. Despise him for failing him, just like Dings and the rest of the Underground.

Here was that feeling again, baring its ugly fangs. Except… he shouldn’t have to agonize over this. Papyrus wasn’t his brother. He was… Well, he was a different Papyrus…

Why did he care? What did it matter?

But he did care, and for reasons he really didn’t want to explore right now. Not with everything else going on.

He almost cried when Alphys returned with his things, so appreciative that she had disrupted the ugly flow of his thoughts.

Chapter Text

*************************************************

Papyrus drummed his foot, his beat a relentless metronome that ended only when clouds of orange-red dust obscured his view of the laboratory. With a low grumble, he crossed his arms and began pattering his fingers against his ulna instead.

This was downright ridiculous. Did Dr. Gaster always stay at the lab so late? He was tempted to march straight in there and inform the doctor that normal business hours were a thing for a reason!

…But guards stood outside the entrance, glaring at their surroundings as the eerie glow of the nearby lava cast their faces in a constantly shifting illumination. They were more than a little intimidating, even for someone as unwavering as Papyrus! So he had been keeping his distance for the last several hours, hoping – perhaps in vain – that the Royal Scientist would leave the complex before the false sun set.

Really, he probably should have checked if the doctor had gone into work today. The thought only occurred to him now that he had made the journey all the way to the middle of nowhere. What a fool he’d be if Dr. Gaster had decided to call in sick.

Though… from his past conversations with Sans, failure to show up to work was out of the question. And, well, even if he wasn’t here this evening, he’d just have to camp here overnight!

Except… no…. he had to go to class.

This was quite the conundrum. Maybe he should ask the guards if Dr. Gaster had his schedule posted somewhere for the public.

As Papyrus was getting ready to do just that, a flash of movement out of the corner of his eye caught his attention. He twisted around, legs bent and magic at his fingertips.

A snake monster, who had been halfway across the platform, paused, eyes wide.

Papyrus straightened his posture. It was just a contraband dealer. He could tell by their suspect gaze and, of course, the odd bumps along their body; their tight clothing may have been good for transporting illicit goods, but it was not ideal for hiding said items from view.

Still, even though they were unlikely to attack, Papyrus kept his magic at the ready. One could never be too safe, especially this late at night.

The stranger broke into a wide grin and slid closer. “Hello there, chum!”

Ugh.

Papyrus held up his hand as the snake approached. “I AM NOT INTERESTED.”

He would not amuse this monster with even a hint of interest. In fact, if he were a Royal Guard, he would put an end to the folly right here and now! But… the Academy did not grant that authority to its students. Even to students as great as him!

“Ahhh, but chum,” the snake whispered loudly, “You don’t even know what goodsssss I have!” They unbuttoned their clothing to reveal an oversized bag of bright blue powder. “E-Leavesssssss, freshly ground!”

Papyrus scowled. “I AM NOT INTERESTED.”

“Ah, ah, I ssssee. Perhapssss you prefer the liquid form insssstead? I have sssseveral vialssss.”

Papyrus clenched his fists. “I AM BUSY. IF YOU DO NOT STOP OFFERING ME DRUGS, I WILL REPORT YOU.”

The snake monster ducked their head. “Oh, no need for that! I will ssssstop.” They made a shrugging motion with their tail. “No usssse in pitching a vial when you can sssssell it to ssssomeone elsssse.”

Papyrus blinked slowly. “WAS THAT… A PUN?”

“Ah, ah! Oh, you clever sssskeleton! You caught my little joke!”

Papyrus’s mouth twitched. “IT WAS NOT THAT CLEVER.”

They pointed their tail at Papyrus. “Nonssssensse. You are quite intelligent, aren’t you?”

Papyrus smiled. “YES. YES, I AM!”

“Probably the top of your classssss at… the universsssity?”

“THE ACADEMY! AND YES! I AM!”

“Ah…. Not often I get to sssell to a monssster of sssssuch refined tassste.”

“I AM SURE THAT YOU DO NOT MEET MANY MONSTERS OF MY CALIBER, NO!” Papyrus’s smile slipped. “NO, WAIT. I AM NOT INTERESTED!”

“Ahhhh, but you haven’t even conssssidered my sssstock.”

This was enough. It wasn’t worth his time to even deign the monster with any more responses. He trained his eyes on the laboratory entrance, hoping that the dealer would take the hint.

They didn’t.

“Yessssss, as a future Guardsssman, you’d be more interessssted in my other collection. A well-read individual sssssuch as yoursssself deserves the finessst items. Bookssss, for example.”

Books? Papyrus aimed a curious side-glance at the monster but didn’t say a word. That was apparently all the reassurance the stranger needed.

“Ah! Yesssss, I have many rare itemssss back at my apartment. One-of-a-kind booksssss, sssspecialty clothing, unique human-made moviesssss.” They winked. “I even have human moviesssss of a more ssssalaciousss nature, if that fitssss your fanccccy.”

Papyrus blushed. “IT DOES NOT FIT MY –” He broke off as he spotted movement coming from the laboratory, and… yes! It was him! “DR. GASTER!”

As Papyrus came bounding over to him, Dr. Gaster’s expression transformed from one of startled shock to pure anger.

“Excuse me,” Dr. Gaster said as he pushed past Papyrus.

“NO, WAIT, I NEED TO DISCUSS SOME IMPORTANT MATTERS WITH YOU.”

“Then you may make a meeting with my assistant.”

“I HAVE TRIED BUT HE SAID YOU ARE NOT TAKING ANY MEETING REQUESTS RIGHT NOW!”

“Then perhaps that is a sign that I am not interested in discussion.”

Papyrus grabbed onto Dr. Gaster’s arm. “THIS IS ABOUT SANS!”

“I know what this is about,” Dr. Gaster said as he threw Papyrus’s hand off him. “Unlike your brother, I am not an idiot.”

“HOW DARE – ARGH! LISTEN! PLEASE TAKE SANS BACK!”

Dr. Gaster’s brow wrinkled with incredulity. “Take him back.”

“YES. AS YOUR PARTNER. L-LAB PARTNER.”

He knew that their relationship entailed much more than that, but if Sans was able to work in the lab again, to be intellectually stimulated, to get paid, then it didn’t matter. Dr. Gaster could take him on as a lover if it meant Sans was happy. Papyrus would… endure.

Sans, however, might not. Not without some sort of intervention. His state had gotten downright ugly.

Dr. Gaster hadn’t said anything yet. He simply stared at Papyrus, mouth slightly agape. Papyrus’s soul kindled with hope… only to be doused in an instant.

“I do not know what gave you the idea that taking him back would ever be an option, but I am going to tell you in no uncertain terms: I will never allow Sans to work under me, with me, or around me again.”

“BUT –”

“In fact, I have been doing everything in my power to make sure he never gets work in the field again.”

“WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?!”

Dr. Gaster stared at him, as if sizing him up. Out of habit, Papyrus stood at attention, showing him just how trustworthy and Guard-like he could be.

“Your name is Papyrus, correct?”

Papyrus nodded, surprised the doctor knew his name.

“Well, Papyrus, after Sans’s betrayal, he deserves it. I do not take such behavior lightly.”

“WHAT COULD HE HAVE POSSIBLY DONE TO WARRANT THIS TREATMENT?”

Dr. Gaster chuckled. “Of course he did not tell you.”

“TELL ME WHAT?”

“That while he was courting me, working with me, sleeping with me,” he said, signing angrily, “he was also fornicating with his subordinate. Several times.”

Papyrus gasped.

“Apparently they were doing it all over the campus,” he said, pointing all around him. “Imagine the gall to do it right under my nose.”

Papyrus didn’t want to imagine. His soul was screaming, unable to withstand the words. Dr. Gaster was one thing, but another lover? How could…

Oh no, he had to hold it together.

“What is worse is that the subordinate in question apparently had no hint of our relationship either. Disgusting. What kind of idiotic, immoral, backwards –”

“STOP,” Papyrus croaked. “PLEASE.”

Dr. Gaster flattened his jacket. “Well now you know. And you would do best to forget the laboratory.”

“I…” Papyrus swallowed, nerves rattling his bones. “I KNOW IT IS A LOT TO ASK, BUT IF YOU COULD JUST LET HIM WORK ELSEWHERE AT LEAST…”

“No. He made his bed, he can lie in it.”

God, what had Sans done? Papyrus covered his face, mortified that he had taken the time to do this.

Through his fingers, Papyrus saw Dr. Gaster’s face soften. “You want my advice, Papyrus? Stop coddling him. He is perfectly capable of getting a job in another industry.”

“NO, HE IS NOT,” Papyrus sobbed. “I HAVE NOT BEEN ABLE TO GET HIM A JOB EVEN AS A SENTRY. HIS MAGIC IS TOO WEAK!”

“There are other professions outside the fields of magic, fighting, and science. He can work a shop in the Capital if need be.”

“BUT –”

“But nothing. Kick him out if he cannot pull his own weight. He is an adult. As are you.”

Papyrus would never do that. As much as his brother had monumentally messed up, he didn’t deserve homelessness or starvation. Not to mention he had already fallen into poor health as of late. A push like that and he very well might…

“PLEASE,” Papyrus begged even though he knew it was futile. “JUST LET HIM WORK AT THE UNIVERSITY. HE TRAINED HIS WHOLE LIFE FOR THIS.”

“No,” he said with finality. “Now if you will excuse me, I have worked twenty hours straight and I am ready for bed.”

“WAIT, I –” Papyrus called, holding out his hand.

“Don’t make me report you for stalking.” And as he said it, his expression creased with guilt. “From what Sans said of you, you will make a name for yourself in the Guard. I would hate to bring such an indelible mark upon your record.”

With that, Dr. Gaster twisted around and marched off towards Waterfall, an air of urgency around him.

For a couple of minutes, all Papyrus could do was stand there. In the back of his mind he knew he had to get home and rest; class started bright and early, and his instructors tolerated neither tardiness nor unnecessary absences.

But then he’d have to go home and face Sans and that terrible aura of depression and lifelessness and awfulness and…

“Intriguing conversssssation there.”

Papyrus jolted. Through his misty vision, he saw that the dealer had approached him once more.

“I DO NOT WANT TO BUY YOUR GOODS,” Papyrus groaned, voice tight with emotion. “PLEASE… LEAVE ME ALONE.”

“Oh. I can ssssee that. A ssssskeleton like you has no need for trouble.” They lifted their tail to their chin, as if deep in thought. “But, ah, it would be a shame if any of that were to get out.”

Papyrus’s soul stumbled. “WHAT?”

“What a reputation to have!”

“PLEASE,” he begged breathlessly. “DON’T. I AM BEGGING YOU.”

“Ah? What wassss that?” They smiled brightly. “You’re interessssted in browssssing my waresssss?”

“I HAVE NO MONEY,” answered Papyrus, his voice hollow.

“No money? Ahhh, that issss unfortunate.” They shook their head. “The Underground is a ssssmall place. Eassssy to spread newsss.”

“WAIT, I WILL, UM…” He huffed, unsure what to offer. “UM…”

“How about thisssss? If you housssse some of my more… ah, how to put thisssss? Sssssusssspect itemssss, then we can forget this converssssation ever happened.”

Papyrus gulped. “WHAT SORT OF ITEMS?”

“Weaponsss, magical artifactssss, the like.” The snake offered his tail. “Do we have a deal?”

Hesitation curdled inside him. This was illegal. If he were caught, the Academy would, no doubt, throw him out. Worse than that, though, was just how immoral this was. Weapons! Who knew what sort of operation he would be aiding and abetting!

But… this was the only option he had. If the rumors ever got out, Sans would never be able to get a job again. In any sector.

Papyrus grabbed the dealer’s tail and shook it.

“Ssssmart decissssion, my friend.”

*************************************************

Papyrus sat on the couch, his legs bouncing without pause as he tried to keep himself together.

Just because Sans wasn’t home yet didn’t mean he was in danger. And just because he had stayed at the office overnight didn’t mean he had done anything unsavory. This Sans wouldn’t do that. He wasn’t like that.

And this Sans was also not the type to respond to heart emojis either.

Papyrus cringed. Ugh, what did it matter anyway? It wasn’t like Sans was bound to him. He was perfectly free to be with whomever he wanted. Papyrus should know better by now! His brother hadn’t reciprocated any of his approaches, so why would this Sans? They hardly knew each other! Not to mention how unbecoming it was of Papyrus to even attempt a move on someone as cool as him!

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

None of that mattered anyway. What mattered was that Sans wasn’t here.

Even though Papyrus knew it would be pointless, he checked his phone again and was somehow still disappointed when he had no new notifications.

God, what if Muffet had gone back on her word and had kidnapped him? Or worse, what if a rival gang had intercepted him and was holding him for ransom? Or what if Sans had succeeded in teleporting back home? What if he never got to say goodbye?! Or what if –

Papyrus clenched his fists. Okay. That was it. If Sans wasn’t back by midnight, he was going to search for him. If he wasn’t at the lab, he’d call upon Undyne – no, the entire Guard if he had to!

Or maybe he could just call Alphys. That was probably the simpler solution, even if it would be an exercise of both his patience and good manners.

Just as he brought up Alphys’s contact information, there came a soft knock at the front door. He was so on edge that the tiny noise made him jump so badly that his phone fell to the floor. Cursing – though nothing beyond “damn” because he wasn’t that barbaric – he peeked through the peephole and was shocked to find Alphys and Sans standing on his step.

“SANS!” Papyrus yelled as he tore open the door.

“AH!” Alphys slammed her shivering claws to her mouth, staring at Papyrus with wide eyes. “S-sorry. You, um, s-scared me. Gosh, I hope n-no one else heard me or – or –”

“no big deal, alphs.” Sans corralled her past Papyrus, his head bent toward the ground. “come on, let’s get you warmed up.”

“Y-yeah.” She visibly relaxed as Papyrus clicked the door shut. “Th-thanks. Brrrrr! How can you live here?”

Sans shrugged, still casting his gaze downwards. “snow big deal. you get used to the weather.”

“Eheh. Nice one.”

Papyrus grit his teeth. “ENOUGH PUNS! WHY ARE YOU HOME SO LATE?”

Sans cast a sideways glance at Alphys who in turn fidgeted with her sleeves. “was getting a scan.”

Papyrus crossed his arms. “YOU HAVE ALREADY HAD SEVERAL SCANS!”

“Um. Th-this one was different,” Alphys mumbled. “More, um, intense.”

Papyrus didn’t miss the way Sans subtly shook his head in Alphys’s direction.

“INTENSE HOW?” he asked, narrowing his sockets.

“eh, it was a big lightshow really. got a wicked headache from it,” he said, clutching his skull, “but we had to get it done to try to figure out what’s up with my magic.”

“WELL? DID YOU?”

“uh.” Sans shifted his gaze. “no, not yet. alphys is gonna look over the data with me tomorrow.”

Papyrus huffed, though his soul lightened a bit. Sans wasn’t leaving yet.

“M-maybe you should take a day off?” Alphys smiled nervously. “You have had a long couple of days.”

“WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?” Papyrus demanded.

“Oh, uh, nothing.” Alphys blushed. “B-between the scan and our, um, all-nighter… Well, he could use rest.”

When she flashed another grin in Sans’s direction, hot, burning rage flared within Papyrus.

“WELL THEN, MAYBE NEXT TIME YOU SHOULD NOT STAY LATE!”

“it wasn’t intentional. i’m real sorry.”

“AT THE VERY LEAST YOU COULD CALL ME INSTEAD OF KEEPING THAT INFORMATION TO YOURSELVES!”

“yeah, sorry,” Sans repeated, ducking his head. “it slipped my mind.”

“WELL! STOP LETTING THINGS SLIP AND GET A GRIP!”

Without waiting for a response, Papyrus stomped into the kitchen and began pulling out leftovers.

For a few precious minutes, he was able to stew in his own misery, feeling quite justified that Sans was being a jerk! No calls, no texts, and all he was doing was getting a “scan.” Yeah, right! Definitely not sleeping with Alphys or Dr. Gaster or anyone else!

It was as the lasagna finished heating up that Sans entered the room, disrupting the flow of his thoughts. Sans didn’t say anything as he sat down at the table, and it was clear from his quiet movements that he was trying not to draw attention to himself, but his presence was all it took to sow doubt within Papyrus’s soul.

And guilt.

Sans’s exhaustion was evident; from the shadows under his sockets to his poor posture, to the way he looked ready to fall over any second. It reminded Papyrus of the days his brother used to come home utterly spent. And not because of the fling he had had with Dr. Gaster, but those days he had worked himself down to the bone.

Ugh. His brother would say that after coming home back then. Even after all this time, he couldn’t get his infernal puns out of his head.

Like back then, Dr. Gaster must have been working Sans too hard. Darn it, that horrible monster didn’t deserve Sans! He was too nice, too smart, too –

“hey, is something up?”

Papyrus jolted, suddenly aware that as much as he had been staring at him, Sans had been staring right back.

“WHAT DO YOU MEAN?”

“for starters, you’re aiming the ugliest glare in my direction right now.”

Papyrus glanced towards the living room.

“alphs went home,” Sans said, answering the unasked question. “she couldn’t warm up properly when the atmosphere was so chilly.”

Papyrus wasn’t sure if that had been a pun or an honest statement of the weather, but even the hint of joviality had his soul twitching with frustration. He chose to ignore Sans’s question and retrieve the reheated lasagna from the oven.

“come on, i just wanna chat. what’s bugging you?”

“IT IS NOT IMPORTANT,” he said shortly.

“it sure seems like it is.”

“NO.”

Sans sighed and leaned back. “if that’s how you wanna play it.”

“I – ARGH!” Papyrus exclaimed as he slammed the dish onto the stove. “I AM JUST FRUSTRATED!”

Sans didn’t respond. He simply stared at Papyrus with slightly overblown eyelights.

“WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN? I HAVE BEEN WORRIED SICK ABOUT YOU! YOU DID NOT RESPOND TO ANY OF MY MESSAGES ALL DAY, AND THEN YOU WERE OUT ALL NIGHT! I WAS SO WORRIED THAT MUFFET HAD GOTTEN TO YOU!”

“sorry,” Sans said, bowing his head again, “i really should’ve texted you.”

“BUT WHAT WERE YOU DOING?”

“i already said: getting a scan.”

“I DO NOT BELIEVE THAT FOR A MOMENT!”

Sans tilted his head, frowning. “well it’s the truth. and if you don’t wanna believe me, you don’t have to.”

Papyrus clawed at his own face. “ARGH! YOU ARE TELLING ME THAT YOU ARE BEING TRUTHFUL RIGHT NOW?”

“yeah.” Sans scratched his nasal bridge. “well, sorta.”

“A-HA!” he said, pointing emphatically. “YOU ARE LYING!”

“no. i was just… underplaying the scan a bit back there. didn’t wanna make it sound scary.”

“AND IT WAS?”

“yeah,” he said, and then added with a full body shiver, “terrifying.”

Papyrus paused, gauging Sans’s authenticity. Sans’s eyes were focused elsewhere, as if not really taking in his surroundings. It looked real. And if that were the case, what had happened earlier?

Before he had to chance to ask, Sans piped up, tone a pitch higher than normal, “i promise that’s all it was. alphs, another doc, and i were busy with it for a while. way too long, i know.”

“IT WAS NOT DR. GASTER HELPING?”

“no, he hardly sees me really.”

Papyrus rubbed his arm. “SO YOU HAVE NOT BEEN… ALONE WITH HIM?”

“not like that,” Sans replied, voice pained.

“OH.”

Sans coughed and his tone returned to normal. “you know, i’m not interested in him.”

“OF COURSE YOU AREN’T,” Papyrus said hurriedly, “I WAS JUST…” Just what? He didn’t have an answer.

“even if i was though? honestly, i…” Sans swallowed. “i’d like to know why you’re getting so upset about it.”

“I SHOULD NOT HAVE TO TELL YOU HOW MUCH OF A DESPICABLE MAN HE IS! HE MADE SURE MY BROTHER WAS MISERABLE FOR THE REST OF HIS –”

He couldn’t bear to utter the last word.

“yeah, i get that. you really don’t like him. i’m not that fond of him either, though i kinda get why he… well, never mind,” he said, shaking his head. “what i’m asking about, and what i don’t really get, is why you’re getting so… jealous.”

Papyrus bristled. “JEALOUS? JEALOUS? ME? THE GREAT AND TERRIBLE PAPYRUS DOES NOT GET JEALOUS! I AM JUST… JUST…”

He was stuck again, at a loss for words. What was he? Concerned? Protective?

No… No, Sans was right: it truly was jealousy. The emotion was burning in his chest, clouding his vision, making it difficult not to shake with its force.

His shoulders drooped, guilt pitting in his soul. Not good. Not good at all. It was his brother all over again.

“YOU ARE COMPLETELY RIGHT,” Papyrus babbled, a torrent of words falling from his mouth, “I AM SO SORRY, THAT WAS SO INAPPROPRIATE, AND I NEVER SHOULD HAVE BROUGHT HIM UP AT ALL. IT IS NONE OF MY BUSINESS, AND IF I WERE EVER IN YOUR POSITION I WOULD BE RIGHTFULLY UPSET, AND IF I COULD TAKE IT BACK –”

“stop, stop. i wasn’t trying to get you to stop talking about it, i was… curious more than anything.” Sans played with the sleeves of his hoodie. “i kinda get the impression, uh, your bro kinda slept around a bit?”

Papyrus’s soul stuttered. “YOU HAVE HEARD THE RUMORS, HAVEN’T YOU?”

“not exactly…” Sans’s gaze darted to the side. “let’s just say i got a feeling.”

Papyrus was no stranger to that expression. Sans was lying, or at the very least, omitting a crucial fact. Then again, so was he. And really, he owed Sans this long overdue explanation.

“MY BROTHER… DID NOT UTILIZE THE BEST JUDGMENT WHEN IT CAME TO HIS SEXUAL LIFE. HE SLEPT AROUND… QUITE A BIT. CHEATED ON MANY PARTNERS, AS I UNDERSTAND IT. INCLUDING GASTER,” he admitted with a cringe.

“well, shit,” Sans laughed humorlessly. “that sucks.”

“DO NOT USE THAT CRUDE LANGUAGE,” Papyrus chided.

“well, shit. that stinks,” Sans corrected himself.

Papyrus couldn’t help but chuckle at that.

“explains a lot though.”

With a sigh, Papyrus nodded. “I SHOULD HAVE EXPLAINED BEFORE.”

“would’ve been useful, but eh. i get why you didn’t.” He flitted his gaze toward him, his smile touched with a hint of exasperation. “you know i’ve never done that, right?”

Guilt once again filled Papyrus’s soul. “OF COURSE NOT.”

“really. i mean it. i’ve hardly slept with anyone.” He winced. “well, before coming here i mean.”

Papyrus opened his mouth to offer reassurances, but the words died before they could form.

“anyway, what i mean to say is that even if i had slept with the whole underground, i’ve never cheated on anyone. and i don’t see gaster like that at all.”

Some of the tension unspooled from Papyrus’s limbs. “GOOD. HE IS NOT WORTH YOUR ATTENTION.”

Sans shook his head. “i don’t get it.”

“WHAT?”

“as much as you seem to hate him, you delivered a real passionate speech about mending broken bridges the other day.”

“ABOUT DOING WHAT NOW? I AM NO ENGINEER.”

“heh. i just mean… you told him that you know your bro did a lot of messed up things, but that he should put all that crap aside for me.” He glanced up at Papyrus, brows raised. “did you mean that? all the stuff you said about me?”

“I – OF COURSE I MEAN IT.” Papyrus cleared his throat, face suddenly warm. “YOU ARE… A VERY GOOD MONSTER. ONE OF THE BEST MONSTERS I HAVE EVER HAD THE HONOR OF MEETING. YOU ARE SO… COOL!”

Sans’s cheeks reddened as well. “oh. heh.”

“Y-YES,” Papyrus hurriedly said. “AND, I, WELL, APOLOGIZE! PROFUSELY! ONCE AGAIN!”

“for what?”

“UM. FOR ACTING LIKE A JERK.” Papyrus hung his head. “I KNOW I SOMETIMES LET MY JEALOUSY GET THE BEST OF ME.”

“so i guess you were jealous.” He sounded almost… disappointed.

“…PERHAPS.”

Sans arched a brow at him. “why is that?”

“NO REASON!” Papyrus’s face was hot as flame now. “WOWIE, WOULD YOU LOOK AT THE TIME? WE REALLY OUGHT TO EAT DINNER BEFORE BED! NYEH HEH HEH!”

“yeah? you think?” Sans’s expression was one part bemused, one part troubled.

“I DO NOT THINK, I KNOW! IT IS MOST PRUDENT TO RESTORE YOUR ENERGY! ESPECIALLY IF YOU WERE… DOING SCARY SCANS?”

“yeah, you’re right,” Sans said, slowly relaxing into the chair. “good idea.”

Phew. Close call. It was bad enough that he was clearly letting his feelings affect his behavior – after all, he was supposed to be distancing himself, not getting riled up! – but to tell Sans? No way he was going to do that.

Yet as he sat down at the table, ready to nibble at the small portion of lasagna that he had dished himself, Sans said something that nearly broke him.

“you know,” Sans said, chewing carefully on a bite, “i think the same about you.”

Papyrus blinked, his hands balling up his pants under the table. “THINK WHAT ABOUT ME?”

“that you’re cool,” Sans admitted, his cheekbones growing redder. “just as cool as my own bro.”

“WH–WHAT?”

“yeah. it’s like you’re everything i wanna be. you have all these feelings that you just… let out. i’m glad. it’s hard to do it, and i wish i could.”

“I – I SUPPOSE,” Papyrus said, hesitating. Usually when he thought of his emotions, it was with shame and guilt, but Sans’s words injected him with a sense of pride.

“you don’t gotta suppose. my bro used to tell me that keeping them bottled up was the worst thing you could do. he was right; it is. you’re just like him – so intuitive and aligned with your feelings.”

Papyrus leapt to his feet. “THAT IS NOT TRUE! I AM… OVEREMOTIONAL!”

“nah. and you know, that’s not all. you’re brave too. you don’t back down from a challenge, and you’ve accomplished so much on your own like a certified badass.”

“L-LANGUAGE!”

“sorry, like a pro badass.” He laughed as Papyrus’s face scrunched with faux disappointment. “and let’s not forget to mention how strong you are. magically, emotionally, physically.”

“WHY ARE YOU SAYING ALL THIS?” Papyrus asked, almost too flabbergasted to speak.

Sans shrugged, his features graced with a smile so soft Papyrus could almost scream. “guess i just wanted to let you know.”

