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Chapter Text

Sans couldn’t quite remember when he’d first realized it. When he first understood what it meant, what you had to have in order to be Real.

It had never mattered to him before that moment. He was Real to Papyrus, wasn’t he? So he’d never let it concern him. But then...

“Papyrus? Who are you talking to?”

Sans hunched up his shoulders, fighting not to react as Papyrus glanced up at him in concern. Papyrus squeezed his hand, trying to offer comfort, before he answered the Doctor with a beaming smile.

“I’M TALKING TO SANS, OF COURSE. IT WOULD BE RUDE NOT TO!”

At that, Sans snickered, the tension fading from his small frame. It was always funny to see tiny Papyrus scolding people, especially when none of them ever seemed to realize it.

The Doctor nodded, distractedly, missing Papyrus’s subtle admonishment. He didn’t even notice that Papyrus was seemingly holding onto something that no one else could see. “Right, right. Have fun then.”

The tall skeleton then strode away, hand on his chin, and muttering something under his breath. Papyrus stuck his bright orange tongue out at the monster’s retreating back, before turning to Sans with a grin.

“DON'T WORRY ABOUT HIM, BROTHER! YOU KNOW HOW ABSENTMINDED FATHER IS.”

“yeah, bro,” Sans chuckled, hiding his uneasiness with practiced ease. “i get it. and besides, i’m way too lazy to get worked up over something like this.”

“UGH!” Papyrus stopped his foot on the lab floor, his bright red boots making an obnoxious squeaking noise. “I KNOW! SOMETIMES I SIMPLY CANNOT BELIEVE THAT THE TWO OF US ARE RELATED!”

“heh, me neither,” Sans said, gently patting his little brother on the skull. “you’re so awesome, it’s impossible for anyone to live up to your greatness.”

Papyrus beamed proudly.

“OH, I KNOW,” he said confidently. “BUT YOU NEED NOT FRET, BROTHER. DESPITE YOUR TEN HOUR NAPS AND STRANGE TASTE IN FOOD, YOU COME IN A CLOSE SECOND ON THE SCALE OF GREATNESS.”

Sans blinked. Some unknown emotion washed over him, and he could feel tears suddenly welling up in his eye sockets.

“thanks, bro,” Sans said thickly, scrubbing the tears away with the sleeve of his sweater. “that means a lot to me.”

Papyrus’s face softened. He reached up, his small mittened hands carefully patting away the tear stains.

“I KNOW,” he said, as quiet and gentle as he could ever be. “NOW, DO YOU WANT TO HELP ME FINISH THE NEW PUZZLE FATHER GAVE US?”

“sure,” Sans answered, smiling down at him, streaks of blue magic still faintly visible on his face. “but only if you agree to let me start with the outer edges.”

“BUT THAT IS THE EASY WAY!” Papyrus complained.

“yup. exactly.”

“UGH! FINE!”

Sans followed his brother happily as they went further into the lab, heading towards the waiting area where Papyrus spent most of his time.

As usual, Sans was floating a few inches above the ground, only tethered to reality because Papyrus was holding him. Only here, only existing, because Papyrus wanted him to be.

That used to be terrifying.

The first time Sans had realized what that meant, he’d been so incredibly scared. What if one day, Papyrus didn’t need him anymore? Didn’t want to play with him anymore?

He’d considered putting a bit more effort into things. Fixing the parts of himself that Papyrus so often complained about. But in the end... He didn’t.

Because Papyrus was the one who had created him. Created him to be like this, to be the lazy, overprotective, teasing big brother.

So as long as Papyrus wanted him to stick around, he would. Even if no one else in the Underground even knew that he existed, Sans was content.

His little brother, his creator, was everything he needed.

That’s the way he had been made, after all.

Chapter Text

Papyrus loved Sans, very, very much. That was obvious, of course. Sans was his older brother, and he was an especially great one, even if he did insist on floating everywhere, and somehow always managed to find a way to prank Papyrus through time and space - no matter what kind of defenses he put up.

All of that was okay, though. Papyrus could forgive any flaw, could ignore the puns and whoopee cushions, anything.

Sans was his brother, after all. And Papyrus loved him.

Sometimes, Sans would get a very strange look on his face when Papyrus said that. When he asked what was wrong, Sans would always just smile, and then promptly change the subject. It was extremely frustrating, to say the least.

Papyrus, for all his greatness, could never get his brother to confide in him. He thought himself to be a wonderful brother and trustworthy enough to lend a helping hand, but Sans never took him up on it.

But then, Sans was a strange and solitary monster. He never really interacted with the other scientists around the lab, and did his best to ignore Father entirely. Papyrus would be upset about it, but… he selfishly enjoyed having his brother all to himself. Besides, Father was so busy that he often forgot about the two of them anyway, so Papyrus couldn’t be too bothered by his brother’s snub.

Papyrus couldn’t remember a time without Sans. Had such a time ever existed?

Even in those very early days, when Papyrus was just a babybones (and not the respectable age of six years old that he was now), Sans had been there. Or, at least, Papyrus thought so.

He could recall some faint memories of that time - of a voice that spoke to him whenever he was lonely, the barest impression of a hug.

Sans was very floaty back then, even more than he was now. Typical big brother, too lazy to fully materialize his physical form.

But as Papyrus got older, he whipped his brother into shape! Now, Sans got up every morning with only mild complaining, and even though he still didn’t touch the ground, at least he wasn’t see-through anymore! Truly, a grand improvement.

And that was all Papyrus could ask for, really. Sure, he could force his brother to stay up with him, force him to tell more stories and entertain him with more games, but that wouldn’t be fair.

The Great Papyrus was very fair! Even if he didn’t approve of some of Sans’s behavior, that was okay - even the best of brothers don’t always have everything in common.

Still...

Sometimes, Papyrus got the notion that Sans was afraid of him. Which was preposterous! Papyrus would never make his brother do something he didn’t want to!

But the feelings didn’t abate.

Once in a great while, Papyrus would wake up to see that Sans had yet to fall asleep, and was simply floating in the air, as always. He would be staring into the distance, looking off at some great unknown that Papyrus could not see.

And if he ever caught Papyrus looking at him... He would seem afraid, for that one split-second.

There was nothing that Papyrus hated more, but he didn’t know what to do about it. Was there anything that he could do?

What could he do, to show Sans how much he loved him?

“everything okay there, bud?”

Papyrus shook himself out of his spiraling thoughts, smiling at his brother.

“OF COURSE! I AM JUST THINKING ABOUT AN INTERESTING PUZZLE!”

Sans tilted his skull to the side, examining him closely, but then shrugged. “okay, bro. as long as you’re happy.”

Papyrus grabbed his brother’s hand, holding on stubbornly even when Sans jolted and instinctively tried to pull away.

“I'M HAPPY WHEN I’M WITH YOU!” he insisted.

Sans smiled tremulously, leaning down and giving him a gentle hug. When Sans’s arms wrapped around him, Papyrus felt safer than ever before. Even though his brother’s touch was soft and pliant, like sinking your hands into a pile of marshmallows.

Papyrus never wanted to let go.

“i'm so glad, bro. you make me happy all the time, so i guess this is a pretty good arrangement.”

“INDEED!” Papyrus said, voice muffled by his brother’s sweater.

Papyrus has never known life without Sans by his side. And he never, ever wanted to.

Chapter Text

“HM... IS IT PURPLE?”

“nope. try again.”

Papyrus groaned, flopping down onto the couch. The cards scattered around at his movement, some of them fluttering to the floor, where Sans knew he would be tasked with picking them up later.

“THIS IS IMPOSSIBLE,” Papyrus complained, a sour pout gracing his skull.

Sans grinned, holding back his amusement for his brother’s sake. “not impossible, bro. just a bit tricky.”

VERY TRICKY. THE TRICKIEST, YOU MIGHT SAY!”

“sure, bro.”

The two of them sat in silence for a second, Papyrus nursing his wounded pride and Sans enjoying the momentary peace.

Sans knew that this wouldn’t keep him down for long. Even if Papyrus had trouble with something and wanted to quit, he always came back to try again. That was definitely something he admired about his cool bro.

“...SANS?”

Here we go.

“yeah, bro?”

Papyrus looked up at him, scratching the back of his skull as he sat up once more. “WILL YOU HELP ME TRY AGAIN?”

Sans’s gaze softened, smiling genuinely at his little brother. “sure thing, bud.”

Papyrus gathered up the cards, Sans grabbing the ones that had fallen on the floor without complaint. They worked together, carefully setting up the cards on the couch cushion between them.

Once they had it all ready, Sans made his first move.

“okay bro, how about this,” he said, tapping a card depicting a bright green soul. “what’s the function?”

“OH, OH!” Papyrus said excitedly, clapping his hands. “I KNOW THIS ONE! IT’S HEALING!”

Sans raised a brow. “...and?

Papyrus froze, mouth agape in an almost comical expression. “UH... GROWTH?”

“of?”

“BIOLOGICAL MATERIAL?”

For a second, Sans considered letting him get away with just that answer, but he decided to push him a bit more. He knew that Papyrus could handle it.

“and what’s biological material?”

“LIVING STUFF, LIKE YOU AND ME!” Papyrus said confidently. He seemed so proud of himself.

Sans froze. His smiled wavered, for one split-second, before he wrestled himself back under control.

“nice job, bro,” he said, not allowing any of his anxiety to slip through. “it’s not just monsters, though. things like plants also count.”

“I SUPPOSE THAT’S TRUE,” Papyrus allowed reluctantly, clearly a bit put-out that he hadn’t been able to answer the question fully. “CAN I STILL HAVE THE CARD?”

Sans chuckled, handing it over. “of course. you did a great job, paps. i’m proud of you.”

“AS YOU SHOULD BE!” Papyrus boasted, holding the card up in triumph.

Sans just shook his head in amusement, enjoying his younger brother’s antics. His gaze drifted back down to the cards, and he pondered which to do next.

They were clearly handmade, more strips of paper than anything else. But it was a game that Sans had invented for Papyrus once he had started to express interest in learning magic attacks. Sans couldn’t help him with the practical part of that, but he could certainly help explain the theory.

Thus, the cards. Sans would take turns either describing an effect and having Papyrus select the soul-type it belonged to, or he would choose a card and have Papyrus describe its effects. If Papyrus got it right, then he got to keep the card. If he got it wrong, he had to give back the cards he’d won so far. Whoever managed to collect all the cards was the winner.

It was fun to play, always managed to keep Papyrus engaged, and actually taught him something! Not bad, for a complete lazybones.

Sans almost always let Papyrus win, of course, but it wasn’t hard for him to do so. Unless Papyrus lost on the last card, he was pretty much guaranteed to win, after all.

“BROTHER?”

Sans shook himself out of his thoughts, humming to show that he was listening.

“HOW DID YOU LEARN ALL OF THIS, ANYWAY?” he said inquisitively, examining Sans curiously, as if to pick out all his secrets. “IT MUST HAVE BEEN VERY HARD!”

Sans shrugged nonchalantly. “dad taught me.”

Well, he had learned by reading Gaster’s notes over his shoulder. That counted, right?

Papyrus beamed. “I’M SO GLAD! I CAN’T WAIT UNTIL HE STARTS TEACHING ME COOL MAGIC STUFF TOO!”

Sans smiled back, something uneasy curling in his gut. “heh. i’m sure you’ll be better at it than i ever was, bud.”

Of course he would. He was the Great Papyrus. He could do anything, as long as he put his mind to it.

Sans was confident of that, at least.

Chapter Text

“I WONDER WHAT THIS ONE DOES?” Papyrus mused to himself, examining the flashing red light conspicuously placed next to a small, round button.

“i dunno, bro,” Sans said, shrugging his shoulders. He was floating a few inches above Papyrus, looking over all of the buttons and knobs on the panel they were poking at. “maybe we should press it and see what happens.”

“THAT SEEMS ILL-ADVISED.”

Still, though, he was considering it.

“aw, c’mon. where’s your sense of adventure? besides, we pressed a ton of buttons already and nothing’s happened.”

Papyrus knew that his brother was goading him, but he did make a good point. Nothing had gone wrong so far, and it was such a tempting button...

“...JUST THIS ONCE!” he finally decided, ignoring the fact that this was, probably, the twentieth random button he’d messed around with in just the last thirty minutes. Father had gone to get lunch several hours ago, and had yet to return. Papyrus was once again forced to find his own entertainment. “AND IF ANYTHING HAPPENS, WE BLAME FATHER.”

Sans let out a startled laugh at that, moving down so that he could float a little closer.

“that’s the spirit,” he chuckled. “why would anyone get mad at an awesome guy like you, when dad has such a lovely pair of horns?”

Papyrus jerked his hand away from the panel, glancing up at his brother in confusion. He had the sneaking suspicion that this was set-up for one of Sans’s awful jokes, but he couldn’t just let it go.

“WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT? FATHER DOES NOT HAVE HORNS, SANS.”

“well, he does now,” Sans said, getting that unholy gleam in his sockets that made Papyrus want to groan preemptively. “considering he’s our scapegoat, and all.”

Papyrus actually did groan at that, swatting at his brother’s wispy form and causing the colors of his body to scatter for a moment before pulling themselves back together.

“THAT WAS AWFUL SANS, TRULY,” he complained. “HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO PEACEFULLY PRESS RANDOM BUTTONS AND MESS WITH FATHER IF YOU’RE DISTRACTING ME LIKE THAT?”

“alright, alright, i’ll stop,” Sans said, holding his hands up in a placating gesture. “i’ll let you get back to your mission now.”

“GOOD!” Papyrus said firmly, attempting to dissuade him from any more abominable puns. He eyed his brother suspiciously for a moment, but it seemed like he had decided to stay quiet.

Papyrus reached towards the button -

“knock knock.”

He nearly screamed out in frustration, but managed to restrain himself into letting out a violent sigh instead.

“WHO’S THERE?” he said grudgingly, knowing from experience that Sans would just keep nagging him until he gave an answer.

“stopwatch.”

“STOPWATCH WHO?”

“you gotta stopwatch you’re doing and pay attention to my hilarious jokes.”

“NO, SANS!” Papyrus said, hands on his hips. “I AM GOING TO PRESS THAT BUTTON RIGHT NOW, AND THAT IS FINAL.”

“okay, okay.”

There was silence. He was so close.

“hey papyrus.”

“WHAT.” he said tersely. His mittened hand was just barely hovering over the button.

“why didn’t the skeleton go skydiving?”

“BECAUSE WE LIVE IN AN ACTUAL CAVE?” Papyrus said sarcastically, pulling back so that he could specifically cross his arms over his chest with a huff.

“nope.” Sans said. He actually leaned in until his face was inches away from Papyrus, his grin stretching wide. “it’s because he didn’t have the guts.”

Papyrus sucked in a deep breath, and screamed.

In the end, Papyrus attracted attention from one of the other scientists in the building, and didn’t get to press that very enticing button. However...

“hey bro. knock knock.”

AUDIBLE SIGH. WHO’S THERE?”

“olive.”

“OLIVE WHO?”

“olive you.”

“...I LOVE YOU TOO, SANS.”

Papyrus was okay with that.

Chapter Text

“AND WHAT ABOUT THIS ONE?”

“It will create a dark vortex to an alternate dimension, from which no one can return,” Gaster said distractedly, messing with some of the papers on his desk.

“REALLY?” Papyrus gasped in wonder, eyeing the button with sparkling eye sockets.

“No, not really,” Gaster snorted, reaching down to rub Papyrus’s skull when he whined in complaint. “That would be cool though, right?”

“UGH!” Papyrus exclaimed. “YOU AND BROTHER ARE JUST THE SAME. CAN YOU EVER BE SERIOUS ABOUT ANYTHING, DAD?”

“Hey, I’m serious about plenty of things!” Gaster protested. His grip on Papyrus tightened, and he pulled him up by the back of his shirt to seat him on top of the desk. “Like... tickles!”

“NOOOOO!” Papyrus screeched, wriggling around in an attempt to get away from his father’s grabby hands. But it was no use! Anywhere he turned, there was another conjured hand, just waiting to tickle him.

After several minutes of screaming and struggling, Papyrus just laid there panting, utterly defeated. Humiliated! Tormented! Was there no peace to be had for good skeletons?

He was just glad that Sans wasn’t here to see this. He would never let Papyrus live it down.

“Ah, here it is,” Gaster muttered to himself, grabbing one of the reports. He then cleared his throat to the Papyrus’s attention. “I’ll be back in a couple of minutes, okay? I just have to run this paper down to Dr. Goss.”

“OKAY FATHER, HAVE FUN,” Papyrus said, secretly glad that his Father was going to do some work instead of continuing his harassment of innocent skeletons.

Gaster waved, leaving the lab behind without a second thought.

Papyrus let out a pronounced sigh of relief, turning over onto his front and scattering some of the papers that lay there. One of them actually managed to catch his eye.

“HM? WHAT IS THIS?” he said, lifting the paper closer. It was one of the only reports to have pictures on it, so it immediately grabbed his attention.

A detailed drawing of a skull was depicted on the paper, but it wasn’t like any skull he’d ever seen. It had sharp, curled horns, and something that almost seemed like a snout.

“MOST CURIOUS...”

“Curious? What is?” Gaster said quizzically, popping up from behind.

Papyrus yelped in surprise, throwing his arms up and causing all of the papers to fly around.

“DAD!” he scolded. “DON’T SNEAK UP ON ME LIKE THAT!”

“Yes, yes,” the older skeleton chuckled. “I understand.”

And Papyrus, so caught up in his rant about proper manners, never noticed the way several of the reports around them glowed purple with his father’s magic, and promptly vanished.

...

Sans floated through the depths of the lab, completely bored out of his skull. He tried to avoid being in the same vicinity as Gaster when he could - it was no fun being around someone who didn’t even know he was there, especially when his brother was always so eager for the two of them to ‘settle their differences’. Like Gaster even knew there was anything to settle.

It just made Sans sad, so on days like these, he would wander off on his own. It was boring, sure, and lonely, but better than being bored and lonely and two feet away from the man his younger brother called ‘father’.

Still... It was seriously boring down here. You’d think, for a super high-tech lab, they’d have some kind of secret experiments going on, but no. It was all very legal, and very uninteresting.

Sans suspected that Papyrus’s creation by Gaster was the most exciting thing to ever happen here - though he might have been biased in that regard.

He turned the corner, prepared to see yet another empty hallway lit by the eerie green glow of the emergency lights, only to see... something.

Sans couldn’t quite make it out. It was... it was right there, but he still couldn’t interpret it. It seemed like it could be a monster, but their edges were all faded out, static running along their body.

And then they turned to face him.

Yo! You’re a ??? too, right?

Sans clamped his hands against his skull, letting out a whine of pain. It felt like someone had just shoved an ice pick through his eye sockets! It hurt!

The creature’s smile spread wide, their eyes completely empty. Like staring into the void.

Have you ever thought about a world where everything is exactly the same... Except you don't exist? Everything functions perfectly without you...

Sans scratched against his face, attempting to get the sound out, scrambling backwards and trying to escape.

But...” they continued, leaning forward to be face-to-face with him. “You can already imagine a world like that, right? Ha, ha... I just mean... considering that

you

don’t

exist

in the first place, right?

Sans bolted, tearing back around the corner in a response of pure fear. The feeling, the sound, followed him for a moment, before it seemed to reluctantly let go. After a few minutes of just breathing, Sans managed to convince himself to take a peek back around the corner.

There was nothing there.

Sans floated in place, and trembled. Suddenly, spending more time with Gaster didn’t seem like such a hardship.

Chapter Text

There was no one in the Underground who could challenge Gaster’s love for his child. It was obvious - from the very first glimpse of him, Gaster had been enthralled.

What one could dispute, however, was his ability to care for a child. It wasn't on purpose. Papyrus wasn't on purpose. Gaster loved him, of course, because Papyrus was a very lovable child, but it just wasn't enough.

Love wasn't enough, and he was reminded of that fact every day.

"NO, NO," Papyrus was saying to himself in a scolding tone. "WE CAN'T DO THAT. IT'S SIMPLY UNETHICAL."

There was a pause, as if he was waiting for someone to reply.

"I DON'T CARE HOW FUNNY IT WOULD BE!" he complained, crossing his arms over his chest. "PUTTING WHOOPEE CUSHIONS ON EVERYONE'S SEATS IS A VILE ATROCITY, AND FRANKLY, I'M ASHAMED OF YOU FOR EVEN SUGGESTING IT."

There was no one else in the room.

Gaster let out a slow breath, leaning back against the wall that he was hiding behind. He could admit to some... negligence, in the past. There had been people looking after the child, of course, but it hadn't been him. Too busy, always too busy.

And now, he feared that he was witnessing the consequences.

True, it wasn't completely unusual for a child to have an imaginary friend. He'd asked his dear friend Asgore about it, and he'd said that it was a normal part of their development.

But still, something about this situation in particular was... unnerving to him. Perhaps it was how serious Papyrus seemed to take it?

Gaster had done his best to ignore any mentions of the imaginary friend, hoping that by not showing any support for the thing that Papyrus would get over it soon. But Papyrus actually seemed to take that as a sort of snub against him, as if Gaster was being rude - !

He just... didn't know what to do.

Papyrus wasn't supposed to be this way. He was supposed to be a vessel, not a child - not his child, certainly. But it hadn't turned out that way, and now Gaster was left to deal with a child that he hadn't wanted and didn't know what to do with.

He loved Papyrus, called him 'son' and tried his best to take care of him. But Gaster hadn't anticipated any of this, hadn't wanted it.

Did that make him cruel, then, to ignore the existence of the imaginary friend that Papyrus called his brother?

The name was... Sans, or something like that. It did make him a bit curious. 'Sans' wasn't a Font in and of itself; it was a derivative. Short for something like Sans-Serif, or one of those types of fonts; Source Sans, Liberation Sans... It could be any number of things.

The thought almost made him want to ask about it. Almost.

But at this point, it had gone too far. If he were to ask about the 'big brother' now, it would destroy the clueless image he had worked so carefully to cultivate.

And yes, it hurt. It hurt to see the way his son would look at him so disapprovingly every time he studiously ignored any mention of 'Sans', but it was too late.

These phases didn't last forever. Papyrus would forget about this imaginary being soon enough, and Gaster wouldn't even have to worry about it anymore.

Besides; he didn't ask for this. Any of this.

Didn't he deserve this much?

 

Chapter Text

Sans yawned tiredly, holding his hand up to hide his open mouth.

"you almost done, bro?" he asked, eye sockets drooping.

"YES, YES, ALMOST," Papyrus said impatiently, waving a dismissive hand at him. "JUST YOU WAIT, BROTHER! THIS WILL BE THE MOST MAGNIFICENT THING YOU HAVE EVER SEEN!"

"'kay," Sans mumbled. He caught himself drifting off for a moment (literally, as he began to float away in some random direction), but quickly jerked himself back awake.

He let out a quiet groan. Now, it wasn't as if Sans disliked spending time with his little brother, or doing fun bonding activities with him - he would simply prefer that those activities didn't have to occur at four o'clock in the morning.

But Papyrus insisted that the best time to do brotherly bonding activities was early in the morning, and Papyrus was always right, so here they were.

"PASS ME THE TWIRLY THING PLEASE," he requested. Sans handed over the whisk obediently, watching Papyrus go to town on the batter.

It was a... cake? Maybe? That's what Papyrus claimed it was, at least, so Sans was willing to reserve judgment until he got his hands on the finished project.

"EGGS!"

Sans gave Papyrus the carton of egg-substitutes. There was no real meat in the Underground, but magic was a fascinating thing. Monster food was almost entirely artificial anyway, considering that it relied more on magic and individual tastes than anything concrete.

Papyrus proceeded to dump the entire carton in the bowl - literally. All twelve eggs, the actual carton, everything.

Watching Papyrus cook was like art in motion. It was one of the funniest things Sans had ever seen.

Noisily hitting the carton with the whisk in order to get it to break apart, Papyrus held out his other hand. "MILK, PLEASE!"

"makes for strong bones," Sans commented as he allowed Papyrus to take it from him. Thankfully, Papyrus only poured the milk in this time instead of dumping the whole thing in, but he did pour way too much, causing the sloppy mess to start spilling over the sides of the bowl.

"uh oh, looks like some of it's trying to escape," Sans pointed out, amusement coloring his tone.

Papyrus scoffed loudly, stirring vigorously. "IT IS WELCOME TO TRY! AS IF ANY PREY COULD ESCAPE MY PERFECT AND INDESTRUCTIBLE GRASP!"

"good point," Sans said, enjoying the way the batter was starting to drip down the cabinets and leave little puddles on the floor.

"WE ARE ALMOST FINISHED!" Papyrus proclaimed. "NOW, JOIN ME BROTHER! WE MUST MAKE A SCREAM OF PASSION SO THAT OUR OPPONENT KNOWS THEY HAVE BEEN SOUNDLY DEFEATED!"

"seems legit."

Papyrus slammed the whisk down on the countertop, and took a deep breath.

"AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!"

"ahhhhhhhhhh..." Sans joined in, about as loud and passionate as he ever got.

This went on for several minutes. Papyrus had a very large lung capacity, which was especially impressive for a skeleton that had no actual lungs to speak of.

"What is going on in here?" Gaster cried out, stumbling into the kitchen with his lab coat in all disarray.

"WE'RE DOING OUR VICTORY CRY!" Papyrus answered promptly, with the tone of someone who was only barely resisting the urge to say 'duh'.

"Oh." Gaster looked around the lab's small kitchen, taking in the absolute disaster zone it had become. Sans watched the expression on his face change from exhaustion, to shock, to vague amusement. "Carry on, then."

He promptly turned around and left.

"okay bro," Sans said, turning back to face his little brother. "ready to put that in the oven?"

"YOU BET!" Papyrus said excitedly.

Heh. Sans just couldn't wait to see what came out.

 

Chapter Text

Papyrus frowned, watching his newest invention carefully. He might not have been a scientist like his father, or a weird science-lover like his brother, but he could make do.

And right now, he had no choice but to do it himself. After all, if Sans or Father found out about this, they would never let him forget it.

“NOW,” he said aloud, inspecting the contraption. “IF I WERE A VERY ANNOYING DOG THAT CONTINUALLY SNATCHES MY SWEATERS, WOULD I FIND THIS TRAP APPEALING?”

The trap in question was simple in appearance, but unexpectedly complex in nature. It involved a very intricate pulley system, a large number of spikes, and a large cardboard box carefully propped up by a physics book. Inside the box, glowing finally and undoubtedly very delicious to anyone of a dog-like persuasion, was a large bone. Papyrus had spent weeks learning how to conjure his bone attacks for this very purpose.

Sans had been a little suspicious of his refusal to explain why he wanted to know, but went along with it easily enough. And Papyrus had been so excellent at it (of course), that his attacks could actually last for quite some time while he was outside of battles!

According to Sans's research, that was a very rare trait indeed, so Papyrus thought that he had reason to be proud of himself. Not that he found it particularly hard in the first place, and was actually rather confused that other monsters had such difficulty with it, but that didn't matter. He was the Great Papyrus, after all! It only made sense that his attacks would be utterly magnificent.

Sans shared his enthusiasm, as much as that lazybones could be enthusiastic, but for some reason he had refused to work on summoning his own attacks!

He had tried to shut it down with claims like; "my magic is just too lazy to manifest itself in such a cool way like yours, bro," but even if that was true (which Papyrus was almost certain it wasn’t), that was no excuse!

It was true that Sans was very lazy - Papyrus would never dispute that. But that didn't mean that his brother was worthless, or had no potential. In fact, Papyrus found it utterly insulting when Sans even hinted towards such a thing!

No brother of the Great Papyrus could be worthless, in any fashion.

Still, the whole thing had ended up being a good excuse to banish Sans for the afternoon. His brother had been strangely clingy recently, and though Papyrus always enjoyed his company, he knew that in this case it was because something was wrong.

He hadn't said anything, but Papyrus could tell.

So, regardless, Papyrus had sent his brother away to work on conjuring his magic attacks, giving him time to commence with his own plan.

That meddling canine would meddle no longer! For several months now it had been appearing, stealing his sweaters and even taking some of his carefully crafted bone attacks! And no one else had witnessed any of these thefts, not even Sans!

The madness had to end, and it would end here.

"NYEH-HEH-HEH," Papyrus whispered to himself. "I'LL GET YOU, MY PRETTY!"

Unknown to Papyrus, his cackling was actually quite loud, and reminiscent of a green-skinned witch from a human movie that had yet to be filmed.

It was so loud, in fact, that it attracted the attention of a little white Dog, who was hunting through the laboratory in search of a bug. No, not that kind, the other kind. No, the other, other kind. Y'know what, forget it.

The Annoying Dog was on the hunt.

And he was in the mood for some bones. Now, most of the time he could content himself with the many snacks he could procure simply by standing near a group of monsters and looking adorable, but he'd found that food tasted much sweeter when it was stolen.

Mmmm, good, stolen produce. The literal forbidden fruit.

Now, the Dog usually sought out the taller skeleton, the one that was constantly cutting his limbs off accidentally in the lab, and he was usually willing to let the Dog have the remnants of whatever didn't immediately dust, but he had become a lot more cautious recently. Ever since he'd had that child, he became a lot more strict about safety procedures for both his workers and himself.

A pity, really, but the Dog was content with harassing the little one for now.

And so, carefully, with clear, thieving intent, the Annoying Dog snuck up on the little skeleton, who was busy monologuing to himself.

Closer, closer...

There! He pounced on the box with the bone inside, vibrating intensely as he absorbed it all - book, box, and bone.

The little skeleton let out a screech, having missed the Dog zoom past from behind his back, therefore bypassing the entire trap with absolutely no effort on his part.

"CURSE YOU!" Papyrus screamed, falling dramatically to his knees as the Dog oozed through the wall and disappeared with his prize. "CURSE YOU, YOU MEDDLING CANINE! WILL THERE BE NO PEACE? SHALL I NEVER KNOW AN END TO THIS WAR? CURSE YOU...!"

