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Hopes and Dreams

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There’s a dark place inside my head. Sometimes I like to walk there.

When I say dark, I don’t mean night or an unlit room. I mean a whole world of just nothingness, right there in my brain. That might say something about me, huh?

The place is beautiful, for whatever that’s worth. When I go to sleep and start dreaming (and I always dream, every night), it’s the first place I go.

It’s Friday morning I think, and I don’t know why I know that. I’m usually very bad at telling what day is anymore, ever since I stopped going to school in the spring because of the hospital and all. The days blend together here at home—they always blend together in the summer, naturally, but with the curtains drawn and my clock broken, I sometimes forget what time it is at all.

In dreams I don’t need to know the time. In dreams it can be whatever time I want it to be. But here—right now—it’s Friday, and I hate that. The knowledge makes me feel disgusting. I’m lying in bed now, sweating in the summer heat, and I can feel the weight of my own body.

I take a deep breath and leave my room (hate that, the way the dimensions shift), creeping to the kitchen for a bowl of cereal and milk. Mother is at work already, so I don’t have to worry about her catching me and asking me how I’m feeling, if I’m alright, if I should take a shower, if maybe I want to talk to someone. I don’t like having to lie to her about things like that. (The answers are always “nothing, no, no, not particularly” and they always get me in trouble.)

Finish the food, go back up, lie in bed again and I’m thinking about that dark world in my head. For some reason I’m also thinking about the way my knife glistens—not a real knife, but the one I have when I go to sleep. Real knives just reflect what’s beside them. My dream-knife reflects everything in the world.

Time passes. The blankets hold the heat in. they;re very heavy nd it’s nice and everything starts to sl | de. Gr@v!ty blccds sid~vvays.

t e  w o l d BL I K

and weight changes so I know I’m in the other bed, in my other room. TV is looping through four different flickering images of an eye; I’d forgotten to turn it off the last time I dreamed.

“It’s not polite to stare,” I say.

The TV, being a gentleman at heart, clicks off.

I hop out of bed and stretch my dream self—stretch a little too hard, my arms collapsing into little coils like rubber snakes. I whip them back into shape. Sometimes things just get strange, lucid dreamer or no.

The Nexus is cold today. There must be something happening in the Snow World. I consider checking it out, maybe seeing how the Snowgirl is doing—but the dark room’s buried itself in my thoughts and there’s no way I’ll be able to get it out of here by just plain ignoring it.

I walk past the door to the Snow World and enter the one beside it.

My head cracks to life. My mouth and eyes melt into glass. Being a lantern can help in the Dark World if you don’t want to get lost, and I don’t—not right now, anyway. There are patterns on the floor. I want to trace them with my feet.

Far from the Nexus door are two huge markings on the ground in the shape of hands. I found a knife there a long time ago, when I first learned to explore my dreams. It reminded me of some old church song.

Thanks, God. I’ll go murder some people in my dreams now.

I trace the palms with my feet (“ah, this is your lifeline and oh dear, it shall be cut tragically short!”), walk to the tip of the thumb, and turn right.

The knife is there. My knife is there.

I walk closer, wondering if there’s something wrong with my eyesight…but there can’t be, not here. I mean, my head is literally a lamp, and there’s definitely nothing wrong with my eyes.

There is something wrong, though. I can feel it in my head now, a knife-shaped hole.

Someone took my knife. No one can take my knife.

“ ’Scuse me, would you happen to know where I am?”

Somebody’s sitting on the left hand. I don’t recognize them. I recognize almost everybody, from the bird people to Poniko and Masada. I know the shape of the worlds in my head better than I remember the hallways at school.

No one like this is supposed to be here.

“Can you talk?” they ask. They’re a little shorter than me, and about my age. Their skin is just a smidge darker than mine, and their hair is a wild, dirty brown mop. It falls in bunches over their lazy, half-shut eyes. “Can you hear me at all?”

“I can hear you,” I say.

They stand up and dust themselves off. I’ve never seen a shirt like that, all pink and blue striped. It looks too small for them. “I was afraid you were just going to stare at me,” they say. “It was freaking me out.” And then they crouch down, all casual and relaxed, and take the knife.

My knife.

“Give that back.”

“What?”

I take a step forward. “Give that back.” I don’t know what this new dream denizen is doing here, or how it took my knife from me, but I’m in no mode to deal with it.

“Give what back?” they stammer, and I answer with a lunge. I rip at their hands, pull them apart, feel the wooden handle of the knife and—and they jerk their arms forward, all surprised, and suddenly we’re tumbling in the dark world, rolling and pushing, the lantern-that-was-my-head clicking off as my concentration shifts to the fight, as my head turns back to normal again and

and the child (as old as me so why do I think child?) swats at my hands and I resist and push at them without even really thinking because it’s my knife mine want to keep them away and show them who’s really boss and there is

a red wetness

between my fingers all of a sudden and they

are looking up at me and I am suddenly wondering what I was doing and why, even though they are nothing more than a dream even though they’re saying something like:

“I didn’t know you wanted it so much. I’m sorry.”

and I’m wracking my brain for a good answer to that. “Oh. Um.”

They’re dripping still.

