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Sixbones: Separated

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* It makes a joke about spaghetti. It hates its own joke.

* It tidies up the place, then immediately scatters everything again.

* Its eyes flicker as it wraps its arms around itself.

* It works very hard at giving up.

 

* It wants to be your friend.

 

 

Undyne the Undying, captain of the Royal Guard and all-around tough-as-nails badass, nearly jumped out of her scales when she heard the dripping noise right behind her.

"Gghhh!" she hissed, whirling with her hands raised protectively.  "Don't scare me like that!"

The creature that had once been Undyne's closest friend stared at her uncomprehendingly.  Unidentified matter oozed from its every surface, dripping from what had once been bones and clothing to pool on Undyne's kitchen floor.

"Dyyyyne?" it asked slowly, the echoing sound issuing from Papyrus's mouth.  "Puuuuzzzzz..."

Undyne relaxed, dropping her hands as the tension eased from her shoulders slightly.  Taking a second look at the creature, she realized it was holding out a piece of paper.

"Oh, is this a puzzle?" she asked.  "Thank you, I'm sure it'll be quite a doozy."  She accepted the proffered paper, knowing that the only writing on it would be unintelligible scribbles.  She felt a pang of nostalgia and grief, remembering the dozens of times that Papyrus had run up to her with his face alight, having devised some new trap in the forest that would be sure to stump her this time.  Being his only friend besides Sans, Undyne had come to accept the fact that her over-eager friend would occasionally show up at her door in the dead of night because there was a Junior Jumble that he just couldn't quite solve (or, on one memorable occasion, the horoscope). 

Sans's grinning head, with Papyrus's right hand melted into the top of it, huffed irritably.  "Puzzz... are... easy..."

Papyrus glared at his brother, craning his head as far as he could.  "Dyyyne... wans too..."

"That's right, Papyrus," Undyne encouraged.  "I'll solve your puzzle.  In fact, I'll put it out so everyone can solve it as many times as they want!"

Keeping her fanged smile in place, Undyne crossed to the refrigerator with a false spring in her step and stuck the chicken-scratch to the door with a magnet.  The proud grin that lit up Papyrus's face made her insides churn with guilt and remorse.  Why did this have to happen to you guys?  Where was I when you needed help?

Sans's head yawned.  At least, it seemed to yawn.  With its mouth fused shut in a stretched smile and its eye socket melting impossibly over its face, it was hard to read its expressions.  Regardless, Undyne jumped on the opportunity.

"You guys look tired," she suggested.  "All that puzzle-making must be exhausting, huh guys?  Why don't you take a nice nap?"

"Nnnnap," Sans agreed, nodding in a slightly sideways fashion.

Papyrus frowned disapprovingly.  "Laazy," he chided his other head.  "No... naap."

Sans raised one dripping hand to Papyrus's face.  "Tired," he argued, covering Papyrus's eye sockets.  "Isss... night."

"Nooott!" Papyrus whined, struggling against his other half.  "Not..." he abruptly stifled a yawn, "tiiired!"

"Come on, boys," Undyne said softly, tentatively resting her hand on the fused joint of their left arm.  The bone felt sticky and unnaturally flexible beneath her fingers.  "Let's take a rest, yeah?"

Taking slow steps backward, she led the monstrosity to her couch and helped them sit down.  What with Sans's dangling vestigial legs, sitting down and standing up again afterward was a bit of a complicated process for the poor amalgam.  Most of the time when they weren't asleep or fashioning new "puzzles," they followed Undyne closely everywhere she went.  When she was asleep or busy, the creature often simply stood blankly in the middle of Undyne's living room. 

Undyne watched in silent melancholy as her vapid houseguest argued with itself over the TV remote.  Passing it back and forth between their three good hands, the misshapen monster pressed random buttons until the channel changed to nothing but static.  Seemingly satisfied, both heads leaned back into the sofa and seemed to drift off to sleep.

Of course, it was hard to tell.

 


 

"This is Doctor Alphys!" the voice chirped from the other end of the line.  "What's up, Undyne?"

"Hey Al," Undyne greeted.  "How's it going?"

"You know, the usual," Alphys said.  "Just dealing with the c-crippling guilt of my sins."

Undyne grimaced.  "Come on, Al, you did your best.  You didn't know any of this would happen."

"It's s-still my fault," Alphys sighed.  Even over the phone, her friend sounded exhausted.

Undyne had had this conversation too many times to hope that it would turn out any differently now.  Fortunately, that wasn't why she had called.

"How are the rest of them doing?" she tried to sound casual.  "Has there been any change in the other Amalgamates?"

"I don't know what you want me to tell you, Undyne," Alphys sighed.  "They're always the same.  They'll always be the same."

"Are you sure?" Undyne pressed.  "Maybe you're just..." not trying hard enough... "not trying the right things."

Alphys seemed to have heard the words Undyne hadn't said.  The silence stretched between them, more standoffish than friendly.

"Actually, Al, I've been thinking a lot about these... things," Undyne finally said.  Alphys was silent on the other end, waiting for Undyne to continue.

"I've been around Sans and Pap for a long time now, both before and after the... incident," Undyne continued, glancing at Sixbones and moving farther away so she wouldn't wake them.  "And I'm wondering, well... do you think it would be possible to separate them?"

"No," Alphys said immediately.  "I've done extensive research and t-testing on the Amalgamates I've got here at the lab, and there's never been any indication that this change is anything but permanent."

"I know that, Al, but Sans and Pap weren't normal monsters to begin with," Undyne pleaded.  "You haven't done as much research on skeletons as you have the rest, right?  Instead of flesh and blood and... organs... melting together into a freakish blob, there's only bones."

She could practically hear Alphys shudder.  "It... it might be a little bit different, but- the DT injections are irreversible," she protested.

"Still, don't you think we could pull them apart?  It's just bones, Al," she begged.  "They're nothing but- but bones and clothes."

Alphys was silent for the longest time.

"Alphys?" Undyne finally said.

"Sorry, I was just th-thinking.  I d-don't want to get your hopes up, but... it might be possible.  Bring them to the lab and I'll take a look at them."

"Thanks a million, Al," Undyne gushed, so relieved that tears were beginning to prick at her eyes.  "You're the best reptile I've ever met."

"You want Papyrus back that badly, huh?" Alphys asked quietly.  Undyne could detect the hint of resentment in her friend's voice, but she pretended not to hear.

"I'll bring them over as soon as I can.  I owe you big time!" she cheered.

"You'll only o-owe me if this works," Alphys warned.

"Come on, what's the worst that could happen?" Undyne scoffed.

"That's what Sans said," Alphys muttered darkly before abruptly hanging up the phone.

 

Chapter Text

The ambient splashing that was ubiquitous to all caverns in Waterfall blended with the dripping noises emanating from Sixbones's appendages.

"Come on, buddy," Undyne coaxed the Skelebros out the front door. "I'll give you a Bisicle when we get there, okay?"

"Kaaaaaaay," both heads said simultaneously, their words echoing more than normal in the open cavern.

Undyne took Papyrus's hand as she kicked the door closed behind her, ignoring the sticky goop coating her scales.  They left a trail of oozing fluid wherever they went, but it evaporated quickly without leaving a trace.  Undyne had been worried for the first few days that they would ooze themselves out of existence, but they seemed to have an endless supply.

Casting a quick glance around for any bystanders, Undyne led the creature down to the ferry station, their movements limited to their top speed of a slow shamble.  Undyne had seen them move quickly on occasion, especially when they felt themselves or Undyne were in danger, but for the most part they couldn't be prodded to move any faster than a ponderous shuffling.

The boatman turned his hooded head to observe his new passengers impassively.  Without a visible face, Undyne couldn't discern his reaction to Sixbones.  There was a reason she didn't take the monster out in public very frequently, but the boatman didn't seem to care that an abomination of nature was slowly clambering onto his boat.  Undyne hopped lightly onto the back of the boat, prepared to steady them all should Sans and Papyrus suddenly get it into their heads to try walking away or some such nonsense.

The creature half-turned so Papyrus's head could smile at her.  Undyne's heart twisted as she tried to force down the awful memory of the first time she'd seen her former friends this way.

 


 

Alphys heard the pounding at the door.  There was only one person she knew who could produce such earth-shaking noises.

"Open up, Alphys!  For God's sake, Al, open the door!  I know you're in there!" Undyne roared.  "You can't hide in there forever!  Just come out and talk to me!"

Alphys's claws hesitated over the intercom.  There was nothing she could think of to say to her friend.  No excuses for what she'd done, no explanation beyond the obvious, no forgiveness that could be asked or offered.  The only thing she could do was continue to hide and pretend the outside world didn't exist.

Unfortunately, the outside world was currently threatening to break her door down.

"Alphys!" Undyne shouted, her voice tinged with desperation.  "Whatever's happening, you can tell me.  You know I've got your back no matter what, right?  Just talk to me, please!  Tell me what's going on!  Why haven't you come out of your lab in weeks?  Where are Sans and Papyrus?"

The reptilian scientist was crying now, hiding her face behind her claws as though that would make a difference.  She knew that it was the end of the line, that there would be no stopping Undyne from bursting in and discovering Alphys's crimes.  She knew that there was nothing to be gained by postponing the inevitable anymore, but she found herself unable to move.  Panic gripped her muscles, preventing her from opening the door or answering Undyne's urgent hollering.

Undyne's pounding renewed itself, the entire building shuddering with the impact.  Alphys shook herself out of her fear-induced immobility, knowing that Undyne was more than capable of smashing a hole in the building if she was sufficiently motivated.

And right now, she was more than sufficiently motivated.

The door slid open with a 'whoosh.'  Undyne stood outside with her fists raised to assault the door again, her helmetless face twisted with fury.

"U-undyne!" Alphys squeaked breathlessly, unable to repress the reflex to pretend everything was normal.  "Wh-what brings you here?  Would you l-like some tea?  You m-must be overheated after-"

"Stuff your tea, Al," Undyne growled, elbowing past her into the lab.  "Where are they?"

Lies.  So many lies.  Lying had become so much a part of Alphys's life, she found herself unable to stop now.  "I d-don't know..."

Undyne shot her a furious glare before vanishing into the back room.  Alphys heard the noises of Undyne tearing apart the lab, opening doors and overturning furniture in a vain search for her friends.

"Please stop!  Undyne, th-this is pointless," Alphys implored, wringing her claws nervously in the doorway as Undyne destroyed Alphys's living room.  "Th-they're not here."

Undyne whirled to face Alphys, as angry as ever but with tears in her eyes.  "Then WHERE ARE THEY?" she demanded.  "Where- where's Papyrus?"  Her voice broke.

Alphys stared at her for the longest moment, feeling panic beginning to freeze her again.  It was time for her sins to be brought to light.

"C-come with me."

They didn't speak on the elevator ride.  They stood next to each other in tense silence, Undyne's heart racing with frightened anticipation and Alphys drowning in sick dread.

Undyne flinched as the elevator dinged.  The doors opened to a lab underneath a lab, with a jarringly different ambiance to Alphys's public work area.  The place positively radiated death, the seeping fog and unnatural chill giving the darkened laboratory the aura of a tomb.  How was it even possible for a location in Hotland to be this cold?  Undyne shivered.

"Al... what is this?"  her voice echoed emptily, so unlike the bubbly reverberations of Waterfall's echoes.

"This is the True Lab," Alphys said forlornly.  "They're down here."

"Hot damn!  Why didn't you say so?"  Undyne's face regained some of its color, shifting from horror to anticipation.  "Hey, Papyrus!  Sans!  Olly-olly-oxen-free!" 

"Undyne, wait-" Alphys stretched out her claw, but Undyne had already bounded forward.  She disappeared around the corner before Alphys could move to stop her.  As Alphys hustled to catch up to her long-legged friend, she heard the footsteps ahead of her abruptly stop.

"Hey, who's there?" Undyne's voice stuttered.  "Wait, what-"

Alphys hadn't quite reached Undyne when she heard a blood-curdling shriek pierce the oppressive stillness of the True Lab.  By the time Alphys had rounded the corner, Undyne had backed up as far as she was able from the horrifying monster that was all that remained of her skeleton friends.

"Undyne, please!  I c-can explain!" Alphys stammered, quickly moving to put herself between the panicked Undyne and the confused amalgam before someone got hurt.

"Alphys-" Undyne choked, her face frozen in horror.  "What- what is that thing?"

The creature tilted its heads at Undyne.  "Neeeeew... friiiiend?" it asked with Papyrus's mouth.  Undyne made a disgusted choking noise.

Alphys hadn't noticed when she'd started crying.  "Undyne," she whispered.  She felt like her SOUL had been sucked away, leaving nothing but a broken husk of lies and unethical science experiments.  "I'm so sorry, Undyne.  I- I didn't mean for any of this to happen."

"What is it, Al?" Undyne asked again, lowering her voice to match Alphys's.  "What happened here?"

Alphys shook her head, utterly defeated.  "Go back upstairs, Undyne.  I'll explain e-everything, but I don't want to stay down here any longer."

 


 

 

The boat came to a gentle stop at the Hotland station.  Undyne paid the ferryman, adding an unnecessary tip for his trouble, and helped the Skelebros off the boat.  They looked around with interest, unused to any scenery besides the True Lab and the cavern that housed Undyne's residence.

Keeping a firm grip on the bros' arm to prevent them from wandering off or teleporting away, Undyne led them up the stairs to Alphys's lab.  They hadn't been here since Undyne had adopted them, removing them from their lonely environment to take them in at her own home.  After she'd had time to wrap her mind around the tragedy and gained the perspective to be back on speaking terms with Alphys, Undyne had begun visiting Sixbones on a regular basis.  The poor creature was desperate for companionship, and it had latched (literally and figuratively) onto Undyne like a child.  Eventually, compassion and guilt had driven Undyne to forcibly remove Sixbones from Alphys's inadequate care and into an environment where the poor thing could receive more attention.

It had taken them both some time to get used to the arrangement.  Undyne had finally stopped summoning her spears every time the creature suddenly teleported into her peripheral vision, and had become accustomed to its attempts to help her make spaghetti.  She even began to enjoy the delighted expression on Sans's face (and the exasperated expression on Paps) when she forced a fake laugh at his garbled jokes.  Perhaps the most heartbreaking attribute of the monstrosity was when it expressed some limited form of understanding that they had, in fact, once been two separate beings.  In their quiet moments, Undyne had caught them holding hands or asking incoherent questions to the other head.

God, she missed Papyrus so much it hurt.  As tenderly as she cared for the creature they had become, it was a constant reminder of the lively skeleton who had filled her life with so much joy.  And try as she might, despite knowing that this was never an intended consequence, she found herself unable to completely forgive Alphys for what she had done.

Undyne kept her expression carefully neutral as Alphys opened the door to allow them all access into the True Lab.  The barest pleasantries were exchanged, any pretense of friendship undercut by the tension of knowing what was about to happen. 

"Sit here, buddy," Undyne said gently, gesturing to one of the empty beds.  "Just hold still for a while, there's a good boy."

Sans's head glared at her skeptically.  "Biiiisss..."

"That's right, I promised you a Bisicle, didn't I," Undyne remembered.  "Leave it to you to hold me to that, Sans."

"I-I've got a few upstairs," Alphys offered.  "Wait here for just a few seconds."

Sixbones waved a melancholy goodbye as Alphys hurried back out of the room.  Undyne was left alone with her thoughts, which was not a good place to be at the moment.

Am I doing the right thing? she wondered doubtfully, watching the amalgam sitting patiently on the bed.  They seem pretty content this way... Is this me being selfish?  Risking their lives for the chance to see Papyrus again?  Would leaving them like this really be too bad?

She knew there weren't many choices.  Racked with guilt and grief, Undyne had tried to put them out of their misery in a moment of weakness.  Her spears had passed right through, scrambling the creature's HP bar and dialogue box but leaving it otherwise unaffected.  Alphys had told her later that there was no way she'd yet found to kill any of the Amalgamates.  They were stuck, not truly sentient nor fully dead, shambling for eternity in an oozing twilit hell.

Alphys's arrival interrupted Undyne's brooding.  She handed the bros a Bisicle, which they immediately split, and offered a second one to Undyne.  She declined with a brief head shake, and Alphys kept it for herself.

"Um, b-before we start," Alphys began nervously.  "There are a lot of preliminary tests to be done, to f-find out if this is even possible at all, but... I h-have to know.  I can't ask them for th-their consent, so I have to ask you.  Are you really okay with th-this?  Are you willing to take responsibility f-for any possible outcomes?"

Giving Papyrus's empty eyes one last lingering stare, Undyne nodded gravely.

"Let's do this."

 

 

Chapter Text

Alphys had been conducting the preliminary tests for hours now. It was impossible to tell time in the depths of the True Lab, but Undyne estimated that it must be night outdoors.  Despite her lingering resentment toward Alphys for causing this problem in the first place, Undyne couldn't help but admire her unswerving dedication to fixing it.  It must have been twelve hours already, but Alphys hadn't taken a single break.

In between bringing Alphys tools and calming the agitated Sixbones, Undyne used the time to make a phone call to the only other monster in the Underground who was invested in the brothers' fate.

Toriel picked up on the first ring.  "Undyne, my dear!" she said cheerfully.  "What a pleasant surprise.  I haven't seen you at the Ruins in a while.  When are you planning to bring the boys around for tea again?"