Sans, having popped his head through the wall upon hearing Papyrus's cries of agony, could only stare blankly.

"...okay, then," he said slowly, going unnoticed by Papyrus who now seemed to be acting out his own one-man play of his defeat by the Dog. "i'll, uh, get back to work on those attacks for now."

Sans couldn't actually make any attacks of his own, of course, but for once he'd rather go back to pretending to use magic than be dragged into this scheme.

...

Somewhere, a Dog was plotting.

No, not that kind of plotting, the other kind. No, the other, other kind. Oh, just forget it.

Chapter Text

Sans hovered above the bed, watching as his younger brother slept. It had been a long day, and Papyrus had crashed almost as soon as they'd made it back to their room.

Gaster was acting very frazzled, recently, and his interactions with Papyrus had decreased significantly, even as their interactions with the other scientists increased significantly. There had been a lot of tests - tests on Papyrus's reading level, his math skills, the whole thing.

Sans had a suspicion here, but he wasn't quite sure what it was. Were they, perhaps, going to be leaving the lab...?

They'd never done that before. They'd never needed to. Gaster may be lacking in the emotional department, but he always provided Papyrus with food and entertainment. His room was an excellent example of that - it was clearly a repurposed lab room, but it was covered in posters and had many stuffed animals and puzzles strewn about.

Gaster had always provided them with everything that they could ever need. So why would they be leaving the lab?

Sans wasn't sure what to think. He had no concrete evidence - for all he knew, Gaster was just preparing to increase Papyrus's schoolwork, or wanted them out of the way while he worked on a big project.

That's what had happened with the creation of the CORE, after all.

Sans didn't remember much of those days, because he was barely a thought that Papyrus had formed somewhere in the back of his skull. Sans wasn't even sure if he had been actually sentient during that period - any memories he had of it were hazy, and filled more with instinctual emotion than any abstract thought.

How does it go, again? 'I think, therefore I am'?

Sans sighed, floating down onto the bed so that he could rest next to his brother. It did him no good to think about these things, but he couldn't help it. Something about the lab at night always seemed to bring out his most paranoid and introspective self.

It was actually pretty annoying.

In times like these, he found himself wishing that Papyrus would wake up and drag him off to the kitchen, or yell at him for making puns, or anything -

(anything to remind him that he was Real. was he?)

But then again, that would be a huge inconvenience, wouldn't it? That would probably be really aggravating. Sans sure found the idea aggravating, at least.

Heh. Sometimes, he wondered if it wouldn't have been better for the both of them if Papyrus hadn't dreamed him up in the first place -

"SANS?" Papyrus mumbled sleepily, rubbing at his eye socket with a hand. "WHAT ARE YOU STILL DOING AWAKE?"

Sans felt a surge of guilt rise inside of him. Geez, one of the few times it seemed like his brother was going to get a full nights sleep, and he screwed it up.

"i'm sorry, paps," he apologized quietly, hoping that Papyrus would still be able to drift back to sleep. "didn't mean to wake you."

"THAT'S QUITE ALRIGHT, SANS," Papyrus dismissed, waving his hand in a nonchalant gesture. "I WAS MERELY MEDITATING. I WOULD NEVER SLEEP FOR SO LONG!"

Against his will, Sans snickered. "right, that's why you were snoring so loud. my bad."

"THE GREAT PAPYRUS DOES NOT SNORE! IT'S MY EARLY WARNING SYSTEM FOR BEING ATTACKED BY SNEAKY BROTHERS AND DOGS!" Papyrus protested, his cheekbones stained a faint orange from his magic.

"of course, of course," Sans nodded wisely, acting as if this was common knowledge to him.

As always, merely interacting with Papyrus for a few moments was enough to drag him out of his funk. Man, wasn't his brother so cool?

"I FEEL LIKE YOU ARE PATRONIZING ME."

"what, me? never."

"AND THAT'S JUST STRAIGHT-UP SARCASM."

"really? that just doesn't make any cents."

There was a jangling sound as Sans shook a small bag that he had suddenly procured.

"...SANS. IF YOU ARE HOLDING MY WALLET RIGHT NOW, I WILL BE FORCED TO TAKE DRASTIC MEASURES."

"okay bro. just be gentle with me, you know i can't measure up to you."

"ARGH! I'VE ONLY BEEN AWAKE FOR FIVE MINUTES AND MY DAY IS ALREADY RUINED!"

Sans laughed freely, dodging his brother's irritated swipe. What a wonderful start to the day.

Chapter Text

Gaster gnawed on his hand absentmindedly, ignoring the way that small particles of dust were flaking off.

He knew that this was a good idea, that it was needed, but he was having a hard time of convincing his softer side of that.

It was for the good of everyone that he do this. In fact, it might very well be the only way. And it wasn't like Papyrus was accomplishing much, though he hated to admit it. This environment simply wasn't conducive to give him the proper growth and structure that he required.

Still... this was, quite honestly, the last thing that he wanted to do. Gaster loved his son, so, so much.

Was sending him away to school really the best option?

Everyone else had insisted that it was, of course, but he still wasn't sure. He'd never had his son be away from him before, not like this. If he ever needed to know what Papyrus was up to, all he had to do was wander the lab until he tracked the little rascal down.

But now... if he went through with this, that would no longer be an option. Papyrus would officially be out of his reach.

Only for a (relatively short) portion of the day, but it was still more than he had ever been forced to endure before. Gaster didn't want to let go, not yet.

However, at the same time, he couldn't deny that it was for Papyrus's best interest that he leave and go to an actual school. All the scientists popped in to give Papyrus lessons, and they interacted with him throughout the day, but they were not certified teachers, and their presence was no substitute for companions of his own age.

The lack of friendship with other children is undoubtedly what caused his imaginary friend to develop, after all. If Gaster wanted to find a way to discourage that, schooling with his peers would likely be one of the best choices.

Gaster stared blankly at the notes on his desk, not even registering what he was looking at. He had to do this, for Papyrus's sake. And heavens knew that he had never been a good enough father for such a wonderful child - if there was any way that he could begin to make up for his mistakes...

Wasn't it his responsibility to do something about it?

He sighed, gathering up the papers with a heavy feeling in his soul. The last several weeks had been filled with assessments for Papyrus, and Gaster roaming around and seeing what the schools in the area had to offer.

He would be sending Papyrus to the Academy in Hotland, most likely. It was one of the biggest schools in the Underground, which would likely allow Papyrus to slip in without too many of the other children questioning his background.

(It was also the closest school to the lab, but Gaster tried his best to not allow that fact to influence his decision.)

Stepping through the doors of his personal lab with the school's information in hand, he set off to find his son.

It seemed that it was time for the two of them to have a serious conversation.

Chapter Text

"I'M GOING TO START SCHOOL?" Papyrus said, stars popping into existence in his eye sockets. When his father nodded in confirmation with a strange sort of half-smile, Papyrus gasped loudly. "WOWIE! THAT'S AMAZING! ...WHAT'S SCHOOL?"

Gaster winced.

"School is, um, a place of learning. You will be taught many lessons there, things that will help you grow and succeed in life," he explained. "There are also many other children around, so you will be able to interact with your peers and form friendships at your leisure."

"...FRIENDS?" Papyrus said, in an almost subdued tone. "DO YOU REALLY THINK THEY'LL LIKE ME?"

Sans, floating next to him with a somewhat uneasy look on his face, nearly bristled at the perceived accusation.

"of course they'll like you, bro!" he said confidently, as if completely unable to accept any other possibility. "who wouldn't? you're the coolest guy around!"

"I have no doubt that the children will enjoy your company, Papyrus," Gaster said, unknowingly confirming the other skeleton's words. "You are intelligent, kind, and think fast under pressure. Those are all very admirable traits indeed."

Papyrus brightened, his jubilant nature coming back to him with that reassurance. "AH, BUT OF COURSE! I WAS MERELY TESTING YOU. NOW, WHERE IN THE LAB IS THIS SCHOOL?"

Gaster winced, again. Papyrus was beginning to feel a bit concerned about that - did he develop a twitch?

"It is... not in the lab, Papyrus."

What? Then where -

His mind ground to an abrupt halt. They were going to be leaving the lab. Leaving the lab, where he had spent his entire life! Everything that he had ever known, all these same walls and hallways that he had paced for the length of his whole childhood.

It was all going to be left behind.

How EXCITING!

"WHERE IS IT?" Papyrus yelled, the words practically spilling from his mouth in excitement. "HOW ARE WE GOING TO GET THERE, WHERE WILL WE BE SLEEPING, CAN SANS GO WITH ME - " "like they could keep me away." " - IS IT GOING TO BE LIKE THE LESSONS THE SCIENTISTS GIVE US? HOW WILL THE TEACHERS KNOW WHAT I'VE ALREADY BEEN TAUGHT? WILL THEY SHOW ME HOW TO USE MORE MAGIC, BECAUSE I REALLY WANT - "

"Papyrus!" Gaster interrupted, leaning down to grasp his son's shoulders. He had a wide smile on his face though, so Papyrus knew that he wasn't angry. "Calm down, I am more than happy to explain everything to you."

Papyrus settled, trying to stop the way his body bounced slightly, his bones trembling in place. Once he had found himself back in some measure of serenity, Gaster let him go and sat down across from him, prompting Papyrus to do the same. The two of them settled down on the carpeted floor, while unbeknownst to one of them, Sans lazily floated downward to do the same, laying on his stomach next to his younger brother.

"Now, in order; we are going to get there through my portals, you will still be sleeping here at the lab during the night, it is likely going to be more on-hands than the scientists’ lessons but with easier subjects, I have done several assessments on your progress recently that they have been informed of, and yes, they will show you how to use more magic - both combat and otherwise. Any more questions?"

"raise your hand if you wanna ask something bro, i heard that's what they do in school."

Papyrus's hand shot up in the air, and Gaster chuckled.

"Wonderful, you're learning already."

Chapter Text

Sans trailed behind his brother carefully, watching with a bit of suspicion as they were led around the new school. Gaster had indeed explained everything, making sure that Papyrus understood that he was not leaving the lab forever, or moving somewhere else - he was merely going to be at school for six hours a day, Monday through Friday.

Sans, of course, thought that definitely felt like forever, but when he had complained about it to his brother, Papyrus had given him a strict lecture about not falling prey to his laziness.

Admittedly, Sans was being lazy, but he also felt like school could stand to be a bit shorter. What were they even going to do in all that time, anyway? Just sit in desks and watch some old fart drone on about topics that he could have learned just as easily from Gaster's books?

It just seemed useless to him.

But then again, as with most things, this wasn't about him. This was about Papyrus, who was overjoyed at the thought of experiencing new places and meeting new people, and Sans couldn't bear to take that away from him. It just wouldn't be fair.

So, Sans stayed silent about his reservations, allowing his complaints to dry up in his mouth before they could ever gain form. Papyrus wanted him to be happy about this, wanted him to enjoy it as much as he did - so the very least Sans could do was give it a chance.

His hopeful mood was somewhat dampened by the fact that none of the teachers or students would be able to see him, let alone interact with him, but he'd get over it. That was nothing new, at least.

Well, except for... the incident, as Sans had taken to calling it in his head. He still had no idea what had happened with that strange monster, and no real desire to figure it out, either. There were some mysteries that were better left uncovered, and Sans was more than happy to let that encounter be one of them.

The whole thing had stirred something up in him, though - as if some crucial part of him had gotten knocked loose, and it had left him feeling strung-out and paranoid for weeks afterwards.

He felt better now, thankfully, but it was still shiver-inducing whenever he thought back to it.

Sans could only hope that was the end of it, that he would never have to feel that terror, that strange, horrible apathy ever again -

"SANS!" Papyrus cut through his foggy thoughts like a bullhorn, immediately catching his attention. "WHAT DO YOU THINK OF MY CLASSROOM? PRETTY SNAZZY, HUH?"

"Inside voice, please," the teacher -  a quiet, calm-faced owl monster, said gently. They didn't seem to mean anything by it, but Sans frowned at them regardless.

It wasn't Papyrus's fault that his voice came across as loud for other monsters - his Font was uppercase, and hard to translate into anything softer than a shout.

"OH!" Papyrus said, cheekbones coloring orange. "I WILL, ahem, I Will Do My Best."

"you're fine, papyrus, don't listen to them - ," Sans said disapprovingly, only to get spoken over by the teacher.

"Thank you, Papyrus," they looked down at the skeleton child, their beak upturned in a smile. "That's all we ever ask - that you try your best."

Papyrus beamed at the praise, his back straightening with his resolve. Soon, their little group moved on to the next area, leaving Sans to float behind them, some strange feeling building in his chest.

Chapter Text

School was absolutely WONDERFUL!

Sure, it was only the first day, but Papyrus was confident that this was only a mere piece of the majesties that he would witness in the future. Things were looking up, that's for sure!

"what's the point of an art class?" Sans muttered to himself, looking frazzled and overwhelmed. He had been getting increasingly tense as the day wore on, all the new situations hitting him in a way that he clearly hadn't expected. "sure, it's a decent way to increase creative thinking, and a way for the students to blow off some steam, but for a full hour? that just seems wasteful, isn't there a better way to - "

"SANS," Papyrus said exasperatedly, cutting his brother off before he could get started on a full-blown rant. "YOU'RE TAKING THIS TOO SERIOUSLY. IT'S JUST SUPPOSED TO BE FUN!"

Sans blinked, the expression on his face clearly showcasing that he hadn't even thought about that.

"well, i suppose so," he said slowly. "but what's the purpose - "

"Who are you talking to?" the cat monster girl next to them interrupted, pushing the fringe of her hair out of the way so that she could stare at Papyrus in curiosity. "There's, like, no one named Sans in this class."

Sans flinched, clearly having forgotten that there was anyone else in the room with them. He'd been doing that a lot, and Papyrus was beginning to get concerned.

"SANS IS MY BIG BROTHER!" Papyrus explained to her cheerfully, ignoring the way Sans was frantically gesturing for him to keep his mouth shut. "HE'S A HUGE LAZY BONES, SO HE JUST FLOATS ABOVE ME INSTEAD OF MANIFESTING A PHYSICAL BODY. I'M WORKING ON IT, BUT HE IS VERY STUBBORN!"

The girl blinked. "It totally sounds like it. But if he's, like, older than you, shouldn't he be in one of the higher classes?"

Papyrus's eye sockets widened. "OH DEAR, I DIDN'T EVEN THINK ABOUT THAT!"

He turned to look up at Sans, who was covering his face with his hands and groaning in embarrassment. Maybe that was why he had been acting so strange and unhappy all day! He wasn't being properly challenged!

Papyrus could admit that a lot of the subject matters that had been taught so far were a fair bit below the standards of what he had been taught in the lab, but he also hadn't known most of it. Like looking for themes in stories, and making graphs in math class! He hadn't done any of that in the lab, and even if he found it easy, it was still fun!

Sans should be having fun too.

"BROTHER, DO YOU WANT TO GO SEE WHAT THE OTHER CLASSES ARE LIKE?" Papyrus questioned, tilting his skull to the side in confusion when Sans let out a frustrated whine.

"no, papyrus! i don't even wanna be - " he cut himself off with a huff, floating up and through the ceiling. "whatever. i'll go see what they're like."

Papyrus watched him go, feeling rather befuddled at the rapid mood swing.

"Well?" his classmate prompted, watching him curiously. "What did he say?"

"HE SAID HE WOULD GO LOOK," Papyrus said, leaving out the tiny temper tantrum his brother had thrown in the process. "THANK YOU FOR THE SUGGESTION!"

"Like, you're totally welcome!" she said, brightening at the sincerity of his words. "I'm, like, Catty by the way!"

"MY NAME IS PAPYRUS!"

The two of them chatted for the rest of their art period, comparing their colored drawings and sharing the markers between them. When the signal came for everyone to pack up and get ready to move to their next class, Sans had still not returned.

Papyrus opted to remain behind for a moment and wait for him to come back, waving Catty on when she asked if he wanted to walk with her and her other friends.

When they crossed the threshold of the door, Papyrus perked up as he heard them mention his name.

"So, like, what was up with that Papyrus kid?" One of them - an alligator monster - said, her voice becoming distorted as they moved further down the hallway. "I just thought he was talking to himself, but, like, does he really have a brother that no one else can see or hear? That's, like, super weird."

"Yeah, but I've, like, never seen a skeleton monster before," Catty said, her voice slightly muffled on the other side of the door. "So, like, if invisible brothers are his thing, I'm, like, totally down with that."

There was a sound of muffled agreement, and as the group walked away, Papyrus was left standing there with the biggest grin on his face.

Yes, school was definitely where he belonged!

Chapter Text

Sans was not sulking. If he was sulking, he wouldn't even bother to come to school, would he? No, he be at home, in the lab, all by himself...

Okay, so he probably wouldn't have been in the lab. But he sure wouldn't have been here.

So, that was enough to prove that he wasn't sulking, right? No matter what Papyrus said. Sans was far too mature to do something as childish as that.

That was the story that he was sticking to, anyway. Sans was sitting on top of Papyrus's desk, idly kicking his feet. Papyrus was off at lunch right now, off with his friends. He wouldn't want his stupid, lazy older brother around to ruin his fun.

Sans knew that to be the truth, no matter how much the thought terrified him. Soon, Papyrus would stop wanting to spend time with him altogether, and before he knew it he would start to fade away, disappearing as if he'd never existed in the first place -

Sans stopped, and took a deep breath. Enough. He told himself that he wasn't sulking, so he absolutely refused to fall prey to any of these dark and useless thoughts. Papyrus loved him, despite every reason he had not to. Sans wouldn't betray that by thinking such unkind things about him.

Shifting to lay on his back, Sans stared up at the classroom ceiling. School wasn't really that bad, he knew that he was just being a babybones. School meant that Papyrus spent less time with him, meant that he didn't like Sans talking to him during lessons because it interrupted his focus.

Sans had tried to occupy himself by seeing what the older students were studying, but it was all useless to him. Nothing grabbed his attention, nothing was interesting or challenging enough. The only thing that seemed to make him happy these days was his brother.

It was as if the whole world was washed in gray, and Papyrus was the only spot of color in existence.

But those were dangerous thoughts, just as bad as his nihilistic ones from before, so he tried his best to find something to do.

By the second week, Sans had read almost all the books in the school's library. At the end of the first month, he had read all of the classroom books too, ranging from advanced mathematics to poetry and literature.

He played all the little boardgames the teachers had, completed every puzzle without failure. He hovered over the shoulder of every single student, figuring out the ways they learned and the ways they slacked off. He hung out in the teachers lounge, listening attentively to their gossip and complaints, devouring every scrap of information he could get.

And he felt nothing.

It was all so boring, so utterly meaningless. What was the point in this? What was the reason behind their actions? From workplace romances to childish spats, he began to see everything as the same.

After a while, he began to be able to predict what people would do, how they would react. Sans made a bit of a game out of it, following a single monster around and predicting their every action throughout the day.

Even that, eventually, became boring.

What was the point in this? What was the point in anything?

Chapter Text

Papyrus tapped his long phalanges on the desk, trying very hard to concentrate on what the teacher was saying. He was doing his best to pay attention, really! But... he was worried about Sans.

He couldn't help it, really. Sans did a lot of worrisome things, and it seemed like that was happening even more recently. It felt like, like... his brother was slipping away from him. And Papyrus just couldn't understand why. Weren't things so much better now? They had so many new friends, and there were new experiences every day! Papyrus figured that Sans would appreciate the chance to learn new things, but all he did these days was wander around, and he only answered any of Papyrus's questions with a shrug, or a half-hearted word.

It was terrifying. Papyrus didn't know what to do, didn't know how to reach him, and that was terrifying.

So trapped in his turbulent thoughts, he didn't notice when the teacher first tried to grab his attention.

"Mr. Gaster? Mr. Gaster, I do hope that you're paying attention over there."

Papyrus jolted out of his daze, grinning sheepishly at the slime monster at the front of the room.

"YES, MISS! I AM PAYING ATTENTION!"

She sniffed disdainfully, but didn't address him again. Instead, she returned to her lecture without any further ado.

Papyrus really liked his history teacher. She wasn't very nice, certainly, but she never asked him to be quiet, or just expected him to know things because he was the famous Dr. Gaster's son.

And what a surprise that had been, to know that his father was so well-known! To Papyrus, his father had always just been a giant weirdo who teased him all the time. But he was apparently very respected in the monster community! Truly, an astonishing fact.

"Ahem, continuing on. The Barrier is the magical force field that is keeping us all locked underground. As we all well know, only the strength of seven human souls would have enough power to break the barrier, but as that is quite unlikely to happen, the King and Queen are looking into different ways to save Monsterkind. The Royal Lab is working on several different attempts, one of which resulted in the creation of the CORE that powers the entire Underground. Other groups, such as the Whimsalots and different Elemental clans, are also searching for a way to break us out."

Papyrus listened with a curious (and metaphorical) ear, having not heard about a lot of this before. He knew very little about the barrier, and the human souls needed to break it - he had asked Sans about it once, knowing that he had studied it a lot from Father's notes, but his brother had only clammed up and refused to speak on the matter.

Were human souls really that powerful? Why couldn't a monster do it? Sure, humans had been the ones to create the barrier in the first place, but there had been only seven of them. Surely, if all the monsters worked together to break the barrier...

Caught up in his daydreams about breaking the barrier single-handedly, he completely glossed by the fact that the souls needed to break the barrier would have to be free of any physical body...

Completely unknowing that if he ever wanted to help break the barrier, he would have to kill, or be killed.

Chapter Text

Sans let out a sigh, lazily flipping upside down and floating around the room. He had just finished rearranging the fifth year kids' workbooks into an upside down pyramid, which was fun, but now he was finished, which meant he was bored again.

He had known for a long time that he could affect things in the 'real' world, if he concentrated very hard. He could pick small objects up and move them around, sometimes even throw them if he had enough momentum.

It was another thing that he attributed to Papyrus, of course - while he wasn't sure exactly how he had come by this ability, he was fairly certain that it was just a different version of his brother's Blue Magic. Papyrus wasn't very well-versed in the subject either, but he knew enough to make small gravitational changes, though he usually didn't bother. He was much more interested in making 'SUPER COOL BONE ATTACKS!' Which he had also yet to master.

Sans found himself grinning at the thought of his brother, his enthusiasm infectious even when it was only a memory, but the emotion faded soon enough.

Within seconds, his grin disappeared and Sans watched passively as the students started to file into the room. This was so boring. Why was he even bothering?

He floated through the door without a second thought, not even bothering to stay behind and see what the reaction to his prank had been.

Instead, he drifted aimlessly through the school, unbothered by everything, even when someone walked right through him. Sans used to hate that, but he didn't much see the point now. So what if people walked through him? They couldn't see him. To them, he didn't exist. It was only natural that they proceed with their daily lives without a thought towards him.

There was only one monster in the entire Underground who Sans existed to - and Papyrus didn't need him anymore. His little brother had new friends, new experiences, new everything.

He didn't need Sans anymore.

It was a bitter pill to swallow, but Sans was learning to accept it. If nothing else, he could at least be smug that he wasn't the only one. Gaster had been able to see Papyrus less and less recently, and clearly wasn't happy with it, which honestly did make Sans feel a bit better.

And, the real issue was... Sans could solve this problem by himself. He could go see Papyrus, apologize for being so absent recently, and the whole thing would be behind them.

But he didn't want to. For one thing, it sounded like far too much work. And for another... what if he was right? What if Papyrus really didn't want him around anymore, and Sans showed up to talk to him only to find that Papyrus couldn't see him either?

Sans really didn't want to take that chance.

So at this point, it had turned into something of a waiting game. Sans avoided Papyrus, Papyrus got frustrated with the lack of response and started spending more time with other monsters.

It was probably all for the best, anyway. Sans let out a quiet laugh, looking up at the ceiling of the library he was nonchalantly floating through.

Papyrus couldn't keep relying on his fake older brother forever. He might as well learn what life was like in the real world.

Chapter Text

Gaster was... concerned. He didn't like to admit it, especially over something like this, but it was the honest truth.

Papyrus had been faring quite well at school - seemed to be absolutely loving it, really! But lately, his excitement had only lasted for so long before a strange kind of gloominess overcame him.

Gaster had never actually had to deal with Papyrus when he was in this kind of mood - his imaginary 'brother' always seemed to be the one to drag him out of it, so he was at a loss of what to do. In the end, he had simply caved and asked Papyrus what was wrong.

The way Papyrus had explained it, he and 'Sans' appeared to have had some kind of little spat, and Sans was no longer appearing as often. While Gaster had inwardly been jumping for joy, outwardly he had completely dismissed the whole thing, not willing to give up on his oblivious facade now when it finally seemed like the whole mess was about to solve itself.

He had assumed that after a few more days of that, Papyrus would get over it and move on, but more than a month later, the situation only seemed to have gotten worse.

Papyrus would still mention his new friends every now and then, but those times became few and far between, with the small skeleton child become more melancholic as the days passed. From what Gaster could gather, Papyrus had many 'friends' within the school, but none that he was particularly close with. His personality endeared him to his fellow monsters, but also caused them to remain a few steps away from a true relationship.

Gaster could understand that, somewhat. He had long been told that he was a difficult monster to handle in large doses, and Papyrus had inherited that part of him if nothing else.

And more than anything, it all came down to Sans. With Papyrus obsessing over this delusion the way he was, it made it impossible for him to really become close with anyone, because he was always thinking about Sans first.

Even when speaking about those friends he made, Papyrus would always manage to bring Sans into the conversation, wondering aloud how he would have reacted to some of the events that had happened in the day, and other such nonsense.

It was just as Gaster had feared.

But what could he do? Was there anything he could do, especially without revealing his knowledge about the situation?

Well... There was something. But he hadn't really wanted to resort to that - not if he wanted to keep his skull intact, anyway.

But there was nothing else he could think of right now, so he might as well try it.

Sighing, he rose from his seat at his desk, making sure to tell Doctor SixOne, a feline monster with a wondrous proficiency in mechanical engineering, that he would be going out for a little while.

It had been quite some time since he had left Hotland, and in the opposite direction of the capital, too!

But if there was anyone in the entire Underground who would know how to whip Papyrus into shape, it would be General Gerson.

Chapter Text

"SO..." Papyrus said, eyeing his father suspiciously. "WE ARE GOING TO VISIT A... 'FRIEND' OF YOURS?"

"Yes," Gaster said exasperatedly, looking dangerously close to pouting. "You don't have to sound so skeptical."

Well, Papyrus hadn't thought that his father had any friends outside the lab, so he believed that this scrutiny was warranted. Besides, if they were such good friends, then why had Papyrus never even heard of him before? It's suspicious.

He glanced to his left, instinctively looking for Sans to back him up on this, only for his eyes to land on empty air. Papyrus barely resisted a flinch, his resistance dwindling until he was just following behind his father quietly, dragging his feet.

He hadn't... He hadn't even seen Sans for a couple of days. Who knows where he could be?? He could be hurt, or lost!

It's not that Papyrus didn't trust Sans to look after himself. It was simply the fact that he shouldn't have to, not when he had the Great Papyrus looking after him!

Why did it seem like his brother had forgotten that?

So caught up in his own moroseness, Papyrus didn't even notice when they crossed the border into Waterfall. Before long, the two skeleton monsters had waded through streams and marshes, moving deeper inland.

Eventually, then ended up at a long, damp corridor. There was an opening on the right side, catching Papyrus's attention.

A shop?

"DOES HE LIVE HERE?" Papyrus asked, curiosity overcoming his melancholy as he glanced up to his father for direction.

"Yes, he does," Gaster said, a strange expression on his face. It was a mixture of disgruntlement and something else that Papyrus couldn't quite identify.

"Wa ha ha!" a voice boomed out, catching both of them off-guard. "No need to sound so disgusted, Wings!"

To Papyrus's utter confusion, Gaster's skull flushed a deep purple.

"I told you to stop calling me that!" Gaster snapped, marching forward to stand face-to-face with a tall turtle monster.

Papyrus stumbled after him, blinking in confusion at this odd turn of events. He didn't think he'd ever seen his father look flustered, of all things.

"Why not? It's your name, isn't it?"

"Gaster! Call me Gaster, you senile old man!"

"Wa ha ha! Don't worry, you'll always be that adorable, little, chubby-cheeked WingDings to me!"

"My cheeks were not chubby!" Gaster's face flushed even deeper in his embarrassment, near shrieking now. "I am a skeleton! It's impossible for me to be chubby!"

Papyrus scoffed, not believing that for a second. Something like impossibility never stopped Sans, after all. And honestly, Papyrus preferred it that way - it made his brother much more fun to hug.

But even that small reminder was enough to drop his mood, making Papyrus pout, digging his foot into the muddy ground.

"And who's this?" the turtle monster said, suddenly squatting down so that he could look Papyrus in the face. "How long have you been keeping this one in hiding, huh?"

Gaster scowled, his emotions more volatile than Papyrus had ever witnessed, but he quickly pulled himself back under control with a sigh. "This is my son, Papyrus. Papyrus, this is Gerson."

"...Nice To Meet You," Papyrus said, avoiding eye-contact. He didn't really like meeting new people without Sans around, especially adults.

Luckily, Gerson didn't seem to mind.

"Same to you, boy!" he declared loudly, before turning to Gaster with a suspicious glint in his eyes that instantly made Papyrus feel validated. "Now, why are you here, Dings? I thought you refused to leave your lab after the last time you got totally wasted and tried to hit on - "

"Yes, yes!" Gaster hastily interrupted, looking like he was regretting all of his life choices that led him to this moment. "I was hoping that you would be able to speak to Papyrus for me. He has been having some difficulties, lately, and - "

"Say no more!" Gerson interrupted, unknowingly grabbing Papyrus's attention, which had been suffering greatly as his father started talking like he wasn't even there. "I've got this!"