He returned to his meal, his eyes resolutely trained on the plate. His mouth was still stretched into that grin, and Papyrus just… couldn’t stop staring. Never mind his earlier emotions; now his soul was going so fast, he wouldn’t be surprised if its pulsing was visible through his shirt.

This was not good. Not good at all. How was he ever going to survive when Sans left?

Chapter Text

Sharp, icy flurries flew into Sans’s face as he ambled through town. Only the bright orange light of Grillby’s lit up the path; without it, he wouldn’t know east from west.

His body trembled, but it wasn’t from the cold. Under his clothes, buckets of sweat poured down his bones, and a swirling nausea touched his soul. Worst of all was how stretched and thin he felt, especially around his sternum.

(That was his injury acting up again, wasn’t it?)

He shook his head and continued down the road, ignoring the aches and odd, stray thoughts. If he could get to the bar before it closed, maybe he could convince Grillby to trade a BJ for an ounce.

(No. That wasn’t what he wanted. Please, god, not again –)

“SANS!”

The harsh command yanked Sans from his dream and he found himself staring at his ugly popcorn ceiling. The artificial sunlight poured through a break in the curtains, fragmenting the shadow that engulfed his room and signaling the dawn of a new day.

Sans’s breath came in tiny, sharp bursts, sparking that taut, burning pain in his chest.

“BREAKFAST IS READY!” Papyrus called from somewhere downstairs. “ARE YOU AWAKE?”

“y–”

A violent coughing fit tore his reply asunder. His magicked throat was so dry that he couldn’t even cry out as his ribs split, and he was left twisting into the blankets. By the time the cough tapered off, he had curled up into a small ball on the bed, knees nearly to his chin and covers corkscrewed around him.

God, he hated this. He hated how it was just like his dreams.

And this pain. When would it stop?

Papyrus’s loud footfalls told Sans that he was stamping up the stairs. Hurriedly, Sans wiped his face on the corner of the blanket, removing the errant tears.

Papyrus knocked on the door three times in quick succession. “SANS, ARE YOU OKAY?”

Sans swallowed, though his voice still came out as a rasp. “i’m fine.”

The door slowly opened, revealing a very concerned-looking Papyrus in his metal Royal Guard armor, complete with the Delta Rune insignia. Sans hadn’t seen him in the outfit since – God, had it really been that day? He repressed a shudder.

In any case, he hadn’t realized how sophisticated and, well, downright handsome Papyrus was in the armor.

Nothing good could come from a thought like that. He cringed and, after belatedly realizing that Papyrus was watching him, tried to ask about the clothing. Sadly, his words were lost in another coughing fit; his throat was just too dry.

“HERE,” Papyrus said as he stretched out his arm in front of him, revealing a perspiring glass of water. “HOPEFULLY THIS WILL HELP?”

Sans nodded, sneaking out an arm from the tangled nest of blankets.

As soon as he had refreshed his parched magic and the coughing had ended, Papyrus dropped an ungloved hand to Sans’s forehead.

“NO FEVER,” he muttered, “THOUGH IT IS CLEAR YOU ARE NOT FEELING WELL.”

“i’m fine,” Sans repeated, voice much clearer this time. “my throat was just dry.”

“THEN WHY DIDN’T YOU SIT UP TO DRINK? YOU ARE NOT THAT LAZY.”

Sans winced. “chest hurts.”

Papyrus’s brow raised with concern. “PERHAPS WE SHOULD CALL ALPHYS? SHE MIGHT BE ABLE TO –”

“nah,” Sans said, shaking his head as gently as he could. “it just hurts after last night.”

“…THE SCAN?” When Sans nodded, Papyrus appeared even more distraught. “THEY SHOULD HAVE BEEN MORE CAREFUL! YOU ARE OBVIOUSLY IN NO CONDITION TO UNDERGO SUCH SERIOUS TESTS!”

“paps, i agreed to it.”

“STILL!”

“don’t worry about it.” He sighed. “i’m sure the pain will be gone soon.”

“WHY WOULD YOU BE SURE OF THAT?”

“because alphys said she wanted to go over the results with me. we can figure out what the problem is.”

“OH.” Papyrus scuffled his feet. “WELL, I CAN STILL BE UPSET OVER RASH DECISIONS! ESPECIALLY WHEN I WAS NOT CONSULTED FIRST!”

“true,” Sans said tiredly. “should’ve talked to you about it. that way you could’ve picked me up after work.”

“EXACTLY! YOU WOULD HAVE GOTTEN HOME SAFELY AND IT WOULD HAVE BEEN THE PERFECT OPPORTUNITY TO SEE ALL YOUR PROGRESS AT THE CORE!”

Sans lazily blinked at him. “uh, we’re not at the core yet.”

“YOU AREN’T?” Melancholy weaved into Sans’s soul as Papyrus slumped with obvious disappointment. Guess he wanted him gone sooner rather than later. “I THOUGHT YOU TOLD DR. GASTER THAT YOU NEEDED THE ROOM THERE.”

“still haven’t found it. don’t think it exists here. in any case, gaster won’t let me look.”

“BUT ISN’T THAT WHERE HIS OFFICE IS LOCATED?”

“in the core? i mean, he’s got a couple of offices, i think, but yeah, that’s where he is a lot of the time. he’s gotta deal with the earthquakes or something.”

“THEN WHY WOULDN’T HE JUST…” His armor clanked as he waved his arm around. “BRING YOU THERE TO INVESTIGATE THE PREMISES?”

Sans shrugged, though stopped halfway when the motion sent pain through his torso. “you tell me. he seems convinced i’m gonna sabotage the place or something.”

“THAT NO-GOOD, ROTTEN BAG OF BONES,” Papyrus cursed. “HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO DEAL WITH –”

Suddenly he clamped his mouth shut, his eyes widening with guilt. Sans could imagine the rest of the rant; it was obviously inconvenient to put up with him. He couldn’t blame him for getting upset.

“NEVER MIND,” Papyrus said when he finally recovered. “JUST… TELL ME WHEN YOU DO HAVE ACCESS TO THE CORE, OKAY? THEN I CAN COME AND VISIT!”

“yeah,” Sans murmured.

Papyrus shook his head, sighing. “AND I REALLY DO HOPE YOU APPRECIATE HOW DANGEROUS IT WAS NOT TO ALERT ME BEFORE LEAVING LAST NIGHT. WANDERING AROUND IN THE DARK WITH NO MAGIC, AND WITH ALPHYS AT THAT.”

Irritation flitted through Sans’s soul. “what do you mean by that?”

“DO NOT BE OFFENDED, SANS,” Papyrus said with a frown. “I JUST MEAN TO SAY SHE IS NOT THE STRONGEST MONSTER. ANYONE CAN SEE THAT. ALL IT WOULD HAVE TAKEN IS ONE SCOUNDREL TO HAVE CROSSED YOUR PATH LAST NIGHT AND YOU COULD HAVE – COULD HAVE –”

The expression that crossed Papyrus’s face was so heartbreaking that Sans’s soul juddered in response. God, it made no sense. One second Papyrus wanted him out of the way, the next he was staring at Sans with those big puppy dog eyes like he wanted nothing more than to hug him and never let go. It was almost enough to get Sans to just come out and ask how Paps felt about letting him stay.

…And then Paps went back to his usual tirade.

“AND DR. GASTER!” Papyrus spat. “HE KNEW BETTER THAN TO JUST LET YOU TWO WALK OUT THERE ON YOUR OWN SO LATE AT NIGHT! HE KNOWS ABOUT YOUR IMPAIRMENT! YET AGAIN HE HAS IGNORED REALITY AND PUT YOU RIGHT IN THE PATH OF DANGER!”

As Papyrus launched into a rant about Gaster for the umpteenth time, Sans rubbed his face, careful not to jostle his chest. It was the same thing as always – Gaster was a jerk, didn’t deserve Sans’s politeness, etcetera, etcetera. He would agree if he couldn’t detect the jealousy oozing off Papyrus, something that he absolutely detested. There was seriously no need for it.

Not to mention it posed quite the conundrum. Why was Papyrus jealous? Did he want Sans to stick around or not? Was there something more to his outbursts?

Or was Sans overthinking this yet again?

“SANS!”

Sans blinked. “sorry, what’s up?”

Papyrus huffed. “YOU DID NOT LISTEN TO A WORD I SAID, DID YOU?”

“nah, i did. gaster is terrible and all that.”

“UGH! YOU COULD AT LEAST TAKE MY RAVING SERIOUSLY!”

“i do. i swear i do,” Sans said, rubbing his sockets as the weight of his thought process hit him. “i’m just… tired is all.”

The anger fell off Papyrus’s face, replaced once more with apprehension. “ARE YOU STAYING HOME TODAY THEN?”

Sans swallowed. Staying home meant he would be alone with no means of protection, just down the road from Grillby and the rest of the town. If they showed up, he wouldn’t know what to do. He could try to hide? God, that was if he could get out of bed.

Because right now even the thought of moving around was making his injury flare.

“yeah,” Sans conceded, “gonna try to sleep this off.”

Papyrus nodded. “THAT IS A MARVELOUS IDEA.”

“really? of all people, i thought you’d be the one ordering me to get my lazy butt out of bed.”

Papyrus crossed his arms. “FIRST OF ALL, YOU DO NOT HAVE A BUTT.”

“heh. not right now, but if you give me a few seconds to gather my magic –”

“SECONDLY!” Papyrus bellowed, cheeks burning red, “IF YOUR WOUND IS BOTHERING YOU, THEN IT IS A WISE DECISION TO STAY HOME RATHER THAN AGGRAVATE IT FURTHER.”

“well, i’m glad you at least get it.”

“AS OPPOSED TO WHOM?”

Sans’s soul sunk as the memory of his brother danced in his head. “no one.”

“IF ANY OF YOUR COLLEAGUES,” he emphasized with a disgusted tone, “HAVE AN ISSUE WITH YOU STAYING HOME TO REST, THEN YOU TELL THEM TO CALL ME AND I WILL SET THEM STRAIGHT.”

“heh. as soon as i tell them you’re on board, i doubt they’ll want to do anything to piss you off.”

“THIS IS TRUE! AFTER ALL, EVERYONE KNOWS THE GREAT AND TERRIBLE PAPYRUS IS NOT ONE WITH WHICH TO BE TRIFLED! EVEN TODAY, CAPTAIN UNDYNE SPECIFICALLY REQUESTED THAT I –” Papyrus glanced at the window and panic flashed through his eyes. “GADZOOKS, IS IT REALLY SO LATE?”

Sans’s mouth twitched. “gadzooks, it sure is.” He gestured at Papyrus’s armor. “you late to whatever requires the, uh, getup? gonna go officiate a wedding or something?”

“NYEH HEH! I WISH! TODAY I MUST WEAR THIS AS PROTECTION!”

Sans’s sockets widened. “protection? you gonna be okay?”

“WORRY NOT!” Papyrus shouted as he puffed up his ribcage. “CAPTAIN UNDYNE AND A NUMBER OF OTHER GUARDS SHALL BE ACCOMPANYING ME TODAY.”

“that… doesn’t exactly make me feel any better. what’s going on?”

“VILLAINRY AND SHOWMANSHIP, OF COURSE. IT IS, ONCE AGAIN, THAT TIME OF YEAR WHERE WE MUST COLLECT TAXES FROM THE BLOODLETTER GANG.”

“uhhh… sounds dangerous.”

“THEY ARE INDEED ONE THE UNDERGROUND’S WORST GROUP OF MISCREANTS,” he declared proudly.

“are you guys gonna fight?” Sans asked, propping himself up on his elbow. If Papyrus was about to get into some sort of battle, there was no way he was just going to be lying around all day.

“WE USUALLY DO! THESE INDIVIDUALS HAVE AN IMAGE TO UPHOLD AFTER ALL!” He opened one of his eyes and must’ve spotted the expression on Sans’s face because he hurriedly continued, “BUT WORRY NOT! IT IS ALL JUST FOR SHOW!”

“for show? what?”

“IT IS A GESTURE! THEY HAVE TO DEMONSTRATE THAT THEY ARE NOT WILLINGLY PAYING THE GOVERNMENT. EVEN THOUGH THEY ARE. AND EVERYONE KNOWS THEY ARE.”

“that sounds… kinda inefficient.”

“VERY MUCH SO!”

“then why do it?”

“IT IS JUST THE WAY OF THE UNDERGROUND. OTHERWISE THE BLOODLETTERS WOULD ENDLESSLY PLAGUE THE GUARD WITH THEIR ANTICS.”

He didn’t sound pleased about it, and it was no wonder why; Papyrus wasn’t exactly supportive of the so-called criminal lifestyle, no matter the universe.

“well, you’ll stay safe, right?”

Papyrus sobered. “YES, OF COURSE.”

“promise?”

“INDEED. IT IS A PROMISE. FOR YOU, I SHALL STAY OUT OF THE THICKEST OF SCUFFLES.”

Embarrassment trickled through Sans’s bones. “heh. well, thanks.”

“DO NOT MENTION IT!” Papyrus shouted, posture straight as an arrow. “NOW, I REALLY MUST GO. I COOKED A FRESH BOWL OF OATMEAL THAT YOU CAN RETRIEVE FROM DOWNSTAIRS AT YOUR LEISURE. AND I BELIEVE FIVE OF MY VHS TAPES ARE IN GOOD ENOUGH CONDITION TO WATCH. I’VE PLACED THEM NEXT TO THE TELEVISION. IF YOU NEED ME AT ALL, I AM BUT A PHONE CALL AWAY!”

Sans smiled. “heh, same goes for you.”

“THANK YOU. I WILL SEE YOU TONIGHT! REST WELL!”

With that, Papyrus rushed out of the room, his armor clanking the entire way. It was only when the front door slammed shut that the tight stretch of anxiety returned. He wished he could’ve gone with Papyrus, if only to keep an eyesocket out for him in case the battle turned for the worse.

But he resigned himself to his fate and laid back down. Oatmeal sounded good, but sleep was a much more alluring temptress. He sighed into the blankets and closed his eyes.

And he waited. And waited.

His injury wailed as he tossed and turned in his bed, every movement a reminder that he really ought not to move. He tried to lie still, but the blankets, sheets, pillow, everything around him was too warm for him to settle comfortably. In the meantime, his soul was wound with anxiety. Not only was sleep eluding him, but the thought that Papyrus could come home injured (or fail to come home at all) had him too stressed out.

Nothing he did helped. He tried playing calming music on his phone. Then he switched to some videos. In the end, his phone proved to be a source of more anxiety; Alphys sent him several text messages over the course of the morning asking where he was and if he could contact her so they could schedule a time to discuss his scan results. Eventually his phone powered down and he threw it to the edge of the bed.

Around midday, he finally surrendered. Although his chest threw a fit about it, he climbed out of bed and headed downstairs. Maybe some food would do the trick.

By the time he got to the kitchen – his body shaking and sweaty from the descent – the oatmeal was a cold, soggy mess. Not even a healthy helping of cinnamon and sugar could save the dish.

The fridge was surprisingly nearly empty. Well, nearly empty of the usual leftovers anyway. There were plenty of ingredients, but the only completed meal in there was a half-eaten serving of lasagna.

He groaned, rubbing his ribcage. Cooking was out of the question. In fact, he felt so faint that he didn’t think he could warm up the dish. So he leaned in as carefully as he could, pulled out the lasagna, and headed into the living room.

It was only when he sat down that he realized he hadn’t grabbed a fork. Eh. Using his thumb and forefinger, he plied away one of the thick, flat noodles and deposited it into his mouth. It was cold and kind of slimy, but the marinara and Italian spices melded together wonderfully along his conjured tongue.

With his clean hand he turned on the television. Mettaton was draped across a long canoe eating some sort of berry. The screen flashed with some text, urging viewers to call for some sort of “endowment” medicine. Sans held back a snicker. Man, his bro would’ve loved to have seen the rectangular body in that revealing pink bikini.

That just made himself sad, so he stuffed another noodle in his mouth, this time with more ricotta cheese. Crumbles of it spilled onto the couch, and he swore as he bent down to pick it up.

Yet, as he did so, out of the corner of his eye, he saw movement just outside the window.

He gasped, sputtering as he inhaled the mouthful in one go. Ignoring his wound and the pain in his throat, he punched at his chest and spit up the bite. His sternum felt like it was crumbling beneath his fist. He ignored it and, as quickly as he could, he craned his head toward the window, suddenly all too aware of how vulnerable he was.

It was a green rabbit monster in a striped shirt. A kid. They were well past the house, hopping down the path toward Waterfall with a dorky smile on their face. Sans had never seen them before, not in this universe or his own.

He slunk against the couch, grumbling at his lack of foresight. What if that had been a real threat? Like Grillby or one of Muffet’s cronies? Here he was just messing around on the couch, choking on some noodles.

After setting aside the lasagna, he maneuvered himself so he could keep one eye on the road and one eye on the TV. Well, as best he could. Really, he kept most of his attention focused on the window. The television was white noise as his thoughts drifted toward escape plans and improvised weapons that he could use to defend himself.

As he watched snowflakes wander from the sky, he was torn from his trance as the TV erupted with an abrupt clamor of shouts and explosions. Gasping, he jolted toward the screen. It was apparently the MTT News Hour; text scrolled by faster than he could read on hot pink marquees. In the center was, according to the biggest header on display, live footage from the Capital. Monsters of all shapes and sizes were engaged in what was clearly an intense battle. Bullets were flying, monsters were diving between buildings and stockpiles of goods, and occasional booming sounds drowned out the desperate yelling.

Sans’s soul clenched as several monsters barreled past the camera, his worries confirmed as he spotted someone clad in Royal Guard armor chasing after them. Papyrus was in this chaos? There was no way he could possibly stay safe in this mess!

The noise muted as somewhere off-screen Mettaton began to narrate in his staccato, beeping voice. “YES, IT APPEARS THAT THE BLOODLETTERS ARE BEGINNING THEIR RETREAT. WOW, WHAT A SHOW! I CANNOT WAIT TO SEE WHAT BRUTALITY THEY ARE GOING TO UNLEASH ON THE GUARD AS THEY REACH THEIR HIDEOUT. HA, HA! JUST KIDDING, FOLKS! THE REAL FUN PART IS WHAT THE GUARD IS GOING TO DO NEXT.”

Horrified, Sans watched as a plume of smoke covered the battlefield, obscuring the camera’s view. Somewhere in the distance a monster commanded everyone to remain calm. Then, another explosion ripped through the area.

The smoke began to clear, but before Sans could get a good view of the damage, he turned off the TV, his hand rattling against the remote as he trembled from head to toe.

Papyrus was going to be fine. It was all fabricated bullcrap. None of it was real. And Paps was going to stay out of the worst fighting, right?

He talked himself out of the worst of his panic, though he was still feeling slightly nauseous. Turning on the news was out of the question, but he still wanted to make sure everything was okay with Paps, so he sent him off a quick message:

* how’s everything going?

Papyrus didn’t answer. Sans had expected as much – he was working after all – but it sure didn’t make him feel any better. His chest was hurting so bad now, though, that there was no way he could even attempt to head over there to help out.

He needed to distract himself. With a deep breath, he pushed past his pain and anxiety, went to the VCR, and inserted the closest VHS tape. Now it was time for the hardest part: turning on the TV. He practically had to close his eyes as he pressed down the power button and switched to the Video 1 channel. Sighing with relief, he reveled in the sound of static.

Well, until he looked at the video.

It… may have been a bit of an exaggeration when Papyrus had said these cassettes had been in good enough condition to watch. Or maybe it had just been wishful thinking.

The edges of the screen were filled with black and white fuzz, and the noise of it drowned out the characters’ voices. Worse yet, what he could see of the movie was split in two, its images sliding up and down the display so quickly and erratically that Sans quickly grew nauseated looking at them. If he concentrated long enough, he could kind of follow the plot… but he suspected that was because he had seen the movie before.

He ejected the cartridge and surveyed it. It had clearly been smashed, and although they had rewound the tape, there was no way it wasn’t permanently damaged. Why the hell had those jackasses destroyed everything? From the looks of things, Papyrus didn’t have a whole lot. Just a few items he had gathered over the years. There had been no need to raze the house like this; even holding the items ransom would’ve been better for everyone. Not that either of them had any money to get the stuff back.

Although…

Clutching the VHS cassette to his chest, he shakily got to his feet and turned off the television. His eyes darted toward the window – a cursory glance to make sure no one was going to follow him while his back was turned. Coast clear, he slowly scaled the stairs, every step a stab into his wound. By the time he got to the top, he was out of breath and had to slump against the wall for a few seconds before continuing.

When he entered Papyrus’s room, unease curdled in his soul. The room was still in shambles. Papyrus had apparently attempted to tape the posters back together, though most were in so many pieces that they looked more like attempts at primary school art projects. The figurines had been mostly reassembled, though it was clear many were beyond repair. Plastic heads and limbs sat on the bedside table, making the collection appear ominous. Above all else, the room felt dark and dreary; Papyrus had draped a blanket where the curtains once hung, blocking out all external light.

Sans pushed down his apprehension and staggered to Papyrus’s computer which looked as untouched as the day of the home invasion. He wondered if Paps had used it much even before all this. Certainly he hadn’t been on it much since Sans had arrived, at least not as far as he could tell. Back home, his brother had always been on it. “Surfing the web like a cool dude” as Paps had said. Surely this Papyrus was no different.

It felt wrong to use the computer without permission, but he turned it on nevertheless. The fans whined for an agonizingly long ten seconds before the screen flashed on. Sans sighed. It had no password protection and immediately booted up the desktop, displaying a neon green backdrop with “PAY UP YOU DUMB SHIT” written in ugly, lavender Times New Roman font.

His ribs flared with renewed pain as guilt squeezed his soul. God, was Papyrus really going to need a new computer on top of everything else? He cursed under his breath. Why had he been such an idiot and gone to Grillby’s that night? This whole mess could’ve been avoided if he had just…

He rubbed at his face. Focusing on that crap wasn’t helpful. He’d just have to make it up to Papyrus before he left.

With a few clicks, he started up a virus scan. While it was running, he pulled up some simple text software and made a list of all the movies, books, comics, and toys that he had seen in the house since coming here. He even added a few items that his bro had cherished as well. They paralleled this Papyrus’s tastes, though he had to admit that thinking about them filled his mouth with a bittersweet taste. He finished before the scan was complete, so he pulled up a pre-installed sudoku game and plugged away at some of the easier puzzles.

To his surprise, the scanner found no potential threats or infections. Had the idiots not known how to install a program? Or were they just particularly adept at it?

He suspected the latter, but he wasn’t going to let it immobilize him. If he was going to replace Papyrus’s stuff, he was going to have to research, and he certainly wasn’t going to be looking up black market items on the lab’s computers.

So he pulled up the internet browser.

Immediately he was brought to the Undernet’s homepage. Papyrus was already logged in under the username BadassSkeleton95. Sans smiled as he spotted the profile picture; Papyrus was standing, back rigid, in front of Undyne’s house, wearing his black leather Royal Guard outfit. It seemed like maybe Undyne had taken the photo right after Paps had been appointed to his new position? He certainly looked happy. Genuinely so, in fact. His mouth was curled upward and his cheeks burned with pride.

Smiling to himself, Sans scrolled down the page. From the posts’ timestamps, Papyrus had been extraordinarily active on the Undernet until recently. Actually, it looked like he had only stopped once Muffet’s cronies had shown up. Several posts had been published after Sans had arrived. Most of them were tips on how to stay fit or how to avoid trouble in the Underground, and only Undyne really commented.

Well, if that wasn’t an invasion of Papyrus’s privacy, he didn’t know what was. Instead of continuing to be a jackass, he clicked to the feed page and began the arduous process of finding a mutual follower of a mutual follower who had connections to the black market.

It didn’t take long. Sans was flabbergasted when he happened upon a post from a direct mutual that described the very type of goods that he was after. Their profile picture simply displayed a prim, curly symbol – apparently the logo for their store “Saxon’s Shop.” Apparently the vendor offered everything from clothing to books to cell phones to exotic food, all of it illicit.

So why was Papyrus of all monsters following this page?

As Sans scrolled down the page, it became obvious that everyone in the Underground interacted with this individual. They had so many followers and even members of the Royal Guard commented openly on their posts.

This had to be one of those unspoken rules in this weirdo universe. Just like everyone knew that the Bloodletter Gang and the Royal Guard were just putting on a show, the Underground must have known that this shop was fair game. No one would prosecute him if he bought a few things from them.

Still, he didn’t want his name associated. Not with Papyrus watching the page. He pulled up a private browser and made a new account under a pseudonym (NotSuspicious69). They replied to his inquiry with stunning speed, quoting prices for half the items on his list and informing him that they’d have to check their backroom to see if any of the others were in stock. Predictably, the prices were expensive, though he wasn’t quite expecting a single comic book to cost the equivalent of a month’s worth of groceries.

Ugh. How was he going to find the money for this? He had been hoping to maybe poke Undyne for some change, but he couldn’t mooch this much off her.

Maybe he’d do a volunteer project for Gaster. Yeah, that was an idea. Sure, he’d probably have to spend more time around the doc, which, after the awful experience in the extractor, was not on the top of his priority list. But, hey, at least he’d get on Gaster’s good side. Plus it’d probably help out the Underground, and this place needed all the support it could get. Best of all, Papyrus would get the gifts he deserved. Sans owed it to him after staying here so long.

(And it’d also be nice to see Papyrus happy. His smile was contagious, really.)

He let the shop know that he needed to get some more money before he could make any decisions. The vendor wished him good luck and he closed the private window.

Papyrus’s feed was busier than ever. Monster after monster was posting about the battle, which, from the way people were talking, had apparently ended. He quickly glanced through the page, trying to find some sort of evidence that Papyrus was uninjured.

There! Alphys had posted a photo of Undyne, a green reptilian monster, a slate-colored rabbit monster, and, to his utter relief, Papyrus. Their suits of armor were covered in soot and dents, though Papyrus’s markedly less so. Undyne was jabbing her spear into the sky and was clearly releasing a ferocious roar, revealing her sharp yellow teeth. Next to her stood Papyrus who was smiling and flexing his “muscles” for the camera. Under the photo was Alphys’s caption: “i’m sad i had to miss it in person but the live feeds of Undyne kicking the blgang’s ass was just so inspiring!!!! #BestGirl #TrueStrength”

Sans backtracked to the photo and stared at Papyrus. He must’ve kept his promise, and for that he was grateful, though he had to admit maybe he had been a bit overprotective. It didn’t appear as if any of the others had been hurt and Paps had been looking forward to participating.

