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2802 days.  7 years, 5 months, 4 days. 

He'd been alone for 7 and a half years, at least according to the tiny thin scratches that lined the wall to his cell.  He sighed, pushing aside his plastic bowl of nutrient-enriched mush that was all he was ever fed, its congealed mass unwavering.  His hospital gown barely covered his femurs, and the cell was colder today than normal. 

He really didn't know why he even bothered to keep track anymore, the hash-marks that lined the walls did nothing than depress his mood further.

He shivered, burying his face in his arms.  His nightmares last night had been worse than normal, probably egged on by the last round of experiments by him.  There weren't even images attached to the nightmares anymore, just pain, and fear, and alone, hopelessness.

He was pretty sure there was still marrow dried to his lumbar vertebrae from the low-gauge needles that had been driven into them, repeatedly, the day before.  He wasn't really sure he cared anymore.

He hadn't really cared since the day they pulled Papyrus away from him.  That was the day his SOUL cracked, the last day his eyelights had been stars, or even colored, the last day he had cried.

Now he just was.  

Alone with his thoughts, his fears.  Hopes and dreams had stopped existing a long time past.  What good were they ever going to be when all he was, all he was going to be for the rest of his existence, was a guinea pig?

He sighed, nudging the bowl further away with his bare toes.  He likely wouldn't be down to the medical cells today, not after the long round of experiments yesterday.  He usually gave his victim experiment specimen a day to recover in between the long sessions.  

Of course, the cells were normally kept warmer than this, out of his belief that his subject's recovery time would correlate positively with it.  

Sans shivered, pushing himself on weak arms into the corner in an attempt to keep as much heat to himself as he could.  His bones, a dull gray instead of the pristine eggshell they should have been, grated as he forced them to move, biting back a curse at the collar that sat heavily around his cervical vertebrae.  It kept his magic to an absolute bare minimum, because he knew exactly how much a skeleton monster needed their innate magic to move, to speak, to function.  Given just how little free magic he had, no wonder he was cold all the time.

Once he would have chastised himself for cursing, for even thinking a profane word.

Now it didn't even phase him.

Gaster was a bastard.

He wondered, not for the first time, if that was why he hadn't cried since his brother had been ripped from his arms.  Stars above knew that he wanted to.  He'd hitched out sobs after some of the really bad days, the days he wished he wouldn't wake up from, but not a single tear would fall.  

It didn't help that those days were becoming more and more frequent.

It didn't help that it was becoming harder and harder for him to remember his brother's face.  He'd spent hours with his bare spine to the cold, metal wall, sketching out Papyrus as he remembered him in his mind.  Orange magic, a long mandible, lanky limbs, a stubborn smile he kept up even through the worst days, through the worst pain.

He pulled his legs up closer, not having cared in some years that the hospital gown was immodest at best, not caring that that his right fibula was broken, snapped by some research assistant a few days past when he had refused to cooperate, had struggled at the prospect of more needles. 

He appreciated the pain, for what it was worth.  It at least let him know that the hell he was in wasn't a dream.

No, it was a nightmare. 

Chapter Text

He had another nightmare that night.

Worse, it wasn't even a true nightmare.  It was worse than that.

It was a memory.

He'd turned thirteen, the age of majority, the week before, had finally aged out of stripes, despite his ever-lacking stature.  Papyrus, at his lofty late-teenager years, had smiled benevolently upon his little brother. They'd been together in the kitchen, studying, when he had stormed in, lab coat flying behind him, clearly cross. 

They'd both known the man wasn't their father, though they both pretended, never speaking of it.  Wingdings Gaster was a hard man to read at the best of times, but he'd taken in the pair of them some years prior, and had never been anything other than distantly correct and civil, though they both knew there was more lurking underneath.  In hushed tones, late at night, they had decided between themselves that it was due to being the same sub-type of monster species, beyond anything that could ever be construed as sentimental.

The man's late night rampages through his basement lab was more than enough evidence to prove that, his words angry but otherwise inaudible through the walls.

But, he'd never hurt them, endangered them, or really spoke to them beyond standard niceties.  

So, in their youthful ignorance, they assumed that was how families worked, since they'd never had one before.

They'd been surprised when he came home early from work that night, early by his standards at least.  Normally they were both well on their way to sleep when he came in, and that break from habit should have been their first hint there was something off. 

Sans whined in his sleep, drawing his unbroken leg closer to his chest.  Phalange tips, duller than they should have been, gripped the long bones, still leaving furrows, despite their blunted ends.

"Do you boys understand what the humans did?" Gaster had asked after exchanging the typical small talk, the 'how were your day's and the 'did you clean your room's the brothers had come to expect. 

Papyrus had gnawed at a finger bone, considering.  He had been the more book-smart of the pair, Sans being the more technically inclined.  "The Banishment?" he'd hazarded, his young face lighting up like a sun when Gaster had nodded his approval.

"You understand that I'm doing very important research regarding the magic that SOULs contain, yes?  The different types, and using them, molding them into different things?"

The brothers had shared a look.  Gaster never spoke of his work, but they had each cautiously nodded.  Sans had been so excited, his eyelights cyan stars, so excited.

"Would you boys like to help?"

They'd been ecstatic.  Even Papyrus, as mellow and laid back as he was wont to be, had caught Sans up in a bear hug.  They were going to help with important things. Gaster had been silent as to how, exactly, they'd be helping, and that should have prickled them as being off, as being wrong. 

But they'd been so young

They hadn't realized they'd made a deal with the devil.

They'd gone to bed that night in their shared bedroom, giddy like babybones on Gyftmas Eve.

They'd woken up groggy, strapped so completely to side-by-side gurneys they had been completely immobile, in an exam room devoid of anything else.  They'd cried, screamed for someone, anyone, to come and untie them.  They'd tried to reach for the other, to just brush fingers, anything for some form of comfort.

No one had come.

No one who'd free them, anyway.

Later - the next day, the next week? Sans was never sure - the needles came, kept coming.  Siphoning off magic, leaving them both weak.  Voices spoke words they didn't understand above them, numbers and theories and acronyms - so fast and without any explanation.  The technicians wore face masks, hiding everything except cold, empty eyes, from them.

Neither had any idea how long that had gone on for, only that at some point each had lost the battle for consciousness, probably for the better.

It went on for months, by their reckoning.  It had been Papyrus who had started scratching a mark into the wall every time their meals of nutrient paste were delivered, Papyrus who had insisted that they keep up with holidays, birthdays, anything to keep them grounded.

The nightmare transitioned quickly to the single moment in his life that Sans wished, prayed to the Angel, begged to be undone.

The day Papyrus was ripped from him, when the hated collar was settled onto his vertebrae.

In his mind, he reached out desperately for his brother's flailing arms, phalanges outstretched as he desperately tried to escape the technician who held his much smaller frame back, as Papyrus was dragged by two large orderlies away. 

Once his brother was out of the cell, the tech threw him into the corner, kicking his bowl of nutrient paste at him, uncaring that it splattered across the floor, across the young skeleton's bare femurs. 

He snapped awake before the dream could morph from memories to a true nightmare.  

The magnetic lock on his cell door had clicked, and he hurriedly pushed himself upright, biting back a hiss as a searing wave of pain surged up his leg.  The orderlies didn’t like being made to wait, and experience dictated that at least looking docile would still their hands.


The orderly was a hulking brute of a rabbit monster, his white uniform pristinely starched and crisp.  He rarely spoke, when he did it was slow, exacting, precise.  Sans often referred to him as “Borus” in his mind, a pun he kept alive for Papy. 

He knew better than to say it aloud though.  Not that the collar gave him enough magic bleed-through to speak, not on a normal basis.  Screaming, yes. Speaking no.

Unspeaking himself, the rabbit hauled him up by the collar of the hospital gown.  The material dug into the suppression collar, digging it deeper into his cervicals.  Skeletons didn’t need to breath for oxygen intake, but for magical circulation, and the pressure on his throat made him light-headed almost immediately.

Borus, if he cared, didn’t show it as he hauled the undersized skeleton into the stark hallway, not slowing as Sans tried to claw at the larger monster’s ham-like hand, fisted in the gown.  Time quickly lost meaning as consciousness flickered in and out, and it was with a sudden chill he came back to himself, strapped rightly into a chair that wouldn’t have been out of place at a dental clinic.

A dental clinic that had in-cushioned exam chairs.  With restraints at the ankles, knees, waist, upper chest, elbows, wrists, and across the forehead - heavy leather restraints that bit cruelly into already frail bones as Sans gave his token struggle.  The straps were tight, and his broken leg throbbed viciously at the mishandling.  

The part of his mind that he kept buried as deep as he could questioned darkly why he kept this up, why he bothered anymore.  Falling Down would just end his misery, after all.

Honestly, in his SOUL, he knew he still fought for just one reason.  

He would see Papyrus again.

That didn’t still the terror that coursed through him as Gaster himself stepped into his line of sight, clipboards in both his own physical hands and in a pair of magical constructs following behind him.

“Computer, begin recording,” Gaster’s cold, clinical voice spoke aloud.  “Today we have the younger of our subjects, who’s proved to this stage to be… inadequate … for most of the tests we’ve put the elder through.”

Sans jerked hard against the restraints.  “Papy?” he asked, his magic flaring just enough for the word to be audible, not caring that he nearly begged the name.  Nothing mattered as long as Papy was safe, was still alive .  

“The subject will be silent ,” Gaster hissed, scribbling something onto his clipboard, eyes not rising from where he wrote.  “Experiment six one four mark two three will be an attempt to duplicate aforementioned younger subject, hopefully we can produce a sturdier product who is more malleable.  Experiment will be repeated with elder subject if successful.  Stage one is acquisition of a sufficient quantity of base material.  Full restraint was deemed necessary after previous testing earlier this week, and subject is currently in possession of one broken leg - this will have no bearing on current experiment.”

Another pair of hand constructs appeared from just outside of his line of sight, pushing a wheeled table lined with instruments.  

Eyelights blown, he jerked again, struggling intensifying in terror.  Pain faded into the background as panic flared.  Normally experiments involved just needles, siphoning off magic, or marrow, or, at the worst of times, plunging into his manifested SOUL and drawing off fluids.  They didn’t ‘normally involve scalpels and clamps and stars above what was happening?  His breathing sped up, silent words tumbling from his mouth in a stream he wouldn’t, couldn’t stop.  Half the words were mouthed breathily, half audible as sheer panic spiked his magic against the collar faster than it could be drained away.  The loud pounding of his SOUL against his sternum was driving away any true reasoning.

"Subject seems incapable of following simple instructions today, standard protocol two-oh-four will be instituted."

Now he really did start begging in earnest, apologizing, trying to apologize for any transgression, real or imagined, he'd ever committed, ever considered committing.  He knew that protocol far too well.

His pleas went unheeded as Borus made another a reappearance, his giant hand pressing just so where his lower jaw connected, forcing his clenched teeth apart.  A thick piece of rubber, its taste thick and heavy against the thin puddle of magic pooled in the bottom of his mouth, forced his teeth brutally wide, stealing his ability to even mouth his words.  The gag was fastened behind his skull, the straps pulling painfully tight, drool already beginning to spill out of his mouth and down his front, soaking into the hospital gown.

A sudden prick had him keen, before the sound trailed off to a desperate wheeze.  The needle driven into the center of his spine between his shoulder blades burned, and he clenched his eyes shut.  Sensation beneath the needle prick quickly vanished, and, from experience, he knew that looking at limbs that he knew were his but couldn’t move would just make him panic more.

Gaster cleared his throat, swapping his clipboard for the one floating behind him, flipping a sheet over nosily.  “Protocol two-oh-four now enacted. Subject should suffer minimal ill-effects from the procedure; experiments on cat monsters have demonstrated that the loss of a phalanx will have few long-term effects and will not prove detrimental to subject’s long-term viability.  Subject will remain conscious for duration so a baseline response to pain stimuli of this nature can be acquired, should this need to be repeated.  Procedure will now commence, visual recording enabled.”

Sans clenched his eyes tighter as the sound of a scalpel being scraped off the surgical tray echoed across the otherwise silent room.  If the magic had been available to him, he’d be sobbing. Not just for himself, but because stars above , Angel please don’t let this have happened to Papyrus.

Chapter Text

Sweet angel, it burned.

Curled into a fetal ball in the corner farthest from the cell door, Sans clutched his mangled hand to his ribs, broken leg tucked beneath him, its own pain nearly forgotten.  His breath hitched painfully every time his SOUL pulsed, sending pain like red-hot pokers through the bones left.  

After the epidural, Gaster had continued with his experiment, untroubled by the skeleton making breathy wheezes through the gag.  Thank the stars the Royal Scientist’s body was blocking what he was doing.

He’d felt pressure, light at first, then increasing as the bones were pushed into the arm of the exam chair, then nothing.  The sounds had his eyelights shrunk to barely discernible pinpricks, rolled back in panic.  The scraping of metal on bone, the sawing, Gaster’s commentary about marrow flow, and how only one specimen would be needed at this time, they could come back for more if required.  The finality of the clink as something hit the bottom of a metal bowl.  The slow drip of marrow hitting the floor. 

The bitter taste of sour magic flooded the back of his throat as it tried to rise, but past experience had him gulping it back down desperately, chest heaving as his body tried to circulate what little magic he had left to the newly damaged area.  Letting it come up would hurt no one but himself, and choking on the vileness was an idea that made him cringe. 

Gaster left before he could see the contents of the specimen dish, and he stubbornly kept his eyelights focused upwards, unwilling to see.  

Seeing the damage would make it real.

The scientist had instructed he be put back in his cell after being cleaned up, that he was to be left undisturbed for the rest of the day.  He had important work to do, after all.

He had thrown up though, once the rabbit orderly unfastened and removed the gag, the light blue bile dripping down his chin and settling upon the already drool-soaked hospital gown.  Borus had finally broken his characteristic silence, cursing foully in a way he’d never do with his employer present, cursing that some of the vomit had landed on his shoes.

He backhanded Sans, hard enough to make the skeleton see stars, hanging in his restraints.  The rabbit’s muzzle moved, but he couldn’t quite make out words through the roar in his skull.  If nothing else, he mused, the epidural and whatever else was in the syringe was helping him stay pleasantly detached.

Certainly for the best.  

He blinked, and the scene changed.  He was… free of the exam chair? The unpleasant tingling in his leg told him the epidural was finally wearing off, as did the pain radiating from the hand he still refused to look at.  Chill from the tile he was sprawled on... Oh… oh no.

An icy blast of cold water hit him square in the sternum, strong enough that it rolled his undersized form against the wall of the shower stall.  He sputtered, choking, clenching his eye sockets shut in a desperate attempt to keep the water from getting into his skull.  His leg twinged, and he knew that it was going to just get worse.

It was so cold.  And it went on and on and on and on.

He blinked and the scene changed again.  He was propped against the wall of his cell, Borus unlocking the door.  He rabbit was clearly angry about something, and it took a moment to decipher his words over the agony that was his arm.  

“Fucking Gaster, leaving me to clean up this mess again.”  The rabbit’s voice was a surly growl, and the not-quite in the here-and-now part of his mind thought Papyrus would appreciate the comedic value of a voice like that coming from a rabbit .

“Marrow all over the damned hallways, and who has to clean it?”

He seemed to expect a response, and, not getting it, drove the toe of his already stained shoe into Sans’ ribcage.  

Me! ” he growled, a nasty glint to his eye.  

Sans toppled, unthinkingly drawing both arms up in an attempt to protect himself from further pain.  

His mouth fell open in a silent scream as the multiple sources of pain seemed to war, then merged forces to form one, hideous sensation.  

His hunched form seemed to satiate Borus and his vengeance.  He was hauled up by his collar, and only now did Sans realize his nudity.  The choked giggle of raging emotion was mistaken by the orderly as being directed at him, and his back was slammed into the concrete wall.

“You think this is funny?’ he hissed, shaking the hanging skeleton.  He slammed him again into the wall, his skull whiplashing back.  “Laugh while you can, bone-boy. The Royal Scientist is going to grow a new one of you, so you’re expendable .  You’re dustbait now.”

Another blink, and he was… weightless?  No pressure on anything, just the pain radiating up his arm.

Then he made impact with the far wall of his cell, sliding down into a heap of bones.  

All his individual pains coalesced into one and the Angel finally took mercy on him, stealing his consciousness.

 He had no idea how long he was out for, and that upset him more than he knew it should have.  What if he’d lost a day?  What if his tally marks were wrong ?  

They were literally the only thing he had the capacity left to control.

Borus had thrown in a spare hospital gown after him, or maybe it had already been there, but he crawled to it, still pointedly not looking , keeping his bad leg stretched out behind him, his left hand tucked up against his ribs to keep it steady. 

There was a dried smear of marrow where he had been lying, and a trail heading towards the gown.

“Shock,” he mouthed, pushing what little free magic he had to stabilizing the wound.  “Definitely shock.” He knew, knew, that talking to himself was not a good sign, but the effort of forming the words helped to bring him back to himself, his old self.  The self that cared about the next day.

He settled his back against the wall, pulling the gown up over his femurs to cover his pelvis, like a throw blanket.  He settled his hands on top, and finally looked .

His right hand was fine… that was a plus, right?  The left though…

His smallest phalanx was missing.  The last bone before the knuckle was sawn roughly, the bone jagged and still stained in marrow.  It…

He manifested the dregs of his magic as a tongue and bit on it harshly, his hand tingling as the magic was redirected roughly away momentarily.  Do not disassociate, he ordered himself firmly, though he could feel his sockets prickle, tears that he didn’t have wanting to form.  He held his molars tight, until the magic fizzled and vanished, the teeth clicking together in the absence.

He huffed, shaking out the gown again.  Nothing to cut it with, and he doubted he had the strength to tear it.  He set his left hand out flat over his femur, breath hitching as the flex sent pain up his arm.  Wrapping it was going to be unpleasant.

 That night… day?  The orderly who delivered his nutrient paste never appeared.

Nor the next day, at least by his reckoning, as he scratched his daily hashmark into the wall.  

Pain continued to lance up his arm, and the corner of his mind still concerned with things beyond Papyrus worried about infection.

But no one came. 

Chapter Text

He wasn’t sure what concerned him more.

The absence of the orderlies bringing his meals, the usually steady, dim light of the cells flickering… or the entire room shaking around him.

By his internal clock, it had been three days since an orderly had appeared.  His leg could support his weight, though not for long and not without excruciating pain.  His hand had contracted to a claw that he couldn’t flex; he suspected some infection had gotten into either his marrow or magic.

He wasn’t sure which was worse, so he shoved the thought to the back of his mind as the entire cell again rocked around him.  He wrapped his good arm over his skull, his hand tucked up against his ribcage, as a ceiling tile hit the floor closer to him than was comfortable.

He whined, low in his throat, as the lights flickered again.  Sweat trickled down the back of his skull, prickling. He clenched his eyes, his SOUL… barely pulsing.

So this was it, huh?  This was what Falling Down felt like?  

His eyelights went dark, and he scrunched his sockets closed.  Would it take very long? If it was fast enough, it wouldn’t hurt, right?  

He’d read once, a paper on Falling Down, back when he was… not here.  Very few monsters who Fell ever came back, most dusting within a few weeks.  The few who did come back spoke of a long hallway with a light at the end, some able to hear everything that went on around them.  Some reported sensations, and some reported that it was just like waking up from a nap.

He hoped it was just like going to sleep.  He was so tired - tired of being alone, of being poked, of being scared.  

“Sans, stop being a lazybones.”

His eyelights snapped back into existence, tiny pinpricks of light hazy in the dim light.  

“P-papyrus?” he mouthed, not sure if it was audible.

His brother nodded at him regardless.  

He was in a hospital gown in much better shape than his own, arms folded over his sternum, knee bent so his bare foot was flat against the door, slouching.  Orange eyelights twinkled at him, his brother’s lazy half-smile curving his mandible up.

A thousand and one questions flooded his mind, blurring his vision, and he focused on the simplest one he could frame.  “How are you here?” He curled up tighter, pulling his chin down to his own sternum, choking back a whimper as he jostled himself.

A delicate phalanx waved him front of his sockets, and orange eyelights met murky white.  “Just am,” the familiar smirk was back. “Wanna get out of here, bro?”

He pushed himself up with his good hand as his brother stepped back, the bones rattling faintly.  “How?” he wheezed, his throat already burning from overuse.

Papyrus smiled, its light brightening the entire cell.  “Follow me.”

The magnetic lock on the door was off, deactivated when the power went out. It was just a matter of the two small skeletons putting their combined weight against the steel slab.  The hall was dim, acrid smoke in the air burning as it brushed against his open wounds.

He staggered forward, leaning heavily on the wall, desperately struggling to keep Papyrus in his view.  His brother seemed to have no issues with the shaking, the sparking of open electrical panels, just seemed to breeze his way over any obstacle in his way.

The taller skeleton periodically stopped, looked back, waved to him, smile still bright.  “Hurry up, Sans. We need to be faster,” he’d encourage. “Not a lot of time left, bro.”

“We’ll be out of here soon.”

His bare foot caught a piece of debris, slicing the bottom of his foot bones to the marrow.  He whimpered, tumbling roughly to his knees, his leg screaming in agony. Thankfully, his hand didn’t jar too badly, but he could feel prickling at his sockets again as he wheezed for air.  His bones rattled in fear, in pain, in exhaustion, and he could feel himself slipping towards the welcoming darkness.

Papyrus was suddenly next to him, orange eyelights boring into him.  “Not yet, Sans. We’re almost there. Just a little bit more, ok?”

He coughed, choking on the pungent smoke, slowly growing thicker around them.  “H-hurts, Papy,” he wheezed, glad he didn’t have the magic to summon a tongue. The smoke burned enough, the idea of being able to taste the chemicals in the air repulsive.

The elder skeleton looked down the hallway before focusing back.  “I know, lil’ bro, I know. But you’re so close to getting out of here.  Just a little bit more, and you can rest while I get the machine ready, ok?  Then we’ll get out of this shithole.”

“Language, Papy.”  The response rolled off his tongue as easily as it had seven and a half years previous.  

The smile his brother gave him was worth all the gold in the Underground.  He returned it, his jaw aching at the now-unfamiliar motion, but it felt right.  Slowly he levered himself back up, leaning on the wall more heavily than before as his leg threatened to buckle with each step.  His skull pounded and he wanted nothing more than to just curl up, to sleep , but he couldn’t, wouldn’t let Papyrus out of his sight again.  

He wasn’t sure how much longer they went on for, but suddenly, his brother was there, pushing open another door and motioning him through.  He staggered in, making it across the room to slide down the wall as Papyrus pushed the door closed behind them.

His sockets sank shut in an attempt to stem off the nausea, and he focused on sounds instead.  The gentle taps of Papy’s foot bones across the metallic floor came close, then settled into the chair at the room’s desk.  His soft voice kept up a steady stream of technical data, data that Sans would have once latched onto, soaked up like a sponge.  Now he held onto it as a tether to consciousness, his brother’s low tone soothing his SOUL like a balm he didn’t know he needed.

Time lost all meaning for him again as the gentle clacking of keyboard keys lulled him to a light doze, relaxing him in ways he hadn’t felt in recent memory.  Papy kept up talking about “the machine” and “alternate timelines” and about how time was running out.

The room shook again, rousing him.  The lights had dimmed, then steadied, and a clicking of a door lock had him flinch unconsciously.  Papy had cursed under his breath, his typing speeding up. “Sans? You gotta wake up for me, buddy.  I need you to listen.”

Too tired to even contest the profanity, he rolled his head weakly in response, missing his brother’s mournful look.

“The CORE here is dying, that’s why the power keeps flickering.  Gaster’s spent too much time on his SOUL project that the CORE has suffered for it, and he’s been trying to stop the meltdown.  The power just came back on, so we’re almost out of time. He’ll know that we’re here, that you’re out.  I’m almost done programming the machine, it’ll send you to an alternate timeline.  Heh, remember when we were younger and you insisted that they were real and I wasn’t so sure?  Turns out you were right all along. Going to do it as a one-way trip so he can’t follow.”

He kept chattering, and time again lost focus as black dots closed in from the edges of his vision.  It was the sudden banging on the door that had him jerking his skull roughly upwards, breath hitching in terror, SOUL thrumming painfully.  

“Sans, go ahead and get on the bench in the machine for me?” Papyrus didn’t look up from the monitor, phalanges flying in a blur across the multiple keyboards.  

He didn’t move, couldn’t move.  Who was Sans?  Oh yeah, that’s right.  He was Sans, wasn’t he?  He smiled at his brother as his skull lolled back against the wall.  

Sans!” the desperation in his brother’s voice is what dragged him back, and gave him the energy to force himself to his feet a final time.  It was torture, the few short steps across the open floor to the bench his brother had gestured to, his leg howling its displeasure with him with every shakey step, but he made it, collapsing onto the bench.  The jarring of his hand had him panting as he shifted, making space for Papyrus to seat himself as soon as he was done. It was easy to make himself small - he’d always been undersized, for a skeleton-type, and years of borderline starvation hadn’t helped.  Papy would have plenty of space.

The drumming on the door got louder, angry shouts now filtering through.  

Sans flinched, flapping his good hand towards Papyrus.  “Hurry, Papy,” he huffed, not sure if he was audible over the racket outside.

Orange eyelights smiled at him, and he was drawn into his brother’s gaze.  Sound seemed to fade away, everything faded, until it was just Papyrus and himself, together as they hadn’t been in almost eight years.  “Almost done, bro.  Promise.”

Time sped back up, and the black spots came back in full force.  He moaned, still staring at his brother.

A low rumble came from the machine, startling him.  “Almost there,” Papy called over the growing din, still typing frantically.  

The door to the machine slid shut, and he jerked, eyelights flashing.  “P-Papy?” His brother continued to type.

The rumble’s frequency dropped, and he could feel it in his bones, the sensation distinctly uncomfortable.  “Papy!” he forced enough magic out to actually scream the name, his mana lines burning as he tumbled forward against the glass panel to get his brother’s attention.  His hand, his good hand, spread out on the glass in an attempt to get through, but he just didn’t have the strength left to do it.

His brother smiled again from across the room, hands finally stilling on the keyboards.  “It’s ok, Sans. They won’t be able to follow you, and you’ll get the chance you never got here.  Everything will end up being ok.”

His chest heaved, throat burning worse now than before, as he shaped words he didn’t have magic to force out.  “You?” came out as a huffed wheeze, and he was afraid for a moment that his brother would miss it.

Papy’s smile took on a different air, a sadness gathering around him.  “I’ll be fine, honest. Besides, big bros are supposed to take care of their lil’ ones, right?”  He glanced down at the monitor before him. “Ten seconds.”

His eyelights had guttered, and he beat his good hand against the glass repeatedly, ignoring the shooting pain as he cracked phalanges in his desperation.  Tears he couldn’t shed choked him, and he howled soundlessly, trying to claw at the glass.

Papyrus didn’t move, his gaze swapping between the door and the monitor.  “Five seconds.  Sans, just remember, no matter what, I love you. Two.  One-”

The roar was immense.  Outside the door, Sans could only watch as the room’s door exploded inwards, armed guards pushing in before the flying debris hit the floor.  Papyrus smiled benignly as the guards rushed past, like he wasn’t there, rushing towards the machine.

The vibrations were too much, the pain of all his bones rattling at one sending him in a spiral towards the darkness of oblivion, and the last thing he saw was Gaster himself pushing into the room, their eyes locking for one impossibly long second before the blackness took him and the machine vanished.

Chapter Text

“Um, Catty?  Why is this place so much grosser today than normal?”  

“IDK, but hurry up.  The sooner we find something good, the sooner we can like, not deal with Onionsan today.”

The cat monster hissed, her tongue between her teeth as she carefully kept her tail above the sludge that was the Waterfall garbage dump.  Long shadows traced from the piles of refuse up the walls of the cavern, giving the place an even darker air. “Onionsan is such a jerk,” she groused, tucking a stray tendril of hair up above her ear.  “Doesn’t it know that like, good stuff doesn’t just pop up?”

Her sister in all but blood popped her gum, and she wondered briefly how she could chew gum with the stench that permeated the air.  Her clothes were going to have to be washed as soon as they got back to civilization.  The Undernet blogs would hear about the indignity pushed upon them by their cheap-ass boss.

“Catty, like, for real honey, as soon as we find something we can something worth it, we can stop at the bar and see if that hot guy from Hotlands is back.”

Catty’s eyes glinted as she picked her way down a slope, cursorily nudging a loose pile of trash with her toe.  “Maybe… do you think he has a friend? Or, oh Bratty, maybe he’s got a brother with him today?”

Each stopped, eyes meeting, and toothy smiles emerged.  “I’ll share,” they said simultaneously, leading them both into hysterical giggles.  They calmed eventually to titters, continuing to poke around the mounds of rubbish.

Catty was about to whine again, to push to just go already, when Bratty's hand shot out, catching her roughly around the upper arm.  She was about to complain about the claw-marks in her shirt when she caught the look on the other monster's face.  Her broad, scaled nostrils flared, her eyes down to slits in concentration.  

"What's up?" she whispered, glancing around carefully, looking for any motion in the shadows.  Her free hand slid down into her pocket, her paw wrapping around her switch blade.  Her can of pepper spray was in her back pocket, and she silently calculated the odds of her being able to pull it if they got jumped.

"Blood," Bratty hissed, but sounded like she wasn't completely sure.  "It's familiar, but like, not?"  Without another word, she took off down the slope, debris tumbling ahead of her.  Catty followed, at a more cautious, sedate pace, ears perked and swiveling, just in case something was out there.  She kept her knife palmed in her hand, snagging the small, pressurized can of mace from her back pocket as she picked her way after.  

You could never be too careful in the Underground, after all.  

