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”Jesus christ, Stretch,” You muttered as you finished struggling to open his door. The floor was covered in clothes--clean or dirty didn’t really matter at this point--trash and old food. An unidentified odor made you gag quietly; it was sickly sweet and reminded you of something rotting.

The perpetrator of such a mess was curled onto his mattress. His sheets were balled up near the foot of the bed and half hung down into another pile of junk that might have been shoved off his bed so he could hibernate. At least, that’s what you thought he was doing--he didn’t even shift as your voice carried over to him.

“Stretch,” You called again and picked your way through his room. You swore, if you stepped in rotting food, you were going to take it out on his boney hide, “C’mon, Sans said you haven’t left here for, like, a week.”

Still no response. If he were a human, you might have been afraid he was dead; but, being a Monster made of magic meant that at least he was alive--he’d be nothing but a pile of dust of he…

You shook yourself and finally made it to the bed.

“Papyrus,” You sat on the edge of his bed, “Paps, c’mon, at least answer me.”

Despite him not answering, you could see that his eyes were open. He was staring at his wall with no movement coming from him; he wasn’t even doing the strange approximation of breathing that he and Sans did. You bit your lip and rested your hand on his shoulder.

That got a response from him; he actually jumped and curled in on himself. His shoulder was practically yanked from your touch and a grunt finally left him.

His voice sounded so gravelly, you had a thought that he hadn’t used it for much longer than just this past week. A part of you felt so guilty: you had been so engrossed in your finals and then a family vacation that you had hardly even had time to call him, let alone make sure he was doing okay.

Normally, Sans was around to keep Papyrus at least functioning, but even his brother couldn’t keep that up when Papyrus got like this.

“go ‘way,” Papyrus grunted again, while you bit your lip.

“You know that won’t work,” You hummed, “Let’s get your room clean and we can talk about all this--I’m sorry I was gone for so long.”

“this ain’t your fault,” Papyrus didn’t move and you couldn’t bring yourself to move either.

“I know it isn’t,” You said, “But that doesn’t change that I care about you.”

“just...don’t.”

“‘Don’t’ what?” You raised an eyebrow.

“don’t care,” He answered, “nothing changes; it all comes back to zero anyway.”

That was a familiar line, though you had no real way of knowing what exactly he meant; he was as secretive as he was addicted to honey. Sometimes you wondered if one was tied to the other; but you pressed forward anyway. This was just another hurdle in your relationship with your boyfriend, so all you needed was a little patience and something to cheer him up.

“Pap, why don’t we head over to my apartment,” You leaned onto one of your hands so that you were hanging over his side a little, trying to catch his eye, “Get away from all this dark and mess for a little bit--we can binge Scrubs and eat the greasiest thing from Muffet’s that I can convince her to make.”

Nothing. Not even a shift in his body or denial.

That scared you, more than you wanted to admit. It was suddenly like he was sinking into a dark abyss that you had no hope of ever traversing to get to him. Your hand landed on his arm again and he jerked away again. Twice burned, you learned your lesson and retreated back to the edge of the bed.

“Papyrus, what’s wrong?”

“you wouldn’t understand.”

“I’m sure I wouldn’t,” You agreed quietly while your eyes traced his lanky form; he was always unusually skinny, being a skeleton, but he seemed so withdrawn into himself that he looked smaller, more fragile, “I still want to try, though.”

“you wouldn’t say that if you knew,” He snapped and finally moved. His body shifted up so he was sitting against his headboard; his knees were drawn up so he could rest his arms them. Totally closed off, but now he was glaring at you, “so just cut it out.”

It was like he was trying to close off all avenues. He didn’t want help, least of all yours.

“Are you mad at me for being so busy?” You couldn’t stop the hurt in your chest from adding an edge to your question.

“don’t be stupid,” He scoffed at the question, but the way his eyes darted away from yours, as if not able to meet your gaze told you different.

“Don’t lie to me, Stretch,” You crossed your arms, “You might be able to fool Sans or anyone else, but I’ve always been able to see through your poker face.”

His eyes narrowed, “not lyin’, but thanks for that--great thing to hear right about now.”

“I think there’s probably a lot you should hear right about now, if I wasn’t so nice,” You snapped.

“really doin’ me a favor there, pal.”

“What’s that mean?” You stood and felt annoyed disgust hit your stomach when you knocked over something that made a distinct squelching noise, “Fuck, Papyrus, what the hell was that?”

He at least had the sense to look a little ashamed at the state of his room, but instead of saying anything about it, he switched gears.

“just go away,” He twisted a little so he was more facing the wall and not you.