Undyne's words caught in her throat.  How am I going to break this to Toriel?  The kindly queen was the only one who had immediately accepted the bros' new form.  She was kinder to them than even Undyne was, treating them exactly the same as she had always done.  Unlike Alphys's reluctant aid and Undyne's pity, Toriel's compassion for Sixbones had never come across as the least bit patronizing.  She genuinely loved the boys like they were her own child.

"Toriel, I... I took them to Alphys's lab.  We're working on a way to separate them and bring them back to normal," Undyne said bluntly, then cringed internally.  How would Toriel react to the news that they were trying to bring the boys back when, to Toriel, they'd never been gone?

The queen was silent for a long interval.  Long enough that Alphys glanced over at Undyne nervously, wondering what the holdup was.

"Um... Toriel?" Undyne asked cautiously.

"Yes, dear."  There was a sharp edge to Toriel's voice now.  "I won't try to stop you, but you've already seen the consequences of what happens when someone tampers with forces they can't control."

"I know," Undyne said tiredly.  "That's what we're trying to fix."

"I only hope you know what you're doing," Toriel said shortly.  The line went dead.

Undyne stared at the phone sadly.  "I hope so too," she sighed.

"W-what was that about?" Alphys asked cautiously.  She was claws-deep in a tub of skeleton goop, running some sort of electric current through it.

"Toriel is on board, more or less," Undyne reported.  "How are the tests going?"

"W-well, the scans I've taken of their body will make it easier to match up the right parts to each brother," Alphys began.  "That p-part is very important, as once they're apart they each need to have their own bones."  Undyne nodded, trying to follow along.  "Sans's fragile condition will make this more difficult, as I'll have to avoid causing any sort of damage during the process or he'll be dust.  B-but it should be possible to separate them safely.  A-and I've made a breakthrough with the, um... 'texture' issue."

She retrieved one sticky claw from the sludge with a sucking sound.  She was holding a clump of something that she handed to Undyne.  She took it reluctantly, examining the object.  It was lumpy and had the texture of sandpaper, but it was undeniably a chunk of bone.

"Al, is this-" she said with dawning excitement.

"Y-yeah!  Once they're apart, I should be able to turn their bodies from, you know, a p-paste... back to proper bones.  Um, the melted c-clothes might be an issue, but once they're more s-solid, it shouldn't be too hard to, um, get everything separated..."

Alphys cut off with a startled squeal as Undyne swept her off her feet into a hug, spinning her in a circle before setting the dizzy reptile back on her feet.  "Alphys, I've said it before and I'll say it again, you're a miracle worker."

Alphys's entire face was bright red.  Hiding her face behind her claws, she stammered, "d-don't call it a miracle j-just yet, Undyne.  There's no guarantee th-this will work."

Undyne playfully punched her, sending her staggering.  With a grin that brightened the whole lab, she chortled, "of course it will work.  What could possibly go wrong?"

 


 

 

Machines whirred.  Lights flashed.  Gears clanked.  Alphys muttered to herself under her breath.  Undyne waited, fidgeting impatiently.

After an endless parade of final tests, 'final' final tests, and further tests after that, Alphys put the finishing touches on the improvised machine.  Having given up the battle to make Sixbones sit still, Undyne was lazily watching it shamble around the lab, poking at the blinking lights and searching for food.  Alphys had to say her name several times before Undyne looked up sharply.

"Sorry, Al.  Did you need my help with something?" Undyne asked.

"No, Undyne.  I s-said it's ready." Alphys nervously twisted a stethoscope in her claws.

It took a moment for Undyne's brain to catch up.  "Like, ready ready?  We can do it now?"

Alphys nodded gravely.  "If you still think this is a good idea, we can start now.  I should w-warn you again, though... it's impossible to say what will happen.  There's no guarantee that this will improve their situation in any way, and there's every chance that this will harm or even k-kill them.  Any number of things could go wrong... Even if I manage to separate them successfully, th-there's almost no chance that their minds or SOULs will be intact afterward.  Are you s-sure this is what you want?"

Undyne turned away from Alphys in time to see Sixbones stumble over its own feet.  In a useless but heartfelt gesture, Papyrus's arm wrapped around Sans's side protectively.

They seem happy as they are, Undyne worried.  Is it selfish of me to potentially rip them apart for no good reason?  Should I really just leave well enough alone?

No.  I've already made my decision.  I can't back out now.  Undyne the Undying never turns away from a challenge!

She realized she had been silent for too long, staring at Sixbones with a wistful expression.

"I'm sure, Al," she finally said.  "This is what they would want, if they could talk to us."

The abomination had shuffled across the room to approach Undyne, its three arms extended for a hug.  "Dyyyyyne..." they mumbled.

Tears pricking her eyes, Undyne stepped into the gooey embrace and hugged the brothers so tightly she almost melted into them.  Wouldn't that be a sight to see, she thought with a sad smile.  After a few long seconds, Undyne pulled away, coated in white gunk from head to toe. 

"Come on, boys," Undyne said gently.  "It's time to play a game, okay?"

The heads tilted ponderously.  "Puzzz?" the Sans head said dismissively.

"No, it's more like... a holding-still game," Undyne said cautiously.  "I'll show you how it works.  Just come with us, okay?"

"Kaaaaay..." they said together.

Leading the amalgam by Sans's hand, Undyne followed Alphys down the hallway to the creepiest machine in a lab full of creepy machines.  It was shaped like the skull of some long-dead giant beast, squatting in the middle of a room like a tumor.  Alphys had called it the "DT extraction machine," whatever that meant.  Over the past few hours, Alphys had repurposed the machine (which had originally been meant to deal exclusively with SOULs) to handle the Skelebros.

Alphys scurried to the control panel, making the machine whir to life with a few practiced keystrokes.  Meanwhile, Undyne was gently helping Sixbones lie down in the hospital bed that had been shoved into the hastily widened entrance of the machine.  The creature looked at her without comprehension.

"Gaaaame?" they asked curiously.  They were completely unaware of what was about to happen to them.

Undyne was crying silently now, heedless of her usual tough-guy persona.  Tenderly, she ran one hand along the ridge of Papyrus's skull, wiping off an errant drip of slime.  She rested her other hand briefly against Sans's jaw.

"Everything's all right, guys," she whispered.  "Just hold still, there's a good boy, eh?  This is our game.  If you can stay still long enough, I'll give you a really nice prize, okay?"  Her voice cracked.

"Undyne, get clear!" Alphys shouted.  "The procedure is s-starting!"

Reluctantly leaving the bros inside the DT extractor, Undyne moved away from the machine to stand next to Alphys at the control panel.  She had done all she could do.  The rest was out of her hands.

"O-okay," Alphys muttered, mostly to herself.  "Step one is to remove the foreign Determination that caused the m-melt in the first place, hopefully reversing the original reaction.  Once their SOULs have been purified, we'll use the scans we took to isolate their bodies and SOULs back into their original hosts, hopefully returning the bones to their former structure.  After that... well, it's all up to th-them after that."

Undyne was barely listening.  She knew the plan; after all, it was all they'd been talking about for hours.  She simply stared at the DT extractor, which cast an even more menacing silhouette from the side.  She couldn't repress the mental image of the giant skull swallowing Papyrus and Sans and never spitting them back out.

She uselessly gripped the side of the console, carefully staying out of Alphys's way but desperate to do something, anything, to help.  All she could do was stand there and watch as her friend potentially either saved or killed Papyrus and Sans.

The procedure took nearly six hours.  Alphys never broke concentration once during the entire ordeal, staring at the screen in front of her with total focus.  Undyne, too keyed up to sit down, too anxious to leave, simply hovered at Alphys's elbow the entire time, waiting to be told either that it was over or that she could help in some way.  Just standing and waiting was torturous for a fish of action like Undyne.

After an unbearably long time, the machine finally powered down with a whine.  Alphys collapsed against the console, her claws trembling.  Undyne rushed to prop her up, shaking with both anticipation and exhaustion.

"Al, did it work?  Are they alive?" she asked desperately.

"Go... quick, g-get them away from each other before they m-merge again," Alphys instructed, pointing at the machine.  Undyne dropped Alphys in her haste, sprinting to the machine.

The sight that greeted her was both promising and frightening.  Sans and Papyrus were still melting masses of white muck, but they were definitely two separate beings.  Even as she watched, though, Pap's skull was beginning to lose form, oozing back into Sans's collarbone.  Undyne lunged forward, gathering Papyrus in her arms as best she could and lifting him away from Sans.  Thankfully, his form held together rather than melting through her hands and pooling on the floor.  In fact, he didn't seem to be dripping at all.

Despite her panic and exhaustion,  Undyne's primary emotion was one of relief at finally being able to do something constructive about the situation.  In no time at all, she had moved Sans, Papyrus, and Alphys into separate beds in the room down the hall.  Alphys had already prepared two IV bags on poles, and Undyne managed to slide the needles directly into the skeletons' SOULs without Alphys's guidance.  Still exhausted, but too keyed up to sleep, Undyne sat slumped in a chair between the brothers, delicately prodding their formless bones back into recognizable shapes.

Slowly, her eyes drifted shut.  It had been over a day since she'd slept, and the emotional turmoil was finally catching up to her.  Her head slumped to her chest, one hand resting protectively on Papyrus's bed.

Several hours later, Undyne woke very suddenly to an out-of-place noise.  She'd acclimatized to the creaks and echoes of the lab, including the far-off moans of the other Amalgamates, but this noise was new.  It sounded... like a very slight hiss.  And it was close.

Keeping her eyes shut and listening intently, Undyne strained to discern the sound again.

"Ssssss...."

There it was again.

"Ssssss...sss... Sans...?"

Undyne's eyes snapped open.

Papyrus was awake.

 

Chapter Text

"S... Sans..." Papyrus croaked again.

Undyne was at his side in an instant, knocking over her chair in her haste.  "Papyrus?" she said eagerly.  "Can you hear me?  Do you recognize me?"  She grabbed his limp hand in both of hers.  The lights that formed his pupils were flickering weakly, and his SOUL was translucent but mercifully in one piece.

"Sans," he groaned, forcing the words through a rubbery jaw.

"He's right here, Paps," Undyne reassured him.  "He's going to be just fine, and so are you."  She had no idea if she was lying or not, but Papyrus seemed to relax at her words.  His bones, which were about as strong as Jell-O but somehow holding together,  trembled slightly as he sighed.

"Sans..." he whispered again as his pupils went dark.

"Alphys!" Undyne shouted.  "Alphys, get up now!"

"Hn... wha?" Alphys stirred on the next bed, drowsily fumbling for her glasses.  "Whuzzgoinon?"

Undyne shook her awake frantically, heaving her off the bed and pointing her at Papyrus.  "Alphys!  He woke up!  But now he's gone again!  What's wrong with him?  Is he dying?" she barked.

Alphys raised one claw in protest.  "First," she said irritably, "there is no n-need to shout in my face.  Second, I can't tell you if he's okay while you're shouting in my face.  P-please calm down so I can examine him."

Reluctantly, Undyne moved out of the way so Alphys could lean over Papyrus' bed.  She adjusted the blanket so his ribs were entirely exposed, scrutinizing the IV that Undyne had inserted into his SOUL.

"W-well done, Undyne," she remarked.  "If you hadn't put the IVs in when you did, they'd be puddles by now."  When Undyne didn't respond, Alphys continued her examination, poking and prodding at Papyrus' rubbery limbs.

"I think he's doing as w-well as could be expected under the circumstances," she finally declared.  "He's not in any danger of d-death, and his unconscious state is probably j-just due to exhaustion."

Undyne felt her entire body slump in relief.  "What about Sans?" she pressed.  "Is he alright?  He hasn't woken up like Papyrus did."

"That might not mean anything." Alphys crossed over to Sans's bed and performed the same cursory examination.  Naked and unconscious in a hospital bed with his bones like spaghetti noodles, Sans looked smaller and feebler than Undyne had ever seen him.  Since they'd been removed from the DT extractor, there had not been so much as a twitch from Sans.

"His SOUL is weaker than Papyrus', but that was already his natural state.  His bones are also more... shapeless," she commented, swiping one claw along his collarbone and coming up with a drop of goo.  "H-his ribcage isn't in danger of collapsing, but we should p-probably work on improving the structural integrity of his bones."

Undyne nodded along with Alphys's diagnosis.  "How do we do that?"

Alphys gave her a grim smile.  "Keep an eye on them for a moment," she instructed.  "I'll get the jumper cables."

 


 

"Where's Sans?" Papyrus asked for the eightieth time.

"He's right over there," Undyne gestured to Sans.

"Oh.  Okay."  Papyrus lapsed back into silence for a few minutes. 

"Where's Sans?" he asked again, straining to turn his head.

Undyne pressed one hand gently but firmly against Papyrus's forehead.  "Stop moving before you break your neck.  I told you, Sans is right over there."

"Oh.  Okay."  Papyrus relaxed again.

Over the past several hours, Papyrus had drifted in and out of consciousness.  He was extremely disoriented and unfocused while awake, seeming not to recognize Undyne and asking for Sans repeatedly.  According to Alphys, there was nothing to do but wait and see if his mental state improved.  Undyne tried to ignore the mounting dread that Papyrus might never recover fully, that he would be left a confused shell of a skeleton and it would be all her fault...

Papyrus's hand twitched in her direction.  Undyne took it hastily, holding it down to prevent him from moving.  With his bones in such a fragile state, it was imperative that he keep as still as possible.  A single false move could cause Papyrus to fall apart into a million pieces.

Undyne was familiar with that particular feeling.

"Hnngh..." Papyrus groaned.

"What's the matter, Paps?" Undyne asked immediately.  "Are you feeling alright?"

His pupils flickered, focusing on her for the first time.  "Un...dyne?" he said slowly.

Undyne felt her heart clench.  "Yes?  Papyrus, I'm right here.  I've got you, Papyrus."

"Undyne," he said again.  "I... I..." his eye sockets moistened.

"What is it?" she asked gently.  "Do you need something?  Are you in pain?"

"Undyne... where's Sans?"

"He's still right here," she said, relieved there was nothing wrong.  "He's going to be fine.  Just focus on yourself for a while, okay?"

Even as she told him off, she knew he wouldn't listen.  Papyrus, being Papyrus, was utterly incapable of self-centeredness.  It was Undyne's favorite thing about him.

"Is he okay?" Papyrus implored.  "What... what happened?  I feel... squishy."

Undyne's heart sank.  She was not about to have this conversation with Papyrus anytime soon, or ever if possible.

"Paps... what's the last thing you remember?" she asked cautiously.

Papyrus's eyes went dark as he tried to think.  He was silent for a long moment as he marshaled his thoughts, which was probably a difficult task given his semi-coherent state.

"I... there was a... rockslide?  I think?" he said slowly.  "After a big storm... Sans was there... I remember shouting for him to get out of the way... and then..." he grimaced.  "I don't know what happened next."  He looked to Undyne in confusion.  "What happened after that?  Undyne, do you know how I got here?"

Undyne knew the rest of the story.  Alphys had told her how Sans had showed up at her door with a fallen Papyrus, begging for her help.  It didn't surprise Undyne at all to learn that Papyrus had suffered the fatal injury while trying to protect his brother.  Alphys had done her best to help, reluctantly including Papyrus in her group of test subjects for Determination treatments.  After that, well... Undyne didn't want to think about what had happened after that.

"It doesn't matter right now, Paps," she finally said.  "You were hurt, but you're going to get better soon.  Sans isn't going anywhere, so you can focus on getting well, okay?"

His head twitched the barest fraction as he nodded.  His eyes dimmed as he relaxed, his too-flexible bones losing what little tension they had.  Undyne sat him with for several silent minutes, still holding his limp hand.  For the first time in days, Undyne felt somewhat at peace.

The calm was shattered when Alphys bustled back into the room, pushing the cart that held a machine about the size of a microwave.  Whistling tunelessly, Alphys parked the cart near Papyrus's head and began unspooling the jumper cables from its base.

"Alright, P-papyrus," she instructed.  "H-hold still for me, okay?"

Papyrus' face fell.  "Do I have to get shocked again?" he whined.  "I don't like it.  It hurts."

Undyne gave his hand a squeeze.  "I know, Paps, but it's the only way you'll get better.  You don't want your bones to feel like they're made of cheese forever, do you?"

Papyrus hesitated.  "What kind of cheese?"

Undyne snorted.  "Quit being a smartass and hold still, you big baby," she scolded.  Papyrus grimaced but didn't twitch as Alphys attached the jumper cables to his collarbones.

Despite knowing that it was the only way to improve Papyrus's condition, Undyne couldn't watch as Alphys turned on the machine.  She gritted her teeth, trying not to cry as she heard Papyrus bite back a scream.  He thrashed reflexively, Undyne still holding his hand tightly, as the electric current passed through his bones.

After ten seconds that felt like ten hours, Alphys switched the machine off.  Papyrus collapsed in a limp heap, condensation trickling down his skull.  The thin hospital gown he was wearing was wrinkled and damp.  He gasped in a deep breath and coughed weakly.

"It's alright," Undyne reassured him.  "It's over now.  And don't you feel a bit better?"  His hand felt more solid in hers, less like it would liquefy if she gripped it too hard.

Papyrus groaned uncertainly.  "Ugh... maybe a little."  He turned his head experimentally.  "I feel... less like pudding."