"B-But, I - " Gaster, thankfully, looked just as bewildered as Papyrus was feeling, which was certainly vindicating.

"I said say no more! You go back to your lab, young man, and gimme an hour with this kid. We'll have this issue sorted out in no time at all!" Gerson said, his tone so confident that Papyrus couldn't help but believe it too.

"I - "

"Goodbye, Wings!" Gerson said, physically herding him in the other direction. Papyrus could only watch in shock as his father was basically shoved out of the area, eventually relenting with a few more complaints.

When Gerson stomped back over, Papyrus looked up at him with awe, and the very beginnings of hero worship.

"Okay, kid! Do you know how to use a sword?"

Yeah. It was official - this was gonna be the best day ever! Sans was so missing out!

Chapter Text

"papyrus...?" Sans called out, wandering through the lab. He couldn't find his brother anywhere.

It had been like that for a couple of days now. While Sans rarely made contact with Papyrus anymore, he still spent a lot of his time hovering around him, just out of sight. But now, Papyrus had been going somewhere after school without his knowledge!

Sans knew that he didn't have the right to feel so insulted, but he did anyway. After all, he was the one who had been avoiding Papyrus in the first place.

Doesn't feel so good when you're on the other end of it, huh?

Sans scowled, shoving his hands in his pockets. He knew that he was being a huge hypocrite, he knew that he was acting like a brat, but he just couldn't help it!

His emotions just never translated the way he wanted them to - he never knew how to say what he was really thinking. Sans would rather avoid it altogether than discuss it with anyone.

But the knowledge of his hypocrisy didn't fix the problem, and it certainly didn't tell Sans what Papyrus was up to.

Letting out an annoyed sigh, Sans floated through the ceiling up and to the top floor of the lab. He would have to go investigate in Gaster's office, see if the old man knew anything. He probably would, right? Gaster was not the best father by any means, but he was a loving one. He wouldn't just let Papyrus wander off and fall into the lava or anything...

Oh no.

Sans hurried his pace, feeling himself twitch with that old, remembered anxiety. He had seen Papyrus this morning, he was fine! There was no reason to think that he was dead, or kidnapped, or -

Sans shook his head, frantically trying to dislodge that thought. Papyrus was fine! He was just off doing something without Sans, which was perfectly okay and not at all a reason for anxiety. Papyrus was allowed to go other places, and he was clearly allowed to have other friends, since that was all he had been doing since he started school.

Finally, Sans arrived at Gaster's office, sliding up through the tiled floor. The monster himself was not actually there, thank goodness, since that meant that Sans could poke around without worry.

It's not like Gaster ever knew he was there, of course, but he didn't like dealing with that guy without Papyrus around.

When the youngest skeleton was absent, Gaster became... cold. More calculating, in a way that tended to make Sans feel very uncomfortable. Gaster was still oblivious to all but his experiments, of course, but he didn't seem to put nearly as much effort into interacting with other monsters if Papyrus wasn't there.

Which, y'know, Sans could actually understand. It's not like he ever bothered to interact with anyone except Papyrus either.

But, since he wasn't there, Sans snooped through the entire office without fear, shoving his head through file cabinets so that he could see their contents.

Hm... There was nothing too new or exciting. Nothing that would indicate such a strange shift in their previously established pattern, anyway.

Sans moved over to his desk, wondering if Gaster had left a clue there. A cursory glance over the papers there didn't show anything of interest, but Sans looked a bit deeper anyway, just in case.

Well, nothing he hadn't seen before. Maybe this visit was a bust after all.

But it was then, just as he was turning to leave, that a diagram on one of the papers caught his eye.

Sans floated a little closer to examine it, frowning in concentration. It looked kind of like... a giant skull?

...Interesting. Maybe this was something that could actually keep Sans entertained for a little while.

Chapter Text

Papyrus eagerly said goodbye to Doctor Goss, waving at the scientist who had kindly taken the time out of their day to walk Papyrus to the border of Waterfall.

He had only been doing this for a couple of days, but he already had the route memorized. He was the Great Papyrus, after all!

And man, had it been fun! Gerson was silly and loud, just like Papyrus, but he didn't seem to feel bad for it at all. He had actually made Papyrus feel a bit more confident in himself as a result. And he got to use a sword, which was awesome!!

Gerson had been helping him with his bone attacks as well, and Papyrus couldn't wait for his next lesson! Sans had helped him with some of the theory, but that didn't do much in terms of practical advice, and Father was always too busy.

But with Gerson's help, he was really starting to get the hang of it!

As he neared the little alcove where Gerson's shop laid, he began to hear the sound of shouting, and someone using magic attacks. Brightening, he hurried, hoping that he would be able to see Gerson in action.

It wasn't just Gerson, though - there was also a small aquatic monster, with bright red hair. She was facing off against Gerson with a determined look on her face, clutching a conjured spear in hand.

"C'mon, then!" Gerson boomed out, doing his weird laugh. "You'll never be able to beat me if you don't fight me head on, Guppy!"

"Don't call me a guppy!" she screeched, rushing Gerson with a drawn-out battle cry.

Gerson, still laughing, managed to deflect every single one of her blows with ease, making her let out a frustrated yell and redouble her efforts. It still meant nothing to the old war general, and as he twisted and turned around the fish monster, he noticed Papyrus standing off to the side.

"Papyrus, about time you got here!" he exclaimed, gesturing for Papyrus to come over with one hand, and using the other to stop the redhead from trying to stab him in earnest.

With absolutely no fear over the situation he'd found himself in, and even less caution, Papyrus skipped over, grinning happily at the other child when she looked at him, panting heavily.

"Who the heck are YOU?" she said, pointing her spear at him accusingly. "You're not trying to step in on MY training, are you?"

"I'M PAPYRUS!" he answered brightly, not at all concerned about the blue spear being leveled in his face. "AND NO, NOT THAT I AM AWARE OF. MR. GERSON IS HELPING ME SUMMON MY MAGIC ATTACKS CONSTANT... UM, CONSCIENCE... UH..."

"Consistently," Gerson supplied, making Papyrus perk right back up.

"AH, YES! CONSISTENTLY! HE IS HELPING ME TO SUMMON THEM CONSISTENTLY, INSTEAD OF ONLY SOME OF THE TIME, LIKE I CAN NOW."

"Oh." she lowered her weapon and grinned at him, showing off her sharp teeth. "I'm Undyne! Since you're not trying to butt in or anything, then I guess we can be friends!"

"WOWIE! I'VE HIT THE FRIENDZONE ALREADY!" Papyrus said, a little confused when his statement made Gerson let out a muffled snort.

Still, he was happy. He had lots of friends at school, but it was always nice to have more! And besides... it seemed like he and Undyne had a lot in common!

They were going to be great friends, he could just tell.

Chapter Text

This was a great idea, and anyone who said otherwise was just straight-up wrong. Sans was very confident of that.

Sure, maybe Papyrus would have disapproved, but Papyrus wasn't here, was he?

And Sans was done with being angry, with being sad, with being numb. Okay, maybe his brother had replaced him. Maybe Sans didn't have a reason to exist anymore. But that was fine! If Papyrus wasn't around to tell him why he should be alive, then he would find his own reason.

And right now, that consisted of messing around with Gaster's research. Luckily enough, the monster was already so scattered and absent-minded that he never even considered that Sans was the one responsible for the issues he was encountering - he just figured that he had left something out by accident, or made a miscalculation somewhere.

Gaster was getting quite frazzled over the whole thing, really. Served him right!

Sans... actually felt a little bit bad about it, which was why he had decreased the severity of his pranks, but he made up for it by doing them even more frequently than before!

He made sure that these ones were mostly harmless. Even if he was still holding a grudge against Gaster and didn't think the guy deserved to have a kid as great as Papyrus, he also didn't want to give him a nervous breakdown or anything.

If he did that, Papyrus would definitely be mad at him -

...Would he? Would he really be mad? He hadn't even been around the lab lately. He was always at school, or out somewhere else. Sans assumed that he came back to the lab to sleep, but he wasn't even sure about that.

Sans hadn't slept in a while. Since he didn't really exist, he had no need to sleep, even though it used to be one of his favorite pastimes. But, honestly? He had realized that doing that now only made him feel more fuzzy and shapeless, at least when he was feeling like this.

Without Papyrus around, a lot of things had changed.

He wanted to say that he was okay with that, but he knew himself well enough to say that he wasn't. He had been created to love Papyrus, after all, to want to be with him and care for him.

Without that... He felt like he was adrift, and simultaneously trapped in a tiny box.

Sans would deal with it. He always had, and he always would. But it did feel strange.

It had taken him awhile to wrench himself out of the numbness, and by the time he had, it was far too late to go back to the way that things were before.

So, he was going to make trouble! He was going to cause mischief and mayhem, and give himself a reason to exist!

Sans didn't need Papyrus. No, definitely not. He was just fine on his own.

He floated through the lab wall, concentrating on what he was thinking. In fact, he was concentrating so deeply that he didn't even pay attention when he floated directly through another monster.

"YOU!" a voice shouted.

Startled, Sans turned around - only to be faced with Papyrus pointing a finger at him accusingly.

"DON'T TRY TO RUN AWAY FROM ME AGAIN!"

"too late." He didn’t even pause - he was already running.

Chapter Text

"SANS! GET BACK HERE!" Papyrus said insistently, running after his brother at full speed.

"no can do, bro," Sans calls back, and of course that's the first thing that Sans says to him in weeks, of course that's how he chooses to do this.

He doesn't know how to deal with a problem, so he panics and runs away. Papyrus just knew that he was going to do that.

It was extremely frustrating.

"I MEAN IT, SANS!" Papyrus yelled, actual anger coating his tone. "STOP!"

Sans immediately came to a halt, freezing in mid-air. As Papyrus came upon him, he seemed to have an almost perplexed look on his face for a moment, like he wasn't sure why he'd done that.

Papyrus let out a huff, crossing his arms in front of him and giving his brother a cross look. Sure, he had been busy. He'd been spending time with Undyne and Gerson, hanging out with his friends at school, doing all sorts of things.

But that didn't take away the fact that what Sans had done, abandoning him like that, had hurt. It hurt so much and Papyrus had tried to put on a brave face, tried to simply let his brother do as he pleased, but this was enough.

If Sans really wanted to spend time away from him for some reason, he could accept it. Papyrus wouldn't like it certainly, but he could accept it. But this wasn't Sans trying to branch out more - this was him being a jerk.

"...what do you want?" Sans grumbled, stubbornly looking away. "shouldn't you be busy with your new friends or something?"

Papyrus sighed mournfully. He could be doing something with his friends right now if Sans wasn't being a huge baby.

"MY FRIENDS WILL STILL BE AROUND TOMORROW," he said instead, knowing that calling Sans out on his behavior immediately would just make him defensive. "I GUESS MY REAL QUESTION HERE IS WHETHER YOU WILL."

Sans bristled, though it seemed to be more in confusion than anger, to Papyrus' relief. "of course! where else would i be?"

"YOU HAVEN'T EXACTLY BEEN AROUND HERE LATELY," Papyrus pointed out, his tone entirely level. He wasn't accusing, just stating a fact. Sans wouldn't be able to deny that.

"i've been here. you just haven't seen me."

Papyrus manifested his eyelights in his sockets for the sole purpose of rolling them sassily. "RIGHT. THANKS, THAT'S VERY HELPFUL SANS."

Sans scowled, his shoulders hunching up in embarrassment. He knew that he was losing this argument - not that he ever would have won it in the first place. Papyrus was a top-rate debate champ, after all!

"what do you want, papyrus?" he said, sounding suddenly exhausted.

Papyrus felt a surge of guilt go through him, but he pushed it down with issue. This was important, and he couldn't afford to let anything else distract him.

(Not even the way Sans had dark marks practically burned into the bone under his eye sockets, or the way every one of his bones seemed to be quivering with some unseen tension.)

"I JUST WANT MY BROTHER BACK," he said, in as quiet a tone as he ever had. "IS THAT REALLY SO BAD? I DON'T EVEN KNOW WHAT MADE YOU LEAVE IN THE FIRST PLACE."

"i... i just..." Sans' expression crumpled, and he seemed truly lost now. "you don't need me anymore, paps. you have so many friends, and i... i can't compare to what you have now. it'd be better for both of us if i just - "

"HOLD IT!" Papyrus said, holding up his hand to cut him off. "SINCE WHEN DID YOU GET TO DECIDE SOMETHING LIKE THAT?"

Sans blinked, caught totally off-guard, and Papyrus could only smile gently at his older brother.

"I LOVE YOU, SANS," he said factually. "AND I REALLY CARE ABOUT MY NEW FRIENDS, TOO. BUT I AM THE GREAT PAPYRUS! OBVIOUSLY, I HAVE MORE THAN ENOUGH ROOM IN MY SOUL FOR ALL OF YOU."

Sans... He drifted down, coming closer to Papyrus' level. His expression was guarded, but so achingly hopeful that it took everything Papyrus had to not just pull him into a hug right now.

"...really?"

"REALLY."

Sans was the one who reached out for a hug, then, and Papyrus gladly accepted.

They still had a long way to go, and more serious talks to come, but... They could do it. They were going to get there, together.

Chapter Text

"COME AT ME!" Undyne screamed, trying to use her conjured spear to push Gerson back.

The old turtle huffed, barely feeling a thing from her passionate assault. He had his large hammer out in front, and had it barely lifted off the ground as he kept the young monster in place.

"Wa ha ha!" Gerson laughed, finally shifting forwards slightly and knocking her off her feet. "Not bad, Guppy! Your strength is getting better and better, though your balance could use some work."

Undyne groaned, scowling up at him. "What am I supposed to do, then??"

Gerson tapped his chin, pretending to be contemplating deeply. In truth, he already knew exactly what Undyne needed, but it wasn't something that she was going to want to hear, so he was... well, he was stalling, a little bit.

Her strength was good, that wasn't a lie. But it wasn't good enough for what she was trying to do. Now, Undyne was still young, and there was plenty of time for her to grow. But so far, Gerson could see that her best bet would be in ranged attacks - she had impeccable aim, good enough to impress even him.

But that definitely wouldn’t be enough to satisfy Undyne.

Luckily, Gerson didn't have to break the news to her just yet, because Papyrus came barreling through the tall grass, an excited grin on his face.

"HELLO UNDYNE, MR. GERSON! I'M HERE!"

"That you are!" Gerson grinned, allowing his hammer to hit the ground with a loud clang. "We missed you yesterday!"

"Yeah!" Undyne agreed, getting back on her feet and frowning at the skeleton child. "Where were you, anyway? I was TOTALLY looking forward to sparring again, and you MISSED IT!"

"WE DON'T TECHNICALLY HAVE A SCHEDULED TIME TO MEET UP," Papyrus pointed out, before laughing nervously and changing the subject when Undyne only glared at him. "ANYWAY, I HAD SOMETHING VERY IMPORTANT TO DO!"

"More important than OUR SPAR?!" Undyne said, waving her spear in his direction threateningly.

Gerson didn't intervene, sitting down heavily. Honestly... He was interested in how this was going, too. Gaster hadn't told him much about his son's situation, though admittedly Gerson hadn't given him much of a chance to.

But Gerson knew how to deal with children just fine, despite never having any of his own. Papyrus was the type who needed someone to have confidence in him, who needed to be needed. Gerson couldn't help much about the second part, but he knew that Undyne could unwittingly fulfill both objectives.

The problem there, of course, was that somebody else must have been fulfilling them before. Someone who wasn't around to do it now.

Which was... interesting, and a little worrying. Gerson hadn't touched on that issue yet, not having enough information to avoid blundering into something bad or potentially traumatizing.

But if the new light in Papyrus's expression meant anything, he may not have to interfere after all.

"YES!" he answered Undyne, actually shocking her into silence. "SORRY, UNDYNE, BUT THIS WAS REALLY IMPORTANT. I WAS MAKING UP WITH MY BROTHER! WE HAD AN ARGUMENT, AND WE WERE BOTH PRETTY UPSET ABOUT IT, BUT WE'RE ALL BETTER NOW!"

Gerson got the feeling that it was an oversimplification of what had been a very difficult issue, but that was alright. As long as his student kept smiling like that, there was nothing to fear!

"Wa ha ha!" Gerson boomed out, nearly knocking the two children off their feet. "Good on you, Papyrus! Family is important, no doubt!"

"I guess so," Undyne muttered grudgingly, her hand tightening on her spear.

Gerson cast her a quick glance. There was some issues that he would have to address there, at some point, but today...

Today, they could be happy. Today, they could be children.

"THANK YOU!" Papyrus said, beaming in a way that made it look like he had literal sunshine flowing through his bones. "I'LL HAVE TO INTRODUCE HIM TO YOU SOMETIME!"

Chapter Text

"SO, YOU'RE GOING TO BE REASONABLE ABOUT THIS?"

"yes, papyrus."

"YOU'RE NOT GOING TO RUN AWAY AGAIN?"

Sans groaned. "yes, papyrus."

Papyrus gave him a suspicious look, but finally nodded in confirmation. "ALRIGHT. I'M TRUSTING YOU WITH THIS."

Sans refrained from saying anything sarcastic. Honestly, he probably deserved at least this much suspicion. He... he had hurt both of them with his careless actions, damaged their relationship in a way that could have become disastrous.

He always went on and on about how much he trusted Papyrus, how much he believed in him, but Sans had still not had any faith in him - at least, not in the moment where it really mattered.

And he regretted that. The very least Sans could do was put up with a bit of nagging. It was hard for him, trying to prove that he was really working on this, but he had to try. Otherwise, what kind of brother would he be?

"okay, paps," he said, giving him a small smile. "i've been around the school, but i haven't actually watched any of your classes. this should be interesting, at least."

"OF COURSE!" Papyrus said proudly, puffing out his chest. "YOU WILL BE SHADOWING THE GREAT PAPYRUS, AFTER ALL! NO DOUBT IT WILL BE THE MOST INTERESTING THING YOU'VE EVER SEEN!"

"i'll hold you to it," Sans laughed, shaking his head a little. It was nice to be back.

Of course, things weren't perfect. The two children often found themselves feeling hesitant, not quite sure how to interact with each other after so much had changed. They couldn't go back to the way they were before - that was certain.

But that wasn't necessarily a bad thing, either. Sans knew that this wasn't going to break them - it would only make their relationship even stronger than before. He felt confident in that, and he was willing to put in the effort to make sure that happened.

Which was more than he could say about literally anything else in his life, so Sans felt like there was some pretty good odds here.

"OKAY," Papyrus nodded, grabbing his school bag with a determined expression. "I WON'T TRY TO FORCE YOU TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH EVERYONE, BUT I WOULD LIKE IT IF YOU COULD AT LEAST STICK AROUND FOR THE ENTIRE DAY."

"sure thing," Sans agreed, floating closer to his brother and giving him a smile.

While he still wasn't too enthusiastic about school, and honestly felt like Papyrus could do way better than the education they were giving him there, he wouldn't go out of his way to try and take that away from him.

It wouldn't be fair, at all, to ask Papyrus to choose. And he was trying to be better! Sans knew that he could curb his jealous tendencies, he just had to work at it. Of course, it helped that Papyrus had been insisting on more open communication between the two of them.

Ironically enough, being around other monsters besides his immediate family had really helped Papyrus figure out how to deal with social situations. That was something that he was better at than Sans, honestly.

Sans was just grateful that Papyrus was willing to put in that much effort to help him. Their relationship may have become strained, but he knew that it wasn't beyond saving - not by a long shot.

"TIME FOR SCHOOL!"

"yep. let's go."

Chapter Text

Sans could admit to some... curiosity. He had observed the classes of older students more than once, but had never found them to be anything of worth. All the activities they did seemed frivolous, and the lessons themselves were things that Sans could literally learn in his sleep.

But his recent reuniting with Papyrus had hit him with some hard facts - the most prominent of them being that Sans didn't really know everything. Intellectually, he had always known that, but it hadn't really sunk in until Papyrus had scolded him like that.

He had gone on his own preconceived notions about how Papyrus would react, and had avoided him and caused trouble for months. It was only fair that he try to expand his horizons a bit - or as much as one could when they were trapped underground.

That was why he didn't voice a single protest when Papyrus' magic teacher had the children all use their abilities to make images out of sandboxes. His face did scrunch up in disdain before he was able to stop himself, though.

"WHAT DO YOU THINK I SHOULD MAKE, SANS?" Papyrus asked, tapping a finger against his chin in thought.

Sans just shrugged. "dunno, bro. creativity really ain't my specialty."

"NOW, THAT'S JUST NOT TRUE!" Papyrus said, glancing up at him with a mischievous smile. "I HAVE FOUND THAT YOU'RE ALWAYS EXTREMELY CREATIVE IN FINDING WAYS TO AVOID DOING WORK!"

"that's procrastination. i don't think it's really the same thing," Sans said, but he couldn't resist a smile of his own. Heh, Paps had him there.

"Sans? Like, oh my gosh, is your brother back?" a voice interrupted, one that Sans found vaguely familiar.

Sans glanced over to see that it was the small, purple cat girl that he had gotten jealous over on the first day of school. Just seeing her again was enough to have a resurgence of that awful, ugly feeling, but he quickly shoved it down.

He was not going to get caught in that trap again.

Papyrus' happy smile at seeing her certainly made it easier.

"YES, HE IS!" he said exuberantly, near beaming. That was enough to make Sans relax completely, floating a bit closer with a soft grin. "WE HAD A BIT OF A MISUNDERSTANDING, BUT WE MANAGED TO GET THROUGH IT! AS IS EXPECTED FROM THE GREAT PAPYRUS!"

Catty (that was her name, right?) only laughed, not seeming bothered at all by the way Papyrus was getting progressively louder in his excitement. Well, she had probably been spending enough time around Papyrus to get used to it by now.

"I'm, like, really happy to hear that," she said, and it sounded completely genuine. "You'll have to, like, introduce him to the others at lunch! That'll be, like, super cool."

"YES! AN EXCELLENT PLAN!" Papyrus cheered.

Sans chuckled, sticking his hands in his pockets. "yeah, bro. sounds good."

These monsters... They weren't a threat to him. Honestly, he felt a little silly for getting so concerned about it in the first place. They weren't trying to replace him, or take his place as Papyrus' brother. They wanted to have relationships with Papyrus, sure, but that didn't mean that Papyrus wouldn't have time to spend with him anymore. And even better, they seemed to be perfectly willing to include Sans in their group as well, despite the fact that they couldn't see him.

Sans should have had more faith in him. More faith in all of them.

It was like Papyrus said - he had enough room in his SOUL for Sans, and everyone else too.

Chapter Text

"Did you have a good day?" Gaster said absently, peering through the microscope to get a better look at the cells he was studying.

"ABSOLUTELY!" Papyrus yelled, throwing his bag on the ground and raising his arms triumphantly.

That was enough to give Gaster pause, and he pulled away from his work to glance curiously at his son. Papyrus was looking a lot more happy than he did usually, or at least in what had become the norm ever since he and his 'brother' had fought.

A part of him hoped that the visits with Gerson had finally had their intended effect, but he knew better than to hope for too much.

"Oh?" he said, instead of asking whether he still had an imaginary friend. "How so?"

"WELL, SANS AND I - "

And, there it was. Guess that really was too much to ask for.

Gaster sighed, rubbing his face tiredly. Well, 'Sans' was still around, it seemed. He had hoped that by sending Papyrus to Gerson, the old war hero would have managed to distract him from it long enough to grow out of it. Instead, it only seemed to have gotten worse, like there had been a sudden resurgence.

Honestly, he was starting to think that Gerson hadn't even addressed the issue at all!

(It totally slipped his mind that he had never explained to Gerson that there was an issue in the first place. Give the poor guy a break, he was running on nothing but coffee and Determination at this point.)

"AND THEN, WE HAD LUNCH! I GOT TO INTRODUCE HIM TO CATTY AND BRATTY AND MOUSER AND FAUN AND JESTER! IT WAS GREAT!"

"That's nice, Papyrus," Gaster said exhaustedly. At this point, he truly meant it.

He just didn't have the energy, or the desire to try and keep up with this little charade. If it made Papyrus happy, so be it.

There was so much going on. The royal family were all expecting so much from him, wanting more results, faster than ever before. They wanted a way to break the barrier, they wanted a way to go home.

(Initially, Papyrus had been designed for that purpose, and even before him... Well. Plans change.)

The pressure was on, and there was no way for Gaster to relieve it. What was he supposed to say? That there was no way to break the barrier without human souls? That the only way to get out of this would be to start that damn war all over again?

What was he supposed to do? What could he possibly do that wouldn't make everything worse?

It just felt... hopeless.

But, somehow, listening to Papyrus extol the virtues of cafeteria food and the treasure of friendship really did make him feel better. Gaster found himself following along with the story, smiling even through his own, immense tiredness.

There was a burden on his shoulders, one that he could not - would not - drop. So for now, he was happy to take advantage of the little joy that he could find.

(And as for the barrier, well - there was a plan. Or at least, the beginnings of one.)

Chapter Text

Surprisingly, meeting Papyrus' friends hadn't gone as badly as Sans had expected it to. But, then again, he had a distinct bias, so...

Still, he was satisfied, at least. Papyrus had managed to meet with some good monsters, ones that even Sans could admit were trustworthy, even if he didn't like it.

Sans was able to tolerate them, which was honestly more than he had expected.

"Did you hear about what happened with the Prince?" Mouser said, their words muffled under the bulky scarf they always had wrapped around their face.

"I heard that he found a human," Bratty said, leaning in to whisper to the group in a conspiratorial manner.

"I heard that the human tried to, like, kill him!" Catty added, eyes wide with horrified glee.

"Ugh, great," Faun said gloomily, picking at his food. "A homicidal human on the loose is just what we need."

Sans snorted. If the human had actually tried to kill Prince Asriel, there was no way they would still be living. The King and Queen were notoriously protective of their only son.

"Now, now, let's not get caught up in rumors," Jester interjected, being left as the voice of reason as always. Papyrus was just listening to them gossip, awe-struck. He always did have a tendency to get stuck in stories. "I'm sure they'll announce what really happened soon enough."

Bratty and Catty both groaned, and Faun rolled his eyes.

"WHERE WAS THE HUMAN DISCOVERED?" Papyrus asked, nearly bursting with curiosity.

Bratty and Catty jumped on that in an instant, despite Jester's protests.

"They climbed out of the lava in Hotland - "

"No, no! Didn't they get caught trying to break into the royal palace?"

"Y'know, I bet the human has some kind of secret plan - "

"That's enough, you two!" Jester cried out in exasperation. "Honestly, knock it off!"

The girls grumbled, but subsided. Sans couldn't help but feel grateful to Jester - they tried their best to keep the peace and keep everyone happy, but sometimes that meant they had to make some tough decisions.

Better them than Sans, though. He wouldn't be nearly as nice about it.

Papyrus was pouting, though. Ever since he'd learned about humans and the barrier in school, he'd seemed to be enamored of trying to catch one himself.

In an attempt to pacify his brother, Sans leaned down to whisper in his ear.

"i'll find out what really happened, okay?" he promised. "i'm sure gaster knows something. you just have to be a little patient."

Papyrus nodded, but he was still pouting, just a little. Sans sighed. Nothing he could do about that.

"What else has been going on?" Mouser asked the group, looking a little embarrassed for having brought the topic up in the first place. "Faun, how is your new art class going?"

Faun jolted at being addressed, but immediately preened at the attention.

"Oh, just amazing," he said, sounding entirely too convinced of that fact. "I'll be a master before you know it!"

Sans chuckled under his breath. Faun could be snotty, but he did know his stuff.

"I'LL BE LOOKING FORWARD TO IT!" Papyrus said cheerfully, patting his friend on the arm.

Faun blushed when he did so, looking away. The whole table laughed, good-naturedly ribbing their embarrassed friend.

“Next time, I’ll bring one of my pieces to show you guys,” Faun added. Everyone agreed, claiming that they would all bring something to share with the group.

“We wanna make sure that, like, our school days are memorable, y’know?” Catty said, gesturing enthusiastically. “We’ve got to have fun!”

“AND WE WILL!” Papyrus said confidently. “ESPECIALLY WITH THE GREAT PAPYRUS BY YOUR SIDE!”

They all laughed, agreeing.

Sans' smile became just the slightest bit softer. Yeah. They were okay.

Chapter Text

"I JUST DON'T UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU'RE SO WORRIED ABOUT, SANS," Papyrus complained. "NOTHING HAS EVER HAPPENED BEFORE, HAS IT?"

"maybe not to you," Sans muttered, looking around warily.

Papyrus inspected his brother, taking in his nervous expression. They had been working a lot on communication and talking to each other when something was wrong, so he thought it best to take his brother seriously, even when he privately believed that Sans was being absurd.

"WHAT HAPPENED?" he asked simply. They were standing in a barely-lit hallway, on one of the bottom floors of the lab. Papyrus had been down here many times, though, admittedly, that didn't mean that he actually spent much time here. Nothing strange had ever happened to him on one of his trips, but that didn't mean that nothing had ever happened to Sans.

"i saw... something," Sans said, hesitating. "maybe i am overreacting. it was a while ago."

Papyrus tilted his head to the side, trying to gauge his brother's worry. Eventually, he sighed and nodded.

"I UNDERSTAND," he said, gravely. "IT CAN BE DIFFICULT, BASKING IN THE PRESENCE OF ONE SO GREAT AS ME. BUT YOU DON'T NEED TO WORRY, BROTHER. EVEN IF SOMETHING DOES HAPPEN, I WILL ALWAYS BE HERE TO PROTECT YOU."

Sans blinked, and then laughed, holding his hand over his mouth to try and muffle the sound.

"i'll be counting on you, then," he said, trying to hide his grin.

Papyrus only nodded imperiously. "SEE THAT YOU DO!"

With that, he turned and headed further into the darkness of the lab. It was actually getting dark and spooky enough that even Papyrus found it off-putting, but before long, he caught sight of a soft sliver of light, coming from a cracked-open door.