Still, Papyrus didn’t seem too upset. Sans’s soul warmed at the sight of Papyrus showing off. God, the battle really must’ve been something else for him to be so happy.

He scrolled further down and found a post inviting all the Royal Guards to an afterparty, complete with a chocolate fountain. The invitation had been personally sent to Papyrus, but it had already registered as declined. When Sans clicked on the post, it popped up with a new box that read “DECLINED” and in the Reason field it said: “THANK YOU FOR THE INVITATION!! USUALLY I WOULD BE HAPPY TO ATTEND THESE CELEBRATIONS, BUT I HOPE TO SPEND TIME WITH A GOOD FRIEND AT HOME THAT EVENING. PERHAPS ONE OF YOU COULD SAVE ME A PIECE OF CAKE? I WOULD BE HAPPY TO SHARE IT WITH YOU THE NEXT DAY!”

According to the timestamp, the message had been sent last week. Had Papyrus been planning to hang out with him?

Sans opened a new tab. If he couldn’t surprise Papyrus with a proper gift today, he’d at least do his best to show him his support.

After finding a recipe for some sort of pesto pasta, he wrote the recipe on the back of his hand – to mixed results, as the ink didn’t take well to the bone – and hurried downstairs. It was only when he arrived at the kitchen that he realized he had practically run all the way without thinking about his injury. The pain was significantly diminished, and he could actually move around freely.

Well, somewhat freely. He was at least able to gather up the tools and ingredients, but by the end, he was gasping for breath. The warmth had fled his soul, replaced with renewed chest pain.

He wasn’t going to let that stop him. Making sure to take his time, he scooped up the ingredients and poured them into a bowl according to the recipe, making educated guesses where the words were illegible.

By the time he was ready to start mixing, the front door banged open. Startled, he twisted toward the noise. Papyrus stood tall in the doorway. Like in the photo, his armor was dented, though someone had haphazardly wiped the ash from it so that streaks of metal peeked between layers of black. His helmet was propped between his arm and the side of his chest, and he was holding a container of pastries in one hand.

Sans’s mouth curved upwards. Wow. Paps looked simply… dashing.

“hey.”

Papyrus blinked at him. “…ARE YOU COOKING?”

“heh. yeah. thought i’d surprise you with dinner.”

Papyrus stood there without speaking for several moments until his mouth spread into a wide grin.

“YOU DID NOT HAVE TO DO THAT! I WAS GOING TO MAKE A CELEBRATORY MEAL FOR THE TWO OF US!” he yelled, waving the pastries in the air.

“celebrating what?”

“CELEBRATING… I DON’T KNOW?” Papyrus said as he bent down to remove his shoes. “EVERYTHING!”

“pfft. not your battle?”

“I WOULD NEVER CELEBRATE MY OWN ACCOMPLISHMENTS. THAT WOULD BE QUITE INAPPROPRIATE.”

“well, then, guess i’m throwing a party for you.”

Papyrus blushed as he placed his metal boots near the entrance. “YOU TRULY DID NOT HAVE TO DO THAT. AFTER LAST NIGHT…”

“last night?”

“I WAS RUDE TO YOU,” he muttered, staring down at his greaves. “AGAIN.”

“eh.” Sans shrugged. “water under the bridge.”

Papyrus flashed him an incredulous expression. “I FEEL AS IF THIS KEEPS HAPPENING. I–”

“i warned you about those stairs,” Sans interrupted with a grin.

“W-WHAT?” Papyrus said, utterly baffled.

“heh. never mind. just a dumb joke.”

“…OKAY. I SUPPOSE I WILL EVENTUALLY UNDERSTAND IT?” He shook his head. “OH, NEVER MIND THAT. PLEASE ACCEPT MY APOLOGIES! AND HOPEFULLY THIS WILL BE THE LAST TIME I HAVE TO SAY SORRY!”

“i mean, i doubt it.” He flashed an apologetic smile. “that’s not a rib on you or anything, it’s just that’s how life goes. you make mistakes, you talk about it, you apologize. which, by the way, i’m also sorry. y’know, for not letting you know to pick me up.”

Papyrus waved him away. “PLEASE, YOU DO NOT NEED TO –”

“i kinda do. and look, this isn’t about that anyway. this – this meal – is a celebration. you kicked butt today!”

Papyrus straightened. “YOU ARE RIGHT. I DID!”

“so get over here and watch me mess this crap up.”

“NYEH HEH HEH!” Papyrus’s face was bright and cheery again. “I THINK I SHALL, BUT FIRST LET ME CHANGE OUT OF MY ARMOR. I WOULD RATHER NOT HAVE TO CLEAN IT OF ERRANT SPRAYS OF SAUCE.”

“yeah, sounds good.”

Papyrus took a couple of loud, clunky steps and then stopped. “AND SANS?”

“yeah?”

“I AM PROUD OF YOU FOR TAKING INITIATIVE. THANK YOU.”

As he turned toward the stairs, the image of his face, bright red and beaming, burned in Sans’s memory and stirred his soul beyond imagining.

Chapter Text

Sans wondered if he would ever get back to his regular schedule.

He had expected to have a little bit of downtime after the incident in the lab –he always needed more rest than most monsters on the best of days – but he only seemed to be getting worse. The last week and a half had been spent lazing about on the couch, and the only way he could describe his mood was either “exhausted beyond belief” or “too panicked to breathe.” Taking a break from work was usually a relaxing endeavor, but the thought of being right down the street from Grillby without any sort of protection kept his attention focused on the window more than the television. He was constantly ducking beneath the top of the sofa as Snowdin and Waterfall residents alike used the path between the regions.

Evenings were the only time he felt relatively safe. That was when Papyrus was home and Sans would get to hear all about his exciting days at work. It was soothing listening to the routine tone Papyrus afforded his stories, and by the end, Sans would be practically curled up on either the couch or the kitchen chair. God, he was the coolest. From battles to paperwork, nothing was too much for him to handle.

Papyrus’s presence also meant protection. Sans could rest easily knowing that neither Snowdin resident nor any other intruder could sneak up on them.

In theory anyway. The reality was that his sleeping had turned from bad to worse.

Ever since the day of the scan, the only time the ache in his chest abated was when Papyrus distracted him. Any physical activity had him close to tears, and even when he rested, the sharp, burning prickle had him praying for relief.

Worse, when his wound wasn’t keeping him awake, his dreams usually did.

Sometimes they were normal nightmares. Well, as normal as they could get. Visions of Grillby and the rest of the bar patrons fucking him silly. The anomaly slicing him from head to toe, making his sternum and ribs burst with fresh pain. His brother crying out his name. Finding Papyrus’s dust in the snow.

But on occasion, he’d have those strange dreams. The dreams that weren’t actually dreams.

Those were the times he’d wake up in a cold sweat, his soul in a vice grip, too perturbed to go back to sleep. It wasn’t even that the visions were particularly traumatic; most of them were odd flashes of everyday life. A night out at the bar. A walk through the forest. A dip in a pond.

But the lack of control was enough to drive him to the brink. He’d wake up, jittery and scared of his own shadow, and would fling himself out of bed, determined to stay awake. Careful not to stir Papyrus, he’d creep downstairs, plop himself on the couch, and watch late night MTT infomercials on mute. It was lonely, and the next day he would have to fight tooth and nail not to fall asleep until Papyrus came home when he could at least attempt to get a couple hours of rest.

During his waking hours, his attention wandered, his thoughts fuzzy and disconnected. It should have come as no surprise that, one day, in his tired stupor, a knock at the front door shocked him to his feet.

Dammit. He hadn’t been paying attention to the passersby. Who was it? Someone looking for Papyrus? A Snowdin resident? Grillby? Someone Muffet had sent? He wanted to go to the window and look, but if they spotted him, saw the panic in his eyes, they’d know he was home alone. Then he’d be thoroughly fucked. Probably literally.

Sans took a step back, eyelights trained on the door. He needed a weapon. Something to defend himself.

Just as he was about to dive for the broom in the kitchen, a squeaky voice called from the porch, “S-Sans? Are y-you here?”

Relief flooded his body. Trembling, he stumbled over to the door and pried it open.

“alphs,” he rasped, “what are you doing here?”

She looked offended. Offended and cold.

“W-why do you think I’m here, you j-jerk?” She pushed past him into the house and made her way straight to the blanket on the couch, throwing her Mew Mew Kissy Cutie bag to the floor next to her. “Was there a reason you didn’t respond to any of my messages?”

“uh.” Sans clicked the door shut. “no, no reason in particular.”

“Really?!” she cried, burrowing herself in the covers. “Not even an e-excuse?!”

“sorry, alphs, i just haven’t been up for it. not after, well, everything that happened.”

Alphys huffed. “You s-still could’ve replied. D-do you know what kind of trouble I’m in right now? Gaster has me on eighteen hour shifts after our stunt with the extractor.”

“what? he can’t do that,” Sans said, mouth contorting anger. “you’ve gotta have a break.”

“Today is my break, and h-here I am tracking you down i-instead of resting!”

“sorry,” he said, and he truly meant it. “i didn’t mean to… i don’t know, leave you hanging.” Sans sighed. “if you want, i can talk to gaster and tell him i persuaded you to keep it a secret from him.”

“That would be a lie, and not even one worth telling,” Alphys grumbled. “I-it’s not like he’s going to unpunish me. He’ll probably, I don’t know, take away my free days if I bring it up.”

He shook his head. “you should leave the lab. it’s a shit job.”

“A-and go where? The university? I’d need a reference from him, and there’s no way he’d do that.”

“you don’t know that.”

She glared at him. “H-he doesn’t exactly want to support me.”

Guilt curled within him. He tried to dismiss it – it wasn’t like that memory or hallucination or whatever the hell it had been was something he had done. It had been the other Sans. Or, heck, maybe it hadn’t been anyone at all. He didn’t have proof any of it was real.

(He knew deep down that it had happened though.)

Ribs swelling with pain, Sans dropped next to Alphys on the couch. “well, fine. no new job then. but you could at least spend your day off not worrying about stuff outta your control.”

“Th-that’s kind of difficult when the last time I saw you, you were screaming your head off.”

“okay, fair,” Sans relented. “but now that you know where i am, you should rest.”

“You’re one to talk! H-have you looked at yourself in the mirror lately?”

“yeah, yeah. insomnia’s my middle name.”

“That’s not very reassuring.”

“heh. wasn’t really meant to be.” He shrugged. “guess it just means we both could use some rest, right?” He dug between the cushions for the remote. “do you wanna watch some mettaton? don’t got a whole lot else unless you’re really into my little miniature horse.”

Alphys adjusted her glasses. “Well, as a matter of fact, I love that show.”

“well, you’re in luck. i’ve got three broken vhs cassettes that are half fuzz, half pony, and all fun.”

“Wow, sounds like a party.”

“i know. i’m all about having a good time.”

“Ugh. L-look, I’m not here for movies. I’m here to discuss this.”

She reached into her bag and pulled out a large pile of documents.

“you been reading studies while i’ve been gone? you’re more dedicated than me. or maybe just less lazy.”

“These aren’t studies, Sans,” she sighed. “Th-this is the data from the extractor. This one,” she said as she pressed a trailing piece of paper into Sans’s hands, “details your soul traits over the course of the scan.”

Sure enough, like she had said the other evening, the numbers – especially the determination levels – had fluctuated dramatically. They had barely registered at the start of the scan but had later spiked to dangerous intensities. He was lucky he hadn’t suffered more permanent damage. With these concentrations, he could’ve easily melted.

“And this,” she said, sliding another paper over the last, “is the reading for your magic levels.”

The graph followed the same curve as the last one.

“seriously, this doesn’t make sense,” he said, looking up from the documents. “my magic is usually pretty strong, and when i last checked my determination, it was pretty high. why does it read so low for my baseline?”

Alphys’s stare bore into him. “And why are your DT levels typically so high?”

“uh, like i said, i injected myself back in the day.”

“During your experiments with Dr. Gaster, right?”

“well, not directly with ‘dings, but yeah, part of the same series of experiments for sure.”

“Bingo,” she stated as she snapped her fingers. “Anachronistic dysphoria.”

“what?”

“Anachronistic dysphoria,” she repeated, and when Sans still didn’t get it, she continued, “O-okay, this is still only a theory, but as far as I know this universe’s Sans didn’t do any kind of experiments like that with Dr. Gaster. And, uh, I’ve been going over this data, and, um, the old Sans’s files, well, I think his numbers match up pretty well with yours.”

Sans’s mouth went dry. “which ones?”

“Your baseline. Before the teleportation, I mean.” She pushed a yellowing paper into Sans’s grasp. It was a detailed medical report for Sans dated a few years ago. “Th-they’re not exactly the same – especially the HP – but the magic and DT levels are, erm, pretty spot on.”

“this is an old scan though.”

“It’s old, but as far as I know Sans didn’t do any sort of experiments after he, um… um…”

“after he got kicked out of the lab,” Sans supplied, ignoring the coiling guilt.

Alphys’s eyes widened. “I, uh…” She swallowed. “Y-yeah.”

“god,” he said, dragging his hand down his face. “can we fix it?”

“I – I don’t know? Other than, um, getting you home, I’m not sure what else we can do.”

“well, that’s great seeing as i’ve got no clue how the hell we’re going to do that.” He shoved the papers back into Alphys’s hands. “as far as i can tell, i’m screwed six ways to hell.”

Another ripple of pain traveled through his chest.

Alphys released a shaky sigh. “W-well, if you want a temporary solution, maybe we can figure something out. But, um, to do that, I’d need to run another scan, and –”

“no way.”

“Y-yeah,” she said sadly. “I thought you might say that.”

“alphys, my chest hurts too much to even walk to the kitchen. i practically fall on my tailbone every time. i can’t imagine what another scan would do.”

“Is that why you haven’t been showing up to the lab?”

Sans shrugged.

“Well, I know the prospect seems s-scary, but we can wait until you’re feeling better. And, um, maybe we can help your injury? I know we tried healing it with magic, but maybe we could go the slower route?”

“like what?”

“We can check with a doctor who specializes in intent-related injuries. M-maybe one outside the lab so we don’t have to report to Dr. Gaster. And, um, if that doesn’t work, I can maybe, er, sneak some stuff out of the medical wing? There are options here.”

“sneak stuff outta the medical wing?” Sans repeated. “won’t you get in trouble?”

“If I get in trouble for helping you, I’ll gladly accept the punishment.” She then added with a roll of her eyes, “It’s not like people aren’t stealing way more important stuff anyway.”

“huh? like what?”

She blushed. “O-oh. Um, well, s-stuff like, you know, flowers.”

“flowers?”

“From the gasifier experiments?” She raised her eyebrows. “W-where do you think Golden Flower comes from?”

Sans was getting more lost by the second. “golden flower?”

“The drug?”

A chill fell over Sans. “what drug?”

Alphys’s gaze fell to the side as she nervously fidgeted with her coat. “O-oh, um, well, there’s a drug that, er, a lot of people, uhh… they take it and they get really, um… you know?”

“no,” he lied. “they get what?”

“W-well, for, um, most people they get h-happy and kinda d-dazed. But it also, er, makes them, uhhhh, horny.” Her face reddened. “R-really horny. A-at least that’s how most people act. Horny, and, um? Desperate? Apparently i-it makes sex feel really good. Y-you don’t even need any prep. Gosh, this is, er…”

“and warm.”

“Huh?”

Sans blinked, his eyes closing a couple seconds longer than usual. “they feel warm too.”

That heat had enveloped him, almost hypnotized him into doing whatever Grillby at the others had wanted. He could still recall just how frantic he had been to move, to feel because of that never-ending warmth. That desire still visited him in his nightmares.

“Y-yeah,” she squeaked. “You’ve, er, heard of it before then?”

“felt it,” he whispered, voice hollow.

Alphys raised her hands to her mouth. “Oh my G– the memories!”

“huh?” Sans asked numbly.

“Y-you said before that you keep seeing memories of stuff you’ve never done before. You said he ‘got wasted’ in one of them, right?”

“uh. yeah,” Sans lied, “that was it.”

She slammed a closed fist on her open palm. “More evidence of the anachronistic dysphoria.”

“now hold up, alphs,” Sans said, waving his hands, “that’s not proof.”

“Sure it is! If the universe is trying to correct itself from the anomaly, you’re sure to experience side effects like this. I mean, if the theory is right, the universe is trying to fit you into this world as best as it can, right? Why not just make you into the original Sans? G-gosh, we should just count ourselves lucky it isn’t trying to erase you from existence.”

“who says it isn’t?”

“W-well, it’s not, right? There hasn’t been any evidence of that.”

“are you sure? because when i tried to teleport outta the extractor, i didn’t just experience this – i don’t know what to call it – memory? right before then, i was in this weird black space. i usually call it the void because it’s so… empty.” His chest seared. “it hurts being in it. like i shouldn’t be there.”

“S-so?”

“so what if i’m actually teleporting there? it happens every time i try to shortcut somewhere.”

“If you’re teleporting there, then that isn’t proof that the universe is destroying you, right? You’re just going someplace else?”

“look, that’s not how my teleportation should work. what’s supposed to happen is that i open a gateway and i walk through it and end up where i wanna be. i gotta memorize the way it feels before i can go there, and i can’t do it just anywhere. it’s like. things have to line up.” He shook his head. “things should be lining up, and yet i’m ending up there instead of where i want. what if it’s the universe, i don’t know, ‘correcting itself’ and trying to get rid of me?”

“W-well, like I said, there’s no proof –”

“do you have a recording of when i was in the extractor?”

She appeared caught off guard. “Yeah?”

“play it back and see if i disappear someplace. seriously, i wanna know if it’s in my head or not.” He dug his palms into his sockets. “god, maybe i hope it is.”

Alphys placed her hand on Sans’s arm. “W-we’ll get to the bottom of this, Sans. I’ll keep looking into it whenever I can.” She patted him. “Y-you just keep resting, okay? I don’t think stressing about this will help your health.”

“yeah,” he said heavily. “i’ll try.”

“W-well, good.” She looked guilty. “I, um, guess that’s all I wanted to talk about. W-we can watch Metta-butt if you want?”

Sans smirked at the name, though the smile quickly faded away as he saw the exhaustion on Alphys’s face. “nah, i’m good. go get some rest, dude.”

“Y-you don’t have to worry about me. I enjoy hanging out with you.”

“yeah, same for me, but really, you look like you’re about to pass out.” He nudged at Alphys’s arm. “seriously, get outta here. it’ll make me feel better.”

For a moment she looked ready to argue again, but as she opened her mouth it stretched into a drawn-out yawn.

“Okay, yeah,” she mumbled afterwards. “I guess you’re right. I’m supposed to meet up with Undyne later too.” She sighed, the noise coming out somewhere halfway between relieved and disappointed. “I hope she’s cool with me sleeping early.”

“i’m sure she is. she’s a cool fish.”

“Yeah, she really is,” she said in a dreamy voice as she gathered up her stuff.

Sans peered outside for other monsters.

Remembering Papyrus’s words from the other day, he asked, “you’re gonna be okay to walk by yourself, right?”

Alphys blinked out of her daze. “Um, y-yeah? I mean, it’ll be like any other day?”

“just wanna make sure.”

“Pfft.” She waved him off, though her nervousness was transparent. “W-what are you gonna do? Be my bodyguard?”

Sans cocked a sly grin at her. “yeah, no one will mess with me. one look at my scrawny body and they’ll be sent packing.”

She chuckled, and her nerves seemed to ease up a bit.

“hey, don’t laugh, you don’t know the terrors these fists contain.”

Her eyes widened, and when she laughed, it was a touch too loud. Sans could feel his own face warm at the implication of what he said, and a hint of panic began to weave itself into his soul. He really, really didn’t want to think about that memory of Alphys.

Shaking his head, he allowed his own laughter to trail off awkwardly before waving Alphys off. “well, have a good one.”

“Y-yeah, you too. And, um, remember to keep your stress down.”

“yeah, heh, you too.”

---

Despite his promise, his anxiety only got worse once Alphys left. He hadn’t realized just how much he had missed talking with her. It felt life-draining to stay at home, but his injury was aching too much to go anywhere on his own.

Sans didn’t wait for Papyrus to come home that evening. Not too long before his usual arrival time, Sans climbed into bed, desperate for sleep, yet his soul wound too tight. It took several hours for his tossing and turning to stop, and in the end, he barely slept at all before he had a nightmare about Grillby drugging him in the lab.

With a low huff, Sans threw the blankets aside and returned to his new, seemingly permanent home on the sofa. He tried to ignore the lingering panic in his soul by turning on the TV. Some MTT feature film was just starting up, but he couldn’t be bothered to pay attention to the plot; his thoughts were drawn to the details of the dream and his growing frustration.

“SANS?”

Sans gawked up the stairs. Sporting tired eyes and rumpled pajamas, Papyrus stood on the second-floor landing. Sans scrambled for the remote which was buried in the cocoon of blankets wrapped around him. With the press of a button, Mettaton’s sultry voice was gone and an eerie silence drifted over the dimly lit room.

“uh. hey,” Sans said meekly.

Papyrus blinked. His mouth opened a fraction, and Sans braced himself for the question that would surely follow, but none came. Papyrus simply stared at him a few seconds before meandering down the stairs and settling on the couch next to him. Without a word, he grabbed a corner of the blanket and threw it over himself, joining Sans in the warmth.

Sans took the cue and unmuted the TV. Although Mettaton’s musical number about bombs and destruction offered some distraction, the weight of the unsaid words hung between them. For the better part of the movie, the two of them sat silently, the barrage of colors and flashing lights assaulting their eyes in the darkened room, until Sans finally worked up the courage to start a conversation.

“so… can’t sleep either?”

Papyrus shifted the blankets as he crossed his arms against his chest. “THE TELEVISION WOKE ME UP.”

Paps didn’t let it show on his face, but a hint of pain colored his voice.

“oh.” Sans rubbed his arm. “sorry, didn’t realize it was that loud.”

A flicker of some emotion crossed Papyrus’s face, though his gaze remained focused on the TV. Sighing, Sans resigned himself to shutting up and watching the show. He didn’t want to annoy Papyrus more than he already had. Even if he wasn’t in the mood to talk, his presence was enough to drive away the worst of Sans’s panic. He inwardly cursed his self-centeredness; Paps didn’t deserve disrupted sleep just because Sans was too cowardly to snooze through some nightmares.

“WHAT ABOUT YOU?” When Sans didn’t answer right away, Papyrus poked his side. “WHY CAN’T YOU SLEEP?”

Sans dully blinked as the shame washed over him. So far, he had managed to keep his secrets away from Papyrus; it hadn’t seemed fair to burden him.

So he opted for a half truth.

“had a nightmare,” he mumbled.

“A NIGHTMARE,” Papyrus said slowly, clearly frowning now.

“yeah. heh.” Sans had to stop himself from squirming. “kinda silly, i know.”

“NOT AT ALL.” Papyrus turned toward Sans, brow raised. “ESPECIALLY SINCE YOU HAVE BEEN HAVING THEM FOR A WHILE NOW.”

“i –” Sans’s guilt surged. “how did you –” He shook his head. “i mean, yeah, i’ve been having nightmares occasionally, but –”

“YOU THINK YOU ARE GOOD AT HIDING THINGS,” Papyrus interrupted, “BUT YOU ARE NOT! YOU HAVE NOT HAD GOOD SLEEP IN NEARLY TWO WEEKS! I CAN TELL BY THESE.” He used a finger to draw lines under Sans’s sockets. “DID YOU REALLY THINK YOU COULD PULL A FAST ONE ON ME?”

Sans slumped, smile on his face, feeling foolish. “heh. me? trick the great papyrus? nah.”

Even in this light, Sans could see Papyrus’s blush. “I AM NOT… GREAT.”

Sans’s soul convulsed. “nah,” he said quietly. “you’re great. promise.”

Papyrus shook his head violently, causing the blanket to fall from their chests and onto their laps. “I JUST MEANT! I AM GREAT AND TERRIBLE! A FORCE THAT NO ONE WOULD EVER WANT TO RECKON WITH!”

Sans smirked. “that’s for sure. don’t know how i could ever forget that.”

“AND YOU CLEARLY HAVE! BECAUSE IF YOU ARE HAVING NIGHTMARES, ESPECIALLY ABOUT… CERTAIN UNSAVORY RECENT EVENTS,” he said, smile fading away to another grimace, “THEN YOU AND I BOTH KNOW YOU SLEEP BETTER WITH SOMEONE LOOKING OVER YOU.”

“do i?”

“YOU DO INDEED.”

Sans rubbed the back of his head, suddenly flustered. “i don’t know about that.”

“WELL I KNOW IT! AFTER YOUR… ‘VISIT’ TO GRILLBY’S, YOU ONLY SLEPT WHEN I WAS NEARBY, CORRECT?”

Sans flinched. “i mean, i guess, but –”

“NO ‘BUT’S ABOUT IT! YOU LOOK READY TO FALL OVER ANY MOMENT!”

“nah,” he said, punctuating the word with a long yawn. “you’re exaggerating.”

“THEN WHY HAVEN’T YOU RETURNED TO THE LAB YET?”

Sans stared at the television screen, suddenly interested in watching Mettaton dance with his new love interest against a backdrop of stars.

“SANS,” Papyrus said impatiently.

“alright, look. my chest has been hurting, okay?” He shrugged. “i don’t wanna make it worse.”

Papyrus cleared his throat. “ARE YOU SURE IT IS NOT BECAUSE YOU WANT TO STAY?”

At the unexpected question, Sans’s soul panged violently. His gaze flashed to Papyrus who was staring at him in return with an almost frenetic intensity. A cold sweat dripped down Sans’s spine as he considered the soulrending subject matter.

“i’m just in pain,” he said quietly. “i would love –” He stopped himself and just repeated the easier answer, “i’m just in pain.”

Papyrus offered a small smile, though it didn’t quite reach his eyes. “SANS, IF I CAN EASE THAT PAIN FOR YOU IN ANY WAY, I WANT TO.”

That disgusting, heated sensation crawled through Sans’s pelvis. God, the way Papyrus worded that… It obviously wasn’t what he had intended. Why was Sans so depraved?

And yet…

“okay,” he replied. “i’ll sleep with you.”

In his perversion, he almost hoped that Papyrus would interpret it the wrong way.

Sans hadn’t realized how much tension Papyrus had been holding in his shoulders until it melted away with a long sigh.

“were you worried i’d say no?”

“NO, OF COURSE NOT.” Papyrus stared at the TV for a few moments before relenting, “OKAY, YES, MAYBE A LITTLE.”

