Elapsed time since DT treatment: 00:08:12
“Yes, my child?”
“What’s the difference between human SOULs and monster ones?”
“Here, take a look. This is my SOUL.”
“Thank you, my dear. Now compare it to your SOUL. See how yours is red and mine is white?”
“Because your SOUL is filled with Determination, like human SOULs are.”
“Why isn’t yours?”
“Because monster bodies are made of dust and magic, and can’t handle that much raw power without melting. Human bodies are more sturdy, especially a little bundle of energy like you.”
“Tee hee! Mom, stop tickling me!”
“You have another question?”
“How does a monster fall down?”
“Mom? What’s wrong?”
“Nothing, my child. I was just… thinking. This is a rather heavy subject, but I understand why you would be interested. When a monster suffers an injury that brings them to the brink of death, there’s a chance that healing magic might not be effective, and the monster will be left in a coma-like state. Eventually, though it might take months or years, the monster will dissolve to dust. That is what happened to Papyrus several months ago.
“And… there’s another reason monsters fall down. Our magic is derived from hope and love, so when a monster loses the will to live, sometimes they just… stop. There’s not a lot that magic can do if a monster doesn’t have the energy to keep themself alive.”
“Is that what happened to Sans?”
“It’s difficult to say. Sans never had much strength at the best of times, my child, and it’s possible that these recent traumas were simply too much for his fragile constitution.”
“Is he gonna be okay?’
“I’m sorry, dear, but we’ll just have to wait and see. Your Determination could overwhelm his system and lead to another tragedy. Or… a miracle could occur. It’s impossible to know.”
“Isn’t there a better way?”
“I can’t say I approve of what the doctor has done, but she’s trying her best with what she has. I know she wouldn’t have done this if she felt she had any other choice. Now let’s go have lunch, dear. You must be hungry.”
*You feel bored.
You could hear the Amalgamates in the distance.
*They sound like water going down a drain.
*Mom is still reading her book.
*You walk up to her and ask to explore.
*Toriel seems reluctant to let you go on your own.
“Well… only if you are careful. I do not know what lurks in these halls. Make sure you have your phone with you, so you can call me if anything happens.”
*You check your phone.
*Almost out of batteries.
Frisk looks at the phone and switches it off, to conserve power. If Toriel knew, she won’t be going anywhere. She runs off, with Toriel calling after her, “Be safe, my child!”
*It seems colder in here.
*There are a lot of golden flowers in this room.
*The beds seem comfortable enough to sleep in.
*You buy some Chisps.
Exploring the dark lab was interesting on its own, but the different journal entries and pieces of paper around were a plus. Frisk picks up a few of the papers and shuffles through them. They seem to be written in some kind of language she can’t understand.
*Or it could just be the handwriting.
Frisk pockets them and continues on her adventure. One of the malformed creatures comes up behind her, attracted to the smell of the food. Frisk doesn't mind sharing.
*They seem happy.
She rolls up the bag of chisps until she meets the next oncoming Amalgamate. A huge, melted monstrosity created of dogs, dogs and dogs. It comes up to Frisk, its tail wagging at an impossible rate, splattering its goopy substance everywhere. It towers over Frisk and bounds here and there like an overgrown puppy dog.
*Maybe it’s hungry.
Frisk holds out the packet for the abysmal hole that they had for a… mouth? Nose? Nose-mouth? The black hole sniffs at the packet before a long paw extends from the side and absorbs the rest of the chisps.
*The dog(s) eat happily.
*Endogeny now wants to play.
Frisk smiles at this and takes out her stick she's been carrying around. She waves it at Endogeny like a snake charmer as the Amalgamate sways with the stick’s movements. Then with all her might, Frisk throws it as far as she can. Endogeny barks twice, with that funny gurgling drain sound, and scrambles to turn around and charge for the stick.
Frisk would have liked to play with the Amalgamates all day, but she turns around before Toriel got worried.
Elapsed time since DT treatment: 06:29:44
Papyrus fidgeted anxiously, eyes fixed on his still-sleeping brother.
“Dude,” Undyne addressed him firmly, coming up behind him with a thermos full of coffe.