“Listen, alright?” I say. “You’re a dream. You’ll be back again tomorrow night, I promise.”

“Really. I’m a dream? Nice to know, I guess.” They grin. Blood seeps through the gaps in their teeth. “I know I’ll be back either way. Will you please promise not to stab me next time?”

“I promise that I won’t stab you,” I say. “Probably.”

“Probably,” they repeat, and cough up a lung or five. “That’s...fair. Long as you come back. Here, could you go ahead and grab that knife outta me? It’s real cold.”

“I mean, you’re here in my dreams,” I say. “I’ve got no choice. I’ve got to come back.” I grab the knife. The handle is wood as ever, but there’s a lot of blood running down it right now onto my fingertips. I don’t know what to do with that blood. I don’t know how to get rid of it.

What’s the proper social protocol for murder?

“It was nice meeting you,” they say.

“Really? After that?” I can’t stop myself from grinning.

“Really.” And now they’re grinning too. “What’s your name, by the way?”

“Call me Madotsuki.”

“Frisk,” they say. “Uh. Does it normally get darker the longer you’re here?”

“Nope. That’s probably the blood loss.”

“Ack.”

“Yup. Sorry. Again.”

“It’s okay,” says Frisk. “I’m used to it.” Frisk tilts, falls, and is gone before they even hit the floor.

So here I am in the Dark World holding the knife, dripping blood. I look at my reflection for a moment (red-tinged) and pull the knife into my mind for later use.

I wasn’t planning on going exploring today. I didn’t think there was anything left to explore here, really. There hasn’t been a new dream denizen for months, and this one is different.

Something’s changed, and I’m going to figure out why.

Chapter Text

Chapter 2:

Reset / Rest

~

Poniko -- which isn't her real name, obviously, but our real names aren't really your business -- lived in a beach house a few miles away from my family. She was my best friend for a long, long time, up until a couple of years ago. The nice thing is that she's never really gone away. Like most people I used to see all the time, I've stashed my memory of her away in a private spot in my own head.

The waves of the pink sea are subtle and unchanging. They don't ebb or flow. All that changes is the smell that blows in on the slope up from the waters. Some days it smells sweet, like cotton candy. Other days it smells putrid and salty, vaguely like dead fish. But those are the only changes that are supposed to ever happen here.

Now I'm sitting by the weird, rainbow-colored teepee house that I'm keeping Poniko in and watching the tides crash--really crash like a proper ocean, as if the water got tired of all the static and needed to move. Bits of pink foam slap against my feet. A few droplets get into my mouth. Today it tastes like saltwater, kelp, blood.

Things are wrong right now. The house is right there, and I could go in so easily to talk to her and get her thoughts, but I'm afraid. If things are getting different, maybe she's different. I can't allow that.

Not her.

"Mado? Madotsuki? Is that you out there?" she asks from inside the house.

"Nope, just a ghost. Fooled ya."

"Mmhm. Alright, spooky ghost. Come on in already. I want to figure out what's gone horribly wrong this time."

The waves crash. There's a lump in my throat now, because I know she's not going to be any different. She doesn't sound any different. But sometimes I start to spiral out and obsess about everything, and I do mean everything, and if I start then it's hard to stop.

Poniko's got the coziest place in my whole head. The soft colors in her room, the posters on the wall, and the window to the ocean make me feel like I'm really at the beach house all those years ago. It's tempting to walk out the door and make my way down to the kitchen so her dad can whip us up some snacks.

"You know," says Poniko as I step inside, "I think something has gone wrong. I can feel it. You can too, I bet. You're the one dreaming it all." She pulls out a couple cushions from under her bed and produces a steaming pot of tea. "Here you are, then."

"Don't say that kind of thing."

"About the tea?" she says innocently.

"You know what I mean."

She takes a sip and smiles. Something black and white and hideous stirs behind her eyes. "You're the boss, Mado. Anyway, yes. I suppose you're here to see what I know?"

"Nobody's really talking to me these days," I say, knowing that she's going to use what I just said to tease me, hoping she doesn't realize how much it'll hurt.

She doesn't. Of course she doesn't. Why do I always expect the worst from everybody? "I don't know what's wrong, Mado. I do wish I could tell you. Masada-san visited earlier today wanting to know if I knew what was going on. Then the monochrome sisters. I figured you yourself would show up." She shakes her head and laughs, her ponytail waving at me. "You know, I'm pretty sure I've played host to about half your subconscious today. Oh, the sacrifices I make."

I finish my tea in just a few gulps. Dream tea never tastes like much to me. Poniko likes it. I do it for her. "Thank you, Poniko. You're sure nobody said anything--nothing at all?"

"Nothing specific. Snow World is colder. The Monos tell me that there are dust storms in the White Desert, but one is never sure whether to believe them or not. Masada crashed his spaceship. Corpse-san seemed to be in a rare good mood. He usually goes to pieces in times like these. Nobody..." Poniko frowns. "...well. Hmm."

"There was something?"

"A toriningen stopped by, believe it or not. She looked more addled than most of them, though she was at least able to talk. She started telling me about a..." Poniko sighs. "What do you call those things, the very white things? I can't remember."