It took a few minutes to catch up, long minutes that she begrudged, not liking the alligator monster out of her sight, not here.  She was about to snark at her, then pulled up short, ears snapped forward to attention.  "Is... is that..."

"It looks like him, but skeletons are so rare, I dunno."  Bratty crouched at the side of the skeleton's still form, swatting bits of garbage off of his spine and ribs.  It looked like the brother of that damned Lieutenant from Snowdin, but there was no way he'd let his brother end up in a condition like this, this close to Hotlands.  The magic wasn't right either, but she couldn't put a claw on what was wrong.  

"He's a mess," Catty wrapped her tail around her waist to keep it safely clear of the muck and crouched, plucking a stick from a nearby pile to poke at the pile of bone.  The small form didn't move, but enough trash fell away to reveal a collar around his neck.  "Someone bothered to collar this?" she sounded disgusted.  "What a waste.  Like, ugh, why?  Why do people even bother wasting the time on something this broken?"  She growled lowly, poorly hiding the bright jealousy to her words.  

An arm wrapped around her waist, a snout pushing to the back of her ears as Bratty nuzzled.  "I know you want to be collared, hon," the alligator purred, dragging a claw under Catty's furred chin.  She glanced down at the still form, the corners of her mouth curving up in an unpleasantly toothy smile.  "This might be good enough to pay for that one you've been, like, looking at?"

Not even the garbage tumbling away from the roughly-handled skeleton could drown out Catty's pleased purrs.

Onionsan was in its normal place, plucking out notes on a long-abandoned piano, when the duo made their appearance, dumping the limp form of the skeleton at their feet as they each silently bemoaned the condition of their claws.  Onionsan was The Big Thing in Waterfall these days, and it wouldn't do to make themselves too memorable.  

Discordant notes echoed through the cavern, bouncing off stalactites and rock faces, merging into others before slowly fading.  The aquatic monster paid them no attention, instead speaking softly to the clam girl by its side, letting the smaller monster act as a scribe.  Its large, overly-expressive eyes watered as a particularly harsh note tore through the air, a tear escaping each melon-sized eye.  

"Beautiful!" it cried, noisily sniffing.  Its eyes swiveled, seemingly taking in the trio of monsters before it for the first time.

Bratty and Catty knew better.  Onionsan had learnt all its lessons from Mettaton, after all.

"Friends!" the monster squealed its delight at visitors to its domain.  "Are you here to listen to the newest song from the Red Hot Chibi Peppers?"  Its eyes grew even larger, shimmering in the dim light.  "Mettaton will simply have to add us to the Resort's lineup when this releases!"

Bratty took a visibly fortifying deep breath, taking a half step forward.  "Um, like... hi Onionsan.  We're the ones who took that contract you had posted, remember?"  She resisted the urge to flick her hair, rumor had it Onionsan took poorly to anything that tried to make itself cuter than it perceived itself to be.

Onionsan struck a "thinking" pose for a moment, then its eyes brightened into literal suns for a split second.  "Oh, yes!" it dragged out the syllabant to an absurd degree, clearly revealing in its position.  "You must be Snooty and Meowy!"  

The alligator flapped her hands rapidly behind her back to keep her sometimes-hotheaded partner quiet, drawing another breath through clenched teeth.  "Oh yeah, um, that's us.  So um... we found something in the dump that we thought you'd like, maybe?  It was totally lucky we found it before anyone else did, and we're totally sure this is one of a kind!"

"Oh?"  Again the word was stretched, and the monster shifted itself off the piano bench and oozed forward.  The clam girl, clearly used to this behavior, made herself briefly known after carefully shutting the lid over the piano's keys.  She cast a single, lingering look at skeleton heaped on the floor, then fled through a shadowed door, the door clicking shut behind her.  

The closer it got, the more tense her muscles got.  She didn't dare to glance at Catty, just praying that the cat monster would stick to their normal plan.  

A lump formed on Onionsan's side, magic pressing beneath it's delicate skin until it bulged up, a proboscis extending, almost daintily, towards the skeleton.  The appendage stunk of garlic, and only a vicious clamping down on her tongue kept the bile from rising.  

The proboscis flipped the skeleton onto its back, dragging along bare bones slowly.  It lingered on the broken fibula, oozing between the bones, forcing them apart fractionally more.  It moved up further, poking, prodding along the ashen pelvic bones, then quickly shifted to the left hand.  

She heard Catty gulp behind her and fought her reflexes, leaving her eyes open, though desperately trying not to focus downward.  

The tendril wrapped around the mangled hand, pushing against, into, the bloody wound where a phalanx was missing.  At the lack of response, it dragged itself across the ribs to the other arm, grasping the broken hand in its coils, then squeezing.

The cracking of fragile bones was frighteningly loud in the otherwise quiet room, the only other sound was Catty's raspy breathing behind her.  

The tentacle didn't linger, taking just a moment, an eternal moment, to go further up, to wrap around the suppression collar around the skeleton's neck.  Onionsan's bulbous eyes twinkled in delight, and with a final, lingering sigh, ran its proboscis around the rim of the skeleton's dark eye socket, dipping the tip in before pulling it back to its mouth.  It took all her effort to not gag as Onionsan suckled the tip of the tentacle, popping it out with an obscenely wet noise.  

The skeleton remained still throughout, and the alligator forced down a brief flash of pity.  Better the unknown monster than her, or her partner.  

"This is delightful," Onionsan was saying, it's appendage reabsorbing into it's main body.  "Simply wonderful.  I'll take it, of course."  The monster giggled, it's eyes hooding in what Bratty imagined was delight.  Creepy.  "Fair market value minus ten percent acceptable?  Given that it's... damaged, of course."

Catty tugged on the back of her shawl, two sharp tugs indicating that they should negotiate the deal.  Bratty drew in a breath, seeming to consider.  "Five percent.  This is a skeleton, and they're so totally rare, after all."  She put her hands in her pockets, going for a non-threatening posture.

Onionsan's eyes narrowed, clearly calculating.  "Seven percent.  Rare or not, profit margins, after all, my dears."

"Deal," Catty stepped forward, wrapping an arm around Bratty's waist.  "Thank you for this opportunity, Onionsan.  It's like, always such a pleasure doing business with you."

Rushed footsteps echoed down the long passageway, the figure producing them staying low and tucked into the shadows.  A few quick turns, and it found itself in a long-forgotten room, barren of anything except another figure, also hidden in the embracing darkness.  

"What do you got?" the voice growled, and the only other sound beyond the pounding of her blood in her ears was the repeated thump of a tail into a rock wall.  

The clam girl tugged her hood tighter, lower over her face.  "You should let the Lieutenant know, they found another skeleton, and it looks a lot like his brother."


Chapter Text

The jostling of his broken bones was what dragged him, kicking and screaming, back to consciousness.  

His mandible fell open, and he thought he might have groaned, but the collar around his neck was stealing all his magic, and nothing came out.  He could feel his mana lines burning as the dregs of his magic tried frantically, unconsciously, to stabilize his myriad injuries, feel the sparking pain as there was just too much wrong for so little available to fix.  Lighting his eyelights was out of the question, and he clenched his sockets shut in an attempt to keep the rushing air from pushing into his skull.  If he lost any more magic, there was the very real possibility that he'd literally start to fall apart.


Slowly, he registered a strong arm wrapped around his hips, his arms and legs hanging free in the air, gravity pulling down on his bones.  He had no idea how long he was carried for, or where he was.  Had... had Papy's plan worked?  Was he in a different universe now?  Papy... what little fight he had left drained from him, and his SOUL stuttered weakly.

He was well and truly alone.

It dawned on him the rush of air past him had stopped at the same moment the thick arm around him vanished, sending him tumbling to the ground.  His skull hit the floor, sending white flashes of pain across his otherwise dark vision, the pain stealing his ability to breath, to circulate magic for precious seconds.  One SOUL beat, two, three... time slowed to a snail's pace as his terror rose, and then finally his body cooperated, the rise of his chest pushing mana down its channels.  The few moments of its absence wasn't without cost, and his joints locked up at the searing burn as it returned, racing to the sites of most damage.  

There were sounds above him, but he couldn't make out what they were saying past the roaring in his skull, and he didn't struggle as the darkness rose up to take him again.

 Doggo glared darkly ahead as he slunk around the corner, cloak pulled up over his head, pushing his ears uncomfortably flat.  The thick scent of burnt dog biscuit trailed after him, fresh.  

He'd needed one after his meeting with the clam girl.  

The Lieutenant was not going to be pleased.  

Snowdin was silent, most of the residents tucked away for the night, as he made his way past Grillby's, past the Library, and to the dimly lit house at the end of the street.  He'd love a burger, but everyone else was waiting for him, and the Lieutenant would be pissed if he was any later.  

Up the steps, he knocked the prerequisite number of times, just so, and the sound of several deadbolts sliding perked his ears.  

The door cracked, and he snuck in, the warmth reaching out and brushing against his fur pleasantly.  He pulled his cloak off and shook briskly, stray bits of ice flying off his coat.  Dogamy and Dogaressa were in a pile on the floor, Greater and Lesser on the couch.  Greater was panting happily, gnawing on the edge of a stick.  Each of the dogs snapped up as he walked in, but only Dogaressa scrunched her snout at the smell.  

"Biscuits again?" she asked, covering her nose with her tail.  

He shrugged sheepishly, hanging his cloak on the rack before dropping between Greater and Lesser.  The pair nosed into him, regardless of the acrid after-smell, nipping at his ears in greeting.  Panting happily, he settled, ears alert.  

The clicking of boot heels from the kitchen had him focusing on the kitchen doorway.  The Lieutenant pushed his way through the door, a plate of bones in one hand and a pair of sandwiches on a matching plate in the other.  The tall skeleton paused, counting heads, then set the plate of bones on the coffee table before settling into the arm chair.  

"Sans?" he called, his voice low but smooth.  Red eyelights took in the dogs as he tilted his chin at the plate of bones, giving tacit approval.  It only took a moment before each dog had their own bone in their possession, happily chewing in their own manner.  The skeleton, clad simply in black pants and a long-sleeved black shirt, took a sandwich and took a bite, letting the magic inherent from its making settle over his manifested tongue.

His brother had made the sandwiches before going up to his room to change, and the intent in his making sparked pleasantly in his mouth.  Speaking of, Sans padded down the stairs, having changed out of his normal shorts and into baggy sweatpants, socks soundless on the carpeted steps.  The tips of his phalanges poked out from the sleeves of his oversized sweatshirt, and he pushed back the cuffs with a small huff of irritation as he settled on the arm of the overstuffed chair.  Papyrus stretched over and handed him the other sandwich, and he sank his fangs into it without conversation.  

Papyrus brushed a few stray crumbs from his lap, sandwich gone, looking over at his Guards.  "Report," he instructed, settling back against the plush cushion.  Sans continued picking his own meal apart, eyes closed, seemingly not paying attention.

He knew better.  His brother was borderline genius in picking through reports for pertinent information; the lazy guise was a veritable shield.  

Dogaressa began, her mate chiming in periodically with additional details.  She and Dogamy were a SOUL-bonded pair, and sometimes talking to them took a substantial bit of energy to decipher, but they were good at what they did.  Rumors, local scandals, other random dirt were shared, with occasional comments by the other dogs.  Greater took his turn, ears flopping over as he relayed that there had been more reported drug runners coming in from the Capital and Hotlands than usual.  Lesser had nothing new to report about the Forest, and reported that the pile of dust found at the door to the Ruins had been claimed by a family of griftrots.  

Doggo licked the remains of his bone from his paws, then ran his tongue over his muzzle to make sure he was at least mostly presentable.  "I got a bit of information from one of the Waterfall sources," he began without preamble, wishing fervently that he had another biscuit to smoke, not that the Lieutenant would allow it in his house.  "About someone they found, someone the scavengers handed over to Onionsan."  He spat the name with distaste; the monster was a known trafficker, one with obscene tastes.

Papyrus leaned forward, red eyelights focused intently.  "Someone?  Another refugee from the Capitol they caught coming in from Hotlands?"

He shook his head, his ears flapping.  "Negative, Lieutenant.  They found him in the dump, hurt pretty bad.  Source said someone had collared him, but that it was a pretty rough one, suppression."

Dogamy growled, hackles rising as he shifted position on the floor.  His wife wrapped a paw over his shoulders, licking gently at his ears.  Suppression collars were anathema to the dog pack, after Dogaressa's sister had lost her litter, and her own life, after being caught in one.  

Sans silently slid off the arm of the chair and settled next to the dog-pile, scratching gently behind both dog's ears.  They settled, slowly, but their eyes remained on Doggo.  

"Why did the source think this was so important?" 

Doggo suppressed the urge to whine, though his gaze did drop.  "He's a skeleton, Lieutenant.  And he looks like your brother."

Papyrus settled onto his bed, hours later, the dogs finally gone for the night.  Brief plans had been drawn up to grab the mystery skeleton from Onionsan, plans the dogs had insisted they be involved in.  Dogaressa especially had persisted, alternating between whines and growls and gnashing of teeth.  They were all good dogs, and he had made sure to scratch each behind their ears before they had filtered out into the darkness.  

Sans rolled over to face him, the bed’s thick blanket tucked over his shoulder.  Hazy red eyelights resolved down to their normal shapes, his hand slipping free from the blanket to settle across his younger brother’s long-bones.  “You ok?” he asked, naturally gravelly voice rougher from sleep.

He took a moment to frame his reply.  "There aren't any more skeletons left, Sans.  You know that.  Gaster-"

"Gaster made sure the purge was complete, beyond his token specimens," his brother cut in, nearly spitting the name.  "Good riddance to bad rubbish."

Papyrus shifted, pulling his long legs onto the bed and tugging the blanket up.  A wave from Sans had the light switch off, his blue magic fading quickly into the darkness of the room.  Together in the darkness, the younger brother pulled his elder tight to his ribcage, long phalanges tracing over his coronal sutures and down over his cervical vertebrae.  His collar shifted, and he snaked his fingers beneath the leather, keeping it up until - 


Sans purred softly, the tension finally draining from his bones.  "Thanks, bro," he murmured, rolling over to face him.  He returned the favor, his own sharp phalanges tracing over his brother's clavicles to stroke at the sensitive magical pads between.  The ones beneath his own collar sometimes bothered him after long days, and stars knew today had been one of those.  Sans made sure to flicker a trace of healing magic against them, just to be on the safe side.

A deep inhale, and the low rumble's of his brother's purrs began to vibrate against his hand.  He pulled it back, then tucked himself under his brother's chin, SOUL settling in the calm presence.  His sockets sank closed, and he followed Papyrus off to sleep.

Alone, restrained in a freezing cell, the broken Sans also purred.

It was the stuttering, rasping purr of a terrified skeleton who hurt too much to do anything else, mindlessly reaching out for any comfort he could.

And yet none came.

Chapter Text

Time lost meaning.

There was nothing left, nothing except pain and the darkness.

Hands would touch him, coming from the dark, retreating to the dark.  All they bought, all they left in their wake, was more pain.

He gave up trying to escape it, trying to struggle.  His hands, once nimble as they did puzzles alone in his cell, refused to work.  Perhaps it was better he couldn't see the condition they were in.  His leg had cramped long ago, forever ago, just a few minutes ago, and the back corner of his mind, the tiny sliver of himself that still could, was horrified at these implications.  

They suggested there was a block somewhere in his mana channels.

They suggested he was going to lose his leg.

Like he had lost his finger.

That dusting was going to happen slowly, limb by limb by limb by limb.

The rational part of his mind began silently screaming, just like the rest of it. 

The hands didn't like it when that happened, when the panic took over.

They didn't like it at all.

They clawed, scratched, dragged, hurt.

Words - were they words?  Angry, they pounded against his skull, and if only his hands would work, he'd try to shield himself from them.  He couldn't even make out what they wanted from him.

At least back in the lab he knew what was expected, was given the chance to be obedient before the pain would start.

The hands left, finally, quickly, slowly, and his SOUL pulsed weakly, as if a supplicant asking forgiveness, groveling for something it didn't even know.

There was a presence above him, and again, hands.  Stars, he hated hands.

He had hands like this.

A pressure on his cervical vertebrae, and the collar ground itself along the bones.  His skull rolled loosely on his neck until another hand gripped his mandible.  A thumb pressed itself behind his molars and his jaw was pried open.  Something small... a capsule? was pressed to the rear of his mouth, and his magic burned as it automatically tried to form a throat.

The hands fell away as soon as he swallowed, and he didn't, couldn't catch himself as he slumped.

The pain of falling was nothing compared to the pain that exploded behind his sternum, in his SOUL.

He heard the voices again, finally able to understand them as his entire body spasmed, convulsing violently.

They were laughing.

The clam girl scuttled away from the dank cell, having carried off Onionsan's orders, having dropped off some prospective buyers interested in the broken pile of bones.  

The aquatic monster had extolled his virtues - just how responsive he was, how seemingly young, innocent.  How rare.

How very much he looked just like the elder brother to that blasted upstart Guard Lieutenant in Snowdin.  The one that refused to be bought.

The one that kept them from expanding into the outlying region.  The one who cut into their profits.

She shuddered, her shell instinctively wanting to close over her delicate face.  She dropped into a side passage, slumping against the wall, letting the chill seep into her back, focusing.  The Snowdin Lieutenant was many different things to many different types.

To them?  He was an upstart, a representative of the hated bureaucracy of the Capitol, even if he had established himself as a rare one, someone who gave a damn.  He was an impingement on their profit margin, a challenge to work around, a threat.

To her?  

He had saved her from a childhood in the squalor of the dump, setting her up with a job running errands, setting her up with basic lessons on reading, math, basic life skills for a young monster.  Things were still hard, things would always be hard in the Underground, but he gave her a fighting chance.  

His brother had set her up with another job, once she lost the relative safety of stripes.  It was more of the same - running quick messages, small items, with one added nuance.

He wanted her to keep her ears open, funnel what information she came up with to him, to keep safe and quiet.

No one ever noticed the quiet ones, he had told her with a wink, tucking a gold coin into her hand.

He was right.

No one had ever suspected her.

SOUL finally settled, she hung in the shadows, cover story set firmly in her mind as she made her way through the maze of caverns and hallways, doubling back to make sure she wasn't being followed, setting false trails as she had been trained to do, making her way slowly to her regular meeting with her handler.  

There was no way they, the Lieutenant and his Canine Unit, would leave a skeleton in Onionsan's clutches.  

Despite the hell of their world, the 'kill-or-be-killed' every monster out of stripes (and those still in) knew, she refused to believe that they'd leave anyone to this.  

She just hoped whatever they planned, it would be soon.

She had seen the dust flaking off the little skeleton's bones when Onionsan's flunkies had shoved the piece of monster candy behind his teeth.

She blanched, keeping her steps silent but forcing her legs to move faster.  Pumping magic into someone wearing a suppression collar?  The flunkies, the potential buyers, had laughed, their crude jokes likening it to having live wires shoved into the SOUL.  Magic forcefully introduced but with no path to absorption... She had stopped listening as one of the monsters, clearly intoxicated if he was trying to explain this all to a skeleton too far gone to hear.  Instead, she had focused on the powder, the fine dust drifting from his bones.

She sent a quick thought to the Angel, hoping She would spare a moment of Mercy to sooth the little skeleton.

Stars knew he needed it.

Sans jerked as a muffled set of footsteps hurried down the narrow hallway, staying in cover until he could make out who it was.  His brother stood farther back, Lesser and Greater rounding out the group.

Doggo nearly skidded into him, the white foam around his muzzle telling of a long run.  His eyes bulged with each gasped breath, tongue lolling and dripping drool until he crouched, visibly pulling himself together.  

"Report," he instructed, ignoring his younger brother's tapping foot behind him.  A biscuit found its way into his hand, and he pushed it at Doggo.  It vanished faster than one of his teleports, a snort escaping his nasal aperture.  

Finally back in control of himself, he squinted at the group.  "Source says he won't last much longer.  Onionsan's buddies were getting pretty rough, she said.  He's starting to go to dust, Lieutenant."

He could feel his brother's rage pulsing, but they had known they would have to wait, to prepare.  One simply did not walk into Onionsan's domain and abscond with something of his without consequences.  They had to be careful, and follow the plan. 

He reached back and grabbed his brother's arm, pressing his bone-tips into the leather of his jacket, to break him from his darkening mood.  "Boss, we good ta do this?" he asked unnecessarily, cracking his cervical vertebrae.  

Papyrus stilled, red eyelights locking onto his older brother's.  "Yes.  You have everything?"  His words were clipped

The shorter skeleton gave a toothy grin, his single gold tooth glinting in the low light.  "Jar of dust an' dummy collar, ready ta go."

"You sure you'll be able to 'port him with you?"

The grin faded, became something brittle.  "My magic's fine.  'portin' isn't going ta go so well for him, though.  Not if it's as bad as it sounds."  He pulled his hands back, tucking them both into his sweatshirt pockets.  "I know it's th' only way, but it might sent him ta dusting."  His SOUL gave a slow flop, unsettled.

Greater's ears were pushed to his skull, hackles raised.  "Better dead then there," he growled, uncharacteristically lashing his tail.  

There was a moment of silent agreement.  "'s'alright then.  Let's do this."  Sans glanced to Doggo, who nodded.  Tugging his cloak back up over his ears, he disappeared back out into the hallway, the shorter skeleton as silent as a ghost as he followed.

Papyrus let out a breath between clenched teeth, then turned to the two Guards still with him.  "Let's get back to Snowdin.  We need to be ready when they return."

Chapter Text

Sans kept his hood over his skull as he followed Doggo down the winding passages.  Even in the murk, his skull was white enough to be a beacon, something they didn't dare risk.

Waterfall had always been a proverbial dump, but in truth, it wasn't far off the truth.  It was one of the most seismically active areas of the whole Underground, and all the forgotten debris, all the refuse of their world, seemed to congregate along its narrow, choked waterways.  One of its few benefits was that anything from Above usually found its final resting place in the Dump itself, giving the local inhabitants a viable source of supplies.

Sans hated it.  He'd spent far too much time as an adolescent here, when he was fresh out of stripes.  The moist, wet piles of castoffs had taught him much - knowledge that had helped him survive, helped him support his younger brother, but had been acquired through blood, sweat, and no little bit of magic.  The awful humidity of the air felt thick in his mouth, and he counted himself lucky that no longer did he have to spend so much time picking wet bits of detritus from between his bones.  

In front of him, Doggo finally broke pace, coming to a slowing lope.  A short figure, familiar, peered around the corner before her shell closed halfway, pulling back under her hood.  Doggo stopped, sniffing at her cautiously before letting out a huffing breath.  

"Get out of here Doggo," he instructed, taking a moment to calm his racing SOUL.  "Head back for Snowdin, you know what to do."  The less he said out loud, the less could be extracted from the clam girl if she got caught.

Doggo nodded, vanishing back the way they'd come with a flash of his tail.  

He gave the mollusk monster a slow wink.  "Been a long time, huh kid?"

She grinned at him before blushing, tugging her shell down over her eyes.  "I've been busy!" she protested, keeping her voice low.  "Messages and stuff."

He reached up, tugging the edge of her hood down to tease.  "I know, you've been doing really well.  Think ya can get me ta where this mystery monster is?  We'll get ya out of here after this, get you set up somewhere else, yeah?"

Her eyes grew bigger, her shell quivering beneath her fingers.  It took a moment for her to control herself, but her voice was firm when she spoke.  "I can get you there, but you don't ha-"

"Yeah we do.  You're puttin' yourself at risk fer us, fer someone ya don't know.  We take care of ours."  He gave her a moment to get over her blushes, making a show of pulling his hands into the sleeves of his sweatshirt, and reseating the small knapsack that sat on his back.  "We good?"

She didn't respond, instead grabbing his sleeve and pulling him along.

She stopped a few interminable minutes later at a non-descript door in a non-descript hallway, usually used for storage, as she explained it.  Onionsan had wanted its newest bit of merchandise readily available, but since the seller hadn't pushed too hard on their asking price, it had made it clear that it wouldn't be too miffed if it would dust of its own accord.  Sure, Onionsan would rip into any of its buyers who sped up the process, but spending gold on patching up a nearly dead monster?  

Onionsan liked to break its toys.

It could, after all, just acquire new ones.  One didn't need sentimentality when one had gold.

Speaking of -

He turned to the clam girl, pressing a small bag of gold into her slippery hands.  Pulling her close, he whispered close to where her ears would be, telling her to get out, to make herself scarce, to survive.  She surprised him with a quick embrace, then she was gone, swallowed by the darkness.

Sans chuckled, a fond smile flashing for a brief instant, before he turned to the door and testing the knob.

It wasn't locked, and that concerned him. 

Things you cared about were locked away for protection.  Things you didn't care about, were about to throw out... well, they weren't.  

It sent a chill down his spine, one chiller than the stagnant air.  

Opening it only far enough to squeeze himself through, he shut it behind him, taking care to not let it squeal, to not let it draw attention to him.  He scraped in, checking the hallway as the final glint of light faded, then pivoted, dropping to his knees.

The room, the cell, was pitch black, and as silent as a crypt. The smell of marrow was thick in the air, cloying.  A moment of fumbling had a flashlight from his pack in hand, and not for the first time, Sans was glad he packed such a random essential in his pack.  He kept the beam of light tightly focused, the aperture low to the ground to minimize any chance of it being visible beneath the door.  A wave to the right quickly bought a wall into focus, and he traced the boundary away from himself, until it met with the far wall.  He traced along that, and nearly dropped the light when the other monster was revealed.

It was, indeed, a skeleton.  Sans crawled closer, cautiously, just in case it wasn't as unconscious as it looked.

He needn't have worried.  The other was curled into a semi-fetal position, arms wrapped loosely around its skull.  It, he if one was to go off the pelvis, was in rough shape, just on first glance.  The right leg had some ugly cracks, spread much further apart than they should have been.  A barely visible layer of blue magic covered the bare bones, not nearly enough to heal or even prevent more damage, just barely enough to hold the limb together.  

He set the light down, beam facing away from the door, and adjusted it so that only the barest amount of light came out.  Hands now free, he set a hand on the other's shoulder, noticing for the first time that he was trembling, completely bare, with nothing else in cell.  

Sans cursed under his breath, pushing now into the other's shoulder.  He met with no resistance, and the other rolled onto his back, arms flopping loosely to his sides.

Stars above, his hands.  One was stunted, the missing finger obvious in its absence.  There was dried marrow, pinkish, streaked down his the exposed hits of his ulna, clear down to his elbow.  Mostly dried, anyway - it looked awfully wet around the mangled joints.  The other hand was a rigid claw, the entire thing sheathed in both marrow and the smallest traces of magic.  The vast majority of bones looked cracked, bruised, wrecked in ways that he'd never imagined he would see.  

Easing closer, he took the arm coated in marrow and settled it across the delicate rib-cag, then repeated it with the other as carefully as he could.  The other didn't move, and thankfully there didn't seem to be any dust.  

The collar was going to be an issue.  

It reminded him of something he'd seen before, something he never thought he'd see again, something that made his mind seethe.

Gaster had used collars just like this.

The bone beneath was chafed, a substantial grove worn into the cervicals, hinting with a scream just how long the other had been in it.  Sans traced his finger over it slowly, feeling nothing from it.  Curious, but something he could deal with later.  

He hadn't quite believed Doggo when he had said it, but the proof was in front of him.  This unknown skeleton looked like he had a few years past.  The bone structure was a bit rounder, didn't have the gold tooth that he had, but the resemblance was uncanny.  

Stray memories flitted across the back of his mind, but he pushed them aside for now.  They were in too dangerous a place to delve into them.

He doffed his knapsack and rooted around in it for a moment, pulling out the spare sweatshirt he had.  The flashlight migrated to sit on top of the battered canvas, giving a slightly better cast of the produced light.  He scooted back, spreading it on the ground, then moved back to roll the other onto his side.  A nudge and the sweatshirt was beneath him, and he settled the still form down.  The idea of putting the other's arms down the sleeves made him cringe - just zipping him into it should be enough for now.  

This he did, then took the sleeves in hand and tied them together to keep them from flapping.  There was nothing he could do for the other's leg though, not with what equipment he had available to him.  He did pull out the jar of dust, as well as the generic collar, and set to fiddling.  The dust went into a neat pile against the wall, the jar back into the knapsack.  The collar was dropped from a few inches above the pile, the powder floating on the air to create a more realistic effect.  With how dark the room, the cell was, it was highly unlikely that the pile or the collar would actually be closely examined, but there was no excuse for carelessness.  

He jerked.  Was that footsteps in the hallway?  He froze, as still as a statue, trying to place the sound.  It was far too close to be someone in the hallway, and he had to refocus the flashlight onto the other skeleton to make out what it was.  

His trembling had worsened to the point that his bones were rattling, eyelights still gone, but sockets now clenched.  The jaw moved, worked frantically but silently, 

The little skeleton, because that's what he was, bones far more narrow and fragile-looking than his own, choked out a desperate purr, one that tore at his SOUL.  Sans closed his own sockets for a moment, forcing himself to calm, as the unknown skeleton radiated nothing as much as pain and terror.  

Onionsan would pay for this.  Whoever had hurt this skeleton would pay for this.

Opening his sockets, he shoved the flashlight back into his bag and shouldered it, pulling the straps tight across both of the shoulders and fastening the waist strap.  He crouched, whispered some soft words of encouragement he hadn't used since Papyrus had been a babybones, as well as a SOUL-felt apology, and pulled the other into his lap, holding him in a sick parody of a bride on her wedding day.  

The purr stuttered, dropped in tone, and shifted from a purr that screamed stay away, hurt, PAIN into something worse.  Sharp phalange-tips traced along the other's cranial sutures, but force of will stayed his hand. from pushing any magic into the other.  Not with the suppression collar on.  That had to come off first.  