You shook your head and ran both your hands through your hair; you had seen him pretty bad. 8 months dating and over a year of friendship more than that meant that you had followed Papyrus into some dark and gritty places in terms of his mental health. Normally, there wasn’t a lot of push back from him when you tried to help--he never had any energy during his depressive spells and the idea of cleaning or even moving meant he was lethargic and unresponsive almost to a clinical degree; not to mention the mood swings that happened when there was just so much he was feeling and drowning in unsaid words and emotions…

All of that, you understood. That was par for the course and you always had the patience to handle it and help him. Sometimes it was setting up another appointment with his therapist, or encouraging Sans to lay off of him for a few days. Sometimes, it was just taking a couple days, and locking the both of you in your apartment so you both could just cuddle, sleep and eat greasy takeout until he started to come around again.

This. This was different. This was aggressive and combative and hurtful. Not only to himself, but he seemed ready to go wherever he needed to hurt you as well.

“Papyrus, c’mon,” You took a breath to steady yourself, even though hurt and anxiety churned in your stomach, “We can do what you need to do to feel better here--you wanna blow some steam? Let’s figure it out-”

“fuck, don’t do that!” His voice made you jump like he slapped you, “you just don’t get it! it’s a lost cause, this whole thing is just a big game to someone and they love jerkin’ me around until i can’t take it anymore. maybe it won’t happen today, or tomorrow, but all of this doesn’t mean anything!”

He was right: you really had no idea what he was talking about. Someone was jerking him around? The way he talked made you wonder if it was metaphysical, like some faceless god in the sky, but it sounded so…personal to him. Like it was a friend or family member who was responsible. Your head reeled a little.

“Everything means nothing?” You asked for clarification, but your voice was small; you couldn’t put any strength in it.

“when i could wake up tomorrow and realize i started my life over again? nah, not really.”

You shook your head, “What does that mean, Pap? C’mon, I’m here for you, I’m always here for you!”

And like that, he shut down again.

“s’nothin’. just go away.”

“Papyrus, don’t push me away like this,” You pleaded, “I can’t help you if you don’t want help and I can’t sit back and watch you do this to yourself!”

“then s’over.”

“...what?”

He glared at you, obviously irritated that he had to say it again, “then it’s over; get out.”

“I-what?” You gaped; your stomach fell through the floor, “Paps, you can’t be serious about breaking-”

“serious as the grave, pal,” Papyrus turned and faced the wall again and shut you out.

“Papyrus, you-”

The world dissolved around you, and you were suddenly in the skeleton brother’s kitchen. You jumped when a distant door slammed and you realized that Papyrus used his magic on you.

“HUMAN! DID YOU MANAGE TO TALK SENSE TO--HUMAN? WHY ARE YOU CRYING?”

That had been 2 months ago.

And here you were, analyzing it all over again; hoping beyond any chance at hope that you could figure out just what went wrong.

What had you done wrong? Where had Papyrus just...lost it all?

The two of you didn’t have a bad relationship--all things considered, you both were doing the best you could with what you both brought to the relationship: him with all his depression, nihilism and required therapy, you with your blind (sometimes even hurtful) optimism, high anxiety, and PTSD and no, you both weren’t always the best for each other, but the two of you had always tried to make it work, had always been willing to work on things together.

You loved him. You thought he loved you.

Honey and nicotine. You pulled the hood of the orange hoodie lower over your face as you tried to bury yourself in the two smells that reminded you so much of him. Maybe if you closed your eyes, you could pretend these past two months had been some horrible nightmare and finally get a full night’s sleep.

Except, you already knew it wouldn’t work--not the way you hoped. The smell was already fading from your almost daily use of it. It was starting to smell more like you, now: lilacs from your body wash and grease from your daily intake of chinese takeout. The only indication that this used to belong to him was the bright color, the cigarette burns and the frayed strings that you had chewed on months ago while you were coming down from a particularly bad panic attack.

Now you chewed on them absently, hoping to catch a hint of honey or cigarette smoke on your tongue. The bitter taste of the smoke would probably never leave (you were a smoker too, so that was practically a guarantee), but it wasn’t the same.

You actually whimpered when you heard someone knocking on the front door.

Did you feel ready to pull yourself together to answer it? Not really. A part of you was almost willing to just let whoever it was think you weren’t home. Just let them come back when you could actually function.

Except, you knew you couldn’t do that.

This was the 21st century; you were supposed to be a strong, independent young woman who didn’t need a man. God forbid anyone at school realize how broken up you were about Papyrus dumping you--the whispers that would follow you: ‘obsessive’, ‘unhealthy’, or worse, something akin to ‘it’s because of the trauma’. Of course they could say worse, but you couldn’t allow yourself to think of them.

It would be too much.

You just wanted to mourn the dead relationship in the way that made sense to you. It’s not like you got drunk and texted him--in fact, you hadn’t texted Papyrus or Sans since you left their house that day.

Oh, no...You did text Papyrus a week ago to offer to give him back all his stuff. Not that he had left a lot over here. Papyrus hardly ever changed his clothes, and the only things he really carried around were his cigarettes and a few odd trinkets.

Still, dating for 8 months left a small accumulation of stuff that belonged to him that you had slowly started putting into a box. You hadn’t texted him about it until the initial pain was past and you were sure you got everything.