"The Monos?"

"No, ah. It's been such a long time since I was really me, you know. I bet she would've known. Dancing in cemeteries. Old Disney cartoons. What do you call those things?"

"A skeleton?"

"Yes!" Poniko snaps her fingers. "She was talking about a skellington, and a very short one at that. She was so nervous about it, too."

"There aren't any skeletons here."

"Clearly you were mistaken, Mado. It happens sometimes."

"Not to me. I know every single corner of my head." I'm standing up now, pacing across the room, my stomach twisting itself to pieces with nerves. "I've got it all memorized. I know me. There's nothing left anymore. Poniko, there's nothing left anymore."

"Mado dear," says Poniko quietly. "You're shouting."

"I'm fine," I say, still pacing, mind racing, and all I can think about is that damn skeleton that cannot possibly exist.

"Never said you weren't fine. I said you were shouting." Poniko takes another sip of tea. "Mado. You don't seem fine to me. You haven't seemed fine in quite a while now."

I freeze where I stand. "Stop it."

"Tell me something, Mado. How's the view from your veranda?"

"Poniko. Don't."

"I'm a dream, Mado. We're all dreams here, each and every one of us, regardless of what you tell yourself sometimes or what we tell ourselves. Honestly," says Poniko, locking eyes with me, "do you really think we don't know?"

It's raining outside now. Oops. That was me this time. Outside the window of Poniko's house, a summer rain has come in over the beach. It runs down the windows. I can feel it hot on my cheeks.

"I'm okay, really," I say, which is meaningless and I know it and so does Poniko. I'm still staring out the window when I feel her hand wrap around mine, perfectly soft and perfectly warm. She squeezes. I don't think I can look at her right now. Something about the way she holds my hand feels too real. It's not at all like the last time I saw her two years ago, when her fingers were so bony and dry, and I was afraid to squeeze for fear of breaking them to pieces.

"Take care, okay?" says Poniko. "And good luck."

I don't look back as I leave her room. There's no reason to. She won't move from that spot when I'm not there. Whenever I come back, she will reset to the same place wearing the same smile, pouring fresh cup of the same tea. I'll sit down across from her and we'll both play pretend that she's not dead.


 

Outside of Poniko's house, everything suddenly twists.

The water is 
ʍou ɹᴉɐ ǝɥʇ uᴉ pǝpuǝdsns

about to ʎʞs ǝɥʇ oʇuᴉ llɐɟ

or to hover ɥʇɹɐǝ ǝɥʇ puɐ ʇɐɥʇ uǝǝʍʇǝq

with me, and I can see and feel ƃuᴉʇɐolɟ sʇǝldoɹp ʞuᴉd ǝɥʇ

around me like ʎpoq ʎɯ ƃuᴉʇᴉqɹo suooɯ ǝlʇʇᴉl

and at once it turns

once more and the whole of the ocean collides with the shore and with me, an unstoppable tsunami rushing towards me and--

--this being a dream--

it rushes slowly, slow enough for me to count the droplets even as they slice me

into thin velvet

ribbons.


 

With a few exceptions, I never wake up unless I don't want to. It comes with the total control I've achieved over the world in my mind. Sometimes waking up is the best option, but it's always an option. Sometimes I think about sleeping for the rest of my life.

I guess that's not terribly surprising, is it?

Now, waking up covered in sweat (no not sweat it's pink water isn't it smells salty reeking not sweat or do I really smell like that?) I shift in bed to the corner and hold my legs, feeling the weight of me. Controlled. Contained. Stasis.

Not enough to feel better. Gotta go back. I could feel it when the pink sea flipped for a moment with all the force of a planet shattering:

A change.

The kid, Frisk-from-the-dark-world, who I couldn't find after going back to sleep. The skeleton. The shifting oceans and the new door.

Gotta know.

I smooth out my sheets, lie back, and drift out into dreamland. My shoes clack against the shadow version of my veranda, and I pass my room without a glance, heading straight for my Nexus. Somehow, I'm not surprised by what I see sitting there smack-dab in the perfect center of my doors.

It gleams, this huge door of lavender stone with a rounded top like something out of a fairy tail. There's almost a self-consciousness in how self-important the thing is, twice as tall as any of the older doors with intricate carvings straight out of a Lord of the Rings fanfic. Here, in the dead center of my Nexus--of my head--is the New Thing. The Frisk kid, the skeleton, and the shifted sea are all connected to this great tacky invader. On some level I'm aware that I should be afraid. The other doors of the Nexus let out a chorus of soft creaking noises, responding to that awareness. My whole brain is shouting at me, these old oak doors that have grown so familiar, all containing wonders I've started to find...

(the image of Poniko rises up in my head and crack, guilt like a slap to the face, but that doesn't make the following untrue)

...all these wonders that I've started to find tiresome.

My hand sprouts a knife for a moment, just in case. I think better of it and slide it back into my mind for now. It'll be with me either way, won't it?

This sort of door doesn't need a handle. I rest my hand on it. The new world vibration runs through the stone, through my hands, up through my arms and into my dream-self's head.

Here's the bit where I still have a choice...except, you know, I don't. There was only ever one way this was going to go.