Sans leaned into Papyrus’s arm. “i like being around you.”

“I –I –” Papyrus stammered, his face glowing red. “WELL I ENJOY BEING AROUND YOU AS WELL, BUT THAT IS NOT WHAT I MEANT.”

“what’d you mean then?” Sans said sleepily as he memorized the scars along Papyrus’s humerus.

“I WAS WORRIED YOU WOULD BE STUBBORN.” Without warning, Papyrus lifted his arm and dragged Sans’s head into his lap. “YOU SEEM TO BE UNDER THE IMPRESSION THAT I DO NOT LIKE YOUR COMPANY.” He began to pet Sans’s head. “THE REALITY IS THAT I GREATLY ENJOY OUR TIME TOGETHER AND I AM MORE THAN HAPPY TO AID YOU IN YOUR QUEST FOR SLEEP.”

Sans buried his face in Papyrus’s leg. “wow, that was… boy.”

“WHAT?”

“uh, nothing. guess i’m touched by the, heh, sentimentality.”

Close to tears was more like it.

“WELL, GOOD! BECAUSE YOU DESERVE ALL THE HAPPY FEELINGS!”

He continued to stroke him, his fingers gently following the grooves and curves of his skull, as the movie continued to play quietly in the background. Sans’s eyes were trained on the set, but his mind was stuck on the flow of Papyrus’s movements. Though a touch of guilt swirled in his soul, his exhaustion and desire for closeness had him sinking into Papyrus’s lap, and as if Papyrus had cast a spell on him, his eyes quickly grew too heavy to keep open.

Eventually Papyrus switched off the TV and lifted Sans onto his shoulder. Still wrapped up in his blanket chrysalis and far too tired to open his eyes more than a few millimeters, Sans nuzzled into Papyrus as he brought him up the stairs.

When they entered Papyrus’s room, Sans half-wanted to tell Paps to bring him to the other bedroom. Sleeping next to Paps was sorely tempting, and with the knowledge that he would need to leave this universe soon, it just wasn’t fair to put them in that position.

But he didn’t protest. Not when Paps set him down on the racecar bed, nor when Papyrus tucked him in. In fact, when Papyrus proceeded to drag his nearby office chair over to the bed, Sans stopped him and, against his better judgment, patted the mattress next to him. Papyrus hesitated a few seconds but nevertheless granted Sans’s request.

As Papyrus snuggled into his pillow, he whispered, “SHOULD YOU WAKE FROM A NIGHTMARE, I WILL CALM YOU.”

His presence was already swaddling Sans in a comforting warmth. It wasn’t like the ugly heat from earlier, but more like a steady fire on a cold winter day.

“thanks,” Sans sighed, leaning into Papyrus’s frame, taking in the smell of leather that clung to his bones. “you’re the best.”

“GOOD NIGHT.”

“night.”

And as Papyrus’s chest fell into a deep, even tempo, Sans felt his soul unwinding. He wasn’t sure he had ever felt this secure in his entire life.

Chapter Text

Sleeping next to Papyrus didn’t prevent Sans’s nightmares, but his presence did wonders to stop his panic.

Paps was naturally a clingy guy; every time Sans woke up, he’d find himself enfolded in his warm embrace. As Sans would come into consciousness, Papyrus’s slow, even breaths would ease his mind, and he’d snuggle into his grasp, ignoring the growing pit of shame in his soul.

Slowly but surely, over the next week, the terrors of his dreams became less intense and the nights grew more comfortable. Regular sleep finally returned to him.

Not only that, but Papyrus offered to drop him off at the lab every morning. “YOU SHOULD NOT BE COOPED UP ALL DAY,” he had insisted. “AND THE SOONER YOU GET INTO THE CORE, THE BETTER IT WILL BE FOR YOU.”

And god, Alphys had been right – stress had really made things worse. As soon as Papyrus had helped alleviate it, his chest pain had gradually improved. Getting out of the house, going back to the labs, reading through study after study to find some sort of solution, consulting with doctors about his injury… all of it had given him a renewed sense of purpose. Hell, Gaster had even dropped a hint that he’d allow him into the Core soon.

Life was manageable again.

So he hadn’t been expecting another nightmare to weave panic so deeply into his soul.

The worst part was that his dream had started out nice. Clad in his leather Royal Guard outfit, Papyrus sat across from Sans at the kitchen table. His smile was so wide and bright that Sans had been able to see every one of his sharpened teeth. A slow, steady warmth purled within Sans’s soul. That happiness, no matter its source, was always contagious, and he couldn’t stop himself from smiling in return.

Papyrus’s hand was resting on the table, looking ever so lonely. Invigorated, and feeling particularly daring, Sans reached for it, continuing to grin all the while. To his surprise, Papyrus returned the gesture, entwining his fingers with Sans’s.

Sans was so distracted he didn’t even notice anyone else enter the room.

One moment he was beaming at Paps and the next a knife was cleaving through Papyrus’s neck, slicing his head clean off. His dust cascaded to the floor, revealing the anomaly and their eerie smile. Too late – always too late – Sans gasped and jumped to his feet.

The anomaly swung their knife again.

He flinched. Even though he couldn’t see the instrument slash through him, he could feel it. His chest shuddered with fresh pain that had him falling to the floor.

Except he wasn’t falling to the floor. He was just… falling.

He opened his eyes. The kitchen was gone. He was outside, floating upon a drift of air, high over Snowdin. The anomaly had left their home and was now walking from building to building, presumably killing every monster in town. He’d be horrified if it didn’t feel like his ribcage was about to split in two.

“SANS?”

He whipped his head around. There was Papyrus, floating nearby. He was exclaiming wordlessly, full of jubilation. A stark contrast to the tears that were spilling down his face. Or, worse, the blood that was pouring from his neck, staining the snow far below them.

Sans should’ve been pleased to see him. He was here with him. They were together.

But he wasn’t happy. Not one bit. Papyrus hadn’t deserved this. Sans should’ve been smarter, should’ve seen it coming. This was all his fault. All his fault.

He woke up.

The whirlwind of snow, ice, and gore was gone, replaced with the black, poster-laden wall of Papyrus’s room. He was snug in bed, blankets curled around his body and bony arms cradling him from behind. All was quiet save for Papyrus’s measured breathing.

Sans sucked in a rattling breath, swallowing down the scream that had bubbled in his throat. His first inclination was to fling the covers off and run far, far away. He didn’t want to go back to sleep. Not this time.

But he refrained. He didn’t want to jostle Papyrus awake, not after his long day. Really, he had to be thankful that he hadn’t flailed in his sleep. Doubtless he would’ve woken Paps up and then Sans really would’ve been crying.

Ha. Crying. Nope, he wasn’t doing that even though he so desperately wanted to. That’d rouse Paps in a soulbeat.

He clenched his eyes shut, ignoring the pain that wracked his ribcage as he quivered from head to toe. Shakily, he grabbed at Papyrus’s hands which had somehow snuck around Sans’s midriff in the middle of the night. In his dream, he hadn’t been able to feel them, but unlike the nightmare, these hands were solid, smooth, real.

Sans slowly rubbed Papyrus’s phalanges, hoping to everything that he wouldn’t stir him. With every upward stroke, Sans inhaled. Then, as he moved downwards, he’d release the pent-up breath. He repeated the process, focusing on the movements so his mind wouldn’t wander to the awful dream. The heat and comfort of Papyrus’s body, combined with his steady sleeping breaths, offered a soothing coziness in the bitter cold.

After a few minutes, Sans opened his eyes. He was exhausted and not just because he hadn’t gotten enough sleep. As a matter of fact, the first signs of the artificial sunlight had begun to paint streaks of yellow along the room’s innermost wall. Basically a full night’s rest.

The reality was that these nightmares – even the non-memories like this one – were draining him faster than he could recuperate energy. He had visited a doctor who specialized in intent-related injuries who had explained that chronic fatigue was likely a side effect of whatever had happened with his soul. That, of course, meant he’d need more rest. But he couldn’t exactly sleep all the time; if he didn’t go to the lab, he’d never get home.

Plus, of course, the nightmares, though those had been mostly manageable lately. Why had this one affected him so badly?

His fingers continued to graze along Papyrus as his stress slowly seeped from his body. It wasn’t right to touch him without permission but after that dream he needed to clutch onto him, to assure himself that Paps was fine.

And… this was an innocent enough gesture. Papyrus would understand.

He kept telling himself that, though he wasn’t sure if he entirely believed it. Yeah, he had a hunch that Papyrus might’ve felt the same way, but it was entirely possible he was imagining it. Or, even if he wasn’t, were the feelings as intense?

Regardless, it was like dating his brother. That was off-limits, and for good reason too.

He cringed. God, why had it gotten so difficult to resist these feelings recently? He had long since buried any romantic thoughts about his bro. The last time he had felt this way was years ago, and he knew he had only been confused and lonely during the lowest point in his life. So why, why was he so eager to be near this Papyrus, to make him laugh, to make him happy, to protect him at all costs?

Sans sighed, his fingers catching on Papyrus’s knucklebones. It didn’t matter. He needed to remind himself of that. Soon he’d be going back home. Without this Papyrus. Back to his Papyrus. To his brother.

His soul trembled.

“SANS,” Papyrus murmured.

Sans froze, breath caught in his chest. Crap. Here he was groping Papyrus’s hands.

He didn’t move them though.

“yeah?” he whispered.

Papyrus didn’t answer, and for a few moments Sans wondered if he had fallen back asleep. As Sans relaxed, however, Papyrus released a low groan, his voice cracking along the tail end as he sucked in a sharp breath.

It was at that moment that Sans realized Paps hadn’t woken up in the first place; he was dreaming. A nightmare from the sound of it.

Papyrus’s arms pulled tighter, drawing Sans closer against him, his breathing quickly escalating into hyperventilation territory.

“hey, it’s okay,” Sans consoled, patting the clasped hands. “you’re having a nightmare, paps. wake up.”

When Papyrus released another throaty whine, Sans took his cue and tried to extricate himself from his prison. He was trying to be as gentle as possible, but Papyrus, as strong as he was, had a pretty good grasp on him. Maybe he could slide downwards and pop his head under Paps’s arms.

Except… when he scooted down a couple inches, he felt something. Something hard. Something hard and pressed against his pelvis. Its warmth was seeping through the seat of his shorts.

Those hadn’t been groans from a nightmare.

Papyrus’s grip tightened even more, and Sans felt the hardness drag against his tailbone.

“SAAAANS.”

The low, husky moan and the ensuing rough, insistent grinding against his pelvis had Sans flinching away, unconsciously reaching for his teleportation. Pure black flashed across his vision, followed immediately by the image of Papyrus’s wall once more, though this time accompanied with searing pain webbing through his ribs.

Though his bones quailed, Sans was desperate to get out of this predicament. His hands scrambled instinctively against the arms pinning him down, and while he occasionally found purchase on the grooves of Papyrus’s arm bones, he was too panicky, too slippery, too weak to hold on long enough to push him off.

“let me up,” Sans begged. He had finally found his voice, but it was so quiet even he could barely hear it. “please, papyrus, i – i can’t. let me go. please. please, please, please.”

His pleas went unanswered; Papyrus wasn’t even awake, though he was muttering incomprehensibly against Sans’s skull as he continued to thrust onto him. Or maybe his words were perfectly coherent. All the noise – the shifting of the blanket, the breathless moans, the desperate begging – was jumbling together in his head, reaching a fever pitch of terror as Papyrus suddenly jabbed his hands into Sans’s injury.

Sans spat out a startled cry. His eyelights sputtered out, casting his vision in darkness.

Distantly, he could feel the pressure stuttering against his pelvis, kindling the familiar heat that washed through his bones.

He didn’t bother to resummon his eyes. If this was going to happen, he’d rather not see it at all. It was bad enough he could feel the ugly warmth spreading through his body, that the sounds were still blending together and bouncing around in his skull. But seeing Papyrus do this to him just like Grillby had? That he couldn’t handle.

So he burrowed inside his own mind. His thoughts scattered between the present and the past, sifting through his head until he finally managed to catch hold of one: the nightmare from this morning. The anomaly’s malevolent grin flashed in his vision. Had they murdered everyone in town? Had anyone escaped? Would Papyrus and Sans have been forced to watch from above as they had gone from home to home? God, had that been his brother’s fate? Was he stuck in that state of limbo for the rest of time? Had he watched the anomaly slice Sans down?

“SANS, PL – CANNOT B – DO NOT – I A – ORRY.”

He could hear the anguish in Papyrus’s voice as he begged him not to fight. God, why hadn’t he listened? He really, really should have. This had been all his fault.

“SANS! PLEASE!”

The voice was so close. And he could feel his body flopping forward and backwards. No, he couldn’t concentrate on that, he had to –

“SANS!”

It was the agony in Papyrus’s voice that spurred Sans into conjuring his eyelights. Only death would keep him from responding to that tone.

As he blinked his eyes back into existence, a double image of Papyrus’s face entered his sights, blurring and fading with his surroundings. Sans stared up at him, his mouth hanging slightly ajar. He was unable to give any indication that he was awake, though from the brief flash of relief across Papyrus’s face, some sign must have alerted him.

Something warm and wet splashed onto Sans’s face. He flinched away as he remembered the untold amounts of sexual fluids that Grillby and his patrons had expelled upon him at the bar. The world spun as he leaned away, leaving a tumultuous nausea churning in his soul.

Papyrus was still shaking him, yelling at him, but even with his utmost effort, Sans couldn’t concentrate long enough to figure out what he was saying. He was too focused on getting the unknown liquid off his face. Right now, damn it, or he was going to combust into a million pieces. His mind felt so fragile, he wasn’t going to be able to handle it if there was cum on him, he just wasn’t, he was going to –

But when Sans drew the liquid from his face and inspected it, it obviously wasn’t cum. It was clear, and far too thin for anything like that. With a twitch of his finger, it dripped off his finger and down his arm.

Water?

More droplets hit his face. Sans peered above him and quickly discovered the source: Papyrus. He was crying.

That was putting it mildly. His whole body was quaking with the intensity of his sobs. Tears spilled down his cheekbones, and though most of them soaked into his pajama top, as he continued to wobble Sans back and forth, the movement spilled the liquid onto Sans. They were both wet messes.

No, maybe Sans had been crying too. His face was incredibly damp.

“SANS, I AM SO SORRY,” Papyrus cried, hiccupping every other word. “I DID NOT INTEND FOR ANYTHING LIKE THAT TO EVER HAPPEN. YOU HAVE TO KNOW THAT. I AM SO, SO, SO, SO, SO SORRY. SO, SO, SO, SO –”

“stop,” Sans croaked.

Papyrus complied immediately. The silence felt better than Sans could have ever imagined.

Quavering from head to toe, he reached up and gently pushed at the hands holding his shoulders tight. Papyrus released his grip without hesitation and within seconds he had scooted backwards, his hands clasped close to his chest.

Slowly, Sans laid on his side, curling in on himself as his eyes found the window. It was raining outside. Probably freezing rain; frost curled on the outskirts of the pane. Getting to work would be particularly crappy, especially with how hard he was trembling. Sparks of pain struck his body in waves. Normally they’d incapacitate him, but right now he was thankful; they drew him out of his own head and grounded him to reality. But stars, it was going to be awful working through this.

“SANS?” Papyrus whispered, voice breaking.

Sans rasped back, “i’m sorry.”

“WHAT ARE YOU – WHY ARE YOU SORRY? I WAS THE ONE WHO –”

“not your fault,” Sans interrupted, burying his head under one of his arms.

“IT IS CERTAINLY NOT YOUR FAULT,” Papyrus said tearfully.

“okay.”

“IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT, SANS!” Papyrus insisted.

“okay.”

“SANS, PLEASE.”

“okay.”

Neither of them said anything for a while. Sans continued to stare out the window as the rain slowed. Rays of artificial sun parted the clouds and he could hear a chorus of nearby birds greeting the new day.

His thoughts drifted to Snowdin. His Snowdin. He missed the quiet babble of the townspeople as they went about their business. The din at Grillby’s as the town came together for a drink or two. Hell, he even longed for a day of sentry duty.

Missing work? God, his brother would be proud.

The weight on the bed shifted. Though reluctant to move, Sans’s curiosity got the better of him and he rolled around. Papyrus was still at the foot of the bed, though he was leaning against the wall. His head was pressed into one of his torn comic book posters and his arms were curled around himself. He was staring at Sans with the same distraught as before, and although he was no longer shedding fresh tears, his face was still soaked.

With deftness that surprised even himself, Sans sat up and wiped at Papyrus’s face with the edge of the blanket.

“WH – SANS?” Papyrus exclaimed.

Sans pulled away. “are you okay?”

“THAT IS NOT…” Papyrus shook his head. “WHAT?”

“are you okay?” Sans repeated as his gaze drifted over Papyrus.

Strangled anxiety briefly clawed at his soul as he spotted a soft glow emanating from Papyrus’s pants. He quickly averted his eyes, making sure he hadn’t somehow hurt Paps in his panic.

(Thank the stars for small miracles; Papyrus hadn’t come.)

He refrained from flinching as renewed pain flitted through him. Weird. He hadn’t even noticed how much better he had felt until he had suddenly started hurting again.

Papyrus sniffed loudly, and Sans found himself embracing him. A blossom of warmth unfurled within his soul, a stark – and ugly – contrast to the fear and panic from just moments ago.

“SANS,” Papyrus said after allowing Sans to hug him for a good thirty seconds. “I… I AM FINE. YOU CAN LET GO.”

“good.” Sans patted Papyrus’s knee and scooted back to his original position. “didn’t mean to scare you.”

“SANS, YOU DID NOT SCARE ME –”

“sure i did, and you scared me too,” Sans interrupted, shaking his head. “i’m feeling okay now, alright? i just… needed a chance to recoup, y’know?.”

“ARE YOU SURE?”

“promise.” He said it with authority but instinctually wrapped his arms around his chest as if to protect himself from his own lie.

“SANS.”

Sans closed his eyes. “don’t,” Sans breathed. “we’re fine.”

Silence, unnerving and suffocating, stretched between them. Sans opened his sockets and immediately his eyelights snapped onto the glow between Papyrus’s legs.

It was only when Papyrus’s hands fell upon Sans’s shoulders that he could tear his gaze away, and when he did, he almost wished he hadn’t. Papyrus’s features were all guilt and grief.

“I KNOW WHEN YOU ARE FINE, SANS. YOU ARE NOT FINE.”

The words were like knives, sharp and sudden in their strikes, diving deep into his soul. The pain wasn’t immediate, but tears nonetheless sprung to his eyes and a harsh, constricting pressure had his entire body in a vice. His mouth fell open – perhaps to reject the statement – but nothing came out. He was stuck, too stunned to do anything as the truth trudged through the muck in his mind.

He really wasn’t fine.

With a grip ever so gentle, Papyrus tugged Sans to his chest. He could’ve fought it, and maybe he ought to have, but he was too tired, too immobile, too desperate. Instead, he fell forward as the tears noiselessly leaked from his sockets.

Papyrus’s voice was so close now. “I DID NOT KNOW WHAT I WAS DOING UNTIL YOU STARTED YELLING. I NEVER WOULD HAVE –”

“i know,” Sans said thickly. “you don’t gotta explain. i swear i get it.”

Papyrus didn’t respond except to hug Sans tighter. Funnily enough, the spurts of pain seemed to abate as he was pulled closer, so Sans reluctantly snuggled into the embrace. A creeping wrongness nagged at the back of his mind but for now he dismissed it.

“i’m sorry,” Sans whispered after a couple minutes. He wasn’t even sure what exactly he was apologizing for at this point. Everything, he supposed.

Papyrus pulled away, a rebuking frown on his face.

“IF I DO NOT GET TO APOLOGIZE, THEN YOU DO NOT GET TO SAY SORRY EITHER.” He gave Sans’s shoulders one last squeeze and deposited Sans on the bed. “I HOPE I DID NOT EXACERBATE YOUR INJURY.”

“it’s fine.” And this time it was the truth. It had hurt like hell only a few minutes ago but now it was mostly memory that had him jittery.

“YOU SHOULD REST,” Papyrus said as he moved to get up.

“nah,” Sans said, beating Papyrus to the punch by scrambling to his feet. “sleeping is probably not….” He shook his head. “i think i’d just rather get up.”

“ARE YOU SURE?”

“yeah, i’ll cook breakfast,” he said, flashing Papyrus a smile.

YOU? MAKE BREAKFAST?”

“yeah.” Sans’s mouth stretched even wider. “it’ll be… good.”

“GOOD? GOOD FOR WHAT?”

“a distraction,” Sans said simply, his smile refusing to slide from his face.

Papyrus bowed his head, eyes darting to the side.

“PERHAPS IT WOULD BE BETTER IF I DID IT. YOU COULD DISTRACT YOURSELF WITH A TELEVISION PROGRAM.”

“uh, normally i’d say sure, but, well...” Sans refused to look anywhere but at Papyrus’s face. “no offense, but you should probably take a cold shower.”

Sans averted his gaze as Papyrus’s eyes darted downward. Out of the corner of his vision he saw Papyrus grab a pillow with an undignified squeak.

“yeah. exactly.” Sans rubbed the back of his neck. “uh, i’ll meet you downstairs, okay?”

Face completely red, Papyrus nodded. As Sans left the room, he carefully refused to think about how he’d take care of his little problem.

---

By the time Papyrus walked into the kitchen, Sans had ruined three batches of eggs. Drifts of smoke still hung in the air even though he had done his best to waft it out using the front door.

“morning,” Sans called.

Papyrus’s reply was meek. “GOOD MORNING.”

Sans threw a halfway glance at Papyrus who was dressed in his leather Guardsman outfit. Water clung to his skull, each droplet a reminder that he had just been erasing every trace of this morning’s minor event. Sans kept a smile firmly on his face.

Papyrus sat down at the table, and although Sans was making every effort to get his attention, he didn’t look up, clearly avoiding eye contact. Yeah, that was fair. Still made Sans feel like crap.

He plated the overly crisp scrambled eggs and darkened toast and, with gusto he didn’t feel, placed the meal on the table. Papyrus stared at the dishes with… well, an indescribable emotion, but he accepted the food wordlessly.

“boy, i really don’t know how to cook,” Sans joked as he bit into the toast that wasn’t so much crispy as it was brick-like.

Papyrus responded by scooping up a heaping forkful of eggs. His gaze never left his plate, and Sans noticed that he was jiggling his legs nervously. Unease crept into Sans's chest but he buried it with another chuckle.

“i guess next time i auto use vegetable oil instead of motor oil on these. heh.”

“YES, THAT SEEMS PRUDENT.”

Sans wondered if Papyrus had even noticed the pun. Not that it was his best. Why was he even bringing up cars in the first place?

Yet he couldn’t stop himself.

“i guess this meal will fuel us anyway though.”

Papyrus squirmed in his seat, still staring at his dish. The subsequent silence was properly prolonged and awkward.

Wonderful. Sans knew he was blowing it, but god…. He had been hoping that the shower would help Papyrus get over the embarrassing ordeal but now he wasn’t even talking to him. No, Sans hadn’t wanted to discuss the awfulness of this morning – not when doing so made his soul squeeze with an anxiety so tight that he had to stop everything he was doing so as not to collapse to the ground – but he guessed he had no other choice.

Especially when he had to know the truth.

Sans folded his hands in his lap, steeling himself for the conversation that he never wanted to have (and yet so desperately wanted to).

“look, papyrus, about earlier –”

“ARE YOU GOING TO THE CORE TODAY?” Papyrus interrupted hurriedly.

Sans had to take a moment to adjust to the wildly different topic. “the… core?”

Papyrus nodded. “DR. GASTER SAID HE WAS GOING TO ALLOW YOU THERE, CORRECT? THAT IS WHAT YOU SAID LAST NIGHT.”

“i…”

Why in the world…? Over the last week, Papyrus had asked about visiting the lab and Core so many times, much to Sans’s confusion and frustration.

Sans had an inkling why Papyrus was so interested – the usual worries of how much time Sans and Gaster spent together always seemed to be on his mind. It was ridiculous, especially given how many times Sans had reassured Paps that there was nothing to be jealous over.

But why was he asking about that now?

“i mean… that was what gaster was hinting at, sure, but i don’t know for sure if i got the greenlight.”

“CAN I COME VISIT? AFTER YOU GET THE PROPER PERMISSIONS, OF COURSE.”

Sans had felt a lot of things this morning, but until this moment, irritation was not one of them. Yet now it curled, serpentine, around his soul. Was Paps just going to drop by any time he felt like it to see if he was up to trouble? Or rather… to see if he was friendly with Gaster?

“i don’t know?” Sans said, maintaining an even voice. “i get the impression it’s kinda… off-limits to outsiders.”

“BUT I AM NOT AN OUTSIDER, I AM YOUR…” Papyrus paused, a blush sweeping over his skull. “FRIEND?”

Some of the building frustration dwindled.

“you’re my friend,” he confirmed, “but i don’t think i’m allowed to just let anyone in, even if i do get clearance.”

Papyrus frowned. “WHY NOT?”

Sans shrugged. “hell if i know. gaster never stops complaining about following protocol and making sure everyone has all their t’s dotted and their i’s crossed before giving permission for anything.”

He smirked at his own joke, and when it went ignored by Papyrus, he pressed on, “gaster keeps saying how much of an ‘added headache’ this whole project is because we gotta give the construction crew permission to enter the building.” He rolled his eyelights. “apparently mining into a wall is a super big hassle.”

For a while, Papyrus said nothing. He swirled his fork around the food (as best he could with the eggs’ crispness), looking contemplative. Sans thought maybe he had abandoned the conversation until he finally spoke up again.

“HOW LONG UNTIL YOU LEAVE?”

Again, Sans was taken aback by the abrupt change in topic. And this time, he was hurt as well.

“i don’t know,” Sans shrugged. “it’ll depend on the doc.”

Papyrus sighed and slumped forward.

Sans set down his own fork and sighed. “you know, if, uh, things are too awkward with me here, i can stay somewhere else or –”

“NO!” Papyrus’s eyelights snapped upwards, and they finally made eye contact for the first time since the incident upstairs. “NO, THAT IS NOT IT.”

Sans blinked. “what is it then?”

“I JUST… AM NOT LOOKING FORWARD TO THE DAY YOU LEAVE,” he admitted, blush encompassing his whole head now.

“you… you don’t want me to leave?”

“YES! THAT IS – ER, NO. GAH, WHAT I MEAN TO SAY IS…” Papyrus slammed his hands down on the table, startling Sans. “I WANT YOU TO BE SAFE! AND AS LONG AS YOU ARE HERE, YOU ARE NOT SAFE!”

