It had been nearly three days before Alphys gave Papyrus the go-ahead to get out of bed. Three miserable days that Undyne spent trying to come up with ways to entertain the energetic skeleton, for whom forced inactivity was driving him completely bonkers. His IV had been removed on the first day, Sans's on the second.
It's not his fault he's so bored, Undyne told herself for the hundredth time. He's just not wired for inactivity. He's not Sans, for God's sake. He'd never be content sitting still.
During the interim, Sans began showing signs of life. He still slept round the clock, but that had been his natural inclination even before the incident. On the second day, he managed to hold a brief conversation with Papyrus before passing out again. Papyrus had cried with happiness and relief for an hour afterward.
Sans was mostly conscious but not very talkative when Alphys performed the examination on Papyrus. He was staring at the ceiling, not paying attention, but Papyrus was hanging on her every word.
"O-okay," she declared. "I think your bones are sturdy enough that you can stand for short periods, but they're still very s-soft. Don't walk around without m-me or Undyne there in case you fall, and under no circumstances are you to r-run anywhere, do you understand?"
Papyrus nodded eagerly. "Crystal clear, doctor! You're the best doctor I've ever had!"
Alphys's face twisted in a confusing combination of pride and shame. "Don't... don't say that, please," she muttered, hiding her red face behind her clipboard. "I'm o-only good at cleaning up the mistakes I made in the f-first place."
Papyrus cocked his head, puzzled. "What do you mean by that?" he asked innocently.
Undyne decided it was time to butt in. "Never mind that, Pap," she encouraged. "You've been begging to get up and around for days, right? What are you waiting for?"
"Right!" Papyrus cried. "Time for the Great Papyrus to get back on his feet! No mysterious injury can keep me down for long!"
Sans shifted uncomfortably as Undyne lifted him partway so Papyrus could stand up. His legs were as shaky as a newborn Temmie, but his grin lit up the entire lab. Undyne found his smile infectious, and had to bite back a laugh as Papyrus attempted his first wobbling steps.
"Victory!" he cheered for himself. "The Great Papyrus has conquered mobility once again!"
"Maybe don't overdo it?" Undyne laughed. "You can't be feeling too hot after being in bed for so long."
"Nonsense!" Papyrus boasted. "I feel like I could run all the way to the Ruins and back!"
"Heh. As long as you don't leave me behind, bro," Sans mumbled. He was reclining in Papyrus's bed, watching his brother walk around with a mix of pride and wistfulness.
Papyrus lurched back to his bedside, leaning against it with a slight stumble.
"Never fear, brother!" he reassured him with an even bigger smile. "Wherever I go, it's simply a given that you'll come along!"
"I'm a-afraid not," Alphys cut in. They both turned to her, their smiles faltering. "Sans's bones are simply too brittle for him to be standing right now. I'm s-sorry, but I have to order him on bed rest until his condition improves."
The mostly-cheerful gathering descended into awkward silence. Papyrus was frowning at Alphys, and Undyne shuffled her feet uncomfortably.
Sans snorted. "Figures it'd be that way." He burrowed under Papyrus's blanket, rolling so he was facing away from the rest. "Don't worry, bro. You can run all over the Underground if you want. I'll be right here when you get back."
Papyrus's face fell for a moment, then brightened again. "Nonsense! Never fear, fragile brother! If you can't walk, then I'll simply have to carry you everywhere!"
Sans made a noise of surprised protest as Papyrus tore the blanket off him and scooped him off the bed, hoisting him smoothly into his arms. After a moment of stunned silence, Sans chuckled and wrapped his arms around Papyrus's neck for support. His bones quivered slightly, but he held together all the same.
"P-papyrus!" Alphys complained. "I'm not s-sure that's a good idea! You're not strong enough-"
"Then there's only one way for me to get stronger, yes?" Papyrus challenged. "If you must know, Sans-lifts were a regular part of my exercise routine at home."
"It's true," Sans agreed amiably.
"S-still, I c-can't endorse this," Alphys fretted. "If you overexert yourself, y-you could end up bedridden again..."
"That's a risk I'm willing to take!" Papyrus said cheerfully. "Come on, Sans, let's go get dressed and forage for some lunch!"
Sans nodded, seeming more cheerful than he'd been since waking up. "Kay."
As Papyrus carried Sans out of the room towards the elevator, Undyne turned to the worried Alphys.
"It'll be fine, Al," she reassured the doctor. "Papyrus is sturdy. I don't think I've ever seen him reach his limits, actually. If he wants to push himself, it's his choice."
Alphys nodded, but still seemed anxious. "I-if you say so..."
Undyne slapped her hard across the back, making her flinch. "Hey, this is an opportunity to have lunch like civilized people for once! Why don't you set the table while I whip up some spaghetti, eh?"
After listening to Papyrus complain about the hospital gown for hours on end, Undyne had finally made a field trip to the boys' house and picked up a box of their old clothes. Papyrus was dismayed at the loss of his 'battle body,' but Undyne hadn't had the heart to tell him why it had melted. By the time Undyne had finished cooking, Papyrus had changed into a hoodie that read "Black Mesa" and Sans was wearing a T-shirt that read "Sans do not wear" on it.
"Looking sharp, boys!" Undyne said appreciatively as they all congregated on Alphys's couch. Sans was leaning against one end, with Undyne and Papyrus in the middle. Since Undyne had started hanging around, she'd been cleaning Alphys's house for lack of anything more constructive to do. The empty noodle bowls had been replaced with Tupperware full of spaghetti in the fridge.