As they talked, Alphys had moved the machine over to Sans' bed and had begun hooking the jumper cables to him.  Papyrus looked around in alarm.

"Wait, is that Sans?" he asked in alarm.  "Don't shock Sans!  Please, keep that thing away from him!  You'll hurt him!"

"Calm down, Papyrus," Undyne reassured him.  "Sans is still unconscious.  He won't feel a thing, alright?  This is the only way he'll recover."

Papyrus seemed like he wanted to protest further, but he simply watched with concern as Alphys turned the machine back on.  True to Undyne's promise, the unconscious skeleton didn't so much as flinch when the electric current ran through him.

"Is he okay?" Papyrus asked again as Alphys checked Sans' vitals.  "He really hasn't woken up yet?"

The dismay on his face was enough to break Undyne's heart.  "I'm sure he'll be fine," she said softly.  "Just listen to Doctor Undyne.  Have I ever been wrong before?"

"You're not actually a doctor." Papyrus still looked doubtful.  "Can I see him?"

"N-not yet," Alphys answered for Undyne.  "The chances are slim, but there's the possibility that if you get too close you'll, um... m-melt again."

"Melt?" Papyrus asked in total confusion.  "What is she-"

Undyne elbowed Alphys out of the way with a sidelong glare.  "She didn't mean anything by that.  I'm sure you're probably starving, right?  Al, why don't we run upstairs and grab Paps some Nice Cream, yeah?"

Not giving either of them time to respond, Undyne half-dragged Alphys out of the room.

"That was a stupid thing to say," she hissed as the elevator rumbled upward.

"S-sorry, I wasn't thinking," Alphys said regretfully, avoiding Undyne's eyes.

"Whatever.  Let's just keep them apart until we're sure it's safe."

Unfortunately, the choice was taken out of their hands when they returned to the basement to discover Papyrus attempting to lift Sans out of his bed with blue magic.  Still weakened, Papyrus couldn't do much more than raise Sans a few inches and then drop him again.

"Papyrus, stop!" Undyne shouted, racing to his side and smacking his skull firmly.  "You'll pull his IV out!"  Alphys rushed to Sans, making sure the needle was still in place.  Undyne glared at Papyrus, who glared right back.

"He needs me!" Papyrus insisted.  "That's why he's not waking up!  He's waiting for me!"

"He's not waking up because he's badly injured, and you're only making it worse right now!" Undyne shouted back.

"You don't know him!" Papyrus argued.  "He's not going to wake up without my help!"

"That's the most ridiculous-"

"Undyne!" Alphys interrupted.  "It's o-okay.  It'll probably be s-safe enough by now, and who knows?  It m-might help him.  In any case, if it ends up hurting him we can always just move him back to his own bed."

Undyne and Alphys engaged in a spontaneous staring contest.  For once, Alphys won.

"You know what?  Fine," Undyne sighed.  "If you think it's okay, then we'll do it your way, Paps."

Papyrus waited expectantly as Undyne carefully lifted Sans out of his bed.  He was so light she barely felt his weight.  Alphys carried the IV stand, ensuring that the tube entering the open front of Sans' hospital gown stayed intact.  Undyne carried Sans across to Papyrus's bed and arranged him carefully next to his brother.

"Sans?" Papyrus whispered, shifting so Sans was resting comfortably in his arms.  "Can you hear me?  Everything's all right, bro.  We're both safe now."

Undyne looked away uncomfortably, suddenly feeling like she was eavesdropping.  Alphys had busied herself putting away the jumper cables.

"Sans?" Papyrus said again.  "I'm doing okay, and I'm sure you'll be too, but I'd really like it if you could wake up.  Would that be okay with you?"

For the longest moment, there was no response from Sans.  Undyne wasn't surprised.  Since the brothers had been torn into two separate beings once more, there had been no signs of life whatsoever from the smaller skeleton.

"It's okay, Sans.  I can wait.  Just take your time." Papyrus's voice cracked.

So briefly that Undyne wasn't sure she'd seen it, Sans twitched.  As Papyrus squeezed his shoulders encouragingly, Sans slowly dragged one arm upward and wrapped it around his brother's ribs.  With a silent sigh, Sans twisted his head so it was buried in Papyrus's collarbone, then fell still again.

Papyrus shot a glance at Undyne that said See?  I told you so.

Undyne rolled her eyes, then moved away to give them some alone time while Papyrus resumed murmuring comforting words to his brother.

Chapter Text

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."

Chapter Text

The morning after Sans's outburst, there was a tense détente in Alphys's lab.  Undyne had had to go back to her house for a few hours to take care of some Guard business, and she returned to find a heavy sort of silence filling the lab.  Alphys had vanished to the depths of the True Lab where the other Amalgamates lived, and Undyne didn't feel like braving the spooky hallways to track her down.  Sans and Papyrus sat sullenly on opposite ends of Alphys's couch, not even looking at each other.  Neither of them looked up when Undyne entered the room.

There are a number of ways I could defuse the tension here, Undyne said to herself.  She opted to pretend to be oblivious, leaping over Alphys's coffee table and flopping on the couch between the brothers.

"All right, punks, what are we watching?"  She snatched up the TV remote.  "Anyone opposed to a game show?  Mettaton's really stepped up his style since he got his new body."

Sans and Papyrus both ignored her, staring off in opposite directions as Undyne turned on the show.  The strained silence in the living room was filled with MTT's trademark bright colors and blaring noises.  Undyne's attempts to provoke a conversation were met with stony silence.  There was still no sign of Alphys.

She heaved a sigh as the show ended, turning off the TV and resting her elbows on her knees.  She noticed with some chagrin that there was a wide stain on the floor where last night's spaghetti had been spilled.  Just as I was starting to get this place cleaned up...

"Okay, guys, what's the matter?" she finally said sternly.  "You can't possibly still be angry at each other.  I mean, honestly, Paps!  Since when are you capable of holding a grudge, especially at Sans?"

"I'm not mad at Sans," Papyrus finally muttered.

"So you're mad at me?  Or Alphys?"

"No!" he snapped.  "I'm not mad at anyone!"

Undyne was completely lost.  "So what's the problem?"

Papyrus lapsed into silence again.  Undyne sat, waiting impatiently, as Papyrus sulked.  Sans appeared completely unwilling to contribute to the conversation.

"Do you both think I'm stupid?" Papyrus finally whispered.

Sans shot up in his seat. "What? Of course not, Paps!  Why would you even think-"

"Because you're all lying to me!" he burst out.  "There's something you're not telling me, and it's either because you think I can't handle it or I won't understand, and I'm sick of it!  You always do this!  You lie and lie to spare my feelings, and you think I can't tell!  Do you think I'm too dumb to notice?  Am I supposed to ignore that you won't even tell me how Sans and I got so badly hurt?  Did you think I'd just blindly accept whatever half-assed explanation you saw fit to give me?"  He was hyperventilating now, his eyes whirling between colors as he struggled to get control of his emotions.  "Undyne... Sans... whatever it is, you can tell me, can't you?  I can deal with it," he implored, looking to them with tears in his eyes.

Undyne sat in silence, trying to think of something to say but coming up blank.  She flinched in surprise as Sans crawled across her to curl up in Papyrus's lap.

"I'm really sorry, bro," he whispered, his face buried in Papyrus's hoodie.  His fingers dug into Papyrus's collar, gripping the bones underneath.  "I don't think you're stupid.  Don't ever think that.  I shouldn't have hid the truth from you.  I- I'm really sorry," he said again, his voice cracking.  "Just don't hate me, please."

"Hate you?  Now who's the stupid one?" Papyrus murmured, wrapping his arms tightly around Sans.  "I could never hate you, brother.  Never in a million years."

Undyne suddenly felt like an intruder on their private moment as they sat hugging in silence.  She stared in the opposite direction, trying to afford them a modicum of privacy.

"Just... don't lie to me again, okay?" Papyrus finally said.

Sans nodded slowly.  "I'll tell you everything that happened.  I'm warning you, though, it's not pretty.  Are you sure you can handle it?"

"I can handle it.  Just tell me."

Sans sighed heavily, his eyes going dark as he took a deep breath.  "After the landslide-"

"Sans, wait!"

Alphys burst into the living room, puffing slightly and carrying a large briefcase.  "Don't tell him, Sans."

Sans glared at Alphys suspiciously.  "He deserves to know, Al.  I won't let you stop me again."

Alphys slumped against the wall, exhaustion and defeat evident in her body language.  She blinked tears out of her eyes, but made no move to wipe them away.  "I know that.  He'll find out regardless, right?  But you shouldn't have to be the one to tell him.  I'll do it."

Sans snorted derisively.  "You think he wants to hear it from you? Thanks, but he'll take it better coming from someone who actually has his well-being in mind."

"I do, Sans," Alphys said desperately.  "I told you, it was an accident.  And..." her claws trembled as tears sprang to her eyes.  "You were right, Sans.  I need to take responsibility for what I've done."

She hefted the briefcase.  "These are all the notes I took on the experiment.  I'm... I'm going to go to the palace and confess to the king."

 


 

Alphys nervously checked her satchel for the tenth time, ensuring she was carrying all the important files related to her unethical project.  Undyne filled another water bottle, hoping she would have enough to keep herself hydrated all the way to the palace.  Papyrus paced excitedly back and forth, eager to get on the road.

"Wowie, I can't wait to get out of here!" he said enthusiastically.  "The Great Papyrus isn't built to stay indoors, you know!"

"Papyrus, this isn't a field trip," Undyne scolded.  "This is a very serious undertaking."

"Then wouldn't it be better to find an 'undertaker' to do it?" Sans suggested from where he was lounging on the couch, watching the others prepare.

"Sans, that isn't funny," Papyrus scolded. 

"Sorry, should I have asked for an 'Undyne-taker' instead?" Sans smirked.

Papyrus growled irritably.  "If you can't help us prepare, the least you can do is stop being such a pain in the neck!"

"Aww, are your vertebrae sore?  Do you need to lie down?" Sans said in mock sympathy. 

Papyrus merely growled.  "Sans, I'm putting my foot down.  No more puns!"

"Why not?" Sans asked innocently.  "You didn't used to be so strict.  Back in my day,  it wasn't frowned u-pun."

Ten bad puns later, their somber group exited the lab and began making their way towards the palace.  Alphys was carrying her case full of notes, and Sans was clinging to Papyrus like a koala.

"Look at that, Sans!" Papyrus shifted his grip so he could point out each new feature.  "Hotland is so different than I remember it!"

"What are you talking about, bro?" Sans muttered sleepily.  "It's a hot land.  What's so different about it?"

"N-no, Papyrus is right," Alphys spoke up.  "S-some of the mechanical devices have been upgraded since you were last here, such a-as the puzzles."

"Puzzles!" Papyrus cried.  "Can I see?  I want to do the puzzles!"

"Not right now, Paps," Undyne said.  "We're on a mission, remember?  We need go to straight to the palace.  Maybe later, okay?"

Papyrus slumped, dejected.  "Okay.  We'll do them later.  Right, Sans?  Sans?"

Sans was already asleep, head resting against Papyrus's collarbones.  A soft snoring noise came from his closed mouth.  Papyrus chuckled fondly, adjusting his grip so Sans was more comfortable.

"Don't overdo it, okay, Paps?" Undyne ordered.  "You're still recovering.  If you're getting tired, just say the word and I'll take Sans."

Papyrus laughed.  "Don't be ridiculous, Undyne!  You're not equipped to handle such a responsibility!  It takes a strict training course, a written test, and a six-month waiting period to become licensed in Sans-carrying!"

Papyrus acted flippant about the idea, but Undyne heard the underlying message loud and clear: no one touches Sans but me.

They traveled most of the way to the palace in silence, each off in their own worlds of thoughts.  Undyne was brooding about how to explain her part in covering up the whole fiasco, and she could tell Alphys was anxious about the king's reaction.  She couldn't begin to guess what was going through Papyrus's head.  To the outside observer, the tall skeleton seemed simpleminded and happy-go-lucky, but Undyne knew he was more perceptive than he appeared.  What could he possibly think of all this?

Alphys couldn't hold back a squeak of anxiety as the castle doors creaked open.  Standing on the other side, waiting to greet them, was Asgore himself.  He was wearing his usual robes over a floral-patterned shirt, and his golden beard was slightly unkempt.

"Doctor Alphys!" he boomed, grabbing her around the neck with one massive goat hand and pulling her into a hug.  "I'm so glad to see you!  It's been so long, I was getting worried about you!  I do hope you're taking care of yourself."  He released her and she stumbled away with a gasp.

"And Captain Undyne!" the king continued, pumping her hand up and down.  "Been keeping busy, I'm sure?  I know the Royal Guard is a big responsibility, but you have to be sure you're not overdoing it!"

"Your Majesty, I-" Undyne tried to begin, but the king wasn't finished.

"Is that- Sans and Papyrus?" Asgore peered down at them.  Papyrus shied back half a step, tightening his grip on the still-sleeping Sans protectively.  Asgore aborted his attempt at a hug, settling for a gentle pat on Papyrus's back. 

"It's good to see you boys again," he said sincerely.  "I was so worried when you disappeared.  I feared the worst had happened."

"Actually, Your M-majesty..." Alphys began.

Asgore turned to her and she dropped her gaze, fiddling with her case.  "That's why we came here."

"Yes?" Asgore prompted after Alphys hesitated.

"Th-there's something I need to tell you."

Chapter Text

All was silent.

The kitchen, where Asgore usually insisted on holding his most important meetings, was completely still.  Five cups of tea sat cooling on the table, long forgotten by the kitchen's occupants.

No one spoke, but the quiet was anything but peaceful.  Undyne could tell from the expression on Asgore's face that he had been taken completely aback and had no idea how to react to Alphys's confession.  Undyne was proud of how her friend had explained herself so calmly, laying out the project notes for the king and detailing the process step by step in a dispassionate voice.  The king's eyes had grown wider and wider as Alphys talked, but did not interrupt.  When she finally revealed the horrific results of the flawed DT experiments, he had let out a single choked gasp and leaned backward in his chair.  In the silent minutes since then, Undyne could tell the king was trying to wrap his head around the information.  Alphys had been staring nervously into her teacup since she'd stopped speaking, waiting for the king to pass judgment on her. 

Papyrus hadn't said a word either.  He had watched Alphys present her notes with detached interest, as though he couldn't quite figure out what the experiment had to do with him.  When Alphys finally spelled out how Sans and Papyrus had melted together into an abomination of science and existed as a semi-vegetative atrocity for the better part of a year, he had simply said "oh."

That was all he said.  Just "oh."

He was trying to keep a poker face, but Papyrus had always been an open book.  Undyne could tell from the slight flicker in his eyes and the way his fingers dug into Sans, who was sitting on his lap, that Papyrus was nearly out of his mind with panic.  Yet, the normally impulsive skeleton was managing to contain his emotions for the moment.  

Sans, as always, was completely unreadable.  He seemed relaxed, leaning against Papyrus with his eyes turned off, but Undyne knew he couldn't be happy about any of this.  She made a mental note to keep a close eye on Alphys in case Sans flipped his lid and attacked her again, but dismissed the notion as paranoid.

Come on, Sans knows better than that, she rationalized.  Besides, he's only got 1hp.  What's the worst he could do?

Still, it bothered her that she couldn't tell what he was thinking.  She had always been close with Papyrus, but Sans, well... Sans was a pile of secrets and unanswered questions wrapped in a ketchup-stained hoodie.

For her part, Undyne was silent in anticipation of the others' reactions.  Her magic spears were on standby just in case the meeting turned violent.  Not that she thought any of her friends would resort to that right now, but Undyne was always prepared for violence.  One did not rise to the rank of Captain without being prepared to stab one's closest friends at any given moment.

After nearly five minutes' silence, during which the only sound in the kitchen was the almost-imperceptible fwip fwip of Undyne's fins as they gently fluttered against her head, Asgore sighed heavily.

"I don't know what to say, Doctor Alphys," he finally said, his deep voice quivering with sadness.  "This..." he indicated the papers on the table, "this is such a serious breach of ethics that there isn't even a law that covers it.  And you kept it a secret all this time... what did you hope to accomplish by hiding this from me?"  He looked to her pleadingly, asking with his eyes for some excuse, a rationalization that she could provide to mitigate her crimes even slightly.

Alphys simply shook her head.  "I... I didn't know what would happen to them.  I knew it was wrong f-from the beginning, but I thought, I thought..." her eyes filled with tears.  "I thought that if I was successful, I could use the artificial SOULs to break the barrier for you... so you wouldn't have to k-kill any more humans..."

Asgore stayed silent, waiting for her to continue.  Alphys wrung her claws awkwardly, unable to meet his eyes.

"A-after the experiment failed miserably, I was too s-scared to come to you... I didn't know how you'd react," she whispered.  "All of the monsters' families kept calling, asking what had become of the ones I'd taken... but I was t-too scared and ashamed to come clean to anyone until Undyne practically broke my door down..."

Undyne fought to keep her face stoic as Asgore turned to her.  "And how long have you known about this?" he asked her stiffly.

Inside, Undyne gulped.  A cover-up of this magnitude could cost her everything.  "Two or three months," she confessed.  "I didn't tell you because I was trying to protect Papyrus and Sans."

Papyrus flinched, not expecting his name to enter the conversation.  "You were?" he said, puzzled.