“but…” Sans gulped, half-scared and half-excited about the answer he would receive. “but if i were safe, you would want me to stay?”

Papyrus’s hands ran back and forth along the edge of the table. “I WILL NOT ANSWER THE QUESTION.”

“what? why not?”

“BECAUSE,” Papyrus said, stilling his movement, “YOU WILL NEVER BE SAFE HERE.”

“but do you want me gone?”

“NOT… ENTIRELY.”

Sans leaned over the table – half-falling into his breakfast – and gently placed his hand atop Papyrus’s.

“WH-WHAT?” Papyrus spluttered, saucer-eyed.

“papyrus, this morning –”

“UGH!” Papyrus yanked his hand away. “WHY ARE YOU BRINGING THAT UP AGAIN?”

Sans sat back in his chair with a frown. “look, i don’t really wanna talk about it either. actually, kinda feel like throwing up if i focus on it for too long.” He exhaled, shaking off the nausea and steeling himself to just… tear off the bandaid. “but i just gotta know… was that just a bad dream or did you, uh, really feel that way about me?”

“FEEL WHAT WAY?”

It was Sans’s turn to blush. “well, uh, you know.”

“I… DO NOT?”

He wasn’t looking Sans in the eye.

“heh. god. i mean, it might’ve just been the worst wet dream ever, but uh, you were saying stuff in your sleep?”

Papyrus’s eyes shot in his direction, and the horror on his face was unlike anything Sans had ever seen before.

“WHAT DID I – WAS I – OH NO, DID I – WHAT DID I SAY?!” he finally managed.

“uh, heh.” Sans rubbed the back of his skull, threads of panic knotting in his soul. “you said my name a few times.”

Papyrus’s mouth fell open dramatically and, after a few seconds of silence, he smashed his hands to his face and let out a soft whine.

“I DID NOT INTEND TO – GOD! I AM SO SORRY!”

Sans shifted his weight to the back of his chair, a disappointed (relieved?) sigh at his teeth.

“gotcha. it was just a messed up dream. you can’t help that. how you feel about a person gets screwy in your head when you’re out.”

“THAT IS NOT WHAT I –” Papyrus paused, one frightened eye peeking out from between his phalanges.

Sans swallowed. “well what did you mean?”

Papyrus let out a loud, whistling breath.

“I CAN’T,” he whined.

Everything stopped. Sans couldn’t even breathe.

“how long?”

Papyrus enclosed his skull in his arms.

“HOW LONG WHAT?” he asked, voice muffled.

“how long have you felt this way about me?”

Papyrus groaned but for once didn’t avoid the question. “A MONTH? LONGER?”

“a month? haven’t i been here like… a month and a half?”

Papyrus dropped his hands a couple inches, revealing his watery eyes.

“YOU HAVE BEEN HERE APPROXIMATELY FIFTY DAYS,” Papyrus informed, his voice creeping into his usual tone.

“that’s, uh, approximate, huh?” Sans laughed breathlessly.

“YES. GIVE OR TAKE A FEW HOURS, I SUPPOSE.”

“ha. haha. so you’ve felt that way… at least half the time…”

God. For so long….

Papyrus lowered his hands to his lap. “I AM SO SORRY. I WAS NEVER GOING TO TELL YOU, THERE WAS NO POINT….”

“no point?”

“YOU ARE LEAVING. AND YOU DO NOT…” Papyrus jumped up. “OH, NEVER MIND.”

Papyrus began to stomp out of the room, but Sans grabbed onto his arm as he stormed past.

“WH – WHAT DO YOU WANT?” Papyrus demanded.

“i feel the same way,” Sans confessed.

Papyrus stared at him, mouth agape once more.

Sans gently squeezed Papyrus’s humerus and whispered, “you’ve been really good to me, and well, you’re a lot like my bro, and i’ve always…”

(Always what? Loved him? Wanted to fuck him? Dirty him? No, he hadn’t, he wouldn’t, he couldn’t.)

“well, that doesn’t matter. you’re just… like him in many ways, except you’re, well, you. and that’s, uh, pretty cool,” he finished lamely.

“I AM CONFUSED.” Papyrus twisted out of Sans’s grasp. “IT SOUNDS LIKE YOU ARE SAYING YOU LOVED YOUR BROTHER.”

“i mean, yeah, i guess that’s what i’m saying, but it’s not…” Sans exhaled, trying to separate his now-familial feelings for his brother from what he felt for this Papyrus. “what i’m trying to say is… i think you’re pretty special, y’know?”

That didn’t really convey the warm, fuzzy feeling that enveloped his soul every time he thought of Papyrus giving him a hug or any time Paps laughed at one of his awful puns or…

“SO… YOU LOVE ME BECAUSE I REMIND YOU OF HIM?”

Sans blinked. “what? no, that’s not –”

“MAYBE I AM YOUR SECOND CHOICE,” Papyrus said through gritted teeth. “BUT I WOULD APPRECIATE IT IF YOU DID NOT TELL ME AS MUCH.”

Sans shook his head, too flabbergasted to say anything for a few seconds.

“no, papyrus,” he called out as his thoughts caught up with his mouth, “that’s not what i was saying!”

But he had waited too long. Papyrus had already thundered out of the room, leaving a line of tears in his wake. The door slammed shut, leaving Sans completely and utterly alone.

Chapter Text

*************************************************

Rows of thin, sleek bones, each one imperfect and marred with tiny scratches and scars. Oversized scapulae, similarly marked, bolstering his physique. Vertebrae that popped quietly as they flexed.

Papyrus, eyes glued to his reflection, stretched and arched his naked body, guilty satisfaction curdling in his soul.

Over the last few months, he had been growing incredibly fast; everyone, from his parents to his classmates to his neighbors, had been commenting on his height. Usually such statements left him feeling insecure about his body, and he would end up staring at himself in the closet mirror, not recognizing himself.

But today? Today Papyrus felt good.

He ran his hand up and down his bones, tracing every groove, scar, and dent. Occasionally his body would tingle with a sudden spark of pleasure, especially around his spine and ribs. He hurriedly moved along, blushing at how… weird it felt. Sometimes it felt downright good.

He wanted to linger longer on the sensations, but dinner and homework awaited him, and procrastinating would not do. But… perhaps he would explore his body more closely later.

Examination complete, he put on his fuzzy, pink rabbit-patterned pajamas and turned to leave his room…

Only for his soul to nearly burst out of his chest at the sight of his brother leaning against the doorframe.

“SANS!” he shrieked, covering his body with his folded arms even though he was already clothed. “WHAT ARE YOU – HOW DID YOU – WHY DIDN’T YOU KNOCK?”

Sans rolled his eyelights. “door was open.”

Though he tried desperately to keep it cool, Papyrus couldn’t stop heat from flooding his skull. “HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN STANDING THERE?!”

“not long,” Sans said shortly. “just got home.”

Relieved, Papyrus sighed, though the embarrassment was still clawing at him. With a shake of his head, he drew his arms from his chest and looked Sans over. His brother’s expression was slightly off, different from his usual “no damns given” attitude. His jaw was tight with some unknown emotion. Was he upset? Angry? Maybe Papyrus was imagining it….

“I THOUGHT YOU WERE STAYING AT THE HOSPITAL TONIGHT,” Papyrus said, frowning.

Sans shrugged. “pops wanted to stay tonight. said he likes watching dad sleep.”

“OH.” Papyrus shuffled his feet and asked hopefully, “DID YOU, UM, WANT TO COOK DINNER WITH ME THEN?”

“nope.”

Papyrus’s shoulders sank with disappointment. “OH. OKAY. THAT IS ALRIGHT! PERFECTLY REASONABLE, GIVEN THAT WE BOTH HAVE SO MUCH HOMEWORK.” He glanced at Sans who continued to stand in the doorway. “SO, ER, DID YOU NEED SOMETHING OR –”

“came up here to talk,” Sans said coolly.

“TALK?” Papyrus brightened slightly. “ABOUT WHAT?”

Sans crossed his arms. “nance said you talked to her yesterday.”

Uh oh.

“I CAN EXPLAIN –”

“explain what exactly?”

“THAT I – WELL, UM, THAT I WAS LOOKING OUT FOR YOUR BEST INTERESTS.”

“my best interests.”

“YES! YOU HAVE NO TIME TO BE DATING RIGHT NOW!” Papyrus invented wildly. “NOT IF YOU WANT TO GO TO UNIVERSITY.”

Sans’s face was all skepticism now. “really?”

“Y-YES.” Papyrus could feel the sweat dripping down his skull. “REALLY.”

“see, that isn’t what she told me. she told me that you said i was already taken. now i wonder why she thought that?”

“I – I – WELL, THERE WAS PROBABLY A MISUNDERSTANDING.”

“cut the bullshit, papyrus. what the fuck is this?”

“D-DON’T USE THAT LANGUAGE, BROTHER!”

“i’ll use any damn language i please if you’re gonna lie to people like that.”

“I AM NOT LYING!”

“papyrus. who the fuck am i dating?”

“UMM. NO ONE.”

“okaaay. that’s exactly what i said to her. she doesn’t believe me, by the way, no matter what i say, so thanks for that.”

“WELL, GOOD,” Papyrus said, blushing. “BECAUSE I AM NOT LYING!”

“what does that even mean?! you just said –!”

“JUST BECAUSE YOU ARE NOT DATING DOES NOT MEAN YOU ARE NOT TAKEN.”

Sans dragged his palm down his face. “what?”

“YOU SAID,” Papyrus mumbled, kicking his feet against the floor, “THAT YOU WOULD MARRY ME.”

There was a resounding silence, and then –

Sans kicked at the door. “papyrus, are you fucking kidding me?!”

“NO! DO YOU NOT REMEMBER YOUR PROMISE?”

“oh my fucking god! you’re way too old for this shit!” He balled his fists, a full body shiver shaking his bones. “look. i said a lot of dumb crap when i was a kid, so did you. that doesn’t mean we’re really fucking engaged! the fuck!”

“BUT… BUT YOU PROMISED!”

“tough luck! we’re brothers, papyrus, not fucking lovers! get it through your thick skull!”

“MY SKULL IS OF A PERFECTLY NORMAL DENSITY, THANK YOU,” Papyrus said, sockets filling with tears.

Sans rolled his eyelights. “oh, why the hell are you so sensitive to every damn thing?”

“I AM NOT!”

“then shut up and listen for once,” ordered Sans as he jabbed a finger in Papyrus’s direction. “i want you to stop telling everyone this bullshit and stay out of my business. and if you can’t manage to do that, i won’t let you be in my life at all. i’ll cut you out completely. it’ll be like you won’t even exist. got it?”

Sans didn’t wait for a response. He turned away, and although his anger had been paramount, his step was lighter than ever. Only the noise of his door slamming behind him betrayed his feelings.

In the meantime, Papyrus remained immobile, mouth slightly agape as his soul slowly crumbled to pieces.

He knew he shouldn’t have done it. And he wouldn’t have done it either if that absolute idiot of a monster Nancy hadn’t set her sights on Sans.

But why did he lie to Sans? He knew Sans hadn’t made his “promise” to marry him seriously; they hadn’t understood the concept of marriage or soul-bounding or anything else back then. So why, why, why had he acted like their agreement had been solid? It was ridiculous! Nothing about it was right! He was his brother. His best friend. His…

Ugh. UGH! Why couldn’t he ever just do things right?! What was wrong with him?! Why couldn’t he just like someone NORMAL? Someone who wasn’t his brother?

He fell onto his bed, hands clasped over his eyes as the guilt swallowed him. Dinner and homework awaited him, but he had lost all motivation. What did it matter when his brother hated him like this?

Outside a tumultuous storm barraged the house with a warm wind, eventually lulling him into a fitful sleep. Nightmares plagued his rest. First, he dreamed of Father dying alone in his hospital bed. Then the dream turned truly horrific when he discovered that it had been Sans who had been ill the whole time.

As the dream version of Sans’s lifeless body cracked into dust, Papyrus finally started awake, soul thumping. The storm was still pelting their home, causing the house to creak irritably. Papyrus wondered how long he had slept and if the weather would last until the morning.

Sleep was about to retake him when his floorboards released a long, low squeak. He flipped over. Papyrus blinked tiredly as an angry-looking Sans crossed the room, cradling a bowl of steaming soup.

“here,” Sans mumbled as he set the dish on the end table. “i know you didn’t eat, so.”

Papyrus rubbed his eyes, not believing what he saw. “WHAT TIME IS IT?”

“nearly three.”

“IN THE MORNING?” When Sans nodded, Papyrus croaked, “HAVE YOU BEEN AWAKE THIS WHOLE TIME?”

Sans’s brow furrowed. “what does it matter? just eat your damn food.”

He turned to make his escape, but Papyrus latched onto his arm.

“what do you want?” Sans demanded, glaring at the hand like it had personally offended him.

“I AM SORRY.”

Papyrus’s voice was quiet – far quieter than his normal timbre – but it held within it all the sorrow and remorse that had been building in his chest over the last few hours. No, over the last few years.

Sans closed his eyes and carefully extracted his arm. “papyrus, i know you’ve liked me for a while, but it…” He paused, moving his mouth up and down as if to literally chew on his words. “it isn’t right. we’re brothers.”

“I KNOW,” Papyrus said guiltily. “I NEVER SHOULD HAVE –” He sighed. “I WILL TELL NANCY TOMORROW THAT I LIED.”

Sans scoffed. “that’d be a start. i mean, i don’t really care about her, but it’d be nice if rumors didn’t get around.”

Against his will, hope blossomed in Papyrus’s chest. “YOU DO NOT LIKE HER?”

“no. not my type.” His eyes narrowed once more. “that doesn’t mean you’re my type, got it?”

Papyrus bowed his head. “OF COURSE.” Still, a lingering question nagged at him, and though he knew he ought not to ask, he couldn’t stop himself. “YOU… YOU STILL LOVE ME RIGHT?”

Sans stiffened but eventually relented, “you’re my bro. ‘course i love you.”

Papyrus closed his eyes, a trill overtaking his soul. Those three words. He wanted to hear them again and again, forever until he died. Even if Sans said them only as a brother. That was fine; at least he’d know Sans cared for him.

“I LOVE YOU TOO, BROTHER.”

*************************************************

Stupid, stupid, STUPID! Why was he so damn stupid all the time?!

A young cockatrice, obliviously meandering down the sidewalk, hurriedly hopped out of the way with an undignified squawk as Papyrus stormed down the road. He was only half-aware of the monster or of the ten-foot radius of empty space that had formed around him as he thundered through the otherwise crowded Capital. In fact, he paid so little attention that he had nearly run headfirst into several of the tall, rusting lampposts that lined the road… and had failed to avoid the piles of trash and other unmentionable waste that had littered his path.

Focusing on his duties was paramount right now; the high-crime area was not his usual patrol, and all the Guards usually posted here were preoccupied with a multiple monstrocide near the MTT Hotel.

But how could he concentrate on something as trivial as Guard duty at a time like this? After he had… violated Sans.

Stars above, what had he done? Cruel and pervasive shame coursed through his bones. How could he have lost control like that? Dreams were one thing, but to rub himself against Sans, to defile every inch of his trust.... He didn’t care if he had been asleep, Sans had deserved better. Waking up to that – to thrusting against Sans while he was in a half-catatonic state – left Papyrus with a guilt he could never bury.

He needed to put this into perspective. Sans had said it was alright, that he had understood. That was a far better response than after that night at Grillby’s, right?

What was he even thinking? That didn’t matter! Both what Papyrus and Grillby had done were horrific, the evilest of evils. Besides, Sans was always trying to please him. It always seemed like all he ever wanted was to assure Papyrus that everything he did was fine, even when it wasn’t! It made sense that Sans would say that it was okay, that he wasn’t hurt, that he....

No. Sans wouldn’t lie to him about something like that.

Why not? His brother hadn’t held back.

They weren’t the same! His brother and this Sans were two different people. Two monsters with different personalities, different approaches to life, different pasts.

They were similar enough that it didn’t matter, much as Muffet, Grillby, and everyone else had been eager to highlight.

And Sans’s feelings didn’t make a difference?

Papyrus clenched his fists, his head abuzz. Sans’s feelings made all the difference. They meant everything. They were the world.

Which was exactly why it was all so terrible. How could Sans ever trust him again?

And why did he even deserve that trust in the first place? Instead of telling Sans the truth about how he felt, or, hell, anything really, he just kept it all to himself. Including his agreement with Muffet! Here he was, trying his hardest to sneak into the lab, and he didn’t even have the figurative guts to tell Sans why he was so interested in the first place. For someone who was supposedly looking out for Sans’s wellbeing, he couldn’t even admit that much.

No, he kept it a secret. Secrets and lies, like always.

And yet, hadn’t Sans also been keeping secrets? Specifically, his feelings for him? Papyrus could feel the embarrassment creeping onto his face, the butterflies dancing in his soul. After all this time, after all this agony....

Why did that matter? It wasn’t like his brother hadn’t loved him as well and look where he had wound up: dead at Papyrus’s hands. All because he had been too self-centered to stop thinking only of himself. And if he couldn’t temper his emotions, this Sans would be bound to the same fate.

But Papyrus loved him.

He dragged his hands down his skull, the tips of his phalanges digging into his cheekbones.

What was wrong with him?! Had he learned no lessons since his brother had died? If Papyrus couldn’t control his Stars-damned obsession, he could never forgive himself!

But again, hadn’t Sans confessed his feelings?

Maybe he was misunderstanding the situation. Yes, surely he had meant that they were close friends! Like brothers. Because they were practically brothers, right?

Then why had the admission of mutual feelings come right after Sans had questioned him about his disgusting wet dream? After Papyrus had divulged his shameful secret about his ugly, awful, terrible crush? Maybe Sans had meant it as a confession of close kinship. It made sense since he had compared him to his actual brother. The one Sans really loved.

Papyrus exhaled a garbled sound that was halfway between a scream and a growl. It was all so vague and ridiculous! Sans could have at least been clear so Papyrus didn’t have to beat himself up over how dumb he had been! Ugh!

Because his actions had been exactly that – dumb. Why had he behaved so deplorably? Even if he hadn’t been sure of Sans’s intentions at the time, he should have asked what Sans had meant. Instead he had gotten jealous. Jealous! Over being a second choice to Sans’s brother. It was absurd to an almost hysterical level.

Yet he wasn’t laughing. He was so close to screaming, to crying, to doing things he’d doubtlessly regret.

Was he doomed to repeat all his mistakes until he finally laid down and died?

Maybe it was what he deserved.

Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid –

As he continued to patrol aimlessly down one of the Capital’s less busy side streets, a yellow flash of something streaked in front of his knees. The only thing that stopped him from gasping was the fact that his teeth were glued shut with anxiety. Reflexes as sharp as ever, however, he slammed to a stop in time to prevent himself from tripping over the unknown object.

Or rather, the unknown monster.

Before him stood a short, armless, yellow lizard monster, clothed in a frayed striped shirt. From the look of them and their utterly filthy state, Papyrus guessed they were likely a street urchin.

“Mister!” they shouted as they stared up at Papyrus, eyes dotted with tears. “You’re a Royal Guard, right?!”

Papyrus took a step back, eyeing the young monster with unease. “YES, I AM. IS THERE SOMETHING WR--?”

“Please, mister! You gotta help me!” they begged, getting closer again. “Some jackass kid stole my money!”

“WATCH YOUR LANG--” Papyrus bit his tongue, remembering where he was and who was likely watching. “NEVER MIND. WHERE IS THE PERPETRATOR?”

“I don’t know!” The kid sniffled loudly. “I was walking down the street when I saw ‘em peeking around my stash over there under the dumpster,” they said, nodding behind them toward an alleyway crowded with trash and junk. “I yelled at them and they skedaddled out real fast, the dumb jerk!”

“STASH?” Papyrus narrowed his eyes. “WHAT SORT OF STASH?”

“Some coin I keep from the ‘rents. They don’t like me carrying pocket change.”

Papyrus nodded, casting his gaze over the street for any signs of other children. “WHEN WAS THIS?”

“Just a couple minutes ago, right before you showed up! I tried to chase after them, but,” the child punctuated his sentence with another snivel, “I can’t keep up. I always fall when I try to run because of my deformity.”

They croaked out a sob, but Papyrus ignored it. The criminal might still be nearby. If he was going to have any chance of catching up to them, he’d need to act fast.

“DID YOU GET A DECENT LOOK AT THEM?”

The monster sucked in a great snoutful of snot. “I don’t know…. They were just a kid.”

“YES, YOU SAID AS MUCH. THEY HAD STRIPES ON, I PRESUME?”

They nodded furiously. “Yeah, yeah, a striped red shirt, I think. And, uhh… I don’t know, I think they were a moldsmal?”

Papyrus narrowed his eyes. “YOU THINK?”

The kid rocked back and forth. “I mean, it was pretty far away. But yeah, they were green! And, um, jiggly!”

Odd. It was custom for children to wear stripes, but not all monster bodies could accommodate clothing. He had always known moldsmals to go nude.

Papyrus peered down at the child and noticed that their eyes were not focused on him but on something just to the right of him.

His belt shifted.

In one smooth motion, Papyrus whipped around and took hold of whatever was at his pockets. His hands found searing heat and he yelped backwards as pain rippled through him. A short, bright blue fire elemental in flashy yellow stripes was at his hip, and as they locked eyes with one another, resolution passed over the child’s face. In a blaze of light, the monster streaked away and down the street holding one of Papyrus’s tax collection pouches. Their low, raspy voice shouted “Scatter!” as they darted down to the entrance of a nearby alleyway.

Papyrus didn’t hesitate. With a quick flash of magic, he summoned a large cage of bones to trap the elemental. He smiled as the array of magic successfully formed around the miscreant.

Behind him, the other monster made a small, disappointed noise. With a huff, Papyrus turned around and grabbed at the lizard child, lifting them up by their shirt. They twisted and kicked, trying to dislodge themself from his grasp, but he was not having it. Try as they might to escape, these two hooligans were going to face consequences.

But when he returned his focus to the fire elemental, he realized, too late, that his cage could not hold them; the child’s body, as malleable as it was, had slipped past one of the bone-bars. Papyrus threw out another bone to trip them, but they were too perceptive. Though the magic would’ve hindered most monsters, the scoundrel sparked with dazzling light, and suddenly they had split into two smaller fire elementals. They ducked under the obstacle with ease and bolted further down the alley, leaving streaks of cyan behind.

“GET BACK HERE, IN THE NAME OF THE ROYAL FAMILY!” Papyrus shouted as he tucked the flailing lizard monster under his arm and gave chase.

Predictably, the demand went ignored, and by the time he reached the fence that divided the alley from the other street, there was no sight of the fire elemental. His eyes roved over the heaps of garbage, but all he found were abandoned homeless encampments and sad, cheeseless mice.

“JUST MY LUCK,” Papyrus mumbled. “OF ALL THE DAYS FOR YOU TROUBLEMAKERS TO… MAKE TROUBLE!”

The child kicked at him, straining with all their might to ease his arm so that they may escape. It was a fruitless endeavor, of course; Papyrus was much stronger than the delinquent and much too angry to loosen his grip. All the struggling served to do was irritate him.

“ENOUGH!” he bellowed.

After a moment of tense, straight-backed fear, the striped monster sullenly slumped their weight into Papyrus.

The force of his command was enough to subdue them, but it also left a tight tendril of guilt coiled around Papyrus’s soul. This was a child. They needed discipline and guidance, not harsh punishment.

Sighing, he drew them from his arm. They were glaring daggers at him, to which he returned in kind.

“WELL?” Papyrus prompted. “DO YOU HAVE ANYTHING TO SAY FOR YOURSELF?”

The child was silent, which only served to heighten Papyrus’s frustration.

“DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH YOU COST THE TAXPAYERS WITH THAT LITTLE STUNT OF YOURS?” When the child was not forthcoming with an answer, he said, with a smug smile, “NOTHING. YOU COST THEM NOTHING.”

“Huh?”

“I HAD NOT COLLECTED ANYTHING TODAY. I WAS ON PATROL, GUARDING THE POPULACE FROM RUFFIANS LIKE YOU AND YOUR FRIEND. I HAD NOT A SINGLE GOLD PIECE IN THAT BAG.”

“Tch,” the child spat as they cast their head downward.

“SPEAKING OF WHOM, WHERE IS YOUR FRIEND?”

The child’s body went taut, but still, they did not answer.

“THEY LEFT YOU BEHIND, SO I AM QUITE UNSURE WHY YOU WOULD PROTECT THEM.”

“It’s not her fault I didn’t listen when she told me to scram,” retorted the child.

“AND WHY DIDN’T YOU?”

“Ya caught me off-guard,” they said sheepishly before their face screwed with anger. “Shoulda booked it instead of watching your magic.”

“HMPH. WHAT YOU SHOULD HAVE BEEN DOING IS GOING TO SCHOOL INSTEAD OF SWINDLING THE PEOPLE OF OUR KINGDOM OUT OF THEIR HARD-EARNED MONEY.”

“You mean like the Royal Family does?”

Papyrus’s mouth slackened with surprise. Trembling slightly, he brought the child closer to his face.

“ARE YOU TRYING TO GET YOURSELF KILLED?” Papyrus hissed.

“No,” the kid said sullenly. “It’s the truth. They’re… jerks!”

Papyrus pulled them back. “WELL KEEP THE TRUTH TO YOURSELF BEFORE YOU GET YOURSELF KILLED.” He shook his head. “ANY OTHER ROYAL GUARDSMAN WOULD HAVE BROUGHT YOU BEFORE THE QUEEN AND KING. WE ARE ORDERED TO TREAT TREASONOUS WORDS FROM YOUTH AS AN OPPORTUNITY FOR… EDUCATION.”

Growing up, Father and Dad had warned both Papyrus and Sans of the decree. Children apparently went into the throne room and never came out… or at least didn’t come out the same. They were broken, to put it blunt. Though why the Royal Family, who supposedly loved children, would do such a thing was beyond his understanding.

Still, it didn’t erase the fact that it did happen. When Sans had become more unruly in his teenage years, Papyrus had worried so much that he would upset the wrong monster. Now that he was a Guard it was his duty to report such sedition. He was not proud of that aspect of his job and had always vowed, if presented the choice, to never turn over any child to the authorities. Such deplorable methods of maintaining order were beneath him.

“Well, it’s a good thing I got so lucky then!” the child yelled before sticking out their tongue.

Papyrus brought a hand to his face and sighed. This was exactly why sending them to the Royal Family was particularly cruel; this petulant child did not understand the gravity of their actions.

