Work Header

Our Clocks Keep Moving

Work Text:

Papyrus "fell down" last night.

That's how monsters describe it. In human terms, you'd say he didn't wake up this morning.

The monsters, your friends and family, are shocked that he "fell" this young, of course. But they talk like he's already dead. They're surprised when you ask what they can do for him.

It's his time, they say. All mortal monsters have an expiration date. Sometimes it's much too soon.

But he's right here. He looks the same. People can't just die of nothing.

If he were human, then even for an incurable disease, you would be able to imagine some future technology that could wipe out the cancer cells or replace the failing organs. For a monster, there must also be some treatment or magic that would have him bounding out of bed, mortified by his long nap.

If your soul could feel magic, you would understand, they tell you while you watch his utterly normal breathing.

You never did figure out how or why he breathes in the first place. Eventually, you had accepted it as magic.

Yesterday, you didn't understand why your brilliant friends said they had less "determination" than even the dullest humans. Now you get it: Humans fight death to the bitter end. Monsters accept that life ends when it ends, mourn the fallen, and move on.

Maybe "determination" should be called denial.

Papyrus "fell down" the night before last.

Your bedroom has never been this quiet with him in it.

On the nights he tried to sleep at all, you always woke to find him already off working on another project. You eventually got him to move his computer downstairs – even at his most careful, nothing could silence the clacking of bone on keyboard. When you did catch him sleeping, his constant fidgeting and mumbling were scarcely believable as rest. It was a continuous joke only you could fully appreciate: The liveliest person you'd ever know was bones. A Halloween prop with no concept of "indoor voice."

In human terms, you'd say he didn't wake up yesterday morning.

Your sleep-deprived mind wanders and, for a moment, you're a child in a museum, cautiously touching the exhumed hand of a person whose name was forgotten long ago.

A human friend of yours, a hospice nurse, once told you about a gentle hand massage to soothe the critically ill and dying. You bring up a video guide on your phone.

The instructions are for patients with skin and muscles, of course, but you can adapt.

Use your palms to stroke from the wrist up to the elbow, then back down, three times. Smooth the back of the hand crosswise with your thumbs... That awkwardly skips from one bone to the next. You substitute running your thumbs slowly down each metacarpal, wrist to knuckle. Next is the fingers: Rub the pad of your thumb around the back of the pinky's base joint three times, then glide down and repeat around the other two joints. Grip the last joint between your index and middle fingers and press the end of the finger with the pad of your thumb. Repeat for each finger. Turn the hand over. Smooth the palm crosswise with your thumbs... Working down the palm side of the metacarpals will do. Finish with three more strokes up and down the forearm.

Alphys tells you that "fallen" monsters probably can't feel anything, but it's giving you something to do with yourself, letting you feel like there's still some comfort you can give him.

How many people have done this for an emaciated loved one and thought it was like giving a skeleton a massage? Now you must be the first to do it for real. The first anything is a distinction he would like.

It's been four days. That's what Toriel says while guiding you to the shower. Just twenty minutes, my dear friend. Nothing will happen while you are away, I promise. She asks if the water temperature is comfortable, but you can't tell.

Three strokes up and down the forearm.

It's been five days. You know because Asgore turned the page of the calendar when he visited this morning. This month's picture is a yellow Porsche parked on a beach.

Run your thumbs slowly down each metacarpal.

It's been seven days. You're tired but rarely alone. Friends filter in and out, bringing you food and water and conversation. You find yourself desperate to talk, recounting your adventures together, digging deep into how humans and monsters view death, and chuckling at the jokes Sans seems to be making by reflex. After Papyrus becomes dust, you won't be able to remember anything you said. 

Rub the pad of your thumb around the backs of the finger joints, three times each.

It's been too many days.

Your entire body aches from spending so long on your seat by the bed. What little sleep you get is on a thin mattress on the floor. You can't sleep on the bed; you're afraid you'll thrash from a nightmare and break him.

(Whenever he got impatient waiting for you, he would carry off you and whatever you were holding. He weighed twenty-six pounds. The physics made no sense. Why can't you accept that magic doesn't make sense?)

Grip the last joint between your index and middle fingers and press the end of the finger with the pad of your thumb.

It caves in.

The drowsy haze in your mind sharpens into ice.

You try to grab his hand and that collapses too.

You turn toward the door to call for help, but your voice won't come out.

The whole world is ending.

When you look back, the top sheet has dropped into a loose tent. There isn't enough dust under it to give it a shape.

Someone walks in carrying something, gasps, and runs back out.

They come back with help. You're gently ushered into the hall.

You hear rustling sheets, quiet voices, metal squeaking on glass.

The jar is cool in your powdery hands.

You thought monster dust would shimmer. It's dull gray. The jar holds dust, not magic.

A jabbing pain finally wakes you up. It's the doorframe you were leaning against digging into your back.

Undyne carries you to the shower this time. She carefully tightens the lid of the jar without taking it from you.

You sit on the shower floor and watch the water sheet down the sides of the jar, leaving the dust within dry.