Papyrus yelped in surprise, nearly falling out of his chair as his vigil was abruptly interrupted. “Gah! I- oh, it’s you.... Undyne, don’t scare me like that!” he scolded. He shot her a halfhearted glare, but Undyne held eye contact and Papyrus dropped his gaze. The dark circles under his eye sockets troubled her. When was the last time he’d slept?
“Paps, I don’t suppose I should waste my breath telling you to take a nap?” Undyne half-joked, handing him the coffee.
Papyrus rolled his eyelights. “Undyne, that would be ridiculous. What if Sans wakes up and I’m not here?”
“It’s been six hours and you haven’t moved from this spot,” Undyne pointed out. “How long did it take you to wake up? Like a week? You need to take a break, man. Go get a snack or something. I’ll stay with Sans.”
Papyrus shook his head. “I’m all right, Undyne. I had some spaghetti earlier.”
Undyne sighed, knowing she wouldn’t be able to get through to the stubborn skeleton. “Will you at least promise you’ll take a nap once Sans wakes up?”
Papyrus finally turned to face her fully. Undyne flinched at the empty desperation in his eyes. He gave a breathy, mirthless laugh.
“I have a very limited amount of time left to spend with Sans,” he said dully. “I’m not going to waste a second of it sleeping.”
Undyne stared at him for a long moment. “I guess you’re determined not to take care of yourself?” she finally said. “Fine. I won’t stop you. Enjoy your coffee.”
She cut off his next words by abruptly walking away.
Elapsed time since DT treatment: 17:08:03
Every time Undyne passed through the main room of the True Lab, she heard Papyrus muttering to Sans in an incomprehensible language. He still hadn’t moved from his spot, not even when Alphys gave him his own checkups every few hours to make sure he wasn’t heading towards the same collapse. Fortunately, Papyrus seemed to be suffering from no latent ill effects of the trauma he had been through. But then again, he had always been tougher than his brother.
Sans mumbled and shifted in his sleep. Papyrus perked up, staring at Sans intently as though he could wake him up with the force of his gaze alone. After a moment, Sans fell limp again. Papyrus sighed, his head drooping a fraction, but continued his vigil uncomplainingly.
The distant moans of the other Amalgamates followed Undyne out of the room. She imagined she could still hear them as she hastily left the Lab, headed through Hotland on another errand. It wasn’t an urgent task, but Undyne needed a break from the suffocating atmosphere of the True Lab.
Undyne’s scales relaxed as she hustled from the dry heat of Hotland to her native Waterfall, the humidity seeping into her pores and cooling her off from the inside. She took a moment to revel in the climate before continuing down the path. Treading into the deeper parts of Waterfall, the phantom wails of the liquefied and confused Amalgamates were replaced by the peaceful sounds of frothing water and the distant chime of a music box. She passed a field of Echo Flowers, which chattered inane snippets of conversation as she drew close to each one. She passed her own home, which she hadn’t visited in over a week. She noted ruefully that some sections of the outer walls still bore scorch marks from her and Papyrus’s most recent cooking lesson.
How long ago was that? she wondered to herself, then gave up on the train of thought before it could depress her. She hopped flat-footed over the Disproportionately Small Gap, the tiny bird squawking in protest at being denied the opportunity to carry her across.
Undyne sneezed as the wet climate of Waterfall abruptly shifted to the freezing temperatures of Snowdin. Growling under her breath at the weather and the residents of Snowdin who had the audacity to actually like a sub-zero environment, she stomped up to the door of Papyrus and Sans’s house and let herself in.
Papyrus’s request had been utterly frivolous, she knew. But he had begged her ceaselessly with a look in his eyes that she just couldn’t say no to. He wanted everything at their home to be perfectly in order to welcome Sans’s return. Undyne hadn’t had the heart to tell him that even in the unlikely event that Sans ever returned to this house, he would hardly care about the state of his pet rock.
Still, Undyne picked up the canister of sprinkles and shook it over the rock on the table. She had to admit, it brightened up the place.
I wonder if Sans ever named the rock, she wondered idly as she scanned the living room for anything else she could help with. Papyrus probably named it for him, like Beauregard or something equally outrageous. Yeah, Beauregard would be a good name for a rock.