“ENOUGH OF THIS. CHILD, TELL ME WHERE YOUR PARENTS ARE SO THAT I MAY DELIVER UNTO THEM A LECTURE MOST STERN ABOUT YOUR DISGRACEFUL BEHAVIOR.”

The child shot them another glare. “Don’t have any parents.”

Papyrus narrowed his eyes. “YOU ARE MISTAKEN TO THINK YOU CAN LIE TO ESCAPE DISCIPLINE.”

“I’m not lying, jerk!” The child began to squirm again. “Now let me go!”

Papyrus rolled his eyes. “IF YOU DO NOT HAVE PARENTS, THEN I SHALL TAKE YOU TO YOUR HOME. IN WHICH ORPHANARIUM DO YOU RESIDE?”

“None!”

Papyrus stared hard at the young child. These streets were dangerous, far more dangerous than any child should have to endure. He was surprised a gang had not inducted them or that they were not already dead.

“THEN I SHALL TAKE YOU TO THE CLOSEST ONE,” he announced as he began marching down the street. “A CHILD LIKE YOU BELONGS IN A PROPER BED.”

“Wait, hey, no!” The child was thrashing hard now, the movements even more desperate than when Papyrus had first caught them. “Don’t take me there!”

Now which way was it? He knew of the one in the center of town but if rumors were correct, that one was usually full. Perhaps in the eastern district?

“Hey! Come on, stop ignoring me! I got pals that’ll be scared if I go missing! Please!”

“YOU WILL SEE YOUR FRIEND AGAIN,” Papyrus assured. “THEY DO NOT KEEP YOU LOCKED UP.”

“Yeah they do! Hey, come on! Let me go!”

“NO. YOU WILL RECEIVE REGULAR MEALS AND PROPER OVERSIGHT.”

“You can’t do this! Please! Sir!”

That got Papyrus’s attention. “‘SIR’?”

The child had begun to cry.

“Please, please. I’m sorry for calling you a jerk and for stealing from you and for being mean and everything else, but please, please, please don’t take me to one of those places.”

“WHY NOT?”

“They make you into Deltas there!”

Papyrus blinked at the child a few times and then promptly burst into laughter. “INTO A DELTA? HOW ABSURD!”

“Hey, no! Don’t laugh! It’s true! They single out the tough ones and let the rest starve! I’ve seen it happen!”

“I AM SORRY TO INFORM YOU, BUT THOSE ARE MERE STREET TALES. THEY RECRUIT DELTAS FROM WITHIN THE RANKS OF THE ROYAL GUARD.”

“Then who do you know that’s a Delta, huh? I bet you went to the Academy and everything!”

“I –” He rubbed his chin thoughtfully.

Who had he known from the school that had been awarded that honor? He had been near the top of his class but had never sought a position within their ranks – they creeped him out, to be frank – but surely someone else would have been selected.

“I AM SURE THEY WERE DISCREET.”

“No, they’re not! Ugh! Come on, I’m not going to make up a lie like this!”

“IT IS QUITE APPARENT THAT YOU BELIEVE THE FABLE YOU ARE TELLING. THAT DOES NOT MAKE IT TRUE.”

“Look, you gotta trust me. I saw my, uh, friend Suzy go in there. She spoke to me through the fence and she told me they fed her, let her play a bunch, and had a bunch of fun, but they didn’t let her outside. She thought they were worried about her leaving or something but then she told me ‘bout how they did all these tests on her and stuff.”

“YOU MISUNDERSTOOD, THEN. THEY PROBABLY MEANT EXAMS. ALL SCHOOLCHILDREN MUST –”

“No, listen! They were putting her through machines and stuff! Made her use her magic even though she hated it! They even got out her soul without her permission!”

A shiver ran down Papyrus’s spine at the mere thought of someone extracting his soul without consent. It was a violation of the highest order.

“Once they did that, they let her go outside but they stopped feeding her and treating her good. Made her sleep on the floor to make way for other recruits.”

“I FIND THAT HARD TO BELIEVE. YOU ARE CHILDREN.”

“They don’t care ‘bout kids. Why do you think they send us to the Royal Family when we talk bad about them? They just wanna use us!”

Papyrus paused but after a few moments of thought, shook his head. “AND HOW DO YOU KNOW ANY OF THIS? THIS SUZY WAS ALLOWED OUTSIDE, SO WHY DID SHE NOT REJOIN YOU?”

“They wouldn’t let her! They saw me talking to her through the fence and forced her back in. They chased me too, but Sapphire was with me and got me outta there real fast.”

“SAPPHIRE?”

“My friend. She’s the –” Their eyes widened. “I mean, wait, I –”

“HMPH. YOU TALK TOO MUCH.” At least now he could ask around for the flame elemental and retrieve his bag.

“Crap. Crap, crap, crap.”

“WATCH YOUR LANGUAGE,” Papyrus ordered, this time not caring who was listening or what sort of reputation he would garner. “YOU ARE FAR TOO YOUNG TO BE SAYING SUCH WORDS.”

“Sorry!” the child exclaimed. “Okay? I’m sorry! I’ll grovel at your feet and swear never to say another bad word again as long as you don’t make me go there.”

“I DO NOT WANT YOU TO GROVEL. I WISH FOR YOU TO HAVE A HAPPY HOME.”

“Well, I won’t be happy there!”

Papyrus let out a loud huff of frustration. “CHILD, I WAS ALREADY HAVING A TERRIBLE DAY BEFORE YOU CAME ALONG. YOUR TEMPER TANTRUMS ARE NOT NEEDED.”

“Listen, I won’t be bad anymore if you just, I don’t know, take me somewhere else.” The child perked up. “There’s even some nice adult monsters that stay in the alley we live in. They take real good care of us. Even feed us their scraps sometimes. You can talk to them and have them punish me if you want.”

The more he heard about this child’s life, the more obligated he felt to protect them.

“WOULD YOU FEEL MORE COMFORTABLE IF I TOOK YOU TO THE ORPHANARIUM IN WATERFALL? BEFORE YOU START,” he interrupted as the child opened their mouth to argue, “I WILL SAY THAT I KNOW FOR A FACT THAT THE ORPHANS DO NOT GET LOCKED UP THERE, AS I KNOW THE PERSON WHO RUNS IT. THEY ARE QUITE FRIENDLY, EVEN IF THEY ARE SOMEWHAT SHY.”

“So? Friendly people can do bad things.”

“WELL, I ALSO KNOW MORE THAN ONE MONSTER WHO WAS RAISED AND GREW UP THERE.”

Suspicion crossed the child’s face. “And what are they doing now?”

“THEY ARE DEAD,” Papyrus said simply, “BUT NOT BY ANYONE ELSE’S HANDS. THEY GREW ILL.”

“What if they were poisoned?”

Papyrus sighed sadly. “THEY DIED DUE TO A DRUG OVERDOSE.”

“Oh.” Some of their apprehension dwindled away but they still didn’t look entirely convinced. “Even if that’s the case, why should I trust you? Maybe you’ll take me to a bad orphanage anyway.”

A sigh at his teeth, Papyrus aimed a steady stare at the child. “DO YOU HAVE A CHOICE?”

They glanced down at their feet which were still dangling five feet from the ground.

“Guess not,” they said sourly.

Papyrus continued to eye them for several seconds before he slowly lowered them. The child looked questioningly at him, as if doubting his intentions.

“YOU MAY WALK FREELY.”

“You don’t think I’ll run?”

“I DO NOT THINK YOU WOULD GET VERY FAR.”

Shame flashed across the child’s face as they looked at their torso.

“BECAUSE I WOULD STOP YOU WITH MY MAGIC BEFORE YOU GOT TOO FAR,” Papyrus explained. “I AM QUITE ADEPT AT IT, IF YOU DID NOT NOTICE.”

He began to walk toward Waterfall, knowing full well that the Captain would give him a mouthful later for abandoning his post early. The reprimand would be worth it to see this child to safety.

They cocked a brow at Papyrus as they scurried to catch up with his long gait. “If you’re so good at it, why didn’t you catch Sapphire?”

“PERHAPS I LET HER GO,” Papyrus said resentfully. “SHE HAD NOT STOLEN ANYTHING IMPORTANT.”

“Yeah, right. You don’t look like the type that would let anyone cross you without some sort of payback.”

“UNTRUE. MONSTERS DO BAD THINGS ALL THE TIME, BUT I THINK NEARLY EVERYONE IS CAPABLE OF TURNING THEIR LIVES AROUND WITH THE RIGHT GUIDANCE. I DO NOT THINK IT IS NECESSARY TO UNDULY PUNISH A MONSTER.”

“Is that why you’re taking me to this place?”

“IN FACT, IT IS.”

“Well, that’s silly. I can take care of my–“

Although the child continued to speak, Papyrus grew distracted as below him the ground began to shake. There grew a low, steady rumbling noise. Both the trembling and the sound were building quickly, and Papyrus realized half a second too late what it meant.

That was all the warning he had before the earth shook with a force so strong it felt like the Underground had split open.

Chapter Text

It was already the afternoon, but Papyrus was only just waking up. Even though he had finally, mercifully, managed a full night’s rest, the last month had been hell, and he felt like it would take an eternity to recover from sleepless night after sleepless night.

His brother was obviously experiencing much the same; as Papyrus edged out of the bedroom, Sans only stirred slightly before returning to a soft snore. The withdrawal symptoms had made true rest as fleeting as sunlight in Waterfall, so Papyrus was thankful he had finally achieved more than a handful of hours of slumber.

Thankful. Not pleased, and certainly not happy. Merely thankful. It was as good of an emotion he was going to get, he decided. Perhaps he ought to be more bitter about that, but really, he did not care anymore. Everything seemed detached and distant after all that had happened this last month.

With as much grace as he could muster, Papyrus slipped out of the room. He quickly ensured that his rudimentary alarm system of strings and bells was still intact and armed before heading to the restroom. It stank badly, and Papyrus remembered with a grimace that he hadn’t the energy to clean up Sans’s sick before retiring last night. Scowling sent a flare of pain through his skull, and that in turn made him inhale sharply, which, of course, forced him to take in more of the smell, and –

Ugh. He shook his head and held his breath before going in front of the mirror.

His eye was ugly. The crack extended from his forehead, down over his socket, and into the top of his right incisor. Scabbed-over openings protruded here and there where he had overextended his injury and bled, making it all look worse than it truly was. Over the last week his injury had been healing, though more slowly than he had hoped. As he had suspected, it was leaving behind a wicked scar, and if he continued to strain his eye with exaggerated emotions, it would only get worse. Still, last night he had gotten more rest than before, so he was hopeful.

He brought his hand to his eye and began to concentrate on soothing thoughts: the sound of a stream, the smell of fresh rain, pine trees murmuring on a windy day, his parents beaming at him with pride, and, finally, Sans reassuring him that all was okay. Green magic sparked across his fingertips, pushing into the crevasses of his wound. He breathed out as some of the pain ebbed away.

Sadly, after only a few seconds, the magic sputtered away.

He sighed. Papyrus wasn’t all that surprised; his healing magic had felt weaker over the last year, but he had cast it from his mind, blaming it on his imagination. Even over the last few days, every time he had gone to treat his eye injury, he had hoped that the lack of rest was to blame. Alas, there was no denying it: his healing wasn’t up to par.

Sighing, he quickly dabbed his face with some soap and a wet cloth to save it from infection and left the room. He was feeling too squeamish to clean another one of Sans’s withdrawal messes right now, so he hoped that eating some breakfast would motivate him to work... or to at least stop him from returning to sleep.

Papyrus tiptoed down the stairs, cringing as he stepped on the creaky step a third of the way down. He knew he ought to wake Sans. He hadn’t kept his supper down last night and he surely hadn’t been getting enough nutrition the last couple weeks. Papyrus simply didn’t have the energy to deal with him right now. Feelings of betrayal, anger, and above all else, grim understanding, kept Papyrus all too eager to let Sans sleep.

As he made his way into the kitchen, there came a loud knock at the door. He paused, staring at the entrance with distrust. There weren’t many that would come calling, but each of the usual suspects were most unwelcome here today, tomorrow, or, well, ever.

He sprung toward the door as another knock echoed through the house. The noise was sure to wake Sans, and if Captain Undyne had sent someone to check on him, or, more likely, punish him for abandoning his duties for so long, then he would need to answer.

But no, it was as he originally assumed; as he opened the door, Grillby’s violet flames licked into sight. He was not wearing one of his usual scant outfits but was instead wearing a rather conservative pair of black suspenders and a white button-up shirt. Held up to his face was a lit cigarette, which wafted noxious fumes into the house. Blasted hellflame!

Much to Papyrus’s chagrin, the first thing Grillby did upon seeing him was stare directly at his scarred eye. The shock that ran through his expression was brief and subtle but enough to drive a painful embarrassment through Papyrus’s soul.

“WHAT DO YOU WANT,” Papyrus demanded.

Grillby blinked. His face transformed from shock to smooth passivity, though the tips of his flames flicked with irritation. He threw the cigarette into a nearby snow pile and held up a brown paper bag, motioning for Papyrus to take it. It dripped with grease and smelled of deep-fried foods.

“I CANNOT ACCEPT THAT,” Papyrus said, not bothering to hide his deep disgust.

Grillby lowered the bag. “...Why not?”

“I DO NOT KNOW WHAT YOU HAVE DONE WITH IT.”

After a moment of stunned silence, Grillby’s flames crackled a little higher. “...Where is he?”

“SLEEPING. HE HAS NOT GOTTEN ENOUGH OF IT RECENTLY AND HE SORELY NEEDS IT.”

“...Can I see him?”

“NO. THANK YOU FOR YOUR... KINDNESS BUT SANS NEEDS REST.” He started to close the door and said, with all the sarcasm he could muster, “HAVE A WONDERFUL DAY.”

To Papyrus’s horror – not to mention, fury – as the door was about to shut, Grillby wedged his hand in the crack.

“...No one has seen him in weeks,” Grillby said before Papyrus could object.

Despite the rage building in his chest, Papyrus informed him, tone as cool as a cucumber, “HE HAS BEEN SICK.”

“...I would like to see him.”

“WOULD YOU?” Papyrus tried to close the door, knowing and taking a perverse pleasure that Grillby’s hand was still stuck there. “YOU ARE THE LAST MONSTER SANS SHOULD EVER SEE AGAIN.”

Grillby tsked. “...What did I do?”

“YOU KNOW WHAT YOU DID.”

Papyrus spent the next few moments of silence trying, in vain, to shut the door, before Grillby finally spoke, a definite edge finally entering his voice.

“...I am aware that you are jealous of me.”

Papyrus stopped fidgeting with the door. “EXCUSE ME?”

“…Sans has told me about it repeatedly. How possessive you are. How much you want him to stop sleeping around. I get it. I used to be that way myself. However, that does not give you the right to hold your brother captive.”

“I HAVE NOT BEEN – I AM NOT – NO!” He pushed the door more firmly. “YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO SEE HIM BECAUSE YOU ONLY USE HIM FOR SEX AND MONEY!”

Wisps of smoke trailed from where the door met flame as Grillby’s flickered wildly.

“...I care for Sans, and until recently, I thought he cared for me as well. Our side arrangements were mutually beneficial. If he has an issue with those agreements, we could renegotiate with –”

“NO! WHAT YOU CAN DO IS LEAVE. YOU HAVE RUINED HIS LIFE ENOUGH!”

Grillby huffed. His eyes flitted toward the inside of the house, over Papyrus’s shoulder. With a loud “tsk!” he shook his head.

“...Tell Sans if he wants to discuss the nature of our relationship, he can swing by my place any time.” Grillby shoved the paper bag into the door crack, near Papyrus’s face. “...And here. I assure you it is not poisoned or tampered with. It was meant as a kind gesture.”

He withdrew his hand, leaving only the bag to act as a buffer. It split open, spilling French fries onto the ground and allowing the door to click closed. Papyrus growled at the mess.

An unsettling presence dawdled somewhere behind him as he bent down to clean up the food. He knew if he turned around, he’d see Sans. How he had bypassed the alarm system, he was unsure, but Grillby’s overt glance had given him away.

Sure enough, when he looked around, Sans stood on the second-floor landing. He was leaning against the wall for support, and Papyrus could see that his legs were shaking slightly and his bones appeared ashen. The two of them stared at each other, unspeaking. Usually this was the moment Papyrus’s soul would leap or warmth would spread through his cheeks, and he’d greet Sans with a friendly “GOOD MORNING.”

But today, he felt nothing but cold apathy.

After a few moments of pointless staring, Papyrus went into the kitchen and threw the greasy food into the trash. What a waste. Grillby should have known that he would never take a chance, not after learning how much trouble Sans was in and how addicted he was to Golden Flower.

Then again, Grillby had no idea that Papyrus knew.

Silently, Papyrus dragged out the pot of leftover mushroom soup. The thought of eating it made him grimace, but it wasn’t his worst recipe. Sans certainly needed the nutrients, and it was better than squandering the small amount of food they had. It would have to do.

He cringed as he heard the telltale signs of Sans coming into the kitchen.

“YOU SHOULD NOT HAVE COME DOWNSTAIRS ON YOUR OWN LIKE THAT,” Papyrus snapped without looking around. “YOU COULD HAVE FALLEN.”

The chair squeaked as it slid across the floor behind him.

“i was careful,” Sans rasped.

Papyrus huffed as he cranked the stove up to maximum. It made no difference, but he stirred the soup angrily with an extra-long spoon anyway.

After several long minutes, Sans finally broke the silence. “i’m sorry.”

The words fell upon Papyrus like a hammer. He stood there, too stunned to move. When was the last time he had heard an apology come out of Sans’s mouth? He twisted around, confusion surely written on his face. His brother sat at the table, posture screaming exhaustion and illness, with his eyes trained on Papyrus.

“i’m sorry,” he repeated, drawing a line over his right socket with his finger, “for that.”

As suddenly as the optimism had spilled over him – and damn him for feeling hopeful at all – the resentment and rage returned full force. Sans was sorry for the scar? The scar?

He wasn’t sure which he was angrier about: the subject of the apology or the timing of it.

“i didn’t mean it,” Sans mumbled, rubbing at his sockets. “it was an accident.”

“I KNOW,” Papyrus said curtly.

“i wasn’t in my right mind.”

“I KNOW.”

“i can’t even remember what i was fighting with you about.”

“I KNOW.”

Papyrus knew he was being unfair; Sans had been detoxing and couldn’t recall what he had admitted to him last night. The monsters he had slept with. All the money owed. The things he had done.

And, just as importantly, Sans couldn’t remember how he had informed Papyrus. Those below-the-belt insults, words that struck at Papyrus’s very core, were another keepsake of how little Sans cared for him. Funny how it was only when his brother had truly lost control of himself – and as a result, had dropped all pretenses – that Papyrus finally understood the utter contempt Sans felt toward him.

They were staring at each other, emotions tensed into an ugly stasis, when suddenly the ground began to shudder.

The shaking was strong, strong enough to make the dishes rattle in their cupboards. Sans’s sockets widened and he immediately ducked under the table. He shouted something incomprehensible at Papyrus, but Papyrus was too preoccupied with the pot of soup. An earthquake meant the gas lines might rupture. It was best to turn off the stove.

So he did, and by the time the flames had died away, the tremor had passed. Nothing had fallen out of place, though he could hear some of the pots and pans continuing to shift. Thankfully they were in the bottom cabinets, so if they tumbled out, no one would be injured.

Papyrus sighed. “THAT WAS STRONGER THAN THE LAST ONE, BUT IT COULD HAVE BEEN WORSE.”

When had the last earthquake been? Two months ago? One? He swore they hadn’t been this frequent growing up, nor as intense, but alas, the Underground was always changing. Nothing, not even the ground they stood on, remained the same.

He turned around, after a few seconds, when he realized that Sans hadn’t replied. His brother was still taking shelter, sockets wide with terror. His hands, which were trembling violently, were gripping the leg of the table so fiercely that it rattled loudly against the floor.

Despite his newfound indifference toward his brother, Papyrus got down on his hands and knees and moved carefully toward him.

“SANS?” he whispered.

As he got closer, he realized that Sans was muttering something under his breath. The words were coming so quickly that Papyrus could only pick out a few phrases, and they blended together like a panic-flavored, nonsensical smoothie.

“shouldwehavedoneit? it’s – howinaworldcouldwethink – ifwehadn’t – worse. worse, worse.” He swallowed shakily. “we’d all be dead.”

The last words were clear, concise, and horrifying. Papyrus gripped Sans’s legs and shook them carefully but deliberately.

“SANS!”

Sans jolted out of his trance and blinked at Papyrus, a blush creeping through his cheekbones.

“sorry,” he whispered as he hurriedly crawled out from under the table. “ i just... eh, never mind.”

Papyrus didn’t say anything; Sans’s final statement was echoing restlessly in his mind. Certainly, it had to be another hallucination from his detoxification, but that only worried him further. When would Sans finally be better?

He glanced at his phone, half-hoping that Captain Undyne had sent him a text message about the earthquake. Surely they would need someone to check Snowdin’s buildings for damage. Getting out of the house and away from Sans and all the baggage he carried sounded quite nice.

Except he wouldn’t accept the assignment anyway. He needed to care for his brother so he wouldn’t hurt himself or uncover some secret stash of drugs that Papyrus had yet to discover. Ditching his familial duties wasn’t an option, as much as he loathed it.

“paps?”

Papyrus started. It had been so long since Sans had called him by that nickname with any sense of sincerity. Months, maybe even years.

...And yet, somehow, the allure of it had disappeared.

“YES, SANS?” he said, exhaustion leeching into his voice.

Sans’s tone was unusually soft. Papyrus would even go so far as to characterize it as weak.

“if there’s ever a big quake, please don’t try to be the hero.” Sans rubbed at his arm, not looking at him. “save your own tailbone. i don’t want what i...” He swallowed. “you’re worth more than other monsters, okay?”

Ah. So Sans did remember what he had said.

“IF ONLY THAT WERE TRUE,” Papyrus said, unfeeling.

After that, neither of them spoke for the rest of the evening.

*************************************************

The ground was heaving and swelling with a spark of chaotic and uncontrollable energy unlike anything Papyrus had ever felt. It instantly heaved him to the ground. His eyes watered as his knees slammed against the concrete. A cacophony of objects crashing, buildings cracking, and nearby monsters screeching added to the now-downright thunderous and concussive noise that echoed all around him.

The child, who had also stumbled to the ground, was flat on their stomach about five feet from him. They had managed to crane their neck upwards and were staring wide-eyed at the pandemonium.

The shaking wasn’t subsiding. Usually the strongest of earthquakes were but quick jolts that caused brief periods of disorder, but this was stretching for far too long. Seconds? Minutes? Time had slowed to a crawl as monsters screamed in the near distance.

A sharp, resounding crack rang through the air. Nearby, someone shrieked “WATCH OUT” and, dazedly, Papyrus glanced behind him. A tall, metal lamppost, whose flame was somehow still burning, had been uprooted by the shock and was now teetering precariously. Its heavy weight was obvious from its sway, and Papyrus’s soul sunk as he saw where it would land – right atop his compatriot.

The child was oblivious, or perhaps couldn’t see the danger from their angle. Whatever the case, they remain firmly planted on the ground.

Soul racing, Papyrus put all his strength into his shaky legs and sprang to his feet. There was another SNAP and, without thinking, he lunged forward, wrapped his arms around the child, and tucked them to his breast. In one smooth motion, he tumbled forward in a somersault right as the lamp came hurtling down behind them with a boom.

Papyrus drew in a couple of sharp breaths before glancing downwards at the child shivering at his chest. “ARE YOU OKAY?”

The child inched their head upwards. They stared at him, their eyes blank, and after a few moments, nodded silently.

Papyrus swallowed. The Underground had turned to chaos. The ground had stopped rumbling so violently, but even now it felt like the earth beneath him was shifting and wobbling. He took a few calming breaths and clutched the child closer to him as he watched a building stagger in the wake of the shaking.

As the streets continued to fill with shouts, Papyrus could only dwell on one unnerving thought: he was in the Capital, all the way on the other side of the Underground from Sans. Panic caught in his throat. Sans. He only had 1HP. He was injured, vulnerable. For all Papyrus knew, their house had collapsed on him and had killed him instantly.

Hands trembling, he retrieved his cell phone from his pocket and hurriedly called Sans. A robotic out-of-service message greeted him. Oh Stars. Sans’s phone was dead.

He breathed deep. Everything was okay. Captain Undyne had instructed him on how to handle emergencies before. She informed him that the phone lines were likely to go down after a natural disaster. In fact, the electricity was likely to go out as well, casting them in a stark darkness if the monsters responsible for their artificial sunlight were to be harmed. That meant Sans was fine. His phone wasn’t dead, only the lines. And he wouldn’t sit around while an earthquake brought the roof down upon him. Papyrus had seen firsthand how skittish his brother had been, how quick he had been to dive under a sturdy piece of furniture.

His brother, he reminded himself. Not this Sans. This Sans wasn’t used to earthquakes at all.

While he sat there, waiting for his mind to stop churning with these terrible thoughts, praying for the earth to cease its quivering, an uncomfortable heat soaked into his bones. A sticky sweat broke over his body, dripping thickly down his arms and legs. He hardly noticed how hot it had grown until, not too far from where he was sitting, someone yelled “HELP! HELP! FIRE!”

He whipped his head around. Down the street, only a couple buildings away, a large, bright flame was engulfing an apartment complex. Streams of monsters were fleeing the structure, many of them carrying bags of belongings, wads of clothing, and children in their arms.

Papyrus placed the child down carefully onto the sidewalk.

“WAIT HERE,” he urged. “STAY AWAY FROM THE BUILDINGS AND DO NOT MOVE FROM THIS SPOT UNLESS ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY. OKAY?”

It took a few moments for the command to register, but eventually the child nodded again. Their eyes were still clouded over with fear and they were gazing hauntingly at the fire down the street. Papyrus shook their shoulders reassuringly before bolting full speed toward the commotion.

The fire had consumed the entrance, leaving a large group of monsters stranded outside. As he approached, they swarmed him, shrieking about missing family members and burnt keepsakes, and, more than anything else, crying out panicked pleas to help, help, HELP.

“EVERYONE, QUIET!” he ordered with a stamp of his foot. Those closest to him silenced instantly, but others further away continued to accost him with hysterics. He shook his head, ignoring the unnerving screams, and turned toward an ostrich monster.

“WHERE IS THE CLOSEST WELL?”

“Um… Uh… Two blocks away.”