The door opens, the cold air hits, and I enter Frisk’s world. The world of the skeleton.

The new world.

Chapter Text

...but I could've eaten more of it, I suppose. Should've eaten more of it. Out here in the cold, that was all I could think about. The heavy, warm scent of freshly baked pie in Toriel's kitchen. The smell stalked me in the stone halls beneath the home, comfort in a world that was getting colder by the second. After what happened with Toriel, that's all I could think about.

I could've had so much more. If I could have gone back, I would've. No question.

"No question," I whisper, lips trembling. Then I’m back to myself and the world on the other side of the door, that new world. The last waves of something runs over my mind, again and again, back and forth till it fades into white noise. Whatever the wave was, it's almost gone. Good riddance.

Felt like it took months.

The air nips my cheeks; I hug my sweater tight, knowing it won't make much of a difference. Snow falls gently on pine on this side of the door, in this new world. No sound but the creak of wood weighed down by snow and--low, moaning distantly--wind.

Everything is new. I drink it, savor that long-lost old friend. Oh, novelty. I’d die without you. Later, I'm sure, I'll wonder how all of this was possible. Now I stretch out in the snow, not caring if my clothes get wet, knowing I'll be fine. Staring out at the trees, staring up at the--the sky?

Nope, no sky here. Just softly glowing stalactites, an impossible number of them. You can get lost looking at them, tracing the paths between each one, watching light pulse steadily down from their base to their tip....

I snap out of it. Time for all of that later. For now, I've got to find that stranger, that Frisk, and that skellington--that is, skeleton. Damn it, Poniko, really? Skellington? Now I'm calling it that too.

Thanks for the mind virus, you imaginary asshat.

The snow crunches satisfyingly beneath my feet. Different snow up here in the new world. Lighter than the old, where my boots sink and the air is frigid enough to numb me. Of all the wonders down here, the texture of the snow really drives it in that this isn't my dream. When had I ever experienced anything like this? Where had all of this come from?

Wind murmurs gossip between the dark trees along the snow-trimmed path. Ahead, a short thin bridge stretches over a dark pit, rough wooden bars jutting down from a thin wooden beam placed over it, and...

...and...

The snow crunches underfoot, but not under my feet.

Step. Another step behind.

Alright then. Great.

Step. Again.

Something about all of this seems horribly familiar. Maybe I'd had a dream like this a long, long time ago and forgot. I’ll check my diary.

On the edge of the bridge over the pit, I let the knife in my mind rise near to the surface. I'll turn. I'll stab. Whoever or whatever is following me will learn to never, ever try anything like this again.

I turn.

I stab.

But there's nothing to stab and nothing to stab with. The air is empty except for the falling snow, coming down faster now. My hand is empty too; I reached for the knife inside me and found nothing. Again.

"w h y d o n ' t y o u t u r n a g a i n?"

My throat tightens. I swallow. It's a voice like a rake running over charcoal.

"w e l l ? "

I turn. It squats under the shadow of the trees, one arm holding something close to its torso, the other extended to me. As if to say “hey. shake?”

I shake the hand. Its fingers are cold, smooth bone.

Also—probably should’ve mentioned this—there is a fart sound.

"cant believe i got a chance to do this one again." The thing keeps on shaking, the whopee cushion fart trickling out so slowly that nope, definitely not going to laugh, this is all very serious and I am not grinning because I'm probably in danger, not grinning or laughing at all. Never.

"I'm ever-so-happy for you, Sans," Now it’s something under the thing's arm talking, high-pitched and grating. "Congratulations."

The figure on the bridge takes a step forward. Yep. Skelling--skeleton. He grins up at me (unsurprisingly, given biology), sticking his hand in his blue hoodie now. (Tiny skeleton in a hoodie. Not a bad look, honestly.)The skeleton's other arm is wrapped around a flower pot. The flower leans forward, its stem uncoiling like a snake. It smiles up at me, yellow petals twitching around a goofy cartoon face.

"sorry about my rude little pal here," says the skeleton. "his name is--"

"Thank you, Sans, but you don't have to do that for little old me." The flower's little white lips pout. It bats its eyelashes at me. "Hi, buddy! I'm Flowey the flower!"

"he suuuuuure is."

"Lean closer, buddy, could you? I'd just like a better look at you!"

"what he wants," says the skeleton Sans, "is to bite you."

"Wouldn't dream of it!"

"that's pretty much all he dreams about actually. you should hear him talk in his sleep. no dont? it’s not great."

Flowey folds his arms. Or petals. Or...well, they're green and boneless, whatever they are. "You're never any fun, Sans."

"i am the most fun, actually. everybody loves me."

"How would you know? You never talk to anyone anymore."

"i could if i wanted to. it’s not like im...spineless." A literal rimshot after that one. Impressive. Clearly I’ve got to improve my pun game.

I clear my throat. "Hate to interrupt--"

"--you look like you super definitely dont--"

"--but what,” I ask, “are you all doing here in my head?"

Flowey giggles. "In your head? Are you so sure that we're in your head? Maybe it's the other way around."