He resolutely kept his eyes from the drying puddle of marrow.

The drying puddle of pinkish marrow.

Skeleton monsters were intimately familiar with the colors of marrow, given their lack of blood.  

Pink suggested young, perhaps not even the age of majority.

That thought was shoved brutally away as the purring hiccupped, rasping in the other's chest.  Sans pulled his hand back, adjusting his load, and focused intently on his magic.  A final check to make sure there was no evidence of his presence, he reached out, wrapping his magic around both of them, and stepped to the Void.

Nothing remained, save a puddle of marrow, a pile of dust, and a collar, alone in the moldering cell.

Chapter Text

The purring grated to a stop before the pair had even reappeared on the other side of the shortcut, and Sans gave the trembling body a squeeze.  Just to make sure the kid was still breathing, of course.  Not that he needed any such nicety himself.  

They'd appeared in a simple bedroom.  A single bed sat centered on the longest wall, the frame leaving it standing a bit higher than a bed normally sat, a gouged-up stand with an equally abused lamp besides it.  A short bookcase lined with old, creased volumes stood opposite, and together with a box on the floor rounded the room out.  There were no windows, the blank walls broken only by a wooden door.  

Sans had never been happier that his brother had insisted on setting up safe houses throughout Waterfall and Snowdin.  

Two steps and the other skeleton was balanced in one arm as he yanked the comforter and top sheet from the mattress.  He didn't make a sound as Sans set him down, though the tremors continued.  

A flick of blue magic had the lamp on, and more of the damage was visible.  It was...

He swallowed.  

He'd done some shitty things, some really bad things in his life.  His hands weren't free of dust by any means.  He'd seen things even worse, but this?  This took the cake.  

He yanked off his knapsack off, digging through the front pocket until the familiar weight of his phone found its way into his hand.  The few minutes it took the phone to turn on were some of the longest in his life. 

He fought the urge to fidget, instead focusing on the loading screen, the passing seconds ticking by in his mind.  

Fuckin' finally.  

Careful not to dig sharp bone into the phone's keys, he dialed.

One ring.


His SOUL tightened with each unanswered ring.  If he wasn't there, where else could he turn to for help?

A rush of relief flooded his bones when the line finally clicked over with a crackle of static.

"Gerson speaking."

He glanced over at the bed before focusing again.  "Ya busy, Cap'n?"

Another burst of static, a rustle.  "You got him?"

"Ya.  's pretty bad... 's... bad," he hoped the line was good enough for his inflection to be clear.  "How long 'til ya can be here?"

A pause, one that seemed to stretch.  "Half hour.  Will - no.  I'll bring a full kit."

The sense of relief returned, and he pushed it carefully to the side, unwilling to let it distract him.  "We'll make do 'til ya get here.  See ya soon."

He ended the call, then dialed another number.  

Papyrus picked up before the first ring ended.  "Well?"

Sans resisted the urge to short, choking back his gratitude at his brother for his down-to-earth and straight-to-the-point attitude.  Instead, he kicked his pack beneath the bed, taking time to carefully frame his words.  "'s bad."  He defaulted to Guardsman discipline as a focusing point.  "Cap'n Gerson's comin'."

His brother's agitation was palpable, and in his mind's eye, he could see Papyrus stalking across the living room, pacing grooves into the carpet.  "Nothing yet from Waterfall, we're not sure if Onionsan knows yet."

"Hasn't been long 'nough."

Papyrus actually did snort at this, and the background noise on the line faded, as if the phone was being held closer to someone's mouth.  "Keep me informed.  One of the Dogs will let you know when he's safe here."

Sans nodded, not that anyone could see it, and grunted for his brother's benefit.  "Got it.  Think we'll need to relocate outta here?"

This time Papyrus paused, almost like he was conferring with someone else.  "Unknown as of yet.  The Dogs are checking the regular sources.  Just... just be alert and ready, just in case."

"Will do, Boss."  He wanted to say more, but he didn't know who was around his brother or if it was safe to.  Better not, not yet.  He switched the line off, then double-checked the door.  The lock was sturdy, and if one didn't have a key, it was going to take a substantial bit of time to get around.  

He'd take what little offer of safety that provided.  Satisfied, he fidgeted with his sweatshirt's zipper, a thousand and one thoughts, emotions, playing merry havoc in his mind.

A look back to the bed did little to settle them, but at least allowed him to focus enough to push them to the side for now.

The other skeleton hadn't moved, still cocooned in the large sweatshirt.  His facial expressions had slackened, making him look even younger.

Stars above.

Angel knew how long he and Papyrus had searched, searched, for another surviving skeleton, and only now, convinced they were the only ones left, did another appear.  But yet... there was something not right about him, and he couldn't quite put a phalanx on it yet.  

He let his patella press into the edge of the mattress, keeping his feet.  Reaching across, he carefully untied the sleeves, then tugged the zipper down.

The other flinched badly at the sensations, tension returning to his face.

"Hey there, kiddo," Sans murmured as he made the decision to leave the sweatshirt under the other.  "Yer in some pretty rough shape, yeah?"

He stooped, pulling a large pack of antiseptic cleaning wipes from the box of supplies that had been left on the floor for quick access.  They smelled harshly of chemicals, but would do a good enough job in starting to clean him up, San supposed, resolving to not breath through his nasal aperture.  

The other stilled, head moving fractionally towards the sound of his voice.  "Yer out of wherever you were, kid.  Goin' ta clean ya up so we can put ya back together."

He'd been warm.  Why did it stop?  Where did it go?  

He wanted to whine, to beg for the warmth and the soft to come back, but the words, the sound wouldn't, couldn't come.  

The smell of industrial disinfectant came to him, and there was enough terror to make him visibly start.  Chemicals... He smelled of chemicals, Borus too.  The exam rooms always smelled the worst - a tangled smell of stale urine and chemicals and the metallic tang of blood and chemicals and death and decay and chemicals.  He was back?  He must have caught him, right?  That was the only way he could have survived long enough to be back in an exam room.  

Then the cool touch of chemicals to his bones, and he jerked again, harder, wide sockets looking impossibly deep, empty in the absence of his eyelights.  

The unknown skeleton thrashed at the first touch of the wipe, breath hitching, arms flying.  Sans dropped it, leaning over the smaller and catching the flailing limbs before any more damage could occur.  Again, the other seemed to be mouthing words frantically.  

"Hey kiddo," he pressed his teeth close to the smaller's acoustic meati, hoping that at least the intent of his words could make it though.  "Gotta clean ya up a bit so we can fix ya.  Gotta stop fighting me, a'ight?"

Somehow, miraculously, thank the stars, that seemed to get through, and most of the tension left his body, leaving him mostly slack.

Sans grabbed another wipe to begin again, but stayed his hand, checking the room to make sure no one had managed to get in without his noticing.  

His phalanges found their way to the smaller's skull, carefully stroking over his coronal sutures.  He could clean the other up more when Gerson arrived.

The other just pressed his skull into the gentle hand, the stuttering purr restarting.

He wasn't even projecting anything comforting, his magic was far too unsettled still from the 'port to focus well enough to do it.  Where did this skeleton come from that had him pressing into the first monster that came across him for comfort?

Chapter Text

Sans had never been a member of the Guard, not an official one, anyway.

That was all Papyrus, all the way.  

That being said, once he and Papyrus had escaped Gaster's shit-show in the labs, the first monster they'd stumbled onto had been Gerson.  Captain Gerson.  The crotchety turtle monster had taken them in, fed them, taught them.  Not just the essentials, either, but really how to survive.  He'd supported Papyrus as he joined the Guard and worked his way up to Lieutenant, he'd supported Sans in helping him set up his intelligence network, he'd taught and supported and left them free to make their own decisions as they grew.

They'd been incredibly surprised when they had arrived at the first meeting of the dissidents to see him, the former captain of the entire Royal Guard, sitting along the wall.  

Surprised, and pleased.  Not that any of them would have ever admitted it.

Gerson had always been good to them, and he never had to be.  He'd owed them nothing when he grabbed two undersized skeleton kids out of Hotland's tangle of hallways and dragged them to his home in Waterfall. 

They owed him everything.  

Sans didn't respect easily, and he knew it grated on Papyrus sometimes, that he was a straight-up jerk to those who hadn't proved themselves to him.  

He truly respected Gerson.  

He might never had been an official member of the Guard, but Gerson would always be his Captain.  

He didn't bother moving as the knob of the door rattled as a key was pushed home on the other side.  

Gerson also made no comment as he stepped in, setting a bag down before turning his shell, relocking the door firmly.  He merely hummed a greeting, double-checking the door's seal, and pretended to not notice that Sans was sitting on the bed, spine against the wall, with a stranger's skull resting on his femurs.

Sans appreciated his discretion as he carefully slipped himself out from under their mystery skeleton.  "Cap'n" he greeted, pulling on and popping his right shoulder to loosen it.  

"Sans.  I trust you're doing well?"

He grinned wrly, gold tooth glinting in the light.  "I am, not so sure 'bout this guy though."

The turtle nodded, stepping around Sans and closer to the bed.  He ran an appraising eye over the entire form, then reached out and poked at the collar.  "This is the suppression collar your brother mentioned?"  He didn't look past the lad's neck, better to focus on one thing at a time.

"Yes'ir.  It's weird though, not right.  Feels off."

The turtle frowned, his bird-like beak clicking as he put his face closer.  He poked it again, this time letting more than just his finger-tip brush it.  Instead, he wrapped his hand around it, giving it a cautious tug.  

He jerked his hand back before his fingers were even closed, a sizzle in the air followed by the scent of burning skin, a barely visible tendril of smoky magic trailing, a noticeable heat radiating from the metal band.  His frown deepened, deep wrinkles highlighted by shadows.  "I should say so," he murmured, eyes dark.  "This is a nasty bit of work, boy.  I've never seen a suppression collar that reacted to incoming magic that strongly.  Good thing you waited for me, if you had tried to heal him directly, would have likely killed him."  

Sans ignored the turtle's dark cackle, instead gritting his teeth.  "Can ya get it off 'im?"

Gerson didn't respond directly, instead gesturing towards the bag he had dropped.  Sans got the hint and retrieved it, setting it on the mattress.  The skeleton there remained still, despite the heat coming off the collar, sockets void of anything.  The turtle unzipped it without looking, reaching in and blindly pulling out what looked like a pair of bolt-cutters.  

He glanced at Sans.  He'd known the skeleton for a long time, had seen him in many different states.  

He couldn't remember the last time he had seen him anxious.  Interesting.  He'd been stroking the mystery skeleton's skull when he'd come in, speaking softly, with a gentleness he hadn't seen from him since his brother had been a babybones.  What made it even more interesting was that their unknown strongly, strongly resembled Sans.

Filing away those fascinating bits, Gerson glanced over to the other.  "There might be some backlash into the laddie.  Can you-?" he gestured with the cutters, and Sans got the hint.  Switching to the other side of the bed, he considered a moment, before carefully adjusting the unknown's arms, mindful of the ruined hands.  Once they were safely on the mattress, he leaned onto the humeri, trying to ignore the gritty sensation of dust beneath his own phalanges, the imperfections of the bones that hinted at prior breaks.  

"Ready, Cap'n."

Gerson nudged the unknown's skull so he had a wider space to work with, then slowly wormed one of the wickedly sharp blades of the cutter between the delicate cervical vertebrae and metal.  He took his time, his LV a presence in the back of his mind at being in such a uniquely interesting situation.  Years of experience in dealing with it had him shoving it back into the recesses of his mind easily, hands remaining steady.

With a metallic snap, the collar fell away, a spark of yellow magic arcing outwards, thankfully away from their unknown's neck, before dissipating into the air.  The offending device was swept to the floor, the cutters following, as the small skeleton began trembling violently underneath Sans.

He'd felt the cold line against his cervicals, and the malicious voice in the back of his mind snarked at him, telling him that finally, finally he was being discarded.  About time, it hissed, the voice dry and crackly, like a dry piece of paper.  

Sans decided he wasn't going to fight it.  He just hoped Papyrus would forgive him.  

Then the collar fell away.

His magic, magic that had been stolen from him for so long that he could scarce remember what color it was, had been suppressed so long that his reserves were non-existent.  Yet, as a skeleton monster, it was intrinsic to his very being, and what little that had been held in limbo came trickling back.  It burned as it hit mana channels that had been devoid of anything but the barest bit, as everything he had access to had been focused on keeping his bones together, the healing matrixes in place.  

With the return of the magic came the return of sensation.  

He scrunched his sockets shut, bones starting to rattle at the myriad of sensations.  His neck felt light, but he still lacked the energy to lift it, to see what was wrong, to even see.  There was pressure on his upper arms, holding him still, and he knew, knew it was Borus again.  Or worse, Gaster.  They'd found him, and they were going to punish him again for disobedience.  He thrashed weakly and his right hand hitting the ground bought him a clarity that he hadn't had in some time.

The pain, the red hot cold as ice searing pain surged up his arm and he howled.

"Hold him!" Gerson snarled, his beak clicking as he clipped the words off sharply, going to dig through his bag again.  

Sans kept the pressure up, shifting himself up onto the mattress for better leverage.  The body beneath him jerked in harsh spasms, the sockets again wide.  Now though, tiny beads of off-white magic lined the rims though they themselves remained dark.  The scream -

Sweet Angel.  He felt his own sins crawling down his spine, and knew that he wouldn't be sleeping easily any time in the near future.  

Gerson reappeared, needle in hand.  Shoving Sans back, he stabbed it down and into the skeleton's chest, between the sternum and the ribs, down to where the other's SOUL was hidden.  The plunger was depressed, slowly, but the reaction was fast.  The skeleton slumped, the scream cut off, but he didn't lose consciousness.  His gasping pants were loud in the now otherwise quiet room.

A single tear of magic slid down the side of his skull.

Sans eased back, hands coming slowly off the shivering bones.  He sent a questioning look to the turtle before running his forearm over his forehead.

"Just a mild sedative.  The laddie'll be fine, but him panicking right now will just make this harder."  He re-capped the now-empty syringe and tossed it toward the door.  He stood up, pressing a hand against his shell and twisting his hips sharply.  

The pop from his back drowned out the pants from the bed, and Sans shuddered. 

His eyes were drawn back to the mess of the smaller skeleton's hands, not bothering to hide his flinch.  Gerson chose not to comment.

"Hand me my bag, lad.  We have work to do."

Sans complied, shuffling back to the bed and setting the bag down.  While Gerson began rummaging through it, he stooped, scooping up the discarded sheet from earlier.  He folded it into a sloppy rectangle, then spread it across the unknown's pelvis.  "It ain't right," he mumbled at Gerson's unasked question, a dusting of magic showing across his cheek bones.  "Ta be hangin' out like that," he clarified.

Gerson snorted, setting several rolls of bandages on the mattress.  "Certainly, lad.  Certainly.  Have you gotten any better with your green magic?"

He groaned in respose.  "Sorry, Cap'n, no."

"Keep him calm then.  I'll see what I can do."

The prick to his SOUL had him convinced it was Gaster, but now... now he wasn't so sure.  

He hurt, he hurt so very much, but there were no angry words, no angry intent directed at him, no new pains.  Instead, he felt, for the first time he could remember, pleasantly numb.  His magic was still not responding, probably wouldn't for some time, but he could feel it creeping through his bones.  He hurt, but he didn't care.  He knew the needle did that, but just, for the first time in a long time, couldn't make himself care.

He almost hoped the sensation wouldn't stop.  

At least, he did, until his leg, his broken leg, was wrapped in gentle pressure.  His jaw dropped open in shock; he knew that sensation.

Papyrus had used green magic on him when he had been a babybones, after falls, to fix up scraped bones.  The soothing, warm, safe feeling was something he'd never forget.  But who was healing him? 

Gaster would never waste the energy on him, he knew.

He'd told Sans that he wasn't worth it, more than a few times.

Borus had laughed.

He drew in a shuddering breath, then choked it off.  He heard himself.  He... had enough magic to talk again?  Instinctively, he tried to relight his eyelights.  Nothing yet.  He scrunched his sockets, unconsciously whimpering.  

Sweet Angel, please don't let me back at the lab.

Please let Papyrus be safe.

The green magic dancing over Gerson's hands flickered as he looked at his work, using a fingertip to trace where the break had been.  All that remained was a deep crack and dried marrow.  It was a start at least.  

Sans met his eyes.  He'd re-seated himself on the mattress, up by their unknown's shoulders.  One arm was draped across his lap, the other rested against the other's clavicle, thumb stroking idly along the curve of the bone.

"In the bag, lad, there's some candy in there.  Go ahead and get them out.  This is going to take a while, I'm going to need it."

Chapter Text

Gerson wiped a bead of sweat from his brow, sitting back onto the rickety chair Sans had pulled from the other side of the room.  He clicked his beak, inspecting the work he'd completed so far.  

The broken femur was mostly healed, though the unknown would need to not put any strain on it for some time.  The left hand, the one bearing unmistakeable signs of being sawn on... he'd done as much with that as he could.  The roughly hewn bone chips had been cleaned up (and out), the dried marrow cleaned off.  A few wraps of gauze smeared with some antibiotic ointment was the best he could do otherwise... magic was, well, magic, but there was no way to grow a bone that was gone back.  The best he really could do was work to prevent any infection and to pad it from any irritants until his innate mana lines developed alternate courses around it.  

Gerson had seen enough amputation injuries during The War to know it wasn't life threatening.  There'd be an adjustment period, but the unknown skeleton appeared young enough that coping wouldn't, shouldn't, be out of the question.  

The cracks in the other's skull were relatively easy fixes, though there was definitely going to be some scaring of the bone.  

Speaking of scars, he and Sans had shared a long, silent conversation when they had rolled the other onto his side.  

Every vertebrae had scarring, distinctive scarring.  Scarring caused by needles being pressed into the bone, into the marrow hidden within.  

Even with the sedative in him, the smaller skeleton had jerked, whining softly, sockets clenched tight, as Gerson's carefully checked each one.  

During The War, Gerson had been a field general.  He'd killed - he'd ordered his armies to kill, he'd killed personally.  After The Fall, after Asgore's descent to insanity and the decline, the slow death of their entire culture, he'd been known as a fighter, a vicious one, one who would stop at nothing to keep his own safe.  Angel help anyone who got in his way, or tried to gainsay him.  Centuries of that had worn on him, and he'd grown tired of Asgore's insane demands, the unnecessary deaths that did nothing to keep people alive, or did nothing to help further their existence.  He'd been one of the first insurrectionists against his own King, had helped sneak more than a few monsters out from his grasping hands.  

He'd seen the ravages of a madman's interrogations.  

He'd seen the utter destruction that could be caused when a madman bought a mad scientist into his fold and was given free rein.  

He'd seen the entire skeleton sub-species be wiped out, or so he thought, until he found two survivors, two _stripelings_ lurking around the outskirts of the lab complex.  

He never thought he would see a youngster as broken as those two, though they'd healed, had grown.

He had never thought he would be proven wrong.

His LV wanted him to go, to find who had done this, and to _dust_ them.  And their families, their friends, anyone who had _known_ of the atrocities happening to this laddie.  His LV wanted _vengeance_ and dust.  

Instead, with steady hands, as Sans held the other still on his side, Gerson traced the vertebrae, pushing tendrils of healing magic into the ones that had inflammation in the magic between.  It was slow, it was tedious, and it was taxing to his magic, but the result when Sans settled him back on the bed was noticeable.  The slender bones were no longer tight with impossible tension - it was still there, for sure, but some of the tension in his posture had eased.

He had saved the worst damage for last, had spent the time healing the rest considering how best to deal with it.  The broken right hand was, being polite, a mess.  From carpals straight down to the heads of both the radius and ulna - nothing but a mess of breaks, more broken than not.  He'd have been hard-pressed to find two connecting that were intact.  

He sighed, only responding when Sans pushed another monster candy into his hand.  If nothing else, they were keeping his magic levels up, but he wasn't sure he was really good enough a healer to deal with a mess like this.  Really, a healer in the Capitol could do this, was qualified to do this... but bringing the laddie there would almost certainly be a death sentence.  Someone was going to be looking for him, looking for him.  That, and he wasn't completely certain he was going to be physically stable enough for a trip that long.  

He glanced down, hiding his surprise to see tiny pinpricks of white looking up at him.  They were hazy, but followed his finger as he moved it carefully in patterns in front of them.  

He unwrapped the candy slowly, crumpling the wrapper and pushing it into his pocket before pushing it into his mouth, under his tongue.  Almost immediately, the inherent magic in it crackled, absorbing quickly.  

Sans, too, was refocused on the smaller skeleton's face, intent.  

The resemblance was uncanny.  

Gerson clicked his beak as the last of the candy melted away, pulling his chair closer to the prone body.  "Welcome back to the land of the living, laddie.  Can't probably move much yet, but ye can nod, can't ye?"

It took a few moments, but the unknown's chin did tilt fractionally down.  

Gerson smiled, his beak gaping a bit.  The smaller flinched again, eyelights flickering before stabilizing.  

The old turtle got serious, picking up the skeleton's right arm midway down the radius and ulna, careful to keep support under the palm.  The skeleton flinched again, a whine catching in the back of his throat, but the eyelights remained steady, intent on his motions.  

"Ye know your hand is a right mess, right laddie?" he asked as he rotated it, taking care to not jar it.  He didn't wait for a response, not after the look of terror that flashed across his face.  "I'll do what I can with it, but it'll like as not hurt like the devil himself."  He considered a moment, thinking about the contents of his bag.  "If'n ye like, we can knock you out for this, might hurt less.  Or ye can stay awake.  It's up to you, laddie."

"Cap'n?" Sans asked under his breath, not sure what the reasoning was, what the crazy turtle was up to.

"The laddie can make the choice, I think.  What say ye there, then?"

The skeleton's eyelights had almost doubled in size, and they flickered between the two faces and to what he could see from his position on the bed.  His breathing was picking up, hitching again.  

It took a long moment for Sans to process what the monster above him had asked him, and he choked back a whimper as he was asked a question.  Gaster never asked questions, not unless each answer was going to somehow be wrong.  This was bad, this was beyond bad.  Somehow there was going to be some sort of punishment involved, some sort of pain.  This all was a trick of some sort, it had to be. 

Another face swam into focus above him, and in a moment of shock he stared.  

It was... it was him?  Or at least, how he imagined how he'd look, given how long it had been since he had seen a mirror.  

Either way, it was another skeleton.  That shouldn't be possible.

Gaster had bragged, bragged, that he was single-handedly responsible for the decimation of their kind, after the Council had refused him a position on it.  He had told him, countless times, that he and Papyrus were the only ones left, and they served no purpose other than as base specimens, as sentient ingredients.  

This skeleton shouldn't be here.  Not with the faint cracks on his skull, not with his gold tooth, not with his heavy black sweatshirt nearly swallowing him.

The other seemed to be as confused about him as he was, so that was at least a plus in his column, he imagined.  

"Hey kiddo, ya gotta make a choice 'ere."  His accent was thick, maybe Hotlands?  Sans flinched at the brusqueness, missing the minute softening of the other's expression.  "Once fer awake, twice for takin' a nap.  That work fer ya?  Ya wanna be awake fer this?"

He shivered, eyelights again flashing between the two monsters above him, before tilting his head just once.  The two looked at each other, coming to some unspoken agreement, before the turtle set his hand back on the mattress.  

He could feel it, he could feel the pain, he knew it was bad, but whatever they had pressed into his SOUL had him not caring.  He supposed that was probably for the best.  He had seen the damage.  

He just wasn't sure why they were healing him.  

Didn't they know that Gaster was just going to punish him when he was returned to the lab?  Assuming he was even out of the lab.  Maybe Gaster had finally followed through on one of his threats and given him to Borus, or worse, to the group of researchers who were always working on cross-species strains.  Skeleton physiology was close to that of humans, he'd read at some point in the past.  If they could work out some disease on skeletons, maybe they could get it to jump across the divide to humans.  

He would have continued along that line of thought until light scratches along his coronal suture grabbed his attention.  His eyelights flashed up, locking onto the skeleton who had his face.  The other's red eyelights remained steady for a moment, two, a handful more, before focusing back on where the turtle was setting up to start working on his hand.  

The scratches continued, and without conscious thought, his purrs started again - a real purr, not the desperate purr of terror from earlier.  His eyelights hazed as he forced himself to focus on nothing except the bone-to-bone contact, and not the pressure moving around on his broken hand.  The other skeleton spoke softly to the turtle, but Sans couldn't quite make out what it was about.  

Not that it mattered much, he supposed.  Gaster would be coming to collect him soon, he was possessive of his property, after all.

He liked to keep even his broken toys close to him.  He'd learnt that early on, two or so years into his isolation.  He'd managed to squirm away from the orderly assigned to him that day, managed to hide, desperate to find Papyrus.  

He'd been found, curled behind a mop bucket in a janitorial closet.  

It had only been the first of many times that Gaster had left him with a broken bone.  

Better to just concentrate on what little comforts he could before he was sent back.

He wanted to tell the turtle to save his energy, that it wasn't worth healing his hand.  Gaster would just undo everything.

"Ya sure about this, Cap'n?" Sans asked as the hazy eyelights of the other skeleton disappeared behind half-closed sockets.  "Wouldn't it be easier to do it while 'e's out?"

He kept his light scratches up across the top and sides of the other's skull, knowing what he and his brother resorted to when they needed a bit of comfort.  The purr had restarted, calmer this time than before, less desperate, but still one that screamed of youth and pain.  The scratches were settling the unknown's skull, that was well worth the effort.  

Gerson winked at him, surprisingly, as he set some flat popsicle sticks along with the gauze and tape from earlier next to the mangled mass of bones.  "Hush, lad, 'n let me work."

And work he did.  And three hours and another two candies later, he was wiping marrow off of his hands with a once-white rag.  The unknown had passed out from sheer exhaustion some time earlier, and he'd taken a moment at that point to give another dose of sedative into his SOUL.  Better safe than sorry with that; his waking up mid-healing could prove disastrous.  

Each of the fingers was wrapped carefully in gauze, splinted, then wrapped again.  The entire hand was then taken and the wrist was splinted, Sans quickly cobbling together to serve.  Most of the finger bones were still broken, or the bones just lightly melded together.  Most of the true healing had gone into the radial break, with a touch more to the ulna, and that, too, was splinted.  All in all, the skeleton's entire right arm to just above his elbow was wrapped tightly in gauze to hold the whole mess together.  A monster candy had been pressed between his teeth, the magic absorbing so fast it didn't even crackle like it normally would.  

"Now what?" Sans asked, taking the rag from Gerson and tossing it to the nightstand.  

The old turtle stood up and shook out cramped joints, casting a weather eye to the skeleton on the bed.  "Now we wait, lad.  He's going to need more healing, a lot of it, and I'm sure your brother is curious about 'im."

He didn't miss Sans mouthing "So am I" under his breath as he made his way out into the murky tunnels, making sure the door was firmly shut and a simple glamour magic on it as he vanished into the gloom.

He did miss Sans shaking out the blankets and making sure his doppelganger was covered, did miss him pouring some water down his throat, making sure he swallowed without choking, and missed him pulling the chair back to the bedside.  He most certainly missed him falling asleep, book on the mattress next to his folded arms, his skull rested on top.

Chapter Text

Sans glanced at his phone, then to his sleeping charge, then back, his irritation growing.  The message from his brother glowed on the screen, and he wished with all his SOUL that he could ignore it.  

He sighed, shoving the phone into his hoodie pocket.  Delaying would do no good, and would just serve to irritate everyone who would inevitably be waiting.  

That didn't make him feel any less like he was abandoning the still unnamed skeleton.  

The other had spent most of the last few days asleep, waking only for short healing sessions with Gerson.  They'd plied him with light broths and monster candy, Gerson making sure care was taken that the magic within was being absorbed properly.  He'd been slightly more responsive, croaking out a few shaky answers to careful questions.  The turtle had been very clear in his instructions to not pressure their 'guest' and...

Sans dropped his skull into his hands, scrubbing his palms roughly across his brow.  

There was something about this guy that just... he couldn't frame it into words.  It was some weird innate desire to protect the other that itched at his bones, and he really had no idea whether to trust it or not.  

The Underground was a dark place.  Murders, rapes, just sheer occurrences of violence were commonplace.  You didn't have friends, per se, you had allies.  You found a partner, a mate, and you protected that monster, because no one else would have your back.  You relied on your instincts, or you were dust.  There was no way to sugar coat it.

But his instincts, instincts that had kept him alive for twenty-plus years, were insisting that this frail skeleton should be in the same category as Papyrus, his brother.  

The last time the younger had been awake, Gerson had carefully questioned him about his name, his age.  They hadn't gotten a name, just a blank, empty look.  The younger skeleton had proportionately large sockets for his size, and the blankness of the look, so devoid of emotion, had been eerie.  They had gotten an age, and Gerson had broken character, beak dropping.  

Sans kept referring to the other as "kid" but really, he was the same age as Papyrus, maybe slightly older.  

Gerson had ground his beak so hard it had the smaller trembling, and it had taken a carefully disguised sedative to get him settled back down.  And that response was what he imagined was so far under his skin (heh).  

In his upset, in what was undoubtedly a fight-or-flight response of some sort, their little skeleton had called up his magic.  It was the tiniest wisp, ethereal, and only brushed against Sans for the blink of an eye, but with it had come a pulse of emotions, of feelings, and a thousand images all smashed into one giant morass.  

That split second of contact had his magic unconsciously convinced that, wherever the other came from, whatever his story may or may not be, it was important.

His phone vibrated again, breaking into his thoughts.  He didn't bother to pull it out, knowing it was just his brother telling him to hurry up.  

He shoved his hands into the pockets of his shorts, his magic agitated.  His SOUL pulsed unhappily; his entire being was against the idea of leaving the kid.  