She debated picking up Sans’s discarded sock, but it seemed to be a fixture of the living room. Eventually, Undyne turned the lights off and locked up the house again.
She wished she could take the long way back to the lab and detour through Waterfall again, but decided that the errand had already taken too long and turned with a sigh towards the ferry station.
Elapsed time since DT treatment: 1:09:31:59
The erstwhile residents of the True Lab had fallen into a rather dreary routine. Alphys obsessively maintained her equipment and dove into her research, avoiding social interaction of any kind. Undyne seized any and all opportunities to leave the lab and traverse the Underground, juggling her usual responsibilities in the Guard with the time spent helping in the lab. Frisk grew attached to the other Amalgamates, especially Endogeny, and spent most of her time playing with them in the further depths of the True Lab. Toriel supervised them closely until she was certain that the creatures posed no threat to the child, after which she spent her time caring for the rest of the lab’s residents. She was the only one capable of convincing Papyrus to eat anything during the days Sans spent comatose, though even she couldn’t pry him away from Sans’s bedside for so much as an instant.
Alphys gave Sans another minuscule dose of Determination during this time. She was hoping to extend the time he’d spend awake for as long as possible before the inevitable melt. She also checked that Papyrus’s overdose was still fresh and available for him to use on himself at an instant’s notice. He kept the capped syringe tucked inside his ribcage for safekeeping.
“Is his dose going to, like, spoil or something?” Undyne asked curiously as Alphys gave the syringe a cursory check.
Alphys barely spared Undyne a glance. “It’s called Determination for a reason, Undyne,” she said with uncharacteristic sass. “By definition, it doesn’t fade over time. If it did, it would be called something like “half-assed persistence.”
Undyne rolled her eyes, but chuckled and dropped the subject. It was nice to see Alphys acting a bit less gloomy for once.
Elapsed time since DT treatment: 4:21:40:39
Papyrus was inches away from Sans, scrutinizing his face intently for any change, when Sans’s eye sockets lit up without any warning.
Papyrus flinched back in surprise. “S-sans?” he asked, his voice cracking.
Sans stared at his brother, eye sockets narrowing, focusing on Papyrus. There was a single second of frozen silence before Sans croaked, “Bro?”
“OH MY GOD!” Papyrus blurted out and wrapped his arms around Sans, lifting him halfway off the bed and nearly cracking his ribs.
“You’re finally awake, I’ve been so worried, you were out for five days and I’ve been waiting here so you wouldn’t be lonely and all my leg bones are taking a nap now but I don’t care and I read you all your favorite joke books because I don’t understand your science books- I’m just so glad you’re awake we can go home and be happy and have some reunionghetti and-“
Papyrus interrupted himself with a sharp gasp, pulling back and pressing his fingers against his mouth as he began to sob.
“Paps. Come on, buddy, slow down. You’re going to give yourself a heart attack,” Sans said softly, shifting himself into a sitting position. “Deep breaths, bro.”
Sans waited patiently while Papyrus pulled himself together, holding one of his brother’s hands in both of his.
“I’m sorry, Sans,” Papyrus sniffled. “I was just so worried… I thought I’d lost you this time…” his breath hitched again.
“Don’t apologize, bro,” Sans muttered. “It was my fault we were in this mess in the first place. If I hadn’t brought you to Alphys…”
“Then I would have died,” Papyrus finished.
Sans frowned. “Nah. You’re the Great Papyrus, right? You’re indestructible. I should have believed in you.”
Papyrus shook his head. “We can’t have this conversation again right now, Sans. I just want to be happy that you’re here.” His boisterous voice was uncharacteristically lifeless.
Sans’s grimace turned into a genuine smile. “Yeah, even though we’re underground, I don't want to be a ‘downer.’”
Papyrus froze for a split second before shaking off Sans’s hand and leaning back in his chair.
“Augh, Sans, that was too terrible!” he moaned.
Sans smirked. “Aww, you missed my jokes. Admit it.”
Papyrus pointed one commanding finger at Sans. “Just because of your recent near-death experience, I will let that one slide. But don’t think I will go so easy on you next time!”
“Aww, that’s a shame. Because while I was out, I dreamt up some pretty good jokes that will definitely tickle your funny bone.”