“YOU THREE,” he said, pointing to a trio of whimsalots that seemed to know one another, “GO GET AS MUCH WATER AS YOU CAN CARRY. WE WILL NEED IT FOR THE INJURED. IF YOU SEE ANYONE THAT CAN CONTROL WATER OR FIRE WITH THEIR MAGIC, TELL THEM TO COME DOWN HERE RIGHT AWAY.”

The whimsalots saluted and flew down the road. They were fast, much faster than any of the other grounded monsters in the area.

He returned his attention to the ostrich monster. “DO YOU KNOW OF ANYONE IN THE AREA WHO CAN PUT OUT THE FIRE EASILY?”

They nodded. “I don’t know if they’re here right now, but there’s a –”

“FIND THEM.”

The ostrich squawked and took off toward the center of the city. Meanwhile, other monsters were pushing through the crowd, clambering to get at him, begging for his help. Papyrus’s eyes watered as they approached – not because he was emotional, but because the breeze was carrying thick plumes of smoke in his direction. Some of the monsters were choking on it.

“EVERYONE, WE NEED TO MOVE THIS WAY.”

“But my son!” someone screeched.

“WE WILL MAKE EVERY EFFORT TO RESCUE HIM. UNTIL THEN, WE ARE BLOCKING THE ONLY EXIT FOR ANY SURVIVORS!”

That got them moving. The crowd scrambled to get out of the way, some knocking into others as they shoved their way to the nearby cross-street. All Papyrus could do was guide them as calmly as he could, even with the sharp fear biting his soul.

When he had safely led the group to a safe area, far enough away from any tumbling debris, he appointed a leader to douse the singed monsters – of which there were many – as soon as the whimsalots returned. He glanced toward the spot where he had left the armless child and, with dismay as heavy as a sack of bricks to the face, saw that they were no longer there. A quick inspection of the vicinity revealed nothing; they were no longer in plain sight, and as other monsters began to hound him with more questions, he quickly abandoned the attempt. He could only hope they had found shelter somewhere safe.

He twisted back toward the fire. A couple of stragglers had refused to move, yelling toward the burning building for loved ones to escape or else trying to find a way inside. The flames were towering now, and parts of the structure were falling into the nearby alley. There was likely no hope for anyone left behind in the apartments, but if the surviving monsters continued to stand there, they would surely perish as well.

Covering his mouth, he dashed toward the monsters. The smoke was thickening, obscuring his vision as he approached, and he could only detect the imprecise location of a nearby monster from the sound of their coughing. He grabbed at the unseen person, and although they tried to yank away, he pulled hard enough to make them run in his direction.

The monster quickly stopped fighting and instead began to lag behind. Papyrus, too, was slowing down. The smoke was suffocating them, impeding their escape, but he pressed forward, mustering all his strength to get away.

As soon as they broke free of the cloud, he crumpled to the ground, caught up in a coughing fit. His vision swam. Never had he felt so reliant on the need to breathe before. His breaths came in ragged and heaving, and although he was inhaling as fast as he could, he couldn’t get enough air. It was as if his soul had simply stopped processing oxygen correctly.

Nearby, people were shouting. When he looked up, he saw a group of flame monsters sprinting towards him, a flicker of multicolored flames dancing in his wavering sight. Or was that the apartment fire spreading over New Home?

A monster, which appeared as a black and white blob in his hazy vision, came forward and dragged him across the ground toward the main group. The world passed by him in a blur. He could almost laugh at how much everything hurt.

Someone jammed something onto his face. With a deep breath, the sweet taste of oxygen filled his soul, steadying his head. The pain that had pressed upon his chest eased gradually but surely, and seconds later his vision sparkled with clarity. He slowly gathered his wits and realized he was lying down in the middle of the street, oxygen mask attached to his head.

The usual atmosphere of animosity, hostility, and anger had disappeared. All around him, monsters were tending to each other. Some were on the ground, soaked in water, while others tended to the injured, applying medicine and healing magic. The monster he had left in charge had taken up the mantle and was directing newcomer medics to the wounded. When Papyrus glanced back at the apartments, he spotted the fire elementals. They were siphoning fire off the building with their magic, their figures expanding as they engulfed the flames.

It was amazing how fast everyone had acted. He couldn’t have been lost in the smoke for long and already things were coming to order. His soul swelled with an unfamiliar sense of pride in his fellow monsters.

A sudden shaking overtook the ground again, and instantly a wave of cries arose. The tremor lasted only a second, but it was enough to send panic pumping through his soul. His first thought drifted to Sans, and his chest seized with that familiar tightness of emotion whenever he thought about him... as well as the guilt, worry, and grief. He was out there, and Papyrus owed it to him to make sure he was safe.

He put aside the oxygen mask, and although his throat and chest still felt clogged with a dry tar, he climbed to his feet again.

“YOU!” He nodded toward one of the whimsalots from earlier. “WHAT DID YOU SEE WHEN YOU RETRIEVED THE WATER? WERE THERE OTHERS INJURED?”

“Much damage,” they replied sadly. “Many hurt.”

Guilt scrabbled at his soul. He could leave for Snowdin, he wanted nothing more than to leave for Snowdin, but... he was clearly needed here. It was his duty, as a Royal Guard and a fellow monster, to help as many as he could.

But Sans....

Sans would be safe. He had to be. He would be.

“TAKE ME THERE.”

A healer grabbed at his arm and ordered that he lie down and rest, but he shook them off. The whimsalot fidgeted worriedly as they looked at him. Papyrus crossed his arms against his chest, tapped his foot, and aimed an even stare at them. If need be, he would find his own way, but he was not about to let these monsters act like they had authority over him. He was a Royal Guard, not some weakling that needed unnecessary downtime.

Perhaps sensing that this was a battle they could not win, the whimsalot bowed their head and replied, “This way.”

The remnants of the smoke still congesting his body, Papyrus strained to keep up with the whimsalot as they sped through the streets. Most of the city had suffered extensive damage, as was obvious from the collapsed buildings and debris that littered every block. Most monsters were gathered at makeshift healing centers where normal, everyday residents had taken command. Papyrus wondered how many Guards had been stationed in this part of the city today; Captain Undyne had told him they would be short-staffed today, but to what extent?

Soon they arrived at the well, which was crowded with monsters gathering water for dousing fires, boiling bandages, and more. The problem was that there was only one bucket and nearly a dozen frazzled monsters, each armed with important missions. A line had formed, but some were arguing, quite loudly, that their need was more urgent than the others’.

As Papyrus approached the side of the well, one of them snapped at him to wait his turn.

“CALM DOWN,” he barked. “I AM HERE TO ASSIST, NOT TO GET IN THE WAY.”

The crowd hushed as they spotted the emblem on his armor. Good. That would at least settle them until he could figure out a suitable solution.

He bent over the well’s wall. A blue jay monster was bringing up a full bucket, but it was a slow process given the depth. If Papyrus had to estimate, he’d say the well was… five meters deep? Six perhaps? Quite a distance to use the ladder like he had been hoping. Although…

“WHIMSALOT,” he said, indicating his companion.

“Name is Boot.”

“BOOT THEN. GO ASSEMBLE A TEAM OF ABLE FLYING MONSTERS WHO CAN FIT INTO THIS WELL. IT MAKES MORE SENSE TO HAVE YOU ALL TAKE TURNS CARRYING THE BUCKET UP AND DOWN. AND FIND MORE CONTAINERS TO FILL. ANYTHING THAT WILL WORK.”

Encouraged whispers burbled up from the group of queued monsters. Boot took off and it was a surprisingly short amount of time before they returned, accompanied by several other whimsalots and bird monsters with buckets in tow.

“Other well broken. More monsters on the way soon.”

Papyrus nodded grimly, though, as he had expected, the flying monsters’ arrival marked a vast improvement; they quickly devised a system to get buckets of water to the queued as swiftly as possible. As they delivered the buckets, one of the waiting monsters even thanked Papyrus with a sweeping bow.

It was satisfying, but Papyrus didn’t let it get to his ego. There was still so much more work to be done.

Across the street, amongst a sea of debris, a bulging Knight Knight balancing a slab on concrete on its edge called out, “I need some help over here! We got someone!”

Papyrus wasted no time and dashed over. “WHAT IS GOING ON?”

“Dug out someone,” the Knight Knight said through strained teeth. “Look.”

She nodded toward the underside of the concrete. There was a dog monster cradling a pup against their chest.

It was instinct more than anything that had Papyrus immediately summoning a wave of immobile bones at the slab’s underside. The Knight Knight gasped in surprise, and to Papyrus’s horror, let the concrete slide from her grip. She caught it last second, but it slammed against the bulbous ends of his bone attacks.

“SORRY, I DID NOT MEAN TO SURPRISE YOU.”

“No, I’m sorry,” she said, groaning as she lifted the wedge. “I shouldn’t have dropped it; I am usually much more attentive. I think I’m tired.”

Papyrus nodded and inspected his magic. Thankfully, no damage was done to the bones, and that confirmed that he likely could lift the concrete higher to enable the dogs’ escape. This time he warned the Knight Knight before he grew the bones higher, and with her at the ready, he allowed his magic to push against the concrete block at a higher angle. The Knight Knight continued to grip the edge, just in case his magic gave out and she needed to lift it, but in the end, it was unnecessary. Papyrus dove between the crack and, throwing all his strength into his upper arms, he tugged the two dog monsters out of danger.

After that, the Knight Knight needed to rest, and so escorted the dog monsters to a first aid area. But Papyrus couldn’t stop now; adrenaline was pumping through his leylines, giving him the extra push he needed to continue searching for others. Others were sifting through the wreckage nearby, trying to find other survivors in what had once been a shop, and Papyrus wouldn’t let them go through the ruins alone.

So for the next few hours, Papyrus dove into the rescue efforts. He excavated the rubble. He used his magic to retrieve monsters. He carried the wounded to healers. Not all attempts were successful. Many monsters hadn’t been lucky. There was so much dust everywhere, and he couldn’t tell it apart from building or corpse.

Aftershocks, some larger than others, interspersed his efforts. Each one reminded him that Sans might not be as secure and unharmed as he hoped. If he thought about it too much, the overwhelming regret of this morning’s events threatened to overtake him. He pushed the errant thoughts out of his head, throwing his all into saving as many monsters as he could.

At least that was the case for a while. Then, as he was delivering a badly injured monster to first aid, the urgency of the situation caught up to him. Proper doctors had shown up in the area and were now setting up tents, gurneys, and real medical instruments to help. Most of the personnel were busy tending to the ever-growing pool of patients, but two of them had sat to the side, nurturing their own wounds. At first Papyrus paid no mind, but when he heard “the Lab,” his attention jumped like a flipped switch.

“Yeah, the Lab is bad, as well as the rest of Hotland. Don’t know if there will be many survivors out that way. At least New Home is protected from the lava.”

“The lava is what did them in there?”

“I don’t know if it got them completely, but it flooded a bunch of islands.”

“Damn. I wonder how many scientists we’ve lost.”

“Who knows. Wouldn’t be surprised if they were all wiped out.”

Papyrus stood there, stunned. Sans had been planning to go into work today....

He dug out his phone and attempted another call. Nothing. This time, not even a robotic voice.

It was the final straw. If Sans was in the Lab, he wasn’t going to stay in the Capital any longer. They had the support now, and he had been selfless enough. He only prayed he hadn’t been too selfless.

If Sans had died because he had tarried here too long, he wouldn’t be able to live with himself. The regret would kill him.

With a deep breath, he headed in the direction of the Laboratory.

Chapter Text

*************************************************

Papyrus slogged up the stairs, for once taking his time instead of rushing through the halls. Except for a few straggling instructors stuck marking papers in their classrooms, the Academy was empty and quiet. Usually Papyrus would be home by now to make dinner for his brother before he came home from university – if he came home on time. However, tonight he was making his way to the so-called “Underground Academy Club,” a private organization rife with friends, food, and more! At least according to the discarded flyer that he had found peeking out of one of the trash cans on campus.

He just... had to work up the courage to go inside. Socializing was not exactly his forte, and it was not as if he had been personally invited to this soiree.

But he had to do this. A crushing sense of insecurity had plagued his life since joining the Academy; he just wasn’t doing well here. Not performance-wise. In that regard, he was amongst the best of his class, and everyone, including his mentors, knew that. But his peers.... Like high school, none of his peers seemed to enjoy his company.

So this was his chance to break out of his shell. Not his literal shell, as he was a skeleton, not a tortoise. His “It would be best not talk to monsters who are likely to ridicule others” shell.

Nyeh. He truly hated this.

The door to the room now stood in front of him. His legs had taken him here all on their own, treacherous limbs that they were. He took a deep breath. Now was the time to show them his worth.

With a quick shake of his head, he took the doorknob in hand and strolled inside.

Months ago, Papyrus had stepped foot into this room. It had only been for one lecture, and it had been with a small group of monsters – those who had shown the most promise during their time before the Academy. The instructors had advised them on how to navigate the Academy, who they could turn to for academic and training support, and to not break the rules. Back then, Papyrus had been impressed with the luxury of the room; it had easily fit their smaller numbers, and had been decorated richly with plush couches, expensive tables, and beautiful picture frames of alumni of yesteryear.

Now, however, the room seemed tiny with the crowd of monsters crammed into the space. There had to be two dozen in here, maybe more. Most were standing, while some sat comfortably on the couches, lords in their castle. Everyone was talking amiably amongst themselves, laughing it up and having a wonderful time.

Immediately, Papyrus had to fight the urge to run away. He hadn’t been expecting this number of people to show up. Hadn’t the poster said “private”? But that didn’t mean he couldn’t impress them, it just meant it might take a bit more effort. It was worth a try! ...Right?

He swept his gaze over the room again, trying to find someone that he recognized, and that was when he spotted him: Res. The slimy humanoid monster from all of Papyrus’s classes who had gone out of his way to make fun of him at every opportunity. He was wearing an impressive-looking black vest with a simple polo shirt underneath, and the back of his head was slicked back in the fashion of some awful celebrity’s hairstyle. Of all the monsters he hadn’t wanted to see here, he was easily amongst his top ten, if not his top five!

And they made eye contact. Oh no.

“Papyrus? Is that you?” Res asked with a goopy laugh. “Did you get lost?”

The room’s attention focused on him, and Papyrus found himself sinking backwards, wishing more than anything that he could leave. He balled his hands into fists, shaking off the insecurity.

“NO,” he declared with false bravado. “THE GREAT PAPYRUS WOULD NEVER GET LOST!”

Res stood up, sticky residue webbing from his body to the armchair in which he had sat. “What are you doing here then?”

Everyone was staring at Papyrus. Now was the moment to make a good impression, to let everyone know how amicable and cool he was. He cleared his throat.

“I AM HERE TO JOIN YOUR REPUTABLE ORGANIZATION,” he said with a deep bow, “SO THAT I MAY PARTAKE IN SOCIAL ACTIVITIES AND BETTER KNOW MY PEERS.”

The room burst into merciless laughter. Papyrus straightened, an embarrassed heat spreading through his bones. He was quite unsure how he could have avoided the reaction; that had been a more than adequate greeting!

“Aw man!” Res shouted over the din as he wandered to Papyrus with a grin. “The goody two-shoes is finally showing his true colors, huh?”

“I – WHAT DO YOU MEAN?”

“Ha ha ha, nothing. Come over here,” he said, pulling Papyrus over toward the couches. “Sit down, sit down!”

Papyrus eyed the proffered armchair with unease; the slimy residue still stuck to it. But if this is what it took....

Although he tried his best to sit on the edge of the chair and away from the slime, a wet stickiness nevertheless soaked into the seat of his pants. It would be a pain in the rear end – literally, nyeh heh heh – to scrub out later, and he was sure that he would look ridiculous once he stood up, but it would be rude to move. He was a guest.

He flashed the seated monsters, of which there were many, the best smile he could muster. “HELLO.”

None of them responded, but instead continued to grin at him, laughter not entirely gone from their faces. He wished that his blush would just go away.

Res motioned for some other monsters to scooch down on the couch across from Papyrus. As soon as he was settled, he flashed Papyrus a gooey smile.

“Welcome!”

“THANK YOU,” Papyrus replied, forced smile still plastered on his face.

“It’s really great to have you here, jokes aside. Not many fellow first years find us here, especially such esteemed ones such as yourself.”

A certain sense of pride settled in Papyrus’s chest. Wowie, Res actually recognized his greatness. An unexpected turn of events!

“I AM EXCITED AND HONORED TO BE AMONGST YOU TONIGHT!”

Res chuckled. “How did you find out about this little shindig anyway?”

“A FLYER,” Papyrus said as he lifted his chin with satisfaction. “IT EXPLAINED THAT THERE WOULD BE A LOT OF FUN TO BE HAD.”

One of the other monsters sitting on the couch giggled.

“Yeah, we do love our fun,” Res said. “But, uh, where was this flyer exactly?”

“THE GARBAGE ON THE THIRD FLOOR, OUTSIDE ROOM 309!”

“Wow, you have a good memory, don’t you?”

“FOR ALL THINGS ACADEMY-RELATED, YES! IT IS AS LIEUTENANT OPTA ALWAYS SAYS – YOU CANNOT BRING A TEXTBOOK INTO BATTLE!”

“Pfft, you really take this shit seriously.”

Papyrus cringed at the swear, but refrained himself from reprimanding. That would be most uncool, by anyone’s account.

“Anyway, I’m sure you want to get to the fun.” Res grinned as Papyrus nodded fervently. “Yeah, yeah, great! But before we start, we have a few ground rules for you here, okay?”

Papyrus sat rapt, attention honed to Res’s every word. Rules he could do. Rules made things predictable.

“First rule, and this is our most serious one, okay?” Papyrus nodded. “You can’t ever, ever talk about this club outside our meetings. Not to anyone. Not to students, instructors, or even the damn queen. We drop the date and location of the next event at the end of this one, and that’s the only way you figure out where to go next. The flyer thing... well, we don’t use it anymore. Capiche?”

“UNDERSTOOD.”

Res leaned in, voice dropping so that Papyrus had to get closer as well, “And the second rule... LET LOOSE!”

Papyrus jumped at the sudden shout, but the words triggered everyone else in the room to release a loud, collective whooping cheer. Someone turned on some high-paced, pop dance music. It appeared that the evening of fun had finally begun.

The room broke out into conversation again, and Papyrus was left to his own devices. He tried to latch on to surrounding discussions, but he couldn’t grasp the topic and found himself bouncing between groups before finally he gave up and stared at his lap. Perhaps... this would be a good time to leave. He came, right? That would be sure to “up his social game” as they would say.

But then he’d miss out on the announcement for the next event. And repetitive visits were key to success.

It was then that a yellow flame monster sitting in a nearby couch got his attention. “Hi, you’re Papyrus, right? I’ve heard about you – you have really good control of your magic, right?”

Papyrus nodded. “MAGIC CONTROL IS MY FAVORITE SUBJECT!”

She offered him a friendly smile and began asking him a slew of questions: what his classes were, which trainers did he have for magic practice, who was his favorite, and more. He answered each query brilliantly, if he did say so himself, making sure to flourish his responses with excellent vocabulary and enunciation. To his pleasure, she replied politely with no sign of any irony or discontent.

All was going well when suddenly the door burst open. A tall polar bear monster, who took up nearly the entire doorframe, carried a large metal cylindrical container. As he trudged inside, another cheer went up from the attendees, and several went over to aid him in putting the heavy container down in a corner.

But they weren’t the only new guests. Behind the bear strolled in a dozen barely clothed monsters of various species, genders, and sizes. They dispersed through the crowd, making their way to smaller packs that had formed throughout the room.

Latecomers, Papyrus guessed. But the container was an interesting addition. He eyed the contraption with confusion until someone finally pulled away from it with a tall glass of... was that beer?!

Papyrus gasped, drawing the attention of the flame monster with whom he had been speaking.

“You didn’t think we wouldn’t have entertainment, did you?” she said with a soft laugh.

“I – THIS – I DID NOT REALIZE…"

“I’ll grab us a couple drinks. Sit tight.”

She left to get in line, and Res called after her to get him some too. Once she confirmed with an “A-okay” sign, Res whistled at one of the newcomers and motioned them over. A brown rabbit monster, clad in what amounted to little more than a black bikini, sauntered over to him, smile stretched across her face. Res whispered in her ears, though it was too quiet to be heard over the riotous party in the background.

Papyrus’s eyes were drawn to the keg anyway. An actual, real life keg. A long line had formed, and the polar bear monster was helping each attendee to fill their glasses.

Would Papyrus be expected to drink? The flame monster had said she was going to get him a drink as well. That was so... illegal! Against the rules! Absolutely forbidden! What would his parents, may their souls be at peace, think of such deplorable behavior?

Perhaps he should not have been so focused on the consequences of the keg, for only a little bit later, the weight of his armchair shifted to his left, and when he turned, he found himself face to face with the half-clad brown rabbit monster.

“Hi, cutie,” she said with a wink.

Papyrus let out a short but sharp shriek at the sudden appearance of the monster straddling the arm of his chair. He pulled away, hands clasped to his mouth, as the bunny moved backwards in surprise. A confused murmur came from all around... except from Res and his friends, who somehow found this more hilarious than anything else. They were caught up in hysterics at the sight, and it was only through choked breath that Res finally managed to speak.

“Oh, come on, Papyrus, give her a kiss!”

Papyrus dropped his hands from his face and stared at him, horrified. “WHAT! NO! WHY WOULD I DO THAT?!”

“She wants to! Up and at ‘em, soldier,” he wheezed out between laughs, “Get a little practice in!”

Other monsters joined in the laughter as Res made a lewd gesture with his tongue. Papyrus wanted to hide behind his hands again as he felt the embarrassment leeching into his skull.

“PLEASE STOP! I DO NOT NEED PRACTICE!”

“Yeah? How many monsters you kissed before?”

Papyrus could feel himself burning brighter than ever now. He didn’t want to lie. It was beneath him in every way. But so many monsters were watching him right now, shaming him when there was absolutely no need, and he needed to prove himself to his peers! That was what the evening was for!

“MANY!” he huffed out. “I HAVE KISSED MANY MONSTERS!”

The crowd laughed again.

“Is that right?” Res mocked. “Then one more wouldn’t hurt!”

Papyrus turned toward the rabbit monster, an apology at his mouth for the rudeness, but then he saw her smiling fondly as she leaned closer, her mouth parted slightly, a hint of pink tongue behind her prominent front teeth. A part of him whispered to just give in and have some fun for once, but the other part of him – the much, much stronger part of him – wanted nothing to do with this stranger when he already had someone, thank you very much.

He yanked away.

“WHERE IS THE ROMANCE IS THIS?” Papyrus blurted out.

“The romance!” someone unfamiliar hollered. “Get a load of this guy!”

“Papyrus,” Res gasped out, tears in his eyes, “You don’t need romance when you pay someone for a kiss! And, hey, if you’re interested, you can pay a little more and get something extra special.”

Papyrus sprang to his feet, nearly knocking the rabbit off her perch.

“OKAY, THANK YOU FOR THE INVITATION TO THIS WONDERFUL CLUB, BUT I THINK I AM SLEEPY AND NEED TO GO TO BED NOW.”

It was all he could manage to say before he fled the room, a sticky trail of green slime stretching from his pants. Uproarious and obnoxious laughter followed him, even after he had long left the Academy.

Papyrus’s face was wet with tears the entire way home.

*************************************************

The journey to the Lab was arduous. Earthquakes plagued the walk there, and an oppressing heat had engulfed the region. He passed several residences from which he had previously collected taxes and noted with a strained melancholy that most were beyond repair and had likely crushed its inhabitants. In other areas, lava had indeed completely deluged parts of the land, making it dangerous to cross many of the familiar bridges.

Due to the unsafe structural instability, the Royal Guards had blocked off several pathways. It was only because he too was a Guard that they allowed him passage, and some reluctantly at that. None of them had authority over him, however, so when he dropped Captain Undyne’s name, they finally budged. With a little bit of bone magic and some careful climbing over some of the tougher terrain, he was able to make his way south, though his bones felt slightly toasted from the overwhelming heat.

When he arrived at the Lab, he noted the familiar sense of chaos that had enveloped the area. Monsters had constructed makeshift first aid tents and were caring for countless injured. Fires had apparently broken out here as well, for many suffered from burns alongside broken bones and bruised bodies. The campus itself was in shambles; although the smaller, newer buildings had withstood the brunt of the damage, the largest structure had crumpled in several areas. Monsters were still going in and out, bringing rescue equipment to the wreckage or cradling victims as they rushed to the healers.

Fear strangled Papyrus’s throat. He couldn’t even attempt to push it down. Not as he went from tent to tent, nor as he asked everyone in sight whether they had seen any skeleton monsters in the Lab or even amongst their wounded or dead. Many assumed that he was speaking of Dr. Gaster, and he didn’t bother to correct them; if Sans had shown up to work, he very likely would have been with him. Especially, he realized as he spoke to a healer, since they had been set to break ground in the Core today.

God. The Core. Until this moment, he had forgotten that Sans was expecting to go there. Had the lava damaged it? Was it still intact?

No one had seen any skeletons today, other than himself. That didn’t mean they weren’t here. They could be trapped in the smoldering rubble, crying out for help with no one to hear.

He eyed the main build of the Laboratory with unease. Should he head inside and search? Or was it better to go to the Core and see if anyone had spotted Sans there? Or was Sans at home, entombed by the remnants of their home?

After a minute of internal debate, he ran inside. Better to check if Sans was here now than to have to return later. Someone yelled for him to put on a hardhat as he ran to the building, but he ignored them. The lobby was relatively undamaged; only a few plants, framed pictures, and ceiling lights had fallen and broken. No monsters were staying here, but rather traveling to and from adjacent rooms or climbing the central stairway.

The directory was unbroken. With a cursory glance, he saw that Dr. Alphys was on the fifth floor, Dr. Gaster on the eighth, and both offices were in the same wing. Since there was no need to maintain a low profile, Papyrus vaulted up the main staircase, two, sometimes three steps at a time. The damage was more extensive the higher he went, but firefighters had apparently extinguished the fires because all that remained were charcoaled pieces of building material. Monsters were shifting through the area, pulling out survivors just as Papyrus had done in the Capital. Climbing through the area and getting to the proper wing was taxing, but compared to the chaos he had witnessed in New Home, recovery efforts were going swimmingly.

When he got to the fifth floor, a crude sign spelled out in hurried handwriting “FLOOR 5 CLEAR.” It certainly appeared devoid of monsters, but he would be remiss not to double check.

The sign appeared correct; as he traveled down the narrow corridors, the floor was empty, save for the countless pieces of papers, shards of glass, and other assorted objects scattered across the ground. Dr. Alphys’s office was locked. The conference rooms were abandoned. It was eerily quiet.