He growled, breaking for the door and letting himself out into the dark passageway.  What the fuck was going on?  Who was this guy that he was having this much of an impact?  Shit.  Even Gerson was being uncharacteristically protective.  Normally it was a trial to get the damned old coot to heal anything not life-threatening, and even that was usually a battle of wits.  

The turtle had been making appearances every few hours.  Not even to heal - but to make sure the healing was taking, to see if he could get the unknown to talk.  

Again, his pocket vibrated, and his temper snapped.  Both fists up over his head, he bought them both onto the rock wall opposite the door.  

The pain was a soothing balm, cathartic, a jolt to his magic.

He latched onto it.

The hallway was silent, as it should be.  It was in the deepest, darkest caverns of Waterfall, abandoned for a dozen or more years as the population dwindled and the survivors moved to more hospitable locales.  The tiny room's door was almost imperceptible unless you knew exactly where it was, and even then, it was hidden behind a notice-me-not magic glamour for added protection.

A handy bit of magic, that was, and one the dissidents abused fully.  

He looked at it, pressing a tendril of magic there just so, and a little nudge here, then stepped back.  

The rock facing before him was smooth, unmarred by any visible doors or seams.  As far as he could see, in either direction, there was nothing but uninterrupted, roughly hewn rock.  

Damn, he did good work.  

With another flicker of magic, he was gone, as if he had never been there.

He came awake slowly, eyelights hazy as he tried to place where he was.  The mattress he was on was soft enough, and at least one blanket was tucked around him, the pressure a strange comfort.  He was half-propped up on pillows, his arms folded over the covers on his chest.

He blinked owlishly around the room, rolling his head on the pillow.  He was... alone?  The last few days were filled with snapshots of a turtle monster, and green magic... and another skeleton?  One that wasn't Papyrus?

Where in the Angel's name had his brother sent him?

Gaster had pumped enough drugs into him to know the after-effects of a sedative, but he really couldn't find it in himself to blame the pair.  He was moderately sure the vivid flash of him thrashing wildly, hands flying, in his mind wasn't a fever dream.

Speaking of...

Sans stifled a whine at the sight of his hands, or rather, the lack of what he could see.  

His entire right arm was sheathed in bandages, elbow to finger-tips.  Nothing beneath wanted to move, could be moved, but it didn't hurt?  That didn't seem right, but he wasn't going to question it.

Stars, what in the Angel's name had they pumped into him that he was this introspective?

He could feel the fear - the fear of strangers, the fear of what had been done to him, the fear of being alone... but he just didn't, couldn't care.  

The pang of fear from that pierced the haze for a split-second, but he couldn't keep the focus to hold onto it.  

Instead, he looked at the misshapen lump that was his left hand.  Someone... the old turtle monster? had removed most of the bandages.  Other than the groves in the bone where Gaster had mis-drawn the saw, there wasn't a lot to see. 

Especially since the finger was gone.  

Papyrus would have appreciated the pun, he thought.  That line of reasoning flit away like a butterfly on a spring breeze, and vaguely he realized he should probably appreciate that too.  

Being alone in the room was strange.  It reminded him of the bedroom he'd had years ago, forever ago, the sparse furniture the same type of pressed composite wood.  He squinted around it, habitually making sure each piece was in the same place it was the last time he had catalogued.  

Everything was in place, with one addition.  

One of the two monsters had left a book on the nightstand.  

He squinted again, then his eyelights widened when he made out the title.  "A Brief History of Time" by Stephen Hawking.  

Even Gaster had noted the brilliance of the human, being protective of his copy of the book acquired from the dump.  Sure, the man didn't understand magic as intrinsically as a monster born with it would, but Gaster had always appreciated brilliance.  

Sans had read part of it once, a few years past.  Gaster had periodically left books in his room, his cell, from everything ranging from human history to crossword puzzles and word games to astronomy and theoretical physics.  He and Papyrus had both been ravenous with books before Gaster took them to the lab, Papyrus doing multi-page theoretical derivations for fun while he'd been content to just read.  Gaster had always sneered, saying that he was a distant second to his brother's intelligence.  

He'd once protested.


Once was enough.

The book was battered, the spine creased, paper cover frayed and worn along the edges.  A folded slip of paper hung out of the top, marking someone's place a quarter of the way in.  

With a gulp, he pressed his elbows into the mattress and dug his heels into the mattress, pushing himself into more of a sitting position.  There was pain, but he swallowed it back, distantly thankful that there was likely some sort of painkillers in him also.  His new position bought the nightstand closer, much closer, the book tantalizingly close... to his left side.  

He looked at his hands again, then back to the book.  

The fingers of his left hand twitched, and that was more than enough encouragement.  Gingerly, he stretched out, a low rumble in his chest as the volume was swatted clumsily off the night stand and onto the mattress by his elbow.  His fine motor control was absolutely shite but he didn't care, not in the slightest, as he got it propped up against his femurs.  His phalanges trembled violently, but as he focused on the words, everything else fell away.

"You're late, runt."

His brother had his long arms folded over his sternum as Sans made his way in, pushing past a seated Undyne and a pacing Alphys.  Gerson was in the corner, his shell against the wall, looking for all the world like he was asleep.  

He'd walked into the middle of what was apparently, or had been, a heated debate, with the battle-lines clearly drawn, judging by arrangement.  His brother and Alphys looked to be one faction, with Alphys playing her normal fence-sitter, and Gerson opposing.  Lovely.

"Took the long way around," he replied, realizing his brother was looking for some sort of response.  He perched on a free chair, keeping his hands deep in his pockets, nerves on edge given the whirling of emotions and undercurrents of magic swirling around the safe room.  

"Wha's so important tha' ya kept messagin'?" he asked into the uncomfortable silence, flicking his eyelights to Gerson.  For as much as he looked like he was asleep, Sans was no fool.  

The turtle was a seething volcano.

Undyne ran a finger along the ugly scar that ran along her eye socket, scratching the dry scales there.  "This skeleton Onionsan found.  There's no way this guy isn't a plant from Asgore.  We need to get rid of this fucker before he can get any information back to the Capitol, or we're all dust."

Predictably, Gerson exploded.  "Are you daft, lassie?  The laddie was half dead, is still half dead.  Asgore doesn't have the wit to wipe his own arse, let alone work up a plant like that."  His eyes were hard, and his beak clicked with each consonant.  

"We can check, it's not like the option isn't there," Alphys looked up from her phone, the screen reflecting on her glasses as she cocked her head.  

"IT COULD DUST HIM!" Gerson roared, his patience obviously fraying.

"Wha' are ya talkin' about?" Sans broke in, casting a glance to his to-this-point stoic brother.

Alphys was focused back on her phone, thick thumbs working the keys busily.  "The mystery skeleton," she squinted at the tiny screen.  "Before Onionsan got him, there's no trace of him anywhere on any of my cameras.  Undyne and your brother think he's a spy from Asgore, poking around.  Gerson doesn't know.  I don't care, unless he has information I can use."

"So wha' can dust 'im?"

 Papyrus finally straightened, his red eyelights sharp.  "Alphys has some sort of truth-serum we can question him with, but she's not sure of any side-effects."

His mandible dropped, his own eyelights freezing.  "Ya can't be serious."

His brother's arms dropped from his sternum, and instead he began massaging his own temples, as if to stave off a headache.  "Sans, we don't have a choice.  We have to be sure.  If he really is a spy for Asgore, we're all in danger."

The argument sounded old, repeated, and Sans could feel his own magic bristling.  "Even if it kills 'im?  Boss, he's a half-dead kid.  His-" he paused, not sure how to frame his words.  Magic was deeply personal, and the small bit they'd shared, however unintentional, was still something to be considered.  "He's been through a lot," he finished lamely.

He could feel Papyrus and Undyne both staring at him, appraising.  

"My vote is no," he said bluntly, wiping a bead of sweat from his skull before folding his arms across his ribs.  If they all wanted to be combative, he could oblige.  

Gerson's shell scraped against the wall as he shifted back against it.  "I'm with the lad, no.  I'll not be party to dustin' any more innocents."  His voice cracked fractionally at the end.

Undyne did her best to not flinch at it.  Gerson had essentially raised her as well, and his conviction impressed her as always.  Regardless, he had taught her, taught them all, to think for themselves, to balance out costs, to think for the greater good to protect the greatest number from the madman on the throne.  "Yes," she said simply.

"Need to make sure the serum works," was the response from Alphys, drawing a small growl from Gerson.  

Papyrus tilted his head forward, his sockets darkening.  Long seconds passed with no sound save the keypad from Alphys' phone.  "We can't risk everything we've worked on, Sans," his voice was low, but drowned out the clicks from the phone.  "With a spy here, Asgore would decimate us.  I'm sorry, but we have to know where he came from and who he is.  Our species is dead; Gaster was too thorough for a skeleton to just appear."

He straightened, his full height towering over the room's other occupants.  "Tomorrow I'll pay a visit to the scavengers that claimed to have found him, then we'll talk to him, and we'll get answers, or we'll send him back to Asgore the same we he showed up here."


Chapter Text

Getting any viable information from scavengers was nothing else but pulling teeth, at the best of times.  

Papyrus despised it.  

Most of the residents of Snowdin toed the line - just wanting to survive another day without dusting... or having dust on their own hands.  Live-and-let-live was very much the unspoken motto of the town.

Scavengers were a different breed entirely.  Scavengers, LV hunters, slavers - an entire subculture of filth existed outside Snowdin's walls, in the bogs and caverns of Waterfall, in the volcanic fissures of Hotlands.  They didn't care who, or what, they hurt or destroyed, not really.  They viewed anyone, any thing not in their immediate circle as disposable, as a potential source of income.  

One day, some day, he would clean out the filth.  

In the meantime, they could be used as tools, and he'd become very good at exploiting that.

He pushed he way into the bodega-type shop as Sans made himself scarce, staying in the shadows outside, but within earshot.  His brother was still angry at him, his magic simmering so badly he could feel it radiating from his collar.

He fought the urge to tug on it as he cleared the doorway, buried as it was beneath his jacket and scarf.  They couldn't risk the unknown skeleton being an attempt by Asgore to plant a deep cover operative, not even if he was another skeleton.  Sans was just going to have to deal with that until after Alphys used her truth serum.  

He purposely didn't think of what would end up happening after the questioning, either way.  His brother had enough dark spots on his SOUL.  The idea of taking away anything, anyone that bought his older brother any sort of joy, of hope, was abhorrent.  But it wasn't just about Sans, it was about all of them.  

They, he, just couldn't risk it.  

A fleeting movement from the back corner of the shop had him tipping his head fractionally.  Doggo waved again before leaning back against the wall, a smoking biscuit tight between his canines (heh).  He'd been smoking more of them since his trip into Onionsan's territory; he'd have to ask the rest of the pack to keep an eye on him.  

Bratty and Catty were, clearly, not particularly pleased to see him.  They didn't look surprised, either, for what that was worth, and that verification was worth the trip to the shop in and of itself.  Bratty glared at him from behind the counter, her arms folded tightly under her breasts.  Catty tucked herself behind, her tail visibly lashing, ears arched back along her skull.

"Lieutenant, it's a pleasure to see you," Bratty cracked her jaw open wide enough to display the vast majority of her very sharp teeth.  

He scoffed, his sockets closing fractionally.  "Bullshit," he pulled no punches, one hand on his exposed hip bone.  "You two have some interesting information, I'm told.  It would pleasure you more to share it."

They didn't even bother to outright deny his claim; this wasn't their first rodeo either.  Catty leaned up, whispered into Bratty's ear, then shrunk back down behind with only her ear-tip peeking over the alligator monster's shoulder.  Interesting.  They were acting like a bonded pair, but Sans hadn't reported them getting to that stage of their relationship yet.  Interesting

"What's in it for us?"

Doggo had to hide his muzzle behind a paw in the back corner as he choked on his biscuit's smoke.  

Papyrus smiled.  

It wasn't a nice smile.

It was toothier than that of Bratty earlier.  

Doggo had to turn sideways to hide his face.

Papyrus stretched to his full height, towering over the two smaller monsters, who had at some point somehow forgotten just who he was.  

"That looks like un-tariffed merchandise to me," he spoke softly, yet his words filled the entire shop.  "Do you, by chance, have your tax receipts?  You are, you recall, obligated legally to keep them for seven years."  He held his phalanges near his sockets, cleaning imaginary bits of dirt from beneath their sharpened edges.  Holding his hand out before him, he inspected his work carefully, twisting to catch all the angles in the light.  

Neither monster behind the counter moved.

In a blink, Mr. Nice Papyrus was gone, the Lieutenant of Snowdin in his place.  Both fists slammed into the counter, leaving a jagged crack across the cheap wood.  Despite the violence of his action, he tilted his head up, and smiled.  "Would you like to reconsider your last answer?"

Sans chuckled to himself from the doorway as words began tumbling, a veritable flood of words, pouring out of each.

They'd sent Doggo off to rejoin his pack after Bratty and Catty had spilled their entire life stories.  

There was enough ammunition against them in the scribbled note Sans had taken to keep them on the straight and narrow for decades.

Papyrus flipped over the pages, frowning at what wasn't there.  

They'd found the skeleton, wrapped in what looked like the remains of a hospital gown, on the outskirts of the dump, on top of most of the detritus, save some cabling and wires that had been wrapped pretty well around his legs.  That suggested he'd been there at least a few hours, given how fast things cycled in and out of the dump, how active the scavengers were.  

But there'd been no evidence of him walking there, being staged there.  It was like he had appeared from thin air.  That didn't make sense though; Gerson and his brother had been very, very clear there was absolutely no way the skeleton had the magic reserves to sneeze, let alone teleport.  So how did he get into the dump?  They'd also made it exceedingly clear that he hadn't walked there, not on a broken leg, certainly without not leaving a trail.

Papyrus was more than a little fond of puzzles, but this one was... wrong.  

His brother slouched next to him, the top of his skull level with the bottom of his sternum.  He was still barely speaking to his younger brother, and had made it clear he wouldn't until it was "out of his system", as he'd termed it.

Years of practice hid his sigh from anyone who might be watching.  

"Runt," he kicked out at his brother's ankle, and was easily avoided.  "Let's get moving, we have an appointment to keep."

It was done in a second, his whine of pained surprise muffled behind a hand over his mouth.  The book, forgotten on his lap after he had fallen asleep with it, was forgotten again as it clattered to the floor.

A band of silky fabric was over his eyes, tight to his skull before he was awake, aware enough to focus, and all he could feel were presences, each with sparking magic.  His right arm, strapped as it was, stayed against his chest, as unseen hands reached under his humeri and pulled him to a fully seated position.  His left hand flailed out, mirroring his rising panic, the pain of it striking an unseen body adding fuel.  

Voices around him rang out, but it was one of the hands supporting him that slipped away for a moment before catching him by the wrist, bringing his hand to rest against his chest.  The unknown kept his hand gently pinned as the voices kept going, and slowly words began to filter through.  

"Don't let him hurt himself more, ya daft ninnies!"  A familiar voice nearly hissed, and Sans placed it cautiously as the turtle monster?  But he'd seemed so... so... not like the orderlies from the lab.  What had changed, what was going on?

He whined again, deep in his chest, as his SOUL pulsed erratically behind his sternum.  The arm still around him shifted, going around his upper rib cage, and pulled him closer to... a chest?  He was on a lap?  A soft puff on the side of his skull, against his acoustic meati, and a gruffly familiar voice was murmuring to him.  

All he could hear was the rattling of his bones.

Sans glared up at his brother, red eyelights sharp, flinty, as their unknown skeleton threatened to shake himself apart in his arms.  Papyrus didn't flinch, not outright, but the dip of his chin let his brother know that perhaps this approach hadn't been the best.  

Gerson was still raging at Undyne, the old turtle positively spitting in his anger.  "Ya daft ninnies, I'm ashamed 'o ye lot."  His volume kept dropping, becoming more dangerous, until he slung a fist into the wall.  "I'll be outside, Sans, can ye grab me when tha' rest of these idiots are done.  I'll no be party to this."  The door slammed behind his shell, so hard it rattled the nightstand.  

He ducked his head back against the unknown's, humming a half-remembered tune as the other again tried to flail his left hand.  He shifted his own, twining his fingers carefully between the rigidly stiff ones, careful of the amputation site.  "Com'on, kiddo, breath," he spoke against the other's skull as his chest hitched. 

It took long minutes, but the other finally stilled, his remaining fingers gripping tightly, like Sans was his lifeline.  

Undyne had the good grace to look at least slightly guilty as she pushed up out of the chair she'd commandeered.  "OK, so, skeleton dude.  The blindfold is for our protection, so you're going to have do deal with that, punk."  Her voice had sent the other trembling again, but Sans pulled him a bit closer.  Maybe if he could get the other to focus on the steadiness of his SOULbeat, it'd be easier to keep him calm.  

Or so he told himself.  His alternative was to beat the tar out of the fish monster, and neither Alphys or his brother would take that well.  

She rubbed at her eye-scar again, a nervous habit.  "We have a few questions for you, and we have to have the complete and total truth.  It's going to suck for you, punk, but Al- we, have a truth serum."

Alphys rolled her eyes at her girlfriend as she twiddled with the syringe in her hands.  "It's a truth serum with an extract from the magic of a Whimsum.  He had a lovely ability that made everyone around him susceptible to suggestion, and no one realized it until he had..." she trailed off as soon as she realized that Undyne, Papyrus, and Sans were all giving her a less than pleasant set of looks.  "It'll make it so you're compelled to answer, truthfully," she finished off, rolling the syringe again between her thick fingers.

The smaller skeleton squeezed down on the hand in his again, blunted phalanx-tips scraping against the bone.  

"This will be unpleasant, so I'd suggest not fighting it," she suggested helpfully as she motioned to Papyrus.  

The Lieutenant lifted his control hand, ignoring the look of disappointment on his brother's face, ignoring the smallest skeleton's struggles in his grasp, ignored the nearly silent 'I'm sorry's', the 'I won't try to escape again's', the 'don't hurt my brother's' crawled up his spine, as he pulled his magic forward and summoned the other's SOUL.

Chapter Text

The room was silent save for the heaving pants of the small skeleton, at least until Alphys murmured "Fascinating," under her breath, stepping closer to examine the SOUL hanging in the air before them.  

Sans held the now-stiff body carefully, his own blown eyelights matching that of his brother.  Undyne, Captain of the Royal Guard, who's LV of 14 hinted of unspoken tales of dusting, of bloodshed, of sheer violence, was greener around her gills than she normally was, eyes unblinking.

Their skeleton's SOUL was off-white, the palest hints of blue magic curving around its curves... its unnatural curves.

The poor bastard's SOUL looked like it had been attacked by a melon baller, its surface resembling a golfball more than a SOUL.  A patch of its surface looked, stars above, sewn on, the darker orange clashing against the sickly color of the native magic.  The chunk of transplanted material looked like it was held on by thread, the ragged stitches looking like they were leaking raw magic.  The entire thing looked swollen, painful.  There was no way any monster in their right mind would allow such a desecration to their SOUL, so what had happened?

Sweet Angel.

Alphys was the only one not stunned, instead moving forward.  Her clawed hand pulled the inverted heart close, then plunged the syringe deep.

The stiff body somehow went even stiffer, spine impossibly straight.  His jaw dropped, but the scream was silent.

His SOUL's scream was, too, the entire organ clenching down visibly as the needle was pulled free.  

"Fascinating," Alphys repeated, shoving her glasses further up her nose as she let the SOUL go, walking around it.  A notepad appeared in her hand, pulled from her lab coat's myriad pockets, and she began scribbling frantically.  "There appears to be a transplanted membrane of magic on the surface of subject's SOUL.  Obvious inflammation, seepage of magical residue.  Additional seepage at the injection site.  Interference with truth serum unanticipated."  The faster she spoke, the more excited she got, eyes bright and glistening.  "Questioning can begin presently."

Papyrus glanced to the lizard monster.  "Are... is his SOUL in an acceptable condition?"

"It shouldn't interfere with this, no, though I'd love to get my claws on it later.  I've never seen one in a condition this bad without the owner being Fallen or in the process of dusting and it-"

Sans shut out the other three as they began discussing who'd be asking what, letting his magic flare out at his brother in his rage.  Papyrus visibly ignored it, but there was a glint in his eye that let Sans know he was aware of it.  Good.

The smaller skeleton finally went lax, like a puppet with its strings cut, slumping back against him.  He was adjusted carefully, arms loosely folded over his chest as Sans wrapped him like a babybones in the blanket.  Gerson had made the decision to not slide him into a shirt lest it somehow catch on his hands, but the kid deserved at least a bit of modesty. 

The barest hint of moisture soaked into the blindfold, tracing where the rims of the sockets would be beneath.  

Guilt was not an emotion a Sans was familiar with, per se.  He was familiar with remorse, for inaction, for not moving fast enough.  He was familiar with regret, for the same, for not holding his end of a bargain or the like.  Guilt, for allowing this farce to happen, was a relatively rare emotion.  He hated it.  

He apologized softly, against the skull of the smaller skeleton, for not having stopped this before it all began.  He just hoped the other heard, and could find it in himself to grant the forgiveness he asked for.

Undyne huffed, meeting the flinty red eyelights with a hard look of her own.  She honestly wouldn't put Asgore above doing this, as a way of coercing a plant, but given the response from Alphys, if he had, he'd kept it secret from the Royal Scientist.  Unless Ga-he had somehow come back, but the odds of that were even smaller?  She worked the muscles of her neck, forcing her concern back to the task at hand.  Questions.  She had questions that needed answers.  

She nodded to Papyrus, who, with a disgusted twist to his mandible, wrapped long phalanges around the damaged SOUL, letting it rest in his grasp.  Alphys had insisted that he would know if there was any untruths, fallacies in what the unknown monster said, that the serum now coursing within somehow bonded with his own native magic.  To be fair, Alphys had explained the entire scenario with pictures and diagrams with circles and arrows and formulaic equations that only she and Sans had any chance of understanding.  

She trusted her partner to know her business.

"All right, punk.  We're going to start easy.  Like she said, it'll go a lot easier on you if you tell the truth."

He had a momentary flash of something rare, indecision.  The SOUL, the poor bastard's misshapen SOUL, hung just above his outstretched hands, and while he was no expert, he was pretty sure it was smaller than it was supposed to be.  If there wasn't so damned much at stake, he would have called this entire fiasco off.  

How in the Angel's name had this skeleton not dusted?

The SOUL settled into his grasp and he couldn't suppress a shudder at the moist that accompanied the slight weight.  Now that the organ was closer, he couldn't draw his gaze away from the stitches that held the orange patch to the main body of the SOUL, or how the patch seemed to sag over where there were... divots... beneath.  

His own SOUL pulsed in displeasure.

Undyne, hands on her hips, raised an eyebrow at him, and he gave her a nod.  He was as ready for this as he would ever be; there was no point in delaying.  

She sat on the edge of the nightstand, arms folded across her chest.  "What's your name?"

Sans flinched as the smaller skeleton jerked a final time against the gravity magic against him before the body stilled, then again as he answered, his soft voice cracking from disuse. 


The four exchanged wide-eyed glances, Sans pulling back to look at the smaller, then to his brother.  Papyrus stared at the SOUL in his hands, red eyelights bright, as if the longer, harder he gave it the look, the answer would change.  Alphys made a curious sound, scribbling in a near-indecipherable scrawl on her pad.  

Skeletons, traditionally, were named for fonts.  Nothing strange there.  Given just how rare their kind was, maybe it was actually common. 

The SOUL pulsed weakly from its position in Papyrus's grasp, a prickle of what he realized was truth radiating off the SOUL, brushing against his magic.  Given the second exchange of glances, they all felt it.  Alphys wrote faster, flipping to the next sheet.  Without looking up, she waved her free hand at Undyne to continue.

"How old are you?" she asked, going from their discussed list of baseline questions.  

The smaller Sans was trembling, the blindfold soaking up more of his tears.  "Nineteen or twenty?"  His response came out as more of a question, the accompanying magical pulse weak, unsure.  His SOUL again spasmed, its already dim light darkening.  

Alphys glanced up.  "That response is indicative of true uncertainty, by the way.  Its unknown if there would be permanents effects from a line of questioning that goes along those lines.  Given that this is a first experiment, please don't."

Undyne's lip twisted, more at the uncertainty than at her girlfriend's enthusiasm.  "You don't even know how old you are?  Who sent you?  Was it King Asgore?"

"I don't know anymore," his voice broke again but was otherwise devoid of emotion.  "I-I lost time when he... he..." he choked off, but the clenching of his left hand didn't go unnoticed.  

Undyne's temper flared as the skeleton trailed off, sounding lost.  Her momentary flash of surprise over verification of his age was drowned out as she instead focused on what he didn't answer.  

She pushed herself up, lurching forward like a pouncing tiger.  She loomed over the skeletons on the bed, ignoring the magic seeping from Sans's... their Sans's sockets.  The little punk, who had to be an imposter, visibly cringed as the darkness of her LV started to pervade the room.  Their Sans, the real Sans, kept his grip steady on the other, and that had her snarl.  This fucking little punk, this plant, was already trying to divide them?  This would end now.

She yanked him away by the blanket, ignoring Sans and his angry yell, her world shrinking away to the pinched and skeletal (heh) face before her.  

Maybe if her LV hadn't been flaring, she'd have noticed just how light he was.  "Who.  Sent.  You?" she growled, giving him a shake as his left hand came up to try to grasp her wrist, the pressure barely registering.  

"I-I don't know an Asgore," he stammered, his SOUL nearly dark in Papyrus's hands.  'Pap-Papyrus sent me... in... in the machine."

The wave of truth was palpable, like a smack to her face. 

But he wasn't done.  "The doctor... he took Papy away... 'n hurt us... 'n left me alone," his voice broke again on that word, tears now flowing freely from beneath the blindfold.  "B-but Papy came 'n sent me here but he left me alone."  His words began to run together, chest heaving, words about machines and devices and hands and things she didn't even understand, his breath coming faster.

She dropped him as if she were burnt, ignoring the sickly crack as his broken leg buckled under the sudden impact.  Her eyes flashed to Papyrus, wondering just what kind of fucking joke he was trying to pull.  Her LV flared, angry, searing -

Until the look on his face finally hit home.  He had absolutely no idea what this punk was talking about.  

Her eyes moved to Sans, and his jaw was to his sternum.  Magic was still curling from him, but his eyelights were pinpricks.

Alphys talking, her words so fast they nearly slurred together, finally made their way through the fog, her LV sinking back beneath the surface.  Sans, moving off the bed now, carefully approached the other skeleton, who was curled into a fetal ball.  Papyrus stared at the SOUL in his hands like he'd seen a ghost.  

"Al," she broke off her girlfriend, so off-center that the name slipped from her without realization, feeling like she was waking from a dream.  "Do you know what he's talking about?"

The lizard monster looked up from her notes, face flushed with excitement.  "I... I think... He essentially just verified that the theory Sans and I worked on forever at the lab was right!" her voice had gone up in pitch as she resumed her scribbling, muttering about 'information' and searching for any remnants of the machinery at the dump.  

Undyne sank back against the nightstand she'd been on earlier, stunned.  "He's... not a plant."

She sounded surprised, uncertain, and she hated herself for it.  

Sans exploded, his magic leakage from his socket now so intense that it wreathed his skull.  "No fucking shit," he hissed as he carefully tugged the blanket away from the pile of bones.  "Like I had fucking'been tellin' ya.  Like Gerson has fucking been tellin' ya."  He finally got the blanket untangled and pushed it to the side as he carefully probed the suspect femur.  "No offense, Cap'n, but yer a fuckin' idiot."

Alphys was so absorbed she didn't even register the insult to her girlfriend, one that would have normally had her seething.  Instead, she gathered herself.  Alphys had always had a short attention span at best, and the broken skeleton now didn't rank on her list.  Not with verification of one of the greatest theories of physics of their age!  She grabbed Undyne roughly by the wrist and pushed out into the hallway.

The fish monster paused for a moment, her normally expressive face blank.  "We'll... talk later?"  The door clicked shut as she vanished.

Papyrus focused back on the SOUL still in his hands, cursing silently as he realized there were tiny motes of dust falling onto his bones.  He stepped closer to his brother, ignoring his snarl as he knelt.  A flick of his wrist had the SOUL vanishing back where it belonged, though the new Sans showed no sign of its return.  

His Sans had pulled the now-wet blindfold from the other Sans, though the other's eyelights were black pits. He'd been warned, they'd all been warned, that this new skeleton was fragile at best, and the stress of having his SOUL plucked from him had sapped most of his free magic.  Now he cursed, wondering where Gerson had gotten off to.  

His brother didn't protest as he scooped up the tiny skeleton without a word and set him back on the mattress, taking care to make sure his legs remained straight.  Instead, he stayed crouched, and dragged a phalanx across the cold floor, before holding the digit close, holding it so close his eyelights nearly went crossed.  

"Dust," he murmured softly before wiping his hands off on his shorts, silently shaking out the blanket over the still form.  He busied himself with adjusting the re-broken leg, pulling a roll of bandaging from Gerson's bag, cursing under his breath at disappearing turtles and stupid lizards and fish-bitches and idiots who let things happen.

"Sans."  His voice seemed to echo in the small room.  "I'm sorry."

Red laughed mirthlessly, darkly.  "I'm not th' one ya should be apologizin' to."

Chapter Text

He'd been loathe to do it, but he had left the... other... Sans for a moment to track down Gerson.  

The older monster had been out in the corridor, around a turn, but had heard most of what had happened, and was... 

The turtle was displeased.  

Sans had followed the stench of brimstone, which in and of itself should have been a hint on the turtle monster's frame of mind.  He'd been distracted, something he cursed himself for, viciously, as he made the turn, a wave of heat slamming into his bones.  