“But, Sans, we don’t have any bones with a name like-“ he suddenly let out a noise halfway between a giggle and a sob. “OH MY GOD, SANS, THAT WAS TERRIBLE!” he choked out.
“But you’re laughing! That means you liked it!” Sans chuckled.
“I am and I hate it!” Papyrus gigged, wiping away a stray tear.
Alphys, on her way in for a regular checkup, took a single step into the room, saw the brothers laughing and crying and holding each other, and walked back out of the room.
Elapsed time since DT treatment: 11:02:45:13
Sans had been intact for a full week. So far he had not exhibited any negative effects from the DT injections. In fact, he seemed more energetic than he had been before falling down. He and Papyrus had spent their time playing with Frisk and the other less-fortunate Amalgamates, making puns with Toriel, and talking to each other in their secret language.
Undyne, for lack of anything constructive to do in the Lab, had moved back to Waterfall and resumed her usual Guard duties. She still visited the lab every day, but Papyrus was too focused on Sans to pay much attention to his girlfriend.
She didn’t hold it against him. She couldn’t imagine going through the kind of trauma that they had, and Papyrus was still smiling despite everything.
She had to admire his strength.
The brothers were sitting together in Alphys’s living room, snacking on a Bisicle while they idly flipped through channels. Papyrus paused the TV when Alphys entered the room, looking nervous. That in itself wasn’t unusual, but they watched her apprehensively as they anticipated bad news.
“C-come on, guys, don’t look at me like your puppy died,” Alphys said with a weak smile. They simply stared. Alphys’s smile faded.
“L-listen, you two,” Alphys began, wringing her claws nervously. “We don’t know how much time S-sans has left…” Papyrus’s face tightened, but she continued. “And th-there’s not a lot I can do for you anymore. After all, when it finally… h-happens…” she cleared her throat before continuing. “It’s all going to be up to Papyrus to, you know… m-melt you back together.”
“Get to the point, please,” Sans muttered.
“Right. The point is… I’m sending you home.”
They both stared in silence for a moment.
“Wait, home home? As in, we can go home?” Papyrus stammered, his eye sockets wide with wonder. Sans appeared at a loss for words, as if he hadn’t considered the possibility.
Alphys still wouldn’t make eye contact with either of them. “I mean, I’ve done my best, but… I’m sorry. I can’t do anything else for you…”
Papyrus rushed to comfort her as her eyes filled with tears. “Don’t say that, doctor,” he said softly. “You’ve done so much for us already. I’ve accepted that all we can do now is cherish the time we have left.” His mouth twisted in a rueful smile.
“I know. And I think you shouldn’t have to s-spend that time cooped up here in the Lab. I’m aware it can get a bit dreary h-here,” Alphys attempted another joke, but she didn’t think Papyrus’s bright smile had anything to do with humor.
“This is the best thing ever! Did you hear that, Sans? We can go home!” He was practically bouncing on the sofa in excitement.
Even Sans was smirking now. “Yeah, bro, of course I heard. I’m literally right here.” He winked at Alphys with his bad eye. “I bet you’re pretty glad to have your place to yourself again, yeah?”
Alphys flushed. “N-no, that’s not it.”
“I know, Al, I’m just messing with you,” Sans reassured her.
“I j-just wish there was more I could do,” Alphys admitted.
“It’s alright. Thank you so much for everything, Alphys,” Papyrus murmured again. Then his face brightened. “Come on, Sans, there’s no time to waste!”
Sans didn’t protest as Papyrus tucked him under his arm and dashed off to collect their stuff.
Papyrus was practically skipping as he and Sans stepped off the ferry in Snowdin. Sans was walking next to him empty-handed, since Papyrus couldn’t figure out how to carry every box and case as well as Sans. He had tried to convince Sans to climb on his shoulders, but Sans had just rolled his eyelights.
“Home sweet home,” Sans commented as Papyrus dropped the luggage in a pile in the living room. “Man, I don't even know how long it’s been since we’ve been here.” He yawned. "Guess it doesn't matter."
Sans made a beeline to the couch for a well-deserved nap, but paused when he noticed Papyrus already beginning to unpack the boxes.
“C’mon, Paps, that can wait,” Sans sighed. “We just got home. Let’s chill out for a while.”