Papyrus crept closer, Sans floating just above his head. They probably shouldn't be doing this... But since when had that ever stopped them?

He peeked inside, and Sans just stuck his head through the door.

The sight inside was - was - !

Boring.

It was just his father, muttering to himself as he worked on some kind of machine.

" - and if I... No, that will never work," Gaster was saying, frowning faintly as he poked at the machine. "I have to do some tests. At this rate, it won't achieve anything for years. I need it to work now."

Papyrus frowned, and he exchanged a look with his brother. Sans had never held any great fondness for their father, but even he seemed a little disgruntled at this.

He'd noticed that his father had been very stressed recently, but he hadn't thought it was anywhere near this level. Gaster honestly looked like he was about to cry.

Papyrus couldn't take it anymore. He slipped into the room, despite Sans' whispered protests, and shot like a rocket to attach himself to his father's legs.

"W-What - ?" Gaster sputtered, nearly dropping the piece of equipment he was trying to attach to the machine. "Papyrus? How did you - why did you - ugh, what are you doing in here?"

"I MISSED YOU, SO I CAME TO SEE YOU!" Papyrus declared, looking like he would mutiny if Gaster tried to force him out.

Luckily, the older monster did nothing of the sort.

"I..." Gaster sighed. "I've missed you too, Papyrus."

His expression was exhausted, but he still managed to pull up a smile.

"Why don't we go get something to eat?"

"SPAGHETTI!"

"Yeah, sure."

"sounds good to me, bro."

Still, though, Gaster’s expression was troubled. Papyrus vowed to do his best to make things easier on the busy monster. He had never seen his father like this before… and he wasn’t sure he liked it.

Chapter Text

Sans couldn't sleep. This was a strange occurrence, since he typically enjoyed spending as much time as possible in various states of unconsciousness, but there was something wrong.

He could feel it. In the air, in the silence, right down and into his very bones.

There was something wrong.

He hesitated, hovering above his younger brother, who was sleeping peacefully for once. He knew that Papyrus wouldn't mind being woken up, but Sans had been very jumpy and paranoid recently. Was it worth it to wake Papyrus up for something that was probably going to be a false alarm?

No, he decided. He'd let Papyrus sleep. If it turned out to be anything noteworthy, after all, he'd just tell him about it in the morning.

With that, Sans promptly floated down through the floor, heading deeper into the lab.

(Something was wrong. wrong wrong wrong)

He followed his instincts, going further and further in. Eventually, he came across the room that he and Papyrus had snuck into earlier that day. The light was still on.

That wasn't too surprising, actually. Gaster had gone right back to work after he had lunch with them (well, with Papyrus, and Sans as an unwilling passenger). It made sense that he would still be working - things like a normal sleeping schedule had never been his top priority.

So why did it feel so wrong wrong wrong?

He phased through the door, not even bothering to stick his head through first and check out the situation. Something was wrong.

At the sight that greeted him, Sans' eyelights guttered out.

It... It was them. The creature, the gray creature that made Sans' head hurt so badly, made him feel so much pain - !

The creature was standing silently next to Gaster, who didn't react at all to their presence.

Gaster, instead, was fiddling with that machine. His face was blank, absolutely no expression on him. He just looked empty.

"This has to work," he mumbled under his breath. "This has to work, this has to work, this has to work - "

Sans' breath was caught in his throat, but he managed to push past it, moving forward without any kind of conscious thought. He'd never liked Gaster, never considered him to be his father like Papyrus did, but -

This wasn’t him. This wasn’t the driven and absentminded (but ultimately harmless) monster that Sans had grown up with.

"stop it," he croaked out, staring at the gray creature that was still just standing there. They must be the one responsible! "leave him alone! stop it!"

"Oh, hello," the creature said, still with that wide, unnatural smile. "I can't do that. Sorry. I need him."

"what?" Sans said, a horrible mix of confusion and fear shaking around inside him.

Gaster still made no reaction to any of this interaction, simply adjusting more knobs and levers on the machine that felt so wrong wrong wrong.

"I need him," they repeated. "Or I will. Or the balance will. Or you will. But I need him now."

"stop," Sans gasped out, the pressure in the room growing unbearable. Gaster had activated the machine, and never before had Sans wished so strongly that Gaster could hear him. "stop!"

"You should get back to your brother," the thing advised. The machine smoked, a dark, goopy substance leaking out of it and pooling on the floor. Gaster still did not react. "He's not supposed to be erased. He has a more important role than that."

Sans -

He watched.

The dark substance, something that made him feel ill if he glanced at it for too long, had enveloped Gaster's legs. It was crawling slowly up his body, pulling him further down. Sans could hear his bones cracking, a strange red substance beginning to leak out.

"When you try to mess with timelines, you have to deal with the consequences. I just sped it up."

He watched.

"Go."

Sans fled.

Chapter Text

He was choking and crying and didn't know what to do. Behind him, even as he moved faster than he ever had in his life, the darkness surged and enveloped the lab.

Sans squeezed his eyes shut as he heard the startled cries of the scientists caught up in it, unable to help them or even warn them.

SixOne screamed, and Goss tried to help him, Suzy tripped and was engulfed, Ficus stood there quietly, accepting the end with steel in his eyes.

Sans fled. He could not help them. He could not help them.

He was back at his and Papyrus' room before he could take a breath, but it didn't matter, because he could still hear the sound of encroaching static in the air.

Papyrus must have heard it too, because he woke up, and stared at Sans with frightened eyes.

"B-BROTHER, WHAT'S GOING ON - "

"get up!" Sans snapped, expression frantic. "get up, take anything that you absolutely can't live without, we need to go!"

Papyrus didn't question him, leaping out of bed and grabbing his bag. He shoved a few pairs of clothes in there, his favorite bunny toy, and a piece of paper he'd grabbed from his desk. He hurriedly wrapped his scarf around his neck, with Sans urging him to hurry.

Within thirty seconds, they were out of there, Sans leading his brother on the fastest path outside of the lab.

"WHAT IS THAT?" Papyrus yelled, trying to make himself heard out of the overwhelming sound of wrong wrong wrong. Behind them, approaching far quicker than Sans was comfortable with, was the darkness. "WHERE'S FATHER?!"

Sans gritted his teeth. "just go!"

They made it out of the lab with only a few feet to spare, and Sans was initially worried that it would follow them, that it would consume the rest of the Underground, but just when he was about to despair...

It stopped.

It enveloped the lab, lashing within the boundaries it had been set to. Sans noticed, with a start, a faint purple magic lining the border.

Gaster's magic.

He didn't know what to think. He didn't know how to react.

Had Gaster somehow regained a bit of control? Had he survived?

"wait here," he said to Papyrus, shooting off before his brother could protest. Papyrus would be fine here, in Hotland, but he needed to know.

The lab looked awful, everything cracked and destroyed. The darkness was gone, but the wrong wrong wrong remained.

Sans went down. He went down, past the room that no longer held anything of sentimental value, past the hallways that held the shadows of monsters that were no longer there.

Down, down, down, into the room with the machine.

There was someone there. Something. A figure in black, a horrible, moving darkness dripping off of it.

The figure looked at him. He looked back.

"S-S-Sans..." it spoke, voice warbling and distorted. It reached out to him, it's arms thin and goopy.

Sans' tears finally overflowed as he fell into the thing's embrace. It could touch him. It could see him.

"father..."

...

The thing that used to be Gaster had faded away as soon as it appeared. Sans tried desperately to hold on, but it was no use. It merely gave him something that looked almost regretful, or as regretful as a melting and cracked face like that could.

Sans, left alone, could only weep.

But he pulled himself back together. He wasn't truly alone, even if Gaster was gone. Papyrus was still here. Papyrus could still see him.

He left the lab, racing to catch up to his brother. Sans cursed himself for leaving Papyrus behind in the first place. It wouldn't have been safe to bring him into the lab, but he wished he could have taken the time to get him somewhere more suitable first.

(he couldn't regret it, though. he couldn't.)

When he finally emerged from the ruined remains of his home, it was to the sound of crying.

Sans raced over to where Papyrus was standing, absolutely frantic. When Papyrus saw his approach, he only cried louder.

"W-WHAT'S GOING ON?" Papyrus managed to get out, rubbing at his eye sockets and sobbing. "WHERE AM I?"

Sans went still.

"bro...?" he said cautiously. "we're in hotland, outside of the - "

"B-BRO?" Papyrus sniffed, looking up at him cautiously. "DOES THAT MEAN I'M YOUR BROTHER?"

Sans... stopped. He just stopped.

And then he took a deep breath, and said, numbly;

"yes, papyrus. i'm your big brother, sans. don't worry. i won't let anything happen to you."

Chapter Text

Faun couldn't help but feel... restless. There was something wrong. He wasn't sure what, exactly, but he could just feel it. Like there was something flickering at the edge of his perception, a half-forgotten memory.

He didn't know how to explain it. But he could tell, just looking around the classroom, that everyone else could feel it too.

Even the teacher was subdued. She kept attempting to go through a lesson on early history of the Underground, only to stop and start constantly, all six of her eyes narrowing in frustration at her sudden inability to teach basic coursework.

Faun could practically sense the gloom hanging over everyone.

Just what could be the cause of this strange atmosphere?

(Hadn't there been rumors of a ghost playing pranks in the school? ...No, he would have remembered something like that.)

Well, whatever. He shook it off, sitting a little straighter in his seat.

A crappy mood could only last so long. Faun was sure that by tomorrow, it would be like nothing ever happened at all.

...

Undyne hadn't gone to Gerson's, today. She knew that he was expecting her, but she just couldn't bring herself to work up the effort. What was the point?

She knew that the old war hero was only humoring her. It wouldn't be long until he got tired of dealing with her antics and told her to get lost.

What other reason did Undyne have to go there, anyway? She wanted to get stronger, but she didn't know where the end point was. She didn't know when she would actually become strong enough.

Undyne knew that she was making progress, but it was really hard to see. How was she supposed to test her strength if everyone around her was stronger than she could even imagine?

Sometimes, she... Well, sometimes Undyne caught herself wishing that there was someone who could challenge her. Someone who wouldn't give up, who wouldn't get mad at her for winning, someone who would be her sparring partner and her friend.

But she knew that it would never happen. There were no monsters around here that were interested in fighting in the first place, let alone interested in fighting her.

She had to find another opponent. Someone who wouldn't look down on her, or think of her as a violent ruffian!

Undyne sighed, looking past the rocks she was perched on.

In the distance, she could see the Royal Castle.

...

Chara peered around the corner, watching the two adults talk lowly with each other, the child's eyes narrowed in suspicion.

"What's going on?" Asriel whispered, trying to peek over Chara's shoulder to see what his parents were up to.

Chara pushed him back, giving him a scolding look.

"Be careful!" they whispered heatedly. "Do you want us to get caught?"

Asriel slapped his paws over his mouth, shaking his head.

Chara rolled their eyes, peeking back around the corner.

"I know, Asgore," Toriel was saying, her voice soft and sympathetic. "But we must think of our people. A Royal Scientist is needed if we want the kingdom to prosper."

Asgore sighed heavily, rubbing at his forehead with a strange grimace. It was the first time Chara had ever seen him looking anything less than gentle and kind.

"I understand," he said reluctantly. "I will look into the matter at once. I simply... cannot help but feel as if there is already someone perfect for the position. Someone that I simply have not found yet."

"I feel the same way," Toriel said, her eyes clouded with sadness. "But we must do something."

"And we will!" Asgore declared. "Monsters will suffer in silence no longer!"

Chara, still hidden, began to think.

The monsters had saved Chara's life. They weren't actually sure if they wanted to be saved, but... Still.

If there was a way for Chara to help the monsters in return... Shouldn't they do that?

Chapter Text

Papyrus sniffled, and Sans had to resist a wince. He had no idea what to do. Nothing in his life - no scientific text, no lecture on morality, nothing had ever prepared him for a situation like this.

Papyrus had forgotten about him, about the lab, about everything. And it seemed, by all accounts, that everyone else had forgotten about him.

Several monsters, upon seeing Papyrus wandering around Hotland listlessly, had attempted to stop and help, but Papyrus had only ran away, even as Sans called out for him to stop. Papyrus didn't listen to him - Papyrus had no idea who he was!

The thought, which had once been his worst nightmare, was never one that Sans expected would actually be a reality. But now it was. And Sans had to deal with the consequences.

"c'mon, i promise that everything will be okay," he coaxed, trying to get Papyrus to follow his lead. It seemed like even being in Hotland was a bad idea for his younger brother, who had begun reacting worse and worse to every sight that should have been familiar. Sans had tried to bring him to the school, and Papyrus had gotten almost hysterical at the sight of it.

In order to keep episodes like that down, Sans figured that they should go somewhere where Papyrus had never been. Namely, Snowdin. Sans knew that Gaster had a property there, but they had never visited it. Gaster had always been way too involved in the lab to think about going on a vacation.

The brothers could hide out there, at least until Sans figured out what to do.

He didn't understand why Papyrus had been affected this way. He hadn't been erased, he'd never even touched the weird goop!

But... Gaster had. Gaster, who had created Papyrus - and quite literally, at that. Perhaps... Well, maybe when all knowledge of Gaster had disappeared, the knowledge of everything he had created was gone too.

Sans already knew from eavesdropping on the early-morning crowds that everyone still knew what the CORE was, and what it was for. But no one could quite remember who had created it, or why. And the CORE had never been in the lab, either, which everyone seemed to avoid as some kind of magical dead zone.

He let out a weary sigh, scrubbing at his face with his hands. Whatever had happened here, it had caused a huge mess. Papyrus had nothing left now, nothing but a fake brother who he didn't even remember.

"please, paps," he said pleadingly, looking down at his younger brother who was still stubbornly staring away. "i know... i know you're hurting right now. i know a place where it won't hurt anymore. can you please trust me?"

"I..." Papyrus began, his gaze flicking up. Sans saw it then - fear. Papyrus was afraid, and that hurt Sans more than anything else that had happened today. "I JUST DON'T UNDERSTAND. WHY...?"

Why are you helping me?

Sans closed his eyes, for just a brief moment. Then he opened them, his determination clear.

"because you're my brother, papyrus. i'll never abandon you, no matter what."

Not again.

Chapter Text

The Riverperson hummed to themself. What a lovely day...

Or was it? They couldn't quite recall.

Oh well. If it wasn't lovely yet, then it soon would be. That was the way life worked.

Staring down into the water, Riverperson pondered what they could have possibly forgotten. It wasn't their cloak, was it?

No, they affirmed, looking at their faceless reflection. They had their cloak, and their boat. What else was there? What else indeed...

Voices. Ones not from the Riverperson. How curious!

Riverperson peeked around the corner, wondering why someone would be heading to their boat so early in the morning. Of course, Riverperson was always there and always waiting, no matter what time of day it was, but most of the time the other monsters didn't take advantage of their services until later on.

It was a small skeleton child, their striped sweater dirty and their face wet with tears. Oh dear.

"O-OKAY," the child was saying, sniffling. "I'LL GO ALONG WITH YOU. THEN EVERYTHING WILL BE OKAY, RIGHT?"

The child then paused, as if listening to a reply, and nodded.

Riverperson looked around. There was no one else there.

Slowly, they stepped back into their boat, glad, for once, that their smile was not visible. How wonderful! A monster who could see things that the Riverperson could not. It didn't happen often, but when it did, they always found it to be a delightful surprise.

Usually, the Riverperson saw everything that there was to see. Knowing that there was yet more things out there for Riverperson to discover truly gave them peace of mind.

The child rounded the corner, no longer crying but not looking particularly happy either.

"HELLO," he said, for the Riverperson was now close enough to know the shape of the child's soul, and knew he was a he. "MAY WE RIDE ON YOUR BOAT, PLEASE? WE NEED TO GET TO... SNOWDIN? YES, SNOWDIN."

Of course! Riverperson wanted to shout, but managed to reign themself in at the last second. It wouldn't do to scare the poor thing.

"Tra la la..." they said instead, still grinning widely even if no one could see it. "You may, if that is what you wish. I am the Riverman. Or am I the Riverwoman? It doesn't matter, so long as I get you where you need to go. So you may call me the Riverperson. What may I call you?"

"O-OH!" the child said, his eyelights widening in surprise. It seems that he hadn't actually expected the Riverperson to agree, which was simply preposterous! Riverperson was always exactly where they needed to be, when they needed to be there. And right now, they needed to be here. "I'M PAPYRUS. AND THIS IS MY BROTHER, SANS."

Then, Papyrus winced, as if someone had attempted to cut him off from speaking.

Curiouser and curiouser. The Riverperson just loved a good mystery, and there had been so little of those lately.

"Hello Papyrus, Sans," the Riverperson greeted, stepping aside and allowing the child to clamber into the boat.

As he did so, his small, bony hand accidentally brushed against the Riverperson's cloak, and they inhaled sharply.

Oh, yes. There was something there, something strong. Something... something...

Riverperson blinked, shaking their head slightly. What had they just been thinking about? Oh well.

"Tra la la... Off to Snowdin we go..."

Chapter Text

Papyrus sat silently as the boat made its way down the river, looking down at the water. Vaguely, he noticed that he couldn't see Sans' reflection from this angle.

Sans...

He chanced a glance up, and saw the skeleton that had claimed to be his older brother. Sans was floating a few feet above the boat, watching the Riverperson with a bit of a worried expression. Papyrus wasn't sure how to feel about that.

Honestly, he wasn't sure how to feel about any of this. He was so confused.

If they had a house in Snowdin, why had they been in Hotland? Why couldn't Papyrus remember? Why was Sans refusing to tell him?

Papyrus wasn't stupid. He could tell that Sans was avoiding the topic as much as he could, and he didn't understand why. Sure, some part of him was grateful. Walking around Hotland had made his soul ache something fierce, and all of the familiar sights did nothing but increase the pounding in his skull.

Somehow, he figured that Sans was just trying to protect him. That he was keeping this information from him because he was afraid that it might hurt him. But, still!

Papyrus wanted to know! He had to.

Did they have parents? Did they have a home? Sans had said that Snowdin was a safe place for them to go, but did that mean that they weren't safe right now?

Other monsters had tried to talk to him, but for some reason that he couldn't explain, the thought of interacting with others made him feel extremely uneasy. Even the Riverperson (who Papyrus had found to be quite nice!), made him want to shy away and hide.

He couldn't figure out why. There was no real reason for it, was there? Sans, too, seemed mystified by the behavior, which only made Papyrus feel worse. He got the feeling that he wasn't acting like himself.

But what was his normal self? How was he supposed to act? He couldn't remember.

Sniffling loudly, he curled his arms around his knees, holding them tight against his chest. At this point, he just wanted to go home.

But he didn't know where that was. (Or if it even existed.)

Suddenly, there was a feeling almost like someone patting his skull, and he looked up to see Sans gazing down at him, his expression wearied but still oh so loving.

"it'll be alright," Sans murmured. "as long as you and i are together, we'll find a way to make it through. i promise."

And Sans doesn't break his promises, a voice seemed to whisper in the back of his mind.

A soft, weeping emotion curled around itself, deep inside Papyrus' being. He was almost startled - he hadn't realized that the emotion even existed until that moment. But it felt familiar, and in a good way.

So he nodded, and wiped away his tears.

"Tra la la..." the Riverperson called softly, as if trying not to break the atmosphere that Sans' words had created. "We've arrived. Welcome to Snowdin, children."

Papyrus stood, shaking off the last of his sorrow. It wasn't helping him, anyway.

"THANK YOU!" he said brightly, stepping off of the Riverperson's boat.

He took a look at the place that was going to be his new home. It was very... white. And cold.

(Somehow, that felt very strange to him.)

"Take care, children," the Riverperson said, and when Papyrus turned to say goodbye, he felt that there was something almost regretful in their posture. "If you ever need a ride, I will be here to provide."

"ALWAYS?" Papyrus said, tilting his skull to the side. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Sans drifting a bit closer in curiosity.

"Always," they confirmed, and nodded in farewell.

Papyrus watched them take their boat away with the help of the current, and couldn't help but feel a little sad. In that moment, Riverperson had almost reminded him of someone.

"c'mon paps," Sans said, floating down to be more on level with him. "time to go."

And so it was. Papyrus squared his shoulders, and stubbornly lifted his chin.

Things were going to be alright. Papyrus would make that into truth, if need be. And he knew that Sans, at least, would be by his side.

Chapter Text

It was as they were heading into town that Sans had a sudden realization - he knew that Gaster had a property in Snowdin, but he didn't know where. He had no idea what the place looked like, or if it was even livable right now. Gaster certainly had never made an effort to keep his living areas in the lab in good shape.

"ARE YOU OKAY?" Papyrus asked, tilting his skull up to look towards Sans with concern. "YOU'VE BEEN QUIET."

Sans gave his little brother a tight smile, trying to stop himself from looking too stressed out. Sure, this was probably their best option, but it was by no means an easy one.

"i'm alright," he said, and then, remembering that conversation they'd had about being honest, he decided to be a bit more clear. "just... kind of overwhelmed. there's been a lot of changes very fast, as i'm sure you understand."

"YEAH," Papyrus said simply, shrugging. "BUT WE'LL BE TOGETHER. IT'S OKAY."

He seemed more... settled, somehow. Like some calmer piece of himself had slotted into place now that he wasn't constantly surrounded by reminders of things that he couldn't remember.

Sans was immensely relieved - that had been the whole point of this move in the first place, after all.

He knew that it wasn't going to go back to the way it was before - it never did. Time went on, and they had no choice but to be dragged along in its wake. But maybe... Maybe, with work, they could become something better.

The little brother he once had was gone, true, but not dead. Papyrus was still alive. Sans would love him all the same.

Feeling renewed, he straightened up, floating down a little bit to pat Papyrus on the shoulder.

"that's right," he said encouragingly, giving him a real smile. "we're together. so of course we'll be okay."

How could they not? As long as Papyrus could see him, as long as Papyrus needed him, Sans would continue to exist. And he would love his brother, no matter what.

Ahead of them, Sans could hear the low murmur of monsters going about their day. Just a little in front of where they were walking, he could see a large wolf monster throwing large blocks of ice into the river. He brightened upon witnessing it, leaning down to speak to his brother.

"see that monster?" Sans said, pointing to Ice Wolf. Papyrus followed his gaze, curious. "she's the one in charge of making ice flow down the river. it helps cool down the core, and send water to the monsters in hotland."

Gaster had been the one to set that system up in the first place. Sans remembered catching Gaster looking over the order forms once. Apparently, Ice Wolf was a friend of a friend. Another old army veteran, named... Gill-something? Sans couldn't quite recall.

Still, he was excited to see even this small bit of his old life. Something to remind him that it all actually happened.

"OH, THAT'S COOL!" Papyrus said, clapping his hands excitedly. But then, he paused, looking up at Sans with a confused expression. "BUT, WHAT'S THE CORE?"

Sans had to close his eyes for a moment, scolding himself for his lapse in attention.

"nothing to worry about, bro."

He had to take care of Papyrus. He couldn't be thinking about the past.

Chapter Text

Grillby would never forget the day. It was a Wednesday, only a few decades after monsters had been locked underground. He was standing outside of his Bar, sweeping snow off the front step in preparation of opening in a few minutes, when he heard a loud, childish voice.

"ARE YOU ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN THAT WE ARE GOING THE RIGHT WAY?" this child was saying, with a very cross tone. "BECAUSE I DO NOT THINK YOU ARE CERTAIN."

Grillby didn't hear a response to this accusation, but the child from before certainly seemed to, seeing as they let out an exasperated groan.

"NOW IS MOST CERTAINLY NOT THE TIME FOR PUNS, SANS. YOU STAY HERE, I WILL GO ASK SOMEONE ELSE FOR DIRECTIONS. SOMEONE WHO ACTUALLY KNOWS WHAT THEY'RE DOING!"

Only a moment later, a small skeleton monster stomped around the corner, his arms crossed over his chest as he pouted defiantly.

Grillby registered all of this faintly, suddenly able to only hear his own fire crackling inside his soul.

A skeleton monster? How incredibly rare. When was the last time he'd seen a skeleton monster?

(when?)

He hesitated for a moment, unsure if he should try to interfere, but when the little skeleton stopped, looking around at the townspeople with a curious and faintly nervous expression, he decided to step in.

"do you... need some help..." Grillby managed to rasp out, pushing past his own uncomfortable feelings to try and assist this lost child.

The skeleton looked up at him and immediately brightened, sticking out his glove-covered hand. "OH, YES PLEASE! MY NAME IS PAPYRUS!"

Grillby tilted his head slightly at the outstretched hand, but reached out to shake it anyway. It wasn't often that someone offered to touch him with no hesitation, even his fellow monsters.

"...grillby..."

Papyrus smiled cheerfully, all traces of anxiety vanished, as if they had never existed in the first place. Grillby was actually a little jealous.

"NICE TO MEET YOU, GRILLBY!" he greeted, shaking Grillby's hand firmly. "MY BROTHER SANS AND I ARE MOVING INTO TOWN. HE SAID THAT THERE WAS A HOUSE HERE WHERE WE COULD STAY, BUT HE DOESN'T REMEMBER WHERE IT IS. WOULD YOU HAPPEN TO KNOW OF SUCH A PLACE?"

Grillby pulled back, sticking his hands in his pockets as he thought it over. He believed that he knew what place the child was talking about, but didn't someone already own that?

But didn't someone -

Someone -

Grillby nodded, simultaneously taking the opportunity to shake his head of the cobwebs forming. He'd been having such strange headaches recently...

"i... know... empty place..." he said, his voice as whispy as always. "but... no one knows... who lives there... does your brother... have permission?"

He assumed that they must be moving in from somewhere far away, like the capital. He couldn't help but wonder why - maybe the older brother was part of the Guard, and had been stationed out in Snowdin forest? That was the only real reason that anyone moved here.

Papyrus' expression become pinched for a moment, before he was all smiles again, tucking his hands behind his back and giving Grillby an innocent look.

"OF COURSE!" he said confidently, enough so that even Grillby wasn't quite sure that it was a lie. "WE WOULDN'T BE HERE IF HE DIDN'T!"

Grillby examined the child for a moment longer, but when he didn't start to squirm guiltily, he simply nodded, leaving his broom by the door.

"alright... i'll... show you the way..."

Chapter Text

Sans resisted the urge to smack himself, sighing heavily. He really shouldn't have let Papyrus out of his sight, but he had (mistakenly) believed that his brother wouldn't be able to get into too much trouble. After all, Sans would only be away from him for a minute, right? Right.

Honestly, Sans found that he felt grudgingly impressed. Of all the monsters in Snowdin, Papyrus had chosen to immediately snuggle up to the only one who not only knew Gaster, but was one of the most likely to report them to the Royal Guard.

Well, he didn't know that for sure. He didn't know Grillby personally, after all. But Grillby was one of the only ones around who had such a strict connection to the Royal Guard, and who wasn't as easily distracted as the Dog Squad.

Like he said, it was almost impressive.

But Sans couldn't say any of that right now, unfortunately. He was drifting behind Papyrus subtly, not letting his brother see him, and following the two as they went further into the town.

And they actually, uh, went the exact opposite direction of where Sans had been headed, so. Maybe Papyrus was on to something with that whole 'lost' thing, though Sans would never admit it.

What? It's not like Sans had ever actually been to Snowdin. How was he supposed to know where anything was?

"the house is... right ahead..." Grillby said lowly, speaking gently to Papyrus. He was holding the smaller skeleton's hand, too, and Sans was happy for that, at least.

Grillby didn't seem like he was going to try and snatch Papyrus away, so Sans would take that as a plus for now. He wasn't quite ready to trust the fire monster yet, but...

Right now, there really wasn't anyone that Sans would trust in the first place. Someone that at least seemed somewhat trustworthy was better than nothing.

"OKAY, THAT SOUNDS GREAT!" Papyrus said, beaming. "I'M SO GLAD THAT THE HOUSE IS NEAR YOURS. THAT MEANS THAT WE CAN COME VISIT!"

Grillby was silent, for a long moment, before nodding. "yes... that sounds... nice..."

Sans muffled his snort of amusement. Grillby wouldn't be able to hear it, but his brother certainly would.

And speaking of that, wow! Captured by Papyrus' charm already. Maybe Grillby was a bit more trustworthy than Sans had thought.

He trusted Papyrus' instincts - they had yet to lead him wrong.

Snowdin would be good for them. Sans was determined to make that a reality.

When the duo stopped in front of a large house, Sans looked up, taking it in.

It honestly didn't look like the kind of place that Gaster would own. It looked like a home.

How bizarre. But... nice.

"this is... the place..." Grillby whispered. There was something in his tone that Sans couldn't quite decipher, something almost sad.

Sans blinked, wondering why. Grillby couldn't possibly remember Gaster. He knew that they had been comrades in the War, and probably friends (for all that someone like Gaster could have friends), but...

He couldn't remember.

No one but Sans could. And, considering how much pain Papyrus had looked to be in when Sans tried to remind him...

That might be for the best. (Even if it hurt.)

Chapter Text

Papyrus surveyed the house with satisfaction, and nodded. It would do. For now, at least. It was certainly missing any personality, and it would need a couple of new decorations, but it was serviceable.

He'd take it.

"THANK YOU, GRILLBY," he said, carefully extracting his hand from the fire monster's grip. Papyrus beamed up at the kind man, reaching up to pat his arm to show his appreciation. "WE CAN TAKE IT FROM HERE."

It was hard to read Grillby's expression, considering that he was made entirely out of fire, but Papyrus somehow go the impression that he was raising an eyebrow.

"your brother will be... here soon...?" he said, cuing Papyrus into the fact that he hadn't gone completely with his little tale from before.

It wasn't a lie, necessarily. Just... not the whole truth, which he thought that he could be excused from, considering the circumstances. Sans had told him that this house was theirs, technically, but he had also cautioned that other monsters might not see it that way. Papyrus thought it best to take some cautious measures while he still had the chance.