No, the other was more than displeased.  He was irate.  

He had, at some point, punched the rock facing so hard that great chunks of rock had sheered off, leaving all sorts of debris on the floor.  His magic, hot, heavy, angry... and fire-based, was like a scorching volcano, and was second only to a display of rage he'd once seen from a fire elemental.  He was essentially the magma chamber of a volcano, and he was about to blow.

Well shit.

Gerson was standing in the center of a literal ring of fire, raw red magic writhing on the floor like it was alive.  His long neck was outstretched, his beak snapping in agitation, and the veins between bulged.  His goatee looked... singed... at the ends, indicative of just how much heat he was producing.  

It wasn't just raging magic at play though; Sans had felt this before.  A few times from Undyne, once before from Gerson himself... more times than he'd care to remember from the King, after a Judgement.  

No, this wasn't just magic.  This was something far more dangerous, more unpredictable, more deadly.

This was LV taking control.

"Cap'n?" he called, over the dull roar of raging magic.  For what was probably the first time in his life, he wished that Undyne was somewhere nearby, but she had left with Alphys, the other direction, towards Hotland and the research labs.  

He really had no idea what he would do, could do, if Gerson couldn't get control of himself.  Gambling, he gathered a bit of magic and sent a diagnostic check towards the elder, tension visible around his sockets.  

Gerson, at the end of the War, had 14 LV, the same amount Undyne currently held.  He'd done his best, discretely, to keep it there, to not gain any more, but their world wasn't very cooperative.  Time had passed, centuries, and situations that couldn't be avoided, well, weren't avoided.

The turtle before him now had 18 LV.  To the best of his knowledge, only Asgore had more.  

And Asgore had been driven mad by it.  

And now Gerson looked like he was walking that ledge.

"Cap'n?" he called again, louder, carefully pulling his magic around himself like it would shield him.  

It wouldn't, not if Gerson really lost it.  

The best he could hope for was a quick 'port.  He took a short inhale through his nasal aperture, helping to level out the magic around him.  Yeah.  A 'port back to the safe room, grab the kid, then a blind 'port to another safe.  

His brother would be pissed at him, for sure, for going back for the other, instead of getting the fuck out, but whatever.  

He was used to Papyrus being pissed at him, at least this time it would be for something worthwhile.

The turtle monster shifted toward him, another wave of heat echoing his motion.  It hit his skull like he was working a blast furnace without any protective gear, his bone warming uncomfortably fast.  

"Need ya ta calm down, Cap," he made a placating gesture with his hands, knowing it was a crap shoot if it would help, or even register.  "Ya should head home for tha night."

No recognition, the turtle's normally dark eyes ringed with a halo as red as his magic.  

Another tactic then.  "Kid's fine, sir."  Better to be too polite, too formal.  Hell, it might even help pull Gerson from his episode.  "He's just gonna sleep off tha day, yeah?  Be right as rain tomorrow."

The temperature dropped, fractionally, but Sans knew better than to count his hotcats before they were ripe.

Gerson was still past the point of speech, still hair-trigger.  "All yer kids're fine."  He took a deep breath.  "Paps an' 'dyne an' 'm an' tha kid, we're all fine."  His accent slipped, getting thicker with his nerves, and it took a real force of effort to not visibly show them.  Instead, he kept talking about Undyne's training, of Paps and his promotion, of Alphys and her labs.  

And slowly it worked, the temperature continuing to slowly drop as the rage of the fire, behind the fire, eased.  His bones felt overly dry, brittle, but he'd count that as a fair trade for success, for Gerson not falling victim to his own LV.  

The ancient turtle finally blinked slowly, as if waking from a dream.  Around him, there was no evidence of his rage other than rocks radiating absorbed heat, and cinders that had once been spiderwebs, a few scorch marks along the ground.  The scent of brimstone, of burnt, lingered, and would continue to do so, but Sans let his shoulders slump, satisfied that they were out of the danger zone.  

"Sans?" Gerson asked, retracting most of his still-extended neck back into his shell, where it was safe and unexposed.  "Laddie, did I-"

He simply nodded, keeping a respectful distance.  He needed to pull off his sweatshirt, desperately wanted to scrub the scorch and stench of fire from his bones, but priorities.  "Ya, Cap'n, ya did.  's fine, nothin' happened."  He shifted, mentally counting how long he'd been away.  "Ya should go home, sir.  Come tomorrow, I can take care'f tha kid tonight."

Moving like a zombie, he nodded, turning and walking like he was still not totally aware of where he was.  To be fair, Sans would have been surprised if he had been.  

LV did brutal things to a monster, and one monster at 10 LV was not the same as another at the same point.  Every time a monster had an episode where their LV tried to take over, they were all different.  Different triggers, different durations, different results.  

It was the crapshoot of their world, and more times than not, it left dust in its wake.  

Thank the Angel Gerson had something firm to ground him, otherwise half of Waterfall would have been evaporated.

The smaller Sans wasn't on the bed when got the door open, and his immediate check was to the knob.  Yes, it had still been sealed, and there was no way the other would have been able to force it with his current magic levels.  

He pushed the door closed behind him, cocking his head.  "Sans?" he called, keeping his voice low, level, despite the adrenaline of having just dealt with Gerson.  The strangeness of calling his own name was easily brushed off.  He took the five steps he needed to cross the room, to come even with the foot of the bed, then stretched on his toes to get a look to the far side.

The smaller skeleton had gotten himself into the narrow space between the bed and wall, his spine pressed against the wall.  His re-broken leg was stretched out straight, sticking out of the spare pair of shorts he'd dug out of his closet.  He hadn't worn them in years, but only their elastic waistband kept them seated on the other's slender hips.  His other leg was folded up tight to him, his mandible nearly resting on it, with his mangled hand held.  His skull was bowed, his left hand scratching shallow grooves in the bone.  

Marrow stained the bone around the amputation site, leaving trails across his skull.  

He went flat-footed again, making sure to scuff his sneakers as he sat on the foot of the bed.  He didn't want the kid to feel trapped, not with the very real potential of losing him to Falling.  "Sans, huh?" he tried again, his hands deep in his hoodie pockets, worrying loose strings at the seams.  "You're a long way from home, kid."

That got his attention, and his chin came up, sockets lit only by the smallest of lights.  Judging from the clarity of them, most of that stars-damned serum was out of his system  The bags underneath his eyes emphasized the thinness of the bone, exaggerated by the shadows cast off the bed.  

"I don't have a home," was the soft response, the hand that had been scratching falling.  He stared at it for a moment, as if not comprehending, then pulled it so it was holding his opposite elbow.

Sans frowned, concerned that the ki-, the other Sans had managed to get himself so condensed.  That had to hurt.  A lot.

"Wanna come up here?" he asked, punctuating with a few pats on the mattress.  

Huge, dark sockets met his, and he mentally berated himself.  Of fucking course he wasn't going to want to come up into the open.  If they had just been patient before trying to pull information from him, if he had just nixed the entire Angel-damned thing.  Again, that pang of that weird emotion, of regret, raced through his SOUL.  Fuck.  

What was done was done though.  Better start with the small things.  

He shifted, considering.  How had Gerson managed to coax out a pair of babybones, who had no reason to trust anyone, let along an ancient turtle with a foul mouth and a sometimes worse attitude?

The barely audible rattle of bones helped decide the path.  "Cold?"

He honestly couldn't feel it himself, not with a healthy amount of magic flowing through his mana channels, with his normal clothes on, and definitely not after having the top layer of calcium singed off by Gerson's temper tantrum.  The other sure could though, the rattling coming from him, and an epiphany hit him like a ton of bricks.  He was curled up like that in an attempt to conserve heat.  

He'd once curled up with Papyrus in the same manner.  

Round sockets met his again, followed by a shaky nod.  

The blanket had somehow found its way to the floor on the far side of the room during the earlier shitshow, and Sans slid off the bed and went to retrieve it.  The other's eyes didn't leave him, and Sans had the distinct impression the other was trying to plot an escape route.  

If... This was another version of him, assuming the science was right.  He suppressed a snort at that.  Of course the science was right.  He'd run the original equations, he'd seen all the research, all the math.  There was literally nothing else he could be.  

If positions had been reversed, swapped, he knew he'd sure the hell be looking for an out.  

His mind wanted to continue along that line of thought, to analyze that mass of emotions and memories? and images he'd gotten from the other earlier in the shock of magic, but he pushed it back for later, instead shaking out the blanket, draping it over his arm, and returning to the bed.  "Can I sit?" he asked, gesturing at the edge of the mattress, just out of arm's reach.

There was a distinct look of suspicion, one that was out of place on the otherwise open skull.  The rattling became more pronounced and he scrunched himself smaller, if that was possible.  

He raised a bone-brow.  He was being civil, downright polite by his standards.  What was up with this guy?  So he asked.  "Wha's your malfunction" he asked, trying to keep his tone light.  "Can I sit?" he asked again.

He failed, if the flinch was any evidence.  "Ya need to use your words, Sans.  Talk ta me."

He tipped his head back up with the repetition of his name.  It'd been so long since he'd been called that, been called anything other than 'subject' or some series of numbers.  It was... nice... but at the same time, wrong.  

He hadn't been Sans in a long time.

He had, however, been somewhat conditioned to answer direct statements.  

"Why are you asking my permission?" he asked softly, hiding a cringe behind his unbroken femur as a wave of pain went up his other leg.  "Doesn't matter what I want.  Gas- The Doctor doesn't care."

He missed the flinch from the broader skeleton.

He didn't miss the few quick steps and the sudden weight of the blanket draping over his bare clavicles.  The other was kneeling before him now, having backed out of arms reach after placing the blanket, red eyelights sharp, intent.  "Tha Doc ain't here.  And I sure the fuck don't care what tha bastard wants."

He felt his eyelights go wide at the force of the utter conviction that pulsed through the air.  His jaw dropped slightly before he closed it with a rushed click of teeth.  The words from earlier swirled in his mind, and he poked through them carefully, leaving some for later, picking a few specific ones out.  "The... fish lady..." he felt faint thinking about her, though he acknowledged that could well be exhaustion. 

"Undyne," the other supplied shortly, a cross look on his face at the name.  

He repeated it, rolling the unfamiliar name around in his mind a few times before saying it.  "Undyne."  He paused, framing his words.  "She... Pap- My brother... he got me out of the cell."  That he knew, was certain of.  He met the taller skeleton's gaze and kept it.  "He... put me in a machine?  On the bench of it..."  He frowned, gritting his teeth.  "He sent me somewhere."

Sans nodded in silent affirmation.  The kid's SOUL was practically broadcasting his emotions, that was something he'd have to work with him on and fast.  That kind of shit, random projections, would get a monster dusted real fast if they were in the wrong place.  But... they were honest emotions.  That wasn't the sort of shit you could fake.

"Where am I?" he asked, eyes still locked to the other set, suddenly feeling very small.  

The taller skeleton didn't answer, just shrugged.  "Let's make a deal, yeah?"

The smaller shrank back again, bones seeming to pick up a chalky texture.  "Deal?" he parroted, as if he'd never spoken the words before.

There were motes of dust falling from the kid's bones again.  Sans saw them in the dim light as they landed amongst the folds of the blanket.  "Yeah, a deal.  You let me help ya get patched up, an' we'll sit an' hash some stuff out, get ya fed 'n cleaned up."

"You'll stay?" the smaller blurted, before burying his face back against his femur, the lightest tinge of blue on his cheekbones.

Dusting whoever the fuck had done this would be too easy an out for them.

He didn't sigh.  He couldn't.  

He hadn't been, Papyrus hadn't been, much different, before Gerson found them.

"Ya kid, I ain't goin' anywhere."

The pin-prick eyelights got larger, as if he'd been offered the entire Underground on a plate, and Sans again thanked the Angel that Gerson wasn't here for this.

Chapter Text

It had taken longer than he wanted to get the other Sans up and onto the bed, out of the cramped corner he'd been mashed into.  He was still shivering though, from physical and magical exhaustion, as well as chill, and he made the executive decision to find a shirt loose enough to get onto him that wouldn't impact the bandages on his hands.  The other was slow, stiff in his motions, as if he were an elder and not a young adult.  

Sans got another look at his bones as he got him seated, sheer rage shoved to the back of his mind as he tried to not look too hard at the chips, the ridges that suggested previous breaks, of injection site scarring.  

His own bones were nothing pretty, nor were his brothers.  Both carried chips and gouges and whatnot from years of rough living.  Hell, Papyrus was missing one of his floating ribs; it'd snapped off after an unfortunate incident with a Woshua, and not even green magic could heal everything.  Their cracks, chips... they were scattered, randomly acquired over time.  Some stretches of bone were immaculate, pristine, while some, mostly their arm bones, were pretty roughed up.

This guy had a battlefield on every bone.  

And battlefield fit in more than just the sheer amount of damage done to them.  

The scars on the bones were uniform, like they'd been measured, then cut, precisely, like a general would draw battle lines on a map.

Calm.  He had to stay calm.  The kid had already proven himself sensitive to magic leakage, and given how overwrought he was starting to look, it was just another can of worms he didn't want to get into.  

He got the other settled back up on the mattress with a minimum of talking, the other's spine against the wall, still swaddled in the blanket.  His old gym shorts hung loosely, and he made a note to look for additional pants when he was digging for that shirt.  

Bandages were still sat on the side table from before Undyne's rash of stupidity.  And his brother's, if he was going to be honest with himself.  And his own.  He knew Alphys had been going nuttier every day, her constant exposure, her constant summons by Asgore was pushing her further down the path she'd started on long ago, but hadn't realized just how far down the rabbit hole she'd gone.  

Fucking Asgore.  

He clamped on that emotion roughly when pinprick eyelights focused on him.  

"'m shit all fer green magic, but we can get it wrapped pretty well 'til tomorrow.  Ya look like ya could use some sleep anyway."

The other Sans nodded slowly, cautiously, his hands still tucked carefully against his chest.  It didn't hide his wince though.  

He began slowly, pushing up the hem of the leg until it exposed everything from the patella down.  

He couldn't manage to hold back the rough curse, a crude commentary on Undyne's fishy nature and the probable sexual habits of her mother.

The smaller couldn't hold back his flinch, swaying a little.  "Sorry kid.  That wasn't 't ya, t'was at tha damned fishbitch who dropped ya.  She did a number on ya."

"Where am I?"

He was just so damned tired.

He didn't mean to whine out the question, whining got punished, but exhaustion did strange things to him.  He just wanted to know, wanted to know how he could get back to his brother.  

"In an Underground, but not yers, if that makes sense."  The taller skeleton had taken his broken femur in his hands, and, starting just below the kneecap, was pushing bones back into alignment, then wrapping them tightly, moving further down, and repeating.  "This hurt 'cha?"

He shook his head again, watching the other's nimble fingers.  He couldn't even move most of his own.

It took a few moments to realize the other had stopped, and had spoken to him?  His eyelights widened before he ducked his head, mumbling a vague request for the other to repeat himself. 

The taller sighed.  "Ya gotta use yer words, Sans.  I don't speak head shakes 'n shit."  He took a visibly fortifying breath.  "I know yer tired, and haven't really given ya a reason to trust me fer shit all, but ya talk ta me, and I'll talk ta ya.  Got it?"

He made to nod again, then corrected himself.  "O-okay.  Not used to it, s-sorry."  His voice was raspy, and talking required conscious effort.  He just wanted to sleep.

"So?  Does it hurt 'cha?"

It probably should have concerned him that he had to consider the answer.  ""

"That a question or-?" 

His sockets felt impossibly heavy.  "Don't think so.  Tired, everything feels heavy."

He frowned again at just how spacey the smaller was being.  At least he got him responding verbally, which was a plus, but he was pretty well zoned out.  

That, and resetting and wrapping a broken bone with no anesthesia was grim.

"Almost done," he told the other Sans, checking his work after tying off the bandage by the other's ankle.

Wiping dust oh angel cut this kid a break already non-existent dirt from his hands, he settled back onto the chair, not wanting to quite push into the other's personal space, not entirely.  "How ya feelin'?"

A slow blink.  "Tired," he repeated.  "Everything hurts."  He shifted further into the blanket, letting it settle over his head like a giant hood.  "Why do you care?"  

There was no... no malice, no ill-intent at the smaller's words.  Just a tired acceptance, and that made it even worse.  Fuck.  He was slender enough, frail enough, to be mistaken for a stripeling, just what the fuck kind of a timeline did he come from?

He and Alphys had thought it couldn't get much worse than their own, when they'd been spitballing bullshit ideas and theories.

Well fuck.  Were they wrong pretty spectacularly.

He bit back a dry chuckle, his eyelights sharpening.  "Long story.  Short form?  Yer me.  Only yer from a place even more fucked over than this, 'parently."

The other Sans squinted at him.  "How are... am I...?" he trailed off, a distinct look of distress lingering on his face, the first real emotion he'd shown since... shit, since Alphys had stabbed the needle into his SOUL.  

That SOUL was something he did not want to remember, or deal with.  

"'member that deal?"


He stood, only to pull a pair of blankets from under the bed.  Keeping his movements slow, steady, predictable, he spread out the heavier of the two over Sans.  "'m suspendin' it, 'til ya get some sleep.  It'll be easier to 'xplain when yer not fallin' over yerself.  Now slide down 'n settle."

He stepped back, turning his back after a long moment spent calculating.  His instincts screamed at him for leaving his back open and exposed, but maybe he could get some trust back from the other this way.  He left his own blanket on the chair, stepping over and, again with movements that seemed wrong, that broadcasted everything he was doing, made sure the door was locked, the see-me-not charm on it still in place.  A flick of his wrist got the light switch, leaving the room in almost near-perfect darkness.  

A sharp gasp, a pair, no a trio of rushed breaths.  

Sans summoned a small bone construct, holding it like a dim torch.  Its red light cast long shadows, catching on the other's skull.  His sockets had gone to saucers, eyelights nearly gone, but he'd slid down under the blanket.  "Not a fan 'f tha dark?"

A tense shake of his head.  "Lights were always on in the lab."

He should have known better.  Their own Gaster had been the same way.  

The apparent similarities between their two timelines was disturbing at best.

"I can keep this goin', if'n tha' works fer ya."

Another sharp nod, the blanket coming up past his nasal aperture, leaving only sockets peering out.  

"Go ta sleep Sans.  We can figure some shit out in tha morning."

He settled himself into the chair, spreading the blanket in his lap.  He kicked off his sneakers, not bothering to untie them, and pushed his chair back up onto its hind legs, his heels on the end of the mattress.  The construct was placed on the nightstand, its movement making the shadows shift crazily.  

At least with the lights off he couldn't see the dust still drifting off the other.  

Chapter Text

The room was dark, save for the dim, red-hued light casting off the bone construct, still on the nightstand.

At least, it was, until, with a rustle of fabric, Sans pulled his cellphone from his short pocket.  With a half-annoyed shake at the blanket, he managed to get it out of the tangle and onto his lap.  

The room was eerily silent and he did nothing to change that.  A single phalanx dragged across the phone screen to turn off the lock, and he swiped down to find the flashlight app.  Not that screen, not that one either.  Stars damn it, he knew had had downloaded the utility off the Undernet...  Oh, there it was.  

With a nearly silent huff, he tapped the icon, then bit back a curse and tried to bury the device back in the blanket.  The tiny light on the back of his phone might as well have been the sun for how bright it was.  

It took a few moments to get himself situated, but he finally managed it, keeping the flashlight canted towards the far floor and working using only its indirect light.  

The light cast long shadows over the rest of the room, shadows that shook wildly as the phone's motion didn't remain steady as Sans adjusted himself to be more comfortable.  They sent crazily dancing patterns up the far wall, writing like snakes against it.

The other Sans was still on the bed, but he'd somehow gotten himself turned around so his spine was flush to the headboard, and was curled in on himself, facing outwards.  His arms were tight to his ribs, his wrapped leg sticking out awkwardly.  The blanket had been kicked half-off during the night, and was now half-wedged behind him.

He was positioned how he himself would have been, in the same situation.  

Able to see anything coming up on him.

Sans sighed, torn.  He wanted to do a more accurate diagnostic check on the other, but he didn't want to wake up him up, either.  Going off his phone, he'd only been asleep a handful of hours.  The dark bags under the kid's eyes screamed that he needed far more.  He'd told Gerson he'd watch him though, and his fear at an irate turtle outweighed the pang of remorse he felt as he sent a pulse of magic, barely more than a feather, over the other.

The kid didn't even twitch, dead to the world.  The pulse of magic that answered his own was weak, uncertain, almost like it had atrophied.  Then again, years in a suppression collar would do that, wouldn't it?  If you don't use a muscle, it loses its flexibility.  Magic was essentially the same, even if the analogy was poor.  

He tried very hard to not look at, near, the grooves in his cervical vertebrae, even as the shadows made them look deeper, even more damning than they already were.  

He considered the snippets his magic told him, flicking his phone over to the texting app.  A quick message to his brother telling him he'd be over shortly, another to the turtle saying the kid was... stable.  It wasn't an untruth, at least.  The other Sans was stable, even though if the diagnostic charm wasn't sure if he was sleeping or unconscious.  His own native magic had started to flow a little easier, but he was vastly underweight, undersized, under bone-mass standards for his age. 

His age.  Their age.

Stars.  This could have been Papyrus and himself if they'd been in that timeline.

He never thought he'd change his mind about his own early childhood.  

Apparently it could get worse.

He snorted softly under his breath.  Since when did he go all philosophical, and before breakfast even? 

He flicked the phone's light off and shoved it back into his pocket.  Pushing up, the chair quietly settled back onto all four legs, he gathered the blanket up and stood, careful to not trip on his discarded sneakers.  He roughly shoved his feet in, not worrying about the soft scuffing.  The kid was too far out to hear something that low.  

If he left now, grabbed a few things, he should be back well before Sans woke up.  

He held the blanket up in both hands, carefully draping it over the still form.  Taking a step back, he waited for a long, tense moment, to make sure the kid wasn't stirring. 

Nope.  Still dead to the world.  Good.

He gathered his magic to him, considering.  He had a few stops to make, but what order made most sense?  A moment of thought, and he threw a glance to the construct still sitting on the nightstand.  He pushed a bit more magic into it so it wouldn't fade out before he got back, and wrapped the rest of it around himself before stepping into the Void.

The house was quiet as he stepped out of his 'port and into the kitchen.  The light was on over the sink, meaning his brother had already left for his shift, and wasn't expecting to be back before nightfall.  So, the norm.  Papyrus and the Dogi were covering his own for at least a few more days, thankfully.  

He was going to need to sit down with his brother, and maybe Gerson, and figure out what they were going to do with the other Sans.  

On the other occasions they'd gotten a monster away from Onionsan, or had a refugee flee a purge in the Capitol, they'd been capable of looking after themselves a push back onto their feet.  

He wasn't so sure that would be the case here.  Not with questionably functioning magic, ruined hands, and with a face that open, innocent.  

He shook his head as he made his way up the staircase up to his room.  They'd gotten the kid away from Onionsan once, and the aquatic monster wasn't even the worst thing out there.

His room was its normal disaster, stray socks and shorts on the floor where they'd dropped after being stripped off.  His desk was stacked with physics books, books on theoretical mathematics, empty bags of chisps, and an empty beer can.  Not too bad for once, actually.  He had a relatively decent idea on where most of the things he wanted were.  

He dropped to his knees to rummage under his bed, pulling out one of his knapsacks.  Scooting to the open closet, he began rooting through the pile of clothes he'd stashed there, occasionally stopping to hold up a pair of pants, or shorts, squinting at the waistline.  Belt.  The kid was going to need a belt.  

Shirts weren't any easier to size.  He was naturally broader than the other, which was fine, and he wanted to not hurt his hands any more... but if he went too big, the shirt would end up a dress.  He considered a few of his t-shirts, finally deciding on a few plain ones and a pair that sported corny science jokes.  

A few pairs of socks went on top, along with a belt that dated to when he was a teenager.  Sneakers were hardest.  According to the science, the other was him, just from another place.  Their body-types should have been the same, but that clearly wasn't the case.  Would a pair of his own sneakers fit the other?  

Eh, worth a shot.  He tugged the zipper on the bag halfway closed before pausing, looking back to his desk.  A few of the battered volumes were tucked down along the back of the pack; it looked like the kid like to read, after all.  

He 'ported back to the kitchen after getting the bag fully closed, and slung over a shoulder.  Papyrus had left a brown bag of what proved to be peanut butter sandwiches on the counter, and that was added.  He'd grab something warm for when Sans woke up, but sandwiches would keep if he ended up getting hungry later.  

Phone out again, he let his brother know that he'd come and gone, then checked his time.  It'd only been a half hour, he was fine.  Ok, next stop.

Burgerpants jumped nearly a foot from his seat when, with a crackling pop, he had company in his bathroom.  Specifically, his bathtub was now occupied by a familiar pile of chipped bones with an attitude.

Not for the first time, either.

"MUST YOU DO THAT?" he roared, burying his face in his hands in sheer embarrassment.  

Sans, for his sake, leaned back against the wall of the bathtub, folding one femur over the other comfortably.  "Do wha'?" he asked innocently, holding his phalanges in front of him, as if to check for dirt on them.

"You always make your stars-damned appearances when I'm on the shitter."  The other monster grit out the words, huffing each one in agitation. He'd snatched a towel from the rack and draped it hastily over his lap.  Not going to make that mistake again.

The skeleton shrugged, relaxed in his reclining position.  "Not a skeleton prob, friend," he smiled, gold tooth glinting.  "An' if I knew ya would answer yer phone, I'd have done that 'stead."

Burger slumped against the porcelain toilet, producing a pack of cigarettes from somewhere and shakily putting one in his mouth.  "You only come to see me if you want something.  So what is it?"


He lit up, the scent of burning tobacco doing more to soothe his nerves than anything else he could manage while on the toilet.  "How soon?" he asked, instead of what he really wanted to.  Asking who for would probably get him dusted, no matter how well he and Sans got on.  

Red eyelights focused on the cherry of the cigarette, and he took a long moment to reply.  "Week or so.  Might be less."

BP took a long drag before considering.  He had most of what he would need already for a new set of papers, so that was a big hurdle out of the way.  "Type?  Any preferred name?  You can get me a picture and the standard details?"

"Gimme a cig?"  He waited as BP tapped another out of his pack and lit it against his own before accepting it, taking a long drag of his own.  He didn't want to give too much away, but BP had proven himself reliable.  

And he'd lost a sister to Onionsan's insanity.  

"Skeleton.  Little guy, I'll send ya height an' shit later, same with name."

He didn't miss the raised eyebrow and perking of BP's ears at the single detail, but appreciated the other not asking.  

Besides, confidentiality was how he kept his side business running.

"Once I get the info, two days tops.  Anything else?"  He really didn't want to ask Sans that, but he really needed to finish.  

Another shrug from Sans as he rolled the cigarette to sit between two of his teeth.  "Naw, nothin' fer now, anyways.  Yer a good man, BP, don't care wha' they say 'boutcha."  He tipped his head in a salute.  "Gimme a call when yer done, right?"

And he was gone, a faint smell of ozone fading as quickly as it came.

He sighed in relief as he was again left in his bathroom, pulling his elbows from his knees where they'd been for the duration of the... visit.  

And cursed in shrieking howls as blood flow resumed, the pins-and-needles sensations bringing tears to his eyes.

Grillby's was his last stop, and he came out of the Void next to his normal stool.  

The flame elemental tossed him a glance before throwing a coaster in front of him, a beer appearing a moment after.  

"S'up, Grillz," Sans grinned toothily, cigarette still hanging from his mouth.  "Business good?"

An ashtray came sliding down the bar from where a pair of Loox were making eyes at each other.  He waved a hand in thanks and tapped the ashes off the end of his smoke, then took a sip of his beer.

The barkeep nodded, going back to polishing the glass he'd been holding.  "Ordering?" he asked, short and to the point as always.  

Another sip.  "Yeah.  Two burgs ta go.  Extra fries."  He paused a moment as Grillby set the glass down and scribbled the order onto a notepad.  "Er.  Grillz.  Can ya keep the seasonin' light?  Bland?"

A burst of heat came off the elemental, and Sans realized he had phrased that poorly.  "One of 'em is fer a ki-guy with a sensitive stomach, ya know?  Wan' ta keep it light fer him, don't think he's eaten regular fer a while."

The heat vanished as soon as it had come, and Sans had a sense of deja vu from when he'd dealt with Gerson the day before.  Thankfully, while quick on the temper, Grillby knew what, with who he dealt with sometimes.  He wasn't officially in the know, but he'd been around a long time, a very long time.

And any friend of Gerson's was a friend of his.  

"Ten minutes," was the only response he made as he pulled the now-charred piece of paper off the top of his pad and stepped into the kitchen.

Sans spent a few of those minutes playing on the phone, his attention split between the comings and goings in the bar and the columns of fruit-shaped icons on his screen.  He loved to hate this game, its stupid matching nonsense, but it helped him sell his act.  Anyone who didn't know him would think he was absorbed; those who knew him knew otherwise.  

Grillby was good to his word, as always, and a pair of brown paper bags found their way onto the bar in front of him ten minutes later.  Greasy patches stained one of them, and the savory smell of fried potato filtered out.  "Kept it light," he told the skeleton, his flames wavering as room's airflow shifted with the opening of the door.  "Gold or credit?"

He chuckled, giving the other a slow wink.  Grillby knew him far too well.  

"Credit," he smirked, though he threw a few gold coins onto the counter.  

Of course he had information for sale.  He was good at his job, after all. 

He grabbed the bags and re-shouldered his knapsack, tilting his chin at the other.  "Talk to ya later, Grillz." 

Picking up the forgotten glass, the fire elemental began to polish it again, making plans to visit the skeleton brothers at some point later on.  Information was power, after all, and you could never have too much power in the Underground.  