"flowey thinks he's deep, but..." Sans sticks a long bony finger into the pot and barely gets to the first knuckle. "...he's not."

I fold my arms and morph into the Oni for a little extra oomph. The horns slide out from my hair deliciously. It’s like sticking out your tongue minus the drool. "Are we just going to make puns here, or are you two going to tell me what's going on?"

"i’d love to, kid," says Sans, shaking his head. "that is, the part about puns. always down for pun. we're out of time tho, kiddo. my brother and company are about to show up, so the two of us have to skeedaddle."

"Out of time for what?"

"pretty much," says Sans. "one question for ya, tho. real fast. im curious: are you the dreamer, or are you the dream?"

"Look at that. He calls me pretentious!" Flowey snorts. Snorts? I try not to think about how a plant-guy could have a respiratory system but oops, too late. Plant mucus. Plant lungs. Maybe I’ll sketch it out when I wake up.

Sorry. Anyway:

"I'm the dreamer," I say. "Obviously."

"heh. hope you stay that way, kiddo."

And he's not there anymore. No flash of light, no sound. The wind howls through the trees, shaking the branches, knocking sheets of snow into clouds of frozen dust.

"Sans? Flowey?"

Gone. I cross the bridge.

The sudden absence of company is almost comforting. I'm used to it. Mapping out every tile of my dream world is a lonely business. Poniko is one of the only dreams I can talk to. Most of the rest are quiet at best. At worst...

There are certain dreams that I do not visit.

The forest is dark and lonely and lamp.

Lamp.

Lamp?

Yep. Lamp. That's definitely a lamp sitting out in the middle of the snowy forest like it’s not even a thing. You know. Just lampin’ out hbu? And next to it, a creaky old wooden carnival stand. I walk up to the old ceramic lamp and hey, why not, pull the draw-string, just to see what happens. And wouldn’t you know it, how marvelous, it's broken as hell. In the middle of a snowy forest with skeletons and talking flowers.

Points for creativity, mystery dream.

"YAWN,” said the voice, not yawning, saying the whole word for about fifteen seconds. “BOY OH BOY DO I WISH IT WASN'T JUST ME HERE WATCHING FOR ANY INTRUDERS FROM THE HUMAN WORLD."

The voice almost knocks me to the ground, it's so high-pitched. Then, because it's a dream and I was stupid enough to think that, it does honest-to-god knock me to the ground, making a little Mado-shaped trail behind me.

"BUT IT DEFINITELY IS JUST ME WATCHING FOR INTRUDERS FROM THE HUMAN WORLD. ALONE. WITHOUT ANYONE ELSE. THE LONE HERO..." the new skeleton slides out of the woods like an ice skater, beaming. His red scarf billows in the sudden, super convenient gust. "THE GREAT AND POWERFUL PAPYRUS! NYEH-HEH-HEH!"

I spit snow from my mouth, stand up, dust myself off. "Neat.”

“THANKS I THINK SO TOO.”

“Hi, Papyrus."

Now it sinks in. "GAH!" He stumbles back, lanky arms like windmills. "HOW DID YOU KNOW MY NAME? WHAT HUMAN WITCHERY IS THIS?"

"You literally just said your name?" Gahh. Still some snow in my mouth.

"CLEVER. VERRRRY CLEVER." Papyrus rubs his chin thoughtfully. The bone makes a little squeaking noise against his bright red gloves. "BUT I, THE GREAT PAPYRUS, WOULD NEVER REVEAL MY NAME TO THAT MOST DANGEROUS OPPONENT OF MONSTERKIND?"

"You just--okay, sure. Sorry, Papyrus."

He’s not hearing it. "BUT WHO IS THE TRUE MONSTER? IT IS YOU, ACTUALLY. SORRY!!! ANYWAY I REJECT YOUR APOLOGY, BUT THANK YOU!!!!!"

"You're welcome."

"NOW, SMALL HUMAN...GIRL, MAYBE? OR. CHILD! PREPARE YOURSELF FOR THE TRIALS OF PAPYRUS!!!!"

"That won't be necessary, Papy." And ah, there we are, then. I wondered when they’d show up. Frisk walks on down the path, shaking their head, smiling like I hadn't just stabbed them to death just a little while ago. "They're a friend of mine."

"YOU HAVE HUMAN FRIENDS???"

"Two or three," says Frisk. They wink. "Is there anything wrong with that?"

"NO! I MEAN. IT'S A LITTLE WEIRD??? PAPYRUS SHALL TRY AND KEEP AN OPEN MIND."

"Thanks for that," says Frisk. They walk closer to me. We inspect one another for a moment. It's different in the light of day, in this odd new world. Their shirt is still too small, but they’re owning it now. I don’t know what eldritch god I’ve got to worship to get a midriff like that, but I’m tempted to just sacrifice to an elder god shouting o’bn’o’x’i’o’u’s syllables with tons of apostrophes and hope to get it right for such a nice, smooth tummy. The brown hair that had looked like such a bizarre, floppy mop around their head was...okay, it was still bad, but it was charmingly bad. Wild? Wild.

"Madotsuki," Frisk says finally. "I was wondering when you were gonna finally show."

"Nice to finally meet you. Without, err. The stabbings and subsequent death bit?"