Undyne nodded.  "The rest of the Amalgamates seemed content in the True Lab, as far as I could tell, but you two looked so lonely whenever I'd come to visit..." she wistfully recalled the first time she'd seen them in their transformed state.  After her initial panic, she'd allowed the creature to approach her.  It had seemed utterly overjoyed to have a visitor.  "I took them home with me.  I didn't know what would happen to them if I came clean.  I couldn't risk having them taken away by someone who didn't understand..." It was a weak excuse, she knew, but she couldn't help the words that tumbled out of her mouth.  When she was done, she squeezed her eyes shut and lowered her head.  "I will accept whatever punishment you see fit to give me."

"S-same here," Alphys added.  "I know what I did was u-unforgivable, and I know I can't make it right, but-"

The king cut her off with a raised paw.  "Doctor Alphys," he said slowly.  "Captain Undyne."

Unconsciously, Undyne scooted closer to Alphys in solidarity.  Papyrus wrapped one arm tightly around Sans, reacting to the tense atmosphere.

"You were wrong to hide this from me," he began sternly.  Alphys nodded, but he stopped her from apologizing again.  "However, I can't bring myself to blame you for the outcome.  You were only doing what you thought was right, both of you.  And you told me the truth eventually, which counts for something.  I take it from the presence of Sans and Papyrus that you're making progress in transforming the Amalgamates back to normal?"

Alphys fussed with the notes on the table, still avoiding the king's eyes.  "It m-might not be so simple with the others, but y-yes, assuming Sans and Papyrus manage to recover properly, it will work as p-proof of concept that goes a long way towards bringing the rest of them back to normal."

"Excuse me?" Sans interrupted.  "What exactly do you mean by that?  We are recovering properly, aren't we?"

Alphys jumped guiltily.  "Um, y-yes, it would seem so, b-but that's what we thought about Papyrus in the beginning, remember?"  Sans seemed to bristle at the reminder.  "We n-need to keep you both under observation for the forseeable future to m-make sure you don't experience any latent side effects of a procedure w-we don't properly understand..." she trailed off as Sans glared her into silence.

"What are you saying?" Papyrus whispered. "Do you mean... what you're telling us is that either of us could just... drop dead?  At any time?"

"It's a b-bit more complicated than that, but... basically, yes," Alphys admitted.

Undyne noted with some alarm that Papyrus was shaking from head to toe, the rattling of his bones filling the room.  His face was frighteningly blank, but his eyes betrayed his mounting panic.  "You mean... after everything you've done... after everything you've put us through... I could lose Sans just like that?"

"Bro, calm down," Sans muttered, but Papyrus was beyond comfort.  Sans shouted in surprise as Papyrus stood up abruptly, sending both his chair and Sans crashing to the ground.  He sprinted out of the room before anyone could react, leaving Sans stunned on the floor.

Alphys and Asgore let out startled cries.  Undyne was already halfway out of her chair to give chase, but Sans held up a hand to stop her.  Undyne reached for him to help him up, remembering that he wasn't supposed to walk on his own.

"Don't bother, Undyne," Sans said flatly.  "I've got this."

In a flash of blue, Sans vanished.

"Dammit!" Undyne snarled as her hand passed right through where he had been.  "I forgot about his shortcuts!"  She huffed in dismay, returning to her seat.  "I didn't know he was strong enough to use those..."

"Should we go after them?" Alphys asked in concern.

Undyne shook her head.  "Papyrus is a fast runner.  They could be anywhere in the Underground by the time we get out there."

"So w-what do we do?" Alphys asked her.  "J-just wait and hope for the best?"

"If they don't turn up by tomorrow, I'll organize a search party," Undyne said tiredly.

Alphys's head thunked against the table.  "Ugh, could this meeting have gone any worse?"

She flinched as Asgore rested one kingly arm around her shoulders.  "It'll be all right, Alphys.  I'm not angry at you.  I'll do whatever it takes to help you fix your mistakes."

Undyne joined their little huddle, scooting her seat close to the others as Alphys sobbed into the table.  

"Shh, it'll be all right," Undyne whispered comfortingly.  "We've got your back, Al.  Don't worry about a thing.

"Everything's going to be all right."

Chapter Text

Papyrus had no idea how far he'd run by the time his legs gave out.  He collapsed to his knees, hyperventilating uncontrollably, tear tracks drying on his face.  He remained on the ground where he had fallen, shuddering violently, too overwhelmed to think straight.

"Welp, I think that went well," a voice said from behind him.  Papyrus jumped in surprise, twisting to see Sans sitting cross-legged on the ground behind him.  

"I don't want to 'rain' on your parade, but you look like you could use a 'hand?'" Sans held out his detached arm to Papyrus.  Belatedly, Papyrus noticed that the ceiling was dripping.  How had he made it all the way to Waterfall?

"Look, bro, I'm willing to sit here as long as you need to.  Longer, in fact, because I can't stand up."  He smirked nonchalantly as he reattached his arm, but Papyrus knew his brother well enough to read the distress evident in his eyes.

"Right.  Of course.  Here, I'll-" Papyrus struggled to his feet, but collapsed again before he'd taken a single step. 

"Heh.  What a pair we make," Sans said dryly while they shuffled along the ground until they were sitting next to each other.  Papyrus unzipped his Black Mesa hoodie, wrapped it around Sans, and zipped them both inside it. 

Sans struggled halfheartedly.  "Come on, this isn't necessary."

Papyrus wrapped his arms around Sans, holding him in place.  "Catching a cold is the last thing you need right now," he lectured gently.

Sans snorted.  "As if I wasn't broken enough already, right?"

Papyrus' only response was a quiet sniffle.  Sans twisted to hide his face under Papyrus's chin, burying his blind eye in his brother's chest.  "Sorry.  I didn't mean that."

"I know.  I'm just worried about you."

They lapsed into silence for the longest time, sitting on the rough ground and listening to the dripping of the cavern.  Papyrus had fled to a secluded corner of Waterfall, so no monsters passed by to discover the somber huddle.  Sans tried to pretend that the moisture running from Papyrus's face down the back of Sans's skull was just water dripping from the ceiling.

"What if something happens to you?" Papyrus finally whispered, so quietly Sans was barely sure he had heard.

"Then you'll deal with it and move on," Sans said grimly.  "You're stronger than me.  You'll be able to get on with your life."

"No!" Papyrus objected, a knee-jerk reaction.  "How could you even say that?  You think I could just... go back to normal?  Just live without you somehow?"

"I'm sure you could find a way.  You've got your ambitions, you've got Undyne... you have plenty to get you out of bed in the morning.  I've only got you," Sans said bitterly.  "And without you, I'm just a bad joke without a punch line."

"That's not possible," Papyrus protested.  "What would I do without you?" 

"I've had to face that question already," Sans muttered.  "That's how we got here, remember?"

"I'm sorry," Papyrus sniffled.  "I caused you so much trouble... if it wasn't for me, you wouldn't have had to go through that."

Sans shook his head, his forehead making a scraping noise against Papyrus's chin.  "It's the other way around, bro.  I was so desperate to keep you alive that I was willing to do anything.  This was my fault, not yours and not Alphys's.  I'm... I'm so sorry, Papyrus."  He squeezed his eye sockets shut.  "I just can't lose you.  I can't..."  His voice broke.

Papyrus tightened his hold on Sans.  "I know.  I can't lose you either.  But it'll be okay, alright?  I understand why you did what you did, and I don't blame you.  I would have done the same in your place."

"You shouldn't.  You deserve to have your own life, with or without me," Sans muttered.

"That's never going to happen," Papyrus said sternly.  "Not if I have anything to say about it."

"You might not," Sans said darkly.

"Stop being so negative," Papyrus scolded.  The good humor that would usually accompany such a reprimand was replaced with a sort of hollow desperation.  "We'll be fine.  I promise.  Just you wait and see."

Sans wanted to echo his words back at him.  He wanted so badly to reassure his brother that they would be all right, that they would recover and be able to go home, but he couldn't bring himself to say it.  His doubts at the possibility of recovery- he couldn't even walk, for God's sake- and his antipathy towards making promises to anyone, even Papyrus, caused him to hold his tongue.

Instead, he ignored the crawling sensation of dread, ignored the deep unnatural ache of bones that had been turned to jelly, and ignored his own pessimism.  Instead, he focused on the warmth of the hoodie around them both and the reassuring weight of Papyrus's arms.

"I'm sure you're right," he finally said.  "We'll be okay as long as we're together."

He almost believed his own words.

Almost.

Chapter Text

Undyne growled under her breath as she paced back and forth in Alphys's lab.  She'd ordered Alphys to go to bed hours before, as there was no sense in both of them staying up.  Now she was regretting that decision, since a fish of action like herself was not built for sitting around waiting.  She couldn't get the image out of her head of Papyrus stranded somewhere injured, with Sans unable to help, and cursed herself for allowing Papyrus to get away.

"Dammit, Papyrus, you'd better be okay," she muttered.  "Or else I'm going to kill you."

Nearly six hours after Alphys and Undyne had returned from Asgore's castle alone, Undyne finally leaped to her feet at the sound of a soft knock at the door.  Sprinting to the control panel, she fumbled the door open to reveal a sopping wet Papyrus with a sleeping Sans tucked inside his hoodie.  

"Oh my God, where have you two been?" Undyne barked, ushering Papyrus inside.  "Are you alright?  Are either of you hurt?"

Papyrus was shaking from exhaustion and cold, and Sans looked even worse.  His eye sockets were squeezed shut too tightly to be sleeping peacefully, and his shuddering breaths came weakly and sporadically. 

"Come on, let's get you out of those wet clothes," Undyne ordered.  "Here, give me Sans."

She reached out to unzip Papyrus's hoodie, but he shied away from her hands.  "No, I got it," he said defensively.  "Sans doesn't like to be carried by anyone else."

"Come on, he's asleep," Undyne implored.  "You've got to be exhausted.  Just let me take him."

Papyrus walked right past her, his knees threatening to buckle with every step.  With an exapserated sigh, Undyne fell into step beside him and offered him her shoulder to lean on.  Slowly, painfully, Papyrus and Undyne made their way to the elevator and back down to Papyrus's bed in the True Lab.  She helped him lie down, stripping him of the soaking hoodie.  Sans shifted in his sleep, clinging tighter to Papyrus's neck to make up for the sudden lack of warmth.  

"Here, just try to relax," Undyne said gently.  Gathering the blankets from the rest of the empty beds, she layered them on top of the brothers until they were bundled up warmly.

"Are you feeling alright?  I don't want you to catch a cold," Undyne murmured.  "You need to take better care of yourself, okay?"

"I know," Papyrus sighed, uncharacteristically meek.  "I'm sorry.  It was foolish of me to run off like that.  I won't cause you any trouble anymore."

"Aww, Paps," Undyne groaned.  "You're never any trouble to me.  You know that, right?"

Papyrus made a slight distressed noise.  "You kept us alive all year," he whispered.  "We weren't even sentient.  We were completely dependent on you.  I'd say that counts as trouble."

His bone face was somehow paler than usual, if that was possible.  His pupils were flickering with the colors of distress and grief.  He seemed on the verge of tears once again.

Undyne leaned over the bed, gently pressing her scaly lips to his forehead.  "I said never and I meant never," she murmured.  "You're worth everything to me, you hear?  If I thought you didn't deserve it, I'd have left you on the side of the road."  She smirked, her lips still brushing against the ridges of his skull.  "I'll go get Alphys.  You just relax, okay?"

"Mmm." Papyrus's eyes went dark.  Undyne gave him one last worried glance before leaving the room to wake Alphys.


Papyrus kept up a continual stream of high-pitched pain noises while Alphys examined his legs.

"Y-your knees aren't broken, but your joints are badly cracked," she diagnosed.  Leaning over Alphys's shoulder, Undyne could see a lattice of cracks spiderwebbing around Papyrus's kneecaps.  "You got l-lucky, but I'm going to have to put you on bed rest for at least a w-week."

Papyrus whimpered in response.  

"Oh, quit being such a baby," Undyne snapped.  "You brought this on yourself, Paps.  Maybe next time you won't be so quick to run off."

"Nyeh," Papyrus whined.  "I... won't.  Is Sans okay?"

"I already l-looked him over," Alphys reassured him.  "He's not hurt, just exhausted.  His temperature is low for a skeleton, but he's n-not hypothermic."

Papyrus heaved a sigh of relief.  "I guess we'll both be lying around for a while, huh Sans?"  He nudged his sleeping brother with an elbow.  Sans stirred, muttering in his sleep.

While they were talking, Alphys filled Papyrus's knee joints with gritty salve and wrapped them in gauze.  "N-now, this is going to be itchy, but you are not to scratch, do you hear me?"

Papyrus moaned another complaint, but Alphys shot him a stern look.  The usually-boisterous Papyrus lapsed into sullen silence.

"Thanks, Al," Undyne mouthed, waving her away.  With a silent nod, Alphys returned upstairs, her tail swishing under her flannel pajamas.

Undyne and Papyrus stared at each other for a moment, lost in thought.

"I'm sorry," Papyrus said again.

"Papyrus, I told you to stop apologizing," Undyne said sternly.

"Right.  Sorry.  I mean- not sorry.  I mean, I apologize for apologizing-" Papyrus stammered.

Undyne rolled her eyes.  "Just go to sleep, Paps.  You'll be fine, okay?"

He nodded silently.  Undyne smoothed the blankets over his injured legs, wrapping them securely around both skeletons.  Sans snuggled closer in his sleep, tucking his face under Papyrus's chin.

"Sleep tight, boys," Undyne whispered. 

Chapter Text

Dr. W.D. Gaster sighed to himself as he punched the keypad to allow him entrance into the lab.  Every day this week had been more challenging than the last.  He'd hit roadblock after roadblock, what with mechanical failures, computer errors, and of course, the uncooperative attitude of Subject One.  He was irritable from lack of sleep, and his turtleneck was rumpled underneath his lab coat from where he'd slept in it again.  He was almost prepared to give up on this particular line of research, but he was willing to try one last drastic experiment.

He heard the hushed whispering from down the hall cut off abruptly as he hit the switch to turn the lights on.  Dr. Gaster knew they were waiting apprehensively for him to show up at their door and take one of them for the day, but he turned down another hallway.  He had work to do before beginning the day's experiments.

Gaster allowed himself a cigarette while waiting for his computer to boot up.  It had been prone to complications lately, so opening the requisite files was a touchy matter.  Finally the experiment details were displayed on the screen.  Muttering to himself, smoke leaking from beneath his lab coat, Gaster triple-checked to ensure that his calculations were correct.  He'd made one too many careless mistakes in recent weeks.

Before logging off the computer, he pulled up the video feed to check on his subjects.  They were sitting together on the bench, talking quietly about their favorite foods.  1-S had the color cube in his hands, idly twisting it around.

"I liked those cookies he brought us once," 2-P said.  "They were very good."

"Yeah, they were okay," 1-S agreed halfheartedly.

"I wonder if they were for a special occasion?" 2-P speculated.  "Like an event, or-"

Gaster turned the feed off.  He had no time to eavesdrop on their idle chatter.  There was science to be done.

It had been a risky endeavor to bring one of the human SOULs down to the lab for experimentation, but it was an important step in Gaster's latest line of inquiry.  Fortunately, Asgore hadn't asked too many questions about exactly why Gaster had wanted the SOUL.  Well, he had, but Gaster was able to deflect the soft-hearted goat by claiming it was for observation only.

Still, Asgore had hesitated before handing over the container with the blue SOUL.

"I hope you know what you're doing, Gaster," he'd warned, forcing Gaster to maintain eye contact.

"I always know what I'm doing, Your Majesty," Gaster had replied coolly.  Finally, Asgore had relented and handed over the SOUL.

Since then, Gaster had bent his considerable intellect and willpower towards the sole goal of unlocking the secrets of the SOUL.  After three straight days of unbroken focus, Gaster had managed to isolate the Determination and distill it into a usable serum.

Gaster's work increased in urgency.  If he could boost the DT quality of monster souls, then they would be able to pass through the barrier without even breaking it.  Or perhaps they would be strong enough to break it themselves, who knew?  It hardly mattered.  The only important thing was that after all this time, after so much suffering from so many, after all the sacrifices that monsterkind had been forced to make, victory was close at hand.  The serum was complete.

Now he only needed to test it.

He heard the voices fall quiet again as he approached the cell.  Subjects One and Two stared at him silently as he deactivated the force field, Two with mere anxiety and One with pure hatred.

"Subject Two.  Come with me," Gaster instructed.  

Two stood up reluctantly, bones clacking almost imperceptibly as he shook with fright, but One grabbed his wrist to stop him before he'd taken a step.

"what, not going to feed us first?" One challenged Gaster.  "is this some sort of new test, huh?  see how long it takes for us to starve to death?  you gonna stand there with your clipboard, watching us waste away, taking notes-"

"That's enough.  Two, come with me or I will force you to."  Gaster's tone was entirely emotionless, belying the stress he felt beneath the surface.  Today was too important for 1-S to ruin it with his inane chatter.

Subject Two blanched.  He shook his arm free of One's grasp before Gaster could ask twice, rushing to obey Gaster's commands.  One glared at him impotently as Gaster turned the beams back on, leaving Subject One alone in the cell.