(He could trust Sans - he knew he could, it was written into his bones. But Grillby, as kind and gentle as he was, still had to be considered an unknown.)

(That, at the very least, was something that the brothers shared.)

"YES!" Papyrus said, nodding. "I HAVE NO DOUBT. HE MAY BE A LAZYBONES, BUT HE IS NEVER FAR BEHIND ME."

In fact, he could hear Sans sniggering to himself at what he probably believed was the accidental pun that Papyrus just delivered. He knew that Sans was trying to stay out of his way right now, though, so he would allow his brother to think that he hadn't immediately noticed Sans following him.

Grillby surveyed him for a moment longer, but then let out a whispy sigh, his breath turning to steam in the winter air.

"you will be alright... until then....?"

"ABSOLUTELY!" Papyrus said firmly. It was nice that Grillby was worried about him, but he knew what he was doing! He was Papyrus, he had everything under control!

Grillby nodded in understanding, and stepped away. He hesitated for a second, clearly uncomfortable with the thought of leaving a child on their own like this, but he finally waved, and started heading back to his Bar.

Papyrus watched him go, waving back cheerfully, and pretended to be surprised when Sans popped up next to him, smiling in that sly way of his.

"well? what do you think?" Sans said, gesturing to the house they were both standing in front of.

Their house. Their home. It might not be that way quite yet, but Papyrus was sure that he could make it work with just a little bit of effort.

"I CAN WORK WITH THIS," he said, his hands on his hips.

They didn't have much. Papyrus had one bag on him, filled with things that he didn't remember owning and held no value to him as of yet, and Sans didn't have anything at all. But they could make this work.

Papyrus wasn't scared, this time. He knew that they could work together to make this place a home.

Chapter Text

Bonnie was talking to her sister, complaining once again about the shitty tourists that always showed up around Giftmas, when she saw a little streak of red run past.

Cinna, noticing her sudden silence, craned her head to look out the window, trying to see what had caught her attention.

"It's that little skeleton," Bonnie explained, leaning against the counter of the Inn as she prepared to finally get a chance to gossip about their town's newest residents. "Papyrus, I think? He apparently moved in here with his older brother a few weeks back."

"Apparently?" Cinna said, her brow raised in suspicion. She knew her sister, and when Bonnie got that look on her face there was no escaping her. "Is there something wrong with that?"

"Well, maybe something wrong with their house," Bonnie said, relishing the intrigue on her sister's face. "It's that old place by the entrance to Waterfall, you know? Nobody's ever lived there, but it's always been completely off-limits. And now, two skeletons come out of nowhere and move in without anybody even hearing about it? There's gotta be something suspicious about that."

Cinna pursed her lips, nodding in agreement. "That is strange. And did you say that there were two skeletons? Where's the older one?"

Bonnie had to bite back an exhilarated giggle, having finally gotten to the best part in this story.

"No one knows," she said, her voice hushed as she leaned in, as if to keep out any eavesdroppers that might be listening in. "Nobody's seen him around town, that's for sure. And nobody knows how he got ownership of the house in the first place. I've heard that the Royal Guard is going to be investigating it soon."

Cinna tapped on the countertop, seeming to be in deep thought. "Hm... I suppose they have to..."

She seemed oddly reluctant, and Bonnie blinked at the realization.

"What, you don't want the guard to look into it?" she asked incredulously. This was the most exciting thing that had ever happened to their tiny town!

Cinna shrugged, appearing to be a bit uncomfortable with the scrutiny.

"I mean, what if they don't own the place?" she pointed out. "Will they be forced to leave? That just doesn't sit right with me..."

Bonnie clenched her fist, looking down at the countertop with a frown. She... actually hadn't thought of that.

It was fun when it was just gossip, just a story, but... she didn't want them to actually get thrown out of their house. The little one, Papyrus, was a cutie, even if he was loud and somewhat obnoxious. He had a good soul, that was easy to tell. And even if she had never seen the other one, the way Papyrus spoke about him like he'd hung every gem in the ceiling meant that he had to be a good monster.

And if they didn't own the house, they why had they claimed that they did? Were they truly that desperate?

And... if they were desperate, what could have made them that way? What were they running from, that they would go to such lengths to not have to go back?

"I don't know," Bonnie said finally. "I honestly don't know."

Chapter Text

"ALL IN ALL, THIS IS GOING MUCH BETTER THAN I THOUGHT IT WOULD!" Papyrus said cheerfully, his hands on his ships in a triumphant pose.

Man, that's easy for you to say, Sans thought, but he kept it to himself easily enough.

Papyrus had been having fun, running around and getting to know the townsfolk, decorating their new home with things that he found in the forest, and generally making a nuisance of himself. A lovable one, sure, but still.

Sans, on the other hand, had been stressed out beyond belief.

Who knew that running a household was actually this tough? He had suddenly gained a lot more respect for Gaster, lately, now that he understood even a little bit of what kind of pressure the man had been under.

Papyrus might be fine with just finding cool rocks and storing them in the house, but Sans had to make sure that he had clothes, and blankets, and basic necessities.

Luckily, Papyrus had managed to pack a few things into a bag when they had been fleeing the lab, but it wasn't enough to last for the rest of their lives, by any means. And it wasn't like Sans could get a job to pay for any of this.

So, he'd had to turn to... other methods.

As Sans had learned in the previous year when he was doing his best to avoid his brother, he could actually get about as far away from Papyrus as he wanted. He couldn't actually get out of the mountain , but it seemed like everywhere else Underground was free reign. He'd always thought that his presence was tied to Papyrus more strictly than that, but hell - he wouldn't look a Gyftrot in the mouth, not on this.

During the times when Papyrus was wandering around and charming the residents of Snowdin, Sans travelled through the rest of the Underground, trying to figure out the best place to snatch stuff from.

He wasn't proud of it. He couldn't even say that he only took things from people that deserved it, like the heroic thieves in Papyrus' stories, but he knew that he did what he had to. Or, to be more precise, Papyrus did. Sans could only scout - he couldn't actually pick something up and take it back to Snowdin with them, though he wished desperately that he could.

Sans had only taken Papyrus on a few of these raids so far, mainly for food, and it always made him feel awful. Papyrus, too, understood the necessity of it, but he could tell that it weighed on his brother heavily.

Sans could touch things, as long as he concentrated hard enough. He didn't like to do that very often, since he had the sneaking suspicion that he was drawing on Papyrus' power to do so, but he was sometimes forced to intervene.

If only... If only...

So lost in his thoughts, he didn't notice that Papyrus had apparently gotten bored of standing around, and had bounded ahead of him.

Instantly, Sans panicked. They were in Waterfall right now, he didn't really know his way around yet! He hadn't even managed to find the Dump, the place where he heard that he might be able to find furniture or even human food for free.

If Papyrus got lost in here, he would never be able to find him - !

And just as he was about to start hyperventilating, Sans felt a strange sensation - like stepping through a doorway, like letting go of a breath you had been holding for a long time, like looking into a mirror and actually seeing something look back.

Then, he blinked, and he was suddenly floating just in front of Papyrus, who jumped back with a screech.

"well," he said faintly, ignoring Papyrus' cry of shock. "that's new."

Chapter Text

"SANS," Papyrus said faintly, trying to calm the near heart-attack that he just suffered. "HAVE YOU ALWAYS BEEN ABLE TO DO THAT?"

Sans blinked, and then, very calmly, said; "no. but it is... interesting."

Papyrus took one look at the growing smile on his brother's face and instantly groaned, putting out a hand in the universal 'stop' gesture to try and head this off before it began.

"NO, SANS," he said wearily. It had only been a few weeks since he had really 'met' Sans, taking his memory loss into account, but it seemed that some things could still stick, considering his instant reaction to any of his brother's shenanigans.

"yes, sans," Sans countered, and then disappeared in the same flash of blue that had brought him there in the first place.

Papyrus smacked himself on the forehead, regretting everything. Why did Sans always insist on messing with the natural order of things? Didn't he mess with space and time enough in just his daily routine?

Ugh.

Papyrus was by no means ignorant to the knowledge that his brother didn't seem to exist to the rest of the Underground. No one else could see him, or ever acknowledged him in any way. Personally, he thought that was a bit of a good thing - if Sans got up to this much mischief with only Papyrus as his witness, he shuddered to think of what his life would be like if everyone could see Sans.

But, still. He figured that it had to be a little lonely, even though Sans never said anything of the sort. In fact, when pressed, he claimed that Papyrus was all he needed to be happy.

Maybe that was true. It was hard for Papyrus to tell, really - that was somewhere he and his brother differed. Papyrus felt like he would never be satisfied with what he had, for better or for worse. He liked meeting new monsters, and becoming friends, and finding out new things.

It... wasn't easy, though. He knew that he had a generally cheerful personality, and he always did his best to play up those traits, but Papyrus had yet to meet anyone that he would really consider a friend. They were all so much older than him, for starters. It seemed that Snowdin, understandably, was not the type of place one moved to, if they were planning to start a family.

It wasn't like he was unhappy with Sans, or even the townsfolk that he had gotten to know. It was just... lonely.

Ha, maybe Papyrus was just projecting.

He couldn't help it. Sometimes, he tried to think of things that made his head hurt, and the idea of going back to Hotland still sent a shiver down his spine, and even being here, in Waterfall, was somewhat disturbing. This area itself wasn't bad, but something in his mind was whispering stay away stay away they don't remember you anyway stay away -

"yo, paps, you're never going to believe - paps?! bro, are you okay? what's wrong - "

Papyrus couldn't answer. His skull was exploding with pain, and as he fell to his knees, he could only hope that whatever Sans had figured out wasn't going to cause them more trouble than it was worth.

Chapter Text

Sans didn't panic. He didn't panic, even when everything in him was screaming at him to.

This had happened a couple of times before - it had happened while they were still in Hotland, and it happened if Papyrus ever tried to think too much about that burned-out husk of a building they'd left behind.

Sans knew how to handle this.

He swooped down to be on his brother's level, wrapping him in an embrace as best he could and whispering in a soothing manner. Sans made sure not to sound panicked or upset, because that would only set his brother off further.

They were fine. They were fine.

After almost an hour of this constant reassurance, Papyrus finally began to calm, burying his head in his arms as he tried to just breathe.

"you're doing great, bro," Sans murmured, keeping up a steady stream of compliments. "i'm so proud of you, you're amazing. you're so great, papyrus, you're doing so well."

Papyrus sniffled, then, raising his head a bit.

"I-I'M GREAT?"

"the greatest," Sans assured him.

Papyrus gave a watery smile, but it didn't seem to actually make him feel too much better. In fact, only moments after smiling, his expression became despondent again.

"IF I'M GREAT, THEN WHY CAN'T I REMEMBER?" he wailed, curling into himself as the tears began to flow. "WHAT DID I DO WRONG?"

Sans flinched, hands flying to his mouth at the comment. Was that... was that what Papyrus had been thinking? That he couldn't remember because he did something wrong?

"no, no, paps," he said, rushing to assuage that fear. "you didn't do anything wrong. nothing except being in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Papyrus just looked miserable, and that was quickly making Sans melancholy too.

"THEN WHY DOES IT HURT?" he asked, and it was a valid question. "IT HURTS WHEN I TRY TO THINK ABOUT THAT PLACE, OR THE MONSTERS I MUST HAVE KNOWN THERE, OR ANYTHING. EVEN THINKING ABOUT THINKING ABOUT IT IS ENOUGH TO MAKE MY SKULL ACHE!"

More than anything else in the world right now, Sans wished he had an answer.

"i'm not sure," he admitted, knowing that he had to be truthful about this, if nothing else in his life. "i have some theories, but i think talking about them would make you hurt again, paps. and no theory is worth more to me than your comfort."

Papyrus chanced a glance up, taking in Sans' serious expression. "...REALLY?"

"really," Sans nodding, confirming it. "to me, you're the most important monster in the whole underground, bro. to me... the past doesn't matter, as long as we're still together in the future."

That... was almost true. Sans was determined to make it true, anyway, even if he was insanely curious about what exactly had gone down at the lab that day. But, at the same time, Papyrus was more important.

Their future together was more important than anything.

Papyrus smiled, finally. "O-OKAY."

Sans smiled back, feeling relief flow through him. "let's go back home, paps."

He could experiment with this apparent new ability some other day. Right now, his brother was way more important.

Chapter Text

Papyrus still didn't feel well enough to go out the next day, so Sans took it upon himself to go get them some food. Maybe this time, with his new ability, he wouldn't have to get Papyrus to steal it?

That was the hope, anyway. Last time, right before Papyrus had fallen into his panic attack, Sans had managed to actually grab something from the Dump and carry it along with him when he teleported (which he had meant to show his brother, but he'd been understandably... distracted), so that meant he could probably do it, right?

Of course, he didn't know if he would be able to bring something magical or organic with him, or how long he could carry things, or...

Well, there was a lot of questions. But Sans was determined to answer them.

And the only way to do that was to experiment.

Okay, yeah, he was having a bit of fun with it, but he was doing honest work. Really!

His first order of business was to test and see how much that he could actually pick up. Sans was still a bit wary of using too much magic, since he was sure he was absorbing energy from Papyrus in order to do it, but with Papyrus resting at home he felt confident that he wouldn't cause his brother any undue harm.

Besides, he was way too into it now.

Sans headed to the Dump as soon as he was sure Papyrus was all situated, making use of his new teleporting ability to get there. It had taken him a little bit to find it the first time, but being able to just teleport around instead of floating everywhere was certainly helpful.

When he popped in, he immediately went to find the biggest and heaviest piece of garbage that he could get his hands on.

He knew that this place had basically become a dumping ground for the waste of the surface humans, and it was something that Gaster had bitterly complained about. He had admitted, grudgingly, that the machinery he recovered from here was helpful for his work, but always reiterated that it wouldn't have been necessary if humans hadn't locked them all down here in the first place.

Sans had to agree with him on that, if nothing else. He knew why the humans had trapped monsters underground, or at least the way history remembered it, but he felt a bit peeved that they had decided to dump all their trash down here too. Wasn't trapping the monsters in a place without a sun enough for them? Shouldn't that suffering be enough?

Apparently not.

But, then again, Sans shouldn't knock it too much. The Dump was the only way that he could find things like clothes and furniture without stealing it, after all. It was usually shitty, but even that was better than just taking it from some unsuspecting monster's house.

Speaking of which...

Sans spied a large couch, just out of the corner of his eye. He flew over to it, whistling in appreciation.

It was shitty, just like he thought it would be, but he liked it. Ratty and green, with patches sewn onto the cushions.

Well. If he could lift this, he could probably take it home with him, right?

His grin only grew at the thought. Heh. Free couch!

Chapter Text

When Papyrus woke up from his strange, disturbed sleep - filled with dreams of forgotten shadows and hands that reached out for miles and never grasped their goal - he was understandably confused.

He still felt rather under the weather, so to speak, and his skull seemed like it was stuffed full of cotton, but he was aware enough to know that things were different from before.

See, their house had some basic amenities in it; furnished bedrooms and a completed kitchen, even if there was no food in the fridge or sheets on the beds. But the living room was completely empty when they arrived, and the brothers hadn't had much of a chance to change that since they arrived.

But after Papyrus managed to bring himself to shove off the ratty blanket that he and Sans had stolen from behind the Shop, and dragged himself downstairs to see what all the commotion was about, the living room was not empty.

There was a couch, and a table, and a bookcase! Sure, the couch had some patches (and was a positively horrid shade of green), the table was a bit lopsided and had a lot of water damage, and the bookcase only had one shelf, but that was a lot more than what had been there before!

Floating in the middle of the room, expression triumphant as he surveyed his spoils, was Sans.

Papyrus had no words. No, wait, he definitely had some words.

"HOW ON EARTH DID YOU DO THIS?" he demanded, running over to inspect the furniture more closely. "AND WHERE DID YOU FIND THEM?"

He... really hoped that Sans hadn't stolen them from someone's house. Even if they weren't in the best condition, Papyrus would still feel awful if some poor monster went to sit down on the couch one day and landed on nothing but air.

The stealing they had been doing before was necessary. It was for things like clothes and food, things that they wouldn't be able to survive without! Papyrus could accept that, grudgingly, even if he didn't like it, but he could not accept stealing furniture.

Sans must have seen the half-panicked, half-angry look on his face, because he hastened to explain himself.

"i got it all from the dump, paps," he said soothingly, moving over to pat Papyrus gently on the top on his skull. "i managed to find my way there after all. this is stuff that somebody on the surface threw away. nobody's gonna miss it, i promise."

Papyrus nodded in understanding, though he still felt a little hesitant. How had Sans managed to get all of it here in the first place, and without waking Papyrus up at all? He prided himself on being a very light sleeper, and it hadn't been until Sans was doing the final rearranging that he finally woke up.

"THAT STILL DOESN'T EXPLAIN - " he began, only for Sans to cut him off with a truly delighted laugh, perhaps more carefree than Papyrus had ever seen his brother before.

"just watch!" he said excitedly.

Then, closing his eyes in concentration, Papyrus watched as Sans began to glow. Literally, his body had a blue outline for a moment, before he vanished entirely, reappearing a moment later by the door.

Papyrus watched in fascination as Sans proceeded to teleport all over the room, becoming faster with each instance. Was this the way Sans had managed to startle him the other day?

Okay, that was pretty cool.

Chapter Text

The excitement was bubbling up inside of him, making feel like there was something about to explode out of his chest. There was really no other way for him to describe it - no other way that he could recognize it.

Sans had never felt this way before, never seen a look of such wonder and awe on his brother's face, never felt so alive.

And then someone knocked on the door.

Sans disappeared in a startled flash, leaving Papyrus to sigh and walk over to the door. Sans reappeared, hovering anxiously above his brother as he attempted to reach up and grab the doorknob. He was still a little bit too short, unable to get a good grip, so Sans carefully drew on the tiniest bit of his magic, the knob glowing a faint blue on their side as he turned it to make it open.

Papyrus, at this point, was a master at pretending to do things that Sans had done on the sly, and merely smiled cheerfully at whoever was waiting for them on the other side.

Maybe it was Grillby? The fire monster hadn't come over again since that first day (which Sans appreciated, since that would be a little too suspicious), but Sans often caught him observing Papyrus when he ran around town, looking about as worried as a creature made of pure fire could.

But... it wasn't him.

It was a monster that Sans had never seen before, which immediately put him on guard. The monster was tall, wearing a suit of armor that covered their whole face.

"Are you Papyrus?" the voice came, rather high-pitched but still muffled.

"...YES?" Papyrus said, a touch warily. Sans ducked down further, hovering just behind his brother and putting his hands on his shoulders.

"be careful," Sans hissed under his breath, even knowing that the other monster couldn't hear him.

Papyrus' shoulders twitched, his expression clouding for a moment as if he wanted to tell Sans off for doubting him, but he managed to hold himself back.

"Is your brother home?" the armored monster asked, hand flexing on the spear in their grip.

"NO." Papyrus said promptly, without Sans even having to warn him. "HE'S BUSY."

"Do you know when he should be coming back?"

Papyrus' eye-sockets narrowed. Sans, already feeling more high-strung than perhaps safe, moved forward and stuck his head through the front wall, checking to see if there was any other monsters hanging around outside.

If he had to, he could probably teleport Papyrus somewhere. But he had no idea the kind of effect that would have on a monster - he hadn't been able to test it on organic tissue yet. Besides, unless he had absolutely no other choice, he would prefer not to abandon this place. And even though they hadn't been here for long, Papyrus was absolutely attached.

(He didn't want to run away again.)

Seeing no one else around, though there was a couple of monsters loitering at the end of the street, watching in curiosity, Sans pulled himself back inside just in time to catch Papyrus' next words.

" - BE BACK LATE TONIGHT, I IMAGINE. WHY?"

The monster sighed loudly, but then knelt down in front of Papyrus, their armor clanking against the wood porch.

They lifted off their helmet, revealing a white, furred face.

"I'm Doge, a Royal Guard," she said, her muzzle streaked with gray but her eyes kind. "And I need to ask your big brother a few questions."

Chapter Text

Doge hated these types of missions. She always felt nagging, like she was interfering in some poor monster's private life, barging into their home.

But these missions were necessary, too, and as she stared down at this skeleton child with ragged clothes and a wary expression, she knew that this was something that she had to do.

"...HE'S NOT GOING TO BE HOME FOR A WHILE," he said, his expression tightening. He tried to hide it, but Doge had been a guard for a long, long time. She knew how to recognize minute expressions on everyone, even skeletons.

"That's okay. Can I wait for him here?" Papyrus absolutely did not want her to stay here, she knew that, but she still had to ask.

These boys weren't supposed to be here, and she honestly wasn't sure if the 'older brother' existed in the first place. This was hardly the first runaway case that she'd dealt with, and a fake older brother would actually be one of the less weird things she'd come across.

"I DON'T THINK THAT'S A GOOD IDEA," Papyrus said, tightening his grip on the door. There was something surprisingly nasty in his face, and Doge just knew that he was about to say something uncharitable. "IT'S GOING TO TAKE QUITE SOME TIME. AND I'M SURE THAT YOU HAVE A FAMILY THAT YOU NEED TO GET HOME TO."

Ouch. Doge's mouth twitched, nearly smiling before she managed to hold herself back. That was a defense mechanism if she ever saw one.

"That's right," she said, not dropping her friendly look. "I have a son. He's older than you, but he loves playing in the woods. It makes me worried sometimes, since I'm afraid that he might get lost, but he always comes home to me with new stories to tell."

Something in the boy's shoulders relaxed, an expression of curiosity taking over.

Now, this was the skeleton that she'd heard about. Doge had gone around town and taken stock of the situation before she had approached the house, and all reports said that Papyrus was a friendly, if mischievous child, who loved talking to other monsters and loved his brother most of all.

Which was... interesting. Maybe she wouldn't get all the answers today, but she was already making her way into something to chew on.

"HE MAKES YOU WORRIED... AND YOU LET HIM DO IT ANYWAY?" Papyrus asked cautiously.

Doge smiled at him, her tail beginning to wag where it was hanging out of her armor, but inwardly she was checking off another box on the list.

"I do," she answered calmly. "It may worry me, but it makes him very happy. And he knows that I want him to stay safe, so he's always extra careful, and he makes sure to tell me when he's leaving and when he thinks that he'll be back."

Papyrus seemed stunned, like this was an entirely new concept to him.

"BUT, IF YOU DON'T LIKE IT, IT SHOULDN'T MATTER IF HE LIKES IT," Papyrus said, his brow furrowing in honest confusion. "WHY DOES HE GET A CHOICE?"

Her smile became strained, but she valiantly held on.

Doge had to correct herself from earlier - investigative missions weren't really that bad. Abuse cases were the worst.

Chapter Text

"Papyrus!" Sans hissed, trying to stop him from blurting out anything else.

The guard was clearly up to something. She hadn't even mentioned what she wanted to talk to them about - she was only telling that story to be manipulative, Sans just knew it.

Gaster talked about these kinds of monsters all the time; those who would lie and misdirect to get the conversation where they wanted it instead of being blunt about their desires. He had complained bitterly, which Sans thought was fair, if vaguely juvenile. Gaster had never been much of a wily monster himself, and these types of manipulations often went way over his head.

Sans had only thought that he was making a big deal out of some minor annoyances, but this was... This was scary.

She was trying to get something out of them. She probably wanted to know if they actually owned the house or not.

But, since this was Gaster's place, and he apparently didn't exist anymore, no one should own it, right?

So this was like... squatters rights, or something. They should be able to stay. At the very least, no one should be able to throw them out, right? Why was the Royal Guard getting involved?

But Papyrus, as sharp and inquisitive that he was, didn't know that. Sans knew that his brother had his suspicions about this place, and probably knew that they didn't technically own it, but he didn't know the circumstances behind it.

At this point, no one except Sans did.

(If Gaster was still alive, in that strange, goopy form... Well. Sans wasn't sure if he would want the old man visiting, but he thought that an existence like that had to be very painful. Maybe he would be better off if...)

"papyrus," he whispered again, his voice edging into pleading. "be careful."

This time, Papyrus didn't react with disdain and instead nearly turned his head in Sans' direction, a quicksilver flash of concern on his face.

Then, he turned back to Doge the Royal Guard, and smiled brightly.

"I'M TIRED!" he announced suddenly, seeming to bemuse the guard if the way she leaned back slightly was any indication. "I WANT TO GO TAKE A NAP NOW. PLEASE COME BACK ANOTHER DAY."

Papyrus was clearly itching to slam the door in her face at this point, and Doge must have recognized that, because she pursed her lips for a moment, before nodding in agreement.

"Another day," she said, and stood up.

Her expression was firm, but it wasn't... necessarily unkind. Sans wasn't quite sure how to react to that, and settled with scowling fiercely at the dog monster, even though she couldn't see him.

Doge grabbed her helmet with one hand and placed it back on in a single, smooth movement. Suddenly, the kind motherly figure was gone, and the Royal Guard came back in full force.

"I'll be back in two days time," she said, just to the edge of threatening. "I suggest you make sure your brother sticks around for that."

Then, she was off, the door swinging closed behind her.

Sans and Papyrus exchanged an uneasy glance. This wouldn't end well.

Chapter Text

Cinna glanced out the front window of her shop, tapping anxiously on the counter. Still, there was nothing.

She'd been worried about this. News spreads fast in a small town, especially one as close-knit as this, and within an hour everyone knew that a Royal Guard had visited the house of the skeleton brothers.

Cinna knew something like that would happen, but she had still made a wish to the sparkling stones above them that those boys wouldn't be kicked out of their home. They may not have owned the place, but they had certainly made it their own.

She would never admit to it, but she had gone snooping once or twice, worried about the conditions they might be living in. The house was bare, but certainly still hospitable. Papyrus, at least, was doing okay, even though she worried about his food availability.

It had gotten to the point where she would purposefully leave fresh cinnabuns and other for items out by the trash, knowing that either Papyrus or his elusive brother would pick them up and they'd be gone by morning.

If she thought that they would accept it, she would offer them any food they needed in a heartbeat. Hell, she would have offered to take them in and give them a place to live if they needed it.

But they would never accept it. Papyrus would get a strange, pinched look if anyone tried to bring up his living situation, and even though he seemed to favor Grillby the most, he wouldn't allow the fire monster to give him food. In fact, despite that he would happily approach Grillby if he was out in the town, Papyrus absolutely refused to actually go into the man's bar.

It seemed like, to Cinna's eyes, that there was a line that Papyrus was unwilling, or unable to cross. And she couldn't help but be afraid.

What was he running from? Why would he so eagerly speak about a brother that no one ever saw? That a lot of monsters were suspecting didn't exist in the first place.

She had asked him about his parents once, and after a lot of misdirection and attempts to end the conversation and escape, Papyrus had said that he didn't know. He didn't know where his parents were, or what they were like, or if they were even alive.

Well, not in so many words, but Cinna knew how to see the double-meaning of things. Papyrus had said that he didn't know where his parents were, and the frown on his face had made her think that maybe he didn't know if he had parents at all.

It was scary.

She was afraid for him, for a brother that she had never met, and for what it meant to them if they were taken in by the guard as runaways.

Almost an hour now, Cinna had sat at her counter, waiting for the flash of Papyrus' red scarf as he ran by, as he did almost every day.

But his scarf never fluttered past her storefront, and even as other monsters of the town came in, muttering concerns for their newest resident, Papyrus did not appear.

Chapter Text

"I DON'T WANT TO LEAVE," Papyrus said mulishly, crossing his arms over his chest. "WE JUST GOT THE PLACE LOOKING ALL NICE, TOO!"

Sans sighed, a fluttering, tired sound, but Papyrus refused to feel guilty. He was adamant about this - even if the guard came and tried to personally pry his hands away from the door frame, he would not budge.

"i know, bud," his brother said, and the look in his eyes said that he did, that he understood perhaps even better than Papyrus had thought he did, but Sans could be stubborn too when he wanted to. "but we have to think about this carefully. this place has been safe, but i'm sure that there are other safe places in the underground too. and if the guard come here with too many nosy questions, then it won't be safe here anymore."

Papyrus fought a scowl, trying not to give up against that strain of logic. Sans... had some valid points, but Papyrus didn't want to leave.

Shouldn't that be enough? They had barely settled in, only barely started to get along with their neighbors. Really, Sans had only gotten them some decent furniture this morning! And they were just going to abandon all of that without a word?

"IT ISN'T FAIR," he said instead, all the bravado rushing out of him. He physically drooped, feeling his energy leave him as quickly as it had come. His skull decided that it was about time for his headache to come back, leaving him with an awful reminder of the pain he'd been through in the previous day.

Snowdin was one of the only places they had gone to that didn't hurt him. If they left this place, would he be able to function?

Sans was floating in front of him, as per usual, but even he seemed to be fizzier around the edges, a bit more floaty than normal.

"i... i know," he repeated numbly, the guilt that was so obvious on his face enough to make Papyrus feel the barest stirrings of regret. "i'll try and check out some good place for us, okay? the capital has a lot of big apartment buildings, i'm sure that i can find someplace to hide, for a while at least. just trust me, okay?"

With that, Sans was up and vanishing in a flash of blue, leaving Papyrus to sigh at the empty space in front of him.

"BUT I DON'T WANT TO HIDE," he mumbled. "I WANT A HOME."

Dragging himself over to their new (old) couch, Papyrus collapsed onto the worn cushions, curling in on himself and trying to just breathe.

Why did everything have to go so wrong? Had his whole life been like this? Scurrying, terrified, from one bolthole to the next?

Maybe it was better that he didn't remember, if things had to be like this. Maybe... Maybe it would be better if he forgot again, this time.

He would rather pretend he had never come to Snowdin at all, if he had to lose it like this.

Chapter Text

Doge sighed, pulling her helmet off so she could scrub at her face. This whole situation had turned into such a mess... She really wasn't sure what to do.