Papyrus frowns. Somehow. "HUH?? HUMAN! ERR, FIRST HUMAN? DIE???" He flings himself in front of Frisk, white bones flailing almost quick as a mechanical fan.

Frisk gives me a look that says we’ll talk about this later, ya got me? Sure, fair enough. I'll roll with just about anything here if it helps me get any closer to figuring out what in the hell is going on. "Hey, Papy? We're gonna head to Alphys's lab, okay?"

"OH." Papyrus deflates. "ARE YOU SURE...YOU DON'T WANT TO HAVE...JAPES??? I AM A CAPABLE JAPESMAN!!"

"We can jape later. Promise."

"I SHALL HOLD YOU TO THAT!!!" Papyrus cries, striking a swooping superhero pose for no reason. It's hard not to like such a hard-headed dweeb. Wait. Hard-headed...oh no. Am I doing it now?

As we walk through the snow, away from Papyrus and anyone else, Frisk laughs to themself. "About the whole dying thing? Don't worry. Been there, done that. A lot."

"I'm sorry to hear it."

They shrug. "It is what it is."

"I die a lot in my dreams too," I say. It doesn't sound so casual when I say it for some reason. Frisk doesn’t seem to notice.

The walk through the snow becomes a bit of a jog. Hard not to--it's like a playground here. Little snowballs to kick around, tiny puzzles, and alright, fine, now we're not jogging but dashing through the snow, past wooden stands and snow-monsters, caves, bridges, a wonderland that whirls by too quickly. Then we're in town--a town full of monsters, but they're all smiling, all friendly.

The lights inside the buildings flicker warmly. Chimney smoke drifts up and disappears in the far reaches of the cavern's roof, swirling around stalactites.

Beaming rabbits, waving bears, mice, jesters, and dogs. Holy shit, there are a lot of dogs.

Dogs are awesome.

This place is awesome.

We make a turn left, up to a lazy river flowing beside the monster's town. We board a ferry; the town shrinks behind us.

The cloaked man--or woman?--sings softly as we sail across the dim, quiet waters. The cavern closes around us. The song echoes and distorts.

"Are you going to ever tell me what's going on?" I ask, dragging my fingers through the gleaming water, watching my trail disappear behind us.

"I can't yet. Please trust me?"

I decide to be honest and say nothing. Hopefully Frisk’ll get that. If all else fails, I could stab them again with...wait, no.

"Did you steal my knife again?"

"Hmm? No, of course not. I've been here the whole time. Are you sure you didn't lose it?"

That feeling of newness, of uncertainty again. I'm not sure I like it.

We come to what Frisk calls Hotland. The river person sails away without a word. The arid air bites at my throat, settles in my lungs, coils against the nerves inside me.

There, up the path and to the right, the lab.

"Alphys should be on a date with Undyne right now," says Frisk, as if those names mean anything to me. "We'll have time to talk."

"Sure." Sure wish I was back in that snowy place. Much cozier than out here, all lava and gleaming metal.

The doors slide open like science fiction, like Masada's spaceship. Everything about the place is science fiction, cold steel, humming machinery. There's more upstairs; I wonder what neat inventions this Alphys has got lying up there.

Frisk pulls up a chair from a desk and offers it to me. They sit down on a tall stack of books on Quantum Mechanics, time travel, something about SOULs, and more than a few manga that...

Oh god.

Oh god, I've read that one.

And that one. I literally reread it last week.

Mew Mew: Kissy Kitty: the grim specter that I cannot escape even in my dreams. And the sequel's so much better. How did they even do that? I--

"Um. You alright?"

"F-fine." I clear my throat. "Okay, Frisk. Lay it on me. What's going on?"

"Okay, I guess this is it," says Frisk. "Err. Heregoes." They swallow. Look up at me. Down. Up at me again….

"Eventually, I'm sure."

"Right. It's going to be a lot, though."

"Frisk," I lean forward and clasp my hands in the way the guidance counselor used to do. "It’s difficult to surprise me, okay? Tell me, dream boy. Dream...girl?” Oh no. Am I being an asshole? And when I’ve got the same...or, no, I mean, I’ve had dreams. Not the same. Except. Um.

“It doesn’t matter,” says Frisk quickly, waving their hands, waving away the whole damn conversation. Thank god.

“Good. So, Frisk...how'd I dream all this up? What is this?"

"You didn't dream this up," they say.

"Uh-huh. But seriously, now."

"Nope. In fact," The tower of books wobbled beneath them at they stood. "Madotsuki? All of this world around us, these are my memories.” They start wringing their hands now. “Actually, I'm from another dimension? And I'm about 90% sure that I'm dead? And, uh, I’m definitely sure that I accidentally invaded your brain with my SOUL..." The laboratory hums, machines and fluorescent lights. Frisk smiles apologetically. They dropped a question mark at the end to be sweet. “…?”

I'm not a hard person to surprise, alright? That doesn't mean it's impossible.

Chapter Text

There are so many ways to deal with confusion or trauma. Everyone's unique like that. Some people go dark red, blood rushing through their face like they're anger machines, screaming all the agony out. Others get cold, get sickly, become living echo chambers full of nasty thoughts about themselves and everyone else.