She gave them a quick once-over. "You look decent for the first time in, like, ever!"
"And we'll keep looking "decent" until we make the "descent" back into the lab, unless you let us keep wearing these, doc," Sans quipped.
Papyrus made a strangled gasping noise, doubling over with his his hands gripping his knees. Undyne nearly dropped her plate in alarm.
"Paps, are you okay? What's the matter?" she said urgently.
"That... was the worst joke... I've ever heard," he choked out. "It wasn't even... a pun..."
He was both laughing and crying. Taking a shuddering breath, he tried to compose himself. "I'm so glad... Sans, you hadn't made any bad jokes since you woke up. I was so worried..."
Sans's smile faded. "Sorry, bro, I didn't know it meant that much to you," he said quietly. "I guess my sense of humor was as broken as my bones, eh? But you know what they say..."
"Sans, don't-" Papyrus warned.
"Laughter is the best medicine, right?"
"I take it back. I want you to go back to your sulking." Papyrus took his spaghetti, pouting silently.
"Sorry, bro. The pun bug is incurable. Not even Doctor Alphys can help me now."
"I hate everything," Papyrus moaned.
Undyne was giggling now, both with humor and relief at seeing her favorite skeletons restored to somewhat good spirits. "Oh, I missed you two," she chuckled, mostly to herself.
"But your aim is improving?" Sans suggested. Papyrus stabbed at his spaghetti viciously, then paused.
"Wait, you missed us?" he asked suddenly. "Where did we go?"
He'd asked Undyne several times already, and she'd always managed to dodge the question before now. She avoided his gaze, staring at her spaghetti. "It's not important right now, Paps. Just eat your lunch, yeah?" she nudged him with her shoulder.
Out of the corner of her eye, Undyne saw Sans's pupils contract to pinpricks. He turned slowly to face her, and she felt his gaze burning a hole into the side of her head.
"I'd like to know that too, Undyne," Sans said in a dangerously quiet voice. "What exactly happened to us?"
Undyne stared downward with a stubborn set to her jaw, determined that she would not burden the brothers with this knowledge if at all possible. Alphys wrung her claws nervously, also avoiding eye contact. Papyrus turned to Sans, shrugging helplessly.
"I haven't gotten a straight answer out of them since I woke up," he told Sans. "The last thing I remember was nearly getting caught in a landslide."
"A... landslide?" Sans said, a strangely empty quality to his voice. He paused for the longest moment, staring into space as he recalled the memory. "That's right... there was a landslide... and you, you were..."
He stopped dead.
Papyrus cocked his head. "I was what?"
"You were crushed!" Sans choked out. His left eye was flickering various colors now, reflecting his mounting hysteria. "I brought you here, to Alphys, and she... she... you..."
He raised his eye sockets to Alphys in utter horror. She glanced his way, then looked away guiltily. Sans pressed one hand against his mouth, muffling his own panicked howl. Papyrus's plate clattered to the floor as he grabbed for Sans in an attempt to comfort him, but Sans twisted out of his grip. He scrambled to put some space between himself and the others, falling off the couch and crashing against the table.
"Sans, stop!" Papyrus shouted frantically. "You'll hurt yourself! Please, tell me what's going on!"
Sans could barely hear him over his own frenzied gasping. His eyes were wide but unfocused, lost in his own horrific memories as Papyrus heaved him off the floor and into his lap.
"Sans!" Papyrus barked. "Listen to me, brother! Just take a deep breath and tell me what's wrong!"
Instead of obeying Papyrus, Sans twisted in his brother's arms to shoot an appalled glare at Alphys. "How... could you?" he accused her in a low growl. "How dare you?"
"I- I didn't know!" Alphys begged, tears streaming down her face that she didn't try to wipe away. "Please, Sans, trust me, I had no idea what would happen. I- I was only trying to save him like you asked me to, I- I didn't know. I didn't know..."
Alphys dissolved into sobs. Undyne wrapped an arm around her protectively, but Sans didn't let up. "You shouldn't have done that, Al," he whispered, a quiver to his voice. "You really shouldn't have done that. You're lucky Papyrus's life is still in your hands, because otherwise, you'd be having a real bad time right about now. In fact, I should-"
"Sans!" Papyrus snapped. "Stop this at once!"
"Paps, you don't understand. You don't know what she did to you," Sans snarled.
"I don't care," Papyrus said shortly. "I don't know where you get off threatening her when we both owe her our lives. I don't know why you're so angry, but I won't allow it towards someone who's shown us nothing but kindness, do you hear me?"
Sans was shocked into silence. Papyrus had completely derailed both his panic and fury.
Undyne was shocked as well. In all the years she'd known him, she had never seen Papyrus this angry. She hadn't even known it was possible for him to be so angry, especially at Sans.
"Now you're going to apologize to the doctor and thank her for saving us right this instant, and then we're going to go back downstairs because you obviously need a nap," Papyrus ordered sternly. The normally happy-go-lucky skeleton had an edge to his voice that it was difficult to disagree with.
"...fine." Sans's eyes were completely dark. "I'm sorry, and thank you."
"Um, it's... fine," Alphys mumbled. "I d-deserved it."
Papyrus looked like he wanted to argue with her, but abruptly stood up and left the room with Sans draped over his shoulder.
Undyne turned to Alphys, who had her face buried in her claws.
"You okay, Al?" she checked.
Alphys shook her head. "N-no."
They sat in silence for a long while.
"I don't blame you."