She knew what she wanted to do, of course. But Doge was a member of the Royal Guard, above all else. She had to do her duty.

Of course, it didn't help matters that the residents of Snowdin were not being nearly as forthcoming as they were originally.

When Doge had first come into town to investigate, everyone had been ready and willing to tell her about the mysterious circumstances behind the new skeleton kid(s) - it was more gossip than anything else, but with such a small town, Doge hadn't expected anything less.

Besides, gossip had its uses, that was for sure. She'd gotten a lot of good information out of it, even if half of the things they'd said were sure to be exaggerations.

(She was pretty sure that Papyrus wasn't a human skeleton that had been brought to life. Probably. Right? Of course not. That would be ridiculous...)

But now, things weren't nearly as open. After Doge had left the Inn that morning, the bunny monster manning the counter had been rather stiff. That wouldn't seem like much of a big deal to some, but it was a rapid change from the woman's friendly demeanor of the day before. And as Doge went around town, she only continued to notice the change.

Monsters that would have approached her for a quick chat on any other day, instead stayed away, many pretending like they hadn't seen her in the first place. The Shop, where she was right now, apparently had a lot of things going on in the backroom, because the bunny monster who ran the place hadn't emerged for over twenty minutes.

Doge rested her arm on the counter, letting out a huff. Well, it wasn't like she didn't understand. That was the curse of a small town - though they were friendly with outsiders, they were typically even more tight-knit with each other.

Even though Papyrus hadn't been here for long, he was still a part of this community. And Doge was threatening that with her presence, even though it was with the very best intentions.

She understood that, she really did.

But...

She had to go and meet with Papyrus again, later in the afternoon. And when she did, she would have to do her job, even if (as was seeming increasingly likely) Papyrus wasn't willing to go along with it.

...If only she could have found another solution. One that worked for everyone, one that even her grumpy Captain would agree with.

Still, Doge sighed once more, grabbing her helmet and sliding it back on. There was no point in trying to stall like this. She had one more place that she wanted to visit, and then she was off to the skeleton's residence.

Perhaps Grillby would have some more insight into how to deal with this situation.

Chapter Text

Grillby couldn't take it anymore.

He had stood back, and watched as this went. Watched, just like everyone else in Snowdin did, afraid of trying to approach Papyrus too eagerly and scaring him off again. Afraid, that if they did something to frighten the young boy, he would run; run far enough away that they would never be able to find or help him again.

What were they supposed to do? What could they possibly do in this kind of situation? No one was trained for this.

Grillby, himself, was trained for all sorts of things - having to do with both restaurants and combat. But he had no idea what to do when faced with a half-starved little boy that shied away from every gesture of kindness, no matter how much he was clearly aching for it.

But he couldn't just stand back anymore. The Royal Guard was in town, and they were clearly planning on doing something about Papyrus and his brother's little home invasion.

Grillby liked the guards, like Doge and the other members of the Dog Squad. But, and he wasn't ashamed to admit this, he liked Papyrus a lot more. The child could be annoying, and even infuriating when he put his mind to it, and Sans was still a faceless entity, even if Grillby felt like he knew him quite well thanks to Papyrus' many stories (and complaints). He may have never even officially met the older one, but those two were children that Grillby liked very much. And if it came down to it, he was willing to petition the guard to allow them to stay in their home.

Which was what he was attempting to do, with... mixed results.

Doge, sitting on the other side of the table, sighed heavily, her shoulders slumping.

"I understand, Grillby, I really do," she said, voice soft. "You're not even the first one to come to me and ask. But I don't make the decisions here, I only carry them out. I could petition the Captain to see if he would agree to it, but there are so many other things at play here."

Grillby frowned, a wisp of fire snapping off of his arm with a crack. "...meaning...?"

Doge bit her lip, seemingly debating with herself, before leaning forward.

"This is possibly an abuse case," she confided, though she looked positively wretched at the thought. "And even if it isn't, it's definitely a runaway. And with something like that, we need to do more. We need to find out where they came from, if anyone's looking for them, and why they ran in the first place. Obviously, if it turns out to be a dangerous situation, then we would never force them to go back, but Papyrus needs to come into custody of the Guard at the very least. Otherwise, he could try to make a break for it."

Even though that was exactly what Grillby and the others around town had been afraid of, he still fond himself stiffening at the notion.

There had to be something that they could do. Anything. If they were forced to drag Papyrus out of that place kicking and screaming, they would lose the little trust they had managed to get from him in the first place. And if he ran... Then who knew what would happen to him.

If only...

The idea hit him like a lightning strike, making Grillby jolt in his seat. His fire burned a little hotter in his excitement, and he turned to a curious Doge.

"...how...about...this...?"

Chapter Text

Sans was running himself ragged. There wasn’t anything else he could do - they had one day to go before that Royal Guard came back, and they could not be here when she did.

He knew that Papyrus still desperately wanted to stay, even though he had stopped complaining, but Sans absolutely would not budge on this. It was dangerous for the guard to have too much interest in them - not only would they inevitably realize that Papyrus' older brother did not exist (to them), they would probably try and take him 'home', or wherever they thought that was.

And some monsters had seen them that day in Hotland, which meant that was probably where the guard would try to take Papyrus back to, for lack of a better option.

Papyrus couldn't even think about Hotland without getting severe headaches and passing out! Sans simply could not allow something like this to happen. Even if it meant that Papyrus would hate him for it, he would make sure that they were gone by the time the guard showed up.

To make his paranoia even worse, the other residents of Snowdin had been visiting within the last day and a half. A lot. Sans, who jumped and felt twitchy every time the doorbell went off, did not appreciate this.

What was their goal, anyway? Were they here looking for gossip? Were they spying for the guards? Were they trying to take Papyrus away from him -

No, no, that didn't make any sense.

Sans let out a deep breath, consciously relaxing his shoulders. This paranoia was making his shaky and anxious beyond all belief, and it really wasn't helping him as much as he thought it did.

All he was doing was wearing himself out and making his brother worried. There were better uses of his time.

"HAVE YOU... FOUND ANYTHING?" Papyrus asked quietly, or as quietly as he could, laying sideways on the couch so that he could stare directly up at Sans.

Sans smiled down at him, trying to distract himself from the thoughts running through his skull like a rampaging bull.

"mm, i think so. not the best options, but possibly the only ones we have."

There were some empty apartments he'd found, and even a warehouse that was no longer used. None of them were exactly high-class, and if they went there they would end up having the same problems with food that they do now, but since Sans had figured out his new vanishing trick, it wouldn't be quite as hard to find resources anymore.

It would be hard, but doable. In the absolute worst case-scenario, Sans knew quite a few new spots in the Dump that would hide them well enough, and also be very close to the best provider of free amenities in the Underground.

...Certainly, this house was better. Even Sans, who didn't require the same things as Papyrus, felt a connection to this place. He didn't know if that was because it used to belong to Gaster, or what, but...

He didn't want to leave either. So, he stalled and stalled and stalled, hoping for a miracle to come through.

And just as he was thinking that, there came a knock at the door.

Chapter Text

Sans tensed up horribly at the sound of the doorbell, as he had been doing all afternoon, and Papyrus sighed as he slid off the couch to answer the door.

After all the visitors they'd been having today, Papyrus had managed to find a little step to place by the door and make it easier to get to the knob, seeing as Sans was no longer exactly in the state of mind to help.

He easily climbed up, grabbing the knob with one hand and pulling the door open with what felt like an exorbitant amount of energy - though that may have just been his own exhaustion talking.

With that task done, he hopped down, moving in front so that he could greet them.

"HELLO! HOW CAN I - " The words died in his throat.

Looking down at him kindly, helmet already off, was Doge. A day early.

"Sorry about barging in on you," she said, and though she did seem rather apologetic, she stood firm. "Is it okay if I come in?"

Sans swooped in upon hearing her voice, giving Papyrus a frantic look and desperately shaking his head no. Papyrus sighed, and nodded, stepping aside to let her in. He ignored his brother's increasingly frantic hand gestures, knowing that turning the guard away at this point would only end up making them seem even more suspicious than before.

"Your brother not here?" Doge said off-handedly, stepping inside and looking around curiously.

"NO," Papyrus said stiffly, though he tried not to let his displeasure show on his face. "HE'S VERY BUSY."

"I see." She nodded, and didn't comment further, trooping over to sit on one end of the ugly green couch, the cushion sagging under the weight of her heavy armor.

Papyrus sighed, feeling like he had been doing that a lot recently, and shut the door behind him, pushing his step to the side and heading over to sit beside her.

Well, it was a good run while it lasted.

"I KNOW YOU WANTED TO ASK HIM QUESTIONS, BUT HE IS NOT AROUND OFTEN DURING THE DAY," Papyrus said. The last thing he wanted to do was make it seem like Sans was never around, or neglectful, but he also had to explain his brother's lack of presence in the house somehow. "IS THERE SOMETHING I CAN DO FOR YOU INSTEAD?"

"Well, I thought a lot about what you had to say," Doge said easily, shifting to look at him head-on. "I wouldn't want to disturb your brother if he's doing important things, and you're a really smart kid. Would you mind answering some of my questions instead?"

Papyrus' first impression was to say yes, of course! But then, he hesitated. Was this a trap of some kind? A puzzle where he didn't have all the pieces and was about to be asked what the final picture looked like?

...Did he really have much of a choice?

"HM... OKAY, I GUESS," he said, trying to seem unsure of his decision, which wasn't too far off from the reality. "I'LL DO MY BEST."

"That's all we can ask for," Doge beamed at him, before taking more of a professional face. "So, where did you live before you came to Snowdin?"

Immediately, Papyrus' skull began to ache.

Chapter Text

If Doge had thought this job was bad before, she had been sorely mistaken - because it was only getting worse.

As soon as the words left her mouth, Papyrus winced, reaching a hand up to cradle his skull. She instantly panicked, half-risen out of her seat, wracking her brain for anything to do with skeleton monster anatomy. Nothing came to mind, so she could only stay silent, paralyzed, as his expression grew pained for a long moment, before straightening out.

Doge slowly sat back down, noting that Papyrus hadn't even seen her little freak out. She couldn't help but be grateful for that, even as a large part of her remained jittery.

This was what she was so concerned about. Was Papyrus okay? Was he sick? If so, she would have no idea what to do, and no idea where to find help. Skeletons were some of the most rare monsters to start with, and she couldn't even remember the last time she had seen one. Not for many, many years at least. Doge hadn't even known that there were any of them still around.

Which begged the question, where did Papyrus come from? Who had he been living with?

...And, why did he run from them?

Well, hopefully she would get some of her answers here.

"WE, UM... LIVED IN HOTLAND," Papyrus said, though she noted that the words came out through clenched teeth, looking like he was having a bit of difficulty with it.

But, Hotland, huh? Not too surprising. It was the largest area of the Underground, and subsequently one of the best places to hide.

Hm, that reminded her; this house was abandoned, right? So Papyrus had come here from Hotland, and if memory served from her talks with the townsfolk, Papyrus had known the place was here without ever having visited it. That was suspicious enough on its own.

"Hotland is a nice place," she said agreeably, before deciding to dive right in. Doge doubted she would get a straight answer on this one, but it was still necessary. "Why did you and your brother decide to leave?"

She still wasn't sure if the brother was actually real, but it was better to refer to them both, just in case. And either way, she didn't want him to know that she was onto his ruse.

Papyrus stared down at his lap for a long moment, before shrugging.

"I DIDN'T LIKE IT THERE," he said carefully. "BIG BROTHER SAID THAT IF I DIDN'T LIKE IT THERE, WE SHOULDN'T STAY. SO WE CAME HERE INSTEAD."

Truth. Or at least, close enough. Papyrus looked serious when he said it, but also vaguely embarrassed, like he knew that there was more to the story that he was holding back.

"I get that," Doge said, instead of voicing her suspicions. "There's been some places that I left when I didn't like it there anymore. Would you mind telling me why you didn't like it in Hotland?"

All was quiet, Papyrus not saying a word. There was a slight rattling sound next to them, as if the bookcase was about to fall over, but when Doge glanced at it, there was nothing there.

Finally, Papyrus spoke. Two words, but enough to confirm her worst suspicions.

"IT HURT."

Chapter Text

For the first time since Papyrus had met Doge, her expression was fully readable - and she looked heartbroken.

It was only for a split-second, but Papyrus saw it, clear as day. It was obvious that the revelation that being in... that place gave him pain, was a horrifying thing to her.

That was what it took to finally let Papyrus relax. Doge didn't want to hurt them, he was confident of that. No matter what Sans' increasingly paranoid mutterings said, Doge was a good monster, there was no doubt about it.

And that meant, if it came down to it, Papyrus could probably pull a fast one on her and escape if she really tried to take him away. But for now, he was planning to run with the sympathy card as far as he could get.

"I'm sorry to hear that," Doge said, her expression settled back into that warm friendliness that it had been before, though even now it was tainted faintly by sorrow. "Would it hurt you if I asked about any more details?"

Papyrus blinked, surprised that she had even bothered to ask that, before considering it. Well, with what usually happened to him when he tried to think about life before he lost his memories...

He nodded his head, not even attempting to lessen the impact, or blow it off. It would hurt to think of Hotland, and he wasn't especially fond of hurting.

Doge nodded in return, looking thoughtful. "Alright, I won't ask."

She then lapsed into silence, seeming to think something over very carefully. Papyrus had to stop himself from fidgeting, wondering if he could get away with muttering something to Sans under his breath.

But considering that Sans was currently swooping in and around the bookshelf like some kind of particularly manic librarian, that probably wasn't the best idea.

"Okay, Papyrus, I have something very important to tell you, so I need you to listen closely, alright?" Doge said, straightening up.

Papyrus jolted to attention, nodding seriously when she looked at him in confirmation.

"Right now, you don't have any way to legally own this house, which would normally mean that you can't stay here."

...Normally?

Then, she smiled at him, big and bright. "But luckily for you, there's some loopholes that we can take advantage of. And, even more lucky, the monsters of Snowdin really care about you. I've talked with my superior, and as long as you have someone stop by once a day to see how you're doing and make sure everything is alright, we'll let the rest of it slide. Basically, as of today, the entire population of this town are your guardians."

"OH."

Well, that explained why so many monsters had been coming by today.

"Is that okay, Papyrus?" Doge asked, her voice somehow gentling.

She sounded a bit concerned. Why...?

Oh.

His face was wet. Papyrus reached up, scrubbing away the tears tracing down his cheeks. Next to him, Sans had stopped panicking, a stunned look on his face that Papyrus imagined could only be matched by his own.

"YES. THAT'S OKAY."

Chapter Text

When all was said and done, when Doge left with a new spring in her step and Papyrus collapsed, breathless against the front door, Sans could finally admit it - he'd been wrong.

He had been wrong about this place, wrong about Snowdin. Maybe they hadn't known the full story, but they hadn't needed to. They'd only known that something was wrong, that Papyrus didn't want to leave, so they had stepped up to make sure that didn't happen.

Sans had lost hope. He was sure that they would be forced to leave a home again, abandoning this quiet house and the quiet town it lived in just as quickly as they'd been forced to evacuate the Lab.

He had never been more glad to be wrong.

Floating over to where Papyrus was still slumped, resting his skull against the cool wood of the door, he stared down at his brother with some emotion bubbling inside of him that he couldn't quite name. It felt almost like victory, but deeper. Warmer than satisfaction, more personal than triumph. Whatever it was, it felt wonderful.

"DO YOU THINK THIS IS GOING TO WORK?" Papyrus said, his words muffled.

Sans considered it, took in the odds and figures, what he knew to be true and fake. Then, he threw all of that way, and decided to have some trust in his fellow monsters, just this once.

"i think so, paps. i think that if we try hard enough, we can make it work."

...

And so, work they did. As the years passed and both brothers aged (though only one of them visibly), they did their best to work with the Snowdin town residents as a show of gratitude for what they had done.

For Papyrus, this meant going to Grillby's to visit at least twice a week - though he despaired at the amount of grease the bar used, complaining that he could practically feel it soaking into his bones. It meant visiting with each resident of Snowdin, all of them welcoming him with a smile and a meal, ensuring that he would never have to worry about starving as long as he was a part of this large, extended family. They would even give him chores and things to do that would allow him to make money, firmly putting his days of theft in the past (unless he really, really needed to).

For Sans, this meant something smaller, though perhaps more difficult. The older his appearance became, the more he began recognizing the parts of himself that he had once pushed aside. He confronted his own jealousy, his possessiveness, the mortal fear that one day Papyrus would abandon him or push him aside. Many times in the past he had attempted to deal with these things, only for them to get pushed down just far enough that they would catch him off-guard the next time they reared their ugly heads.

Sans thought about Gaster, and why it had hurt so much that the man hadn't believed in him, and why sometimes it felt like it hurt even more that Gaster had seen him at the end.

Sans looked deep inside of himself and tried to find where he had lost his way. Sometimes it was hard, and embarrassing, and even depressing, but he meticulously went through all of the stupid, inane things he had done, trying to figure out the common link.

As always, it all lead back to Papyrus. By trying to better care for his brother, he had begun losing an important part of himself. And, as Papyrus was always willing to remind him, the thing that Papyrus needed most was Sans, truly and utterly.

And Sans, of course, was more than happy to provide.

Chapter Text

Papyrus did not grow up quietly.

Snowdin had very little complaints about their favorite child, and that was hardly one of them, but it was the truth. Papyrus was a monster that was loud, sometimes arrogant, and always endearing.

By contrast, his brother's growth was very quiet indeed. While many of Snowdin's residents were still iffy on whether 'Sans' existed in the first place, they began to think that maybe they were just approaching it wrong.

There had always been the assumption that Sans was much older than Papyrus. By the way the young skeleton talked about him, he was incredibly brilliant, proficient at magic, and had taken care of Papyrus for as long as he could remember. Someone like that would have to be older, right?

But then, one day, Papyrus had mentioned smugly that he was still taller than his brother, and the residents of Snowdin began to wonder.

Perhaps the skeleton brothers were more close in age than they had initially thought?

It would... explain some things.

Because, yes, Papyrus was loud and bossy and always in-your-face, so there was simply some things that could not be attributed to him. The Giftmas lights that had been strung up on the house practically overnight had been just as much a surprise to Papyrus as the rest of the town, and the large pirate flag draped at the top was the same. There was always Giftmas presents for Papyrus that no one else could remember wrapping, and other bits of furniture and decorations would appear periodically with no one coming forward to claim responsibility.

Papyrus, of course, always said that it was Sans. And, somewhere along the way, the rest of Snowdin began to believe him. What else were they supposed to do? There were other explanations, surely, but this one was the most obvious, if somewhat suspicious.

The thing that had finally sold it for them was the shed. The framework for it had just appeared, one day, and then someone had steadily worked on it for the next week and a half. It wasn't Papyrus, after all, and everyone else was accounted for. Who else could it be?

When asked, Papyrus would simply shrug.

"I WOULDN'T SAY THAT MY BROTHER IS SHY, OR ANYTHING," he said, looking a bit disgruntled. "BUT HE IS CERTAINLY LAZY. I HAVE A HARD ENOUGH TIME GETTING HIM TO WAKE UP IN THE MORNING, LET ALONE INTERACT WITH ANYONE!"

So, after that, the topic had largely been dropped. If Sans was real, then he clearly had some sort of anxiety or other issue about meeting the rest of the townsfolk, and that was okay. If he wasn't real, then, well - it wouldn't really matter, would it?

Regardless, 'Papyrus' became 'the Skeleton Brothers', and the mailbox in front of the house had both names, written with very conflicting scripts.

Maybe nobody knew what they had been up to before they came to Snowdin, or why they'd come there in the first place, but everyone knew that the skeleton brothers were a package deal.

Chapter Text

"okay, are you ready?" Sans called out, watching Papyrus with amusement as he shifted eagerly in place.

"READY!"

"okay... go!" Sans shouted the last word, giving his brother permission to start bolting towards the finish line.

The finish line, which was blocked by several traps of quite a genius design, if Sans did say so.

Papyrus reached the first line in the snow, which flashed a bright orange, and he cursed as he almost tripped over the magic barrier, quickly bringing his own magic to the surface. Te barrier shattered easily enough once Papyrus used his blue magic to counteract it, and then he was off again.

Sans, off to the side, was steadily counting Papyrus' time, even with his hands in his pockets and a peaceful smile on his face. This... this was nice.

It reminded him of those days so long ago, playing made-up card games in the Lab. The memory didn't have the same sting as it used to, and Sans couldn't be more grateful for that. He was happy, now, that he could look back on those memories without feeling like he was betraying what they had.

Even if he was the only one to remember them, they were definitely still worth it. Of that, he had no doubt.

With a shout of triumph, Papyrus managed to slap his hand against the tree that marked the end line, leaning against it for a moment as he wheezed. Then, he quickly pulled himself together and jogged to where Sans was floating a few feet off the ground, expression eager.

"WELL?" he said expectantly, nearly vibrating in the intensity of his emotions. Sans had to hide a smirk, at that - Papyrus looked just like the Dog Squad when he got excited like this. "HOW DID I DO?"

"hm... passable," Sans said teasingly, floating up and out of reach just in time to dodge his brother's indignant swipe. "okay, okay. you managed to shave almost ten second off your time, pal. that's a huge improvement, considering what happened last time."

Papyrus' face flushed a deep orange, averting his gaze as he pretended to be looking out and surveying the snowy ground.

"OKAY, SO MAYBE LAST TIME I WAS A LITTLE SLEEP-DEPRIVED, AND MAYBE I TRIPPED, FELL FACE-FIRST INTO THE SNOW AND PROMPTLY PASSED OUT, BUT THAT WAS A LONG TIME AGO! A WHOLE WEEK, EVEN! I'M WAY BETTER NOW, YOU HAVE TO ADMIT IT."

Sans couldn't have stopped the grin growing on his face even if he tried, reaching down to pat the top his brother's skull. Papyrus might have become a lot taller than him at that point, but he would never be able to stop Sans from doing this.

"i know, paps," he soothed, feeling the subtle sting of nostalgia flow through him. "and you're only gonna get better with time. your mastery of magic is already amazing. you just have to hone it."

And those weren't just pretty words - Papyrus was doing amazingly well for someone who had forgotten many of the fundamental lessons Sans had taught him as a child.

"I'LL DO MY BEST! THESE TESTS WON'T KNOW WHAT HIT THEM!" he said, striking a triumphant pose.

Sans chuckled, still charmed by Papyrus' behavior even after all these years.

"of that, pal, i have no doubt."

Chapter Text

The Dog had a mission, one that it absolutely could not fail. For years, his prey had eluded him, leaving the poor Dog to wander the shadows, searching endlessly for the return of his rival.

But then... then, finally, another dog had come back to the Capital with his rival's scent on her. Usually, the Dog liked to stay in the garden and dig in the flowerbeds, since King Asgore was a giant fuzzy pushover and generally let the Dog get away with anything. But now, he had a mission.

Perhaps more specifically, the Dog had a hunt. Now, this was not quite like his usual hunt, which he typically did within the security of his own home, and with an entirely different target (bugs, mainly), but the Dog was very excited.

How long had it been since he had last known that exquisite flavor? He had managed to track down the older one, but the poor fellow had become all goopy and not at all fun to chew on, so that left the Annoying Dog to his own devices, which was never a good thing.

When the Dog was left on his own without anything to distract him, he tended to create weird things, like sequels, so he thought his urgency in this case was justifiable. All he had to do was follow the other dog when she left on another trip to visit his prey, and then he would pounce!

Finally... some good bones. The Dog was even willing to chew on some bone attacks at this point, which was rarely a tasty thing and usually hurt his mouth. But he was determined!

...Determined to finally get his fix, that is.

It didn't take nearly as long as he thought it would to put his plan into motion, which quite honestly had ruined some of the drama of the thing, he believed, but that had its own benefits.

The Annoying Dog knew how to make an entrance;  if nothing else, there was no way that anyone would be able to ignore the Dog if he trotted into the room.

He had a whole heist planned out, going through every contingency plan and hoping that the skeleton child had laid out some interesting traps this time, only for his plan to run into a bit of a pitfall.

The Skeleton was not actually home when the Dog got there, meaning that he would probably have to wait to enact his amazing plan. Ugh, way to ruin the moment.

He paced anxiously outside the house, waiting for the skeleton to reappear, but... it never happened. Hours passed, and still, nothing.

The Dog was beginning to get a bit worried, strangely enough. But as he left the porch, making as if to go into town and check if the skeleton was there, he accidentally stepped onto the path of some kind of panel, which made a strange clicking sound.

The next thing he knew, the Dog was dangling in the air upside down, and Papyrus the skeleton crawled out of the nearby bushes with a triumphant expression.

"I KNEW ONE DAY, YOU WOULD COME," Papyrus said gravely, leaning in to look the Dog in the eye. "I DON'T KNOW HOW OR WHY THIS INFORMATION WOULD CHOOSE TO STICK WITH ME, BUT HERE IT IS. ENJOY!"

The Dog barked, a dopey grin on his face. Okay, so this trap was pretty good. He would have to wait to get a chance at those bones another day.

And he would get another chance.

Chapter Text

"Papyrus, slow down!" Doge laughed, quickening her pace to try and keep up with him. "I'm not as young as I used to be."

"OBVIOUSLY," Papyrus said, in an absent sort of manner that she might have thought rude if she didn't know him as well as she did. "BUT COME ON, THE TRIALS ARE GOING TO START SOON!"

"Yes, yes." Still, she tried to get herself to move faster, knowing that Papyrus only had so much patience.

These old bones of hers were creaking in protest, but she knew that she could last a while longer. At the very least, she wanted to see the Captain of the Royal Guard retire.

She'd never gotten along with that old bastard, but seeing as his daughter, Dogaressa, was dating her darling son, Dogamy, she thought that she should at least make an attempt to get along with him.

Doge caught sight of the wizened coot soon enough, with him standing on the edge of the training grounds, surveying the rookies lined up with a critical eye.

Next to her, Papyrus was nearly vibrating with excitement, and Doge just knew that if he had a tail, it would be wagging nonstop. She still couldn't believe that he would be so excited over something like this - as a young child, Papyrus had never seemed too interested in her work as a member of the Royal Guard, but after she retired and was able to visit him more often, he seemed to take more stock in her words.

Papyrus was practically another son to her, after all the times she'd trudged down to Snowdin to make another report and see that he was doing okay. This was the very least she could do.

Papyrus still didn't like talking about or going to Hotland, and he wasn't especially fond of Waterfall either, but the Riverperson (who always somehow happened to be around when Papyrus was in need of a ride, Doge had noticed) had happily agreed to take them both to the Capital without any other pit stops along the way.

The two of them approached the field, gaining the Captain's attention as he glanced over.

"What are you doing here, Doge?" he said gruffly, keeping one eye on them and the other on the restless group of guards meandering over to the training field. "You're retired, aren't you? Can't you stay out of my fur for at least a week?"

Doge bristled, but Papyrus inadvertently cut her off before she could say some choice words to her old supervisor.

"WE'RE HERE TO SEE THE TRIALS," he said, craning his neck to try and get a closer look at the candidates moving in. "ARE THEY STARTING SOON?"

The Captain stared for a moment, and then sighed, his stance softening. Papyrus was everyone's favorite, after all.

"Just about now, pup," he muttered, and then whistled loudly, stepping forwards and gaining everyone's attention. "Alright, newbies! Listen up! This is about the most important test you will ever do as a trainee of the guard, so make sure to impress me today, got it?"

"Yes, sir!" Came the chorus of replies.

Doge let her eyes drift over the crowd, spotting a few likely candidates. One that immediately caught her attention was a tall fish monster, her sharp teeth bared in a ferocious grin. Papyrus, too, noticed her, and couldn't seem to tear his eyes away.

That girl reminded her of her younger self, actually, if that didn't seem too arrogant. Doge smiled to herself secretly.

Yes, that girl would do well.

Chapter Text

Papyrus couldn't look away. She was... she was so cool.

(it's good to see you again)

His head was starting to hurt just the tiniest bit, but he pushed it aside with the ease of long practice. As he got older, his migraine episodes had dropped significantly - probably because he had forgotten about a majority of the things that used to set him off, making room for all of the fun things and new memories that he was making.

So, a tiny little headache like this didn't even bother him. Papyrus was much too busy being enthralled by the monster in front of him.

She was cool. There was simply no other way to describe it. She wielded her magic with an ease that showed years of practice, and her footwork was more solid than anyone else in the line.

The Captain must have seen that as well, because once the group training was done, he called out to her.

"Undyne! Step forward!"

She did so, her extremely sharp teeth being exposed by the way her lips pulled back into a huge grin.

Papyrus bounced on his heels, excitement flooding through him. He wanted to see how good she was, if she had been practicing while he was gone -

Minutely, he shook his head, trying to get the fog out of his brain. He couldn't afford to be distracted right now, he wanted to see what happened!

The Captain surveyed Undyne for a moment, looking neither approving or not, and held out a hand, calling his axe to him in a burst of golden magic.

"Come," he stated firmly, eyes narrowed.

Undyne didn't miss a beat, dark blue magic coming to her aid as she formed a spear with it, brandishing it at the Captain as she charged him with a yell.

Their spar was quick, but explosive, every blow the Captain blocked leaving a shower of sparks behind. Undyne didn't manage to leave a single mark on him, but she didn't seem to mind, looking utterly exhilarated even when she was knocked to the ground.

Papyrus was on the edge of his (metaphorical) seat, his own magic rising to the surface on more than one occasion. In fact, he had to actively hold it back at one point, leaving him feeling a bit bemused.

(like trying to greet an old friend...)

When the Captain finally managed to knock Undyne down for good - which was no easy task, considering the insane amount of stamina she seemed to possess - he let his axe fall away with a grunt, and stared down at her.

His expression was unreadable, even for Papyrus, who had known him for many years. Then, he broke out into a smile, offering his hand to help Undyne stand up.