I like to think that I'm pretty well-balanced in that regard. You know. Something in between. Healthy!

That is to say that, as this chapter starts I am slapping Frisk across the face with a volume of Mew Mew Kissy Cutie 2: Missy Kissy in the City.

"Gah!" Frisk rubs their face, looking up at me like a sad puppy. Maybe I've gotten a little too used to violence in my dreams; I feel bad about this one. They're a dream, though. Obviously. So, you know, not too bad. "What was that about?"

You're scaring me, I think. "Stop lying to me. You're not dead. You're a dream of mine."

"I'm not," they say. "I mean, how would that make any sense? I've been in other worlds outside of this one. Has anybody else managed to be in other dream worlds? We met in that Dark World, remember?"

Hmm. Toriningen have been in other worlds, but...no, they're not one person.

"I've seen a lot of these worlds, actually," they say, and their voice gets all apologetic again, "and none of them are like this one. Am I right? This world, this version of the Underground from my memories, is the only place like this. Am I wrong?"

"It's the only place like this," I grant.

"Can I tell you what happened, then?" they ask. "In detail. I just...I've gotta know, alright? Gotta tell someone. I, um. It's been just me for a long time. Me and my memories. So." They blink. Look away, sniffing as if I won't notice.

"Tell me," I say, and they do.


[insert Disc 1 of Undertale, Neutral Run. play until battle with the monster king, who is named (spoiler alert) ASGORE. please pause your game after defeating him! thank you for playing about half of the content in the modern classic Undertale dir. Toby Fox. you have done a shocking amount of work for someone who is reading a fanfiction story. if you have been doing this without stopping for the sole purpose of reading my fanfic, i am so proud of you!!! but please go outside!!!]


 

You look distracted. Are you alright? Hey. We're in the middle of something. I thought it was just you and I in here, nobody else.

Anyway.

"...but for some reason," says Frisk, "it's not even ASGORE I'm thinking about. It's the empty rooms in his Home." They finger the locket around their neck nervously. "Everything's gone so wrong."

"Frisk," I whisper. I want to reach out to them, to touch their shoulder, to do something. I don't like people, though, and I like touching even less. Feeling like you should like all of it doesn't mean that you want to. "How do you know you died?"

"I guess I don't. Not for sure. I just know that there was darkness," says Frisk. "For a long time, nothing but darkness. I kept waiting for an end to it, kept waiting to get back to the underground, but it never happened. I wanted to see them again, any of them. Eventually I decided that I'd even settle for waking up back on the surface, which...scared me. But it was better than nothingness."

"What was the surface like in your world?" I ask, and hear myself. Asking as if I believe that they're real, that it's more than a tall tale a fragment of myself cooked up to keep me entertained. Come on, now. Why would somebody interesting bother with somebody like me?

Frisk ignores the question like I hadn't said a thing. Points towards them being a dream, honestly. That'd just be so much extra work for my subconscious to do. "Somewhere along the line, I started to...oh, it's so weird. You know that sensation you get when somebody's watching you? It was like that, almost. I reached out to that feeling, and..." They gesture vaguely at the world around us. "...now I'm here. In your head."

"And you don't know why, you're saying."

"I don't think so."

"I'm sorry," I say, and shit, alright, I'm apologizing to someone that is definitely a dream just like Poniko. Even if I don't know where they came from or why, or where this whole world erupted from, or why it showed up smack dab in the middle of my Nexus for no adequately explained reason and this is all perfectly explicable without interdimensional hijinx.

"You say sorry an awful lot. You must've said it three times when you were asking questions about my story. You don't need to do that, okay?"

I'm rubbing my temples now. My head is pounding. Pain in a dream. I'll accept it, sure. I'll accept just about anything at this point. "So--" I start, and catch myself. "Frisk," I say instead, "I don't want you to take this the wrong way, but I don't know if...I believe you. And it's not anything personal either," I add quickly, not thinking about the sentence till I'm done speaking it and oops, would ya look at that, locked myself into another twist of un-logic. Nothing personal to a dream. Right.

"I told you the truth," says Frisk. They run a hand through their long and straight dark brown hair, wrap it around their fingers, unwrap, wrap, unwrap... "but I know it sounds crazy, and I'm sor--oh, now I'm doing it. Dang." They shake their head. "I guess it doesn't matter. What matters is that I'm here, and I hope I didn't intrude on your whole zone too much. I just hope we can get along. You seem...cool."

"I stabbed you to death."

"But, like, you did that in a cool way?"

I shrug. "Hey. I try."

Frisk cracks up. "You're a weird one."

"You brought a whole brainload of monsters into my head. and I'm the weird one?"

Frisk smiles, wide and bright. They don't laugh.

The laboratory is so quiet. I hadn't noticed, really. Frisk had sucked me up like the living tornado they are, this vortex of action, one thing to the next, no time to breath. But the laboratory is quiet, and not a peaceful sort of quiet. A desperate kind of quiet. What little organization exists here is strictly utilitarian. Bookshelves take priority over floors, over sleeping quarters. My mind runs little simulations on the kind of person that would own this laboratory before I remember that, oh, right: it comes from me, in the end.