He waited a couple minutes, straining to hear any indication of life. Nothing. Still, he didn’t want to leave; if Sans was somehow stuck in here, and the floor was marked as clear....

The building began to rumble. He glanced toward a nearby room and prepared to dive under a heavy desk, but before he could carry out his plan the shaking stopped. It was a brief, weak aftershock, but it was enough to get him moving.

He returned to the main staircase. While it had been mostly quiet before, now he could hear monsters’ harried footsteps as they moved between floors. Perhaps the earthquake had prompted them into action like him, but he worried that they had some knowledge he didn’t – perhaps a floor was about to collapse, or another, stronger aftershock was about to hit.

It didn’t matter. He went upwards, running as fast as his legs would take him. There was no marker posted on the eighth floor, and unlike the fifth floor, there were other monsters. They were scurrying around, searching the ruins of what was once the roof which had apparently bowed under the power of the quakes. Other than a few stray injured individuals, no one in here looked like a civilian; they were all firefighters, Royal Guards, or other rescue personnel.

He had never been to Dr. Gaster’s office, and given the substantial damage to this floor, it took some time to find the entrance to the correct hall. Unlike below, several passages were blocked, and the area was relatively crowded. As he approached the correct door, another monster called out in a piercing voice “Hey! You!” Without looking, he knew she was addressing him. He opened a door and rushed down a wide corridor before taking a random turn into a large opening where a beam had pierced the drywall.

As Papyrus ducked behind some shelves, the monster who had called out his name passed by the opening, her footsteps echoing through the hall. She was a Royal Guard, as evidenced by the Delta Rune emblem on her uniform. Very likely he was not allowed in this area, and while he could attempt to get permission, he had a sneaking suspicion that he would be turned away given the danger and security level of Dr. Gaster’s office.

Soon her steps faded away into the distance and a door slammed shut, leaving another wave of unnerving silence in its wake. He took a few breaths, ready to flee at the slightest hint of discovery. After a couple of minutes of inactivity, he peeked around the shelves, taking in what was apparently some sort of scientific... storeroom... thing. The shelving piece he had hidden behind had apparently been nailed to the wall, as it was still standing despite the plethora of the medical-looking devices littering the tile floor. The glass was even intact, and it held several strange, unbroken instruments and tools.

Elsewhere in the room was a long, flat table in the center, a single, broken computer in the corner, metal cupboards lining the wall, counters strewn with shattered glass, papers, and –

Papyrus blinked. Set against the innermost wall was a metal-framed, glass-lined storage unit, filled with vials of odd, brightly colored substances. They were glowing radiantly in the darkened room, illuminating the immediate area with splashes of color that shimmered like light reflecting off water. There was every color of the rainbow in the vessels – red, orange, yellow, gr—

His soul thumped as the red color sparked his memory. What had Muffet said? Dr. Gaster’s office would contain a vial of something red… and volatile. Determination, she had called it.

Had he truly just stumbled across it? Well, it certainly didn’t look volatile. It was sitting in its container, unmoving and fastened in the grips of a metal prong that was bolted to the shelf. However, this was near Dr. Gaster’s office, and as he craned his neck towards the front of room, he saw that, unlike the other science-y rooms at the Lab, there were no windows. There was only a very solid-looking steel door that seemed firmly shut. He had only gotten in because of the damage to the wall.

If this was the so-called Determination that Muffet had asked of him, then this was likely his only chance to snatch it up.

He hesitated. If he got caught, he would be in dire trouble. Needless to say, he wouldn’t be able to search for Sans, and if we were to be jailed, who knew if anyone would report his arrest to Sans. This morning might have been the last time he would ever see him again.

But Sans’s safety – his ultimate safety – was his biggest priority.

He crouched to the floor, picked up a hand-sized metallic instrument, and, with a cringe, smashed it against the container. The glass cracked but didn’t shatter completely.

It was not the only thing that happened. Something – a pipe? A cannister? Papyrus couldn’t tell in the light – popped out of the top of the metal frame with a hiss of displaced air. Papyrus blinked just as a spray of some black aerosol-like substance slapped his face.

Out of instinct, he held his breath. His reaction was too slow to prevent the shower from getting into his sockets, and a burning itchiness enveloped his eyes. He let out a low whine as he twisted away from the cabinet and rubbed desperately at his sockets.

The defense mechanism continued to bathe his back. Everywhere the spray touched bare bone, the prickling feeling spread. He was only lucky that he was wearing his Royal Guard attire, which meant only parts of his skull and arms were affected. It was enough to have him groaning on the floor, but he managed to crawl out of range.

Eventually the caustic mist stopped, and Papyrus was left in the eerily quiet aftermath, cowering to try to hide any exposed part of his body. Every bit of bone that had touched the spray felt tight and hot, even after he wiped it off, that only seemed to burn hotter as time passed. A fog had passed over his vision and parts of his socket felt like they were on fire.

He dabbed his gloved hands at his sockets and removed the substance, though it was hard to tell how much he had gotten with his vision so clouded. Everything looked like obscure shapes and his clothing was already so dirty from the rescue efforts. He blinked and the inner eye bones screamed from how raw they were.

Still, every time he closed his eyes, he could feel something dark and wet dripping down his cheekbones. It burned and itched, and his scar hurt worse than it had in forever, but his sight cleared marginally with each blink. Soon he was able to see well enough to make out the medical instruments he was crouched upon.

With a sigh of relief, he sat down on the tile. Thank the Stars he had quick reflexes or he could have easily taken more damage. As it was, his breaths were coming ragged and the back of his upper arms burned where the aerosol had hit. Resting sounded quite lovely right now, and he wanted nothing more than to lie down and take a nap. Obviously, that was not an option. He took a couple minutes to dab his body with the cleanest parts of his gloves before tentatively crawling to his feet again.

He stared warily at the cabinet. If this wasn’t the so-called Determination, then it was surely something well-protected that would likely curry some favor with Muffet. He could pass it off as the substance in question, if it came down to it.

He gulped. Given the state of his vision, he double- and triple-checked that the defense mechanism had withdrawn. There was no indication that the device had ever been there, other than a bright red light near it which he was sure had not been there before. It was probably meant to alert the owner of an attempted entry.

Making sure to cover his eyes with his forearms, he took the same metallic object as before and smashed it against the glass. Again, it didn’t break completely, and another hiss sounded. Papyrus cringed and turned away, but this time nothing sprayed on him. He tentatively peeked at the unit and saw with satisfaction that while it was making an aerosol noise, it was not deploying anything.

Reassured that he would not be sprayed again, he bashed the instrument against the glass with full force. Finally, it gave way. The noise was sharp and far too loud to not be noticed, so he hurriedly scooped up the vial of red stuff. Thankfully it was already stoppered, so he placed it in his back pocket.

That was enough. Muffet had asked for files of some sort, but she would have to make do with this; he wouldn’t dawdle in such a vulnerable location, especially when Sans could still be in the area. Ignoring the painful tingling across his bones, he took one more look around the room – just in case Sans had been here the whole time, as unlikely as that was – and then fled down the hallway.

The corridor was packed with offices, nearly all of them locked and without windows. The few that were open were utterly devoid of people. Eventually he stumbled upon Dr. Gaster’s office, which was also locked up tight. As he tried the door, he heard a shout from down the hall. Papyrus turned toward the source, fear in his soul.

Thankfully, the approaching polygon monster did not appear angry like the Royal Guard had, but instead concerned. Papyrus decided to hold his ground.

“Are you alright?” they asked as they came running up to him. “Were you trapped in here?”

Papyrus shook his head. “NO, I AM LOOKING FOR SOMEONE. HIS NAME IS SANS, HE IS A SKELETON LIKE ME, HE USUALLY WEARS A RED JACKET, AND HE IS ABOUT THIS TALL,” he said as he motioned with his hand. “HAVE YOU SEEN HIM?”

“No, no one around here that fits that description,” they said with an apologetic grimace. They nodded toward Dr. Gaster’s office. “And if you were looking for the Royal Scientist, he didn’t come in today. Called in sick.”

“REALLY?” Papyrus sagged with relief. If Dr. Gaster hadn’t come in, it was very likely Sans hadn’t either.

“Yeah, heard it from the boss.” They frowned at him. “If you’re going to be digging through here, you really need to wear a hardhat, and we’d prefer if you worked in a team.”

“YES. I MEAN, WAIT, NO.”

“No?”

“I JUST MEAN... I THINK HE MUST NOT BE HERE, SO IT MIGHT BE BEST IF I WENT HOME TO FIND HIM.”

Guilt surged through his soul as he uttered the words. He was still standing, wasn’t he? There were so many monsters waiting for help. Why should he go home to look for Sans when he was so obviously needed here?

The polygon monster, however, nodded. “Probably a good idea. You need to rejuvenate a tad before you get into some real trouble and hurt yourself. Can’t do that without knowing where your family is. Where do you call home?”

“SNOWDIN. I AM NOT SURE WHAT DAMAGE THE TOWN SUSTAINED.”

They sighed. “We haven’t heard any news about Snowdin. Lots of information about the rest of the Underground though. The Capital is a mess, a bunch of the Core is under lava, and the power grid is having issues getting back online. Waterfall is mostly okay – lots of flooding in some areas, but the geography lent itself well to the quake. Problem is I’ve only heard most of this through rumors because the phones are down too.”

“YES, I CANNOT REACH HIM.”

“No one can, yeah. Haven’t heard a peep out of Snowdin.” They flashed him a reassuring smile. “That doesn’t mean anything, of course. I think the hotter regions probably got the worst of it what with the lava and everything.” They wiped the sweat from their brow. “Made everything here a mess.”

Though they were trying to be kind, the words sent a shrill of fear down his spine. No news could not possibly mean good news. Word should have gotten out about Snowdin by now, especially if they had heard from the other regions.

“Look, what I’d do is check with the ferry. I heard they’re back up right now.”

“I –” He coughed. “I UNFORTUNATELY DO NOT HAVE THE FUNDS ON ME AT THE MOMENT.”

“It’s free for emergency personnel right now. King’s orders. They’re not going to question it since you’re a Guard,” they said, nodding toward his Delta Rune insignia.

“THAT IS VERY USEFUL INFORMATION. THANK YOU.”

“Don’t mention it. But do me a favor and get going – you’re in the wrong place right now.” They glanced toward the room where Papyrus had uncovered the vial. “If we get another strong quake, this whole wing is bound to crumple. The support has gone down,” they said, indicating the beam that had crashed into the wall. “We’re evacuating everyone out of here.”

Papyrus grabbed onto one of their limbs and shook it. “THANK YOU AGAIN.”

“Yeah, yeah,” they said with a smile. “Now get out of here.”

With that, Papyrus zipped toward the center of the building, down the staircase, and then out the entrance. Monsters were barking orders to get as far away from the main building as possible, and medics were hurrying to move the closest tents down the path. Papyrus dipped into the crowd, sifting through the tide of monsters, trying his best not to harm anyone as he made his way to the River Person.

When he finally got there, the area was divided into different sections, one for each region of the Underground. In the partitioned areas stood dozens of queued monsters. Some were civilians but most were clearly emergency personnel as the polygon monster had mentioned. Each line stretched forever... except for Snowdin’s. Papyrus was the only one who stood in that zone, and with the number of monsters in the compact space, he was consigned to hugging the wall uncomfortably as he waited.

And waited he did. Each time the River Person arrived they carried with them a handful of monsters and departed with an equally sizeable group toward the other regions. They prioritized the largest groups, which meant Papyrus was stuck until they deemed it fit to drag him along solo.

With every minute, he could feel his impatience strangling his soul. Thoughts of finding Sans’s dust amongst the rubble of their home plagued his mind, and he couldn’t help but be reminded of his brother’s final moments. It wouldn’t happen again. He couldn’t have it happen again. Not after he had acted so foolishly this morning. His regrets were already too much; he couldn’t survive something of that magnitude again.

He kept glancing at his phone, trying to distract himself and each time remembering that his vision was too poor. Though he squinted his eyes to see the shapes of the numbers, all he could make out was that it was past 8 or 9. The artificial sun had not gone down, even though it was well into the night. He supposed he could at least be grateful that the sunlight summoners hadn’t been killed in the quake, but really all he could do was worry about whether they had maintained the magic in Snowdin. How else would he find Sans?

Time passed painfully slow, each minute rending his thoughts with one harrowing scenario after the next. Finally, after the River Person had hauled several loads of monsters to and from the area, it was his turn. They did not reply when he said he needed to get to Snowdin for rescue efforts, and as Papyrus sat down, the boat shot down the stream. The journey was quick and wordless.

Upon arriving in Snowdin, only a silent snow greeted them; no one stood upon the riverbank, hoping to get outside of town. Perhaps that was a good sign. Or maybe… it meant the worst.

He bolted down the road. The town was empty, almost sleepy in comparison to the chaos he had left behind. No one was out, though he spotted footprints embedded in the snow, crisscrossing and overlapping all over the street. Every home he passed appeared relatively unharmed; some bricks and shingles had fallen off a couple houses, and some of the wooden planks had warped and bent, but the buildings still stood.

Including his own. He nearly doubled over in relief as their home, still standing, came into sight. He rushed down the lane and through the front door, soul bounding with joy.

“SANS!” he yelled as he crashed into the living room. “I AM HERE!”

The house was dark and silent. The lights were off, the few belongings they still had were scattered across the floor in various states of disrepair, and the windows were broken, bringing in a chill breeze. He flipped the light switch, but it was unresponsive. The power was out cold.

“SANS?” Papyrus repeated. “IT IS ME! PAPYRUS!”

There was no reply. All the nightmares that had played out in his head came rearing their ugly heads once more. Sans had died, alone and feeling unloved and betrayed. Who couldn’t after everything that Papyrus had done to him this morning? Papyrus had violated him, had done something unforgiveable. He had dismissed his confession. He had been self-centered, despicable, terrible....

And now he was gone. Forever.

Papyrus couldn’t accept that. He ran through the house, lifting the fallen dressers, bookcases, the computer, everything to check for traces of Sans... or his dust. All he found were debris, and even that was difficult to see with his eyesight. He took off his gloves to sweep the floor with his bare hands but all he discovered were shards of glass that stuck into the joints of his phalanges.

“SANS! MAKE ANY NOISE IF YOU CAN HEAR ME!”

Silence.

He went through the closets, peeked under the beds and tables, dug through the mountain of pots and pans on the kitchen floor, even threw open the dresser drawers to be sure Sans hadn’t burrowed inside for a nap. Sans just wasn’t here. He wasn’t in the kitchen, the living room, the bedrooms, the shed, or the basement. He was gone. Gone!

Papyrus scampered onto the street and screamed, hysteria now woven into his tone, “SANS! PLEASE TELL ME WHERE YOU ARE!”

His voice echoed back at him as he ran down the road. Here and there, monsters popped up from behind their broken windows, throwing him tired and confused looks.

“PLEASE! HAVE YOU SEEN HIM? HAVE YOU SEEN SANS?”

The monsters shook their heads and ducked back into their homes, and Papyrus was left crying after them, begging them to tell him where Sans was. No one was listening. Didn’t they know that Sans was missing? And if Sans was missing that could only mean he was dead. Dead. DEAD.

“Hey.”

Papyrus whipped around and through his blurred vision made out a black and white figure standing only a couple feet from him. Was that... Doggo? A twisted nausea overtook his soul as he recalled the last time he had seen the other monster: smoking dog treats in the back of Grillby’s restaurant as Sans laid splayed and dripping on the table.

“WHAT IS IT?” he spat, iciness gripping his voice. “YOU HAVE NOT SEEN HIM, HAVE YOU?”

God, he could only hope that neither Doggo, nor the rest of the criminals at Grillby’s, had seen him today. He hadn’t been there to protect Sans. What if –

“I haven’t, but someone else did,” Doggo said quietly as they pointed back toward the bar. “They said he was in Waterfall helping some monsters out.”

Papyrus’s soul sang. “YOU ARE SURE?”

Doggo shrugged. “I don’t know if he’s still there, but that’s what they said.”

Papyrus rubbed at his eyes, trying to clear both the tears and the substance away to get a better look at Doggo to gauge how truthful he was being. It was useless; every time he wiped his eyes, more black-stained tears kept obscuring his vision. Papyrus squirmed. If Doggo was lying and Grillby or anyone else in town had captured Sans, this would be the best way to distract Papyrus long enough to move him.

He started as Doggo reached out and gripped his shoulder. As he was drawn in, Papyrus could finally see Doggo’s face. There were scars, bruises, and guilt. Lots and lots of guilt.

“Your brother really did agree to it, right?” Doggo asked, his voice wavering between obstinacy and a plea. “To what happened in the bar.”

Apparently Doggo had been dwelling on the same topic that had plagued Papyrus’s mind. Everything about the question was absurd, not to mention offensive. Papyrus yanked Doggo’s paw away angrily.

“HE IS NOT MY BROTHER,” Papyrus remonstrated with a bitter vehemence, “AND NO, HE DID NOT.”

He took a step backwards, eyes darting in all directions. If Doggo was trying to distract him for an ambush, now would be the perfect time. These scumlickers knew no morals.

“But they said – he said –”

“YOU SHOULD HAVE ASKED SANS,” Papyrus snapped. “NOT GRILLBY.”

Doggo leaned away from Papyrus. “Shit.”

Papyrus stopped looking around – no one else seemed to be out right now – and stared at Doggo. His ears were bowed, his tail was tucked between his legs, and he was releasing a tiny, almost imperceptible whine. A violent, uncontrollable anger sparked within Papyrus.

“ALL OF YOU AT THAT GOD-FORSAKEN BAR DESERVE EVERY BIT OF SUFFERING FOR WHAT YOU DID TO SANS,” Papyrus bellowed. “SO DO NOT THINK FOR A MOMENT THAT YOU CAN WIN ME OVER WITH PUPPY DOG EYES AND WHINING.”

Doggo whined again, as if to prove a point. Papyrus spat on the ground.

“DESPICABLE. ALL OF YOU. YOU PRETEND AS IF YOU ARE SOMEHOW INNOCENT BECAUSE YOU DID NOT KNOW. GRILLBY CLAIMS HE HAS PERMISSION TO TOUCH SANS ANYTIME AND ANYWHERE. DISGUSTING. REPREHENSIBLE!”

“I didn’t mean anything like that. I just –”

“YOU JUST WHAT? CAME TO BEG MY FORGIVENESS? CAME TO TELL ME EVERYTHING IS OKAY BECAUSE YOU DID NOT MEAN IT. NOTHING IS OKAY!” Papyrus clenched his fists. “AND IF I FIND OUT THAT YOU HAVE LIED ABOUT WHERE SANS IS, I WILL PERSONALLY MAKE SURE THAT THE ROYAL GUARD KNOWS THE EXTENT OF YOUR CRIMES.”

“They said he was in Waterfall, I swear,” Doggo said, his head stooping lower. “I don’t know if he’s still there, but you have to believe me, I’m not trying to bark up the wrong tree. I really didn’t mean to hurt him. I thought we were just having fun at the bar, not –”

“ENOUGH!” Papyrus bellowed, causing Doggo to yelp. “YOU ARE NOT WORTH MY TIME.”

Doggo shied away, which was all well and good because Papyrus was through with him. Another moment of his excuses and Papyrus was liable to say and do things he would truly regret. With another cursory glance around to make sure he was safe from attack, he dashed away full speed, passing through the town and into the dense fog that eternally gathered between Snowdin and Waterfall.

As soon as he emerged from the mist, he skidded to a stop. The light, as always, was so much dimmer here, and Papyrus’s vision couldn’t stand up to the darkness. He got out his phone to use as a flashlight, but, after searching for a non-existent signal for hours, it was dead. The taut band of anxiety stretched tighter around his chest. He would need to take his time; one wayward step would send him tumbling down the rocky cliffside.

So he walked. It was excruciatingly slow but necessary. The first bit of distance had him trudging through shin-high water choked with roots and mush, which gave way to even worse conditions as he ventured further. Despite what he had been informed earlier, the earthquakes had clearly ravaged the area. Chunks of rock blocked many of the familiar paths where the cave ceiling had collapsed, and the ground beneath his feet cracked into deep and elongated scars. New waterfalls had formed, spraying him with chilled water that cascaded onto the trail.

What was worse was that the usual light sources had disappeared, leaving only partially concealed mushrooms, glowing crystals, and Echo Flowers to illuminate his way. Most of the light was trapped beneath the new terrain, whether in the cracked earth or beneath the weed-laden basins. Memory was his guide through the more dimly lit areas, which, of course, led him to more than one fall.

Eventually he reached a roaring, several foot-wide waterfall that sent several rocks flying down its rapids. Through his exhaustion, he almost didn’t recognize it for what it was: the first official waterfall in the region, according to the maps. It seemed wider than usual, or perhaps that was his imagination... or his eyesight.

He put his back to a nearby cavern wall and slid down it, landing on the moist floor with a hopelessness he hadn’t experienced in a long time. What had he been thinking? Waterfall was so expansive, and Doggo hadn’t told him where Sans had been, and that was assuming Doggo hadn’t been lying. For all he knew, Sans was back at Grillby’s being drugged into submission. Why hadn’t he checked?

Even if Doggo hadn’t been lying, with so many cave-ins, who was to say Sans hadn’t been buried here during an aftershock? Or that Sans hadn’t taken a ferry ride home? Or that he hadn’t made it to the Capital to search for him? Or –

Papyrus slammed his hand against the wall and released a wordless, melancholic cry. Why had he left Sans this morning?!

“hello?”

Papyrus blinked. Had that been a voice? Was he imagining things? Had that been –?

The sound of heavy footfalls hitting wood was barely audible over the sound of the powerful waterfall, but it was unmistakable nonetheless. Papyrus’s eyelights snapped toward the entrance to the southern walkway – the one he had assumed would be empty, given the earthquakes and the presumed instability of the bridges. A lantern, its light orange and soft, bobbed in the depths of the shadows, revealing two figures: a lumbering alligator monster wearing a bandana on his neck, and next to him....

“papyrus?” Sans asked, swinging the lantern in his direction.

Papyrus’s knees shook so violently as he climbed to his feet that he had to grab at the wall for balance. Sans’s face was colored with shock as Papyrus stepped forward shakily. For a few moments the two of them stood there, speechless and immobile, until Sans took one, two, three steps forward, and then finally bounded toward him in a full-on run.

“oh thank god,” Sans said breathlessly. “you’re okay. you’re okay! you’re –”

At the sound of his voice, Papyrus fell to his knees and scooped Sans to his chest, nuzzling his skull as he squeezed him with all the love in his soul.

YOU ARE OKAY!” Papyrus cried, the words reluctant to leave his mouth. “YOU ARE ALIVE. I AM – I CANNOT BELIEVE – YOU’RE NOT DEAD,” he finished, feeling so happy he thought he might throw up.

Tears were falling freely down his face now and he couldn’t see anything, but it didn’t matter because he could touch Sans, feel him, hold him. He didn’t ever want to let go again. He was sobbing against his skull now, crushing him to his chest as the relief coursed through him unlike ever before.

“heh, i was planning to be swimming in the pools today, not tears.”

Papyrus choked on a laugh-sob. “SHUT UP.”

“nah, you love them.”

“PLEASE,” Papyrus said as he pulled Sans even tighter to him, “I DO NOT DESERVE YOUR JOKES RIGHT NOW.”

He was expecting Sans to carry on with another pun, or to perhaps tease him about how he didn’t realize his humor was considered torture around these parts, but instead he felt Sans curl a hand against his back. Papyrus continued to press against him, feeling the warm solidity of his form. The scent of Waterfall clung to him, but as Papyrus snuggled into him, he could detect the indescribable, wonderful smell that only Sans could produce. He wasn’t dust. He was alive.

Papyrus really, really didn’t want to let go.

“papyrus,” Sans muttered after another few moments of embrace. “look at me.”

Hesitantly, Papyrus pulled away, allowing the two of them to sit on the wet ground. He maintained a tight grip on Sans’s jacket, as if afraid he might fall down and be lost forever.

To his surprise, Sans wasn’t crying. He was blushing, staring at Papyrus with a tenderness he had never seen on his brother’s face.

“i’m okay,” he said deliberately, slowly. “you’re okay.” Sans grabbed Papyrus’s hand, placed it between their laps, and gripped, hard. “we’re okay.”

There was something to the way he said it. He wasn’t just talking about their physical health, or simply reassuring him that they had survived the earthquake. No, he meant they were okay. Them. Together.

Papyrus gently placed the top of his skull against Sans’s.

“I AM SORRY,” he whispered, voice barely audible over the waterfall. “I AM SO SORRY FOR HOW I TREATED YOU.”

He set his gaze upon his lap, watching how Sans’s hand strained against his. It wasn’t enough of an apology; there was so much more that he needed to say, but how could he find the words after everything today?

“paps.”

Papyrus reluctantly looked up into Sans’s eyelights. They were bright and unblinking.

“i meant what i said this morning. i love you.”

Words clogged in Papyrus’s throat. He shouldn’t admit it. Everything inside him was telling him that if he confessed, it would lead to disaster, just like with his brother. Yet at the same time, he needed to say it or something equally as bad, as wrong would happen.

“I LOVE YOU TOO,” he finally croaked out, the words cracking like they had been held far too long in his soul. “I SHOULD NOT, BUT I DO.”

That did not adequately measure the way he felt about Sans. His soul yearned to tell him the depths of his love so badly that it hurt, physically hurt.

They stared into each other’s eyes, Sans’s so full of compassion and love, and Papyrus’s still filled with tears.

And then, blush still unfurled across his cheekbones, Sans leaned in, mouth slightly parted....

For half a second, Papyrus’s instinct was to turn away, to reject him. It was bad, this was immoral, they were going to burn out in flames –

He thrust his doubts away and bent toward Sans, their mouths meeting with a burst of warmth. All at once, everything felt right in the universe. Bone upon bone. Hands entwined. Eyes closed in unison, as if earnestly listening to a silent symphony. Bodies drifted together, naturally seeking the other’s company, pressing them closer, their kiss becoming more passionate.

A spark of emotion, familiar yet unknown, heavy but light, kindled within Papyrus’s soul, like an old, forgotten friend.

After what felt like forever, and yet all too soon, Sans and Papyrus pulled apart, both heavily breathing in the wet air. Their skulls continued to rest against one another, Papyrus staring into Sans’s red face, and Sans peering down at his lap as he quietly breathed. Everything felt different, otherworldly, liminal. As if all of existence had centered on this moment.