Papyrus sat up in bed, instantly awake, just as he knew he would be. Slowly, he took a breath, and then he got out of bed. He pulled open his bedroom door, walked down the hall, and stepped into Sans' room.
Sans was just lying there, on his bed. Papyrus knew he was awake, though. He knew because he understood, now. He understood Sans kept waking up the same way he did, echoes of the last time playing out as a nightmare, affecting the way he woke up. And last time, it was-... well, it wasn't good, exactly, but it wasn't a battle, like most times.
Papyrus just walked over and sat down on the edge of Sans' mattress, quietly grabbing Sans' hand. He didn't talk, not quite yet, just letting Sans get around to responding in his own time.
They had plenty of it, after all, the same cycled day to do whatever they needed.
Eventually, Sans sat up, meeting Papyrus's gaze. Papyrus couldn't be sure, but it seemed like Sans looked more tired than usual, that the shadows under his eyesockets were darker than normal. But that could have merely been because Papyrus knew, now, what was causing Sans distress. Or maybe it was because now that Sans knew Papyrus knew, he was no longer trying to hide the extent of his exhaust.
Either way, it made Papyrus's Soul lurch in empathy.
Quietly, Papyrus maneuvered his brother into his lap, and proceeded to hug Sans tightly. After a moment, he murmured in a quiet voice, "Is it alright if I ask you a few questions?"
Sans just let out a small noise, which Papyrus decided to interpret as a yes.
So Papyrus let out a small breath. "How... how did you figure it out? The cycles, I mean. How did you realize it?"
It was a long moment before Sans responded. "... i... kind of always knew. right from the beginning. just-... had a feeling."
Papyrus's Soul gave another small lurch. To have known, every cycle... There were so many, Papyrus couldn't even remember them all, and he hadn't even really experienced every cycle, the memories just started popping into his head when he realized.
He understood, then, that calm resignation in Sans' eyes every time he died. Sans understood the cycle was just going to repeat, that his death was ultimately going to be undone, that it was okay, he would be back...
Papyrus chose to believe that, instead of the idea that Sans had died so many times, he was just used to it by now.
Papyrus gave Sans another minute before carefully wording his next question. "So-.... did-... did you know that I was remembering?"
Sans took his time in answering. Finally, he looked up at Papyrus, and once again, Papyrus noticed how abnormally tired Sans looked. "remember how i said, once you experience something for long enough, it kinda starts to stop being noticeable? well, by contrast, it makes anything else, anything different... much, much more noticeable." Sans looked away again. "...you always-..." Then he cut himself off and amended his statement. "...you never dodged."
Never dodged... So Sans knew something was off the very first time Papyrus avoided the human's knife-... the time he had called out to Papyrus, and Papyrus had been hit from behind.
"So-... what exactly where you doing there, if you've said you don't- didn't save me before?"
Sans cringed in Papyrus's arms. Papyrus thought it almost seemed like he was trying to make himself smaller, his shoulders hunching, his knees rising to his chest, his head dropping.
Papyrus recognized that posture. Sans was starting to close himself off again, starting to bury himself in his own miserable emotions. If Papyrus let it get too far, then Sans would be even worse off, and Papyrus would be wrong about him remembering being a good thing!
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For years, Papyrus knows, Sans has had nightmares. Horrible nightmares, nightmares that leave him crying in the dark, crippled in the mind, and barely able to function in life. And that's why Papyrus stays so happy, so bright, for Sans, to keep his...