Loud words, shouts, erupted from the other end of the bar.  One of the two Loox had gotten a bit too handsy with the other, and offense had been taken.  In a blur of flame, the glass found its way into the aggressor's head, shattering into a spray of glass splinters.  The other squawked, arms over his head as the taller female slumped to the floor, blood trickling from her forehead.  The bouncer appeared, taking the female by her collar and hauling her for the door, as Grillby poured a stiff drink for the shivering male, irritated to the point that smoke was coming off his shoulders.

"You," he called, before the bouncer ejected her out the door, "will be replacing that glass."

And if he didn't, there would be an information exchange about her.  

A final flicker of magic, and Sans was stepping out of his final 'port and into the safe room, sight quickly adjusting to the dim red of the room.  The construct was still glowing, but faintly, and the room was otherwise undisturbed.  

The smaller skeleton was still curled up under the blanket, still soundly asleep, not looking like he'd moved at all in his absence.  Except... Sans pumped a bit more magic into the construct and frowned.

Magic droplets ringed his lower sockets, the faintest of blues in color that trailed down his cheeks and soaked into the pillow below him.  

Blue, huh?  So the kid was either a Patience or a Integrity type, depending on how dark it really was.  Interesting, and not the purple of perseverance he'd have expected.  

He set the bags down and settled back onto the chair, wondering idly what his brother would make of this.  

His book by Hawking was still on the nightstand, and he grabbed for it, flipping it open to find where he'd left off.  Unbending the page, he settled closer to the light source and sat back to wait for the other to wake up. 

Chapter Text

He'd managed to go three chapters before the ki-, no.  He stopped himself.  He was going to have to stop calling him that.  He was older than Papyrus, for Angel's sake.  He wouldn't be doing him any favors, and he most certainly wasn't going to have the safety of stripes to fall back on.

The other skeleton shifted with a groan, sockets slowly opening to reveal steady, though hazy, eyelights.  His breath picked up, eyes starting to dart around, until Sans purposely shifted his chair, letting the leg scuff on the ground.  

There.  That helped.  Breathing slowing, the other made to push himself upright, wincing as his hands made contact with anything.  

"Sorry, buddy.  Prol'y feels pretty shitty, right?  Painkillers are hard to get by down here."

The smaller looked at his hands and shrugged, and for some reason, that bugged him... at least until the other's words actually registered.

"Do- he never used any.  Said it would ruin results."  

He said it almost casually, as if it was... it was the norm for him to be in what had to be excruciating pain.  

Then again, he hadn't even been asleep six solid hours.  Given the smudges under his sockets... 

Sans shifted, popping his spine.  

It was time to have a talk, and his SOUL was already pulsing its discontent with the idea.

"I got ya somethin' ta eat, real food if ya think ya can stomach it.  Ya wanna get clothes on first though?  's not exactly warm in here.  Think I got some close enough ta yer size." Not waiting for an answer, he pulled a small pile of clothes from the nightstand, shaking out the outfit he'd pulled from his knapsack earlier.

He couldn't help it, but his eyelights went wide.  He did manage to stop himself from reaching out, but the look on the taller skeleton's face said he'd caught the aborted action, and he jerked his hand back against his ribs.  "It's a little cold," he admitted as he fiddled with the hem of the blanket in his non-splinted hand.  

Gaster hadn't allowed any clothes.

They got in the way, he said, of his research.

It was much easier to just push needles straight in without having to pull shirts off all the time.

The hospital gowns he'd finally allowed was only as a concession to the chill of the cells and the labs.  

So he claimed.

He knew the real reason.

One of the lab technicians had complained about how the fluorescent light caught the bones just so and gave her headaches after hours down there.

But... clothes.  

Monsters got to wear clothes.

Experiments didn't.  

He didn't particularly care what new hell this was he was in, whatever weird psychological experiment Gaster had created this time.

He'd suffer for it for clothes.

It took a real force of will for Sans to not go and find something to beat, to pulp, for the response of the other to something as simple as some battered old clothes.  He clearly had no idea how to hide any of expressions, because everything from shock and amazement to suspicion to a wary acceptance went over his face in less time than it took for him to shake out a simple black shirt.  

Instead, he clamped down on his magic so hard it hurt and threw the shirt so it landed on his lap.

The kid looked like he'd just been handed a ticket to the Surface, fingering the material with his... not good, but better, hand.  The blanket slid down to pool on his lap, exposing bones, chipped and scarred.  He managed to get his arm in, then his neck, then paused, agitation apparent, and Sans felt like kicking himself.  

With his arm wrapped up the way it was, there was almost no way he'd get it on without help.

"I can help, if ya want," he kept his voice level, not wanting to freak him out.  He had already set his book to the side, sticking his dog-eared bookmark at his stopping place.  

He... he was being offered help?  

He didn't even try to hide the incredulous look on his face as he stared.  The doctor really had gone all out on this.  

He could almost believe this other guy cared.

He was, however, mildly curious as to where Gaster had found another skeleton.  Given how much he'd bragged about doing away with all but Papyrus and himself, it seemed strange that there'd be one here, now.

Unless everything he'd overheard, felt, during his fever dreams was... true?  Had Papyrus really gotten him away?

No.  Focus, Sans.  Shirt.  Clothing.  

Even if this was all an elaborate setup for an experiment, he wasn't going to chance losing this chance.

So he nodded at the other, chin down as he traced the stitching at the hem of the shirt with his thumb.

The other huffed softly, and there was rustling as he stood from his chair, the wooden legs scraping again.  "I told ya, Sans.  Need ya ta talk ta me.  Words, ok?"  

He flinched.  He was going to get punished for this, for sure.  He vaguely recalled being told that he needed to talk earlier, and he'd been dumb and forgotten.  He was going to get punished and not get to eat after all and-

There was a hand on his shoulder, one that instinctively caught the right one he, too, threw out instinctively to protect himself.  He whined at the sudden pain, but the other skeleton was firm with his grip.  "Easy, Sans.  'm not goin' hurt'cha.  Stay still a sec and we'll get this on ya, ok?"  As he spoke, he slowly unfolded his right arm, then guided it through the arm hole of the shirt before setting it back against his sternum.  He stepped back, both hands held up, otherwise silent.

He managed the shorts himself, slowly, staying on the mattress, eyes locked on the other skeleton's as he wiggled into them.  They were big on him; even sitting, the waist was loose and he was moderately sure they went past his knees.  The dexterity of his left hand had been destroyed by the amputation, the mana channels literally hacked apart; pulling up the elastic waistband was pushing his limits.  At least most of that was hidden by doing it seated.

Socks.  Socks made him want to cry.  He looked at his hands, then to the socks, then pushed them away.  The sweatshirt, a black or dark blue?  It was hard to tell in the light.  The sweatshirt was obviously going to be large on him, but there was no way he'd be doing the zipper himself.  

"Hey, kid.  Sans."  it was the taller skeleton again, giving him a look he couldn't quite decipher.  "It's ok ta ask fer help, ok?"  He swept the pair of socks off the bed and, moving slowly, eased the left foot into one.

"This one might hurt, right?  Keep still fer a sec."  He kept a hand under the ankle bones, trying not to shift the broken leg.  Sans himself didn't move, holding a breath, waiting for it to hurt, and was again surprised when it didn't.  The sweatshirt went on in much the same way, the other zipping him into it.  He had been right - it would cover down to his mid-thigh when he stood, the zipper went high enough to cover his cervicals, and the sleeves covered both hands nicely, hiding the damage.  

And it was warm, something he couldn't really recall feeling anytime in the recent past.  The sweatshirt itself felt like there had been some intent pushed into it during its making, and though it was old and worn, there were still hints of safety/family/protection.

That... that confused him so very much, and he couldn't hold back a whine, moving to wring his hands through the sleeves before the pain of doing so hit him.  Why would someone waste a sweatshirt that had intent imbued into it on him?  Back home, when he'd been free, monsters who could instill true intent were few and far between, rarer than rare, and such articles were treasured - either heirlooms or sold for stupidly huge sums of money.  Those themselves who could imbue usually found themselves in some form of indentured servitude, something every babybones knew.  

So, that left him a question that had him trembling. 

"Why?" he breathed, trying to hold back a sob, not really sure he wanted to know the answer.  "Why are you doing this?  Did... he put you up to this?  Where... where am I?  Is Papyrus here?  Can you let us go-?"  He was going to say home, but they didn't have one of those anymore, did they?  Didn't matter, he supposed, as long as his brother was there.  He kept his eyes downcast, fully expecting to be backslapped for questioning anything.

Stars knew Borus and the other technicians did it often enough.  

That and worse.

He choked off.  Please, Angel above, not that.  Not again.

It took him a few long moments of rasping breaths before he realized there was a hand on his shoulder again, and he peered up to meet a pair of eyelights, heavy with concern.  The hand squeezed gently before it was pulled away, the other settling on the edge of the bed.  The skeleton's other hand set a oil-stained paper plate of... were those fries?... on the mattress between them, an unspoken peace offering.  

"No one put me up ta anythin', kid.  Was goin' ta have ya answer some questions fer me, but I think maybe it'd be better if'n I started instead."  He chuckled mirthlessly, his gold tooth catching a glint of light.  He pushed the plate of fries closer to him before snagging one for himself, popping it whole.  "Let's start from th'beginnin', yeah?"

"My name's Sans.  Sans th' Skeleton."

He talked for what seemed like hours, telling the other everything he could think of about the Underground they were in.  Asgore being a despot, a general overview of the population and the kill-or-be-killed way of their society... of their own Gaster and the crimes he'd committed against both the subspecies of skeletons and monsterkind as a whole (as well as his demise - really, being pushed into the CORE was too quick an end for him) - the crimes he'd committed against the last two skeletons - the experiments, the pain, the torture, and who those two skeletons had grown into being. 

He kept pushing the fries at the kid periodically until they were gone, then broke out the burgers.  A memory of when he himself had broken his arm when he'd been a babybones had popped into his mind, something Gerson had done, popped up, and he latched onto it.  Both burgers were torn into quarters, easily manageable with a single hand, and dumped onto the now-empty plate. 

Occasionally he answered stilted questions, cleared up confusions, expanded on details.

The kid was smart.  Scary smart.  

He'd picked up at least the basic idea of what he and Alphys had discussed, of string theory and multiple timelines, fast.

Faster than he himself had.  Certainly a lot faster than his brother had.

Food, real food, had helped perk the other up.  Sans guessed it was the amount of magic Grillby had pushed into his burgers - he had a tendency of going overboard on his, knowing that he had a tendency of running himself a bit more ragged than was healthy. 

The kid seemed... numb wasn't the right word.  But he still wanted, needed answers of his own.  

"So who're you, kid?  Tell me 'bout yerself."

The other had let his sockets slip half-closed, propped again against the headboard as his energy started to flag.  "Sans," came the soft response, with a sigh.  "But you knew that already, right?"

Sans nodded, flopping over so he was lying long-ways across the foot of the bed.  He didn't want to cramp the kid, but stars, that chair was uncomfortable on his coccyx.  "Ya have any nicknames?  Goin' ta be kinda hard if'n we're both Sans."

"Two four six oh one."

He started to speak, then blinked so rapidly it hurt his sockets, then pushed himself up so hard and fast it had the smaller pushing back into the corner, eyelights blown.  "What?!" he roared, magic flaring badly enough that it was leaking from his socket.  "Did that bastard not even-"  

It was the other's huge eyes, the look of terror that he couldn't quite hide, that snapped him out of his rage before it even started.  Thank stars Gerson wasn't present.  He cut himself off, taking a deep breath, then another, before scooping up the paper plate that had gone flying.  "I'm not calling ya that.  Ain't no one goin' ta call ya that ever again."  He took a few more breaths to settle his magic.  "Any others?"

The smaller had shrunk in on himself, the only exposed bone now just above the sweatshirt collar, like the baggy fabric could protect him.  His breaths were short when they came, his eyelights shaky.  

Again his sockets were rimmed in magic, the blue a little darker this time, but still to light to tell what his primary trait could be. 

He was curled in on himself, but managed to shake his head no, looking for all the world like a beaten dog expecting a punishment.

Gerson had once told him a story, back when he'd been a babybones, and he dredged it up.  Traditionally, skeletons were named for fonts, which was all well and fine until The War.  There were only so many font-names that skeletons would use, and that pool was relatively small.  Worse, non-skeletons had massive problems telling them apart.  As The War continued and more and more monsters dusted, non-skeletons stopped trying to learn their names, instead just calling them the color of their magic.  

It was stupidly outdated, but it would work, he supposed.

Gerson would probably be amused.

"How 'bout 'Blue'?" he asked, resettling into his previous position, a little further down the bed to give the other space.  

He frowned, considering.  

He'd thought it earlier, that he hadn't really been "Sans" for a long time, but it... it was his name.  It was the one of the very few things that Gaster hadn't managed to take from him.

But... he wasn't even in his home universe, according to the other.  And the gentle pulse of magic off him strongly suggested truthfulness.  That, and some of the science journals Gaster had left for him to read, even though he pretended not to understand.

And this universe already had a Sans.

It... it really didn't need two, did it?

But it was his name.  

But this was only a nickname.  He could deal with that.  

"That's ok," he murmured, some of the tension going out of both pairs of shoulders.  

Sans rolled onto his side, facing up the bed, at him.  His eyelights were steady, curious, as his arm propped his skull up.  "S'ok.  I told ya about this universe... yer up.  Tell me 'bout yer universe."

Chapter Text

Sans rolled onto his side, facing up the bed, at him.  His eyelights were steady, curious, as his arm propped his skull up.  "S'ok.  I told ya about this universe... yer up.  Tell me 'bout yer universe."

Sans, now Blue, gripped the edge of the sweatshirt with his not-as-broken-hand, eyelights dark.  

He'd... he'd dreamt of something like this happening.  Of someone, some how pulling Papyrus and himself out of the hell they lived in, of being able to talk without fear of reprisal about what the mad-monsters of the Lab had been up to.  

And now that he had that chance, the words were gone - the script he'd written mentally for himself over months, years of isolation... slipped through his mental fingers like grains of dust.

"I don't know where to start," he murmured, staring at the sweatshirt's waist hem, starting to worry a loose thread there with the pad of his thumb.  

The other Sans huffed, red eyelights focused on him, intent.  "Don't worry 'bout order then.  Jus' talk."

The thread was pulling away, now nearly the length of his thumb.  He tried rolling it between two fingers, but just didn't have the fine control to pluck the thread up from the fabric it rested on.  He took a breath, held it for a moment.  For a monster that didn't require oxygen, it was a strangely therapeutic sensation.  

"You... you said your... timeline?" he looked up for verification.  At the other's nod, he continued.  "This timeline is kill or be killed.  Your king?  Your king is LV-crazy, its all... I guess 'direct violence' would be the best expression?  You..."  He took a deep breath, trying to phrase his words.  "If someone has an issue with someone else, its dealt with directly... you fight it out?"

Sans nodded, his sockets slitted.  "Accurate, yeah.  We can go wit' that."

Blue pulled his non-broken leg up and rested his chin on his patella, wrapping his arm around it to keep it close.  

Sans didn't miss how small he was unconsciously making himself.  

"My timeline isn't like that."  His eyelights hazed as he tried to sequence things.  "It's... it's all cloak-and-dagger.  Poison is a big thing, if someone's wronged you.  Blackmail.  All indirect, so LV isn't as much of a problem.  Prostitution, drugs.  Monsters being indentured if they had a trait someone else wants."  He shifted tracks.  "Stripes are protection here?"

A huffed yes.  "Fer what 's worth, usually."

His eyelights, hazy as they were, screamed sadness and pain, and had Sans breathing deeply so he wouldn't lose his cool again.  Not yet.

If he did, he was afraid he'd never convince the other to continue telling his story.

"Stripes just mean you can't be sold."

Ok, he was going to lose his shit spectacularly.  What the ever living fuck.  

Sheer force of will was keeping his magic under control, though he could feel it building, feel it trying to let itself off its leash.

"We were orphans - no one wanted a pair of skeleton kids.  We lived in the dump to stay away from trappers, and Papyrus- my brother - could 'port.  I was always really small and kinda sick when I was a babybones, so when the doc- he - showed up one day wanting to adopt us?"  His voice had gone hoarse already.

"Ya went wit' 'im."  It wasn't a question from Sans, his eyelights a dark and stormy crimson.  "Similar here, only I'm tha older, 'n we were both mostly healthy."

Blue nodded.  "Was nine," he whispered, the shorter burst of words not hurting as much.  "Papy thirteen.  Nothing changed until I turned thirteen too."  The piece of string he'd been tugging finally snapped, the shaking of his hands now visible now that his motions weren't hiding it.

The other skeleton was trembling, and Sans wasn't entirely sure he was aware of it.  His eyelights had gone nearly out, the hem of the hoodie he was in starting to fray, and beads of sweat began collect across his skull.  

He had the sneaking suspicion this is where the story was going to get bad.

"Day I turned thirteen he asked if we wanted to help."

Oh.  Oh no.  

The piece of shit Gaster from that timeline had... oh Angel.  

Their Gaster had tried the same thing, coming to find them after his brother had aged out of stripes, but they'd turned it down, not trusting the Royal Scientist, not with the rumors about him.

Blue kept talking, stuttering as his voice got raspier.  "-and he bought us to the lab and... there's a blank... but when we woke up..."

His bones were rattling so hard now that it was clearly audible, and the phalanges of his good arm had started to claw at the femur they were wrapped around, marrow starting to seep up where the bones met.

Sans was positive the kid had no idea he was doing it, not going from how breath was starting to hitch beneath his sternum.  Sure, he didn't need oxygen, but forcing magic he didn't have to spare to circulate faster than it needed to would act in the exact same way.  

He was up a second later, kneeling on the mattress in front of the other skeleton as a tear trickled down his cheekbone, stuck to his mandible for a moment, then slipped to the blanket.  "Hey, Blue.  Ya need ta stop that."  He debated his next move before taking a breath of his own, reaching out to set his hand on the other's knee.  

Blue jerked, choking off a gasp as his eyes went wide, snapping from Sans to his hand to each piece of furniture in the room, back to Sans.

Immediately, his hand came off, in a placating motion, easing back.  The smaller skeleton was still shaking, forehead against his patella.  The hand that had been clawing himself fell to the mattress and just sat there, motionless, as continued to breath great, heaving gulps.

He was more than ready to stop this, get Blue settled with a book or something, anything, to calm him, when his reedy voice spoke up again.  "They took Papy away after a month."  

Sans felt his eyelights constrict.  It was like Blue was a puppet with his strings cut, reading from a script.  

What the fuck had that timeline's Gaster done to him?  

"I could hear him sometimes.  Crying in between whatever the doctor did."  He spat the word like it left a foul taste in his mouth.  

Yeah, he was going to not let this kid near Alphys any time in the near future.

"They never let me see him," he choked the last bit before taking another breath, eyelights gutted out.  "They said he was the better specimen, that they needed to be more careful with him, and that I was the disposable one.  They... they left me alone in between their experiments...  And they hurt and they'd never say why and I was alone all the time and it hurt and-"

Blue went on like that, choking out words that frankly terrified Sans.  

He and Alphys had talked about the possibilities for other timelines out there, and even their most out-there notions didn't scratch the horrors Blue was describing.  It was garbled at best, but sweet Angel. It wasn't even... 

The world he was describing was, at surface, a paradise.  A paradise that was rotten to the core, where the Queen ran the brothels, the bakery also sold poisons, and all sorts of subterfuge and outright slavery was the norm.  

What. The. Fuck.

He gave himself a harsh shake.  Blue was still babbling, forehead back against his knees.  

What a fucking mess.

He pushed himself up again, hands up, placating, not that he was sure Blue could even see him given the state he had worked himself into.  He repeated the motions he'd done earlier, putting a hand on his shoulder.  This time though, he pulled up a tendril of magic and pushed it towards the smaller skeleton.  Intent, emotions he rarely showed got dragged up in an attempt to calm him down, a strange sense of deja vu reminding him of just a few nights earlier when he'd done the same for Papyrus. /safety/comfort/calm/ was pushed at the babbling skeleton, lightly at first, then with an increasing intensity when he showed some receptiveness to it.   

Finally, finally he calmed, hiccupping sobs quieting to gasping breaths.  At some point, he'd started leaning into the hand on his shoulder, and Sans couldn't find it in himself to push the smaller off.  

Blue reminded him too much of Papyrus.  A broken, unsure Papyrus to be sure... but of Papyrus.

Stars damn this alternate timeline nonsense.  

He frowned as he gave Blue a nudge, helping him sit back upright.  He only had one other question, one that he really wasn't sure he wanted the answer to.

"Can I ask ya one last question?"

Stars he was hoping the kid would say no.


Blue shifted, his eyelights hazy as he balanced himself against the wall.  He felt... empty... like a rag had been wrung out and tossed away.  At the same time though, actually speaking to someone, instead of just scripting dialogue in his head, was cathartic, and for as exhausted as it had made him, he felt lighter.

Sans was giving him a steady look, still pumping soothing intent.  

He... honestly, he wasn't entirely sure he wanted to trust anyone.  New monsters meant pain, new experiments... but he wasn't in the Lab; that had been proven beyond the shadow of a doubt.  That, and Sans had... he'd been treating him like Papy used to, before.

Then again, its not like he had anything else to lose.

So he nodded, cautiously, not trusting his voice after his breakdown.

"How long were you in the Lab?"  Sans sounded strained, like he was forcing the question out and didn't really want the answer.

He frowned, looking back down at his lap, where the now torn and frayed hem of the hoodie was.  He suppressed the urge to continue worrying it, instead pulling his not-as-broken hand back into the sleeve.  Both hands were aching, the broken one more so than the other its hard for a finger to hurt if it isn't there, but at least having it hidden in the sleeve made him feel better about it.

"You're going to get mad."

The taller skeleton barked a laugh, short, harsh, but actually gave a crooked smile at the end, his gold tooth catching a bit of light.  "Prol'y.  Hit me anyway."

He shifted.  For as anxious as he knew the question should make him, the intent still wrapping around him made it... not as bad.  Not as immediate. 

"Seven and a half years."

Chapter Text

The only audible response was a sharp intake of breath, whistling through sharp teeth.

Blue flinched, hunching further over, chancing a quick look up... his benefactor?

Whatever Sans was, it was enraged.  Red magic nearly wreathed his skull, flaring angrily as it leaked from his cracked, left socket.  The other socket was dark, the eyelight guttered.  The air itself had grown cold, electrified, as he sat motionless, like a dam about to burst.

He dropped his gaze, breaths coming faster, puffs visible in the cold air that started to prickle his few exposed bones, as the shards of his own magic responded to the implied, intrinsic threat with a fight-or-flight instinct. 

At least, in the Lab, he knew where he could hide, at least in theory.  The orderlies never let him get far enough away, toying with him instead.  Here though, and with a broken leg?  

His ribs began to burn with the exertion of heaving air, black spots beginning to speckle the edges of his vision.  How could he hear his SOUL pounding if he didn't even have ears?

He choked back a panicked giggle, waiting for whatever punishment he was sure to get.  That's what always happened at the Lab, anyway.  He messed up, unintentionally or no, an experiment failed, and it was somehow his fault.  

It always was.

Why wouldn't it be any different here?  Sans himself had said this was a violent place, the normal monster passing as sure to have LV as not.  

Of course he'd be punished for upsetting the taller skeleton.  Why wouldn't he be?

His SOUL skipped a beat at the pressure of a hand on his shoulder.

Sans nearly lost it when Blue answered, the smaller skeleton's voice breaking on the final syllabant. 

All his anger at Undyne and his brother for the previous day's fiasco, at Asgore for being a maniac, at any and all variant of Gaster - it all coalesced into a searing burst of angry, heavy, dark rage.

Magic so cold it burned his mana channels gave him a faux-LV high, and the excess began to bleed off through his socket.  it... it didn't hurt, per se, but it itched in a way no scratching would ever be able to touch.

The bled-off, expelled magic chilled the air around his skull, prickling his skull, something he only dimly recognized as he clenched his phalanges so tightly the bone creaked under the force.

He really, really, really wanted to hurt someone.

Preferably, someone named 'Gaster'.

He wasn't too picky, he'd take whichever variant that came across his path first.

The sense of a wet blanket being dropped on his skull - icy, dripping - drew him up short, leaving him blinking as he realized when, with whom, he was.

The kid was frozen, the proverbial deer in the headlights.  His sockets were dark, scarcely moving save the heave of his chest, visible even through the bagginess of the sweatshirt.  His breath was coming in visible puffs of steam, irregular, short, sharp.

He was radiating a fear so thick, so complete, so...

It was like he was completely prepared to have the tar kicked out of him and was just waiting for it to be over.

It was poignantly comparable to how he and Papyrus had been, years ago, when they'd been alone, on their own.  

His anger drained from in a rush, leaving him feeling... guilty, again.  Not a feeling he liked.  Feeling... there was a driving sense of culpability rising up in him, his SOUL quite snottily telling him, in no uncertain terms, that he'd screwed up again, letting his temper get the best of him.

Papyrus would be so disappointed.

This kid, Blue, had no experience with... with anything, really.  Him losing his cool over something that wasn't fixable by anyone, let alone him, wasn't going to help.

He pushed back his own disappointment at himself, his displeasure at his break.  

He could beat himself up over it later on.

Instead, he crawled forward on the bed, for once thankful he was as big as he wasn't.  The mattress dipped under his weight as he settled next to the still-frozen, still unresponsive Blue, the pair squeezed together at the head of the small mattress.  As soon as he got within arm's reach, he started projecting as he had earlier - low-level, unobtrusive.

He started, hesitated, then moved again, letting his hand come to rest on the trembling shoulder.  

The smaller's entire body went stiff, more taut than a bowstring, then slumped as Sans pushed a bit more of his magic into his projections, willing them to soothe the other.  

They worked, but it took a long while for Blue to settle enough for his spine to release from its ramrod-straight pose.

He wasn't entirely sure how it had happened, but he'd eventually slumped against him, skull on his shoulder, exhaustion evident in the lines and smudges under and around his sockets.

He could feel his guilt crawling up his spine like a sin.

"Ya doin' ok kid?" he asked softly, not entirely sure Blue was even awake.  His SOUL's beat had steadied, slowed, what seemed like hours earlier, but he'd been otherwise silent since.

There was a nod, the movement muffled between the sweatshirt they each wore.  "Sorry."

"Ain't got nothin' to be apologizin' fer, kid.  If'n there's fault here, 's mine fer flippin' at ya."  He shifted his arm, his bones stiff from holding the awkward position.  "Ain't yer fault, 'n ya got no reason to be 'pologizin' for what tha' shithead did."

The nod came again, slow, stilted almost, in agreement.

Sans knew better.

He could get enough sense of what Blue was thinking, what with their SOULs in such close proximity with such strong stimuli.  

He was willing to bet his last bottle of mustard Blue thought his rage-moment was solely his fault.

Stars.  Could he have possibly fucked this up any worse?

His conscience, that miserable, smug, self-centered bastard voice that liked to parade his numerous character flaws like elephants at a three-ring circus, was spooling up, quite prepared to unload over how literally nothing he'd done to this point in his life was right save Papyrus.  Papyrus would never be a mistake.  Fuck, he-


... what?

His mind had to detour off its rant at himself to process exactly what it was dealing with, because it was, in all honesty, in shock.

Blue had... had... snuggled? into his cervicals, his hands resting across his lap.  He'd... he'd... 

The snarky voice in the back of his mind decided to clock out, taking the rest of the day as sick time.

The smaller skeleton had, roughly, clumsily, clearly not something he had a lot of finesse or practice with, started projecting back at him.  

It was unrefined at best - on par with a stripeling who'd just come into their magic - stuttering, going from feather light to way too overbearing to something just left of center - but Blue was projecting /comfort/ at him.

Dusting would be too fast for Gaster.

He had to force back his own reflexive desire to purr to pull at the other's sweatshirt, adjusting him to be flush against his side. 

"Knock tha' off, Blue.  Yer magic level's are still pretty shit.  'm fine, yer fine, we're all fine."

Blue cracked a socket open, the eyelight being white, small, and for all the world looked like he was going to protest, until a yawn fought its way out.  His jaw closed with a click, but he kept his skull where it was.

Sans was torn.  He wanted to warn the kid about personal space.  

You didn't just go up to a monster and try to take a nap on them, not in this timeline.  

That's how you got dusted.

But, at the same time... that was and wasn't true.  

The bleating of his cellphone broke him away from that line of thought.  

The sudden ring had Blue upright, eyelights round, though still small.  "What's that?" he demanded in a stage-whisper, eyes darting across the room.

"'s a cellphone.  Port'ble telephone?"  Of course he didn't know what a cellphone was.  The technology itself was still relatively new even up on the Surface, and the few that had survived the fall to the Underground had been reverse engineered only within the last few years.  

If it wasn't so sad, he'd have laughed at the expression Blue had - a touch of fear, a touch of wonder, amazement.

Sans sifted, fishing for the still chirping phone in his pocket.  Caller ID didn't, couldn't pull the number up, just stating that it was unavailable.  

That automatically got his nerves firing again.

He picked up the call, pressing the device to his acoustic meatus.  


"Ya.  Who's this?"  He didn't recognize the voice, and his cell number was not something he advertised.

"You need to get out of there.  Onionsan's gang is fighting with Muffet's again, and this time Onionsan is playing dirty.  They're dropping smoke grenades laced with insecticide and other shit and lighting them.  Muffet's lost probably a dozen spiders or more; Onionsan is going apeshit and blowing shit up."