"W-WHAT ARE WE DOING TODAY?" Two asked nervously as he half-jogged to keep up with Gaster's quick steps.  "ARE WE GOING TO EAT LATER?"

"It's important that you not eat before the procedure," Gaster said shortly.  "You can eat afterward if you're feeling well enough."

2-P gulped nervously.  "...P-PROCEDURE?"

His pupils contracted to tiny dots as they arrived at the lab.  Gaster ushered him inside, untying Two's hospital gown and draping it over a nearby chair.  Indicating for Two to climb on the operating table, Gaster turned to the workbench that contained his most valuable research tools.

Finally, he breathed silently to himself, holding up the vial that contained the DT serum.  To his surprise, it was bright red instead of the SOUL's original blue.  With quick, precise movements, he extracted the serum from the vial into a syringe with a long needle.  Slowly, carefully, he ensured that not a single drop of red was left behind in the vial.

Turning around, he huffed in irritation to see that 2-P had not yet climbed onto the table.  Instead, he was eyeing the syringe in Gaster's hand with unadulterated terror.

"Subject Two.  Get on the table," Gaster commanded.

Two shook his head frantically, edging backward against the wall.  "I- I DON'T WANT TO!" he begged.  "WHAT IS IN THAT NEEDLE?  WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO TO ME?"

Outwardly, Gaster allowed no emotion to crack through his facade of indifference.  Inwardly, he growled with frustration.  This sudden belligerence from the normally obedient 2-P was one too many grievances for today.

"Enough.  I will not indulge this childish tantrum.  Get on the table this instant or I will make you," Gaster threatened.  2-P whimpered with terror, but made no move to obey.

Finally allowing himself a growl of irritation, Gaster waved his hand.  2-P gasped as his feet lifted off the ground, carried by Gaster's grip on his soul.  2-P thrashed in midair, shrieking and crying hysterically, but Gaster showed no mercy as he threw 2-P against the table, perhaps a little more forcefully than necessary.  He kept 2-P pinned in place, not releasing his magic until he had tightened every strap around the smaller skeleton's limbs and neck.

"P-PLEASE! I'M SORRY!" Two implored desperately.  "YOU DON'T HAVE TO DO THIS!  THERE'S ANOTHER WAY, ISN'T THERE?  I CAN HELP YOU FIND IT!  WHATEVER YOU'RE DOING, I CAN HELP YOU!  YOU DON'T HAVE TO STAB ME WITH THAT SCARY NEEDLE!"

Two's pleas fell on deaf ears as Gaster approached him with the syringe.  His breathing became frantic gasps as Gaster positioned the needle to slide it between his ribs directly into his SOUL.

"NO!  PLEASE!  I DON'T-" Two cut off with a sharp cry, stiffening as Gaster pressed down on the plunger.  His teeth chattered silently for a moment, then he let out a harsh scream as the serum infected his SOUL.  The gentle grayish-blue was quickly overtaken with a deep red, spreading through Two's entire body with glowing veins.

Two screamed even louder with drawn-out agony as the Determination burned through him.  After wrapping around every inch of Two's bones like a living thing, the glow faded as the serum was absorbed into his bones and disappeared.  Two lost consciousness quickly, breathing in shallow gasps.

Gaster left Two on the table until evening, monitoring his vitals carefully.  After determining that Two was neither about to suffer any immediate side effects nor wake up anytime soon, Gaster released him from the table and carried him back to his cell with blue magic.

Subject One was waiting anxiously, curled up on the bench with his face to the wall.  He sat up expectantly when he heard the approaching footsteps, only to spring to his feet with an alarmed cry as Gaster dumped 2-P on the ground inside the cell and walked away.

"brother!" One cried urgently.  "bro, are you okay?  can you hear me?  speak to me, please!"

He raised his head to Gaster, tears overflowing in his eye sockets.  "what did you do to him?" he asked in a desolate voice.  "what did you do?"

"I'll need to monitor his vitals over the next few days to watch out for side effects," Gaster instructed him dryly, passing a box of granola bars through the lasers.  "Keep a close watch for any change."

Without waiting for a response from 1-S, Gaster abruptly turned and walked away.

As he turned the lights off and left the lab, he couldn't help but smile tightly in anticipation.

I'm so close.  We're all so close to freedom.

So close...


1-S was near panic, waiting silently for his brother to wake up.  He hadn't eaten yet.  He was waiting to share the food with his brother, who was asleep in his lap.

After the lights had been off for what felt like hours, Two finally began to stir.  One, who had dozed off against the wall, sat up excitedly.

"brother?  can you hear me?" he asked urgently, resting his hands against the sides of his brother's head.  "are you alright?"

"U-UGH," Two muttered.  "B-BROTHER?"

"yeah, i'm right here," One murmured.  "can you sit up?  are you okay?"

Two attempted to pull himself upright, but ended up collapsing back into One's lap.  "NOPE... SORRY."

"don't apologize.  just hold still, okay?  i've got some food here if you're hungry."

"NO... I'M NOT REALLY HUNGRY RIGHT NOW."

"are you sure?  you didn't eat this morning."

"NEITHER DID YOU.  YOU SHOULD EAT NOW," Two urged weakly.  "I'LL BE ALRIGHT."

"no way, bro.  either we both eat, or we both starve."

Two smiled faintly.  "WELL, IF YOU'RE GOING TO BE LIKE THAT ABOUT IT..."

Under One's watchful gaze, Two managed to force down half a granola bar.  One could tell he wasn't feeling well and was only eating to make his brother happy.

"feeling better?" One pressed.  Two was partially sitting up now, reclining against One limply.

"YEAH.  THANKS."

They lapsed into silence for a long while.  One had taken Gaster's directive to heart, and was watching Two closely to make sure he didn't take a turn for the worse.

"ARE YOU OKAY?  YOU'RE STARING AT ME," Two finally said.

"just checkin on you," One explained.

"I'M OKAY, BROTHER.  ACTUALLY... I'M STARTING TO FEEL REALLY GOOD."  He sat up fully, staring down at himself in disbelief.

"really?  you're not just trying to make me feel better?" One checked.

"YEAH!  I'M FEELING GREAT, ACTUALLY!  LIKE I COULD DO... THIS!" Leaping to his feet, Two snatched One off the ground and swung him through the air.

"h-hey!  cut it out!" One laughed, clinging to his brother for dear life.  Two stopped spinning, but didn't drop One to the ground, pulling him into a tight hug instead.

"heh, i guess you are feeling good," One snickered, slightly out of breath.  He kicked his legs slightly until Two let him drop to the floor.  "maybe he was wrong about the side effects."

"YEAH, I DON'T FEEL ANY SIDE EFFECTS FROM WHATEVER THAT WEIRD STUFF WAS!" Two said with a grin.  "I MEAN, I'M A LITTLE TINGLY, BUT IT DOESN'T HURT."

"tingly?" One asked curiously.  "that's a bit odd, no?"

Two shrugged.  "IT'S A LITTLE BIT LIKE... MY BONES ARE BUZZING?  IT'S A WEIRD FEELING."  His smile faltered as he shivered.  "ACTUALLY, IT'S GETTING A BIT STRONGER.  I WONDER..."

One frowned.  "hey, are you feeling okay?  maybe you should sit down."

Two shied away from One's supportive arm.  "NO... NO, I'M OKAY, BROTHER.  THERE'S NO NEED TO WORRY ABOUT ME.  I'M THE STRONG ONE, RIGHT?  I DON'T NEED TO- TO REST..."

His legs buckled.  One grabbed at him, guiding him gently to the ground and leaning him against the wall.  "hey, you alright?  c'mon, sit down.  deep breaths."

"I FEEL..." he trailed off vacantly.  "BROTHER?"

"i'm right here, you okay? is there anything i can do?" Two gasped as a drop of something fell against his fingers.  Raising his eyes to Two's face, he was horrified to see that his brother's face had begun to melt.

"BROTHER... WHAT'S HAPPENING?  I..." he trailed off again.  

"uh- uhhhh..." One had no words.  His mind had been overtaken with utter panic and terror at the sight of his brother melting before his eyes.  "you're okay, you're... you're okay, just... just stay calm, okay?  i'll go-"

He had no idea how to finish that sentence.  The doctor was gone, and there was no one else who could possibly help them now.

"DON'T- DON'T GO," Two begged as his body began to collapse.  "WHAT'S HAPPENING?  BROTHER, I- I'M SCARED... WHAT'S HAPPENING TO ME??"

"oh my god..." Two mumbled, grabbing at the goo, trying desperately to keep his brother in one piece. "okay, okay, stay calm..." He didn't know if he was talking to his brother or himself.

"i'm right here, I got you, okay?" he whispered.  "don't be scared.  i got you, you're gonna be fine.  i'm not gonna let anything happen to you, okay?" He clung to his brother, holding on to him for dear life as Two began to moan in pain. "you're gonna be fine."

"I'M... I'M FALLING..."  Two began to drip all over One's horrified face.

"hey! hey! don't- oh god- god no-"

One felt his body begin to react to whatever was dripping into his eyes and mouth, feeling the serum begin to absorb into his own bones from his brother's.  His own body lost cohesion as he clung to 2-P, their bodies beginning to meld together at a molecular level.

Still, he didn't let go.  He would rather face whatever uncertain fate together than abandon his brother now.

"i've got you," he begged.  "please- god- no NO- no please- brother, stay with me, okay?!"

"brother?  BROTHEEERRRRRR!!!"

The scream echoed through the lab.

But no one came.


Dr. Gaster entered the lab the next morning with a spring in his step.  He was eager to continue with the next phase of the project.  He had a meeting with Asgore in the afternoon, and he was looking forward to revealing the progress he'd made.

Minus some relevant details, of course.

He was practically whistling when an out-of-place sound gave him pause.  Was that... moaning?  With a quicker step, he went to investigate.

"One and Two, is that you?" he barked.  "Cease that racket at once."

Stopping in front of their cell, he peered between the lasers to check on the subjects.  For a moment, he didn't realize what he was seeing, then his eye sockets widened.

Half-eaten granola bars and wrappers were scattered around the cell, mingling with puddles of white and green goop.  Standing in the room, staring at him curiously, was what had once been two adolescent skeletons.  They were blended together nightmarishly, with One's head growing out of Two's neck, their green hospital gowns melted into their bodies impossibly.  The plates on their hands had fallen off, screws scattered on the floor with the goop.

Gaster staggered back, choking on his own horror.  The creature watched him with interest.

"BrOoOtHeRrRr?" it asked slowly, its voice echoing bizarrely.

"No... no..." Gaster breathed.  "This can't be happening..."

His mind whirled with incoherent thoughts.

How did this happen?

What am I going to do now?

How am I going to continue the project?

What do I do with them?

What have I done?

What have I done?

What have I done

What

what

....

 

 

Chapter Text

Another week of forced inactivity had taken its toll on Papyrus.  Even his perpetually upbeat mood had begun to wear thin as he spent day after day sitting in bed with Sans.  Eventually Undyne, fed up with his complaints of boredom, had stormed out of the lab and returned hours later with a wheeled office chair she had probably stolen from some poor nerd in New Home.  Papyrus, satisfied with this compromise, could thereafter be found whizzing around the True Lab, bouncing off the walls in a carefree manner.

"Wheeee!" he hollered from down the hall.  "Sans, you have got to come try this!"  He careened back into the room, spinning crazily in circles.  He brought himself to a screeching halt next to Sans' bed, where Sans had been in the middle of an eight-hour nap.

"Hmm?  What is it?" he mumbled sleepily, stretching his bones with a cracking noise.  "The house on fire or something?"

"Of course not, lazybones!" Papyrus chided.  "Stop napping for once and come play with this chair!"

"Nah.  My feet wouldn't touch the ground."  Sans rolled over and buried his head under the blanket.  "But have fun, bro."

"Nonsense!  I can have Undyne push you around!"

"What?" Undyne suddenly looked up from where she had been reading a magazine across the room.  

"She can be like your riverboat man!" Papyrus said excitedly, then paused.  "Although, she might be a little too enthusiastic and then you'd end up crashing into a wall or falling down the stairs... we can't have that happen..."

"Don't drag me into this!" Undyne objected.  "There aren't even any stairs down here."

"Bro, just drop it," Sans said tiredly.  "I'm not one for rolling around places."

"Nyeh?" Papyrus asked, tilting his head and peering at Sans.  "I thought surely you'd be on board with any idea that didn't require walking."

"Yeah, but I could be sleeping instead.  That requires the minimum of effort.  If I were on board with this, I'd get bored with this too quickly."

Papyrus huffed at the bad joke, but frowned at Sans with concern.  "Sans... are you feeling all right?  You're sleeping more than usual today.  And that's really saying something."

Sans didn't turn around, still buried in his blanket.  "I'm fine.  Go play with your chair, kay?"

"Are you sure?  You're not even looking at me."  Papyrus reached out to grab Sans's shoulder, but Sans shook him off.

"I told you I'm fine.  Don't worry about me, Pap.  It's starting to get annoying," Sans said flatly.

Papyrus stiffened in his chair.  "Annoying though I may be, it's the Great Papyrus's job to take care of any and all troubles that you may be having!  Sans, I command you to tell me what's wrong!"

"Papyrus.  Knock it off already!" 

Even from across the room, Undyne could tell that Papyrus was hurt by the remark.  "W-what?" he asked in a small voice.

"I'm just trying to nap here, okay?  Get out of my face.  The mom act is starting to get old," Sans grumbled.

Papyrus stared in shock for a moment.  "But I just... O-okay... if that's how you feel..."

Still frowning with hurt and confusion, Papyrus sat back in his wheeled chair and steered himself away from Sans.  As he rolled out of the room, Undyne put down her magazine and stood up.

"Okay, seriously.  Sans, what the hell was that?" she asked bluntly.

"I don't know what you're talking about," Sans growled.  

Undyne crossed over to Sans, ripping off his blanket and yanking him upright, forcing him to look at her.  "Since when are you so cold to Papyrus?  He's like the only person you don't keep at arm's length."

Sans shook off her hand, huffing irritably.  "It's none of your business, Undyne.  I just wanted to take a nap, and he was irritating me.  That's it."

Undyne crossed her arms, looming over Sans threateningly.  "That's not it, and we both know it.  It takes a lot more than waking you up for Papyrus to get on your nerves.  The guy practically does everything for you, so why are you being so short with him now?"

Sans shot her a grim smile.  "I'm short with everyone, Undyne.  I'm hardly the tallest person in this lab."

"Don't get cute with me," she snarled.  "Seriously, Sans, just talk to me.  What's the problem?"

Sans's face went blank, blocking Undyne outside of whatever he was feeling.  "Sorry, Undyne.  If I'm not going to tell Papyrus, what makes you think I'll talk to you about it?"

"So you admit there is something wrong."

"No."

Undyne sighed in annoyance, leaning against the foot of the bed with her gills flapping agitatedly.  "Sans, I don't get why you won't talk to anyone, but... you do know we're all here for you, right?  You and I may not know each other well, but I do care for you, Sans.  I don't want to see anything happen to you."

Sans avoided her gaze, seemingly uncomfortable by this sudden change in attitude.  "I... I care for you too, Undyne.  You make Papyrus very happy, and that's the only thing I want in this world."

"I know," Undyne whispered.

"Can I ask you a favor?" Sans asked suddenly.

Undyne looked up, surprised.  "Anything."

Sans squeezed his eyes shut, seeming to brace himself for what he was about to say.  "Can you promise me that you'll always be there for Papyrus?  No matter what?"

"What?  Why?" Undyne was thoroughly confused.

"Just promise."

Undyne raised an eyebrow, but nodded.  "Of course.  I promise."

What's up with that?  Doesn't Sans have some sort of issue with promises?  she wondered to herself, but didn't comment.

Sans nodded, seeming satisfied.  "Thank you, Undyne.  Can I go back to my nap now?"

"Are you sure you're all right?" she checked.

"Yeah.  Just tired."  Without waiting for her response, Sans reclaimed the blanket and lay back down.

Concerned, but not unduly so, Undyne returned to her magazine.  Before she'd read a single page, a thud from nearby caught her attention.

"Sans?" she asked, standing up and looking around.  She didn't see him in his bed anymore.  "Sans?  Where are you?"

Crossing back over to his bed, Undyne realized that Sans had fallen onto the floor, his blanket tangled around his legs.  He lay facedown, breathing slowly.

Undyne chuckled.  "Now, there's a power nap and then there's a little too powerful nap," she quipped.  "Man, I wish you were awake to hear that."

She crouched down, shaking his shoulder gently.  "Sans?  Do you need help getting up?"

Sans didn't answer.  Undyne shook him harder.  "Hey, Sans, I know you're lazy, but that can't be comfortable.  Wake up already."

Grasping his shoulder firmly, Undyne rolled him onto his back.  His head flopped limply, his eyes dark.

Undyne felt a stab of fear.  "Sans?  Hey, Sans, wake up!  Sans!  SANS!"

She scooped him off the floor and laid him gently back on his bed.  "Sans, this isn't funny.  Wake up, please," she said urgently.  He didn't so much as twitch.

"Alphys!  Papyrus!" Undyne shrieked.  They came racing into the room from opposite directions, Papyrus still riding his chair.

"What is it?  W-what's the matter?" Alphys asked fearfully.

Undyne turned to her friends with horrified eyes, reflecting the sudden panic in theirs.