“Oh, no!” Papyrus exclaimed. “I’ve got big plans for our day, and we don’t have a second to waste!” He counted on his fingers as he spoke. “Once I’m done cleaning and organizing the house, we’ll have a celebratory lunch at Grillby’s, after which I absolutely must determine how much my prized puzzles have deteriorated in my absence. Once we’re done with that-“
“Papyrus.” Sans’s voice was soft, but it stopped Papyrus in his tracks. “You haven’t slept in the past week, have you?”
Papyrus didn’t respond, but the guilty flicker of his eyelights gave him away.
“Sans, I’m far too busy and-“ his voice cracked. He only put up a token resistance as Sans took his hand and gently led him to the couch. He practically collapsed onto it with the barest nudge from Sans.
“Bro. You can’t do this to yourself. You gotta sleep.”
Papyrus scoffed weakly. “But… I want to make the most of the time we have left,” he protested. His eye sockets glistened as Sans leaned against him.
“I do too,” Sans promised. “And I can’t think of a better use of time than a nice nap, can’t you?”
Papyrus cracked a smile. “You’ve spent your entire life napping.”
“Yup,” Sans agreed amiably. “Can’t think of a reason to stop now.”
“Well, I suppose I can’t argue with that…” Papyrus admitted sleepily as his eyelights faded and he gave in to sleep.
Elapsed time since DT treatment: 23:15:30:49
The days turned into weeks. Papyrus refused to be separated from Sans for more than a few seconds at a time, breaking down in a panic attack if Sans so much as stepped into the next room. His syringe of Determination weighed heavily in his pocket and in his mind.
The suspense wore at their nerves, though they tried not to show it to each other. The tension finally came to a head one night when Sans woke up sobbing, two weeks after returning home.
Papyrus jerked awake instantly. “Sans! Is it happening? No, please, Sans, stay with me! I’m not ready! Sans!”
Sans gasped for breath, clinging to the side of Papyrus’s racecar bed for support. Papyrus was panicking, his arms wrapped around Sans as if he could hold him together through sheer force of will.
“N-no…” Sans choked out. “It’s n-not happening.”
Papyrus breathed a SOUL-deep sigh of relief. “Oh, thank God… Sans, what’s the matter?”
Sans took a moment to catch his breath. “I just… I can’t take it,” he finally muttered. “The… not knowing. It’s worse than the melting, it’s that it could happen at any second and we have no idea when…”
“Shh, I know,” Papyrus whispered. “It’s not easy to look at you and know that I could lose you at any second. But... then again, that’s not exactly an unfamiliar feeling, is it?”
Sans snorted weakly. He knew that his 1 HP had always been a source of anxiety for his protective brother.
“Bro…” his voice dropped as he voiced something he had been thinking for the past few weeks. “When I go… I don’t want you to go with me.”
Papyrus’s whole body twitched as he reflexively rejected the suggestion. “Don't be ridiculous, Sans,” he chided roughly.
“I don’t want your life to be over just because mine is,” Sans pressed on.
“We’ve had this conversation before, Sans,” Papyrus snapped. “There’s no point in me going on if you’re not here.”
“Sans. The only reason I can keep going in this whole messed-up scary situation is the knowledge that when we go, we’ll go together. Just like we’ve always done everything. And I don’t want to hear you saying anything like that again, Sans. There’s no point in trying to convince me otherwise.”
Sans was silent for a long time. Papyrus was almost convinced he’d fallen back to sleep when he finally rolled over and nestled against Papyrus.
“Okay,” he whispered almost silently.
Elapsed time since DT treatment: 31:01:50:09
Undyne and Papyrus sat on his front porch, in the middle of a rather uncomfortable conversation.
“It’s not that you have to spend all your time with Sans,” Undyne clarified. “I mean, th-that’s not the main reason.”
“I know,” Papyrus said softly. “I understand.”
“I still care about you very much,” she insisted.
“I know,” he said again. “I care for you as well.”
She chuckled once. “You’re, like, the best person I’ve ever known.”
“And… you know I’ll always be there for you, right? Just say the word, and I’ll be there in a heartbeat.”
They sat in silence for a long moment. Finally Undyne stood up, leaving Papyrus on the front porch.