Stars, this was bad.  Almost all their safe houses were in Waterfall, and it wasn't going to be safe to go...  He checked his magic levels and frowned, suppressing the desire to growl at himself.  His temper tantrum earlier had burnt enough of his magic that 'porting past the gangs to head to Hotland wasn't going to be a viable option, not if...

He looked at Blue, carefully pushing past him to stand up and grab for his knapsack, phone still to his skull.  

"How long?"

"Fifteen minutes, tops?  The Guard is starting to move in."


"Hotlands first and second, Capitol reserves... Snowdin is on standby."

Fucking hairy-tittied Asgore.  

Lieutenant he might well be, but fuck if Sans didn't want Papyrus anywhere near another outbreak of the gang war.

However, he glanced up to the bed, where Blue was looking decidedly lost.  He was definitely picking up the mood shift, but... fuck.

"They're getting too close to where I am, good luck -"  The line clicked dead with a chilling sense of finality.

He resumed tossing the few removable effects the room had into the bag, shoving his phone back into his pocket, checking carefully to make sure that nothing could be traced back to him, to them, should this safer room be compromised.  

His internal clock, also mouthed by the snarky voice in his mind, kept him appraised of the minutes passing.  

Angel, screw his mind for being helpful the one time...

He threw a look around, satisfying himself that the room was as clear as it would be with such a looming deadline.  Faintly, through the rock of the room's walls, the cavern's walls, shouting echoed, magic discharges reverberated.  

Time to go.

With a passenger.

He shouldered the pack and stepped back to the bed, grin toothy, vaguely predatory.  "We're goin' ta go on a field trip.  Hold on to your lunch, kid - might be a bumpy ride."

The rock wall shattered as if a bomb had gone off next to it - and in a way, it had.  One of Muffet's spider's had detonated what was essentially a Molotov cocktail of spider silk and magic in the center of a small gang of Onionsan's minions, and body parts and granite shards arched away from the impact point, leaving nothing but scorched dirt and dust in its wake.

Dirt, dust, and...

"Oi, c'mere Charlotte!" the spiderling called to a larger, more developed progeny of Muffet.  The tiny spider stood in front of the shattered wall as the screams started to move away down another corridor.  Three of its legs were tapping anxiously, all at different speeds, while the fourth remained steady.  Both sets of arms were folded, hiding the dust that caught in the creases of their shirt.

"What's that, Wilbur?" the much larger spider asked, rounding a corner.  There had been a strange scorch mark in the center of the rock floor just a bit down the corridor, its clearly defined nature suggesting it wasn't very old.  Strange.

He got paid to inform Muffet of strange.

And here Charlotte had found something unusual - a room hollowed out, hidden, protected very well by forget-me-not cantrips and charms.

Muffet paid even better for unusual.

Chapter Text

Stepping into the Void for the instant a 'port took was like throwing yourself at a frozen wall of electricfied water that wasn't frozen and wasn't water and wasn't electrified all at the same time.  The pull of the destination point would unerringly guide a monster through the momentary maelstrom, the static of the Void lasting just long enough to sear, to singe, to itch their bones before vanishing, a tantalizingly awful instant.

And that was for the monster guiding the trip.  

It was much worse for the passenger, simply along for the ride with no sense of up, down, time - it was a momentary eon for all they knew, wrapped in the brightest blackness imagineable, blinding yet soothing, burning yet a warm embrace.

Sans kept a tight grip on Blue.  With his hands as screwed as they were, getting him to throw an arm over his shoulder wasn't a viable answer, but he wasn't going to be standing himself with a broken leg.  

He was not going to lose the other to the Void.  

The innate knowledge to teleport had always been rare in skeletons, non-existent in other species, and with the demise of the rest of the species, Sans had been rather sure for years that he was the only one left who had the ability - but Blue's watering sockets and faintly whispered "not again" was very suggestive that he'd had at least experience with it.  His mind considered it as he took a steadying step once his magic dissipated - suspecting it had something to do with the machine his brother had sent him here in.  

"Well, fuck."

The safe room they'd landed in was on the Hotlands side of Waterfall, the closest one to where they had been, his first thought to head to at their quick departure.  

He was regretting it.

The room was absolutely gutted, the small shelf of supplies that had been stored here charred and burnt.  It didn't look like the room itself was compromised - the only way to access it was to teleport in, knowing exactly where it was - but the fighting had gotten way too close.  Bits of the ceiling - boulders really - were smashed on the ground, the small generator in the corner smoking and hissing as a small electrical fire took it.  

Blue had gone stiff against him, his sockets clenched and watering, breath rasping past clenched teeth.  

Fuck.  He needed a few minutes before he could 'port again, and the list of safe places was dwindling.  The next port would be a room too small for Blue to stay in - hell, it would probably kill him.  It was the size of a closet, basically a mattress set across a few sets of under-the-bed drawers for storage. 

If that didn't send him back to the cell he'd spent so much time in, mentally, Sans would eat his own stars-damned hat.

The only other option was a momentary stop there, then a really, really long 'port to... Fuck. 

The hand that wasn't supporting Blue reached up for his cervicals, letting them rest on his collar.  

The worn red leather was warm against his bones, a comfort, a reminder, a promise.  It nearly sang with the amount of magic infused on it, the intent palpable.  

A tiny tendril of his magic brushed it, and almost immediately a pulse of acknowledgement, concern, poorly hid worry echoed back.  Good.  Papyrus was safe.  At least now he knew for a fact he was too.  

His magic formed an image, an impression, of his idea and pushed it toward his younger sibling, keeping the touch light in case there were things going on around him he wasn't sharing, that Sans wouldn't see, couldn't know about.

The response this time was slower, almost like a mental huff against his magic, then a pause rife with consideration, and a slow agreement, though it was clear he wasn't totally pleased by the affair.  

That was fine.  

Sans had done more than a few things over the years his brother hadn't totally approved of at the time, and they generally worked out ok.


Blue was still drawing shaky breaths through his teeth, a few stray tears streaking his cheeks though his sockets remained closed.

He adjusted his support on the other, taking his left hand and pulling it over his shoulder for better leverage, support.  It looked like the amputation site was oozing marrow again, but it was hard to tell in the dim, unsteady light. 


The scent of burning wires and metal was thick, pungent, and was worming its way into his skull, behind his sockets, to start brewing a monster of a headache.  It was the same smell, the same environment - that the lab had been in before Papyrus had sent him away.  If he opened his sockets, let himself see that his brother wasn't there, sitting at the computer on the far wall, typing, if he let himself see it was just his doppelganger and himself... he knew he'd start sliding down a path to which it was unlikely he'd come back from.

And he'd promised himself, promised his brother, that he'd get him away from Ga- the doctor.  

The snarky voice in the back of his mind giggled.  Who was the doppelganger or not here?  Logical reasoning implied that he himself was, given who was the native version.  

Sans had pulled his arm over his shoulder, letting him slump a little easier against him, keeping the weight off his right leg.  His hand felt strange, almost like pins-and-needles, as it hung at a strange angle, hanging down against the other's hoodie.

"Sorry," he murmured, followed by a harsh coughing fit as he got hit by a waft of hot air, saturated with the smell of burning plastics.  

The taller shifted, adjusting him closer as his hand fell away from... a collar?  Was that where the tiny brushes of magic he thought he'd felt had come from?  "Why's that?" Sans asked, beads of sweat forming across his skull.  

"Getting marrow on your shirt," was his slow reply, his skull starting to absolutely pound in reaction.  

Sans actually laughed, cracking his neck in response.  "'s not tha first time.  Won't be tha last, either.  's fine."  

He could feel his counterpart measuring his magic levels - it was a strange pressure that seemed to thrum through his own mana channels for just a moment, then was gone.  he had absolutely no idea how to explain why he could feel it though... assuming he was right about his assumption as to what it was.  

On a level he couldn't even name, his answer felt right.

He was drawn from his thoughts as the urge to cough again overwhelmed him, and he would have doubled over had Sans not been holding him up.

Ok.  Blue was hacking non-existent lungs up.  

Kid physically didn't have the reserves to deal with this crap, it was time to go.  

He'd have to bite the bullet and burn his reserves to do these 'ports fast.  Pushing acridly tainted air through their systems wasn't going to do either of them any favors.  

"'S'ok kid, here's tha plan.  Goin' ta jump ta a really, really small room, and yer gonna keep yer eyes closed.  's just a small room, but don't want'cha ta get jumpy on me or nothin'.  Nothin' ta see 'nd all that.  Only goin' ta be there for a few minutes, then we'll go on the last 'port.  Tha last one is long and I'll prob'ly be shittin' useless at tha end, but just hang on an' it'll be fine, ok?"

He let sincerity leak out, coloring his words, tinging his swirling magic, hoping it would be enough for the kid to not fight him along the way.

He really would be on dregs of magic by the time he made it to Snowdin, not much better off in terms of reserves than Blue himself was.  

That'd be fine.  Papyrus would be near enough, at least assuming the Snowdin unit didn't get called in to break the riots and fighting.  

If only fucking Asgore would get off his hairy, oafish ass and-

No.  Calm down, Sans.  Things do to.  Don't think about the asshole.

It was as if a recording of his brother's voice had turned on in his mind, and as much as he hated to admit it, the Papyrus-recording was right.

Things to do.

Blue acquiesced to the instruction, the truth to the words ringing in, against his skull.  

If that room was anything like the one they were currently in, he was more than ok with not seeing it.  

His throat was burning, both from the acrid stench and the hacking coughing, so he just nodded instead, skull tilted over to rest on his left shoulder, elevated a bit over that of the other Sans.  

His hands were aching.  

The sooner this was over, the sooner he wouldn't have to have the strange slithering, crawling feel of oily darkness of the Void on his bones.  

It reminded him of the touch of the doctor and... and the others... after they had finished... and...

He was shaking again, and bit down on his tongue to ground himself. 


Not thinking about that.

Not now, not ever if he could avoid it.

Sans didn't comment on the wave of absolute panic that radiated off the smaller for just a fraction of an instant, then vanished like a switch had been turned.  

It tasted sick, thick, malign.

But they didn't have time right now.  Coddling took place only in the safety of a home, protective wards in place, and usually only with a partner.  This was none of those things.  As much as the kid needed it, some things just couldn't be helped.  

He let his own sockets sink half-closed, a deep inhale as he coaxed his magic to probe the fabric of the reality that led to the Void, and pushed through and into it.  

A crackle of magic, and the smoky room was again empty, another safe house lost, abandoned deep in bedrock that would never be penetrated.

He was panting when they landed in the closet-room, beads of red sweat prominent now on his skull.  He felt queasy, but he just needed a few minutes to gather himself enough for the long jump to Snowdin, to home.  

Blue wasn't doing so well either, his breaths coming with faint whines at every exhale, his tear-tracks at least now dried.  There were lines of strain around his scrunched sockets though, and around his jaw, his upset clearly evident.  His skull was even more ashen than it normally appeared, about as far from a healthy shade of calcium as you could get.

The long 'port wasn't going to do either of them favors, but it was almost done, they were almost safe.  

Blue tried to pull away, shaking, all his weight on his left leg, his arm pulling away from his shoulder.  The kid would have to be one of the types that had issues with 'porting, like a tremendously awful case of motion sickness.

One that dramamine wouldn't fix, even if he had some.

He caught the smaller before he could stumble away, before he could open his eyes to see what looked like, and had been used as, a cell.  He got an arm around his waist, tugging him up to his chest, and wrapped his other arm around the kid's shoulders, hand pressing his skull against his shoulder.  He wanted to project for him, anything to calm him before this last hop, but he just didn't have the magic available to calm him.

Instead, he held Blue like Papyrus would hold him after a really bad day, flush against him, letting him feel his SOULbeat, letting everything that was him wash over the other.  

It was... nice... to be held like this.

Had... had he ever been held like this?

He didn't think so.

But the arm around his waist, the one holding him up, was carefully firm, and the other, the one cupping his skull, had a thumb that was tracing a slow circle against the bone.  It was... comfort.  

He couldn't help the short purr that choked out of his throat before settling again, letting his forehead rest against the taller's shoulder, his face buried.  

It was forever, yet an impossibly short time later, when the arm around his waist tightened fractionally.  "Hold on, kiddo.  Last one."

Reality again was pushed open by the tendril of careful magic, and with another crack, the pair were gone, the small room left still, empty, motes of dust settling in their wakes.


Chapter Text

A normal 'port started smoothly, the magic triggering it flowing as it was meant to - a natural extension of its owner.  It ended the same, the magic shifting away from the tear in reality, allowing the rent hole to heal itself, ending smoothly like a switch turned its flow off.

This was not a normal 'port.

Sans knew it as soon as he stepped into the darkness of the Void, Blue tucked in against him.  He kept his hands as they were, tight around him, unwilling to let the nothingness take the smaller.  His magic spiked uncomfortably, and he could feel it pulsing at his good socket, a haze of expelled magic escaping, leaving a glowing red trail.  He could feel his destination, home, beckoning him, pulling him forward, but his magic fought it, struggling.

The step that should have only taken an instant to complete dragged on and on and on, the Void pressing in on his bones.  It was like smearing grease directly on his bones, the strange, sticky sensation the Void left on him, prickling, itching... questioning.  

The Void wasn't happy.

It wanted to know why they were lingering, the darkness of its magic swirling around them as he fought with his magic, himself, to let them get home.

He ignored it, squeezing Blue closer and keeping his thumb moving in the small circles it was, keeping his face hidden.


He at least knew what was happening and why - 'porting with low magic reserves was frowned upon for a reason.

Blue had no idea why the Void was reaching out to him, touching him, whispering to him.

Finally, seconds, centuries later, his magic pulsed unhappily, settling into the familiar patterns of a 'port.  

He could feel his energy slipping away, bit by bit, and it took every scrap of willpower he had to keep them on the path, letting his magic pull them to their destination. 




Blue was crooning against him, not using words, but random pulses from his SOUL to express himself.

The Void hissed.  This one was new.  The spikey one normally traveled alone - it had bought this new with him.  

But the new... it was soft.  It felt different, unique, like it didn't belong but did.  

The Void didn't want to let Blue go, trying to wrap itself around him, trying to separate the spikey from the soft.

The spikey wanted no part of this, unconsciously hissing back at the Void, his red eyelight sparking in the otherwise total darkness.


 Leaving the Void was just as unpleasant.

The fabric itself of reality was acting like it didn't want to let them go, and it took almost everything he had to force his magic through the fabric.  The Void, too, itself, was being stubborn, and moving through it was like trying to swim through molasses.  

A final push and they were through, falling into a shivering pile of bones onto a carpet, once plush, now heavily worn.  

A socket cracked open and a red eyelight peered out, hazy and murky as its owner tried to gather himself.  What the fucking Angel had happened at the end of that fiasco?

He groaned, pushing himself up onto his elbows, carefully trying to detangle the limp Blue from him.

It had felt, right when he was pushing through the barrier between the Void and reality, right when his magic was fizzling, sparking, as it fought against him, that there had been an extra little push thrown in.

It certainly hadn't been from him.

It had been tinged blue.

Stars he ached, absolutely exhausted.  Three back-to-back 'ports, plus his earlier temper tantrum, had absolutely done him in, and he was trembling from sheer exertion, expelled magic damp, itchy, on his skull.  Three 'ports with a deadweight pass-


Blue was still limp.

He cast his gaze around as settled against the wall, placing where they were as he tugged the smaller to be against him.  Tucked behind the couch, against the wall, homeSafe.  Relief was a palpable rush, sending a shiver down his spine.

He reached for and snagged Blue's hood, tugging him closer so his head was resting atop his shoulder again. 

He tried not to think about how comfortable and relaxing it was to be like this.

No matter his own thoughts on it, the kid was too much of an unknown.

Papyrus needed to actually meet him before any lasting decisions were made.

He sighed.  Judging from the smear of marrow on the already stained carpet, he'd landed on top of Blue, mashing bits of him that were already hurt bad enough with his weight as they tumbled out of the Void.  


He clawed at what energy he had left to check, at least cursorily, for damage.  

Leg still broken, check.  It didn't look any worse, poking out of the too-long shorts.

Left hand.  Still missing a finger.  Check... or lack thereof?  His exhaustion made him giggle madly for a moment before he got a grip, pushing the hoodie sleeve down far enough to see.  That's where the marrow was coming from then, the wound site was inflamed, bone hot to the touch.  

Fucking hell could this poor kid not catch a break?  

He tugged the sleeve back down, then pushed the other up.

Right hand.  Still a mess of barely-held breaks, a weak matrix of magic from both Gerson and Blue glowing faintly.  It at least didn't look any worse, for whatever that was worth.  The infection though, that could be a real mess if they couldn't get that fixed sooner than later.  

His mind starting to wander, he reached for, tugged at his collar again, letting his sockets sink closed.   He brushed the tiny bit of magic he had left against the collar, sending a single word tangled up with an image of their house, their home.  


Papyrus didn't look up as he reached around Undyne, pointing to a small cavern system on the map they were going over.  

He didn't visibly react to the weak brush of magic against his cervical vertebrae, the silent message from his brother.

He didn't let out the huge sigh of relief he wanted to.

Just knowing that Sans was out of danger was enough.

Undyne cast him a look.

She knew all his tells.

She knew he was trembling internally with relief. 

The Sergeant who led the Hotlands Second didn't, the rabbit monster chewing loudly, mouth open, dropping crumbs across Undyne's map, stating obvious conclusions about the movements of the gang fighting.  

They let him play the know-it-all fool.

Let him get his unit dusted, because that's what his suggestions were going to lead to when he ordered his press-ganged troops in.

Waterfall's units were loyal to Undyne, Snowdin to Papyrus.  

They were loyal because their commanding officer gave a shit.

Not like this rabbit who was counting potential losses like one would count out candy pieces.

Papyrus shut him out, considering his assets on the proverbial table, strategically stationed around the map.

The dogs were completely loyal to him, and they'd expressed an interest in the continuing story of their interloper - "the pup" Dogaressa had called him.  Maybe he could send one of them back to Snowdin, the town proper, and have that dog watch the house, just in case.

He very much doubted Onionsan gave a shit about the skeleton's loss, assuming they'd even seen past the "pile of dust" ruse.

He had, however, not gotten to his position by being a trusting monster.

Yes.  He'd send a dog over to make sure the house was safe.  

And as soon as this fiasco was done, he'd high-tail back as well.

He apparently had a houseguest to attend to.

Chapter Text

The rioting had finally ended, hours later.  It had taken a lot of willpower on his part to not snap at Undyne or the idiot sergeant from Hotlands, but finally the fighting had wound down enough that Undyne had stood down the Snowdin unit, sending Papyrus home with a knowing look.

He'd protested, of course. 

He had to.  

It was part of the act, the dance that played out whenever they had an audience.

Undyne knew it too, the skin around her neck gills tightening just a tiny bit, going the tiniest shade darker.

"Go home, Lieutenant," she brushed him off, turning her back a calculated degree.  Just enough to demonstrate a super-to-inferior level of trust, but enough to imply to anyone around that there was a limit to that.  "Stand your unit down, there's no more reason for you to waste your time here tonight."

The words were cursory, almost snarky, derisive.  

They knew they were each both happy that their units were going home, intact.  

Let the idiot Sergeant deal with explaining why two-thirds of his unit was dust and why half of south Waterfall was scorched.  

But calling out the idiot wasn't in the script.  "Are you sure, Captain?" was.

Undyne let out a huff, settling into her chair.  Elbows on the table, she folded her fingers, but looked over them, focusing instead on the map that showed scribbles of casualty totals, damage estimates... civilian collateral damage.  She had at least a handful of hours to total things, to send them to the Capitol.  

He didn't envy her.

"No, Lieutenant," she finally bit out, even though, in all honesty and if the Sergeant hadn't been present, she'd have accepted the offer gladly.  He was far better at the administrative side of the Guard units than she was.  But, the Sergeant was a mostly unknown factor, and it wouldn't do for any sign of weakness to be displayed.  "No," she repeated.  "Dismiss your unit.  Get out of here.  Make sure that no brush fires break out in Snowdin tonight."

The caveat was unnecessary.  Snowdin's curfew was both well enforced and well adhered to.  The locals knew it wasn't totally safe outside for them once the light crystals dimmed for night, and they took that information to heart.  If they were caught out after curfew, there were worse things out there beyond the Snowdin Canines.  

There were ferals.

But that was another topic he had no intention of dealing with at the moment.

Instead, he sketched an appropriate salute, his elbow bent at the prescribed angle, eyelights focused straight for a handful of beats, then dropped the pose.

"Thank you, Captain.  I wish you the best for the rest of the night, and will see you in the morning."  It was a short parting, one they'd shared many times in the past.

It was a promise that there would be a morning for them to great each other on.

The lock's tumblers clicked into place softly, and Papyrus let himself into the dark house, his light footfalls sounding like shots in the otherwise silent living room.

He'd have been panicking if not for the resonance of his own collar with his brother's.  

Sans was here, he was safe.  

He pulled his boots off, his socked feet scuffing across the carpet as he dropped his knapsack next to the couch.  Gloves got tossed onto the side table, carelessly by his standards - he'd have to tidy that up as soon as he located his brother.

His brother was here, as was the... the other... going off the faint hint of strange magic in the air.  But it was quiet, and his brother was normally anything but quiet, which had his SOUL tense.  

They weren't on the couch, and the kitchen was quiet.  Not upstairs, the hints of magic were too close.  

He set a knee on the couch, avoiding the one spring that stuck out just enough to be bothersome, and peered over the side.

Sans gave him a half wave, the bone of his bare arm bright in the dim light from the entryway.  He looked... safe.  Whole.  Tired, if the lines by his sockets were anything to go by.  His other arm was... 

Papyrus felt his SOUL clench in guilt. 

The smaller copy of his brother was curled into a ball, his skull resting on his brother's femur, sockets closed.  Sans's sweatshirt was draped over him like a blanket, emphasizing just how undersized he was, and his brother was stroking his sutures and the crown of his skull, motions slow.

Stars, he'd seen stripelings bigger.  

Sans slid his hand on the smaller's shoulder, and faintly, like a tickle in the back of his mind, Papyrus could feel comfort being pushed into him.

He chose not to mention it.  Not yet.  Instead, he went with a "How bad was it?"

His elder brother let his eyes sink half-closed, his exhaustion radiating off him in waves.  He made as if to respond, then visibly jerked, checking the skeleton curled against him.  His eyelights came back up, and his free hand rose and sketched out some quick signs in Hands.  Eastern safes gone.  Not safe.

Papyrus settled on the arm of the couch, arms crossed over his midsection.  "Were they found or-?"  He kept his voice low, level.  The losses of the safes in the east of Waterfall was... unavoidable, but something easily rectified.  "And why are you on the floor?"

Sans started finger-spelling.  Collateral.  That was the problem with Hands.  Some words required two hands to convey, and it was clear he had no intention of moving the one off the smaller.  Not found.  Sans was proving adept in swapping between finger-spellings and full signing.

Too tired to lift to couch.  Void was-  His hands stilled, and Papyrus waved off the rest of the statement.  

The look on his brother's face was enough. 

The Void was a fickle bastard, and he was happy enough for his brother to stay out of it, regardless of how helpful his abilities with it had proven. 

It had swallowed that monster.  There was nothing keeping it from doing the same to Sans.  

Yes.  He was quite happy to have his brother as far away from it as possible, as often as possible.

"Is he-?"

Sans sighed, shoulders slumping visibly against the wall.  "Hand's infected."  His words were barely audible, even in the otherwise silence of the room.  "Amputated one.  He's been sleepin' on an' off.  Kid's got nightmares."  He paused, looking down at Blue's skull, his phalange-tips stilling.  

He looked back up, making sure he got full eye contact from his brother.  Nightmares like yours used to be he finished signing, the hand making the signs held rigid and steady.  

Papyrus chose to ignore those implications, standing instead.  His brother could be too damned perceptive when he wanted to be.  

"Where do you want him?" he asked instead, coming around the side of the couch and kneeling.  He kept his voice low, but the smallest seemed unaware of his proximity.  "I don't want him unattended."

Sans gave him a hard look, and it took his years of practice to keep himself from responding, reacting, to his elder brother's obvious displeasure. 

"I'll keep'n eye on 'im."  He, too, kept his voice low, but there was a line of steel through it.  "Ya haven't gotten it yet, kid's not a threat."  He nearly spat the last word, only stilling when Blue shifted against his femur, a low whine rattling out of his chest.

He'd frozen when their houseguest had moved, only returning to motion a few moments after he'd gone still.  "He's still too much of an unknown for me, Sans, and you know that."  His tone was brusque, brittle.  He leaned over and, despite his words, his tone, carefully rolled the limp body into his arms, into a bridal carry, his brother's hoodie falling away as he rocked back onto his heels.  

He adjusted his grip and stood, as steadily as he was able.  Sans pushed himself up as well with a quiet huff, putting a hand against his cervicals and popping them.

And suddenly there were hazy eyelights focused on him, or at least around him - it was hard to say for sure with how wavering they were.  A hand - the broken one, he realized with a wince - gripped the loose end of his scarf weakly, his hand shaking too badly to keep any force behind it.

"-P-papy?"  The voice was raspy, thick from sleep, exhaustion, fever, cracking at the end.

Sans met his pin-prick eyelights with his own as he finally broke his gaze away, both sets going wide as they realized a second before it happened just how not good this was going to be.

Blue started sobbing, his grip on the scarf unrelenting as he sobbed into it, into Papyrus's shoulder.  His shoulders, his entire self heaved as he struggled to get his arms around the taller skeleton, words tumbling out between the sobs, the tears soaking into both the Lieutenant's uniform and his own borrowed clothes.  

"Papy - why'd you send me away - why'd he take you away - he... he... it hurt and they just kept hurting and-"  Papyrus let his mind slowly block out the words as the tiny skeleton wailed into his chest, instead shifting the smaller when he choked on his tears to make breathing easier.  Sans had gone silent, standing, swaying in front of the couch, his bone looking ashen as he picked out stray words.  

He made a short, abortive wave to his brother, his eyelights focused and sockets squinted.  "Don't ya dare tell 'im yer not his bro, not now.  Ya want ta kill 'im?  'Cause that'll do it."  

The words might have been whispered, but they hit him like a bucket of ice water.

"-and then the needles again, after - after the... the one tech... broke my foot 'cause I cou-couldn't move and then he... he..." each word was punctuated by a sob or a hiccup, until the very end, when Blue went still, eerily so, given the tears still coursing down his face.  He whined, eyelights guttering, and buried his face in the scarf.  

Sans felt his sockets widen as the first trickles of cyan magic began to leak out from the kid's left socket, still scrunched shut.  He almost, almost made comment of the shade, until a low pulse of magic began to swell.

It started off like song, carried on the breeze, then rose in volume, intensity, until it had completely enveloped him.  

It was similar to when he'd gotten a snapshot of Blue's memories earlier, if one could say the tidepools of Waterfall were equatable to a surface ocean.  

So much... so much everything.  Pain.  Pain in spades.  Discomfort.  Touching.  It was a wonder the kid could tolerate any contact whatsoever, or why he flinched so much.  

Stars.  Those.... those fucking monsters.  

Even in the shambles their society was in, certain crimes against stripelings just weren't done and, if someone had lost themselves to their LV that much, or were on the way to going feral and committed such an atrocity - well, there was only one punishment for them, assuming they made it to the Judgement Hall for the King's Justice.

He'd have never let the bastards make it to him.


Papyrus had stopped as he'd been swallowed by the cresting wave of Blue's magic pulse.  He could feel his eyelights flicking back and forth to things that weren't there stop thinking they're there they're NOT, his arms tightening around his cargo.

He'd known, really, after the truth serum debacle, that this was a skeleton from... not here.  He wasn't a dumb monster.  He'd had the evidence right in front of his nasal aperture.  

He just hadn't been ready to accept it.  

This.  This was enough for him to accept it.  An undersized, broken skeleton who, in a fever dream, had mistaken him for a brother... also not from here.  

This wash of memories, this... this was something that couldn't be faked.  


The magic pulse died off as quick as it had came into being, leaving Blue limp and unresponsive in his arms.

"I'm... I'm gonna make some hot chocolate."

He jerked his head up and around, realizing he'd somehow ended up seated on the couch, Blue settled sideways across his lap, propped so he was in a semi-seated position.  Sans was... he was looking shaky too, his eyelight barely a prick.  

He nodded instead of a verbal response, not quite willing to trust his voice to not crack.  Yes.  Hot chocolate would be... sufficient.  For all of them.  

For Sans and himself, it would help calm and soothe nerves, and for Blue, it would be at least a start in replacing the magic he'd expelled involuntarily during his breakdown.  

His brother vanished into the kitchen, and he settled back.  

He wasn't apparently as touchy as his brother was, not sure exactly how to comfort the transplanted skeleton, and instead just rocked him slowly, framing projections of /calm/peace/safety/ into the room in general.

His original idea, plan of handing him a small bag of gold and turning him loose was off the table.  There was no way the skeleton in his lap was going to be able to function independently any time in the near future, and even if he'd still been willing to put Blue out, Sans would never allow it.  Rations were limited - but they were always limited.  And Sans had said he'd made progress in getting him papers.  

They were a starting point at least.

Papyrus had gotten so lost in his thoughts it took him a few moments to realize there was a weak tug coming at his scarf.  

Blue had curled in on himself, his broken hand tucked in against his chest, the one with the missing finger - the infected one! his mind pointed out helpfully - fingering the fabric slowly.  

He kept skull tucked down, trying to make himself smaller.  

There was a tremble to his shoulders, but his voice came out steady, if slightly reedy.

"You're not my Papyrus, are you."

There was no accusation, no malice, no anger - no actual question to his words.

Just terrible, overwhelming acceptance and despair.

He... The Great and Terrible Papyrus, Lieutenant of the Snowdin Division of the King's Army, survivor of hundreds of meetings with His Majesty the Mad King Asgore, who'd faced down more LV-crazed monsters than he could even remember... he had no idea how to respond.