"Sans won't wake up."

 

Chapter Text

Five hours, and Sans was still unresponsive.

Undyne had been running herself ragged doing the heavy lifting for Alphys: carrying equipment, bringing medical supplies, and trying her hardest to stay busy.  Anything to keep from dwelling on the silent figure in the hospital bed.

Papyrus was too in shock to do anything helpful beyond sitting next to Sans, saying his brother's name repeatedly in a hollow voice.  He poured a constant stream of healing magic into Sans' flickering SOUL, trying to bring him back from the brink.  Undyne couldn't help but picture Sans doing the same after Papyrus had fallen down, back when their positions were reversed.

"Excuse me, Papyrus," Alphys muttered.  She hovered at his elbow nervously, prepared to refresh Sans's IV.  Papyrus shifted the barest few inches to allow Alphys access to Sans.

"Why did this happen?" he whispered as Alphys worked.  Well, as close to whispering as Papyrus could get.  "I thought we were both recovering... weren't we?"

Alphys' claws stilled at her work.  "Papyrus..." she said slowly.  "Your condition has been steadily improving, b-but... Sans wasn't getting better.  His bone density plateaued about a week ago, and his m-magic has only been getting weaker since then.  To be honest, he p-probably knew this was coming."

Papyrus looked up for the first time, his face streaming with unchecked tears.  "Then why didn't he say anything?" he asked desperately.

Alphys seemed at a loss for words.  Undyne, who had been hovering nearby, decided it was time to step in.  "He probably didn't want to worry you," she said gently, resting a hand on Papyrus's elbow.  "You know how he is.  He'd rather suffer in silence than feel like a burden on you."

"Why does he have to suffer at all?" Papyrus begged, falling limp as he collapsed into Undyne.  "It's- it's not fair..."

She wrapped her arms around the heartbroken skeleton, holding him tightly as his whole body shook with sobs.  "I don't know, Paps.  It isn't fair, is it?"  Undyne felt tears prick at her own eyes.  No.  Now isn't the time.  I have to be the strong one right now.

"Don't give up hope, Papyrus," she whispered to him.  "Sans isn't gone yet.  We'll do everything we can to save him."

He twisted his head to look up at her, some indefinable emotion suddenly flaring in his eye sockets.  "Everything?" he said insistently.

Undyne frowned, perplexed.  "What's that supposed to mean?"

Alphys interrupted before Papyrus could respond.  "Undyne, I'm s-sorry, but I need you to make another supply run.  I have a list, s-so it shouldn't take long."

Reluctantly, Undyne disentangled herself from Papyrus.  "No problem, Al.  I'll head out right away."  She hesitated, then kissed Papyrus on the top of his head.  "I'll see you soon, punk.  Don't fall to pieces without me, hey?"

Papyrus didn't respond.  With a mixture of guilt at leaving his side and eagerness to do something constructive (plus a bit of guilty relief at being able to get away from the dank lab and the suffocating aura of Papyrus's naked grief), Undyne made the trek out into Hotland.  


 

The moment Undyne was gone, Papyrus turned sharply to Alphys.  She jumped slightly, unprepared for the sudden force of his gaze.

"Alphys."  His voice cracked, but his tear-filled eyes were fixed on her steadily.

"Y-yes?" she asked nervously.

"Do you remember when you told Asgore about what you'd done?  And showed him all your research notes?"

Alphys flinched at the recent memory.  "O-of course, it was only a few days ago.  W-why do you ask?"

There was a steely note in his voice that set Alphys even more on edge.  "Show them to me again."

An objection quivered on the tip of her tongue, but Papyrus stared her down until she crumbled under his glare.  "I'll g-go get them."

Papyrus still refused to leave Sans's side, so Alphys hurried to collect the relevant papers from her cluttered office.  Clutching the pile of notes in her claws as best she could, trying not to trip and send them flying, she quickly descended back to the True Lab and hastily shoved the papers into Papyrus's lap.

"This is all the relevant information o-on the DT project," she said, nervously wringing her claws.  "W-were you hoping to find a clue on any side effects that might have caused this?  I m-mean, I've been over my research pretty thoroughly, b-but a new perspective might pick up s-something I missed... I mean, if that's what you..."

Alphys trailed off when it became clear Papyrus wasn't listening.  He was leafing through the notes, squinting like he was having trouble reading it.  Alphys hovered at his shoulder uncomfortably, waiting in awkward silence for him to find what he was looking for.

"Alphys," he finally said.  

She flinched slightly, having been lost in her own thoughts. "Y-yes?"

"When Sans first came to you for help, you were trying the DT tests with a lot of monsters, right?"

Alphys was not comfortable with this line of questioning.  The experiments themselves were a sore spot for her, and Papyrus's voice was almost accusatory.  Still, he was waiting expectantly for an answer, and it wasn't like Alphys was in a position to refuse Papyrus anything ever again.  

"W-well, I wouldn't say it was a lot of monsters, but at least a d-dozen of assorted species," she finally admitted.

"Did the tests turn out the same way with everyone else that it did with me?" he asked in an expressionless voice.

"More or l-less.  You've seen the other Amalgamates, and they're all about the same.  Trapped in a half-alive state, beyond either killing or saving, but they seem c-content with their lot, as far as we can tell..." Alphys had almost forgotten Papyrus was listening.  She blinked away a few stray tears, caught up in dwelling on the fates of those who had suffered from her attempt to play God.

"Alphys.  The Determination experiments.  Your notes, your equipment, the DT serum... it's all still here, right?" Papyrus pressed.

"Y-yes?" Alphys was still thoroughly confused, unable to understand what Papyrus was getting at.  "I w-wanted to destroy it all, but... it didn't seem right.  And then I u-used some of it when trying to separate you and Sans, so it came to something good, r-right?"

Papyrus was staring at the papers, seeming to psych himself up for his next question.  His breath hitched for a moment, but when he looked up at Alphys, his eyes were burning with his own variety of determination.

"Can you do it again?"

Alphys stared at him for a few seconds, not comprehending what he was asking.  "What are you-"  she cut off with a gasp.

"N-no.  No!  Papyrus, NO!  I'm n-not going to repeat the DT t-test on Sans!"  She backed away from Papyrus reflexively, too shocked and horrified by his request to even respond coherently.  Unable to hold his fierce gaze, she dropped her eyes to the floor.  "Papyrus, that's i-insane!  I can't d-do that to Sans, you know I c-can't!  Why would you, of all p-people, think that would even be a good i-idea?"  Her breath came in gasps, trembling now in fear and approaching panic.

"Alphys," he said calmly.  "It's the only way."

"I said n-no!" Alphys shrieked.  "It w-won't work, you know it won't!  He'll make a false recovery f-for a short time, the same as you, and th-then... he'll just m-melt like you d-did!  What a-are you planning to do once that-"

She cut off again, shocked into silence as the totality of Papyrus's insane plan sunk in.

"No.  No, no no no, NO!" she stammered.  "Papyrus... you aren't th-thinking... of melting back together, a-are you?"

Papyrus nodded slowly.

"Papyrus, that's impossible," Alphys begged.  "I c-can't do that to you!  To Undyne!  She missed you so much... please, Papyrus, you c-can't ask me to do this... please, there's got to be another way.  We can think of s-something..."

"Tell me honestly, Alphys."  Papyrus was staring at Sans now, who hadn't so much as twitched despite the shouted argument going on right next to him.  "Is there another way?  Any other way?"

Alphys desperately wanted to lie to him.  To tell him that they would find something else, that there was any known medical technique to bring a monster as fragile as Sans back from the brink.  To beg him to abandon this insane idea that would cause them both to be lost.  Again.

But despite her bitter experience with dishonesty, she found she couldn't lie to Papyrus.  So she said nothing, and he heard the answer in her silence.

"I can't lose him," he explained, still eerily calm.  "Do you understand that, Doctor?  I'd rather spend my existence as a half-alive blob of goo than try to spend it without Sans."

"N-no... no..." Alphys whispered.  "Papyrus, please... please d-don't ask me to do this," she said again.  "I w-won't... I can't..."

He turned sharply back to her, suddenly angry.  "You have to," he snarled.  "So help me, Alphys, if Sans turns to dust here, so do you."

Alphys' throat constricted in fear.  She had never seen Papyrus get angry at anyone.  Even when he had the best reasons in the world to do so, Papyrus had never so much as raised his voice to Alphys.  She hadn't even known the gentle, cheerful skeleton was capable of making such a death threat.  She wanted to wake up and realize the past five minutes had only been a dream, that Papyrus's temporary insanity was nothing but a hallucination brought on by stress... she squeezed her eyes shut in that vain hope.

When she opened them again, Papyrus was still glaring at her with eyes burning red.  The fearsome expression on his face made her want to curl up and cry.

A crashing noise made them both jump.  They turned guiltily, argument cut off, to see Undyne standing in the entrance to the room.  She had clearly dropped the box that had been in her hands, which had caused the loud noise.

All three of them stared at each other in silence for a long moment.  Undyne's expression traveled slowly from shock, to confusion, to rage.

"Papyrus," she said, dangerously quiet.  "Did I just hear you threaten to kill Alphys?"

"N-no," Alphys quickly said.  "That isn't w-what he meant-"

"I didn't ask you, Al," Undyne snapped as she crossed the room in a few quick steps.  "Papyrus.  Did you or did you not just threaten to dust my friend?"

Papyrus edged to one side, automatically putting himself between Undyne and Sans.  "No," he said flatly.  "I'm sure you simply heard Alphys agreeing to help me save Sans."

"Agreeing to what?" Undyne asked in confusion, her anger derailed somewhat.  "Did something happen while I was gone?"  She noticed the notes in Papyrus's arms.  "Guys, what's going on?"

She turned to Alphys expectantly, waiting for an explanation.  The doctor started to speak, stopped, then abruptly covered her face with her claws and fled for the elevator.

"Al, wait!" Undyne cried, but Alphys' stubby legs moved deceptively quickly.  Before Undyne could give chase, Alphys was gone.

Undyne turned to Papyrus, equal parts angry and confused.  "Paps, what the hell?  What's going on here?"

Papyrus adjusted Sans's blanket tenderly, not meeting Undyne's searching gaze.  "Undyne..." he said slowly, then lapsed into silence for a moment.

Patience was not Undyne's strong suit, but she stood quietly and waited for him to speak. 

"You know I love you, don't you?" he finally said

Undyne was taken by surprise.  She hadn't expected the conversation to veer this direction.  "Yes, I know," she replied quickly.  "I love you too, Papyrus.  And I know Sans loves you.  He made me promise to look out for you, and... you know how he feels about promises."

Papyrus nodded slowly.  "I figured as much.  However..." he closed his eyes for another long moment.  "I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to break your promise."

Undyne frowned.  "What do you mean?"

Fresh tears were trickling down Papyrus's face.  "I don't want to choose between you and Sans.  I don't want to choose between life and Sans.  And... I wish it didn't have to be this way... but I can't live without Sans.  You know I can't, right?"  He turned to face her for the first time, desperation in his eyes.

Undyne felt dread suffuse her SOUL.  "Paps... what are you trying to say?"

Papyrus stared her down.  Undyne resisted the urge to flee from the utter despair in his gaze.

"I'm going to melt us back together."

Chapter Text

The True Lab was deathly silent.  Not a peaceful silence, but the ominous heavy silence of impending violence.

Undyne and Papyrus faced each other in the hallway like gunslingers, the mirrors along one wall reflecting their confrontation.  Alphys was hiding in the other room under the pretense of looking after Sans, eager to avoid Undyne's wrath.  They all knew from experience that when Undyne was on the warpath, she was a fish to avoid.

Unfortunately, Papyrus didn't seem to have received the memo.

"I won't let you do this, Papyrus," Undyne stated flatly, breaking the tense silence.  "Can we please talk rationally about this?"

"There's no time for talking," he growled.  "If you want me to stop, then you're going to have to stop me."

The gauntlet had been thrown.  Undyne knew that there was no avoiding violence now, but she was still determined to be as gentle as possible.  It's not Paps' fault.  He's not in his right mind, and I can hardly blame him for that.  I'll just pin him down until he lets me talk sense into him.  He can't be serious about this plan, after all.  It's just a desperate idea that he'll never go through with.

With that in mind, Undyne activated her green magic to freeze Papyrus's SOUL in place.  She saw shock and rage flash across his face, as if he truly hadn't expected her to use magic against him.  He twitched, as if he were trying to retaliate or flee.

"Papyrus," Undyne said, gently but firmly.  "I know you're scared of losing Sans, but this doesn't have to be the end of the world.  Sans doesn't want you to give up your life for him, you know that, right?  He wants you to move on.  He told me so before- you know.  And it sucks, I know, but I'll be there for you afterward.  So will Alphys and Asgore, and even Toriel.  You can't just throw away your life now, Pap," she pleaded.  "Just give up on this already.  Please."

Rather than answer Undyne verbally, Papyrus clenched his fists.  Undyne felt an intangible shock wave shudder through her SOUL, and an instant later her knees buckled.  Only after hitting the floor painfully did she remember that Papyrus had a similar ability to directly affect the SOUL.  

Too late now, she groaned internally.  She gathered her strength and attempted to push herself to her feet through brute force alone, but the sensation of weight pressing her into the floor only redoubled.  She raised her eyes to Papyrus, glaring at him balefully as the frozen stalemate continued.

"You don't understand, Undyne," Papyrus insisted.  "I can't just move on like you're expecting me to.  I can't. I won't!  Not if I can do something about it now.  If I don't... I'll regret it for the rest of my life."

"I think I understand a little too well," Undyne muttered.  "How do you think we got into this mess?"  She sighed heavily, the invisible weight making breathing difficult.  "Blame me if you need to.  I'll accept full responsibility for failing Sans.  But please, Paps, please don't let this break you now.  You've still got so much more to live for."

"N-no..." his voice broke.  "No, I don't..."

Still pinned to the floor, Undyne could only watch as Papyrus collapsed to his knees and began to sob.  

The weight holding Undyne to the floor eased up incrementally, and she found herself able to crawl laboriously across the floor to reach Papyrus.  He pitched forward as she released her hold on his SOUL, and as the pressure on her own SOUL faded she climbed to her knees and let him crumple into her lap.

"Why..." he gasped, his face buried in Undyne's tank top.  "Why Sans?  He d-doesn't deserve this..."  He trailed off, shuddering with sobs.

Undyne found she had nothing to offer in consolation.  There was nothing she could say that would ease the raw pain that Papyrus was feeling.  Instead, she could only sit on the ground and let him cling to her in tears, hating herself for staying silent when he so desperately needed words of comfort.  She rubbed his skull gently with one hand while the other trailed down his spine, trying to convey the sentiment she was unable to speak.

They sat on the floor together for so long Undyne's legs began to grow numb.  She felt a momentary flash of jealousy for Papyrus's lack of nerve endings, while hers complained every time she shifted her weight.  Still, she waited patiently for Papyrus's crying to slow down into breathy gasps.

"Are you really going to go through with it?" she finally asked.

Papyrus nodded without meeting her eyes.  "I'm so sorry, Undyne," he mumbled.  "I don't want to do this to you..."

She fell silent for another long moment.  "I know.  I understand why you feel you have to, though.  I... I won't stop you."

"Thank you, Undyne," he whispered.  "I'm-"

"Don't apologize again," she cut across him.  "This sort of behavior doesn't suit the Great Papyrus, you know."

He looked up in surprise as she managed to twist her face into a smirk.  Leaning down to meet him, she kissed his teeth gently but passionately.  His tears mixed with hers as she poured all her heartache, regret and remorse into the contact.

"I'm going to miss you like crazy, you stupid punk," she murmured, pressing their foreheads together.  "My days just aren't the same without your smile."

"I'll still be here, you know," he said with a weak sniffle.

"Yeah, but it won't be the same.  I prefer the cheerful, obnoxious Papyrus to the oozing brain-dead one."

"I'm sorry," he said again.

She nudged him in the imitation of a friendly punch.  "I told you to stop apologizing, idiot.  I don't want my last memories of you to be a sniveling, whiny crybaby.  Just be your smiling self, okay?  For me?"

Papyrus pushed off her until he was kneeling up properly.  Screwing his eye sockets shut for a few moments, he looked back at her with a shaky smile.  "Anything for my Captain," he joked weakly.

Undyne smiled back, pulling Papyrus into a proper hug.  "I'll always be your Captain," she assured him, then faltered.  "Hey, do you hear voices?"

Papyrus paused.  "That's Alphys.  Who is she talking to?"

Trying to ignore the sudden spike of hope, Undyne stood and helped Papyrus to his feet.  Hesitantly, they returned from the musty hallway to the main chamber.  Papyrus gripped Undyne's hand so tightly it hurt, but she didn't tell him to let go.

She internally quashed any expectations she might have built up, but it still felt like a punch in the stomach to enter the room and see Sans still comatose in the hospital bed.  Whoever Alphys had been talking to, it wasn't him.

Alphys turned when she heard them come in.  She was at the other end of the lab, standing next to a much taller figure.  "O-oh!  You're both okay!" she squeaked.  "Th-that's a relief... not that I thought you'd kill each other or a-anything, but I was worried anyway..." 

Undyne raised an eyebrow.  Who could possibly be visiting the True Lab?  Who even knew about the True Lab?  And since when did Alphys look so... non-gloomy?  Thoroughly confused, Undyne led Papyrus by the hand across the room.