You still weren’t 100% sure, of course. Every once in a while, your eyes would drag across the shelves of your apartment and you would hesitate over a book, or a lighter, or even a pipe and wonder if it was one of his, or if you just bought it while dating him. It felt like your life had tangled with his so messily, you still couldn’t tell where he ended and you began.

Another knock and you pushed past the kitchen. Even suspecting who could possibly want to bother you in the middle of the week, you still couldn’t stop the empty ache of your chest when you opened the door and had to look up at the tall skeleton you used to know.

“...heya, pal,” He mumbled. You wondered if he just wasn’t able to say your name anymore or if he hoped the familiar greeting would make this easier.

“Hey, Str-er...Papyrus,” You looked away and missed his wince.

More than awkward, this whole thing was just painful. He was here, right here, in front of you and yet he felt a million miles away. Every unsaid word, all the black hope in your chest, and all you could do was offer him a sad smile.

“You look better,” You offered as you stepped to one side and let him come in.

Papyrus could never say how it made him feel to see you answer your door in his hoodie. You had to know the hoodie was his--you practically stole it from him every chance you got between washes, after he’d worn it a few days. Before, it would invoke strong desires in his bones and soul. Now, it just rang empty.

“hmm, better,” He agreed with little strength in his voice, “just, ah…”

Words were lost. He knew what he wanted to say, but the hollow smile on your face was like quicksand. First his eyes would get trapped in it, then his words, and then his voice. Nothing came to him, so he watched you turn away and grab the box that was sitting on the breakfast bar.

“I dunno if this is all of it,” You offered quietly, your eyes glued to the assortment of things inside, “But I’ll text you if I find anything else.”

Papyrus hesitated to take the box, but when you didn’t pull your hands back, he finally took it. The air was thick with possibility, if he could just ignore his damned pride and open his teeth-

“Oh,” You glanced down, reluctance in your voice, “I...Uh, I guess this is yours too.”

You didn’t want to take it off. He didn’t want you to take it off, but your hands still started to strip it from your skin all the same. Papyrus felt like he was choking. You could already feel the burn of tears trying to fall. The echo of promise and hope started to die as you started to pull the fabric over your head.

He moved before he thought about it. The box hit the ground with a crash; his hands reached for the hem of the hoodie and yanked it back down over your body, trapping your arms against your chest. The hood fell over your head and down over your eyes.

“Papyrus, what-”

“don’t,” he choked on the word, “don’t take it off. don’t give it back.”

You could feel his hands shaking against your hips as he gripped the hem of the hoodie tightly. His chest was pressed against yours enough to pin your arms loosely between the two of you. You blinked tears out of your eyes and felt them start to trail down your cheeks.

“I...I don’t understand, what are you-” You hiccuped, unable to keep your voice even.

“i’m sorry.”

Heavy silence gripped the both of you for so long, you wondered if maybe you were dreaming and about to wake up.

No, please no. Don’t be a dream, don’t let this fade to nothing. I can’t wake up to that hell anymore, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t-

A quiet sob shook your body and it spurred Papyrus on.

“i’m sorry, for hurting you and pushing you away like that,” He couldn’t forget the bare shock on your face as you faded into the void when he teleported you away. He just couldn’t let himself hold on to the most beautiful thing in his life when he was so afraid of losing it, of knowing it would eventually be taken away. Except, wasn’t he supposed to go on trust that things wouldn’t Reset? The kid had promised, and it had been 3 years since the Barrier fell...and here he was, still unable to let go, “i...i wish i could tell you i won’t do it again, but i don’t--i can’t even be sure of it for myself.”

You swallowed the lump in your throat, but words still failed you, even as you tried to form them around your silent tears.

“all i really know is that if i let you go, i’d regret it,” Papyrus admitted, “i’ve already regretted it. i was so afraid of losing you, i thought it would be easier if i did it on my terms instead. but now…”

“I miss you.”

Your words made his body freeze in place, but you couldn’t stop it now, “I miss you and I don’t want to lose you; I don’t care how hard it will be, I want to help you. O-or find a way for someone else to help you. Please, d-don’t push me away--don’t, please don’t let go.”

Even Papyrus could see the wet tear trails on your jaw and chin. His hands came up to cup your face and slowly push the hood back over your head so he could see those bright shining eyes he had missed so much. Your hands were still stuck in the chest of the hoodie, but you tilted your head back.

The two of you kissed in the old familiar way; his teeth brushed across your lips first before he started to nuzzle his face against yours, bringing the both of you closer. His arms wrapped around you and your feet nearly left the ground. You didn’t care--as long as you didn’t wake up suddenly, this was more than fine.

Neither of you had any illusions--you both were too close to realists in terms of your relationship, even despite your usual optimism--this would take time and work to heal, for the both of you.

But right now? This moment? Everything felt good and right and the work in the future would be worth it, because the two of you would be doing it together.