Instead, he gave the smaller a squeeze and shifted to duplicate his brother's motions from earlier, tracing the sharp tips of his phalanges over the smaller's skull until he settled, breathing deepening and slowing as he dropped back into another fitful doze.

Chapter Text

Sans appeared, carefully balancing three mugs of hot chocolate, shortly after Blue slipped into... well, Papyrus wasn't entirely convinced it was sleep.  The body was too still, though he could still feel the dregs of mana it had below his phalanges, for it to be a natural sleep.  

Sans set one of the mugs on the coffee table, carefully balancing his own as he handed his to Papyrus, handle out.  He took it, keeping the still form in his arms stable as he blew off a bit of steam, then took a sip.  The eldest settled on the far side of the couch, eyelights visible over the rim of his mug, though his expression was mostly hidden as he, too, sipped.  

The warm, smooth chocolate immediately soothed his frayed nerves, settled his magic back down.  

They sat in silence, each finishing their own mugs, Sans taking both empties to the table and picking up the still-full one.  "Hold 'im?" he asked, settling next to his brother's femurs.

Papyrus obeyed, settling the deadweight don't think like that higher on his lap and tilting his skull back.  Sans leaned over and worked his thumb into the corner of the smallest's teeth, getting them open just enough to get the edge of the mug into the gap.  A tiny tilt, and a few drops made it through.

Thankfully, luckily, Blue reflexively swallowed, and both brothers let out of sigh in relief.  Getting anything into a skeleton's system if they couldn't, wouldn't swallow was difficult at best, and usually required direct SOUL contact, and that was not something either wanted to consider at this point. 

They continued to pour most of the mug into the small form, Sans speaking gruffly soft encouragements, ignoring the look his brother gave him.  It was the same tone that Sans had used on him, when he had been a babybones, when he had been sickly.  His brother had already, consciously or not, identified this new skeleton as family, and he wasn't quite sure how to process that yet.

He set aside the mostly empty cup, ignoring the drips down the side of the ceramic, at least for the moment, and shifted, unsure what to do with the still-motionless body.  

Sharp, red eyelights focused on him for a moment, glancing for the briefest of moments at the mug, the trickle of liquid chocolate down its side leaving a tiny drop on the end-table.  "Can ya get 'im upstairs?" Sans asked, slipping off the edge of the couch, shoving his hands into his sweatshirt pockets.  

He didn't respond, only stood.  The doppelgänger - no, Blue, his mind helpfully pointed out - whined softly, his sockets still dark as he was shifted and broken bones grated.  

Papyrus was many things, unnecessarily cruel would never be one of them.  He began projecting again, calm/safety/protection, and shifted the stiffened body closer as he made for the stairs.  

A snap of magic, the briefest stench of ozone, and Sans was standing ahead of him at the top of the stairs, the faintest traces of red magic highlighting his skull.  "My room," he said softly, his voice like a burr, watching like a hawk.

"No more 'porting, brother, at least not tonight," he scolded as he mounted the stairs, rounding the corner at the top and striding past Sans.  

His brother didn't respond, merely trotted ahead and pushed his door open.

Sans didn't spend a lot of time in his room, and it showed.  A pile of laundry sat in the corner, a small trash tornado keeping a pair of odd socks chasing each other.  A plate with some stale crumbs sat on his desk, something he hadn't noticed when he had come back earlier to snag clothing.  His bed was semi-made, the linens cold but clean, the sheets and blanket tugged up over the pillows.  It wasn't something he spent a lot of time in, the brothers usually choosing to share a bed for comfort, or for warmth when the power went out and they wanted to conserve the fuel they had for their generator, which was depressingly often.  It was, however, a queen-sized, something far larger than he needed for himself alone.

He tugged the blanket and sheet down before hurrying from the room, leaving Papyrus to set Blue down.  Tiny white eyelights followed his motions slowly as the younger brother straightened the broken leg out, carefully gently folding arms over his sternum.  The smaller skeleton didn't let out more than a tiny groan as the infected hand was set down, though the heat radiating off of it was palpable, even through his gloves.  

He frowned, carefully lifting the hand back up, examining it.  

Flecks of dust tumbled off, settling on the sheets.

A sigh, and he carefully reached for his magic.  

Green magic wasn't his forte, but he'd had enough need to use it for damage control, for emergencies, that it came readily at his call.  He focused, letting the tendrils of it wrap around his own hand, the smaller one cupped in his own, letting it seek out the places it was needed the most.  It latched onto the smaller, wrapping around it like a halo, then slowly seemed to sink into it, like the porous bone was really a sponge.  

It took long moments, but the magic seemed to take, and he cut the flow of it off as fast as he had called it up, unwilling to let his reserves fall for someone who was still an unknown.  The bone was still warm to the touch, but no longer hot, as he set it back down, flinty eyelights meeting hazy ones.  

He sighed and broke the gaze.  

There was no point in getting worked up, at least not yet.  At least... not over Blue himself.  He'd seen other monsters sick from untreated infections, and knew he wasn't going to be getting any coherent discussion from the other, not for a while.

At least he wouldn't be dusting overnight from the fever.  

Sans came trudging back up the stairs a moment later, a pair of bricks levitating ahead of him.  A wave of his hand had them wrapped in towels and tucked under the blankets at the foot of the bed.  Papyrus leaned forward and tugged the blanket up, the heat from the bricks already ensuring that the bedding would stay warm for hours.

Blue shivered, the tension slowly fading from his bones as the warmth, combined with the aftereffects of the hot chocolate, sent him into a deep sleep.  

The brothers sat silently, watching, until the tone of his breathing changed into the deeper, less-forced sound of a true sleep.  Papyrus let his spine some of the tension that had been in it, Sans just slumped against the wall.  

"Wha's th' plan?" he slurred, still clearly tired from earlier.  "Can't leave 'im, 'n there's patrols 'n all."

He glanced, first to his brother, then to the bed.  

If he'd had lips, he'd have been chewing on the lower one.

He stayed silent for long moments, thinking out his options, most of immediately discarded.

Instead of responding though, he acted.  

Long arms scooped up Sans, too swift for him to get out a protest.  He plopped him onto the end of the bed, his new location immediately stilling his complaints as he glanced at Blue.  Instead, he locked sockets with his younger brother, questions clearly evident.

"Stay with him," came the soft words.  Soft, thoughtful, considering.

Instead of blurting out commentary, Sans shifted, casting a glance over his shoulder at the still form there.  

Papyrus let him come to his own conclusions as he stepped to the desk, pulling out the chair and settling onto it.  "Stay with him," he repeated, softer this time.  "The Dogi can cover your sentry station for a few days.  I don't want him dusting."

What he didn't say, what his brother picked out from his careful phrasing, was that he couldn't let this little skeleton who looked like his brother, who apparently had a brother who was a version of him, go to dust.  

What he wanted to say, but didn't, couldn't, was that the magic inherent in the skeleton subspecies was telling him that this smaller figure was his brother, or another brother, that he was family.  Instinct was a hard thing to break, and given the responses from Sans, his brother felt no compunction to do so himself.

That... and the emotion that had been conveyed earlier, those memories... Magic had a taste, a flavor, and when it was being used to pass an untruth along, it reeked of wrong.  The memories Blue had projected...

Those had been truthful.

He sighed, leaning back in the chair as he gave up trying to sort out his thoughts, at least for the evening.  "Go to sleep, Sans.  I'll wake you before I leave."

Sans nodded, waving his hand towards the light switch with a tiny flicker of magic to flip it off.  The blankets were warm already, pleasant against his bones in the chill of the room.  The bed was more than wide enough for the pair of them, and his base instincts were unspeakably pleased to have himself between Blue and the door.  He settled down, the blanket tugged up to his chin, and sleep quickly took him as his brother kept watch.

Chapter Text

True to his word, Papyrus nudged his brother awake some hours later.

Sans growled lowly, enjoying the faint heat still radiating from the bricks, but reluctantly hauled himself up, though he kept the blanket pulled up over himself.  A glance to his bedmate showed Blue still deeply asleep, curled up as much as he could.  His teeth were parted fractionally, soft puffs of air leaving clouds in the chill air.  Satisfied that he was covered, he shifted to acknowledge his brother.

Papyrus held out a cup of coffee, which Sans eagerly took, letting the warmth radiating from it warm the front of his skull.  "Mornin'," he said after a sip of the bitter liquid, voice rough from sleep.

His brother nodded his response as he tugged his scarf tighter, tucking the ends below his unzipped coat before tugging the zipper up to his neck.  "Rolling power outages today, so I left out some sandwiches.  The Dogi will be around, mostly because I don't trust Onionsan.  Gerson also left a message, he'll be in at some point."  He pulled a pair of gloves from his inventory before focusing on Sans.

"How's your magic levels?"

The elder considered, stretching both physically and metaphysically. "Almost normal," he responded after a moment, then took another swig of coffee.  "Good 'nough."  He turned bright eyelights to his brother, watching his normal ritual of getting ready.  

"Good.  Don't waste any unnecessarily.  There's been rumors coming in after the break out of fighting yesterday, something about Onionsan releasing some ferals he's had locked away."

Sans couldn't hold back a groan.  "'e's a lunatic.  Ferals in Snowdin?  'e's goin' ta violate the safe zone?"

"Seems likely.  See if you can get any information about it, keep your ear to the ground.  Keep... keep Blue with you."

He snorted, he couldn't help it.  "Kid ain't goin' ta go anywhere by 'imself," he laughed, before remembering to keep his volume down.  "'s goin' ta take a lot more'n one session with the Capt'n to get 'imself healed 'nough."

Papyrus pinched his nasal ridge.  "Humor me, Sans.  See... see what you can find out from him, if he has any skills.  Keep him occupied."  He pulled each glove on slowly, making sure to keep his clawed phalanges from ripping into the material.  "I'll message you, but I anticipate being out late tonight."

Sans nodded, setting the now-empty coffee mug onto the nightstand.  "Figured after yesterday."  He shifted back down, closer to the warmth of the bricks... and Blue.  "Phone?"

It was fished from his brother's inventory and tossed onto the bed beside him, and Sans snatched at it and pulled it under the covers.  

The taller skeleton patted himself down to make sure he was all there, his own red eyelights glowing in the darkness of the room.  "I have to go," he said unnecessarily, satisfied that he had everything he needed.  "I'll be in touch."

He turned sharply on his heel, only pausing for a fraction of a moment as his brother told him to take care of himself softly, almost under his breath.  He ducked his head fractionally before shutting the door behind himself.

Sans sat still, listening as his brother clumped down the stairs, scuffed his boots on the mat.  The door slammed, and even behind the door, he could make out the deadbolt being slid home.  A tiny pulse of magic tickled the back of his cervicals through his collar - Papyrus had triggered all the wards on the house.

Good. That would keep out people who weren't keyed to the spells.

He shifted, pressing his spine against the headboard as he glanced again at the smaller form next to him.  Blue hadn't moved, the tiny puffs of his breath the only sign of motion.  There were dark smudges beneath his sockets still, possibly permanently etched to his skull.  His bone was frightfully off-colored, something that was also not likely to change any time soon.  

He slipped down under the blanket again, glad that the bricks maintained their heat so well.  Idly, he traced a claw over the casing of his phone.  Was this skeleton's version of Snowdin as bitterly cold as it was here?  He had said he was the younger brother, reverse of what it was here... did that mean their AU was completely swapped from here?  Or partially?  

Whatever.  It was complicated, and something he didn't want to think about with only one cup of coffee in his system.

He set the phone aside.  If his brother was actually going to allow him to slack off, he might as well catch up on some sleep.

He was on the couch, picking at one the sandwiches his brother had left, browsing through a battered magazine, when a quick rap on the door preceded the lock clicking.

He didn't bother getting up.  The prickling of the wards against his neck told him who it was.  If it had been a threat, he'd have 'ported upstairs and grabbed Blue already.

Gerson shut the door behind him, flipping the locks as he turned.  "Laddie," he greeted, making sure to wipe his shoes on the mat.

Papyrus would know if he didn't, and that just wasn't worth the headache.

"Cap'n," Sans returned the welcome, grabbing his phone off the arm of the couch and shoving it into his pocket, before pushing himself up off the couch.  "Sandwich?"

The turtle's beak gaped in a smile, but he shook his head.  "Naw, laddie.  Just 'ere ta check on the wee one."

He had expected as much.  "Kid's upstairs sleepin' still.  You wan'ta head up now?"

Gerson was already halfway to the stairs.  "Aye, laddie.  Bring me a pot 'o water, will ye?"

Sans huffed at the ancient monster, but obeyed, scuttling to the kitchen and filling up the requested pot.  A quick 'port later had him in the doorway to his room, the turtle just settling onto the edge of the bed. 

Blue was still out, his body still curled around itself.  A beady eye peered at him, over the edge of a shell.  "Help me straighten 'im out, lad?"  He didn't wait for a response and slowly began stretching out Blue's legs, taking exquisite care, given his LV.

Sans huffed as he set down the pot on the nightstand, but again obeyed, lifting and adjusting splinted limbs until Gerson leaned back, signaling his satisfaction.  "Well then, laddie.  His leg is as set as it's getting, just needs time now.  I have an ointment for the infected hand, I'll show ye how ta do it shortly.  I want ta focus on tha'broken hand today."

And focus on it he did.  Three hours of careful, painstaking healing later ended with an exhausted turtle and a still unconscious skeleton.  Sans worked quietly with gauze, wrapping each newly healed, fragile bone against the balsawood splints, pausing only when Gerson adjusted his ministrations to offer more support to the weak bones.  

A final pass of the gauze left Blue's arm encased from the elbow down to his phalange-tips, the entire thing nearly pulsing with green magic, pulsing so strongly Sane wasn't entirely surprised to see hazy eyelights focused on him as he set the limb down.

Gerson noticed too, leaning forward and again parting his beak in a smile.

Blue flinched, eyelights flickering between each.  A barely audible hiss escaped from his clenched teeth before he flinched back again, terror clearly evident in his expression.

Sans tried not to smile at the hiss, not when it was coupled with the terror.  It was about as threatening as Monster Kid hissing at him.  "Easy, kid.  Not goin'ta hurt'cha, and yer good ta hiss all ya want."

Gerson leaned back, to not seem so threatening.  "He's right, laddie.  Just want ta make sure yer feelin' a bit better.  How's yer hand feelin'?"

He woke up warm and comfortable, lulled by soft tones over him, gentle hands cradling his broken arm.  It had to be a dream... it didn't hurt.  Sure, it was uncomfortable, but it wasn't the mind altering pain he'd been living with for... well, only the Angel knew.  

He opened his sockets slowly, squinting to focus.

And wishing he hadn't.

The one who looked like him was setting his mummified arm down, and the scary turtle monster with the razor sharp beak was super close.  

He couldn't help himself.

He hissed, a natural response to a scared skeleton.

And one he'd been beaten for before.

He immediately flinched back, not even bothering to try to cover his skull from the blows about to rain down on him.  That would just make his punishment worse, and his broken bones had just stopped hurting.

The dual apologies had him blinking.  The Doctor, the orderlies... they certainly never tolerated any hissing, considering it to be him being contrary, and the Barrier would fall before they would apologize. 

Yet these two had. 

He blinked again, working his jaw slowly.  "'s ok," he murmured softly, noticing a faint aftertaste as his conjured tongue clicked off his magic.  It tasted... sweet. Warm. Comforting... the faint aftertaste of something half remembered from his stripeling days.

The turtle's... smile? grew again as he pressed a few somethings into the other skeleton's hands, then stepped out.  Slow clunking down the stairs ended with the slam of a door and the faint sound of a deadbolt sliding home, then a prickle against the back of his magic, so faint he might have imagined it.

The one that looked like him... Sans... examined what he'd been given before looking back down at him.

"How ya doin', kid?"

... How was he doing?  He didn't know how to answer that, no one ever asked him that.  He caught himself before his introspection got too dark, blinking up at the other before trying to push himself up.  

Words.  Sans wanted words.

"... tired? Doesn't hurt as much..."

Sharp teeth smiled at him.  'Good.  The Cap'n left some antibiotic gel for your hand, and the ol' coot found some painkillers.  Ya wanna get cleaned up 'n come downstairs for a while?"

Sans got a completely blank look as a response, and he could have kicked himself.  Giving the kid open-ended questions wasn't going to get him an answers.  "Well, tha's what we're gon'ta do.  Now, hold still fer a bit."

Blue stayed rigid as the other lifted his malformed hand, his breath hissing between his teeth this time.  Again, the other ignored it, positioning his bandaged arm carefully across his chest as he eased him up... with far more care than he could remember ever being taken with him.

Sans huffed softly at how tense the kid was, but he got it.  This wasn't going to be fixed overnight. 

If ever.

"So.  Clean clothes. You got any pref?"

Once he had gotten Blue sitting up, he had padded over to his dresser, poking through some of the clothing he had worn when he was younger.  He shook out a pair of jeans, but set them aside.  His leg was... it would hold weight, but trying to maneuver him into denim was probably going to be annoying.  Bingo.  The next thing he found was a pair of track pants, black, with a pair of stripes - red and gold - down the leg.  Stretchy waist, but small enough they wouldn't fall off, and, most importantly, would hide the visible injuries.

He looked back up to Blue, still looking for a response, though he wasn't sure why.  What he found was a pair of dark sockets staring at him, clearly puzzled.

He should have known better.  "Need 'ta have clothes, kid.  It's too stars damned cold 'ere to go without."

He wasn't listening to the words that Sans, the other him, was saying, interested more in pants.  He forgot himself for a moment, staring at them, then stretched out his non-casted hand.  His doppelganger tossed them so they landed across his legs, and he was satisfied to run his trembling phalanges over the fabric.  Sans, meanwhile, was rifling through the drawer he had pulled out, holding up shirts one at a time, then glancing at him, then back to the shirt, then tossing each to the side.

Finally, a plain gray t-shirt, soft from being laundered repeatedly, joined the pants.  A pair of socks and old pair of sneakers landed on the carpet by his hanging legs, and he got up and ambled to the closet.  The kid had minimal magic available, which meant there wasn't much running through his system to keep him warm.  Sweatshirt.  Check. He found one almost immediately - you didn't just throw things away in the Underground, you held onto every resource you could... and too-small clothing counted.  It was a bit beaten with age, but it was nearly identical to the one he wore now, save no fur on the collar.  Black, the same stripes as the pants.  Perfect.

Getting it all on him was another story.  It took a half hour of sweating, panting, sharp inhales of pained breaths, and no few curses on his part, but he sat back on his heels, finally satisfied.  Blue was standing, leaning heavily on the bed, but still standing under his own power.  On Gerson's recommendation, the casted arm was in a sling secured across his too small, too frail ribs.  The shoes were about the right size, the pants the same, the hoodie long enough to hide his hand and the sling... and the kid looked slightly more relaxed.  

Even if he was chalky and panting from the exertions.

 "Think you can make it downstairs on yer own power?"

He knew full well he couldn't, but somewhere in the back of his skull, he knew intrinsically that the offering of the freedom to was important.

He'd want to be offered the chance, if it was himself.

In a way, it was him, wasn't it?

Blue wobbled slightly, then shook his head before remembering himself.  "Don't think so," his voice was nearly a whisper as he slowly rotated himself to be facing the door.  

Just those few feet seemed like miles.

Sans huffed to himself, walking between the door and the bed, kicking random socks and clothes out of the way so there was a clear path.  "Didn't think so."  He took Blue's good arm, and without waiting for a response from him, slung it over his shoulder.  "Let's go," he told him, ignoring the surprise he saw.  "Th' Cap'n'll dust me if you get any more hurt."

He had nearly cried at the idea of trying to get from the bed to the door, and the idea of then trying to do stairs was enough to make him want to curl into a tiny ball. 

He had ducked his skull, gritting his molars as he tried to force himself to take that first step, only to be surprised at a grip on his arm, and it being carefully navigated up... and over?  

Over the other's shoulder? 

He was... going to help him?


Maybe he could do this, after all.



Chapter Text

If he had been thinking beforehand, or if he had realized just how slow getting Blue down the stairs was going to be…

He would have risked burning the magic for a 'port, regardless of what his brother had warned. He would have written it off as an experiment to see if Blue had another negative response to the Void, or if it was a one-off, based on how… how very broken he had been the last trip through.

Twenty minutes.  It had taken twenty minutes to walk the few feet to the stairs, to navigate the single flighty, and to head through the living room and into the kitchen.

He would have groused, been his snarky self...

If not for the look of sheer and utter triumph from Blue after he managed a few shuffling, unassisted steps.

He could be a real dick.  Everyone knew it... but he wouldn't take that from the kid.

He did most of the work to get Blue into the chair, but that was fine.  The smaller was panting, sweat beads moistening his skull.

Stars... he was so small.

He wasn't a large monster himself - if not for his job, and the notoriety that went with it - if not for who his brother was... he would almost certainly be dust-bait, a target.  Without even the fragile protection of stripes, the small were prey, at least in the majority of the Underground.  Snowdin was generally an exception, the bordering sections of Waterfall - territory nominally controlled by Papyrus and Undyne.

But Hotlands?  New Home?  

Small implied weak.

Weak implied free LV.

He frowned as he rifled through the cabinets, his back to the softly panting Blue.  Absently, he wondered if the kid realized what kind of trust he was demonstrating, showing his back...

Probably not.

Maybe he could convince the other to wear stripes, if when they went out.  Just for protection...

He shoved a bag of rice to the side.  There had been a box of crackers in here somewhere... 

There it was.  A flicker of blue magic had it land in his hand.

He pulled it out and carried it back to the table, snagging a bowl from the cabinet on the way.  Gerson had suggested light finger-foods ("not Grillby's," the old turtle had snapped).  Bland, easy to manage with bandaged hands, and as plentiful as they could manage.

Plentiful.  Heh.  

Their rations could feed them and Blue for sure... for now.

At least until the next food shortage.  Or until the next riot in New Home.  Or until the next supply convoy got attacked.  Yeah, it would do for now, but it wasn't a feasible long-term solution.

He shook himself back to the here and now, setting the bowl down and tipping a handful of crackers into it.

Blue watched Sans shuffle to the cabinets, idling wondering if when he would ever be able to be so... normal... like that.  It was surreal, vague memories of his childhood before Gaster... when his brother... 

The soft clatter of crackers hitting the bowl stole his attention before he could start going bad places.  he glanced between Sans and the bowl, wanting to trust, but too conditioned, and knowing he was too conditioned, to take anything without explicit permission.

Sans seemed to realize it too, scratching the back of his skull as he stepped back.

"Go 'head," he put the box away, but not before he pushed the bowl so it was squarely in front of him.  "Whole bowl, all yers."

His sockets grew wide, his shaky white eyelights fixed on the bowl as he stopped paying attention to what Sans was doing, saying.  he reached out, the movements of his misshapen hand jerky, the amputation site hidden by bandages.  Using his thumb and forefinger, he carefully picked up a single cracker, as if waiting for a response.

None came.

He jerked his skull up to focus on Sans for a second, well back by the cabinets.  He was watching like a hawk; the comforting nod and toothy smile were a harsh dichotomy.  

The magic that formed his tongue nearly sizzled when the cracker hit it, barely giving him time to chew as it absorbed near-instantly.

Sans turned, trying not to clench his claws into his palm, or into the counter-top.  He was no stranger to malnutrition - and the speed that cracker been ingested was... telling.  The snippets of memory he had picked up from Blue earlier were devoid of... flavor, of taste - when he could identity so many other sensations.  Exhaustion, pain, weariness in his bones, lights that were too bright that burned his sockets... sounds, terrible sounds... freezing cold...

He suspected starvation rations had been used, at least in part, to keep the other weak, pliable.

... he hoped they had been starvation rations.

There was a plate of peanut butter sandwiches on the table under a cover, left by his brother earlier.  One of them found it's way onto a napkin, next to the bowl, and Sans silently thanked his brother for the forethought to cut them into quarters.

Blue stopped paying attention, again focusing only on the food, and the frothy cup of milk that appeared next to the bowl, as if by (heh) magic.  The crackers were nothing special, just plain, white flour, lightly-salted, crackers.  The milk was achingly cold against his teeth, leaving a chilling burn through his magic as it absorbed.  The sandwich...

At home, food made with intent was rare, reserved for the social elite, for families, or by healers to patients.  Papyrus - his Papyrus - had made him sandwiches when he was in stripes, on bad days at school, or when Gaster had been... needlessly and thoughtlessly cruel in his commentary to the stripelings he had adopted before he started using them as guinea pigs.  

These sandwiches... the intent put into the creation of such simple things... 

Again, Blue couldn't help but to shiver as the magic rolled into him, washing over him like a wave.  The pure intent, the /comfort/heal/family/, that was so strong it was nearly a third person in the room... for...

It was for him?

Sans ignored the soft sounds of pleasure - not quite purrs - coming from Blue.  He doubted the kid even realized he was doing it.  

And he would never admit it himself, but it was... cute... soothing, a pleasant change of pace from what their world normally was.

Blue ate until he could barely force his teeth to part to accept any more... and whined softly, upset, his eyelights shrinking back down again.  There were still crackers left in the bowl, though the milk and the small bit of sandwich were gone.  He couldn't eat any more, but he'd been punished before for being wasteful... Sans hadn't seemed to notice his distress yet - he was playing on his phone, leaning on the counter by the sink.

He grabbed for another cracker, forcing himself to mechanically part his teeth and start chewing.  His magic told him with a queasy lurch, not happy about being too full after so long of never being full enough.

He picked another, his magic starting to churn uncomfortably.

Sans tried to not smile at the kid's distress, quietly catching him by the cuff of his sleeve before the next cracker passed his blunt teeth.  Sharp, red eyelights met the tiny white ones, and again, a corner of his mind questioned what trait the kid's magic really was.

"Ya don't have to eat 'em all."  He took the cracker from the shaking fingers, putting it back in the bowl.  "They'll be 'ere later, when yer hungry 'gain."

Blue blinked his sockets at him slowly, then silently nodded.  His focus on steadying himself for a moment, he looked up at him.  "... sure?" he asked softly after a few moments, his voice wavering and soft, questioning.

"Yeah, promise.  They're not goin' anywhere. Now..." he paused, looking up at the wall clock with a sour pout.  "Almost two.  Power goes out, two t'six.  Rollin' blackouts.  How 'bout we go read on the couch fer a while, 'less y'wanna try t'go back upstairs?"

The blanched look said that no, no Blue would not like to go back upstairs, at least not yet.  "Couch is ok?" 

He decided to not push the kid with a "asking, or telling" comment, instead just taking the empty cup and bowl away.

Blue hummed softly to himself.  His chair wasn't very tall, but his feet were still nowhere near touching the tiled floor below.  He shimmied himself around, frowning at the innocuous tiles.  It seemed awful far... 

But he wanted... no, he needed to see if he could do this himself.  His native streak of independence was flaring up after being beaten down for so long.

Sans pretended not to notice, spending far too much time washing a single glass.  And, if his magic was manifesting in faint wisps around wet phalanges, well... he wasn't going to call himself out, now was he?

He kept his... better... arm on the table for balance, scooting himself to the chair's edge before slowly lowering himself downwards.

The tiles were cold, even through the thick socks he'd been given.  

Only his determination to do this kept him from pulling his foot back up.

He let the toes of his non-casted leg hit the ground first, slowly flattening his foot to support the weight and to acclimate to how stars chilly it was.  The other leg followed, but he kept the weight up on the 'balls' of his foot.  Very slowly, unable to hear what Red was doing clearly over the sound of running water and too focused on what he was doing, he straightened and put more weight on the casted leg.

And he was standing on his own power, shaking as his nerves caught up with him.

The water had turned off at some point, not that he had noticed until Sans brushed his shoulder.

Sans gave the kid a toothy smile, his gold fang catching in the light as he idly wondered if this was what a parent felt after their babybones took a first step.  

It was pretty heady.

"Not bad, kid," he praised gruffly, privately amused as the smaller puffed up unconsciously at the words.

... as puffed up as someone that size could get, anyway...


They got to the couch a few minutes before two, Sans getting Blue up and settled under a throw blanket just as the lights went out and the dull whine of their generator, connected only to their refrigerator and a few emergency lights, rattled through the house. 

Before the kid could even stiffen, Sans had a bone construct summoned, one the size of a pencil.  He placed it on the end table, its soft, red glow casting steady shadows over the living room.  "That ok?" he asked softly, settling onto the other side of the sofa. 

Blue took a deep breath, trying to settle his agitated SOUL after the momentary flash of darkness.  "... yeah..." he answered, just as softly, shifting his legs further down so he could rest his skull on the upholstered arm behind him.  "... does... does this happen every day?"

A nod, but privately, he was pleased.  This was the first time Blue had voluntarily questioned his environment, his new home.  It was a good first step.

"Yeah, the CORE doesn't put out enough energy to heat everything, not anymore."  He didn't elaborate.  That was... for sometime later.

He very much doubted the kid was ready to deal with his version of the monster that had done what he had to him.

He pulled out his inventory and pulled a book from it, the Stephen Hawking's book the kid had been reading back in the safe room.  He tossed it so it landed on his lap before trickling a little more magic into the construct, just enough so that there was enough light to read, but not enough to risk being seen through blackout curtains.

No point in tempting fate.

"Read for a while?" he suggested, pulling out a notebook and a pencil for himself.  "I got a few things t'scribble down, gotta get ready fer BP."

Blue didn't question who BP was, instead snatching the book up with a trembling hand.  It was starting to throb lowly - the medications Gerson had fed him earlier starting to taper off.  But he had a book.

Reverently, he opened the cover and carefully thumbed to where he had left off, unconsciously starting to purr again.

Sans chose not to comment.

It was... cute.