The other trainees cheered as she did so, and Papyrus joined in as well, all impressed by the sheer determination that she seemed to possess.

As the Captain called for the end of the trials, everyone slowly dispersing to head back home and wait for the results to be posted, Papyrus knew what he had to do.

Chapter Text

Undyne carefully levered herself up off the ground, taking the hand that was offered to her.

"Good work," the Captain said, gruffly, but seeing as it was the only complimentary thing he had ever said to her, she took it with a grin.

Saluting him strongly, she managed to hobble back over to the line of trainees, excitement fueling her body even when her mind only wanted to rest.

This was it! This was what she had been training for, all these years. First with Gerson, then with Asgore - she'd had the best teachers the Underground could ask for, and now that hard work was finally coming to fruition.

They would both definitely want to hear how the trials had gone, so she would have to pop by the castle before she headed back to Waterfall. Visiting Gerson was easy, considering he actually didn't live too far away from her house, but Asgore wasn't as simple. It would be best for her to do it now, before she completely crashed and passed out for a week after everything that had happened today.

The trainees were dismissed, and Undyne turned on her heel to do just that, intending on being quick so that she could go get some rest - but then, quite out of the blue, someone called out her name.

Puzzled, she swung back around to see if someone needed her for something, but none of the other trainees were still around. The monster approaching her was one that she'd never seen before (?), a tall skeleton monster with a long red scarf wrapped around his neck.

"HELLO, YES, YOU ARE UNDYNE, CORRECT?" He said briskly as soon as he had jogged closer, and Undyne might have bristled in offense if it weren't for the huge smile on his face.

"Yeah, I am. What's it matter to you?" she growled, eyes narrowed. Come on, she wanted to go home!

"WELL, I JUST WANTED TO LET YOU KNOW THAT YOUR PERFORMANCE TODAY WAS REALLY, REALLY COOL!" he said, tucking his hands behind his back and looking up at her innocently.

Undyne almost shied away, unable to have such a pure aura in her general area.

"That's... nice," she said gruffly, rubbing the back of her head as she tried to think of something to say that would scare him off, but in, like, a nice way. "Thanks."

With that, she tried to take a step back and escape, but the skeleton only took a step closer, beaming.

Undyne narrowed her eye in frustration, before deciding to stand her ground. "Can I help you with something?"

"QUICK TO THE POINT, THEN," he said, clapping his hands together. "MY NAME IS PAPYRUS, AND I WOULD LIKE TO SPAR WITH YOU. AS, AH, TRAINING?"

Undyne stared. Then she snorted out a laugh, unable to help herself.

"Me, train with some random wimpy guy like you? Not a chance. Not even if you wished on every stone in the ceiling."

Undyne whipped around, leaving the training ground before Papyrus could get a chance to try and retort. That should be enough to shut him up.

(Papyrus is not gonna give up with just that - )

She dismissed the thought, stomping towards the castle. She'd said her piece, and probably crushed the guy's ego while she was at it. There was no way he was gonna come asking after her again.

Chapter Text

That was not the last that Undyne saw of Papyrus. He came to her house. Every. Single. Day.

Somehow, he had managed to find out where she lived (probably from Gerson, that meddling old coot), and now he would ring her doorbell every day, repeatedly, until she answered, and then ask her to train with him.

The answer, of course, was always a resounding NO, along with her slamming the door in his face, but Papyrus wasn't deterred, and always came back no matter how vicious she was with her rejections.

In the beginning, Undyne had actually been a little worried, wondering if he was a stalker or some other kind of weirdo, but that didn't seem to be the case. Apparently, he just had a major case of hyper-focus, especially when it was something he was really interested in.

As soon as she rejected him, he would leave. Papyrus didn't try to stick around, or 'change her mind', or get violent. He would just leave, and try again the next day.

So, it wasn't threatening like she had first suspected it might be. No, the whole thing was really just extremely annoying .

Still... Undyne found that, as time went on, she didn't really mind too much. She was obviously stronger than Papyrus, for one, and two; he was a genuinely nice guy when he wasn't ringing her doorbell at six o'clock in the morning.

Every time he came over, he would always stop and visit the Blook farms on the way out, usually managing to talk with Napstablook and Happstablook at least a little bit before the former would get too nervous and vanish. Papyrus also seemed to stop at Gerson's on the way over, seeing as he was usually munching on a crab apple when he knocked on the door.

Any other time she'd seen him in the Underground, he was cheerfully talking with another monster, looking actually invested in the weird gossip and random remarks they had to give.

Not that Papyrus wasn't weird - this whole situation was weird in the first place, but he was a weird guy too. He talked about his brother, a lot, and even though Undyne had never met the guy (and had no intention too! obviously! she wasn't getting invested in this!), she felt like she knew him pretty well just through the random stories Papyrus would tell and secondhand rumors.

In fact, she got to know both skeleton brothers pretty well, as this thing wore on. Papyrus kept coming to her door every day, and she would always answer and turn down his offer of training.

Then, one day, Undyne woke up in a haze. She could hear the doorbell ringing, but somehow she didn't have the energy to get up. She could only roll over in her bed and go back to sleep, no matter how much her mind was screaming at her.

Undyne slept the whole day, sickness keeping her practically tied to the bed. It wasn't until her eye snapped open at four in the morning the next day, that she remembered the doorbell.

Stumbling out of bed, she managed to run to the door, even as she tried to convince herself that there was no way Papyrus was still here. Why would he be? There was just no way.

But, when she pulled the door open, he was indeed standing there, and his look morphed into one of concern as soon as he saw her face.

"ARE YOU OKAY? YOU LOOK SICK! ...I SUPPOSE THAT MEANS WE SHOULDN'T START OUR TRAINING TODAY."

Undyne couldn't help it - she burst out laughing, nearly folding in half with the force of it, even as she dissolved into coughs a moment later.

"Get inside, you big goof," she rasped out, and for the first time since this had all begun, she didn't slam the door.

Chapter Text

His plan had totally worked!! ...Kind of. Not in the way he expected, at least, but Papyrus was willing to take his victories where he could get them.

Sans had been confused, but kind enough not to say it, helping Papyrus out where he could - like finding out where Undyne lived, and the best time of day to go knocking on her front door. Papyrus believed that hard work was enough to get you anywhere you desired, but he was not adverse to a helping hand.

Besides, this was really important to him. Perhaps more than it had any right to be, but it was the truth. Something about this, about Undyne, meant that he couldn't give up.

Papyrus had to spar with her. Had to keep trying, had to convince her that he wasn't going to disappear again -

He let out a deep breath, allowing his headache to escape with it. This was hardly the time to get distracted, after all.

He and Undyne were about to have their first spar!

"You ready, wimp?!" Undyne called out from the other side of the field, her excitement contagious.

"I AM! THOUGH I AM NOT A WIMP!" he called back, letting his own magic fill the air. His eyelights flashed orange, and he held himself steady.

This was what he had been waiting for, all these years. This was what he had been missing. His brother, bless him, had done all he could to help Papyrus with his magic, and his control, but Sans couldn't spar with Papyrus. Though Papyrus somehow doubted that Sans would have been interested in that even if he could, considering his typical lazy, floating manner.

He snapped out of his thoughts when Undyne let out a battle cry, charging towards him.

For some reason, reality seemed to pause for a moment, Undyne's image being replaced by that of a similar, but much smaller monster.

Somehow, Papyrus thought that he had seen this before.

She always goes for the big opening move, he knew instinctively. Her pride wouldn't allow for anything else.

All he had to do was dodge this, and then they would both be on even footing, using steady, ranged attacks. Papyrus had no idea why that notion was stuck in his skull, but he was willing to trust his gut on this one.

He ducked out of the way of her opening blow, snickering at her cry of outrage, and then lifted a hand, bones sprouting from the ground to try and trip her up.

Undyne cursed, stumbling over a few of them before managing to hop out of the little area and regain her footing.

She looked at Papyrus with new eyes, and her excitement was even more palpable than before.

"Nice job, nerd!" she barked out, tightening her grip on her spear. "Now, get ready for the real assault!"

Papyrus laughed confidently in return, hands on his hips as he struck a pose.

"I THINK YOU'RE THE ONE WHO SHOULD BE GETTING READY!"

Chapter Text

Gerson was an old man, and he knew it. For so many years, after retiring as Captain of the Royal Guard, he had been trying to make an impact on this world. He wanted to make sure that the knowledge he held, the techniques that he still had mastery over - he didn't want them to disappear with him.

Just when he had been beginning to fear that this would happen, Undyne appeared.

She had been a brash child, always picking fights and shouting her motivations to the ceiling. She hadn't changed much as an adult, but luckily for her, it was more endearing than anything.

Gerson had taught that little girl for as long as she would allow, soaking up the battle techniques and magic he taught her like a sponge. She wasn't quite as good at tactics, or stealth, but Undyne was a smart cookie. She knew how to use her strength to her advantage.

When she had learned all she could from him, she had moved onto tougher opponents - actually invading the royal castle in search of a good spar! Gua ha ha!

She'd found Old King Fluffybuns, just as Gerson had figured she would, and she learned from him next. Gerson didn't resent handing off his student - she had learned all that she was capable of learning from him, but that didn't mean that she was done growing. Undyne had a lot more work to do if she ever wanted to live up to her full potential.

That was, perhaps, the one thing that Gerson regretted. Undyne fought against strong opponents all the time. She had never known what it was like to learn alongside someone else, to fight someone on the same level.

It wasn't like back in the day, when Gerson had been training for the Royal Guard. That was on the surface, so naturally, it was quite some time ago. Now, hopefuls for the Guard had to be good before they got in - it was a necessity of the times they lived in.

But it made Undyne frustrated, he could tell. All of her opponents were either too strong, or too weak, and she had never been able to find a good in-between.

That, or at least a large part of it, was why Gerson had decided to stick around for a while longer. She would never accept his concerns, always too huffy and proud, but she did care about him, he knew.

Gerson and Asgore... Her teachers were all she had. It wasn't like Undyne had any friends.

And though he wouldn't admit it to her face, knowing she would only get embarrassed, that girl was like a daughter to him. Gerson wanted more than just passing down his legacy - he wanted to know that she was happy.

Gerson wanted Undyne to grow up, and find peace within herself instead of living her life as a raging storm.

And until that happened, he knew that he would have to be here to help calm the waves.

Chapter Text

While Papyrus was working on making friends with a very temperamental fish-woman, Sans had his own little 'project' in mind.

He had been putting it off for long enough, honestly. Sans had waited years before even considering it, some part of him still afraid, even after how long it had been. But...

He had to go back to the Lab.

The last time he had been there, he had understandably been in a hurry. And, honestly, he had only been trying to figure out if anyone was still alive, not what had actually happened.

He knew some of it wouldn't be explainable, not without that weird gray kid to fill in the blanks, but Sans was reasonably sure that he would be able to figure some things out if he poked at Gaster's machine for a while.

Obviously, this was a terrifying notion. That thing had been powerful enough to erase an entire group of monsters from existence. Most likely, thinking back on that night, the only reason it hadn't flooded out to the rest of the Underground was because Gaster had used the last of his magic to hold it back.

For all that Sans liked to think of himself as very proficient in magic, he knew that he wasn't anywhere  near Gaster's level, and he probably never would be. The man had been a genius, as reluctant as Sans was to admit it, and Sans had some very specific limitations of his own.

So, the best bet he had here was to go to the last place where Gaster had been alive, and try to figure this whole thing out as best he could. And, well, he might as well see how the rest of the Lab was doing while he was there. Sans could admit to some curiosity - he wondered if anyone had tried to investigate the building in the years that they'd been gone, if anyone had seen their room.

Ah... He hoped not. That would be kind of embarrassing. But, if they hadn't, then maybe Sans would be able to grab some more of Papyrus' old things! If they were still around, anyway. He knew that the monsters in the building had gotten erased, so he had no idea what had happened to any of the objects inside.

Sans shook his head, pushing himself out of those depressing thoughts. Papyrus was already gone for the day, off to badger Undyne into hanging out. Sans didn't have to worry about his brother so much anymore, now that he was older and strong enough to take care of himself, but he kinda worried anyway.

Luckily, Undyne was kind, even if she didn't seem like it. And she and Papyrus had been friends, once, even if neither of them remembered it. This would be good for him.

And this, going back to the lab, was something that Sans needed. He needed the closure that would come from this, and it wasn't like he could ask Papyrus to come with him. Papyrus wouldn't understand the significance, anyway, for all that the thought made something inside Sans ache fiercely.

But he had to get moving, or he would lose his nerve.

So, he closed his eyes, held his breath, and vanished in a flash of blue.

Chapter Text

When Sans opened his eyes, it was like he had been transported back into the past. If the past was very dark and dusty, anyway.

He probably would have sneezed if he was any more corporeal, but seeing as he thankfully wasn't, Sans was able to resist the urge as he began to float forwards.

He had teleported right to the entrance hall, just as he'd planned. But he was struck with nostalgia as he glanced around, remembering all the days he'd come through here on his way back from school with his baby brother. Those days may be long gone, now, but he was finally able to look back at them fondly.

Moving with purpose, Sans kept a vigilant eye out for any of that weird black goop that had absorbed Gaster and the other scientists. Nothing so far, and he honestly didn't think it would happen, but caution was always better than the alternative.

Sans went down long hallways and through empty rooms, feeling a bit of a chill coming over him. This was undoubtedly an abandoned place. He had seen plenty of them over the years, especially when he was out, busy, looking for places for him and Papyrus to hide. But none of them felt quite like this.

Maybe it was because he had lived here, once. Maybe it was because he knew that this place used to be bright and lively, filled with passionate monsters who cared about their work and wanted nothing more than to make life better for their fellow captives.

Maybe, he supposed, the chill came from the fact that Goss used to work here. Doctor Goss, who was so caring and had always wanted Papyrus to love what he was learning. Doctor SixOne, who had been so nervous that his ears were always pressed back against his head, but kept coming back every day, always determined to push himself a little bit more. Doctor Ficus, who had been steady and calm, never relenting in his search for ways to improve their lives. Doctor Suzy, who had been fierce and intelligent, who laughed so loudly she would fill up the whole room, who would noogie Papyrus if he made a sassy comment while she was near.

Doctor Gaster, who had been his father, in the end.

They had all worked here, lived here, and now they were nothing but ghosts. No - less than that. If they were ghosts, shades, then maybe someone else would acknowledge them. Maybe someone else would remember them.

But they didn't. It was only Sans.

He couldn't imagine a worse fate. These brilliant monsters, forgotten by all except one, who couldn't even tell anybody else about them anyway. If Sans ever tried to talk about these things with Papyrus, his brother would get horrible migraines, and no one else even knew that Sans was around.

What was he supposed to do?

Sans was left, staring blankly, at an empty meeting room. He and Papyrus had set up a prank here once. Gaster had cursed and looked so flustered when he got caught in their trap, but everyone had laughed in the end.

That was never going to happen again.

Sans put a hand to his chest, that strange ache only growing. No, he was never going to have those days again.

Chapter Text

The Royal Laboratory was haunted. Everyone could agree on that. What else could it possibly be?

Since the day it had been built, it had never been used. Or, at least, no one could ever remember a time when it had been used. And there hadn't been a Royal Scientist in many, many years, even before the monsters had been locked Underground.

So why build it in the first place? Now, that was something that made everyone scratch their heads. They all agreed that it had seemed quite necessary at the time, but now... They couldn't quite remember why it had been so important.

Well, whatever the reason was for building it, it was there. And haunted.

Just like the Lab itself, no one could quite figure out when the building had become haunted. Some people could point to a time at the very beginning, when it had first been built - vague memories of faceless monsters, going in and out of the building every day, like clockwork.

Some insisted that it was only later, to a morning that many older monsters could still remember - a morning when, off in the distance, the Lab had begun to glow. The monsters who had been around that morning remembered feeling a horrible sense of urgency, that there was something inside that building that they were terrified of, and yet -

Many also remembered being worried. Worried that there was someone inside, someone who was trapped. But, of course, no one worked in the Royal Laboratory. That would be ridiculous.

But the lights and strange feeling had faded away quickly enough, and those monsters went on with their daily lives with a new story to tell.

Some of those stories, in fact, went even further. Some said that there had been someone inside the building, someone who had gotten trapped, and now they were forced to haunt the place forever, unable to leave.

Monsters reported shadows growing on the walls, a festering darkness that never seemed to go away no matter how much light they shone on it. Whispers, in a strange language that they couldn't understand.

Gray shades, monsters without faces. Monsters that, if approached, would speak with a gibbering tongue, singing backwards words and sweet lies.

And it all centered around the Laboratory.

So, the place was most definitely haunted - everyone could agree on that. But lately, there had been even stranger reports.

Flashes of blue from the windows, shades being pulled closed or open, even areas on the ground level looking like they had been cleaned up a bit, if one were to peer through the window to the inside.

Now, everyone agreed that this could be the result of some good Samaritan. Some monster who didn't believe in superstitions and thought that it was about time they got some use out of that old building.

That was certainly a possibility, of course. But, everyone agreed, it wasn't the only one.

For, you see, quite a lot of monsters suspected that another ghost had moved in.

Chapter Text

For years, she'd worked towards this goal. She'd struggled, and fought, and gave everything she had to get here.

And it was a garbage dump.

"Oh, come on Darling, it isn't that bad!" Mettaton said optimistically, wheeling around in his new, rectangular body.

"I-If you say so..." Alphys muttered, giving the old laboratory a dubious look. Years. It had taken years for her to work up to this point.

She had only barely started, though. Her robot design was good, but it wasn't perfect. And she knew that it wasn't what Mettaton had dreamed about, though he had never complained.

After working together with Mettaton to make her 'robot with a soul' project and presenting it to the King, Asgore had actually been impressed! He had offered her the position as Royal Scientist.

She still couldn't believe it. It seemed like a dream, like she had accidentally stumbled into an opportunity meant for someone else. But this was for her, as Mettaton was always so quick to say. He really was the best friend she could ask for - which was why it was so important that she got started, and could give him the body he had always wanted.

At the thought, Alphys sucked in a deep breath, and slowly let it out. As she did so, she gathered the tattered remains of her courage and looked up.

The Lab was dingy, and she had heard some weird rumors about the place from Catty and Bratty, but it was her best bet. She could only handle so much machinery in her tiny apartment - even if this place was dirty and old, it already had a lot more space than anything she'd ever had before.

"Let's go," Alphys said quietly, and marched forwards.

Mettaton wheeled in behind her, his front screen flashing a bunch of celebratory symbols. Alphys couldn't help the laugh that she gave when she glanced back at him, and the last bit of her nervousness vanished.

She did deserve to be here. And together, the two of them were gonna fix up this place and make it great.

"Oh, I do so love a project, Darling," Mettaton trilled, moving forward to poke at some of the rubble laying around the front entrance. "I'm going to make this place absolutely beautiful!"

"M-Make sure that there's room for my science things, too!" Alphys added, knowing exactly the kind of chaos Mettaton was capable of if he put his mind to it.

The robot huffed, waving a hand, but conspicuously didn't argue.

Alphys let the matter drop, knowing that her friend had her back, and glanced around curiously. The first floor wasn't actually as gross and dirty as she'd thought it would be, but still enough that it was going to take some serious work.

That was alright, though. She had been working towards this place, towards this very moment, for her entire life. She would put in any work she needed to if it meant that her lifelong dream could come true.

Chapter Text

Sans, of course, had noticed immediately when someone else started poking around the lab. He'd felt pretty insulted, to be honest.

Sure, he had been spending the last few months fixing the place up here and there, but he wasn't finished yet! And the place should be his, shouldn't it? He had more right to it than anybody else, that's for sure.

And, well, most importantly... Sans still hadn't managed to find Gaster's machine. He didn't know why, or how it was even possible, but for some reason, he couldn't get down any further than the third floor.

The door that would allow someone to get down there using the stairs was gone, the elevators weren't functioning (and somehow, he got the feeling that they wouldn't go down any further even if they did work), and he couldn't even phase through the floor on his own!

It was baffling, and Sans had been puzzling over it for weeks at this point.

So, he thought it was understandable that he was a bit miffed at another monster coming in and mucking up his investigation.

Though, if he was being truthful with himself, they were doing a good job. It was only two of them, mainly, a lizard monster named Alphys and a robot that she called Mettaton. They were okay, he figured.

Alphys, especially, was someone that Sans thought he could get along with. She was clever, if a bit too nervous sometimes, and even though she was clearly pulling some kind of con on the king with the whole 'robot soul' thing, she had been the one to make Mettaton's body. That implied some serious skill, and Sans could admit to being impressed by that.

If they weren't in his space, he might have even tried to mess with them a little - harmless pranks that he had once played on the other scientists that had worked here.

But he couldn't. It felt wrong, like he was touching something fragile and all too easy to break, and right now the only thing he wanted was for them to leave.

But... But...

Alphys was brilliant and determined, and she didn't give up even when parts of the lab were disgustingly dirty from disuse, didn't lose her drive even when a whole section of the wall collapsed.

Mettaton, too, was a certain kind of jerk that Sans liked, and he never hesitated to help out his friend even when Sans would have pinned him as the prissy type.

Sans liked them. He really did.

And somehow, that made it hurt all the more as they slowly began transforming the lab into their own space, replacing furniture and fixing holes.

Since the personal areas had all been on the fifth floor, they didn't have any access to it, just like Sans, so at least he had that comfort. But it was a small one, and it didn't help him with the real root of the problem.

They didn't know Sans was here, that he had lived here as a child and had returned as an adult.

They didn't even know that he existed. And somehow, for the first time in a long time... that hurt.

Chapter Text

Sans was sulking. Again. Sans had periodic times of sulking, and while Papyrus was usually magnanimous enough to ignore it, he thought that he may actually have to interfere this time.

Because, well, this time it seemed like he was actually upset about something. Usually, it was some over-exaggerated offense that he cooked up on the spot, not something actually bothering him.

And since Papyrus was a wonderful brother, he would just have to get to the bottom of it!

"ALRIGHT, FESS UP," he said imperiously, hands on his hips. Papyrus had managed to corner his brother before he left the house, which was an exceedingly difficult task, seeing as Sans had the ability to walk through walls.

Sans waited for a beat, and then shrugged, sticking his hands in the pockets of his old hoodie. Seriously, Papyrus didn't think he'd ever seen Sans without it, even when they were children. If he didn't know better, he'd say that his brother had purposefully made the hoodie grow with him!

"sorry, bro," Sans said casually, not even blinking when Papyrus' eye-sockets narrowed in suspicion. "really. i have no idea what you're talking about."

"YOU'VE BEEN SULKING!" Papyrus said matter-of-factly. "I WANT TO KNOW WHY!"

Sans looked thrown for a moment, as if he hadn't even realized that he was doing it. That was actually pretty unusual - Sans typically only did these kinds of things with the express goal of annoying Papyrus. Perhaps this time it really was genuine.

"i... i guess i have," Sans said slowly, and then brought a hand to his face, pressing against his forehead as he laughed softly. "sorry, bro. was i annoying you?"

The tone he used there wasn't the normal one either - genuinely apologetic instead of teasing, the kind of quiet born out of deep thought instead of the calm before the storm.

Papyrus frowned. "NO. IT WASN'T... ANNOYING, PER SE." Even though he absolutely had thought that way. "I WAS JUST WORRIED ABOUT YOU." That, at least, was true enough.

Sans brightened a bit, then, as embarrassingly happy as always to know that Papyrus cared about him.

"it's okay," he assured his brother, his smile coming a bit more easily now. "i was just kinda mad about something, and kinda sad about it too. but... y'know, i've been trying to do better. to be better. and there's no point in being mad about this, and i know the sadness will pass. thanks, paps."

"YOU'RE... WELCOME??" Papyrus tried, feeling like he had totally lost track of the conversation somewhere. Sans did tend to have moments where it seemed like he was having most of the conversation inside his own head and forgot to bring Papyrus back up to speed, but...

Honestly, that was okay. Whatever had happened, Sans already seemed more settled, some of the gloominess that had been excluding off of him in waves finally dissolving.

So, Papyrus just smiled back at his brother.

"ANYWAY, NOW THAT WE'RE DONE WITH YOUR THING, DO YOU WANT TO HEAR ABOUT MY LATEST TRAINING SESSION WITH UNDYNE? DID YOU KNOW THAT SHE CAN SUPLEX A BOULDER?!"

Chapter Text

Mettaton sighed (fabulously), and draped himself across the piano (with expert precision). He'd had a piano brought into the Lab for this very purpose, and he thought that it had more than proved its use by now.

But of course, he wasn't thinking about his (perfect) taste in interior decorating right now, no - he was thinking about... before.

He had thought about bringing the topic up to Alphys, but the words always soured in his mouth before he could get them out, and he didn't even have a mouth anymore!

It was just ridiculous. But what else could he possibly do? They had both known what this plan of theirs would entail.

Mettaton would abandon his old name, his old house, his old life, just for the chance to become an entertainer, a star, just like he had always dreamed.

He had left Napstablook behind too.

And in the beginning, of course, that was necessary! It wasn't even uncommon - they had plenty of cousins who had done the same thing, left the farm as soon as they found a proper vessel and settled into a new life. But... Madstablook still came by sometimes, and Blooky would often visit Dummstablook in the Ruins.

With Mettaton being the way he is now, something like that was impossible. After all, he was Mettaton, the (upcoming) Star of the Underground ~ !

More specifically, he was supposed to be 'a robot with a soul'. Not a ghost possessing a robot body.

Everyone knew that King Asgore was interested in anything to do with souls. An invention like this was nothing to scoff at - if someone had managed to make a monster soul, they might be able to make a human one, right?

But not quite. Because Alphys had tried, for so long, experiment after experiment. It just couldn't be done with the resources that she had now. She couldn't even make a monster soul, let alone an exponentially stronger human one. 

Which was why it was so important that she became a Royal Scientist - and, thus, was given access to the resources and funds that such a position would hold. Even if no one had actually gained the title in recent memory, everyone knew how important it was.

Not only could Alphys work on actually achieving the thing that she'd claimed to do, Mettaton would get his own dream kickstarted as well!

It was a good plan, for sure, but the price was... heavy. Alphys, too, had left her home behind, staying in the Lab as soon as it was remotely livable, working around the clock.

Mettaton, unable to sleep in this cumbersome body, would try and make himself useful, moving around and steadily making his way through all of the trash that had accumulated in here over the years.

Perhaps it wasn't the glamorous start that he had always dreamed of, but Mettaton was willing to make the most of it. After this whole initial period was over, he would go tell Blooky. He knew that they could keep a secret, after all.

As soon as he got the body he had always dreamed of, Mettaton promised himself that he would tell Blooky.

Chapter Text

"Man, you've gotten even better, nerd!" Undyne said, in a tone that was almost complimentary.

Papyrus took the words for how they were meant, beaming proudly. "THANK YOU, MY FRIEND! I HAVE TAKEN YOUR PREVIOUS CRITIQUES INTO ACCOUNT AND ADJUSTED MYSELF FOR THEM!"

"Pff, 'critiques'," she laughed. "That was just me yelling at you!"

"YES! AND I TOOK IT VERY SERIOUSLY."

"Apparently," Undyne muttered under her breath, but Papyrus knew that she did it fondly.

That was how a lot of things went with Undyne - you had to take what she said at face-value, and then find out what she really meant by it. Papyrus considered himself a master at this by now, which was no easy task. Undyne often spoke in riddles and sayings without even realizing it; she was a blunt person, but still sometimes hard to understand.

Luckily, since Papyrus was her Very Best Friend, that meant he was allowed certain privileges.

"Hey, uh, Papyrus..." Undyne said, letting her spear dissolve in a sparkle of magic. "Since we're done for the day, can I ask you something?"

"OF COURSE!" he didn't even hesitate before agreeing. Why wouldn't he?

"Well, I just wondering..." Undyne was certainly hesitant, though, and Papyrus knew it was because she was concerned about hurting his feelings over something.

Undyne was a very nice monster, and she hadn't realized just how devious Papyrus could be yet, so he was happy to allow that to continue for now.

"I was wondering why you wanted to do this," she said, gesturing vaguely to the little fielded area outside her house that they typically practiced in. "Not that I don't have fun, or anything like that, but I just wondered what you got out of it."

(because it felt right? old but new at the same time, like reawakening an old instinct?)

"WELL, YOU ARE MY FRIEND," Papyrus reminded her, because Undyne had the silly habit of thinking that maybe Papyrus didn't think she was actually as cool as she was. "I LIKE TO SPEND TIME WITH YOU. BUT, HM..."

He didn't know quite how to explain why he had wanted to speak with her that first time. It was a need, more than anything - like he would lose something absolutely precious if he didn't. But that seemed like a bit of a weird thing to confess, so Papyrus decided to go with something else that was also vaguely true.

"YOU WERE REALLY COOL, DURING THE TRIALS," he said truthfully, making Undyne scoff but avert her gaze to the ground, seeming a little embarrassed. "AND I HAVE FULL CONFIDENCE THAT YOU WILL MAKE IT INTO THE GUARD, AND LIKELY WITH A HIGH-LEVEL POSITION. I'VE ALWAYS BEEN INTERESTED IN THE ROYAL GUARD MYSELF, SO I WANTED TO SEE HOW I MATCHED UP TO YOU."

That was basically the truth, even if it wasn't the full truth.

But Undyne's expression had turned troubled, all of a sudden. "So, you want to be in the Royal Guard, huh?"

"SURE." Why not? Doge's stories had always been exciting, and Papyrus was always interested in exciting things.

"...Right." For some reason, Undyne didn't seem all too reassured.

Chapter Text

This was... not good.

How was Undyne supposed to tell him? Was she supposed to tell him at all?

Well, there was no doubting the fact that Papyrus was tough. Real tough, in fact, enough to always give her a good workout.