"Oh, r-right!" Alphys blurted.  "You g-guys have a visitor."

The figure turned to face them, and Undyne stopped in her tracks when she recognized the face she hadn't seen in years.

"Queen Toriel?" Undyne said, completely nonplussed.

"Hello again, Captain Undyne," Toriel said softly.  "You're looking well."

Her gaze turned to Papyrus.  "And you must be Papyrus.  I've heard so much about you," she said with a small smile.  "I'm terribly sorry to hear about everything that's befallen you."

Papyrus didn't seem to be in any condition to reply to the queen.  Undyne's brain was still trying to catch up to Toriel's presence.  "But... what are you doing here?"

Alphys cut in.  "Th-that's my fault.  I c-called Asgore to inform him of the situation..."

Toriel's sad smile soured.  "And he came straight to the Ruins, nearly breaking down my door and begging me to help."

Undyne was only getting more confused by the second.  "Asgore asked for your help?  I appreciate the fact that you're here in person, Queen Toriel, but... what exactly can you do in this situation?"

"I think I can help more than you know.  You've been tampering with human SOULs, yes?" Toriel said harshly.  Alphys quailed under her disapproving gaze.  

"Well..." Undyne said awkwardly.

"I've brought a friend along," Toriel explained flatly.  "Together, we might provide a better solution than sucking the Determination out of dead SOULs and creating that abominable serum."

Alphys flinched, tears gathering in her eyes, unable to speak a word in her own defense.  Undyne opened her mouth to protest, but stopped in surprise when she noticed a small creature hiding behind Toriel's leg.

"Is that... a human?" Undyne asked in shock.

Sure enough, there was a purple-clad human child clinging to Toriel's robes in much the same way that Papyrus was still clinging to Undyne.  Toriel, noticing Undyne's gaze, took the child by the hand.

"This is my daughter, Frisk.  I'm willing to allow her to help, as long as no harm comes to her," Toriel explained crisply.  "Her Determination might be of more use than the leftovers from the murdered children."  The anger in her eyes made Undyne reflexively edge between Toriel and Papyrus.

Undyne could feel her head beginning to spin.  This was just one too many impossible things for today.  But Papyrus seemed to have the opposite reaction.

"You mean... you can help me save Sans?" he asked, eagerly but hollowly.  As if he couldn't really bring himself to hope anymore.

Toriel gave Papyrus a searching gaze.  "Your brother is my only friend in the world.  If Frisk and I can do anything to save him, we'll certainly give it our best shot," she said gently.  "But... I know what you were planning to do.  I've been informed of the effects of Determination on monster bodies.  If you should end up resorting to that..." she closed her eyes.  "You and your brother will always have a home with me in the Ruins, no matter what form you may take."

Undyne felt a knot of stress release inside her chest, only to be replaced by guilty relief that she would not have to be responsible for Sixbones again.  She glanced over at Sans, still silent as the grave.

"Well, what are we standing around for?" she encouraged.  "If you're here to save Sans, then let's get started!"

Papyrus grinned eagerly, but Undyne could tell he didn't mean it.  Inside, he had still given up hope of saving his brother.

It's all going to be okay, Papyrus, she wanted to say.  I'll make sure everything turns out all right.

But she'd said those words already too many times for him to believe her now.

 

sad papyrus

 

Chapter Text

The lab was once again buzzing with activity as Alphys redoubled her efforts to find a way to save Sans. Prior to Toriel's arrival, she had somewhat fatalistically given up on finding a way around Papyrus's desperate plan.

Undyne had fallen back into her role of fetching and carrying as Alphys worked tirelessly at her equipment. Frisk now sat on a table, swinging her legs in a carefree manner as Alphys performed non-invasive tests and asked endless questions. Toriel hovered behind Alphys' shoulder, keeping a watchful eye on Frisk. Papyrus had reattached himself to Sans's bedside, murmuring to him constantly in their secret language.

"Papyrus?" Undyne called, leaning through the doorway.  "We're about to start the extraction.  Do you want to come watch?"

He shook his head without looking up.  "I'd rather stay with Sans, thanks.  There's nothing I can do to help anyway."

Undyne frowned at the listlessness in the normally upbeat skeleton's voice.  He's taking this all so much harder than I could have dreamed.  I mean, if it was Sans I would have understood, but Papyrus... I always thought he was indestructible.

With Toriel's reluctant permission, Alphys carefully loaded Frisk into the same DT extraction machine that had first separated Sans and Papyrus. Toriel continued to watch closely over Alphys' shoulder as she fiddled with the console settings.

"Now, you're sure this won't hurt?" she confirmed for the tenth time.

"Yes, Your Majesty, I-I'm sure it won't hurt Frisk at all," Alphys assured her. "I m-mean, the machine isn't meant for living things, so it won't d-directly affect Frisk's body. As for her S-SOUL... well, there shouldn't be any l-lasting effects."

"Lasting?" Toriel asked in a threatening tone.

Alphys quailed under the queen's murderous glare. "Um, W-well, s-she might feel a l-little drained, but I p-promise it won't harm her a-at all...."

Toriel huffed angrily, glaring at Alphys with suspicion. "It had better not, Doctor."

Undyne waited cautiously by the opening to the machine, prepared to interfere if Frisk showed any signs of discomfort. Once again, the mental image popped unbidden into her head: Frisk inside the giant skull, swallowed whole, never to return. Undyne shook her head, trying to dismiss the errant thought.

Slowly, reluctantly, Alphys flipped the switch to turn on the DT extractor. The machine whined and hummed as it came to life, a harsh glow emanating from its mouth. Frisk remained silent inside, not that Undyne expected her to say anything.  Toriel looked like she was holding herself back from diving into the machine's opening to retrieve her child.

When Alphys had separated Sixbones, it had taken six hours of intense effort. This time, Frisk was barely inside the machine for ten minutes before Alphys powered it down again.

"What is it? Is something wrong?" Undyne asked urgently.

Alphys shook her head, a bead of perspiration sliding down her nose despite the chill of the lab. "N-no, it's done."

"Done already?" Undyne asked in confusion. "But you've just started."

"It w-was much more complicated to separate two monsters a-at a molecular level," Alphys explained, taking off her glasses and cleaning them compulsively. "Th-this is a simple DT extraction. Even with a living human instead of a dead SOUL, th-this is what the machine was designed to do."

Undyne made a small noise of appreciation as Frisk climbed unsteadily out of the machine. Toriel rushed to assist, nervously checking if Frisk was unharmed, but she shrugged off her mother's concern with a smile.

"Alphys, did you build this machine?" Undyne asked with interest. "It's quite the piece of work."

For some reason, Alphys looked suddenly awkward. "Uh, n-no, actually. I found all this e-equipment here when I was appointed Royal Scientist, actually."

"You found it? Then who built it?"

Alphys shrugged uncomfortably. "I d-don't know. The lab seemed abandoned when I moved in, b-but there were these machines and notes on experiment from the p-previous Royal Scientist..."

"There was a previous Royal Scientist?" Undyne asked in complete confusion. "I thought the position was empty until you took it."

Alphys held her hands out in a gesture of helplessness. "I d-don't know what to tell you, Undyne. All th-these machines must have been built by someone, b-but I have no idea who could have done it... or even how they did so without my knowledge..." she trailed off, her eyes on the sinister skull shape of the DT extractor.

Undyne frowned. "Lady Toriel, do you have any idea who could have lived here before Alphys?"

Toriel, now carrying Frisk, gazed into space with a faraway expression. "No... there have been no Royal Scientists in recent memory. And the previous one wouldn't have been alive when this laboratory was built."

They all stood in puzzled silence, trying to put the picture together with the largest piece missing.  

"Hmm..." Undyne finally sighed. "It's a mystery to be sure, but I guess it's not important right now. We've got skeletons to save."

With those decisive words, she helped Alphys retrieve the glowing red serum from the machine's output nozzle. Holding it up to the light, Alphys gazed at it in wonder.  It seemed to shift and pulsate in the light, as if it had a will of its own.

"It's so much more... vibrant than the DT extracts from the other SOULs," she murmured in awe.

Toriel scoffed. "I wonder why. Perhaps because you're not plundering it from long-dead children?" she asked caustically. Alphys turned scarlet, fumbling with the vial of Determination as she hurried away to her chemistry set.

Undyne opened her mouth to defend Alphys, but Toriel abruptly turned and carried Frisk away without a word. Undyne was left staring open-mouthed at her retreating back, with no idea what to say to either of them.

Left at loose ends and uncomfortable at the sudden tense atmosphere, Undyne meandered back to the main room. She vaguely intended to check on Papyrus, but stopped in the doorway when she saw him hunched over Sans's bed.  He was holding his brother's hand in both of his, exhaustion and desperation painfully evident in every line of his body language. Rather than intrude on Papyrus's grief, Undyne leaned against the door frame and watched the skeletons from a distance.

Poor guy. He's been through so much, Undyne mused, knowing that Papyrus's pride would not allow her to say such words aloud without a fight. Sans is Papyrus's whole word, and Sans probably doesn't even know it. She would be the first to admit that she and Sans weren't the closest of friends, but she could tell from observing his lackluster attitude and social antipathy that Sans didn't exactly have the highest opinion of himself.

He probably doesn't even realize how much Papyrus cares for him. Papyrus is all that matters to him, and it most likely doesn't even occur to him that it works both ways. If Papyrus lost Sans... he'd never be able to move past this. But Sans doesn't even notice.

Undyne felt tears begin to prick at her eyes. Did I ever tell Sans that he mattered to me? Does anyone but Papyrus ever tell him that? She felt a rush of shame as she came to the sudden realization that Sans probably idolized Papyrus because he didn't feel that he himself was adequate by comparison. No wonder he's always so much more focused on Papyrus's well-being than his own. Even in the moments before he fell down, the last thing he asked me was to look out for Papyrus. He didn't think about himself for a second. He never does.

And now... now he might die not knowing how much we all care about him. It's not fair. It's so damn unfair.

Undyne turned and briskly left the room before Papyrus could be alerted by her sniffling.


"A-are you ready to begin?" Alphys asked nervously.

Papyrus's head jerked up, not having heard Alphys approach. "It's ready? We can do this?"

Undyne could have sworn Papyrus's bone face turned green. Despite the fact that this risky plan was his idea, being confronted with the reality of melting back together was possibly more than he was prepared to handle.

Still, he nodded grimly. "Let's get it over with."

Undyne couldn't bring herself to watch as Alphys slid the syringe with the glowing Determination into Sans's ribcage. Papyrus, conversely, kept his eyes fixed on Sans, stiffening like it was his own SOUL that felt the bite of the needle. His shoulders shuddered slightly as Alphys retracted the now-empty syringe.

"Is that it?" he checked.

Alphys nodded.  "That w-was all I did for any of the others.  He should have a false recovery soon enough, followed by the... you know."

"Is it my turn?" he asked in a hollow voice. "I can do it myself if you don't want to."

Alphys shook her head. "N-no, I'm not going to use the serum on y-you right now."

Papyrus stood up so abruptly that he knocked his chair over. "Excuse me?" he asked sharply, shaking with rage. "Are you going back on your word, doctor? I told you to melt us back together!"

Undyne lunged forward, ready to interfere if Papyrus attacked, but Alphys stood her ground. "That's n-not what I said," she insisted. Her voice shook, but she met his gaze stubbornly. "I c-can't use it on you yet, because we need the timing to be perfect if you're going to become one Amalgamate."

Papyrus cocked his head, a dangerous glint still in his eye sockets. "Explain," he said harshly.

Alphys fumbled for another syringe from her pocket, this one containing more than twice the amount of serum she'd used on Sans. "Th-this is yours," she explained, then held it out of Papyrus's reach as he grabbed for it. "But you c-can't use it yet. When you two first m-melted, it was a freak accident that Sans absorbed the DT, since he'd never been injected with it. If we inject you both now, there's n-no guarantee that you'll melt at the same time, and you might end up as s-separate puddles of mush."

Hesitantly, she held the syringe out to Papyrus. "I gave Sans the smallest possible dosage," she continued softly. "That might increase his chances of staying corporeal for a while longer. Your syringe, on the other hand, contains a m-massive overdose. It should melt you almost instantaneously, so you n-need to hold on to this until the time is r-right."

Papyrus seemed to deflate at her words. Undyne, with fish-like reflexes, snatched up the fallen chair and righted it just in time for Papyrus to collapse into it.

"I'm sorry," he whispered, quieter than Undyne had ever heard him. "I'm sorry, Alphys. I didn't mean it." He fell limply against Sans's bed, burying his face in his arms. "I'm so sorry..."

Alphys seemed at a loss for words, so Undyne rested her hand on his shoulder. "I know you're stressed out, Paps, but there's no need to take it out on Alphys. She's only trying to help."

"I know," he hissed through shuddering breaths.

"It's all r-right," Alphys said softly. "Th-this can't be easy for you."

She pressed the syringe gently into his palm and closed his fingers around it. "Keep this close at hand," she instructed. "We'll monitor Sans closely, but you have to be ready to use it at all times."

The barest wobble of Papyrus's head indicated a nod. "I'll be ready," he murmured. "What do I do now?"

"We've done all we can do," Alphys admitted. "For now, all we can do now is wait."

Without responding, Papyrus turned his attention back to Sans. Undyne hesitated for a few moments, then followed Alphys out of the room.

All we can do is wait, huh? Wait for the time bomb to explode? Once it does, the hardest part will be over... For Papyrus at least. For me, the hard part hasn't even started yet.

She glanced back as she left the room, wondering exactly when she would have to say goodbye.

Chapter Text

Elapsed time since DT treatment: 00:08:12

 

“Mom?”

“Yes, my child?”

“What’s the difference between human SOULs and monster ones?”

“Here, take a look. This is my SOUL.”

“It’s pretty.”

“Thank you, my dear. Now compare it to your SOUL. See how yours is red and mine is white?”

“How come?”

“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!”

“Mom?”

“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.”

“Okay.”


 

*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 nod.

*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.”

“That’s not-“

“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.”

“Thank you.”

“And… you know I’ll always be there for you, right? Just say the word, and I’ll be there in a heartbeat.”

“I know.”

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.

Chapter Text

Sans was still mostly intact when Papyrus crashed through the door, syringe in hand. With the frantic speed that stemmed from months of envisioning this very scenario, he plunged the syringe into his own SOUL and fell to his knees, clinging to his melting brother while his own bones lost cohesion.  

The town of Snowdin was alerted to the screaming.


 

 “Come along, dears,” Toriel said gently.

“Nnnnno,” Sans said stubbornly.

“Yes. You’ve been in your room for too long, Sans.   It’ll be good for you to get outside.” Toriel grasped Sans’s goopy hand in one soft paw, refusing through sheer force of will to recoil at the unnatural texture, and led them slowly down the hall towards the interior of the Ruins.

“Knock… knock,” Sans’s head began.

“Who’s there?” Toriel responded automatically. 

“Knock… knock… knock…” Sans kept saying. 

“Yes, Sans?” Toriel prompted. 

“Knock,” Sans finished with finality.

Toriel smiled sadly. “That’s a good one, dear. I’ll have to remember it.”

Sans beamed. Papyrus looked annoyed.

“Nooot funny,” he slurred.

“Oh, Papyrus, lighten up,” Toriel chided. “Look, here’s a puzzle for you and Sans to solve together.”

Papyrus’s face brightened. “Sans! Puzz!”

Without warning, Sans fell asleep. Papyrus rolled his eyelights, but lumbered through the spiked floor nevertheless. Toriel supervised the antics from a safe distance, watching as an errant step sent a spike driving through Papyrus’s foot. He looked down at it with detached interest as it retracted, leaving a hole in his foot that was quickly filled in with white sludge. Papyrus continued shambling through the puzzle, his gait now slightly off-kilter.

Ever since the skeleton amalgam had moved in with Toriel and Frisk, she had treated them exactly the same as she had always treated her own children. In many ways, they are a child, she reflected. Their rudimentary intelligence, limited understanding of their surroundings and themselves, and their need for constant attention and companionship all brought to mind an inquisitive child in the early stages of development. Both Chara and Frisk had been older when she adopted them, but the skeletons’ infantile behavior brought to mind bittersweet memories of Asriel’s earliest milestones. His first steps, his first words, the way his tiny hands reached out for a hug…

She hadn’t noticed her eyes prickling with tears until Sixbones was standing directly in front of her, looking blurrier than usual. She tried to surreptitiously wipe her eyes with the back of her paw, but Papyrus was perceptive as always.

“Hug?” he offered, extending his slimy arms to her.

Toriel couldn’t help but smile. The unnatural texture of what had once been bones and clothing was rather off-putting, but Toriel still poured all the love she felt for this confused creature into the hug.

It didn’t matter that Sans could no longer share terrible jokes with her through the door. She didn’t care that Papyrus would wake her up at all hours with endless pages of scribbled nonsense. It didn’t bother her in the least when the boys would forget simple instructions, make messes, or wander off and force her to search for them for hours.

They were her children now, and she loved them. Simple as that.

“Better?” Papyrus asked as he pulled away from her, head tilted with concern. Sticky residue covered her robes, but she didn’t mind one bit.

Toriel gave him a motherly smile. “Yes, my child.”