“I should get going,” she sighed.
“What are you going to do now?” Papyrus asked.
Undyne shrugged. “Guard business, fight training, the usual. Actually… maybe I’ll check in on Alphys. It’s about time I forgave her for her part in this whole business.”
“That’s good,” Papyrus muttered. “You’re going to need a good friend once… you know.”
Undyne nodded solemnly, then smirked. “You never know. Maybe she’ll turn out to be more than a friend,” she half-joked.
Papyrus perked up. “I hadn’t thought about that!” To Undyne’s surprise, he smiled widely. “Wowie, that’ll be exciting! I bet Asgore’s already writing fan fiction about you two!”
The mental image elicited a genuine laugh from Undyne, despite the somber situation. “Now there’s a thought.”
“Take care, Undyne.”
“You too, Paps.”
Elapsed time since DT treatment: 53:22:37:09
The weeks turned into months. Sans and Papyrus both endured regular checkups at the lab, but Sans’s condition remained inexplicably stable. Still, the looming threat of the inevitable melt prevented them from relaxing. Papyrus, excitable at the best of times, had begun to crack under the ceaseless stress. More than once, Sans had been forced to wrestle Papyrus to the ground and wrench the DT syringe out of his hands when he had tried to inject himself in a fit of hysteria. Afterward, Papyrus would shut down completely and Sans would patiently hold him while he trembled silently for hours.
“I'm so scared,” Papyrus whispered once. Sans wasn’t even sure he was meant to hear it.
“I’m scared that I’ll look away for one second, that I’ll let down my guard and miss it and you’ll be gone and I’ll be alone and let you down and-“
“I know. I know,” Sans replied quietly. “It’s been almost two months, and we only expected to have a few days… it really wears at you, doesn’t it? Living every day like it might be our last?”
Papyrus nodded. The effort of remaining positive over such a long time had really begun to take its toll on him. Even in the best moments, Sans could see the cracks showing through his optimistic attitude.
“Tell you what,” Sans continued. “It’s a beautiful day outside. Birds are singing, flowers are blooming. On a day like this, you shouldn’t be cooped up in here. Go take a walk, Paps. You deserve some quiet time.”
He raised his hand, cutting across Papyrus’s automatic refusal. “I know, I know. You don’t want to leave me alone. But I think I can survive a few minutes by myself. You need a break. It’s worth the risk, if you ask me.”
Papyrus was silent while he considered the offer. “Can you promise nothing will happen to you while I’m gone?” he finally asked.
Sans smiled sadly. “Yeah, bro. I promise.”
Papyrus had to admit, this was indeed calming. The sounds of the forest were comforting and familiar after so long spent cooped up indoors. Even since leaving the lab, they had kept to their house for the most part.
He took a deep breath, reveling in the sensation of snowflakes drifting onto his skull. His puzzles lay in disrepair along the path, ready and waiting for him to lovingly maintain them once again. The door to the Ruins stood closed once more, Toriel having returned to her secluded home. Wildlife skittered through the trees, contributing to the peaceful ambiance.
Papyrus smiled at the ceiling of the cavern far above. Yes, this had been a good idea. He reminded himself to thank Sans for the suggestion. He hadn’t realized how badly he’d needed to get his head on straight.
Finally, after two months of unbearable anxiety, Papyrus allowed himself to relax. Letting out a heavy sigh, he let himself release the tension he’d been carrying inside. After so long walking on eggshells, holding his breath and expecting the worst, it was incredibly liberating to simply stand in the snow with no burden weighing him down. He felt as though he might levitate right out of his boots.
For the first time in two months, Papyrus allowed himself to believe in miracles.
His footsteps crunched through the snow as he turned to go back. He’d barely made it two steps before his peppy polyphonic ringtone interrupted him.
He smiled when he saw that it was a call from Sans.
“What, do you miss me already?” he joked as he brought the phone to his ear.
He waited a few seconds, but Sans didn’t respond.
“Sans?” Papyrus asked. “Is something the matter?”
He felt a spike of panic as he abruptly broke into a sprint, heading back towards their house at top speed.
“Sans?” he shouted into the phone. “Are you there? Sans! SANS!”
There was nothing but silence on the other end of the line.