"What are we supposed to do now?" I ask finally. My fingers have been flicking obsessively through a copy of Mew Mew Kissy Cutie 2: Missy Kissy in the City just to give them something to do.

"Whatever you want," says Frisk, shrugging. "This is your brain, yeah?" They frown. "I mean, I guess I haven't really been many places outside of that Dark World we met in, now that I think about it."

"You serious?" I throw up my hands for a little extra effect. "All that boring old melancholy and that's the only bit of me you've seen so far? Whelp, that does it."

"Does what?"

"Hold onto your butt, Frisk: we're going to the docks."

Frisk pats their butt uncertainly. "I don't see why that's necessary?"

Way to ruin the moment. "Is that not a thing they say in...your world?"

"Nope."

"It's something we say here. That, um. Your butt might slip away if you don't hold onto it?"

Frisk goes pale. "That's horrible. Does that happen here?"

"Oh! No! Our butts are fastened pretty tight." I give mine a wiggle. "It's fine! It's an expression! Hold onto your butt figuratively!"

Frisk drops their hand from their butt cautiously. "Okay?"

"Because we're going to the docks!" I cry, and it feels a bit less theatrical after the butt explanation, butt hey.


Frisk gets dizzy out in the Nexus, I notice. They stumble over, fall on one knee onto the cold concrete center of my worlds.

"You alright, Frisk?"

"Yeah, I'm good." They pull themself up, dusting their long blue shorts. "It's just the same as last time."

"Last time?"

Frisk nods. "I walked into the door to see Toriel--you know who she is, I told you about her. Toriel at Home. I didn't know if the door would work this time or not, because everything seemed so weird in the Underground now. It didn't work, yeah? But when I stepped through, I ended up...here. And I went in circles for hours trying to figure out which door to go into till I picked," and they pointed at the door to the Dark, "that one."

"It's cool, Frisk. That one over there? That's nothing." I beam. "Let me show you something that'll really blow you to pieces."

Frisk twitches.

"Figuratively," I add quickly.

We see the Mural World, where chalk colored plates rise and vanish into the unknown darkness on high. The twisting, twitching creatures on them are oddly dear to me, though they have the decency to only move when one looks away. Frisk touches one of the plates and blinks; a vibration runs through the plate and Frisk gasps as the creature crouches, its maw hanging open, a slight whiff of its breath in the air.

We see the sewers. We see them very quickly, because they're sewers. I can't romanticize this. Let's move on.

We see, at last, the docks. The reek of the sewers dissipates. We smell brine. Over dark waters a thousand points of light glow softly, dancing over waves. The lit lanterns hover just over the water, lamposts consumed by the sea. The docks creak beneath our feet as we walk with no particular place to go. No one leads. We just...experience it.

It occurs to me as Frisk leans over the railing and takes a deep breath of the sea air--opens their eyes to drink in the dark sea and the floating lights--it occurs to me that I needed this. I had seen every secret in my own head and found it quaint--embarrassing, perhaps even disgusting in its triteness. And god, the idea of going outside was--

--anyway--

--simply put, there's nothing more for me here. Just me and my own dreams, and the dreams were stale and beginning to rot. But here they are, this Frisk, and suddenly all of my dreams are fresh and beautiful. They lean over the railing in my mind and smell the ocean air and laugh, and I laugh too. Their own world is so beautiful too, if more for the people that live there.

It will be nice to live in one another's dreams, I think, studying them as they look out over the railing in my mind.

Frisk doesn't notice that, on their left side, a certain familiar silhouette is approaching. You know the kind: skeletal, carrying a little potted flower. "Is that Sans and Flowey over there?"

And Frisk goes white. They wobble on their feet. "C-could you...could you repeat that?"

"Frisk?"

"Those names," Frisk stammers. They turn, looking at the docks...and there's nothing. They're just gone. "Please?"

"Sans and Flowey?"

"Oh no. You saw them." They're pacing now, rubbing their temples. The docks creak under their heavy footsteps. "Um. What did they say? Did they hurt you or anything?"

"Hurt me? No, I--"

"Okay, good. I was afraid that--" they're talking faster and faster, walking faster and faster, almost racing back and forth over the dark ocean, "--they might've done something or tried something, I don't know what they're going to do anymore, everything is wrong with them now, they're wrong and I don't know why and--" Frisk catches themself, coughs. "Just, um. If you see them, be careful. Please. They're wrong in my memory somehow. I think Ch--or, ah, something happened. They're not right."

"Not...right?"

"I know it's weird--" Frisk starts.

"--it's not," I said. "Trust me." I think of the Monos. Of Poniko and that diseased alter ego of hers. "You don't get to pick how you remember things. How things are in your head and junk. If you want me to keep a look out for those two and stay careful around them, I'll do it."

"You will?" Frisk is tapping their foot nervously. I don't even think they know they're doing it. "Promise?"

"Promise," I say. "Now c'mon, yo. I've got a lot more to show you here, and I bet you've got more to show me too, right?"

Frisk nods, half-smiling. But we don't go yet.

The docks are too beautiful to leave.