“Not… sad?” he confirmed. Sans let out a snore.

“Of course not, Papyrus. I’m very happy,” she assured him. “Now we’d better get back home, Frisk will be waiting for lunch.”

 Taking his hand, Toriel led Papyrus and Sans back to their home.

Chapter Text

Papyrus burst through the front door to see Sans already melting into the carpet.  His bones were completely unrecognizable.  There was nothing left of his brother, not even an empty set of clothes.

With a breathy whimper, Papyrus collapsed to his knees next to the white puddle.  Fumbling in his pocket, he pulled out the syringe of Determination and stared at it helplessly.  Sans was already gone.  There was nothing Papyrus could do to bring him back now.  

But....

At least he could join him.

With a second's more hesitation, Papyrus plunged the syringe into his own SOUL and delivered himself a massive overdose of DT.  He felt the serum begin to work immediately, permeating his bones with an oddly familiar sensation, as though he were turning inside out.  He shuddered as the burning spread through his entire body, his bones vibrating as they lost cohesion.

"S-sans..." he gasped, reaching towards the puddle with his melting hand.  "I'm... s-sorry... I f-f-failed you..."

With a final anguished sigh, Papyrus collapsed.  Within a matter of minutes, the only sign of what had happened was a large white stain across the carpet.


 

After hearing the bad news, it had taken Undyne several weeks to work up the nerve to visit Alphys again.  When she did, she found that there was a lot more stilted chitchat and staring into teacups than actual conversation.

After a good five minutes of awkward silence, Alphys finally spoke up.  Refusing to make eye contact, she mumbled, "I should have d-done something."

"No," Undyne responded reflexively.  "We weren't there.  There was nothing we could have done."

"J-judging by the debris left b-behind, they must have m-melted separately.  If we'd kept a b-better eye on them..."

"We still would have lost them," Undyne finished the sentence.  "Papyrus made his choice.  He didn't want to stay behind without Sans."

Alphys fell silent again for a long moment.  "The p-plan was a long shot anyway," she offered.

"Yeah," Undyne murmured.  "It's a tragedy, but... it's hardly a surprise.  Papyrus knew the risks."

"Still.... I'm g-going to miss them."

"I know.  Me too."

After that, Undyne's visits to Alphys became more frequent.  She threw herself into her Guard business, preferring the mindless thrill of fight training to the discomfort of being alone with her thoughts.  It wasn't the same without Papyrus, though.  

Alphys did the same, redoubling her research into improving the fate of the rest of the Amalgamates.  Asgore allowed her to keep her position, but monitored her work more closely.  Alphys was no longer allowed to conduct any experiments in secret.  Undyne, as the Guard captain, took responsibility for overseeing Alphys's work in her free time.

Life went on in the Underground, as it always did.  Sans and Papyrus's deaths, though tragic since skeleton monsters were now extinct, were a minor loss for all but their closest friends.  After a few months, the carpet was replaced and the house was rented out to a new family.  

The puzzles and traps that littered the woods slowly fell into disrepair.  Over time, the resident monsters forgot why they had been there in the first place.  Toriel and Frisk never left the Ruins again, and no one ever asked them to.


 

The world had moved on.  Slowly, unwillingly, Undyne and Alphys moved on as well.

Undyne was half asleep, stretched out on Alphys's couch with one of her favorite anime playing on the TV.  Normally Undyne tried to pay attention, at least for the violent ones, but she was wiped out from training and wasn't inclined to stay awake out of politeness.

She barely noticed when Alphys suddenly reached over and paused the TV.

"Mmm?" she mumbled sleepily.  "Something up?"

"D-do you still miss them?" Alphys asked, without looking at Undyne.

Undyne squinted, slightly confused.  "Who? Paps and Sans? Yeah, course I do.  Why?"

"I d-don't know... it's coming up on t-two years now since they died, and I still think a-about them all the time."  Alphys fidgeted, looking down at her claws.

Undyne yawned.  "You still blame yourself, don't you?"

Alphys's silence was answer enough.

"Look, Al, I can tell you it wasn't your fault till the cows come home.  But it's not going to change the fact that they're gone, and all we can do is keep going without them."

Alphys sighed.  "I k-know, but..."

Undyne sat up halfway, leaning far enough to cover Alphys's claws with her webbed hand.  "No buts, Al.  We're going to move on, and we're going to do it together.  Now turn the crappy show back on and let's watch it already."

With the show unpaused, Undyne fell asleep within the first five minutes.  Leaning against her, Alphys fell asleep shortly afterward.

Life went on for everyone.

.........

Almost everyone.

 

Chapter Text

Sans was already gone when Papyrus burst through the door.  He collapsed to his knees next to the spreading puddle of liquid, shaking with violent sobs.  

The syringe was in his hand.  He could join Sans in whatever afterlife or limbo that monsters who hadn't properly turned to dust would go.  That would be easier by far than trying to live any semblance of life without his brother.

...No.  That's not what Sans wanted him to do.  And the Great Papyrus never took the easy way out.  No matter how much he desperately wanted to.

The syringe dropped from his trembling hand.  He remained frozen on his knees, numb with shock and grief, until Undyne found him the next day.


 

-Two Weeks Later-

"Papyrus?" Undyne asked.  

When he didn't respond, she stood from the table and rounded the couch to check on him.  He was staring at the wall, no emotions present in his vacant face.  One gloved hand was wrapped loosely around the jar of viscous liquid that rested on the couch next to him.

"Papyrus?" Undyne asked again.  He twitched slightly, his eyelights flickering into existence.  He focused on her, vague awareness in his expression.

"Have you eaten anything today?" she prompted.  His only response was a tiny shrug, more of a twitch of one shoulder.

Frowning with concern, Undyne crossed to the hot refrigerator and fixed a bowl of leftover spaghetti.  She settled carefully on the couch next to Papyrus and placed the bowl on his lap.

"Can you eat this, please?" she requested softly.  Papyrus made no motion to pick it up.

She moved the bowl to his lap.  "Papyrus, please eat something."

"Why?" he whispered hoarsely.

"Because you need to keep your strength up," Undyne said patiently.

Finally he turned to face her, tears gathering in his eye sockets.  "Why?" he repeated, his voice hollow.

"Oh."  Undyne was silent for a long moment, scrambling to come up with a satisfying answer.  "I... I don't know, Papyrus.  I'm sorry."

With a SOUL-wrenching sigh, Papyrus turned back to the wall.  His thumb stroked the rim of the jar unconsciously.

Undyne put the spaghetti back into the fridge.  She could try again later.


 

-Two Months Later-

"Papyrus, dear, can you pass the sugar?" Toriel requested.

Silently, Papyrus reached across the counter and handed Toriel the half-empty bag.  She thanked him with a nod and began measuring out a cupful.

Since Toriel had heard the news, she had begun inviting Papyrus to visit her in the Ruins regularly.  She endeavored to fill his time with engaging activities, such as learning to bake tasty new dishes or engineering upgrades to the simple puzzles that filled the Ruins.  He would mostly drift wordlessly behind Toriel, watching her work without interest, but Toriel knew better than to try to force him to join her.  Undyne occasionally accompanied him on the visits, but usually she walked him to the giant stone door and left him in Toriel's care.

"Do you want to add some blueberries to these pastries, or something sweeter like peaches?" Toriel offered.  Papyrus simply shrugged.  

"Alright.  We'll make some of both."  She handed the mixing bowl to Papyrus to stir, and dug through her refrigerator for the necessary ingredients.  The silence was companionable but heavy as they began to roll out the crust together.

Toriel had turned out to be the best help for Papyrus after losing Sans.  No stranger to devastating loss herself, she never pressured him to act like he was okay.  Many times, they would find themselves sitting on the floor beside whatever project they had abandoned, clinging to each other like they would fall apart otherwise.  

As the months dragged by, Papyrus's bouts of hysteria and catatonia had grown fewer and farther between.  He began to show a detached interest in the recipes, and helped Toriel with the heavy lifting of the puzzles without being asked.

When the pastries were done, Toriel set aside half of them for herself and Frisk, and wrapped up the rest for Papyrus to take to Undyne and Alphys.  With the job done, she walked him down the long hallway back to the Ruins door.  He balanced the package of pastries on top of Sans's jar as they walked.

"Goodbye for now, Papyrus," Toriel said softly.  "I'll see you again soon, alright?"

"Yes.  Thank you," Papyrus muttered dully.

Before he could turn to leave, Toriel wrapped her paws around Papyrus and pulled him into a gentle hug.  Papyrus stiffened briefly, but relaxed limply against her with a shuddering sigh.  The jar remained intrusively between them, but Toriel would never ask him to put it down.

"Don't lose hope, dear," she whispered oh, so softly.  "You're the strongest monster I've ever known.  You can keep going no matter what."

Papyrus only nodded and turned to the door without another word.  Toriel didn't quite see the expression on his face.


 

-Two Years Later-

"C-come on, Papyrus! You can do it!" Alphys cheered.  She sat on the ground, watching from a safe distance as Undyne faced off against him in a sparring match.  Papyrus nodded in acknowledgement, but didn't shift his focus from his opponent.

In a sudden move, Undyne struck at Papyrus with her spear, sending the bolt of magic shooting across the cavern.  Equally quickly, Papyrus deflected the attack with a bone construct and launched a counterattack across the floor.  Undyne barely managed to dodge with a flying leap, landing with a stumble and attacking again immediately.

Papyrus deflected the attack again, but Undyne ducked and swept his legs out from underneath him.  He went sprawling with a grunt of surprise.

"All right, that's enough," Undyne declared, standing over her fallen opponent.

"No fair!  You're only stopping because you have the upper hand!" Papyrus complained, accepting her offered hand and clambering to his feet with a dissatisfied scoff.

"No, I'm stopping because you're still out of practice, and I don't want to kick your ass too painfully yet," Undyne teased.  

Papyrus rolled his eyelights.  "You're just saying that because you know I would have won if we kept going."

"Sure, buddy.  Keep telling yourself that."  Undyne punched him in the arm playfully.  "Same time next week?"

"Absolutely.  I'll see you two later!"  With a grin that barely seemed forced at all, Papyrus waved goodbye and turned to leave the cavern.  On his way out, he picked up the jar that had been lying on the sidelines, never forgotten but for once not the nucleus of Papyrus's attention.

"Come on, Sans.  Let's go home," Undyne heard him say to the jar as he left.

She stared after him as Alphys stood to join her.  "He s-seems to be doing better," she offered.

"Yeah, or he's just getting better at hiding it," Undyne muttered glumly.

"Well, even if that's t-true, he's got us.  We'll always be here for him, r-right?"

Undyne nodded firmly.  "Of course.  He'll always have us.  We won't give up on him.  He'll get better.  Even if it takes a hundred years."

"A h-hundred years?" Alphys echoed, amused.

"Yep." Undyne flashed a fanged smirk.  "After all, we've got all the time in the world."

Chapter Text

"SANS!" Papyrus shrieked as he burst through the front door, breathless with panic. "SANS!"

Shaking both from his sprint through the town and his terror, Papyrus scanned the room frantically. There was no sign of Sans, either whole or melting.

"SANS!" he shouted again, rushing unsteadily for the stairs. "Are you here? Are you alive?!"

A shift in his peripheral vision made his head jerk around. Sans, alive and well, stood in the kitchen doorway with his browbone raised in a bemused smirk.

"Yeah, Paps? What's up?" he said casually.

"Sans, I thought- I- I thought you..." Papyrus took a single step towards him before collapsing to his knees in SOUL-deep relief. Sans was by his side in an instant, supporting Papyrus even as they clung to each other.

"I was so scared," Papyrus sobbed into Sans's jacket.  "You called, and I- I wasn't here..."

"I called?" Sans asked, confused for a moment.  Then his eyes flashed with understanding. "Oh. Oh! the Annoying Dog stole my phone. I had to chase that friggin' thing around for at least five minutes, which is more exercise than I'm comfortable with. He must have butt-dialed you... or tooth-dialed, heh." Sans rubbed his brother's back reassuringly. "I'm all right, bro. No melting here."

Papyrus was barely listening, still hyperventilating and shaking uncontrollably. Sans heaved a sigh, resigning himself to sitting on the floor with Papyrus for as long as it took to calm him down.

"Everything's all right, Paps," he murmured. "You're not going to lose me today."

"But- someday, I will- you're going to- I can't-" Papyrus cut off with another sob.

"Maybe so, maybe not. After all, I've survived this long, right?" Sans continued to rub his back in comforting circles. "For all we know, I've got years left. I might even outlive you."

Papyrus didn't respond other than hitching breaths. Sans's left eye glowed as brightly as he was able, feebly attempting to match Papyrus's intense blazing when their roles were reversed. It felt like a candle next to a lighthouse, Sans noted with a pang of inadequacy. Still, it was all he could muster to get through to his panicking brother.

"Come on, bro," he said softly. "Let's not waste the time we have left by worrying about it. I'm sorry to scare you like that, but everything's all right now. Just breathe, okay?"

Papyrus remained kneeling on the floor, clinging to Sans like a lifeline, as the tension slowly drained from his bones. "S-someday-" he said again.

"Someday. Maybe. But not today," Sans whispered. "Not today."


"Today" turned into a week, which turned into another month. Papyrus, shaken by the false alarm, stuck even closer to Sans than he had before. Given Sans's lack of energy and Papyrus's active lifestyle, this often led to Papyrus carrying a napping Sans with him wherever he went. 

Sans didn't seem to mind, but he brought up the subject one snowy day while Papyrus was recalibrating one of his beloved puzzles. Unwilling to be so much as an arm's length away from Sans, Papyrus was shifting him from arm to arm while he leaned over to push the snow around.

"Paps, you know I can walk," Sans pointed out. "Or sit on the sidelines. Or just stand right next to you."

"I know you can," Papyrus said without looking up from his work.

"So... do you want to put me down?" Sans offered.

"No."

Sans couldn't think of a response to that.

Later that evening, Sans sat on the kitchen counter while Papyrus bustled around him making spaghetti. Every so often he would glance towards Sans, as though reassuring himself that his brother hadn't vanished in the space of five seconds.

"Bro," Sans finally said while they were watching TV after dinner, leaning against each other on the couch. He reached for the remote to mute Mettaton on the screen.

"Yes?" Papyrus shifted to look at him. "Do you need something?"

Sans gave him a searching look. "Papyrus... don't think I'm oblivious to how stressed you are. I know that phone call freaked you out, but you can't keep this up forever, you know? You have to relax. You're gonna have a nervous breakdown or something."

Papyrus laughed, but it was a weak imitation of his usual boisterous chuckle. "Of course I'm fine, Sans! The Great Papyrus can handle anything!"

Sans was not reassured. "Paps," he said sternly.

With that, Papyrus's face fell. He seemed to collapse in on himself as he leaned forward, burying his face in his gloves.

"I'm s-sorry, Sans," he choked. "It's just- I'm so scared, I'm scared all the time that I'm going to lose you, and I don't know what to do, I can't fix it, I just- I can't-"

Sans pulled him into a side hug, but didn't speak for a moment. Papyrus sniffled softly in the silence.

"I know, Paps," he said softly. "I'm scared too, but I can't stand to see you like this. You don't deserve to be so unhappy, bro."

Papyrus shook his head helplessly. "Sans, I- I don't want you to die..."

Sans sat in silence for another long moment. Even while lying in a hospital bed in an underground laboratory, unable to walk or do anything worth a damn, he had never felt so helpless as he did right now. He wanted to scream, to rage, to force the universe to bend to his will so he could fix this unendurably unfair twist of fate. Because Papyrus was crying. And Papyrus should never, ever have to cry.

Not if Sans had anything to say about it.

"Okay," he finally said. "I've made up my mind."

"You w-what?"

Sans nodded firmly. "I've decided. I'm going to live forever."

Papyrus pulled away to frown at him quizzically. "Sans, th-that isn't possible."

Sans rolled his eyes. "Okay, maybe not forever, but at least as long as you do. It's Determination that's supposed to kill me, but I'm determined too, you know? Determined to live, for your sake. That's gotta cancel it out, right?"

Papyrus wiped one glove across his face. "That's a nice s-sentiment, Sans, but I don't think it works that way."

"Why not? We don't know how this stuff works. If I'm absolutely determined not to die, if I try harder at living than I've ever tried at anything, it's gotta count for something."

Papyrus just looked confused now. "I... do you really think so?"

"Sure! I mean, probably. But you gotta believe in me, Paps. No more moping around. We can do this together, like we've always done everything."

Papyrus still looked uncertain, but also more hopeful than he had in weeks. "I... I can do that, Sans. For you, I can do anything."

Sans smiled softly, then reached for the remote to turn the sound back on.


Epilogue epilogue

Months turned into years. Sans took his sentry job back eventually, although Papyrus was never far from his many stations. Papyrus and Undyne never got back together, but they remained best friends.

Alphys never attempted another DT experiment. Sans and Papyrus still came to her for regular checkups, but they never showed any signs of relapsing.

Gradually, they both stopped living as though they were constantly holding their breaths, waiting for the apocalypse. Papyrus even began leaving his overdose syringe at home when they went out.

No one would ever know if the imminent DT failure was truly counteracted by their faith, or if it was just a freak twist of fate, but Sans never melted. Their lives continued, much the same as before.

Do you believe in miracles?

Papyrus does.

Because sometimes, miracles happen.