But he was absolutely not fit for the Royal Guard. After all, being in the Guard wasn't just about how well you could fight - it was about resolve, and doing the things you needed to do, even if it might have been against your own moral code.

The purpose of the Guard was to catch, and kill, humans. There was more to it, plenty of domestic issues that they dealt with, but that was the real goal.

And, y'know, a couple of humans had fallen into the Underground. It was hard to get any information on them, since everything was kept so hushed up, but...

Undyne had heard that most (or maybe even all) of the humans who had fallen were children.

Did that matter? Should it? Humans were the ones that had locked them all up Underground, the ones that had trapped them in this prison in the first place. It only made sense that they would have to sacrifice their own lives to help the monsters leave.

But, of course, not everyone saw it that way. There were rumors that the Queen definitely didn't, and that's why she had vanished one day, never to be seen again. Undyne knew that Gerson didn't either, though he kept quiet about it, and for his own reasons.

Even Asgore didn't, not really. It was necessary, and what was most needed for the kingdom, but Undyne had never seen him look happy about it. He never discussed it, if he had any choice, and with each day that passed, the burden on his shoulders only grew heavier.

That was why Undyne had decided that she would do it. She would join the Royal Guard, she would become so good that no one could stop her, and she would kill the humans so that no one else had to.

She could do that. She knew she could.

Just like she knew that Papyrus never would. Undyne didn't think that he could go out of his way to purposefully hurt anyone - sure, his hits were rough during a spar, and he sometimes revealed a sharp enough tongue that impressed even her, but not like this.

He would never be able to kill a child. Undyne didn't think that he would be able to kill any human, even if they weren't a kid, even if they were a killer themselves.

He was a good person. More than anything, Undyne knew that Papyrus just wanted everyone to be happy. Himself too, of course, which was why Undyne also knew that he wouldn't drop something like this very easily.

"Uh, hey, Paps," she said, as the gears started to turn in her head. "Maybe tomorrow, for training, we can try something else? Guards have to have all sorts of different skills, after all."

Chapter Text

"TICKETS TO A SHOW?" Papyrus said, blinking bemusedly. This definitely wasn't something they'd done before.

Undyne shrugged, rubbing the back of her neck with one hand as she showed him the tickets with the other.

"Yeah. They showed up anonymously at my doorstep, and I figured why not, y'know? It's free. And it could be fun. Even though it's in Hotland of all places, ugh."

That last little bit of information was enough to let Papyrus know that Undyne was being serious about this, and he relaxed, grinning at her.

"SURE! I SUPPOSE WE CAN SKIP TRAINING FOR THE DAY. WE'VE BEEN WORKING VERY HARD LATELY, AFTER ALL!"

Undyne let out a nervous chuckle, but soon enough they were out the door and on their way. Apparently, the show was going to be at Hotland Hotel, another place that was aptly named by their beloved king.

Papyrus didn't mind it too much. It would probably be a good change of pace, at least. For about the last month and a half, Undyne had been grilling him on his 'other skills', trying to figure out everything he would need to be in the Royal Guard. This included sewing (which she was actually quite good at, but Papyrus didn't have the patience for - though surprisingly enough, when Papyrus had brought one of his unfinished projects home, Sans had proved to be excellent with a needle and thread), carpentry (which they were both okay at, though they seemed to char the wood at lot more than was perhaps advisable), and cooking - which was their latest thing, and often ended in something on fire.

Yeah, going to a live show in Hotland was certainly better than trying to put out a screaming Undyne's ponytail again.

When they arrived at the Hotland Hotel, there was a fairly sizable crowd waiting, all sitting at tables in what seemed like a restaurant portion of the hotel. The entire place was dingy, with threadbare carpets and old posters on the walls, but Papyrus thought that it had its own charm, for sure. 

He saw a few people he recognized in the crowd - the ghost who lived next to Undyne, for one (what was their name again? napstapop? napblue? he could never remember and now it was way too late to ask), making him wonder vaguely where their pink cousin had gone, since they were usually attached at the hip. Papyrus also noticed a couple of felt dummies, one of them expressionless while the other just looked extremely angry, and... was that the King??

He was wearing a giant pair of sunglasses, and a Hawaiian shirt instead of his usual kingly attire, but it was definitely him. Weird.

Undyne was also surveying the audience, and Papyrus noticed her single eye land on a yellow lizard monster who was sitting right at the front, wringing her claws nervously.

Papyrus had never seen his friend blush so hard.

But before he could even begin to tease her about it, the show began - a rectangular monster, seemingly mechanical by nature, rolled onto the stage.

"HELLO, DARLINGS!"

Okay, nevermind. Papyrus was absolutely not going to tease Undyne. He was already captivated.

Chapter Text

"And everything's going well?" Doge asked, unable to help herself. She might have been retired now, but even though she had always hated meddling, it seemed like that was all she'd been doing since she left the Guard. Always for a good cause, of course, but it was still faintly embarrassing.

Cinna must have understood the sentiment, because she laughed, stacking another bunch of bicicles into the freezer next to her store's counter.

"Yes, yes. The little skeleton is doing just fine, and he's not so little anymore!"

Doge chuffed out a laugh at that, understanding that part very well. It was still a little jarring, sometimes, to have to look up at Papyrus instead of down.

"You know I can't help it. How many years did I come in here to ask that very question? It's nearly instinct by now!"

The two shared a laugh, thinking fondly of those memories. Certainly the situation in Snowdin had been by no means a perfect fix, but it ended up being exactly what they needed. Papyrus was taken care of, and the Guards were able to spend their time trying to figure out the situation without scaring the poor boy off.

Doge had made many trips to Snowdin over the years, even after the investigation had been officially closed. Nothing had come of it, strangely enough. They could never find any record of where Papyrus might have come from, or even who had built the house he now lived in.

In the end, Doge was glad. Whatever Papyrus' early childhood had been like, he had all of Snowdin and plenty others on his side now.

"I'm sure if you decided to visit him today, he'd have a lot to tell you," Cinna added wryly, peking Doge's interest.

"Oh? Do tell."

Cinna may not have had quite the same interest in gossip as her sister who ran the Inn next door, but she was no slouch either.

Cinna rolled her eyes, the motion fond even in its exasperation. "Have you heard about that new big thing? Mettaton?"

"Oh, sure," Doge said. Who hadn't? An entertainment robot, built by the new Royal Scientist. She'd heard that his shows had blown up big time - it was nearly impossible to get a ticket anymore.

"Well, I guess Papyrus went to one of his first shows, and hasn't stopped raving about it since," Cinna said with a long-suffering expression, marking her as one of the ones Papyrus had been raving to.

"Well, seeing as most monsters first celebrity crush is the king, I can't say that this is a bad substitute!" Doge giggled, remembering her own days of childhood on the surface, when she had been absolutely enamored with King Asgore's thick and shiny fur.

Cinna rolled her eyes, but she looked a little flustered too, and Doge didn't think that she was the only one who liked Asgore's fur.

And so, the two of them were more than happy to gossip the day away, needling at each other slyly, with it only getting worse when Bonnie popped by with her new, infant son.

"Besides, Mettaton doesn't even have any fur."

"I know, right? ...But I have to say, that rectangular shape - "

"Oh, believe me, I'm with you there!"

Chapter Text

"THANK YOU VERY MUCH FOR THE FOOD," Papyrus said, polite even as he failed to hide his disgusted look at the plate of fries another patron was having.

Grillby ducked his head down a little, trying to disguise the way his shoulders were shaking in laughter. Papyrus had been a picky child, and he was an even more picky adult - he absolutely hated anything having to do with grease. Luckily, Grillby knew how to make a mean milkshake, as well as a decent salad, which must have made the forced trips a bit better for the poor boy.

It had been part of their agreement, after all - Papyrus would have to come by the Bar for two days out of the week, just so they could be assured that he was having something good for dinner.

Grillby had seen some of Papyrus' attempts at cooking, which had been... aesthetically pleasing, if not usually very tasty. Thankfully, to Grillby's relief, Papyrus had reported to him that Sans was the one who did most of the cooking in the house, which he seemed faintly perplexed by, as if he couldn't understand why someone wouldn't want to eat his cooking instead.

At that, Grillby had sent a silent prayer to the skeleton brother that he had never met, hoping that the poor man hadn't been subjected to too many of Papyrus' failed attempts at cooking before convincing his brother to let him try it out.

He still wondered about Sans sometimes - they all did, but Grillby was willing to let it go. Honestly, with all the stories and complaints and vows of vengeance Papyrus had told them in regards to his brother, it would be stranger if he didn't exist.

Weird things happened all the time. Grillby, himself, was a being made of pure fire. He was hardly in a position to judge anyone.

He had once thought that Sans was shy, instead, but Papyrus had been quick to dissuade him from the notion. According to Papyrus, his brother was clever, but a huge jokester, which made him lament the poor use of Sans' intellect. Of course, that was only when he wasn't teaming up with his brother to pull a prank on someone, of course.

Papyrus had even begrudgingly admitted that his brother had helped him test out some of his puzzle designs, which were impressive enough that the Dog Squad (which had begun hanging around Snowdin a lot more in the last few years, surprisingly absolutely no one), had helped him set them up around Snowdin forest.

All Grillby knew was that Sans was Papyrus' older brother, and all of the love and torment that seemed to entail. That was all he needed to know, and he would reiterate that fact as many times as he was asked.

Sometimes they reminded him of... someone, but that didn't really matter either. Papyrus, even all grown up, was a good kid, and Grillby was sure that his brother was the same.

Grillby would keep watching over them, for as long as he was needed.

Chapter Text

Using his magic, Sans carefully picked up a stick and knocked it against the front door of the small house, before dropping the stick and teleporting back over to the tree range.

He sniggered when the small mouse monster opened the door, looked out to see no one there, and closed it again with a huff. Sans was having way too much fun with this.

But, honestly, he didn't really have much else to be doing. The top few levels of the lab (the ones that people were able to access, anyway) were almost completely renovated at this point, and Alphys had set up security cameras everywhere she possibly could.

That was... irritating, but he understood the need. It wasn't like Sans showed up on camera (he had checked), so there was technically nothing stopping him from continuing to snoop, but he liked to move stuff around and generally mess with people, and that was hard to do without getting caught if every tiny flash of color was caught on tape.

So, he had resorted to playing tricks on the residents of Snowdin instead.

That wasn't anything new, of course, but it had been a while since they had been his sole targets. Now, don't get him wrong - Sans liked Snowdin, and the monsters that lived there. He was incredibly grateful to them for the way they had stuck their necks out for him and Papyrus when he was younger, and for the way that they continued to help even now, when Papyrus was all grown up.

But it was perhaps because he liked them that he had to harass them a little bit. Some part of him felt guilty, knowing that they had all done so much for his baby brother and there was very little that he could do in return, even something as simple as saying thank you, but the larger part of him thought this was very funny, and therefore totally worth it.

He could understand that.

So, Sans kept up with his new game of knock-and-ditch, only to come across his greatest enemy.

He had no idea who lived in this place, or why they were like this, but they never answered the door! Ever! No matter how urgently he knocked, even if he banged against the door like a monster running away from a murderer!

It was always the same response. Well, not today.

Carefully, he used his magic to lift up a huge ball of snow, before throwing it directly against the wooden door. It made a huge thudding sound, and then slowly began to slide towards the ground. Ha! A big commotion like that had to get their attention, right?

"Oh my..." the monster on the other side of the door said, to his great irritation. "What a lovely knock! So powerful, so precise. Ah, if only I could hear a sound like that again..."

"just answer the door!" Sans snarled, flinging his hands up in the air out of irritation. "who the heck does something like that?!"

Of course, there was no answer.

Chapter Text

"Can I have another cinnabun?" Hope asked, making Bonnie let out a sigh.

"Not right now, sweetie," she said, trying not to let her exasperation show. "It's almost your nap time, remember?"

Hope frowned, her cute little face scrunching up with distaste. "But I don't wanna nap. It's lame."

She said the word lame triumphantly, like it was some secret curse word that she'd made up all on her own, and sitting in one of the waiting room chairs, Cinna stifled an amused snort.

Bonnie pursed her lips, sending her sister a foul look, but even she was trying not to laugh. Man, her daughter was really the cutest thing in the world. 

"Maybe it is lame," Bonnie agreed, making her daughter gasp in horror, clapping her little hands over her mouth at hearing her mother use the 'forbidden word'. "But it's also really important. Do you know why?"

Hope thought about it for a long moment, hands clasped together as she immediately forgot about her earlier outrage.

"Mm... I don't know," she said unsurely, peeking at Cinna to see if her aunt would give her a tip. Cinna pretended to be thoroughly invested in the magazine she was looking through, causing Hope to pout and look away. She crossed her arms over her chest, obviously still feeling stubborn. "I just don't think it can be very helpful. 'Cause I'm not even sleepy yet, y'know? Why would it be good to sleep if I'm not sleepy?"

"Well, that's not always a good thing," Bonnie acknowledged, though she knew that this was hardly the time to get into things like conserving energy, or letting the body balance itself out, or conditions like depression that made you want to sleep all the time, even if it wasn't what your body really needed.

"For little bunnies like you though, it is very important," Cinna finally spoke up, peering over the top of her magazine. "If you're not tired, and have full HP, then taking a little nap can allow you to increase your HP beyond its maximum range. That's really good for kids, and other monsters that have low HP to begin with."

"Oh." Hope stared down at the floor for a moment, her feet dangling from the tall stool she was sitting at. She seemed to be thinking about the whole thing very seriously, so Bonnie hoped that her daughter had taken a least a little bit of that to heart. "What's HP stand for?"

Okay, maybe not.

Cinna and Bonnie exchanged a glance, and they couldn't help themselves - they burst out in a fit of nearly uncontrollable giggles, unable to stop even when Hope began complaining and asking them to answer her question.

"You guys are mean!" she pouted, hands on her hips. Hope slid off of the stool, carefully landing on the ground and marching purposefully to the door. "I'm gonna go ask Papyrus instead. He never treats me like a little kid!"

That just set off another round of laughter, making Hope let out an offended huff.

Chapter Text

New places were scary. Monster Kid hadn't been to too many new places, to be completely honest, but they were sure that this was an irrefutable fact.

More than anything they had wanted to stay home, back in Hotland, but their parents had said that they 'needed a change', whatever that meant, so now they had moved all the way out to Snowdin.

That was about the biggest change you could get from Hotland - small instead of large, cold instead of hot, boring instead of awesome. It was not, in Monster Kid's humble opinion, the better option.

Just when things in Hotland were starting to get good, too. That Mettaton guy was huge, and people were even saying that he was going to get a TV show! All of that would have been written and filmed right there, practically in Monster Kid's backyard!

And now, they were torn away from all of that and tossed into some frozen tundra. That just sucked.

Sure... Monster Kid actually wasn't sure if they actually liked Mettaton all that much (he was very, very extravagant), but it still would have been cool to see! It would have been cool to have the option, at the very least.

Monster Kid drooped a little, their tail wrapped around their legs. Maybe the worst part of this whole move was that there weren't any kids in Snowdin. None around his age, at least.

Sure, there was that girl at the Inn, but she was super little, still practically a baby. There was no way that Monster Kid could play with her! There was also that weird skeleton guy who definitely acted like a kid, but he didn't wear a striped shirt, so Monster Kid wasn't sure. And even if that guy was a kid, they didn't think there was much the two of them would find in common.

He seemed to spend most of his time jogging around, building traps for Snowdin forest, or talking to thin air when he thought no one else was around. Which, y'know; weird.

But it wasn't like Monster Kid was making much better use of their time. Usually, they managed to find something that they really liked and focused solely on that for a while, but they had lost their last one (a book about these things called 'planes' in their school library) when they moved, and they hadn't found anything new yet.

Was it really so surprising? This place was boring. Monster Kid had yet to see anything cool in the entire week and a half since they'd moved here. Sure, the Dog Squad was okay, but they spent so much of their time playing poker and smoking that Monster Kid had lost interest in them fast.

If only there was something...

"COME ON, PUNK! YOU CAN MOVE FASTER THAN THAT!"

Monster Kid nearly tripped over their tail as they turned around, trying to find out who that was.

It was a tall, aquatic monster, running quickly through the town square with Papyrus at her heels. Her hair was a bright, shocking red, and even from a distance, Monster Kid could tell that her teeth were sharpened to a very fine point.

She was so cool.

"Woah."

Chapter Text

Undyne let out an explosive sigh as she plopped down at the table, grabbing the tea that was waiting for her.

"So? What's new, big guy?"

Asgore chuckled gently, watching her with warm eyes as he carefully settled down across from her.

"There is not much, I am afraid," he said, nursing his own cup of tea. It looked comically small in his large paws, and Undyne had to hide a smirk when she saw it. 

On the one hand, 'not much' was a good thing. It meant that no humans had fallen in a while (which she already knew, thanks to her work in the Royal Guard), and that meant that there hadn't been another opportunity for Asgore to get blood on his hands.

He was always very... quiet, on those days. Undyne really didn't like to see that. So, yeah, no humans. That meant no killing. And it also meant no freedom, either.

It was a delicate balancing act, one that caught her off-guard more often than she liked to admit.

"Oh, come on, there has to be something," she coaxed.

Asgore only smiled, his eyes twinkling as he took a sip of tea. "I am much more interested in hearing about you. You are the youngest Captain in quite some time, aren't you?"

Undyne blushed, fidgeting slightly as she tried to push aside her embarrassment. Even if it made her feel like Asgore was being too doting, it was true. After only a year of being in the Guard proper, the former Captain had decided to retire and pass the mantle down to her.

Honestly, she had no idea how she had managed to impress the old dog so much.

"Well, yeah, I guess so," she mumbled half-heartedly. Some part of her still believed it was a dream, like she would wake up any second and find out that none of it was real. "Captain really had to retire. It was about time, you know? He wasn't getting any younger."

Asgore nodded at that, a little more somber. "Yes, I had wondered why he was taking so long in the first place, if I am being completely honest."

Undyne snorted at that, though she supplied the answer easily enough.

"Rumor is that he was waiting for his daughter to be all set up," she said, shrugging. "I know her well enough - Dogaressa, one of the new sentries stationed in Snowdin. She's a master with that axe of hers, and when she's paired with her husband Dogamy, they're totally unstoppable."

"Ah yes, Doge's son. I remember how proud she was when he became a sentry..." Asgore said, trailing off as he was lost in memories.

Undyne didn't mind, though - she liked to hear Asgore's stories, and when they were about members of her guard, she was doubly interested.

Just, wow. Did you hear that? Her guard.

Undyne smiled, wild and free. Sure, she was young. She might not be as experienced as the old Captain, but it wasn't like she would ever let that stop her!

She would catch a human, and finally free the Underground for good!

Chapter Text

Papyrus was beginning to suspect that there was something strange going on. Ever since Undyne had become Captain of the Royal Guard, she had started acting a little weird.

Once in a while, she would start onto one of her (extremely passionate) rants and get all excited, only to stop dead in the middle of her sentence and pretend she hadn't said anything.

That was weird, right? Right. It was definitely weird.

And what was even weirder was that when Papyrus had asked Sans for help, his older brother had only shrugged listlessly (which... actually wasn't that weird) and said that he had no idea. But he had been avoiding Papyrus' gaze as he said it, which meant that he definitely had a suspicion, and was just refraining from sharing it!

Super weird.

At first, Papyrus had figured that it had something to do with super-secret Royal Guard stuff, since that was usually the topic that Undyne started on before she managed to catch herself.

But why would Undyne go to such great lengths to hide it from him, then? And how would Sans possibly be in on it? Sans never lied to him, not about important things. About pranks, sure, about whether he had taken their pet rock out for a walk, absolutely. But Papyrus didn't think he would lie about something like this.

So, maybe it wasn't that specific, then? It had to be something that both Undyne and Sans would know, and something that both of them would actively try to keep from him, though they were acting independently.

Again, Papyrus didn't think it was something too specific. Sans did sometimes go around and spy on people, which Papyrus thought was pretty creepy, but he never did that to Undyne. Something about her having 'too much energy for him to deal with', which was just ridiculous. Papyrus spent a lot of time with her, and he was just fine!

Well, the first thing he should do is head to one of the sources of the problem, this one being more readily available.

Sans tried to make a run for it, of course, but Papyrus was nothing if not persistent, and he did manage to catch his brother eventually.

"CONFESS..." he hissed, eyes narrowing as he stared down at Sans.

Sans looked petrified, and also very confused, which reminded Papyrus that it would probably be a good idea if he explained himself a little bit more.

And, of course, just like he expected, Sans cracked open like an egg after a few more pointed questions.

"SO, WHAT YOU'RE TELLING ME IS THAT IF I CATCH A HUMAN, I CAN JOIN THE ROYAL GUARD?"

Sans blanched, holding out his hands in protest, but it was too late - Papyrus had already stopped listening.

This was perfect! He had really only been mildly interested in joining the Guard before, more interested in spending time with Undyne than anything else, but if he did this, there was no way Undyne would try and keep a secret from him anymore.

It was genius! He, the Great Papyrus, would absolutely capture a human!

Chapter Text

Doge knew that something was wrong. She knew it intimately, like the color of her fur or the way her son's eyes creased around the corners when he was worried.

He was worried right now.

"Ma..." he said hesitantly, hovering by her side like he was afraid she would collapse at any moment.

Doge resolutely shot down the wave of irritation that tried to engulf her for a moment, knowing that he was just concerned and trying to help in the only manner that he knew how.

"I can still walk okay, Pup," she said pressing her nose against his cheek for a moment. "Have some faith in your poor Ma, alright?"

"Of course!" he said indignantly, as if he could never even consider anything else. "How could I not?"

Doge chuckled, even as she was lowering herself down into her chair with a pained grunt. That was her sweet pup.

But still, she thought to herself, eyes growing dull as her mind turned inwards, he had a right to be worried. 

Doge had steadily been losing weight, unable to gain it back no matter how she tried to change her diet. She was having a harder time sleeping, and simultaneously a harder time getting up in the morning. Her body ached in ways that were impossible to describe, and sometimes, sometimes, she could swear that more than just her fur was shedding.

But that was... impossible. Not even worth thinking about. Sure, she was an older lady at this point and she knew it, but she was hardly about to give up!

Right now, at this point in her life, she was almost the happiest that she'd ever been. Doge was retired (no more screaming matches with that dumb Captain of hers), had a wonderful son who had a wonderful wife, and there was absolutely no reason in the world for her to be unhappy.

Well, there was still the whole matter of being locked underground, but... Doge could deal with that. Asgore said that they were making progress on the barrier (how many years had he been saying that?) and Doge trusted her king. 

She would get to see the surface again in her lifetime, she just knew it. She would show her son their pack's old stomping grounds, show him what it meant to really run wild and free... Maybe she would even make up with the Captain, for old time's sake, and chase each other across the grassy fields like they did when they were just pups.

Everything seemed so much simpler back then.

(Sometimes, she was afraid that she would never have those times again.)

"Ma?!" Dogamy said, sounding a bit alarmed.

Doge refocused her attention on him, trying to see what had upset him. "Yes, Pup?"

He was silent for a long moment, and then he lifted a gentle paw to wipe something off her cheek.

"You were crying," he murmured in explanation to her inquisitive look.

"Oh. I guess I was." 

Doge had no idea what else she could say.

Chapter Text

When Sans saw the first signs, he recognized it immediately - Falling Down. It was happening all across the Underground, but his first clue was in Snowdin.

Of course it was. That was where he lived. That was where Doge and the Old Dog Captain and Mrs. Snowflake all lived too.

And they were dying.

Sure, 'Falling Down' was a fancy, well-meaning term. Sans was sure that it brought some monsters comfort. It wasn't anywhere near as ugly as the word death, anyway.

But that's what it was. 

Sans, as a child, rifling through Gaster's things like always, had found several reports on the subject. Gaster, like every other scientist out there, had been searching for a cure.

The reports had been difficult to read. Falling Down was a slow decline, by all accounts, and not one that could be stopped once it had started. The monster would begin to get laggy, forgetful. They would become unable to take care of themselves, unable to see, unable to speak.

It sounded terrifying.

And maybe the worst part of the whole ordeal? Everyone always blamed themselves.

Because Falling Down, you see, happened as a result of a monster losing Hope. Not just HP, but actual Hope. It wasn't the same as a natural death of old age - though it had often been mistaken as such, in the previous centuries. 

And when a monster loses Hope, it could be over anything. The loss of a loved one, the loss of a home, an opportunity, anything that had kept them hanging on. Anything that kept them from feeling hopeless.

So, it only stood to reason that the most cases of Falling Down happened in dire circumstances. While older monsters were more susceptible to it, it could happen to anyone.

But even then, Sans had never thought it would happen to someone he knew. Not to Doge, who had visited the house every week for years, always with a kind word to his brother and a wagging tail.

Not to Mrs. Snowdrake, who laughed at her husband and son's jokes, even when they were truly awful.

Not to the Captain, who both Papyrus and Undyne clearly admired, who Sans himself had been impressed by the few times he'd swung by the headquarters for the Royal Guard in the capital.

It just... didn't compute to him. All of these monsters were getting so sick - Shyren's sister, a number of Whimsalots and Final Froggits over in Hotland...

Sans just hadn't understood why. He understood what was happening, for all that he wished he didn't. But he couldn't figure out why.

Until he caught Doge, already confined to her bed, staring wistfully out of her window at the ceiling of the cavern.

Oh.

Sometimes, it was easy to forget that they were all trapped here. It was the only existence that Sans had ever known.

But... to live life on the surface, where everything he had read and heard was so much better, and then to get locked down here with no escape?

That, he figured, was enough to make someone feel pretty hopeless.

Chapter Text

A decision had to be made. They had to do something.

They couldn't just stand back and watch as their mother/sibling/husband withered away. Something had to be done.

Monsters all over the Underground petitioned Asgore, their voices raised in fear. He had to do something! If they waited much longer, monsters would begin dying.

And sure, there had been isolated cases here and there, but never anything like this. This felt like an epidemic, a sickness that was slowly taking over the Underground.

And if this was a sickness, then surely, someone would be able to find a cure?

But Falling Down, Asgore knew, had no cure. And it only ever had one result.

(a pile of dust. how many more times would he have to see it?)

There was no cure, true... But perhaps that only meant that it hadn't been found yet. Asgore had to keep that belief, that little piece of Hope. Otherwise, he might become the next victim.

So, what could be done? If Asgore didn't know of a cure, and no one else even knew how to start looking for one, what else could they do?

Except, Asgore remembered belatedly, there was someone who might know what to do. Or at least where to start.

Someone who he respected, someone who had done something amazing. Someone who had managed to create a monster soul.

Of course, Asgore called Alphys. Of course, the King called for his Royal Scientist.

And, of course, she answered. She stammered and stuttered her way through a denial, but Asgore wouldn't hear of it. Perhaps this wasn't her area expertise, but it was certainly better than nothing!

However reluctantly, Alphys agreed. What else could she do, in the face of such faith?

And the monsters of the Underground believed in her too, believed in her enough to send their sick relatives to her. Even if a cure wouldn't be found in time to save them, at least they would be in absolute comfort as the days wore on.

That was what Alphys did her very best to accomplish - making sure everyone who was suffering (and there was a lot of that to go around), was kept safe and secure.

The Laboratory was long-since finished, and she went about making sure there was enough beds for everyone, and did her best to make sure that everyone's needs were met.

Mettaton, too, tried to help out in the beginning, knowing what kind of stress his friend was under, but as his own popularity boomed, he was called away more and more often.

The monsters of the Underground were tired, and scared. They needed his entertainment now more than ever. They needed jokes. They needed laughs. They needed kindness.

So everyone tried to help each other. Everyone lent a helping hand to their neighbors, looking out for their fellow monsters in a world that had suddenly become quite frightening to them.

But, still, in the end, they had hope. They had Hope that everything would be alright.

Chapter Text

Alphys was panicking. What else could she do? Everyone's expectations were on her, everyone's hopes and wishes were riding on her actions -

She had done something awful. By convincing Asgore that she had created an actual monsters soul, he thought that she could address an issue like this!

Sure, she had been working to get up to that point, but she still wasn't sure if a soul could be 'created' at all. And what was she supposed to say?

'Sorry, it turns out I'm a total liar and took advantage of your good will?'

No way! Alphys would rather die first, which was pretty apt, considering she would probably die of an anxiety attack before the first syllable could leave her mouth.

And now... now... She had all of these monsters depending on her. They were here, in her lab, asking for her help!

She had to do something. Alphys wouldn't be able to live with herself if she didn't.

Frantically, she flipped through the old textbook. Plenty of these had still been in the Lab when she moved in, though she had no idea where they came from. Some of them had scribblings in the margins, making her think that perhaps they used to be some college student's books who had tossed them in through an open window one day.

A very... advanced college student, considering the subject matters. All advanced sciences, of all different types. There was even one on the nature of the soul, which was what Alphys was hastily scanning at the moment.

It talked more about human souls than monster ones, but she was willing to take anything at this point.

"...energy levels tend to remain steady..." she mumbled aloud, searching for anything that could help her. "...an annoying amount of perseverance...? What weird wording."

But she dismissed that, trying to take in what it was really saying. The textbook itself was brilliant, like nothing she had ever seen before, and the annotations inside were even more helpful. For some reason, she couldn't find the author's name anywhere, though.

One paragraph near the bottom caught her eye, which made sense, seeing as someone had circled that particular part in bright red ink.

"A strange substance within the soul...? Alphys said, narrowing her eyes in confusion. There was a note off to the side that said 'look into this more later', so it was probably important, right? "Quite possibly the energy that gives... humans souls... the ability to persist after death?!"

Alphys couldn't help the tears that welled up in her eyes, moving her glasses out of the way so she could scrub at them.

Finally, something! And it was the substance that let humans souls stay around, which meant it was probably some kind of stabilizing unit. And it would undoubtedly remain inside a human soul, even after the body had perished.

That was it. That was it! She needed a human soul! And she knew at least one place that had a few souls handy.